Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Call to the God of Israel, the Living God, to Rescue the Honour of His Name
This Psalm, which has scarcely anything in common with the preceding Psalm except that the expression "house of Jacob," Psa 114:1, is here broken up into its several members in Psa 115:12., is found joined with it, making one Psalm, in the lxx, Syriac, Arabic and Aethiopic versions, just as on the other hand Ps 116 is split up into two. This arbitrary arrangement condemns itself. Nevertheless Kimchi favours it, and it has found admission into not a few Hebrew manuscripts.
It is a prayer of Israel for God's aid, probably in the presence of an expedition against heathen enemies. The two middle strophes of the four are of the same compass. Ewald's conjecture, that whilst the Psalm was being sung the sacrifice was proceeded with, and that in Psa 115:12 the voice of a priest proclaims the gracious acceptance of the sacrifice, is pleasing. But the change of voices begins even with Psa 115:9, as Olshausen also supposes.
It has to do not so much with the honour of Israel, which is not worthy of the honour (Eze 36:22.) and has to recognise in its reproach a well-merited chastisement, as with the honour of Him who cannot suffer the reproaching of His holy name to continue long. He willeth that His name should be sanctified. In the consciousness of his oneness with this will, the poet bases his petition, in so far as it is at the same time a petition on behalf of Israel, upon God's cha'ris and alee'theia as upon two columns. The second על, according to an express note of the Masora, has no Waw before it, although the lxx and Targum insert one. The thought in Psa 115:2 is moulded after Psa 79:10, or after Joe 2:17, cf. Psa 42:4; Mic 7:10. איּה־נא is the same style as נגדּה־נּא in Psa 116:18, cf. in the older language אל־נא, אם־נא, and the like.
The poet, with "And our God," in the name of Israel opposes the scornful question of the heathen by the believingly joyous confession of the exaltation of Jahve above the false gods. Israel's God is in the heavens, and is therefore supramundane in nature and life, and the absolutely unlimited One, who is able to do all things with a freedom that is conditioned only by Himself: quod vult, valet (Psa 115:3 = Psa 135:6, Wisd. 12:18, and frequently). The carved gods (עצב, from עצב, cogn. חצב, קצב) of the heathen, on the contrary, are dead images, which are devoid of all life, even of the sensuous life the outward organs of which are imagined upon them. It cannot be proved with Ecc 5:16 that ידיהם and רגליחם are equivalent to ידים להם, רגלים. They are either subjects which the Waw apodosis cf. Gen 22:24; Pro 23:24; Hab 2:5) renders prominent, or casus absoluti (Ges. ֗145, 2), since both verbs have the idols themselves as their subjects less on account of their gender (יד and רגל are feminine, but the Hebrew usage of genders is very free and not carried out uniformly) as in respect of Psa 115:7: with reference to their hands, etc. ימישׁוּן is the energetic future form, which goes over from משׁשׁ into מוּשׁ, for ימשּׁוּ. It is said once again in Psa 115:7 that speech is wanting to them; for the other negations only deny life to them, this at the same time denies all personality. The author might know from his own experience how little was the distinction made by the heathen worship between the symbol and the thing symbolized. Accordingly the worship of idols seems to him, as to the later prophets, to be the extreme of self-stupefaction and of the destruction of human consciousness; and the final destiny of the worshippers of false gods, as he says in Psa 115:8, is, that they become like to their idols, that is to say, being deprived of their consciousness, life, and existence, they come to nothing, like those their nothingnesses (Isa 44:9). This whole section of the Psalm is repeated in Ps 135 (Psa 115:6, Psa 115:15).
After this confession of Israel there now arises a voice that addresses itself to Israel. The threefold division into Israel, the house of Aaron, and those who fear Jahve is the same as in Psa 118:2-4. In Ps 135 the "house of Levi" is further added to the house of Aaron. Those who fear Jahve, who also stand in the last passage, are probably the proselytes (in the Acts of the Apostles σεβόμενοι τὸν Θεόν, or merely σεβόμενοι)
(Note: The appellation φοβούμενοι does not however occur, if we do not bring Act 10:2 in here; but in Latin inscriptions in Orelli-Hentzen No. 2523, and in Auer in the Zeitschrift fr katholische Theologie 1852, S. 80, the proselyte (religionis Judaicae) is called metuens.))
at any rate these are included even if Israel in Psa 115:9 is meant to signify the laity, for the notion of "those who fear Jahve" extends beyond Israel. The fact that the threefold refrain of the summons does not run, as in Psa 33:20, our help and shield is He, is to be explained from its being an antiphonal song. In so far, however, as the Psalm supplicates God's protection and help in a campaign the declaration of confident hope, their help and shield is He, may, with Hitzig, be referred to the army that is gone or is going forth. It is the same voice which bids Israel to be of good courage and announces to the people the well-pleased acceptance of the sacrifice with the words "Jahve hath been mindful of us" (זכרנוּ ה, cf. עתּה ידעתּי, Psa 20:7), perhaps simultaneously with the presentation of the memorial portion (אזכרה) of the meat-offering (Psa 38:1). The יברך placed at the head is particularized threefold, corresponding to the threefold summons. The special promise of blessing which is added in Psa 115:14 is an echo of Deu 1:11, as in Sa2 24:3. The contracted future יסף we take in a consolatory sense; for as an optative it would be too isolated here. In spite of all oppression on the part of the heathen, God will make His people ever more numerous, more capable of offering resistance, and more awe-inspiring.
The voice of consolation is continued in Psa 115:15, but it becomes the voice of hope by being blended with the newly strengthened believing tone of the congregation. Jahve is here called the Creator of heaven and earth because the worth and magnitude of His blessing are measured thereby. He has reserved the heavens to Himself, but given the earth to men. This separation of heaven and earth is a fundamental characteristic of the post-diluvian history. The throne of God is in the heavens, and the promise, which is given to the patriarchs on behalf of all mankind, does not refer to heaven, but to the possession of the earth (Psa 37:22). The promise is as yet limited to this present world, whereas in the New Testament this limitation is removed and the κληρονομία embraces heaven and earth. This Old Testament limitedness finds further expression in Psa 115:17, where דּוּמה, as in Psa 94:17, signifies the silent land of Hades. The Old Testament knows nothing of a heavenly ecclesia that praises God without intermission, consisting not merely of angels, but also of the spirits of all men who die in the faith. Nevertheless there are not wanting hints that point upwards which were even better understood by the post-exilic than by the pre-exilic church. The New Testament morn began to dawn even upon the post-exilic church. We must not therefore be astonished to find the tone of Psa 6:6; Psa 30:10; Psa 88:11-13, struck up here, although the echo of those earlier Psalms here is only the dark foil of the confession which the church makes in Psa 115:18 concerning its immortality. The church of Jahve as such does not die. That it also does not remain among the dead, in whatever degree it may die off in its existing members, the psalmist might know from Isa 26:19; Isa 25:8. But the close of the Psalm shows that such predictions which light up the life beyond only gradually became elements of the church's consciousness, and, so to speak, dogmas.