David, or whoever was the author of this psalm, in order to excite believers to praise God, founds his argument upon the general providence of God, by which he sustains, protects, and governs the whole world. Afterwards he celebrates God's paternal kindness towards his chosen people, showing at the same time how necessary it is that the godly should be cherished by his special care.
1. Rejoice in Jehovah, ye righteous; praise is comely1 for the upright. 2. Praise Jehovah upon the harp; sing unto him upon the viol, and an instrument of ten strings. 3. Sing a new song to him; sing loudly with joyfulness: 4. For the word of Jehovah is right; and all his works are in faithfulness.2
1. Rejoice in Jehovah, ye righteous. Here the inspired writer addresses believers or the righteous by name, because they alone are capable of proclaiming the glory of God. Unbelievers, who have never tasted his goodness, cannot praise him from the heart, and God has no pleasure in his name being pronounced by their unholy tongues. But the context shows more distinctly why this exhortation is suitable for believers only. Many, accordingly, expound the latter clause, Praise is comely for the upright, as meaning, that if the ungodly or hypocrites attempt this exercise, it will turn to the reproach and dishonor of God rather than to his praise; nay, more, that they only profane his holy name. It is, no doubt, very true, as I have already remarked, that God creates for himself a church in the world by gracious adoption, for the express purpose, that his name may be duly praised by witnesses suitable for such a work. But the real meaning of the clause, Praise is comely for the upright, is, that there is no exercise in which they can be better employed. And, assuredly, since God by his daily benefits furnishes them with such matter for celebrating his glory, and since his boundless goodness, as we have elsewhere seen, is laid up as a peculiar treasure for them, it were disgraceful and utterly unreasonable for them to be silent in the praises of God. The amount of the matter is, that the principal exercise in which it becomes the righteous to be employed is to publish among men the righteousness, goodness, and power of God, the knowledge of which is implanted in their minds. Following other interpreters, I have translated the clause, Praise is comely, but the word rendered comely may also be properly rendered desirable, if we view it as derived from the Hebrew word hwa, avah, which signifies to wish or desire. And certainly, when God allures believers so sweetly, it is proper that they employ themselves in celebrating his praises with their whole hearts. It is also to be observed, that when the prophet, after having in the first clause used the appellation, the righteous, immediately adds the words, the upright, which comprehend the inward integrity of the heart, he defines what true righteousness is, or in what it consists.
2. Praise Jehovah upon the harp. It is evident that the Psalmist here expresses the vehement and ardent affection which the faithful ought to have in praising God, when he enjoins musical instruments to be employed for this purpose. He would have nothing omitted by believers which tends to animate the minds and feelings of men in singing God's praises. The name of God, no doubt, can, properly speaking, be celebrated only by the articulate voice; but it is not without reason that David adds to this those aids by which believers were wont to stimulate themselves the more to this exercise; especially considering that he was speaking to God's ancient people. There is a distinction, however, to be observed here, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves, every thing which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law:I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue, (1 Corinthians 14:16.) The voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music; and yet we see what St Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue.3 What shall we then say of chanting, which fills the ears with nothing but an empty sound? Does any one object, that music is very useful for awakening the minds of men and moving their hearts? I own it; but we should always take care that no corruption creep in, which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition. Moreover, since the Holy Spirit expressly warns us of this danger by the mouth of Paul, to proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.
3. Sing unto him a new song. As the Psalmist afterwards treats of the mighty works of God, and particularly concerning the preservation of the Church, it is not wonderful that he exhorts the righteous to sing a new, that is, a rare and choice song. The more closely and diligently that believers consider the works of God, the more will they exert themselves in his praises. It is no common song, therefore, which he exhorts them to sing, but a song corresponding to the magnificence of the subject. This is also the meaning of the second clause, in which he urges them to sing loudly. In this sense, I understand the Hebrew word bytyh, heytib, although others refer it rather to the proper setting of the notes.
4. For the word of Jehovah is right. As I have just remarked, the Psalmist first sets forth God's general providence by which he governs the whole world; and he tells us that he so exerts his power in the whole course of his operations, that the most perfect equity and faithfulness shine forth everywhere. Some will have the terms word and work to be synonymous; but I think there is a distinction, and that word means the same thing as counsel or ordinance, while work signifies the effect or execution of his counsel. I grant that here the same subject is repeated in different words, as is the case in other places; but a slight variation will be found in such repetitions, that the same thing may he expressed in various ways. The amount of what is stated is, that whatever God appoints and commands is right; and whatever he brings to pass in actual operation is faithful and true. Meanwhile, it ought to be observed, that the term word is not to be understood of doctrine, but of the method by which God governs the world.