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104. Psalm 104
1Bless Jehovah, O my soul.
O Jehovah my God, thou art very great;
Thou art clothed with honor and majesty:
2Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment;
Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain;
3Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters;
Who maketh the clouds his chariot;
Who walketh upon the wings of the wind;
4Who maketh awinds his messengers;
Flames of fire his ministers;
5 aWho laid the foundations of the earth,
That it should not be moved for ever.
6Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a vesture;
The waters stood above the mountains.
7At thy rebuke they fled;
At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away
8 a(The mountains rose, the valleys sank down)
Unto the place which thou hadst founded for them.
9Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over;
That they turn not again to cover the earth.
10He sendeth forth springs into the valleys;
They run among the mountains;
11They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild asses quench their thirst.
12By them the birds of the heavens have their habitation;
They asing among the branches.
13He watereth the mountains from his chambers:
The earth is filled with the fruit of thy works.
14He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,
And herb for the aservice of man;
That he may bring forth afood out of the earth,
15And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,
aAnd oil to make his face to shine,
And bread that strengtheneth man's heart.
16The trees of Jehovah are filled with moisture,
The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
17Where the birds make their nests:
As for the stork, the fir-trees are her house.
18The high mountains are for the wild goats;
The rocks are a refuge for the conies.
19He appointed the moon for seasons:
The sun knoweth his going down.
20Thou makest darkness, and it is night,
Wherein all the beasts of the forest creep forth.
21The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their food from God.
22The sun ariseth, they get them away,
And lay them down in their dens.
23Man goeth forth unto his work
And to his labor until the evening.
24O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works!
In wisdom hast thou made them all:
The earth is full of thy ariches.
25Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
Wherein are things creeping innumerable,
Both small and great beasts.
26There go the ships;
There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play atherein.
27These wait all for thee,
That thou mayest give them their food in due season.
28Thou givest unto them, they gather;
Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good.
29Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled;
Thou atakest away their breath, they die,
And return to their dust.
30Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created;
And thou renewest the face of the ground.
31Let the glory of Jehovah endure for ever;
Let Jehovah rejoice in his works:
32Who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth;
He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke.
33I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live:
I will sing praise to my God while I have any being.
34Let thy meditation be sweet unto him:
I will rejoice in Jehovah.
35Let sinners be consumed out of the earth.
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless Jehovah, O my soul.
aPraise ye Jehovah.
105. Psalm 105
1Oh give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name;
Make known among the peoples his doings.
2Sing unto him, sing praises unto him;
aTalk ye of all his marvelous works.
3Glory ye in his holy name:
Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah.
4Seek ye Jehovah and his strength;
Seek his face evermore.
5Remember his marvellous works that he hath done,
His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth,
6O ye seed of Abraham his servant,
Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
7He is Jehovah our God:
His judgments are in all the earth.
8He hath remembered his covenant for ever,
The word which he commanded to a thousand generations,
9The covenant which he made with Abraham,
And his oath unto Isaac,
10And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute,
To Israel for an everlasting covenant,
11Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan,
The alot of your inheritance;
12When they were but a few men in number,
Yea, very few, and sojourners in it.
13And they went about from nation to nation,
From one kingdom to another people.
14He suffered no man to do them wrong;
Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,
15Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones,
And do my prophets no harm.
16And he called for a famine upon the land;
He brake the whole staff of bread.
17He sent a man before them;
Joseph was sold for a servant:
18His feet they hurt with fetters:
aHe was laid in chains of iron,
19Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of Jehovah tried him.
20The king sent and loosed him;
Even the ruler of peoples, and let him go free.
21He made him lord of his house,
And ruler of all his substance;
22To bind his princes at his pleasure,
And teach his elders wisdom.
23Israel also came into Egypt;
And Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
24And he increased his people greatly,
And made them stronger than their adversaries.
25He turned their heart to hate his people,
To deal subtly with his servants.
26He sent Moses his servant,
And Aaron whom he had chosen.
27They set among them ahis signs,
And wonders in the land of Ham.
28He sent darkness, and made it dark;
And they rebelled not against his words.
29He turned their waters into blood,
And slew their fish.
30Their land swarmed with frogs In the chambers of their kings.
31He spake, and there came swarms of flies,
And lice in all their borders.
32He gave them hail for rain,
And flaming fire in their land.
33He smote their vines also and their fig-trees,
And brake the trees of their borders.
34He spake, and the locust came,
And the grasshopper, and that without number,
35And did eat up every herb in their land,
And did eat up the fruit of their ground.
36He smote also all the first-born in their land,
The achief of all their strength.
37And he brought them forth with silver and gold;
And there was anot one feeble person among his tribes.
38Egypt was glad when they departed;
For the fear of them had fallen upon them.
39He spread a cloud for a covering,
And fire to give light in the night.
40They asked, and he brought quails,
And satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
41He opened the rock, and waters gushed out;
They ran in the dry places like a river.
42For he remembered his holy word,
And Abraham his servant.
43And he brought forth his people with joy,
And his chosen with singing.
44And he gave them the lands of the nations;
And they took the labor of the peoples in possession:
45That they might keep his statutes,
And observe his laws.
aPraise ye Jehovah.
1 Bless Jehovah, O my soul! After having exhorted himself to praise God, the Psalmist adds, that there is abundant matter for such an exercise; thus indirectly condemning himself and others of ingratitude, if the praises of God, than which nothing ought to be better known, or more celebrated, are buried by silence. In comparing the light with which he represents God as arrayed to a garment, he intimates, that although God is invisible, yet his glory is conspicuous enough. In respect of his essence, God undoubtedly dwells in light that is inaccessible; but as he irradiates the whole world by his splendor, this is the garment in which He, who is hidden in himself, appears in a manner visible to us. The knowledge of this truth is of the greatest importance. If men attempt to reach the infinite height to which God is exalted, although they fly above the clouds, they must fail in the midst of their course. Those who seek to see him in his naked majesty are certainly very foolish. That we may enjoy the light of him, he must come forth to view with his clothing; that is to say, we must cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which he wishes to be seen by us, and not be too curious and rash in searching into his secret essence. Now, since God presents himself to us clothed with light, those who are seeking pretexts for their living without the knowledge of him, cannot allege in excuse of their slothfulness, that he is hidden in profound darkness. When it is said that the heavens are a curtain, it is not meant that under them God hides himself, but that by them his majesty and glory are displayed; being, as it were, his royal pavilion.
3. Laying the beams of his chambers in the waters David now proceeds to explain at greater length what he had briefly stated under the figure of God’s raiment. The scope of the passage is shortly this, that we need not pierce our way above the clouds for the purpose of finding God, since he meets us in the fabric of the world, and is everywhere exhibiting to our view scenes of the most vivid description. That we may not imagine that there is any thing in Him derived, as if, by the creation of the world, he received any addition to his essential perfection and glory, we must remember that he clothes himself with this robe for our sake. The metaphorical representation of God, as laying the beams of his chambers in the waters, seems somewhat difficult to understand; but it was the design of the prophet, from a thing incomprehensible to us, to ravish us with the greater admiration. Unless beams be substantial and strong, they will not be able to sustain even the weight of an ordinary house. When, therefore, God makes the waters the foundation of his heavenly palace, who can fail to be astonished at a miracle so wonderful? When we take into account our slowness of apprehension, such hyperbolical expressions are by no means superfluous; for it is with difficulty that they awaken and enable us to attain even a slight knowledge of God.
What is meant by his walking upon the wings of the wind, is rendered more obvious from the following verse, where it is said, that the winds are his messengers God rides on the clouds, and is carried upon the wings of the wind, inasmuch as he drives about the winds and clouds at his pleasure, and by sending them hither and thither as swiftly as he pleases, shows thereby the signs of his presence. By these words we are taught that the winds do not blow by chance, nor the lightnings flash by a fortuitous impulse, but that God, in the exercise of his sovereign power, rules and controls all the agitations and disturbances of the atmosphere. From this doctrine a twofold advantage may be reaped. In the first place, if at any time noxious winds arise, if the south wind corrupt the air, or if the north wind scorch the corn, and not only tear up trees by the root, but overthrow houses, and if other winds destroy the fruits of the earth, we ought to tremble under these scourges of Providence. In the second place, if, on the other hand, God moderate the excessive heat by a gentle cooling breeze, if he purify the polluted atmosphere by the north wind, or if he moisten the parched ground by south winds; in this we ought to contemplate his goodness.
As the apostle, who writes to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 1:7) quotes this passage, and applies it to the angels, both the Greek and Latin expositors have almost unanimously considered David as here speaking allegorically. In like manner, because Paul, in quoting Psalm 19:4, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 10:18) seems to apply to the apostles what is there stated concerning the heavens, the whole psalm has been injudiciously expounded as if it were an allegory. 179179 See volume 1, page 314. The design of the apostle, in that part of the Epistle to the Hebrews referred to, was not simply to explain the mind of the prophet in this place; but since God is exhibited to us, as it were, visibly in a mirror, the apostle very properly lays down the analogy between the obedience which the winds manifestly and perceptibly yield to God, and that obedience which he receives from the angels. In short, the meaning is, that as God makes use of the winds as his messengers, turns them hither and thither, calms and raises them whenever he pleases, that by their ministry he may declare his power, so the angels were created to execute his commands. And certainly we profit little in the contemplation of universal nature, if we do not behold with the eyes of faith that spiritual glory of which an image is presented to us in the world.
5 He hath founded the earth upon its foundations Here the prophet celebrates the glory of God, as manifested in the stability of the earth. Since it is suspended in the midst of the air, and is supported only by pillars of water, how does it keep its place so steadfastly that it cannot be moved? This I indeed grant may be explained on natural principles; for the earth, as it occupies the lowest place, being the center of the world, naturally settles down there. But even in this contrivance there shines forth the wonderful power of God. Again, if the waters are higher than the earth, because they are lighter, why do they not cover the whole earth round about? Certainly the only answer which philosophers can give to this is, that the tendency of the waters to do so is counteracted by the providence of God, that a dwelling-place might be provided for man. If they do not admit that the waters are restrained by the determinate appointment of God, they betray not only their depravity and unthankfulness, but also their ignorance, and are altogether barbarous. The prophet, therefore, not without reason, recounts among the miracles of God, that which would be to us wholly incredible, did not even experience show its truth. We are very base indeed if, taught by such undoubted a proof, we do not learn that nothing in the world is stable except in as far as it is sustained by the hand of God. The world did not originate from itself, consequently, the whole order of nature depends on nothing else than his appointment, by which each element has its own peculiar property. Nor is the language of the prophet to be viewed merely as an exhortation to give thanks to God; it is also intended to strengthen our confidence in regard to the future, that we may not live in the world in a state of constant fear and anxiety, as we must have done had not God testified that he has given the earth for a habitation to men. It is a singular blessing, which he bestows upon us, in his causing us to dwell upon the earth with undisturbed minds, by giving us the assurance that he has established it upon everlasting pillars. Although cities often perish by earthquakes, yet the body of the earth itself remains. Yea, all the agitations which befall it more fully confirm to us the truth, that the earth would be swallowed up every moment were it not preserved by the secret power of God.
6. He hath covered it with the deep as with a garment, This may be understood in two ways, either as implying that now the sea covers the earth as a garment, or that at the beginning, before God by his omnipotent word held gathered the waters together into one place, the earth was covered with the deep. But the more suitable sense appears to be, that the sea is now the covering of the earth. At the first creation the deep was not so much a garment as a grave, inasmuch as nothing bears less resemblance to the adorning of apparel than the state of confused desolation and shapeless chaos in which the earth then was. Accordingly, in my judgment, there is here celebrated that wonderful arrangement by which the deep, although without form, is yet the garment of the earth. But as the context seems to lead to a different view, interpreters are rather inclined to explain the language as denoting, That the earth was covered with the deep before the waters had been collected into a separate place. This difficulty is however easily solved, if the words of the prophet, The waters shall stand above the mountains, are resolved into the potential mood thus, The waters would stand above the mountains; which is sufficiently vindicated from the usage of the Hebrew language. I have indeed no doubt that the prophet, after having said that God had clothed the earth with waters, adds, by way of exposition, that the waters would stand above the mountains, were it not that they flee away at God’s rebuke. Whence is it that the mountains are elevated, and that the valleys sink down, but because bounds are set to the waters, that they may not return to overwhelm the earth? The passage then, it is obvious, may very properly be understood thus, — that the sea, although a mighty deep, which strikes terror by its vastness, is yet as a beautiful garment to the earth. The reason of the metaphor is, because the surface of the earth stands uncovered. The prophet affirms that this does not happen by chance; for, if the providence of God did not restrain the waters, would they not immediately rush forth to overwhelm the whole earth? He, therefore, speaks advisedly when he maintains that the appearance of any part of the earth’s surface is not the effect of nature, but is an evident miracle. Were God to give loose reins to the sea, the waters would suddenly cover the mountains. But now, fleeing at God’s rebuke, they retire to a different quarter. By the rebuke of God, and the voice of his thunder, is meant the awful command of God, by which he restrains the violent raging of the sea. Although at the beginning, by his word alone, he confined the sea within determinate bounds, and continues to this day to keep it within them, yet if we consider how tumultuously its billows cast up their foam when it is agitated, it is not without reason that the prophet speaks of it, as kept in check by the powerful command of God; just as, both in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 5:22) and in Job, (Job 28:25) God, with much sublimity, commends his power, as displayed in the ocean. The ascending of the mountains, and the descending of the valleys, are poetical figures, implying, that unless God confined the deep within bounds, the distinction between mountains and valleys, which contributes to the beauty of the earth, would cease to exist, for it would engulf the whole earth. It is said that God has founded a place for the valleys; for there would be no dry land at the foot of the mountains, but the deep would bear sway, did not God command the space there to be unoccupied by the sea, as it were contrary to nature.
9. Thou hast set a bound which they shall not pass The miracle spoken of is in this verse amplified, from its perpetuity. Natural philosophers are compelled to admit, and it is even one of their first principles, that the water is circular, and occupies the region intermediate between the earth and the air. It is entirely owing to the providence of God, that part of the earth remains dry and fit for the habitation of men. This is a fact of which mariners have the most satisfactory evidence. Yea, were even the rudest and most stupid of our race only to open their eyes, they would behold in the sea mountains of water elevated far above the level of the land. Certainly no banks, and even no iron gates, could make the waters, which in their own nature are fluid and unstable, keep together and in one place, as we see to be the case. I have just now said that earthquakes, which bring destruction upon some places, leave the globe, upon the whole, as it was before; and in like manner, although the sea, in some parts of the world, overpasses its boundaries, yet the law, which confines it; within certain limits, stands fast, that the earth may be a fit habitation for men. The Baltic Sea, in our own time, inundated large tracts of land, and did great damage to the Flemish people and other neighboring nations. By an instance of this kind we are warned what would be the consequence, were the restraint imposed upon the sea, by the hand of God, removed. How is it that we have not thereby been swallowed up together, but because God has held in that outrageous element by his word? In short, although the natural tendency of the waters is to cover the earth, yet this will not happen, because God has established, by his word, a counteracting law, and as his truth is eternal, this law must remain steadfast.
10. Sending out springs by the valleys The Psalmist here describes another instance both of the power and goodness of God, which is, that he makes fountains to gush out in the mountains, and to run down through the midst of the valleys. Although it is necessary for the earth to be dry, to render it a fit habitation for us, yet, unless we had water to drink, and unless the earth opened her veins, all kinds of living creatures would perish. The prophet, therefore, speaks in commendation of that arrangement by which the earth, though dry, yet supplies us with water by its moisture. The word נחלים, nechalim, which I have rendered springs, is by some translated, torrents or rivers; but springs is more appropriate. In the same sense it is added immediately after, that they run among the hills; and yet, it is scarcely credible that fountains could spring forth from rocks and stony places. But here it may be asked, why the prophet says that the beasts of the field quench their thirst, rather than men, for whose sake the world was created? I would observe, in reply, that he obviously spake in this manner, for the purpose of enhancing the goodness of God, who vouchsafes to extend his care to the brute creation, yea, even to the wild asses, under which species are included all other kinds of wild beasts. And he purposely refers to desert places, that each of us may compare with them the more pleasant, and the cultivated parts of the earth, afterwards mentioned. Rivers run even through great and desolate wildernesses, where the wild beasts enjoy some blessing of God; and no country is so barren as not to have trees growing here and there, on which birds make the air to resound with the melody of their singing. Since even those regions where all lies waste and uncultivated, furnish manifest tokens of the Divine goodness and power, with what admiration ought we to regard that most abundant supply of all good things, which is to be seen in cultivated and favorable regions? Surely in countries where not only one river flows, or where not only grass grows for the feeding of wild beasts, or where the singing of birds is heard not only from a few trees, but where a manifold and varied abundance of good things everywhere presents itself to our view, our stupidity is more than brutish, if our minds, by such manifestations of the goodness of God, are not fixed in devout meditation on his glory.
The same subject is prosecuted in the 13th verse, where it is said that God watereth the mountains from his chambers It is no ordinary miracle that the mountains, which seem to be condemned to perpetual drought, and which, in a manner, are suspended in the air, nevertheless abound in pastures. The prophet, therefore, justly concludes that this fruitfulness proceeds from nothing else but the agency of God, who is their secret cultivator. Labour cannot indeed, in the proper sense, be attributed to God, but still it is not without reason applied to him, for, by merely blessing the earth from the place of his repose, he works more efficaciously than if all the men in the world were to waste themselves by incessant labor.
14. Making grass to grow for cattle The Psalmist now comes to men, of whom God vouchsafes to take a special care as his children. After having spoken of the brute creation, he declares, that corn is produced, and bread made of it, for the nourishment of the human race; and he mentions in addition to this, wine and oil, two things which not only supply the need of mankind, but also contribute to their cheerful enjoyment of life. Some understand the Hebrew word לעבדת, laäbodath, which I have rendered for the service, to denote the labor which men bestow in husbandry; for while grass grows on the mountains of itself, and without human labor, corn and herbs, which are sown, can only be produced, as is well known, by the labor and sweat of men. According to them the meaning is, that God blesses the toil of men in the cultivation of the fields. But this being too strained an interpretation, it is better to understand the word service, in the ordinary sense of the term. With respect to the word bread, I do not object to the view of those who understand it in a restricted sense, although it probably includes all kinds of food; only I dislike the opinion of those who exclude bread. There is no force in the reason which they allege for taking this view, namely, that in the following verse another use of bread is added, when it is said, that it strengthens the heart of man; for there the same thing is expressed in different words. The prophet, in stating that God causeth the earth to bring forth herbs for the support of men, intends to say that the earth supplies them not only with food in corn, but also with other herbs and fruits; for the means of our sustenance is not limited exclusively to one kind of food.
15. And wine that cheereth the heart of man In these words we are taught, that God not only provides for men’s necessity, and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality. The expression, and oil to make his face to shine, has been explained in different ways. As sadness spreads a gloom over the countenance, some give this exposition, That when men enjoy the commodities of wine and oil, their faces shine with gladness. Some with more refinement of interpretation, but without foundation, refer this to lamps. Others, considering the letter מ, mem to be the sign of the comparative degree, take the meaning to be, that wine makes men’s faces shine more than if they were anointed with oil. But the prophet, I have no doubt, speaks of unguents, intimating that God not only bestows upon men what is sufficient for their moderate use, but that he goes beyond this, giving them even their delicacies.
The words in the last clause, and bread that sustains man’s heart, I interpret thus: Bread would be sufficient to support the life of man, but God over and above, to use a common expression, bestows upon them wine and oil. The repetition then of the purpose which bread serves is not superfluous: it is employed to commend to us the goodness of God in his tenderly and abundantly nourishing men as a kind-hearted father does his children. For this reason, it is here stated again, that as God shows himself a foster-father sufficiently bountiful in providing bread, his liberality appears still more conspicuous in giving us dainties.
But as there is nothing to which we are more prone, than to abuse God’s benefits by giving way to excess, the more bountiful he is towards men, the more ought they to take care not to pollute, by their intemperance, the abundance which is presented before them. Paul had therefore good reason for giving that prohibition, (Romans 13:14)
“Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof;”
for if we give full scope to the desires of the flesh, there will be no bounds. As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits; and in lavishing upon us a more abundant supply of good things than our necessities require, he puts our moderation to the test. The proper rule with respect to the use of bodily sustenance, is to partake of it that it may sustain, but not oppress us. The mutual communication of the things needful for the support of the body, which God has enjoined upon us, is a very good check to intemperance; for the condition upon which the rich are favored with their abundance is, that they should relieve the wants of their brethren. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God, according to the injunction of Moses, (Leviticus 23:40;) and, secondly, that they may exhilarate their minds under a sense of gratitude, so as to be rendered more active in the service of God. He who rejoices in this way will also be always prepared to endure sadness, whenever God is pleased to send it. That rule of Paul ought to be kept in mind, (Philippians 4:12,)
“I have learned to abound, — I have learned to suffer want.”
If some token of the divine anger is manifest, even he who has an overflowing abundance of all kinds of dainty food, will restrict himself in his diet knowing that he is called to put on sackcloth, and to sit among ashes. Much more ought he whom poverty compels to be temperate and sober, to abstain from such delicacies. In short, if one man is constrained to abstain from wine by sickness, if another has only vapid wine, and a third nothing but water, let each be content with his own lot, and willingly and submissively wean himself from those gratifications which God denies him.
The same remarks apply to oil. We see from this passage that ointments were much in use among the Jews, as well as among the other eastern nations. At the present day, it is different with us, who rather keep ointments for medicinal purposes, than use them as articles of luxury. The prophet, however, says, that oil also is given to men, that they may anoint themselves therewith. But as men are too prone to pleasure, it is to be observed, that the law of temperance ought not to be separated from the beneficence of God, lest they abuse their liberty by indulging in luxurious excess. This exception must always be added, that no person may take encouragement from this doctrine to licentiousness.
Moreover, when men have been carefully taught to bridle their lust, it is important for them to know, that God permits them to enjoy pleasures in moderation, where there is the ability to provide them; else they will never partake even of bread and wine with a tranquil conscience; yea, they will begin to scruple about the tasting of water, at least they will never come to the table but in fearfulness. Meanwhile, the greater part of the world will wallow in pleasures without discrimination, because they do not consider what God permits them; for his fatherly kindness should be to us the best mistress to teach us moderation.
16. The trees of Jehovah shall be satiated The Psalmist again treats of God’s general providence in cherishing all the parts of the world. In the first place, he asserts, that by the watering of which he had spoken the trees are satiated, or filled with sap, that thus flourishing they may be a place of abode to the birds. He next declares, that the wild deer and conies have also their places of shelter, to show that no part of the world is forgotten by Him, who is the best of fathers, and that no creature is excluded from his care. The transition which the prophet makes from men to trees is as if he had said, It is not to be wondered at, if God so bountifully nourishes men who are created after his own image, since he does not grudge to extend his care even to trees. By the trees of the Lord, is meant those which are high and of surpassing beauty; for God’s blessing is more conspicuous in them. It seems scarcely possible for any juice of the earth to reach so great a height, and yet they renew their foliage every year.
19. He hath appointed the moon to distinguish seasons The Psalmist now comes to another commendation of God’s providence as manifested in the beautiful arrangement by which the course of the sun and moon alternately succeeds each other; for the diversity in their mutual changes is so far from producing confusion, that all must easily perceive the impossibility of finding any better method of distinguishing time. When it is said, that the moon was appointed to distinguish seasons, interpreters agree that this is to be understood of the ordinary and appointed feasts. The Hebrews having been accustomed to compute their months by the moon, this served for regulating their festival days and assemblies, both sacred and political. 194194 “The greatest part of the Jewish feasts, as the New Moon, the Passover, the Pentecost, etc., were governed by the moon.” — Dimoch. The prophet, I have no doubt, by the figure synecdoche, puts a part for the whole, intimating, that the moon not only distinguishes the days from the nights, but likewise marks out the festival days, measures years and months, and, in fine, answers many useful purposes, inasmuch as the distinction of times is taken from her course. As to the sentence, The sun knoweth his going down, I understand it not only of his daily circuit, but as also denoting that by gradually approaching nearer us at one time, and receding farther from us at another, he knows how to regulate his movements by which to make summer, winter, spring, and autumn. It is farther stated, that the beasts of the forest creep forth during the night, because they go out of their dens with fear. Some translate the verb רמש, ramas, to walk; but its proper signification which I have given is not unsuitable; for although hunger often drives wild beasts into fury, yet they watch for the darkness of the night, that they may move abroad from their hiding-places, and on account of this fearfulness they are said to creep forth.
21. The lions roar after their prey Although lions, if hunger compels them, go forth from their dens and roar even at noon-day, yet the prophet describes what is most usually the case. He therefore says, that lions do not venture to go abroad during the daytime, but that, trusting to the darkness of the night, they then sally forth in quest of their prey. Herein is manifested the wonderful providence of God, that a beast so dreadful confines itself within its den, that men may walk abroad with the greater freedom. And if lions sometimes range with greater liberty, this is to be imputed to the fall of Adam, which has deprived men of their dominion over the wild beasts. There are, however, still some remains of the original blessing conferred by God on men, inasmuch as he holds in check so many wild beasts by the light of day, as if by iron cages or chains. The expression, They seek their food from God, is not to be understood of their casting themselves upon the care of God, as if they acknowledged him to be their foster-father, but it points out the fact itself, that God in a wonderful manner provides food for such ravenous beasts.
22. The sun shall rise The Psalmist continues to prosecute the same subject, showing that God so distributes the successions of time, as that the day belongs properly to man. Did not God put a restraint upon so many wild beasts which are hostile to us, the human race would soon become extinct. As wild beasts since the fall of man may seem to be born to do us hurt, and to rend and tear in pieces all whom they meet with, this savage cruelty must be kept under check by the providence of God. And in order to keep them shut up within their dens, the only means which he employs is to inspire them with terror, simply by the light of the sun. This instance of divine goodness, the prophet commends the more on account of its necessity; for were it otherwise, men would have no liberty to go forth to engage in the labors and business of life. Man being thus protected by the light against the violence and injuries of wild beasts, in this is to be seen the unparalleled goodness of God, who in so fatherly a manner has provided for his convenience and welfare.
24. O Jehovah! how magnificent are thy works The prophet does not make a full enumeration of the works of God, which would be an endless task, but only touches upon certain particulars, that every one may be led from the consideration of them to reflect the more attentively on that wisdom by which God governs the whole world, and every particular part of it. Accordingly, breaking off his description, he exclaims with admiration, — How greatly to be praised are thy works! even as we then only ascribe to God due honor when seized with astonishment, we acknowledge that our tongues and all our senses fail us in doing justice to so great a subject. If a small portion of the works of God make us amazed, how inadequate are our feeble minds to comprehend the whole extent of them! In the first place, it is said, that God has made all things in wisdom, and then it is added, that the earth is full of his riches The mention of wisdom only is not intended to exclude the divine power, but the meaning is, that there is nothing in the world confused, — that, so far from this, the vast variety of things mixed together in it are arranged with the greatest wisdom, so as to render it impossible for any thing to be added, abstracted, or improved. This commendation is set in opposition to the unhallowed imaginations, which often creep upon us when we are unable to discover the designs of God in his works, as if indeed he were subject to folly like ourselves, so as to be forced to bear the reprehension of those who are blind in the consideration of his works. The prophet also, by the same eulogium, reproves the madness of those who dream, that the world has been brought into its present form by chance, as Epicurus raved about the elements being composed of atoms. As it is an imagination more than irrational to suppose, that a fabric so elegant, and of such surpassing embellishment, was put together by the fortuitous concourse of atoms, the prophet here bids us attend more carefully to the wisdom of God, and to that wonderful skill which shines forth in the whole government of the world. Under riches are comprehended the goodness and beneficence of God; for it is not on his own account that he has so richly replenished the earth but on ours, that nothing which contributes to our advantage may be wanting. We ought to know that the earth does not possess such fruitfulness and riches of itself, but solely by the blessing of God, who makes it the means of administering to us his bounty.
25. Great is this sea, and wide in extent After having treated of the evidences which the earth affords of the glory of God, the prophet goes down into the sea, and teaches us that it is a new mirror in which may be beheld the divine power and wisdom. Although the sea were not inhabited by fishes, yet the mere view of its vastness would excite our wonder, especially when at one time it swells with the winds and tempests, while at another it is calm and unruffled. Again, although navigation is an art which has been acquired by the skill of men, yet it depends on the providence of God, who has granted to men a passage through the mighty deep. But the abundance and variety of fishes enhance in no small degree the glory of God in the sea. Of these the Psalmist celebrates especially the leviathan or the whale 196196 The leviathan, which is described at large in Job 40., is now generally understood by commentators to be not the whale, but the crocodile, an inhabitant of the Nile. That it should here be numbered with the marine animals, need not surprise us, as the object of the divine poet is merely to display the kingdom of the watery world. Of these wide domains the sea of the Nile forms, in his view, a part. “ים transfertur ad omnia flumina majora. Est igitur in specie Nilus. Jes. 19, 5; Nab. 3, 8.” — Sire. Lex. Heb. — See volume 3, page 175, note 1. because this animal, though there were no more, presents to our view a sufficient, yea, more than a sufficient, proof of the dreadful power of God, and for the same reason, we have a lengthened account of it in the book of Job. As its movements not only throw the sea into great agitation, but also strike with alarm the hearts of men, the prophet, by the word sport, intimates that these its movements are only sport in respect of God; as if he had said, The sea is given to the leviathans, as a field in which to exercise themselves.
27. All these wait upon thee The prophet here again describes God as acting the part of the master of a household, and a foster-father towards all sorts of living creatures, by providing liberally for them. He had said before, that God made food to grow on the mountains for the support of cattle, and that sustenance is ministered to the very lions by the hand of the same God, although they live upon prey. Now he amplifies this wonder of the divine beneficence by an additional circumstance. While the different species of living creatures are almost innumerable, and the number in each species is so great, there is yet not one of them which does not stand in need of daily food. The meaning then of the expression, All things wait upon thee, is, that they could not continue in existence even for a few days, unless God were to supply their daily need, and to nourish each of them in particular. We thus see why there is so great a diversity of fruits; for God assigns and appoints to each species of living creatures the food suitable and proper for them. The brute beasts are not indeed endued with reason and judgment to seek the supply of their wants from God, but stooping towards the earth, they seek to fill themselves with food; still the prophet speaks with propriety, when he represents them as waiting upon God; for their hunger must be relieved by his bounty, else they would soon die. Nor is the specification of the season when God furnishes them with food superfluous, since God lays up in store for them, that they may have the means of sustenance during the whole course of the year. As the earth in winter shuts up her bowels, what would become of them if he did not provide them with food for a long time? The miracle, then, is the greater from the circumstance, that God, by making the earth fruitful at stated seasons, extends in this way his blessing to the rest of the year which threatens us with hunger and famine. How wretched would we be when the earth in winter shuts up her riches, were not our hearts cheered with the hope of a new increase? In this sense, the Psalmist appropriately affirms, that God opens his hand If wheat should grow up daily, God’s providence would not be so manifest. But when the earth becomes barren, it is as if God shut his hand. Whence it follows, that when he makes it fruitful, he, so to speak, stretches out his hand from heaven to give us food. Now if he supply wild and brute beasts with sustenance in due season, by which they are fed to the full, his blessing will doubtless be to us as an inexhaustible source of plenty, provided we ourselves do not hinder it from flowing to us by our unbelief.
29 Thou shalt hide thy face, and they shall be afraid In these words, the Psalmist declares, that we stand or fall according to the will of God. We continue to live, so long as he sustains us by his power; but no sooner does he withdraw his life-giving spirit than we die. Even Plato knew this, who so often teaches that, properly speaking, there is but one God, and that all things subsist, or have their being only in him. Nor do I doubt, that it was the will of God, by means of that heathen writer, to awaken all men to the knowledge, that they derive their life from another source than from themselves. In the first place, the Psalmist asserts, that if God hide his face they are afraid; and, secondly, that if he take away their spirit they die, and return to their dust; by which words he points out, that when God vouchsafes to look upon us, that look gives us life, and that as long as his serene countenance shines, it inspires all the creatures with life. Our blindness then is doubly inexcusable, if we do not on our part cast our eyes upon that goodness which gives life to the whole world. The prophet describes step by step the destruction of living creatures, upon God’s withdrawing from them his secret energy, that from the contrast he may the better commend that continued inspiration, by which all things are maintained in life and rigor. He could have gone farther, and have asserted, that all things, unless upheld in being by God, would return to nothing; but he was content with affirming in general and popular language, that whatever is not cherished by Him falls into corruption. He again declares, that the world is daily renewed, because God sends forth his spirit In the propagation of living creatures, we doubtless see continually a new creation of the world. In now calling that God’s spirit, which he before represented as the spirit of living creatures, there is no contradiction. God sendeth forth that spirit which remains with him whither he pleases; and as soon as he has sent it forth, all things are created. In this way, what was his own he makes to be ours. But this gives no countenance to the old dream of the Manicheeans, which that filthy dog Servetus has made still worse in our own day. The Manicheeans said that the soul of man is a particle of the Divine Spirit, and is propagated from it as the shoot of a tree; but this base man has had the audacity to assert, that oxen, asses, and dogs, are parts of the divine essence. The Manichees at least had this pretext for their error, that the soul was created after the image of God; but to maintain this with respect to swine and cattle, is in the highest degree monstrous and detestable. Nothing was farther from the prophet’s intention, than to divide the spirit of God into parts, so that a portion of it should dwell essentially in every living creature. But he termed that the spirit of God which proceeds from him. By the way, he instructs us, that it is ours, because it is given us, that it may quicken us. The amount of what is stated is, that when we see the world daily decaying, and daily renewed, the life-giving power of God is reflected to us herein as in a mirror. All the deaths which take place among living creatures, are just so many examples of our nothingness, so to speak; and when others are produced and grow up in their room, we have in that presented to us a renewal of the world. Since then the world daily dies, and is daily renewed in its various parts, the manifest conclusion is, that it subsists only by a secret virtue derived from God.
31. Glory be to Jehovah for ever The inspired writer shows for what purpose he has celebrated in the preceding part of the psalm the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in his works, namely, to stir up men to praise him. It is no small honor that God for our sake has so magnificently adorned the world, in order that we may not only be spectators of this beauteous theater, but also enjoy the multiplied abundance and variety of good things which are presented to us in it. Our gratitude in yielding to God the praise which is his due, is regarded by him as a singular recompense. What the Psalmist adds, Let Jehovah rejoice in his works, is not superfluous; for he desires that the order which God has established from the beginning may be continued in the lawful use of his gifts. As we read in Genesis 6:6, that “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth,” so when he sees that the good things which he bestows are polluted by our corruptions, he ceases to take delight in bestowing them. And certainly the confusion and disorder which take place, when the elements cease to perform their office, testify that God, displeased and wearied out, is provoked to discontinue, and put a stop to the regular course of his beneficence; although anger and impatience have strictly speaking no place in his mind. What is here taught is, that he bears the character of the best of fathers, who takes pleasure in tenderly cherishing his children, and in bountifully nourishing them. In the following verse it is shown, that the stability of the world depends on this rejoicing of God in his works; for did he not give vigor to the earth by his gracious and fatherly regard, as soon as he looked upon it with a severe countenance, he would make it tremble, and would burn up the very mountains.
33. I will sing to Jehovah whilst I live Here the Psalmist points out to others their duty by his own example, declaring, that throughout the whole course of his life he will proclaim the praises of God without ever growing weary of that exercise. The only boundary which he fixes to the celebration of God’s praises is death; not that the saints, when they pass from this world into another state of existence, desist from this religious duty, but because the end for which we are created is, that the divine name may be celebrated by us on the earth. Conscious of his unworthiness to offer to God so precious a sacrifice, he humbly prays, (verse 34,) that the praises which he will sing to God may be acceptable to him, although they proceed from polluted lips. It is true, that there is nothing more acceptable to God, nor any thing of which he more approves, than the publication of his praises, even as there is no service which he more peculiarly requires us to perform. But as our uncleanness defiles that which in its own nature is most holy, the prophet with good reason betakes himself to the goodness of God, and on this ground alone pleads that He would accept of his song of praise. Accordingly, the Apostle, in Hebrews 13:15 teaches that our sacrifices of thanksgiving are well pleasing to God, when they are offered to him through Christ. It being however the case, that whilst all men indiscriminately enjoy the benefits of God, there are yet very few who look to the author of them, the prophet subjoins the clause, I will rejoice in the Lord; intimating, that this is a rare virtue; for nothing is more difficult than to call home the mind from those wild and erratic joys, which disperse themselves through heaven and earth in which they evanish, that it may keep itself fixed on God alone.
35. Let sinners perish from the earth This imprecation depends on the last clause of the 31st verse, Let Jehovah rejoice in his works As the wicked infect the world with their pollutions, the consequence is, that God has less delight in his own workmanship, and is even almost displeased with it. It is impossible, but that this uncleanness, which, being extended and diffused through every part of the world, vitiates and corrupts such a noble product of his hands, must be offensive to him. Since then the wicked, by their perverse abuse of God’s gifts, cause the world in a manner to degenerate and fall away from its first original, the prophet justly desires that they may be exterminated, until the race of them entirely fail. Let us then take care so to weigh the providence of God, as that being wholly devoted to obeying him, we may rightly and purely use the benefits which he sanctities for our enjoying them. Farther, let us be grieved, that such precious treasures are wickedly squandered away, and let us regard it as monstrous and detestable, that men not only forget their Maker, but also, as it were, purposely turn to a perverse and an unworthy end, whatever good things he has bestowed upon them.
1 Praise ye Jehovah, etc. The object of these opening words simply is, that the offspring of Abraham should place all their blessedness in the free adoption of God. It was indeed a blessing not to be despised that they had been created men, that they had been cherished in the world by God’s fatherly care, and that they had received sustenance at his hand; but it was a far more distinguished privilege to have been chosen to be his peculiar people. While the whole human race are condemned in Adam, the condition of the Israelites was so different from all other nations, as to give them ground to boast, that they were consecrated to God. This is the reason why the prophet heaps together so many words in commendation of this grace. He does not treat of the government of the whole world as he did in the preceding psalm, but he celebrates the fatherly favor which God had manifested towards the children of Israel. He indeed names in general his works, and his wonders, but he limits both to that spiritual covenant by which God made choice of a church, that might lead on earth a heavenly life. He does not intend to include as among these wonders, that the sun, moon, and stars, daily rise to give light to the world, that the earth produces its fruit in its seasons, that every living creature is supplied with abundance of all good things for its food, and that the human family are liberally provided with so many conveniences; but he celebrates the sovereign grace of God, by which he chose for himself from amongst the lost race of Adam a small portion to whom he might show himself to be a father. Accordingly, he enjoins them to rejoice in the name of God, and to call upon him; a privilege by which the Church alone is distinguished. Whence it follows, that this language is addressed to none but true believers, whom God would have to glory in his name, since he has taken them under his special protection.
4 Seek ye Jehovah, and his strength 204204 “For וזו, his strength, the LXX. seem to have read עזו, be strengthened, and accordingly render it κραταιωθὢτε, the Latin ‘confirmamini’, ‘be confirmed,’ and so the Syriac, ‘be strengthened.’ This the sense would well bear, ‘Seek the Lord, and be confirmed;’ let all your strength be sought from him. So the Jewish Arab, ‘Seek the Lord, and seek that he would strengthen you, or strength from him, or you shall certainly be strengthened,’ if by prayer you diligently seek him.” — Hammond. Horsley also reads, “Seek the Lord, and be strong.” Although he had in the preceding verse characterized the faithful by the honorable designation, those who seek God, yet he again exhorts them to earnestness in seeking him, which is not an unnecessary exhortation. Seeking God, it is true, is the mark by which all genuine saints are particularly distinguished from the men of the world; but they come far short of seeking him with due ardor; and, accordingly, they have always need of incitements, to urge them on to this exercise, although they run of their own accord. Those whom the prophet here stirs up to seek God are not fickle persons, nor such as are altogether indolent, and who cleave to the impurities of earth, but those who with a prompt and ready mind already aim at doing this; and he thus stimulates them, because he perceives that they are obstructed by many impediments from advancing in their course with sufficient rapidity. However willing then we may be, we have notwithstanding, need of such incitement to correct our slowness. The strength and face of God, doubtless refer to that kind of manifestation by which God, accommodating himself to the rudeness of the times, drew at that time true believers to himself. The ark of the covenant is in many other places called both the strength and the face of God, because by that symbol the people were reminded, that he was near them, and also really experienced his power. 205205 With this agrees the interpretation of Lowth: “The holy ark, and the shechinah which remained upon it, the symbol of the divine presence, is called the face of God; and to seek the face of God, is to appear before the ark, to worship at the sanctuary of God, which was required of the Israelites thrice a year. — See 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 27:8; Exodus 23:17, — Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, volume 2, page 24l. The more familiarly then God showed himself to them, with the more promptitude and alacrity would the prophet have them to apply their hearts in seeking him; and the aid by which God relieves our weakness should prove an additional stimulus to our zeal. Modesty also is recommended to us, that, mindful of our slowness in seeking God, we may keep the way which he has prescribed to us, and may not despise the rudiments through which he by little and little conducts us to himself. It is added continually, that no person may grow weary in this exercise, or, inflated with a foolish opinion of having reached perfection, may neglect the external aids of piety, as is done by many, who, after having advanced a few degrees in the knowledge of God, exempt themselves from the common rank of others, as if they were elevated above the angels. Again, the injunction is given to remember the marvelous works which God had performed, in the deliverance of his people from Egypt, when he displayed his power in new and unusual ways. By the judgments of his mouth, some understand the law. But as I read all the three expressions, his marvelous works, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, as referring to one series of events, I prefer explaining it rather of the miracles by which God subdued the pride of Pharaoh. Still, however, there is some doubt as to the reason of this manner of speaking. Some are of opinion, that these miracles are called the judgments of God’s mouth, because he had foretold them by Moses, which is highly probable. At the same time, the expression might be taken more simply, as denoting that the power of God was manifested in an extraordinary manner in these miracles; from which it would be easy to gather, that they were performed by him. I do not mean to exclude the ministry of Moses, whom God had raised up to be a prophet to the Egyptians, that in denouncing what was to come to pass, he might show that nothing happened by chance. Yet I think there is an allusion to the manifest character of the miracles, as if it had been said, Although God had not uttered a word, the facts themselves evidently showed, that he was the deliverer of his people.
6 Ye seed of Abraham his servant. The Psalmist addresses himself by name to his own countrymen, whom, as has been stated, God had bound to himself by a special adoption. It was a bond of union still more sacred, that by the mere good pleasure of God they were preferred to all other nations. By calling them the seed of Abraham, and the sons of Jacob, he reminds them that they had not attained so great dignity by their own power, but because they were descended from the holy fathers. He, however, affirms at the same time, that the holiness of their fathers flowed exclusively from God’s election, and not from their own nature. He expressly states both these truths, first, that before they were born children of Abraham, they were already heirs of the covenant, because they derived their origin from the holy fathers; and, secondly, that the fathers themselves had not acquired this prerogative by their own merit or worth, but had been freely chosen; for this is the reason why Jacob is called God’s chosen Although Abraham is also here called God’s servant, (Genesis 26:24) because he purely and sincerely worshipped him, yet in the second clause it is testified that the commencement of this distinction was not to be traced to men, but to God alone, who conferred upon the Israelites the honor of choosing them to be his peculiar possession.
From this covenant the Psalmist infers that although the government of God extends through the whole world, and although he executes his judgment in all places, he was nevertheless especially the God of that one people, (verse 7) according to the statement in the song of Moses,
“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people, according to the number of the children of Israel: For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” Deuteronomy 32:8, 9
The prophet again intended to show that the reason why the children of Israel excelled others was not because they were better than others, but because such was the good pleasure of God. If the divine judgments are extended through all the regions of the globe, the condition of all nations is in this respect equal. Whence it follows that the difference referred to proceeded from the love of God, — that the source of the superiority of the Israelites to other nations was his free favor. Although, then, He is the rightful proprietor of the whole earth, it is declared that he chose one people over whom he might reign. This is a doctrine which applies to us also at the present day. If we duly ponder our calling, we will undoubtedly find that God has not been induced from anything out of himself to prefer us to others, but that he was pleased to do so purely from his own free grace.
8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever The Psalmist now celebrates the effect and actual fulfillment of the covenant, and proves from the deliverance wrought for the Israelites what he had stated before, namely, That God, while he reigned alike over all nations, extended his peculiar favor to the offspring of Abraham alone. How comes it to pass that God, in delivering his people, displayed the might of his arm by so many miracles, if it was not that he might faithfully perform the promise which he had made to his servants in time past? It is evident, then, that the ancient covenant was the cause of the deliverance granted to the chosen tribes; for in order that God might faithfully keep his promises, it behooved him first to be merciful. As a long series of years had elapsed between the promise and the performance, the prophet uses the word remember, intimating that the Divine promises do not become obsolete by length of time, but that even when the world imagines that they are extinguished and wholly forgotten, God retains as distinct a remembrance of them as ever, that he may accomplish them in due season. This is more strongly confirmed in the next clause, where the correspondence between the form or tenor of the covenant and the accomplishment is celebrated. It is not for a day, he would say, or for a few days, that God has made a covenant with Abraham, nor has he limited the continuance of his covenant to the life of man, but he has promised to be the God of his seed even to a thousand generations. Although, therefore, the fulfillment was for a long time suspended, God nevertheless showed by the effect that his promise did not fail by length of time.
As Abraham was the first who was called when he was mingled with idolaters, the prophet begins with him. He, however, afterwards declares that the covenant was also confirmed in the hand of his son and his son’s son. God then deposited his covenant with Abraham, and by solemn oath engaged to be the God of his seed. But to give greater assurance of the truth of his promise, he was graciously pleased to renew it to Isaac and Jacob. The effect of such an extension of it is, that his faithfulness takes deeper hold on the hearts of men; and, besides, his grace, when it is thus testified on frequent recurring occasions, becomes better known and more illustrious among men. Accordingly, it is here declared by gradation how steadfast and immovable this covenant is; for what is affirmed concerning each of the patriarchs belongs equally to them all. It is said that God swore to Isaac. But had he not sworn to Abraham before? Undoubtedly he had. It is also said that it was established to Jacob for a law, and for an everlasting covenant Does this mean that the covenant was previously only temporal and transitory, and that then it had changed its nature? Such an idea is altogether at variance with the meaning of the sacred writer. By these different forms of expression he asserts that the covenant was fully and perfectly confirmed, so that, if perhaps the calling was obscure in one man, it might be more evident, by God’s having transmitted the testimony of it to posterity; for by this means the truth of it was the better manifested. Here again we must remember that God with great kindness considers our weakness when, both by his oath, and by frequently repeating his word, he ratifies what he has once promised to us. Our ingratitude then appears the fouler in disbelieving him when he not only speaks but also swears.
11. Saying, I will give thee the land of Canaan As this was only a small portion of the blessings offered to the fathers, the prophet seems at first view too much to limit the covenant of God, which extended even to the hope of an eternal inheritance. But he considered it enough to show, by the figure synecdoche, that a part of what God had promised to the fathers had received its complete accomplishment. His drift is to intimate that they did not possess the land of Canaan by any other right than because it was the legitimate inheritance of Abraham according to the covenant which God had made with him. If man exhibit the promised earnest of a contract, he does not violate the contract. When, therefore, the prophet proves by a visible symbol that God did not make a covenant with his servants in vain, and that he did not disappoint their hope, he does not take away or abolish the other blessings included in it. Nay, rather, when the Israelites heard that they possessed the land of Canaan by right of inheritance, because they were the chosen people of God, it became them to look beyond this, and to take comprehensive view of all the privileges by which He had vouchsafed to distinguish them. Hence it is to be noted, that when He in part fulfills his promises towards us, we are base and ungrateful if this experience does not conduce to the confirmation of our faith. Whenever he shows himself to be a father towards us, he undoubtedly really seals on our hearts the power and efficacy of his word. But if the land of Canaan ought to have led the children of Israel in their contemplations to heaven, since they knew that they had been brought into it on account of the covenant which God had made with them, the consideration that He has given to us his Christ, “in whom all the promises are yea and amen,” (2 Corinthians 1:20) ought to have much greater weight with us. When it is said, I will give thee the measuring line of Your inheritance, the change of the number points out that God made a covenant with all the people in general, though he spake the words only to a few individuals; even as we have seen a little before that it was a decree or an everlasting law. The holy patriarchs were the first and principal persons into whose hands the promise was committed; but they did not embrace the grace which was offered to them as what belonged only to themselves, but as what their posterity in common with them were to became sharers of.
12. When they were but very few in number The prophet here recounts the benefits which God had conferred upon the holy fathers from the commencement, to manifest that even long before the deliverance from Egypt, the covenant was not ineffectual. The great object aimed at in this recital, is to show that ever since God took Abraham under his protection, he cherished him in a wonderful manner, and also that his fatherly love and care were displayed in maintaining and defending the other two patriarchs. When it is said, that they were but very few in number, the power of God by this circumstance is not only magnified, but the cause why he was so beneficent towards them is also pointed out. We must then, in the first place, attend to this, that the prophet, lest the Jews should arrogate anything to themselves, expressly declares, that their fathers had experienced the divine favor, even when they were feeble and despised, wandering from place to place, in every respect poor and miserable according to the flesh. Thus also Moses reproaches them,
“The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you.” Deuteronomy 7:7, 8,
In short, in the choosing of this people, no regard was had either to number, or to any excellence whatever. There was only the house of Abraham, and yet it was barren. Isaac was compelled to banish to a distance from him one of his two sons, and he saw the other cut off from his family. The house of Jacob was indeed more fruitful, but it was nevertheless of a low condition. Besides, they were not only ignoble and despised when sojourning in a strange land, but famine, and the want of other things also, compelled them frequently to go from one place to another. All these things being taken into view, the consideration of human worth falls to the ground, and it is clearly seen, that all the blessings which God had bestowed upon them flowed from no other fountain than his own free love. And the cause of this love is not to be sought for out of himself. If the Holy Spirit is so careful in magnifying the grace of God in these earthly blessings, how much more must he observe this rule, when the subject of which he speaks is the heavenly inheritance! When it is said, that they walked about from nation to nation, this intimates the more plainly how wonderfully the divine protection was displayed in preserving them. Had they found any quiet nest in which to repose, such comfort would have been a notable sign of the divine goodness; but when they were as exiles in divers countries, and were driven from one place to another with bitter scorn, as chaff is driven about by the wind, the guardianship which God exercised over them shone forth much more conspicuously. Since their life everywhere hung only by a thread, and the changing of their place of sojourn exposed them from time to time to fresh injuries, it is evident that it was the divine power alone which preserved them in safety.
14. He did not suffer men to hurt them Abraham and his children had not merely two or three enemies: they were harassed by whole nations. As then many rose up one after another in troops against them, the Psalmist says indefinitely, that men were withheld from hurting them; for אדם, adam, is the word here used, which is the one most generally employed to signify man He next amplifies the love of God towards his servants, in setting himself in opposition to kings for their sake. When God did not spare even the kings of Egypt and Gerar, it is evident how precious the welfare of Abraham and his offspring was in his sight. We have said a little before that the holy fathers were of no estimation in the eyes of the world. God therefore displayed his goodness so much the more signally in preferring them to kings. Now we here see, that the Jews were humbled in the person of their fathers, that they might not imagine that they found favor in the sight of God by any merit of their own.
15. Saying, Touch not my anointed ones The Psalmist proceeds farther, affirming, that when God made war against kings for the sake of his servants, they were defended by him, not only as he is accustomed to succor the miserable and the unjustly oppressed, but because he had taken them under his special guardianship. God protects his people, not only upon a general ground, but because he has declared on account of his free adoption, that he will maintain them. This is the reason why these holy patriarchs are here honored with two designations, his prophets and his anointed ones In speaking of other men, God would have said, Touch not these men who have done wrong to nobody, hurt not these poor wretched creatures who have deserved no such treatment at your hands. But in the person of Abraham and his children, he shows that there was another reason for his defending them. He calls them anointed ones, because he had set them apart to be his peculiar people. In the same sense, he designates them prophets, (a title with which Abraham is also honored, Genesis 20:7) not only because God had manifested himself more intimately to them, but also because they faithfully spread around them divine truth, that the memory of it might survive them, and flourish after their death. Anointing, it is true, was not as yet in use, as it was afterwards under the law; but the prophet teaches, that what God at a subsequent period exhibited in the ceremonies of the law was really and in very deed in Abraham, even as God engraves the mark of sanctification on all his chosen ones. If God’s inward anointing was of such powerful efficacy, even at the time when he had not yet appointed, or delivered the figures of the law, with how much greater care will he defend his servants now, after having exhibited to us the plenitude of anointing in his only begotten Son!
16. And he called a famine upon the land Here the inspired writer recounts a most illustrious proof of divine providence towards the chosen people, at the time when the covenant might seem to be void and disannulled. The inheritance of the land of Canaan (as has been stated above) was added, as an earnest or pledge for confirmation. The descent of Jacob into Egypt, which deprived his house of the sight of the land, could not make the covenant to perish. In this the constancy of God shone forth the brighter; yea, by this trial he manifested more plainly how provident a father he was in preserving the seed of Abraham. But it is better to consider each particular in the verse. In the first place, it is taught, that the famine which drove Jacob into Egypt did not happen by chance. Although only one particular famine is here treated of, it is to be held as a general principle, that there is no other cause of any scarcity of sustenance except this, that God, in withdrawing his hand, takes away the means of support. The curse of God is expressed more emphatically, when it is said, that the famine was called; as if it were ready at his command, as a minister of his wrath. By this we are instructed, that famine, pestilence, and other scourges of God, do not visit men by chance, but are directed by his hand whither it pleases him, and are obedient to his will. 211211 “Famine is here finely represented as a servant, ready to come and go at the ‘call’ and command of God; for calamities, whether public or private, are the messengers of divine justice.” — Horne. The manner in which the famine was called is next stated, namely, when he brake the staff of bread The metaphor of staff is very appropriate; for God has put into bread the power and property of strengthening man, by a secret virtue which fits it to sustain us. So long as it pleases him to nourish us by such means, a staff as it were lies hidden within it. This staff is broken in two ways; either, first, when he takes away the supply of grain necessary for our nourishment, the sense in which it seems to be used in Ezekiel
“Moreover, he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment;” Ezekiel 4:16
or, secondly, when he breathes in anger upon the bread itself, so that those who would satisfy themselves by devouring it, instead of having their hunger thereby removed, remain famished still. And certainly to the barrenness of the earth this second is commonly added, namely, that he takes away the sustaining power which is in bread; for, as it is declared in Deuteronomy 8:3, bread does not give life of itself, but borrows its secret virtue from the mouth of God.
17. He sent a man before them This whole passage graphically teaches us, that whatever befell that people was by the hand and counsel of God. The simple recital would have been to say, that the famine came upon the land, after Joseph had been sold by his brethren, and carried into Egypt. But the prophet speaks emphatically, declaring that Joseph by the divine counsel had been sent before into Egypt, to support his father’s house, that afterwards the famine was called, and that then, by God’s providence, a remedy was presented beyond all hope. This, indeed, is generally true in human affairs; but there is here commemorated a special care which God took in governing and nourishing his Church. Moreover, the prophet mentions that as second in place which was first in the order of time. Accordingly, in regard to the word send, the pluperfect tense would better express the sense, he had sent; implying that before God afflicted the land of Canaan with famine, he had prepared a remedy for his servant Jacob, and for his household, in having sent Joseph before as a steward to provide them with food. Here two contraries as it were are stated, to render the divine superintendence in the whole the more conspicuous. How was Joseph sent of God? It was in this way:- When he was doomed to death, it happened that his brethren preferred selling him to leaving him in his grave. This selling, if considered merely by itself, like a cloud interposed, obscured and concealed the divine providence. When counsel was taken to put Joseph to death, who would have expected that he was to be the sustainer of his father’s house? Afterwards a kind of death was devised for him less cruel; but then he was cast into a well or pit, and in that situation how could he succor others? The last hope was, that at length being sold, he came forth from the pit. But again, he was well nigh rotting all his life long in prison.
Who could think that processes so intricate and circuitous were controlled by divine providence? The prophet therefore meets this difficulty by saying, that in respect of men, he was indeed sold; but that he had nevertheless been previously sent by the divine purpose. The passage is worthy of notice, admirably vindicating, as it does, the providence of God against the perverse stupidity of our corrupt nature. Resting on the second causes which meet the eye, or ascribing to the direction of man whatever is done in this world, or thinking that all things happen by chance, very few trace them to the appointment of God. And yet the selling of Joseph is not here interposed as a veil to hide divine providence; but is rather set forth as a signal instance of it to teach us that whatever men may undertake, the issues are in the hand of God; or rather, that by a secret influence, he bends the hearts of men in whatever direction he pleases, that by their instrumentality, whether they will or no, he may bring to pass what he has determined should be done. Agreeably to this Joseph said to his brethren, “Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life,” (Genesis 45:5) Farther, God so governs human affairs by his secret controlling influence, and overrules men’s wicked devices to a right end, as that his judgments are notwithstanding uncontaminated by the depravity of men. The brethren of Joseph wickedly conspire his death; they also wrongfully sell him: the fault is in themselves. Contemplate now how God directs and controls all. By the hand of these brethren he provides for the good both of themselves and of their father Jacob, yea for that of the whole Church. This holy purpose contracts no defilement or spot from the malice of those who aimed at an entirely opposite end; even as Joseph testified afterwards,
“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive,” (Genesis 1:20)
18 They afflicted his feet in the fetters It is not without cause that the Psalmist prosecutes the winding course of Jacob’s early history, which might so confuse the minds of men as to prevent them from directing their attention to the counsel of God. What seemed less likely than to believe that God, by so directly opposite and circuitous a path, meant to accomplish what he had purposed? But his providence, by surmounting so many obstacles, is brought out more conspicuously, than if he had despatched the whole matter by a short and easy road. Had Joseph, as soon as he arrived in Egypt, been presented to the king, and made its governor, the way to what followed would have been easy. But when he was carried away to prison, and lay there separated from the society of men, living as one half-dead; and when his becoming known to the king was a long time subsequent to this, and beyond all expectation, such a sudden change renders the miracle much more evident. This circuitous course then, which the prophet recounts, serves not a little to illustrate the subject in hand. Joseph was many times dead before he was sold. Hence it follows, that God as often showed his care of his Church by delivering him who might be termed her father. When after, having been brought into Egypt, Joseph was conveyed from hand to hand till he descended into another grave, is it not the more clearly manifest from this that God, while he seems to be asleep in heaven, is all the while keeping the strictest watch over his servants, and that he is carrying forward his purpose more effectually by these various windings, than if he had gone straight forward, yea, than if he had run with rapid pace? For this reason the prophet affirms that his feet were afflicted in the fetters; a fact which, although not stated in the narrative of Moses, he speaks of as well known. And no doubt, many things were delivered by tradition to the Jews of which no mention is made in the Scriptures. 212212 The memory of this circumstance might, therefore, have been preserved by tradition; or it may be simply a conclusion drawn from Joseph’s being incarcerated, and from the crime of which he was accused. When it is considered that prisoners were ordinarily secured by chains, and when the magnitude of the crime charged upon him, that of making an attempt upon the chastity of his mistress, is farther taken into account, it is a very probable inference, that when cast into prison, he was put in chains. It is also probable enough, that, instead of being put at first under mild restraint, as was afterwards the case, he was rigorously confined. Whether we read, his soul entered into the iron, or the iron entered into his soul, 213213 The first of these readings is the most probable. The Hebrew is ברזל באה נפשו. “The verb being here in the feminine gender shows that the subject is נפשו, and that ברזל is accusative. In this manner the phrase is rendered by the LXX. Σίδηρον διὢλθεν ἡ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ, ‘his soul passed through iron;’ and so the Syriac, ‘his soul went into iron;’ but the Chaldee, disregarding the gender, has taken it the other way, ‘the chain of iron went into his soul.’” — (Phillips’ Psalms in Hebrew, with a Critical, Exegetical, and Philological Commentary.) the meaning, which, in either case, is exactly the same, amounts to this, that the holy man was so galled with fetters, that it seemed as if his life had been given over to the sword. Whence it follows, that the safety of his life was as hopeless as the restoration of life to a dead body.
19. Until the time that his word came Here the prophet teaches, that although, according to the judgment of the flesh, God seems to be too tardy in his steps, yet he holds supreme rule over all things, that he may at length accomplish in due time what he has determined. As to the term word, it is here doubtless to be taken, not for doctrine or instruction, but for a heavenly decree. The relative his admits of being understood as well of God himself as of Joseph; but its application to the latter appears to me to be preferable, implying that Joseph remained in prison until the issue of his affliction was manifested, which was hidden in the divine purpose. It is always to be kept in mind, that the prophet calls back the minds of men from that impious imagination, which would represent fortune as exercising a blind and capricious control over human affairs. Since nothing could be more involved in uncertainty than the welfare of the Church, whilst Joseph was accounted as a condemned person, the prophet here elevates our minds, and bids us look at the hidden word, that is, the decree, the proper opportunity and time for the manifestation of which had not yet arrived. After the same manner I explain what follows, the word of God tried him To expound it of Joseph’s prophesying, 214214 It is so understood by Dr Kennicott. He refers the first clause of the verse to the completion of Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of the chief butler and baker; an opinion which cannot be admitted, for Joseph was not delivered at that time, but two years after it, Genesis 41:1. He refers the second clause to the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, called the Word or Oracle of Jehovah, because sent by him to Pharaoh. In this sense Hammond also interprets it. “The word of the Lord.” says he, “is God’s showing him the meaning of those dreams, (Genesis 41:39) God’s telling him, or revealing to him, the interpretation of them.” Some who take this view explain the verb tried, not as referring to the trial of Joseph’s patience, but as referring to the proof of his innocence. “צרפ,” says Street, “in its primary sense, signifies to refine metals, or to examine their purity by fire: by metaphor it is applied to the human heart, and signifies to purify, to prove, to examine; but as metal, already free from dross, would not be refined, but only show its purity on being assayed, so here the Word seems to signify showed him to be innocent. Joseph, protesting his innocence to Pharaoh’s butler, says, (Genesis 40:10) ‘Here also have I done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon;’ and Pharaoh assigns it as his reason for taking him from prison, and setting him over the land of Egypt, (Genesis 41:38) ‘Can ye find as this is a man in whom the Spirit of God is?’ His interpreting, by the inspiration of God, their dreams, exempted him at once from being any longer looked on as a criminal, and raised him to the highest honors.” “This word,” says Phillips, “proved Joseph, or purified him, as the verb literally means, for it made him appear pure or innocent in the eyes of the people, who were thus assured that God was with him, and that he must therefore be a pious person, and not guilty of the crime for which he was thrown into a dungeon.” as many do, seems too refined. Until the happy issue appeared, which God kept long hidden and in suspense, Joseph’s patience was severely tried. What worldly men, who acknowledge not God to be the Governor of human affairs, call fate, the prophet distinguishes by a more appropriate name, terming it word, and the word of each man. Nor do I see any impropriety in using the French word destinée. When the Stoics dispute, or rather babble, about destiny, they not only involve themselves and the thing also of which they treat in intricate mazes, but, at the same time, involve in perplexity an indubitable truth; for in imagining a concatenation of causes, they divest God of the government of the world. It is an impious invention so to link together causes, interwoven with each other, as that God himself should be tied to them. Our faith then ought to mount up to his secret counsel, by which, uncontrolled, he directs all things to their end. This passage also teaches us that God will continue the afflictions of the godly only until they are thereby thoroughly proved.
20. The king sent and loosed him The Psalmist celebrates in high terms the deliverance of Joseph; for God’s singular power was conspicuously displayed in a matter so incredible. What is of more rare occurrence than for a most powerful monarch to bring a stranger out of prison to constitute him ruler over his whole kingdom, and to raise him to a rank of honor, second only to himself? The phrase in verse 22, to bind his princes, is commonly explained as implying that Joseph was invested with the chief sovereignty in the administration of the government, so that he could cast into prison, at his pleasure, even the nobles of the realm. Others, conceiving this interpretation to be somewhat harsh, derive the verb לאסור, lesor, which Moses employs, not from אסר, asar, which signifies to bind, but from יסר, yasar, which signifies to instruct, by changing the letter י, yod, into א, aleph. 218218 “For לאסר, the LXX., Vulgate, and Jerome, certainly had ליסר, ‘to tutor;’ or they took אסר in the sense of יסר, as they took it in Hosea, chapter 10:10.” — Horsley. But I am surprised that neither of them have perceived the metaphor contained in this word, which is, that Joseph held the lords of Egypt bound to him at his pleasure, or subject to his power. What is here spoken of is not fetters, but the bond or obligation of obedience, both the princes and all others being dependent on his will. The expression, which is added a little after, to teach his elders wisdom, evinces that Joseph did not bear sway like a tyrant, difficult and rare a thing as it is for men, when invested with sovereign power, not to give loose reins to their own humor: but that he was a rule and a pattern, even to the chief of them, in the high degree of discretion which he exemplified in the administering the affairs of state.
23. And Israel came into Egypt The prophet does not rehearse the whole history, nor was this necessary. He only presents to our view how divine providence was concerned in it, which very few consider in reading the narrative of Moses. He accordingly declares, that after Joseph had been sent before into Egypt, to be the means of supporting his father and the whole family, Jacob then came into Egypt, that is, he did so when all things were admirably arranged, that he might find abundance of bread among a people, the proudest of the whole world, 219219 “En un peuple le plus superbe de tout le monde.” — Fr. when all others were perishing for want of food. From this it appears, that what is accounted to be slowness in God, tends to no other end than to accomplish his work on the best possible occasion.
24. And he greatly increased his people The singular favor of God towards his Church is now commended by the additional circumstance, that within a short space of time, the chosen people increased beyond the common proportion. In this matter the wonderful blessing of God was strikingly displayed. So much the more offensive then is the barking of some dogs, who insolently scoff at the account given by Moses of the multiplying of the people, because it goes far beyond what takes place in the ordinary course of things. Had the people increased only at the common rate, these persons would have immediately objected, that therein no work of God was to be seen. Thus the object which they pursue by their cavillings is nothing else than to make it to be believed, that the blessing of God had no connection with the case. But we, who are persuaded that it is unwarrantable for us to measure God’s power according to our own understandings, or according to what happens by the common law of nature, reverently admire this extraordinary work of his hand. The subsequent clause is a little obscure, especially if we read, The people were strengthened; 220220 “The root עצם,” says Phillips, “signifies to be strong, not only with regard to physical force, but also with respect to number: Psalm 38:20; 40:6; 69:5, etc.; in German, a great number is called eine starke Anzahl, a strong number. Number seems to be referred to in this passage.” for the prophet does not seem to refer to that period when the Israelites lived at ease and in prosperity, but to the time when they were contemptuously and barbarously dealt with as slaves. We may, however, understand the language as spoken by anticipation, — as pointing to what was to happen. In the following verse, it is affirmed, that the Egyptians having changed their mind, began to treat the people with cruelty. Although then the Egyptians did not as yet openly exercise their cruelty against the people, when they were increasing both in number and strength, yet the prophet calls them persecutors. It is certain, that the Israelites, even when they were oppressed as slaves, were a terror to their enemies; and Moses plainly affirms, (Exodus 1:12) that when they were under tyranny and wrongful oppression, it was still abundantly manifest, that the blessing of God rested upon them.
25. He turned their heart, so that they hated his people The Egyptians, though at first kind and courteous hosts to the Israelites, became afterwards cruel enemies; and this also the prophet ascribes to the counsel of God. They were undoubtedly driven to this by a perverse and malignant spirit, by pride and covetousness; but still such a thing did not happen without the providence of God, who in an incomprehensible manner so accomplishes his work in the reprobate, as that he brings forth light even out of darkness. The form of expression seems to some a little too harsh, and therefore they translate the verb passively, their (i.e., the Egyptians’) hearts were turned. But this is poor, and does not suit the context; for we see that it is the express object of the inspired writer to put the whole government of the Church under God, so that nothing may happen but according to his will. If the delicate ears of some are offended at such doctrine, let it be observed, that the Holy Spirit unequivocally affirms in other places as well as here, that the minds of men are driven hither and thither by a secret impulse, (Proverbs 21:1) so that they can neither will nor do any thing except as God pleases. What madness is it to embrace nothing but what commends itself to human reason? What authority will God’s word have, if it is not admitted any farther than we are inclined to receive it? Those then who reject this doctrine, because it is not very grateful to the human understanding, are inflated with a perverse arrogance. Others malignantly misrepresent it, not through ignorance or by mistake, but only that they may excite commotion in the Church, or to bring us into odium among the ignorant. Some over-timid persons could wish, for the sake of peace, that this doctrine were buried. They are surely ill qualified for composing differences. This was the very cause why in former times the doctors of the Church, in their writings, swerved from the pure and genuine truths of the gospel, and turned aside to a heathen philosophy. Whence originated the doctrine of free-will, whence that of the righteousness of works, but because these good fathers were afraid of giving occasion to evil-tongued or malignant men if they freely professed what is contained in the sacred Scriptures? And had not God, as it were by a strong hand, prevented Augustine, he would, in this respect, have been exactly like the rest. But God, so to speak, polishing him with a hammer, corrected that foolish wisdom, which rears its crest against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, we see, affirms that the Egyptians were so wicked, that God turned their hearts to hate his people. The middle-scheme men seek to evade and qualify this statement, by saying, that his turning their hearts, denotes his permitting this; 221221 “Chrysostom says that he turned is the same as he permitted to turn. See his note on the verse.” — Phillips. or, that when the Egyptians set their hearts upon hating the Israelites, he made use of their malice, as what, so to speak, came accidentally in his way; as if the Holy Spirit, from being defective in the power of language, spoke one thing, when he meant another. If the doctrine of this text, at first sight, seem strange to us, let us remember that God’s judgments, in other places, are justly called “unsearchable,” (Romans 11:33) and “a great deep,” (Psalm 36:6) Did not our capacity fail in reaching the height of them, they would not have that intricacy and mystery by which they are characterized. It is, however, to be observed, that the root of the malice was in the Egyptians themselves, so that the fault cannot be transferred to God. I say, they were spontaneously and innately wicked, and not forced by the instigation of another. In regard to God, it ought to suffice us to know, that such was his will, although the reason may be unknown to us. But the reason is also apparent, which vindicates his righteousness from every objection. If we learn and keep in mind only this small word of advice, That the revealed will of God ought to be reverently acquiesced in, we will receive, without disputation, those mysteries which offend either the proud, or such as would be over-careful to remove the difficulties, in which, according to their view, such mysteries seem to be involved. 222222 “Ou ceux qui veulent estre trop prudens pour remedier aux inconvenions, ce leur semble.” — Fr. The prophet next expresses the manner in which the Egyptians wrought mischief against the people of God: they did not assault them openly, that they might put them to death, but they endeavored, in the way of craft and policy, to oppress them by little and little. His expression is borrowed from Moses himself. And it is purposely used, that we may not think that the hearts of the ungodly are permitted without restraint to work our destruction. It is a consideration which ought surely to satisfy our minds, that whatever the devil and wicked men may plot against us, God nevertheless represses their attempts. But it is a double confirmation of our faith, when we hear that not only their hands are bound, but also their hearts and thoughts, so that they can purpose nothing except what God pleases.
26 He sent Moses his servant Here the prophet briefly adverts to such things regarding the deliverance of the people as were worthy of particular notice. Had the Egyptians of their own accord suffered the people to depart, neither the service of Moses nor miracles would have been required. God then appointed that their deliverance should take place in such a way, as would render the denial of his being its author impossible. Moses is called the servant of the Lord, to teach us that he was not self-elected to his office, and that he attempted nothing by his own authority, but, being the minister of God, executed the office with which he had been intrusted. The same thing is expressed still more plainly with respect to Aaron, when he is said to have been chosen What is attributed to each of these eminent men in particular, applies equally to both, and therefore the sentence ought to be explained thus: God sent Moses and Aaron, his servants, not because of their own intrinsic fitness, or because they spontaneously offered to him their service, but because he chose them. This passage teaches us, that those who are engaged in active and useful service for the Church, are not prepared exclusively by their own exertions, or framed to it by their own talents, but are stirred up thereto by God. Moses was a man of heroic virtue: but, considered merely in himself, he was nothing. Accordingly, the prophet would have all that is accounted worthy of remembrance in Moses, as well as in Aaron, to be ascribed to God alone. Thus it appears that whatever men do for the welfare of the Church, they owe the power of doing it to God, who, of his free goodness, has been pleased thus to honor them.
27. They set among them the words of his signs 223223 “The words of his signs, — i.e., declarations; which were afterwards confirmed by miracles.” — Cresswell. “In this phrase,” says Hammond, “the words of his signs or prodigies, דברי, words, seems to be somewhat more than a pleonasm. God had told them what signs they should use, to convince the people first, and then Pharaoh, of their mission; and so in each judgment God commands, and they show the sign; and God’s thus telling or speaking to them is, properly, דברי, words, and the matter of these words expressed by אתותיו, signs or prodigies of his, — viz., which as he directed, he would also enable them to do among them.” The prophet, in the first place, briefly glances at those things which Moses has detailed at greater length. Nor does he follow the order of the events observed in the history; for he contents himself with showing, that the deliverance of the chosen people was the work of God. He again distinguishes between the power of God, and the ministry of Moses and Aaron. He indeed asserts that these men performed miracles, but these miracles proceeded from God, so that celestial power was not obscurely displayed by their instrumentality.
In the 28th verse he specifics one of these miracles, which yet was not the first in order, but from which it is easy to gather that God was the author of the deliverance of Israel, and in which the course of nature was entirely changed; for nothing is more astonishing than to see the light turned into darkness. In the second clause, he commends the faithfulness of Moses and Aaron, in courageously executing whatever God had commanded them: And they were not rebellious against his words 224224 They executed the command of God, with respect to the plagues brought on the Egyptians, although they knew that in thus acting they would incur the heavy displeasure of Pharaoh, and expose their lives to considerable danger. “The import of מרו לא, they resisted not,” says Hammond, “seems no more than what is affirmed in the story, Exodus 10:21, 22, ‘The Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand. — And Moses stretched forth his hand,’ — i.e., readily obeyed, and did what God directed, and that at a time when Pharaoh was likely to be incensed, and vehemently offended with him and Aaron. For which consideration the story there gives us this farther ground: for as, verse 10, he had before expressed some anger and threats, — ‘Look to it, for evil is before you,’ and ‘they were driven from his presence,’ verse 11; so now, upon the hardening his heart, which follows this plague of darkness, he said to Moses, ‘Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more, for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die the death,’ verse 28. This rage of Pharaoh, Moses in reason might well foresee, but he dreaded it not; but boldly did as God directed, and that is the meaning of “they resisted not God’s word.’” There was, as if it had been said, the most perfect harmony between the command of God and the obedience of both his servants.
29. He turned their waters into blood How grievous this plague was to the Egyptians may be conjectured from the consideration, that the element of water is one of the two great means of supporting life. And the power of God shines forth the brighter, from the fact, that although the land of Egypt is well irrigated, yet the Egyptians were parched with drought amidst abundance of water. It is afterwards said, that frogs were brought forth, 225225 The Hebrew verb for brought forth is שרף, sharats, which signifies to multiply exceedingly; and “the noun is used for creeping things, because they procreate in great abundance. It cannot therefore be more fitly translated, as is observed by Hammond, than by swarming.” — Phillips. and entered even into the chambers of the kings; by which God manifestly evinced that he was the author of the miracle; for although all Egypt swarmed with frogs, the courts of the kings ought to have been exempt from this nuisance. By the term kings, is denoted either the nobles of the realm, or the king’s sons, who were brought up in the expectation of the royal power; for at that time, as is well known, one king alone reigned over all Egypt. From this we learn how easily, and as it were by a kind of mockery, God humbles those who pride themselves in the flesh. He did not gather together an army to fight against the Egyptians, nor did he forthwith arm his angels, or thunder out of heaven, but brought forth frogs, which contemptuously trampled upon the pride of that haughty nation, who held in contempt the whole world beside. It would have been no disgrace for them to have been conquered by powerful enemies; but how dishonorable was it to be vanquished by frogs? God thus intended to show that he has no need of powerful hosts to destroy the wicked; for he can do this, as it were in sport, whenever he pleases.
31. He spake, and there came a swarm of flies By the word spake the Psalmist intimates that the flies and lice came not forth by chance. The command, we know, was uttered by the mouth of Moses; for although God could have given the command himself, he interposed Moses as his herald. God, however, gave no less efficacy to his word, when he commanded it to be uttered by a man, than if he himself had thundered from heaven. When the minister executes his commission faithfully, by speaking only what God puts into his mouth, the inward power of the Holy Spirit is joined with his outward voice. Here again it is to be observed, that the Egyptians were afflicted with the plague of the flies and lice, that God, with the greater ignominy, might subdue their rebellion and obstinacy. When it is said, that he gave them hail for rain, it denotes a hail of such appalling violence, that it could not be attributed to natural causes. It is probable that Egypt is not so subject to this annoyance as other countries, and it is very seldom visited even with rain, being watered with the Nile. This made it appear to the Egyptians the more wonderful that their country was stricken with hail. To render this calamity the more dreadful, God also mingled with it fire. The hail, then, was accompanied with a tempestuous whirlwind, that the Egyptians who had hardened themselves against the other miracles, inspired with terror, might know that they had to deal with God.
34. He spake, and the grasshopper came This calamity, which was brought upon the fields, could not be attributed to Fortune; for the grasshoppers made their appearance suddenly and in countless multitudes, so that they covered all the land of Egypt. The miracle was very evident from the word spoken, by which it was introduced. Its being announced as to happen, removed all doubt of its being the work of the Most High. Accordingly, it is expressly said, that grasshoppers and caterpillars rushed in at the commandment of God, as if soldiers should run to battle at the sound of the trumpet. Whenever these insects molest us and destroy the fruits of the earth, they are assuredly the scourges of God, but it is here intended to point out an extraordinary work of his hand. In fine, the prophet recites the last miracle, which was wrought by the angel on the night previous to the departure of the people, when he slew all the first-born throughout Egypt. I only take a hasty and passing glance at this history, as I have, in like manner, done of the other facts preceding, because they have been more copiously treated elsewhere, and at this time it is sufficient for us to know the design of the sacred writer. He, however, amplifies this display of the Divine power by a repetition, declaring that the first-born and the flower of their strength were destroyed Some translate, but unhappily, The beginning of their sorrow. As man’s strength shows itself in generation, the Hebrews term the first-begotten the beginning of strength, as we have explained on Genesis 49:3, —
“Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might,
and the beginning of my strength.”
37. And he brought them forth with silver and gold 230230 Allusion is made to the Israelites carrying with them in their departure from Egypt, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, which they borrowed of the Egyptians, Exodus 12:36. The prophet, on the other hand, celebrates the grace of God which preserved the chosen people untouched and safe from all these plagues. If both parties had been indiscriminately afflicted with them, the hand of God would not have been so signally manifest. But now when the Israelites, amidst so many calamities, experienced an entire exemption from harm, this difference exhibits to us, as in a picture, God’s fatherly care about his own people. For this reason, it is stated, Nor was there a feeble person, or one who stumbled; 231231 “And there was not any one stumbling among his tribes. The LXX. have rendered כושל by ἀσθενης infirm, so that they understood the Psalmist to say, there was no one incapable of following the multitude, — no one was prevented by disease or infirmity from accomplishing the journey.” — Phillips. What a striking contrast between their condition and that of their oppressors! While in every Egyptian dwelling, death had left his victim, not one of all the children of Israel was unable to prosecute his heaven-directed flight from that land of bondage. for the verb כשל, kashal, has both these meanings. But I prefer taking it simply in this sense, That whilst Egypt was hastening to destruction, the people of God were vigorous, and free from every malady. When it is said, He brought them forth, and when it is afterwards added, in his tribes, there is a change of the number, which is quite common in the Hebrew language. Some refer the word his to God; but this I am afraid is too forced.
38. Egypt rejoiced at their departure The Psalmist sets forth the power of God from the additional circumstance, that the Egyptians willingly allowed the chosen people to depart, when yet nothing was farther from their intention. Although they wished them destroyed a hundred times, yet they thought that they had the wolf by the ears, as we say; 232232 The meaning of this proverb is to be in danger, or hard set on every side; for if you hold the wolf, he bites you by the fingers; if you let him go, he may destroy you. and thus the fear of revenge made them more determined to blot out the memory of that people. Whence it follows, that when they all at once laid aside their former purpose, it was a secret work of divine providence. 233233 From the heavy and overwhelming judgments inflicted upon Pharaoh and his people, for refusing to allow the Israelites to depart, they came to associate the presence of that people in their land, with the most terrible manifestations of divine displeasure. This at last led them, after all their inveterate impenitence, to hail with gratitude the departure of the hated tribes. To the same effect is the statement in the preceding verse, that they were brought forth with gold and silver The Egyptians could never have had the heart voluntarily to strip themselves, to enrich those whom they would have willingly deprived of life. This was then the bounty of God, in whose hand, and at whose disposal, are all the riches of the world. He might have taken by force from the Egyptians what he had given them; but he bowed their hearts, so that of their own accord they denuded themselves. The expression, for their terror had fallen upon them, is to be understood passively; for the Israelites were not afraid of the Egyptians, but, on the contrary, were terrible to them. Nor does the prophet speak of an ordinary fear. A little before fear had stirred them up to cruelty and tyranny; but as even to that day, they had endeavored, with indomitable audacity, to shake off all fear, God suddenly laid them prostrate by the extraordinary terror which fell upon them. It is, therefore, here justly reckoned among the displays of the wonderful power of God, that he subdued the impetuous fury with which the Egyptians boiled before, that they might allow those to depart free, whom they had determined to handle rudely, and to waste in servile employments; which was like rendering sheep terrible to wolves.
39. He spread out a cloud for a covering The Psalmist enumerates certain miracles by which God continued his grace towards his people in the wilderness. This order is worthy of notice; for it was no small confirmation which was added to that incomparable work of redemption, when God ceased not to show himself the guide of their journey. Accordingly, after they had passed through the Red Sea, he spread a cloud over them by day to protect them from the heat of the sun; and during the night, he gave them light by a pillar of fire, that even in the midst of the darkness they might have a bright token of his presence. This continued display of his goodness was surely an unquestionable proof of his perpetual love, an open demonstration that he had adopted the children of Abraham, to foster them under his protection even to the end. What follows concerning quails, is introduced for a different purpose than that for which reference is made to the same fact in Psalm 78:26. In that passage, God’s bringing in an abundance of quails is ascribed rather to his wrath than to his beneficence, that the people might satiate the flesh; and we have seen in the exposition of that place, that this is mentioned as a matter of reproach to them. But in the text before us, passing over their ingratitude, the prophet celebrates the unremitting exercise of the divine loving-kindness towards them. Some, however, may be rather inclined to take the word ask in a bad sense, because the people besought not God with humility, 235235 “It does not appear from the history, that the Israelites supplicated God at all, but only murmured against Moses and Aaron for bringing them into the wilderness.” — Phillips. but through their impatience proceeded at once to murmuring, or rather arrogantly spake against him. Thus taken, the passage, by way of amplification, would mean that God, departing from his own right, humoured even their unhallowed lust. As, however, their fault is not here mentioned, let us rest in that meaning which is the most simple, namely, that the blessings by which God ratified the redemption which he had wrought are here clustered together. It next follows, that they were filled with the bread of heaven This appellation, as we have seen elsewhere, is given to the manna by way of eminence. The natural way in which the food which we eat is obtained is from the ground; but God then opened his hand more widely to the Jews, and fed them even from heaven. As it was not enough for them to be refreshed with food when they were hungry, unless they were also supplied with drink, it is added, that the rock was opened, and that the waters flowed from it through the dry places, or the desert.
42. For he remembered his holy promise The Psalmist again mentions the cause why God dealt so graciously with that people, and sustained them so tenderly, namely, that he might fulfill his promise; for he had entered into a covenant with Abraham, engaging to be the God of his seed. Nor did the prophets without cause teach so carefully as we find them doing, that the free covenant is the fountain whence the deliverance, and the continual welfare of the people flowed. Thereby the grace of God became better known, since what took place, so far from happening upon the sudden, and without anticipation, was only the fulfillment of what he had promised four hundred years before. God then, for ages previous to this, gave the light of his word of promise, that his grace and truth might be brought the more distinctly into view. For this reason the prophet again repeats, that God was not led from some new cause to deliver his people, but that his design in doing so was to prove the faithfulness of his covenant, and to give it effect; just as if a man should dig up from the ground a treasure which he had buried in it. Nor is it to be doubted, that the prophet aimed at leading the faith of his countrymen still farther, — that his object was that their posterity might be persuaded beyond all doubt, that as God had then proved, in the experience of that generation, the sure and substantial truth of his promise delivered many hundred years before, so he would not be to them otherwise than their fathers had found him to be in times past. Accordingly, he signalises this promise by the epithet, holy, intimating, that after the death of Abraham it retained its virtue and efficacy unimpaired. God had spoken it to Abraham; but the force of the covenant died not with him. God continued to show himself faithful towards the posterity of the patriarch.
43. And he brought forth his people with joy The prophet makes mention of joy and gladness, the more highly to magnify the greatness of God’s grace. It was no small matter, that at the very time when the Egyptians were afflicted by a severe and dreadful plague, — when the whole kingdom was full of weeping and howling, — and when in almost every house there was a dead body, — the people who a little before were groaning in great distress, or rather lay almost dead, went forth with joyful hearts. By the appellation the chosen of God, they are reminded, that his favor was not thus exercised towards them on account of their own merits, or on account of the worth of their race, but because he had adopted them, that men having nothing left them in which to vaunt themselves might learn to glory in God alone.
44 And he gave them the countries of the nations The Psalmist sets forth the final cause why God in so many ways displayed his wonderful power in redeeming the people, why he did not cease to cherish and defend them in the deserts — why he gave them the possession of the land as he had promised; and this was, that they might dedicate and devote themselves wholly to his service. And, in fact, the end which God proposed in our election was, that he might have on the earth a people by whom he should be called upon and served. The more effectually to stir up the Jews to gratitude, the prophet magnifies the greatness of the divine goodness, by declaring, that they occupied far and wide the countries of the nations, and that all the property which many states had acquired with great labor, they now possessed as it were by right of inheritance. The plural number, both as to the word countries and nations, serves to exhibit in a still more striking light the divine goodness in this matter. The psalm concludes with briefly defining the manner of glorifying God, That they might keep his law It would not be enough to celebrate his grace only with the tongue. To this there must be added practical and experimental piety. And as God rejects all religious services of men’s invention, the only way of rightly serving him which remains, consists in keeping his commandments.