An appeal to God against oppressors, 1-7. Expostulations with the workers of iniquity, 8-11. God's merciful dealings with his followers, 12-15; and their confidence in him, 16-19. The punishment of the wicked foretold, 20-23.
NOTES ON PSALM XCIV
This Psalm has no title either in the Hebrew or Chaldee. The Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Arabic, have "A Psalm of David, for the fourth day of the week;" but this gives us no information on which we can rely. In three of Kennicott's MSS. it is written as a part of the preceding. It is probably a prayer of the captives in Babylon for deliverance; and was written by the descendants of Moses, to whom some of the preceding Psalms have been attributed. It contains a description of an iniquitous and oppressive government, such as that under which the Israelites lived in Babylon.
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth
God is the author of retributive justice, as well as of mercy. This retributive justice is what we often term vengeance, but perhaps improperly; for vengeance with us signifies an excitement of angry passions, in order to gratify a vindictive spirit, which supposes itself to have received some real injury; whereas what is here referred to is that simple act of justice which gives to all their due.
Lift up thyself
Exert thy power.
Render a reward to the proud.
To the Babylonians, who oppress and insult us.
How long shall the wicked triumph?
The wicked are often in prosperity; and this only shows us of how little worth riches are in the sight of God, when he bestows them on the most contemptible of mortals. But their time and prosperity have their bounds.
They utter and speak
yabbiu, their hearts get full of pride and insolence; and then, from the abundance of such vile hearts, the mouth speaks; and the speech is of hard things, threatenings which they are determined to execute, boastings of their power, authority,
They break in pieces thy people
This was true of the Babylonians. Nehuchadnezzar slew many; carried the rest into captivity; ruined Jerusalem; overturned the temple; sacked, pillaged, and destroyed all the country.
They slay the widow
Nebuchadnezzar carried on his wars with great cruelty. He carried fire and sword every where; spared neither age, sex, nor condition. The widow, the orphan, and the stranger, persons in the most desolate condition of life, were not distinguished from others by his ruthless sword.
The Lord shall not see
This was either the language of infidelity or insult. Indeed, what could the Babylonians know of the true God? They might consider him as the God of a district or province, who knew nothing and did nothing out of his own territories.
Understand, ye brutish
These are the same expressions as in Psalms 92:6, on which see the note. See Clarke on Psalms ; 92:6.
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?
This is allowed to be an unanswerable mode of argumentation. Whatever is found of excellence in the creature, must be derived from the Creator, and exist in him in the plenitude of infinite excellence. God, says St. Jerome, is all eye, because he sees all; he is all hand, because he does all things; he is all foot, for he is every where present. The psalmist does not say, He that planted the ear, hath he not an ear? He that formed the eye, hath he not eyes? No; but, Shall he not hear? Shall he not see! And why does he say so? To prevent the error of humanizing God, of attributing members or corporeal parts to the infinite Spirit. See Calmet.
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct?
YOU, who are heathens, and heathens of the most abandoned kind.
He that teacheth man knowledge
We here supply shall not he know? But this is not acknowledged by the original, nor by any of the Versions. Indeed it is not necessary; for either the words contain a simple proposition, "It is he who teacheth man knowledge," or this clause should be read in connexion with Psalms 94:11: "Jehovah, who teacheth man knowledge, knoweth the devices of man, that they are vanity." As he teaches knowledge to man, must he not know all the reasonings and devices of the human heart?
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest
teyasserennu, whom thou instructest; and teachest him out of thy law. Two points here are worthy of our most serious regard: 1. God gives knowledge to man: gives him understanding and reason. 2. He gives him a revelation of himself; he places before that reason and understanding his Divine law. This is God's system of teaching; and the human intellect is his gift, which enables man to understand this teaching. We perhaps may add a third thing here; that as by sin the understanding is darkened, he gives the Holy Spirit to dispel this darkness from the intellect, in order that his word may be properly apprehended and understood. But he gives no new faculty; he removes the impediments from the old, and invigorates it by his Divine energy.
That thou mayest give him rest
He whom God instructs is made wise unto salvation; and he who is thus taught has rest in his soul, and peace and confidence in adversity.
The Lord will not cast off his people
Though they are now suffering under a grievous and oppressive captivity, yet the Lord hath not utterly cast them off. They are his inheritance, and he will again restore them to their own land.
But judgment shall return unto righteousness
If we read yosheb, shall sit, for yashub, shall return, which is only placing the vau before the shin instead of after it, we have the following sense: Until the just one shall sit in judgment, and after him all the upright in heart. Cyrus has the epithet tsedek, the just one, in different places in the Prophet Isaiah. See Isaiah 41:2,10;; 45:8;; 51:5. It was Cyrus who gave liberty to the Jews, who appeared as their deliverer and conductor to their own land, and they are all represented as following in his train.
Who will rise up for me
Who is he that shall be the deliverer of thy people? Who will come to our assistance against these wicked Babylonians?
Unless the Lord had been my help
Had not God in a strange manner supported us while under his chastising hand, we had been utterly cut off.
My soul had almost dwelt in silence.
The Vulgate has in inferno, in hell or the infernal world; the Septuagint, τω αδη, in the invisible world.
When I said, My foot slippeth
When I found myself so weak and my enemy so strong, that I got first off my guard, and then off my centre of gravity, and my fall appeared inevitable,-
Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.
yisadeni, propped me. It is a metaphor taken from any thing falling, that is propped, shored up, or buttressed. How often does the mercy of God thus prevent the ruin of weak believers, and of those who have been unfaithful!
In the multitude of my thoughts
Of my griefs, (dolorum, Vulgate;) my sorrows, (οδυνων, Septuagint.) According to the multitude of my trials and distresses, have been the consolations which thou hast afforded me. Or, While I have been deeply meditating on thy wondrous grace and mercy, Divine light has broken in upon my soul, and I have been filled with delight.
Shall the throne of iniquity
No wicked king, judge, or magistrate shall ever stand in thy presence. No countenance shall such have from thy grace or providence.
Which frameth mischief
Devise, plan, and execute, as if they acted by a positive law, and were strictly enjoined to do what they so much delighted in.
They gather themselves together
In every thing that is evil, they are in unity. The devil, his angels, and his children, all join and draw together when they have for their object the destruction of the works of the Lord. But this was particularly the case with respect to the poor Jews among the Babylonians: they were objects of their continual hatred, and they laboured for their destruction.
This and the following verses have been applied to our Lord, and the treatment he met with both from his own countrymen and from the Romans. They pretended to "judge him according to the law, and framed mischief against him;" they "assembled together against the life of the righteous one," and "condemned innocent blood;" but God evidently interposed, and "brought upon them their own iniquity," according to their horrible imprecation: "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" God "cut them off in their own iniquity." All this had, in reference to him, a most literal fulfilment.
The rock of my refuge.
Alluding to those natural fortifications among rocks, which are frequent in the land of Judea.
Shall cut them off
This is repeated, to show that the destruction of the Babylonians was fixed and indubitable: and in reference to the Jews, the persecutors and murderers of our Lord and his apostles, it was not less so. Babylon is totally destroyed; not even a vestige of it remains. The Jews are no longer a nation; they are scattered throughout the world, and have no certain place of abode. They do not possess even one village on the face of the earth.
The last verse is thus translated and paraphrased in the old Psalter:-
Trans. And he sal yelde to thaim thair wickednes, and in thair malice he sall skater thaim: skater thaim sal Lorde oure God. Par. Alswa say efter thair il entent, that thai wil do gude men harme; he sall yelde thaim pyne, and in thair malice thai sal be sundred fra the hali courte of hevene, and skatred emang the wiked fendes of hell.
For different views of several parts of this Psalm, see the Analysis.
ANALYSIS OF THE NINETY-FOURTH PSALM
In this Psalm the parts are,-
I. A petition for vengeance upon the wicked, Psalms 94:1,2.
II. A pitiful complaint, with the causes of it, which were two:-
1. The delay of God's judgments on them, Psalms 94:3,4.
2. Their insolence, oppression of the poor, and blasphemy against God, Psalms 94:4-7.
III. A sharp reprehension of their blasphemy and atheism, and the refutation of it.
IV. A consolation to all good men, that God will punish the wicked and defend the righteous, Psalms 94:12-23. Which is confirmed,-
1. From God's faithfulness, who hath promised, and will perform it, Psalms 94:14.
2. From David's own experience, Psalms 94:16-20.
3. From God's hatred of injustice, tyranny, and oppression, Psalms 94:20,21. 1. Which will cause him to be a rock and defence to his people, Psalms 94:22. 2. A severe revenger to the oppressors, Psalms 94:23.
1. He begins with a petition that God would take vengeance of the oppressors of his people: "O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs, to whom vengeance belongs;" as if he had said, Thou art the most powerful Lord, a God of justice and power, and hast vengeance in thine own hand. Therefore now-
1. "Show thyself." Appear, shine forth evidently, and apparently show thy justice, Psalms 94:1.
2. "Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the earth." Do thy office of judicature; ascend thy throne and tribunal, as judges use to do when they give judgment.
3. "Render a reward unto the proud." For the proud humble themselves not unto thee; they repent not.
II. And now the prophet begins to complain that, by the delay of God's judgment, wicked men were hardened in their impiety, and gloried in their villany.
1. "How long? how long?" This thy forbearance seems tedious; especially since the wicked grow worse and worse by it, and insult over us the more.
2. "For they triumph in their strength." They glory in their prosperity, and in their wickedness.
3. "They utter and speak hard things." Boldly, rashly, proudly, they threaten ruin to thy Church.
4. "They are workers of iniquity, and they boast themselves." It is not sufficient for them to do ill, but they boast of it.
Now to what end do they make use of all these? The consequence is lamentable-the event sad. The effects are lamentable, for in their fury and injustice-
1. "They break in pieces thy people, O Lord." The people dedicated to thee.
2. "They afflict thine heritage." The people that thou hast chosen for thy possession.
3. "They slay the widow," destitute of the comfort of a husband-1. "And the stranger." A man far from his friends and country. 2. "And murder the fatherless." All which thou hast taken into thy protection, and commanded that they be not wronged. Exodus 22:21,22; ; Deuteronomy 24:14,17-22. Yet such is their fury, that they spare neither sex, nor age, nor any condition of men.
"Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." This is their impiety; this is their blasphemy; this is the true cause of all their injustice, tyranny, cruelty, and oppression.
III. Now our prophet sets himself seriously to reprehend and confute this. By an apostrophe he turns to them, and calls them fools; and proves by a manifest argument that they are fools; demonstrating, from the cause to the effect, that God is neither deaf nor blind, as they presumed and conceived: and urgeth them emphatically,-
1. "Understand, ye brutish among the people. O ye fools, when will ye be wise?" What! will ye be brutish always? will ye never have common sense in your heads?
2. "He planted the ear," caused you to hear; "and shall he not then hear?"
3. He formed the eye with all the tunicles, and put into it the faculty of vision by which you see; "and shall he not see?" To say the contrary, is as if you should affirm that the fountain that sends forth the stream had no water in it; or the sun that enlightens the world had no light; or the fire that warms, no heat. Are these affirmations fit for wise men? Neither is it, that the God of Jacob doth not hear nor see.
4. "He chastiseth the heathen," as Sodom, Gomorrah, chastises them by the checks of their own conscience; "and shall not he then correct you," who go under the name of his people, and yet so impiously blaspheme?
5. "He that teacheth man knowledge"-hath endued him with a reasonable soul, and made him capable of all arts and sciences; is he stupid? is he without understanding? "Shall not he know?" He looks into your hearts, and knows your thoughts and counsels, and findeth them all vain: "The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are but vanity." With which he concludes his reprehension.
IV. And so from them he comes to the good man, and shows his happiness, whom he labours to comfort in his extremities, pronouncing him blessed: "Blessed is the man." And his blessedness lies in three things:-
1. In his sufferings; because when he is punished, he is but chastised, and his chastisements are from the Lord: "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest."
2. In his teaching, for when he is chastised, he is but taught obedience to the law of God, taught out of thy law.
3. In consideration of the end; that he feel not, but bear more moderately, the injuries of the wicked; for the end why God chastiseth and teacheth thee out of his law is: That he may give thee rest-a quiet and even soul, from the days of adversity; and that thou shouldst expect with patience, till the pit be digged up for the ungodly. Such a day there is, and the day will come. Hell is as ready to receive the sinner, as a grave digged up for a dead body. Expect therefore, their punishment and thy deliverance with a quiet mind. For which he gives three reasons:-
The first reason is, that though God for a time seem to be angry, and suffer his people to be afflicted, yet he will not utterly neglect and forsake them:-
1. "For the Lord will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance."
2. A day of judgment and execution of justice shall come, "when judgment shall return unto righteousness."
A second confirmation of the comfort he gave to the Church in affliction is drawn from his own experience, Psalms 94:16-20.
1. Object. Yea, but this time of judgment may be long; in the meanwhile it is necessary to have some helper and help against the persecutions and injuries of cruel men. Who will arise for me, and labour to protect me in so great a concourse of devils or mischievous men? "Who will stand up for me, and defend me against the workers of iniquity?"
Resp. Even he that then stood up for me. No man, but God alone. He did it; and "unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence;" I had been laid in the grave among the dead, saith David, Psalms 94:17.
2. If I said, and complained to him, that I was in any danger, my foot slips-I was tempted and ready to fall, thy mercy, O Lord. held me up; in mercy he lent me his hand, and sustained me.
3. "In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul:"-
(1) The thoughts within me were sorrows of heart, and many they were, occasioned from within, from without; a multitude of them.
(2) "Thy comforts delight my soul." As were the troubles in the flesh, so were comforts in my soul.
His third reason, to comfort the Church in affliction, is drawn from the nature of God, to whom all iniquity is hateful.
1. "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee?" Thou art a just God, and wilt thou have any thing to do, any society, with those that sit upon thrones and seats of justice, and execute injustice?
2. "Which frame mischief by a law," i.e. frame wicked laws; or, under the colour of law and justice, oppress the innocent. With those who do injustice by the sword of justice, God will have no fellowship.
3. And yet there is a third pretense of wicked men to colour their proceedings against innocent men. The first was their throne, the second was the law, and the third is their council, and consultations in them. These they call to that end. They meet by troops as thieves; they assemble, they convene in synods; "they gather themselves together," and that to a most wicked end:-
1. "Against the soul of the righteous." θηρευσαι, To hunt.-Septuagint.
2. "To condemn the innocent blood." Their laws are Draco's laws. Now what shall the poor innocent do in such a case? How shall he be comforted? Help he must not expect from man; from man it cannot come; it must come from heaven; and therefore let him say with David, Though my enemies rage as they list, and exercise all cruelties towards me, under a pretence of zeal, piety, and legal justice; yet
1. "The Lord is my defence," so that their treachery and plots shall not hurt me.
2. "My God is the rock of my refuge," on whom my hope shall safely rely.
3. "I am fully assured, for I have his word and his promise engaged for it."
1. "That he shall bring upon them their own iniquity;" that is, that the iniquity of the wicked man shall return upon his own head.
2. "And shall cut them off in their own wickedness;" not so much for their sin as for the malice of it.
3. Which for assurance of it he repeats, and explains who it is that shall do it: "Yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off;" the Lord, whose providence they derided; "our God," the God of Jacob, whom they contemned, Psalms 94:7, he "shall cut them off;" they shall have no part with his people.