Verse 10. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation. The impression upon the divine mind is most vivid; he sees them before him now, and calls them "this generation." He does not leave his prophets to upbraid the sin, but himself utters the complaint and declares that he was grieved, nauseated, and disgusted. It is no small thing which can grieve our long suffering God to the extent which the Hebrew word here indicates, and if we reflect a moment we shall see the abundant provocation given; for no one who values his veracity can endure to be suspected, mistrusted, and belied, when there is no ground for it, but on the contrary the most overwhelming reason for confidence. To such base treatment was the tender Shepherd of Israel exposed, not for a day or a month, but for forty years at a stretch, and that not by here and there an unbeliever, but by a whole nation, in which only two men were found so thoroughly believing as to be exempted from the doom which at last was pronounced upon all the rest. Which shall we most wonder at, the cruel insolence of man, or the tender patience of the Lord? Which shall leave the deepest impression on our minds, the sin or the punishment? unbelief, or the barring of the gates of Jehovah's rest against the unbelievers?
And said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways. Their heart was obstinately and constantly at fault; it was not their head which erred, but their very heart was perverse: love, which appealed to their affections, could not convert them. The heart is the main spring of the man, and if it be not in order, the entire nature is thrown out of gear. If sin were only skin deep, it might be a slight matter; but since it has defiled the soul, the case is bad indeed. Taught as they were by Jehovah himself in lessons illustrated by miracles, which came to them daily in the manual from heaven, and the water from the flinty rock, they ought to have learned something, and it was a foul shame that they remained obstinately ignorant, and would not know the ways of God. Wanderers in body, they were also wanderers in heart, and the plain providential goodness of their God remained to their blinded minds as great a maze as those twisting paths by which he led them through the wilderness. Are we better than they? Are we not quite as apt to misinterpret the dealings of the Lord? Have we suffered and enjoyed so many things in vain? With many it is even so. Forty years of providential wisdom, yea, and even a longer period of experience, have failed to teach them serenity of assurance, and firmness of reliance. There is ground for much searching of heart concerning this. Many treat unbelief as a minor fault, they even regard it rather as an infirmity than a crime, but the Lord thinketh not so. Faith is Jehovah's due, especially from those who claim to be the people of his pasture, and yet more emphatically from those whose long life has been crowded with evidences of his goodness: unbelief insults one of the dearest attributes of Deity, it does so needlessly and without the slightest ground and in defiance of all sufficient arguments, weighty with the eloquence of love. Let us in reading this psalm examine ourselves, and lay these things to heart.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 10. O the desperate presumption of man, that he should offend his Maker forty years! O the patience and longsuffering of his Maker, that he should allow him forty years to offend in! Sin begins in the heart, by its desires wandering and going astray after forbidden objects; whence follows inattention to the ways of God, to his dispensations, and our own duty. Lust in the heart, like vapour in the stomach, soon affects the head, and clouds the understanding. --George Horne.
Verse 10. Forty Years. It is curious to know that the ancient Jews believed that "the days of the Messiah were to be forty years." Thus Tanchuma, F. 79, 4. "Quamdiu durant anni Messiae? R. Akiba dixit, 40 annos, quemadmodum Israelitae per tot annos in deserto fuerunt." It is remarkable, that in forty years after the ascension, the whole Jewish nation were cut off equally as they who fell in the wilderness. --John Brown, in "An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews." 1862.
Verse 10. Was I grieved. The word is a strong wold, expressive of loathing and disgust. --J.J.S. Perowne.
Verse 10. This generation. The word rwd, dor, signifies an age, or the allotted term of human life; and it is here applied to the men of an age, as if the psalmist had said, that the Israelites whom God had delivered were incorrigible, during the whole period of their lives. --John Calvin.
Verse 10. It is a people that do err in their heart. We may observe here, that he does not simply say, This people errs. What mortal is there that does not err? Or where is there a multitude of mortals, exposed to no errors? But he adds, "In their heart." Every error therefore is not blamed here, but the error of their heart is fastened upon. It is to be noted, therefore, that there is a twofold kind of error:
- One is of the intellect, by which we go astray through ignorance. In this kind of erring Paul erred when he persecuted the Church of Christ; the Sadducees erred, not knowing the Scriptures, Matthew 22:29 ; and to this day many in the Church go astray, endowed with zeal for God, but destitute of a true knowledge of Him.
- The other kind of erring is of the heart and affections, by which men go astray, not through ignorance, but through corruption and perversity of heart. This error of heart is a mind averse to God, and alienated from the will and way of God, which is elsewhere thus described in the case of this very people: "And their heart was not right with Him." --Musculus.
Verse 10. It is a people that do err in their heart. In err in heart may mean either to err in judgment, or in disposition, intention: for the Hebrew bbl, and after it the Greek kardia, means either animus, judicium, or, mens, cogitatio, desiderium. I understand kardia here, as used according to the Hebrew idiom (in which it is often pleonastic, at least it seems so to us,) so that the phrase imports simply, They always err, i.e. they are continually departing from the right way. --Moses Stuart.
Verse 10. Err in their heart. He had called them sheep, and now he notes their wandering propensity, and their incapacity for being led; for the footsteps of their Shepherd they did not know, much less follow. --C.H.S.
Verse 10. They have not known my ways; that is, they have not regarded my ways, have not allowed of them, or loved them; for otherwise they were not ignorant of them; they heard his words, and saw his works. --David Dickson.
Verse 10. They have not known my ways. This ungrateful people did not approve of God's ways -- they did not enter into his designs -- they did not conform to his commands -- they paid no attention to his miracles -- and did not acknowledge the benefits which they received from his hands. --Adam Clarke.
Verse 10. A people that do err in their heart, & c. These words are not to be found in Numbers 14:1-45 ; but the inspired Psalmist expresses the sense of what Jehovah said on that occasion. "They do always err in their heart", ( Hebrews 3:10 ). They are radically and habitually evil. They have not known my ways. God's "ways" may mean either his dispensations or his precepts. The Israelites did not rightly understand the former, and they obstinately refused to acquire a practical knowledge -- the only truly valuable species of knowledge -- of the latter. The reference is probably to God's mode of dealing: Romans 11:33 Deuteronomy 4:32 Deuteronomy 8:2 Deuteronomy 29:2-4 . Such a people deserved severe punishment, and they received it. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. The original words in the Hebrew are, "If they shall enter into my rest." This elliptical mode of expressing oaths is common in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 1:35 1 Samuel 3:14 Psalms 89:35 Isaiah 62:8 . This awful oath is recorded in Numbers 14:21-29 : "But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it. (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea. And the Lord spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me." The words of the oath seem here borrowed from the account in Deuteronomy 1:35 . There are many threatenings of God which have a tacit condition implied in them; but when God interposes his oath, the sentence is irreversible.
The curse was not causeless, and it did come. We have an account of its actual fulfilment, Numbers 26:64-65 . The "rest" from which they were excluded was the land of Canaan. Their lives were spent in wandering. It is termed "God's rest", as there he was to finish his work of bringing Israel into the land promised to their fathers, and fix the symbol of his presence in the midst of them, -- dwelling in that land in which his people were to rest from their wanderings, and to dwell in safety under his protection. It is His rest, as of His preparing, Deuteronomy 12:9 . It is His rest -- rest like His, rest along with Him. We are by no means warranted to conclude that all who died in the wilderness came short of everlasting happiness. It is to be feared many of them, most of them, did; but the curse denounced on them went only to their exclusion from the earthly Canaan. --John Brown.
Verse 10-11. And said. Mark the gradation, first grief or disgust with those who erred made him say; then anger felt more heavily against those who did not believe made him swear. The people had been called sheep in Psalms 95:7 , to sheep the highest good is rest, but into this rest they were never to come, for they had not known or delighted in the ways in which the good Shepherd desired to lead them. -- John Albert Bengel.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 10. The error and the ignorance which are fatal.