Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.
Verse 1. - Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God (comp. Psalm 92:1). For it is pleasant (see Psalm 135:3). And praise is comely; rather, becoming, or seemly - suitable, that is, to such a Being as we know God to be.
The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.
Verse 2. - The Lord doth build up Jerusalem. The rebuilding of Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonish captivity covered a space of above ninety years, from B.C. 538 till B.C. 445. First the temple was built (B.C. 533-515); then the city; finally, the walls and the gates ( B.C. 445). It was in connection with this last portion of the building that the present psalm seems to have been written. He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. The exiles returned gradually - some with Zerubbabel ( B.C. 538); some with Ezra, in B.C. 457; others, doubtless, with Nehemiah, in B.C. 445; and again in B.C. 434.
He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
Verse 3. - He healeth the broken in heart (comp. Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15). Israel in exile was broken-hearted, wretched, miserable (see Psalm 137:1-4; Isaiah 64:6 - 12). Their restoration to their own land "healed" them. And bindeth up their wounds (comp. Isaiah 61:1, "He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted").
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.
Verse 4. - He telleth the number of the stars. Nothing escapes God's knowledge. He knew the number of the exiles, and the place and name of each, just as he knows the number of the stars and their names (comp. Isaiah 40:26). He calleth them all by their names (see Job 9:9; Isaiah l.s.c.).
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
Verse 5. - Great is our Lord, and of great power; or, "mighty in strength" (comp. Nahum 1:3). His understanding is infinite. He is at once omnipotent and omniscient.
The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.
Verse 6. - The Lord lifteth up the meek (comp. Psalm 145:14; Psalm 146:8). He casteth the wicked down to the ground (comp. Psalm 146:9, and the comment ad loc.).
Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:
Verse 7. - Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving. God is not only to be praised for his greatness (ver. 5), but also to be thanked for his loving-kindness (vers. 2, 3, 8, 9). Sing praise upon the harp unto our God. The glad sound of the harp should accompany his praises.
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.
Verse 8. - Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth. In the parched and sultry East "clouds" and "rain" are a boon that we of the temperate West can scarcely appreciate. The cruel heat of the solar rays in a clear sky for weeks or months together causes a longing of the intensest kind for shade and moisture. Man and beast alike rejoice when the time of the autumn rains draws near, and the cloudless blue of the summer heaven gives place (of a sky that is gray and overcast (comp. Job 38:25-41; Psalm 104:13). Who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. The "mountains," and even the plains of Palestine, are, with rare exceptions, completely burnt up at the close of summer, and show no verdure, but merely an arid sapless, brown or buff vegetation. When the" former rain" begins, a great change begins. Tender green blades of grass at once sprout up, and in a little time the whole country shows a tinge of verdure.
He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
Verse 9. - He giveth to the beast his food (comp. Psalm 104:27; Psalm 145:15, 16). The constant supplies of their own proper food to all classes of animals are among the principal proofs of God's power and goodness. And to the young ravens which cry. Even the unclean raven, with his harsh croak and inelegant form, is not neglected (comp. Luke 12:24, "God feedeth them").
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.
Verse 10. - He delighteth not in the strength of the horse. In a certain sense, God no doubt "delights" in the glory and excellency of all his creatures; but their physical endowments do not give him the sensible pleasure which he derives from the moral qualities of his rational creation (see ver. 11). The negation is not absolute, but relative (compare "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice"). He taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man; i.e. in his strength and swiftness.
The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.
Verse 11. - The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him (comp. Psalm 149:4). The "fear" intended is, of course, that which includes trust and love (see the next clause). In those that hope in his mercy; or, "that wait for his loving-kindness."
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
Verse 12. - Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem. The other exhortations to praise in the psalm are general (vers. 1, 7); now a special call is made on Jerusalem to give him praise, since Jerusalem has lately experienced special mercies (vers. 13, 14). Praise thy God, O Zion (comp. Psalm 146:10).
For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.
Verse 13. - For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates. The strength of gates in the ancient world depended wholly upon their bars, which were generally strong beams of wood passed across from side to side of the gateway, about midway up the gate, having their ends inserted into strong iron hooks or clamps, which were let into the stonework of the walls. The "bars" of the gates of Jerusalem are mentioned in Nehemiah repeatedly (Psalm 3:3, 6, 13, 14, 15; 7:3). He hath blessed thy children within thee. Under Nehemiah's govern-meet, when he had firmly established it, Israel enjoyed a period of repose and of great prosperity, which, at the date of the psalm, was probably just commencing.
He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.
Verse 14. - He maketh peace in thy borders. The completion of the walls and gates of Jerusalem brought to an end the troubles caused by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, and established general peace and tranquility in Israel. And filleth thee with the finest of the wheat; literally, with the fat of wheat; i.e. wheat in abundance and of good quality. The prosperity of Nehemiah's time appears in Nehemiah 10:28-39; Nehemiah 12:44-47; Nehemiah 13:12-15.
He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly.
Verse 15. - He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth. Heavy crops, good harvests, abundant food, result from God's providential ordering of his world, to which he gives commands that are obeyed instantly, since his word runneth very swiftly.
He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.
Verse 16. - He giveth snow like wool. The loveliness of new-fallen snow has evidently been felt by the psalmist, to whom it has seemed like a spotless robe of whitest wool spread upon the earth. Snow, though rare in Palestine, does occasionally fall, and is said to "cover the streets of Jerusalem two winters out of three. It generally comes in small quantities; but there are sometimes very snowy winters." In 1879, for instance, snow lay in Jerusalem to a depth of seventeen inches (Geikic, 'The Holy Land and the Bible,' vol. 2. p. 58). He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. The metaphor is less appropriate, and was selected, probably, on account of the near resemblance of the two words, kephor and kaepher.
He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?
Verse 17. - He casteth forth his ice like morsels; or, "like crumbs;" i.e. in profusion, as men feed birds. The "ice" intended would seem to be that of hailstones. Who can stand before his cold? Though the thermometer rarely shows more than six or seven degrees of frost in Palestine, yet the Oriental is as much chilled by such a temperature as the Englishman by one twenty degrees lower. He shivers in his light attire, and is very reluctant to leave the shelter of his house or tent.
He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.
Verse 18. - He sendeth out his word, and melteth them (comp. ver. 15). God has only to "speak the word," and all trace of winter disappears - hoar-frost, hail, snow, melt away, and the atmosphere is once more soft and genial. He causeth his wind to blow. The change usually comes With a change of wind, which, as with ourselves, is commonly cold from the north and east, warm from the west and south. And the waters flow. A thaw sets in, and soon all the watercourses are full of rushing streams.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel.
Verse 19. - He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. Beyond and above all the physical blessings which God bestows on man are the gifts of spiritual enlightenment and direction. These also Israel may count on receiving from him, who has already given them a written revelation - "statutes and judgments" - while he also enlightens and directs them from time to time by his prophets.
He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD.
Verse 20. - He hath not dealt so with any nation. Though the Word of God, to a certain extent, "lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9), yet this light of nature is not to be compared to the revelation vouchsafed to Israel. Israel was God's "peculiar people," and had peculiar privileges, which involved special responsibilities. And as for his judgments, they (i.e. the nations) have not known them (comp. Amos 3:2, "You only have I known out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities"). Praise ye the Lord (comp. ver. 1).