Give ear, O my people - This is not an address of God, but an address of the king or ruler of the people, calling their attention to an important subject; to wit, his right to rule over them, or showing why the power had been vested in him.
To my law - The word law here seems to mean what he would say, as if what he should choose to say would have the force and authority of law. What follows is not exactly law in the sense that it was a rule to be obeyed; but it is something that is authoritatively said, and should have the force of law.
Incline your ears ... - Be attentive. What is to be said is worthy of your particular regard. Compare the notes at Psalm 5:1.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
I will open my mouth in a parable - See the notes at Psalm 49:4. The word "parable" here means a statement by analogy or comparison; that is, he would bring out what he had to say by a course of reasoning founded on an analogy drawn from the ancient history of the people.
I will utter dark sayings of old - Of ancient times; that is, maxims, or sententious thoughts, which had come down from past times, and which embodied the results of ancient observation and reflection. Compare Psalm 49:4, where the word rendered "dark sayings" is explained. He would bring out, and apply, to the present case, the maxims of ancient wisdom.
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
Which we have heard and known - Which have been communicated to us as certain truth.
And our fathers have told us - That is, we have heard and known them by their telling us; or, this is the means by which we have known them. They have come down to us by tradition from ancient times.
We 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.
We will not hide them from their children - From their descendants, however remote. We of this generation will be faithful in handing down these truths to future times. We stand between past generations and the generations to come. We are entrusted by those who have gone before us with great and important truths; truths to be preserved and transmitted in their purity to future ages. That trust committed to us we will faithfully discharge. These truths shall not suffer in passing from us to them. They shall not be stayed in their progress; they shall not be corrupted or impaired. This is the duty of each successive generation in the world, receiving, as a trust, from past generations, the result of their thoughts, their experience, their wisdom, their inventions, their arts, their sciences, and the records of their doings, to hand these down unimpaired to future ages, combined with all that they may themselves invent or discover which may be of use or advantage to the generations following.
Shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord - The "reasons" why he should be praised, as resulting from his past doings - and the wags in which it should be done. We will keep up, and transmit to future times, the pure institutions of religion.
And his strength - The records of his power.
And his wonderful works that he hath done - In the history of his people, and in his many and varied interpositions in their behalf.
For 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:
For he established a testimony in Jacob - He ordained or appointed that which would be for a "witness" for him; that which would bear testimony to his character and perfections; that which would serve to remind them of what he was, and of his authority over them. Any law or ordinance of God is thus a standing and permanent witness in regard to his character as showing what he is.
And appointed a law in Israel - That is, He gave law to Israel, or to the Hebrew people. Their laws were not human enactments, but were the appointments of God.
Which he commanded our fathers ... - He made it a law of the land that these testimonies should be preserved and faithfully transmitted to future times. See Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19. They were not given for themselves only, but for the benefit of distant generations also.
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That the generation to come might know them ... - That people in future times might enjoy the benefit of them as their fathers had done, and that they should then send them forward to those who were to succeed them.
Who should arise and declare them to their children - Who, as they appeared on the stage of life, should receive the trust, and send it onward to future ages. Thus the world makes progress; thus one age starts where the previous one left off; thus it enters on its own career with the advantage of all the toils, the sacrifices, the happy thoughts, the inventions of all past times. It is designed that the world shall thus grow wiser and better as it advances; and that future generations shall be enriched with all that was worth preserving in the experience of the past. See the notes at Psalm 71:18.
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
That they might set their hope in God - That they might place confidence in God; that they might maintain their allegiance to him. The object was to give such exhibitions of his character and government as to inspire just confidence in him, or to lead people to trust in him; and not to trust in idols and false gods. All the laws which God has ordained are such as are suited to inspire confidence in him as a just and righteous ruler; and all his dealings with mankind, when they are properly - that is, "really" - understood, will be found to be adapted to the same end.
And not forget the works of God - His doings. The word here does not refer to his "works" considered as the works of creation, or the material universe, but to his acts - to what he has done in administering his government over mankind.
But keep his commandments - That by contemplating his doings, by understanding the design of his administration, they might be led to keep his commandments. The purpose was that they might see such wisdom, justice, equity, and goodness in his administration, that they would be led to keep laws so suited to promote the welfare of mankind. If people saw all the reasons of the divine dealings, or fully understood them, nothing more would be necessary to secure universal confidence in God and in his government.
And 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.
And might not be as their fathers - Their ancestors, particularly in the wilderness, as they passed through it to the promised land. See Exodus 32:7-9; Exodus 33:3; Exodus 34:9; Acts 7:51-53.
A stubborn and rebellious generation - Stiff-necked, ungovernable; inclined to revolt. Nothing was more remarkable in their early history than this.
A generation that set not their heart aright - Margin, as in Hebrew, "prepared not their heart." That is, they took no pains to keep their heart aright, or to cherish right feelings toward God. They yielded to any sudden impulse of passion, even when it led them to revolt against God. This is as true of sinners now as it was of them, that they "take no pains" to have their hearts right with God. If they did, there would be no difficulty in doing it. It is not with them "an object of desire" to have their hearts right with God, and hence, nothing is more easy or natural than that they should rebel and go astray.
And whose spirit was not stedfast with God - That is, they themselves did not maintain a firm trust in God. They yielded readily to every impulse, and every passion, even when it tended to draw them away wholly from him. There was no such "strength" of attachment to him as would lead them to resist temptation, and they easily fell into the sin of idolatry.
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
The children of Ephraim - The sons of Ephraim; that is, the descendants of Ephraim; the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim was one of the "largest" of the tribes of Israel, and was the "chief" tribe in the rebellion, and hence, the term is often used to denote the "ten" tribes, or the kingdom of Israel, in contradistinction from that of Judah. See Isaiah 7:2, Isaiah 7:5,Isaiah 7:8-9, Isaiah 7:17; Isaiah 11:13; Isaiah 28:1. The word is evidently used in this sense here, not as denoting that one tribe only, but that tribe as the head of the revolted kingdom; or, in other words, the name is used as representing the kingdom of that name after the revolt. See 1 Kings 12. This verse evidently contains the gist or the main idea of the psalm - to wit, that Ephraim, or the ten tribes, had turned away from the worship of the true God, and that, in consequence of that apostasy, the government had been transferred to another tribe - the tribe of Judah. See Psalm 78:67-68.
Being armed - The idea in this phrase is, that they had abundant means for maintaining their independence in connection with the other tribes, or as a part of the nation, but that they refused to cooperate with their brethren.
And carrying bows - Margin, "throwing forth." Literally, "lifting up." The idea is, that they were armed with bows; or, that they were fully armed.
Turned back in the day of battle - That is, they did not stand by their brethren, or assist them in defending their country. There is probably no reference here to any particular battle, but the idea is, that in the wars of the nation - in those wars which were waged for national purposes - they refused to join with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in defense of the lawful government.
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
They kept not the covenant of God - The covenant which God had made with the entire Hebrew people. They did not maintain their allegiance to Yahweh. Compare Deuteronomy 4:13, Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 17:2.
And refused to walk in his law - Refused to obey his law. They rebelled against him.
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
And forgat his works - The works which he had performed in behalf of the nation. These works are referred to in the verses following.
And his wonders that he had shewed them - The wonderful works in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness; the miracles which he had performed on behalf of the nation.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers - Things suited to excite wonder and astonishment. Such were all the miracles that he performed, in effecting the deliverance of his people.
In the land of Egypt - In delivering them from Pharaoh.
In the field of Zoan - The Septuagint renders this ἐν πεδίῳ Τάνεως en pediō Taneōs" in the plain of Tanis." So the Latin Vulgate. Zoan or Tanis was an ancient city of Lower Egypt, situated on the eastern side of the Tanitie arm of the Nile. The name given to it in the Egyptian language signified "low region." See the notes at Isaiah 19:11. The Hebrews seem to have been located in this region, and it was in this part of Egypt - that is, in the country lying round about Zoan - that the wonders of God were principally manifested in behalf of his people.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
He divided the sea ... - The Red Sea. Exodus 14:21-22.
And he made the waters to stand as an heap - The word rendered "heap" means anything piled up, or a mound; and the idea is, that the waters were piled up on each side of them as a "mound." See the notes at Psalm 33:7. Compare Joshua 3:13, Joshua 3:16; Exodus 15:8.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
In the day-time also he led them with a cloud - That is, the cloud was the visible symbol of his presence, and its movements determined the way in which they were to go. It was "God" who led them, and who adopted this manner of doing it, so that they had "always" with them, by day and by night, a "visible" proof of his presence. There was that with them which could not be ascribed to any natural causes, and which, therefore, "demonstrated" that God was with them, and that as long as they followed the cloud and the pillar of fire they could not err. See Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24. They had the less excuse, therefore, for rebelling against him.
And all the night with a light of fire - A column - a pillar - which stood over the camp, and which was a symbol of the divine presence and guidance. The cloud would not be visible by night, nor would the fire be a good guide by day; and hence, the form of the symbol was changed. The same thing, however, was intended by both, and together they were standing proofs of the presence of God.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness - There were two occasions on which the rock was smitten for water; one Exodus 17:6 at Mount Horeb, shortly after they came out of Egypt; and the other Numbers 20:11, when they had nearly ceased their wanderings in the wilderness. Hence, the plural term (rocks) is used here.
And gave them drink as out of the great depths - As if he had formed a lake or an ocean, furnishing an inexhaustible supply.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
He brought streams also out of the rock ... - literally, "flowings." The waters were poured out in an over-flowing stream. Those streams continued to flow, thus constituting a continued proof of the presence of God. See this fully explained in the notes at 1 Corinthians 10:4.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
And they sinned yet more against him - literally, "They added to sin against him." The idea is, that his mercies, and the proofs of his presence were only made the occasion of greater sin on their part. This may have been in two ways;
(1) their sin was thus more aggravated, as being committed against greater light; and
(2) they evinced more and more their depravity, in proportion as he bestowed mercies on them - not an uncommon thing with people.
By provoking the Most High - literally, "embittering." They rebelled against him. They refused to submit to him. They forgot his mercies. Compare Deuteronomy 9:22.
In the wilderness - literally, "in the dry place;" in the desert. In the very place where they were most manifestly dependent on him - where there were no natural streams of water - where their needs were met by a miraculous supply - even there did they provoke him, and rebel against him. If he had simply stopped that miraculous supply of water they must have perished. But sinners forget how dependent they are on God, when they sin against him. On what can they rely, if he withdraws from them, and leaves them to themselves?
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
And they tempted God in their heart - Exodus 16:2. The heart was the source of the evil. They were not satisfied with what he gave them. They asked for that which would be more agreeable to them, and they did it with a complaining and a murmuring spirit. It is not wrong in itself to ask of God that which will be better than what we now possess, for that is the object of all our prayers; but this may be done from a wrong motive - for mere self-gratification, as was the case here; or it may be with a complaining and dissatisfied spirit, such as was evinced on this occasion. In such a case we cannot expect the prayer to be answered "except as a punishment."
By asking meat for their lust - Food. The word "meat" here does not necessarily denote animal food, as it does with us. They asked another kind of food than manna; and they did it, not because this was "necessary" to sustain life, but in order to gratify their appetites. The original word here, however, is not "lusts," but "souls;" that is, "they asked food for themselves."
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Yea, they spake against God - That is, in the manner which is immediately specified - by calling in question his power, or his ability to provide for them in the wilderness. See Numbers 11:4.
They said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? - In the desert. The word rendered "furnish" is in the margin "order." It means to arrange; to set in order; and here to arrange and provide for, as at a feast. The precise words used by the complaining Hebrews are not quoted here, but the substance of what they said is retained. The idea is, that what they spake was "equivalent" to saying that God could not prepare a table for them; that is, provide for them, in the desert.
Behold, 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?
Behold, he smote the rock ... - See the notes at Psalm 78:15. The smiting of the rock the first time occurred "before" the complaining about the food. The fact that the rock had been smitten could not be doubted. They had thus had abundant evidence that God was able to do that, and to furnish "water" for them in the desert. It was unreasonable, therefore, to doubt whether he could provide "food" for them - for this in itself was no more difficult than to furnish water. Yet they are represented as affirming that this was far more difficult, and that, although it was admitted that God had provided "water," yet that to provide "food" was wholly beyond his power. Their special sin, therefore, was, that they doubted the power of God in one case, when, in another, equally difficult, they had had abundant proof of it. The spirit of complaining had not been put down by one surprising and undoubted miracle performed in their behalf - a miracle which proved that God had all the power necessary to meet their needs.
Can he give bread also? - Does the ability to cause water to flow from a rock prove that there is also ability to produce bread when necessary? They doubted it, and thus complained against God.
Can he provide flesh for his people? - They supposed that this required greater power than the providing of water, or even of bread, and that if it were admitted that God could furnish the two former, it would by no means follow that he could provide the latter. It was this, as the next verse shows, which was the immediate occasion of the special anger of the Lord.
Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth - See Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:10.
So a fire was kindled against Jacob ... - Fire may be used here, as in Numbers 11:1, as an emblem of wrath; a fire may have been literally sent down to consume them.
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Because they believed not in God - They did not believe in his power, or in his promises.
And trusted not in his salvation - In his power and his willingness to save. They had had abundant evidence of that power, but they still doubted his ability to save them, notwithstanding all that he had done for them.
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
Though he had commanded the clouds from above - Though he had showed that he had absolute control over the clouds, and had only to command them and they would furnish rain in abundance. Compare the notes at Isaiah 5:6.
And opened the doors of heaven - As he had done at the deluge, Genesis 7:11. The idea is, that he had rained down manna upon them in such abundance that it might be compared with the waters that had been sent down at the deluge.
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
And had rained down manna upon them to eat - Exodus 16:4-5, Exodus 16:14; Numbers 11:7-9. Compare the notes at John 6:31.
And had given them of the corn of heaven - Food that seemed to come down from heaven. The reference here is to the manna, and it is called corn in the sense that it was food, or that it supplied the place of grain. It may also have been called corn from its resemblance to grain. See Exodus 16:31.
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
Man did eat angels' food - Food that came from heaven; food so directly and manifestly from heaven that it might be supposed to be the same kind that was eaten there, and that had now been sent down by a special miracle for man; food so delicate and so free from the ordinary coarse properties of food, that it might be supposed to be such as angels feed on. The word rendered "angels" - אביר 'abbı̂yr - means properly "strong, mighty," and may be applied to people in general, Judges 5:22; Lamentations 1:15; Jeremiah 46:15; to animals, Psalm 22:13 ("bulls of Bashan"); to princes, Psalm 68:31; or to nobles, Job 24:22. It might be rendered here food of nobles, or princes; that is, food of richer quality, or of a more delicate nature, than common food; such as nobles or princes have on their tables. The immediate connection, however, would rather seem to demand the rendering in our version, as the food is said to have come down from heaven. It is rendered food of angels in the Septuagint, in the Latin Vulgate, in the ancient versions generally, and also by Luther. DeWette renders it, "Each one ate the food of princes;" that is, they all lived like princes.
He sent them meat to the full - Food to satisfy; or, as much as they wanted.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven - See Numbers 11:31. In the history, the quarter from which the wind came is not mentioned, except as it might be indicated by the statement that the "quails were brought from the sea;" - that is, evidently, the Red Sea. This wind would have come from the southeast. The phrase "in the heaven" means in the air, or from above.
And by his power ... - By his direct agency. It was a wind which he caused to blow for the purpose; a miracle.
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
He rained flesh also upon them as dust - The flesh of quails, Numbers 11:31. The word "rained" means that they seemed to come upon them like a copious shower. The word dust denotes their great abundance.
And feathered fowls - Margin, as in Hebrew, "fowl of wing." This is a poetic expression, designed to give beauty to the description by the image of their fluttering wings.
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp ... - It was brought to their very doors; they had not to go and seek it abroad.
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
So they did eat, and were well filled - The word rendered "well" here is intensive. It means that they were abundantly satisfied; that there was no lack; that they had the most ample supply.
For he gave them their own desire - He gave them exactly what they asked. He gave them flesh to eat as they had demanded; and he gave it to them in such quantities that no one could say that he had not enough.
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
They were not estranged from their lust - literally, "They were not made strangers to;" that is, in regard to their lusts or desires they were not in the condition of "foreigners" or aliens; they were not separated from them. The word "lusts" here means "desires, wishes." It is not used here in the restricted sense in which it is now with us. The reference is to their desire for food different from manna - for flesh; and the idea is, that they did not restrain their intense desire even when it should have been fully satisfied. They indulged to excess, and the consequence was that many of them perished.
But while their meat was yet in their mouths - Even while they were eating, and were indulging in this unrestrained manner.
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
The wrath of God came upon them - See Numbers 11:33.
And slew the fattest of them - literally, "slew among their fat ones." That is, The most vigorous among them were cut down; the people most eminent for rank, for influence, for strength, for valor. How far this was the natural effect of indulgence in eating, and how far it was a direct miracle, cannot now be ascertained. In either case it would equally show the divine displeasure.
And smote down - Margin, as in Hebrew, "made to bow." That is, they were made to bow in death.
The chosen men of Israel - Margin, "Young men." The idea is that of select men; men that would be chosen from among the others; men distinguished for vigor or influence. Not the aged or the feeble particularly, not those who might be naturally expected to fall, but men of strength who might be supposed to be capable of resisting the ordinary attacks of disease. God showed in this way that the judgment came directly from his hand.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
For all this they sinned still - Even this did not reclaim them, and prevent their sinning. Heavy judgments do not always restrain men from sin. Not unfrequently they take occasion from such judgments to sin the more.
And believed not for his wondrous works - They did not trust in His wondrous works; or, those works did not have the effect of producing faith. See Psalm 78:22-23. The same thing occurred in the life of the Saviour. John 12:37.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity - He suffered them to spend their days - the days of that entire generation - in vain and fruitless wanderings in the desert. Instead of leading them at once to the promised land, they were kept there to wear out their life in tedious monotony, accomplishing nothing - wandering from place to place - until all the generation that had come out of Egypt had died.
And their years in trouble - literally, "in terror." Amidst the troubles, the alarms, the terrors of a vast and frightful desert. Sin - rebellion against God - leads to a course of life, and a death, of which these gloomy, sad, and cheerless wanderings in the desert were a striking emblem.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
When he slew them - When he came forth in his wrath and cut them down by the plague, by fiery serpents, or by their enemies.
Then they sought him - Their calamities had the effect of producing temporary reformation. They became professedly penitent; they manifested a wish to know God, and expressed a purpose to serve him. It was, however, a temporary and hollow, not a deep and real reformation. This often occurs. In times of affliction, in sickness, in bereavement, in the loss of property, people become serious, and express a purpose to repent and turn to God. A deep impression seems to be produced on their minds, to last, alas! only as long as the hand of God rests upon them. Resolutions of repentance are formed only to be forgotten when the affliction is removed, and when the days of prosperity again return.
And they returned and inquired early after God - The word rendered "inquired early" has reference to the first rays of the morning - the aurora - the dawn. Then it comes to denote the beginning of anything; or, the first thing. Thus employed, it may refer to the act of seeking God as the first thing; in youth; in the morning; at the commencement of any enterprise or undertaking. See Proverbs 8:17; Proverbs 1:28. Here it means that, in their affliction, they did not delay to seek God, but expressed an early intention of serving him. They evinced a prompt purpose to break off their sins, and to return to him.
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
And they remembered that God was their Rock - See Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:31. Compare the notes at Psalm 18:2. That is, they were brought to reflect that their only security and defense was God. They were made to feel that they could not rely on themselves, or on any human power, and that their only trust was in God.
And the high God their Redeemer - The God who is exalted over all; the true and living God. The truth was brought to their recollection that it was He who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and who had brought them out into freedom. On the word "Redeemer," see the notes at Isaiah 41:14. Compare Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 59:20; Psalm 25:22; Job 5:20.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth - The word rendered "flatter" means properly "to open;" and hence, "to be open; to be ingenious or frank;" and then, to be easily persuaded, to be deluded, to be beguiled; and hence, also, in an active form, to persuade, to entice, to seduce, to beguile, to delude. The meaning here is, that they attempted to deceive by their professions, or that their professions were false and hollow. Those professions were the mere result of affliction. They were based on no principle; there was no true love or confidence at the foundation. Such professions or promises are often made in affliction. Under the pressure of heavy judgments, the loss of property, the loss of friends, or the failure of health, people become serious, and resolve to give attention to religion. It is rarely that such purposes are founded in sincerity, and that the conversions apparently resulting from them are true conversions. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render the phrase here, "They loved with their mouth."
And they lied unto him with their tongues - They made promises which they did not keep.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
For their heart was not right with him - Luther renders this, "Not fast with him." The Hebrew word means "to fit, to prepare;" and the idea is, that the heart was not "adjusted" to such a profession, or did not "accord" with such a promise or pledge. It was a mere profession made by the lips, while the heart remained unaffected. See the notes at Psalm 78:8.
But 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.
But he, being full of compassion - literally, "But he, merciful," That is, he was ready to forgive them.
Forgave their iniquity - literally, Atoned for, expiated, covered over their iniquity. There is connected with the word the idea of expiation or atonement, as the ground of pardon.
And destroyed them not - Did not cut them off in their repeated acts of rebellion. He bore with them, and spared them.
Yea, many a time turned he his anger away - literally, He multiplied to turn his anger away. That is, he did it repeatedly. There were frequent occasions on their journey for doing this, and he did it.
And did not stir up all his wrath - literally, Did not excite, or arouse all his anger. His anger was stayed or mitigated, and they were suffered still to live.
Psalm 78:38-39He will not always chide;
Neither will he keep his anger forever.
Like as a father pitieth his children,
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
For he remembered that they were but flesh - That they were human; that they were weak; that they were prone to err; that they were liable to fall into temptation. In his dealings with them he took into view their fallen nature; their training; their temptations; their trials; their weaknesses; and he judged them accordingly. Compare Psalm 103:14. So it was with the Saviour in his treatment of his disciples, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," Matthew 26:41. God will judge people as they are; he will not in his judgments forget that they are people, and that they are weak and feeble. People often judge their fellow-men with much more harshness, with much less allowance for their infirmities and weaknesses, than God shows in his dealings with mankind. And yet such are the very people who are most ready to blame God for his judgments. If God acted on the principle and in the manner according to which they act, they could hope for no mercy at his hand. It is well for them that there is not one like themselves on the throne of the universe.
A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again - Which blows by us, and is gone forever. What a striking description is this of man! How true of an individual! How true of a generation! How true of the race at large! God remembers this when he thinks of people, and he deals with them accordingly. He is not harsh and severe, but kind and compassionate. To man, a being so feeble - to the human race, so frail - to the generations of that race, so transitory, so soon passing off the stage of life - he is ever willing to show compassion. He does not make use of his great power to crush them; he prefers to manifest his mercy in saving them.
And then vanisheth away - Wholly disappears. Like the dissipated vapor, it is entirely gone. There is no remnant, no outline, nothing that reminds us that it ever was. So of life. Soon it disappears altogether. The works of art that man has made, the house that he has built, or the book that he has written, remain for a little time, but the life has gone. There is nothing of it remaining - any more than there is of the vapor which in the morning climbed silently up the mountain side. The animating principle has vanished forever. On such a frail and evanescent thing, who can build any substantial hopes?
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness - Margin, Or, rebel against him. The Hebrew word may have the signification in the margin. The idea is, that they were perverse and rebellious; that they excited his displeasure, and gave occasion for his anger. See Psalm 78:17.
And grieve him in the desert - The word here rendered grieve means
(1) to work, to fashion;
(2) to suffer pain, to travail, to be afflicted; and then,
(3) to cause one to suffer pain, or to afflict.
The meaning here is that the conduct of the Hebrews was such as was suited to cause pain - as the conduct of a disobedient and rebellious child is.
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
Yea, they turned back, and tempted God - They turned away from his service; they were disposed to return to Egypt, and to place themselves in the condition in which they were before they were delivered from bondage.
And limited the Holy One of Israel - The idea is, that they set a limit to the power of God; they fancied or alleged - (and this is a thing often done practically even by the professed people of God) - that there was a boundary in respect to power which he could not pass, or that there were things to be done which he had not the ability to perform. The original word - תוה tâvâh - occurs but three times in the Scriptures; in 1 Samuel 21:13, where it is rendered scrabbled (in the margin, made marks); in Ezekiel 9:4, where it is rendered set, that is, set a mark (margin, mark); and in the place before us. It is rendered here by the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, to provoke to anger. DeWette translates it troubled. Professor Alexander, "On the Holy One of Israel (they) set a mark." The idea in the word would seem to be that of making a mark for any purpose; and then it means to delineate; to scrawl; or to set a mark for a limit or boundary. Thus it might be applied to God - as if, in estimating his character or his power, they set limits or bounds to it, as one does in marking out a farm or a house-lot in a city or town. There was a limit, in their estimation, to the power of God, beyond which he could not act; or, in other words, his power was defined and bounded, so that beyond a certain point he could not aid them.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
They remembered not his hand - His gracious interpositions; the manifestations of his power. They forgot that power had been exercised which showed that he was omnipotent - that there was no limit to his ability to aid them.
Nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy - The time when he rescued them. The power then manifested was sufficient to defend and deliver them in any new dangers that could befall them. The margin is, from affliction. The Hebrew will admit of either interpretation. The sense is not materially changed.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt - Margin, set. The Hebrew word means to set or place. The word signs here refers to miracles as signs or indications of God's power and favor. The things which he did were of such a nature as to show that he was almighty, and at the same time to assure them of his disposition to protect them.
And his wonders in the field of Zoan - The wonderful things which he did; the things suited to excite amazement, or astonishment. On the word Zoan, see the notes at Psalm 78:12.
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
And had turned their rivers into blood - Exodus 7:20. There was properly but one river in Egypt - the Nile. But there were several branches of that river at the mouth; and there were numerous artificial streams or canals cut from the river, to anyone of which the word river might be also given. Compare the notes at Isaiah 11:15.
And their floods ... - Their streams; the canals and branches of the Nile, where they usually obtained a supply of water.
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
He sent divers sorts of flies ... - The account of this plague is found in Exodus 8:24. The word there used is simply "swarm," without indicating what the swarm was composed of. The rabbis explain the word as denoting a mixture, or a conflux of noxious insects, as if the word were derived from ערב ‛ârab - "to mix." The Septuagint renders it κυνόμνια kunomnia - "dog-fly" - which Philo describes as so named from its impudence. The common explanation of the word now is that it denotes a species of fly - the gad-fly - exceedingly troublesome to man and beast, and that it derives its name - ערב ‛ârôb - from the verb ערב ‛ârab, in one of its significations to suck, and hence, the allusion to sucking the blood of animals. The word occurs only in the following places, Exodus 8:21-22, Exodus 8:24, Exodus 8:29, Exodus 8:31, where it is rendered swarm, or swarms, and Psalm 105:31, where (as here) it is rendered divers sorts of flies.
And frogs which destroyed them - Exodus 8:6. The order in which the plagues occurred is not preserved in the account in the psalm.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar - The increase or the produce of their fields. Exodus 10:12-14. The word חסיל châsı̂yl - is supposed to denote a species of locust rather than the caterpillar. It literally means the devourer. In our version, however, it is uniformly rendered caterpillar as here; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Isaiah 33:4; Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25. It occurs nowhere else.
And their labor unto the locust - The fruit of their labor; the harvests in their fields.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
He destroyed their vines with hail - Margin, killed. See Exodus 9:22-26. In the account in Exodus the hail is said to have smitten man and beast, the herb, and the tree of the field. In the psalm only one thing is mentioned, perhaps denoting the ruin by what would be particularly felt in Palestine, where the culture of the grape was so common and so important.
And their sycamore trees with frost - The sycamore is mentioned particularly as giving poetic beauty to the passage. Of the sycamore tree, Dr. Thomson remarks ("land and the Book," vol. i. p. 25), "It is a tender tree, flourishes immensely in sandy plains and warm vales, but cannot bear the hard, cold mountain. A sharp frost will kill them; and this agrees with the fact that they were killed by it in Egypt. Among the wonders performed in the field of Zoan, David says, 'He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.' Certainly, a frost keen enough to kill the sycamore would be one of the greatest 'wonders' that could happen at the present day in this same field of Zoan." The word rendered "frost" - חנמל chănâmâl - occurs nowhere else. It is parallel with the word hail in the other member of the sentence, and denotes something that would be destructive to trees. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Arabic render it frost. Gesenius renders it ants.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail - Margin, he shut up. Exodus 9:22-25.
And their flocks to hot thunderbolts - Margin, lightnings. The original word means flame; then, lightning. There is no allusion in the word to the idea of a bolt, or shaft, accompanying the lightning or the thunder, by which destruction is produced. The destruction is caused by the lightning, and not by the thunder, and it is hardly necessary to say that there is no shaft or bolt that accompanies it. Probably this notion was formerly entertained, and found its way into the common language used. The same idea is retained by us in the word thunderbolt. But this idea is not in the original; nor is there any foundation for it in fact.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger ... - This verse is designed to describe the last, and the most dreadful of the plagues that came upon the Egyptians, the slaying of their first-born; and hence, there is such an accumulation of expressions: anger - fierce anger - wrath - indignation - trouble. All these expressions are designed to be emphatic; all these things were combined when the first-born were slain. There was no form of affliction that could surpass this; and in this trial all the expressions of the divine displeasure seemed to be exhausted. It was meant that this should be the last of the plagues; it was meant that the nation should be humbled, and should be made willing that the people of Israel should go.
By sending evil angels among them - There is reference here undoubtedly to the slaying of the first-born in Egypt. Exodus 11:4-5; Exodus 12:29-30. This work is ascribed to the agency of a destroyer (Exodus 12:23; compare Hebrews 11:28), and the allusion seems to be to a destroying angel, or to an angel employed and commissioned to accomplish such a work. Compare 2 Samuel 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35. The idea here is not that the angel himself was evil or wicked, but that he was the messenger of evil or calamity; he was the instrument by which these afflictions were brought upon them.
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
He made a way to his anger - Margin, he weighed a path. He leveled a path for it; he took away all hindrance to it; he allowed it to have free scope. The idea of weighing is not in the original. The allusion is to a preparation made by which one can march along freely, and without any obstruction. See the notes at Isaiah 40:3-4.
He spared not their soul from death - He spared not their lives. That is, he gave them over to death.
But gave their life over to the pestilence - Margin, their beasts to the murrain. The original will admit of either interpretation, but the connection seems rather to demand the interpretation which is in the text. Both these things, however, occurred.
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt - See Exodus 11:4-5; Exodus 12:29-30.
The chief of their strength - Those on whom they relied; their firstborn; their pride; their glory; their heirs. Compare Genesis 49:3.
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
But made his own people to go forth like sheep ... - That is, he was a shepherd to them. He defended them; provided for them; led them - as a shepherd does his flock. See the notes at Psalm 23:1-2.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not - In hope; in confidence; so that they had no occasion for alarm. He showed himself able and willing to defend them.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary - The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "to the mountain of his holiness"; that is, his holy mountain. But the reference is rather to the whole land of Canaan. He brought them to the borders of that land - the land of promise - the holy land. They who came out from Egypt did not indeed enter that land, except Caleb and Joshua, but they were conveyed to its borders before all of them fell. It was true also that the people - the Hebrew people - came to the promised land, and secured its possession.
Even to this mountain - Mount Zion, for the object of the psalm was to show that the worship of God was properly celebrated there. See Psalm 78:68. The meaning is not that the people who came out of Egypt actually inherited that mountain, but that their descendants - the people of God - had been put in possession of it.
Which his right hand had purchased - Had procured, or obtained possession of. That is, he had secured it by his power.
He 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.
He cast out the heathen also before them - literally, the nations. The idea of their being pagan, in the sense which is now attached to that word, is not in the original. The word is one which would be applied to any nation, without reference to its religion. These nations were, indeed, pagans according to the present use of that term, but that idea is not necessarily in the Hebrew word.
And divided them an inheritance by line - Divided to his people an inheritance by a measurement of the land. That is, the land was partitioned out among the tribes, by a survey, fixing their limits and boundaries. See Joshua 13:7; 18; 19.
And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents - To dwell securely and quietly, no longer roaming from place to place, but having a fixed habitation and a home.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
Yet they tempted and provoked ... - They tried the patience of God, and provoked him to anger after they were peaceably settled in the promised land. See Judges 2:10-13. The object is to show that it was the character of the people that they were prone to depart from God. Compare Psalm 78:10-11, note; Psalm 78:17, note; Psalm 78:40, note.
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
But turned back ... - See the notes at Psalm 78:41.
They were turned aside like a deceitful bow - literally, a bow of deceit. That is, a bow that could not be depended on; a bow, one of whose arms was longer or more elastic than the other, so that the arrow would turn aside from the mark. The marksman would attempt to hit an object, and would fail. So it was with the people of Israel. They could not be depended on. No reliance could be put on their promises, their covenant-engagements, their attachment, their fidelity, for in these things they failed, as the arrow from a deceitful bow would fail to strike the mark. Their whole history shows how just was this charge; alas! the history of many of the professed people of God has shown how applicable the description has been to them also.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places - places where idols were worshipped; usually on mountains or elevated places. Leviticus 26:30; compare 1 Kings 3:2; 1 Kings 12:31-32; 2 Kings 17:32; 2 Chronicles 33:17.
And moved him to jealousy - As one is when affections due to himself are bestowed upon another - as in the married life. "With their graven images." Their idols. Graven images are here put for idols in general.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
When God heard this - literally, "God heard;" that is, he understood this; he was acquainted with it. He heard their prayers addressed to false gods; he heard their praises sung in honor of idols.
He was wroth - This is language taken from the common manner of speaking among people, for language derived from human conceptions and usages must be employed when we speak of God, though it may be difficult to say what is its exact meaning. The general sense is that his conduct toward them was as if he was angry; or was that which is used by a man who is displeased.
And greatly abhorred Israel - The idea in the word rendered abhorred is that of rejecting them with abhorrence; that is, the reference is not merely to the internal feeling or emotion, but to the act which is the proper accompaniment of such an internal feeling. He cast them off; he treated them as not his own. The addition of the word "greatly" shows how intense this feeling was; how decided was his aversion to their conduct.
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh - The tabernacle or tent which had been erected at Shiloh. He forsook that as a place where he was to be worshipped; that is, he caused his tabernacle, or his place of worship, to be erected in another place, to wit, on Mount Zion. See Psalm 78:68. The name Shiloh means properly a place of rest, and seems to have been given to this place as such a place, or as a place where the ark might abide after its migrations. Shiloh was a city within the limits of the tribe of Ephraim, on a mountain north of Bethel. Here the ark of God remained for many years after it came into the promised land. Joshua 18:1; Judges 18:31; Judges 21:12, Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 2:14; 1 Samuel 4:3-4. The ark, after it was taken by the Philistines, was never returned to Shiloh, but was deposited successively at Nob 1 Samuel 21:1-6, and at Gibeon 1 Kings 3:4, until David pitched a tabernacle for it on Mount Zion 1 Chronicles 15:1. The meaning here is, that in consequence of the sins of the people, the place of worship was finally and forever removed from the tribe of Ephraim, within whose limits Shiloh was, to the tribe of Judah, and to Mount Zion.
The tent which he placed among men - It was the place which he selected as his abode on earth.
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
And delivered his strength into captivity - That is, the ark, considered as the symbol of his power. This constituted the defense of the people; this was the emblem of the presence of God, which, when with them, was their real protection. The allusion here is to the time when the ark was taken by the Philistines in the days of Eli. See 1 Samuel 4:3-11.
And his glory - That which was emblematic of his glory, to wit, the ark.
Into the enemy's hand - The hand or power of the Philistines.
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
He gave his people over also unto the sword - When the ark was taken, 1 Samuel 4:10. Thirty thousand of the children of Israel fell on that occasion.
And was wroth with his inheritance - Was angry with his people, considered as his inheritance; that is, considered as his own special people, or his possession.
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
The fire consumed their young men - Fire here may be regarded as an image of destructive war, as in Numbers 21:28 : "For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab," etc. The idea here is, that the young people had been cut off in war.
And their maidens were not given to marriage - As the young people who would have entered into this relation were cut off in war. The margin here is praised; "The maidens were not praised." This is in accordance with the Hebrew. The idea is, "Their virgins were not praised in nuptial songs;" that is, there were no marriage celebrations; no songs such as were usually composed on such occasions in praise of those who were brides. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this much less accurately, and much less beautifully, were not lamented.
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Their priests fell by the sword - Compare 1 Samuel 4:11. It was considered a special calamity that the ministers of religion were cut down in war.
And their widows made no lamentation - That is, the public troubles were so great, the danger was still so imminent, the calamities thickened so fast, that there was no opportunity for public mourning by formal processions of women, and loud lamentations, such as were usual on these occasions. See the notes at Job 27:15. The meaning is not that there was a want of affection or attachment on the part of the friends of the slain, or that there was no real grief, but that there was no opportunity for displaying it in the customary manner.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep - literally, as one sleeping; that is, as one who is asleep suddenly arouses himself. The Lord seemed to have slept, or to have been inattentive to what was occurring. Suddenly he aroused himself to inflict vengeance on the enemies of his people. Compare Psalm 7:6, note; Psalm 44:23, note.
And like a mighty man - The allusion is probably to a warrior.
That shouteth by reason of wine - The proper idea here is that of singing, or lifting up the voice in exultation and rejoicing; the idea of a man who sings and shouts as he is excited by wine, and as he presses onward to conflict and to victory. It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to compare God, as he goes forth to accomplish his purposes on his enemies, with a warrior. See Exodus 15:3; Psalm 24:8.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder part - From behind; that is, as they fled. There are two ideas here: one, that they fled at his approach, or turned their backs; the other, that as they fled, he smote and destroyed them.
He put them to a perpetual reproach - As discomfited; as defeated and scattered; as unable to contend with him. The allusion is, probably, to the victories of David, occurring after the events related in the preceding verses.
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
Moreover, he refused the tabernacle of Joseph - As a place where his worship should be celebrated. This is the completion of the statement in Psalm 78:60. The design is to show that there had been a transfer of the preeminence from the tribe of Ephraim to the tribe of Judah, and from Shiloh to Zion. Joseph is mentioned here as the father of Ephraim, from whom one of the tribes - (one of the most influential and numerous) - was named. Jacob had twelve sons, from whom the twelve tribes in general took their name. As the tribe of Levi, however, being devoted to the sacerdotal work, was not reckoned as one of the, twelve, the number was made up by giving to the descendants of the two sons of Joseph - Ephraim and Manasseh Genesis 48:5 - a place among the tribes; and, on this account, the name Joseph does not appear as one of the twelve tribes. Yet Joseph is mentioned here, as the ancestor of one of them - that of Ephraim, from whom the priority and supremacy were withdrawn in favor of the tribe of Judah.
And chose not the tribe of Ephraim - To be the tribe within whose limits the tabernacle should be permanently set up; or within whose limits the place of public worship was finally to be established.
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
But chose the tribe of Judah - He chose David of the tribe of Judah as ruler and king; he chose a place within the limits of Judah, to wit, Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, as the place where his worship was to be celebrated. Thus, the ancient prediction in regard to the supremacy of Judah was accomplished. Genesis 49:8-10.
The Mount Zion, which he loved - Which he chose, for which he had an affection. Compare Psalm 87:2.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
And he built his sanctuary - His holy place; that is, his tabernacle. The temple was not then built; and, when reared, it was not on Mount Zion, but on Mount Moriah. The name Zion, however, was often given to the whole city.
Like high palaces - The word palaces is not in the original. The Hebrew means simply high places, like hills or mountains. The meaning is, that his sanctuary was exalted, as if it were placed on a high hill. It was a conspicuous object; it could be seen from afar; it was the most prominent thing in the land. See the notes at Isaiah 2:2.
Like the earth - Permanent and established.
Which he hath established for ever - Margin, as in Hebrew, founded. The earth is often represented as founded or established on a solid basis, and thus becomes an emblem of stability and perpetuity.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
He chose David also his servant - He chose him that he might set him over his people as their king. The idea is, that David was selected when he had no natural pretensions to the office, as he did not pertain to a royal family, and could have no claim to such a distinction. The account of this choice is contained in 1 Samuel 15:1-30.
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
From following the ewes great with younq - Margin, as in Hebrew, From after. The meaning is, that he followed after them; that is, he attended them, or watched over them as a shepherd. The single word rendered "the ewes great with young" - עול ‛ûl - is a participle from עלוה ‛âlâhô, to ascend, to go up; and then, to bring up, to nourish. The exact idea here is doubtless that of bringing up, or of sucking them, and the word should have been so translated here. It is so rendered by Luther. The idea in our translation has been derived from the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. The meaning is, that he brought him from being a shepherd to be the ruler of his people - expressed still in the language of a shepherd life.
To feed Jacob his people - Rather, to be a shepherd to them; to perform toward them the office of a shepherd, including the ideas of governing them, providing for them, and defending them. See the notes at Psalm 23:1-2.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
So he fed them - He performed toward them the office of a shepherd.
According to the integrity of his heart - literally, "According to the perfection of his heart." That is, he was upright and pure in the administration of his government.
And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands - literally, "by the understanding of his hands" - as if the hand had been endued with intelligence. Compare Psalm 144:1 : "Which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." See also Psalm 137:5. The idea is, that he administered the government with integrity and uprightness. This is a beautiful tribute to the integrity and purity of the administration of David. It is not the language of flattery; it is a simple statement, flowing from the heart, in favor of a just and upright administration; and it is a true statement of what the administration of David was. Save in the matter of Uriah - over which he afterward wept so bitterly - his administration was eminently just, pure, impartial, wise, and benignant; probably none among people have been more so. The whole psalm is thus a beautiful argument showing why the government had been transferred from Ephraim to Judah, and why it had been placed in the hands of David.