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Verse 4

The Psalmist now describes the true way of maintaining brotherly concord with the saints, by declaring that he will have nothing to do with unbelievers and the superstitious. We cannot be united into the one body of the Church under God, if we do not break off all the bonds of impiety, separate ourselves from idolaters, and keep ourselves pure and at a distance from all the pollutions which corrupt and vitiate the holy service of God. This is certainly the general drift of David’s discourse. But as to the words there is a diversity of opinion among expositors. Some translate the first word of the verse עצבות,atsboth, by idols, (313) and according to this rendering the meaning is, that after men in their folly have once begun to make to themselves false gods, their madness breaks forth without measure, until they accumulate an immense multitude of deities. As, however, this word is here put in the feminine gender, I prefer translating it sorrows or troubles, although it may still have various meanings. Some think it is an imprecation, and they read, Let their sorrows be multiplied; as if David, inflamed with a holy zeal, denounced the just vengeance of God against the superstitious. Others, whose opinions I prefer, do not change the tense of the verb, which in the Hebrew is future, Their sorrows shall be multiplied; but to me they do not seem to express, with sufficient clearness, what kind of sorrows David intends. They say, indeed, that wretched idolaters are perpetually adding to their new inventions, in doing which, they miserably torment themselves. But I am of opinion, that by this word there is, at the same time, denoted the end and issue of the pains which they take in committing it; it points out that they not only put themselves to trouble without any profit or advantage, but also miserably harass and busy themselves to accomplish their own destruction. As an incitement to him to withdraw himself farther from their company, he takes this as an incontrovertible principle, that, so far from deriving any advantage from their vain superstitions, they only, by their strenuous efforts in practising them, involve themselves in greater misery and wretchedness. For what must be the issue with respect to those miserable men who willingly surrender themselves as bond-slaves to the devil, but to be disappointed of their hope? even as God complains in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 2:13,)

“They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

In the next clause there is also some ambiguity. The Hebrew word מהר, mahar, which we have translated to offer, in the conjugation kal signifies to endow, or to give. But as, in the conjugation hiphil, it is more frequently taken for to run, or to make haste, (314) many have preferred this latter meaning, and interpret the clause thus, that superstitious persons eagerly hasten after strange gods. And in fact we see them rushing into their idolatries with all the impetuosity and recklessness of madmen running in the fields; (315) and the prophets often upbraid them for this inconsiderate frenzy with which they are fired. I would, therefore, be much disposed to adopt this sense were it supported by the common usage of the language; but as grammarians observe that there is not to be found another similar passage in Scripture, I have followed, in my translation, the first opinion. In short, the sum of what the Psalmist says is this, That unbelievers, who lavish and squander away their substance upon their idols, not only lose all the gifts and offerings which they present to them, but also, by provoking the wrath of God against themselves, are continually increasing the amount of their miseries. Perhaps, also, the prophet has an allusion to the common doctrine of Scripture, that idolaters violate the promise of the spiritual marriage contracted with the true God, and enter into covenant with idols. (316) Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:33) justly upbraids the Jews, in that while the custom is for the lover to allure the harlot with presents, they, on the contrary, offered rewards to the idols to whom they prostituted and abandoned themselves. But the meaning which we have above given brings out the spirit of the passage, namely, that unbelievers, who honor their false gods by offering to them gifts, not only lose what is thus expended, but also heap up for themselves sorrows upon sorrows, because at last the issue will be miserable and ruinous to them.

I will not taste their libations of blood. By libations of blood some understand that there is a reference to sacrifices made of things acquired by murder or rapine. As, however, the prophet is not here inveighing against cruel and bloodthirsty men, but condemns, in general, all false and corrupt religious worship; and again, as he does not directly name sacrifices, but expressly speaks of the ceremony of taking the cup, and tasting a little of it, which was observed in offering sacrifices, (317) I have no doubt but that to this ceremony, as it was observed according to the law of God, he here tacitly opposes the drinking of blood in heathen sacrifices. We know that God, in order to teach his ancient people to hold in greater abhorrence murder and all cruelty, forbade them to eat or to drink blood either in their common food or in sacrifices. On the contrary, the histories of the heathen nations bear testimony that the custom of tasting the blood in their sacrifices prevailed among them. David, therefore, protests, that he will not only keep himself uncontaminated by the corrupt and false opinions by which idolaters are seduced, but that he will also take care not to show outwardly any token of his complying with or approving them. In the same sense we are to understand what follows immediately after, I will not take their names in my lips. This implies that he will hold idols in such hatred and detestation, as to keep himself from naming them as from execrable treason against the majesty of heaven. Not that it is unlawful to pronounce their names, which we frequently meet with in the writings of the prophets, but David felt he could not otherwise more forcibly express the supreme horror and detestation with which the faithful ought to regard false gods. This is also shown by the form of expression which he employs, using the relative only, their names, although he has not expressly stated before that he is speaking of idols. Thus, by his example, he enjoins believers not only to beware of errors and wicked opinions, but also to abstain from all appearance of giving their consent to them. He evidently speaks of external ceremonies, which indicate either the true religion, or some perverse superstition. If, then, it is unlawful for the faithful to show any token of consenting to or complying with the superstitions of idolaters, Nicodemuses (who falsely call themselves by this name (318)) must not think to shelter themselves under the frivolous pretext that they have not renounced the faith, but keep it hidden within their hearts, when they join in the observance of the profane superstitions of the Papists. Some understand the words strangers and their names, as denoting the worshippers of false gods; but in my judgment David rather means the false gods themselves. The scope of his discourse is this: The earth is filled with an immense accumulation (319) of superstitions in every possible variety, and idolaters are lavish beyond all bounds in ornamenting their idols; but the good and the holy will ever regard all their superstitious inventions with abhorrence.

“They multiply their sorrows who hastily turn backward;
Their libations of blood will I not offer;
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.”

And the sense which he attaches to the passage is, that David having in the preceding verse declared his delight in the righteous, here states that those who turn away from God and his truth augment their own sufferings; and affirms it to be his resolution to have no fellowship with them in their religious services, which were polluted and detestable, or in the intercourse of friendship by making mention of their names.

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