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Psalm 78:52-58

52. And he made his people to go forth like sheep, and led them in the wilderness like a flock. 53. And he conducted them in safety, and they were not afraid: and the sea covered their enemies. 54. And he brought them to his holy border, [literally to the border of his holiness,] this mountain, 353353     “This mountain, i.e., Zion; which the Psalmist might point to with his finger.” — Dimock. which his right hand acquired. 354354     “Ou, possedee.” — Fr. marg. “Or, possessed.” 55. He expelled the heathen from before them; and made them to fall into their part of the inheritance; 355355     “Perhaps for נחלה, we should read נחלם, ‘and he made them fall in the lot of their inheritance.’ For it has been by some learned men conjectured, that the land of Canaan was originally the allotment of Heber and his descendants, and that the Canaanites had obtained it by force and violence; for which reason amongst others, they were expelled from it, and the Hebrews reinstated. See Genesis 11:15; 13:15; 1 Chronicles 1:24-27; and Bryant’s Obs. But see Psalm 105:11, 12, 44, and Psalm 111:7.” — Dimock and made the children of Israel to dwell in their tents. 56. And they tempted and provoked the Most High God, and kept not his testimonies. 57. And they turned back and dealt treacherously, like their fathers: they turned back, like a deceitful bow. 356356     “כקשת רמיה, like a deceitful bow This comparison does not seem to convey a suitable idea either here or Hosea 7:16. Might we then venture to read in both places כאשתlike a deceitful woman?’ backsliding Israel being often represented under the character of an adulteress. See Ezekiel 16:32. And the last line of the next verse strongly countenances this reading: ‘and they made him jealous with their images.’ See Exodus 20:5.” — Dimock There is, however, no necessity for this conjectural emendation. The image employed is natural enough. “The Eastern bow,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “which, when at rest, is in the form of aוסב , must be recurred, or turned the contrary way, in order to be what is called bent and strung If a person who is unskilful or weak attempt to recurve and string one of these bows, if he take not great heed, it will spring back and regain its quiescent position, and perhaps break his arm. And sometimes I have known it, when bent, to start aside — regain its quiescent position — to my no small danger; and, in one or two cases, to my injury. This image is frequently used in the Sacred Writings; but no person has understood it, not being acquainted with the Eastern recurved bow, which must be bent the contrary way, in order to be proper for use These Israelites, when brought out of their natural bent, soon recoiled, and relapsed into their former state.” 58. And they provoked him to anger with their high places; and moved him to anger with their graven images.

 

52. And he made his people to go forth like sheep. The Psalmist again celebrates God’s fatherly love towards the chosen people, whom, as we have elsewhere remarked, he compares to a flock of sheep. They had no wisdom or power of their own to preserve and defend themselves; but God graciously condescended to perform towards them the office of a shepherd. It is a singular token of the love which he bore towards them, that he did not disdain to humble himself so far as to feed them as his own sheep. What could a multitude who had never been trained up to the art of war do against powerful and warlike enemies? So far from having learned the art of war, the people, as is well known, had been employed, when in Egypt, in mean and servile occupations, as if they had been condemned to toil under the earth in mines or in quarries.

53. And he conducted them in safety, and they were not afraid. This does not imply that they relied on God confidently, and with tranquil minds, but that, having God for their guide and the guardian of their welfare, they had no just cause to be afraid. When at any time they were thrown into consternation, this was owing to their own unbelief. From this cause proceeded these murmuring questions to which they gave utterance, when Pharaoh pursued them, upon their leaving Egypt, and when they were “sore afraid:” “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness,” (Exodus 14:11.) This security, then, is not to be referred to the feeling of this in the minds of the people, but to the protection of God, by which it came to pass that, their enemies having been drowned in the Red Sea, they enjoyed quiet and repose in the wilderness. Other benefits which God had bestowed upon them are here recited, and at the same time other transgressions with which they had been chargeable. This shows the more clearly their deep ingratitude. After having obtained possession of the inheritance which was promised them, as if they had been under no obligations to God, their hearts were always rebellious and untractable. The accomplishment, and, as it were, the concluding act of their deliverance, was the putting them in possession of the land of Canaan, from entering which they had precluded themselves, had not God determined, notwithstanding their wickedness, to complete, in all respects, the work which he had commenced. The land itself is called the borders of God’s sanctuary, (verse 54,) because God, in assigning it to his people, had also consecrated it to himself. This, it is manifest, exhibits in a more heinous and aggravated light the iniquity of the people, who brought into that land the same pollutions with which it had been anciently defiled. What madness was it for the people of Israel, who knew that the old inhabitants of the country had been driven from it on account of their abominations, to strive to surpass them in all kinds of wickedness? as if they had been resolved to do all they could to bring down upon their own heads that divine vengeance which they had seen executed upon others. The words this mountain are improperly explained by some as applying to the whole country of Judea; for although it was a mountainous country, there were in it plain and level grounds of large extent, both as to breadth and length. I have, therefore, no doubt, that by way of amplification the Psalmist makes honorable mention of mount Zion, where God had chosen a habitation for himself, and his chief seat. I indeed allow, that under this expression, by the figure synecdoche, a part is put for the whole; only I would have my readers to understand, that this place is expressly named, because from it, as from a source or fountain, flowed the holiness of the whole land. It is asserted that God, by his right hand, possessed or acquired this mountain; for the Hebrew verb קנה, kanah, may be understood in either of these senses: and this assertion is made, that the Israelites might not be lifted up with pride, as if they had achieved the conquest of the land, or had obtained the peaceable possession of it by their own power. As is stated in Psalm 44:3,

“They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them, but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favor unto them.” (Psalm 44:3)

55. He expelled the heathen from before them; and made them to fall into their part of the inheritance. These words are an explanation of the concluding sentence of the preceding verse: they describe the manner in which the land of Canaan was acquired, plainly intimating that the Israelites were not such a warlike race, nor those heathen nations so cowardly, as to render it an easy matter for the former to vanquish the latter, and that it would have been impossible for the former to have expelled the latter from the country, had they not been led on to victory under the conduct of God, and been aided by his power. Besides, it would have been unlawful for them to have taken possession of the country, had it not been the will of God that the first inhabitants should be deprived of it, and that strangers should be established in it in their room.

56. And they tempted and provoked the Most High God. Here they are upbraided for having, notwithstanding the many tokens of the divine favor by which they were distinguished, persevered in acting perfidiously: yea, even although God from time to time conferred upon them new benefits, to recover them to their allegiance to him, they, notwithstanding, by their rebellion, shook off his yoke. With respect to the word tempt, we have already explained its import. But it is added in general, that they provoked God, because they had not kept his covenant By this last clause, their open and gross rebellion is the more completely demonstrated; for, although they had been plainly taught their duty, they nevertheless refused to submit to the authority of God. The law is called testimonies or agreements, 357357     “Ou, Convenances.” — Fr. because, as men enter into contracts upon certain conditions, so God, by his covenant, entered into a contract with this people, and bound them to himself. In speaking of them in this manner, there is pronounced upon them no light censure; but when they are charged in the next verse with apostasy and perfidiousness, that fills up the measure of their guilt. God had adopted them to be his people: they, on the other hand, despising his favor, voluntarily renounce it. He had gathered them together under his wings; and they, by their waywardness, scatter themselves in all directions. He had promised to be a father to them; and they refuse to be his children. He had shown them the way of salvation; and they, by going astray, willingly precipitate themselves into destruction. The prophet, therefore, concludes, that in every age they showed themselves to be an impious and wicked people. It is again to be noticed, that the fault which is most severely condemned in them is, that they too much resembled their fathers. This is particularly mentioned, to prevent any man from deceiving himself by supposing, that in indiscriminately imitating his ancestors he is doing right, and that he may not think of making use of their example as an argument for defending his own conduct. The instability of the people is next expressed by a very apposite figure, which Hosea also employs in Hosea 7:16. As archers are deceived when they have a bow which is too weak, or ill bent, or crooked and flexible, so it is stated, that this people turned back, and slipped away by their deceitful and tortuous craftiness, that they might not be governed by the hand of God.

58. And they provoked him to anger with their high places. We have here adduced the species of defection by which the Israelites afforded incontestable evidence that they refused to be faithful to God, and to yield allegiance to him. They had been sufficiently, and more than sufficiently warned, that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word; and now, disregarding his whole law, they recklessly follow their own inventions. And the fruits which uniformly proceed from the contempt of the law are, that men who choose rather to follow their own understanding than to submit to the authority of God, become wedded to gross superstitions. The Psalmist complains that the service of God was corrupted by them in two ways; in the first place, by their defacing the glory of God, in setting up for themselves idols and graven images; and, secondly, by their inventing strange and forbidden ceremonies to appease the anger of God.


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