David was not as yet put in possession of the kingdom, but having been already created king by the appointment of God, he prepares himself for exercising the government in the best manner. And he not only stirs up himself to perform faithfully the duties of his kingly office by devoutly meditating on this subject, but also engages by a solemn vow to be God's faithful servant, in order to induce Him to put him speedily in possession of the kingdom.
A Psalm of David.
1. I will sing of mercy and of judgment: unto thee, O Jehovah! will I sing psalms. 2. I will behave myself prudently in a perfect way, till thou comest to me: 1 I will walk in the integrity of my heart in the midst of thy house. 3. I will not set a wicked thing before my eyes: I hate the work 2of those who turn aside; it shall not adhere to me. 4. The perverse heart shall depart from me: I will not know evil 35. Whoso slandereth his neighbor in secret, him will I destroy: the man whose eyes are lofty, and whose heart is wide, I cannot endure.
1. I will sing of mercy and of judgment. What David here says concerning singing must be understood by the reader as intimating that this psalm contains the substance of his meditations with himself, as to what kind of king he would be whenever he should be put in possession of the sovereign power which had been promised him. To sing therefore of mercy and of judgment, is equivalent to declaring in solemn terms, that he would be a just and an upright king. Augustine understands this as meaning that God is to be praised, whether he punish men with severity, or whether he show himself merciful to them; but this interpretation is too refined. David does not speak of God's secret judgments, but of the due administration of the kingdom, that he might both by words and deeds fulfill his vocation. When he asserts, Unto thee, O Jehovah! will I sing psalms, he acknowledges that it was by the favor of God that he was appointed to so distinguished and honorable an office; for it would have been an act of presumptuous rashness for him to have thrust himself into it, at the mere impulse of his own mind. He very properly comprehends all princely virtues under these two particulars, mercy and judgment; for as it is the principal duty of a king to yield to every man his own right, so he is also required to possess a considerate love and compassion towards his subjects. Solomon therefore justly says, (Proverbs 16:12) "The throne is established by righteousness."
2. I will behave myself prudently in a perfect way. David here shows that he carefully considered how weighty a charge was laid upon him when he was made king. We know, and it is a truth taught us by experience, that almost all kings are intoxicated with the splendors of royalty; and the proverb was not used without foundation in ancient times, "A king must be born either a king or a fool." It is indeed a mistake to say that kings are born fools. Men were led to speak in this manner, because it commonly happens that those who are invested with the government of kingdoms and empires are fools and blockheads. And surely it is a remarkable instance of the vengeance of God, that beasts, and such as are altogether unworthy to be numbered among men, commonly possess the highest authority. But although kings are not born fools, yet they are so blinded by their dignity, that they think themselves in no respect indebted to their subjects, become arrogant and haughty in their carriage, recklessly plunge into their pleasures, and at length utterly forget themselves. David therefore says, I will behave myself prudently, or, which amounts to the same thing, I will look warily to myself; it being a rare virtue for the man who may do as he pleases to exercise such moderation, as not to allow himself liberty in any degree to do evil. He then who is exalted to sovereign power, and yet, instead of attempting to go as far as he can in doing mischief, restrains himself by self-control, is endued with true understanding. In short, David protests that he will not be like other kings who are infatuated by their own dignity; but that according to the greatness of the charge imposed upon him, he would endeavor wisely to perform his duty. It is to be observed, that he represents wisdom as consisting in a perfect way, or in uprightness. From this we learn that tyrants who employ their talents in forming wicked devices, and who are daily contriving new methods for burdening and oppressing their subjects; in short, who are ingenious only in doing mischief, are not wise towards God. Many persons, it is true, dislike such craftiness; but still, it is undeniable that, if kings are intent upon enlarging the boundaries of their kingdom, and are masters in refined policy for accomplishing such a purpose, this is accounted the most perfect wisdom which they can possess, and is extolled to the skies. David, on the contrary, covets no other wisdom but that which is the mistress of integrity. Till thou comest to me. These words may be read in two ways. Some translate them interrogatively, When wilt thou come? as if David besought God not to subject him to any longer delay. And truly he had just ground to groan and lament, when he saw himself so long oppressed with poverty, and driven from place to place a wretched exile. It had been better for him to have lived obscure and unnoticed in his father's cottage, following his former occupation as a shepherd, than to be anointed king, that, being driven out of his country, he might live in utter dishonor and hatred. But I prefer reading the sentence without interrogation, until or when thou comest; and yet even this I interpret somewhat differently from the majority of commentators, understanding it to mean, that although David still continued in the condition of a private person, and did not enjoy the royal power which had been promised him, he nevertheless did not cease in the meantime to follow after uprightness. Thus he sets the midst of his house in opposition to palaces and public buildings; as if he had said, Within my private house or in my family.
3. I will not set a wicked thing before my eyes. After having protested, that in leading a private life, he would practice virtue and righteousness, even as it becomes good princes to begin with this, he now adds, that in executing the office of prince, he will be the enemy of all injustice and wickedness. To set a wicked thing before one's eyes, is equivalent to purposing to do something that is wicked. He therefore declares, that he will turn away from all wickedness; and it is certain, that no man can be a just and an impartial punisher of wrongdoing, but he who abhors it with all his heart. Whence it follows that kings, in order to the performance of their duty, must keep themselves entirely free from all consent to wickedness. Some join to the first sentence the word hwse, asoh, which we translate work, and supply the letter l, lamed; as if it had been said, I will not set before my eyes any wickedness to do it, or, nothing wicked will be acceptable to me to execute it. But the other sense is more probable, which is, that David, after having declared that he will not suffer any iniquity before his eyes, immediately adds for the sake of confirmation, that he will be an enemy to all injustice. If the last clause is referred to the persons who turn aside, there is a change of the number. It may, however, be explained of the work itself, implying that he would never have any share in wicked defections from the path of rectitude.
4. The perverse heart shall depart from me. Some by perverse heart understand perfidious men; but this I reject as a sense too forced, and it is moreover inconsistent with the context. As David has added in the second clause by way of exposition, I will not know evil, he doubtless in the first protests that he will be free from all perfidiousness and wickedness. The amount is, that he will do his endeavor to keep himself from all wrong-doing, and that he will not even know what it is to do wrong to his neighbors.
5. Whoso slandereth his neighbor 4 in secret, him will I destroy. In this verse he speaks more distinctly of the duty of a king who is armed with the sword, for the purpose of restraining evil-doers. Detraction, pride, and vices of every description, are justly offensive to all good men; but all men have not the power or right to cut off the proud or detractors, because they are not invested with public authority, and consequently have their hands bound. It is of importance to attend to this distinction, that the children of God may keep themselves within the bounds of moderation, and that none may pass beyond the province of his own calling. It is certain, that so long as David lived merely in the rank of a private member of society, he never dared to attempt any such thing. But after being placed on the royal throne, he received a sword from the hand of God, which he employed in punishing evil deeds. He particularises certain kinds of wickedness, that under one species, by the figure synecdoche, he might intimate his determination to punish all sorts of wickedness. To detract from the reputation of another privily, and by stealth, is a plague exceedingly destructive. It is as if a man killed a fellow-creature from a place of ambush; or rather a calumniator, like one who administers poison to his unsuspecting victim, destroys men unawares. It is a sign of a perverse and treacherous disposition to wound the good name of another, when he has no opportunity of defending himself. This vice, which is too prevalent every where, while yet it ought not to be tolerated among men, David undertakes to punish.
He next characterises the proud by two forms of expression. He describes them as those whose eyes are lofty, not that all who are proud look with a lofty countenance, but because they commonly betray the superciliousness of their proud hearts by the loftiness of their countenance. He farther describes them as wide 5 of heart, because those who aspire after great things must necessarily be puffed up and swollen. They are never satisfied unless they swallow up the whole world. From this we learn that good order cannot exist, unless princes are sedulously on the watch to repress pride, which necessarily draws after it and engenders outrage and cruelty, contemptuous language, rapine, and all kinds of ill treatment. Thus it would come to pass, that the simple and the peaceable would be at the mercy of the more powerful, did not the authority of princes interfere to curb the audacity of the latter. As it is the will of God that good and faithful kings should hold pride in detestation, this vice is unquestionably the object of his own hatred. What he therefore requires from his children is gentleness and meekness, for he is the declared enemy of all who strive to elevate themselves above their condition.