Verses 1-4 are introductory to the first section (vers. 1-37). They strike the keynote, which is, first, praise of God's faithfulness generally (vers. 1, 2), and secondly, praise of him in respect of the Davidical covenant (vers. 3, 4). Verse 1. - I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. "Forever" is the emphatic phrase. The psalmist will commemorate God's mercies, not only when they are continuing, but always. With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations; literally, to generation and generation.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.
Verse 2. - For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever. A time shall come when, out of whatever ruins, mercy shall be "built up" - raised from the ground like a solid edifice, and, when once raised up, shall stand firm forever. Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. At the same time, God's faithfulness to his promises will be established "in the very heavens," i.e. conspicuously (see ver. 37).
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
Verse 3. - I have made a covenant with my chosen. There is an ellipse of "for thou hast said," which Professor Cheyne supplies. God's promise to David is the entire foundation of the psalmist's hope and confidence. He therefore places it briefly in the very forefront - afterwards expanding it into the beautiful passage, which forms more than one-third of the entire composition (vers. 19-37). I have sworn unto David my servant (comp. 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Psalm 132:11).
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.
Verse 4. - Thy seed will I establish forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12, 13; Psalm 130:12). And build up thy throne to all generations. The promises to David were not fulfilled in the letter. After Zerubbabel, no prince of the Davidic house sat on the throne of David, or had temporal sway over Israel. The descendants of David sank into obscurity, and so remained for five centuries. Still, however, God's faithfulness was sure. In Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, the true King of the everlasting kingdom was raised up - every pledge made to David was fulfilled. "Messiah the Prince," eternal King of an eternal kingdom, appeared as the true "Seed' intended, and began his spiritual reign over the spiritual Israel, which still continues, and will continue forever.
And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.
Verses 5-37. - The psalmist carries out the intention proclaimed in ver. 1, and proceeds to "sing of the mercies of the Lord" at great length. His song of praise divides into two portions. From ver. 5 to ver. 18 it is a general laudation of the Almighty for his greatness in heaven (vers. 5-7), in nature (vers. 9, 11, 12), and in the course of his rule on earth (vers. 10, 13-18), after which it passes into a laudation of him in respect of what he had done, and what he had promised, to David (vers. 19-37). Verse 5. - And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord. "The heavens" here are not the material heavens, as in Psalm 19. l, but the company of the dwellers in heaven. God's praise fittingly begins with them. Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. The "congregation of the saints" is the company of angels (comp. Job 5:1; Job 15:15). Not on earth only (vers. 1, 2), but in heaven also God's "faithfulness" is the theme of song.
For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?
Verse 6. - For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? God's angels praise him, and only him; since there is none in heaven or earth to be compared to him. Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? "The sons of the mighty" are the angels (comp. Psalm 29:1).
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
Verse 7. - God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; rather, in the council of the holy ones (see the Revised Version). And to be had in reverence of all them that are about him; or, above all them, etc.
O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?
Verse 8. - O Lord God of hosts; i.e. God of the angelic hosts just spoken cf. Who is a strong Lord like unto thee? rather, Who is strong like unto thee, O Jah? (comp. Exodus 15:11). Or to thy faithfulness round about thee! rather, as in the Revised Version, and thy faithfulness is round about thee. It has been said that "the two words 'mercies' and 'faithfulness' are the refrain of the psalm." The latter occurs six times (vers. 1, 2, 5, 8, 24, 33), and "faithful" in ver. 37.
Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
Verse 9. - Thou rulest the raging of the sea. There is no reason why this should not be understood literally. God's power over the sea is constantly put forward by the sacred writers as very specially indicative of his might and greatness (comp. Job 38:8-11; Psalm 107:29; Proverbs 8:29; Jeremiah 5:22, etc.). When the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them (comp. Psalm 65:7; Psalm 107:23-30; Matthew 8:26, 27).
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
Verse 10. - Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces; or, "thou didst break" once upon a time, i.e. at the Exodus. (For the designation of Egypt under the term "Rahab," i.e. "arrogant," see Job 9:13; Job 26:12; Psalm 87:4; Isaiah 51:9.) As one that is slain; i.e. completely, utterly. Thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm (see Exodus 14:27-31; Exodus 15:6).
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
Verse 11. - The heavens are thine (comp. Psalm 8:3; Psalm 33:6; Psalm 115:16). The earth also is thine (see Psalm 24:1). As for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them (see Psalm 50:12).
The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.
Verse 12. - The north and the south then hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name. As in ver. 11 "heaven and earth" stand for all creation, the whole of the material universe, so here the four points of the compass designate the same. Tabor and Herman undoubtedly represent the west and the east. They present themselves to the poet's mind as standing over against each other, one on this side, and the other on that side, of Jordan.
Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.
Verse 13. - Thou hast a mighty arm; literally, an arm with might. Strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. These anthropomorphisms will disturb no one; they pervade the whole of Scripture.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
Verse 14 - Justice and judgment; or, righteousness and justice (Cheyne). The psalmist here rises to a higher level - from that of might to that of right. God is not merely strong to do whatever he wills; but all that he wills is consonant with right and justice. Are the habitation of thy throne; rather, the basis, or "foundation." (So Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.) Mercy and truth shall go before thy face; i.e. shall stand ever in front of thee; be thy inseparable companions. Whatever thou doest shall be done "in truth and equity."
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.
Verse 15. - Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound. The sound of devotional joy appears to be intended - the sound which went up from the sanctuary in the great festival times (see Numbers 10:1, 9; Leviticus 25:9; Psalm 27:6; Psalm 81:1, etc.). They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. Herein consists especially their blessedness (comp. Psalm 4:6).
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
Verse 16 - In thy Name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. The "Name" and the "righteousness" of God form the glory of the Church, and are a perpetual source of rejoicing to her.
For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
Verse 17. - For thou art the Glory of their strength; or, "the Ornament" - that in which their strength and might as a people culminate. And in thy favour our horn shall be exalted. Thy favour towards us exalts us among the nations.
For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.
Verse 18. - For the Lord is our Defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our King; literally, for to Jehovah belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel belongs our king. The meaning seems to be that he who is Israel's king and shield - i.e., the Davidical monarch at the time - being under the constant protection of the Almighty, all must necessarily go well with the people at last.
Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
Verse 19. - Then thou spakest; rather, once, or "once upon a time," as Professor Cheyne suggests. The allusion is to the occurrence related in 2 Samuel 7:4-17. In vision (see 2 Samuel 7:7). To thy holy one; i.e. to Nathan the prophet. And saidst. The psalmist reports the words of the vision very freely, interweaving with them thoughts drawn from various psalms; expanding them, and sometimes heightening the colours. I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people (comp. 1 Samuel 16:1-13). David was "mighty" from his youth - own before he slew Goliath, as appears from his slaughter of the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36).
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
Verse 20. - I have found David my servant (comp. 1 Samuel 16:1; Acts 13:22). With my holy oil have I anointed him (see 1 Samuel 16:13)
With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.
Verse 21. - With whom my hand shall be established; i.e. "to whom I will give continual support" (see 1 Samuel 18:12, 14; 2 Samuel 5.]0; 7:9). Mine arm also shall strengthen him (comp. ver. 13).
The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
Verse 22. - The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him (see 2 Samuel 7:10, which has supplied the very words of the second clause).
And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.
Verse 23. - And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him (comp. 2 Samuel 7:9).
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
Verse 24. - But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him (comp. Psalm 61:7). And in my Name shall his horn be exalted (see 2 Samuel 7:9).
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.
Verse 25. - I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers (comp. Psalm 72:8). "The sea" is probably the Mediterranean, and "the rivers" the Euphrates, with its canals and affluents (see 1 Kings 4:21, 24; Psalm 137:1). The promise of an extended dominion is implied in 2 Samuel 7:9.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
Verse 26. - He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father (comp. 2 Samuel 7:14). My God, and the Rock of my salvation (see 2 Samuel 22:2, 3, 47).
Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.
Verse 27. - Also I will make him my firstborn. There is but one true "Firstborn" - "the Only Begotten of the Father." All other so called "firstborns" - as Israel (Exodus 4:22), Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9), David - are reflections or representatives, in some way or other, of the real and only true "Firstborn." Higher than the kings of the earth; literally, the most high above the kings of the earth; i.e. standing to the other "kings of the earth" as "the Most High" to his angelic ministers.
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.
Verse 28. - My mercy will I keep for him for evermore (comp. 2 Samuel 7:15, "My mercy shall not depart away from him"). And my covenant shall stand fast with him (see 2 Samuel 7:16; 2 Samuel 23:5).
His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
Verse 29. - His seed also will I make to endure forever (comp. 2 Samuel 7:16, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before me"). And his throne as the days of heaven. "Thy throne shall be established forever;" "I will establish his kingdom" (2 Samuel 7:12, 16)
If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;
Verse 30. - If his children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments (comp. 2 Samuel 7:14, "If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men"). Solomon himself began the falling away (1 Kings 11:1-8). He was followed by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:1), Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:27), Joash (2 Chronicles 24:17-24), Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16-20), Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2-18), Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2-16), Amon (2 Kings 21:20-22), Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:32), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:37), Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:9), and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:19), all of whom "did evil in the sight of the Lord" - forsook his Law, and walked not in has judgments.
If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;
Verse 31. - If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; rather, if they profane my statutes; i.e. make light of them, either in their words or in their lives.
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.
Verse 32. - Then will I visit their transgressions with the rod (comp. 2 Samuel 7:14). "The rod" was used upon Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-40), Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:16-20), Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27), Joash (2 Kings 12:17-20), and all the wicked descendants of David, as sufficiently appears from the history of the divided kingdom in Kings and Chronicles. God visited their iniquity with stripes time after time, and generation after generation.
Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
Verse 33. - Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. Compare the original promise (2 Samuel 7:15); and see also 1 Kings 11:12, 13, 34-39; 1 Kings 15:4, 5, etc. The seed of David was not allowed to fail, but was continued on, until, in the fulness of time, there was born into the world, of David's seed and in David's city, One in whom all the promises made to David could be, and were, accomplished in their utmost fulness.
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
Verse 34. - My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips (comp. ver. 28, and the comment ad loc.). With God is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17).
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
Verse 35. - Ones have I sworn by my holiness; rather, one thing have I sworn. (On God's oath to David, see vers. 3, 49, and Psalm 132:11.) The present passage shows that it was sworn "by his holiness" - i.e. by his absolute moral perfection. That I will not lie unto David; i.e. that I will keep all my promises to him. God, no doubt, always and in every case "keepeth his promise forever" (Psalm 146:6); but in his mercy and loving kindness he condescended to give David a special guarantee of his faithfulness in respect of the promises made to him.
His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.
Verse 36. - His seed shall endure forever (comp. ver. 29). And his throne as the sun before me; i.e. shall endure as the sun (comp. Psalm 72:5 and 2 Samuel 7:13).
It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.
Verse 37. - It shall be established forever as the moon (comp. Psalm 72:7). And as a faithful witness in heaven. Some understand this expression of the moon; but, as Professor Cheyne comments, "Who could witness (or declare) that such great things were true but Jehovah?" (So too Delitzsch, Kay, and Canon Cook.) If this be regarded as the true meaning, it will be better to translate, "the true witness." Job's citation of God as his witness (Job 16:19) is scarcely parallel.
But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.
Verses 38-45. - A sudden and complete change here sets in. Rejoicing is turned into mourning, eulogy into complaint. Notwithstanding all the promises of God, notwithstanding his inherent and essential "faithfulness," the Davidical king and his kingdom are at the last gasp. Seemingly, every promise made has been broken, every hope held out of good turned into an actuality of evil. God is wroth with his anointed, has made void the covenant with him, profaned his crown and cast it to the ground, turned the edge of his sword, and made him not to stand in the battle; he has laid his land open to the enemy, broken down its defenses, brought its strongholds to ruin, given it as a spoil to all who pass by; he has set up the right hand of Israel's adversaries, caused them to rejoice and triumph in Israel's disgrace and suffering; he has covered the king with shame, and cut short the days of his youth. How is this? And what is to be the end of it? Verse 38. - But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. The first "thou" is emphatic - אתּה, THOU, "the faithful Witness;" THOU, who hast made all these promises, art the very One who has falsified them all - who hast "been wroth with thine anointed," abhorred (or rejected) him, and cast him off:
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
Verse 39. - Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant; or, "abhorred" (Cheyne, Revised Version). The verb is a very unusual one, occurring only here and in Lamentations 2:7. Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground (comp. Psalm 74:7). The theocratic crown was so holy a thing, that any degradation of it might be regarded as a "profanation."
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.
Verse 40. - Thou hast broken down all his hedges; i.e. "all his defences" - the strongholds, that guarded the frontiers of the land, were brought to ruin (comp. 2 Chronicles 11:5-10).
All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.
Verse 41. - All that pass by the way spoil him. This feature of the situation recalls 2 Kings 24:2, but might, no doubt, suit also other times of distress. He is a reproach to his neighbours; or, "he is become a reproach" (comp. Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:17; Psalm 44:13; Psalm 79:4, etc.).
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.
Verse 42. - Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; i.e." thou hast increased their power and strength, exalted them, and depressed him." Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice (comp. Psalm 35:15, "In mine adversity they rejoiced;" and see also Micah 7:8; Obadiah 1:10-12). Every depression of Israel caused the neighbouring nations, who alike feared them and detested them, to rejoice.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.
Verse 43. - Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword; literally, the rock of his sword. It is not quite clear whether a "blunting of the sword," or a "turning to flight of those who drew the sword," is intended. In either ease the phrase implies military disaster. And hast not made him to stand in the battle; i.e. '" hast caused him to give way before his enemies." The words imply defeat in the open field.
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.
Verse 44. - Thou hast made his glory to cease; literally, thou hast put an end to his brightness; but the meaning is that given in the text. And cast his throne down to the ground (comp. ver. 39).
The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.
Verse 45. - The days of his youth hast thou shortened. This does not seem to mean an actual cutting short by death (since the Davidical king has been spoken of as alive in vers. 38, 41, 43), but rather a cutting short of youthful energy and vigour, a premature senescence, such as may well have fallen upon Jehoiachin or Zedekiah. Thou hast covered him with shame; or, "heaped shame upon him" - "covered him up with shame." The phrase would suit Jehoiachin, who was kept in prison by Nebuchadnezzar, and in "prison garments" (2 Kings 25:29), for the space of thirty-five years.
How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?
Verses 46-51. - The psalm ends with an appeal to God - "How long" is the present state of things to continue? How long is God's wrath to endure? Will he not remember how weak and futile, how short-lived and fleeting, the whole race of man is? Well he not bethink him of his old loving kindnesses to David, and of the promises made to him, and confirmed by oath? Will he not therefore remove their reproach from Israel, and especially from his anointed, on whom the disgrace chiefly falls? To these questions there can be but one answer. God will assuredly make his faithfulness known (see ver. 1). Verse 46. - How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself forever; (comp. Psalm 13:1; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 79:5). Shall thy wrath burn like fire? i.e. furiously, without cessation, till all be consumed.
Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?
Verse 47. - Remember how short my time is. Consider how short-lived is the whole race of men. Come, therefore, to our deliverance quickly. Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? literally, for what vanity thou hast made all the sons of men. Another point suggested for God's consideration, as fitted to call forth his compassion.
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.
Verse 48. - What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? An expansion of the first clause of ver. 47. Man's littleness, feebleness, and fleetingness should draw forth the pity and loving kindness of God.
Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?
Verse 49. - Lord, where are thy former loving kindnesses? or, "thy ancient mercies," those "sure mercies of David," whereof Isaiah spoke (ch. Iv. 3). Which thou swarest unto David in thy truth (comp. ver. 35 and Psalm 132:11).
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;
Verse 50. - Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; i.e. the reproach under which all thy people lie so long as their enemies are allowed to plunder and oppress them at their pleasure (see vers. 40-44). Remember also how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people. The reproach under which his countrymen lie - a reproach laid on them by "all the mighty people among whom they dwell - falls on the psalmist's heart with especial weight through his deep sympathy with all of them.
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.
Verse 51. - Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed. The reproach which rests upon the people rests no less upon their king - upon his "footsteps," his movements, all that he does, "every step he takes" (Bishop Perowne). This is an additional affliction to the psalmist, and emphasizes his last cry to God for mercy.
Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.
Verse 52. - Blessed be the Lord forevermore. Amen, and Amen. This detached verse, not necessarily from the same hand as the rest of the psalm, winds up, with the usual refrain, the Third Book.