1. Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: 2. Both ye sons of Adam,1 and ye sons of men,2 rich and poor, together. 3. My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. 4. I will incline my ear to a parable:3 I will open my enigma4 upon the harp.
1. Hear this, all ye people. Whoever may have been the penman of this psalm, it discusses one of the most important principles in divine philosophy, and there is a propriety in the elevated terms designed to awaken and secure attention, with which the Psalmist announces his purpose to discourse of things of a deep and momentous nature. To a superficial view, indeed, the subject might seem trite and common-place, treating, as he does, of the shortness of human life, and the vanity of those objects in which worldly men confide. But the real scope of the psalm is, to comfort the people of God under the sufferings to which they are exposed, by teaching them to expect a happy change in their condition, when God, in his own time, shall interpose to rectify the disorders of the present system. There is a higher lesson still inculcated by the Psalmist -- that, as God's providence of the world is not presently apparent, we must exercise patience, and rise superior to the suggestions of carnal sense in anticipating the favorable issue. That it is our duty to maintain a resolute struggle with our afflictions, however severe these may be, and that it were foolish to place happiness in the enjoyment of such fleeting possessions as the riches, honors, or pleasures of this world, may be precepts which even the heathen philosophers have enforced, but they have uniformly failed in setting before us the true source of consolation. However admirably they discourse of a happy life, they confine themselves entirely to commendations upon virtue, and do not bring prominently forward to our view that God, who governs the world, and to whom alone we can repair with confidence in the most desperate circumstances. But slender comfort can be derived upon this subject from the teaching of philosophy. If, therefore, the Holy Ghost in this psalm introduces to our notice truths which are sufficiently familiar to experience, it is that he may raise our minds from them to the higher truth of the divine government of the world, assuring us of the fact, that God sits supreme, even when the wicked are triumphing most in their success, or when the righteous are trampled under the foot of contumely, and that a day is coming when he will dash the cup of pleasure out of the hands of his enemies, and rejoice the hearts of his friends, by delivering them out of their severest distresses. This is the only consideration which can impart solid comfort under our afflictions. Formidable and terrible in themselves, they would overwhelm our souls, did not the Lord lift upon us the light of his countenance. Were we not assured that he watches over our safety, we could find no remedy from our evils, and no quarter to which we might resort under them.
The remarks which have been made may explain the manner in which the inspired writer introduces the psalm, soliciting our attention, as about to discourse on a theme unusually high and important. Two things are implied in this verse, that the subject upon which he proposes to enter is of universal application, and that we require to be admonished and aroused ere we are brought to a due measure of consideration. The words which I have translated, inhabitants of the world, are translated by others, inhabitants of time; but this is a harsh mode of expression, however much it may agree with the scope of the psalm. He calls upon all men indiscriminately, because all were equally concerned in the truths which he intended to announce. By sons of Adam, we may understand the meaner or lower class of mankind; and by sons of men,5 the high, the noble, or such as sustain any pre-eminence in life. Thus, in the outset, he states it to be his purpose to instruct high and low without exception; his subject being one in which the whole human family was interested, and in which every individual belonging to it required to be instructed.
3. My mouth shall speak of wisdom. The prophet was warranted in applying these commendatory terms to the doctrine which he was about to communicate. It is, no doubt, by plain appeals to observation that we find him reproving human folly; but the general principle upon which his instruction proceeds is one by no means obvious to the common sense of mankind, not to say that his design in using such terms is less to assert the dignity of his subject than simply to awaken attention. This he does all the more effectually by speaking as one who would apply his own mind to instruction rather than assume the office of exhortation. He puts himself forward as an humble scholar, one who, in acting the part of teacher, has an eye at the same time to his own improvement. It were desirable that all the ministers of God should be actuated by a similar spirit, disposing them to regard God as at once their own teacher and that of the common people, and to embrace in the first place themselves that divine word which they preach to others.6 The Psalmist had another object in view. He would secure the greater weight and deference to his doctrine by announcing that he had no intention to vend fancies of his own, but to advance what he had learned in the school of God. This is the true method of instruction to be followed in the Church. The man who holds the office of teacher must apply himself to the reception of truth before he attempt to communicate it, and in this manner become the means of conveying to the hands of others that which God has committed to his own. Wisdom is not the growth of human genius. It must be sought from above, and it is impossible that any should speak with the propriety and knowledge necessary for the edification of the Church, who has not, in the first place, been taught at the feet of the Lord. To condescend upon the words, some read in the third verse, And the meditation of my heart shall speak of understanding. But as it were a harsh and improper expression to say that the meditation of the heart speaks, I have adopted the simpler reading.
4. I will incline my ear7 to a parable. The Hebrew word lsm, mashal,8 which I have translated parable, properly denotes a similitude; but it is often applied to any deep or weighty sayings, because these are generally embellished with figures and metaphors. The noun which follows, tdyx, chidoth9 and which I have rendered an enigma, or riddle, is to be understood in nearly the same sense. In Ezekiel 17:2, we have both the nouns with their corresponding verbs joined together, lsm lsmw hdyx rwx, chud chedah umshol mashal, the literal translation being, "Enigmatize an enigma, and parabolize a parable." I am aware that the reference in this place is to an allegorical discourse, but I have already adverted to the reason why, in Hebrew, the name of enigmas or similitudes is given to any remarkable or important sayings. The Psalmist, when he adds that he will open his dark saying, shows that nothing was farther from his intention than to wrap the subject of his discourse in perplexing and intricate obscurity. The truths of revelation are so high as to exceed our comprehension; but, at the same time, the Holy Spirit has accommodated them so far to our capacity, as to render all Scripture profitable for instruction. None can plead ignorance: for the deepest and most difficult doctrines are made plain to the most simple and unlettered of mankind. I see little force in the idea suggested by several interpreters, of the Psalmist having employed his harp, that he might render a subject in itself harsh and disagreeable more engaging by the charms of music. He would merely follow the usual practice of accompanying the psalm with the harp.