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Psalm 78:59-66

59. God heard it, and was wroth, and exceedingly abhorred Israel. 60. And he forsook the habitation of Shiloh, 358358     Shiloh was a city in the tribe of Ephraim, (the son of Joseph,) where the tabernacle and the ark had for a long time their fixed abode; (see Joshua 18:1,) but from whence the ark was taken by the Philistines, in the time of Eli the priest. the tabernacle where he dwelt among men. 61. And he delivered his strength into captivity, and his beauty into the hand of the enemy. 62. And he shut up his people to the sword, and was wroth with his own inheritance. 63. The fire devoured their chosen; 359359     “C’est, l’elite et la fleur du peuple.” — Fr. marg. “That is, the choice and flower of the people.” , and their virgins were not applauded. 360360     Fry renders this verse: —
   “A fire consumed their young men,
And their virgins had no nuptial song.”

   “הוללו, (pro הללו,) laudatae, celebratoe sunt, scil. epithalamiis.” — SimonisWere not praised, i e., remained unmarried; as marriage songs were sung at nuptials.” — Bythner
64. Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation. 65. But the Lord awoke as one asleep, as a mighty man that crieth out by reason of wine. 66. And he smote his enemies behind; he put upon them everlasting disgrace.

 

59 God heard it, and was wroth. The prophet again shows that God, when he found that no good resulted from his long-suffering, which the people abused, yea, even treated with mockery, and perverted as an encouragement to greater excess in sinning, at length proceeded to inflict severe punishments upon them. The metaphor, which he borrows from earthly judges, is frequently to be met with in the Scriptures. When God is said to hear, it is not meant that it is necessary for him to make inquisition, but it is intended to teach us that he does not rush forth inconsiderately to execute his judgments, and thus to prevent any from supposing that he ever acts precipitately. The amount of what is stated is, that the people continued so pertinaciously in their wickedness, that at length the cry of it ascended to heaven; and the very weight of the punishment demonstrated the aggravated nature of the offense.

After it is said that Israel, whom God had loved so much, was become an abomination in his sight, it is added, (verse 60,) that they were bereft of the presence of God, which is the only source of true felicity and comfort under calamities of every kind. God, then, is said to have abhorred Israel, when he permitted the ark of the covenant to be carried into another country, as if he intended by this to indicate that he had departed from Judea, and bidden the people farewell. It is indeed very obvious, that God was not fixed to the outward and visible symbol; but as he had given the ark to be a token or sign of the close union which subsisted between him and the Israelites, in suffering it to be carried away, he testified, that he himself had also departed from them. Shiloh having been for a long time the abode of the ark, and the place where it was captured by the Philistines, (1 Samuel 4:11,) it is termed the habitation or dwelling-place of God. The manner of his residence, in short, is beautifully expressed in the next sentence, where Shiloh is described as his dwelling-place among men. God, it is true, fills both heaven and earth; but as we cannot attain to that infinite height to which he is exalted, in descending among us by the exercise of his power and grace, he approaches as near to us as is needful, and as our limited capacity will bear. It is a very emphatic manner of speaking to represent God as so incensed by the continual wickedness of his people, that he was constrained to forsake this place, the only one which he had chosen for himself upon the earth.

61. And he delivered his strength into captivity. In this verse, the same subject is prosecuted: it is declared, that the strength of God, by which the Israelites had been shielded and defended, was at that time in captivity. Not that his power could only be exerted in connection with the outward symbol; but instead of opposing their enemies as he had formerly done, it was now his will that the grace by which he had preserved his people should, so to speak, be led captive. This, however, is not to be understood as implying that the Philistines had made God their prisoner. The meaning simply is, that the Israelites were deprived of the protection of God, in consequence of which they fell into the hands of their enemies, even as an army is put to flight when the general is taken prisoner. The ark is also termed the beauty of God; because, being in himself invisible, he made it the symbol of his presence, or, as it were, a mirror in which he might be seen. It is a bold, and at first sight, an absurd hyperbole, to say that the strength of God was taken prisoner by the Philistines; but it is expressly used for the purpose of aggravating the wickedness of the people. As he had been accustomed mightily to display the power of his arm in aiding them, the offenses with which he had been provoked must have been of a very heinous character, when he suffered that symbol of his power to be forcibly carried away by a heathen army. We are taught by the prophet Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 7:12,) that what is here related of Shiloh, is addressed as a warning to all those who, flattering themselves upon false grounds, that they enjoy the presence of God, are lifted up with vain confidence: “But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.” If, therefore, when God approaches us familiarly, we do not sincerely receive him with that reverence which becomes us, we have ground to fear that what happened to the people of Shiloh will happen also to us. So much the more disgusting, then, is the boasting of the Pope and his adherents, who support the claims of Rome as the special dwelling-place of God, from the fact, that the Church in former times flourished in that city. It is to be remembered, — what they seem to forget, — that Christ, who is the true temple of the Godhead, was born in Bethlehem, and brought up in Nazareth, and that he dwelt and preached in Capernaum and Jerusalem; and yet the miserable desolation of all these cities affords a dreadful testimony of the wrath of God.

62. And he shut up his people to the sword. Other parts of the calamity which befell Israel in the time of the high priest Eli are here mentioned. God, in permitting the ark to be carried away, showed that he had withdrawn his favor from them. This was also demonstrated from the fact, that all the flower of the people — those who were in the prime and blush of manhood — were consumed by the wrath of God: which is expressed by the fire devouring them. But this language is metaphorical, as is evident from the history of the event referred to, which informs us, that those that perished who were of the chosen of Israel, to the number of thirty thousand men, fell by the sword of the enemy, and not by fire, (1 Samuel 4:10.) This figure points out the suddenness of the dreadful calamity. It is as if it had been said, They were destroyed in a moment, even as fire quickly consumes chaff and the dry leaves of trees. 361361     “Que c’en a este fait en un moment, ainsi que le feu a incontinent consume de la paille ou des fueilles d’arbres bieu seiches.” — Fr.

The great extent of this slaughter is heightened by another figure, which is, that for want of men, the maidens continued unmarried. This is the meaning of the clause, Their virgins were not applauded; the reference being to the nuptial songs which were wont to be sung at marriages in praise of the bride. To aggravate still more the unwonted and appalling nature of the calamity, it is added, that even the priests, whom God had taken under his special protection, perished indiscriminately with others. When it is said, that the widows made no lamentation, I would explain it as denoting, either that they themselves died first for sorrow, so that they had no opportunity of mourning for others, or else, that when led captive by their enemies, they were prohibited to mourn. By all these expressions, the object is to show, in a few words, that all kinds of calamities were heaped upon them. 362362     That is, the order of enumerating first the judgments inflicted by God upon his own people, and then those inflicted upon their enemies.

65. But the Lord awoke as one asleep. Some understand this as spoken of the Israelites, implying that the Lord awoke against them; and others, as spoken of their enemies. If the first sense is adopted, it need not excite our surprise, that the Israelites are termed, in the 66th verse, the enemies of God, even as they are so designated in Isaiah 1:24,

“Therefore, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” (Isaiah 1:24)

And thus the meaning will be, that the Israelites paid dearly for abusing the patience of God, by taking encouragement from it to indulge to greater excess in the commission of sin; for awaking suddenly, he rushed upon them with so much the greater fury. But as we find the prophets drawing their doctrine from Moses, and also framing their language according to his as a standard, the opinion of those who understand this and the following verse, as referring to the Philistines, is no less probable. The prophet here appears to have borrowed this order, from the song of Moses, (Deuteronomy 32:27,) where God declares, that while he punished his own people, he, at the same time, did not forget to repress their enemies. Since it is a common proverb, that the issue of wars is uncertain, if, after the enemies of the chosen tribes had obtained the victory, no change had happened to them, it would not have been so manifest, that what befell his own people was a punishment inflicted upon them by God. But when God, after having afflicted and humbled the Israelites, made his judgments to fall on their conquerors, without the instrumentality of man, beyond all human expectation, and contrary to what happens in the ordinary course of events; — from this it is the more plainly manifest, that when the Israelites were laid in the dust, it was the work of God, who intended thus to punish them. The prophet, however, at the same time, gives us to understand, that God was constrained, as it were, by necessity, to punish them with greater severity; because, in afterwards inflicting his judgments upon the Philistines, he gave abundant evidence of his regard to his covenant, which the Israelites might be very apt to think he had quite forgotten. Although he had, so to speak, taken the side of the Philistines for a time, it was not his intention utterly to withdraw his love from the children of Abraham, lest the truth of his promise should become void.

The figure of a drunken man may seem somewhat harsh; but the propriety of using it will appear, when we consider that it is employed in accommodation to the stupidity of the people. Had they been of a pure and clear understanding, 363363     “S’il eust eu un entendement rassis et bien dispose a escouter.” — Fr. “Had they been possessed of a clear understanding, and disposed to listen.” God would not have thus transformed himself, and assumed a character foreign to his own. When he, therefore, compares himself to a drunken man, it was the drunkenness of the people; that is to say, their insensibility that constrained him to speak thus: which was so much the greater shame to them. With respect to God, the metaphor derogates nothing from his glory. If he does not immediately remedy our calamities, we are ready to think that he is sunk into a profound sleep. But how can God, it may be said, be thus asleep, when he is superior in strength to all the giants, and yet they can easily watch for a long time, and are satisfied with little sleep? I answer, when he exercises forbearance, and does not promptly execute his judgments, the interpretation which ignorant people put upon his conduct is, that he loiters in this manner like a man who is stupified, and knows not how to proceed. 364364     “Les gens stupides prenent cela comme s’il s’arrestoit ainsi qu’un homme estonne, qui ne scait par ou commencer.” — Fr. The prophet, on the contrary, declares, that this sudden awaking of God will be more alarming and terrible than if he had at the first lifted up his hand to execute judgment; and that it will be as if a giant, drunken with wine, should start up suddenly out of his sleep, while as yet he had not slept off his surfeit. Many restrict the statement in the 66th verse, concerning God’s smiting his enemies behind, to the plague which he sent upon the Philistines, recorded in 1 Samuel 5:12. The phrase, everlasting disgrace, agrees very well with this interpretation; for it was a shameful disease to be afflicted with haemorrhoids in their hinder parts. But as the words, They were smitten behind, admit of a more simple sense, I leave the matter undecided.


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