Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
An exhortation to praise God, both for his goodness specially shown to his chosen people, and for his power and glory apparent in the world at large. A contrast is drawn between idols, which had but a vain show of divinity, and the God of Israel, who had established his claim to be considered the only true God by clear and indubitable proofs, and this with the view of leading his people the more cheerfully to praise him, and submit to his government.
1. Praise ye the name of Jehovah, 153 praise him, O ye servants of Jehovah! 2. Ye who stand in the house of Jehovah, and ye who stand in the courts of the house of our God. 154 3. Praise God, for good is Jehovah: sing unto his name, for it is pleasant. 4. For God hath chosen Jacob 155 unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.
1. Praise ye the name of Jehovah Though this Psalm begins almost in the same manner with the preceding, the Psalmist would not appear to be addressing the Levites exclusively, but the people generally, since the reasons given for praising God are equally applicable to all God’s children. No mention is made of night watching, or of their standing constantly in the Temple. But indeed, as it was the special duty of the priests to take the lead in this devotional exercise, to give out, if we might use such an expression, and sing the praises of God before the people, there is no reason why we should not suppose that they are primarily addressed, and stirred up to their duty. We need only to examine the ‘words more closely in order to be convinced that the people are included as next in order to the priests. 156 For the Psalmist addresses the servants of God who stand in the temple, then those who are in the courts, whereas no notice was taken of the courts in the former Psalm. Mention seems to be made of courts in the plural number, because the priests had their court; and then there was another common to all the people, for by the law spoken of, (Le 16:17,) they were prohibited from entering the sanctuary. To prevent any feeling of disgust which might arise from the very frequent repetition of this exhortation to the praises of God, it is only necessary to remember, as was already observed, that there is no sacrifice in which he takes greater delight than the expression of our gratitude. Thus, (Ps 50:14,)
“Sacrifice unto the Lord thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High;”
and, (Ps. 116:12, 13,)
“What shal1 I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.”
Particular attention is to be paid to those passages of Scripture which speak in such high terms of that worship of God which is spiritual; otherwise we may be led, in the exercise of a misguided zeal, to spend our labor upon trifles, and in this respect imitate the example of too many who have wearied themselves with ridiculous attempts to invent additions to the service of God, while they have neglected what is of all other things most important. This is the reason why the Holy Spirit so repeatedly inculcates the duty of praise. It is that we may not undervalue, or grow careless in this devotional exercise. It implies, too, an indirect censure of our tardiness in proceeding to the duty, for he would not reiterate the admonition were we ready and active in the discharge of it. The expression in the end of the verse — because it is sweet, admits of two meanings — that the name of God is sweet, as in the previous clause it was said that God is good — or, that it is a sweet and pleasant thing to sing’ God’s praises. The Hebrew word נעים naim, properly signifies beautiful or comely, and this general signification answers best. 157
4. For God hath chosen Jacob Other reasons are given afterwards why they should praise God, drawn from his government of the world. But as it was only the children of Abraham who were favored with the knowledge of God at that time, and were capable of praising him, the Psalmist directs them to the fact of their ]roving been chosen by God to be his peculiar people, as affording matter for thanksgiving. The mercy was surely one of incomparable value, and which might well stir them up to fervent gratitude and praise, adopted as they were into favor with God, while the whole Gentile world was passed by. The praise of their election is given by the Psalmist to God — a clear proof that they owed the distinction not to any excellency of their own, but to the free mercy of God the Father which had been extended to them. He has laid all without exception under obligation to his service, for
“he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”
But he bound the posterity of Abraham to him by a closer tie, such as that by which he now adopts men generally into his Church, and unites them with the body of his only-begotten Son. 158
5. For I know that Jehovah is great, and our God above all gods. 6. Whatsoever doth please him, Jehovah does in heaven and in earth, in the sea, and in all deep places. 7. Causing the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth, he maketh lightnings for the rain, bringing forth the wind out of his secret places. 159
5. For I know that Jehovah is great We have here a general description of the power of God, to show the Israelites that the God they worshipped was the same who made the world, and rules over all according to his will, neither is there any other besides him. He would not exclude others when he speaks of having known himself the greatness of God, but is rather to be considered as taking occasion from his own experience to stir up men generally to attend to this subject, and awake to the recognition of what lies abundantly open to observation. The immensity of God is what none can comprehend; still his glory, so far as was seen fit, has been sufficiently manifested to leave all the world without excuse for ignorance. How can one who has enjoyed a sight of the heavens and of the earth shut his eyes so as to overlook the Author of them without sin of the deepest dye? It is with the view, then, of stirring us up more effectually, — that the Psalmist makes reference to himself in inviting us to the knowledge of God’s glory; or rather he reprehends our carelessness in not being alive enough to the consideration of it. The second part of the verse makes the truth of the observation which I have already stated still more apparent, — that the Psalmist’s design was to retain the Israelites in the service and fear of the one true God, by a declaration to the effect that the God who cove-nanted with their Fathers was the same who created heaven and earth, No sooner had he made mention of Jehovah than he adds his being the God of Israel. It follows as a necessary consequence, that all who depart from this God prefer a god who has no claim to the title, and that Jews and Turks, for example, in our own day, are guilty of mere trifling when they pretend to worship God the Creator of the world. Where persons have diverged from the law and from the gospel, any show of piety they may have amounts to a renunciation of the true God. The Psalmist had, therefore, in his eye when he clothed God with a specific title,, to limit the Israelites to that.God who was set forth in the doctrine of the Law. If by אלהים, Elohim, we understand the false gods of the Gentiles — the title is given them only by concession, for it could not be properly assigned to what are mere lying’ vanities; and the meaning is, that God’s greatness altogether eclipses any pretended deity. But the expression would seem to include the angels, as has been already observed, in whom there is some reflection of divinity, as being heavenly principalities and powers, but who are exalted by God, and assigned such a subordinate place as may not interfere with his glory. 160
6. Whatsoever doth please him, etc. This is that immeasurable greatness of the divine being, of which he had just spoken. He not only founded heaven and earth at first, but governs all things according to his power. To own that God made the world, but maintain that he sits idle in heaven, and takes no concern in the management of it, is to cast an impious aspersion upon his power; and yet the idea, absurd as it is, obtains wide currency amongst men. They would not say, perhaps, in so many words, that they believed that God slept in heaven, but in imagining, as they do, that he resigns the reins to chance or fortune, they leave him the mere shadow of a power, such as is not manifested in effects; whereas Scripture teaches us that it is a real practical power, by which he governs the whole world as he does according to his will. The Psalmist expressly asserts every part of the world to be under the divine care, and that nothing takes place by Chance, or without determination. According to a very common opinion, all the power necessary to be assigned to God in the matter, is that of a universal providence, which I do not profess to understand. The distinction here made between the heavens, earth, and waters, denotes a particular governments. The term חפר, chaphets, is emphatical. The Holy Spirit declares that he does whatsoever pleases him. That confused sort of divine government which many talk of, amounts to no more than a certain maintenance of order in the world, without due counsel. No account whatever is made of his will in this way, for will implies counsel and method. Consequently there is a special providence exerted in the government of the various parts of the world, there is no such thing as chance, and what appears most fortuitous, is in reality ordered by his secret wisdom. We are not called to inquire why he wills events which contradict our sense of what his administration should be, but if we would not unsettle the very foundations of religion, we must hold by this as a firm principle, that nothing happens without, the divine will and decree. 161 His will may be mysterious, but it is to be regarded with reverence, as the fountain of all justice and rectitude, unquestionably entitled as it is to our supreme consideration. For farther information upon this subject the reader may consult Psalm 115.
7. Causing the clouds to ascend The Psalmist touches upon one or two particulars, in illustration of the point that nothing takes place of itself, but by the hand and counsel of God. Our understandings cannot comprehend a thousandth part of God’s works, and it is only a few examples which he brings forward to be considered in proof of the doctrine of a divine providence which he had just announced. He speaks of the clouds ascending from the ends of the earth; for the vapours which rise out of the earth form clouds, when they accumulate more densely together. Now who would think that the vapours which we see ascending upwards would shortly darken the sky, and impend above our heads? It strikingly proves the power of God, that these thin vapours, which steam up from the ground:, should form a body over-spreading the whole atmosphere. The Psalmist mentions it as another circumstance calling for our wonder, that lightnings are mixed with rain, things quite opposite in their nature one from another. Did not custom make us familiar with the spectacle, we would pronounce this mixture, of fire and water to be a phenomenon altogether incredible. 162 The same may be said of the phenomena of the winds. Natural causes can be assigned for them, and philosophers have pointed them out; but the winds, with their various currents, are a wonderful work of God. He does not merely assert the power of God, be it observed, in the sense in which philosophers themselves grant it, but he maintains that not a drop of rain falls from heaven without a divine commission or dispensation to that effect. All readily allow that God is the author of rain, thunder, and wind, in so far as he originally established this order of things in nature; but the Psalmist goes farther than this, holding that when it rains, this is not effected by a blind instinct of nature, but is the consequence of the decree of God, who is pleased at one time to darken the sky with clouds, and at another to brighten it again with sunshine.
8. He smote the first-born of Egypt, from man to beast. 9. He sent tokens and wonders in the midst of thee, O Egypt! On Pharaoh, and on all his servants. 10.. He smote great nation, and slew mighty kings. 11. Sikon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan. 163 12. And gave their land for an heritage, an heritage to Israel his people.
8. He smote the first-born of Egypt He now reverts to those more special benefits, by which God had laid his Church and chosen people under obligation to his service. As it was the Lord’s believing people only whom he addressed, the chief point singled out as the subject of praise is God’s having adopted them, small as they were in numbers, from the mass of the human family. Again, there was the fact of his having set himself in opposition, for their sakes, to great kingdoms and mighty nations. The wonderful works done by God in Egypt and in Canaan were all just so many proofs of that fatherly love which he entertained for them as his chosen people. It is not strictly according to historic order to begin with mentioning the destruction of the first-born of Egypt; but this is instanced as a memorable illustration of the great regard God had for the safety of his people, which was such that he would not spare even so mighty and wealthy a nation. The scope of the passage is to show that God, in delivering his people, had abundantly testified his power and his mercy.
10. He smote great nations He comes now to speak of the end for which God delivered them from their bondage. He did not lead his people out of Egypt, and then leave them to wander as they might, but brought them forth that he might settle them in the promised inheritance. This the Psalmist mentions as another signal proof of the favor of God, and his unwearied kindness to them; for having once taken the children of Abraham. by the hand, he led them on, in the continued exercise of his power, till he put them in possession of the promised land. He takes occasion to extol God’s power, from the circumstance that it was only after the slaughter of many enemies that they came to the peaceable possession of the country. And it was a striking illustration of the divine goodness to manifest this preference for the Israelites, who were but a multitude of inconsiderable persons, while those opposed to them were mighty kings and powerful nations. Notice is taken of two kings, Sihon and Og, not as being more powerful than the rest, but because shutting up the entrance to the land in front they were the first formidable enemies met with 164 and the people, besides, were not as yet habituated to war. As the crowning act of the Lord’s goodness, the Psalmist adds, that the Israelites obtained firm possession of the land. One has said —
“Non minor est virtus quam quaerere, parta tueri,”
“It is no less an achievement to keep possession than to acquire it;” and as the Israelites were surrounded with deadly enemies, the power of God was very eminently displayed in preserving them from ‘being rooted out and expelled again, an event which must have repeatedly taken place, had they not been firmly settled in the inheritance.
13. O Jehovah! thy name is for ever; O Jehovah! thy memorial is from generation to generation. 14. For Jehovah will judge his people, and he will repent himself 165 concerning his servants.
13. O Jehovah! thy name is for ever There are many reasons why the name of God ought always to be kept up in the world, but here the Psalmist speaks more especially of that everlasting praise which is due to him for preserving his Church and people, the cause being immediately added — that God will judge his people The whole world is a theater for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were — the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them. The term judging in the Hebrew expresses whatever belongs to just and legitimate government, 166 the future tense denoting continued action apparently, as it often does, so that what the Psalmist says is tantamount to this — that God would always watch over and preserve his people, and that being thus under God’s guardian care, they would be placed in safety. Or we may suppose that the Psalmist employs the future tense to teach us that, under affliction, we must have a sustained hope, not giving way to despondency, though God may seem to have overlooked and deserted us, since whatever temporary delays there may be of his help, he will appear as our judge and defender at the proper season, and when he sees that we have been sufficiently humbled. This may recommend itself the more to be the true meaning, because the Psalmist seems to allude to the expression of Moses, (De 32:36,) whose very words indeed, he quotes. As some alleviation under the divine chastisements which the people would suffer, Moses foretold that God would come forth as their judge, to help and deliver them when in extremity. And this the writer of the present Psalm, whoever he may have been, makes use of with a general application to the Church, declaring that God would never allow it to be altogether destroyed, since upon the event of its destruction he would cease to be a King. To propose changing the tense of the verb into the past, and understand it of God having shown himself to be the judge of his people against the Egyptians, puts a feeble sense upon the passage, and one which does not suit with the context, either of this Psalm or of the address of Moses. The Hebrew verb נחם, nacham, means either to repent, or to receive comfort, and both meanings answer sufficiently well. On the,one hand, when God returns in mercy to his people, though this implies no change in him, yet there is a change apparent in the event itself. Thus he is said to repent when he begins to show mercy to his people, instead of manifesting his displeasure in just judgments against them. Again, he is said to receive consolation, or to be appeased and reconciled towards his people, when in remembrance of his covenant, which endures for ever, he visits them with everlasting mercies, though he had corrected them for a moment. (Isa 54:8.) The meaning, in short, is, that the displeasure of God towards his people is but temporary, and that, in taking vengeance upon their sins, he remembers mercy in the midst of wrath, as Habakkuk says. (Hab 3:2.) Thus God is spoken of as man, manifesting a father’s affection, and restoring his children, who deserved to have been cast off, because he cannot bear’ that the fruit of his own body should be torn from him. Such is the sense of the passage — that God has a compassion for his people because they are his children, that he would not willingly be bereaved of them and left childless, that he is placable towards them, as being dear to him, and that having recoginsed them as his offspring, he cherishes them with a tender love.
15. The images of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. 16. They have a mouth, and will not speak: they have eyes, and will not see. 17. They have ears, and will not hear; also 167 there is no breath in their mouth. 18. Like be they to them who make them, whosoever trusteth in them. 19. Bless Jehovah, O house of Israel! bless Jehovah, O house of Aaron! 20. Bless Jehovah, O house of Levi! ye that fear Jehovah, bless Jehovah. 21. Blessed be Jehovah out of Zion, who dwelleth at Jerusalem. Hallelujah. 168
15. The images of the nations, etc. As the whole of this part of the Psalm has been explained elsewhere, it is needless to insist upon it, and repetition might be felt irksome by the reader. I shall only in a few words, therefore, show what is the scope of the Psalmist. In upbraiding the stupidity of the heathen, who thought that they could not have God near them in any other way than by resorting to idol worship, he reminds the Israelites of the signal mercy which they had enjoyed, and would have them abide the more deliberately by the simplicity and purity of God’s worship, and avoid profane superstitions. He declares, that idolaters only draw down heavier judgments upon themselves, the more zealous they are in the service of their idols. And there is no doubt, that, in denouncing the awful judgments which must fall upon the worshippers of false gods, it is his object to deter such as had been brought up under the word of God from following their example. In Psalm 115 the exhortation given is to trust or hope in the Lord; here, to bless him. The Levites are mentioned in addition to the house of Aaron, there being two orders of priesthood. Every thing else in the two Psalms is the same, except that, in the last verse:, the Psalmist here joins himself, along with the rest of the Lord’s people, in blessing God. He says, out of Zion, for when God promised to hear their prayers from that place, and to communicate from it the rich display of his favor, he thereby gave good ground why they should praise him from it. 169 The reason is stated, that he dwelt in Jerusalem; which is not to be understood in the low and gross sense that he was confined to any such narrow residence; but in the sense, that he was there as to the visible manifestation of his favor, experience showing, that while his majesty is such as to fill heaven and earth, his power and. grace were vouchsafed in a particular manner to his own people.
“Perhaps the original, הללו שם יהוה, halelu et shem Jehovah, should be translated, Praise ye the namee Jehovah: that is, praise God in his infinite essence, of being, holiness, goodness, and truth.”—Dr. Adam Clarke.
The words ye who stand we have supplied in the second clause, as being necessary to bring out the sense which Calvin attaches to it. The בית יהוה “the house of Jehovah,” mentioned in the first clause, remarks Men-dlessohn in his Beor, is the place where the priests stood; whilst “the courts” surrounding the temple, referred to in the second clause, were occupied by the people when engaged in their public prayers.
The name “Jacob” is here put by metonymy for the posterity of Jacob, as is evident from the parallelism of the two members.
“Et quand on advisera de bien pres aux mots, on y trouvera que le peuple est adjoint, etc.”—Fr.
“Signifie proprement chose bien seante ou belle: et ce sens general convient mieux.” — Fr.
“Comme c’est aujourd’huy de tous ceux qu’il adopte en sa bergerie, et ente au corps de son fils unique.” — Fr.
The heathen who in ancient times worshipped the elements, imagined them to possess the power of giving or withholding rain at pleasure, Referring to this superstitious imagination the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer 14:22) reclaims that power as peculiar to God who made and governs the world. “Are there among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Art thou not he, O Jehovah, our God? Therefore we will wait upon thee; for thou hast made all these things.” Among the Greeks and Romans Jupiter was armed with the thunder and the lightning; and AEolus ruled over the winds. Here the Psalmist teaches us to restore the celestial artillery to its rightful owner. The description probably refers to the regular rainy season of autumn which comes on towards the end of September; and Dr. Russell’s account of the weather at Aleppo in that month may be quoted as illustrating the particulars of the verse. “Seldom a night passes,” says he, “without much lightning in the north-west quarter, but not attended with thunder; and, when this lightning appears in the west or south-west points, which is often followed with thunder, it is a sure sign of the approaching rain. A squall of wind, and clouds of dust, are the usual forerunners of these rains.” Thus God may be said to “make lightnings for the rain,” inasmuch as the lightnings in the west and south-west points are, in the East, the sure prognostics of rain; and the squalls of wind which bring on these refreshing showers may be said to be brought for that purpose from “God’s secret places.” From Dr. Russell’s representing “clouds of draft,” as “the usual forerunners of these rains,” Harmer concludes that נשאים, nesiim, which, in our English Bible is rendered” vapours,” must mean, as they elsewhere translate the word, “clouds.”
“Tellement qu’il les embrasse et range en leur ordre, afin que sa grandeur ne soit nullement obscurcie par eux.” — Fr.
“Neantmoins si nous ne voulons arracher tons les rudimens de la vraye religion, ceci doit demeurer ferme,” etc. — Fr.
“Si ce meslange du fen et de l’eau n’estoit cognu par usage, qui ne diroit que c’est une merveille,” etc. — Fr.
“Comp. Numbers 21; Deuteronomy 2: and Deuteronomy 3; Jos 12:7, etc. The chiefs of very small communities were in ancient times styled kings; Sihon and Og are particularly enumerated as being (De 3:11; Am 2:9) of a gigantic race, of prodigious size and strength.” — Cresswell.
“Sed quia praecluso terrae aditu in primis erant formidabiles.” — Lat. “Mais pource qu’ils estoyent les plus a redouter, a cause qu’ils tenoyent l’entree de la terre fermee.” — Fr.
“Ou, prendra consolation.” — Fr. Marg. “Or, will take comfort.”
“Le mot de juger selon les Hebrieux,, contient en soy toutes les parties d’un juste et legitime gouvernement. — Fr.
“Some persons take אף as the adverb in the sense of even; as Kimchi; but the context, and also the corresponding passage in Ps 115:6, show that it has the signification of nose אין, because it is followed by יש, has merely the sense of not. (1Sa 21:9.) The meaning of this part of the verse is, that the idols of the heathen have not even breath to pass through the mouth and nostrils.” — Phillips. “אף: I strongly suspect that a passage beginning with this word (noses have they) has fallen out of the text. It is found in one of Kennicotts MSS., and has been added in later times to the Septuagint.” — Jebb’s Translation of the Psalms, etc., volume 1.
The hallelujah with which this Psalm in the original text ends, has been transferred by the Septuagint to the title of Psalm 136.
“Quant et quant aussi il donnoit occasion et matiere de luy chanter louanges.” — Fr.