Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalm 94:5; Psalm 94:14, and, by implication, Psalm 94:10, show that this psalm was the expression, not of individual, but of national, sense of wrong and injustice. Yet the poet must, in his own person, have experienced the bitterness of the trouble, from the reference he makes, towards the close, to his own experiences. Apostate Jews may have been joined with the heathen oppressors. (See Note, Psalm 94:6.) There is no indication on which to found a conjecture as to date or authorship. The poetical form is regular.
O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.(1) The original is far more striking in its conciseness. God of retributions, Jehovah, God of retributions shine forth. The emphatic repetition of a phrase is a feature of this psalm. (See Psalm 94:3; Psalm 94:23.)
Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.(2) Lift up thyself—i.e., either be exalted, or rise to give sentence.
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?(4) How long . . . and.—It is better to omit the italics, and render: They speak out of utter impudence: all evil-doers boast. The word rendered “boast” is by modern scholars connected with the Arabian title Emir, a “commander.” They make themselves out to be persons of distinction, or, perhaps, lord it over God’s people.
They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.(5) Break in pieces.—Or, crush. (See Isaiah 3:15, where the word is in parallelism with “grind the faces of the poor.”)
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.(6) Stranger.—The mention of the stranger as one friendless and helpless (Exodus 22:21), under the tyranny of the great, seems to imply that domestic, and not foreign oppression, is the grievance.
Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.(7) The Lord.—In original, “Jah.” This carelessness of heaven to injustice and crime, which, in the mouth of the heathen (or, perhaps, of apostate Jews), appeared so monstrous to the Hebrews, was a doctrine of the philosophy of ancient times. It appears in the saying of Seneca: “Stoicus deus nec cor nec caput habet.” And in the Homeric hymn to Demeter men are represented as only enduring the gifts of the gods because they are stronger, and give only grudgingly. (Comp. Lucretius, 1:45.) The feeling has been well caught in Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters:
“Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotus-land to live and lie reclined,
On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind.”
Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?(8-10) The reality of a Divine Providence is proved both from nature and history—from the physical constitution of man and the moral government of the world. The psalmist’s question is as powerful against modern atheism, under whatever philosophy it shelters itself, as against that of his day. Whatever the source of physical life or moral sense, their existence proves the prior existence of an original mind and will.
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?(10) He that chastiseth.—Or, He who instructeth. The thought to some extent anticipates St. Paul’s teaching about the divine education of the heathen, in Romans 1.
The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.(11) That they are vanity—The literal rendering, “for they are breath,” referring not to thoughts, but to man collectively, gives equally good sense, and would, notwithstanding the order of the words, be natural, since the masculine pronoun is used. But the LXX. stands as the Authorised Version, and is so quoted by St. Paul (1Corinthians 3:20), with the substitution of wise men for men.
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;(12, 13) Blessed.—A far higher note than one of mere complaint, or even of trust in God, is struck here. The beatitude of suffering could not be made altogether plain in the Old Testament, though in Job the spirit of it is nearly reached. Here the poet sees thus far, that he who is the victim of misfortunes may be congratulated if he may stand aside and calmly watch the course of Divine Providence involving evil men in punishment. What he has himself endured has chastened him, and caused him to be quiet from the evil days—i.e., has calmed him in viewing evil circumstances. It would, however, but for the next clause, be more natural to understand, “shall deliver him from evil days.”
Pit.—Comp. Psalm 9:15.
But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it.(15) But.—Better, For; literally, for to righteousness judgment shall turn, and after it all upright in heart—i.e., there shall no longer be the seeming contradiction in things. God’s righteousness will triumph over the injustice under which Israel groans; His ways will be vindicated, so that all the upright in heart will acknowledge that “there is a reward for the righteous, a God who judges in the earth” (Psalm 58:11). Luther’s fine paraphrase, “For Right must, whatever happens, remain Right,” expresses the feeling; but, better still, the question, “Shall not the Lord of all the earth do right?” The phrase, “shall after it,” is a common one for expressing attachment and adherence to a party or cause (Exodus 23:2; 2Samuel 2:10; Psalm 49:13), and specially of adherence to Jehovah (1Samuel 12:14; 1Kings 14:8).
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?(16) Rise up.—Stand up—i.e., as champion. (Comp. 2Samuel 23:11, of the exploit of Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite; comp. Psalm 2:2.)
Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.(17) In silence—i.e., of the grave, as in Psalm 31:17.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.(19) Thoughts.—Properly, dividing—i.e., “perplexing” or “anxious” thoughts. (See Job 4:13; Job 20:2.) LXX. and Vulg., “griefs.”
We may compare the Virgilian “animum nunc huc celerem, nunc dividit illuc,” imitated by Tennyson:
This way and that dividing his swift mind,
In act to throw.”
Delight.—Literally, stroke, and so soothe. The Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 66:11 of a mother quieting her child with the breast, and in Jeremiah 16:7 of the cup of consolation given to mourners at funerals.
Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?(20) Throne of iniquity.—This is an apt expression for an oppressive and unjust government. The word rendered “iniquity” might mean “calamity” or “destruction” (see Psalm 57:1, and comp. Psalm 91:3 : “noisome”), but in Proverbs 10:3 it seems to mean “lawless desire,” which best suits this passage.
Have fellowship—i.e., be associated in the government. Could the theocracy admit to a share in it, not merely imperfect instruments of justice, but even those who perverted justice to evil ends?
Which frameth mischief by a law?—i.e., making legislation a means of wrong. Others, however, render, “against the law.” But the former explanation best suits the next verse.
They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.(21) They gather—i.e., possibly, They crowd into the courts of law to take part in the unjust condemnation of the just, or more generally, “They attack the life of the righteous.” LXX., “they hunt.” (Comp. Psalm 35:15.)