Verses 1-8. - The introduction calls special attention to the teaching that is about to be put forth, which it declares to be traditional (ver. 3), and, further, to be the sort of instruction which God had especially commanded to be given to his people by their teachers (vers. 5, 6) for their edification (vers. 7, 8). Verse 1. - Give ear, O my people, to my law; rather, to my teaching. Hat-torah - torah with the article - is "the Law;" but torah alone is any teaching or instruction. Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Dr. Kay regards the words of ver. 1 as "God's own words,"
(1) on account of the expression, "O my people;" and
(2) on account of "my Law." But "my people" is not inappropriate in the mouth of a psalmist, and occurs in Psalm 59:11 and Psalms 144:2. It "indicates the love in which the effort of the psalmist originated" (Hengstenberg). And "law," as already observed, is not the proper, or at any rate not the only, meaning of torah.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Verse 2. - I will open my mouth in a parable. The facts of Israelitish history. are the "parable," the inner meaning of which it is for the intelligent to grasp. They are φωνᾶντα συνετοῖσιν. I will utter dark sayings of old (comp. Proverbs 1:6). Khidoth (חידות) are properly "riddles" (see Judges 14:12). Here the idea is that God's dealings with his people had been "riddles," whereto the psalmist would give the clue (comp. vers. 21, 22, 33, 56-59, etc.).
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
Verse 3. - Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us; or, "recounted to us" (Kay). The facts of their past history had been handed down orally from father to son among the Israelites, not simply learnt from their sacred writings. So the facts of Christianity have reached us, not merely through the New Testament, but also by the teaching of the Church.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
Verse 4. - We will not hide them from their children. They shall still be handed down in the same way. We of this generation will still continue the practice of handing down, by word of mouth, to the next generation, how God has dealt with Israel. Asaph's psalms were written, it must be remembered, to be recited in the services of the sanctuary (comp. 2 Chronicles 29:30). Showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord; i.e. the actions for which he deserves praise. And his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done (comp. vers. 12-16, and vers. 23-55).
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
Verse 5. - For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel. The "testimony" and the "law" are the whole series of commands given by God to his people, beginning with the directions concerning circumcision in Genesis (Genesis 17:10-14), and terminating with the last precept in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:46). They may include also the teachings of God through history. These he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children (see Exodus 12:26, 27; Exodus 13:8, 14, 15; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:46, etc.).
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
Verse 6. - That the generation to come might know them. "The generation to come" is the next generation, that immediately following those to whom the command was directly given. Even the children which should be born. Their actual sons and daughters. Who should arise and declare them to their children. The first generation were to hand the knowledge on to the second, the second to the third, and so on. This is the way in which the hulk of human knowledge actually passes on. Not much is learnt from books without a teacher (see Acts 8:31).
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
Verse 7. - That they might set their hope in God. Instruction in God's Law, and in his treatment of their forefathers, would naturally tend to make the Israelites "set their hope in God," who in the past had done so much for them. And not forget the works of God. They could not well forget, it' they were perpetually reminded of them. But keep his commandments. If they bore God's works - i.e. his many mercies - in mind, they would be the more disposed to obedience.
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
Verse 8. - And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation (comp. Deuteronomy 21:18, 20, for the combination of the two words). The "stubbornness" of Israel is noted in Deuteronomy 9:27; Judges 2:19; and frequently by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 9:14; Jeremiah 11:8, etc.); their "rebelliousness" in Deuteronomy 9:7, 24; Isaiah 30:1, 9; Isaiah 65:2; Jeremiah 5:23; Ezekiel 2:3-8; Ezekiel 3:9, 26, 27; Ezekiel 12:2, 3, etc. (compare also for the idea 2 Kings 17:14-17:2 Chronicles 36:14-16; Ezra 9:6, 7; Nehemiah 1:6, 7; Daniel 9:5-11; and Acts 7:51, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye"). A generation that set not their heart aright; literally, that prepared not their heart - did not make it ready to receive Divine influences (see 1 Samuel 7:3; Job 11:13; 2 Chronicles 20:33). And whose spirit was not steadfast with God. It was not that Israel was wholly without religious feeling, but the feeling was fickle, unsteadfast, never to be depended on (comp. Exodus 32:1-6; Numbers 16:41, 42; Judges 2:17, etc.).
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
Verses 9-72. - The historical portion of the psalm now follows. It commences with some general remarks on the transgressions of Ephraim, i.e. of Israel while under the guidance of Ephraim - from Joshua to Samuel (vers. 9-11). It then proceeds to details, and sketches the Israelite history. from the deliverance out of Egypt to the establishment of David's kingdom (vers, 12-72). Verse 9. - The children of Ephraim (comp. ver. 67). Ephraim was the leading tribe, from the appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses until the establishment of Saul as king. Hence the tabernacle was set up within the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 18:1). The importance of Ephraim appears in Judges 3:27; Judges 7:24; Judges 8:1, 2; Judges 10:9; Judges 12:1-6. Being armed, and carrying bows. There is no "and" in the original. "Carrying bows" is exegetical of "being armed" (comp. 2 Chronicles 17:17). Turned back in the day of battle. The allusion is not to any one particular occasion, but to the ill success of Israel under the leadership of Ephraim during the whole period of the Judges (see Judges 2:14; Judges 3:8, 13, 31; Judges 4:2; Judges 6:1; Judges 10:7, 12, etc.).
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
Verse 10. - They kept not the covenant of God (comp. Deuteronomy 29:25; Deuteronomy 31:20; 1 Kings 19:10, 14, etc.). And refused to walk in his law (see Judges 2:11-13; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:10).
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
Verse 11. - And forgat his works (see ver. 42), and his wonders that he had showed them (see vers. 12-15, 24-28, 43-53).
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
Verse 12. - Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. The miracles of Egypt are, perhaps, the most striking series in Jewish history. A more particular account of them is given below (vers. 44-53). They were wrought "in the field of Zoan," i.e. in the rich flat tract east and south of the city of Zoan, the Greek Tanis, now San. (On this place, see Mr. Reginald Peele's 'Cities of Egypt,' pp. 64-88.) This fact could not have been gathered from Exodus, but must have come to the writer from the tradition of which he speaks in ver. 3.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
Verse 13. - He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through (see Exodus 14:21, 22). And he made the waters to stand as an heap. The expression is taken from the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:8). It must be understood poetically.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
Verse 14. - In the daytime also he led them with a cloud. The "pillar of the cloud" is, of course, intended (see Exodus 13:21, 22; Exodus 14:19, 24; Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:34; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:33). And all the night with a light of fire. The "pillar of fire" (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:16, etc.).
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
Verses 15, 16. - He clave the rocks in the wilderness; rather, he clave rocks. The word has no article. The reference is probably to both Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:8-11. And gave them drink as out of the great depths; rather, "and gave them drink abundantly, as out of the depths" (so Cheyne and the Revised Version). On the abundance of the water, see Numbers 20:11, and compare the next verse: He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
Verse 17. - And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the Most High in the wilderness. The two provocations of a demand for bread (Exodus 16:3) and a demand for flesh (Numbers 11:4) are joined together in the present passage, as the two occasions of giving water are in vers. 15, 16. Only the second of these two provocations was subsequent to the (first) giving of water; but the psalmist does not allow himself to be bound by considerations of strict chronological accuracy. He is a poet, and not an historian; though at present he is treating of history.
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
Verse 18. - And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust; rather, by asking food (Kay, Cheyne, Alexander). The term used (אכל) is wide enough to include both bread (לחם) and flesh (שׁאר). "For their lust" (literally, "for their soul") means for the gratification of their carnal appetites (comp. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5).
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Verse 19. - Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (see Numbers 11:4). But the psalmist either feels himself at liberty to expand the account given in the Pentateuch, or has a further knowledge of the real feelings of the people, which has come to him by tradition (compare the comment on ver. 12).
Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
Verse 20. - Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams (literally, the torrent courses) overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? These were probably the people's thoughts rather than their words. An "evil heart of unbelief" underlay their clamours and their murmurings. They doubted God's power to relieve their wants, notwithstanding all the proofs that they had had of his omnipotence.
Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
Verse 21. - Therefore the Lord heard this. Though these might be unspoken thoughts, yet God would "hear" them, i.e. be aware of them; for "he knoweth the very secrets of the heart." And was wroth (comp. vers. 59, 62; Deuteronomy 3:26). So a fire was kindled against Jacob. Not a material fire, as in Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 11:1-3; and Numbers 16:35; but the fire of God's displeasure. And anger also came up against Israel (comp. vers. 30, 31; Numbers 11:33).
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Verse 22. - Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation. They trusted neither in God's power nor in his love; they neither believed that he would nor that he could save them.
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
Verse 23. - Though he had commanded the clouds from above; rather, and he commanded (Hengstenberg, Cheyne, Revised Version). The command was subsequent, not previous, to the want of faith (see Numbers 11:4-31). And opened the doors of heaven (comp. Genesis 7:11, "The windows of heaven were opened"). The expressions are, of course, poetical (see also 2 Kings 7:2).
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
Verse 24. - And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them; rather, and rained down manna to eat, and gave them (comp. Exodus 16:13, 14). Of the corn of heaven (comp. Exodus 16:4; Psalm 105:40; John 6:6, 7).
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
Verse 25. - Man did eat angels' food; literally, bread of the mighty ones, by which the LXX. and most commentators understand "angels" to be meant. "Angels' food" may mean either the actual food on which angels subsist, or food supplied by the ministration of angels, and derived from their dwelling place. It cannot be laid down dogmatically that angels require no food. He sent them meat to the full (comp. Exodus 16:3, where the Israelites contrast with their wretched life in the wilderness their life in Egypt, where they "did eat bread to the full").
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
Verse 26. - He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. Here, again, tradition seems to speak. The narrative in the Pentateuch has only, "There went forth a wind from the Lord" (Numbers 11:81).
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
Verse 27. - He rained flesh also upon them. With the expression, "rained flesh," comp. Exodus 16:4, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven;" and see also Genesis 19:24 and Exodus 9:23. As dust; i.e. "as thick as dust" (Prayer book Version). The quails lay "as it were two cubits high" for the distance of a day's journey round about each encampment (see Numbers 11:31). And feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. The commonest image of multiplicity (Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 33:19; Joshua 11:4; Judges 7:12, etc.).
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
Verse 28. - And he let it fall in the midst of their camp. The quails "covered the camp" (Exodus 16:13). Round about their habitations. They extended also round it on every side (Numbers 11:31).
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
Verse 29. - So they did eat, and were well filled; i.e. sated (comp. Numbers 11:19, 20). For he gave them their own desire; or, their own lust - that they lusted after (Revised Version).
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
Verse 30. - They were not estranged from their lust; i.e. their lust was not yet satiated - they were still indulging it. The meat was yet in their mouths, still undergoing mastication, when -
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
Verse 31. - The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them (comp. Numbers 11:33, "While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague"). By "the fattest of them," we are to understand the strongest and healthiest. And smote down the chosen men of Israel; rather, the young men, as in the margin, "the ripened youths" (Cheyne). Here, again, the author adds touches which he has not obtained from the Pentateuch.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
Verse 32. - For all this they sinned still. Neither gratitude for favours received (vers. 13-17), nor alarm at punishments inflicted (ver. 31), had any effect on the stiff-necked people; despite of both, they "sinned still" (comp. vers. 40, 41, 56-58). And believed not for his wondrous works. Unbelief was at the root of their contumacy. They could not deny God's mighty works in the past, but they did not accept them as any evidence of his power to do other mighty works in the future (see ver. 20).
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
Verse 33. - Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. Their faithlessness was punished by their forty years of vain and purposeless wandering in the wilderness, and by the "troubles" that befell them there.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
Verse 34. - When he slew them, then they sought him (comp. Exodus 32:28, 35; Exodus 33:4, 10; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 16:48, 49, etc.). The repentance is not always noticed in the Mosaic narrative, being, as it was, short-lived, if not even feigned (ver. 36). But, no doubt, after each outpouring of the Divine vengeance, there was at least some show of repentance, as noted in Exodus 33:4. And they returned - i.e. turned back from their evil courses - and inquired early after God; rather, earnestly (Cheyne, Canon Cook).
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
Verse 35. - And they remembered that God was their Rock; i.e. their strength and stay. The expression is first used of God in Deuteronomy 32:4. And the high God their Redeemer (comp. Psalm 19:14; Psalm 74:2).
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
Verse 36. - Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth. The Revised Version is simpler and better, But they flattered him with their mouth. All that they said or did when alarmed by some judgment of God's was a mere pretence - an attempt to "flatter" and cozen God, and so win his favour. And they lied unto him with their tongues. They offered him a lip service, which was a "lie," a mere semblance of real religion.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
Verse 37. - For their heart was not right with him. It is the worship of the heart alone which God values (see Deuteronomy 10:12; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 23:26, etc.). If the heart be not "right with God," our worship is an offence to him. Neither were they steadfast in his covenant (comp. ver. 8).
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
Verse 38. - But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity. (On God's compassion, see Exodus 34:6, 7; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8.) And destroyed them not. The allusion is to such occasions as are noted in Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 14:12-20; Numbers 16:21, 45-50, when God was on the point of destroying the whole people, but relented at the intercession of Moses. Yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath (comp. Judges 2:11-16; Judges 3:8, 9; Judges 4:2, 15; Judges 6:1-8, etc.).
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
Verse 39. - For he remembered that they were but flesh (comp. Genesis 6:3). Flesh is weak, erring, frail - "in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:17) - God, therefore, who had made them "flesh," had compassion on their weakness. A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again (comp. Job 7:7). Man is a mere passing breath - as light, as fleeting, as transitory - "a vapour that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14).
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
Verse 40. - How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! (comp. Deuteronomy 31:27; Deuteronomy 32:15-18; Acts 7:30-43, etc.). That God is "grieved" at man's sins appears, not only from this passage, but also from Genesis 6:6; Psalm 95:10; Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 3:17.
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
Verse 41. - Yea, they turned back and tempted God; rather, again and again they tempted God (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne); see Exodus 17:2, 7; Deuteronomy 6:16. And limited the Holy One of Israel (comp. Numbers 34:7, 8). This may mean either "they set limits to his power in their own minds" (see ver. 20), or "they actually limited his power to help and succour them by their want of faith" (comp. Mark 6:5, "He could there do no mighty work," explained in Matthew 13:58 to have been "because of their unbelief"). The other meanings suggested - "disgraced" and" provoked" - are less probable.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
Verse 42. - They remembered not his hand; i.e. "his doings" (comp. ver. 11, they "forgat his works"). Nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy. "The day" intended is probably that of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:28). In this the Egyptian signs culminated.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
Verse 43. - How he had wrought his signs in Egypt. The point just touched in ver. 12 is now taken up and expanded, with the object of showing to the Israelites of the writer's day what cause they had for thankfulness to God in the past and for trust in him for the future. And his wonders in the field of Zoan. "The field of Zoan" (sochet Zoan) is said to be mentioned in an Egyptian inscription (Zeitschrift fur Aegyptische Sprache for the year 1872, p. 16).
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
Verse 44. - And had turned their rivers into blood (see Exodus 7:19, 20). "Their rivers" are the many branches of the Nile, some natural, some artificial (Herod., 2:17), by which Lower Egypt is traversed. And their floods; or, their streams; i.e. the smaller canals, which diffused the Nile water over the entire land. That they could not drink (see Exodus 7:21).
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
Verse 45. - He sent divers sorts of flies among them (see Exodus 8:24). A particular sort of fly or beetle is meant, rather than many different sorts. Dr. Kay and Professor Cheyne suggest "dog flies" - Canon Cook, the Blatta Orientalis. Which devoured them; i.e. "preyed upon them," sucking out their life blood. And frogs, which destroyed them (see Exodus 8:6). The poet, not being an historian, does not give the plagues in their chronological order, neither regards himself as bound to mention all of them. He omits the third, and reverses the order of the second and fourth.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
Verse 46. - He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar, and their labour unto the locust. Khasil (חָסִיל), here translated "caterpillar," is probably either a particular kind of locust, or the locust in one of its stages. (On the plague of locusts in Egypt, see Exodus 10:14, 15.)
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
Verse 47. - He destroyed their vines with hail (see Exodus 9:23-25). Here, again, there is an inversion of the order in which the plagues came, since the plague of hail preceded that of the locusts. There is also an addition to the narrative of Exodus in the mention of "vines" (see also Psalm 105:33), which may indicate a use of tradition. That vines were cultivated in Egypt is now generally acknowledged. And their sycamore trees with frost; or, with sleet - a variant of the "hail" in the other hemistich.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
Verse 48. - He gave up their cattle also to the hall (comp. Exodus 9:19-21, 25). And their flocks to hot thunderbolts (see Exodus 9:24, 28, 29, 34). The "fire which ran along the ground" (Exodus 9:23) must have been caused by electrified clouds of high tension; the highly charged drops of rain meeting the inductively charged earth, and sparking across when within striking distance. This is believed to accompany every thunderstorm, though generally invisible to the eye. When exceptionally severe, it would convey the idea of running fire, and would of course be very destructive of life. It is no wonder that most of the cattle which were left "in the field" died (Exodus 9:21, 25).
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
Verse 49. - He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble. "The accumulation of terms signifying Divine wrath is designed to set forth the dreadful nature of this last judgment" (Hengstenberg) - the death of the firstborn. By sending evil angels among them. Most modern critics regard this clause as in apposition with the preceding one, and consider the "wrath, indignation, and trouble" to be themselves the "evil angels" spoken cf. Some, however, as Hengstenberg and Kay, interpret the passage of spiritual beings - not, however, of spirits of evil, who are never said to be ministers of God's wrath, but of good angels, who on this occasion were "ministers of woe."
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
Verse 50. - He made a way to his anger; literally, he levelled a way for his anger; i.e. made a smooth path for it (Cheyne). He spared not their soul from death; rather, held not back their soul. But gave their life over to the pestilence. This is, undoubtedly, the true meaning, and not "he gave their beasts over to the murrain." Though no "pestilence" is expressly mentioned in Exodus 12. as having caused the death of the firstborn, yet pestilence may assuredly have been the means employed.
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
Verse 51. - And smote all the firstborn in Egypt (see Exodus 12:29). The chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham; or, "the beginning (literally, firstfruits) of their strength" (comp. Genesis 49:3). "The tabernacles of Ham" is a periphrasis for "Egypt" - the Egyptians, according to the author of Genesis (Genesis 10:6), being descendants of Ham (comp. Psalm 105:23, 27; 6:22). There are no sufficient grounds for connecting the name of Ham either with the Egyptian Kem, Kemi - the native name for the country - or with Khem, one of the principal Egyptian goes. The literation is, no doubt, close in the latter case; but etymologists lay it down that close approximations are especially deceptive.
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
Verse 52. - But made his own people to go forth like sheep (comp. Psalm 77:20; Psalm 95:7). And guided them in the wilderness like a flock. The guidance began from Succoth, and was effected by means of the pillar of the cloud and the pillar of fire (see Exodus 13:20-22).
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
Verse 53. - And he led them on safely, so that they feared not (comp. Exodus 14:13-22). At Pi-hahiroth they "were sore afraid" (Exodus 14:10), but after Moses had exhorted them (ver. 13), they showed no more signs of fear. But the sea overwhelmed their enemies (Exodus 14:26-31; Exodus 15:1, 4, 10).
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
Verse 54. - And he brought them to the Border of his sanctuary. The "sanctuary" is here probably the Holy Land, as in Exodus 15:17; or we may translate גבוּל קדשׁו "his holy territory." Even to this mountain. Mount Zion, on which the writer regards himself as standing while his words are chanted in the temple service. Which his right hand had purchased; or, had gotten, "had won." God's right hand won the whole land for his people.
He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
Verse 55. - He cast out the heathen also before them (comp. Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 7:1; 1 Kings 21:26: Psalm 44:2, etc.). "They get not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but God's right hand, and his arm, and the light of his countenance" (Psalm 44:3). And divided them an inheritance by line. The measuring line, which was employed in parcelling out territory, is intended (comp. Jeremiah 31:39; Amos 7:17). Joshua's division of the land (Joshua 15-19.) among the tribes is specially pointed at. And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents; i.e. in the tents of the heathen - the abodes of the Hivites, Hittites, Amorites, Porizzites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
Verse 56. - Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God (comp. above, ver. 17). The Israelites continued to "tempt and provoke God" after they had obtained possession of the Holy Land, and divided it among them (see Judges 2:11-19; Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 10:6-15; Judges 13:1, etc.). And kept not his testimonies; or, his ordinances (Cheyne).
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
Verse 57. - But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers (comp. ver. 8, end the comment ad loc.). They were turned aside like a deceitful bow (comp. Hosea 7:16). A "deceitful bow" is one that fails in the hour of need, either breaking, or losing its strength, or sending its arrows wide of the mark.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
Verse 58. - For they provoked him to anger with their high places. The "high place" worship was always displeasing to God. It was, no doubt, deeply tinged with idolatry. And moved him to jealousy with their graven images. In the time of the Judges, both graven and molten images were employed by the Israelites in a worship which they nevertheless regarded as the worship of Jehovah (see the history of Micah in Judges 17. and 18, especially Judges 17:4, 13, and Judges 18:14, 17, 18, 31).
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
Verse 59. - When God heard this, he was wroth (comp. above, ver. 21). And greatly abhorred Israel. Not Israel, as distinct from Judah, but Israel in the broadest sense, the entire nation, as in ver. 55.
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
Verse 60. - So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh. The "tabernacle of the congregation" was first set up under Joshua (Joshua 18.) at Shiloh, a city of Ephraim, and here the national sanctuary continued throughout the period of the Judges (Judges 18:31; Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 24; 1 Samuel 2:14; 1 Samuel 3:21; 1 Samuel 4:4, etc.). God was regarded as having "forsaken" this sanctuary, when he allowed the ark of the covenant, its chief treasure, to be taken (1 Samuel 4:11-22). Subsequently, but at what exact time is unknown, the tabernacle was removed from Shiloh to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1), and later on to Gibson (1 Kings 3:4). The tent which he pitched among men. (On the form and materials of the tabernacle, see Exodus 26:1-37, and compare Mr. Fergusson's article on the subject in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 3. pp. 1451-1455.)
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
Verse 61. - And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand. God's "strength" and "glory" is the ark of the covenant (compare the expression in 1 Samuel 4:21, 22, "The glory is departed from Israel"). (For the capture and "captivity" of the ark, see 1 Samuel 4:17, and 5, 6.)
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
Verse 62. - He gave his people over also unto the sword. Thirty thousand Israelites were slain in the battle in which the ark was captured (see 1 Samuel 4:10). And was wroth with his inheritance (comp. Psalm 28:9; Psalm 33:12; Psalm 106:5, 40).
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
Verse 63. - The fire consumed their young men. The reference is not to such passages as Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35, where a literal fire seems to be spoken of, but rather to the fire of war (Numbers 21:28; Isaiah 26:11; Jeremiah 48:45), or more generally to the fire of the Divine anger (Isaiah 10:16-18; Isaiah 47:14, etc.). And their maidens were not given to marriage; literally, were not praised in song; i.e. in the bridal song. The destruction of the young men, either in battle or in any other way, caused there to be more marriageable girls in Israel than there were husbands for (comp. Isaiah 4:1).
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Verse 64. - Their priests fell by the sword. As Hophni and Phinehas at the taking of the ark (1 Samuel 4:11), and, no doubt, many others on other occasions. And their widows made no lamentation. The solemn funeral dirge could not take place, since the bodies remained on the battlefield.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
Verse 65. - Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep (comp. Psalm 7:6; Psalm 35:23; Psalm 73:20). God is said to "awake," when, after a time of inaction, he suddenly exerts his Almighty power, to the discomfiture of his enemies. That God never really slept was the profound conviction of the Israelites generally (see 2 Kings 18:27; Psalm 121:3, 4). And like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine (comp. Zechariah 10:7; Isaiah 42:13).
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
Verse 66. - And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts; rather, backward, so that they fled before him (comp. Psalm 40:14; Psalm 70:2, etc.). There is no allusion to 1 Samuel 5:6-12. The reference is rather to the many victories of Israel over the Philistines, which began under Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10), and continued under Saul and David. He put them to a perpetual reproach. Covered them, that is, with shame and disgrace. The shame culminated, perhaps, in David's victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40-51).
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
Verse 67. - Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph. The "tabernacle of Joseph" is the sanctuary at Shiloh, which was north of Bethel, and thus within the limits of the tribe of Ephraim. When a permanent site was to be assigned to the tabernacle and the ark, God did not choose for them the position of Shiloh, but that of Jerusalem. And chose not the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim had enjoyed the pre-eminency from the time of the death of Moses (see the comment on ver. 9). By the course of events between Samuel's death and the establishment of the kingdom of David, the pre-eminency had been transferred to Judah, according to the design of the Almighty from the first (see Genesis 49:8-10).
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
Verse 68. - But chose the tribe of Judah. The choice was made when David was, by God's command, anointed to be king (1 Samuel 16:1-12). The Mount Zion which he loved (comp. Psalm 87:2, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob"). God, no doubt, inspired David with the thought of fixing his residence in "the stronghold of Zion" (2 Samuel 5:9), and of bringing up the ark of the covenant into it (2 Samuel 6:12-17). The presence of the ark determined the selection of Jerusalem for the site of the temple.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
Verse 69. - And he built his sanctuary like high palaces; rather, like the heights. The "heights of heaven" (Job 11:8; Job 22:12) are probably meant. Like the earth which he hath established forever; i.e. lofty as heaven, stable and firmly fixed as earth. The ultimate fate of the sanctuary is mercifully hidden from the psalmist.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
Verse 70. - He chose David also his servant (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 12). And took him from the sheepfolds (comp. 1 Samuel 16:11, 19; 2 Samuel 7:8).
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
Verse 71. - From following the ewes great with young he brought him (comp. Isaiah 40:11). The Hebrew word translated "ewes great with young" really means "ewes that are giving suck." This is the portion of the flock which needs the tenderest care. To feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance (see 1 Chronicles 11:2). As Peter, James, and John were called from their occupation of fishers to be "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19), so David was called from feeding sheep to feed God's people.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
Verse 72. - So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart. On the whole, David performed his task of governing Israel faithfully. He had the direct testimony of God to that effect (see 1 Kings 9:4). And he guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. David was not only an upright and faithful king, but also a "skilful" or prudent one. He built up his kingdom into an empire without suffering any serious disasters. Israel reached its acme of glory and prosperity under him, decline setting in under Solomon.
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