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78. Psalm 78
Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
3Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
5For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
6That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
7That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
8And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
9The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
10They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
11And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
12Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
14In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
15He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
16He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
17And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
18And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
19Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
20Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
21Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
22Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
23Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
24And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
25Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full.
26He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
27He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
28And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
29So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
30They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
31The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
32For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
33Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
34When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.
35And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
36Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
37For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
38But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
39For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
40How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
41Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
42They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
43How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
44And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
45He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
46He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
47He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
48He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
49He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
50He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
51And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
52But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
55He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
56Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
57But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
58For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
59When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
60So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
61And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.
62He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
63The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
64Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
65Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
66And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
67Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
68But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
69And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
70He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
71From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
72So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
1. Give ear, O my people! to my law. From the close of the psalm, it may with probability be conjectured, that it was written long after the death of David; for there we have celebrated the kingdom erected by God in the family of David. There also the tribe of Ephraim, which is said to have been rejected, is contrasted with, and set in opposition to, the house of David. From this it is evident, that the ten tribes were at that time in a state of separation from the rest of the chosen people; for there must be some good reason why the kingdom of Ephraim is branded with a mark of dishonor as being illegitimate and bastard. 308308 Calmet refers the composition of this psalm to the days of Asa, who, aided by the Syrians, obtained a signal victory over the Israelites, and brought back to the pure worship of God many out of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon. See 2 Chronicles 15 and 16. Schnurrer supposes, that the special purpose for which it was composed was, to celebrate a decisive victory which had been gained over the kingdom of Ephraim or Israel by Abijah, the king of Judah during the reign of Jeroboam. Walford thinks this opinion highly probable. “There is,” say’s he, “an eulogy passed upon David at the conclusion of the psalm, which makes it likely that the author of it wished to conciliate the favor of the whole people towards David’s successors, from whom Jeroboam had revolted: and in verse 9th, there is a reference to Ephraim which affords some degree of evidence in support of Schnurrer’s hypothesis. Whatever may be thought of this hypothesis, we cannot hesitate to admit that the psalm itself is clear, pungent, and persuasive, and must have been felt to be so by the persons for whose use it was written.”
Whoever was the inspired writer of this psalm, he does not introduce God speaking as is thought by some, but he himself addresses the Jews in the character of a teacher. It is no objection to this that he calls the people his people, and the law his law; it being no uncommon thing for the prophets to borrow the name of Him by whom they were sent, that their doctrine might have the greater authority. And, indeed, the truth which has been committed to their trust may, with propriety, be called theirs. Thus Paul, in Romans 2:16, glories in the gospel as his gospel, an expression not to be understood as implying that it was a system which owed its origin to him, but that he was a preacher and a witness of it. I am somewhat doubtful whether interpreters are strictly correct in translating the word תורה, torah, by law. 309309 We have seen that Calvin, on the margin of the French version, reads instruction, and this reading is adopted by Street, Fry, Morison, and Walford. The meaning of it seems to be somewhat more general, as appears from the following clause, where the Psalmist uses the phrase, the words of my mouth, in the same sense. If we consider with what inattention even those who make great professions of being the disciples of God listen to his voice, we will admit that the prophet had good reason for introducing his lessons of instruction by a solemn call of attention. He does not, it is true, address the unteachable and obstinate, who frowardly refuse to submit themselves to the word of God; but as even true believers themselves are generally too backward to receive instruction, this exhortation, so far from being superfluous, was highly necessary to stir up the sluggish and inactive among them.
To secure for himself the greater attention, he declares it to be his purpose to discuss subjects of a great, high, and difficult character. The word משל, mashal, which I have translated a parable, denotes grave and
striking sentences, such as adages, or proverbs, and apophthegms.
See volume 2, page 238, note 2.
As then the matter itself of which we treat, if it is weighty and important, awakens the minds of men, the inspired penman affirms that it is his purpose to utter only striking sentences and notable sayings. The word חידות, chidoth, which, following others, I have rendered enigmas,
is here used, not so much for dark sentences, as for sayings which are pointed and worthy of special notice.
Walford translates חידות, chidoth, “all impressive record.” His version of the first and second verses is,
“Hear, O my people! my instruction:
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with an instructive speech,
I will utter an impressive record of ancient times.”
“The words law, parable, and dark sayings,” he observes, “which are found in the English translation of verses 1st and 2d, are not appropriate to the recitals which are contained in the psalm. They are here altered for others, which are in agreement with the subjects which follow, and may be supported by the usage of the original words which are employed.” Similar is Street’s note on this place. He translates חידות, chidoth, “pointed truths,” and objects to its being translated dark sayings “There is nothing obscure in the psalm,” says he, “it contains instructive historical truth, but no enigma. Therefore, the rendering of the English Bible, dark sayings, does not seem to be right. The Septuagint renders the word διηγημα, Ezekiel 17:2, and that rendering would suit this place better than προθληματα I have endeavored to express the relation of the word to חדד, acutum est.” See volume 2 of this work, page 238, note 3. But as Dimock observes, “The several transactions of the Mosaical covenant hereafter recited, might be well called parables and dark speeches, or, as Arabic, mysteries, considered as types or figures of the Christian; and viewed in this light, afford ample matter of contemplation, serving not only as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, but to keep us steadfast in faith and obedience to David our king.” He does not mean to wrap up his song in ambiguous language, but clearly and distinctly to dwell both upon the benefits of God and the ingratitude of the people. Only, as I have said, his design is to stimulate his readers to weigh and consider more attentively the subject propounded. This passage is quoted by Matthew, (Matthew 13:35,) and applied to the person of Christ, when he held the minds of the people in suspense by parables which they could not understand. Christ’s object in doing so, was to prove that he was a distinguished prophet of God, and that thus he might be received with the greater reverence. Since he then resembled a prophet because he preached sublime mysteries in a style of language above the common kind, that which the sacred writer here affirms concerning himself, is with propriety transferred to him. If in this psalm there shines forth such a majesty as may justly stir up and inflame the readers with a desire to learn, we gather from it with what earnest attention it becomes us to receive the gospel, in which Christ opens and displays to us the treasures of his celestial wisdom.
3. What we have heard and known. There seems to be some discrepancy between what the Psalmist had stated in the commencement, when he said that he would speak of great and hidden matters, and what he now adds, that his subject is a common one, and such as is transmitted from one age to another by the father to the son. If it was incumbent upon the fathers to recount to their children the things here spoken of, these things ought, of course, to have been familiarly known to all the people, yea, even to those who were most illiterate, and had the weakest capacity. Where, then, it may be said, are the enigmas or dark sentences of which he has just now made mention? I answer, that these things can easily be reconciled; for although the psalm contains many things which are generally known, yet he illustrates them with all the splendor and ornaments of diction, that he may the more powerfully affect the hearts of men, and acquire for himself the greater authority. At the same time, it is to be observed, that however high may be the majesty of the Word of God, this does not prevent the benefits or advantages of it from reaching even to the unlearned and to babes. The Holy Spirit does not in vain invite and encourage such to learn from it: — a truth which we ought carefully to mark. If God, accommodating himself to the limited capacity of men, speaks in an humble and lowly style, this manner of teaching is despised as too simple; but if he rise to a higher style, with the view of giving greater authority to his Word, men, to excuse their ignorance, will pretend that it is too obscure. As these two vices are very prevalent in the world, the Holy Spirit so tempers his style as that the sublimity of the truths which he teaches is not hidden even from those of the weakest capacity, provided they are of a submissive and teachable disposition, and bring with them an earnest desire to be instructed. It is the design of the prophet to remove from the mind all doubt respecting his sayings, and for this purpose, he determines to bring forward nothing new, but such subjects as had been long well known, and received without dispute in the Church. He accordingly not only says we have heard, but also we have known. Many things are rashly spread abroad which have no foundation in truth; yea, nothing is more common than for the ears of men to be filled with fables. It is, therefore, not without cause that the prophet, after having spoken of the things which he had heard, at the same time, refers in confirmation of their truth to undoubted testimony. He adds, that the knowledge of these subjects had been communicated to the Jews by their fathers. This does not imply, that what is taught under the domestic roof is always faultless; but it is obvious, that there is afforded a more favorable opportunity of palming upon men forgeries for truth, when things are brought from a distant country. What is to be principally observed is, that all fathers are not here spoken of indiscriminately, but only those who were chosen to be God’s peculiar people, and to whom the care of divine truth was intrusted.
4. We will not conceal them from their children in the generation to come. Some take the verb נכחד, nechached, in the nephil conjugation, and translate it, they are not concealed or hidden. But it ought, according to the rules of grammar, to be resolved thus: — We will not conceal them from our posterity, implying, that what we have been taught by our ancestors we should endeavor to transmit to their children. By this means, all pretense of ignorance is removed; for it was the will of God that these things should be published from age to age without interruption; so that being transmitted from father to child in each family, they might reach even the last family of man. The end for which this was to be done is shown — that they might celebrate the praises of Jehovah, in the wonderful works which he hath done
5. He established a testimony in Jacob. 312312 Horsley considers this verse as a parenthesis. As the reception or approbation of any doctrine by men would not be a sufficient reason for yielding a firm assent to its truth, the prophet proceeds farther, and represents God as the author of what he brings forward. He declares, that the father’s were not led to instruct their children in these truths under the mere impulse of their own minds, but by the commandment of God. Some understand the words, He hath established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, as implying that God had established a decree in Jacob, to be observed as an inviolable rule, which was, that the deliverance divinely wrought for the people should be at all times in the mouth of every Israelite; but this seems to give too restricted a sense. I therefore consider statute, or testimony, and law, 313313 Dr Adam Clarke, by a testimony understands the various ordinances, rites, and ceremonies prescribed by the laws and by the word law, the moral law. as referring to the written law, which, however, was partly given for this end, that by the remembrance of their deliverance, the people, after having been once gathered into one body, might be kept in their allegiance to God. The meaning then is, that God not only acquired a right to the Jews as his people by his mighty power, but that he also sealed up his grace, that the knowledge of it might never be obliterated. And, undoubtedly, it was then registered as it were in public records, when the covenant was ratified by the written law, in order to assure the posterity of Abraham that they had been separated from all other nations. It would have been a matter of very small importance to have been acquainted with, or to have remembered the bare history of what had been done, had their eyes not been, at the same time, directed to the free adoption and the fruit of it. The decree then is this, That the fathers being instructed in the doctrine of the law themselves, should recount, as it were, from the mouth of God, to their children, that they had been not only once delivered, but also gathered into one body as his Church, that throughout all ages they might yield a holy and pure obedience to him as their deliverer. The reading of the beginning of the second clause of the verse properly is, Which he commanded, etc. But the relative אשר, asher, which, I have no doubt, is here put by way of exposition for namely, or that is, he commanded, etc. I have translated it for, which amounts to the same thing.
6. That the generation to come might know them. In this verse, the Psalmist confirms what he had said concerning the continued transmission of divine truth. It greatly concerns us to know, that the law was given not for one age only; but that the fathers should transmit it to their children, as if it were their rightful inheritance, in order that it might never be lost, but be preserved to the end of the world. This is the reason why Paul, in 1 Timothy 3:15, asserts that “the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth;” by which he does not mean that the truth of itself is weak, and stands in need of foreign supports, but that God extends and diffuses it by the instrumentality of his ministers, who when they faithfully execute the office of teaching with which they are invested, sustain the truth, as it were, upon their shoulders. Now, the prophet teaches us, that it is our bounden duty to use our endeavors that there may be a continual succession of persons to communicate instruction in divine truth. It is said of Abraham before the law was written, Genesis 18:19,
“I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment;”
and after his death, this was enjoined upon the patriarchs as a necessary part of their duty. No sooner was the law delivered, than God appointed priests in his Church to be public masters and teachers. He has also testified by the prophet Isaiah, that the same is to be observed under the New Testament dispensation, saying,
“My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, from henceforth and for ever.” (Isaiah 59:21)
In the passage before us, however, a particular injunction is given to the fathers on this point — each of them is enjoined diligently to instruct his own children, and all without distinction are taught, that their exertions in transmitting the name of God to their posterity will be most acceptable to Him, and receive his highest approbation. By the words, That the children to be born should arise, is not denoted a small number of individuals; but it is intimated, that the preachers of divine truth, by whose efforts pure religion may flourish and prevail for ever, will be as numerous as those who are born into the world.
7. That they might set their hope in God. Here the Psalmist points out the use to which the doctrine which he had stated should be applied. In the first place, the fathers, when they find that on the one hand they are instrumental in maintaining the pure worship of God, and that on the other, they are the means of providing for the salvation of their children, should, by such a precious result of their labors, be the more powerfully stirred up to instruct their children. In the second place, the children on their part, being inflamed with greater zeal, should eagerly press forward in the acquisition of divine knowledge, and not suffer their minds to wander in vain speculations, but should aim at, or keep their eyes directed to, the right mark. It is unhappy and wretched toil to be
“ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of
the truth,” (2 Timothy 3:7.)
When, therefore, we hear for what purpose the law was given, we may easily learn what is the true and most successful method of deriving benefit from it. The inspired writer places trust first, assigning it the highest rank. He then requires the observance of the holy commandments of God; and he puts in the middle the remembrance of the works of God, which serves to confirm and strengthen faith. In short, what he means is, that the sum of heavenly wisdom consists in this, that men, having their hearts fixed on God by a true and unfeigned faith, call upon him, and that, for the purpose of maintaining and cherishing their confidence in him, they exercise themselves in meditating in good earnest upon his benefits; and that then they yield to him an unfeigned and devoted obedience. We may learn from this, that the true service of God begins with faith. If we transfer our trust and confidence to any other object, we defraud him of the chief part of his honor.
8. And that they might not be as their fathers, a rebellious and provoking generation. The Psalmist here shows still more distinctly how necessary this sermon was, from the circumstance that the Jews were exceedingly prone to revolt from God, if they were not kept in subjection by powerful restraints. He takes it as a fact, which could not be questioned, that their hearts were in no respect better than the hearts of their fathers, whom he affirms to have been a treacherous, rebellious, crooked and disobedient race. They would, therefore, immediately backslide from the way of God, unless their hearts were continually sustained by stable supports. The experience of all ages shows that what Horace writes concerning his own nation is true every where: —
“Ætas parenturn, pejor avis, tulit
Nos nequiores, mox daturos
Odes, Book III. Ode vi.
“The age that gave our fathers birth,
Saw them their noble sires disgrace:
We, baser still, shall leave on earth
The still increasing guilt of our degenerate race.”
What then would be the consequence, did not God succor the world which thus proceeds from evil to worse? As the prophet teaches the Jews from the wickedness and perverseness of their fathers, that they stood in need of a severe discipline to recall them from the imitation of bad examples, we learn from this, how great the folly of the world is, in persuading itself that the example of the fathers is to be regarded as equivalent to a law, which ought, in every case, to be followed. He does not here speak of all people without distinction, but of the holy and chosen race of Abraham; nor does he rebuke a small number of persons, but almost the whole nation, among whom there prevailed excessive obstinacy, as well as perverse forgetfulness of the grace of God, and perfidious dissimulation. He does not mention merely the fathers of one age, but he comprehends a period stretching back into a remote antiquity, that persons may not take occasion to excuse themselves in committing sin, from the length of time during which it has prevailed. We must therefore make a wise selection from amongst the fathers of those whom it becomes us to imitate. It being a work of great difficulty to remove the disposition to this perverse imitation of the fathers, towards whom the feeling of reverence is naturally impressed on the minds of their successors, the prophet employs a multiplicity of terms to set forth the aggravated wickedness of the fathers, stigmatising them as chargeable with apostasy, provocation, treachery, and hypocrisy. These are very weighty charges; but it will be evident from the sequel that they are not exaggerated. The word הכין, hechin, which I have rendered directed, is by some translated established, but in my opinion, the meaning rather is, that God’s ancient people always turned aside from God into crooked by-paths. Also, in what follows, instead of reading whose spirit was not faithful towards God, some read whose spirit leaned not upon God. 315315 “The Syriac version reads, ‘And confided not in the God of its spirit,’ translating נאמנה, [the word which Calvin renders ‘was faithful,’] by a masculine verb; and this indeed the sense will very well bear, and the change of genders is not unusual, and God is frequently known by that title, ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh.’ See Numbers 16:22.” — Hammond But it is better to follow the former interpretation, That they were not faithfully and steadfastly devoted to God, although they had solemnly sworn allegiance to him. The Papists make use of this passage as an argument to prove that man has the power of bending his own heart, and directing it either to good or evil as he pleases; but this is an inference from it which cannot stand examination for a single moment. Although the prophet justly blames those who have not directed their heart aright, his object is not expressly to speak of what men can do of themselves. It is the special work of God to turn to himself the hearts of men by the secret influence of his Holy Spirit. It does not however follow from this, that they will be exempted from blame, when their own lust and depravity draw them away from God. Moreover, from the sins which are here reproved, we should learn in what way he would have us to obey and serve him. In the first place, we must lay aside all obstinacy and take his yoke upon us; 316316 “Premierement il faut que nous ostions toute obstination, avant que nous puissions avoir les cols propres pour recevoir son joug.” — Fr. In the first place, we must lay aside all obstinacy before we can bend our necks to receive his yoke. and, secondly, we must clothe ourselves with the spirit of meekness, bring the affections of the heart to the obedience of God, and follow after uprightness, and that not with the fervor of a mere transient impulse, but with unfeigned and unwavering steadfastness.
9. The children of Ephraim being armed, and shooting with the bow. The sacred writer sets before us an example of this unfaithfulness in the children of Ephraim. As those who are pertinaciously set upon doing evil are not easily led to repentance and reformation by simple instruction, the punishments with which God visited the children of Ephraim are brought forward, and by these it is proved that they were reprobates. Since they were a warlike people, it was an evidence of the divine displeasure for them to turn their backs in battle. And it is expressly declared, that they were skillful in shooting with the bow; 317317 Of the Ephraimites shooting with the bow, or being archers, we have an intimation in Genesis 49:24, where, in Jacob’s blessing on Joseph, the father of Ephraim, it is said, “His bow abode in strength.” for it is an additional stigma to represent such as were armed with weapons to wound their enemies at a distance as fleeing through fear. From this, it is the more abundantly manifest that they had incurred the displeasure of God, who not only deprived them of his aid, but also made their hearts effeminate in the hour of danger.
Here the question may be raised, Why the children of Ephraim only are blamed, when we find a little before, all the tribes in general comprehended in the same sentence of condemnation? Some commentators refer this to the slaughter of the sons of Ephraim by the men of Gath, who came forth against them to recover their cattle of which they had been despoiled, 1 Chronicles 7:20, 21, 22. 318318 Dr Morison supposes, that the history here referred to, is that of the Israelites going up contrary to the divine command to take possession of the promised land, when, for their temerity, they were smitten and humbled before their enemies. (Deuteronomy 1:42.) “The tribe of Ephraim,” he observes, “is doubtless specially singled out, because they were the most warlike of all the chosen tribes, and because, perhaps, they led on the other tribes to the fatal act of rebellion against the expressed will of the God of Israel.” This, perhaps, may be considered as receiving some support from comparing the number of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 2:19) when they came out of Egypt, with their number when taken in the plains of Moab, at the termination of their wanderings in the wilderness, (Numbers 26:37.) At the former period, they amounted to 40,500, at the latter, to 32,500, eight thousand less; whereas, during those forty years the other tribes had considerably increased. But this exposition is too restricted. Perhaps the kingdom of Israel had fallen into decay, and had been almost ruined when this psalm was composed. It is therefore better to follow the opinion of other interpreters, who think, that by the figure synecdoche, the children of Ephraim are put for the whole people. But these interpreters pass over without consideration the fact, which ought not to be overlooked, that the Ephraimites are purposely named because they were the means of leading others into that rebellion which took place when Jeroboam set up the calves, (1 Kings 12:25-33.) What we have already said must be borne in mind, that towards the close of the psalm, the rejection of the tribe of Ephraim is, not, without cause, contrasted with the election of the tribe of Judah. The children of Ephraim are also here spoken of by way of comparison, to warn the true children of Abraham from the example of those who cut themselves off from the Church, and yet boasted of the title of the Church without exhibiting holy fruits in their life. 319319 “Sans en monstrer les fruicts en leur vie.” — Fr. As they surpassed all the other tribes in number and wealth, their influence was too powerful in beguiling the simple; but of this the prophet now strips them, showing that they were deprived of the aid of God.
10. They kept not the covenant of God. This is the reason assigned for the Ephraimites turning their backs in the day of battle; and it explains why the divine assistance was withheld from them. Others, it is true, were guilty in this respect as well as they, but the vengeance of God executed on that tribe, which by its influence had corrupted almost the whole kingdom, is purposely brought forward as a general warning. Since then the tribe of Ephraim, in consequence of its splendor and dignity, when it threw off the yoke, encouraged and became as it were a standard of shameful revolt to all the other tribes, the prophet intended to put people on their guard, that they might not suffer themselves in their simplicity to be again deceived in the same manner. It is no light charge which he brings against the sons of Ephraim: he upbraids them on account of their perfidiousness in despising the whole law and in violating the covenant. Although he employs these two words, law and covenant, in the same sense; yet, in placing the covenant first, he clearly shows that he is speaking not only of the moral law, the all-perfect rule of life, but of the whole service of God, of the truth and faithfulness of the divine promises, and of the trust which ought to be reposed in them, 320320 “De la verite et fidelite des promesses, et de la foy qu’on y doit adjouster.” — Fr. of invocation, and of the doctrine of true religion, the foundation whereof was the adoption. He therefore calls them covenant-breakers, because they had fallen from their trust in the promises, by which God had entered into covenant with them to be their Father. Yet he afterwards very properly adds the law, in which the covenant was sealed up, as it were, in public records. He aggravates the enormity of their guilt by the word refuse, which intimates that they were not simply carried away by a kind of thoughtless or inconsiderate recklessness, and thus sinned through giddiness, want of knowledge or foresight, but that they had purposely, and with deliberate obstinacy, violated the holy covenant of God.
11. And they forgat his works. This shameful impiety is here represented as having originated in ingratitude, inasmuch as they wickedly buried, and made no account of the deliverance wrought for them, which was worthy of everlasting remembrance. Truly it was stupidity more than brutish, or rather, as it were, a monstrous thing, 321321 “A la verite une telle stupidite estoit plusque brutale, ou plustost comme une chose monstrueuse.” — Fr. for the Israelites to depart from God, to whom they were under so many and strong obligations. Nor would it have been possible for them to have been so bewitched by Satan, had they not quite forgotten the many miracles wrought in their behalf, which formed so many bonds to keep them in the fear of God and in obedience to him. That no excuse might be left for extenuating their guilt, the prophet ennobles those works by applying to them the term wonderful, thereby intimating, that God’s manner of acting was not of a common kind, so as easily to account for their gradually forgetting his works, but that the Israelites had perversely and wickedly shut their eyes, that they might not be restrained in their sinful course, by beholding the glory of God.
12. He wrought marvellously in the sight of their fathers. The Psalmist is still to be regarded as condemning the posterity of the Israelites for their guilt; but he very properly, at the same time, begins to speak of the first ancestors of the nation, intimating, that the whole race of them, even from their first original, were of a perverse and rebellious disposition. But having remarked that the children of Ephraim had fallen into apostasy, because they had forgotten the wonderful works of God, he continues to prosecute the same subject. Meanwhile, as I have said, he makes a very happy transition to speak of the fathers, whom it was his object to include in the same condemnation. In the first place, he adverts to the miracles which were wrought in the midst of the land of Egypt, previous to the departure of the people from it. To recall these the more vividly to the mind, he names a place which was highly celebrated — the field of Zoan. He next comes to speak of the passage through the sea, where he repeats what was brought under our notice in the previous psalm, that the order of nature was reversed when the waters stopped in their course, and were even raised up into solid heaps like mountains. In the third place, he declares, that after the people had passed through the Red Sea, God still continued to be their guide in their journey; and that this might not be a mere temporary deliverance, he graciously continued to stretch forth his hand to bestow upon them new testimonies of his goodness. It being a difficult and wearisome thing for them to pursue their journey through dry and sandy regions, it was no ordinary blessing to be protected from the heat of the sun by the intervention of a cloud. This, however, was to them a pledge of more distinguished grace. God hereby testified, that this people were under his protection, until they should reach the heavenly inheritance. Accordingly, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:2, that there was a kind of baptism administered to the people in that cloud, as also in their passing through the sea; the fruit of which is not limited to this frail and transitory life, but extends even to everlasting salvation.
15. He clave the rocks in the wilderness. The Psalmist produces another evidence of the fatherly love by which God testified the greatness of the care which he exercised about the welfare of this people. It is not simply said that God gave them drink, but that he did this in a miraculous manner. Streams, it is true, sometimes issue from rocks, but the rock which Moses smote was completely dry. Whence it is evident, that the water was not brought forth from any spring, but that it was made to flow from the profoundest deeps, as if it had been said, from the very center of the earth. Those, therefore, who have interpreted this passage as meaning, that the Israelites drank in the bottomless deeps, because the waters flowed in great abundance, have failed in giving the true explanation. Moses, in his history of the miracle, rather enhances its greatness, by intimating, that God commanded those waters to come gushing from the remotest veins.
The same truth is confirmed in the following verse, in which it is stated, that where there had not been a single drop of water before there was a large and mighty river. Had there only sprung out of the rock a small rivulet, ungodly men might have had some apparent ground for cavilling at, and underrating the goodness of God, but when the water gushed out in such copious abundance all on a sudden, who does not see that the ordinary course of nature was changed, rather than that some vein or spring which lay hidden in the earth was opened?