Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The motive of this historical psalm is plainly declared in Psalm 105:44-45, and the scope which the author allowed himself in the survey of the past appears in Psalm 105:11. He wishes this generation to remember that the continued possession of the Promised Land is contingent on obedience to the covenant God. In fact, the psalm is an elaboration of the charge so often repeated in the Book of Deuteronomy: “For the Lord thy God shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day “(Deuteronomy 15:4-5).
The psalm dates from a time prior to the composition of the first Book of Chronicles, for it forms part of the compilation of song in chapter 16; but there is no other indication by which to assign date or authorship. The conjecture is probable that it was compiled for liturgic use soon after the re-settlement in the country after the Captivity. The parallel structure, which is of the synthetic kind, alone gives it a claim to rank with poetry.
O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.(1) Call upon his name.—Literally, on (or, with) his name (comp. Psalm 105:3, “glory in”), with idea of proclamation as well as invocation. Symmachus has “proclaim his name.” This verse, which is found word for word in Isaiah 12:4, is apparently one of the recognised doxologies of the Hebrew Church.
Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.(2) Sing psalms.—Rather, play, sing unto Him, play unto Him; the usual choral direction.
Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.(4) Seek the Lord.—Better, Enquire after Jehovah and his power. The congregation is directed to the historical survey which follows. This sense seems settled by Psalm 111:2 : “The works of Jehovah are great, enquired into by all those who take delight in them.” And hence the word “strength” must be understood as used generally of the manifestation of Divine power in the wondrous deeds now to be mentioned.
He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth.(7-11) First cause of praise; the ancient covenant.
He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.(8) Commanded.—Better, appointed, or conferred.
Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac;(9) Made.—Literally, cut; the usual word for making a covenant (icere fœdus). The word is therefore here a synonym for “league,” as in Haggai 2:5.
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:(10) Law . . . covenant.—In Hebrew, chok and herîth, which here seem to be used as synonyms. (Comp. the use of the former word in Psalm 2:7.)
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:(11) This verse marks the scope of the psalm, to show how the promise made to Abraham was fulfilled.
He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes;(14) Wrong.—The allusion is doubtless to the incidents connected with Sarah and Rebekah at the courts of Egypt and Philistia. (See Genesis 26:11.)
Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.(15) Anointed.—In the plural, “my anointed ones.” As referring to the patriarchs, the expression is not technical, since they were never, like priests, prophets, and kings in later times, actually anointed. But the terms being sometimes applied to the covenant people as a whole (see Psalm 89:38; Psalm 89:51), its application to the founders of the race, especially those to whom the “promises came,” is very just.
As to the term “prophet,” the poet found it expressly conferred on Abraham in Genesis 20:7.
Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread.(16) Called for a famine.—Comp. 2Kings 8:1; and in Ezekiel 14 we see how famine, with war and pestilence and noisome beasts, were regarded as Divine emissaries to be summoned and sent on His missions.
He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:(17) Repeats Joseph’s own explanation, twice given, of the ways of Providence in his life (Genesis 45:5; Genesis 1:20).
Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:(18) He was laid in iron.—The Prayer Book Version, “the iron entered into his soul,” has established itself so firmly among expressive proverbial sayings, that the mind almost resents the Authorised Version. The grammar of the clause does not decide its sense with certainty; for its syntax is rather in favour of the Prayer Book Version, though the feminine form of the verb makes in favour of the marginal rendering. Symmachus has, “his soul came into iron;” the LXX., “his soul passed through iron.” The Vulg., however, has the other Version, “the iron passed through his soul”—first found in the Targum. The parallelism is in favour of the Authorised Version.
Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.(19) Until the time that his word came—i.e., until his (Joseph’s) interpretation of the dreams was fulfilled (Genesis 41:12). (For the expression “his word came,” equal to “came to pass,” comp. Judges 13:12.)
Word of the Lord.—As a different Hebrew word from that in the previous clause is used, better render, saying (or, oracle) of Jehovah.
Tried him.—Better, purified him, i.e., proved him innocent of the charge for which he was imprisoned. (For this sense of the verb, see Psalm 17:3; Psalm 18:30; Proverbs 30:5, margin.) The psalmist means that by enabling him to foretell the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants, God brought about the proof of his innocence.
He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.(25) Turned their heart.—So the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is throughout the historical narrative ascribed to Jehovah. (Comp. Isaiah 6:9-10; Mark 4:12, &c.)
Deal subtilly.—The reference is to the murdering of the male children (Exodus 1:10 : “Come and let us deal wisely with them”).
They shewed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.(27) They shewed.—Literally, They placed, i.e., did.
His signs.—Literally (as in margin), the words of his tokens; but it may also be rendered, “the details of his signs.”(Comp. Psalm 65:3 : “matters of iniquity,” or, “details of sin.”) So here, “details of signs,” i.e., signs in detail or sequence, sign after sign.
He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word.(28) Darkness.—The enumeration of the plagues omits the fifth and sixth, and begins with the ninth, and appends a clause which, from the first, has troubled translators. Of whom is it said, “They rebelled not against his words”? Of the Egyptians it is not true; and to refer the words to Moses and Aaron, in contrast with their resistance to the Divine command at Massah and Meribah, is feeble. The LXX. and the Syriac solved the difficulty by rejecting the negative. (Comp. the Prayer Book Version.)
The simplest explanation is to take the verb as imperfect subjunctive: “He sent darkness, and made it dark, that they might not rebel against his word.”
But this fails to supply a reason for the position in the list of the ninth plague, and the suggested emendation of Mr. Burgess is so satisfactory in this respect, that it almost by itself carries conviction with it. By a very slight change, he obtains: “He sent darkness, and darkened them, that they might not discern his tokens;” taking deber in the same sense that it bears in Psalm 105:27.
Thus the plague of darkness is, by a slight device of the poet, made to symbolise the moral blindness displayed by the Egyptians throughout.
He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish.(29) For the various terms used in describing the plagues, see Notes to the historical account in Exodus.
He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number,(34) Caterpillars.—To the locust, ‘aarbeh, alone mentioned in Exodus, the psalmist adds, as a poetical synonym to suit his parallelism, caterpillar (yelek), a word occurring in Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25; Nahum 3:15; Jeremiah 51:14; Jeremiah 51:27. By derivation the word means “licker” (comp. Numbers 22:4), and is possibly used in a wide or general sense for insects of the locust kind. (See Bible Educator, IV. 294.)
He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength.(36) See Psalm 78:51.
He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.(37) Feeble person.—Literally, stumbling. (Comp. Isaiah 5:27 : “None shall be weary or stumble among them,” i.e., none unfit for the march and military duty.)
He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night.(39) Cloud.—As in Isaiah 4:5. The reason assigned for the cloud in the historical books is lost sight of. Instead of a pillar marking the line of march, or as a protection against the pursuing foe, it is a canopy for protection from the sun. Sir Walter Scott expresses the same idea in Rebecca’s hymn.
He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river.(41) Rock.—The Hebrew tsûr refers us to the miracle at Horeb.
And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness:(43) Gladness.—Better, singing. Alluding, possibly, to Miriam’s song on the shore of the Red Sea.