Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.
Verse 1. - Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous (see the first clause of Psalm 32:11, of which this is almost a repetition; and comp. also Psalm 68:3; Psalm 97:12). For praise is comely for the upright. The Prayer-book Version gives the meaning, less literally, but in more idiomatic English, "For it becometh well the just to be thankful."
Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
Verse 2. - Praise the Lord with harp. The harp obtains mention here for the first time in the Psalms. Reference, however, had been made to it previously in Genesis, Job, and the First Book of Samuel. There is reason to believe that the instrument, as known to the Hebrews, was a simple one, consisting of a nearly triangular framework of wood, crossed by seven strings. The Egyptians were acquainted from early times with a very much more elaborate instrument - harps which stood six feet high upon a broad base of their own, and had as many as twenty-two strings (Rawlinson, 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 521). The harp was regarded by the Hebrews as peculiarly fitted for sacred music (see 1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 3, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 29:25; Nehemiah 12:27, etc.). Sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings; rather, sing unto him with the lute of ten strings. One instrument only is here mentioned - a lute or psaltery (nebel), having ten strings (comp. Psalm 92:3; Psalm 144:9). The nebel was an instrument differing from the harp chiefly in the arrangement of the strings. It was used in the temple service, as appears from 1 Chronicles 15:6, 28; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 29:25, etc.
Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.
Verse 3. - Sing unto him a new song (comp. Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3). Not necessarily a song unheard before, but one fresh from the singer's heart. Play skilfully with a loud noise. The loudness of a thanksgiving song was regarded as an indication of its heartiness (comp. Psalm 98:4; Psalm 100:1; Psalm 150:5; and see also 2 Chronicles 20:19; 2 Chronicles 30:21; Ezra 3:11-13; Nehemiah 12:42).
For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.
Verse 4. - The psalmist proceeds to give reasons why God is to be praised, and puts in the forefront this reason: For the word of the lord is right; i.e. the revealed will of God is exactly in accord with the eternal rule of right. We cannot imagine it otherwise, for God would contradict his own nature, if he ordained by a positive law anything contrary to that rule. But still we maybe thankful that there is no such contradiction - that "the Law is holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12). And all his works are done in truth (comp. Psalm 111:7, 8, "The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and equity"). All God's working (מעשׂה), all his dealings with his creatures have truth and equity and faithfulness for their basis. He can be thoroughly trusted. This is a second and very strong ground for thanksgiving.
He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
Verse 5. - He loveth righteousness and judgment. "Righteousness" is the essential principle of justice; "judgment," the carrying out of the principle in act. God loves both - a further ground for praising him. The earth is full of the goodness (or, loving-kindness) of the Lord (comp. Psalm 119:64). The earth is full, not only of God's glory (Isaiah 6:3) and of his riches (Psalm 104:24), but also of his mercy, or loving-kindness (חסד) - a ground of thankfulness that all will acknowledge.
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
Verse 6. - By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. God is to be praised, not only for his goodness, but also for his greatness, and especially for his greatness in creation (see Psalm 19:1-6). The heavens were made "by his word" in a double sense - by the Word, who is the Second Person of the Trinity (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2, 10), and by a mere utterance, without the employment of any mechanical means, as we learn from Genesis 1:6-8. And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. The "host of heaven" is here, undoubtedly, the host of heavenly bodies - the sun, moon, and stars - as in Genesis 2:1. These were made "by the breath of God's mouth;" i.e. by his simple utterance of the command - "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night" (Genesis 1:14; comp. Job 26:13).
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.
Verse 7. - He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap. An allusion to Genesis 1:8, but with a glance also at Exodus 15:8 and Joshua 3:13-16; as if the original gathering, and continued retention, of the sea in one convex mass were as great a proof of omnipotence as the miracles related in those passages. Nes (נֵס), "a heap" occurs only in the places cited, here, and in Psalm 78:13. He layeth up the depth in storehouses; literally, the deeps. The waters of the great deep are regarded as stored up by the Almighty in the hugo cavities of the ocean bed for his own use, to be employed at some time or other in carrying out his purposes (comp. Genesis 7:11 and Job 38:22, 23).
Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
Verses 8-11. - From the exhortation in ver. 1, addressed to the righteous, to praise the Lord, the psalmist passes now to a second exhortation, addressed to all mankind, to fear the Lord. And as before in vers. 4-7, so now in veto. 9-11, he assigns reasons. God is to be feared
(1) on account of the power which he showed in creation (ver. 9);
(2) on account of his ability to baffle all human counsels that are opposed to him (ver. 10); and
(3) on account of the unehangeableness and perpetuity of his own counsels, which nothing can alter (ver. 11). Verse 8. - Let all the earth fear the Lord. The righteous alone have a right to "praise" God (see ver. 1), but "all the earth" - i.e. all mankind - may be called upon to "fear" him. He is an object of awe and true "godly fear" to godly men; to the ungodly he is an object of terror and servile fear. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. Here again, as so often, the second hemistich merely echoes the first.
For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.
Verse 9. - For he spake, and it was done; rather, and it was; the thing of which he spake at once existed. See the passage of Genesis which Longinus thought so striking an instance of the sublime, "And God said, Let there be light; and there was light" (Genesis 1:8). He commanded, and it stood fast; literally, and it stood. God's lightest word, once uttered, is a standing law, to which nature absolutely conforms, and man ought to conform (comp. Psalm 119:90, 91).
The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.
Verse 10. - The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; literally, frustrates the counsel of the heathen, causes it to fail (see 2 Kings 6:8-12; Daniel 6:5-28). He maketh the devices of the people - rather, the peoples - of none effect. Another instance of the mere repetition of a thought in other words.
The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Verse 11. - The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations; or, the thoughts of his heart - the same word as in the latter clause of the preceding verse. The contrast is made as complete as possible. Human counsels and devices fail and come to nought, the Divine counsels and devices abide, stand fast, and remain firm for ever (comp. Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 25:1; James 1:17).
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
Verses 12-19. - Further reasons for praising God are now assigned, the recitation of them being itself a sort of praise.
1. God has Blessed especially one nation - the nation now called upon to praise him (ver. 12).
2. His providence and care are extended over all mankind (vers. 13, 14).
3. His gracious influences are poured out on the hearts of all (ver. 15).
4. He is the sole Protector and Deliverer of men from danger and death (vers. 16-19). Verse 12. - Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (comp. Psalm 144:15). In other words, "Blessed is the people of Israel." Other nations did not know God as Jehovah - the Self-existent One - or, indeed, as a general rule, recognize any one and only God. And the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The intrusion of the word "and" is unfortunate. One "nation" or "people" only is spoken of, viz. the Hebrews. They are "blessed" in two respects: first, because they know God as Jehovah; and secondly, because he has chosen them out of all the nations of the earth to be his "peculiar people" (see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Kings 8:53; Psalm 135:4, etc.).
The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.
Verse 13. - The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men (comp. Psalm 11:4: 14:2; 102:19). God's having any care at all for man is a wondrous condescension, and so worthy of all praise; his having regard to all men - all the frail sons of weak and sinful Adam - is still more wonderful, still more deserving of eulogy.
From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.
Verse 14. - From the place of his habitation (i.e. heaven) he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. A repetition of the thought expressed in ver. 13 for the sake of emphasis.
He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.
Verse 15. - He fashioneth their hearts alike; rather, he mouldeth the hearts of them all. The hearts of all men are in God's keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to "mould" them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are. He considereth all their works; rather, he understandeth all their works - estimates, i.e., all they do at its just value, knowing the true nature of each act, its motive, aim, essence.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.
Verse 16. - There is no king saved by the multitude of an host; literally, the king is not saved by the greatness of his host. The article, however, is used generically, as it is with "horse" in the next verse, so that the translation of the Authorized Version gives the true sense. (For illustration of the sentiment, see 2 Chronicles 14:11; 1 Macc. 3:19.) A mighty man is not delivered by much strength (comp. 1 Samuel 17:47).
An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.
Verse 17. - A horse is a vain thing for safety; literally, the horse; i.e. the species, horse, is not to be depended on for safety - it is "a vain thing," quite unable to secure victory, or even escape, to those who trust in it. The use of the horse in war seems certainly to be implied here as familiar to the writer, whence it is rightly concluded that he must have lived later than the time of David. Solomon was the first Israelite king who enrolled a chariot and a cavalry force (1 Kings 10:26). Neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. (On the "great strength" of the horse, see Job 39:19; Psalm 147:10.)
Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;
Verse 18. - Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him; upon them that hope in his mercy. The eye of the Lord is in a certain sense upon all (vers. 13, 14), but it rests especially upon the righteous. He notes how all men act, but carefully watches over the safety and prosperity of his faithful ones
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
Verse 19. - To deliver their soul from death. The protection and deliverance, which a man's own strength cannot give, which no host, however numerous, can afford (ver. 16), which are not to be obtained from the largest chariot or cavalry force (ver. 17), can he and will be furnished freely by God, who alone keeps souls from death, and "delivers" those who are in peril. And to keep them alive in famine. Famine was a calamity from which Palestine often suffered (see Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 42:5; Ruth 1:1; 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Kings 8:1, etc.). The righteous were sometimes "kept alive" through a time of famine by miraculous means (1 Kings 17:6, 16).
Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.
Verses 20-22. - A brief address of the people to God, arising out of what has been declared concerning his goodness (vers. 4, 5, 12-19) and his power (vers. 6-11), which constitute a call upon them for praise and adoration. Verse 20. - Our soul waiteth for the Lord (comp. Psalm 25:21; Psalm 62:1, 5; Psalm 130:5, 6, etc.). Confident in God's good will, and in his power to help us, we wait patiently and cheerfully for him to manifest himself in his own good time. He is our Help and our Shield. We trust in no one and nothing but him - not in armies (ver. 16), not in horses (ver. 17), not in our own strength (ver. 16). He alone is our dependence. (For the use of the metaphor "shield" for defence, see Psalm 5:12; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 91:4; Psalm 119:114, etc.)
For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.
Verse 21. - For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy Name (comp. Psalm 13:5, where the sentiment is the same). Trust in God secures his help, and this brings the deliverance at which the heart rejoices.
Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.
Verse 22. - Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee. The measure of men's hope and trust in God is the measure of his mercy and goodness to them. Those who are assured that they have a full trust in him may confidently expect a fall and complete deliverance. Thus, "according as" - כַאֲשֶׁר - is emphatic.