Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Composed of three pieces, without any regular rhythmical structure, and only loosely connected by the same general thought and method of expression, this psalm yet deserves to rank high in the poetry of the Bible. While freely using existing materials, especially Psalms 33, 104; Isaiah 40; and the book of Job, the author gives proof of his own powers in the keenness of his observation of nature, and in his sympathy with the life and movement of the world, as well as by the free play of his fancy round each phenomenon that attracts him.
The evident allusion to a rebuilding of Jerusalem has been referred both to the great restoration under Nehemiah and to the repairs and fortifications of Hyrcanus (1 Maccabees 16:23).
Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.-1Psalm 135:3 is plainly before the poet in this verse; and yet, since Psalms 33 is in other respects his model, it is extremely doubtful whether we ought to change the reading, so as to make a complete correspondence between the verses, or suppose that the alteration was intentional, in accordance with “praise is comely for the upright” in Psalm 33:1. (See Notes on both the passages; comp. also Psalm 92:1.)
The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.(2) Build up—i.e., of course, “rebuild.” The word “outcasts,” which is that used in Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 56:8, shows that the rebuilding after the captivity is intended. The LXX. and Vulg. have “dispersion;” Symmachus, “those thrust out.”
He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.(3) Broken in heart.—As in Psalm 34:18. (Comp. Isaiah 61:1.)
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.(4) Stars.—This proof of God’s power to help, by reference to the stars of heaven, which are beyond man’s power to count, much more to name, but which the Almighty both numbers and names, seems rather abruptly introduced, but the train of thought is clear. To assemble the dispersed of Israel, however numerous and scattered, was easy to the ruler of the hosts of heaven. The original promise to Abraham was, of course, in the poet’s mind, but still more Isaiah 40:26-28, from which the expression may have been taken. The dramatic “Lift your eyes on high and behold” supplies the link needed in the abrupt entrance of the thought of the psalm.
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.(5) Of great power.—Literally, abounding in power.
The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.(6) The meek.—Or, the afflicted. (See Note Psalm 22:26.)
Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:(7) Sing.—Literally, answer, which some think suggests an antiphonal arrangement. Though the strophic arrangement is only loosely marked, the psalm takes a new departure here, with a fresh invocation to praise, going on to fresh proofs from nature of the Almighty Power.
He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.(9) Comp. Psalm 104:14; Psalm 145:15; Job 38:41; Luke 12:24.
The proper attitude towards one who is thus “great to grant as mighty to make,” is not conceit of wisdom and strength, but humble dependence and trust.
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.(10) Strength of the horse . . . legs of a man.—This somewhat strange antithesis has been explained to refer to cavalry and infantry, but the much more expressive passage, Psalm 33:16-17, which was plainly before this poet, would hardly have been altered so strangely. The horse as a type of strength and endurance was of course common. (Comp. especially Job 39:19-25.) And we have before seen that Eastern nations naturally select fleetness of foot as the typical quality in a vigorous warrior. (See Psalm 18:33.)
The constant epithet “swift-footed Achilles,” suggests the best explanation of the second clause of the verse. (Comp. 2Samuel 2:18).
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.(12) Praise.—For this verb, properly stroke, or soothe, see Psalm 63:5.
For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.(13) For he hath strengthened.—An allusion to the new fortifications of the restored city is probable, though the expression is plainly figurative of security and peace.
With the second clause comp. Isaiah 60:17-18.
He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.(14) Maketh peace.—Or, placing as thy border peace.
Finest of the wheat.—Literally, fat of wheat. (See Psalm 81:16.)
He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly.(15) Psalms 33 is still in the poet’s thought, and Psalm 147:6-7 especially; but some extraordinary season of frost seems to have kindled his inspiration, so that he not only elaborates but improves on his model. The word of God is personified as a messenger who runs swiftly forth to do his bidding, at first in binding the earth and sheaves up with frost, and then (Psalm 147:18) in suddenly thawing and releasing them.
He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.(16) Like wool.—Both in whiteness and fleecy texture. “The snow falls in large flakes, equal in size to a walnut, and has more resemblance to locks of wool than it has in our country” (Niven, Biblical Antiq., p. 21).
“A spice quam densum tacitarum vellus aquarum Defluat.
MART., Ep. iv. 3.
He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?(17) Morsels.—Or, crumbs. (Genesis 18:5; Judges 19:5.) Doubtless the allusion is to hail.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel.(19) Jacob . . . Israel.—As in the other two pieces into which the psalm divides (Psalm 147:6-11), the thought passes from the grandeur of God revealed in nature to the divine protection and favour accorded to Israel.
He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD.(20) Any nation.—This boast in Israel’s peculiar and exclusive privilege may be compared with Deuteronomy 4:7; Deuteronomy 32:32-41.
Judgments.—Here plainly not manifestations of wrath; but, as so frequently in Psalms 119, the display of righteousness towards Israel.