5. The merciful shall rejoice in glory; they shall shout for joy upon their couches.1 6. The high praises of God are in their throat 2 and a two-edged sword is in their hand: 7. To execute vengeance upon the nations, castigations upon the peoples: 8. To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with iron fetters: 9. To execute upon them the judgment written: this honor is to all his merciful ones. Hallelujah.
5. They shall rejoice. In making mention here of joy, jubilee, and the high praises of God, he shows still more clearly from the effects which it would produce, that he does not speak of a common benefit of God; for had not the deliverance of the people been of a remarkable kind, there would have been no occasion for such joy, and even triumph. And by these expressions he intimates that the people would not be brought back from exile to be immediately dispersed again, but to flourish in the enjoyment of every species of blessing. He on this account makes mention of couches, teaching them to expect daily rest under the divine protection. He declares that they would be furnished with arms and power, not only to ward off enemies, but to put them to flight on every side, so as to reduce to subjection kings and nations which formerly ruled over them. By swords of a double-mouth, or two-edged, are meant such as cut on both sides, for at that time swords had but one edge.
7. To execute vengeance, etc. Both during their exile and after their return from it, this might seem to be altogether incredible. Nor did it take place before the advent of Christ; for though the Machabaei and their posterity reduced the neighboring nations to subjection, this was but a faint prelude and earnest to direct the thoughts of the Lord's people to what was approaching. But as Haggai prophesied that the glory of the second Temple would be greater than of the first, so here there is promised a more prosperous state than had ever existed. (Haggai 2:9.) Reduced as the Jews were in numbers, and low as was the state of things among them, the Psalmist announces to all nations which opposed and troubled them, that they would have the ascendancy. As they were yet tributary, and dwelt at Jerusalem only by sufferance, they were called to exercise faith in a promise which, to the judgment of sense, might appear visionary, and to raise their thoughts to the infinite power of God, which triumphs over all worldly obstacles. The vengeance spoken of is such as the Israelites would take, not under the influence of private resentment, but by commandment of God; and this we mention that none may infer that they are allowed to take vengeance for personal injuries.
The next verse, where mention is made of kings and nobles, is an amplification; for had he only spoken of peoples and nations, this might have been restricted to the common people and men of low condition. Here is something much greater -- that kings and others of noble rank would be dragged to punishment in chains. But it is to be remembered, as I have just hinted, that but a small part of this splendid prospect was realized until Christ appeared; for any small increase of prosperity which the people enjoyed under the Machabaei was not worthy of any consideration, except in so far as by this help God sustained the drooping spirits of the people up to Christ's advent. Here the prediction of Jacob is to be noticed --
"the scepter shall not depart from Judah, until Shiloh come." (Genesis 49:10.)
But the Machabaei sprung from another tribe. We must, infer, therefore, that the regular order was then interrupted, and that to make the prosperous state of the people to have been based upon their victories, is building a castle in the air. And God would appear designedly to have removed the government from the tribe of Judah, lest this success should intoxicate the minds of his people; for most of them, through pride in these signal victories, overlooked the true and substantial deliverance. As the Psalmist treats here of the perfection of the prosperity of the people, it follows that he refers to the Messiah, that their expectation and desire of him might never cease either in their prosperity or adversity.
9. To perform the judgment, etc. He qualifies what he had said in the previous verses, in which he might have appeared to arm the Lord's people for deeds of warlike cruelty. At first sight it might appear strange, that they who were called the merciful ones of God, should be sent out with drawn swords to commit slaughter, and pour out human blood; for what evidence was here of mercy? But when God himself is the author of the vengeance taken, it is just judgment, not cruelty. When mention is made of the judgment written, the Psalmist reminds the Jews that they were called to liberty by command of God -- to that liberty which had been unjustly wrested from them by' foreigners and tyrants, and that they could not be blamed for executing judgment written. Any exposition of the passage is faulty which does not proceed upon this as being the Psalmist's design, that he would have the Jews to consider the divine mandate, not to proceed under the influence of private resentment, and to throw a rein over passion; saying upon the matter, that God's children may not execute vengeance but when called to it, there being an end of all moderation when men yield themselves up to the impulse of their own spirits. Another question might arise here by way of objection. Christ is said to have come without crying or lifting up his voice, that he might not break the bruised reed, (Matthew 12:20,) and he inculcates the same character upon his followers. The answer is obvious, that Christ is also armed with an iron scepter, by which to bruise the rebellious, and is elsewhere described as stained with blood, as slaying his enemies on every side, and not being wearied with the slaughter of them. (Isaiah 63:2.) Nor is it surprising, considering the obstinacy which universally prevails in the world, that the mercy which is treated with such indignity should be converted into severity. Now the doctrine laid down in the passage admits of being rightly applied to our practice, in this way, that what is here said of the two-edged sword, applies more especially to the Jews, and not properly to us, who have not a power of this kind permitted; except, indeed, that rulers and magistrates are vested by God with the sword to punish all manner of violence; but this is something peculiar to their office.3 As to the Church collective, the sword now put into our hand is of another kind, that of the word and spirit, that we may slay for a sacrifice to God those who formerly were enemies, or again deliver them over to everlasting destruction unless they repent. (Ephesians 6:17.) For what Isaiah predicted of Christ extends to all who are his members, --
"He shall smite the wicked with the word of his mouth,
and shall slay them with the breath of his lips."
If believers quietly confine themselves within these limits of their calling, they will find that the promise of vengeance upon their enemies has not been given in vain. For when God calls us, as I have said above, to judgment written, he puts a restraint both upon our spirits and actions, so as that we must not attempt what he has not commanded. When it is said, in the close of the verse, that this honor is to all the merciful ones of God, he not only exhorts to the practice of piety, but gives us a support for our encouragement, lest we should think that we might be losers by exercising mercy and patience, as most men give vent to fury and rage, under the idea that the only way to defend their life is by showing the savageness of wolves. Although God's people, therefore, have nothing of the strength of the giant, and will not move a finger without divine permission, 'and have a calm spirit, the Psalmist declares, that they have an honorable and splendid issue out of all their troubles.