1. Blessed is he that judgeth wisely of the poor:1 Jehovah will deliver him2 in the day of evil. 2. Jehovah will keep him, and preserve him in life: he shall be blessed upon the earth;3 and thou wilt not abandon him to the will of his enemies. 3. Jehovah will support4 him upon the bed of sorrow: thou hast turned all his bed in his sickness.
1. Blessed is he that judgeth wisely of the poor. Interpreters are generally of opinion that the exercise of kindness and compassion manifested in taking care of the miserable, and helping them, is here commended. Those, however, who maintain that the Psalmist here commends the considerate candour of those who judge wisely and charitably of men in adversity, form a better judgment of his meaning. Indeed, the participle lyksm, maskil, cannot be explained in any other way. At the same time, it ought to be observed on what account it is that David declares those to be blessed who form a wise and prudent judgment concerning the afflictions by which God chastises his servants. We have said that he had to contend in his own heart against the perverse judgments of foolish and wicked men, because, when affliction was pressing heavily upon him, many considered that he had fallen into a desperate condition, and was altogether beyond the hope of recovery. Doubtless, it happened to him as it did to the holy patriarch Job, whom his friends reckoned to be one of the most wicked of men, when they saw God treating him with great severity. And certainly it is an error which is by far too common among men, to look upon those who are oppressed with afflictions as condemned and reprobate. As, on the one hand, the most of men, judging of the favor of God from an uncertain and transitory state of prosperity, applaud the rich, and those upon whom, as they say, fortune smiles; so, on the other hand, they act contemptuously towards the wretched and miserable, and foolishly imagine that God hates them, because he does not exercise so much forbearance towards them as he does towards the reprobate. The error of which we speak, namely, that of judging wrongfully and wickedly, is one which has prevailed in all ages of the world. The Scriptures in many places plainly and distinctly declare, that God, for various reasons, tries the faithful by adversities, at one time to train them to patience, at another to subdue the sinful affections of the flesh, at another to cleanse, and, as it were, purify them from the remaining desires of the flesh, which still dwell within them; sometimes to humble them, sometimes to make them an example to others, and at other times to stir them up to the contemplation of the divine life. For the most part, indeed, we often speak rashly and indiscriminately concerning others, and, so to speak, plunge even into the lowest abyss those who labor under affliction. To restrain such a rash and unbridled spirit, David says that they are blessed who do not suffer themselves, by speaking at random, to judge harshly of their neighbors; but, discerning aright the afflictions by which they are visited, mitigate, by the wisdom of the Spirit, the severe and unjust judgments to which we are naturally so prone. I have just adduced as an example the case of Job, whom his friends, when they saw him involved in extreme misery, hesitated not to account an outcast, and one whose case was altogether hopeless.5 If any one endued with candour, and possessed of a humane disposition, should meet with such a case, he would regard it in the exercise of the same discretion which David here commends. As to ourselves, being admonished by this testimony of the Holy Spirit, let us learn to guard against a too precipitate judgment. We must therefore judge prudently of our brethren who are in affliction; that is to say, we must hope well of their salvation, lest, if we condemn them unmercifully before the time, this unjust severity in the end fall upon our own heads. It ought, however, especially to be observed, what indeed I have already noticed, that the object which David had in view, when he saw himself, as it were, overwhelmed by the malicious and cruel judgments which were expressed concerning him, was to fortify himself by this as a ground of consolation, lest he should sink under the temptation. If, therefore, at any time Satan should endeavor to destroy the foundation of our faith, by the rash and presumptuous judgments of men, let us also learn to have recourse to this device of wisdom, lest unawares we fall into despair. This is the proper use of the doctrine contained in this passage.
The Lord will deliver him in the day of evil. Some connect these words, in the day of evil, with the preceding clause; and the reading thus suggested might indeed be admitted; but the distinction which I have followed is better adapted to the sense, and is also supported by the Hebrew accent. Thus at least the doctrine deducible from these words is susceptible of a fuller meaning, namely, that the Lord will deliver the poor in the day of his adversity. Some think that David here prays for a blessing in behalf of the upright and compassionate; as if he had said, May the Lord himself recompense them again for their kindness, if at any time it happen that they are grievously afflicted! Others suppose that David here records the language of such men from which we may come to the knowledge of their wisdom and uprightness. In my opinion, however, both are equally in error in reading this clause in the form of a desire or prayer. Whether, indeed, David speaks in his own name, or in the name of others, he briefly recommends and enjoins the kindness which we ought to exercise towards the afflicted; for although God may for a time manifest his displeasure against them, yet he will, nevertheless, be gracious to them, so that the issue will at length be happier and more joyful than the judgment we might be led to form from the present aspect of things. We now see that the sense in which I have explained this verse is much more copious and fuller of meaning, namely, that we ought to hope for salvation and deliverance from the hand of the Lord, even in the day of adversity; for otherwise, no man who had once fallen into a state of sorrow and sadness would ever be able to rise again. And this I say, because the design of the Holy Spirit in this passage is not only to exhort the faithful to be ready in showing kindness towards their brethren when they see them in affliction, but also to point out the remedy which has been provided for the mitigation of our sorrow, whenever our faith is shaken by adversity.
2. Jehovah will keep him, and preserve him in life. Here David follows out the same sentiment expressed in the preceding verse, when he says that the Lord will keep the afflicted, whose destruction cruel and unjust men represent as inevitable. It is likewise necessary always to bear in mind the contrast which is stated between the day of evil and the blessing of deliverance. In this verse the expressions denoting restoration to life, and blessedness on the earth, are of similar import. By these expressions, David means to show that although he had been to all appearance a dead man, yet the hope of life both for himself and for all the faithful had not been extinguished. There might, it is true, appear some inconsistency in his promising himself a happy life in this world, seeing our condition here would be miserable indeed if we had not the expectation of a better state in the world to come. But the answer to this is, that as many had despaired of his recovery, he expressly declares that he will yet be restored to his former state, and will continue alive, nay, that in him there will be seen manifest tokens of the favor of God. He does not in the least exclude by these expressions the hope of a better life after death. What follows concerning the bed of sorrow has led some to form a conjecture which, in my opinion, is not at all probable. What David says of affliction in general, without determining what kind of affliction, they regard as applicable exclusively to sickness. But it is no uncommon thing for those who are sorrowful and grieved in their minds to throw themselves upon their bed, and to seek repose; for the hearts of men are sometimes more distressed by grief than by sickness. It is, certainly, highly probable that David was at that time afflicted with some very heavy calamity, which might be a token that God was not a little displeased with him. In the second clause of the verse there is some obscurity. Some understand the expression, turning the bed, in the same sense as if God, in order to give some alleviation to his servant in the time of trouble, had made his bed and arranged it, as we are wont to do to those who are sick, that they may lay themselves more softly.6 Others hold, and, in my opinion, more correctly, that when David was restored to health, his bed, which had formerly served him as a sick couch, was turned, that is to say, changed.7 Thus the sense would be, that although he now languish in sorrow, whilst the Lord is chastening him and training him by means of affliction, yet in a little while he will experience relief by the hand of the same God, and thus recover his strength.