The author of this psalm is unknown, as is the occasion on which it was composed. It resembles the seventy-eighth psalm in the fact that both are of an historical nature, recounting the dealings of God with his people in their deliverance from the bondage in Egypt. The object of the former psalm however, seems to have been "to recall the nation from their sins," and to vindicate the dealings of God with the Hebrews in his arrangements for their government, or in the change of the administration, by giving the government to the tribe of Judah under David, rather than to Ephraim; the object of this psalm is "to excite the people to gratitude" by the remembrance of the goodness of God to the people in former times. Accordingly this psalm is occupied with recounting the mercies of God - his various acts of intervention in their history - all apppealing to the nation to cherish a grateul remembrance of those acts, and to love and praise him.
The first sixteen verses of the psalm are substantially the same as the first part of the psalm composed by David when he brought up the ark, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:8-22. But at that point the resemblance ceases. Probably the author of this psalm found in the one composed by David what was suitable to the occasion on which this was composed, and adopted it without any material change. In the remainder of the psalm, he has simply carried out in the history of the Jews what was suggested by David in the psalm in 1 Chronicles 16, and has applied the idea to the other events of the Jewish history, as furnishing a ground of praise. The psalm is a mere summary of the principal events of that history to the time when the people entered the promised land - as laying the foundation of praise to God.
O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.O give thanks unto the Lord - The design here is to show that thanks should be given to the Lord in view of his dealings with his people, as stated in the subsequent portions of the psalm.
Call upon his name - More literally, "Call him by his name;" that is, Address him by his proper title; ascribe to him the attributes which properly belong to him; or, address him in a proper manner.
Make known his deeds among the people - What he has done in former times. The allusion is to his acts in behalf of his people in delivering them from Egyptian bondage, and bringing them to the promised land. The word "people" here refers to the Hebrew people; and the exhortation is, that the knowledge of these deeds should be diffused and kept up among them. One of the ways of doing this was that proposed by the psalmist, to wit, by a psalm of praise - by recording and celebrating these acts in their devotions. One of the most effective modes of keeping up the knowledge of what God has done in our world is by songs of praise in worshipping assemblies.
Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.Sing unto him - Sing before him; offer him praise.
Sing psalms unto him - The word here rendered "sing psalms" means properly "to prune," and then, to" cut off," as a discourse at regular periods; or, to utter in rhythmical numbers; and then it means to accompany such words with an instrument of music. The idea here is, that he is to be approached, not merely with "singing," but with sentiments expressed in the form of regular composition - in musical numbers.
Talk ye - The word used here very commonly means to meditate, to muse (compare the notes at Psalm 1:2), but would here seem to be employed in the sense of "talking over," to wit, in singing. That is, In the psalms used let there be a "narrative" of what God has done. Let his works be the subject of the words used in the psalm.
Of all his wondrous works - Of what he has done that is suited to excite wonder and admiration. Compare Psalm 77:12.
Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.Glory ye in his holy name - The original word rendered "glory" is the same word which is commonly used to denote "praise," and it has that meaning here. The idea is, In your praises let the main subject be the name of God - that holy name by which he chooses to be known. The Hebrew is, "the name of his holiness." It implies
(a) that we should rejoice in God - in his very name - in that by which he chooses to make himself known;
(b) that it is a special subject of praise and rejoicing that his name is "holy;" that is, that he is a holy Being.
This can be a subject of real rejoicing only to those who are themselves holy; but properly considered, one of the highest reasons for rejoicing in God is the fact that he is holy; that he cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence. There would be no ground of confidence in God if this were not so.
Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord - That desire to know him; that come to praise him. Let their hearts rejoice - or, let them be happy:
(a) because they are "permitted" to seek him;
(b) because they are inclined to seek him;
(c) because they have such a God to come to - One so mighty, so holy, so good, so gracious.
Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.Seek the Lord and his strength - Seek strength from him; seek that his strength may be imparted to you; seek him as a Being of almighty power; as One by whom you may be strengthened. The Septuagint and Vulgate render this, "Seek the Lord, and 'be strengthened.'" Strength comes from God, and it is only by his strength that we can be strong; only by our making use of his omnipotence in our own behaIf that we can discharge the duties, and bear the trials of this life. Compare the notes at Isaiah 40:29-31.
Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;Remember his marvelous works ... - The works suited to excite wonder. Call them to remembrance in your psalm; seek the aid of music and song to impress the memory of them deeply on your hearts.
And the judgments of his mouth - That is, properly, the judgments which he pronounced on his enemies, and which were followed by their overthrow. The word does not refer here, as it often does, to his statutes or commands.
O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen.O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen - All you who are descendants of Abraham and Jacob; the former being particularly mentioned here because he was the great ancestor of the Hebrew people; the latter, because the events referred to were closely connected with the history of Jacob - with his going down into Egypt, and with the division of the tribes named after his sons. The word rendered "his chosen" would seem in our version to refer to Jacob. In the original, however, it is in the plural number, and must agree with the word rendered "children," "Ye chosen sons of Jacob" (compare Psalm 105:43). So it has been translated in 1 Chronicles 16:13, "Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones."
He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth.He is the Lord our God - His name is Yahweh - the true God; and this God is ours. See the notes at Psalm 95:7.
His judgments are in all the earth - More properly "in all the land;" that is, in every part of the land he is honored as our God. His institutions are established here; his laws are obeyed here; his worship is celebrated here. No other God is worshipped here; everywhere he is acknowledged as the nation's God.
He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.He hath remembered his covenant forever - That is, God has had it constantly in remembrance, or always. Compare the notes at Luke 1:72. Though the covenant was made long since; though many generations of people have passed by; though great changes have occurred; though many calamities have come upon the nations, yet his ancient covenant and promise have never been forgotten. All his promises have been fulfilled; all ever will be. The "covenant" here referred to is that which was made with Abraham, and through him with the Hebrew people.
The word which he commanded - The thing which he commanded; that is, all which he ordained and appointed.
To a thousand generations - Very many generations; or, any number of generations: that is, always. Compare Exodus 20:6. The experience of the people through all the generations of their history has shown that in what he has promised and directed he is unchanging.
Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac;Which covenant he made with Abraham - Which he "ratified" with Abraham. Literally, "which he cut with Abraham." Genesis 17:2-14. Compare the notes at Psalm 50:5.
And his oath unto Isaac - Confirming the promise made to Abraham. See Genesis 26:2-5.
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:And confirmed the same unto Jacob - literally, "caused it to stand;" that is, he made it fast or secure. He renewed it, commanding the same things; making the same promises; and pledging himself for its fulfillment in the same manner. Genesis 28:10-15.
For a law - For an established or settled ordinance, for a rule by which future things were to be regulated: that is, they would occur according to that promise, and be conformed to it. It was, as it were, a rule which God prescribed for himself in regard to his own future conduct.
And to Israel ... - Another name for Jacob, Genesis 32:28.
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan - Genesis 13:14-15.
The lot of your inheritance - Or, that shall be the lot of your inheritance; or, what you shall inherit. The margin is, "the cord." The Hebrew word - חבל chebel - means properly a cord, a rope; and then, a measuring-line. Hence, it means a portion "measured out" and assigned to anyone as land, Joshua 17:14; Joshua 19:9. Compare Psalm 16:6. The meaning is, that the land of Canaan was given by promise to the patriarchs as their lot or portion of the earth; as that which they and their descendants were to possess as their own.
When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.When they were but a few men in number - literally, "In their being people of number, very little." That is, They could then be easily numbered, and they were so few that they could not take possession of it themselves. This is in contrast with the promise then made to them that they should be in number as the stars, and as the sand on the sea shore.
And strangers in it - Foreigners. They were mere sojourners. They did not become incorporated with the people of the land. They did not acquire property there. They were regarded and treated as belonging to a foreign people. See the notes at Hebrews 11:9.
When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people;When they went from one nation to another ... - Wandered about, as if they had no home and no fixed habitation. See Genesis 12:6, Genesis 12:9-10; Genesis 13:1; Genesis 20:1; Genesis 26:1, Genesis 26:17, Genesis 26:22-23.
He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes;He suffered no man to do them wrong - He protected them as they wandered from place to place, and as they were exposed to dangers. See the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in their wanderings, as it is recorded in the book of Genesis.
Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes - That he might protect them; that he might keep them from danger and from sin. See the case of Pharaoh in the time of Abraham, Genesis 12:17-20, and the case of Abimelech, Genesis 20:3, Genesis 20:6.
Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.Saying, Touch not mine anointed - That is, This was the language of his "providence." It was as though God had said this. It is not meant that this was said in so many words, but this is the "poetic" form of representing the dealings of Providence. Compare Genesis 26:11. The word "anointed" here means that God had, as it were, set them apart to his service, or that they were to him as kings, and priests, and prophets, sacred people, belonging to God. The "language" is not found in the Old Testament as applied to the patriarchs, but the "idea" is fairly implied there, that they belonged to God as sacred and holy men.
And do my prophets no harm - As if God had thus spoken to them, and called them prophets. That is, they belonged to God as a sacred order: they were separate from other men, and God regarded them as his own.
Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread.Moreover, he called for a famine upon the land - It was not by chance; not by the mere operation of physical laws, but it was because God "ordered" it. The famine here referred to, as the connection shows, was that which occurred in the time of Jacob, and which was the occasion of the migration into Egypt. There was also a famine in the time of Abraham Genesis 12:10; but the design of the psalmist here is to refer to that period of the Jewish history which pertained to their residence in Egypt, and to the dealings of God with the nation when there, as furnishing an occasion for gratitude. Genesis 41; 42.
He brake the whole staff of bread - That which supports life, as a staff does a feeble man. See the notes at Isaiah 3:1.
He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:He sent a man before them - That is, He so ordered it by his providence that a man - Joseph - was sent before the family of Jacob into Egypt, that he might make arrangements for their reception and preservation. The whole matter was as God had sent him, or had commanded him to go. And yet it was brought about as the result of a series of acts of the most wicked character; by the envy and the hatred of his brethren; by their guilt and hardness of heart in proposing at first to put him to death, and then in their arrangements for selling him to hopeless slavery; by their plan so to dispose of him that their father might never hear of him again, and that they might be troubled with him no more. God did not cause these acts. He did not command them; he did not approve of them. And yet, since they did occur, and since Joseph's brethren were so wicked, God made use of these things to accomplish his own benevolent purposes, and to carry out his great designs. So he makes use of the passions of wicked people at all times to execute his plans (compare the notes at Isaiah 10:5-7; see also Psalm 76:10; and Genesis 50:20); and so he will do to the end of time. People are free in their wickedness; but God is equally free in frustrating their schemes, and overruling their designs for the accomplishment of his own purposes.
Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:Whose feet they hurt with fetters - In Genesis 40:3; it is said of Joseph that he was "bound" in prison. It is not improbable that his "feet" were bound, as this is the usual way of confining prisoners.
He was laid in iron - In the prison. The margin is, "his soul came into iron." The version in the Prayer-Book of the Episcopal Church is, the iron entered into his soul. This is a more striking and beautiful rendering, though it may be doubted whether the Hebrew will permit it. DeWette renders it, "In iron lay his body."
Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.Until the time that his word came - The word, or the communication from God.
The word of the Lord tried him - That is, tested his skill in interpreting dreams, and his power to disclose the future. Genesis 41. This furnished a "trial" of his ability, and showed that he was truly the favorite of God, and was endowed with wisdom from on high. The word rendered "tried" is that which is commonly applied to metals in testing their genuineness and purity. Compare the notes at Psalm 12:6.
The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.The king sent and loosed him - Released him from prison. Genesis 41:14. The object was that he might interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.
The ruler of the people, and let him go free - Hebrew, "peoples," in the plural - referring either to the fact that there were "many" people in the land, or that Pharaoh ruled over tributary nations as well as over the Egyptians.
He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance:He made him lord of his house - Genesis 41:40. This implied that the administration of the affairs of the nation was virtually committed to him.
And ruler of all his substance - Margin, as in Hebrew, "possession." Of all he had. He placed all at his disposal in the affairs of his kingdom.
To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.To bind his princes at pleasure - Giving him absolute power. The power here referred to was that which was always claimed in despotic governments, and was, and is still, actually practiced in Oriental nations. Literally, "to bind his princes 'by his soul;'" that is, at his will; or, as he chose.
And teach his senators wisdom - This is now an unhappy translation. The word "senator" in fact originally had reference to "age" (see Webster's Dictionary), but it is now commonly applied to a body of men entrusted with a share in the administration of government - usually a higher body in a government - as the Senate of the United States. As these were usually "aged men," the word has acquired its present meaning, and is now ordinarily used without reference to age. But there was no such constituted body in the government of Egypt - for despotism does not admit of such an arrangement. The Hebrew word here means "aged men," and is employed with reference to those who were connected with the administration, or whom the monarch would consult - his counselors. The meaning of the phrase "to teach them wisdom" is, that he would instruct them "what to do;" literally, he would "make them wise," that is, in reference to the administration. He had the right of commanding them, and directing them in the administration. At the same time, it is doubtless true that Joseph was endowed with practical wisdom in the affairs of government far beyond them, and that in instructing them what to do, he actually imparted "wisdom" to them.
Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.Israel also came into Egypt - Another name for Jacob; see Psalm 105:10.
And Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham - Not as a permanent abode, but as a temporary arrangement, until the time should come for the people to be removed to the land of promise. See Genesis 46:6. The more literal rendering would be, "Jacob was a stranger - a foreigner - in the land of Ham." On the meaning of the word "Ham," see the notes at Psalm 78:51.
And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.And he increased his people greatly ... - God caused them to multiply. Exodus 1:7, Exodus 1:9.
He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.He turned their heart to hate his people - God turned their heart. That is, He so ordered things that they became the enemies of his people, and made it necessary that they should be removed into another land. It is not said that God did this by his direct "power;" or that he "compelled" them to hate his people; or that he in any way interfered with their "will;" or that he regarded this "as a good" in itself; or that he "approved" of it: but this is said in accordance with the usual representations in the Bible, where God is spoken of as having all things under his control, and where it is constantly affirmed that nothing takes place without his own proper agency and government in the matter. Nothing - not even the human will - free as it is - is independent of God; and not even the worst passions of men are "outside of his plan," or independent in such a sense that he does not afford the opportunity for their development and display. Compare the notes at Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 10:5-7, Isaiah 10:15.
To deal subtilly - In a fraudulent, or deceitful manner. See Exodus 1:10.
He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen.He sent Moses his servant - He sent Moses to be his servant in delivering his people; that is, to accomplish the work which he had designed should be done.
And Aaron whom he had chosen - whom he had selected to perform an important work in delivering his people from bondage.
They shewed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.They shewed his signs among them - literally, "They placed among them the words of his signs." So the margin. The reference is to the miracles performed in Egypt in bringing calamities upon the Egyptians to induce them to permit the children of Israel to go out from their bondage. They were the agents in setting these wonders before the Egyptians. The term words is employed here - "the words of his signs" - to keep up the idea that it was by the command of God that this was done, or by his word. It was by no power of their own, but only by the authority of God.
And wonders in the land of Ham - Miracles. Things suited to produce astonishment. See Psalm 105:5.
He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word.He sent darkness, and made it dark - Exodus 10:21-23.
And they rebelled not against his word - More literally, "his words." The reference is to Moses and Aaron; and the idea, as expressed here, is that they were obedient to the command of God; that they went and did what he ordered them; that, although he required them to go before a mighty and proud monarch, to denounce against him the vengeance of heaven, and to be the instruments of bringing upon the land unspeakably severe judgments, yet they did not shrink from what God commanded them to do. They were true to his appointment, and showed themselves to be faithful messengers of God. Others, however, suppose that this refers to the Egyptians, and that it is to be taken as a question: "And did they not rebel against his word?" The language might bear this, and the translators of the Septuagint seem to have so understood it, for they render it, "And they rebelled against his words." But the most natural construction is that in our common version, and the design is evidently to commend the boldness and the fidelity of Moses and Aaron.
He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish.See an account of these plagues in Exodus 6-11. Compare Psalm 78:43-51. This is mostly a mere enumeration of the plagues in the order in which they occurred, but without, of course, the details of the circumstances attending them. There are no circumstances mentioned here which require particular explanation.
Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings.
He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts.
He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land.
He smote their vines also and their fig trees; and brake the trees of their coasts.
He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number,
And did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground.
He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength.
He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.He brought them forth also with silver and gold - Which they had begged of the Egyptians. In Exodus 12:35, it is said, in our translation, that they had "borrowed" this gold and silver, together with raiment, of the Egyptians. This is an unhappy translation, as our word "borrow" means to ask anything of another for the purpose of using it for a time, with an implied understanding that it shall be returned, if an article to be used - or that as much money shall be repaid, if it is money that is borrowed - and according to this there would have been dishonesty and fraud on the part of the Israelites in "borrowing" these things of the Egyptians, when not intending (as they evidently did not) to return them. The Hebrew word, however, in Exodus 12:35 - שׁאל shâ'al - means merely to ask, "to demand, to require, to request, to perition, to beg." The idea of an obligation to "return" the things, as in our word "borrow," is not attached to the Hebrew word.
And there was not one feeble person ... - literally, Not one who was lame; or, who halted, or staggered. This, of course, is not necessarily to be understood literally. It is a general description of the capability of the people for traveling, or for war.
Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them.Egypt was glad when they departed - They had suffered so many plagues; the land was so utterly desolate, there was so much sorrow in their dwellings, from the calamities which had come upon them for refusing to let the Israelites go, that at last they were glad to have them depart, and they were willing to aid them that they might get rid of them. This will, in part, account for the fact that they were willing to give them what they asked - even silver and gold - if they might thus facilitate their departure.
For the fear of them fell upon them - The fear of them, as being under the protection of God; and the fear of the judgments, which must follow if they continued to oppress them.
He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night.He spread a cloud for a covering - See the notes at Psalm 78:14. In Numbers 10:34; it is said that "the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day," and from this seems to have been derived the idea of its "covering" them, as if it were a protection from the heat in the desert.
The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.The people asked, and he brought quails - See the notes at Psalm 78:26-29.
And satisfied them with the bread of heaven - manna, sent down, as it were, from heaven. In Psalm 78:25, it is called "angels' food." See the notes at that verse.
He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river.He opened the rock ... - See the notes at Psalm 78:15. "They ran in the dry places like a river." Or, "a river." They flowed along in the desert - a river of waters. See the notes at 1 Corinthians 10:4.
For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.For he remembered ... - He was faithful to his promise made to Abraham, and did not forget his descendants in the hour of need. This is the statement made in Psalm 105:8-9; and to illustrate and confirm the faithfulness of God, this reference is made to the history of the Hebrew people. See the notes at those verses.
And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness:And he brought forth his people with joy - With joy at their deliverance from bondage, and for his merciful interposition.
And his chosen with gladness - Margin, as in Hebrew, "singing." See Exodus 15.
And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people;And gave them the lands of the heathen - Of the "nations" of the land of Palestine, according to his promise. See the notes at Psalm 78:55.
That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD.That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws - The end - the design - of all this was that they might be an obedient people. This was the purpose of all his interventions in their behalf; and their obligation to obedience was enforced and measured by what he had done. The same is true in regard to his people now.
Praise ye the Lord - Hebrew, Hallelu-jah. See Psalm 104:35.