19. If thou shalt slay, O God! the wicked, then depart from me, ye bloody men. 20. Who have spoken of thee wickedly, thine adversaries have taken [thy name] falsely. 21. Shall not I hold in hatred those that hate thee, O Jehovah! And strive with those that rise up against thee? 22. I have hated them with perfect hatred; they were to me for enemies.1 23. Search me, O God! and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; 24. And know whether the way of wickedness be in me, and lead me throughout the way of this life.2
19. If thou shalt slay, etc. It is unnatural to seek, as some have done, to connect this with the preceding verse. Nor does it seem proper to view the words as expressing a wish -- " I wish," or, "Oh! if thou God wouldst slay the wicked." Neither can I subscribe to the idea of those who think that David congratulates himself upon the wicked being cut off. The sentiment seems to me to be of another kind, that he would apply himself to the consideration of the divine judgments, and advance in godliness and in the fear of his name, so often as vengeance was taken upon the ungodly. There can be no question that God designs to make an example of them, that his elect ones may be taught by their punishment to withdraw themselves from their society. David was of himself well disposed to the fear and worship of God, and yet he needed a certain check, like other saints, as Isaiah says, (Isaiah 26:9,) "when God has sent abroad his judgments, the inhabitants of the earth shall learn righteousness," that is, to remain in the fear of the Lord. At the same time, I have no doubt that the Psalmist presents himself before God as witness of his integrity; as if he had said, that he came freely and ingenuously to God's bar, as not being one of the wicked despisers of his name, nor having any connection with them.
20. Who have spoken of thee wickedly. He intimates the extent to which the wicked proceed when God spares them, and forbears to visit them with vengeance. They not merely conclude that they may perpetrate any crime with impunity, but openly blaspheme their Judge. He takes notice of their speaking wickedly, in the sense of their taking no pains to disguise their sin under plausible pretences, as persons who have some shame remaining will exercise a certain restraint upon their language, but they make no secret of the contempt they entertain for God. The second clause, where he speaks of their taking God's name falsely, some have interpreted too restrictedly with reference to their sin of perjury. Those,come nearer the truth who consider that the wicked are spoken of as taking God's name in vain, when they conceive of him according to their own idle fancies. We see from experience, that most men are ignorant of what God is, and judge of him rather as one dead than alive. In words they all acknowledge him to be judge of the world, but the acknowledgment comes to nothing, as they straightway denude him of his office of judgment, which is to take God's name in vain, by tarnishing the glory of it, and, in a manner, deforming it. But as name is not in the original, and asn, nasa, means to lift Up, or on high, I think we are warranted rather to interpret the passage as meaning', that they carried themselves with an arrogant and false pride. This elation or haughtiness of spirit is almost always allied with that petulance of which he. had previously taken notice. What other reason can be given for their vending such poisonous rancour against God, but pride, and forgetfulness, on the one hand, of their own insignificance as men, and on the other, of the power which belongeth unto the Lord? On this account he calls them God's adversaries, for all who exalt themselves above the place which they should occupy, act the part of the giants who warred against heaven.
21. Shall I not hold in hatred those that hate thee? He proceeds to mention how greatly he had profited by the meditation upon God into which he had been led, for, as the effect, of his having realized his presence before God's bar, and reflected upon the impossibility of escaping the eye of him who searches all deep places, he now lays down his resolution to lead a holy and pious life. In declaring his hatred of those who despised God, he virtually asserts thereby his own integrity, not as being free from all sin, but as being devoted to godliness, so that he detested in his heart everything which was contrary to it. Our attachment to godliness must be inwardly defective, if it do not generate an abhorrence of sin, such as David here speaks of. If that zeal for the house of the Lord, which he mentions elsewhere, (Psalm 69:9,) burn in our hearts, it would be an unpardonable indifference silently to look on when his righteous law was violated, nay, when his holy name was trampled upon by the wicked. As to the last word in the verse, jwq, kut, means to dispute with, or contend, and may be understood as here retaining' the same sense in the Hithpael conjugation, unless we consider David to have more particularly meant, that he inflamed himself so as to stir up his mind to contend with them. We thus see that he stood forward strenuously in defense of the glory of God, regardless of the hatred of the whole world, and waged war with all the workers of iniquity.
22. I hate them with perfect hatred. Literally it is, I hate them with perfection of hatred. He repeats the same truth as formerly, that such was his esteem for God's glory that he would have nothing' in common with those who despised him. He means in general that he gave no countenance to the works of darkness, for whoever connives at sin and encourages it through silence, wickedly betrays God's cause, who has committed the vindication of righteousness into our hands. David's example should teach us to rise with a lofty and bold spirit above all regard to the enmity of the wicked, when the question concerns the honor of God, and rather to renounce all earthly friendships than falsely pander with flattery to the favor of those who do everything to draw down upon themselves the divine displeasure. We have the more need to attend to this, because the keen sense we have of what concerns our private interest, honor, and convenience, makes us never hesitate to engage in contest when any one injures ourselves, while we are abundantly timid and cowardly in defending the glory of God. Thus, as each of us studies his own interest and advantage, the only thing which incites us to contention, strife, and war, is a desire to avenge our private wrongs; none is affected when the majesty of God is outraged. On the other hand, it is a proof of our having a fervent zeal for God when we have the magnanimity to declare irreconcilable war with the wicked and them who hate God, rather than court their favor at the expense of alienating the divine layout. We are to observe, however, that the hatred of which the Psalmist speaks is directed to the sins rather than the persons of the wicked. We are, so far as lies in us, to study peace with all men; we are to seek the good of all, and, if possible, they are to be reclaimed by kindness and good offices: only so far as they are enemies to God we must strenuously confront their resentment.
23. Search me, O God! He:insists upon this as being the only cause why he opposed the despisers of God, that he himself was a genuine worshipper of God, and desired others to possess the same character. It indicates no common confidence that he should submit, himself so boldly to the judgment of God. But being fully conscious of sincerity in his religion, it was not without due consideration that he placed himself so confidently before God's bar; neither must we think that he claims to be free from all sin, for he groaned under the felt burden of his transgressions. The saints in all that they say of their integrity still depend only upon free grace. Yet persuaded as they are that their godliness is approved before God, notwithstanding their falls and infirmities, we need not wonder that (hey feel themselves at freedom to draw a distinction between themselves and the wicked. While he denies that his heart was double or insincere, he does not profess exemption from all sin, but only that he was not devoted to wickedness; for bue, otseb, does not mean any sin whatever, but grief, trouble, or pravity -- and sometimes metaphorically an idol.3 But the last of these meanings will not apply here, for David asserts his freedom not from superstition merely, but unrighteousness, as elsewhere it is said, (Isaiah 59:7,) that in the ways of such men there is "trouble and destruction," because they carry everything by violence and wickedness. Others think the allusion is to a bad conscience, which afflicts the wicked with inward torments, but this is a forced interpretation. Whatever sense we attach to the word, David's meaning simply is, that though he was a man subject to sin, he was not devotedly bent upon the practice of it.
24. And lead me, etc. I see no foundation for the opinion of some that this is an imprecation, and that David adjudges himself over to punishment. It is true, that "the way of all the earth" is an expression used sometimes to denote death, which is common to all, but the verb here translated to lead is more commonly taken in a good than a bad sense, and I question if the phrase way of this life ever means death.4 It seems evidently to denote the full continuous term of human life, and David prays God to guide him even to the end of his course. I am aware some understand it to refer to eternal life, nor is it. denied that the world to come is comprehended under the full term of life to which the Psalm~ ist alludes, but it seems enough to hold by the plain sense of the words, That God would watch over his servant to whom he had already shown kindness to the end, and not forsake him in the midst of his days.