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Psalm 96:4-6

4. For Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised; he is terrible above all gods. 7676     The original word for gods is אלהים, elohim Dr Adam Clarke, who doubts whether this word is ever by fair construction applied to false gods or idols, reads —
   “Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised.
Elohim is to be feared above all.”
5. For all the gods of the nations are vanities; 7777     “Ou, idoles.” — Fr. marg. “Or, idols.” but Jehovah made the heavens. 6. Strength and honor are before him; power and glory are in his sanctuary.

 

4. For Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised. He particularly describes that God, whom he would have men to celebrate, and this because the Gentile nations were prone to merge into error upon this subject. That the whole world might abjure its superstitions, and unite in the true religion, he points out the one only God who is worthy of universal praise. This is a point of the greatest importance. Unless men are restrained by a due respect to it, they can only dishonor him the more that they attempt to worship him. We must observe this order if we would not profane the name of God, and rank ourselves amongst unbelieving men, who set forth gods of their own invention. By gods in the verse may be meant, as I observed already, (Psalm 95:3,) either angels or idols. I would still be of opinion that the term comprehends whatever is, or is accounted deity. As God, so to speak, sends rays of himself through all the world by his angels, these reflect some sparks of his Divinity. 7878     “Quia Deus per angelos irradiat totum mundum, in illis refulgent Deitatis scintillae.” — Lat. “Pource que Dieu jette comme ses rayons sur tout le monde par les anges, des estincelles de Divinite reluisent en iceux.” — Fr. Men, again, in framing idols, fashion gods to themselves which have no existence. The Psalmist would convince them of its being a gross error to ascribe undue honor either to the angels or to idols, thus detracting from the glory of the one true God. He convicts the heathen nations of manifest infatuation, upon the ground that their gods are vanity and nought, for such is the meaning of the Hebrew word אלילים, elilim, 7979     אליל, elil, signifies a thing of nought; as if from אל, not, the ל being doubled to denote extreme nothingness. Thus a false vision or prophecy, on which no dependence can be placed, is called אליל, elil, “a thing of nought,” Jeremiah 14:14, and a shepherd that leaves the flock, and instead of visiting, healing and feeding them, devours and tears them in pieces, is called in Zechariah 11:15, 16, “a pastor, האליל, haelil, of no value.” In this sense the word is used of the false gods of the heathen. Instead of being אלהים, elohim, gods, they are אלילים, elilim, mere nothings Accordingly, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:4, speaks of an idol as being “nothing in the world.” which is here applied to idols in contempt. The Psalmist’s great point is to show, that as the Godhead is really and truly to be found in none but the one Maker of the world, those religions are vain and contemptible which corrupt the pure worship of him. Some may ask, Are angels then to be accounted nothing and vanity, merely because many have been deceived in thinking them gods? I would reply, that we do injury to the angels when we give them that honor which is due to God only; and, while we are not on this account to hold that they are nothing in themselves, yet whatever imaginary glory has been attached to them must go for nothing. 8080     “Sed quicquid imaginarium illis affingitur, nihilum esse.” — Lat. But the Psalmist has in his eye the gross delusions of the heathen, who impiously fashioned gods to themselves.

Before refuting their absurd notions, he very properly remarks of God that he is great, and greatly to be praised — insinuating that his glory as the infinite One far excels any which they dreamt of as attaching to their idols. We cannot but notice the confidence with which the Psalmist asserts the glory of the true God, in opposition to the universal opinion which men might entertain. The people of God were at that time called to maintain a conflict of no inconsiderable or common description with the hosts and prodigious mass of superstitions which then filled the whole world. The true God might be said to be confined within the obscure corner of Judea. Jupiter was the god every where received — and adored throughout the whole of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Every country had its own gods peculiar to itself, but these were not unknown in other parts, and it was the true God only who was robbed of that glory which belonged to him. All the world had conspired to believe a lie. Yet the Psalmist, sensible that the vain delusions of men could derogate nothing from the glory of the one God, 8181     “Quia eorum vanitas nihil derogat unis Dei gloriae.” — Ib. looks down with indifference upon the opinion and universal suffrage of mankind. The inference is plain, that we must not conclude that to be necessarily the true religion which meets with the approbation of the multitude; for the judgment formed by the Psalmist must have fallen to the ground at once, if religion were a thing to be determined by the suffrages of men, and his worship depended upon their caprice. Be it then that ever so many agree in error, we shall insist after the Holy Ghost that they cannot take from God’s glory; for man is vanity himself, and all that comes of him is to be mistrusted. 8282     “Car tout ainsi qu’ils sont vanite aussi tout ce qui procede d’eux est vain et plein de deception.” — Fr. Having asserted the greatness of God, he proves it by reference to the formation of the world, which reflects his perfections. 8383     “The argument of God’s superiority over all other beings, drawn from his creation of the world, is sublimely expressed in the following lines ascribed by Justin Martyr (de Monarchid. page 159, ed. Oxon. 1703) to Pythagoras, —
   Εἴ τις ἐρεῖ, Θεός εἰμι πάρεξ ἑνὸς, οὗτος ὀφείλει
Κόσμον ἴσον τούτῳ στήσας εἰπεῖν ἐμὸς οὗτος.

   “One God our hearts confess: whoe’er beside
Aspires with Him our homage to divide,
A world as beauteous let him first design,
And say, its fabric finished, ‘This is mine.’”
Merrick’s Annotations.
God must necessarily exist of himself, and be self-sufficient, which shows the vanity of all gods who made not the world. The heavens are mentioned — a part for the whole — as the power of God is principally apparent in them, when we consider their beauty and adornment.

6 Strength and honor are before him I translate the Hebrew word הוד, hod, by strength, and think those interpreters who render it glory have not duly considered the context. It is evident that the next member of the verse is a repetition, and there it reads, Power and Glory are in his sanctuary. The Psalmist means that we cannot be said to know God if we have not discovered that there is in him an incomparable glory and majesty. He first takes notice of his power and strength, as that in which his glory consists. There, as God is invisible, he directs the thoughts of his people to the sanctuary, which we have already seen to be the symbol of his presence. Such is the weakness of our minds that we rise with difficulty to the contemplation of his glory in the heavens. The Psalmist reminds us that we have no reason to say that his glory is obscure, since there were emblems of his presence in the temple, the sacrifices, and the ark of the covenant. Let us endeavor, when we make mention of God, to conceive of this glory which shines before him — otherwise, if we do not apprehend his power, it is rather a dead than a living God whom we worship. 8484     “Car ceux qui separent de luy sa puissance, imaginent plustost une essence morte, qu’une Divinite vive.” — Fr.


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