Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
In this first section of the Divine song, the predominating idea is God's fatherhood. It comes out in ver. 6 in express terms; it is implied in the care that is attributed to him for his children of Israel; it passes into the still tenderer idea of motherhood in the illustration of the eagle (ver. 11); and may fairly be taken as the idea dominating the whole. It has been thought that the fatherhood of God is almost altogether a New Testament idea; but we have it here expressly stated, and it underlies many portions of the Old Testament. This whole song is, in fact, a paternal expostulation with children that have been wayward in the wilderness, and will be more wayward still in the land of promise. We shall notice in order the ideas suggested by this section.
I. FERTILIZING DOCTRINE. Divine doctrine, even in its severest forms, has a gracious and fertilizing influence like rain or dew. It comes down upon the wilderness of human nature, and makes it a fruitful field. It comes down upon the tender herb of implanted graces, upon the grass of humble and useful piety, and makes all to grow more luxuriantly. Nothing is so important as "good doctrine."
II. THE ROCK-STABILITY OF GOD. This is the first inquiry. Can God be trusted as truly stable? The answer is that he is a Rock, and that upon his veracity and justice and helpfulness we can constantly rely. Moses and the Israelites had experienced this; as they wandered amid the rocky fastnesses of the desert, they had found him as firm and as reliable as the rocks. Up to this time, the figure had not been applied to God. The Israelites have, indeed, from the hard and flinty rock, had refreshing streams; the rock was to them a fountain of waters; and doubtless when here the figure is for the first time applied to God, they would find it delightful to associate refreshment and shelter with him. Then in course of time it became a favorite figure, as the Psalms in many passages show (cf. Psalm 28:1; Psalm 31:2, 3; Psalm 42:9; Psalm 62:2, 7; Psalm 78:20, 35; Psalm 95:1, etc.). And we rejoice to call our Redeemer "Rock of Ages," in the clefts of which, according to Toplady's idea, taken from Exodus 33:22, we can take shelter and feel safe.
III. PATERNAL APPEAL. Although God is so worthy of trust, the Israelites have corrupted themselves; they are unwilling to have upon them the mark or spot of the children of God, but the mark of some other tribe; and so as a Father he appeals to them because of their ingratitude. Has he not made them, bought them, and established them, and, in consequence, earned a right to different treatment from this? Fatherhood has rights by reason of service which no grateful child can overlook.
IV. PATERNAL FORESIGHT. He speaks next of the days of old, of the years of many generations, which the fathers and elders could testify about, during which time the Father was but evolving his glorious plan, separating and scattering the sons of Adam according to the interests and number of the children of Israel. At Babel and the subsequent migrations of men, "God so distributed the earth among the several peoples that were therein, as to reserve, or in his sovereign counsel to appoint, such a part for the Israelites, though they were then unborn, as might prove a commodious settlement and habitation for them." Noble foresight, worthy of an everlasting and infinite Father.
V. PATERNAL INSTRUCTION. One element in fatherhood is a sense of possession in the children. The father rejoices that the children are his, and will not part readily with his portion. So with God. "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." Out of this sense of property comes the improvement of the children by faithful instruction. Hence Israel were led into the wilderness, and their Father found them there, and led them about, instructing them, and keeping them as "the apple of the eye." It was the Father educating them through his own companionship, and leading them onwards in safety towards their home.
VI. PARENTAL DISCIPLINE. The song introduces (ver. 11) the figure of the eagle, and the motherly discipline to which she subjects her brood. "Naturalists tell us that when her young are old enough to fly, the eagle breaks her nest in pieces, in order to compel them to use their powers of flight; fluttering over them, that by imitation they may learn how to employ their wings, but, when unwilling to fly, spreading abroad her wings, she bears them upwards in the air, and then shaking them off, compels them to use their own exertions." From this Mr. Hull deduces the truth that "the Divine discipline of life is designed to awaken man to the development of his own powers." We see thus the kindness of the parental discipline, and that it takes motherhood as well as fatherhood to illustrate the Divine relation (cf. Isaiah 49:15).
VII. PARENTAL BLESSING. Having exercised such parental care over the people, the result was abundant temporal success and blessing. This is beautifully brought out as a "riding upon the high places of the earth." And then the whole panorama of agricultural prosperity is presented, "the increase of the fields" providing bread, the rocks affording shelter for the bees which extracted abundant honey from the flowers, the olives clinging to the flinty rocks and affording abundance of oil, while the kine in the fat pastures gave butter, and the sheep milk, and the lambs were choice food, and the rams of the breed of Bashan, while the finest wheat and the purest wine made the lot of Israel princely. It was a land of promise surely which supplied their wants in such a fashion. God's goodness was exceeding great. The "fatherhood of God" had thus its grand exemplification in the history of Israel. A Father who was firm as the rocky fastnesses around them and as reliable; who provided for his children long before they were born; who instructed and disciplined them, and brought them eventually to a splendid inheritance, - might well look for their trust and obedience. The Lord shows a similar fatherly care still to all men, even those who do not return a filial spirit; and if, in his grace, they yield at length to his paternal appeals, then he comes and gives them a fellowship such as they never dreamed of. "He that loveth me," saith Jesus, "shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.