12. Let there be none prolonging mercy to him: and let there be none to pity his fatherless children. 13. Let his posterity be cut off; in the next generation let their name be effaced. 14. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before Jehovah; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. 15. Let them be before Jehovah continually, and let him cut off their memorial from the earth. 1 16. Because he forgot to show mercy, but persecuted the afflicted and poor man, and the sorrowful in heart, that he might slay him.
12. Let there be none prolonging mercy to him. To continue to show humanity and mercy is, according to the Hebrew idiom, equivalent to constant and successive acts of kindness; and it also sometimes denotes pity, or the being moved to sympathy, when, through the lapse of years, anger is appeased, and even one's calamity melts the heart of the man who bore hatred towards him. 2 Accordingly, there are some who understand this clause to mean, that there will be none to show kindness to his offspring; which interpretation is in conformity with the next clause of the verse. David, however, includes also the wicked man himself along with his children; as if he should say, Though he visibly pine away under such calamities, and these descend to his children, yet let no one show pity towards them. We are aware it not unfrequently happens, that the long-continued misfortune of an enemy either excites the sympathy of men of savage dispositions, or else makes them forget all their hatred and malevolence. But in this part of the psalm, David expresses a desire that his enemy and all his posterity may be so hated and detested, that the people may never be wearied with beholding the calamities which they endure, but may become so familiarised with the spectacle, as if their hearts were of iron. At the same time, let it be remarked, that David is not rashly excited by any personal anguish to speak in this manner, but that it is as God's messenger he declares the punishment which was impending over the ungodly. And verily the law accounts it as one of the judgments of God, his hardening men's hearts, so that they who have been passionately and unmercifully cruel, should find no sympathy, Deuteronomy 2:30. It is just that the same measure which they have used towards others, should also be meted out to themselves.
13. Let his posterity be cut off. This is a continuation of the same subject, upon the consideration of which the prophet had just now entered, that God would visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. And as he had to deal with the whole court of Saul, and not with any single individual, he here employs the plural number. But as in deeds of wickedness, there are always some who are the prime movers, and act as the ringleaders of others, we need not be surprised that having spoken of one person, he next addresses the many, and then returns to the same person. The more natural and simple mode of explanation is to refer it to his offspring, for the Hebrew term which signifies posterity is collective, implying a multitude, and not a single individual only. This is a heavier imprecation than the former. It sometimes happens, that a family, overthrown by an unexpected disaster, rises up again at a subsequent period; here, however, it is the wish of the prophet, that the wicked may be so completely ruined, as never to be able to regain their former state; for thus much is implied in their name being effaced in the next generation, or after the lapse of ages.
And as the destruction which he denounces against the houses and families of the wicked is so extensive, that God punishes them in the person of their posterity, so he desires that God may remember the iniquities of their fathers and mothers, in order that their condemnation may be complete; and this is a principle in perfect accordance with the commonly received doctrine of Scripture. God, out of regard to his covenant, which is in force to a thousand generations, extends and continues his mercy towards posterity; but he also punishes iniquity unto the third and fourth generation. In doing this he does not involve the guiltless with the wicked indiscriminately, but by withholding from the reprobate the grace and illumination of his Spirit, he prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction, even before they are born, Romans 9:21. To the common sense of mankind, the thought of such severity is horrifying: but then we must recollect, that if we attempt to measure the secret and inscrutable judgments of God by our finite minds, we do him wrong. Struck with horror at the severity of this threatening, let us improve it as the means of filling us with reverence and godly fear. In reference to the language of Ezekiel,
"The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, but the soul that sinneth, it shall die;" Ezekiel 18:20
we know that in these words he disproves the groundless complaints of the people, who, boasting that they were guiltless, imagined that they were punished wrongfully. When, however, God continues his vengeance from the father to the children, he leaves them no room for palliation or complaint, because they are all equally guilty. We have already said, that vengeance commences when God in withdrawing his Spirit, both from the children and the fathers, delivers them over to Satan. Some may inquire how it comes to pass, that the prophet, in desiring that their sin may be continually before God's eyes, does not likewise add, let their name be blotted out from heaven, but merely wishes them to be cut off, and to perish in the world? My reply is, that he spoke agreeably to the custom of the age in which he lived, when the nature of spiritual punishments was not so well understood as in our times, because the period had not yet arrived, when the revelation of God's will was to be full and complete. Besides, it is the design of David, that the vengeance of God may be so manifest, that the whole world may acquiesce in his equity as a judge.
16. Because he forgot to show mercy. The prophet comes now to show that he had good reason for desiring such awful and direful calamities to be inflicted upon his enemies, whose thirst for cruelty was insatiable, and who were transported with rage, no less cruel than obstinate, against the afflicted and poor man, persecuting him with as little scruple as if they were attacking a dead dog. Even philosophers look upon cruelty, directed against the helpless and miserable, as an act worthy only of a cowardly and grovelling nature; for it is between equals that envy is cherished. For this reason the prophet represents the malignity of his enemies as being bitter in persecuting him when he was in affliction and poverty. The expression, the sorrowful in heart, is still more emphatic. For there are persons who, notwithstanding of their afflictions, are puffed up with pride; and as this conduct is unreasonable and unnatural, these individuals incur the displeasure of the powerful. On the other hand, it would be a sign of desperate cruelty to treat with contempt the lowly and dejected in heart. Would not this be to fight with a shadow? This insatiable cruelty is still farther pointed out by the phrase, forgetting to show mercy; the meaning of which is, that the calamities, with which he beheld this guiltless and miserable man struggling, fail to excite his pity, so that, out of regard to the common lot of humanity, he should lay aside his savage disposition. In this passage, therefore, the contrast is equally balanced on the one side between such obstinate pride, and on the other, the strict and irrevocable judgment of God. And as David spoke only as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, this imprecation must be received as if God himself should thunder from his celestial throne. Thus, in the one case, by denouncing vengeance against the ungodly, he subdues and restrains our perverse inclinations, which might lead us to injure a fellow-creature; and on the other, by imparting comfort to us, he mitigates and moderates our sorrow, so that we patiently endure the ills which they inflict upon us. The wicked may for a time revel with impunity in the gratification of their lusts; but this threatening shows that it is no vain protection which God vouchsafes to the afflicted. But let the faithful conduct themselves meekly, that their humility and contrition of spirit may come up before God with acceptance. And as we cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, it is our duty to pray for all who trouble us; to desire the salvation of all men; and even to be careful for the welfare of every individual. At the same time, if our hearts are pure and peaceful, this will not prevent us from freely appealing to God's judgment, that he may cut off the finally impenitent. 3