Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up your strength, and come and save us.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Before Ephraim . . .—The tribes named from Joseph’s sons and his uterine brother naturally range together; they encamped side by side on the west of the Tabernacle, and when the ark moved forward they took their places immediately behind it to head the procession. The preposition “before” would alone show that this ancient arrangement, and no recent political event, determines the manner in which the poet introduces the tribes. It is used of a funeral procession (2Samuel 3:31; Job 21:33).Psalm 80:2. Before Ephraim, &c. — That is, before all the tribes; in the face of all the people assembled at Jerusalem. These three, indeed, in some sense included the whole, Benjamin being incorporated with Judah, and the greatest part of Jerusalem, and the temple being in its lot, Manasseh comprehending the country beyond Jordan; and Ephraim, which was the head of the ten tribes, including all the rest. Some think, however, that these three are named in allusion to their ancient situation in the wilderness, where these tribes were placed on the west side of the tabernacle, in which the ark was, which, consequently, was before them: and they followed it immediately in their marches. So that, as before them the ark of God’s strength arose to scatter their enemies, with a reference thereto, the sense here is, O thou who didst of old go forth before those tribes, do so again at this time. Perhaps, also, these tribes had a greater share of the calamities here referred to than the others, though this be not mentioned in the sacred history: and therefore the psalmist prays that God would appear particularly on their behalf.Psalm 78:67. They seem to have been particularly mentioned here, because Joseph, their father, had been referred to in the previous verse; and it was natural, in speaking of the people, to mention his sons. Benjamin is mentioned because, in the encampment and march through the wilderness, these three tribes always went together, as the descendants of the same mother. Genesis 46:19-20; Numbers 2:18-24; Numbers 10:22-24. It is probable that they were always especially united in the great operations of the Hebrew people, and that when one was mentioned it was customary to mention the others, as being of the same family, or descended from the same mother. There does not appear, from the psalm itself, any particular reason why the prayer is offered that God would manifest himself especially to these three tribes; and nothing in regard to the occasion on which the psalm was composed, can be argued from the fact that they are thus mentioned.
Hengstenberg indeed supposes that the common idea that the tribe of Benjamin adhered to Judah in the revolt of the ten tribes is erroneous, and that Benjamin was one of the ten tribes which revolted; and that Simeon was not included in the number because he had no separate territory, but only certain towns and places within the limits of the tribe of Judah. Prof. Alexander, embracing this opinion, supposes that the psalm refers to the calamities which came upon the ten tribes at the time of their captivity. But this supposition seems to me to be improbable. The obvious and fair interpretation of the narrative on the subject is, that the tribe of Benjamin adhered to that of Judah at the time of the revolt, for it is said 1 Kings 12:21 that "when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to right against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon." Besides, even on the supposition that Benjamin was one of the ten revolted tribes, the fact that these three tribes are particularly mentioned together would not prove that the psalm referred to the carrying away of the ten tribes into Assyria, for still the question would arise why these are particularly mentioned rather than any other of the ten. It seems to me, therefore, that the fact that these are specified can be explained on the suppositions above suggested:
(a) That the main reference in the psalm was to the coming out of Egypt - the bringing the "vine" - that is, the people - from that land Psalm 80:8;
(b) That in alluding to that, it was natural to make mention of Joseph, who was so distinguished there, and who, after so many trials, was exalted to so great honor that his name might be given to the whole people;
(c) That when Joseph had been spoken of, it was natural, in the progress of the psalm, to mention particularly the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; and
(d) that having mentioned them, it was natural also to refer to one whose name was always associated with that of Joseph as his younger brother by the same mother, and to the tribe of that name which was always associated with Ephraim and Manasseh in the march.
I regard the psalm, therefore, as referring to the entire Hebrew people, and the names of these three tribes as representatives of the whole nation. The prayer is, that God would manifest; himself in the presence of his people.
Stir up thy strength - As if he were indifferent to their condition; as if he put forth no effort to save them. See the notes at Psalm 35:23.
1. Because of their special relation to Joseph here named, Psalm 80:1; Ephraim and Manasseh being his sons, and Benjamin his brother both by his father and mother. Or,
2. Because these were eminent tribes:
Ephraim, the head of the kingdom of the ten tribes;
Manasseh was planted and powerful on both sides of Jordan; and Benjamin, because the greatest part of Jerusalem and the temple was in its lot. Or,
3. With respect and allusion to the ancient situation of the tabernacle in the wilderness, where these tribes were placed on the west side of the tabernacle, Numbers 2:18, &c., in which the ark was, which consequently was before them. So the sense is, O thou who didst of old go forth before these tribes, &c., do so again at this time. Or,
4. Because these tribes had a greater share of the calamities here designed than others; which might be very true, though it be not expressed in the sacred history, in which we have only the substance of things, and such circumstances are commonly omitted.
Stir up thy strength; which seems now to be asleep, or idle and useless. Numbers 2:17 which is called the Lord's strength, and the ark of his strength, Psalm 78:61. The Targum in the king's Bible reads, to the children of Ephraim, &c. reading instead of see the Masorah, and Proverbs 4:3,
and come and save us; come from heaven to earth, not by change of place, but by assumption of nature; this was promised and expected, and is here prayed for; Christ is now come in the flesh, which to deny is antichristian; and his end in coming was to save his people from their sins, from the curse and condemnation of the law, and wrath to come; and as he came on this errand, he is become the author of eternal salvation, in working out which he has shown his great strength.Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2. Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh were united by the tie of common descent from Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who is regarded by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15) as the mother of the Northern Kingdom, and they are named as representatives of that Kingdom. According to Numbers 2:17 ff. these tribes encamped to the West of the Tabernacle, and marched immediately behind it (Numbers 2:24). Before Ephraim &c. therefore means, ‘placing Thyself at their head as a victorious leader, as Thou didst go before them of old in the journeyings of the wilderness.’ At first sight it may seem strange that Benjamin is reckoned among the Northern tribes, for partially at any rate it sided with Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:21; 2 Chronicles 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:23; 2 Chronicles 15:8-9); but the one tribe remaining to David was Judah (1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 11:32; 1 Kings 11:36), and Benjamin must be reckoned to the Northern Kingdom to make up Ten tribes, for Simeon had become merged in Judah and is not counted. The principal Benjamite towns of Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho belonged to the Northern Kingdom.
stir up thy strength] Put in action thy might (Psalm 20:6) which seems to be dormant. come and save us] R.V., come to save us: lit. come for salvation or deliverance for us.Verse 2. - Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. "Ephraim" and "Manasseh" form a natural expansion of the "Joseph" of the preceding verse; but it is difficult to understand the mention of "Benjamin" here. Hengstenberg suggests, and both Canon Cook and Professor Cheyne seem to accept the suggestion, that it was only a small portion of Benjamin which adhered to Judah at the division of the kingdoms, the greater part attaching itself to the rival power. Stir up thy strength; i.e. "rouse thyself from thine inaction - come forward, and make thy might to appear." And come and save us; literally, come for salvation to us. The writer identifies himself with the rebel tribes, who, after all, are a part of God's people - a part of Israel. Psalm 79:9, according to the figure epanaphora. על־דּבר equals למען, as in Psalm 45:5, cf. Psalm 7:1, is a usage even of the language of the Pentateuch. Also the motive, "wherefore shall they say?" occurs even in the Tפra (Exodus 32:12, cf. Numbers 14:13-17; Deuteronomy 9:28). Here (cf. Psalm 115:2) it originates out of Joel 2:17. The wish expressed in Psalm 79:10 is based upon Deuteronomy 32:43. The poet wishes in company with his contemporaries, as eye-witnesses, to experience what God has promised in the early times, viz., that He will avenge the blood of His servants. The petition in Deuteronomy 32:11 runs like Psalm 102:21, cf. Psalm 18:7. אסיר individualizingly is those who are carried away captive and incarcerated; בּני תמוּתה are those who, if God does not preserve them by virtue of the greatness (גדל, cf. גּדל Exodus 15:16) of His arm, i.e., of His far-reaching omnipotence, succumb to the power of death as to a patria potestas.
(Note: The Arabic has just this notion in an active application, viz., benı̂ el-môt equals the heroes (destroyers) in the battle.)
That the petition in Psalm 79:12 recurs to the neighbouring peoples is explained by the fact, that these, who might most readily come to the knowledge of the God of Israel as the one living and true God, have the greatest degree of guilt on account of their reviling of God. The bosom is mentioned as that in which one takes up and holds that which is handed to him (Luke 6:38); חיק- (על) אל (שׁלּם) השׁיב, as in Isaiah 65:7, Isaiah 65:6; Jeremiah 32:18. A sevenfold requital (cf. Genesis 4:15, Genesis 4:24) is a requital that is fully carried out as a criminal sentence, for seven is the number of a completed process.
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