Attention called for. (1-8) The history of Israel. (9-39) Their settlement in Canaan. (40-55) The mercies of God to Israel contrasted with their ingratitude. (56-72)
Verses 1-8 These are called dark and deep sayings, because they are carefully to be looked into. The law of God was given with a particular charge to teach it diligently to their children, that the church may abide for ever. Also, that the providences of God, both in mercy and in judgment, might encourage them to conform to the will of God. The works of God much strengthen our resolution to keep his commandments. Hypocrisy is the high road to apostacy; those that do not set their hearts right, will not be stedfast with God. Many parents, by negligence and wickedness, become murderers of their children. But young persons, though they are bound to submit in all things lawful, must not obey sinful orders, or copy sinful examples.
9-39. Sin dispirits men, and takes away the heart. Forgetfulness of God's works is the cause of disobedience to his laws. This narrative relates a struggle between God's goodness and man's badness. The Lord hears all our murmurings and distrusts, and is much displeased. Those that will not believe the power of God's mercy, shall feel the fire of his indignation. Those cannot be said to trust in God's salvation as their happiness at last, who can not trust his providence in the way to it. To all that by faith and prayer, ask, seek, and knock, these doors of heaven shall at any time be opened; and our distrust of God is a great aggravation of our sins. He expressed his resentment of their provocation; not in denying what they sinfully lusted after, but in granting it to them. Lust is contented with nothing. Those that indulge their lust, will never be estranged from it. Those hearts are hard indeed, that will neither be melted by the mercies of the Lord, nor broken by his judgments. Those that sin still, must expect to be in trouble still. And the reason why we live with so little comfort, and to so little purpose, is, because we do not live by faith. Under these rebukes they professed repentance, but they were not sincere, for they were not constant. In Israel's history we have a picture of our own hearts and lives. God's patience, and warnings, and mercies, imbolden them to harden their hearts against his word. And the history of kingdoms is much the same. Judgments and mercies have been little attended to, until the measure of their sins has been full. And higher advantages have not kept churches from declining from the commandments of God. Even true believers recollect, that for many a year they abused the kindness of Providence. When they come to heaven, how will they admire the Lord's patience and mercy in bringing them to his kingdom!
40-55. Let not those that receive mercy from God, be thereby made bold to sin, for the mercies they receive will hasten its punishment; yet let not those who are under Divine rebukes for sin, be discouraged from repentance. The Holy One of Israel will do what is most for his own glory, and what is most for their good. Their forgetting former favours, led them to limit God for the future. God made his own people to go forth like sheep; and guided them in the wilderness, as a shepherd his flock, with all care and tenderness. Thus the true Joshua, even Jesus, brings his church out of the wilderness; but no earthly Canaan, no worldly advantages, should make us forget that the church is in the wilderness while in this world, and that there remaineth a far more glorious rest for the people of God.
Verses 56-72 After the Israelites were settled in Canaan, the children were like their fathers. God gave them his testimonies, but they turned back. Presumptuous sins render even Israelites hateful to God's holiness, and exposed to his justice. Those whom the Lord forsakes become an easy prey to the destroyer. And sooner or later, God will disgrace his enemies. He set a good government over his people; a monarch after his own heart. With good reason does the psalmist make this finishing, crowning instance of God's favour to Israel; for David was a type of Christ, the great and good Shepherd, who was humbled first, and then exalted; and of whom it was foretold, that he should be filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. On the uprightness of his heart, and the skilfulness of his hands, all his subjects may rely; and of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. Every trial of human nature hitherto, confirms the testimony of Scripture, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and nothing but being created anew by the Holy Ghost can cure the ungodliness of any.
Psalms 78:1-72 . This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former to the latter tribe, as clearly evinced by David's settlement as the head of the Church and nation. Though this was the execution of God's purpose, the writer here shows that it also proceeded from the divine judgment on Ephraim, under whose leadership the people had manifested the same sinful and rebellious character which had distinguished their ancestors in Egypt.
1. my people . . . my law--the language of a religious teacher ( Psalms 78:2 , Lamentations 3:14 , Romans 2:16 Romans 2:27 ; compare Psalms 49:4 ). The history which follows was a "dark saying," or riddle, if left unexplained, and its right apprehension required wisdom and attention.
3-8. This history had been handed down ( Exodus 12:14 , Deuteronomy 6:20 ) for God's honor, and that the principles of His law might be known and observed by posterity. This important sentiment is reiterated in ( Psalms 78:7 Psalms 78:8 ) negative form.
5. testimony--( Psalms 19:7 ).
8. stubborn and rebellious--( Deuteronomy 21:18:1 ).
set not their heart--on God's service ( 2 Chronicles 12:14 ).
9-11. The privileges of the first-born which belonged to Joseph ( 1 Chronicles 5:1 1 Chronicles 5:2 ) were assigned to Ephraim by Jacob ( Genesis 48:1 ). The supremacy of the tribe thus intimated was recognized by its position (in the marching of the nation to Canaan) next to the ark ( Numbers 2:18-24 ), by the selection of the first permanent locality for the ark within its borders at Shiloh, and by the extensive and fertile province given for its possession. Traces of this prominence remained after the schism under Rehoboam, in the use, by later writers, of Ephraim for Israel (compare Hosea 5:3-14 , 11:3-12 ). Though a strong, well-armed tribe, and, from an early period, emulous and haughty (compare Joshua 17:14 Judges 8:1-3 2 Samuel 19:41 ), it appears, in this place, that it had rather led the rest in cowardice than courage; and had incurred God's displeasure, because, diffident of His promise, though often heretofore fulfilled, it had failed as a leader to carry out the terms of the covenant, by not driving out the heathen ( Exodus 23:24 , Deuteronomy 31:16 , 2 Kings 17:15 ).
12-14. A record of God's dealings and the sins of the people is now made. The writer gives the history from the exode to the retreat from Kadesh; then contrasts their sins with their reasons for confidence, shown by a detail of God's dealings in Egypt, and presents a summary of the subsequent history to David's time.
Zoan--for Egypt, as its ancient capital ( Numbers 13:22 , Isaiah 19:11 ).
15, 16. There were two similar miracles ( Exodus 17:6 , Numbers 20:11 ).
great depths--and--rivers--denote abundance.
17-20. yet more--literally, "added to sin," instead of being led to repentance ( Romans 2:4 ).
provoking--and--tempted--illustrated by their absurd doubts,
18. in their heart--( Matthew 15:19 ).
for their lust--literally, "soul," or, "desire."
19, 20. in the face of His admitted power.
21. fire--the effect of the "anger" ( Numbers 11:1 ).
22. (Compare Hebrews 8:8 Hebrews 8:9 ).
23-29. (Compare Exodus 16:11-15 Numbers 11:4-9 ).
25. angels' food--literally, "bread of the mighty" (compare Psalms 105:40 ); so called, as it came from heaven.
meat--literally, "victuals," as for a journey.
29. their . . . desire--what they longed for.
30, 31. not estranged . . . lust--or, "desire"--that is, were indulging it.
31. slew . . . fattest--or, "among the fattest"; some of them--
chosen--the young and strong ( Isaiah 40:31 ), and so none could resist.
33-39. Though there were partial reformations after chastisement, and God, in pity, withdrew His hand for a time, yet their general conduct was rebellious, and He was thus provoked to waste and destroy them, by long and fruitless wandering in the desert.
36. lied . . . tongues--a feigned obedience ( Psalms 18:44 ).
37. heart . . . not right--or, "firm" (compare Psalms 78:8 , Psalms 51:10 ).
39. a wind . . . again--literally, "a breath," thin air (compare Psalms 103:16 , 4:14 ).
40, 41. There were ten temptations ( Numbers 14:22 ).
41. limited--as in Psalms 78:19 Psalms 78:20 . Though some prefer "grieved" or "provoked." The retreat from Kadesh ( Deuteronomy 1:19-23 ) is meant, whether--
turned--be for turning back, or to denote repetition of offense.
43. wrought--set or held forth.
45. The dog-fly or the mosquito.
46. caterpillar--the Hebrew name, from its voracity, and that of--
locust--from its multitude.
47, 48. The additional effects of the storm here mentioned (compare Exodus 9:23-34 ) are consistent with Moses' account.
48. gave . . . cattle--literally, "shut up" (compare Psalms 31:8 ).
49. evil angels--or, "angels of evil"--many were perhaps employed, and other evils inflicted.
50, 51. made a way--removed obstacles, gave it full scope.
51. chief of their strength--literally, "first-fruits," or, "first-born" ( Genesis 49:3 , Deuteronomy 21:17 ).
Ham--one of whose sons gave name (Mizraim, Hebrew) to Egypt.
52-54. made his . . . forth--or, brought them by periodical journeys (compare Exodus 15:1 ).
54. border of his sanctuary--or, "holy border"--
this mountain--(Zion) was, as the seat of civil and religious government, the representative, used for the whole land, as afterwards for the Church ( Isaiah 25:6 Isaiah 25:7 ).
purchased--or, "procured by His right hand" or power ( Psalms 60:5 ).
55. by line--or, the portion thus measured.
divided them--that is, the heathen, put for their possessions, so tents--that is, of the heathen (compare Deuteronomy 6:11 ).
56, 57. a deceitful bow--which turns back, and so fails to project the arrow ( 2 Samuel 1:22 , Hosea 7:16 ). They relapsed.
58. Idolatry resulted from sparing the heathen (compare Psalms 78:9-11 ).
59, 60. heard--perceived ( Genesis 11:7 ).
abhorred--but not utterly.
60. tent . . . placed--literally, "caused to dwell," set up ( Joshua 18:1 ).
61. his strength--the ark, as symbolical of it ( Psalms 96:6 ).
62. gave--or, "shut up."
his people--( Psalms 78:48 , 1 Samuel 4:10-17 ).
63. fire--either figure of the slaughter ( 1 Samuel 4:10 ), or a literal burning by the heathen.
given to marriage--literally, "praised"--that is, as brides.
64. (Compare 1 Samuel 4:17 ); and there were, doubtless, others.
made no lamentation--either because stupefied by grief, or hindered by the enemy.
65. (Compare Psalms 22:16 , Isaiah 42:13 ).
66. And he smote . . . part--or, "struck His enemies' back." The Philistines never regained their position after their defeats by David.
67, 68. tabernacle of Joseph--or, "home," or, "tribe," to which--
tribe of Ephraim--is parallel (compare Revelation 7:8 ). Its pre-eminence was, like Saul's, only permitted. Judah had been the choice ( Genesis 49:10 ).
69. Exalted as--
high palaces--or, "mountains," and abiding as--the earth.
70-72. God's sovereignty was illustrated in this choice. The contrast is striking--humility and exaltation--and the correspondence is beautiful.
71. following . . . ewes, &c.--literally, "ewes giving suck" (compare Isaiah 40:11 ). On the pastoral terms, compare Psalms 79:13 .