Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
In this psalm the providence of God furnishes matter for praising him, because, though his excellency is far above the heavens, nevertheless, he deigns to cast his eyes upon the earth to take notice of mankind. And as not a few are disconcerted by the vicissitudes which they behold occurring in the world, the prophet takes occasion, from these sudden and unlooked for changes, to warn us to attend expressly to God’s providence, that we may entertain no doubt that all things are governed according to his will and pleasure. 352
1. Praise ye Jehovah. Praise, ye servants of Jehovah! praise the name of Jehovah. 2. Blessed be the name of Jehovah henceforth and for ever. 3. Jehovah’s name is to be praised, from the rising of the sun unto his going down. 4. Jehovah is high above all nations, his glory is above the heavens.
1 Praise, ye servants of Jehovah! This psalm contains abundant reasons for all men without exception to praise God. The faithful alone being endued with spiritual perception to recognize the hand of God, the prophet addresses them in particular. And if we consider how cold and callous men are in this religious exercise, we will not deem the repetition of the call to praise God superfluous. We all acknowledge that we are created to praise God’s name, while, at the same time, his glory is disregarded by us. Such criminal apathy is justly condemned by the prophet, with the view of stirring us up to unwearied zeal in praising God. The repetition, then, of the exhortation to praise him, ought to be considered as referring both to perseverance and ardor in this service. If, by the servants of God, some would rather understand the Levites, to whom the charge of celebrating his praises under the Law was committed, I am not much opposed to it, provided they do not exclude the rest of the faithful, over whom formerly God appointed the Levites as leaders and chief musicians, that he might be praised by all his people without exception. When the Holy Spirit addresses the Levites expressly in relation to the subject of God’s praises, it is designedly that, by their example, they may show the way to others, and that the whole Church may respond in one holy chorus. Now that we are all “a royal priesthood,” (1Pe 2:9) and as Zechariah testifies, (Zec 14:21) that under the reign of Christ, the meanest of the people shall be Levites, there is no question that, excepting unbelievers who are mute, the prophet invites us all in common to render this service unto God.
2 Blessed be the name of Jehovah The prophet confirms what I stated above, that the praises of God must be continued throughout the whole course of our life. If his name is to be continually praised, it ought, at least, to be our earnest endeavor, during our brief pilgrimage here, that the remembrance of it may flourish after we are dead. In the next verse, he extends the glory of God’s name to all parts of the earth; wherefore our apathy will be totally inexcusable, if we do not make its praises resound among ourselves. Under the law, God could not be praised aright, excepting in Judea by his own people, to whom the knowledge of him was confined. His works, however, which are visible to all nations, are worthy of the admiration of the whole world. To the same effect is the following clause respecting the loftiness of God’s glory; for can there be any thing more base, than for us to magnify it but seldom and tardily, considering it ought to fill our thoughts with enrapturing admiration? In extolling the name of God so highly, the prophet intends to show us that there is no ground for indifference; that silence would savor of impiety were we not to exert ourselves to the utmost of our ability to celebrate his praises, in order that our affections may, as it were, rise above the heavens. When he adds, that God is high above all nations, there is an implied reproach, by which he fastens upon the chosen people the charge of apathy in the exercise of praise. For can there be any thing more preposterous, than for those who are eye-witnesses of God’s glory, which shines forth even among the blind, to refrain from making it the theme of their praises? At the very time when God conferred upon the Jews the exclusive honor of being the depositaries of the knowledge of his heavenly doctrine, he was nevertheless, according to Paul, not without a witness, (Ac 14:17; Ro 1:20) After the promulgation of the Gospel, his exaltation above the nations was more evident, for then the whole world was placed under his sway.
5. Who is like unto Jehovah our God, who hath his dwelling on high, 6. Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, and on earth! 353 7. Who raises the poor from the dust, who lifts the afflicted from the dunghill; 8. That he may place him with princes, with the princes of his people. 9. Who maketh the barren woman to dwell in the family, a joyful mother of children. Praise ye Jehovah. 354
5 Who is like unto Jehovah our God The prophet strengthens his position for the celebration of God’s praises, by contrasting the height of his glory and power with his unbounded goodness. Not that his goodness can be separated from his glory; but this distinction is made out of regard to men, who would not be able to endure his majesty, were he not kindly to humble himself, and gently and kindly draw us towards him. The amount is, that God’s dwelling above the heavens, at such a distance from us, does not prevent him from showing himself to be near at hand, and plainly providing for our welfare; and, in saying that God is exalted above the heavens, he magnifies his mercy towards men, whose condition is mean and despicable, and informs us that he might righteously hold even angels in contempt, were it not that, moved by paternal regard, he condescends to take them under his care. If in regard to angels he humble himself, what is to be said in regard to men, who, grovelling upon the earth, are altogether filthy? Is it asked, whether or not God fills heaven and earth? The answer is obvious. The words of the prophet simply mean, that God may trample the noblest of his creatures under his feet, or rather that, by reason of their infinite distance, he may entirely disregard them. In short, we must conclude that it is not from our proximity to him, but from his own free choice, that he condescends to make us the objects of his peculiar care.
7 Who raiseth the poor from the dust In this passage, he speaks in terms of commendation of God’s providential care in relation to those diversified changes which men are disposed to regard as accidental. He declares that it is solely by the appointment of God that things undergo changes far surpassing our anticipations. If the course of events were always uniform, men would ascribe it merely to natural causes, whereas, the vicissitudes which take place teach us that all things are regulated in accordance with the secret counsel of God. On the other hand, struck with astonishment at the events which have happened contrary to our expectation, we instantly ascribe them to chance. And as we are so apt to view things from a point the very reverse from that of recognising God’s superintending care, the prophet enjoins us to admire his providence in matters of marvellous, or of unusual occurrence; for since cowherds, and men of the lowest and most abject condition, have been elevated to the summit of power, it is most reasonable that our attention should be arrested by a change so unexpected. We now perceive the prophet’s design. In this passage, as well as in others, he might have set before us the structure of the heavens and the earth; but, as our minds are unaffected by the ordinary course of things, he declares that the hand of God is most apparent in his marvellous works. And in saying that men of mean and abject condition are not merely elevated to some petty sovereignty, but that they are invested with power and authority over God’s holy people, he increases the greatness of the miracle — that being of far more consequence than to rule in other parts of the earth; for the state or kingdom of the Church constitutes the principal and august theater where God presents and displays the tokens of his wonderful power, wisdom, and righteousness.
9 Who maketh the barren woman to dwell in the family He relates another work of God, which if, apparently, not so notable, ought not, on that account, the less to engage our thoughts. Unimpressed as we are by the ordinary works of God, we are constrained to express our astonishment when a woman who has been for a long period barren, unexpectedly becomes the mother of a numerous family. The Hebrew term, הבית, habbayith, is to be understood, not simply of a house, but also of a household, — that is, the thing containing, for that which is contained, — just as the Greeks apply οικος, and the Latins domus, to a household. The meaning is, that the woman who was formerly barren is blessed with fruitfulness, and fills the house with children. He attributes joy to mothers, because, though the hearts of all are prone to aspire after wealth, or honor, or pleasures, or any other advantages, yet is progeny preferred to every thing else. Wherefore, since God superintends the ordinary course of nature, alters the current of events, elevates those of abject condition and ignoble extraction, and makes the barren woman fruitful, our insensibility is very culpable, if we do not attentively contemplate the works of his hand.
This interesting little ode, which is alike elegant in its structure, and devotional in its sentiment, its theme being the celebration of Jehovah’s power, glory, and mercy, is thought by Bishop Patrick to be the commencement of what the Hebrews called the Great Hallel or Hymns, which they recited at their tables in the new moons and other feasts, especially in the paschal night, after they had eaten the lamb. He supposes that the Great Hallel included this and the five following psalms. See page 310. “It is very uncertain who was the author of this psalm; but as the 7th and 8th verses are manifestly taken from 1Sa 2:8, and the 9th probably alludes to the history of Hannah, it might be composed by Samuel or David, who were so nearly interested in the signal mercies vouchsafed to her.” — Dimock.
“Lowth translates rightly after Hare: —
‘Who is like Jehovah our God?
Who dwelleth high,
Who looketh low;
In heaven and on earth.’
He refers to the same structure, Cant. 1:0, Cant. 5:0. For the first part, see Jer 49:8; and for the whole, see Ps 138:6; Isa 57:15.” — Archbishop Secker in Merrick’s Annotations on the Psalms. Lowth observes that the last member is to be divided, and assigned in its two divisions to the two preceding members, as if it were, “Who dwelleth high in heaven, and looketh low on earth.”
The words, Praise ye Jehovah, at the end of the psalm, are, in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions, and in a very ancient manuscript, placed at the head of next psalm, where, perhaps, they formerly stood as the title.