15. My reproach is daily1 before me, and the shame of my face hath quite covered me, 16. Because of the voice of him who reproached me; because of the face of the enemy and the avenger. 17. All this has come upon us, and we have not forgotten thee, nor dealt falsely in thy covenant: 18. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps declined from thy path. 19. Although thou hast wasted us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death: 20. If we have forgotten the name of our God, and have stretched out our hands to a strange god: 21. Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
15. My reproach is daily before me. The Hebrew words Mwyhlk, col-hayom, mean all the day, and denote long continuance: but they may be understood in two ways, either for the whole or entire day, from morning to evening, or for continued succession of days. According to either of these interpretations, the meaning is, that there is no end to their misfortunes. As to the change of the number from the plural to the singular, it is not at all inconsistent that what is spoken in the name of the Church should be uttered, as it were, in the person of one man. The reason is added why they were so overwhelmed with shame, that they dared not to lift up their eyes and their face, namely, because they had no respite, but were incessantly subjected to the insolence and reproach of their enemies. Had they been allowed to hide themselves in some corner, they might have endured, as well as they were able, their calamities in secret; but when their enemies openly derided them with the greatest insolence, it served to redouble the wound inflicted upon them. They, therefore, complain that their calamities had accumulated to such an extent, that they were forced unceasingly to hear blasphemies and bitter reproaches. They describe their enemies by the epithet avengers, a term which, among the Hebrews, denotes barbarity and cruelty, accompanied with pride, as we have remarked on the 8th Psalm.
17. All this has come upon us, etc. As they have already attributed to God all the afflictions which they endured, if they should now say that they were undeservedly afflicted, it would be the same thing as to accuse God of injustice; and thus what is here spoken would no longer be a holy prayer, but rather an impious blasphemy. It is, however, to be observed, that the faithful, although in their adversities they do not perceive any obvious reason for being so dealt with, yet they rest assured of this, and regard it as a fixed principle, that God has some good reasons for treating them so severely. At the same time, it is proper to observe, that the godly do not speak in this place of the time past, but rather allege their patient endurance, which was no small token of their piety, since, in the most humble manner, they thus bowed their neck to the yoke of God. We see how the great majority of men murmur and obstinately fret against God, like refractory horses which rage furiously against their masters, and strike them with their feet. And, therefore, we know that the man who, in affliction, imposes a holy restraint upon himself, that he may not by any impatience be carried away from the path of duty, has made no inconsiderable attainments in the fear of God. It is an easy matter even for hypocrites to bless God in the time of their prosperity; but as soon as he begins to deal hardly with them, they break forth into a rage against him. Accordingly, the faithful declare that, although so many afflictions as they endured tended to turn them aside from the right path, they did not forget God, but always served him, even when he did not show himself favorable and merciful towards them. They do not, therefore, proclaim their virtues in a former and distant period of their history, but only allege, that even in the midst of afflictions they steadfastly kept the covenant of God. It is well known, that long before the persecution of Antiochus, there were many abuses and corruptions which provoked the vengeance of God against them, so that, in respect of that period, they had no ground to boast of such integrity as is here described. True it is that, as we shall very soon see, God spared them, thus showing that they had been afflicted more for his name's sake than for their own sins; but the forbearance which God exercised towards them in this respect was not sufficient to warrant them to plead exemption from guilt. We must, therefore, consider that in this place they do nothing more than allege their own patience, in that, amidst such grievous and hard temptations, they had not turned aside from the service of God. In the first place, they affirm, We have not forgotten thee: for, indeed, afflictions are, as it were, like so many clouds which conceal heaven from our view, so that God might then readily slip from our remembrance, as if we were far removed from him. They add, secondly, We have not dealt falsely in thy covenant: for, as I have said, the wickedness of men discovers itself more especially when they are tried more severely than they had anticipated. Thirdly, they declare that their heart had not turned back. And, lastly, that their footsteps declined not from the paths of God. As God is daily inviting us, so our hearts must be always ready to proceed in the paths into which he calls us. Hence follows the direction of our ways; for by our outward works, and by our whole life, we testify that our heart is unfeignedly devoted to God. Instead of the translation, Nor have our steps declined, which I have given, some suggest another reading, which is not without some degree of plausibility, namely, Thou hast made our steps to decline; for, in the first place, the term jt, tet, may be so rendered; and, secondly, according to the arrangement of the words, there is no negative in this clause. As to the meaning, however, I am not at all of their opinion; for they connect this passage with that in Isaiah 63:17,
"O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways?"
The complaint which is here made amounts rather to this, That the faithful are like poor wretched creatures wandering in desert places, seeing God had withdrawn his hand from them. The expression, The paths of God, does not always refer to doctrine, but sometimes to prosperous and desirable events.
19. Although thou hast broken us in the place of dragons. In the Hebrew it is, For thou hast broken us, etc.; but the causal particle, yk, ki, according to the idiom of the Hebrew language, is often taken in the sense of although or when.2 And certainly it must be so rendered in this place, for these three verses are connected, and the sentence is incomplete till the end of the words, For he knoweth the secrets of the heart. The faithful repeat more largely what we have already seen, namely, that although plunged into the greatest depth of miseries, yet they continued steadfast in their resolution, and in the right way. If we consider the distressing circumstances in which they were placed, it will not appear to us a hyperbolical mode of speech, when they say that they were broken even within the depths of the sea; for by the place of dragons I understand not the deserts and solitary places, but the deepest gulfs of the sea. Accordingly, the word Mynt, tannim, which others translate dragons,3 I would rather render whales,4 as it is also understood in many other places. This interpretation is obviously confirmed by the following clause, in which they complain that they had been covered with the shadow of death, which implies that they were swallowed up of death itself. Let us, however, remember, that in these words the Holy Ghost dictates to us a form of prayer; and that, therefore, we are enjoined to cultivate a spirit of invincible fortitude and courage, which may serve to sustain us under the weight of all the calamities we may be called to endure, so that we may be able to testify of a truth, that even when reduced to the extremity of despair, we have never ceased to trust in God; that no temptations, however unexpected, could expel his fear from our hearts; and, in fine, that we were never so overwhelmed by the burden of our afflictions, however great, as not to have our eyes always directed to him. But it is proper for us to notice still more particularly the style of speaking here employed by the faithful. In order to show that they still continued steadfastly in the pure service of God, they affirm that they have not lifted up their hearts or their hands to any but to the God of Israel alone. It would not have been enough for them to have cherished some confused notion of the Deity: it was necessary that they should receive in its purity the true religion. Even those who murmur against God may be constrained to acknowledge some Divinity; but they frame for themselves a god after their own pleasure. And this is an artifice of the devil, who, because he cannot at once eradicate from our hearts all sense of religion, endeavors to overthrow our faith, by suggesting to our minds these devices -- that we must seek another God; or that the God whom we have hitherto served must be appeased after another manner; or else that the assurance of his favor must be sought elsewhere than in the Law and the Gospel. Since, then, it is a much more difficult matter for men, amidst the tossings and waves of adversity, to continue steadfast and tranquil in the true faith, we must carefully observe the protestation which the Holy Fathers here make, that even when reduced to the lowest extremity of distress by calamities of every kind, they nevertheless did not cease to trust in the true God.
This they express still more clearly in the following clause, in which they say, We have not stretched out our hands5 to a strange god. By these words they intimate, that, contented with God alone, they did not suffer their hopes to be divided on different objects, nor gazed around them in search of other means of assistance. Hence we learn, that those whose hearts are thus divided and distracted by various expectations are forgetful of the true God, to whom we fail to yield the honor which is due to him, if we do not repose with confidence in him alone. And certainly, in the true and rightful service of God, faith and supplication which proceeds from it hold the first place: for we are guilty of depriving him of the chief part of his glory, when we seek apart from him in the least degree our own welfare. Let us then bear in mind, that it is a true test of our piety, when, being plunged into the lowest depths of disasters, we lift up our eyes, our hopes, and our prayers, to God alone. And it only serves to demonstrate more convincingly and clearly the impiety of Popery, when, after having confessed their faith in the one true God with the mouth, its rotaries the next moment degrade his glory by ascribing it to created objects. They indeed excuse themselves by alleging, that in having recourse to Saint Christopher and other saints of their own making, they do not claim for them the rank of Deity, but only employ them as intercessors with God to obtain his favor. It is, however, well known to every one, that the form of the prayers which they address to the saints,6 is in no respects different from those prayers which they present to God. Besides, although we should yield this point to them, it will still be a frivolous excuse to pretend that they are seeking advocates or intercessors for themselves. This is as much as to say, that Christ is not sufficient for them, or rather, that his office is wholly lost sight of among them. Moreover, we should carefully observe the scope of this passage. The faithful declare, that they did not stretch forth their hands to other gods, because it is an error too common among men to forsake God, and to seek for other means of relief when they find that their afflictions continue to oppress them. So long as we are gently and affectionately treated of God we resort to him, but as soon as any adversity befalls us we begin to doubt. And if we are pressed still further, or if there be no end to our afflictions, the very continuance of them tempts us to despair; and despair generates various kinds of false confidence. Hence arises a multitude of new gods framed after the fancy of men. Of the lifting up of the hands we have spoken elsewhere.
21. Shall not God search this out? We have here a solemn and emphatic protestation, in which the people of God dare to appeal to him as the judge of their integrity and uprightness. From this it appears, that they did not plead their cause openly before men, but communed with themselves as if they had been before the judgment-seat of God; and moreover, as a token of still greater confidence, they add, that nothing is hidden from God. Why is it that hypocrites often call God to witness, if it is not because they imagine that, by concealing their wickedness under some specious disguise, they have escaped the judgment of God? and thus they would represent the character of God to be different from what it is, as if by their deceptions they could dazzle his eyes. Whenever, therefore, we come before God, let us at the same time remember, that there is nothing to be gained by any vain pretense in his presence, inasmuch as he knows the heart.