25. With the merciful thou wilt deal mercifully,1 with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright. 26. With the pure2 thou wilt be pure, and with the perverse thou wilt show thyself perverse. 27 For thou wilt save the afflicted people,3 and wilt bring down the haughty eyes.4
25. With the merciful, etc. David here prosecutes the same subject. In considering the grace of God by which he had been delivered, he brings it forward as a proof of his integrity, and thus triumphs over the unfounded and disgraceful calumnies of his enemies. Hypocrites, I confess, are also accustomed to act in the same way; for prosperity and the success of their affairs so elates them that they are not ashamed proudly to vaunt themselves not only against men, but even against God. As such persons, however, openly mock God, when, by his long-suffering, he allures them to repentance, their wicked and unhappy presumption has no resemblance to the boasting by which we here see David encouraging himself. He does not abuse the forbearance and mercy of God by palliating or spreading a specious varnish over his iniquities, because God bears with them; but having, by the manifold aids he had received from God, experienced beyond doubt that he was merciful to him, he justly viewed them as evident testimonies of the divine favor towards him. And we ought to mark well this difference between the ungodly and the faithful, namely, that the former, intoxicated with prosperity, unblushingly boast of being acceptable to God, while yet they disregard him, and rather sacrifice to Fortune, and make it their God;5 whereas the latter in their prosperity magnify the grace of God, from the deep sense of his grace with which their consciences are affected. Thus David here boasts that God had succoured him on account of the justice of his cause. For, in the first place, we must adapt the words to the scope of the whole discourse, and view them as implying that God, in so often delivering an innocent man from death, when it was near him, showed, indeed, that he is merciful towards the merciful, and pure towards the pure. In the second place, we must view the words as teaching the general doctrine, that God never disappoints his servants, but always at length deals graciously with them, provided they wait for his aid with meekness and patience. To this purpose Jacob said, in Genesis 30:33,
"God will make my righteousness to return upon me."
The scope of the discourse is, that the people of God should entertain good hope, and encourage themselves to practice uprightness and integrity, since every man shall reap the fruit of his own righteousness.
The last clause of the 26th verse, where it is said, With the perverse thou wilt show thyself perverse, seems to convey a meaning somewhat strange, but it does not imply any thing absurd; yea, rather, it is not without good reason that the Holy Spirit uses this manner of speaking; for he designs thereby to awaken hypocrites and the gross despisers of God, who lull themselves asleep in their vices without any apprehension of danger.6 We see how such persons, when the Scripture proclaims the sore and dreadful judgments of God, and when also God himself denounces terrible vengeance, pass over all these things, without giving themselves any trouble about them. Accordingly, this brutish, and, as it were, monstrous stupidity which we see in men, compels God to invent new forms of expression, and, as it were, to clothe himself with a different character. There is a similar sentence in Leviticus 26:21-24, where God says, "And if ye walk contrary unto [or perversely with] me, then will I also walk contrary unto [or perversely or roughly, or at random against] you;" as if he had said, that their obstinacy and stubbornness would make him on his part forget his accustomed forbearance and gentleness, and cast himself recklessly or at random against them.7 We see, then, what the stubborn at length gain by their obduracy; it is this, that God hardens himself still more to break them in pieces, and if they are of stone, he causes them to feel that he has the hardness of iron. Another reason which we may assign for this manner of speaking is, that the Holy Spirit, in addressing his discourse to the wicked, commonly speaks according to their own apprehension. When God thunders in good earnest upon them, they transform him, through the blind terrors which seize upon them, into a character different from his real one, inasmuch as they conceive of nothing as entering into it but barbarity, cruelty, and ferocity. We now see the reason why David does not simply attribute to God the name and office of judge, but introduces him as armed with impetuous violence, for resisting and overcoming the perverse, according as it is said in the common proverb, A tough knot requires a stout wedge.
27. For thou wilt save the afflicted people. This verse contains the correction of a mistake into which we are very ready to fall. As experience shows that the merciful are often severely afflicted, and the sincere involved in troubles of a very distressing description, to prevent any from regarding the statement as false that God deals mercifully with the merciful, David admonishes us that we must wait for the end; for although God does not immediately run to succor the good, yet, after having exercised their patience for a time, he lifts them up from the dust on which they lay prostrate, and brings effectual relief to them, even when they were in despair. Whence it follows, that we ought only to judge by the issue how God shows himself merciful towards the merciful and pure towards the pure. If he did not keep his people in suspense and waiting long for deliverance from affliction, it could not be said that it is his prerogative to save the afflicted. And it is no small consolation, in the midst of our adversities, to know that God purposely delays to communicate his assistance, which otherwise is quite prepared, that we may experience his goodness in saving us after we have been afflicted and brought low.8 Nor ought we to reckon the wrongs which are inflicted upon us too bitter, since they excite God to show towards us his favor which bringeth salvation. As to the second clause of this verse, the reading is a little different in the song in the 2nd Book of Samuel, where the words are, Thine eyes are against the proud to cast them down. But this difference makes no alteration as to the meaning, except that the Holy Spirit there more plainly threatens the proud, that, as God is on the watch to overthrow them, it is impossible for them to escape destruction. The substance of both places is this:The more the ungodly indulge in gratifying their own inclinations, without any fear of danger, and the more proudly they despise the afflicted poor who are under their feet, they are so much the nearer to destruction. Whenever, therefore, they cruelly break forth against us with mockery and contempt, let us know that there is nothing which prevents God from repelling their headstrong pertinacity, but that their pride is not yet come to its height.