Psalm 81:5
This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that I understood not.
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(5) Joseph.—The prominence given to this name indicates, according to some critics, that the author belonged to the northern kingdom:. but when a poet was wishing to vary his style of speaking of the whole people—the names Israel and Jacob have just been used—the name Joseph would naturally occur, especially with the mention of Egypt, where that patriarch had played such a conspicuous part.

Through the land of Egypt.—The Hebrew means either upon, over, or against, but none of these meanings will suit with Israel as the subject of the verb. Hence, the LXX., in disregard of use, give “out of Egypt.” But God is doubtless the subject of the verb, and we may render, over the land of Egypt, in allusion to Exodus 12:23, or against the land of Egypt, in reference to the Divine hostility to Pharaoh.

Where I heard . . .—The insertion of the relatival adverb, where, makes this refer to the Egyptian tongue (comp. Psalm 114:1), giving an equivalent for, “when I was in a foreign country.” So apparently the LXX. and Vulg. But the expression, words unknown to me I heard, when followed by an apparent quotation, most naturally introduces that quotation. The poet hears a message, which comes borne to him on the festival music, and this he goes on to deliver.

81:1-7 All the worship we can render to the Lord is beneath his excellences, and our obligations to him, especially in our redemption from sin and wrath. What God had done on Israel's behalf, was kept in remembrance by public solemnities. To make a deliverance appear more gracious, more glorious, it is good to observe all that makes the trouble we are delivered from appear more grievous. We ought never to forget the base and ruinous drudgery to which Satan, our oppressor, brought us. But when, in distress of conscience, we are led to cry for deliverance, the Lord answers our prayers, and sets us at liberty. Convictions of sin, and trials by affliction, prove his regard to his people. If the Jews, on their solemn feast-days, were thus to call to mind their redemption out of Egypt, much more ought we, on the Christian sabbath, to call to mind a more glorious redemption, wrought out for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, from worse bondage.This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony - literally, he placed this; that is, he appointed it. The word Joseph here stands for the whole Hebrew people, as in Psalm 80:1. See the notes at that verse. The meaning is, that the ordinance for observing this festival - the Passover - was to be traced back to the time when they were in Egypt. The obligation to observe it was thus enhanced by the very antiquity of the observance, and by the fact that it was one of the direct appointments of God in that strange and foreign land.

When he went out through the land of Egypt - Margin, against. Or rather, In his going out of the land of Egypt. Literally, In going upon the land of Egypt. The allusion is, undoubtedly, to the time when the Hebrews went out of the land of Egypt - to the Exodus; and the exact idea is, that, in doing this, they passed over a considerable portion of the land of Egypt; or, that they passed over the land. The idea in the margin, of its being against the land of Egypt, is not necessarily in the original.

Where I heard a language that I understood not - literally, "The lip, that is, the language, of one that I did not know, I heard." This refers, undoubtedly, not to God, but to the people. The author of this psalm identifies himself here with the people - the whole nation - and speaks as if he were one of them, and as if he now recollected the circumstances at the time - the strange language - the foreign customs - the oppressions and burdens borne by the people. Throwing himself back, as it were, to that time (compare the notes at 1 Thessalonians 4:17) - he seems to himself to be in the midst of a people speaking a strange tongue - a language unintelligible to him - the language of a foreign nation. The Jews, in all their long captivity in Egypt - a period of four hundred years (see the notes at Acts 7:6) - preserved their own language apparently incorrupt. So far as appears, they spoke the same language, without change, when they came out of Egypt, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had used. The Egyptian was entirely a foreign language to them, and had no affinity with the Hebrew.

5. a testimony—The feasts, especially the passover, attested God's relation to His people.

Joseph—for Israel (Ps 80:1).

went out through—or, "over," that is, Israel in the exodus.

I heard—change of person. The writer speaks for the nation.

language—literally, "lip" (Ps 14:1). An aggravation or element of their distress that their oppressors were foreigners (De 28:49).

This he ordained, to wit, the blowing of trumpets. In Joseph; among the posterity of Joseph, to wit, the people of Israel, as is evident both from the foregoing verse, where they are called Israel, and from the following words in this verse, where they are described by their coming out of Egypt, which was common to all the tribes of Israel, who are sometimes called by the name of Joseph, of which see on Psalm 80:1.

For a testimony; either,

1. For a law, which is oft called a testimony. Or rather,

2. For a witness and memorial of that glorious deliverance mentioned in the following words. For,

1. That this was a statute and law be had expressed, Psalm 81:4, which it is not likely that he would here repeat, especially in a more dark and doubtful phrase.

2. He seems to declare the end of that law, which was to be a


When he, to wit, God, he who ordained, as was now said, went out, as a captain at the head or on the behalf of his people, through the land of Egypt, to execute his judgments upon that land or people. Or, against, &c., to destroy it. Or, out of it, as both ancient and other interpreters render this particle al, which is elsewhere put for meal, and meal is put for min, from or out of, as is manifest by comparing 2 Kings 21:8 with 2 Chronicles 33:8. So this text notes the time when this and the other feasts were instituted; which was at or presently after their coming out of Egypt, even at Sinai.

Where I; i.e. my progenitors; for all the successive generations of Israel make one body, and are sometimes spoken of as one person;

heard a language that I understood not; either,

1. The language of God himself speaking from heaven at Sinai, which was strange and terrible to me. Or rather,

2. The Egyptian language, which at first was very ungrateful and unknown to the Israelites, Genesis 42:23, and probably continued so for some considerable time, because they were much separated both in place and conversation from the Egyptians, through Joseph’s pious and prudent design. This exposition is confirmed from Psalm 114:1, where this very thing is mentioned as an aggravation of their misery; and from other places of Scripture, where this is spoken of as a curse and plague, to be with a people of strange language, as Deu 28:49 Jeremiah 5:15. This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony,.... That is, this law concerning the blowing of trumpets on the new moon, and the keeping the solemn feast at the full of the moon, was made to be observed by all Israel, who are meant by Joseph, for a testimony of God's good will to them, and of their duty and obedience to him:

when he went out through the land of Egypt, or "over it" (b); which some understand of Joseph, who is said to go over all the land of Egypt, to gather in provision against the seven years of famine, Genesis 41:45 and Jarchi says that his deliverance from prison was at the beginning of the year, and was advanced in Pharaoh's court: and the meaning is, either "when he", the Lord, "went out against the land of Egypt", so Arama, in order to slay their firstborn; and when he passed over Israel, and saved them; marched through the land in his indignation, and went forth for the salvation of his people, Exodus 11:4 then was the ordinance of the passover appointed: or when Israel went out of Egypt, designed by Joseph, some little time after, while in the wilderness, and dwelling in tents, the feast of tabernacles was instituted; but rather this shows that the feast of passover is before meant, which was instituted at the time of Israel's going out of Egypt, and was the solemn feast day ordained for a statute, law and testimony in Israel; and that the new moon, or month rather, on which the trumpet was to be blown, was the month Abib, the beginning of months, by an ordinance of God, Exodus 12:2.

where I heard a language that I understood not; here the prophet represents the people of Israel in Egypt; though the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, read,

he heard, and he understood not and the language is either the voice of God out of the fire, which before was never heard in this unusual manner, nor understood, Deuteronomy 5:24 or the speech of Moses, who had Aaron for his mouth and spokesman; or rather the Egyptian language, which was not understood by the Israelites without an interpreter, Genesis 42:23 which sense is confirmed by Psalm 114:1, and this is mentioned as an aggravation of their affliction in Egypt; see Jeremiah 5:15.

(b) "in ipsum exeundo", Montanus; "cum exiret ipse super terram", Pagninus.

This he ordained in {d} Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that {e} I understood not.

(d) That is, in Israel for Joseph's family was counted the chief while before, Judah was preferred.

(e) God speaks in the person of the people because he was their leader.

5. He appointed it in Joseph for a testimony (R.V.): to bear continual witness to His care of Israel. when &c.] Render, When he (i.e. God) went out against (or over) the land of Egypt, to execute judgement upon the Egyptians. See Exodus 11:4.

where I heard a language that I understood not] The poet identifies himself with his nation and speaks in the name of Israel of old. It was an aggravation of their misery that they were toiling for masters whose language they could not understand. This meaning however, though Psalm 114:1 offers a parallel, is hardly adequate here. It is possible to render, The speech of one that I know not do I hear, and to regard the line as the words of the poet himself, introducing the divine oracle which follows. He suddenly breaks off, hearing a supernatural voice addressing him. Cp. Job 4:16; and for the introduction of God as the speaker, Psalm 60:6; Psalm 62:11. But it is difficult to see how the poet could speak of God as one whom I know not: the phrase must surely mean more than ‘strange,’ ‘unearthly’: and it is preferable to render, The speech of one that I knew not did I hear. The Psalmist speaks in the person of Israel at the time of the Exodus. This he can do, since Israel of all time is one in virtue of the continuity of its national life. Israel then began to hear Jehovah (such is the proper force of the tense in the original), Whom it had not yet learned to know as the self-revealing God of redemption, speaking to it in the wondrous works of the deliverance from Egypt. See Exodus 3:13; Exodus 6:2 ff., Exodus 6:7. The substance of the words which Israel heard in Egypt is given in the next verse, which contains God’s decree for Israel’s liberation from servitude:Verse 5. - This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony. The special mention of "Joseph" here is strange. Professor Cheyne explains, "God appointed the Law to be valid in northern as well as southern Israel." Hengstenberg and Professor Alexander account for the expression by the pre-eminence of Joseph during the sojourn in Egypt. When he went out through the land of Egypt. When he (Joseph) went out over (or, across) the land," i.e. at the time of the Exodus. Where I heard a language that I understood not. It can scarcely be supposed that this clause belongs properly to ver. 5. It is rather an introduction to the monody wherewith the psalm (as it has come down to us) concludes - the mournful complaint of God against his people. So Professor Cheyne, who translates, "The discourse of no whom I had not known (i.e. of God) did I hear." The complaint now assumes a detailing character in this strophe, inasmuch as it contrasts the former days with the present; and the ever more and more importunate prayer moulds itself in accordance therewith. The retrospective description begins, as is rarely the case, with the second modus, inasmuch as "the speaker thinks more of the bare nature of the act than of the time" (Ew. 136, b). As in the blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:22) Joseph is compared to the layer (בּן) of a fruitful growth (פּרת), whose shoots (בּנות) climb over the wall: so here Israel is compared to a vine (Genesis 49:22; גּפן פּריּח, Psalm 128:3), which has become great in Egypt and been transplanted thence into the Land of Promise. הסּיע, lxx μεταίρειν, as in Job 19:10, perhaps with an allusion to the מסעים of the people journeying to Canaan (Psalm 78:52).

(Note: Exod. Rabba, ch. 44, with reference to this passage, says: "When husbandmen seek to improve a vine, what do they do? They root (עוקרין) it out of its place and plant (שׁותלין) it in another." And Levit. Rabba, ch. 36, says: "As one does not plant a vine in a place where there are great, rough stones, but examines the ground and then plants it, so didst Thou drive out peoples and didst plant it," etc.)

Here God made His vine a way and a place (פּנּהּ, to clear, from פּנה, to turn, turn aside, Arabic fanija, to disappear, pass away; root פן, to urge forward), and after He had secured to it a free soil and unchecked possibility of extension, it (the vine) rooted its roots, i.e., struck them ever deeper and wider, and filled the earth round about (cf. the antitype in the final days, Isaiah 27:6). The Israelitish kingdom of God extended itself on every side in accordance with the promise. תּשׁלּח (cf. Ezekiel 17:6, and vegetable שׁלח, a shoot) also has the vine as its subject, like תּשׁרשׁ. Psalm 80:11-12 state this in a continued allegory, by the "mountains" pointing to the southern boundary, by the "cedars" to the northern, by the "sea" to the western, and by the "river" (Euphrates) to the eastern boundary of the country (vid., Deuteronomy 11:24 and other passages). צלּהּ and ענפיה are accusatives of the so-called more remote object (Ges. 143, 1). קציר is a cutting equals a branch; יונקת, a (vegetable) sucker equals a young, tender shoot; ארזי־אל, the cedars of Lebanon as being living monuments of the creative might of God. The allegory exceeds the measure of the reality of nature, inasmuch as this is obliged to be extended according to the reality of that which is typified and historical. But how unlike to the former times is the present! The poet asks "wherefore?" for the present state of things is a riddle to him. The surroundings of the vine are torn down; all who come in contact with it pluck it (ארה, to pick off, pluck off, Talmudic of the gathering of figs); the boar out of the wood (מיער with עין תלויה, Ajin)

(Note: According to Kiddushin, 30a, because this Ajin is the middle letter of the Psalter as the Waw of גחון, Leviticus 11:42, is the middle letter of the Tra. One would hardly like to be at the pains of proving the correctness of this statement; nevertheless in the seventeenth century there lived one Laymarius, a clergyman, who was not afraid of this trouble, and found the calculations of the Masora (e.g., that אדני ה occurs 222 times) in part inaccurate; vid., Monatliche Unterredungen, 1691, S. 467, and besides, Geiger, Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel, S. 258f.))

cuts it off (כּרסם, formed out of כּסם equals גּזם

(Note: Saadia appropriately renders it Arab. yqrḍhâ, by referring, as does Dunash also, to the Talmudic קרסם, which occurs of ants, like Arab. qrḍ, of rodents. So Peah ii. 7, Menachoth 71b, on which Rashi observes, "the locust (חגב) is accustomed to eat from above, the ant tears off the corn-stalk from below." Elsewhere קירסם denotes the breaking off of dry branches from the tree, as זרד the removal of green branches.))

viz., with its tusks; and that which moves about the fields (vid., concerning זיז, Psalm 50:11), i.e., the untractable, lively wild beast, devours it. Without doubt the poet associates a distinct nation with the wild boar in his mind; for animals are also in other instances the emblems of nations, as e.g., the leviathan, the water-serpent, the behemoth (Isaiah 30:6), and flies (Isaiah 7:18) are emblems of Egypt. The Midrash interprets it of Ser-Edom, and זיז שׂדי, according to Genesis 16:12, of the nomadic Arabs.

In Psalm 80:15 the prayer begins for the third time with threefold urgency, supplicating for the vine renewed divine providence, and a renewal of the care of divine grace. We have divided the verse differently from the accentuation, since שׁוּב־נא הבּט is to be understood according to Ges. 142. The junction by means of ו is at once opposed to the supposition that וכּנּה in Psalm 80:16 signifies a slip or plant, plantam (Targum, Syriac, Aben-Ezra, Kimchi, and others), and that consequently the whole of Psalm 80:16 is governed by וּפקד. Nor can it mean its (the vine's) stand or base, כּן (Bttcher), since one does not plant a "stand." The lxx renders וכנה: καὶ κατάρτισαι, which is imper. aor. 1. med., therefore in the sense of כּוננה.

(Note: Perhaps the Caph majusculum is the result of an erasure that required to be made, vid., Geiger, Urschrift, S. 295. Accordingly the Ajin suspensum might also be the result of a later inserted correction, for there is a Phoenician inscription that has יר (wood, forest); vid., Levy, Phnizisches Wrterbuch, S. 22.)

But the alternation of על (cf. Proverbs 2:11, and Arab. jn ‛lâ, to cover over) with the accusative of the object makes it more natural to derive כנה, not from כּנן equals כּוּן, but from כּנן Arab. kanna equals גּנן, to cover, conceal, protect (whence Arab. kinn, a covering, shelter, hiding-place): and protect him whom...or: protect what Thy right hand has planted. The pointing certainly seems to take כנה as the feminine of כּן (lxx, Daniel 11:7, φυτόν); for an imperat. paragog. Kal of the form כּנּה does not occur elsewhere, although it might have been regarded by the punctuists as possible from the form גּל, volve, Psalm 119:22. If it is regarded as impossible, then one might read כנּה. At any rate the word is imperative, as the following אשׁר, eum quem, also shows, instead of which, if כנה were a substantive, one would expect to find a relative clause without אשׁר, as in Psalm 80:16. Moreover Psalm 80:16 requires this, since פּקד על can only be used of visiting with punishment. And who then would the slip (branch) and the son of man be in distinction from the vine? If we take בנה as imperative, then, as one might expect, the vine and the son of man are both the people of God. The Targum renders Psalm 80:16 thus: "and upon the King Messiah, whom Thou hast established for Thyself," after Psalm 2:1-12 and Daniel 7:13; but, as in the latter passage, it is not the Christ Himself, but the nation out of which He is to proceed, that is meant. אמּץ has the sense of firm appropriation, as in Isaiah 44:14, inasmuch as the notion of making fast passes over into that of laying firm hold of, of seizure. Rosenmller well renders it: quem adoptatum tot nexibus tibi adstrinxisti.

The figure of the vine, which rules all the language here, is also still continued in Psalm 80:17; for the partt. fem. refer to גּפן ot refer, - the verb, however, may take the plural form, because those of Israel are this "vine," which combusta igne, succisa (as in Isaiah 33:12; Aramaic, be cut off, tear off, in Psalm 80:13 the Targum word for ארה; Arabic, ksḥ, to clear away, peel off), is just perishing, or hangs in danger of destruction (יאבדוּ) before the threatening of the wrathful countenance of God. The absence of anything to denote the subject, and the form of expression, which still keeps within the circle of the figure of the vine, forbid us to understand this Psalm 80:17 of the extirpation of the foes. According to the sense תּהי־ידך על

(Note: The תהי has Gaja, like שׂאו־זמרה (Psalm 81:3), בני־נכר (Psalm 144:7), and the like. This Gaja beside the Sheb (instead of beside the following vowel) belongs to the peculiarities of the metrical books, which in general, on account of their more melodious mode of delivery, have many such a Gaja beside Sheb, which does not occur in the prose books. Thus, e.g., יהוה and אלהים always have Gaja beside the Sheb when they have Rebia magnum without a conjunctive, probably because Rebia and Dech had such a fulness of tone that a first stroke fell even upon the Sheb-letters.)

coincides with the supplicatory כנה על. It is Israel that is called בּן in Psalm 80:16, as being the son whom Jahve has called into being in Egypt, and then called out of Egypt to Himself and solemnly declared to be His son on Sinai (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1), and who is now, with a play upon the name of Benjamin in Psalm 80:3 (cf. Psalm 80:16), called אישׁ ימינך, as being the people which Jahve has preferred before others, and has placed at His right hand

(Note: Pinsker punctuates thus: Let Thy hand be upon the man, Thy right hand upon the son of man, whom, etc.; but the impression that ימינך and אמצתה לך coincide is so strong, that no one of the old interpreters (from the lxx and Targum onwards) has been able to free himself from it.)


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