25. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; in the midst were the damsels playing with timbrels.1 26. Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, O ye who are of the fountain of Israel! 27. There is little Benjamin their ruler, the princes of Judah in their assembly, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali.
25. The singers went before. It is evident that he does not now speak of an army in battle array, but of a solemn assembly held for offering up thanksgivings to God for victory. God had openly shown that he was their leader in war, and to him the song of triumph is with propriety addressed. Mention is made of distinct choirs employed in his service, and particularly of such as played upon the timbrel; for, absurd as the practice may appear to us, it was then customary for the women to play upon that instrument. By the fountain2 from which they are called upon to bless God, some understand the heart, as it is known that those praises which proceed from the lips merely, and are hypocritical, meet with the Divine reprobation. But I conceive the true meaning to be, that all are summoned to praise the Lord who could deduce their origin from the patriarch Jacob. Many might not sustain the character which answered to their high vocation; but, as the whole race had been chosen of God, the Psalmist very properly invites them to engage in this devotional exercise. At the same time, I see nothing objectionable in the opinion, if any persist in preferring it, that the term is here used to distinguish the true saints of God from those who vainly boasted of being the posterity of Abraham, while they had degenerated from his spirit. Those only who walk in the footsteps of his faith are reckoned to be his children. It has caused some surprise that, in a general description of the sacred assemblies of the people, precedence should have been given to the tribe of Benjamin. According to certain interpreters, this is owing to the position which it occupied, as being next to David; and honor is put upon the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali,3 which, though they lay at a great distance, were in a particular manner friendly and attached to him. Others think that the whole nation is represented under the tribes specified, which were at once the nearest and most distant.4 These conjectures5 are probable enough, but the point is one which may be left in uncertainty, as there may have been some other reason, which it is impossible for us to discover. It has been suggested that Benjamin is called little on account of the smallness of its numbers, the tribe having been nearly exterminated for the crime of the men of Gibeah, (Judges 19:20;) but David would not probably have adverted to any reproach of this kind in calling them to take so prominent a part in the praises of God.6 The inspired writers, in speaking of the tribes, often allude to the patriarchs from whom they respectively took their origin; nor is it surprising that the posterity of Benjamin, who was the youngest of Jacob's children,7 should receive the designation here given to them; and the truth is, that even antecedently to the heavy stroke which befell them, they were not numerous. Interpreters, by general consent, have considered that Benjamin is called ruler, as Saul, who was first made king in Israel, belonged to this tribe; but I cannot bring myself to think it probable that David would have made such an unseasonable allusion to Saul's memory, whose government is everywhere represented in Scripture as pregnant with disaster, and which was to be buried in that of his successor, whose reign is so prominently brought forward in this psalm. The more likely conjecture is, that this title of dignity is applied in order to put honor upon a tribe, which some might despise for its smallness, and to intimate that the Benjamites, though few in numbers, and not possessed of great influence, formed one head in Israel as well as the rest.8 Others may be disposed to think that there must have been some illustrious individual in this and the two tribes mentioned along with it, or that the whole tribe had signalised itself in a recent battle. Though honorable mention is made of these tribes, yet the chief place in the numbers assembled together at this time is assigned to the princes of Judah. Some think that the copulative is understood, and read, the princes of Judah and their congregation. The Hebrew word which we translate congregation is by others translated stoning.9 But it seems preferable to construe the words as implying that this tribe presided over the assembly which marched under its auspices in war. The power of summoning the people together is thus asserted as belonging to Judah, and it is represented as honored with the government and primacy of the kingdom.
1 "The musical instrument here rendered 'timbrels' was a sort of small drum, carried in the hand, (Exodus 15:20,) and played on by beating with the hand or fingers, as is probable from Nahum 2:7. It was used both on civil and religious occasions; and is often mentioned, as here, to have been beaten by women, but was sometimes played on by men. It was very like, if not the same kind of instrument as the modern Syrian diff, which is described by Dr Russell as 'a hoop, (sometimes with bits of brass fixed in it to make a jingling,) over which a piece of parchment is distended. It is beat with the fingers; and is the true tympanum of the ancients, as appears from its figure in several relievos representing the orgies of Bacchus, and the rites of Cybele. It is worth observing, that, according to Juvenal, the Romans had this instrument from Syria.' Niebuhr also has given us a similar description, and a print of an instrument which, (according to his German spelling,) he says, they call doff: He informs us that they 'hold it by the bottom, in the air, with one hand, while they play on it with the other.' The Oriental diff appears to be very like what is known to the French and English by the name of tambourine." -- Mant.
2 "A metaphor denoting the posterity of Israel, springing, as it were, from a common source or fountain." -- Mant. Bishop Hare's conjectural emendation gives a good sense; but it seems unnecessary. Instead of
"The fount whence blessings spring to Israel's race."
Horsley reads, "The Lord of the stock of Israel;" and explains it of the Messiah, who was of the stock of Israel according to the flesh. Fry conceives that the reading more strictly may be, "from the quarry of Israel; dug, as it were, from this pit, hewn from this rock. See Isaiah 51:1."
"They blessed Elohim in the congregations,
The Lord from the stock of Israel, (or from the quarry of Israel.)"
3 Zebulun and Naphtali were in Galilee, divided from the country of the half-tribe of Manasseh; the former by the Jordan, the latter by the Lake of Gennesareth.
4 Why these tribes in particular? May it be, Judah (having, instead of Reuben, succeeded to the blessing which conveyed the privilege of having the Chief Ruler and Messiah of his line) and Benjamin (
5 Of other conjectures the following are a specimen: "As for Zebulun and Naphtali, why their names are here added rather than any of the other tribes, the reason may, perhaps, best be taken from what we find prophesied of those two (Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 and Judges 5.) by Jacob and Moses and Deborah, that learning and knowledge should be most eminent in those two tribes. Of Naphtali it is said, (Genesis 49:21,) 'Naphtali is a hind let loose; he giveth goodly words;' and of Zebulun, (Judges 5:14,) 'They shall handle the pen of the writer.'" -- Hammond. "It then specifies the tribes of Judah, Zebulun, and Naphtali, not as if they were the only tribes present, but as occupying, perhaps, the foremost ranks of the procession, and followed by all the other tribes." -- Walford.
6 "Car David appelant yci ceux qui devoyent faire le plus grand devoir et estre les premiers a annoncer les louanges de Dieu, n'eust pas fait mention de ceste acte qui estoit ignominieux, et tendoit grandement a leur deshonneur." -- Fr.
7 The Septuagint has, "There is Benjamin the younger." He was the son of Jacob's old age; and to this there is an allusion in the name, which is compounded of
8 "Caput tamen unum efficere." -- Lat. "Font toutesfois un chef comme les autres lignees." -- Fr.
9 The word