Verse 1. - We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. The Law required all Israelites to teach their children the past history of the nation, and especially the mercies which had been vouchsafed to it (see Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26, 27; Exodus 13:8, 10, etc.).
How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
Verse 2. - How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand; i.e. "by thy power." The conquest of Canaan is the historical fact referred to. And plantedst them (comp. Exodus 15:17, "Thou wilt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance;" and see also Psalm 80:8, "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it"). How thou didst afflict the people; rather, the peoples, i.e. the Canaanitish nations. And cast them out. So the LXX, the Vulgate, and even the Revised Version. But most moderns, understanding "them" of Israel, render, but didst spread them out (comp. Psalm 80:11).
For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.
Verse 3. - For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them (comp. Joshua 24:11, 12): but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them (see Deuteronomy 4:37, 38; Joshua 24:11, 18).
Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
Verse 4. - Thou art my King, O God; literally, thou art he that is my King, O God; i.e. I acknowledge no other king but thee, no other absolute lord and master. Command deliverances for Jacob. Being King, thou hast a right to command. We pray thee at this present time to command our deliverance.
Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
Verse 5. - Through thee will we push down our enemies. Do as we ask - command our deliverance - and then we shall assuredly "push down," i.e. overthrow and prostrate, our enemies. Thy help will be found as effectual in the future as in the past. Through thy Name will we tread them under that rise up against us. Having pushed our foes to the ground (comp. Deuteronomy 33:17), we shall then be able to "tread them under." The imagery is drawn from the practice of buffaloes and wild bulls.
For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.
Verse 6. - For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me (comp. ver. 3). My trust, i.e., shall not be in myself, but in thee. The sword and the bow were the ordinary weapons of Israel.
But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.
Verse 7. - But thou hast saved us from our enemies; or, dost save us. It is the voice of confident hope that speaks, not that of gratitude. And hast put them to shame that hated us; rather, and puttest them to shame that hate us. The writer is sure that God will do in the future as he has done in the past, and will raise Israel up again from the low estate into which they have been brought by disaster.
In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah.
Verse 8. - In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy Name for ever. We boast of God as our God, who saves us, and puts to shame our enemies (see ver. 7).
But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.
Verses 9-16. - These verses form the second stanza, and are a loud and bitter complaint. God has recently dealt with Israel exceptionally - has seemed to "cast them off," has "put them to shame," allowed them to be defeated and despoiled, slain and carried into captivity, made a scorn and a derision, a reproach and a byword. He no longer "goes forth with their armies," to secure them victory over their foes, but holds aloof, and covers them with confusion. The description implies, not a single defeat, but a somewhat prolonged period of depression, during which several "armies" have been beaten, several battles lost, multitudes slain, and great numbers carried away captive (ver. 11). Still, a general captivity, like the Babylonian, is certainly not spoken cf. The nation is as yet unconquered. It needs but a return of God's favour to turn the vanquished into the victors, and to replace shame by boasting. Verse 9. - But thou hast cast off (comp. Psalm 43:2) and put us to shame (see also ver. 16). It is the shame of defeat, rather than the physical pains or material losses, that grieve the writer. And goest not forth with our armies. Israel has still "armies" at her disposal. It is therefore certainly not the early Maccabean period, nor the time of the expiring monarchy. Her armies have free play, are sent forth, only God does not "go forth" with them (comp. Psalm 60:10).
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.
Verse 10. - Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy. Thou bringest it to pass that we turn our backs in shameful flight from the enemy, either making a feeble resistance or none at all. And they which hate us spoil for themselves. Spoil us of our arms and ornaments, which they seize and appropriate.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.
Verse 11. - Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat. "As sheep for the shambles" (Kay) - a free translation, which well expresses the meaning. And hast scattered us among the heathen. Either "caused us to disperse ourselves among our heathen neighbours," or "to be sold for slaves among them by our captors." No general dispersion of the nation is intended.
Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.
Verse 12. - Thou sellest thy people for nought; literally, for not-wealth (comp. Jeremiah 15:13). The whole people is regarded, not as sold for slaves, but as delivered over to the will of their enemies; and all "for nought," God gaining nothing in exchange. Thou dost not increase thy wealth by their price. A repetition for the sake of emphasis, but adding no new idea.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
Verse 13. - Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours (comp. Psalm 42:10; Psalm 79:4; Psalm 80:6). They would be reproached, not so much as cowards, or as weak and powerless themselves, but rather as having a weak and powerless God (comp. 2 Kings 18:33-35; 2 Kings 19:12). A scorn and a derision to them that are round about us. (For instances of the "scorn and derision" whereto the Israelites were exposed at the hands of the heathen, see 2 Kings 18:23, 24; 2 Kings 19:23, 24; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:2, 3; Psalm 79:4; Psalm 137:7.)
Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.
Verse 14. - Thou makest us a byword among the heathen (comp. Job 17:6; Jeremiah 24:9). A shaking of the head among the people; rather, among the peoples (comp. Psalm 22:7).
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,
Verse 15. - My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me (see the comment on ver. 9).
For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger.
Verse 16. - For the voice of him that re-proacheth and blasphemeth. The reproaches of the heathen were most commonly "blasphemies," since they consisted very mainly of contemptuous expressions against the God of Israel (see the comment on ver. 13; and comp. Isaiah 37:3, 23). By reason of the enemy and avenger. The persons by whom the blasphemous reproaches were uttered - Israel's enemies bent on avenging former losses and defeats.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
Verses 17-22. - In this third stanza the psalmist strongly emphasizes his complaint by maintaining that the calamities from which they are suffering have not come upon the people through any fault of their own, or been in any way provoked or deserved He is, perhaps, over-confident; but we cannot doubt that he is sincere in the belief, which he expresses, that the people, both before and during their calamities, have been obedient and faithful to God, wholly free from idolatry, and exemplary in their conduct and life. There are not many periods of Israelite history at which such a description could have been given without manifest untruth, and the time of David is certainly more suitable for it than almost any other. Verse 17. - All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Israel had neither put aside the thought of religion, and given herself up to wordliness, nor yet, while still professedly religious, transgressed habitually God's commandments. She maintained "thorough sincerity in religion, and consistent integrity of life." Yet "all this" - all that has been described in vers. 9-16 - had come upon her.
Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way;
Verse 18. - Our heart is not turned back; i.e. turned away from God, as it was when they passed through the wilderness (Psalm 78:41). Neither have our steps declined from thy way. Neither in respect of inward feeling nor of outward act have we strayed from the right path.
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.
Verse 19. - Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons; rather, in the place of jackals; i.e. in wild and desolate regions, where jackals abound (comp. Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:13). The expression is probably used metaphorically. And covered us with the shadow of death. Brought us, i.e., into imminent peril of destruction (see vers. 10, 11).
If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
Verse 20. - If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out (rather, spread out) our hands to a strange god. If Israel had either forgotten the true God (see above, ver. 17) or fallen away to the worship of false or strange gods - then her ill success against her foreign enemies would have been fully accounted for, since it would only have been in accordance with the threatenings of the Law (Leviticus 26:14-17; Deuteronomy 28:15-23); but as she had done neither of these things, her defeats and depressed condition seemed to the psalmist wholly unaccountable. We trace here the same current belief, which comes out so strongly in the Book of Job - the belief that calamities were, almost of necessity, punishments for sin; and that when they occurred, and there had been no known precedent misconduct, the case was abnormal and extraordinary.
Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Verse 21. - Shall not God search this out! i.e. visit for it - punish it. Such a result was to be expected. But when there had been no precedent idolatry, no neglect of the worship of Jehovah, what then? For he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Secret idolatry would, of course, explain the state of things; but the writer evidently knows of no secret idolatry.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
Verse 22. - Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; or, continually, as the phrase is often translated. Not only are the Israelites not suffering on account of any previous desertion of God, or other misconduct, but they are suffering for their fidelity to God. The heathen hate them, and make war upon them, as worshippers of one exclusive God, Jehovah, and contemners of their many gods, whom they hold to be "no-gods." They are martyrs, like the Christians of the early Church (see Romans 8:36). We are counted as sheep for the slaughter (comp. ver. 11).
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.
Verses 23-26. - The appeal to God is now made, after the case has been fully represented. God has always hitherto maintained the cause of his people, and given them victory over their enemies, unless they had fallen away from him (vers. 1-8). Now he has acted otherwise - he has allowed their enemies to triumph (vers. 9-16). And they have given him no reason for his desertion of them (vers. 17-22). Surely, if they call upon him, and plead their cause before him, he will relent, and come to their aid. The appeal, therefore, is made briefly, but in the most moving terms. Verse 23. - Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? The psalmist does not really believe that Jehovah "sleeps." The heathen might so imagine of their gods (1 Kings 18:27), but not an Israelite. An Israelite would be sure that "he that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121:4). The writer consciously uses an anthropomorphism, really intending only to call on God to rouse himself from his inaction, and lay it aside, and come to Israel's aid. Arise (see Psalm 7:6; Psalm 9:19; Psalm 10:12, etc.). Cast us not off for ever (comp. ver. 9). Under the existing peril, for God to cast off his people will be to cast them off for ever. They had no strength of their own that could save them.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
Verse 24. - Wherefore hidest thou thy face (comp. Psalm 13:1; Psalm 27:9; Psalm 69:17, etc.). And forgettest our affliction and our oppression? (see Psalm 13:1; Psalm 74:19).
For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
Verse 25. - For our soul is bowed down to the dust; i.e. brought very low, humbled, as it were, to the earth, so weakened that it has no strength in it. Our belly cleaveth unto the earth. The body participates in the soul's depression, and lies prostrate on the ground.
Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake.