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A Commentary On Psalms

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Fifth Section Of The Book Of Psalms.

The Book of Psalms divides up into five sections, of which this is the fifth. Each of which ends with a special ‘blessing’. These are as follows:

  • Book 1. Psalms 1-41, which ends with ‘blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen and Amen.’
  • Book 2. Psalms 42-72 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH God, the God of Israel, Who only does wonderful things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.
  • Book 3. Psalms 73-89 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH for evermore. Amen and Amen.
  • Book 4. Psalms 90-106 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting, and let all the people say, “Amen”. Praise you YHWH.’
  • Book 5. Psalms 107-150 which ends with ‘Let everything that has breath praise YHWH’. Praise you YHWH.’

In the case of the first three sections the blessing is additional to the final Psalm which would be complete without it, but in sections four and five the blessing is an integral part of the Psalm.

In this section there are a number of Psalms which are headed ‘A Song Of Ascents or Goings Up’ (120-134). These may well have especially been used when the Israelites made their way up to The Tabernacle and then the Temple, for the great Feasts. A good number of the Psalms, including some of these, are attributed to David (108-110, 122, 124, 131, 138-145), and of these two are dedicated to the Chief Musician or Choirmaster (139, 140). One is said to have been written ‘when he was in the cave’ (142). One Psalm, a ‘Song of Ascents’, is attributed to Solomon (127). Apart from these the Psalms in this section have no headings which indicates how ancient the headings must be. They were clearly not just added casually or haphazardly.

Psalm 107.

This Psalm, which is about those who have been ‘redeemed’ from all parts of the world (verses 2-3), presumably from exile, was probably written some time after the restoration which followed the Exile. It is carefully constructed and structured. After the introductory verses (verses 1-3) we have four subsections, each outlining a state of need before YHWH where men are in desperate situations, leading up to the idea that they ‘cried to YHWH in their trouble’ and received a positive response (verses 6, 13, 19, 28). Each of these sections then ends with the call to praise and gratitude, ‘Oh that men would praise YHWH for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men’ (verses 8, 15, 21, 31), words which are followed in the first two cases by examples of those wonderful works, and in the second two by calls to praise, worship and thanksgiving. It would, however, be misleading to try to relate all these examples to specific situations among the exiles, for verses 23-30 concerning storms at sea certainly do not fit such a pattern unless forced. They appear rather to refer rather to general afflictions that men in those days faced from which YHWH was able to deliver them, although no doubt in some cases also having the Restoration in mind. But the Psalmist wants his words to apply to every generation.

Following these four subsections we then have two further subsections. These describe more general situations which are not brought to a timely end. In the first we have a deliberate contrasting parallel between YHWH punishing the wicked by removing water from their lands (verses 33-34), and YHWH blessing the hungry by providing their lands with water and making full provision for them. Here the hungry are clearly the righteous. Whilst they may hunger they also hunger after righteousness, which is why God blesses them.

The second subsection opens and closes with the idea that YHWH multiplies the offspring of the hungry, afflicted and needy and watches over them (verses 38, 41), whilst dealing severely with those in whose lives are wickedness. In both these subsections we are reminded of the words, ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away’ (Luke 1.53). It is a general principle of life not always apparent at particular times. Those who are humble can look forward with hope to God acting on their behalf.

The Psalm then closes with the thought that the upright will see all these things and be glad, while calling on the wise to take heed to them (verses 42-43).

There is one further thing to which we would draw attention, and that is the interesting similarity between the ideas in the Psalm and in the life of Jesus:

  • For example the Psalmist speaks of those who are ‘sat in darkness and the shadow of death’ (verse 10), and adds that, ‘He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death’ (verse 14) whilst Matthew stresses that ‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has sprung up’ (Matthew 4.16; cited from Isaiah 9.2). In other words Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s part as described in the Psalm.
  • Again the Psalmist says, ‘He makes the storm a calm, so that its waves are still, then are they glad because they are quiet, so He brings them to the haven where they would be’ (verses 29-30), whilst Matthew says, ‘He rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm’ (Matthew 8.26), and John says, ‘and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going’ (John 6.21). Both Matthew and John would have known the Psalm well. They may well have been influenced by it.
  • The Psalmist further says, ‘He sends His word and heals them, and delivers them from their graves (pits)’ (verse 20),. In the same way all the Gospels bring out that Jesus came as the great healer and Saviour of men, and the Conqueror of death.
  • And the Psalmist’s words, ‘He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with good’ (verse 9) fit in well with Jesus’ words, ‘Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest -- and you will find rest to your souls’ (Matthew 11.28-29).

These parallels certainly reveal the similarity between the ministry of YHWH as revealed in the Psalm, and the ministry of our LORD Jesus Christ.

Introductory Call To Give Thanks To Their Covenant Keeping God For His Deliverance (107.1-3).

107.1

O give thanks to YHWH, for he is good,
For his covenant love is for ever.

This call to give thanks to YHWH because He is good, and because His covenant love is for ever, is a regular call to believers and echoes 106.1; 118.1; 136.1; Jeremiah 33.11. It was a recognised call to give YHWH His due because of His steadfast covenant love, which in this case has resulted in the recovery of His people from Exile, and in the responses which He is demonstrated as making to those who call on Him. .

107.2-3

Let the redeemed of YHWH say so,
Whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary,
And gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west,
From the north and from the sea (yam).

The redeemed of YHWH are called on to say it because YHWH has redeemed them from the hands of those who were against them, by gathering them from all parts of the known world and bringing them home to Palestine. We have in these words confirmation that the return from Exile was not just limited to returnees from Babylon but extended far more widely. ‘From the sea’, rather than ‘from the south’, probably arises because of the later emphasis on deliverance from the sea (verses 25-30). It was presumably intended to indicate ‘from far off places’ (compare Isaiah 49.12). Geography was rather vague. This suggests that the fourfold description is intended to indicate ‘from all parts of the world, both near and far’.

These introductory words are then followed by a description of four general situations from which YHWH delivers His people.

Four Situations In Which YHWH’s People Find Themselves And From Which He Delivers Them (107.4-32.

These four deliverance can be presented as:

  • 1) The deliverance of those who have been lost in the desert, wandering from place to place, unable to find a home and almost collapsing in the desert (107.4-9).
  • 2). The deliverance of those who have been bound and shackled in prison because of their rebellion against YHWH and are almost collapsing under hard labour (107.10-16).
  • 3) The deliverance of those smitten by mortal illnesses because of their sins and collapsing under their illness and at the point of death (107.17-22).
  • 4). The deliverance of sailors, merchantmen and fishermen at sea who are collapsing in their ships as a consequence of the movements of ships in storms and who are saved by the stilling of the storms that beset them (107.23-32).

It will be noted that no reason is given as to why those lost in the desert or at sea in 1 & 4 should find themselves in that situation, but that those in 2 & 3 are specifically stated to be suffering for their sinfulness and rebellion. However, it can be argued that Scriptures which were well known to the Psalmist and the worshippers does connect such experiences with transgression, viz. the wandering in the wilderness and the flight of Jonah, and he would expect them to be applied accordingly by worshippers. The lesson may therefore be seen as clearly given, and especially so in the light of verses 33-37.

Furthermore while both 1 & 2 could specifically be seen as suffering resulting from being cast out of the land, that is true of neither 3 or 4. Thus there is no common pattern which relates these situations directly to the Exile. This may be seen as suggesting that the Psalmist expected us to see them as general situation in which men of those days found themselves, situations which could equally be experienced today under the right circumstances, whilst not excluding application to the returnees for Exile. On this basis the Psalm is a Psalm of hope. It demonstrates that however low men sink, if they call on God in their troubles He will hear them and deliver them.

Yet lest men think that they can do what they like and then have their problems removed simply by prayer the Psalm closes with general principles concerning God’s dealing with men of wickedness and with ‘the hungry’.

Deliverance Of Those Who Have Found Themselves Wandering In The Desert Unable To Find A Permanent Home (107.4-9).

The first description is of a group wandering in the desert and at the point of collapse because they can find no home city. It was certainly true of the wilderness wanderings, but would also have been a common experience for many who travelled far afield, and for many who escaped into the desert to get away from the Babylonian hordes.

107.4-5

Some wandered in the wilderness in a desert way,
They found no city for dwelling in (of habitation),
Hungry and thirsty,
Their inward life fainted in them.

Here the Psalmist pictures men who have been lost in the desert and can find no way out, and have found themselves unwelcome everywhere. They have come to the end of themselves and are desperate. No Israelite could fail to connect this with what happened to Israel in the wilderness after God had rejected them, but there is no specific hint that that was what the Psalmist had in mind. The Israelites then had certainly wandered in the wilderness, found no city to dwell in, and been hungry and thirsty any number of times. But in days when displaced people regularly travelled through the desert and found themselves lost they were not exceptional. Indeed many Israelites who had fled the land in the time of Nebuchadnezzar would also have fled to the desert and, seeking to adapt to desert life, may well have experienced what is described here.

But in view of the parallel with men going down to the sea in ships where there is no hint that it was for any other reason than the desire for adventure and fortune seeking, we are probably to see this as a general picture of need, simply describing the common experience of men who might also have been fortune seeking getting lost in the desert The main point is that they found themselves in difficulties, called on YHWH in an almost impossible position and He delivered them.

107.6-7

Then they cried to YHWH in their trouble,
And he delivered them out of their distresses,
He led them also by a straight way,
That they might go to a city for dwelling in (of habitation).

In the first of four descriptions which begin with the words ‘then they called to YHWH in their trouble’ we learn that these people did so and that He delivered them out of their distresses, as He does in one way or another with all who call on Him in distress. He led them directly to a city for dwelling in, and they wandered as a lost people no more.

It will be noted that the first two lines here (verse 6) are repeated four times in the Psalm (verses 13, 19 and 28), each time following a different situation, but in each case with slight variations. In the final two examples they are expressed in the present tense. Perhaps this indicates that the first two were to be seen as historical and the second two as more general.

107.8-9

Oh that men would praise YHWH for his covenant love,
And for his wonderful works to the children of men!
For he satisfies the longing inward man,
And the hungry inward man he fills with good.

He concludes this subsection with a longing that men would praise YHWH for His covenant love and for His wonderful works to the children of men. This wish is similarly expressed four times, once after each subsection. And in this case it is because YHWH has satisfied the longing of their inward man and filled their hungry inward man with good. In context this indicates that He has provided them with the sustenance that they longed for, for the Psalmist’s words here should be compared with verse 5 where their inward man was fainting within them. But we can certainly see, along with that, that He brought satisfaction to their inward heart. God’s concern when He responds to men’s prayers is that they will be satisfied both physically and spiritually. ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHWH’ (Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4). In other words He meets men at the point of their need bringing them both physical and spiritual blessing and refreshment. Compare how examples 3 & 4 both conclude with the idea of praising and worshipping YHWH (verses 22, 32).

A Description Of Those Who Have Been Imprisoned And Put In Shackles Because Of Their Rebellion Against God (107.10-16).

The second description is of those who have been put in dark prisons, shackled and used for forced labour. In this case, unlike the last, a reason is given for their dire situation. It is because they had rebelled against YHWH and His words, and had emphatically rejected His counsel.

107.10-11

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Being bound in affliction and iron,
Because they rebelled against the words of God,
And condemned the counsel of the Most High,

Here we have the sad picture of people imprisoned, chained in darkness and badly afflicted, because they had rebelled against the words of God and had rejected His counsel. This would have been the experience of Israelites at different points through the centuries when they had been taken captive by an enemy. It was not limited to the Exile. But the common thought is that they had rebelled against YHWH, and rejected His counsel as the Most High.

107.12

Therefore he brought down their heart with labour,
They fell down, and there was none to help.

As a consequence of their rebellion He brought them low so that they would repent. Note how they are pictured as being burdened at heart by the hard labour they are called on to do, as well as physically collapsing under the strain. They are at their wit’s end and have no one to turn to.

107.13

Then they cried to YHWH in their trouble,
And he saved them out of their distresses.

But there was One to Whom they could turn, and that was God, and that is what they did. They cried to YHWH in their trouble and He saved them out of their distresses.

107.14

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their bonds apart.

He saved them by bringing them out of their darkness and out of the shadow of death, breaking the shackles that bound them. Notice the correlation between their condition, ‘they sat in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (verse 10), and their deliverance, ‘He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death’. And again that they had ‘been bound’, and ‘He broke their bonds apart’. When they had reached a position of desperation and had cried to Him God acted to deliver them. Like the men in the desert they had been at the point of collapse when He saved them.

Isaiah 9.2 also spoke of those who were in darkness and in the shadow of death, and those words may well have been in mind here. Matthew makes clear that their deliverance would be due to the activity of our LORD Jesus Christ (Matthew 4.14-17). In that case they were not literally in prison, but their souls were imprisoned in darkness.

107.15-16

Oh that men would praise YHWH for his covenant love,
And for his wonderful works to the children of men!
For he has broken the gates of bronze,
And cut in pieces the bars of iron.

Again we find the Psalmist’s desire that men would praise YHWH for His covenant love, and for His wonderful works towards the children of men, and this time it is because He has obtained their release, destroying the bronze gates of the enemy, and breaking the iron bars which held the gates in place. They have cause to praise Him (but often forget to do so) because He has exercised His power on their behalf.

A Description Of ‘Fools’ Who Rebel Against God’s Laws And Find Themselves Sick To The Point Of Death because Of Their Iniquities (107.17-22).

The third description is of those who are mortally ill because of their foolish attitude towards God’s laws. No particular situation appears to be in mind. It applies to all ‘fools’.

107.17-18

Fools because of the way of their transgression,
And because of their iniquities, are afflicted.
Their inward man hates all manner of food,
And they draw near to the gates of death.

The Psalmist sees those who transgress continually against God and His commandments as ‘fools’. And in this case, because they walk in a way which demonstrates that they hate God’s laws and commit iniquities, they become mortally ill. Their inward man hates all manner of foods, and as a consequence they are near to death. Wasting diseases often leave men without appetite and getting weaker and weaker. They recognise that they are drawing near to the gates of death.

107.19-20

Then they cry to YHWH in their trouble,
And he saves them out of their distresses.
He sends his word, and heals them,
And delivers them from their graves (pits).

But once more, when they cry to YHWH in their trouble He saves them from their problems. He sends His word and heals them and delivers them from their ‘graves’. The word translated ‘graves’ is a strong one and refers to destructive pits. Until they repented their destiny had been very unpleasant, but now He has delivered them from it. Chastisement has brought repentance, and repentance and looking to Him in faith have resulted in forgiveness.

107.21-22

Oh that men would praise YHWH for his acts of covenant love,
And for his wonderful works to the children of men!
And let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And declare his works with singing.

Once more the Psalmist longs that men would praise YHWH for His acts of covenant love, and for His wonderful works towards the children of men. And here he adds the thought that they should offer up sacrifices of thanksgiving for deliverance from death, and should declare His works in song. His words, repeated again and again, might be seen as simply liturgical, but it is probable that we are to see them as expressing a heartfelt concern because he recognised how often those whose prayers God heard rarely returned to give thanks once their situation had improved. We can call to mind the ten lepers whom Jesus healed of whom only one returned to give thanks, and that one a Samaritan, at which He said. ‘Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found ready to return and give praise to God apart from this foreigner?’ (Luke 17.17-18). Ingratitude has to be guarded against by us all.

A Description Of The Deliverance Of Sailors, Merchantmen and Fishermen At Sea Who Are Beset By Storms And Are Reeling And Staggering In Their Boats Like Drunks As A Consequence (107.23-32).

Whilst there are no specific descriptions which suggest that these men were in the wrong the very fact that it was YHWH Who commanded and raised the storm might suggest so. In the case of Jonah ‘YHWH hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a mighty tempest on the sea so that the ship threatened to break up’ (Jonah 1.4), so that those who knew the story of Jonah would draw their own conclusions. On the other hand the fact that here it is described as a ‘work of YHWH’ and one of ‘His wonders in the deep’ may indicate that here it was to be seen as a common occurrence to be wondered at, rather than as a deliberate attack by YHWH.

107.23-24

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business in great waters,
These see the works of YHWH,
And his wonders in the deep.

The description of the men is innocent enough. They go down to the sea in ships, they do business in great waters, and they regularly observe God’s works and wonders as revealed in storms. All is positive, But there can be no doubt that among such men, especially the long distance sailors, immorality and licentiousness would abound, and very often dishonesty and double dealing. Whilst at sea they were free from the controlling effects of custom and law, and, being sinful men, this might be expected to come out in their behaviour.

107.25-27

For he commands, and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up its waves,
They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths,
Their inward man melts away because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.

But, whatever the reason, they did not get off lightly. In this masterly description of a storm at sea we can actually see the wind stirring up the waves, and experience the storm as the boat heaves madly up and down, and from side to side, almost totally out of control, and the sailors hanging on and desperately trying to retain their footing, whilst their hearts are sinking within them. And they find themselves at their wit’s end hoping that the storm will subside and not knowing what to do.

107.28-30

Then they cry to YHWH in their trouble,
And he brings them out of their distresses.
He makes the storm a calm,
So that its waves are still.
Then are they glad because they are quiet,
So he brings them to their desired haven.

But then they cry to YHWH in their trouble and He delivers them out of their distresses by calming the storm and stilling the waves. As a consequence they are delighted at the calm that has come on the sea, and YHWH then brings them to their desired haven. Many sailors must have experienced such events time and again. And how grateful they must have been at the time. And how quickly they forgot it afterwards. It certainly brings to mind the devastating storms in which the disciples of Jesus found themselves caught up, and the recognition that the One Who calmed the seas at that point was YHWH Himself, God’s Son. They too were then brought home to their desired haven. Such Scriptures as this Psalm underline the deity of Jesus.

107.31-32

Oh that men would praise YHWH for his covenant love,
And for his wonderful works to the children of men!
Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise him in the seat of the elders.

Once again for the final time the Psalmist utters the refrain that he longs that men would praise YHWH for His revealed covenant love, and for His wonderful works to the children of men. He has a great concern for God’s glory which every Christian should emulate. And as with the previous example he adds the thought of them worshipping before YHWH, this time in terms of exalting Him in the people’s assembly at their feasts, and praising Him in the seat or gathering of the elders.

Up to this point the emphasis has been basic. In facing the perils of life men have found themselves in trouble. But by calling on YHWH they have been delivered and therefore have much to thank God for. Life has been seen as a constant spiritual up and down, and up again. It brings out the continual mercy of God, but it could certainly lead to complacency. Thus the Psalmist will now depict God’s activity on a different basis, and that is on the basis that sinfulness leads to great want, whilst humility and hungering after God leads to blessing. For the majority life did not have the ups and downs of the previous examples, but they were still under God’s supervision and judgment.

YHWH Punishes The Wicked By Depriving Them Of Water And Rewards The Hungry By Supplying Abundant Water And Making Their Crops Fruitful (107.33-37).

In the previous four examples the emphasis has all been on YHWH responding to groups of people who are in desperate situations who call on Him in their need. But not all do call on Him and so the pattern now changes as the Psalmist moves on to the question of YHWH’s dealings with ‘the wicked’ and ‘the hungry’ in general. Here the idea of ‘the hungry’ must also include the idea of being hungry for YHWH (the wicked would certainly be hungry once their crops had failed but there is no thought here of Him helping them). ‘The hungry’ call on Him for help and He satisfies them. This reminds us that in the Psalms the righteous are often thought of in terms of being the poor, or the lowly, or the needy, or the hungry, for on the whole the wicked lorded it over them and their need turned them towards God. And David also could speak of himself in these terms even though he was a king.

107.33-34

He turns rivers into a wilderness,
And watersprings into a thirsty ground,
A fruitful land into a salt desert,
Because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

The lesson here is that God is not unobservant of the behaviour of man, When men think that they can safely ignore God and that, in spite of doing so, all will go on as normal, they need to beware. At some stage God responds to man’s wickedness. Here they are at ease, and life appears to be going well, but then He turns their rivers into a wilderness , their water-springs into thirsty ground, and their fruitful land into a salt desert. Compare Isaiah 50.2. Compare also Isaiah 42.15, spoken of God’s enemies. They now find themselves bereft of the means of survival. But there is no thought here of their calling on God’s covenant love and finding a solution to their problem. The Psalmist recognises that many never do so. They have no thought of seeking God and are thus left to wallow in their misery. It is a warning against presumption.

107.35-37

He turns a wilderness into a pool of water,
And a dry land into watersprings.
And there he causes the hungry to dwell,
That they may prepare a city for dwelling in (of habitation),
And sow fields, and plant vineyards,
And get for themselves fruits of increase.

In deliberate contrast YHWH is seen as acting in the opposite way on behalf of ’the hungry’; that is, on behalf of the poor and the afflicted and the needy whose hearts seek after Him. In their case the opposite occurs. Their wilderness turns into pools of water, and their dry land into watersprings. He sends rain on their land so that the crops grow. Such people may have been neglected by men, but they will not be neglected by God. Note the parallel with verse 4-5, 7 in the reference to cities to dwell in. They are being blessed in the same way as those in verses 4-9. There may well be the thought here that those who had fled into the desert for safety from the Babylonians were now enjoying restoration. They were sowing fields, they were planting vineyards, they were enjoying their increase. But the general principle being expressed here is that God responds to the humble and needy.

We can compare with the words here Isaiah 41.16 which in that case was spoken on behalf of ‘the poor and needy’, ‘I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land into watersprings.’. This may well have been one source of the Psalmist’s ideas and equates the hungry with the poor and needy. Compare also Isaiah 35.7.

The Psalmist Emphasises That YHWH Prospers The Poor And Needy Whilst Pouring Contempt On The Haughty And Proud (107.38-41).

The lesson of the previous subsection is now repeated in a different way, and this time in the form of a chiasmus. The Psalmist opens and closes with the thought of the multiplying of the ‘hungry’ of verse 36, and centrally he draws attention to what happens to the wicked of verse 34.

107.38-41

A He blesses them also, so that they are multiplied greatly,
A And he does not allow their cattle to decrease.
B They are diminished and bowed down,
B Through oppression, trouble, and sorrow.
B He pours contempt on princes,
B And causes them to wander in the wasteland, where there is no way.
A Yet he sets the needy on high from affliction,
A And makes him families like a flock.

YHWH blesses the hungry and needy so that they are multiplied greatly, does not allow their cattle to decrease, sets them on high above affliction, and makes their sons and daughters like a flock. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled’. In contrast He diminishes and bows down the wicked by means of oppression, trouble and sorrow, pours contempt on princes and causes them to walk in wasteland where there is no path. The hungry and needy prosper (He has filled the hungry with good things), whilst the self-satisfied and proud suffer hardship (the rich He has sent empty away).

Final Conclusion (107.42-43).

107.42-43

The upright will see it, and be glad,
And all iniquity will stop her mouth.
Whoever is wise will give heed to these things,
And they will consider YHWH’s acs of covenant love.

The Psalmist sees the ultimate solution to life as found in his words. The upright will see how God responds to the hungry, the poor and the needy, and will be glad. At the same time iniquity will see what God does and will close its mouth. This emphasises the distinction we have seen between the righteous and the wicked. In the end it is righteousness which triumphs because God expresses His covenant love towards repentant sinners. All who are wise will take note of such things and respond accordingly, considering YHWH’s acts of covenant love to those who truly call on Him.

Psalm 108.

Introduction.

108.1a ‘A Song, a Psalm of David.’

This would appear to be a composition from two previous Psalms of David, for with minor changes verses 1b-5 parallel 57.7-11, whilst verses 6-13 parallel 60.5-12, thus it can rightly be called a Psalm of David whoever joined the two parts together. And the two parts blend beautifully together. Whether it was combined by David himself, or at a later date for liturgical purposes, we can never know, but the variations might be seen as pointing to the former for we could argue that a later writer would have had no reason to change them, in view of the fact that the changes make little difference to the thought.

It appears that the Psalm as it stands was composed at a time when Edom was threatening and had gained some advantage. And the cry was for God to step in and deliver His people.

As it stands the Psalm divides into four parts:

  • David Calls On Himself To Arise Early In Order To Sing God’s Praises In View Of The Greatness Of His Covenant Love (108.1b-4).
  • He Calls On God To Be Highly Exalted By The Delivery Of His Beloved Israel Through His Mighty Right Hand (108.5-6).
  • God Declares His Intentions For Israel And Related Nations (108.7-9).
  • David Calls For Help Against Edom And All Israel’s Enemies Confident Of God’s Reply (108.10-13).

David Calls On Himself To Arise Early In Order To Sing God’s Praises In View Of The Greatness Of His Covenant Love (108.1b-5).

108.1b-2

My heart is fixed, O God, I will sing,
Yes, I will sing praises, even with my glory (the divine image/spirit within me).
Awake, lyre and harp,
I myself will awaken the dawn.

David declares that his heart is fixed on God and that because of that he will sing praises to God from the very depths of his being, that is, from that which makes him different from all other creatures which do not worship. Here he describes it as ‘my glory’, the wonder that God had places within man which was to be gloried in, for it enables him to experience the glory of God which is unknown to all other creatures. In 57.8 he declares ‘wake up my glory’. There he is calling on his inward being (his glory) to awaken to God’s glory.

So he calls on his lyre and harp to wake up and extol the glory of God, and declares that he himself will awaken the dawn in order to do so. He was so eager to give thanks and praise to God that he wanted to start his day with it at the earliest possible moment, and through it cause the dawn to awaken..

108.3

I will give thanks to you, O YHWH, among the peoples,
And I will sing praises to you among the nations.

Initially the ‘peoples’ and the ‘nations’ before whom he played would have been his followers who shared his period as a fugitive, but later when he put together this Psalm it may well have been the ambassadors who came from other nations and peoples and heard the words sung in the Tabernacle. He wanted to give thanks to YHWH and sing His praises in front of the whole world, something that should be our desire also.

In Psalm 57.9 the words used for God was adonai (sovereign Lord), but here it has become YHWH which befits a Psalm used in Temple worship before foreigners.

108.4

For your covenant love is great above (from upon) the heavens,
And your truth (reaches) to the skies.

And one reason why he wanted to proclaim YHWH’s praise was because YHWH’s covenant love, that great love which He exercised through the covenant, was so great that it could be described as ‘higher than the heavens’, just as His truth reached to the skies. God’s faithfulness and integrity in terms of His covenant are seen as beyond measure..

He Calls On God To Be Highly Exalted By The Delivery Of His Beloved Israel Through His Mighty Right Hand (108.5-6).

108.5-6

Be you exalted, O God, above the heavens,
And your glory above all the earth.
That your beloved may be delivered,
Save with your right hand, and answer us.

He especially wants God, Whose covenant love is great above the heavens, to be Himself exalted above the heavens (partly because it is His right and partly in fulfilling that covenant love), and he wants His glory to be exalted above all the earth by the way in which He delivers His people. For the latter reason he calls on God to deliver His beloved covenant people by answering their call and saving with His mighty right hand (the hand of power). As we shall see shortly, this was no theoretical request. It appears that Israel were being hardpressed by Edom and needed God’s help in order to be able to overcome.

He Announces Before The World God’s Declared Intentions For Israel And Related Nations (108.7-9).

David now announces to the nations what God has declared in His holiness (or in His Sanctuary). He has declared that He has especially determined to set aside Israel in their land as His people. And he cites God’s own declared intentions for the area in and around Palestine. He will divide up and measure out Shechem and Succoth among His people. He lays His claim to Gilead (Transjordan) and Manasseh (along with Ephraim and Judah the most prolific of tribes, and with large tracts of land in Transjordan), Ephraim (the largest tribe in the centre of the land) is His helmet, protecting the people, Judah is the royal tribe which is to hold the sceptre on God’s behalf. Thus all the land of Israel is measured out by Him and allocated to His own people, under His rule. Meanwhile subservient to Israel in God’s eyes are Moab, which is simply His washbasin, Edom, which as a slave looks after his shoes, and Philistia over whom He will shout in triumph. Those proud nations are His servants and slaves.

108.7

God has spoken in his holiness (or ‘his sanctuary’),
“I will exult, I will divide Shechem,
And measure out the valley of Succoth.

What follows are no light or poetic words. They are spoken by Him in His holiness, that is, by virtue of what He is in His transcendence and glory. Alternately the words might mean ‘in His Sanctuary’, that is that God has declared these things from His Sanctuary by divine fiat.

Shechem (Genesis 33.18) and Succoth (Genesis 33.17) were the two principle places that Jacob settled in when he arrived back in Canaan. They were the first large territories to belong to Jacob/Israel. Shechem was a powerful little kingdom in the north which Jacob and his sons had taken over (Genesis 34), and was west of Jordan. Succoth was east of Jordan. It is probable that servants of Jacob, left in Shechem to watch over Jacob’s lands (Genesis 33.19-20; 34) and possibly maintain the worship of the God of Israel (Jacob), were still influential in Shechem when Israel invaded Palestine resulting in Shechem not needing to be conquered (they worshipped Baal-berith, ‘the Lord of the Covenant’, who might easily have been equated with YHWH in view of their past history). Here God is declaring that these places on both sides of Jordan are His and that He will allocate them as He will.

108.8a

Gilead is mine, Manasseh is mine,
Ephraim also is the defence of my head (my helmet),

Gilead and half the tribe of Manasseh had been settled by Israel in Transjordan. God here declares that they are His, to be divided up as He wills. Transjordan is His. The remainder of the numerically large Manasseh and the largest tribe, the tribe of Ephraim, occupied the centre of Palestine and represented a large part of Israel. They too were His. And Ephraim as the most powerful tribe represented His war helmet. Along with Judah they were the protectors of Israel. Thus YHWH is laying out His claim to all Israel.

108.8b

Judah is my sceptre.

Judah is honoured alongside Ephraim, and is seen as the ruling tribe. Judah is YHWH’s sceptre. They were the tribe destined to produce YHWH’s king (Genesis 49.10). Thus they held the place of highest honour.

108.9

Moab is my washpot,
Upon Edom will I cast my shoe,
Over Philistia will I shout (in triumph).

Proud Moab (Isaiah 16.6), east of the Dead Sea, was but His washbasin in which He figuratively washed His feet when He returned from battle, Edom were the slaves given responsibility to look after His sandals or warboots. They were both to serve Israel. Mighty Philistia would prove no match for Him. He would shout over them and keep them in their place. Possibly the idea is of a shout of victory, but it may simply mean that they were under His command.

The whole idea of the description is to bring out that Israel are YHWH’s people, allocated their land by YHWH, and that their neighbours would be subservient to them under YHWH’s control. It is on the basis of these promises that David now calls for God to act on Israel’s behalf.

David Bemoans His Failed Venture Into Edom And Calls On God To Remedy The Situation, Giving Him Victory Over Edom And All Other Nations (108.10-13).

108.10-11

Who will bring me into the fortified city?
Who has led me to Edom?
Have you not cast us off, O God?
And do you not go forth, O God, with our hosts?

While David was battling against Aram (Syria), and had seemingly also encroached on Edom, Israel had been counter-attacked by Edom who often worked in liaison with Syria. They seeming harried Judah’s borders and even made incursions. This gave David cause to ask who, if this was to be allowed to happen, could now lead him into the fortified city of Petra (see Obadiah 1.3), and who could have led him into Edom in the first place. It could surely not be YHWH otherwise He would have given them victory. Did this not mean that YHWH had cast them off, and no longer went forth with Israel’s hosts against Edom? It is clear that David was perplexed.

108.12

Give us help against the adversary,
For vain is the help of man.

So he calls on God to help Israel against their adversary, recognising that no one else could do it for man’s help would be in vain. He did not want to depend on anyone but God. In the event Joab and the armies of Israel defeated Aram (Syria) and then returned to trounce the Edomites who were in league with the Syrians (see 2 Samuel 8.6, 13-14). So God heard his prayer.

108.13

Through God we will do valiantly,
For it is he who will tread down our adversaries.

David ends the Psalm on a note of triumph. He declares that through God they will do valiantly (how could they not considering His promises?), for it is God Who will tread down their adversaries. Thus he became convinced that they would have victory over Edom even before the event actually occurred. It was a Psalm to be sung into the future encouraging continual confidence in God.

Psalm 109.

This Psalm is unquestionably one of the most difficult for a Christian to deal with, for it breathes the spirit of the Old Testament rather than that of the New. But having said that we must recognise that we can talk like that because we stand at the other side of the cross and of the teaching of Jesus, both aspects of truth which have transformed the thinking of Christian believers, and to some extent even that of the world. Whilst we ourselves must weigh up Old Testament ideas in the light of Jesus’ teaching, and may sometimes go too far, we do Old Testament saints a grave injustice if we expect them to do so, and fail to recognise that they were in no position to do so. They did not have before them the greatest moral teaching that the world has ever known, presented by the greatest example that the world has ever known, nor did they have before them the supreme example of self-sacrifice, a self-sacrifice which was almost inconceivable to man if it had not actually occurred.

They spoke and prayed from their own background and their own experience, and that was a background which had rightly laid a great emphasis on justice and retribution. It is true that there was also an emphasis on God’s covenant love, but that was not in general seen as extending outside the covenant. On the whole, although with exceptions, they saw God’s love as reaching out to those whom He had chosen. Thus they saw sin as something to be severely dealt with, and they looked at man’s position in the light of the Flood, and of the commanded destruction of the Canaanites (even though they had failed to obey God in regard to the latter). They had learned that sinful man must be dealt with severely. Elijah, that great one among the prophets, had no qualms about calling down fire from Heaven on those who sought to lay hold of God’s anointed prophet. (When Jesus disciples sought to do the same they were roundly disabused). Israel had learned that where a man had sinned grievously he must be called to account. They saw justice as based on ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, in other words on the basis that what a man does, so shall be done to him. They had never heard Jesus say, ‘but I say unto you, you shall love your enemies’ (Matthew 5.38-44). Understood from that viewpoint this Psalm makes considerable sense.

The Psalm is written by a man who has been continually defamed, hated and betrayed, even by his friends in spite of his attempts to show love towards them (which is why it is cited in Acts 1.20b of the crime of Judas). He had been crushed beyond measure by a powerful and evil oppressor and prayed out of desperation from a position of helplessness with seemingly nowhere to turn, and he did not have the example of Christ to guide him. We must not judge him too harshly until we have been in his shoes.

Furthermore if the attribution to David is correct, and there is no reason why it should not be, another element comes in. As we know from David’s dealings with Saul he laid great emphasis on the fact of the anointing of YHWH. Because Saul was ‘YHWH’s anointed’ he would not allow him to be harmed or humiliated. He considered that such acts would be blasphemy, and that when Saul’s followers did not guard Saul sufficiently they had committed a great sin because Saul was ‘YHWH’s anointed’ (1 Samuel 26.16). But he was very much aware that he himself was also YHWH’s anointed in waiting. Thus he would equally see any action taken against himself as blaspheming against ‘YHWH’s anointed’. He would see it as not only unjust but as blasphemous. It put the person beyond the pale. And the same would be true for his successors.

If we accept its attribution to David we must probably look to the period of his early life after he had come to the notice of Saul and had become one of his commanders, and had then, in his innocence, come under heavy persecution, jealousy and hatred, had been betrayed by those whom he thought his friends, had seen his goodwill rejected and his family vilified, had had to flee, first to Gath and finally to the refuge of a cave, in a weakened condition, having lost everything, including his wife, and all due to the perfidy of Saul and his close companions. And he knew that God would see all this as an attack on YHWH’s anointed. Thus he saw those who did this as not only offending against him, but against God. As we shall see the bulk of the Psalm refers to someone of great importance who was dealing ‘unforgivably’ towards him, and whose whole family had taken part in that behaviour, and indeed someone who was continually uttering solemn curses against him, no doubt in public, someone who sought his life. It goes far beyond Doeg the Edomite, who betrayed the priests at Nob and caused their deaths, for Doeg owed him nothing and was not a Yahwist. Shimei indeed cursed him but he did not as far as we know reveal continual influential enmity against him. And Ahithophel betrayed him, but not in the venomous way described. We must therefore look for someone who came much closer to home, someone from an important and influential family who had once professed to be his friend, but who, together with his family, took advantage of Saul’s vindictiveness, and totally betrayed his friendship, seeking to have him killed, and then, when he failed, vilifying him utterly over a longish period. Compare for this Psalms 35; 55; 59; 69. This was bad enough in itself, but to a man of David’s religious sensitivity this would have seemed wholly blasphemous behaviour because he knew that he was ‘YHWH’s anointed’. This fact would deepen his sense of injustice. He would see this man and his family as not only offending against him, but against God. In Old Testament terms (but not in New, where the anointed of YHWH was willing to suffer) his prayer can be seen as wholly justified.

Like much in the Old Testament it is recorded and preserved in order to bring home the deserts of sin. It brings out that the soul that sins will die. The New Testament does not deny this, it ameliorates it. Jesus could speak equally powerfully against sin, but always in a way that left open the door to forgiveness. But in Old Testament days it demanded retribution.

One further word may be added. The Chronicler makes clear that he sees what was sung in the Temple as prophecy (1 Chronicles 25.1-3), and Jesus Himself spoke of David as speaking by the Holy Spirit in at least one of his Psalms (Mark 12.36). Peter cites him in the same way (Acts 2.25; 4.25), as does Paul (Romans 4.6; 11.9). See also Hebrews 4.7. Thus if David was a prophet then this prayer must be seen as a prophetic pronouncement made in prayer indicating what would happen to the person in question, a man of monstrous behaviour, in which case it had God’s agreement. It may well have been fulfilled at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).

Introduction.

109.1a ‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’

The Psalm is headed as a Psalm of David and dedicated for use in the Temple. David therefore probably saw it as not only referring to himself, but also to all among his descendants who were YHWH’s anointed. He considered that to betray them was to betray YHWH.

David Calls On God To Observe What Is Being Done Undeservedly Against Him By His Enemies And Not To Hold Back From Punishing Them (109.1b-5).

109.1b-3

Do not hold your peace, O God of my praise,
For the wicked man’s mouth and the mouth of deceit have they opened against me,
They have spoken to me with a lying tongue,
They have also encompassed me with words of hatred,
And fought against me without a cause.

He calls on God not to stand back and do nothing, but to speak out and act on his behalf because He is the One Whom he praises. And he does it on the basis of the lies and deceit that they are perpetrating, and their hate-filled words which are baseless. He calls on God not to allow their lies to be perpetuated, but to act on his behalf to deliver him from their lies. Note here the suggestion of a wicked man’s mouth as being responsible for a lot of the trouble, preparing us for the change of person in verses 6 ff.

109.4-5

In return for my love they are my adversaries,
But as for me, I (offered) prayer (continually for them).
And they have rewarded me evil for good,
And hatred for my love.

He points out that he has constantly shown love towards them, and has prayed for them, and that, in spite of this, they are fiercely and cruelly against him, rewarding his goodness with evil, and his love with hatred. Thus what he is describing is not a temporary phenomenon, a passing phase, but is rather a continued campaign of lies, deceit and hate in the face of all his attempts to be loving towards them. They are proving themselves to be permanent and bitter enemies.

The second line is literally, ‘I prayer’. The words in brackets bring out the probable sense, that he as a man of prayer had prayed for them. They no doubt prayed as well. The difference lies in how each prayed.

David’s Prayer Concerning His Chief Adversary Whose Family Are Set To Destroy Him As One Who Is Needy (And As YHWH’s Anointed) (109.6-20).

Leading their assault was clearly one influential individual and his family, who had the ear of Saul, and who, having once professed deep friendship, was presumably heading the whole campaign against him, for the words that follow clearly indicate such a man. But it is also quite clear from what he says that the man’s whole family, which was undoubtedly influential, were also acting against him. He was deeply conscious of their venomous hatred, a hatred that was continually directed at him as they used their influence to try to destroy him and his family. And so he prays that God will deal with the man and his family accordingly. His request was fully reasonable in the light of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. He was only asking that the man be treated as he treated others.

Perhaps it might be helpful to understanding what follows if we picture the man for the kind of man he was. As well as being lying and deceitful, and a destroyer of people’s reputations, he was merciless and persecuted the poor and needy (16). He sought to slay those who were down (16b). He continually brought solemn curses on others (17a), and he never sought blessing on anyone (17b). In other words he was a vindictive, evil man who used his influence in the worst possible way.

109.6-8

Set you a wicked man over him,
And let an adversary stand at his right hand.
When he is judged, let him come forth guilty,
And his prayer shall be turned into sin.
Let his days be few,
Let another take his office.

David calls for him to be judged by a wicked man, (in other words one who is like the man himself, an eye for an eye), with a powerful adversary testifying against him, so that there will be no doubt that he comes forth as guilty (because he is). In other words he does not want to see him dealt with mercifully, or by a sympathetic friend, but wants him to receive the whole of what is due to him from someone as hard as himself, having done to him what he does to others. He declares that the man’s prayers will be nullified because they are shown up as what they are, sinful; and asks that his life be cut short; and that he be replaced by another in his office. Shortness of life was seen as the consequence of sin so that David was asking that he receive his due desert. The thought of another taking his office is applied by Peter to Judas’ loss of his position as an Apostle (Acts 1.20). This man is another Judas, a betrayer.

109.9-10

Let his sons be fatherless,
And his wife a widow.
Let his sons be vagabonds, and beg,
And let them seek their bread out of their desolate places.

He prays that his enemy will shortly die so that his sons are fatherless and his wife a widow, and that the whole family will become impoverished and lose its influence. We must bear in mind as we read this the solidarity of the family in those days. The sons would undoubtedly carry on the family vendettas, including the vendetta against him. The only way to render them powerless was to destroy their influence. And that is what he has in mind.

Indeed behind this prayer was probably the recognition that they were all, in as far as they were able, in the plot against him. We must not think of them all as ‘little children’. The word can indicate young men, who have ganged up with their father against him, including some of over twenty. If the father died David knew that the man’s heir would in ‘honour’ carry on the vendetta. Thus he wanted them rendered powerless. To have their inheritance made desolate means that they were being judged along with their father and through poverty would lose their influence. For this reason he wants the whole family to be involved in the punishment. His words are not specifically aimed at little children, although they would necessarily be involved. Punishment to the third and fourth generation of those who would be brought up to the same attitude of hate as their father, was seen as a valid request (Exodus 20.5). In those days such continued hatred was seen as a family responsibility to be passed on from one generation to another. David’s words were not denying the possibility of mercy to any who repented (he himself did not hold Saul’s hatred against Jonathan and his sons). We must remember in this regard that David’s own family and household had had to seek out a desolate place (1 Samuel 22.1), thus he was seeking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. At this stage David had no means of redress. While he himself was a fugitive the man still lived and exercised his powerful influence. Thus he is desperately calling on God to bring him down and remove his greatest enemy. His prayer may well have been answered on Mount Gilboa and its aftermath (1 Samuel 31).

109.11-13

Let the extortioner craftily seize all that he has,
And let strangers plunder of his labour.
Let there be none to extend covenant love to him,
Nor let there be any to have pity on his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off,
In the generation following let their name be blotted out.

In reading these words we must remember that David himself found himself and his family totally impoverished (they fled to him in the cave), partly as a consequence of this man’s activity, and is thus seeking the like on his enemy. He asks that extortioners might craftily seize (ensnare) all that he has (just as his own possessions had been craftily seized), that strangers might plunder his workforce (just as his own workforce had been plundered); and that his descendants might be cut off without mercy in the next generation, resulting in an evil family being rooted out of Israel.

As the man himself has ignored covenant love David asks that others will likewise ignore covenant love as far as the man is concerned, and as the man and his family have had no pity David asks that the man’s sons may also receive no pity. He is to receive for himself and his family all that he has heaped on others. Furthermore he asks that the man’s family will cease to exist in the next generation, with their names being blotted out of the book of the living. As YHWH had declared, ‘he who has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of my book’ (Exodus 32.33).

109.14-16

Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with YHWH,
And do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before YHWH continually,
That he may cut off the memory of them from the earth,
Because he did not remember to show covenant love,
But persecuted the poor and needy man,
And the broken in heart, in order to slay (them).

David now makes clear that the man’s family history is suspect. The man’s father and mother before him have been equally iniquitous and sinful and he asks that they, and the man as their descendant, bear their sin in full. He also asks that their sin be not forgotten or blotted out of God’s record but that they be continually ‘before YHWH’ as guilty parties. He sees their sin as ‘sin with a high hand’, for which there is no forgiveness. They sought his death. Let them pay in full for what they have done, and let their memory be cut off from the earth. A man lived on in his sons. Without progeny he would soon be forgotten.

And all this was to be because he failed to show covenant love in his behaviour as required by God (Leviticus 19.18), in that he failed to care for the poor and needy (see 12.5; 35.10; 72.4, 12; Deuteronomy 15.4-9; Job 24.1-4), but rather persecuted them to their deaths, thus putting himself outside the covenant as a murderer. He might escape justice at man’s hand, because he was so influential, but let him not escape it at God’ hand.

That the Psalmist saw himself as one of those poor, needy and broken-hearted people whom the man had sought to hunt to death comes out in verse 22. But he saw himself as only one among many. Thus he considered that under the Law he had a right to expect vindication.

109.17-20

Yes, he loved cursing, and it came to him,
And he did not delight in blessing, and it was far from him.
He clothed himself also with cursing as with his robe,
And it came into his inward parts like water,
And like oil into his bones.
Let it be to him as the clothing with which he covers himself,
And for the waist cloth with which he is girdled continually.
This is the reward of my adversaries from YHWH,
And of those who speak evil against my life.

One of the ways in which the man revealed his evil heart was in his propensity for solemnly bringing others under a curse whilst never having a thought of blessing anyone. He was a man of a certain ilk. Cursing had become so much a part of him that it was like wearing a robe, and it had become a part of his inward self, entering into his very body like water and olive oil. He was wrapped up in cursing others, and yet he overlooked the fact that according to God’s Law it was he who deserved to be cursed for his treatment of the poor, needy and broken-hearted. And so David asks that as he has cursed others so curses will surround him and cling to him constantly, like his robe and girdle. That what he has laid on others might be laid on him. And David was confident enough in his own integrity to declare that this was indeed how YHWH would deal with his adversaries, and those who spoke evil against his life (for he was YHWH’s anointed), and would in the same way deal with this man.

He Puts His Own Case Before YHWH (109.21-29).

109.21-22

But you deal with me, O YHWH the Lord,
For your name’s sake.
Because your covenant love is good,
Deliver you me,
For I am poor and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me.

He now calls on YHWH his Sovereign Lord to deal with him ‘for His Name’s Sake’, that is in accordance with what He is as Lord of the Covenant, as one who is poor, needy and heart-wounded. His argument is subtle. In His covenant YHWH has commanded especially generous treatment for the poor and needy and David seeks this for himself from YHWH.

Note his underlining of the matter by his confirmation that he acknowledges that YHWH’s covenant love is good, in other words that He acts in accordance with His love as revealed in the covenant. As a consequence He cannot fail to do what in love He has promised to do. Certainly for a while, after he had fled from Saul, David was poor and needy and there can be no doubt that he was deeply wounded at the treatment that he had received. Thus the words were literally true, as well as spiritually true.

109.23-25

I am gone like the shadow when it declines,
I am tossed up and down as the locust.
My knees are weak through fasting,
And my flesh fails of fatness.
I am become also a reproach to them,
When they see me, they shake their head.

Having originally fled to Achish at Gath, only to have to make his escape when her realised that he had put his life in danger, David then made for a cave at Adullam where he could hide out. He felt at the time that his life was like a declining shadow, seeming on its way out, while he felt himself as tossed up and down by the winds (of hostility and deceit) like a locust. Whether his fasting was deliberate as a means of obtaining a hearing from God, or simply caused by the lack of available food, we do not know, but he describes it as making him weak at the knees. His flesh failing of fatness may indicate a similar shortage, or a lack of olive oil with which to anoint his body, something of great importance in hot countries. Thus for a while his physical state was not good. He was poor and needy, and deeply hurt as well (verse 22).

Furthermore he had become a reproach to men who, when they looked at him shook their heads and turned away. Some had believed the stories about him and saw him as getting what he deserved. Others just despaired for him but did not want to be involved with him believing him to be suffering under God’s anger. He was mainly alone for he had not as yet built up his private army. That would take some time.

109.26-27

Help me, O YHWH my God,
Oh save me in accordance with your covenant love,
That they may know that this is your hand,
(That) you, YHWH, have done it.

But his confidence in YHWH was still firm. As one who himself sought to be faithful to the covenant he was confident that God would save him in accordance with His covenant love, especially, as we have seen, because he was poor and needy. And he wanted his deliverance to be such that others would recognise in it the hand of YHWH, and would know that it was YHWH Who had done it. Whilst he does not mention that he was YHWH’s anointed to take over after Saul, it must have provided some encouragement for him as he made his plea.

109.28-29

Let them curse,
But do you bless,
When they arise, they shall be put to shame,
But your servant will rejoice.
Let my adversaries be clothed with dishonour,
And let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a robe.

Once again we are faced with the fact that at least one solemn curse had been placed on him by his bitterest enemy. But he shrugs it off. Possibly he was aware of the maxim that ‘a causeless curse will not alight’ (Proverbs 26.2). Certainly he was confident that YHWH would not apply the curse. And so he declares confidently, ‘let them curse’. He was equally confident of YHWH’s blessing on himself. ‘Them’ and ‘you’ in this sentence are both emphatic. Thus he could confidently state that when they arose in order to act they would be put to shame, while he himself would be able to rejoice. He knew that YHWH was on his side.

He was confident that all that his adversaries would do by their actions was to clothe themselves with dishonour, and cover themselves with shame. How could it be otherwise when they were acting against the one whom YHWH had anointed, and whom YHWH had blessed in so many ways?

Final Thanksgiving (109.30-31).

109.30-31

I will give great thanks to YHWH with my mouth,
Yes, I will praise him among the multitude.
For he will stand at the right hand of the needy,
To save him from those who judge his life.

He closes his Psalm with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise. With his mouth he will give thanks to YHWH, and among the majority of the people who are not after his blood he will praise Him loudly. And he will do it because as a needy person he knows that YHWH will stand at his right hand, and will save him from those who have passed sentence against him. Thus in the midst of his cry for deliverance and retribution on his enemies, he reveals his confident trust in YHWH as his Deliverer, even before he has been delivered.

Psalm 110.

Introduction.

110.1a ‘A Psalm of David.’

The question as to whether this Psalm was written by David is answered for us in the affirmative by our LORD Jesus Christ Himself. Speaking to the Pharisees he cites the Psalm and says of it, ‘How is it then that David speaking by the Spirit calls Him Lord?’ (Matthew 22.23). The suggestion that Jesus was bound by the time in which He lived and was not interested in ‘critical questions’ will not do for the Christian if we are to still call Him LORD, for whilst He had certainly not engaged in what we call ‘critical study’, and whilst He was not, while on earth, knowledgeable about all things, but grew in knowledge, He did have the Father constantly with Him guiding Him into all truth, and the Father knew all the answers to critical questions.

We should note in this regard that Jesus was not answering a trick question, but deliberately taking the fight to the Pharisees. It was not a question of Him turning their words to His advantage. The quotation was used on His initiative. If He was truly in the close touch with His Father which He claimed then He would surely have known whether His statement was true or not, and whether His argument was valid. David’s authorship was after all vital to the argument.

Nor can we plausibly say that He was simply citing the beliefs of the Pharisees. If He deliberately opted to do so, and He did it not knowing for sure that those beliefs were right, it would mean that He did not know whether the conclusion that He reached was actually valid, for it was based on authorship by David. It would mean that His argument was actually as doubtful as that of the Pharisees. And if He deliberately deceived them then He was no longer righteous and true. To have argued like He did without obtaining the seal from His Father would have made Him untrustworthy, and invalidated all His claims, for He claimed to obtain His teaching from the Father. So unless the Father was wrong about David’s authorship of the Psalm we can take it as proved. We might use the methods described in order to defeat opponents, (turning their false ideas on themselves as an exercise) but thereby we would be winning our argument by deliberately using a false premise. We would not be arriving at truth. That could not be true of the perfect Son of God Whose Father was guiding Him each step of the way. It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus intended them to see His conclusion as absolutely valid.

At the root of the Psalm lies the fact that God had promised David that a king would arise from his seed who was pure and righteous and would establish an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.11-16). The young Solomon may well have raised hopes that he was the one until he demonstrated the truth about himself. The same hopes might have been placed in Jehoshaphat, and we do know that they were aroused by Hezekiah. Jewish tradition hints at the possibility of his Messiahship. The people then did not see things as we do. That being so David might well have wanted to prepare the way for him in the words of the Psalm. Would David have called such a successor ‘Sovereign Lord’? Given that he would see the king as reigning everlastingly he might well have seen him as superior to himself and divinely endowed. He would recognise that the Coming King was no ordinary successor, and had an aura about him that was unique and made him superior to himself, whilst he would not know the full truth.

110.1b

A prophetic word of YHWH (neum YHWH) to my lord, “Sit you at my right hand,
Until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The phrase ‘neum YHWH signifies a fresh prophetic word from the mouth of YHWH received and transmitted by a prophet. Here the neum YHWH is given by YHWH through the Psalmist to the One Who is called ‘my lord’. We may translate this as ‘my Sovereign LORD’, or we may simply see it as a title of respect, but either way it signifies superiority. Indeed, as we saw above, Jesus referred these words to the Messiah when making clear that the Messiah was greater than, and superior to, David in every way (Matthew 22.23).

It was never said of David that he would sit at God’s right hand, a position of supreme authority and power, paralleling that of YHWH Himself. The nearest that we find to it is when God said to the king, possibly at his coronation, ‘you are My son, today I have adopted you as though you were My trueborn son (‘begotten you)’ (Psalm 2.7) when God set His king on His holy hill of Zion. Compare the promise in 2 Samuel 7.14, ‘I will be his father, and he will be My son’, followed by the indication of his human frailty. But both of these come short of the idea of sitting at God’s right hand, sharing His sovereignty. They are simply seen as His representatives on earth, not as sharing His throne. Similarly the reference to the king sitting ‘on the throne of YHWH’ in 1 Chronicles 29.23; 2 Chronicles 13.6 refers to the king as acting as YHWH’s representative, not as sharing His throne. It is only the throne of YHWH in a secondary way.

Sitting at YHWH’s right hand is a very different thing from YHWH ‘standing at the right hand of the needy’ in Psalm 109.32. There YHWH stood at their right hand to protect them, but that is not the thought here. To sit at a king’s right hand was to rule alongside him, to share his reign. Only the very favoured few sat in the presence of the king, and only one at his right hand.

Thus the One spoken of here was the future coming king who would introduce the everlasting kingdom. He alone would be so close to God that he could sit at God’s right hand. Indeed the writer to the Hebrews made clear that not even an ordinary heavenly being could sit at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1.13; 10.12-13). It was only available for the One Whose right it was (Acts 2.34; Colossians 3.1). To sit on the right hand was to share the supreme authority.

To sit at YHWH’s right hand also signified the certainty of final victory over all known enemies. By taking His seat at God’s right hand the Messiah was guaranteed total victory because all God’s power was at His disposal.. He was guaranteed that in the end all His enemies would subject themselves to Him (compare verse 5). It is especially noteworthy that the Psalm gives no direct indication of literal fighting or wars. The coming king and His followers work in power and His enemies submit but no fighting is described.

There is no reason for thinking that these words were ever applied to David himself. Even when he brought the Ark into Jerusalem and set it in the Tent that he had set up, no connection was made between it and the Davidic throne. It was seen as placed there uniquely in all its glory, and is never referred to as a throne. Indeed, when YHWH is seen as sitting on His throne it is always in a heavenly context (1 Kings 19.22; Psalm 11.4; 103.19; Isaiah 6.1; 66.1), even when visiting men on His travelling throne in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1). And when Solomon introduced the Ark into the Temple it was again not connected with the kingship as though somehow the king was glorified by sitting next to it. In the case of David it was made clear to him that he was not fit to be the everlasting King. He might, however, have hoped that Solomon would be the one. But attention to the words of the covenant in 2 Samuel 7 would soon have made him realise that that too was unlikely. And if it be argued that in that case this interpretation would make the Psalm a unique direct reference to the Messiah, attention must be drawn to the unique opening words ‘neum YHWH’. No other Psalm is introduced like this. Thus we expect uniqueness.

It must not be thought that this rendered the words almost meaningless to Israel, except as a far off event, for they were expecting the coming king, and constantly saw the possibility that their reigning king might be the one. It thus gave them great encouragement to know that when He did come He would achieve final victory over all enemies. (What they were not prepared for was the way in which He would come and how long it would be before He came).

110.2

YHWH will send forth the rod (or ‘sceptre’) of your strength out of Zion,
Rule you in the midst of your enemies.

Having taken His seat at the right hand of God YHWH promised that He would ‘send forth the sceptre of Messiah’s strength’ out of Zion. In other words He would confirm the rule of His Messiah over His enemies who would have to yield before His might.

110.3

Your people offer themselves willingly,
In the day of your power, in holy array,
Out of the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of your youth.

His followers will offer themselves willingly (compare Judges 5.2) in the day when He exercises His power, not as soldiers but as priests (they are in holy array). If we translate as ‘host’ rather than as ‘power’ it is still as a host of priests. They are priests of the great High Priest mentioned in verse 4. They are ‘a royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2.9), ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Revelation 1.6). Of course the people of those days may well have read this as a fighting force, but the prophecy does not say so, and it was remarkably fulfilled when after the Messiah’s resurrection to God’s right hand, He sent out His followers as royal priests to bring men under His kingly Rule (Matthew 28.18-20; Colossians 1.13).

‘Out of the womb of the morning, you have the dew of your youth.’ ‘Out of the womb of the morning’ indicates the time when the day is brought to birth. It is then that the dew appears and waters the ground early in the morning causing produce to grow. Such dew was quite prolific in Palestine. Thus the picture here is of freshness and fruitfulness following Messiah’s coming, indicating His success from the beginning, or even indicating resurrection power. If spoken of His people who offered themselves willingly it indicates the freshness of their ministry.

110.4

YHWH has sworn, and will not repent,
“You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”

The reason for the mention of this can only be because those in holy array in the previous verse were to be seen as priests, and the aim is to indicate what type of priests they were, not Levitical priests but priests after the order of Melchizedek in line with their leader.

Notice the solemnity of the declaration. ‘YHWH has sworn and will not change His mind’. The priesthood of the Messiah is established by an oath. The writer to the Hebrews brings out how superior this was to the Levitical priests (Hebrews 7.20-22). Thus the Messiah comes as both king and priest. He supersedes the old dispensation, being a superior priest with a better priesthood. The importance of this is sealed by it being declared on oath. The Messiah would have a special ministry before God. It is only in Hebrews that the greatness of that ministry is fully revealed.

Note On The Priesthood After The Order Of Melchizedek.

The name comes from Genesis 14 where Melchizedek was the king of Salem (Jerusalem) and, as regularly in those days outside Israel, was also priest. He was king-priest of Jerusalem, a position which would continue to be held by his successors. Thus when David conquered Jerusalem and became its king the Canaanites would also anoint him as a ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’, and he would be so crowned. Indeed in 2 Samuel 8.18 his sons are also called ‘priests’. Because of the strict rules concerning priesthood in Israel David probably saw it as an intercessory priesthood. In this regard it is interesting that when he brought the Ark into Jerusalem he wore a linen ephod (2 Samuel 6.14). There may be an indication that David actually offered sacrifices in 2 Samuel 24.22-25. It is, however, improbable and more probable that he rather organised it through levitical priests. We can compare how Solomon is said to have ‘offered a thousand sacrifices’, where it is quite clear that the sacrifices must have been offered by others. The task would have been enormous.

What is, however, certain is that sons of the house of David did see it as their right and responsibility to intercede on behalf of the people. Thus David (2 Samuel 24.10, 14, 17), Solomon (1 Kings 8.22 ff) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 19.15-19) all interceded before YHWH on behalf of the people in an intercessory role. What God is therefore guaranteeing to the Messiah is the continuation of that priesthood with His authority behind it.

End Of Note.

110.5-6

The Lord at your right hand
Will subdue kings in the day of his wrath.
He will judge among the nations,
He will fill places with dead bodies,
He will subdue the head in many countries.

Verses 5-7 were probably words directed to YHWH. Thus ‘the Lord at Your (YHWH’s) right hand’ are probably words spoken to YHWH signifying the Messiah (as in verse 1). It is because He acts with YHWH’s authority that the Messiah will subdue kings in the Day of His Wrath. Compare 2.9; 96.10; 1 Samuel 2.10. He will judge among the nations and fill pits or valleys with dead bodies. Compare Revelation 19.15-18. The emphasis is on final victory. Whether the dead bodies are the consequence of judicial execution or of battle we are not told. ‘He will smite the head in many countries’ probably indicates the subjection of their kings as in line 2. The whole picture is of the final judgment of the nations who have refused to submit to Him voluntarily.

110.7

He will drink of the brook in the way,
Therefore will he lift up the head.

This final verse is quite remarkable. He will lift his head high in victory because he drinks of the brook by the way. It is the one indication of weakness in the whole Psalm. The suggestion is that He will be so desperately in need that He will need to refresh Himself in the midst of His activities. His victories must be accomplished out of weakness. Whilst He will be upheld by the heavenly King, He will also become weak and require earthly sustenance. As God said to Paul, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’. We are reminded of how our LORD in the midst of His battle cried out, ‘I am thirsty’ and similarly partook of earthly sustenance (John 19.28-30).

Psalm 111.

This Psalm is an acrostic Psalm in that apart from the initial ‘Praise you YHWH’ each line commences with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. Following ‘praise you YHWH’ it therefore has 22 lines. Psalm 112 follows a similar pattern. Psalm 111 celebrates the power, goodness and righteousness of YHWH and the greatness of His works. Psalm 112 describes the prosperity, lovingkindness and righteousness of those who fear Him. Similar words and phrases applied to YHWH in Psalm 111, are applied to the believer in Psalm 112, with some modification. They are thus parallel Psalms, and probably written after the return from Exile.

Initial Praise To YHWH (111.1a)

111.1a

Praise you YHWH (Hellel-u-Yah).

The Psalm commences, as a number of Psalms do, with praise to YHWH offered in the familiar form, ‘Halleluyah’. Compare 106.1; 112.1; 113.1; 135.1; 146.1; 147.1; 148.1; 149.1; 150.1. The same phrase also ends a number of Psalms. See 105.45; 106.48; 113.9; 116.19; 135.21; 146.10; 147.20; 148.14; 149.9; 150.6. It will be noted that none of them are Psalms of David. It appears to be a post-exilic phrase used in the Second Temple.

After this initial praise the Psalm proper begins with the first line commencing with aleph, the second with beth, the third with gimel, the fourth with daleth, and so on until the whole 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used. The same thing occurs in Psalm 112. Nevertheless the number of ‘verses’ comes to ten in both Hebrew and English and this is the consequence of having an extra line in the last two verses. This was probably because ten was seen as the number of completeness. It will be noted that the Psalm emphasises the ‘works’ (ma‘aseh) of YHWH in different ways (verses 2, 6, 7), and also speaks of His ‘work’, using different Hebrew words, in verses 3 & 4. Its stress is on YHWH’s activity on behalf of His people.

The Psalmist Thanks YHWH From His Whole Heart (111.1b).

111.1b

I will give thanks to YHWH with my whole heart,
In the intimate circle of the upright, and in the congregation.

The Psalmist commences the Psalm proper by giving thanks and praise to YHWH from his whole heart. His praise and gratitude are heartfelt. And he does this ‘in the intimate circle of the upright’ and in the assembly. This may distinguish an inner circle of upright believers (found in all religious assemblies) or may simple be parallel to ‘the assembly’. There may be a particular reference to those who had made sacrifices by returning from exile to a not wholly welcoming land. Note that YHWH’s worshippers were to be distinguished by the fact that they were upright. This is always God’s purpose for our lives.

He Speaks Of YHWH’s Wonderful Works By Which He Has Revealed Himself (111.2-4).

111.2-4

Great are the works of YHWH,
Sought out by all those who have pleasure in them.
His work (reveals his) honour and majesty,
And his righteousness endures for ever.
He has made a memorial for his wonderful works,
YHWH is gracious and merciful.

He declares that YHWH’s works are great and wonderful and sought out by all who have pleasure in them. They are concerned to seek them out because they bring delight to their hearts, revealing as they do His honour and His majesty, and also His long lasting righteousness. Through them they discover that YHWH is gracious and merciful. The memorial for His wonderful works may well be the Scriptures and the regular Feasts. Passover especially celebrated their redemption from Egypt. But His word through Moses and the prophets was also essential in communicating to them the nature of His works. We too should study His works as revealed in His word, so that we too might delight in them and discover His graciousness and mercy towards sinful men when their hearts are open towards Him and they repent.

A Brief Description Of His Wonderful Works (111.5-6).

His wonderful works are seen as especially revealed in the way that He feeds His people, and in the fact that He gave to His people land which had belonged to others. These were revealed both at the Exodus, in the quails and manna in the wilderness, and in the Conquest through which His people received their inheritance. They were also revealed to the returnees from Exile to whom He restored the land and made it fruitful.

111. 5-6

He has given food to those who fear him,
He will ever be mindful of his covenant.
He has showed his people the power of his works,
In giving them the heritage of the nations.

Food is the basic need of man, and for ancient man it was central to his life. Indeed for many their whole life, apart from worship, was concentrated on obtaining food for their families. Man can live without much, but he cannot live without food, and food was often not easy to come by. So after the Exodus YHWH provided His people with the manna and with quails, and promised that as long as they remained faithful to Him He would provide them with food in due season. He promised the same to the restored community, once they had truly responded to Him. He would make their fields blossom and be fruitful. And all this in accordance with His covenant with them of which He was ever mindful, for God saw Himself as bound by His covenant to respond to their obedience.

Furthermore, He gave to them as an inheritance the land of Canaan, defeating the nations before them after the Exodus, and giving them ‘the heritage of the nations’ (what previously belonged to the nations but which they forfeited by their evil ways - Deuteronomy 9.5). Furthermore, He gave them partial possession of the land again when Cyrus made his decree allowing them to return to the land and re-establish a people around the Temple (Ezra 1). We are reminded also by this of how our LORD Jesus Christ promised that whilst believers were faithful to His Father they would never lack food and clothing (Matthew 6). He was still mindful of His covenant.

What YHWH’s Works Reveal About Him (111.7-8).

The purpose of revealing His works was in order that from them His people might learn the truth about Himself.

111.7-8

The works of his hands are truth and justice,
All his precepts are sure.
They are established for ever and ever,
They are done in truth and uprightness.

‘The works of his hands are truth and justice.’ This may mean that the works of His hands, including the giving of His precepts (what God has appointed), reveal His truth and justice (compare a similar expression in verse 3), or it may mean that truth and justice established on earth, including His precepts, are part of His works. Either is possible and both are, of course, true. And whichever way it is they are established ‘for ever and ever’ (literally ‘into the hidden future’). For God is unchanging, the same yesterday, today and for ever. His precepts include those given at Sinai, but they also include those given through the prophets, and for us those given through Jesus and the Apostles. The word for ‘precepts’ is unique to the Psalms and means ‘that which God had appointed’.

Indeed, all His works are done in truth and uprightness, for with God there is no deviation from the path of truth and righteousness. His behaviour is unlike the perverse and untrustworthy behaviour of the ‘gods’ of the nations, and indeed of us.

YHWH’s Redeeming Activity (111.9).

Above all God is a redeeming and delivering God as One Who has made an everlasting covenant with His people.

111.9

He has sent redemption to his people,
He has commanded his covenant for ever,
Holy and reverend is his name.

The positioning of these words at the end of the Psalm in which the Psalmist has previously spoken of the time in the wilderness, followed by the Conquest would seem to suggest that more than just the deliverance from Egypt is in mind, even granting the wonder of that deliverance. The redemption from Egypt was clearly a hugely important event. It eventually led to Israel becoming an independent nation in its own land.

But we must not overlook the number of times that God later interfered in order to deliver His people in the building up of that nation, and indeed afterwards. Throughout their history again and again His people needed redemption, and without it they would have been doomed. Thus we see this verse as referring to His continual acts of redemption, including the deliverance from Egypt, His deliverances in Judges, His deliverances through Samuel and David, His deliverances through Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah and so on through to the deliverance after the Exile, all demonstrating that He is the redeeming God, Who constantly delivers His people. Again and again He had sent redemption to His people in accordance with His covenant. Each period saw His deliverance of them as miraculous. And each period of failure saw His true people, the remnant, looking again to Him for redemption in the confidence that He would eventually redeem them because of His covenant with them.

We have even greater cause to glory, for we are aware of His greatest act of redemption of all time when He commanded redemption though our LORD Jesus Christ and His sacrifice of Himself for us on the cross. Nothing will ever exceed that for it was unique, immense and covered the whole of time. Note the word ‘commanded’. In each case it was God Who took the initiative and by sovereign power brought about His redemption. And He did it continually, and will, says the Psalmist, continue to do so ‘for ever’ (into the hidden future). No wonder then that the Psalmist declares, ‘holy (distinct from all others in purity and Being and behaviour), and to be reverently feared, is His Name’. Note the implication that His actin in accordance with His covenant requires a believing response from His people. They are to reverently fear Him.

It Is Those Who Reverently Fear God And Do What He Says Who Will Gain True Wisdom and Understanding (111.10).

The Psalm ends on the note of the requirement for an obedient response to His love.

111.10

The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom,
A good understanding have all they who do (what He says),
His praise endures for ever.

Leading on from the fact that His Name is greatly to be feared because of what He is and what He has done for His people, the Psalmist declares that that fear is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom is only found when men know and fear God, otherwise it is only bound up in ourselves. Those who do what He says will thereby be led into good understanding against a background of a knowledge of God’s true ways (God’s ways, be it noted, not man’s interpretation of those ways). Thus YHWH’s praise will endure for ever from those who truly know His ways.

Psalm 112.

Like the previous Psalm this is an acrostic Psalm with each consecutive line commencing with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but whereas in the previous Psalm all the attention was on the works of YHWH, in this Psalm the attention is on the works of the righteous man. It describes the prosperity, gracious dealings and righteousness of the upright man who fears YHWH in line with 111.10. It was probably written after the Exile.

Introductory Praise (112.1a).

Compare the openings of psalms 111 and 113. Compare also 106.1; 135.1; 146.1; 147.1; 148.1; 149.1; 150.1.

112.1a

Praise you YHWH (Hellel-u-Yah).

The Psalm commences with a cry of heartfelt praise to YHWH using the familiar phrase Hellel-uYah. This phrase preceded many later Psalms for the idea was that YHWH was to be praised initially before further worship began. Thus the singers, having gathered in the Temple courts to sing the Psalm, would respond to the choirmaster’s signal and would sing out with one voice ‘Halleluyah’. The Psalm then progresses in praise of the righteous man who fears YHWH, building on the thought of the last verse of Psalm 111.

Central to the Psalm is the concern of the righteous man for the poor and needy. He is a light in the darkness for them (verse 4), deals graciously with them and lends to them (verse 5), and gives generously to the needy (verse 9). The consequence is that he will be blessed (verse 1), will have successful descendants (verse 2), will grow in wealth (verse 3), will prevail before the seat of justice (verse 5), will have a good name (verse 6), will not be afraid of bad news (verse 7), will prevail over his enemies (verse 8), and will be had in honour by all (verse 9), making the wicked seriously jealous (verse 10).

112.1b-2

Blessed is the man who fears YHWH,
Who delights greatly in his commandments.
His seed will be mighty on earth,
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

The man who is blessed is the one who truly fears YHWH with a reverent awe, and who has great delight in His commandments. His desire is to please God and obey Him. As a consequence his descendants will become important men, and those who are born from him will be blessed. It is a reminder that God desires us to live lives that are genuinely good and in line with what He is.

112.3-4

Wealth and riches are in his house,
And his righteousness endures for ever.
He arises as a light in the darkness for the upright,
(Being) gracious, and merciful, and righteous.

Those who fear YHWH will, in normal circumstances, enjoy wealth and riches and ‘his righteousness’ will endure for ever. The meaning of righteousness here probably signifies ‘the fruits of his righteousness’ as a parallel to the previous line. Thus such a man will continually proper. But because of the kind of man he is he will use his prosperity to ‘rise as a light in the darkness’ for the upright. When upright men are struggling and finding life hard he will go to their assistance and aid them. And he will do this because he is gracious, merciful and righteous. He is a man of goodwill and godly generosity, and is both compassionate and merciful, and all this because he fears YHWH.

112.5-6

It is well with the man who deals graciously and lends,
He will maintain his cause in judgment.
For he will never be moved,
The righteous will be had in everlasting remembrance.

His graciousness will especially be revealed in the way in which he lends to the needy without charging interest and without pressing for his debt to be repaid. As a consequence of his goodness, if ever he is called before the courts, he will be able to maintain his cause. This will partly be because his reputation will stand him in good stead, and partly because God is with him as his advocate. Thus nothing will be able to shake him or affect his position. He will be able to stand firm against all accusations. Indeed his reputation will be such that it will be upheld long after his death.

112.7-8

He will not be afraid of bad news,
His heart is fixed, trusting in YHWH.
His heart is established, he will not be afraid,
Until he sees (his desire) on his adversaries.

Having a good heart and a clear conscience he will not be troubled when he hears bad news. He has no cause to fear that God will punish him, and he is content with whatever God brings on him. And this because his heart is fixed in complete trust on YHWH. Even when adversaries rise up against him his heart will be established, and will be unafraid. For he is confident that YHWH will enable him to be victorious. He is confident that his adversaries will be defeated.

112.9

He has dispersed, he has given to the needy,
His righteousness endures for ever,
His horn will be exalted with honour.

Indeed his life can be summed up by declaring that he has dispersed his wealth and given to the needy continually. As a consequence his goodness continues to grow. It will be firmly established, and he will be held in high honour. Thus he will always be able to hold his head (his horn) up high. The first two lines were cited by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9.9. He clearly approved of them as the sign of a godly man.

112.10

The wicked will see it, and be grieved,
He will gnash with his teeth, and melt away,
The desire of the wicked will perish.

Indeed, he will be held in such high esteem that lesser men, who do not have his godly attitude, will see it and be grieved. In contrast to the godly man the unrighteous man, instead of continuing on in men’s hearts and being held in high honour, will be grieved that it happens to the godly man and not to him. Rather than being held in permanent honour he will melt away, meanwhile gnashing his teeth in fury and helplessness. For the desire of the wicked man (his desire for what the good man has achieved), instead of growing and developing, will wither and perish. All he hopes for will have gone.

Psalms 113-118.

This Group of Psalms are called the 'Hallel' (Hymn of Praise. They were sung at the three great festivals, Passover, Pentecost (Sevens) and Tabernacles, as well as at the Festival of Dedications and the New Moons (except for the one that opened the year). At the domestic celebration of the Passover Psalms 113, 114 were sung before the meal and Psalms 115-118 after it, when the fourth cup has been filled. The latter were the Psalms sung before Jesus and His disciples went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30; Mark 14.26).

Psalm 113.

This Psalm, which is partly based on Hannah’s words in 1 Samuel 2, can be divided into four sections:

  • A call to praise YHWH (113.1).
  • A blessing on YHWH Who is high above all nations and Whose glory is above the heavens (113.2-4).
  • A recognition that He humbles Himself in order to consider what is in heaven and in the earth (113.5-6).
  • A description of what this Mighty God consequently does for the poor and the barren (113.7-9).

A Call To Praise YHWH (113.1).

113.1

Praise you YHWH.
Praise, O you servants of YHWH,
Praise the name of YHWH.

The Psalm opens with Hallel-u-Yah (Praise you YHWH) and calls on YHWH’s servants to praise ‘the name of YHWH’, in other words, to praise all that He is. Note the privileged title given to the worshippers. They are ‘servants of YHWH’, the unique and only YHWH. No wonder they want to praise Him.

A Blessing On YHWH Who Is High Above All Nations And Whose Glory Is Above The Heavens (113.2-4).

We now learn that YHWH is to be honoured because He is:

  • High above all nations. Supreme over the earth.
  • Glorious above the heavens. Supreme over the heavens.

He is thus supreme over, and towers over, both earth and heaven.

113.2-4

Blessed be the name of YHWH,
From this time forth and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same,
YHWH’s name is to be praised.
YHWH is high above all nations,
And his glory above the heavens.

The Name of YHWH (what He essentially is) is to be blessed continually from now on, for evermore. It is to be praised from East to West (in their terms by the whole world). And this because He is supreme above the nations, and His glory is supreme above the heavens. He is thus supreme over everything that is in both earth and heaven. All men are subject to Him and His glory far exceed that of the highest heavenly being.

A Recognition That He Has To Humble Himself In Order To Consider What Is In Heaven And In The Earth (113.5-6).

Indeed, YHWH is so great that He is seated above all things, and has to humble Himself in order to consider what is happening in heaven and on earth.

113.5-6

Who is like to YHWH our God,
Who has his seat on high,
Who humbles himself to behold,
(What is) in heaven and in the earth?

These amazing words bring out how supreme YHWH is. He is not just in heaven among the angels, He is so uniquely seated ‘above them’ that He has to humble Himself to consider what they are doing. And the same is true of the earth. There is no thought here of Him being in the Holiest Place in the Temple. Rather He is on high, far above heaven and earth, so that He has to humble Himself in order to behold what is going on in both places. We can compare how when men rebelled at Babel they and their imposing tower were seen as so small that God had to come down in order to see them (Genesis 11.5).

A Description Of What This Mighty God Does For The Poor And The Barren (113.7-9).

These words are based on 1 Samuel 2.8. None are less important and meaner on earth than the poor and the barren. The poor have nothing to offer either God or man, but simply struggle to survive, counted as unimportant by all on the outskirts of society. In ancient times the barren woman was basically an outcast for she failed to contribute to society by bearing children and was thus despised by all and liable to be sent home to her family. So both the needy and the barren women were seen as of no account. And yet this Mighty God sees them and raises up the poor and needy to the level of princes, and enables the barren woman to bear children and be a joyful mother over them. He turns things upside down. And what He does for the poor and needy He does also for all who are His, for without Him we too are needy and our lives are barren..

113.7-8

He raises up the poor out of the dust,
And lifts up the needy from the dunghill,
That he may set him with princes,
Even with the princes of his people.

The dust and the dunghill were seen as the place of misery and humiliation. See Isaiah 47.1; Lamentations 4.5. The idea is of the refuse heaps outside the city or town boundary where outcasts could be found. .They were the only place where the lowest of the low were allowed to take their rest. They were considered as fitting for such people. They had no home. The dunghills could provide warmth at night. But YHWH sees things differently. He loves the poor and the needy and He raises up such people and makes them enjoy the privilege of being princes, even the very princes of Israel, a total contrast to being in the dust and on the dunghill. Such could be said to have happened figuratively to both Jephthah and David. It has occurred many times through history. The glorious thing is that He lifts us up too in Christ from the dust and dunghill of sin.

113.9

He makes the barren woman to keep house,
(To be) a joyful mother of children.
Praise you YHWH.

Nothing was more distressing in Israel than to be a barren woman. Such a woman was seen as a failure and as having no importance. But the Psalmist declares that such a woman is important to YHWH. He takes the barren woman and makes her fruitful so that she ‘keeps house’ and is a joyful mother of children. This was what happened to both Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

In these days when being barren is not seen as so important He does it in other ways through enabling women to care for orphans, or neglected children, or those available for adoption for one reason or another. But His concern is still the same.

At such love and concern the Psalmist could only declare, ‘Hellel-u-Yah’, praise you YHWH.

Psalm 114.

The LXX (Greek Old Testament) places the Hellel-u-Yah which is at the end of Psalm 113 at the commencement of Psalm 114, and in view of the fact that Psalms 111-113 all commence with Hellel-u-Yah, and that in Psalm 114 there is no reference to God until verses 7, there would appear to be reasonable grounds for seeing this as correct. Initially in the written record, where there was no introduction to a Psalm there may have been no divisions between the Psalms, making the error a possibility without any alteration of the text, the decision being left to the singers. None of this series of Psalms (110-13) ends with Hellel-u-Yah apart from Psalm 113.

On the other hand many Psalms do end in Hellel-u-Yah (see 105.45; 106.48; 113.9; 116.19; 135.21; 146.10; 147.20; 148.14; 149.9; 150.6), and Psalm 113’s closing Hellel-u-yah may have been seen as ending the series of three Psalms (111-113). And clearly at least one important tradition sang the Psalms as we have them written. A final solution is therefore unobtainable.

The Psalm, which is formed as a chiasmus, centres on incidents in God’s redemption of His people at the Exodus as showing the might and awesome nature of God, and the wonder of His relationship with His people. It can be analysed as follows:

  • A The coming forth of Israel from Egypt resulted in their escaping Egyptian influence and their becoming God’s dwelling place and under His kingly rule (verses 1-2).
  • B As a consequence of His presence the Reed Sea flees before Him and the Jordan is driven back, while the mountains and hills skip like sheep (verses 3-4).
  • B But why does the Reed Sea flee before Him? Why is Jordan driven back? Why do the mountains and hills skip like sheep? (verses 5-6).
  • A It is because of the presence of their terrible indwelling Sovereign Lord Who works wonders and satisfies His people’s deepest needs (verses 7-8).

The coming forth of Israel from Egypt resulted in their escaping Egyptian influence and their becoming God’s dwelling place and under His kingly rule (verses 1-2).

114.1-2

When Israel went forth out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

Note the emphasis on the foreignness of Egypt as a place where Israel were uncomfortable. Israel went forth from a people of a strange language. Living among Egyptians they must have got to know the language fairly well, but it would always be strange to them. It was not a Semitic language. Most nations surrounding Palestine spoke similar languages, but not Egypt. Thus the language of Egypt stood out harshly, and they were never comfortable with it. It indicated that Egypt was not a place where they were at home. A foreign, incompatible tongue, was regularly seen as distinguishing ‘strangers’ (Deuteronomy 28.49; Isaiah 28.11; 33.19).

But there may be a further point here that it was when Israel/Judah escaped from the ties and foreign influence of Egypt that God was able to come closer to them. Being under Egyptian influence had held them back. They had become too integrated with foreign ideas. But now they were freed from this Judah became His sanctuary, the place where He dwelt, Israel became His own people under His rule. They were freed from foreign ties. The names Judah and Israel are used here synonymously, indicating the whole people, not separate entities. Thus their deliverance from Egypt resulted in a new and deeper relationship with God. God and they became closely united, with God as their indweller and king. Compare Exodus 19.6 where they were described as a kingdom of priests and a sanctified nation.

As a consequence of His presence the Reed Sea flees before Him and the Jordan is driven back, while the mountains and hills skip like sheep (verses 3-4).

114.3-4

The sea saw it, and fled,
The Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The small hills like lambs.

It was this new, special relationship which had its effects as they made their escape and journeyed to the promised land. The Reed Sea saw God approaching among His people and fled before Him. When Jordan saw Him it was driven back to let Him through. Notice the forcefulness of the verbs ‘fled’ and ‘driven back’. They were moved with awe and wonder and hastened to do His bidding.

‘The mountains also skipped like rams, and the small hills like lambs.’ This probably primarily refers to the earthquakes at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19.18). They moved at His approach. They trembled at His presence (verse 7). But the mention of the small hills together with the mountains may also indicate joyous activity at the approach of their God. They were happy to see Him come.

But why does the Reed Sea flee before Him? Why is Jordan driven back? Why do the mountains and hills skip like sheep? (verses 5-6).

114.5-6

What ails you, O you sea, that you flee?
You Jordan, that you turn back?
You mountains, that you skip like rams,
You small hills, like lambs?

These unexpected events then raise the question as to why they behave like this. What is their problem? This suggestion of a problem (‘what ails you?’) confirms that the primary reference to the skipping is of the mountains and hills being shaken by earthquake. Why does the sea flee? Why does the Jordan turn back? Why do the mountains skip like rams? Why do the small hills skip like lambs? These are the crucial questions which are eliciting the final explanation.

It is because of the presence of their terrible indwelling Sovereign Lord Who works wonders and satisfies His people’s deepest needs (verses 7-8).

114.7-8

Tremble, you earth, at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of waters.

The answer comes back, resounding and clear. They tremble at the presence of the Sovereign Lord, the God of Jacob. His presence with His people has shaken them to the core. They flee, they are driven back, they skip, because of His presence. They fear Him and want to please Him. And they are amazed. For this mighty Lord, travelling through the hot dry wilderness with His people, has twice revealed His might by producing abundant water for them from the rocks (Exodus 17.6; Numbers 20.8 ff). He has made the wilderness for them a land of plenty.

As these words were sung they would, of course, have a present meaning to the singers, that God would continue to make ample provision for His people. They were a reminder to God of what was expected of Him.

There may be a double entendre here. Verse 8 parallels verse 2 in the chiastic structure. It may therefore be an indication that verse 8 is an indication of what He does for Israel/Judah. Having taken His dwelling among them as their Lord, He has changed them by turning their rocky, flinty hearts into water sources that benefit others. Different singers would perhaps interpret the words differently from each other.

Thus the Psalm brings out the terrible and mighty nature of God, and yet His great covenant love for His people

Psalm 115.

This Psalm expresses Israel’s concern, in the face of their own humiliating situation, that glory should go to YHWH for what He is, and especially because of the covenant love and integrity He has shown towards them. They were clearly concerned that YHWH’s Name was being dishonoured by their situation. It was probably written after the return from Exile when they had reached a low ebb and felt that they were bringing YHWH’s Name into disgrace. But they still had faith to believe that YHWH could righten the situation.

It can be analysed as follows:

  • A cry to YHWH that He will honour, not their name, but His own loving and faithful Name, for it seemed wrong to them that idolatrous nations should be able to say of them, ‘Where is their God?’ when He was in fact the God of Heaven Who could do whatever He pleased (115.1-3).
  • A scornful assessment of the gods of those nations as man-made and incapable of acting in any way, no-gods who could do nothing, and who made their worshippers weak and frail like themselves (115.4-8).
  • A call on Israel to trust YHWH because He is actively their help and shield (115.9-11).
  • The assurance of Israel that God is mindful of them and will bless them and increase them (115.12-14).
  • An assurance that the God of Heaven and earth will bless them, for He has given them the earth to dwell in, and a declaration from them that because they experience life and not the nothingness of death they will worship YHWH continually (115.15-18).

A Cry To YHWH That He Will Honour, Not Their Name, But His Own Loving And Faithful Name, For It Seemed Wrong To Them That Idolatrous Nations Should Be Able To Say Of Them, ‘Where Is Their God?’ When He Was In Fact the God of Heaven Who Could Do Whatever He Pleased (115.1-3).

115.1

Not unto us, O YHWH, not unto us,
But unto your name give glory,
For your covenant love,
And for your truth’s sake.

They assure YHWH that they do not seek for Him to bring glory on their name, but on His own Name because of the covenant love that He has shown towards them and because of His integrity towards them. These have been especially revealed in the way that He has brought them back to their land and resettled them again.

The words suggest a sense of humility and unworthiness on their part, as they recognise that they deserve no glory. They realise that they have let God down. Nevertheless they recognise the wonder of what He has done for them in delivering them and bringing them back to the land and desire that He should get the credit for the covenant love and faithfulness which He has revealed in what He has done.

115.2-3

Why should the nations say,
“Where is now their God?”
But our God is in the heavens,
He has done whatever he pleased.

Furthermore it seemed wrong to them that the nations should be able to say, ‘Where is now their God?’, when He is in fact the God of Heaven Who can do whatever He pleases. This certainly indicates a concern for God’s glory, but it also confirms that they were at a low ebb, for why else should their neighbours ask this question? Thus they were in fact basically twisting God’s arm to raise them up so that His own Name might be glorified. It is, however, a reminder to us that our first concern should be for the glory of God and not for our own aggrandisement.

‘Where is now their God?’ Israel had been great in the area, and had once lorded it over the surrounding nations. But now their neighbours looked down on them and scorned both them and their God. Their neighbours could point both to the demise of Jerusalem, and to the present poor state of the worshippers of YHWH, which they saw as indicating YHWH’s helplessness. But it did not seem right to Israel, with their awareness of Whom God is, that this should be allowed to happen. They, through the prophets, were aware of why YHWH had done what He had done. And so this was a plea to YHWH to act on their behalf in a way that the gods of their neighbours could not, thereby demonstrating His power and bringing glory on His Name.

A Scornful Assessment Of The Gods Of The Surrounding Nations As Man-made And Incapable Of Acting In Any Way At All, No-gods Who Could Do Nothing And Made Their Worshippers Frail And Weak Like Themselves (115.4-8).

The irony of the situation was that their neighbours were saying, ‘Where is now their God?’ when in fact their own gods were man-made and totally helpless.

115.4-8

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak,
They have eyes, but they do not see,
They have ears, but they do not hear,
They have noses, but they do not smell,
They have hands, but they do not handle,
They have feet, but they do not walk,
Nor do they speak through their throat.
Those who make them will be like them,
Yes, every one who trusts in them.

They point out that the gods of the surrounding nations were man-made and constructed of silver and gold. It thus seemed wrong to Israel that their neighbours were prospering around them whilst they themselves were at such a low ebb. For were not their neighbours’ gods ‘no-gods’ who were incapable of doing even the most basic things, and were dragging those who trusted in them down with them? Even though they were fashioned with mouths, eyes, ears, noses, hands and feet they could not speak, they could not see, they could not hear, they could not smell, they could not handle things, they could not walk. They were helpless.

This description parallels many similar descriptions in the prophets. See Isaiah 44.9-17; 46.6-7; Jeremiah 10.3-5; Deuteronomy 4.28; Isaiah 2.20; Habakkuk 2.18-19.

The truth, of course, as Israel knew, was that their God was active, for as their prophets had told them He was chastising His people in order to teach them lessons because He loved them, whereas He was leaving their neighbours to their own devices, and they would soon disappear from history. The same is true for us. At such times as we feel that God does not care for us and are bewildered, it can be most difficult to trust in God. But as with Israel we are called on to trust Him in the dark and recognise that whatever experience we are going through He intends good towards us.

A Call For Israel To Trust In YHWH Because He Is Actively Their Help And Shield (115.9-11).

The change in person here, which at first appears strange, probably arose from the fact that someone (a song leader) sang the odd lines, to be followed by the response from all the singers in the even lines. The cry, ‘O Israel trust in YHWH’, sung by the song leader, was followed by the response, ‘for He is their strength and shield’, sung by all the singers. And so on.

115.9-11

O Israel, trust you in YHWH,
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust you in YHWH,
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear YHWH, trust in YHWH,
He is their help and their shield.

Note that there is a threefold call under different descriptions, a call to Israel, a call to the house of Aaron (the priestly house), and a call to all who worship YHWH. This last arose because some in the land had joined with the returned Israel in fearing YHWH and worshipping Him truly (Ezra 6.21; compare Exodus 12.48; 1 Kings 8.41-42; Isaiah 56.6-7). All are called on to recognise that YHWH is their help and shield, something emphasised by the threefold repetition. It was confirmation that He had not forgotten them, and would aid them and protect them.

It should also be noted that this threefold description is a description of the true Israel which would be the consequence of belief in the Messiah. That too would consist of Messiah believing Israel, Messiah believing priests (stressed in Acts 6.7), and Messiah believing former Gentiles making up the olive tree (Romans 11.12-.24) and the true vine (John 15.1-6)..

The Assurance Of Israel That God Was Still Mindful Of Them And Would Bless Them And Increase Them Having Given Them Life (115.12-14).

These lines are a response to the words above. They may have been sung by the song-leader, or by the people as a whole. They express Israel’s confidence that YHWH has been mindful of them and will bless them, unlike the gods of the nations. He will bless all previously mentioned. He will bless the house of Israel. He will bless the house of Aaron. And He will bless those who fear God. All Who seek Him will be included within His blessing. And a good part of that blessing will be in His increasing them more and more, generation by generation, so that they can fill the land.

115.12-14

YHWH has been mindful of us,
He will bless,
He will bless the house of Israel,
He will bless the house of Aaron,
He will bless those who fear YHWH,
Both small and great.
YHWH increase you more and more,
You and your children.

Israel recognise with gladness of heart that YHWH has been mindful of them. That was why they were again present in the land. Thus they were assured that He would bless them all, people, priests and proselytes, whether they were of the aristocracy, or of the common people. He would bless them by making their fields fruitful, and especially by making their wombs fruitful. For the more they increased, the more the land would become theirs for them to enjoy.

An Assurance That The God of Heaven and Earth Will Bless Them, For He Has Given Them The Earth To Dwell In, And A Declaration From Them That Because They Experience Life And Not The Nothingness Of Death They Will Worship YHWH Continually (115.15-18).

The first four lines are sung as TO Israel, and the second four as sung BY Israel. There is a significant threefold contrast here between God the Creator Who is supreme in His heaven, His people alive on the earth from which they are able to praise Him for His goodness, and the world of the dead where no one experiences anything and there is no praise. At this stage there was no real hope or understanding of an afterlife.

115.15-16

Blessed are you of YHWH,
Who made heaven and earth.
The heavens are the heavens of YHWH,
But the earth has he given to the children of men.

It was not the gods of the nations but YHWH Who made the heavens and the earth. And Israel are blessed of YHWH, Who is the Creator of Heaven and earth, for while the heaven are His own possession, He has given the earth to the living children of men for them to live in and enjoy. And as verse 14 indicated, He intends to increase the number of His people living in it. So they are doubly blessed. Here is the answer to the nations who ask, where is now their God? He is ruling in the heavens, and establishing Israel on earth.

115.17-18

The dead praise not YHWH,
Nor any who go down into silence,
But WE will bless YHWH,
From this time forth and for evermore.
Praise you YHWH (Hellel-u-Yah).

Aware of the wonder of having life, even with all its problems, they declare that they (emphatic) as a nation will bless YHWH from this time forth and into the hidden future. Their recognition of the wonder of life comes out in the contrast. If they were dead they would be silent, they would be unable to praise YHWH. But because they have life they can and will do so continually. PRAISE YHWH!

Psalm 116.1.

In this Psalm the Psalmist has clearly survived some near death experience, possibly from a fatal disease, or from the machinations of his enemies (verse 11). It has enhanced His love for and appreciation of God, and his confidence in prayer, and he consequently expresses his thankfulness to God for his deliverance and determines to offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving.

The Psalm divides into two main sections, the first expressing his deep gratitude to God for his deliverance (verses 1-9), and the second declaring his determination to fulfil his cultic obligations with regard to that deliverance (verses 10-18), by taking 'the cup of salvation', fulfilling his vows, and offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

The Psalmist Expresses His Deep Gratitude To God For His Deliverance (Verses 1-9).

This section may be divided up as follows:

  • His declaration of love for and submission to YHWH because He has heard him (verses 1-2).
  • His description of the fate from which YHWH has saved him (verses 3-4).
  • His proclamation that YHWH is therefore gracious, merciful and righteous (verses 5-6).
  • His call to himself to rest in YHWH because He has dealt bountifully with him (verses 7-8).
  • His declaration that he will walk before YHWH in the land of the living (verse 9).

His Declaration Of Love For And Submission To YHWH Because He Has Heard Him (verses 1-2).

He expresses his praise to YHWH because He has heard him, and responded to his prayer, and he declares that he will call on Him as long as e lives.

116.1- 2

'I love YHWH, because he hears,
My voice, my supplications.
Because he has bent his ear towards me,
Therefore will I call as long as I live.'

The Psalmist declares his love for YHWH because YHWH has heard his voice and his pleading, and he makes the promise that because He has done so he will call on YHWH continually for the remainder of his life. His intentions are good. However, as many of us have found, the maintenance of such promises is more difficult than it seems that it will be in the first flush of enthusiasm. It is therefore important that we sing these words daily along with him as a reminder of what we have promised in times past. In the words of Paul, we are to 'continue instant in prayer'.

His Description Of The Fate From Which YHWH Had Saved Him (verses 3-4).

He describes the near death experience which he had gone through, but we are given no details. It may have been at the hands of some sickness, or at the hands of enemies, but whichever it was he had depended on YHWH to deliver him.

116.3-4

The cords of death enmeshed me,
And the pains of Sheol got hold of me,
I found trouble and sorrow.'
Then I called on the name of YHWH,
O YHWH, I plead with you, deliver my life.'

For some reason not explained the Psalmist had found himself near death. The cords of death had enmeshed him, like the nets which the hunter sets in his pit seeking to entangle his pray. He had felt himself seized by death. The agonies of the grave world had taken hold of him. He had experienced trouble and sorrow. In the words of another Psalm, his steps had well nigh gone. He had felt himself slipping away from life.

But then in his distress he had called on 'the Name of YHWH', that is, he had called on Him in terms of what he knew Him to be, a Saviour and a Deliverer. And his prayer had simply been that he might not die. He had pleaded with YHWH to deliver his life from the emptiness of death, and the emptiness of the grave world.

His Proclamation That YHWH Is Therefore Gracious, Merciful And Righteous (verses 5-6).

He rejoices in his deliverance which has come about because of the graciousness of God. He had been brought low, but YHWH had saved him.

116.5-6

Gracious is YHWH, and righteous,
Yes, our God is merciful.
YHWH preserves the simple,
I was brought low, and he saved me.

The thought of what had then happened causes him to praise YHWH and declare His goodness and graciousness. It has revealed to him that YHWH, 'our God', is gracious, righteous and merciful. He has revealed His unmerited love towards him. He has dealt rightly with him. He has had mercy on him. Indeed it has revealed that He preserves those whose lack of wisdom and experience (i.e. the simple) lays them open to being misused and led astray. This may just be a general expression of appreciation rather than autobiographical. On the other hand it may be an expression of his own sense of unworthiness in the light of the fact that he had been brought low and had been made helpless.

And why does he praise God like this? It is because when he was brought low and near to death YHWH had saved him. He had not left him to sink into the grave world.

A Call To Himself To Rest In YHWH Because He Has Dealt Bountifully With Him (verses 7-8).

He calls on himself to rest in YHWH because of the gracious way in which He has dealt with him by delivering him from death, sorrow and despair.

116.7-8

Return to your rest (literally 'rests'), O my life,
For YHWH has dealt bountifully with you.'
For you have delivered my life from death,
My eyes from tears, my feet from falling.'

Thus he now declares to himself that he can once more return to the rest of soul which he had previously enjoyed. The plural form of the word 'rests' denotes the deep and continual rest which comes from trusting in God, a rest that continues day by day (it is a plural of intensity). And this was because of the bountiful way in which YHWH had dealt with him. For YHWH had delivered him from death, deep sorrow and despair. He had 'delivered his life from death, his eyes from tears, and his feet from falling'. He had delivered him both practically and emotionally.

His Declaration That He Will Walk Before YHWH In The Land Of The Living (verse 9).

God's purpose in all that we go through is to bring us back to a faithful walk with Him. And the Psalmist now declares that as a consequence of YHWH's goodness he will walk rightly before Him. Note his joyous reference to the land of the living. He had been about to depart into the land of darkness with the dead. But now he was alive again, enjoying life on earth among the living.

116.9

I will walk before YHWH,
In the land of the living.

He was now determined that he would walk before the eyes of YHWH in the land of living to which he had been restored. For it was YHWH Who had restored life to him. Note again the term 'the land of the those who are alive' which contrast so vividly with the pit of death, from which he has been saved. This included the thought that he would live righteously in the eyes of God in accordance with God's Torah (Instruction). But it also probably indicated that he would be faithful in true worship.

He Declares His Determination To Fulfil His Cultic Obligations With Regard To His Deliverance (verse 10-18).

As we consider these words we must remember that for a pious Israelite participation in the cult was not only a privilege but also a joy. It was by this means that he approached near to his God and experienced the reality of His presence. In the Temple court, facing the Sanctuary, he would be aware of the earthly presence of God within, hidden behind the Veil, and that his offerings and sacrifices, offered on the altar in the Temple court, were reaching YHWH. And his heart would be greatly uplifted.

This section divides up as follows:

  • Balance has been restored to his life consequent on his recovery (10-11).
  • He therefore now declares that he will fulfil all his spiritual obligations (12-15).
  • He declares his intention as YHWH's faithful servant to offer Him true worship and thanksgiving, and to fulfil the vows that he had made while he was in trouble (16-19).

Balance Has Been Restored To His Life Consequent On His Recovery (10-11).

He declares that balance has returned to his life and that he has been restored to faith after the despair into which he had fallen.

116.10-11

'I believe, in that I will speak,
I was greatly afflicted,
I said in my haste,
All men are deceivers.'

His testimony is a consequence of the fact that he has been restored to faith. Indeed he declares that the fact that he speaks and testifies proves his restored faith. He is saying, 'the fact that I believe is shown by the fact that I will speak'. He will now therefore speak of what YHWH has done. He had been in the depths of despair. He had been greatly afflicted and had been driven to feel and to declare that no man was to be trusted. Underlying this thought was that he had come to conclude that only God was trustworthy. But he now recognised that he had spoken in haste. Life was not as black as it had appeared. There were still men who could be trusted. God had restored him to equanimity and he would declare what God had done, and give thanks accordingly.

He Therefore Now Declares That He Will Fulfil All His Spiritual Obligations (12-15).

He declares his determination to fulfil all his spiritual obligations as he recognises that God has a deep concern for all His people.

116.12-14

What shall I render to YHWH,
For all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation,
And call on the name of YHWH,
I will pay my vows to YHWH,
Yes, in the presence of all his people.

He asks himself therefore what he can do in order to repay YHWH in some degree for what He has done for him. And his answer is that he will renew his faithfulness towards YHWH. 'The cup of salvation' may well have been a reference to the central cup in the Passover (Matthew 26.27) from which he had been excluded due to his cultic uncleanness. The suggestion is that he was now again cultically clean and could once more partake of it. Or the phrase may simply indicate that he would once more partake in a drink of thanksgiving for God's deliverance, or alternately pour it out before God as a drink offering.

He would also 'call on the Name of YHWH', a technical term found regularly in Scripture which indicated full participation in worship through offerings and sacrifices. See Genesis 4.26 and often.

And he would openly fulfil all the vows that he had made whilst he was in the midst of his troubles. He would do it in the presence of all God's people. Thus testifying to what God had done for him.

116.15

Precious in the sight of YHWH,
Is the death of his saints.

For his experience had shown him that God does care when true believers are facing death. For they are precious in His sight, with the consequence that their deaths matter to Him.

He Declares His Intention As YHWH's Faithful Servant To Offer Him True Worship And Thanksgiving, And To Fulfil The Vows That He Had Made While He Was In Trouble (16-19).

He closes the Psalm by rededicating himself as God's servant, and declaring that he will offer up appropriate sacrifices and worship, and publicly fulfil all the vows that he has made.

116.16

O YHWH, truly I am your servant,
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds.

He rejoices in his deliverance and assures YHWH that from now on, because He has set him free, he is truly His servant and will serve Him faithfully. This deliverance may have been from disease, from dire threats to his life, or from imprisonment. The problem is not specified so that those who sing the Psalm can apply it to their own particular circumstances.

'The son of your handmaid' possibly indicates that his mother was particularly pious (God's handmaid), or it may simply be that he was assuring God that his mother too would serve God faithfully. Or it could just be an expression of piety.

116.17-19

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call on the name of YHWH.
I will pay my vows to YHWH,
Yes, in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of YHWH’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise you YHWH.

Note the threefold repetition of what he intends to do (compare verses 15-16). He will make a thankoffering, he will worship, he will fulfil his vows. Threeness indicates completeness. We are reminded here that gratitude and worship should always be followed by action which demonstrates that gratitude. The three should always go together.

The sacrifice of thanksgiving was one of the freewill offerings in Leviticus 7.11-18. It was a sacrifice of which the family could partake once the due portions had been given to the priest, so that all could rejoice together. It was to be eaten on the day of the offering. Thus it was a public expression of praise and thanksgiving.

Calling on the Name of YHWH indicated participation in general worship with God's people, probably including a whole burnt offering of dedication and atonement.

Paying his vows meant fulfilling whatever vows he had made to YHWH during his time of distress. Many of us make promises when we are in trouble, and it is easy for us to forget such promises once we have recovered, but the Psalmist was determined that he would not neglect what he had vowed.

And it would all be done publicly in the presence of all God's people, in the very courts of the house of YHWH, in the midst of God's holy city Jerusalem. In those days that was as close as men felt that they could get to God. Today our aim is not to worship in Jerusalem, but to worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4.24). But we should nevertheless not neglect letting our gratitude to God be revealed publicly.

The Psalm ends with the regular 'Praise you YHWH', summing up all that has gone before.

Psalm 117.

This short but significant Psalm could be called the evangelistic Psalm. It is a call to all nations and peoples to worship YHWH because of the greatness of His covenant love demonstrated towards His people, and emphasises that His truth endures for ever.

117.1-2

'O praise YHWH, all you nations,
Laud him, all you peoples,
For his covenant love is great towards us,
And the truth of YHWH is for ever.
Praise you YHWH.

All nations and peoples are called on to praise and worship YHWH. This was to be because they had seen in Israel's deliverance back to their land after the Exile the proof of His power and glory, but most of all of His faithfulness. Great was the covenant love that He had shown towards them.

Furthermore they were to be cognisant of His everlasting 'truth', both in that He was wholly true to His people in His everlasting faithfulness, and in the continuing truth that He brought to them in His word. And for this the nations were to praise YHWH.

Psalm 118.

This is the last of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), Psalms which were regularly sung during the great Feasts. They were sung by Jesus and the Apostles during the Passover Feast before they went out to the Mount of Olives, the last three after the fourth cup was filled (Matthew 26.30). This Psalm was probably composed after the completion of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, possibly in readiness for its dedication (Ezra 6.16), or for the following Passover (Ezra 6.19 ff).

In later centuries it became recognised as a Messianic Psalm, and the reference to 'the One Who is coming' (verse 26) was seemingly seen as a Messianic title (Matthew 11.3). The reference to the rejected stone which became the 'head of the corner', which originally referred to restored Israel, was applied to Jesus Christ as the One Who supremely represented Israel (Matthew 21.41; Mark 12.10-11; Luke 20.17; Acts 4.11; 1 Peter 2.7).

The Psalm divides up into six sections:

  • 1). A celebration of YHWH's covenant love (1-4).
  • 2). An expression of confidence in YHWH as a consequence of His deliverance from straitened circumstances (5-9).
  • 3). An expression of confidence in YHWH in the face of many enemies (10-14).
  • 4). Rejoicing because of YHWH's deliverance from constant oppression (15-18).
  • 5). The Temple being completed the people enter and rejoice in what God has done (19-24).
  • 6). Those Who Enter Cry For Blessing, and Are Ensured Of It Because They Come in the Name of YHWH. As a Consequence They Rejoice, Giving Thanks to God (25-29).

The Psalm is notable for its constant repetitions, some twofold, some threefold. See 2-4; 6-7; 8-9; 10-12; 15-16. It opens and closes with the same expression.

1). A Celebration of YHWH's Covenant Love (1-4).

Aware of how YHWH has graciously delivered them from the nations and brought them back to their own land, and enabled them to rebuild the Temple, they celebrate the greatness of His covenant love in a fourfold repetition, the first of which is also repeated at the end of the Psalm. The other three form a threefold refrain calling on Israel, the house of Aaron and all those who fear YHWH to echo that His covenant love is 'for ever' (literally 'into the hidden future').

118.1-4

'Oh give thanks to YHWH, for he is good,
For his covenant love (is) for ever.'
'Let Israel now say,
That his covenant love (is) for ever.'
'Let the house of Aaron now say,
,
That his covenant love (is) for ever.'
'Let those now who fear YHWH say,
That his covenant love (is) for ever'.

For this combination of Israel, the house of Aaron and those who fear YHWH compare Psalm 115.9-11. Israel represents the whole nation as one entity, the house of Aaron represents the priesthood, those who fear YHWH represent the remainder seen as having genuine faith.

2). An Expression of Confidence in YHWH as a Consequence of His Deliverance from Straitened Circumstances (5-9).

118.5

'Out of my straitened circumstances I called on YHWH,
YHWH answered me and set me in a large place.'

They remember back to the straitened circumstance in which they had found themselves in a foreign country. But they had called on YHWH and YHWH had answered them and set them in 'a wide place' where they no longer felt hemmed in. They had been restored to their own country.

This is a reminder to us that when we find ourselves in straitened circumstances we also can call on our covenant God, and be assured that He will lead us into a wide place.

118.6-7

'YHWH is on my side, I will not fear,
What can man do to me?
YHWH is on my side as my supreme helper (literally 'my helpers'),
Therefore will I see (my desire) on those who hate me.'

Their experience of God's deliverance gave them confidence that in the circumstances in which they now found themselves they did not need to fear the opposition of those round about them. They now knew that YHWH was on their side (repeated twice). Thus they did not need to fear what mere men would do to them. And because He was their helper in every circumstance (denoted by the use of the plural) they knew that they would have full satisfaction against those who hated them. Verse 6 is cited in Hebrews 13.6.

118.8-9

It is better to take refuge in YHWH,
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to take refuge in YHWH,
Than to put confidence in princes.'

Thus they could declare with confidence that it was better to take refuge in YHWH than to have confidence in men, and even in princes. They were well aware how both men and princes had let them down. In Him is also where our refuge should be in all circumstances, for if our refuge is in Him we need fear no one.

3). They Express Their Confidence in YHWH in the Face of Their Many Enemies (10-14).

They were well aware that they were surrounded by many enemies who would seek to bring them down and frustrate them, but they were confident that YHWH would in the long run cut off all their enemies and prevent them from harming or hindering them. We are reminded here of the attempts made to prevent them building the Temple, and their enemies' efforts to put them in bad books with the authorities (Ezra 4.4 ff).

118.10-12

All nations surrounded me,
In the name of YHWH I will cut them off.
They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me,
In the name of YHWH I will cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees,'
They are quenched as the fire of thorns,
In the name of YHWH I will cut them off.'

They had been beset on every side by enemies and continually surrounded (stressed three times). It had been as though they had been surrounded and beset by a swarm of bees. But they had been quenched like thorn bushes set alight by enemies which were easily put out. For YHWH had enabled them to triumph and rebuild the Temple. Thus they were confident that in the Name of YHWH they would be enabled to cut off their enemies.

118.13

You thrusted sore at me that I might fall,
But YHWH helped me.'

Speaking as one man they now turn on their enemies and challenge them directly. 'You did your best to destroy us. You thrust sore at us that we might fall.' But their efforts had been in vain, for YHW had helped them.

118.14

'YHWH is my strength and song,
And he is become my salvation.'

Thus they were able to cite words from Exodus 15.2, spoken at the time of another great deliverance. YHWH had been their strength and given them cause to sing about Him, because He had been their salvation. He had delivered them from their enemies.

They Had Been Able To Rejoice Because of YHWH's Deliverance From Constant Severe Oppression (15-18).

They remembered the bitter struggle that they had had, and it brought home to them the wonder of their deliverance.

118.15-16

'The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous,
The right hand of YHWH does valiantly.
The right hand of YHWH is exalted,
The right hand of YHWH does valiantly.'

Because the hand of YHWH had been lifted up, and had done valiantly, they were able to rejoice and sing at their deliverance throughout their dwellings. The Israelites regularly spoke of their houses as 'tents', and by 'the righteous' they meant those who were faithful to their covenant with YHWH, in other words 'true believers' (although some would be nominal).

118.17-18

'I will not die, but live,
And declare the works of YHWH,
YHWH has chastened me sorely,
But he has not given me over to death.'

Confident that God was with them and watching over them God's people declared that in spite of the fact that He had chastened them sorely, they knew that they would survive in order to be able to proclaim the works of YHWH. They knew that they would live and not die, for He had after all not given them over to death.

5). The Temple Being Completed the People Enter and Rejoice in What God Has Done (19-24).

As the people surveyed their new Temple they could hardly believe that they were back in their own land with their own Temple. It had once seemed so far away, so impossible of fulfilment. They had been a rejected people, but God had opened the way for them and set them on high as His people. So now they call on the priests to open 'the gates of righteousness' so that they can enter, and the reply comes that 'this is the gate of YHWH into which the righteous might enter'.

118.19-20

'Open to me the gates of righteousness,
I will enter into them, I will give thanks to YHWH,'
This is the gate of YHWH,
The righteous will enter into it.'

Standing before the gates of the Temple the people call on the priests to open them up so that they can enter them and give thanks to YHWH. They are called the gates of righteousness because they provide access into the righteous presence of God. They kept out all that was unrighteous. Access into the Temple was strictly limited to those who were God's righteous people, those who lived by the covenant. The priests reply that it is the very gate of YHWH into which only those faithful to the covenant might enter. Access into the presence of God was a holy thing. Men must come with hearts prepared, ready to offer offerings and sacrifices.

118.21-23

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me,
And are become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected,
Is become the head of the corner,
From YHWH this has come about,
It is marvellous in our eyes.

They declare why they have come. They have come to offer their gratitude to God because He had answered their cries in a far country, and had delivered them. He had 'become their deliverance'. They had been like a stone rejected by the builders, and lo, a miracle, that stone had been taken by God and made the 'head of the corner'. It was something that only God could have done. From being rejected exiles they had become the true people of God with their own unique Temple.

'Head of the corner' suggests that this was the capstone, the huge stone which when finally put into place held the whole building securely together (compare Zechariah 4.7; Jeremiah 51.26). This would also explain why, until the last minute, the builders had failed to recognise what it was for (although of course the Divine Architect knew).

Others, however, see it as signifying the foundation stone on which the whole building was founded. Compare Jeremiah 51.26, where in contrast Babylon would never be a foundation or cornerstone. See also Job 38.6; Isaiah 28.16.

These verses are later applied to an even greater miracle, when the One Whom God sent into the world was rejected by those who were supposed to be 'building' Israel, only through His death and resurrection to become the foundation of the new people of God (Matthew 21.42; Mark 12.10-11; Luke 20.17; Acts 4.11; 1 Peter 2.7). This application was possible because He was the true representative of Israel Who like them had come out of Egypt (Matthew 2.15).

118.24

This is the day which YHWH has made,
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

The day referred to is the day on which they were celebrating the Feast that they were partaking in. It may have been Passover, or it may have been Tabernacles. It was a day set apart for them by God in which they could gather and worship Him, and they declared that they would use it effectively in rejoicing and being glad in what YHWH had provided for them and done for them.

As Paul made clear, we may see it as true of every day. Every day is a day for worshipping and praising God.

6). Those Who Enter Cry For Blessing, and Are Ensured Of It Because They Come in the Name of YHWH. As a Consequence They Rejoice, Giving Thanks to God (25-29).

The people cry to be saved from their daily distresses, praying for prosperity, and are assured that they will be blessed out of the house of God because they come in the Name of YHWH. They then declare that YHWH is their God Who has given them light, and are called on to present their garlands before the altar, finishing with a cry of thanks to God.

Many of these words were used to welcome pilgrims to the annual Feasts, and especially the Passover, as the people cried to God for His deliverance. They include words with which Jesus was greeted as he rode into Jerusalem on an ass's colt.

118.25

Save now (hoshea na), we beseech you, O YHWH,
O YHWH, we beseech you, send now prosperity.'

As the people enter the Temple they cry to YHWH for present deliverance from poverty, famine and disease, and call on Him to make their way prosper. At Passover time that would include the thought of the future harvests.

118.26-27

Blessed be he who comes in the name of YHWH,
We have blessed you out of the house of YHWH,

The priests then reply that each one who truly comes in the Name of YHWH will be blessed and made to prosper, because they have blessed them out of the house of YHWH. But the words, 'blessed be he who comes in the Name of YHWH' soon began to be attached to the idea of the Coming One. Thus John the Baptist was asked, 'are you He Who will come or should we look for Someone else?' (Matthew 11.3).

'YHWH is God, and he has given us light,
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords (with what is entwined), even to the horns of the altar.'
(OR: Make ready the pilgrim festival with garlands, even before the horns of the altar),

The people then reply (or the priests add) 'YHWH is God and He has given us light.' The thought of the giving of light included hope, but also rejoiced in the new beginning. He had lightened their way. It may also include an acknowledgement that He had caused them to return to His covenant.

The next line presents a difficulty. Whilst it is often translated 'festal sacrifice' the word strictly means a pilgrim festival. The word translate 'cords' simply indicates something that is entwined, thus a rope, wreath or a garland. And it should be noted that sacrifices were never tied to the horns of the altar which had another purpose and were seen as too holy. The blood was applied to the horns of the altar, possibly seen as going heavenwards. Thus rather than pointing to a festal sacrifice, the words may signify the presenting of garlands before the altar. Whichever is true, however, points to an expression of praise and gratitude to God.

118.28-29

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you,
You are my God, I will exalt you.
Oh give thanks to YHWH, for he is good,
For his covenant love (is) for ever.

The Psalm ends with an expression of gratitude to God, and a repetition of the first verse of the Psalm. The people, speaking as one man, declare that God is their God and that they will exalt Him. They then give thanks to Him for His goodness because His covenant love is unceasing. The Psalm thus expresses the expectation of God's people as a consequence of the covenant love which He has so clearly demonstrated in their return to the land and erection of a new Temple.

Psalm 119.

This Psalm (at 176 verses by far the longest) is divided up according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In each section (22 in all) each of the twin lines (verses) commence with the same letter. Thus under Aleph all the verses commence with aleph, under Beth all the verses begin with beth, and so on right through the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. It is thus carefully constructed.

It expresses constantly the Psalmist’s delight in the Instruction (Torah) of God. He does not see it in a ‘legalistic’ sense, but as it is indeed, God’s gracious instruction to His people, and it fills him with joy. Indeed he covers it from every angle, speaking of His statutes, His words, His commandments, His precepts, His testimonies, and His judgments, in such a way that they are all seen as making up the whole. He sees in them the way of uprightness and blessing to all who obey them.

He has his detractors. The proud, who had little time for God and His instruction except at a superficial level, held him in derision (verse 51 and often), and the princes of the people spoke against him (verse 23, 161), for in their case, although they paid it lip service, they had forsaken God’s instruction (torah) (verse 53), wandered from His commandments (verse 21) and forgotten His words (verse 139). They did not want to be reminded of their truth.

Thus he constantly had to pray for relief from persecution, and for divine protection and preservation. And at times he also had to pray for God’s help in enabling him to understand God’s instruction (e.g. verses 27, 34, 72, 124-5), and in carrying it out. It was not always straightforward for him (e.g. verses 5, 6-37, 67, 80, 135). But he soldiered on, determined that God’s instruction (torah) in all its forms, in which he delighted when he was on top of things, would be upheld and vindicated. He was clearly a man of some position (verse 46), for others looked to him for help and guidance (verse 79).

Section 1. ALEPH Loyal obedience to YHWH is the source of man’s truest happiness.

119.1-3

Blessed are those who are upright in the way,
Who walk in the instruction of YHWH.
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
Who seek him with the whole heart.
Yes, they do no unrighteousness,
They walk in his ways.

The Psalmist tells us that those are truly blessed who are upright ‘in the way’, and he then defines what he means. It is because they walk before God in an upright fashion, and consequently their way of life ‘is directed and governed by singlehearted devotion to YHWH.’

This comes out in that they walk in the instruction (torah) of YHWH, they observe His testimonies, and they seek Him with their whole heart. As a consequence of doing so they avoid all unrighteousness. This is a description of men whose aim is to please God, and will let nothing hinder them. These are the truly righteous.

119.4-6

You have commanded your precepts,
That we should observe them diligently.
Oh that my ways were established,
To observe your statutes,
Then shall I not be ashamed,
When I have respect unto all your commandments.

But he acknowledges that he himself has not yet fully achieved the standard set. God has commanded His precepts to all (a precept is ‘what has been appointed’), to be observed diligently, but the Psalmist recognises his own inadequacy, and that he sometimes fails, thus he longs that his ways might be established so that he does indeed observe all His statutes, for he knows that when he has respect unto all his commandments, he will have no cause for shame before God. This is the way of true acceptability.

We note his wide use of terminology. He has already spoken of ‘His Torah, His testimonies, His precepts, His statutes and His commandments (and in verse 7 His judgments)’ covering different aspects of His Instruction (torah), although the concepts are at least partly interchangeable. And he continues on in this way throughout the Psalm. He is taking in all that God has to give him.

119.7-8

I will give thanks to you with uprightness of heart,
When I learn your righteous judgments.
I will observe your statutes
O forsake me not utterly.

He will give thanks to Him with uprightness of heart. But he acknowledges that he is still learning, and he assures Him that when he does learn His righteous judgments more thoroughly, he will observe them as ‘the statues of God.’ In the mean-time He prays that he may not be ‘utterly forsaken’. He had learned from the past what the way of disobedience could mean for his people in their being, at least for a time, utterly forsaken, and he assures God of his willingness to learn, so that it might not happen to him.

‘His (God’s) righteous judgments.’ These are decisions with regard to justice and injustice which especially express and fulfil God’s righteousness. They are revealed throughout their history.

Section 2. BETH. Respect for God’s word will enable even a young man (25.7) to walk blamelessly whilst giving praise God.

119.9

How shall a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed (thereto or to himself) according to your word.

A young man is particularly vulnerable to sins of youthfulness (25.7), but by carefully paying heed to the word of God he is assured that even he is able to walk rightly before God. To ‘cleanse his way’ may be translated as ‘make innocent (pure) his way’. It need not necessarily mean that he has first fallen. This verse needs to be written on all our hearts, whilst we are yet not fully mature.

119.10-11

With my whole heart have I sought you,
O let me not wander from your commandments.
Your word have I laid up in my heart,
That I might not sin against you.

The Psalmist may be the young man in mind, or like the young man he may be claiming that he has also sought God with his whole heart. Either way he prays that he might not wander from His commandments. In order to ensure it he has laid up in his heart God’s word, memorising and meditating on it, so that he might not sin against Him. So he has guarded against the possibility. If he is not the young man (and overall he sounds more mature), he has himself followed assiduously the sound advice he has given to him.

119.12

Blessed are you, O YHWH,
Teach me your statutes.

In his enthusiasm he then pauses to bless YHWH for His goodness and love, and he prays that He will teach him His statutes in accordance with what he has stored up in his heart. He recognises the great importance of God confirming His word to his heart.

119.13

With my lips have I recounted,
All the judgments of your mouth.

He further informs Him that he has not only received them himself but he has ‘recounted to others’ all the judgments that have come from His mouth. He would see this as important. It was looked on as a vital responsibility for an Israelite that he would pass on to others what he himself has learned (Deuteronomy 6.7).

119.14

I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.

Indeed he has rejoiced in the way of His testimonies as much as in great wealth (‘all riches’). He can assure Him that His testimonies are to him more valuable than great amounts of silver or gold, or the finest of precious jewels. He rejoices over them, and treasures them in his heart.

119.15-16

I will meditate in your precepts,
And have respect to your paths.
I will delight myself in your statutes, I will not forget your word.

Consequently he will constantly meditate on His precepts, and will have respect to His paths, ‘delighting in His statutes’, and not forgetting His word. In other words He will thoroughly immerse himself in God’s ways, looking on His statutes with delight, and keeping His word close to his heart.

Section 3. GIMEL. He acknowledges God’s word, instruction (torah), commandments, judgments, testimonies and statutes, in the face of the contempt of the proud and the contrary injunctions of the princes of the people, and is determined that he will hold to them at all costs.

119.17

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live,
So will I observe your word.

He prays that God will ‘deal bountifully’ with him that he may continue living. So will he continue to observe His word. This may simply be a request for long life, or it may be an attempt to thwart the proud (v 21) and leaders of the people (v 23) who are against him and would destroy him. Either way he is concerned that God’s word is upheld.

Note the description ‘your servant’. He sees himself as the servant of YHWH in stark contrast with the proud and the princes of the people.

119.18-19

Uncover you my eyes,
That I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
I am a sojourner in the earth,
Hide not your commandments from me.

Indeed he prays that God will ‘uncover his eyes’ so that he might behold wondrous things out of His instruction (torah), things that he knows he would never understand if they were left to the natural eye, things that only God could reveal to him. After all, like all men, he recognises that he is but a sojourner (a temporary resident) on the earth and he prays that as such God’s commandments might not be hidden from him. Such is his concern for the deeper truths of His word.

119.20

My soul is crushed for the longing,
That it has to your judgments at all times.

He is so concerned for an understanding of God’s judgments that his inner man is crushed at all times with a longing to know them. They are life and breath to him.

119.21

You have rebuked the proud that are cursed,
Who wander from your commandments,
Take away from me reproach and contempt,
For I have kept your testimonies.

As many have found, His longing for God’s truth has not left him unscathed. He has had to suffer the reproach and contempt of the proud who go astray from His commandments. Outwardly before men they ‘observe them’, but inwardly they ignore them. And he prays that their reproach and contempt will be removed from him, for they are cursed for their attitude while he has closely guarded His testimonies.

119.23-24

Princes also sat and spoke against me,
But your servant did meditate in your statutes.
Your testimonies also are my delight,
And my counsellors.

It was not only the proud who attacked him. Princes of the people also ‘sat’ and spoke against him. The fact that they ‘sat’ shows that it was at least semi-official. But he did not heed them. Rather as God’s servant he stood firm, meditated on His statutes, delighted in His testimonies and took his counsel from them (His testimonies). He was out to please God and not men.

Section 4. DALETH. Broken under the weight of trial the Psalmist prays to God, Who begins to answer him, and he promises that when his heart is enlarged he will ‘run the way of His commandments’.

119.25-27

My soul cleaves to the dust,
Revive you me according to your word.
I told of my ways, and you answered me,
Teach me your statutes.
Make me to understand the way of your precepts,
So shall I meditate on your wondrous works.

Broken under the weight of his trial, (which may well have to do with the proud and the princes who reviled him), he lies in the dust and prays that God will revive him, as His word promises. It had all proved too much for him. But he points out that when he had recounted his ways before YHWH he had received an answer. In other words God had consoled and comforted him. Now he prays that he may be fully taught His statutes and made to understand His precepts. So will he be able to meditate on His wonders. This will give him both strength, and guidance for the future, in the face of his accusers.

119.28-29

My inner man (nephesh) melts (weeps) for heaviness,
Strengthen you me according to your word.
Remove from me the way of falsehood,
And grant me your instruction (torah) graciously.

Meanwhile deep inside him he is weeping because of the heaviness of his spirit, for his opponents are pressing him hard, and he prays for strengthening by His word, so that the false way of his opponents may be removed from before him and he might receive God’s instruction graciously given to him. He is determined to follow God’s truth at all costs.

119.30

I have chosen the way of faithfulness,
Your judgments I have set (before me).
I cleave to your testimonies: O YHWH,
Put me not to shame.

In contrast to the false way of his opponents he has chosen the way of faithfulness, and has set God’s judgments before him. He has clung fast to YHWH’s testimonies. He asks therefore that in his steadfastness he might not be put to shame, and that God will honour His word.

119:32

I will run the way of your commandments,
When you shall enlarge my heart.

For when his heart is free from cramping restraints, he will run in the way of His commandments. Thus all the persecuting efforts of his opponents are proving to be in vain as he holds firmly to the truth. He will not allow them to misrepresent God’s instruction.

Section 5. HE. He prays for instruction, guidance, confirmation of His word and being made alive in accordance with His righteousness.

119.33-34

Instruct me, O YHWH, in the way of your statutes,
And I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your instruction (torah),
Yes, I will observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to go in the path of your commandments,
For therein do I delight.

The Psalmist not only asks for instruction in ‘the way of His statutes’, and promises to keep it (the way of His statutes) unfailingly (’eqeb – ‘to the end’) (compare verse 44), but he also asks for understanding so that he might observe it with His whole heart. It is one thing to know what is instructed and do it, it is quite another to understand it fully so that his whole heart may be in it.

Indeed, he goes further. He wants YHWH to ‘make him go’ in his commandments, for they are the delight of his being (compare verse 24). He wants Him to make him to ‘will and do’ of His good pleasure (Phil 2.13). This is no regretful obedience, but something in which he rejoices. But he recognises the need for the impetus of God.

Note. ’eqeb is here translated as ‘to the end’ conforming to the idea in verse 44. But elsewhere in Psalms it means ‘a reward’. Thus it may mean ‘as a reward’, the thought being that to keep YHWH’s statutes is a reward in itself.

119.36-37

Incline my heart to your testimonies,
And not to covetousness,
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
And make me live in your ways.

He prays that his heart might be turned to God’s testimonies, rather than to the desire for unjust gain, and that his eyes be turned away from considering vain things, which will prevent his living in His ways. This may well have in mind the suggestions put to him by ‘the proud’ who were after unjust gain and who lived for worthless things. He fears being dragged down with them. But instead he rather wants God to be first in all things, and to keep his heart and eyes fixed on His ways,

119.38

Confirm your word to your servant,
Which belongs to the fear of you,
Turn away my reproach whereof I am afraid,
For your judgments are good.

As God’s servant he asks Him to confirm to him His word which ‘belongs to His fear’, that is, the word which inculcates a true fear of YHWH. For he was desirous to walk in the ‘true fear of God’. And he asks Him to turn away his reproach, that is, the scorn poured on him by his enemies, which he obviously feels deeply. He fears that that reproach will interfere with his true service which springs from the fear of God, for he knows that God’s judgments are good.

119.40

Behold, I have longed after your precepts,
Quicken me in your righteousness.

He closes by asking Him to see that he longs after His precepts, and in His righteousness to quicken him to fulfil them. He is very much aware that the impetus to their fulfilment must come from God.

Section 6 VAV. He prays for God’s mercies that he will have an answer for his reproachers, and he declares that he will speak His testimonies before kings, and will delight in God’s commandments which he has loved. He will continually meditate on His statutes.

119.41-43

Let your covenant love also come to me, O YHWH,
Even your salvation, according to your word.
So will I have an answer for him that reproaches me,
For I trust in your word.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
For I have hoped in your judgments.

He calls on God to keep his covenant love and bring to him deliverance as He promised in His word, so that he will have answer for those who reproach him. The deliverance may be private, giving him courage to speak out because he has experienced it, or it may be more public so that it is obvious to all. Either way he will be vindicated. And he is confident in God’s word.

He prays that it be not utterly taken out of his mouth. For he is confident that he speaks the truth, and that it is his reproachers who do not interpret it correctly. His hope is in the true judgments of God, and he is confident that God will justify him.

119.44-46

So shall I observe your instruction (torah) continually,
For ever and ever,
And I will walk at liberty,
For I have sought your precepts.
I will also speak of your testimonies before kings,
And will not be ashamed.

So will he observe His instruction continually ‘for ever and ever’ (until the end of his days), and he will thus walk at liberty (literally – ‘in a broad place’) because he has truly sought His precepts, free from the constraints of wrong interpreters. Indeed, the consequence will be that he will declare His true testimonies before kings, and be totally unashamed. This brings out that he must be a man of some influence.

Psa 119.47

And I will delight myself in your commandments,
Which I have loved.
I will lift up my hands also to your commandments, which I have loved,
And I will meditate in your statutes.

A further consequence will be that he himself will delight in His commandments (compare verses 14, 16, 24), which he has loved, and will lift up his hands (an attitude of prayer and praise) to his commandments, and meditate on His statutes.

His utter delight in God’s commandments, statues and testimonies is in complete contrast with the heavy burden they clearly are to some, and brings out quite clearly that he does not see them as onerous but as a joy. To him obedience to God is a delight. This brings out that his relationship to God is not seen by him as dependent on his obedience to them, but rather on his attitude of faith towards God, with His commandments being seen as a means of pleasing Him.

section 7. ZAIN. In the midst of trials God’s word has made him alive and given him hope. Though the proud have derided him he has kept faithful to God’s Law and he has been angry at the wicked who forsake it.

119.49-50

Remember the word unto your servant,
Because you have caused me to hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
That your word has made me alive.

He asks God to remember His word given to His servant, for it has been his comfort in his affliction and has given him hope and life. He is His servant, and he prays for corresponding faithfulness from God because of that hope. Indeed his comfort in his affliction is that it is God’s word that makes him alive.

119.51-52

The proud have had me greatly in derision,
Yet have I not swerved from your instruction (law).
I have remembered your judgments of old, O LORD,
And have comforted myself.
Hot indignation has taken hold on me,
Because of the wicked that forsake your instruction (law).

He points out that though he has been greatly derided by ‘the proud’, he has not swerved from God’s instruction, but has remembered His judgements which have come from ancient times, and has comforted himself with them. He has been faithful to them in spite of what men say and do. Indeed he has been seized with hot indignation (tinged with sorrow – verse 136) at all who have forsaken His instruction.

‘Your judgments’ may refer to the outward expression of those judgments in the course of Israel’s history, and his comfort have come from his expectations of God’s exactions of them upon his enemies, or it may refer to God’s principles of right as revealed through His word, which have been his comfort. ‘The proud’ are those who treat God’s word carelessly, and deride those who take it too seriously.

119.54-56

Your statutes have been my songs,
In the house of my pilgrimage.
I have remembered your name, O YHWH, in the night,
And have observed your law.
This I have had,
Because I kept your precepts.

In contrast to those who deride God’s instruction he has made God’s statutes his songs in the place where he dwells as he lives out his pilgrimage on earth. The idea is that in the midst of an arduous life he has found in God’s statutes the songs that have lightened his heart and made the way bearable. In the midst of trials they have been his joy. ‘The house of my pilgrimage’ suggests he sees the transitory and arduous nature of life as a pilgrimage from beginning to end, lived out in the place where he dwells, but brightened by God’s statutes.

He has remembered His Name and been comforted and strengthened, even in the night seasons, when all seemed dark and cheerless, and he has observed His instruction. Indeed, God’s statutes and instruction have kept him going through the darkest hours. And all this was his because he had kept His precepts.

section 8. Cheth. His devotion to YHWH and His testimonies and judgments.

119.57-58

YHWH (is) my portion,
I have said that I would observe your words.
I entreated your favour with my whole heart,
Be gracious to me according to your word.

He stresses that YHWH is his portion. Others may look for a portion of land as their right, and crave after wealth, but he will delight in YHWH as his portion. He asks nothing more. As a consequence he has stated that he will be dedicated to observing His words. He had prayed with all his heart that YHWH would show him His favour, and he asks Him to be gracious towards him as He had promised in His word, because He is his portion.

119.59-60

I thought on my ways,
And turned my feet to your testimonies.
I made haste, and did not delay,
To observe your commandments.

As a consequence of his words he thought back on his ways, and turned his feet to His testimonies. He did not just say, he did. And he did it immediately. There was no procrastination. He ‘made haste and did not delay’ in observing His commandments (verse 57).

119.61-62

The cords of the wicked have entangled me,
I have not forgotten your instruction (law).
At midnight I will rise to give thanks to you,
Because of your righteous judgments.

His way was not easy. The cords of the wicked had entangled him, seeking to ensnare him (compare verse 110), but he has not forgotten God’s instruction (law), and thus, we must assume, he escapes from the snare. Indeed he rises even at midnight, to give thanks to Him at such an unseasonable hour, because of His righteous judgments, he is so thrilled with them, which confirms his success in becoming disentangled.

119.63-64

I am a companion of all those who fear you,
And of those who observe your precepts.
The earth, O YHWH, is full of your covenant love,
Teach me your statutes.

And so he boldly declares that he is companion to all those who fear YHWH, and to all those who observe His precepts. And he ends this section by declaring to YHWH that the earth is full of His covenant love (chesed), the love expressed in His covenant, and asking Him to teach him His statutes, as his loving response. We gain the impression that he cannot get enough of them.

Section 9. TETH The Psalmist had gone astray but God drew him back by affliction and he has again become aware of His good judgments and the instruction of His mouth, and delights in them.

119.65-66

You have dealt well with your servant, O YHWH,
According to your word.
Teach me good judgment (literally ‘goodness of taste’) and knowledge,
For I have believed in your commandments.

He agrees that YHWH has been good to him by visiting him with some affliction (verse 67), for it has given him good taste and has made him ready to receive knowledge, so that he has believed in His commandments. He has indeed dealt with him according to His promises in his word. (Compare Deuteronomy 6.24; 10.12-13; 30.9, 15).

Teach me – for I believed in your commandments.’ Prayer as regards the future must always be based on past readiness to obey His commands.

119.67-68

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I observe your word.
You are good, and do good,
Teach me your statutes.

He admits that he had gone astray (erred). But he had been brought back by some affliction, and now he assiduously observed His word. It had especially made him aware of the goodness of YHWH. He recognises that He is both good in nature, and good in His actions towards men, and thus is worth following with a whole heart. He recognised that He had done good in afflicting him, and bringing him back to obedience. Now he begs that He will teach him His statues.

Affliction is sore, but when it has the purpose of chastening behind it, it is good for us. ‘Whom the Lord loves, He chastens,’ that He might restore us to Himself (Hebrews 12.3 ff). That is one way in which He shows His goodness.

119.69-70

The proud have forged a lie against me (literally ‘plastered falsehood over me’)
With my whole heart will I keep your precepts.
Their heart is as fat as grease,
But I delight in your law.

‘The proud have plastered falsehood over me’. They have tried to make his true character unrecognisable by their lies. In fact they have sought to make him out to be like themselves (unconsciously), for their own hearts are as fat as grease (impervious to the truth). But his response is to keep God’s precepts with his whole heart, and to delight in His instruction (torah). .

The proud are those who treat God’s word lightly and fashion it according to their own ideas, while some even despise it and have no time for it.

‘Their own hearts are as fat as grease’. The heart which is overspread with fat or grease is a figure employed to denote a total want of sensitivity and willingness to listen. Their manner of living has rendered them impervious. Compare Isaiah 6.10. Likewise in Psalm 17.10 men speak from pride ‘because they are enclosed in their own fat’.

119.71-72

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I might learn your statutes.
The instruction (law) of your mouth is better to me,
Than thousands of gold and silver.

He finishes the section by again emphasising that his affliction has been good for him, so that he would turn again to God’s statutes. For the instruction of His mouth is better for him than large amounts of silver and gold.

Section 10. JOD. The Psalmist prays t0 God as the One Who had made him, that He would give him understanding so that he might truly learn his commandments. He had been afflicted, but he knew that God had afflicted him for his good. Now he prays that God would, through the love that He has revealed in His covenant, comfort him so that he might live. The proud had overthrown him wrongly and he cries that they might be put to shame, but those who truly feared God should turn to him and know from him His testimonies, because he himself sought to be perfect in His statutes.

119.73-74

Your hands have made me and fashioned me,
Give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments.
They that fear you will see me and be glad,
Because I have hoped in your word.

He prays that the God Who had made him and fashioned him should now give him understanding so that he may learn His commandments, that is so that he might learn them in his heart so as to treasure them and do them. He recognises in saying this that he will not so learn them unless the God Who made him makes them clear to him and impresses them upon him. He needs His help in learning them, as do all men, if he is to understand and obey them fully.

Then those who fear God will see him and be glad, because he has hoped in His word. This may be because he will have joined them, or more probably because they were looking up to him as their leader and example.

119.75-76

I know, O YHWH, that your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Let, I pray you, your covenant love be for my comfort,
In accordance with your word to your servant.

Having suffered affliction he does not complain. He recognises that God’s judgments on him have been just, and He that has acted in faithfulness towards him. But he prays now that God’s covenant love (chesed) will comfort him in his affliction, even as He has promised to his servant.

119.77-78

Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live,
For your instruction (law – torah) is my delight.
Let the proud be ashamed, for they have overthrown me wrongfully,
I will meditate in your precepts.

He prays indeed that God’s tender mercies will come to him so that he might live, for he assures Him that His instruction is His delight. This suggests that his affliction has been severe and even threatened to be deadly. But no details are given, which means that we can apply what he says to our own afflictions. He may, however, be indicating that it is the proud who have ‘brought it on him wrongfully’, or ‘subverted him by falsehood’. Compare Lamentations 3.36. This may suggest either that his affliction has been caused by their wrong actions, or that he momentarily allowed him to be led astray by their falsehoods. Alternately he may be referring to some other action against him by them. Whatever it is he prays that they might be made ashamed at what they have done, presumably by God’s activity. He on his part will meditate on His statutes. So whatever befalls him it turns him towards God’s words.

119.79-80

Let those who fear you turn to me,
And they shall know your testimonies.
Let my heart be perfect in your statutes,
That I be not ashamed.

The result is that he can call on all who fear YHWH to turn to him, for then they will know His testimonies, for he is now well grounded in them, and will guide them rightly. And to that end he prays that his heart may be perfect in His statutes so that he in his turn will not be put to shame. He recognises how important it is that he constantly learn from God.

Section 11 CAPH. The Psalmist is suffering much persecution, and in his distress he looks to God’s word in hope, but he temporarily finds no comfort in it and feels dried up like a wineskin hanging in smoke. Yet he still clings to God’s statutes, even as he asks God how long before he executes judgment. And he still ‘forsook not His precepts’, and he finishes by praying that God will quicken him so that he observes ‘the testimony of His mouth’.

119.81-83

My inner man faints for your deliverance,
I hope in your word.
My eyes fail for your word, while I say,
When will you comfort me?
For I am become like a wineskin in the smoke,
Yet do I not forget your statutes.

The Psalmist is undergoing a distressful time. His inner man is fainting for God’s deliverance, and his hope is in His word, but he fails to find strength from His word, and he cries out for comfort because he feels like a wineskin hung in the rafters and dried out by the smoke which rises from the fire. For once the word seems to have failed him.

‘My eyes fail for your word.’ He temporarily cannot see any help in God’s word, which seems to have nothing to say to him. He is going through a spiritually dry period because of the attacks of his enemies.

119.84-86

How many are the days of your servant?
When will you execute judgment on those who persecute me?
The proud have dug pits for me,
(Those) who are not after your law.
All your commandments are faithful,
They persecute me wrongfully, help me.

He cries to God to remember the shortness of life. When will He step in and help him by executing judgment on those who are persecuting him. The proud are people who forget God’s instruction and treat it casually, and they have dug pits for him, as for a hunted animal. He recognises that God’s commandments are faithful (even in his extremity he does not forget this), but his enemies are persecuting him wrongfully, so he cries to God for help.

119.87-88

They had almost consumed me on earth (or ‘the land’),
But I forsook not your precepts.
Quicken me after your covenant love,
So will I observe the testimony of your mouth.

Indeed they have almost consumed him on the earth. They had pressed him so hard that he has despaired of life. Nevertheless he has not forsaken God’s precepts, and he begs that God will revive him in His covenant love, so that he may honour His precepts and observe the testimony of His mouth. The matter is urgent.

Section 12. LAMED The word and faithfulness of YHWH is established in Heaven, and like Heaven and earth is permanent and unchangeable. Indeed it is His instruction (torah) that has revived him in his affliction, and which he has found to be very broad and complete compared with mere earthly completeness. .

119.89-91

For ever, O YHWH, your word,
Stands fast in heaven.
Your faithfulness is to all generations,
You have established the earth, and it abides.
They abide this day in accordance with your ordinances,
For all things are your servants.

The emphasis is on the permanence and unchangeableness of God’s word and of His faithfulness. They stand fast in Heaven for ever. They continue throughout all generations. And by them He has established the earth and it abides. Indeed Heaven and earth abide because of His ordinances, for all things are His servants and do His will. God’s word and faithfulness are over all.

119.92-94

Unless your instruction (torah/law) had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
For with them you have quickened me.
I am yours, save me,
For I have sought your precepts.

It was that same imperishable word which as God’s instruction had been His delight, and had enabled him to survive his affliction. Because of this he would never forget His precepts, for it was they which had revived him. And he prays that as he belongs to God and has sought His precepts, He will continually deliver him.

119.95-96

The wicked have waited for me to destroy me,
(But) I will consider your testimonies.
I have seen an end of all completeness,
But your commandment is exceeding broad.

He points out that the wicked have been on the look out to destroy him, but he will consider God’s testimonies which are heavenly. He has seen in experience that all earthly things, however complete, have an end, while in contrast His commandment is ‘exceeding broad’. It is unlimited in extent and value. Thus he will trust in the infinite, rather than the finite.

Section 13. MEM. The Psalmist declares his love for God’s instruction for it has made him extremely wise beyond the norm and has kept him from evil. How sweet they are to his taste. (Unusually there is no petition in this section. The same applies with SHIN – verses 161 ff. He is totally taken up with the wonder of God’s instruction).

119.97

Oh how I love your instruction (torah),
It is my meditation all the day.

The Psalmist declares his great love for God’s instruction. He loves it so much that he meditates on it all through the day. For, as he will go on to say, it is His instruction that guides him continually and keeps him from evil.

119.98-100

Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For it is mine for ever.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
Because I have kept your precepts.

God’s instruction, that is His commandments, His testimonies and His precepts, has made him wiser than his enemies, given him more understanding than his teachers, and made him understand more than the aged, for it is ever with him.

‘Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies.’ Compare Deuteronomy 4.6 where God’s commandments and ordinances would make their enemies say, ‘surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’, as they considered their laws.

‘It is mine for ever.’ His commandments are here called ‘it’, presumably because they are seen as one whole and permanent.

He has more understanding than his teachers, because he, unlike them, meditates on His testimonies, and lets them sink in and become a part of his life.

He understands more than the aged because he had ‘kept is precepts’. The aged were especially known for their wisdom, for they had lived beyond the normal span and had had time to accumulate knowledge and understanding. But ‘wisdom’ is one thing, to keep His precepts quite another.

119.101-102

I have refrained my feet from every evil way,
That I might observe your word.
I have not turned aside from your judgments,
For you have taught me.

The consequence of hearing His commandments, testimonies and precepts is that he has refrained from allowing his feet to wander in every evil way so that he could ‘observe His word’. Indeed because He Himself has taught him he has not turned aside from His judgments. He has assiduously followed His instruction, recognising his need to be taught by God and not men.

119.103-104

How sweet are your words to my taste!
(Sweeter) than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding,
Therefore I hate every false way.

And he has not done this out of fear. Rather God's words are sweet to his taste, sweeter than honey, and he loves His precepts precisely because they give him understanding of the true path. He hates every false path, which leads him away from God and His ways.

Section 14. NUN. Recognising the enlightenment of God’s word as his guide in life, the Psalmist is determined to follow it, come what may, and he seeks His help as he prays for God's quickening in his affliction.

119.105-106

Your word is a lamp to my feet,
And light to my path,
I have sworn, and have confirmed it,
That I will observe your righteous judgments.

As he takes life’s journey he declares that God’s word is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (compare Proverbs 6.23). Is shows him the way to take and keeps his feet from stumbling. And he goes on to say that walking in that way he has sworn, and has confirmed it, that he will observe His righteous judgments. In other words he gives Him double assurance with a repeated oath, that come what may he will be true to His word and His righteous judgments.

119.107-108

I am greatly afflicted,
Quicken me, O LORD, in accordance with your word.
Accept, I beseech you, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O YHWH,
And teach me your judgments.

But he is not finding the way easy. Being true to His word has resulted in great persecution, and he therefore prays that YHWH will revive him as He has promised in His word. He asks that He will accept ‘the freewill offerings of his mouth’, in other words the freewill offerings of his praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13.15), which will counter his persecutors, and will teach him His judgments, so that he can obey them. He recognises that only by keeping close to God in prayer and praise can he learn the truth from God.

119.109-110

My inner man is continually in my hand,
And I do not forget your instruction (torah -law).
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I went not astray from your precepts.

To have something in one’s hand was to carry it openly so that all could see, and the Psalmist declares that that is true of his inner man. He does not hide from the world his dedication to God but ‘holds it in his hand’. He openly observes His instruction. That is why the wicked seek to entrap him. But he did not go astray from His precepts. He remained firm against all persecution.

119.111-112

Your testimonies have I taken as an inheritance for ever,
For they are the rejoicing of my heart.
I have inclined mine heart to perform your statutes,
For ever, even to the end.

Indeed he confirms to YHWH that he has taken his testimonies as an inheritance for ever, because they rejoice his heart. Israel may have forsaken their inheritance, but he sees this as a better inheritance, and one he will cling to which brings him joy. Thus he declares that he has ‘inclined his heart’ to perform His statutes for ever, even to the end.

‘For ever, even to the end.’ This is to translate ’eqeb as ‘to the end’ as in verse 33 (which see). But its usual meaning in the Psalms is ‘a reward’. Some would therefore translate the last line here as ‘forever is the reward’, that is, of inclining his ear to perform His statutes.

Section 15 Samech The Psalmist loves God’s instruction, and hates those who are double-minded and therefore err from His statutes, supporting them in theory and ignoring them in practise.

119.113-114

I hate those who are of a double mind,
But your instruction (torah) do I love.
You are my hiding place and my shield,
I hope in your word.

The Psalmist expresses his hatred of all doublemindedness (compare James 1.6-8). He cannot bear those who have God’s instruction and yet ignore it and live as they will. For he loves God’s instruction. He is his hiding place and his shield. And His word is that in which he has placed his hope.

119.115

Depart from me, you evil–doers,
That I may keep the commandments of my God.

And so he tells the evil-doers to leave him alone, so that he may concentrate on obeying the commandments of his God. He neither wants their influence nor their unbelief affecting him. They may have whatever gods they choose, but he will stand firm by His God.

119.116-117

Uphold me according to your word, that I may live,
And let me not be ashamed of my hope.
You hold me up, and I will be safe,
And I will have respect to your statutes continually.

He calls on God to uphold him in accordance with His word, so that he may truly live, and may not be ashamed of the hope that he has in Him. If God holds him up he knows he will be safe from all his adversaries, and he will be able to have respect to His statutes continually. He is aware that he needs sustaining grace.

119.118-119

You have set at nought all those who err from your statutes,
For their deceit is falsehood.
You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross,
Therefore I love your testimonies.

Happily he realises that God has set at naught all who err from His statutes, for what they teach (their deceit) is a lie. God puts away all the wicked of the earth like a refiner removes the dross, in order to leave behind what is pure. That he has seen actual examples of this comes out in verse 120.

‘Therefore I love your testimonies’. Either because they are the pure left behind once the dross has been removed, or because he sees God’s righteousness in these judgments..

119.120

My flesh shudders for awe of you,
And I am afraid of your judgments.

Yet at the same time he shudders in awe at Him, for he is aware of His judgments on the erring and the wicked, and His judgments are awesome.

Section 16 AYIN. The Psalmist prays that God will step in on behalf of his servant against his adversaries, and will give him understanding that he may know His testimonies. By their machinations they have made God’s instruction void, but he sees God’s instruction as fine gold and hates every false way.

119.121-123

I have done judgment and justice,
Leave me not to my oppressors.
Be surety for your servant for good,
Do not let the proud oppress me.
My eyes fail for your salvation,
And for your word of rightousness.

The Psalmist argues that he has ‘done’ judgment and justice. In other words he has obeyed God’s instruction and walked in accordance with His just requirements. He has not been just a hearer, but a doer. And therefore he prays that God will not leave him to the machinations of his oppressors. He asks Him to undergird his wellbeing, and not allow the proud to oppress him. This suggests positive action is being taken against him because he demands too much, and yet his eyes are ‘failing’ to see His deliverance, and for His word of righteousness. For a while at least God appears to be doing nothing to establish His righteousness. .

119.124-126

Deal with your servant in accordance with your mercy,
And teach me your statutes.
I am your servant, give me understanding,
That I may know your testimonies.
It is time for YHWH to work,
They have made void your instruction (torah – law).

He recognises that he may be partly at fault by having misinterpreted God’s Instruction, so he calls on Him to act in mercy and truly teach him His statues. May he, as God’s servant, be given understanding so that he may know what his testimonies really are. For he claims it is time for YHWH to work, because his oppressors have rendered His instruction void.

The words remind us of when Jesus said, ‘you make the word of God void through your tradition’. His adversaries claimed to be observing God’s instruction, but really they were supporting their own watered down interpretations (Mark 7.9-13).

Psa 119.127-128

Therefore I love your commandments above gold,
Yes, above fine gold.
Therefore I esteem all (your) precepts concerning all things to be right,
(And) I hate every false way.

As for him, he loves His commandments above much fine gold. They are exceedingly precious to him. For he esteems all His precepts about everything to be right, and he hates every false way that results from misinterpreting them.

Section 17. PE The testimonies of God are ‘wonders’, revealing God’s power, and the opening of His words (to the understanding) gives light, so he longs for His commandments and prays that He will have mercy on him and order his footsteps aright, unlike others whose disobedience moves him to tears.

119.129-131

Your testimonies are wonders (and therefore ‘wonderful’),
Therefore my soul keeps them.
The opening of your words gives light,
It gives understanding to the simple.
I opened wide my mouth, and panted,
For I longed for your commandments.

The Psalmist declares that God’s testimonies are ‘wonders’, that is, they are wonderful in their excellence, and like all wonders, reveal God’s awesome power. That is why he keeps them and meditates on them in his inner man (his nephesh). Indeed, the opening to the understanding of God’s words gives light, even to the less intelligent. As for him, he so longs for His commandments that he opens wide his mouth and pants, such is his longing for them.

119.132-133

Turn yourself to me, and have mercy on me,
As is the right of those who love your name.
Order my footsteps in your word,
And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

He prays that God will turn Himself to him, and have mercy on him, 'as is the right' (mishpat = judgment) of those who love His Name. It is a right granted in mercy, available to all who trust in Him. In the midst of Israel’s sinfulness and rebellion there were always some who did so. So he wants his footsteps ordered in His word, and that no evil will have dominion over him. He recognises that if he is to do this he will need help from God.

119.134-136

Redeem me from the oppression of man,
So will I observe your precepts.
Make your face to shine on your servant,
And teach me your statutes.
My eyes run down with rivers of water,
Because they do not observe your instruction (torah – law).

He cries that God will deliver him from being oppressed by men, for then he will freely be able to observe His precepts. Let Him rather make His face to shine on him (showing him goodness and favour), and teach him His statutes. For when he thinks of those who do not observe God’s instruction ‘his eyes run down with rivers of water’. This may be because he is angry at the thought, or more probably because of the grief it causes him. It is questionable whether he weeps for God in His righteousness, or for them in their folly.

Section 18. TSADE: YHWH is righteous, and His judgments and testimonies are upright, righteous, faithful, and pure. Therefore the Psalmist, unlike his adversaries, and in spite of his own insignificance, loves them and does not forget His precepts. Though trouble and anguish have taken hold of him His commands are his delight and His testimonies are enduringly righteous, and if he is given understanding he will truly live.

119.137-138

You are righteous, O YHWH,
And upright your judgments.
You have commanded your testimonies in righteousness,
And true faithfulness.

This is the first section to commence with a statement about YHWH Himself, even though all that has been previously stated has led up to this verdict about Him. YOU, O YHWH, ARE RIGHTEOUS, he declares (although compare verse 68 where we find in the middle of a section, ‘you are good’, and it is the assumption of all that has gone before). He can now say that YHWH is indeed the Righteous One supreme, summing up all righteousness. He is truly righteousness personified. He is the Arbiter of all righteousness. In other words His word and His precepts have brought home to him the thoroughgoing righteousness of YHWH.

And because He is the Righteous One He is the source of all that is right and true. Thus His judgments are upright, He commands His testimonies in righteousness, and His faithfulness is true and lasting.

119.139

My zeal has consumed me,
Because my adversaries have forgotten your words.

And yet, because they have forgotten God’s words, his adversaries are out to deal with him because of the consequences of his own zeal, and his zeal will ‘eat him up’ (69.9). They are out to get him. Nevertheless he is not afraid.

119.140-141

Your word is very pure,
Therefore your servant loves it.
(Though) I am small and despised,
(Yet) I do not forget your precepts.

For His word is so very pure that he, His true servant, loves it. Even though he is looked on as small and despised by his detractors, yet he does not forget His precepts, but clings to them with confidence.

119.142

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
And your instruction (torah – law) is truth.

Indeed it is right for him to do so for he can testify that His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and His instruction is truth. That because God is truly righteous, they are the ultimate of righteousness and truth.

119.143

Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me,
(Yet) your commandments are my delight.

He does not deny by this that trouble and anguish ‘have befallen him’. But in the midst of them he finds his delight in His commandments. They are his sure guide against all troubles.

119.144

Your testimonies are righteous for ever,
Give me understanding, and I will live.

Because His testimonies are righteous for ever, an understanding of them will provide for him the way to live, and live truly.

Section 19. KOPH. The Psalmist calls with his whole heart that YWHW will save him and enable him to observe His statutes and His testimonies. Through the night watches and in the early morning he has hoped and meditated on His words. Let Him hear him and revive him, and keep him from those who follow after wickedness. For He is near, and he knows therefore that His commandments are the truth, and His testimonies are founded for ever.

119.145-146

I have called with my whole heart,
Answer me, O YHWH, I will keep your statutes.
I have called unto you, save me,
And I will observe your testimonies.

The Psalmist calls on YHWH to enable him to keep His statutes, to save him that he might observe His testimonies. For he recognises that the power must come from God and not from him. Through His redeeming power, and that alone, he will be enabled to do so.

Psa 119.147-148

I prevented the dawning of the morning,
And cried, I hoped in your words.
My eyes prevented the night watches,
That I might meditate in your word.

He had delayed the coming of the early dawning, so that he might cry and hope in His words (literally ‘he had been beforehand with the early dawning’). He had delayed (‘been beforehand with’) the coming or passing of the watches of the night, so that he could meditate on His words. In other words he had spent much time borrowed from the hours for sleeping so that he might devote it to God’s word.

The thought may be that as a sentinel, or as a Levite, he had taken time before going on night duty so as to prepare his heart according to God’s word.

Psa 119.149-150

Hear my voice in accordance with your covenant love,
Revive me, O YHWH, according to your judgments.
They draw near who follow after wickedness,
They are far from your instruction (torah).

He prays that YHWH will hear him in accordance with His covenant love, and will revivify him in accordance with ‘His judgments’, that is, in accordance with the gracious rules of action He has Himself laid down. He wants Him, in His love, to ‘make him alive’ so that he might love and do His will. And this in contrast with those who draw near with wickedness in their hearts, and are far from His instruction.

Psa 119.151-152

You are near, O YHWH,
And all your commandments are truth.
Of old have I known from your testimonies,
That you have founded them for ever.

But YHWH is near to him, and he knows therefore that all His commandments are true. Indeed he has known from His testimonies from ancient days, that He has founded them for ever. Thus nothing can turn him away from them.

Section 20. RESH. Three times in this section the Psalmist prays that God will revivify him, firstly in accordance with his word - verse 154; secondly in accordance with His judgments – 156; and thirdly in accordance with His covenant love - 159.

As He had previously done at the deliverance of Israel at the Exodus (Exodus 3.7), he prays that YHWH will consider his affliction and deliver him also, for he has been obedient to His instruction. Let Him act as his advocate and redeem him from bondage, gainsaying those who are against him (35.1; 43.1; Isaiah 51.22). Let Him ‘revivify’ him (‘quicken him’) in accordance with His word.

Salvation is far from those who do not seek His statutes, but His compassions are great, and he prays that in his case He will therefore ‘revivify’ him in accordance with His judgments (how He wants him to live).

Indeed he has many persecutors and adversaries, but he has not swerved from His testimonies, but rather has been grieved because others did not keep His word. So he prays that, seeing how he loves His precepts, YHWH will ‘revivify’ him in accordance with His covenant love. For he has concluded overall that the sum of His word is truth, and continually endures.

119.153-154

Consider my affliction, and deliver me,
For I do not forget your instruction (torah),
Plead you my cause, and redeem me,
Revivify me in accordance with your word.

In words taken directly from Exodus 3.7 the Psalmist prays that YHWH will ‘see his afflictions --- and deliver him’, as He had done with the people at the Exodus, and at the Exile (Lamentations 1.9d) For he does not forget His instruction. Let Him plead his cause against his adversaries, acting as his advocate, and redeem him, delivering him from bondage (Exodus 3.7-8). Let Him ‘renew his life in accordance with His word’ (Deuteronomy 30.19-20).

Great are your compassions, O YHWH,
Revivify me according to your judgments.

For His compassions are great, therefore let Him renew his life in accordance with His judgments, (as one who obeys His instruction – verse 153).

119.157-158

Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
(Yet) I have not swerved from your testimonies.
I saw those who dealt treacherously, and was grieved,
Because they did not observe your word.

He calls on YHWH to observe how many are his persecutors and his adversaries, because of his belief in His testimonies, and yet he has not swerved from them. Rather he saw those who dealt treacherously, and was grieved because they did not observe His word.

119.159-160

Consider how I love your precepts,
Revivify me, O YHWH, in accordance with your covenant love,
The sum of your word is truth,
And every one of your righteous judgments (is, or endures) for ever.

So let YHWH consider how he loves His precepts, and revivify him in accordance with His covenant love (Deuteronomy 30.19-20). And he concludes by declaring that the sum of His word is truth (it is true through and through) and that very one of His righteous judgments is permanent and for ever.

Section 21 SHIN. As with MEM this section contains no petition. It consists only of great statements as to how he honours and stands in awe of His words, and lives according to them.

The ‘princes’, who persecuted him without genuine cause, probably refer to the Israelite nobles who exercised juridicial and administrative functions (compare verse 23; Jeremiah 26.10 ff; Ezra 9.1, 2; 10.8, 14; Nehemiah 9.32, 34, 38). They were clearly antagonistic to his attitude. But the Psalmist’s loyalty to God’s instruction was not to be shaken by the antagonism of these authorities. He rather feared to offend God.

119.161-162

Princes have persecuted me without a cause,
But my heart stands in awe of your words.
I rejoice at your word,
As one who finds great spoil,

The Psalmist declares that the ‘great men of Israel’ have ‘persecuted him without a cause’, and this can only be because of their false treatment of ‘God’s words’. They have fitted them into their own thinking, making the words of God void through their own tradition and interpretation.

But he on his part stands in awe of His actual words, and he rejoices over it (your word) as one who has found great spoil. Indeed he now sees it as one whole (your word). It is precious to him and he delights in it. His sense of awe does not take away from his delight and enjoyment of it.

119.163-164

I hate falsehood and will abhor (it),
(But) your instruction (torah) do I love.
Seven times a day do I praise you,
Because of your righteous judgments.

He decries the behaviour of those who, like the princes, use it falsely and interpret it mendaciously, for he loves God’s instruction pure and simple, and many times every day (‘seven times a day’) he praises Him because of His righteous judgments revealed in it. He longs only to be true to His word.

119.165

Great peace have those who love your instruction (torah),
And they have no occasion for stumbling,

For those who love His instruction (torah) as it really is, will find great peace. They will have no occasion for stumbling. For they will find it is like a lamp to their way, and a light to their path (verse 105) as they wend their way through the darkness. In it is His true way revealed, and it explains the anomalies of life, such as why the wicked seem to prosper and why the innocent suffer.

119.166

I have hoped for your salvation, O YHWH,
And have done your commandments.

YHWH’s instruction had given him a hope of His deliverance (compare Genesis 49.18) from his persecutors as he has ‘done His commands’. He has recognised that it was as he was obedient to God’s true commands that he could look for such a hope. There is perhaps the wider thought too that the nation as a whole might be delivered.

119.167-168

My inner being (nephesh) has observed your testimonies,
And I love them exceedingly.
I have observed your precepts and your testimonies,
For all my ways are before you.

He ends the section with an avowal that he has observed His testimonies from deep within him (from his nephesh), indeed that he has ‘loved them exceedingly’. He has observed His precepts and his testimonies, because he knows that all his ways are known to God. Let Him bear witness on his behalf.

Section 22. TAU In this final section the Psalmist prays for understanding and deliverance in accordance with His word; declares that he will utter praise and sing of His word, because He has taught him His statutes and His commandments are righteous; prays for His delivering hand because he delights in His instruction; and asks that if he go astray YHWH will seek His servant like a lost sheep, for he does not forget His commandments. His dependence is on God, and his final confidence is based on God’s protecting hand, as He recognises his genuineness.

119.169-170

Let my cry come before you, O YHWH,
Give me understanding in accordance with your word.
Let my supplication come before you,
Deliver me in accordance with your word.

He cries with urgent entreaty that YHWH will give him understanding as He has promised, and presents his urgent supplication for deliverance from his adversaries, again as He has promised. This has been his constant theme throughout the Psalm. He wants true understanding on the one hand, and deliverance from false ideas on the other. He is aware that he too might misinterpret God’s word.

119.171-172

Let my lips utter praise,
For you teach me your statutes,
Let my tongue sing of your word,
For all your commandments are righteousness.

Nevertheless He praises God for teaching him His statutes, and the recognition of the righteousness of His commandments causes him to sing of His word. He acknowledges their intrinsic goodness. They are clearly meat and drink to him.

119.173-174

Let your hand be ready to help me,
For I have chosen your precepts,
I have longed for your salvation, O YHWH,
And your instruction (torah) is my delight.

He prays that YHWH’s hand might be ready to help him, for unlike others he has chosen His precepts and follows them assiduously. He has also longed for His deliverance, and delights in His instruction. The emphasis again is on his genuine acceptance of His word.

119.175

Let my inner being live, and it shall praise you,
And let your judgments help me.
If I go astray, seek your servant like a lost sheep,
For I do not forget your commandments.

He closes the Psalm with a prayer that with his inner being (nephesh) he might find fully the life that God offers (Deuteronomy 30.15-20), so that it may truly praise Him, and that he might be helped by His judgments, the ordinances that guide his life. And he ends in humility accepting that he might go astray, and praying that, if he does, God will seek him like a lost (strayed and in danger of perishing) sheep (and restore him). And his basis for this is that, whatever he might do, he does not forget his commandments.

Psalm 120.

Some see this Psalm as referring to the animosity arising between the returnees from exile and the people in the land, in the light of the false reports the latter made about the new Israel (see Ezra 3-6). But it seems more probable that it refers to calumnies laid on a righteous Israelite by those who wished to bring him down, making him feel that he was living among savages.

Heading.

120.1a A Song of Ascents (or For Goings Up).

This or similar titles are given to Psalms 120-134. The best explanation appears to be that they were sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

  • Gratitude that God had heard him in his distress (verse 1b).
  • A cry to be delivered from slanderers (verse 2).
  • A recognition of what God will do to such slanderers (verses 3-4).
  • A cry of distress that he is living amongst those who hate peace (verse 5-7).

1). Gratitude that God had heard him in his distress (verse 1b).

120.1b

In my distress I cried to YHWH,
And he answered me.

The Psalm opens with the Psalmist expressing his gratitude to God for hearing him when he cried out in his distress, and answering him. It is the confidence that each of us can have, that when we are in distress or need we can call on God with confidence knowing that He will hear us.

A cry to be delivered from slanderers (verse 2).

There is nothing more hard to bear for a righteous man than constantly being verbally torn to pieces by slanderers who destroy his reputation and attack his integrity.. And this was the Psalmist's experience.

Deliver my life, O YHWH from lying lips,
From a deceitful tongue.

He calls on God to deliver him from lying lips and deceitful tongues. He wants God to deal with those who slander him and destroy his reputation and integrity

A recognition of what God will do to such slanderers (verses 3-4).

120.3-4

What shall be given to you,
And what shall be done more to you,
You deceitful tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty,
With flaming coals of the broom tree.

What will God do to those who speak with deceitful tongues? He will launch at them sharp, flaming arrows which will cut them down and destroy them. The broom tree was well known for providing a ready flame, and supplying flaming materials suitable for attaching to arrows.

A cry of distress that he is living amongst those who hate peace (verse 5-7).

As well as being concerned about slanderers, he was also concerned to be found living among those who hated peace.

120.5-7

Woe is me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
That I dwell among the tents of Kedar!

Meshech was in Asia Minor, whilst Kedar was in Arabia, thus it was unlikely that we are to take the names literally. Rather the Psalmist was using them as pictures of warlike tribes. The people among whom he lived were such that it was like dwelling among the warlike people of Meshech, or the fierce Arabs of Kedar.

My life has long had her dwelling,
With him who hates peace.
I am for peace,
But when I speak,
They are for war.

He bewailed the fact that he had long lived among warmongers who decried peace. Despite all his best efforts he had been unable to change their minds and attitudes. Whenever he had spoken for peace, he had been overruled. They were always for war. And the consequence was a deeply unsettled life.

Psalm 121.

Heading.

121.1a A Song of Ascents.

Once again this is probably to be seen as referring to the Psalm as one sung as the pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem (see on Psalm 120). The theme of the Psalm is YHWH's continual concern for His people. It is possible that it was sung antiphonally, with one group singing the first couplets, and another group singing the second.

  • The Psalmist says that he will look for help to YHWH the creator of Heaven and earth (1b-2).
  • He receives the promise that YHWH will establish his way and will never be caught sleeping (3-4).
  • He receives the promise that YHWH will be his guardian and protector (5-6).
  • YHWH will keep him from evil and watch over all his goings (7-8).

1). The Psalmist says that he will look for help to YHWH the creator of Heaven and earth (1b-2).

121.1b-2

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains,
From where will my help come?
My help (is) from YHWH,
Who made heaven and earth.

The mountains to which the singer lifts up his eyes are almost certainly the mountains of Zion (compare 87.1; 125.1, 2; 133.3). They would gain especial meaning for the pilgrims as the mountains of Zion hove into sight. But it was not the mountains on which their thoughts were concentrated. Their thoughts went beyond the mountains to the thought of the One Who abode there. Where would their help come from? It would come, not from the mountains, but from the mighty YHWH Who had made heaven and earth. This was no local God. YHWH was the Creator of all things. (Compare Jeremiah 10.11 which speaks of the gods who 'had not made heaven and earth' who would eventually perish).

2). He receives the promise that YHWH will establish his way and will never be caught sleeping (3-4).

121.3-4

He will not allow your foot to be moved,
He Who watches over you will not slumber.
Behold, he who watches over Israel,
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The first line probably has in mind the solidity of the mountains. Because YHWH was watching over them their feet would be like the mountains, unmoveable. And this was because His watch over them was continual and unceasing. He Who kept them would not take time off for slumber. There is a reminder here of the weakness of man. Man, when on watch, might drift off for a moment. But the same was not true of YHWH. He was eternally wakeful.

The reply comes, 'Behold He Who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.' It is a dual confirmation of the eternal watchfulness of God. He can be wholly relied on to be continually vigilant. Note the intertwining of the personal and the national. YHWH watched over each of His people, and also over the whole of Israel.

3). He receives the promise that YHWH will be his guardian and protector (5-6).

121.5-6

YHWH is your keeper (guardian),
YHWH is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

Because YHWH is their keeper, watchman and guardian He will protect them from all that would harm them. And this included the powerful sun that beat down on them daily, with its constant danger of sunstroke and dehydration, and the moon with its pernicious influences at night. The moon might not seem too much of a danger to us, but where there was no artificial light its pernicious influence was very real. As someone wrote from his own experience, 'sleeping in the open air when the moon shone was frequently followed by dizziness, mental aberration, and even death'.

So the promise was that YHWH would be a shade to them, standing like a protector on their most important side (their right hand), so that nothing, even the powerful sun and moon, would cause them harm.

4). YHWH will keep him from evil and watch over all his goings (7-8).

121.7-8

YHWH will keep you from all evil,
He will keep your inward life,
YHWH will keep your going out and your coming in,
From this time forth and for evermore.

The thought of YHWH's Guardianship and watch over them continues. He would keep them from all evil, even guarding their very lives (nephesh). He would watch over their goings out and their comings in for ever. No watchman or shepherd would ever be more attentive.

Psalm 122.

Heading.

122.1a A Song of Ascents; of David.

This was seemingly another of the Psalms which were sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. The statement 'of David', if taken to mean that it was written by David, makes clear that the house of YHWH was originally the Tent set up by him in Jerusalem to house the Ark. There is nothing to suggest otherwise. The emphasis on Jerusalem may well confirm this idea as David seeks to establish it as the centre of the people's worship. Indeed, whilst the opening declaration refers to going to the house of YHWH, the emphasis of the remainder of the Psalm is on Jerusalem. David wanted to see Jerusalem established as God's dwelling place on earth.

For us it points to another Jerusalem, the 'Jerusalem which is above' (Galatians 4.26). For the Jerusalem of God is no longer in this world, but is in Heaven. It is 'Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem' (Hebrews 12.22). There we enter into the Holiest Place (Hebrews 10.19-20), and there our Great High Priest ministers on our behalf (Hebrews 10.21; 9.11, 24; 7.25). In contrast Jerusalem on earth is a rejected city.

122.1b -2

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go to the house of YHWH,
Our feet are standing,
Within your gates, O Jerusalem.

In view of the fact that the whole Psalm concentrates, not on the house of YHWH but on Jerusalem, it seems sensible to see these words as indicating that he was glad at the fact that Jerusalem now contained the house of YHWH. This clearly brought great joy to David as he contemplated that within the city that he had made his capital was the house of YHWH, the Tent that he had set up to house the Ark of God. Now YHWH could be worshipped within Jerusalem.

Thus he was exhilarated that he could be invited to 'go to the house of YHWH' within the very gates of the city, and that he could stress as he did so that 'our feet are standing within your gates O Jerusalem'. He felt that YHWH was truly among them at last.

We too should rejoice at going to the house of YHWH, but for us the house of YHWH into which we enter is in the heavenly Jerusalem, a house which we enter through a new and living way, through the sacrificial flesh of Jesus (Hebrews 10.19-20). And how we should rejoice that this is so, for what we have is so much better than he had, a heavenly House within a heavenly city. How glad we should be to go up to that House in prayer.

122.3-5

Jerusalem, you are built as a city,
Which is compact together,
To which the tribes go up,
Even the tribes of YHWH,
A testimony to Israel,
To give thanks to the name of YHWH.
For there are set thrones for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.

The Jerusalem of David is now described as a city which was compact and united, a city to which all the tribes went up, 'even the tribes of YHWH', and as a city which was now a testimony to Israel because of its system of justice, causing them to give thanks to YHWH. In other words it was the ideal city which brought the people to God. Central to this idea was that a true system of justice had been established there. Thrones of justice had been established, which were 'thrones of the house of David'. This did not necessarily mean that David's sons sat on them. It merely indicated that his chosen ministers sat on them judging on his behalf.

It was probably these thrones which were in mind when Jesus said of His Apostles that they would 'sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel'. The point was that He had come as the King and they would act in His Name in Jerusalem. This was fulfilled when the Apostles had oversight of the church in Jerusalem in the Name of the King (Acts 2.30, 38).

For us it is 'the Jerusalem which is above' which is united, has gathered as one all His people, and is the epitome of righteousness. It is therefore to the heavenly Jerusalem that we can look for the fulfilment of the purposes of God. There we find 'compactness' in that it is the city of the living God, 'the tribes going up' in that it is where the general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in Heaven are being gathered, and 'establishment of justice', where justice is ensured by the presence of God the judge of all men and the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12.22-24). It is the city of our God.

122.6-7

Pray for the wellbeing (shalom – peace, wellbeing, prosperity) of Jerusalem,
They will prosper who love you.
Wellbeing be within your walls,
And prosperity within thy palaces.

David prays for the wellbeing of Jerusalem as the centre of YHWH worship. It is because it is the centre of YHWH worship that those who love it will prosper, for it will demonstrate their love for YHWH.

So God's people are to pray for the wellbeing of Jerusalem as the new city of God, knowing that inasfar as they love Jerusalem they will prosper, because it is the place where YHWH is enthroned. And David himself prays that wellbeing may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces. His aim is to establish Jerusalem in the hearts of his people and to demonstrate God's faithfulness to those who worship Him.

We too will enjoy wellbeing and prosperity as we contemplate the heavenly Jerusalem, partake in its activities and pray for its expansion and growth.

122.8-9

For the sakes of my brothers and companions,
I will now say, Peace (wellbeing) be within you.
For the sake of the house of YHWH our God,
I will seek your good.

David had two great concerns. Firstly the wellbeing of his 'brothers and companions', the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for this causes him to call for wellbeing to be in Jerusalem, and secondly he seeks the good of Jerusalem so as to ensure the full establishment there of the house of YHWH. He recognised that where God was should be a centre of wellbeing.

But far greater is the peace and wellbeing that is found in Heaven. It is because there is peace and wellbeing in Heaven that we can enjoy our share in that peace and wellbeing, especially as we participate in worship in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Psalm 123.

Heading.

123 1a A Song of Ascents.

This is a further Psalm sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. The Psalm would appear to reflect the trust of God's people in the face of the scorn and hatred of their enemies. Vividly aware of that contempt they will wait with patience and obedience as they look to their Master until He comes and has mercy on them. The period in mind may be the time prior to Nehemiah's arrival to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1.3; 2.19; 4.1-4).

  • The Psalmist lifts up his eyes to the One Who sits in Heaven (1b).
  • He affirms that the people of God will look to God for mercy and compassion as His faithful servants (2).
  • He prays on behalf of God's people that He will enable them to cope with the contempt of their enemies (3-4).

123.1b

To you do I lift up my eyes,
O you who sits in the heavens.

The Psalmist sees each individual Israelite looking up to God as the One 'Who sits in the heavens'. The description emphasises the greatness of God. He is above this world enjoying all power, and the whole world is comparatively insignificant in the light of it. So in their need the eyes of His servants are fixed on Him as the One Who can interfere on their behalf..

123.2

Behold, as the eyes of servants (look) to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes (look) to YHWH our God,
Until he have mercy on us.

The singers stress that YHWH is their Master and that they are His servants. They look to Him as servants look to the hand of their master, and as maidens look to the hand of their mistress. In return for their loyal service they see their master or mistress as having responsibility for them. And they are looking for Him to show compassion towards them.

123.3-4

Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us,
For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.
Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those who are at ease,
And with the contempt of the proud.

Their cry goes up to God because of the contempt shown to them by their neighbours. They are filled with a sense of that contempt. Indeed the scorning of those who are at ease around them is overwhelming them. They thus cry to God to consider their position and show them mercy.

One of the hardest things in life to bear is the contempt of others. But as Christians we are often subject to such contempt. At such a time we can use this Psalm, both to remind us that we are not the first to whom it has happened, and also in order to seek God's help in bearing it.

Psalm 124.

Heading.

124.1a A Song of Ascents; of David.

This is a further Psalm sung by the pilgrim's as they made their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. It reflects a time when Israel were in imminent danger, only to be rescued by YHWH. If it was written by David it may reflect the time when the Philistines invaded after David had been made king. At that time the Philistine invasion would have appeared as though it was going to swallow them up. But as we know, YHWH guided David in battle, and the Philistines were roundly defeated. It must then have appeared to Israel as though YHWH had indeed delivered them from the wild beasts.

124.1b-5

If it had not been YHWH who was on our side,
Let Israel now say,
If it had not been YHWH who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
Then they had swallowed us up alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us.
Then the waters had overwhelmed us,
The stream had gone over our life (nephesh),
Then the proud waters had gone over our life.

The Psalmist calls on the people to admit that if YHWH had not been on their side they would have been swallowed up. They would have been as though they had drowned. It was only because He was with them that they were not overwhelmed. It is a joyous reminder to us that when everything appears to be against us, God is able to deliver us whatever the circumstances.

124.6-7

Blessed be YHWH,
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
Our life is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers,
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.

They bless YHWH because He has delivered them from the teeth of the wild beasts and has enabled them to escape from the snare. The first example reveals the fierceness of what they were saved from, the second the subtlety of it. The snare had appeared to be enveloping them, but YHWH had broken the snare and they had escaped.

124.8

Our help is in the name of YHWH,
Who made heaven and earth.

The Psalm closes with a cry of triumph because they have recognised that their help is in the Name of YHWH, Creator of Heaven and earth. 'The Name' expresses the very nature of what He is. No wonder then that they emerged victorious. If God is on our side no one can finally harm us.

Psalm 125.

Heading.

125.1a A Song of Ascents.

This is further Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the great feasts (see on Psalm 120). It was seemingly written at some time after the return from Exile when there were great hopes for the future. It is a Psalm of hope for the future of God's people. It stresses the continued security of God's people as surrounded by God Himself, and promises that they will not always be subject to the rule of the wicked. It closes with an exhortation to God to do good towards His people who are good, and emphasises that He will leave those who do wrong to dwell among sinners. There is thus in this Psalm the choice between the way of righteousness and the way of iniquity. The one leads to security, safety, and future blessing, the other to sin and degradation. We may analyse it as follows: p>

  • 1). Those who trust in YHWH are firmly established and 'surrounded' by YHWH Himself (verse 1b-2).
  • 2). God's people are assured that they will not always be subjected to the rule of the unrighteous (verse 3).
  • 3). God is called on to do good to those who are good and upright (verse 4).
  • 4). But those who turn to sinful ways will be left to dwell among the sinful (verse 5).

1). Those who trust in YHWH are firmly established and 'surrounded' by YHWH Himself (verse 1b-2).

125.1b

Those who trust in YHWH are as mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.

Those who truly trust in God are likened to Mount Zion in its unmoveability. They are firmly founded and secure. The ancients saw mountains as one of the permanencies of life and the Psalmist therefore sees God's people as firmly founded and immoveable. The word 'for ever' strictly means 'into the hidden future', which is just as well for nothing of this world abides for ever. But Mount Zion was more than an ordinary mountain, it was symbolic of what God had established. Thus Mount Zion is now in Heaven along with the people of God (Hebrews 12.20-22). In that sense it is 'for ever. And it is finally in that sense that it underlines the security of those whose trust is in God.

125.2

As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,
So YHWH is round about his people,
From this time forth and for evermore.

A second illustration is now introduced. Jerusalem was built on mountains in the midst of a host of mountains. Mountains surrounded it on all sides. And the Psalmist now uses this idea to demonstrate that in the same way God's people are 'surrounded' by the vast bulwarks of God. Our lives are hid with Christ in God. There could be no more secure situation. And again it is stressed that it is permanent.

2). God's people are assured that they will not always be subjected to the rule of the unrighteous (verse 3).

125.3

For the sceptre of wickedness will not rest on the lot of the righteous,
That the righteous put not forth their hands to iniquity.

This was a promise of future hope. 'The lot of the righteous' initially indicated the land of their inheritance, the land which had been distributed to them by lot. The promise was therefore that at some time in the future God's people would not be ruled or affected by 'the sceptre of wickedness', that is by unrighteous rulers, but by God Himself. And the purpose of this was so that they would, as a consequence, not sin.

To some extent this was realised when Israel gained independence in the time of the Maccabees and after. They were no longer seemingly under godless rulers. But sadly their own rulers then wielded 'the sceptre of wickedness', and nothing would change until the coming of Christ their king. It is even more true for the Christian who, coming under the Kingly Rule of God as a consequence of yielding to Christ as their king, should no longer be swayed by the ways of this world. They are in the world but not of it. Their kingdom is not of this world. Their hopes do not lie in men's hands. But its final fulfilment awaits the everlasting kingdom when universal righteousness will prevail.

3). God is called on to do good to those who are good and upright (verse 4).

125.4

Do good, O YHWH, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts.

The Psalmist now calls on God to do good to those who are in their lives good (their hearts are set on the way of righteousness), and to those who are upright in heart. He, of course, does good to them by keeping them secure and safe as described above, and will do it by delivering them from evil rulers. But the word 'good' is all embracing and has in mind all the blessings that God has for His people. Thus it includes all the good that Gd can do towards us. On those who are His and 'do good He continually pours out His goodness.

4). But those who turn to sinful ways will be left to dwell among the sinful (verse 5).

125.5

But as for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,
YHWH shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity.

But those who turn away from the path of righteousness, and turn aside to crooked ways, will not be rescued from evil rulers. They will not experience God being good to them. Instead God will lead them forth into life with the workers of iniquity. They will constantly have sinners as their companions, and will experience their ways. They will experience the sordidness of life. For them there is no future hope.

Peace (wellbeing) be on Israel.

The Psalmist sums up his thoughts by praying for peace and wellbeing on God's people. Lwt all that has been promised, be fulfilled.

Psalm 126.

Heading.

126.1a A Song of Ascents.

Once more we have a Psalm sung by the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. This Psalm is very much in two halves. The first half celebrates the return from captivity and exile with great joy and exhilaration. But it soon becomes clear that the work is only half done, and that the people are undergoing hardship (compare Haggai 1.6-11), and an appeal is made to YHWH to complete the work that He has begun. Their situation is likened to the aridness of the Negeb during the summer months. The Psalm then ends with the assurance that God will indeed do so and that their present difficulties and hardship will result in future fruitfulness.

The Psalm divides into three parts:

  • 1). The overflowing joy of the return from exile of which the nations say that YHWH has done great things for His people (1b-2).
  • 2). An admission that YHWH has done great things followed by a cry that He will complete His work (3-4).
  • 3). A promise that the hard times will be followed by blessing and fruitfulness (5-6)

1). The overflowing joy of the return from exile of which the nations say that YHWH has done great things for His people (1b-2).

126.1b-2

When YHWH turned again the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing,
Then said they among the nations,
“YHWH has done great things for them.”

When God restored the exiles fom Babylon and other places it had seemed like an impossible dream come true. It had filled God's people with great joy and exuberance. Their mouths had been filled with laughter and their tongus.e with singing. It had brought great rejoicing. And what was more it had brought glory to God among the nations, for the nations had observed it and had declared that 'YHWH has done great things for them'.

2). An admission that YHWH has done great things for them, followed by a cry that on the basis of this He will complete His work (3-4).

126.3-4

YHWH has done great things for us,
(Of which) we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O YHWH,
As the streams in the Negeb.

The people of God confirm that God has indeed done great things for them. Nevertheless all is not well. Their new life has been disappointing, and life has become hard. And so they call on God to complete His work. They call on Him to turn things round, likening their situation to being in the Negeb (the extreme south of Judah) which in the summer was dry and arid. But during the rainy season the rains come down and fill the creeks and gulleys so that it becomes fruitful. They pray that God will see their arid state and will pour down His blessings, doing the same for them.

3). A promise that the hard times will be followed by blessing and fruitfulness (5-6).

126.5-6

Those who sow in tears,
Will reap in joy.
Though he goes on his way weeping,
Bearing forth the seed,
He will come again with joy,
Bringing his sheaves.

At present things are hard. When they sow their seed it is with tears, for they are expecting little from it because of the famine conditions, but they are assured that all will turn out well and they will 'reap in joy'. God will supply all their need. The one who goes forth bearing the seed with tears, will return with joy bringing with him an abundance of sheaves. This is always so for those who trust God. Though we have to go through hard times, we can look with confidence to God to bring us out of them and eventually overflow us with blessing.

Psalm 127.

Heading.

This is another of the Psalms sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. It is said to be 'of' or 'by' Solomon. There is no reason for denying the attribution which ties in with the 'proverbial' nature of the Psalm.

The Psalm emphasises man's total dependence on YHWH. Building a house, watching over a city, the vain attempt to build up wealth by hard toil and the building up of a family (which will result in wealth and security), are all dependent on Him. Man must learn to go along with God in all that he does.

There is also an interesting contrast between what is vain without God being in it, building houses, watching over cities, and toiling hard and long, and the worth of a large family, something which God is unquestionably in on.

Additionally there may also be the thought that wealth, security and prestige (verses 1b-2) are best found, not through personal effort, which is often vain, but through having children who provide security (arrows in the hand of a mighty man), wealth and standing (confident when in the gate where major judicial decisions are reached) (verses 4-5).

We can divide the Psalm as follows:

  • The uselessness of our efforts in building and watching unless God is with us in them (1b).
  • The uselessness of labouring hard and toiling unceasingly when God can give to us while we sleep (2).
  • The usefulness of a large family in providing security and standing (3-5).

The uselessness of our efforts in building and watching unless God is with us in them (1b).

127 1b

Unless YHWH builds the house,
They labour in vain who build it,
Unless YHWH keeps the city,
The watchman wakes but in vain.

The point here is that anything that we do is profitless unless God is with us in it. If God is not with us in the building of our house, we will build to no purpose. It will not increase our wealth. If God is not protecting our city then having watchmen will be pointless. It will not increase our security. Without God there is no certainty of wealth or security. It behoves us then to ensure that God is with us in all that we plan and do. See Ecclesiastes 2.4-11. (In contrast we know that God is with us when we produce our flourishing families).

The uselessness of labouring hard and toiling unceasingly when God can give to us while we sleep (2).

127.2

It is vain for you that you rise up early,
And take rest so late ,
And eat the bread of toils,
So he gives to his beloved (in) sleep.

The idea here would seem to be that hard work and toil with wrong motives is in vain, whilst in fact God can ensure that His people have all sufficiency while they sleep. We should thus be content with such things as God provides and not put in great efforts to no purpose. See Ecclesiastes 2.18, 22; 4.4, 6, 7. Our efforts should rather be given over to pleasing God.

The usefulness of a large family in providing security and standing (3-5).

In contrast with the uselessness of man's own efforts are the benefits provided by a God-given family. They will provide wealth, security and standing. This is something which God will always be with men in for they are a heritage from Him.

127.3

Lo, children are an heritage of YHWH,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Note the emphasis on the fact that having children is something God is with man in. There is no thought of 'unless YHWH produces a family it will be produced in vain.' Indeed, a family are rather seen as a heritage from YHWH, and as a reward from Him. They are always pleasing to Him.

127.4-5

As arrows in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them,
They will not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Indeed, for a man to produce a large family will give him the security and standing that nothing else will give him. His children will be like arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior, effective and powerful in his defence, ensuring his security. Furthermore those children will provide him with standing before men, and give his family standing, so that when they come to the gate where judicial decisions are reached they will be successful (they will not be brought to shame).

The whole thought behind the Psalm would seem to be that what is most pleasing to God is not our advance in wealth and security, but that we produce large and flourishing families. For this is what pleases Him most.

Psalm 128.

Heading.

128.1a A Song of Ascents.

Once again we have a Psalm which was sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. (See Psalm 120). Its emphasis is on the blessing that comes on those who 'reverently fear' God. Its simple theme divides up as follows:

  • The one who fears God and walks in His ways will be blessed (1b).
  • The blessings that will come on such a one are described (2-3).
  • God will bless him with such and give him peace, wellbeing and long life (4-5).

The one who fears God and walks in His ways will be blessed (1b).

128.1b

Blessed is every one who fears YHWH,
Who walks in his ways.

This is the foundation thesis, that the one who 'fears' YHWH and walks in His ways will be blessed. That is why the one who does so is blessed. To fear YHWH is to hold Him in loving and reverential respect, recognising Who and What He is as the holy and righteous One. To walk in His ways is to live joyfully in accordance with the pattern He has laid out in Scripture.

The blessings that will come on the one who fears YHWH are described (2-3).

128.2-3

For you will eat the labour of your hands,
Happy will you be, and it will be well with you.
Your wife will be as a fruitful vine,
In the innermost parts of your house,
Your children like olive plants,
Round about your table.

The one who fears YHWH and does His will:

  • Will 'eat the labour of his hands'. In other words as he works on his fields they will prosper and be fruitful. They will produce abundant harvest.
  • Will be happy and contented.
  • All will go well with him.
  • His wife will be discreet and will be fruitful, living discreetly in the women's quarters at the rear of the tent or house.
  • His children will be like olive plants, well known for their health and vigour, and will be loyal to the family ('round your table').

The picture is of a blessed and contented life and family with every part of it resulting in wellbeing. These are the blessings which will come on the one who fears YHWH.

God will bless him in the way described and will give him peace, wellbeing and long life (4-5).

128.4-5

Behold, that thus will the man be blessed who fears YHWH,
YHWH will bless you out of Zion,
And you will see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Yes, you will see your children's children.

The Psalmist points out that God will bless the one who fears and obeys Him with what He has promised in verses 2-3. He will be blessed 'out of Zion', that is, from God's earthly dwellingplace where He sits enthroned as king. During his life Israel will enjoy peace and security (he will see the good of Jerusalem). And finally he will enjoy a long life, living to see his grandchildren born.

Peace be on Israel.

This is a pious request that Israel might enjoy peace and wellbeing. This benediction parallels the one at the end of Psalm 125 and may suggest that they were written around the same time.

Psalm 129.

Heading.

129.1a A Song of Ascents.

A further Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. See on Psalm 120. This Psalm has parallels with Psalm 124 in that it is specifically put in the mouth of Israel, its first two verses are repetitive, and Israel is seen as face to face with vicious enemies from whom YHWH will protect them. It may well have been written by the same hand when Israel was facing up to its bitter enemies in the land after their return from exile.

  • Israel declares the greatness of the afflictions it has faced in the past (1b-3).
  • YHWH has acted on their behalf to break the restraint of their enemies (4-5).
  • Israel pray that their enemies may be barren and unblessed (6-8).

Israel declares the greatness of the afflictions it has faced in the past (1b-3).

129.1b-3

Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth up,
Let Israel now say,
Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth up,
Yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed on my back,
(Like) the strip of land which is plowed at one time,

Israel declare that in spite of the afflictions they have constantly suffered in the past they have not gone under. They are still up and running. 'From my youth up' probably refers to their time in Egypt (see Hosea 11.1). Thus their affliction have been many and hard. But it may refer to when they came as a 'new nation' back from exile. Either way they had suffered great afflictionThe reference to the plower plowing on their back on a strip of land plowed at one time indicated the severity of their wounds. The plower would go back and forth on such a strip plowing deeper and deeper. Their enemies had been merciless.

When we find ourselves under terrible affliction we can take comfort from this Psalm. It provides an assurance that God will in the end deliver, even though we may have to wait a long time for it.

YHWH has acted on their behalf to break the restraint of their enemies (4-5).

129.4-5

YHWH is righteous,
He has cut asunder the yoke bands of the wicked.
They will be ashamed and turned backward,
All those who hate Zion.

Their hope lay in the fact that YHWH was righteous, and they have been vindicated. He would not allow the wicked continually to prevail. Thus He has now broken the yoke bands in which Israel had been held (the bands which bound the oxen to the yoke). Israel is now free from their restraint. And now it is those who hate Zion who will be ashamed and turned backward.

Israel pray that their enemies may be barren and unblessed (6-8).

129.6-7

Let them be as the grass on the housetops,
Which withers before it grows up,
With which the reaper does not fill his hand,
Nor he who binds sheaves his bosom.

They pray that their enemies lives may be unfruitful and barren. The 'grass on the housetop' has no root and withers before it is fully grown. And they pray that their enemies' fields may be similar, with the consequence that the reaper gets bare reward, and the binder of sheaves has little to bind. The picture is one of dearth and famine.

129.8

Neither do they which go by say,
The blessing of YHWH be on you,
We bless you in the name of YHWH.

Nor do those who go by pray for the blessing of YHWH on them. No one cares for their barren situation. The Israelite could imagine no situation worse that when men failed to bless them in the name of YHWH.

Psalm 130.

Heading.

130.1a A Song of Ascents.

This is a further Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. See on Psalm 120. It was clearly written at a time when the Psalmist and Israel were going though a time of deep troubles, for he 'cried to YHWH out of the depths'. He was deeply aware of his sinfulness but confident that God would not allow that to prevent him finding solace, for he asserts his confidence in the fact that God is a forgiving God. He then emphasises that he is waiting in eager and dedicated confidence for YHWH to fulfil His word towards him, and he urges Israel as a whole, in view of His covenant love, not to doubt that for them redemption is near.

It may have been written when the exiles had returned and found themselves in the midst of famine (Haggai 1.5-6), or it may have been written later when they found themselves beset by their enemies around the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1.3).

  • He appeals to YHWH from the depths of the troubles in which he finds himself, to hear his voice (1b-2).
  • He asserts his confidence in the fact that God is a forgiving God (3-4).
  • He asserts his confidence that God will fulfil His word, both to him and to Israel, and stresses how passionately he is looking for God to act (5-6).
  • He calls on all Israel to look to God with hope because He is a redeeming God who has covenant love towards them (7-8).

He appeals to YHWH, from the depths of the troubles in which he finds himself, to hear his voice (1b-2).

130.1b-2

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O YHWH,
Lord, hear my voice,
Let your ears be attentive,
To the voice of my supplications.

The picture is one of a man drowning at sea and almost overcome. It is metaphorical for a man in deep troubles, almost unable to cope. In his dilemma he cries to YHWH to hear his voice and listen to his pleas. That it was not only personal, but also national, comes out in verses 7-8.

He asserts his confidence in the fact that God is a forgiving God (3-4).

130.3-4

If you, YHWH, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who will stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
That you may be feared.

He basically acknowledges that he is not without blame. He admits that on the basis of his own merit he does not deserve to be heard. If God were to treat him as he deserved his case would collapse. But he asserts his confidence in the fact that God is a forgiving God, and that this is what makes Him worthy of reverential awe and trust.

He asserts his confidence that God will fulfil His word, (both to him and to Israel), and stresses how passionately he is looking for God to act (5-6).

130.5-6

I wait for YHWH, my soul waits,
And in his word do I hope.
My soul (looks) for the Lord, more than watchmen (look) for the morning,
(Yes, more than) watchmen for the morning.

He points out that his hope is on God's past promises (His word). It is on the basis of these that he continually waits before YHWH. He is sure that God cannot fail him. And he stresses the earnestness and urgency with which he waits. He is looking for his sovereign Lord to act more urgently than a watchman on the last watch waits for morning to come.

The last idea is repeated twice. It is a reminder of how eagerly a watchman would look for the morning. The middle watchman had nothing to especially look out for. He just waited for the time to pass. But the final watchman in the night would look eagerly for dawn. And this was not only because he would be then free of his watch, but also because those early hours prior to dawn were when the enemy might strike. So his relief on the approach of dawn would be great.

He calls on all Israel to look to God with hope because He is a redeeming God who has covenant love towards them (7-8). 130.7-8

O Israel, hope in YHWH,
For with YHWH there is covenant love,
And with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

He calls on all Israel to look with hope to YHWH along with him. They are fellow-sufferers with him in his troubles. And the reason for their hope is to be the covenant love that YHWH has for His people. It is because of His covenant love that they can expect plenteous redemption in spite of their iniquities. He will indeed redeem Israel from all his iniquities, and the consequences of them. The idea of redemption is of God delivering them by the exerting of His own effort, and thus at a cost to Himself.

Psalm 131.

Heading. >p> 131.1a A Song of Ascents; of David.

This is a further Psalm which was sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. See on Psalm 120. Its further title 'of David' suggests Davidic authorship and there is nothing in the Psalm to make that unlikely. Indeed, in 1 Samuel 18.18, 23; 2 Samuel 6.22 we find expressions resembling those in this Psalm. The Psalm fits adequately into the time when he was constantly escaping from Saul and indicates a quiet subservience to God's will at that time. Yet even in the midst of such a tie his concern was that Israel might continue looking in hope to YHWH.

131b

YHWH, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty,
Nor do I exercise myself (go to and fro) in great matters,
Or in things too wonderful for me.

In patient submission to God David assures Him that in the circumstances in which he finds himself he is neither arrogantly questioning nor self-seeking. Nor is he letting his imagination run away with him about what the future holds. He recognises that God's ways are different from ours, and he is content not to indulge his imagination, but to await for whatever God prescribes. Thus was he able to look in a balanced way at the life he was leading.

131.2

Surely I have prepared (levelled) and quieted (silenced) my soul,
Like a weaned child upon his mother,
My soul is upon me like a weaned child.

He assures God that he is as contented as a weaned child lying on its mother. He has 'prepared himself, made himself level' (as a sower makes the ground level for sowing) and quieted himself. Thus he is untroubled with his soul resting content on him like a weaned child.

131.3

O Israel, hope in YHWH
From this time forth and for evermore.

He seeks to pass on the state of his soul to Israel. He wants them, like him, to pin their hopes in YHWH continually from now on.

Psalm 132.

Heading.

132.1a A Song of Ascents.

This is a further Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. See on Psalm 120.

The Psalm has in mind the establishment of Zion as YHWH's resting place, with the bringing there of the Ark of YHWH, and the association with it of the covenant made with David that his throne would be established for ever. It is not strictly in accordance with 2 Samuel 6-7 and 1 Chronicles 15-17 for it presents the establishment of God's dwellingplace in Zion as the reason for the covenant, whilst in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 the covenant is more a consequence of David's desire to build for YHWH a more permanent dwellingplace, something which YHWH refuses.

It may have been written during David's reign as a celebration of the establishment of the covenant, but most reasonably see 'for your servant David's sake, do not turn away the face of your anointed' as precluding that. Others have dated it to the time of Solomon as seeking confirmation of the covenant. This would tie in with the mention of the Ark as still existing, and with the plea for Him not to turn away His face from His anointed, which they see as suggesting that a king was actually on the throne of David. It also ties in with the fact that certain verses in the Psalm are comparable with the Chronicler's addition to Solomon's prayer in 2 Chronicles 6.40-42, 'Arise O YHWH God into your resting place, you and the Ark of your strength (compare verse 8). Let your priests O YHWH God be clothed with salvation and let your saints rejoice in goodness (compare verses 9 & 16). Oh YHWH God do not turn away the face of your anointed, remember the mercies of David your servant (compare verse 10).'

Some, however, consider that the plea 'do not turn away the face of your anointed' (verse 10) is to be seen rather as pointing to a time when the covenant with David was in some doubt, which might suggest a later date. On the other hand this could simply have been an expression of humility. And indeed, 'there will I make the horn of David to sprout' would fit in well with Solomon.

Others have seen these phrases as pointing to a time after the return from exile when the Temple had been rebuilt and a new hope had arisen of the rise of another David. Surely God must remember the zeal with which David had established the Ark of YHWH in its own tent in Jerusalem? Will He not then show the same zeal in the establishment of David's house? This might, however, make the plea 'do not turn away the face of your anointed' (verse 10) seem rather forced at a time when there was no such person actually around, and is rendered difficult by the fact that at that stage the Ark no longer existed. Those who hold this view argue that the reference to the Ark is simply historical.

The Psalm can be divided up as follows:

  • David's determination to establish the Ark of YHWH at a suitable site in Jerusalem (1b-5).
  • The searching out of the Ark and the people's determination to worship before it (verses 6-7).
  • The Ark is conveyed in triumph into Jerusalem (verses 8-9).
  • A cry that YHWH will not turn from His anointed, and the assurance that He will confirm His covenant with him for ever (10-12).
  • The reason that He will bless the house of David is because He has chosen Zion and established it for ever as His dwellingplace, with the consequence that He will make it prosperous and a place of salvation and will re-establish David on his throne to flourish (13-18).

So the Psalm provided assurance to the people of its own day concerning the continuation of the covenant with David. It provided assurance after the Exile that a Messianic king would yet arise. And it is for us fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ who is our everlasting King.

David's determination to establish the Ark of YHWH at a suitable site in Jerusalem (1b-5). 132.1b-5

Remember, O YHWH, for David,
All his affliction,
How he swore to YHWH,
And vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
Surely I will not come into the tent of my house,
Nor go up into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes,
Or slumber to my eyelids,
Until I find out a place for YHWH,
A dwellingplace (tabernacle) for the Mighty One of Jacob.

The Psalmist depicts David's desperate efforts expended on finding a place for YHWH to rest. (That this is in terms of bringing the Ark there comes out in verse 8). With poetic licence the Psalmist depicts him as unable to sleep until the task was accomplished. Having conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel and Judah he wanted to make it also the centre of YHWH worship, and having erected there a magnificent tent, he had determined to bring there the Ark of YHWH (2 Samuel 6.17). Note the twofold reference to YHWH as 'the Mighty One of Jacob', Jacob's original name for YHWH (Genesis 49.24). Under David He had indeed revealed Himself as the Mighty One.

The searching out of the Ark and the people's determination to worship before it (verses 6-7).

132.6-7

Lo, we heard of it in Ephrathah,
We found it in the fields of the forest,
We will go into his dwellingplace (tabernacle),
We will worship at his footstool.

Unless we see the 'it' as referring forwards to verse 8, where the Ark is mentioned in a subsidiary way, which seems unlikely, we must refer it to God's dwellingplace/tabernacle (verse 5). Israel searched out God's dwellingplace ('it') so that they might worship before Him. But that this is associated with the presence of the Ark is clear from what follows. Thus what they sought was the place where the Ark was.

So in very succint fashion the Psalmist describes the searching out of the Ark. The 'fields of the forest' is probably descriptive of Kiriath-jearim (the city of the forests) in the neighbourhood of which the Ark had been resting for twenty years (1 Samuel 7.1-2). It was there that they 'found it', and thus 'found --- the dwellingplace of God' (verse 5).

The reference to Ephrathah is puzzling. In this context we would expect the name used to have some connection with Kiriath Jearim. Ephrathah usually refers to Bethlehem (Genesis 35.16, 19) which is never connected with the Ark. But it is noteworthy that Ephraimites are also called Ephrathites (Judges 12.5; 1 Samuel 1.1; 1 Kings 11.26). This may suggest a reference to Shiloh which was in Ephraimite territory. Thus 'we heard of it as being in Shiloh, but finally found it in Kiriath Jearim'. On the other hand there has been the suggestion that Ephrathah was the name of the district in which Kiriath-jearim was to be found (Shobad, 'the father of Kiriath-jearim' (1 Chronicles 2.50), was the grandson of Ephrath – 1 Chronicles 2.19). This would link the two lines in parallel.

Having traced the dwelling place of God where the Ark was Israel then declare that they will go into His tabernacle, and worship at His footstool. This may indicate an immediate determination to worship before the Ark (God's footstool – 1 Chronicles 28.2) in the place where it was situated, or may be a looking forward with hope to when it was finally established in Jerusalem in the luxurious tent prepared by David, or later in the Temple. It also declares the intention of the singers of the Psalm, whenever it was sung, to do the same.

The Ark is conveyed in triumph into Jerusalem (or into the Temple) (verses 8-9).

If the Psalm is Solomonic the initial conveying of the Ark into David's Tent in Jerusalem may be being seen as merely the first stage of the conveyancing of it into the Temple where it finally rested, for the words are cited at the initiation of the Temple in 2 Chronicles 6.41. The wording may be deliberately vague in order to encompass both.

132.8-9

Arise, O YHWH, into your resting place,
You, and the ark of your strength.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
And let your saints shout for joy.

'Arise O YHWH.' Using words reminiscent of Numbers 10.35 the call goes up for YHWH, along with the Ark, to 'arise' in order to enter His resting place. For 'the Ark of your strength' compare Psalm 78.61; 2 Chronicles 6.40. If this was sung at the actual time that the Ark was entering God's dwellingplace it confirms an early date for the Psalm. If it was Davidic it would refer to its entering the Tent of David. If it was Solomonic it could be speaking of the moment when it was set in the newly built Temple. If it was later it may be a re-enactment of the entry of the Ark. (There is good reason to think that the Ark was used in re-enactments in religious rituals at the great feasts (compare Psalm 24) celebrating the way in which YHWH had come to dwell in Jerusalem). The Psalmist may, however, have been thinking back historically to when it happened in the days of David. But in such an intense Psalm it may well be felt that the singers were initially actually observing the event which would count towards its Solomonic origin.

The Ark would be borne by the priests and the cry goes up for them to be 'clothed with righteousness'. This might refer to their being clothed in white garments, depicting righteousness, but the hope was undoubtedly there that their lives would also be righteous and worthy of those who would carry the Ark. Meanwhile the whole people of God were to shout with joy that YHWH was coming among them. The scene is one of holy exuberance. It is a reminder to us that our worship should be in righteousness and joy.

It is noteworthy that when a parallel to this is given in 2 Chronicles 6.41 the priests were clothed in salvation as in verse 16, possibly suggesting that this Psalm came before the Chronicler incorporated these words.

A cry that YHWH will not turn from His anointed, and the assurance that He will confirm His covenant with him for ever (10-12).

132.10-12

For your servant David's sake,
Do not turn away the face of your anointed.
YHWH has sworn to David in truth,
He will not turn from it,
Of the fruit of thy body,
Will I set (one) on your throne.
If your children will keep my covenant,
And my testimony which I shall teach them,
Their children also shall sit,
On your throne for evermore.

Having established the Ark in the Temple the anointed of YHWH (and therefore a Davidic king) calls on YHWH, for His servant David's sake, not to turn away the face of His Anointed. This is a humble appeal to YHWH, not necessarily any indication that such a turning away was imminent or even likely. It results in YHWH assuring him that He will not turn away from His covenant, but will ensure a Davidic descendant sits on the throne, as long as David's descendants are faithful. And this would apply 'for ever'. Strictly speaking therefore it was forfeitable, as indeed history would demonstrate. (Later the prophets would declare it unforfeitable because God had in mind something better than an earthly throne of David).

The reason that He will bless the house of David is because He has chosen Zion and established it 'for ever' (literally: into the hidden future) as His dwellingplace, with the consequence that He will make it prosperous and a place of salvation and will re-establish David on his throne to flourish (13-18).

132.13-14

For YHWH has chosen Zion,
He has desired it for his habitation.
This is my resting place for ever,
Here will I dwell, for I have desired it.

The Davidic covenant is said to be confirmed because 'YHWH has chosen Zion. And had desired it for His dwellingplace.' In fact the choice had been made by David, with YHWH graciously going along with it. It was to be His resting place 'for ever', and He would dwell there because He desired it. It being His resting place is linked with the presence of the Ark, and as we know, sadly within five hundred years the Ark would cease to be there and Jerusalem would be destroyed. This reminds us that the word translated 'for ever' means literally 'into the hidden future'.

God would then give Israel a second chance. Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt. But there would be no Ark, and they would be destroyed again within six hundred years because they rejected God's Son and Messiah. It would be replaced by Jesus as the new Temple (John 2.21), along with the believers in the Messiah who would become God's Temple (2 Corinthians 6.16 ff.). They would become His dwellingplace.

132.15-16

I will abundantly bless her provision,
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
Her priests also will I clothe with salvation,
And her saints will shout aloud for joy.

Because Zion has become His dwellingplace He will 'bless her provision'. That is He would make it prosper to her benefit. And in doing so He will bless her poor with bread. No one will go hungry. He will ensure the full wellbeing of all its inhabitants. This certainly occurred under Solomon, but there would be many times in the future when it was not so. And the reason for it was the unfaithfulness of the Davidic kings. It is, however, in the final Zion an assurance of full wellbeing and blessing.

'Her priests also will I clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout aloud for joy.' This is a response to the petition in verse 9, with 'righteousness' becoming 'salvation'. God WILL clothe Zion's priests with salvation (not just white robes) and her saints WILL shout aloud for joy. Again this has in mind the final heavenly Zion (Hebrews 12.20-22).

132.17-18

There will I make the horn of David to sprout,
I have ordained a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies will I clothe with shame,
But on him will his crown sparkle.

And there in Zion God would make the horn (strong person) of David to sprout (grow and be effective), and there He would ordain a lamp for His Anointed. The continually burning lamp in the Temple was to be a symbol of the continuing outshining of the house of David. Meanwhile their enemies, instead of being clothed with salvation, would be clothed with shame, while the Davidic crown would sparkle.

The word for 'crown' signifies a consecration crown. There may be in mind the bejewelled (sparkling) crown of the high priest.

We must see the Psalm as having both a near and far view. Initially it was a promise that the Davidic house would prosper while it was faithful. Those who sang it long after would have their hopes aroused of the rise of a Davidic king who would fulfil all their hopes. But its final fulfilment will be under the reign of the final Davidic king, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the everlasting kingdom.

Psalm 133.

Heading.

133.1a A Song of Ascents; of David.

This is a further Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. Many would see 'of David' as simply signifying connection with the Davidic house, but it so often idicates David himself that there seems no reason for doubting it in this case.

Its time of writing may well have been once Jerusalem had been settled with his followers after its capture from the Jebusites, as they settled in Jerusalem and became a kind of close-knit family in what was now the city to which all Israel looked. There would be leading representatives from all tribes, and their attitudes and behaviour as they lived and ministered there would affect the whole of Israel.

David draws attention to the fact that their united front will cause blessing to pour down on themselves and on all Israel. It will be like the anointing oil poured on Aaron's head, which ran down his beard and down his clothing, and symbolised his wholehearted dedication to God, and possibly the blessing that flowed from him to others. Their dwelling together in unity will have a similar effect, revealing their wholehearted dedication, and their good nature flowing down in blessing both on themselves and on all around.

It will be like the dew which falls copiously on Mount Hermon, and on the mountains surrounding Zion, refreshing, strengthening, life-giving and a source of life and energy.

There is an important lesson here for us. If we are united in love one for another, not only will that love flow over on each one of us, it will also flow out to the world who will say, 'see how these brothers love one another'.

133.1b

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is,
For brothers to dwell together (in unity)!

David's desire was that those whom he brought to live in his new capital might be one big united family so as to exude blessing both on each other and on all around.

133.2

It is like the precious oil on the head,
Which ran down on the beard,
Even on Aaron's beard,
Which came down on the skirt of his garments.

The anointing of Aaron was special in that the holy anointing oil was literally poured over his head, down his cheeks and beard, and onto his clothing. David sees it as a suitable picture of what a united Jerusalem can be as the tribal leaders who live there are one big family together, with goodwill and dedication flowing down on each other and on others. Their unity will ensure tribal unity.

133.3a

Like the dew of Hermon,
Which comes down on the mountains of Zion,

The dew that falls during the hot nights and mornings in the Middle Eastern summer saturates the whole ground. And this was especially so on Mount Hermon where constant snow ensured heavy dews, dews which the wind scattered far and wide. David, however, may not be saying that the dew of Hermon actually falls on the mountains of Zion (although who would know whether it did or not?). He is using the dew of Hermon as representative of all dew that falls on the mountains, plentiful and abundant, thus ensuring that the mountains of Zion are not barren and bare. In the same way will the unity and goodwill of the trial leaders in Jerusalem overflow in plenty

133.3b

For there YHWH commanded the blessing,
Even life for evermore.

David has in mind that YHWH has expressed His pleasure with Zion and for David's sake has chosen it for His own dwellingplace through the bringing in of the Ark (see previous Psalm). Thus YHWH has commanded for it to be a place of blessing where life is enjoyed for evermore.

The Psalm would later have had special meaning when Nehemiah had to settle certain of the returned exiles in Jerusalem with the same hope. For us it is a reminder of the fact that such unity is vital for the Christian church. If our oneness overflows on each other, it will also flow out to the world.

Psalm 134.

Heading.

134.1a A Song of Ascents.

A final Psalm sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the regular feasts. See on Psalm 120. This is the final one of those psalms sung as a 'psalm of ascents'. It sums up the remainder in calling on those who worship in the Sanctuary at night t0 continually lift up their hands and bless, praise and worship YHWH, Who made Heaven and earth.

134.1b-3

Behold, bless you YHWH, all ye servants of YHWH,
Who by night stand in the house of YHWH.
Lift up your hands to the sanctuary,
And bless you YHWH.
YHWH bless you out of Zion,
Even he who made heaven and earth.

The call goes out to all that serve in or before the Sanctuary to bless YHWH as they stand by night before or in his house. To 'stand before YHWH' is the regular term for priestly or Levitical ministry (e.g. 'to stand before YHWH and minster to him,and to bless in His Name unto this day' Deuteronomy 10.8-9 etc; compare Hebrews 10.11). So by night suggests regular worship at night as well as by day.

The call is for them to lift up their hand continually to the the Sanctuary, worshipping and blessing His Name, and YHWH will then in return bless them out of Zion as the One who made heaven and earth (the Great Creator).

Psalm 135.

Like Psalm 113 this can be seen as especially an 'Hallelujah Psalm' as it both opens and closes in the same way with a distinctve Hallelujah. See also Psalms 146-50 which do the same. With this we can compare also Psalms 111, 112 which open with Hallelujah, and Psalms 115-117 which close with it. Thus Hallelujah appears to be a phrase popular from the Second Temple period, an all fac praise of God.

These were Psalms especially raised to praise God for all His kindness shown to Israel over that period and previously, as demonstrated by the prophetic writings, many of which refer to incidents which occur during the Second Temple period. Thus many of the promises of return to the land were fulfilled at that time e.g. Ezekiel 37, and later the King came to reign in fulfilment of the promises. It is a mistake to see them all as fulfilled at the final end days.

In this particular psalm the praise and thanks were in respect of the fact that God had chosen Israel as His own people and had demonstrated it by delivering them from the hand of Pharoah, and had given to them the land of the Amorites and Canaanites according to his Promises, delivering their kings into their hands. In contrast the gods of the nations are but lifeless idols.

We may divide it into sections as follows:

  • 1). Opening Hallelujah (1a).
  • 2). God be praised for choosing Israel as His Own peculiar treasure (1b-4).
  • 3). He does whatever He pleases in Heaven and earth and all deeps (5-7).
  • 4). He revealed His signs and wonders especially on Egypt, and gave the lands of the nations as a heritage to His people (6.8-12).
  • 5). His Name is established as a memorial through all generations as the leader and forgiver of His servant people (13-14).
  • 6). The idols of the nations speak not, see not, hear not and have no life, and everyone who makes them will end up like them (15-18).
  • 7). All Israel: priests, Levites and all who fear YHWH, should bless Him out of Zion as the One Who dwells in Jerusalem (19-21a).
  • 8). Closing Hallelujah! (21b).

1). Opening Hallelujah (1a).

135.1a

Praise you YHWH, (Hallelujah)

With a great crescendo of praise the Psalm opens, Praise the Lord!

2). God is to be praised for choosing Israel as His Own peculiar treasure (1b-4).

135.1b-4

Praise you the name of YHWH,
Praise 0h you servants of YHWH.
Y0u that stand in the house of YHWH,
In the courts of the house of our God.
Praise you YHWH, for YHWH is good,
Sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant.
For YHWH has chosen Jacob unto himself,
Israel for his peculiar treasure.

The exhortati0n goes out to all His servants who are to praise YHWH. And who are those 'servants' who are to praise YHWH? They are all those who stand in the courts of our God. In other words, as made clear in verses 19-20, the whole of Israel, the priests, the levites and all who fear YHWH (including Gentile proselytes) are to praise Him. They are to praise YHWH for His goodness and His pleasant Name. And why is YHWH to be especially praised by them? Because He has chosen Jacob for Himself, even Israel as His Own unique treasure. As He had said elsewhere, 'You only have I known of all the families on the earth' (Amos 3.2), and 'Jacob have I loved' (Malachi 1.2). God had chosen out one nation as His own,and they were very conscious of the privilege. But this was only true for those who were faithful to Him (Amos 3.2).

Today we are God's 'holy nation', 'His elect race', 'a people for God's own possession', for we have become 'proselytes of Israel' and 'members of His congregation (church)', and we are similarly to 'show forth the excellencies of Him Who has led us out of darkness into His most marvellous light' (1 Peter 2.9).

3). He does whatever He pleases in Heaven and earth and all deeps (5-6).

He is the all-prevailing One. All things are under His control.

135.5-6

For I know that YHWH is great,
And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatsoever YHWH pleased,
That has he done,
In heaven and in earth,
In the seas and in all deeps.

The psalmist now expands on the fact of His greatness and uniqueness. He is 'great' and as our Sovereign Lord is 'above all gods'. This is shown by the fact that He does 'whatsoever He pleases' in every part of the universe. He is not seen as higher than other gods, but as having sole rights. He does what He wills where He will. As He will point out later, other 'gods' are as nothing, they are but the works of man's hands (verses 15-18).

Note the all-pervasiveness of YHWH's power. In the heavens, in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps. The heavens and the deeps were beyond man's ability to grasp.

135.7

He causes the clouds to ascend from the ends of the earth,
He makes lightnings for the rain,
He brings forth the wind out of his store houses.

He constantly reveals his power (present tense) by causing the clouds to ascend from one end of heaven to the other, by making lightnings for the rain, and by bringing forth the wind from His storehouses. The idea is that His control over the whole on behalf of all nations is absolute. Note that clouds, rain and and winds indicated both provision and judgment. Without clouds, rain and wind Canaan would be barren. But the latter emphasis is drawn out by the lightnings (compare Jeremiah 10.13).

4). He revealed His signs and wonders especially on Egypt, and gave the lands of the nations as a heritage to His people (6.8-12).

His power over the nations is now revealed. This is revealed firstly in His treatment of Egypt, and then in His giving of the nations to Israel.

135.8-9

He smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast,
He sent signs and wonders, O Egypt, into the midst of you,
On Pharaoh, and all his servants.

Firstly He demonstrated His power against mighty Egypt. The firstborn of Egypt were smitten both man and beast, and He sent signs and wonders on Pharaoh and all his servants, thus redeeming His people. This was especially impressive because Egypt was one of the greatest powers of the day, and Pharaoh was looked on as a god. But neither might nor earthly power could limit YHWH.

135.10-12

Who smote many nations,
And slew mighty kings,
Sihon king of the Amorites,
And Og king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan,
And gave their land for an heritage,
An heritage unto Israel his people.

Secondly He 'smote may nations and slew many kings'. These were the kings of the Amorites (Numbers 21.23-25, 31; 21.33-35) and the kings of Canaan (Joshua 12.7-24). And He gave their land for an heritage unto Israel His people. From then on the land belonged to Israel as a continual possession.

5). His Name is established as a memorial through all generations as the leader and forgiver of His servant people (13-14).

135.13-14

Your name, O YHWH, (is) for ever,
Your memorial, O YHWH, throughout all generations. For YHWH shall judge his people, And repent himself concerning his servants.

In a glory of exultation His Name is now declared to endure for ever, as a memorial through all generations. And during that time He will act as 'judge' over His people, and show His mercy towards them when they repent (compare Deuteronomy 32.36). His Name is said to be a 'memorial' as depicting all that He is and does.

6). In contrast the idols of the nations speak not, see not, hear not and have no life, and everyone who makes them will end up like them (15-18).

135.15-18

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not,
Eyes have they, but they see not,
They have ears, but they hear not,
Nor is there any breath in their mouths.
They that make them shall be like to them,
Yes, every one that trusts in them.

In direct contrast are the idols of the nations. They are mere silver and gold, the work of men's hand. They have mouths and speak not, eyes and see not, ears and hear not. Indeed, there is no breath in their mouths. (Compare Psalm 115.4-8). They are dead and lifeless. Far from being a 'memorial to all generations', they are known to none. As a consequence those that make them and trust in them shall also be like them, stultified and dead.

7). So all Israel, priests, Levites and all who fear YHWH, should bless Him out of Zion as the One Who dwells in Jerusalem (19-21a).

135.19-21a

O house of Israel, bless you YHWH,
O house of Aaron, bless you YHWH,
O house of Levi, bless you YHWH,
You that fear YHWH, bless you YHWH.
Blessed be YHWH out of Zion,
He Who dwells at Jerusalem.

So all Israel should bless YHWH, the house of Aaron (the priests), the house of Levi, and all who fear YHWH. They should bless Him out of Zion, His earthly dwellingplace. They should glory in His presence in Jerusalem

We too should praise Him, although in mount Zion in Heaven, accompanied by angels and archangels, and by the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12.20-22).

8). Closing Hallelujah! (21b).

135.21b

Praise you YHWH.

The Psalm ends as it begins with Praise you YHWH.

Psalm 136.

This is a psalm in which every verse ends with, -'for His covenant love (is, endures) for ever.' It is thus in praise of the firmness of His covenant love (His compassion and mercy). In the first nine verses He is praised as the God of Gods and the God of creation. In verses 10-22 He is praised for His act of redeeming Israel out of Egypt, smiting great kings, and giving them their heritage in Canaan. And finally, in verses 23-26, He is praised as 'the God of Heaven', (the expression used by Nehemiah) for constantly delivering them and giving food to all flesh. In each case because of His covenant love.

But in the original it is subdivided into clearly marked sets of three up to verse 18 as shown below, followed by two sets of four. It was probably intended to be sung antiphonally, with 'His covenant love (endures) for ever' being the antiphonal response.

YHWH is thanked as the One Who is good, and as God of God and Lord of Lords (vv 1-3).

136.1-3

O GIVE thanks unto YHWH, for he is good,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
O give thanks unto the Lord of lords,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

YHWH is here thanked for His goodness because His covenant love endures for ever, and declared to be God of Gods and Lord of Lords. The importance of Him being faithful to His covenant is trebly stressed. He will never fail in what He has promised. Initially it is His eternal covenant that is in mind, but as personified in His covenant towards Israel.

He Is Described In Terms Of All Created Things (vv 4-6).

136.4-6

To him who alone does great wonders,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
To him that by understanding made the heavens,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
To him that spread forth the earth above the waters,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

His wonders are now extolled. These include the understanding of making the Heavens and the spreading forth of the earth above the waters. These are the very foundation of life. Without them life would have been impossible. But they also include all the wonders that follow. All are the product of His covenant love, which is firm and sure.

He Is Described As The Maker Of The Heavenly Lights (vv 7-9).

136.7-9

To him that made great lights,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
The sun to rule by day,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
The moon and stars to rule by night,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

The creation of the 'great lights' come next. The descriptions are taken from Genesis 1.14-16. They were clearly seen as a great gift to mankind, for apart from heavens and earth no other part of creation is mentioned. But they are also described because it is being made clear that they were creations of God, not 'gods' in their own right. He made them. They were all a part of His great covenant love.

The Smiting Of The Firstborn (vv 10-12).

Six verses having been spent on creation, we next move on to redemption, the smiting of Egypt in their firstborn, and the bringing out of Israel with a strong hand, and an outstretched arm (compare Deuteronomy 4.34).

136.10-12

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And brought out Israel from among them,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

Note the phrase 'He smote Egypt in their firstborn'. This was not only a mighty act of power against Egypt, but it also enabled the smiting of a god (Pharaoh). And the bringing forth of His people completed the task. This was the first act of deliverance. His covenant love was now firmly directed at Israel and its allies.

The Opening Of The Red Sea Before Them (vv.13-15).

136.13-15

To him which divided the Red Sea in sunder,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And made Israel to pass through the midst of it,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

His second great act of deliverance for His people was the opening of the Red Sea. He parted it in sunder, made Israel pass through it, and overthrew (literally 'shook off'') Pharaoh and his host in it. And He did this because His covenant love was firm as a rock and endures for ever.

Leading His People Through The Wilderness And Defeating Great Kings (vv 16-18).

136.16-18

To him which led his people through the wilderness,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
To him which smote great kings,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And slew famous kings,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

Having overthrown Pharaoh and his host He led His people though the wilderness and smote great kings before them. Nothing is mentioned of their failures. His covenant love overbore them.

Sihon and Og are Slain Before Them And Their Land Is Given Them As A Heritage (19-22).

136.19-22

Sihon king of the Amorites,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And Og king of Bashan,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And gave their land for an heritage,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
Even an heritage unto Israel his servant,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

Sihon and Og were two of the most powerful kings that they faced {Numbers 21.23-25, 31, 33-35; compare 135.11). But He smote them and gave their lands to Israel ('his servant') as a permanent heritage, as He did the land of Canaan. All in accordance with His covenant love which He had towards Israel.

His Continual Remembrance Of His People, And Of All Flesh, As The God Of Heaven (136.23-26).

136.23-26

Who remembered us in our low estate,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
And has delivered us from our adversaries,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
He gives food to all flesh,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of heaven,
For his covenant love (is, endures) for ever.

God continues to remember them in their lowliness, and has delivered them from all their adversaries. His covenant love still endures, and will endure long into the hidden future ('olam = hidden). Indeed His covenant love includes the whole world, for He gives food to 'all flesh'. For He is the God of Heaven. His covenant love has again become universal.

God of Heaven. Apart from its use in Jonah 2.9 where it is used by the prophet to describe YHWH to strangers who did not know of Him, its use is post exilic (Ezra 1.2; Nehemiah 1.4; 2.4; 2 Chronicles 36.23; Daniel 2 often), and when it is used in prayer it is always used in prayer away from the promised land. Its use here ties in with its universal nature ('food to all flesh').

Psalm 137.

This Psalm beautifully expresses the feelings of the Judeans when taken to Babylon. As they sat by the rivers and canals of Babylon their thoughts turned Zion, the city they had left behind, and they wept. They felt that it meant that they were no longer close to their God, and they did not feel that they could sing songs to YHWH in a foreign land. They asked only that they may not forget Jerusalem.

The rest of the Psalm may seem strange to us. But then we have the teaching of Christ which have taught us unusually to love our enemies, and we are not set in a strange land, never to return, and with recent bitter memories of what has happened. As they thought on these things they called for vengeance on the Edomites who had cried that Jerusalem be rased to the ground in front of their eyes, and on the Babylonians who had carried it out, and they prayed, as theirs had been, that they would see their little ones battered against the stones. If this seems to be going too far we should remember that it was not a specific prayer, but a reference to what any victor would do. It was a symbol of defeat and destruction. It was requesting an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Their Yearning Not To Forget Jerusalem (1-6),

137.1-2

'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
Yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows there,
We hung up our lyres.'

The rivers and canals of Babylon brought no pleasure to the captives. Instead of fruitfulness and plenty, they reminded them of their tears. Yes, it caused them to remember with tears Zion and the joy they had there. Thus they hung up their lyres there upon the willows. They had no use for them further.

We do know these were almost certainly captors taken from Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 52.28-30), for verse 7 makes it clear, and they were grieving over what they had lost. They realised that the gods of Canaan could do them no good now. Their thoughts were thus turned towards YHWH.

137.3-4

'For there they that led us captive,
Required of us songs,
And they that wasted us (required of us) mirth,
(saying) “Sing us one of the songs of Zion”.
How shall we sing YHWH'S song,
In a strange land?'

And we see from the Psalm why they had hung up their lyres. Those that had taken them captive had requested, yes pressed them, in jest that they sing them one of the songs of Zion. They were not asking for popular songs, but the very songs of worship. And the thought of singing them before mockers was distasteful. How could they sing YHWH's song in a foreign land? They would speak to them only of home.

137.5-6

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget (her cunning).
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I remember you not,
If I do not prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.

And yet paradoxically not singing them made them think of home. If they were to forget Jerusalem then let their right hand forget (all that it could do). If they did not remember her above all other joys let their very tongue cleave to the roof of their mouths. So they would give praise, but on their own terms and in their own way. Jerusalem was to remain the centre of their thinking.

Their Yearning Against Those Who Had Brought It Low (7-9).

137.7

Remember, O YHWH, against the children of Edom,
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, Rase it, rase it,
Even to its foundation.'

The Book of Obadiah 11-14 describes what lies behind these words. The children of Edom (Esau) were a brother tribe to Israel, and yet they vindictively appear to have delighted in her downfall. They had watched and had cried their support for the invaders, even whilst not taking part themselves. 'Rase it, rase it'' they had cried spitefully, 'even to its foundations'. And they had stood by and gleefully watched it happen. Now the cry goes up for YHWH to take note, and recompense accordingly.

137.8-9

O daughter of Babylon,
You who are destroyed,
Happy shall he be, that rewards you,
As you have served us.
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
And dashes them against the rock.

And the same applies to Babylon itself. The prophets had made clear that Babylon would be destroyed, and they could thus be described as already detroyed. Happy would they be who did destroy Babylon, as they had destroyed Jerusalem. The last verse is simply describing such a destruction. When a city was destroyed it was customary for infants to be dealt with in such a way. It was the last sight many would see before they died. It followed the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Psalm 138.

Heading.

138.1a Of David.

There is no good reason for denying this Psalm to David, even though it might be seen as echoing the hopes of the Returnees from Babylon with its universal expectations. It echoes a number of his other Psalms and refers to his hopes when they were greatest, based on the promises of 2 Samuel 7.11-16. Indeed it is this chapter which also makes the Psalm Messianic, referring as it does to David's heirs and the coming of the everlasting kingdom

It can be seen as dividing into three parts:

  • 1). He expresses his gratitude to God in the sight of all who inhabit the heavens (the elohim), as he worships towards His dwelling place in Jerusalem, both for His covenant love and truth, and for answering him and giving him strength.
  • 2). He expresses his certainty that the nations will sing of YHWH's praise as they hear the words of His mouth, especially as revealed to them by the success of David and his successors'.
  • 3). Meanwhile he knows that YHWH will revive him in trouble, and save him from his enemies, because He will perfect what concerns him and because His covenant love is for ever.

The putting of it into the hands of Israel for public worship confirms that these sentiments apply to all the righteous in Israel, and therefore to us through whom the Messianic promises will be completed.

1). He expresses his gratitude to God in the sight of all who inhabit the heavens (the elohim), as he worships towards His dwelling place in Jerusalem, both for His covenant love and truth, and for answering him and giving him strength (verses 1-3).

138.1b-3

I will give you thanks with my whole heart,
Before the elohim (gods, heavenly beings) will I sing (praises/melodies) to you.
I will worship toward your holy temple,
And give thanks unto your name,
For your covenant love and for your truth,
For you have magnified your word above all your name.
In the day that I called you answered me,
You encouraged me with strength in my soul.

The first line is an echo of 9.1. The Palmist gives thanks with his whole heart. Nothing is held back. Indeed he will give thanks before the elohim, those gods who are deemed to rule the nations, with each nation worshipping separate elohim. 'They are witnesses of his praise. We could translate as 'over against the elohim',and that is what it signifies. To David YHWH is supreme. They are there only to hear the praise of YHWH. As he will later bring out (verse 4), he is actually addressing, through their supposed gods, the kings, who will sing of the name of YHWH.

He points out that he will worship towards His holy Temple, which stands alone as His dwellingplace. (The sanctuary of YHWH could be called 'a temple', even prior to the building of the temple. Thus the sanctuary at Shiloh was called 'a temple' (1 Samuel 1.9), the word meaning 'a large place, a palace'). And he will do so because he is giving thanks 'unto His Name'. The Name of YHWH expressed all that He was seen as being.

Indeed he will thank Him for his covenant love and truth, for He has magnified His word above all His Name. In other words by his promises and acts on behalf of David and Israel He has magnified His Name far more greatly than ever before. He has made His Name even greater. For He has not only answered him, but He has encouraged him with strength in his inner life to do the deeds he has accomplished,which is why he is so great.

2). He expresses his certainty that the nations will sing of YHWH's praise as they hear the words of His mouth, especially as revealed to them by the success of David and his successors' (4-6).

138.4-6

All the kings of the earth will give you thanks, O YHWH,
For they have heard the words of your mouth,
Yes, they will sing of the ways of YHWH,
For great is the glory of YHWH.
For though YHWH be high, yet has he respect to the lowly,
But the haughty he knows from afar.

Indeed all the kings of the earth will give thanks to YHWH for they have heard the words of His mouth. They have seen them in David's all conquering power, and have learned them from David's lips. This has demonstrated to them the power of YHWH. See Psalm 2.7-9. Even more clearly it refers to 'Great David's Greater Son', the Messiah, through Whose exploits His Name will be even better known, and they will literally hear them from the words of His mouth.

Indeed in both cases it will cause them to sing of the ways of YHWH, recognising His glory. For though YHWH is high, He has respect to, and comes near to the lowly, whilst those who are haughty He only knows from afar (they do not come to Him but await His judgment). This refers to both David humbling himself before God, and those kings as humbling themselves before the David, recognising him as God's representative, or as hearing of his exploits and giving glory to YHWH. But it especially refers to men's response to the Messiah, Who was Himself supremely humble. As Jesus said, 'come to me all you who are labour and are heavy laden, – for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls' (Matthew 11.28-29).

3). Meanwhile he knows that YHWH will revive him in trouble, and save him from his enemies, because He will perfect what concerns him and because His covenant love is for ever (verses 7-8).

138.7-8

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
You will revive me,
You will stretch forth your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
And your right hand will save me.
YHWH will perfect what concerns me,
Your covenant love, O YHWH (is/endures) for ever,
Do not forsake the works of your own hands.

However he recognises that there are troubles ahead. All will not be plain sailing. But he is confident that God will revive him, and will stretch forth His hand against his enemies' wrath and will save him with His right hand (the powerful right hand). Indeed he is assured that God will perfect what concerns him, (ensuring the fulfilment of His promises), for His covenant love is for ever. Therefore his final prayer is that He will not forsake the works of His hands, but will ensure the fulfilment of His covenants.

Psalm 139.

Heading.

139.1a For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

It is objected that David could not be the author of the Psalm because of the good quantity of Aramaisms in it, but there were many Aramaisms in the language at Ugarit, which was centuries before David, and at David's court Aramaic would have been familiar. He may well have felt that to sprinkle his Hebrew with Aramaisms (they were sister languages) would mean they were more fully appreciated among the peoples among his wide ranging empire, many of whom would speak Aramaic. The dedication of this Psalm and the next to 'the chief musician/choirmaster' (with Psalm 109 the only two Psalms in the fifth book to be so) would seem to support this view.

The Psalm lays great stress on man's personal relationship with God, and on the fact that God knows him through and through. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows all our ways wherever we may be. Nowhere are God's omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence revealed so strikingly. Nowhere is man so open to them and so aware of them. Nowhere is man's personality so at one with God and yet distinct from God. There is no pantheism here. Man is seen as the unique workmanship of God, responsible to God for his ways, and yet looking to God for friendship and help in those ways, even as He knew him before he was made.

The Psalm divides neatly into five section:

  • 1). YHWH knows all his thoughts and actions (verses 1b-6).
  • 2). There is no way of escaping from His Presence (verse 7-12).
  • 3). He has worked wonderfully even before he was born, and has had him in His thoughts (verses 13-18).
  • 4). The Psalmist hates all wickedness (verses 19-22).
  • 5). Thus he calls on God to expose any wickedness in him and lead him in the way everlasting.

1). YHWH knows all his thoughts and actions (verses 1b-6).

We need have no doubt after reading this Psalm that God is nearer to us than hands and feet. All that we are is known to Him, and if we are His He knows all our ways, and He besets us behind and before, like the besiegers of a city, and lays His hand upon us.

139.1b-6

YHWH, you have searched me, and know (me),
YOU (emphasised) know my downsitting and my uprising,
You understand my thought afar off,
You search out (literally 'have winnowed') my walking and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways,
For there is not a word in my tongue,
But, lo, O YHWH, you know it altogether.
You have beset me behind and before,
And laid your hand on me,
(Such) knowledge is too wonderful for me,
It is high, I am not capable of (understanding) it.

God has searched him through and through and 'knows'. HE knows his downsitting and his uprising. This may refer to his sitting down at the counsel meeting and his uprising when he is finished, or it may refer to his completion of one task and the beginning of the next. Or it may simply refer to his general lifestyle.

'You understand my thought afar off.' God may be in Heaven and we on earth, but He knows and understands our very thought. All that we think is known to Him. And distance is nothing to Him. Contrast Job 22.12-14 spoken by Eliphaz the Temanite..

'You winnow my walking and lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.' He 'winnows', thoroughly examines in detail, all my walking and my lying down.' Nothing passes His scrutiny, whether active or passive. He completely knows all our ways. Indeed, there is not a word on our tongue but He knows it altogether. Thus words and actions are equally within His purview.

'You have beset me behind and before, and laid your hand on me.' Besetting is used of a city under siege and refers to being 'hemmed in' and 'under close watch'. 'Laid your hand on me' may refer it to a prisoner, with guards ahead and behind, and someone personally restraining him. But the confident note of the Psalm calls for a positive view, so it is rather to be seen as protective and beneficial. He is under God's protection, in God's caring custody.

'(Such) knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high, I am not capable of (understanding) it.' This might refer to all that has gone before, or only to the last sentence, probably the former. The point is that what he has been describing is too wonderful to grasp. It is far above him. He cannot even begin to claim to understand it.

2). There is no way of escaping from His Presence (verse 7-12).

The thought is positive. It is not that he wants to escape from His Presence. As he says in verse 10, 'even there shall your hand lead me'. But he makes it quite clear that nevertheless there is no escaping. Wherever he goes, there will be no getting away from God. To the believer such is good news. Not so to the unbeliever.

139.7-12

Where shall I go from your spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, you are there,
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there,
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there will your hand lead me,
And your right hand will hold me,
If I say, Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light about me will be night,
Even the darkness does not hide from you,
But the night shines as the day,
The darkness and the light are both alike (to you).

'Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?' The parallelism suggests that the two have similar meanings. His Spirit is His Presence. Where His Presence is, His Spirit is, and vice versa. In the Old Testament the 'Spirit of God' means God actively present. Thus the question is where I can go where God cannot find me? And he proceeds to reply 'nowhere'. For God is present in Heaven, in Sheol (the place of the dead), and in the uttermost parts of the sea (the furthest West in regions unknown), the three places most beyond the knowledge of the Psalmist. To make his bed in Sheol is to have finally settled there. To 'take the wings of the morning' is to travel as swiftly as the morning.

But even there he knows he will be safe. 'His hand will lead him and His right hand will hold him' (and us), the certainty of God's care and protection. For even the darkness cannot hide from God, and to Him the night shines as the day. So darkness and light are both alike to Him.

3). For God has worked wonderfully even before he was born, and has had him in His thoughts (verses 13-18).

The Psalmist goes on to explain why he is so confident that God is with him, for He has fashioned his reins from the beginning (fashioned the source of his actions, mainly the will and emotions, as he came into the world) and has plaited him (made his bones and sinews etc) from his mother's womb. And he goes on to explain that He even before that made his frame and fashioned him. Prebirth was a mystery to the ancients (Ecclesiastes 11.5) and the process that produced the child was unknown. The woman's body was 'the lowest parts of the earth' (man came from the dust and returns to the dust), and what happened there was a mystery known only to God, as is explained here.

139.13-18

For you have fashioned my reins,
You have plaited me in my mother's womb,
I will give thanks to you,
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
Wonderful are your works,
And that my inner life knows right well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was made in secret,
And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unperfect substance,
And in your book were all (my members) written,
Which day by day were fashioned,
When as yet there was none of them.
How weighty also are your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand,
When I awake, I am still with you.

We will divide this into three subparts for comment. The first subpart is:

For you have fashioned my reins,
You have plaited me in my mother's womb,
I will give thanks to you,
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
Wonderful are your works,
And that my inner life knows right well.

Here he gives thanks because he is 'fearfully and wonderfully made' as he thinks of the final process that brought him all together, the fashioning of his reins (his will, heart and emotions), and the plaiting of his bones and sinews. And he declares that 'wonderful are Your works', something he is aware of in his innermost being.

The second sub-part is:

My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was made in secret,
And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unperfect substance,
And in your book were all (my members) written,
Which day by day were fashioned,
When as yet there was none of them.

Here he enters more deeply into the mystery of his birth. His frame was not hidden from God, Who was 'curiously working' in the depths of the woman's body (the lowest parts of the earth), His eyes saw his 'imperfect substance' as He gradually brought him into being. For in His book all his members were prerecorded, which day by day were fashioned even while there was none of them. In other words God had a record of what he was going to be like, and made him accordingly bit by bit, the ancient way of describing from foetus to birth. Note, however, his preexistence in the mind of God. He is not the result of chance. This supports such verses as Ephesians 1.4, 2.10.

For the identification of the woman's body as the lowest part of the earth compare Job 1.21, 'naked came I out of my mother's body, and naked shall I return there (the dust)'. Initially man came from the dust, and then from a woman's body, which is basically the extension of the earth. Thus every man is born from 'the dust'.

The third subpart is:

How weighty also are your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand,
When I awake, I am still with you.

What he has previously described of God's thoughts is weighty and uncountable. He is overwhelmed by them. If he even makes the attempt to count them he will discover they are more numerous than the sand. And when he falls asleep he again awakes up and is still aware of God and His presence with him, and of the wonder of His ways.

4). He hates all wickedness (verses 19-22).

His nearness to God and awareness of His presence causes him to hate all wickedness,

139.19-22

Surely you will slay the wicked, O God,
Depart from me therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
For they speak against you wickedly,
And your enemies take (your name) in vain.
Do I not hate them, O YHWH, that hate you?
And am I not grieved with those that rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred,
I count them my enemies.

Because of what he knows Him to be he knows that YHWH will surely slay all wickedness. So he calls on bloodthirsty men to leave him, for they speak against God wickedly, and His enemies take His Name in vain (the Hebrew verbs are difficult but Delitzsch cites the Arabic as underlying the Aramaic in support). He therefore hates them, is grieved by them, and counts them as his enemies. He 'hates them with perfect hatred'. He takes up what he sees as the attitude of God towards them.

5). Thus he calls on God to expose any wickedness in him and lead him in the way everlasting.

The thought of other people's wickedness makes him aware of possible wickedness in him, and he now asks God to search him for any wickedness in him, so that he may deal with it promptly.

139.23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart,
Try me and know my thoughts,
And see if there be any way of wickedness in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

He asks God to search him and test him out so that his heart and his thoughts might be laid bare. Let God reveal any wickedness in him so that he may deal with it. Then he prays that he may by led in the way everlasting. The difference between him and those mentioned before is in his attitude to sin. They have basked in it and indulged it, he earnestly wants God to get rid of it, for his heart is set in the right way, in 'the way everlasting'.

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