Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The feeling pervading this psalm is indicated by the initial words quiet and praise. The attitude of Israel towards God is one of silent expectation, or expressed thankfulness—it waits hopeful of blessing to be vouchsafed in history and nature, and then bursts forth, like the refreshed and renewed earth, into a loud song of praise. There is only one direct indication of the probable date of the poem—the mention of the Temple, which sets aside the traditional ascription to David. Some have seen reference to a great national deliverance, such as that from Sennacherib, and to an abundant harvest following it. Others, even as early as some MSS. of the LXX. (see Note to title), date the psalm during the exile. The language of the latter part certainly recalls the glowing pictures of the blessings of the Return painted by the later Isaiah. But we can afford to leave undiscovered the author and date of a poem which is perennially fresh and true—a harvest song for the whole world and for all time. The parallelism is symmetrical throughout, but in form the psalm is an ode without regularity of stanza.
Title.—See titles to Psalms 4, 45
The Vulgate and some MSS. of the LXX. add to the word song, “of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, for the people of the dispersion, as they were about to return home.”
To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David. Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.(1) Praise waiteth . . .—Literally, To thee silence praise, which recalls Psalm 62:1 (see Note), but must be differently explained. To say, Praise is silence to thee, is hardly intelligible. The LXX. and Vulg. read differently, “praise is comely.” Better supply a conjunction, To thee are quiet and praise, i.e., submissive expectation till the deliverance come (Psalm 62:1), and then exulting praise.
Shall the vow.—Better, Is the vow paid, i.e., by the praise just mentioned.
O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.(2) Unto thee shall all flesh come.—This has usually, and most truly, been taken as prophetic of the extension of the true religion to the Gentiles. But we must not let what was, in the Divine providence, a fulfilment of the psalmist’s words, hide their intention as it was conscious to himself. The psalm shows us the exclusiveness of Hebrew belief, and, at the same time, the nobler and grander feelings which are from time to time found struggling against it. The peculiar privilege of Israel has been stated in the first verse. Silent, yet confident, waiting for Jehovah’s blessing, and then exultant praise for it (Tehillah). In this the other nations have no part; but all flesh may approach Jehovah in prayer (Tephillah). (Compare Psalm 65:5.)
Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.(3) Iniquities.—Literally, Words (or, things) of iniquities, i.e., details of crime, or instances of wickedness. (Comp. Psalm 35:20; Psalm 105:27; Psalm 145:5.)
Prevail.—Better, have prevailed, have overcome me, been too much for me. No doubt, though the pronoun is singular, we are to think of Israel at large here, confessing, by the mouth of the poet, its unworthiness of that Divine communion for which still (see next verse) God had chosen them. This is more in keeping with the general tone of the psalm than to refer the confession to an individual. The LXX. and Vulg. give the pronoun in the plural.
There appears in this verse an antithesis between iniquity and transgression. The latter certainly sometimes seems to be applied in distinction to the violation of the covenant, and possibly the distinction is present here. The frailty and sin common to all flesh has not exempted Israel; but the chosen people have to mourn besides transgressions of their own law. These, however, will be by sacrifice purged away, and then, brought back into full covenant privilege, the offenders will approach the earthly dwelling-place of the Divine, and dwell there.
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.(4) Blessed.—The ellipse of the relative is common enough (see Psalm 34:8, &c), but here the antecedent is wanting as well. Perhaps we ought to read, He whom thou choosest and bringest near shall dwell, &c
Courts.—From a root meaning to wall round; especially applied to the open space within the outer fence of the Tabernacle, or to the different courts of the Temple (Exodus 27:9; 1Kings 6:36; 1Kings 7:12).
We shall be satisfied.—Better, Let us be refreshed.
Thy holy temple.—Literally, The holy of thy temple, which might mean “the holiness of thy temple.”
By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:(5) By terrible things.—Rather, wondrously, a noun used adverbially.
Wilt thou answer us.—Better, Thou dost answer us; describing the usual course of God’s providence. The LXX. and Vulg. make it a prayer: “Hear us.”
The conviction that God, the God of Israel’s salvation or deliverance, would answer wonderfully in righteousness, was, of course, based on the whole experience of the Divine dealings. Righteousness was recognised as the foundation on which the moral order rested.
The confidence of all the ends of the earth.—This might refer to Israel in exile; but it seems more in accordance with the general tenor of the psalm to give the words their widest range. Consciously or unconsciously the whole world rests in God.
Of them that are afar off upon the sea.—Literally, of the sea of those at a distance, i.e., of the farthest seas. (Comp. Isaiah 11:11 : “of the islands of the sea.”)
Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:(6) Girded.—We see the Divine Architect of the world, girt for his labours in the Oriental fashion (see Note, Psalm 18:32), setting the mountains firm on their bases (comp. Psalm 75:3), the poet evidently thinking at the same time how empires, as well as mountains, owe their stability to God.
Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.(7) Tumult.—Here we see the literal passing into the figurative. From the raging seas the poet’s thought goes to the anarchies arising from the wild passions of men, for which in all literature the ocean has furnished metaphors. (Comp. Isaiah 17:12.) In a well-known passage, the Latin poet Virgil reverses the simile, likening the sudden calm which succeeds the storm that wrecked Æneas to the effect produced by a leader of men in a seditious city. (Virgil, Æn. i. 148.)
They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.(8) They also . . .—Or, So they.
The outgoings . . .—A pregnant expression for the rising of the morning and setting of the evening sun. East and west.
To rejoice.—Better, to sing for joy. The whole earth from one utmost bound to the other is vocal with praise of the Creator and Ruler of the universe. So the morning stars sang together at the creation (Job 38:7).
Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.(9) Thou visitest . . .—Better, Thou hast visited. Even if there is not reference to some particular season of plenty, yet with a glance back on the memory of such. Instead of “earth,” perhaps, here, “land.”
Waterest.—Or, floodest. The river of God stands for the rain. There is a Arabic proverb, “When the river of God comes, the river Isa (in Bagdad) ceases.” The Rabbins say, “God has four keys which He never entrusts to any angel, and chief of these is the key of the rain.” (Comp. Job 26:8; Job 28:26; Job 38:28.) The expression “river” for rain is very appropriate of the downpour of a country that has its rainy season. (Comp. “the rushing of the river rain,” Tennyson’s Vivien.)
Thou preparest . . .—The Authorised Version misses the sense, which is, thou preparest their corn when thou hast prepared it (the land) so—i.e., in the manner now to be described. Thus LXX. and Vulgate.
Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.(10) Thou waterest . . . settlest.—Better, by watering . . . settling.
Ridges . . . furrows.—These terms would be better transposed since by “settling” (literally, pressing down) is meant the softening of the ridges of earth between the furrows. The LXX. and Vulgate have “multiply its shoots.”
Showers.—Literally, multitudes (of drops).
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.(11) Thou crownest.—Better, hast crowned. We generally connect the idea of completion with this metaphor, but the original thought in the Hebrew word, as in the Greek στέφω, is probably to encompass. Comp. the Latin corono in Lucretius, 2:802—
“Sylva coronat aquas ingens nemus omne.”
All “the circle of the golden year” had been attended by Divine goodness. The meaning seems to be that God had made a year which was naturally prosperous still more abundant.
Paths.—The root from which the Hebrew word is formed means to roll, or revolve, and it often means the track made by a wheel. This idea may be present since God is often represented in Hebrew poetry as riding on a chariot of clouds, generally with the association of wrath and destruction (Psalm 18:10; Psalm 68:4), but here, with the thought of plenty and peace following on His track, as in the Latin poet—
“Te fugiunt venti, te nubila cœli
Adventumque tuum, tibi suaves dœdala tellus
Submittit flores, tibi rident æquora ponti
Placatumque ridet diffuso lumine cœlum.”
LUCRETIUS, i. 6.
But it is more natural to give the word the meaning revolutions, and to think of the blessings brought by the “seasons as they roll.”
Fatness.—A cognate accusative to the word “drop” used absolutely in the next verse. (Comp. Proverbs 3:20.)
They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.(12) They drop upon.—Supply “fatness” from the last verse.
And the little hills.—See margin. The freshness and beauty of plant life, which suddenly, as by a miracle, in Eastern lands clothes the hill-sides, resembles a fair mantle thrown round their shoulders, as if to deck them for some festival.