1. Sing joyfully to God our strength sing with a loud voice: to the God of Jacob. 2. Raise a song,1 and bring forth the tabret, the pleasant harp, with the psaltery.2 3. Sound the trumpet at the new moon; at the time appointed on the day of our sacrifice.3 4. For this is a statute to Israel, a law to the God of Jacob. 5. He set it for a testimony in Joseph, when he went forth over [or above] the land of Egypt: I heard a language which I understood not. 6. I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the pots.4 7. Thou didst cry in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah. Selah.
1. Sing joyfully to God our strength. This psalm, it is probable, was appointed to be sung on the festival days on which the Jews kept their solemn assemblies. In the exordium, there is set forth the order of worship which God had enjoined. They were not to stand deaf and dumb at the tabernacle; for the service of God does not consist in indolence, nor in cold and empty ceremonies; but they were, by such exercises as are here prescribed, to cherish among themselves the unity of faith; to make an open profession of their piety; to stir up themselves to continual progress therein; to endeavor to join, with one accord, in praising God; and, in short, to continue steadfast in the sacred covenant by which God had adopted them to himself.
Such having been the use of festival days under the law, we may conclude, that whenever true believers assemble together at the present day, the end which they ought to have in view is to employ themselves in the exercises of religion -- to call to their remembrance the benefits which they have received from God -- to make progress in the knowledge of his word -- and to testify the oneness of their faith. Men only mock God by presenting to him vain and unprofitable ceremonies, unless the doctrine of faith go before, stirring them up to call upon God; and unless, also, the remembrance of his benefits furnish matter of praise. Yea, rather it is a profanation of his name, when people quench the light of divine truth, and satisfy themselves with performing mere outward service. Accordingly, the faithful are here not only enjoined to come together to the tabernacle, but are also taught the end for which they are to assemble there, which is, that the free and gracious covenant which God has made with them may be brought anew to their remembrance, for increasing their faith and piety, that thus the benefits which they have received from him may be celebrated, and their hearts thereby moved to thanksgiving. With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves. Under the new moon, by the figure synecdoche, is comprehended all the other high feasts. Sacrifices were daily offered; but the days on which the faithful met together at the tabernacle, according to the express appointment of the law, are called, by way of eminence, the days of sacrifice.
4. For this is a statute to Israel. To give the more effect to the preceding exhortation, it is here taught that this law or ordinance had been prescribed to God's ancient people, for the purpose of ratifying the everlasting covenant. And as in covenants there is a mutual agreement between the parties, it is declared that this statute was given to Israel, and that God, in contracting, reserved this for himself, as a right to which he was justly entitled.
5. He set it for a testimony in Joseph. The Hebrew word
6. I have removed his shoulder from the burden. Here God begins to recount the benefits which he had bestowed upon the Israelites, and the many ways in which he had laid them under obligations to him. The more galling the bondage was from which they had been delivered, the more desirable and precious was their liberty. When, therefore, it is affirmed that their burdens were so heavy that they stooped under them, and that they were doomed to the labor of making bricks, and to other slavish and toilsome occupations, the comparison of this their first state with their condition afterwards is introduced to illustrate the more strikingly the greatness of the blessing of their deliverance. Let us now apply this to ourselves, and elevate our minds to a higher subject, of which it was an image. As God has not only withdrawn our shoulders from a burden of brick, and not only removed our hands from the kilns, but has also redeemed us from the cruel and miserable tyranny of Satan, and drawn us from the depths of hell, the obligations under which we lie to him are of a much more strict and sacred kind than those under which he had brought his ancient people.
7. Thou didst cry in trouble, and I delivered thee. Here the same subject is prosecuted. By their crying when they were in distress, I understand the prayers which they then offered to God. It sometimes happens that those who are reduced to extremity bewail their calamities with confused crying; but as this afflicted people still had in them some remains of godliness, and as they had not forgotten the promise made to their fathers, I have no doubt that they directed their prayers to God. Even men without religion, who never think of calling upon God, when they are under the pressure of any great calamity, are moved by a secret instinct of nature to have recourse to Him. This renders it the more probable that the promise was, as it were, a schoolmaster to the Israelites, leading them to look to God. As no man sincerely calls upon Him but he who trusts in him for help; this crying ought the more effectually to have convinced them that it was their duty to ascribe to Him alone the deliverance which was offered them. By the secret place of thunder some, in my opinion, with too much refinement of interpretation, understand that God by thundering rendered the groanings of the people inaudible to the Egyptians, that by hearing them the Egyptians might not become the more exasperated. But the meaning simply is, that the people were heard in a secret and wonderful manner, while, at the same time, manifest tokens were given by which the Israelites might be satisfied that they were succoured by the Divine hand. God, it is true, was not seen by them face to face; but the thunder was an evident indication of his secret presence among them.9 To make them prize more highly this benefit, God upbraidingly tells them that they were unworthy of it, having given such a manifest proof at the waters of Meribah,10 that they were of a wicked and perverse disposition, Exodus 17:7. Your wickedness, as if he had said, having at that time so openly shown itself, surely it must from this be incontrovertible that my favor to you did not proceed from any regard to your good desert. This rebuke is not less applicable to us than to the Israelites; for God not only heard our groanings when we were afflicted under the tyranny of Satan, but before we were born appointed his only begotten Son to be the price of our redemption; and afterwards, when we were his enemies, he called us to be partakers of his grace, illuminating our minds by his gospel and his Holy Spirit; while we, notwithstanding, continue to indulge in murmuring, yea, even proudly rebel against Him.
1 "Take a psalm. Ainsworth, Take up a psalm. Bishop Horsley says, 'The word (psalm) must in this place denote some musical instrument.' But, with all due deference to his Lordship, suppose a clergyman in the present day were to say to his clerk, 'Strike up a psalm!' (quite a similar phrase,) would the clerk understand him to mean a musical instrument? Certainly not." -- Williams.
3 Hammond translates this verse thus," "Blow the trumpet on the first day of the month, on the new moon, on the day of our feast." "The word
4 The word translated pot was, according to Kennicott, a large vessel in which the earth was mixed and worked up for making the bricks. The LXX. the Vulgate, Symmachus, Jerome, Street, Parkhurst, Ainsworth, Fry, Walford, and others, render the original word, by the basket. Parkhurst observes, that baskets might probably be employed both in carrying the earth of which the bricks were made, and also the bricks themselves.
5 "When he went forth, etc.; i.e., When God went forth to destroy the first-born in all the land of Egypt, on account of which the passover was appointed." -- Walford.
6 "Going forth (
7 The Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and all the versions except the Chaldee, have the third person, "He heard a language which he understood not;" Doederlein reads, "I heard a voice which I understood not;" and retaining the first person, interprets the words as an abrupt exclamation of the Psalmist upon feeling himself suddenly influenced by a divine afflatus, and upon hearing an oracle addressed to him by God, which consisted of what immediately follows, from the 6th verse to the close of the psalm, and which is spoken in the person of God. This voice he heard, but he did not understand it; that is, he did not fully comprehend its design and import.
8 "The Egyptian language was not intelligible to the children of Jacob; for Joseph spake to his brethren by an interpreter, when he appeared as ruler of Egypt, and did not as yet choose to make himself known to them. See Genesis 42:23." -- Street.
9 Bishop Lowth understands by "the secret place of thunder" the communication of the Israelites with God upon mount Sinai, the awfulness of which is expressed by these few words. (Lowth's Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, volume 2, page 220.) Walford reads, "I answered thee by thunder, from a hidden retreat;" and he observes, that this contains "a reference to the majestic display on Sinai, where, though the symbols of the present Deity were seen and heard, the lightnings and thunders, he himself was concealed from all human view." The only objection which can be made against interpreting this of Sinai is, that the murmuring at Meribah, Exodus 17, was before the thundering on Sinai, Exodus 19; whereas here the thunder is mentioned first, and then what took place at Meribah in the end of the verse. But this objection is easily removed; for in the poetical compositions of Scripture strict order is not, always observed in the narration of facts. Thus in Psalm 83:9, the victory over the Midianites (Judges 7) is mentioned before that over Sisera, (Judges 4,) which was the victory first achieved.
10 Literally "the waters of contradiction;"