Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This liturgical hymn, beginning and ending with the familiar “Hallelujah,” is the first of the series of five which are sometimes called the “Greek”—in distinction to the “Egyptian”—Hallel. It was evidently composed for a time of great national depression, when the community, sick of dependence on the favour of foreign princes, turned more and more to the thought of the eternal righteousness and faithfulness of Jehovah.
The recurrence in a slightly changed form of Psalm 146:4 in 1 Maccabees 2:63 shows that the psalm was in existence when that book was written, and also serves to confirm the impression that it belongs to the Maccabæan age. The rhythm is varied.
Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.(1, 2) Praise.—Following Psalm 103:1; Psalm 103:22; Psalm 104:33, “praise” being substituted for “bless.”
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.(3, 4) Princes—The thought of Psalm 118:8-9 is here elaborated, with distinct allusion to Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19 (Comp. 1 Maccabees 2:63.) The verse, no doubt, was in Shakespeare’s mind when he made Wolsey say:
“Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!”
as it was quoted by Strafford when the news reached him that Charles I. had given the royal assent to the bill of attainder against him. But in the psalm it is not the caprice of princes, as in these notable instances, but their frailty as men that is declared untrustworthy.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.(4) In that very day . . .—Comp. Antony’s words:
“But yesterday the word of Cæsar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there,
And none so poor to do him reverence.”
SHAKSPEARE, Julius Cæsar.
Thoughts.—The Hebrew word is peculiar to this passage. “Fabrications” would reproduce its etymological meaning.
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:(5) For the different aspects of the Divine nature and character inspiring trust see Introduction. With this verse comp. Psalm 33:12; Psalm 144:15.
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:(6) Truth.—Or, faithfulness. The connection of this feature of the Divine character with the creative act is worthy of notice. That act alone was for the universe a promise and pledge, just as the covenant was a peculiar promise to Israel. Tennyson has put the same thought into verse:
“Thou madest man, he knows not why;
He thinks he was not made to die;
And Thou hast made him: Thou art just.”
Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:(7) Comp. Psalm 103:6; Psalm 104:27; Psalm 107:9; Psalm 136:25; Isaiah 55:1.
Here follow five lines, each beginning with the Divine name, and each consisting of three words, the rhythm prominent in the book of Job.
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:(8) Openeth.—Here, and through the verse, the verbs are participles. The elliptical “open the blind” is easily understood.
Blindness is sometimes figurative of distress and helplessness (Deuteronomy 28:29; Isaiah 59:9, &c), sometimes of want of mental or spiritual discernment, as Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 42:7, &c. Here, most probably, the former.
Raiseth.—See Psalm 145:14.
The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.(9) The stranger, the widow, and the orphan are constantly presented in the Law as objects of compassion and beneficence. The orphan and widow are mentioned as under God’s care (Psalm 68:5).
Relieveth.—Or rather, restoreth, by taking up their cause and seeing justice done. Certain forms of the verb are used of bearing witness, and possibly here there is allusion to a court of justice, in which God appears as witnessing on the side of the weak and defenceless.
Turneth upside down.—Rather, bends aside. The same word in Psalm 119:78 is rendered” dealt perversely.” The idea seems in both cases to be that of interference, to thwart and impede a course of action. In Psalms 119 it is an evil-disposed person who interferes with the righteous. Here it is the Divine providence which, when the wicked man has laid out his plans, and looks as it were along a plain and level road of prosperity, bends the prosperous course aside; makes the path crooked, instead of straight; full of trouble and calamity, instead of prosperous and sure.
The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.(10) Comp. Exodus 15:18; Psalm 99:1.