Verse 1. - Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let them also that hate him flee before him. Compare the chant with which the ark set forth in the wilderness, "Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee" (Numbers 10:35). Both utterances are expressions of confidence, that, whenever God arises, his enemies will be scattered and dispersed before him. Neither refers to any one special occasion.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
Verse 2. - As smoke is driven away, so drive them away. As clouds of smoke are dispersed and driven away by the wind, and totally disappear, so let God, whenever his enemies congregate, scatter and disperse them, and reduce them to nothingness. As wax melteth before the firs, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. As smoke vanishes, so wax entirely melts away and disappears before a hot fire (comp. Psalm 22:14; Psalm 97:5).
But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
Verse 3. - But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. When the wicked are destroyed, the righteous receive relief, and cannot but rejoice at God's goodness to them (comp. Psalm 52:6; Psalm 58:10; Psalm 64:7-10, etc.).
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.
Verse 4. - Sing unto God, sing praises to his Name (comp. Psalm 64:4): extol him that rideth upon the heavens. This passage is now generally translated, Cast up a highway for him that rideth through the deserts (Hengstenberg, Kay, Dean Johnson, Professor Cheyne, Revised Version). The image is that of a king travelling through a waste, for whom a way was made beforehand (comp. Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 49:11). By his name Jah; rather, Jah is his Name. "Jah" - the shortened form of "Jehovah" - occurs first in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2). It is repeated here in ver. 18, and recurs in Isaiah 26:4. Dr. Kay suggests that "it represents the concentration of God's redeeming power and love." And rejoice before him (comp. ver. 3).
A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.
Verse 5. - A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God. A defender, i.e., of the oppressed and downtrodden (comp. Isaiah 1:17). In his holy habitation. The heavenly and not the earthly dwelling place - whether tabernacle or temple - seems to be intended. God from his holy seat in the highest heaven pours clown his grace and mercy, his defence and protection, on all those who specially need his aid.
God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.
Verse 6. - God setteth the solitary in families; or, in a home; i.e. gives "solitary ones" - outcasts, wanderers - a home to dwell in. The reference is to the settlement of the nomadic Israelites in Canaan. He bringeth out those which are bound (see Psalm 146:7, "The Lord looseth the prisoners;" and compare the many references to the "bondage" of Israel in Egypt). The Exodus is glanced at, but not exclusively. God "brings men out" from the tyranny of worldly oppressors, of ghostly enemies, and of their own lusts and sins. With chains; rather, into prosperity (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). But the rebellious dwell in a dry land. Rebels against God are not "brought out." They are left to dwell in the "dry land" of their own impenitence and self-will (comp. Numbers 14:29-35).
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:
Verses 7-10. - In the central portion of the psalm, from ver. 7 to ver. 28, God is praised for his doings in connection with the history of Israel; and, first of all, in the present passage, for his doings at Sinai and in the wilderness. Verse 7. - O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people (see Exodus 13:20-22). The present verse and the next are an echo of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:4, 5), "Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water; the mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel." When thou didst march through the wilderness. The entire march from Etham to Pisgah is in the poet's mind; but he can touch only certain features of it. And first, the scene at Sinai.
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Verse 8. - The earth shook, the heavens also dropped, at the presence of God (see Exodus 19:16-18; Deuteronomy 5:22, 23). The "dropping" of the heavens was the descent of a thick thundercloud upon the mount, which rested upon it, and spread around a dense and weird darkness. Even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God; literally, yonder Sinai, as if it were in sight, and could be pointed at. The God of Israel. Our God, who did all these great things for us.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.
Verse 9. - Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain. Not a literal rain, but a shower of blessings - manna, quails, water out of the rock, protection against enemies, victories, etc. Whereby thou didst confirm (or, establish) thine inheritance (see 2 Samuel 7:13). When it was weary. The wandering in the wilderness must have been inexpressibly dull and wearisome, especially to those who had left Egypt with the hope of a quick march through the waste, and a speedy entrance into "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17). The "establishment" in Palestine under Joshua was a blessing that could not but be highly valued after well nigh a century of cruel bondage in Egypt, and forty years of aimless wandering in the Sinaitic peninsula.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.
Verse 10. - Thy congregation hath dwelt therein; thy troop, or thy host (see 2 Samuel 23:11, 13). The word used (חיּה) is an unusual one. Thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor; or, thou, O God, didst in thy goodness make preparation for the poor. "The poor" are the Israelites, brought low by their sufferings in Egypt and the wilderness; the preparations those by which their conquest of Palestine was facilitated (Exodus 25:28; Joshua 24:12).
The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.
Verses 11-23. - From God's mercies to his people at Sinai and in the wilderness, the psalmist goes on to consider those connected with the conquest of Canaan, and the establishment of David's widespread rule. The passage is difficult and obscure, perhaps from its embodying fragments of the earlier Hebrew poetry. It is also full of curious transitions, and of ellipses which make the meaning doubtful. Verse 11. - The Lord gave the word. The reader naturally asks - What word? Commentators answer variously: "the watchword" (Cheyne); "promise of victory" (Kay); "the word of command" (Dean Johnson); "announcement of an actual victory gained" (Hengstenberg). I should rather understand a sort of creative word, initiating the period of strife (comp. Shakespeare's "Cry havock, and let slip the dogs of war!"). Great was the company of those that published it; literally, great was the company of the women that heralded it. The reference is to the female choirs which took a prominent part in the war songs of ancient days (see Exodus 15:20, 21; Judges 5:1; 1 Samuel 18:6, 7).
Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil.
Verse 12. - Kings of armies did flee apace; literally, did flee - did flee; i.e. fled repeatedly before Israel (see Joshua 8:19-22; Joshua 10:19, 20; Joshua 11:8, 9; Judges 3:10, 29; Judges 4:14-16; Judges 7:19-25; Judges 8:11, 12; Judges 11:29-33; Judges 15:14-16; 1 Samuel 7:10, 11; 1 Samuel 11:11; 1 Samuel 14:47, 48; 1 Samuel 15:7, 8; 1 Samuel 17:52; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1, 2, 4, 5, 13; 2 Samuel 10:6-18, etc.). And she that tarried at home divided the spoil. The wives of the conquerors shared in the spoil when it was brought home (Judges 5:28-30).
Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.
Verse 13. - Though ye have lien among the pots; rather, Will ye lie down among the sheepfolds? Will ye, O ye laggarts of Israel, like the Reubenites in the war against Sisera, instead of going out to war with your brethren, "abide among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks" (see Judges 5:16)? Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. It is certainly wrong to supply, yet shall ye be before as the wings of a dove." There can be no promise of good made to these laggarts. Probably the meaning is, "Will ye be," or "Will ye seek to be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers of yellow gold?" i.e. Will ye abide in your prosperity and your riches, decked in gorgeous apparel, resplendent with silver and gold, while your brethren are bearing the brunt of battle, with all its ghastly sights and sounds, in your and the land's defence?
When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon.
Verse 14. - When the Almighty scattered kings in it; i.e. "in the land" (comp. ver. 10). Most of the defeats of kings, referred to above (see the comment on ver. 12), took place within the limits of Palestine. It was white as snow in Salmon. The present text has only the two words which mean, "it snows on Salmon;" whence it is concluded that something must have fallen out. Professor Cheyne supplies כְּמוֵ הַשֶּׁלֶג like snow," and understands the passage to mean that, when the kings were scattered, "it was like snow when it snows on Salmon" - the ground was all covered with glistering arms, armour, and garments. Salmon was a wooded hill near Shechem (Judges 9:48).
The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan; an high hill as the hill of Bashan.
Verse 15. - The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan; rather, a mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan. A sudden transition, and perhaps a quotation from an ancient poem. The special object of the psalmist's thought is not Bashan, but Mount Zion; and what he is about to celebrate is Jehovah's choice of Mount Zion for his dwelling place, and his establishment on it. But he prefers to introduce the subject by a contrast with the great range of Canaan. Bashan, he says, is truly "a mountain of God" - i.e. a very great mountain (see the comment on Psalm 36:6) - "one which seemed in an especial degree to show forth creative power." It is also an high hill; or rather, a mountain of peaks, containing numerous pointed summits. Yet God did not choose one of these for his habitation.
Why leap ye, ye high hills? this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the LORD will dwell in it for ever.
Verse 16. - Why leap ye, ye high hills? rather, Why look ye askance, ye mountains of peaks? In jealousy at not being chosen. This is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; rather, on the mountain which God desireth to dwell in - a continuation of the preceding sentence. The mountain intended is, of course, Mount Zion, a comparatively low elevation. Yea, the Lord will dwell in it forever; i.e. make it his permanent, not merely his temporary, habitation, like Sinai.
The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.
Verse 17. - The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. Another abrupt transition. The psalmist sees God move from Sinai, where he had represented him as present in ver. 8, into the sanctuary of Mount Zion. He is, of course, accompanied by his angelic host. This is described as a host of chariots (comp. 2 Kings 6:17) -twenty thousand in number, and "thousands of repetition" - or thousands multiplied by thousands, as Hengstenberg understands the phrase (comp. Daniel 7:10). The Lord (Jehovah) is among them; or, "in their midst." As in Sinai, in the holy place; rather, Sinai is in the sanctuary. The glories of Sinai are, as it were, transferred thither.
Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
Verse 18. - Thou hast ascended on high; i.e. ascended into the sanctuary, Mount Zion - gone up with the ark when it was transferred thither (see 2 Samuel 6:12-19; 1 Chronicles 15:11-28). Thou hast led captivity captive; i.e. thou hast made many captives - or enabled us to take many prisoners. Thou hast received gifts for men; rather, among men. Tribute from Israel's enemies is probably intended (see 2 Samuel 8:2; comp. 1 Kings 4:21). Yea, for the rebellious also; literally, yea, rebels also; i.e. enemies, that when reduced have rebelled, and then submitted to pay tribute a second time. That the Lord God (Jah Elohim) might dwell among them; "That God, after the nations had been subdued and submitted themselves, might rest quietly thenceforth in Zion."
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.
Verse 19. - Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation; rather, blessed be the Lord day by day; he will bear (our burden) for us, (he is) the God of our salvation.
He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.
Verse 20. - He that is our God is the God of salvation; rather, God is to us a God of saving deeds (Kay), or of deliverances (Revised Version); i.e. net of salvation only in the abstract (ver. 19), but of deeds by which we are saved. And unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. It is through God only that, when death threatens, men escape it.
But God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.
Verse 21. - But God shall wound the head of his enemies; or, "yet surely God will smite," etc. Though he gives escape from death, yet he will not do so always. On the contrary, he will assuredly smite and destroy his enemies, wounding them where a wound is fatal. And the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses. "The hairy scalp," says Dr. Kay, "points almost certainly to Absalom." Others take it as merely indicating the young and strong.
The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea:
Verse 22. - The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea. Our translators' interpolation of the words, "my people," is unhappy. The psalmist means to represent God as threatening his enemies, not as encouraging his faithful ones. Though his enemies (ver. 21) fly to Bashan and bury themselves in its woods, or though they even hide themselves in the depths of the sea, he will search them out, and "bring them back," that vengeance may be taken on them (see ver. 23).
That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same.
Verse 23. - That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies; i.e. "I will bring them back for thee, my people, to dip your feet in their blood." The same metaphor is used in Isaiah 63:1-3; but it is God himself who, in that passage, has his feet reddened in his enemies' blood, And the tongue of thy dogs in the same. The Authorized Version has omitted one word of the original here. Translate, And that the tongue of thy dogs may have its portion from the same (comp. 2 Kings 9:35; Jeremiah 15:3).
They have seen thy goings, O God; even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary.
Verses 24-27. - Again we find a transition. The conquest of Canaan is complete - God is gone up into his sanctuary. The nations are led captive or put to tribute Rebels are crushed; the last remnants of them sought out, brought back, and delivered into the hands of Israel. Now we have a description of God's "goings in the sanctuary" (ver. 24). Some critics suppose a particular occasion to be pointed at; but the expression "goings" rather indicates something habitual, or, at any rate, recurring. God is from time to time glorified in his sanctuary by ceremonies which the poet describes. Verse 24. - They have seen thy goings, O God; i.e. men have seen - friends and foes alike - even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary. God is at once both Israel's God and Israel's King. The monarchy has not wholly destroyed the theocracy.
The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels.
Verse 25. - The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after (comp. 2 Samuel 6:15; 1 Chronicles 15:16-28). In Assyrian musical processions the players on instruments precede the singers ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1, p. 542). Among them were the damsels playing with timbrels; rather, in the midst of the damsels, etc. The damsels are represented, not as intermixed with the (male) singers and players on instruments, but as encircling them. (On the use of "timbrels" (tambourines) by Israelite maidens, see Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34.)
Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel.
Verse 26. - Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel. This is probably the refrain of the hymn sung (comp. Exodus 15:21; 2 Chronicles 5:13; Ezra 3:11). By "the fountain of Israel" is no doubt meant the sanctuary on Mount Zion - "the ever-living fountain of praise" (Kay).
There is little Benjamin with their ruler, the princes of Judah and their council, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali.
Verse 27. - There is little Benjamin with their ruler. "With" is wrongly supplied by our translators. "Little Benjamin" the "smallest of the tribes of Israel" (1 Samuel 9:21) - is called "their ruler," as having furnished the first king, and the one who began the conquests celebrated in vers. 11-23. If the psalm is to be accounted as David's, we may note it as a graceful act on his part that he places Saul's tribe first. The princes of Judah and their council. Again "and" is wrongly supplied. "The princes of Judah" are called "their council," or "their bulwark" (Kay), as holding the most important position in Israel at the time. The reading, however, is doubtful. The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali. Four tribes only are mentioned, not because no more than four took part in the processions, but as representatives of the whole number. The tribes selected for mention are from the two ends of the land - the extreme south and the extreme north. Zebulun and Naphtali were the most important of the northern tribes (see Judges 4:6, 10; Judges 5:18), as Judah and Benjamin were of the southern ones.
Thy God hath commanded thy strength: strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.
Verses 28-35. - The psalmist now turns to the future. First, he prays that God will complete the work which he has begun by continually strengthening Israel (ver. 28). Then he rises to prophecy. Kings and princes shall bring presents to Zion; empires shall prostrate themselves; Egypt and Ethiopia shall hasten to bow down; all the kingdoms of the earth shall ultimately "sing praises unto the Lord." Israel and the God of Israel will thus be glorified exceedingly. Verse 28. - Thy God hath commanded (or, ordained) thy strength. It is fixed in the Divine counsels that Israel shall be strong. This was determined long ago, and is in course of accomplishment. But more is needed. The psalmist therefore prays, Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us. Complete thy work; "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees;" weaken also and bring down our enemies (ver. 30).
Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee.
Verse 29. - Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee. So Ewald, Kay, and the Revised Version, though critics generally doubt whether min can have this meaning. If min has its usual sense of "from," we must regard the kings as having entered the temple courts, and from thence stretching out their hands, and offering their gifts, to God, who is in the holy of holies. (On the offering of gifts by heathen kings, see Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:16; and comp. Psalm 72:10.)
Rebuke the company of spearmen, the multitude of the bulls, with the calves of the people, till every one submit himself with pieces of silver: scatter thou the people that delight in war.
Verse 30. - Rebuke the company of spear men; rather, the wild beast of the reeds; i.e. the crocodile or the hippopotamus, either of which may well symbolize the empire of Egypt, the mightiest of the heathen powers in David's time. The multitude of the bulls represents other heathen powers, Assyria perhaps especially, which had the human-headed and winged bull for its principal emblem. With the calves of the people; rather, of peoples - an obscure phrase, perhaps meaning inferior powers. Till every one submit himself with pieces of silver; literally, (each) submitting himself to thee with pieces of silver. This is given as the result of the rebukes. When the various earth powers have been "rebuked" or chastised by God, then they will submit to bring gifts, or pay tribute, to Israel (comp. ver. 18). Scatter thou the people that delight in war. This is exegetical of the first clause - rebuke these various world powers that delight in war by "scattering" them, or putting them to flight before their enemies.
Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.
Verse 31. - Princes shall come out of Egypt. Then shall princely ambassadors come to Zion out of Egypt, and make submission (comp. Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14). Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. The Ptolemies, in their wars with Syria, often sought the favour of the Jews. Christian Churches at an early date were established both in Egypt and in Abyssinia, and some of the most promising mission fields today are in Africa.
Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord; Selah:
Verse 32. - Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord. All the world powers having submitted to the Church, all the kingdoms of the earth can be called upon to join in the praise of God.
To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old; lo, he doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice.
Verse 33. - To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens (comp. ver. 4; and for the expression "heavens of heavens," see Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27). Which were of old. In which God dwelt from all eternity - long before he created the "heavens" of Genesis 1:1. Lo, he doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice. A voice that is heard and obeyed in every part of creation.
Ascribe ye strength unto God: his excellency is over Israel, and his strength is in the clouds.
Verse 34. - Ascribe ye strength unto God; or, "might," "power" - that which makes him Shaddai, "the Almighty." His excellency is over Israel; or, "his majesty" (Kay). And his strength is in the clouds. Not in earth only, but in heaven also.
O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places: the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Blessed be God.
Verse 35. - O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places. "Terrible," i.e., in the things that thou accomplishest out of thy holy places," as Sinai, Zion, heaven. (On the "terribleness" of God, see Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 37:22; Psalm 47:2; Psalm 66:3, 5; Jeremiah 20:11; Zephaniah 2:11; Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 4:14; 6:32; Hebrews 12:29.) The God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people (comp. ver. 28). Blessed be God. A worthy ending to this glorious hymn of praise.