Verse 4. Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD. When there is unity within there will be gatherings from without: the tribes go up to a compact centre. Note that Israel was one people, but yet it was in a sense divided by the mere surface distinction of tribes; and this may be a lesson to us that all Christendom is essentially one, though from various causes we are divided into tribes. Let us as much as possible sink the tribal individuality in the national unity, so that the church may be many waves, but one sea; many branches, but one tree; many members, but one body. Observe that the tribes were all of them the Lord's; whether Judah or Benjamin, Manasseh or Ephraim, they were all the Lord's. Oh that all the regiments of the Christian army may be all and equally the Lord's own, alike chosen, redeemed, accepted, and upheld by Jehovah.
Unto the testimony of Israel. They went up to the holy city to hear and to bear testimony. Everything in the temple was a testimony unto the Lord, and the annual journeys of the tribes to the hallowed shrine partook of the same testifying character, for these journeys were Israel's open avowal that Jehovah was their God, and that he was the one only living and true God. When we assemble on the Sabbath a large part of our business is giving out and receiving testimony: we are God's witnesses; all the tribes of the one church of Jesus Christ bear witness unto the Lord.
To give thanks unto the name of the LORD. Another part of our delightful duty is to praise the Lord. Sacred praise is a chief design of the assembling of ourselves together. All Israel had been fed by the fruit of the field, and they went up to give thanks unto the name of their great Husbandman: we, too, have countless mercies, and it becomes us unitedly in our solemn gatherings to magnify the name of our loving Lord. Testimony should be mingled with thanks, and thanks with testimony, for in combination they bless both God and man, and tend to spread themselves over the hearts of our companions; who, seeing our joyful gratitude, are the more inclined to hearken to our witness bearing.
Here, then, was part of the cause of the gladness of the pious Israelite when he had an invitation to join the caravan which was going to Zion: he would there meet with representatives of all the clans of his nation, and aid them in the double object of their holy assemblies, namely, testimony and thanksgiving. The very anticipation of such delightful engagements filled him to overflowing with sacred gladness.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. The tribes are "the tribes of the Lord," as being the keepers of his commandments. H. T. Armfield.
Verse 4. Unto the testimony of Israel, and to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. These two mean nothing else than that in Jerusalem was the appointed place where the word was to be taught and prayer offered. But these ought to be written in golden letters, because David says nothing about the other services, but only of these two. He does not say that the Temple was divinely appointed, that there the victims should be sacrificed; that there incense should be offered; that oblations and sacrifices should be brought; that each one should by his gifts show his gratitude. He says nothing about these things, although only in the Temple were they commanded to be done. He makes mention only of prayer and of thanksgiving. Martin Luther.
Verse 4. The testimony of Israel. The object which is represented in the Psalm as having power to attract all hearts, and command the ready attendance of the tribes, is "the testimony of Israel," the revelation, in other words, which God made to that people of his character, feelings, and purposes, as most holy, yet ready to forgive, a just God and the Saviour. This discovery of the nature of that great Being before whom all must appear, is justly regarded as a ground of joy. Robert Nisbet.
Verse 4-5. Observe what a goodly sight it was to see the testimony of Israel and the thrones of judgment such near neighbours; and they are good neighbours, which may greatly befriend one another. Let "the testimony of Israel" direct the "thrones of judgment," and the "thrones of judgment" protect "the testimony of lsrael." Matthew Henry.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The duty of public worship.
- In one place: "Whither the tribes go up."
b) In one company, though of many tribes: "Whither the tribes go up."
- The design.
- For instruction: "Unto the testimony of Israel."
b) For praise: "To give thanks unto the name of the Lord." G. R.