11. Jehovah knoweth the thoughts of men, 1 that they are vain. 2 12. Blessed is the man whom thou hast instructed, O God! And taught out of thy law; 13. To give him rest from days of evil whilst the pit is digged for the wicked.
11. Jehovah knoweth the thoughts of men, etc. He again insists upon the folly of men in seeking to wrap themselves up in darkness, and hide themselves from the view of God. To prevent them from flattering themselves with vain pretexts, he reminds them that the mists of delusion will be scattered at once when they come to stand in God's presence. Nothing can avail them, so long as God from heaven stamps vanity upon their deepest counsels. The Psalmist's design in citing them before the Judge of all, is to make them thoroughly search and try their own hearts; for the great cause of their self-security lay in failing to realize God, burying all distinction between right and wrong, and, so far as that was possible, hardening themselves against all feeling. They might contrive to soothe their minds by means like these, but he tells them that God ridiculed all such trifling. The truth may be a plain one, and well known; but the Psalmist states a fact which many overlook, and which we would do well to remember, That the wicked, when they attempt to hide themselves under subtile refuges, cannot deceive God, and necessarily deceive themselves. Some read -- They (that is, men themselves) are vanity; but this is a forced rendering, and the form of expression is one which both in the Greek and Hebrew may be translated, God knows that the thoughts of men are vain.
12. Blessed is the man whom thou hast instructed, O God! The Psalmist now passes from the language of censure to that of consolation, comforting himself and others of the Lord's people with the truth, that though God might afflict them for a time, he consulted their true interests and safety. At no period of life is this a truth which it is unnecessary to remember, called as we are to a continued warfare. God may allow us intervals of ease, in consideration of our weakness, but would always have us exposed to calamities of various kinds. The audacious excesses to which the wicked proceed we have already noticed. Were it not for the comfortable consideration that they are a blessed people whom God exercises with the cross, our condition would be truly miserable. We are to consider, that in calling us to be his people, he has separated us from the rest of the world, to participate a blessed peace in the mutual cultivation of truth and righteousness. The Church is often cruelly oppressed by tyrants under color of law -- the very case of which the Psalmist complains in this psalm; for it is evident that he speaks of domestic enemies, pretending to be judges in the nation. Under such circumstances, a carnal judgment would infer, that if God really concerned himself in our welfare he would never suffer these persons to perpetrate such enormities. To prevent this, the Psalmist would have us distrust our own ideas of things, and feel the necessity of that wisdom which comes from above. I consider the passage to mean that it is only in the Lord's school we can ever learn to maintain composure of mind, and a posture of patient expectation and trust under the pressure of distress. The Psalmist declares that the wisdom which would bear us onward to the end, with an inward peace and courage under long-continued trouble, is not natural to any of us, but must come from God. 3 Accordingly, he exclaims, that those are the truly blessed whom God has habituated through his word to the endurance of the cross, and prevented from sinking under adversity by the secret supports and consolations of his own Spirit.
The words with which the verse begins, Blessed is the man whom thou hast instructed, have no doubt a reference to chastisements and experience of the cross, but they also comprehend the gift of inward illumination; and afterwards the Psalmist adds, that this wisdom, which is imparted by God inwardly, is, at the same time, set forth and made known in the Scriptures. 4 In this way he puts honor upon the use of the written word, as we find Paul saying, that all things
"were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope" (Romans 15:4)
This shows from what quarter we are to derive our patience -- the oracles of God, which supply us with matter of hope for the mitigation of our griefs. In short, what the Psalmist means is summarily this: Believers must, in the first place, be exhorted to exercise patience, not to despond under the cross, but wait submissively upon God for deliverance; and next, they must be taught how this grace is to be obtained, for we are naturally disposed to abandon ourselves to despair, and any hope of ours would speedily fail, were we not taught from above that all our troubles must eventually issue in salvation. We have here the Psalmist's testimony to the truth, That the word of God provides us with abundant ground of comfort, and that none who rightly avails himself of it need ever count himself unhappy, or yield himself to hopelessness and despondency. One mark by which God distinguishes the true from the false disciple is, that of his being ready and prepared to bear the cross, and waiting quietly for the Divine deliverance, without giving way to fretfulness and impatience. A true patience does not consist in presenting an obstinate resistance to evils, or in that unyielding stubbornness which passed as a virtue with the Stoics, but in a cheerful submission to God, based upon confidence in his grace. On this account it is with good reason that the Psalmist begins by laying it down as a fundamental truth, necessary to be learned by all the Lord's people, That the end of those temporary persecutions, to which they are subjected, is their being brought at last to a blessed rest after their enemies have done their worst. He might have contented himself with saying, that the truly blessed were those who had learned from God's word to bear the cross patiently, but that he might the more readily incline them to a cheerful acquiescence in the Divine disposals, he subjoined a statement of the consolation which tends to mitigate the grief of their spirits. Even supposing that a man should bear his trials without a tear or a sigh, yet if he champ the bit in sullen hopelessness -- if he only hold by such principles as these, "We are mortal creatures," "It is vain to resist necessity, and strive against fate," "Fortune is blind" -- this is obstinacy rather than patience, and there is concealed opposition to God in this contempt of calamities under color of fortitude. The only consideration which will subdue our minds to a tractable submission is, that God, in subjecting us to persecutions, has in view our being ultimately brought into the enjoyment of a rest. Wherever there reigns this persuasion of a rest prepared for the people of God, and a refreshment provided under the heat and turmoil of their troubles, that they may not perish with the world around them, -- this will prove enough, and more than enough, to alleviate any present bitterness of affliction.
By evil days, or days of evil, the Psalmist might thus mean the everlasting destruction which awaits the ungodly, whom God has spared for a certain interval. Or his words may be expounded as signifying, that the man is blessed who has learned to be composed and tranquil under trials. The rest intended would then be that of an inward kind, enjoyed by the believer even during the storms of adversity; and the scope of the passage would be, that the truly happy man is he who has so far profited, by the word of God, as to sustain the assault of evils from without, with peace and composure. But as it is added, whilst 5 the pit is digged for the wicked, it would seem necessary, in order to bring out the opposition contained in the two members of the sentence, to suppose that the Psalmist rather commends the wisdom of those who reckon that God afflicts them with a view to saving them from destruction, and bringing them eventually to a happy issue. It was necessary to state this second ground of comfort, because our hearts cannot fail to be affected with the most intense grief when we see the wicked triumph, and no Divine restraint put upon them. The Psalmist meets the temptation by appropriately reminding us that the wicked are left upon earth, just as a dead body which is stretched out upon a bed, till its grave be dug. Here believers are warned that, if they would preserve their constancy, they must mount their watchtower, as Habakkuk says, (Habakkuk 2:1) and take a view in the distance of God's judgments. They shall see worldly men rioting in worldly delights, and, if they extend their view no farther, they will give way to impatience. But it would moderate their grief, would they only remember that those houses which are nominally appropriated to the living, are, in fact, only granted to the dead, until their grave be digged; and that, though they remain upon earth, they are already devoted to destruction. 6
"To produce ease for him out of the days of adversity, Whilst the pit is digging for the impious."