World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
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.