Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm purports to be a psalm of David. It is dedicated to "the chief Musician." See the notes at the Introduction to Psa 4:1-8. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the title, as there is nothing in the psalm which conflicts with the supposition that David was the author, and as it accords so much, in its scope and language, with his undoubted compositions. On the phrase in the title "A Psalm or Song," see the notes at the title to Psa 65:1-13.
It is not certainly known on what occasion the song was composed. It is evidently, like the eighteenth psalm, a triumphal song designed to celebrate victories which had been achieved; but whether composed to celebrate some particular victory, or in view of all that had been done in subduing the enemies of the people of God, it is impossible now to determine. Prof. Alexander supposes that it was in reference to the victory recorded in Sa2 12:26-31, the last important victory of David's reign. Venema supposes that it was composed on the occasion of removing the ark to Mount Zion, to the place which David had prepared for it. This also is the opinion of Rosenmuller. DeWette inclines to the opinion that it was written in view of the victory over the Ammonites and others, as recorded in 2 Sam. 8-12. There are some things, however, in regard to the time and occasion on which the psalm was composed, which can be determined from the psalm itself.
(1) it is clear that it was not composed before the time of David, because before his time Jerusalem or Zion was not the seat of the royal authority, nor the place of divine worship, which it is evidently supposed to be in the psalm, Psa 68:29.
(2) it was composed when the Hebrew nation was one, or before the separation of the ten tribes and the formation of the kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, for Benjamin, Judah, Zebulon and Naphtall are especially mentioned as taking part in the solemnities referred to in the psalm, Psa 68:27.
(3) it was consequently before the Babylonian captivity.
(4) it was composed on some occasion of bringing up the ark, and putting it in the place which had been prepared for it, Psa 68:16, Psa 68:24-25. These verses can be best explained on the supposition that the psalm was written on that occasion. Indeed they cannot well be explained on any other supposition.
(5) it was in view of past triumphs; of victories secured in former times; of what God had then done for his people, and especially of what he had done when the ark of the covenant had been placed at the head of the armies of Israel, Psa 68:14. Compare Psa 68:7-8, Psa 68:12, Psa 68:17-18.
(6) it was in anticipation of future triumphs - the triumphs of the true religion; under the feeling and belief that Jerusalem would be the center from which wholesome influences would go out over the world; and that through the influences which would go out from Jerusalem the world would be subdued to God, Psa 68:20-23; 29-31. Compare Isa 2:3.
The psalm was composed, therefore, I apprehend, when the ark was brought up from the house of Obed-edom, and placed in the city of David, in the tent or tabernacle which he had erected for it there: Sa2 6:12; 1 Chr. 15. It is not improbable that other psalms, also, were composed for this occasion, as it was one of great solemnity.
The contents of the psalm accord entirely with this supposition. They are as follows:
I. A prayer that God would arise and scatter all his enemies, Psa 68:1-2.
II. A call on the people to praise God, with reference to his greatness, and to his paternal character, Psa 68:3-6.
III. A reference to what he had done in former times for his people in conducting them from bondage to the promised land, Psa 68:7-14.
IV. A particular reference to the ark, Psa 68:15-18. After it had been lying neglected, God had gone forth with it, and Zion had become distinguished above the hills; the chariots of God had been poured forth; victory had attended its movements; and God had gone up leading captivity captive.
V. The anticipation of future triumphs - the confident expectation of future interposition - as derived from the history of the past, Psa 68:19-23.
VI. A description of the procession on the removing of the ark, Psa 68:24-27.
VII. The anticipation of future triumphs expressed in another form, not that of subjugation by mere power, but of a voluntary submission of kings and nations to God, Psa 68:28-31. Kings would come with presents Psa 68:29; nations - Egypt and Ethiopia - would stretch out their hands to God, Psa 68:31.
VIII. A call on all the nations, in view of these things, to ascribe praise to God, Psa 68:32-35.
Let God arise - See the notes at Psa 3:7. There is an obvious reterence here to the words used by Moses on the removal of the ark in Num 10:35. The same language was also employed by Solomon when the ark was removed to the temple, and deposited in the most holy place Ch2 6:41 :" Now therefore arise, O Lord God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength." It would seem probable, therefore, that this psalm was composed on some such occasion.
Let his enemies be scattered - So in Num 10:35 : "Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee." The ark was the symbol of the divine presence, and the idea is, that whereever that was, the enemies of God would be subdued, or that it was only by the power of Him who was supposed to reside there that his enemies could be overcome.
Let them also that hate him flee before him - Almost the exact language used by Moses in Num 10:35. It is possible that this may have been used on some occasion when the Hebrews were going out to war; but the more probable supposition is that it is general language designed to illustrate the power of God, or to state that his rising up, at any time, would be followed by the discomfiture of his enemies. The placing of the ark where it was designed to remain permanently would be a proper occasion for suggesting this general truth, that all the enemies of God must be scattered when he rose up in his majesty and power.
As smoke is driven away - To wit, by the wind. Smoke - vapor - easily disturbed and moved by the slightest breath of air - represents an object of no stability, or having no power of resistance, and would thus represent the real weakness of the most mighty armies of men as opposed to God.
So drive them away - With the same ease with which smoke is driven by the slightest breeze, so do the enemies of God disappear before his power. Compare the notes at Psa 1:4.
As wax melteth before the fire - Compare Psa 22:14. The meaning here is plain. As wax is melted down by fire - losing all its hardness, its firmness, its power of resistance, so must the most mighty armies melt away before God.
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God - That is, those who rise up against him; his enemies. It will be as easy for God to destroy wicked men as it is for fire to melt down wax.
But let the righteous be glad - That is, Let them be prosperous and happy; let them be under thy protecting care, and partake of thy favor. While the wicked are driven away like smoke, let the righteous live, and flourish, and be safe. Compare Psa 32:11.
Let them rejoice beore God - In the presence of God; or as admitted to his presence. The wicked will be driven far off; the righteous will be admitted to his presence, and will rejoice before him.
Yea, let them exceedingly rejoice - Margin, as in Hebrew, rejoice with gladness. The expression is designed to express great joy; joy that is multiplied and prolonged. It is joy of heart accompanied with all the outward expressions of joy.
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name - That is, to him; the name being often put for the person himself. The repetition denotes intensity of desire; a wish that God might be praised with the highest praises.
Extol him - The word here rendered "extol" - סלל sâlal - means to lift up, to raise, to raise up, as into a heap or mound; and especially to cast up and prepare a way, or to make a way level before an army by casting up earth; that is, to prepare a way for an army. See the notes at Isa 40:3. Compare also Isa 57:14; Isa 62:10; Job 19:12; Job 30:12, Pro 15:19 (margin); Jer 18:15. This is evidently the idea here. It is not to "extol" God in the sense of praising him; it is to prepare the way before him, as of one marching at the head of his armies, or as a leader of his hosts. The allusion is to God as passing before his people in the march to the promised land; and the call is to make ready the way before him - that is, to remove all obstructions out of his path and to make the road smooth and level.
That rideth - Rather," that marcheth." There is, indeed, the idea of riding, yet it is not that of "riding upon the heavens," which is the meaning, but of riding at the head of his hosts on their march.
Upon the heavens - The word used here - ערבה ‛ărābâh - never means either heaven, or the clouds. It properly denotes an arid tract, a sterile region, a desert; and then, a plain. It is rendered desert in Isa 35:1, Isa 35:6; Isa 40:3; Isa 41:19; Isa 51:3; Jer 2:6; Jer 17:6; Jer 50:12; Eze 47:8; and should have been so rendered here. So it is translated by DeWette, Prof. Alexander, and others. The Septuagint renders it, "Make way for him who is riding westward." So the Latin Vulgate. The Chaldee renders it, "Extol him who is seated upon the throne of his glory in the north heaven." The reference, doubtless, is to the passage through the desert over which the Hebrews wandered for forty years. The Hebrew word which is employed here is still applied by the Arabs to that region. The idea is that of Yahweh marching over those deserts at the head of his armies, and the call is to prepare a way for him on his march, compare Psa 68:7-8.
By his name JAH - This refers to his riding or marching at the head of his forces through the desert, in the character described by that name - or, as יה Yâhh; that is, יהוה Yahweh. Yah (Jah) is an abbreviation of the word Yahweh (Jehovah), which was assumed by God as His special name, Exo 6:3. The word Yahweh is usually rendered, in our version, Lord, printed in small capitals to denote that the original is יהוה Yahweh; the word itself is retained, however, in Exo 6:3; Psa 83:18; Isa 12:2 (see the notes); and Isa 26:4. The word "Jah" occurs in this place only, in our English translation. It is found in combination, or in certain formulas - as in the phrase Hallelujah, Psa 104:35; Psa 105:45; Psa 106:1. The meaning here is, that God went thus before His people in the character of the true God, or as Yahweh.
And rejoice before him - Or, in His presence. Let there be joy when He thus manifests Himself as the true God. The presence of God is suited to give joy to all the worlds that He has made, or wherever He manifests Himself to His creatures.
A father of the fatherless - Or, of orphans. Compare Psa 10:14, Psa 10:18. That is, God takes the place of the parent. See Jer 49:11 : "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me." This is one of the most tender appellations that could be given to God, and conveys one of the most striking descriptions that can be given of his character. We see his greatness, his majesty, his power, in the worlds that he has made - in the storm, the tempest, the rolling ocean; but it is in such expressions as this that we learn, what we most desire to know, and what we cannot elsewhere learn, that he is a Father; that he is to be loved as well as feared. Nothing suggests more strikingly a state of helplessness and dependence than the condition of orphan children and widows; nothing, therefore, conveys a more affecting description of the character of God - of his condescension and kindness - than to say that he will take the place of the parent in the one case, and be a protector in the other.
And a judge of the widows - That is, He will see justice done them; he will save them from oppression and wrong. No persons are more liable to be oppressed and wronged than widows. They are regarded as incapable of defending or vindicating their own rights, and are likely to be deceived and betrayed by those to whom their property and rights may be entrusted. Hence, the care which God manifests for them; hence, his solemn charges, so often made to those who are in authority, and who are entrusted with power, to respect their rights; hence, his frequent and solemn rebukes to those who violate their rights. See the notes at Isa 1:17. Compare Deu 10:18; Deu 14:29; Deu 24:17; Exo 22:22; Job 24:3, Job 24:21; Jer 7:6; Mal 3:5; Jam 1:27.
Is God in his holy habitation - Where he dwells; to wit, in heaven. The design of the psalmist seems to be to take us at once up to God; to let us see what he is in his holy home; to conduct us into his very presence, that we may see him as he is. What a man is we see in his own home - when we get near to him; when we look upon him, not on great or state occasions, when he is abroad, and assumes appearances befitting his rank and office, but in his own house; as he is constantly. This is the idea here, that if we approach God most nearly, if we look upon him, not merely in the splendor and magnificence in which he appears in governing the worlds, in his judgments, in storm and tempest, riding on the clouds and controlling the ocean, but, as it were, in his own dwelling, his quiet heavens - if we look most closely at his character, we shall find that character best represented by the kind and benignant traits of a father - in his care for widows and orphans. In other words, the more we see of God - the more we become intimately acquainted with his real nature - the more evidence we shall find that he is benevolent and kind.
God setteth the solitary in families - Margin, as in Hebrew, in a house. The word rendered solitary means properly one alone, as an only child; Gen 22:2, Gen 22:12, Gen 22:16; and then it means alone, solitary, wretched, forsaken. See the notes at Psa 22:20. The word rendered "families" would be more literally and better translated as in the margin, houses. The idea then is, not that he constitutes families of those who were solitary and alone, but that to those who are alone in the world - who seem to have no friends - who are destitute, wretched, forsaken, he gives comfortable dwellings. Thus the idea is carried out which is expressed in the previous verse. God is the friend of the orphan and the widow; and, in like manner, he is the friend of the cast out - the wandering - the homeless; - he provides for them a home. The meaning is, that he is benevolent and kind, and that they who have no other friend may find a friend in God. At the same time it is true, however, that the family organization is to be traced to God. It is his original appointment; and all that there is in the family that contributes to the happiness of mankind - all that there is of comfort in the world that depends on the family organization - is to be traced to the goodness of God. Nothing more clearly marks the benignity and the wisdom of God than the arrangement by which people, instead of being solitary wanderers on the face of the earth, with nothing to bind them in sympathy, in love, and in interest to each other, are grouped together in families.
He bringeth out those which are bound with chains - He releases the prisoners. That is, He delivers those who are unjustly confined in prison, and held in bondage. The principles of his administration are opposed to oppression and wrong, and in favor of the rights of man. The meaning is not that he always does this by his direct power, but that his law, his government, his requirements are all against oppression and wrong, and in favor of liberty. So Psa 146:7, "The Lord looseth the prisoners." Compare the notes at Isa 61:1.
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land - The rebels; all who rebel against him. The word rendered dry land means a dry or arid place; a desert. The idea is, that the condition of the rebellious as contrasted with that of those whom God has under his protection would be as a fertile and well-watered field compared with a desert. For the one class he would provide a comfortable home; the other, the wicked, would be left as if to dwell in deserts and solitudes: In other words, the difference in condition between those who are the objects of his favor, and those who are found in proud rebellion against him, would be as great as that between such as have comfortable abodes in a land producing abundance, and such as are wretched and homeless wanderers in regions of arid sand. While God be-friends the poor and the needy, while he cares for the widow and the orphan, he leaves the rebel to misery and want. The allusion here probably is to his conducting his people through the desert to the land of promise and of plenty; but still the passage contains a general truth in regard to the principles of his administration.
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people ... - That is, in conducting them through the desert to the promised land. The statement in regard to the paternal character of God in the previous verses is here illustrated by his guiding his own people, when fleeing from a land of oppression, through the barren desert - and his interpositions there in their behalf. All that had been said of him in the previous verses is here confirmed by the provision which he made for their needs in their perilous journey through the wilderness.
The earth shook - See Exo 19:16-18.
The heavens also dropped at the presence of God - That is, dropped down rain and food. The idea is that the very heavens seemed to be shaken or convulsed, so that rain and food were shaken down - as ripe fruit falls from a tree that is shaken. Compare the notes at Isa 34:4. So also, Isa 64:1-3. The meaning is not that the heavens themselves dropped down, but that they dropped or distilled rain and food.
Even Sinai itself was moved - This was true; but this does not seem to be the idea intended here, for the words "even" and "was moved" are not in the original. The Hebrew is, literally, "This Sinai;" meaning probably" this was at Sinai," or, "this took place at Sinai." The correct translation perhaps would be, "The heavens distilled rain at the presence of God, this at Sinai, at the presence of God."
At the presence of God, the God of Israel - The whole region seemed to be moved and awed at the presence of God, or when he came down to visit his people. The earth and the heavens, all seemed to be in commotion.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain - Margin, shake out. Prof. Alexander, "a rain of free gifts." The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "a voluntary or willing rain." The Syriac, "the rain of a vow." The Hebrew word translated "plentiful" means free, voluntary, of its own accord - נדבה nedâbâh - (See the notes at Psa 51:12, where it is rendered free); then it means that which is given freely; and hence, abundantly. It means, therefore, in this place, plentiful, abundant. The reference, however, is to the manna, with which the people were supplied from day to day, and which seemed to be showered upon them in abundance. The word rendered "didst send" means properly to shake out, as if God shook the clouds or the heavens, and the abundant supplies for their needs were thus shaken out.
Whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary - Thou didst strengthen thy people when they were exhausted, or were in danger of fainting. In other words, God sent a supply of food - manna, quails, etc. - when they were in the pathless wilderness, and when they were ready to perish.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein - In the land of promise; for the connection requires us to understand it in this manner. The idea of the writer all along pertains to that land, and to the mercy which God had shown to it. After showing by an historical reference what God had done for the people in the wilderness, he returns here, though without expressly mentioning it, to the land of promise, and to what God had done there for his people. The word tendered "congregation" - חיה châyâh - means properly a beast, an animal, Gen 1:30; Gen 2:19; Gen 8:19; Gen 37:20. Then it comes to be used as a collective noun, meaning a herd or flock; thus, a troop of people, an array or host, Sa2 23:11, Sa2 23:13; and it is applied here to the people, under the idea so common in the Scriptures that God is a Shepherd.
Thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor - For thy flock considered as poor or wretched. That is, Thou hast provided for them when they had no resources of their own - when they were a poor, oppressed, and afflicted people - wanderers wholly dependent on thee.
The Lord gave the word - The command, or the order. It is not certain to what the psalmist here refers; whether to some particular occasion then fresh in the recollection of the people, when a great victory had been gained, which it was the design of the psalm to celebrate; or whether it is a general statement in regard to the doings of God, having reference to all his victories and triumphs, and meaning that in all cases the command came from him. The subsequent verses make it evident that there is an allusion here to the ark of the covenant, and to the victories which had been achieved under that as a guide or protector. The entire psalm refers to the ark, and its triumphs; and the idea here seems to be, that in all the victories which had been achieved the "word" or the command came from God, and that its promulgation was immediately made by a "great company" who stood ready to communicate it or to "publish" it.
Great was the company of those that published it - Margin, army. More literally, "The women publishing it were a great host." The word used is in the feminine gender, and refers to the Oriental custom whereby females celebrated victories in songs and dances. See Exo 15:20-21; Jdg 11:34; Jdg 21:21; Sa1 18:6-7. The idea here is, that when there was a proclamation of war - when God commanded his people to go out to battle, and to take with them the ark, the females of the land - the singers - were ready to make known the proclamation; to celebrate the will of the Lord by songs and dances; to cheer and encourage their husbands, brothers, and fathers, as they went out to the conflict. The result is stated in the following verse.
Kings of armies did flee apace - Margin, as in Hebrew, did flee, did flee. This is the Hebrew mode of expressing that which is emphatic or superlative. It is by simply repeating the word. The idea is, that they fled speedily; they fled at once, and in alarm. Psa 68:12-13 are marked by DeWette as a quotation, and the language is supposed by him to be the substance of the song that was sung by the women as referred to in Psa 68:11. This supposition is not improbable. The reference is, undoubtedly, to the former victories achieved by the people of God when they went out to war; and the idea is, that when the command came, when God gave the word Psa 68:11, their foes fled in consternation.
And she that tarried at home divided the spoil - The women remaining in their homes, while the men went out to war. On them devolved the office of dividing the plunder, and of giving the proper portions to each of the victors. They would take an interest in the battle, and receive the booty, and assign the portion due to each of the brave soldiers - the more acceptable as given to them by female hands. Possibly, however, the meaning may be, that the victors would bring the plunder home, and lay it at the feet of their wives and daughters to be divided among the women themselves. The dividing of the spoils of battle after a victory was always an important act. Compare Jdg 5:30; Jos 7:21; Ch1 26:27; Heb 7:4.
Though ye have lien among the pots - There are few passages in the Bible more difficult of interpretation than this verse and the following. Our translators seem to have supposed that the whole refers to the ark, considered as having been neglected, or as having been suffered to remain among the common vessels of the tabernacle, until it became like those vessels in appearance - that is, until its brilliancy had become tarnished by neglect, or by want of being cleaned and furbished - yet that it would be again like the wings of a dove covered with silver, as it had been formerly, and pure like the whitest snow. But it is not certain, if it is probable, that this is the meaning. Prof. Alexander renders it, "When ye lie down between the borders (ye shall be like) the wings of a dove covered with silver;" that is, "when the land had rest," or was restored to a state of tranquility.
DeWette renders it, "When ye rest between the cattle-stalls:" expressing the same idea, that of quiet repose as among the herds of cattle lying calmly down to rest. The Septuagint renders it, "Though you may have slept in kitchens." The words rendered" Though ye have lien" mean literally, "If you have lain," alluding to some act or state of lying down quietly or calmly. The verb is in the plural number, but it is not quite clear what it refers to. There is apparently much confusion of number in the passage. The word rendered "pots" - שׁפתים shephathayim - in the dual form, occurs only in this place and in Eze 40:43, where it is translated hooks (margin, end-irons, or the two hearth-stones). Gesenius renders it here "stalls," that is, folds for cattle, and supposes that in Ezekiel it denotes places in the temple-court, where the victims for sacrifice were fastened. Tholuck renders it, "When you shall again rest within your stone-borders (that is, within the limits of your own country, or within your own borders), ye shall be like the wings of a dove." For other interpretations of the passage, see Rosenmuller in loc. I confess that none of these explanations of the passage seem to me to be satisfactory, and that I cannot understand it. The wonder is not, however, that, in a book so large as the Bible, and written in a remote age, and in a language which has long ceased to be a spoken language, there should be here and there a passage which cannot now be made clear, but that there should be so few of that description. There is no ancient book that has not more difficulties of this kind than the Hebrew Scriptures:
Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver ... - The phrase "yet shall ye be" is not in the original. The image here is simply one of beauty. The allusion is to the changeable colors of the plumage of a dove, now seeming to be bright silver, and then, as the rays of light fall on it in another direction, to be yellow as gold. If the allusion is to the ark, considered as having been laid aside among the ordinary vessels of the tabernacle, and having become dark and dingy by neglect, then the meaning would be, that, when restored to its proper place, and with the proper degree of attention and care bestowed upon it, it would become a most beautiful object. If the allusion is to the people of the land considered either as lying down in dishonor, as if among filth, or as lying down calmly and quietly as the beasts do in their stalls, or as peacefully reposing within their natural limits or borders, then the meaning would be, that the spectacle would be most beautiful. The varied tints of loveliness in the land - the gardens, the farms, the flowers, the fruits, the vineyards, the orchards, the villages, the towns, the cheerful homes - would be like the dove - the emblem of calmness - so beautiful in the variety and the changeableness of its plumage. The comparison of a beautiful and variegated country with a dove is not a very obvious one, and yet, in this view, it would not be wholly unnatural. It is not easy always to vindicate philosophically the images used in poetry; nor is it always easy for a Western mind to see the reasons of the images employed by an Oriental poet. It seems probable that the comparison of the land (considered as thus variegated in its beauty) with the changing beauties of the plumage of the dove is the idea intended to be conveyed by this verse; but it is not easy to make it out on strictly exegetical or philological principles.
When the Almighty scattered kings in it - The Hebrew here is, "In the scattering of (that is, by) the Almighty of kings." The reference is to the act of God in causing kings to abandon their purposes of invasion, or to flee when their own countries were invaded. Compare Psa 48:5-6. The language here is so general that it might be applied to any such acts in the history of the Hebrew people; to any wars of defense or offence which they waged. It may have reference to the scattering of kings and people when Joshua invaded the land of Canaan, and when he discomfited the numerous forces, led by different kings, as the Israelites took possession of the country. The close connection of the passage with the reference to the journey through the wilderness Psa 68:7-9 would make it probable that this is the allusion. The phrase "in it," (margin, for her), refers doubtless to the land of Canaan, and to the victories achieved there.
It was white as snow in Salmon - Margin, She was. The allusion is to the land of Canaan. But about the meaning of the phrase "white as snow in Salmon," there has been great diversity of opinion. The word rendered "was white as snow" is correctly rendered. It means to be snowy; then, to be white like snow. The verb occurs nowhere else. The noun is of frequent occurrence, and is always rendered snow. Exo 4:6; Num 12:10; Sa2 23:20; Kg2 5:27; et al. The word Salmon properly means shady, and was applied to the mountain here referred to, probably on account of the dark forests which covered it. That mountain was in Samaria, near Shechem. Jdg 9:48. It is not known why the snow of that mountain is particularly alluded to here, as if there was any special whiteness or purity in it. It is probably specified by name only to give more vivacity to the description. There is much difference of opinion as to what is the meaning of the expression, or in what respects the land was thus white.
The most common opinion has been that it was from the bones of the slain which were left to bleach unburied, and which covered the land so that it seemed to be white. Compare Virg. AEn. v. 865; xii. 36. Ovid uses similar language, Fast. i: "Humanis ossibus albet humus."So also Horace, Serra. 1, 8: "Albis informem spectabant ossibus agrum." This interpretation of the passage is adopted by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, and DeWette. Others suppose it to mean that the land was like the dazzling whiteness of snow in the midst of blackness or darkness. This was the opinion of Kimchi, and this interpretation is adopted by Prof. Alexander. Tholuck supposes it to mean that, when war was waged on the kings and people, they fell as fast as snow-flakes on Mount Salmon; and that the idea is not so much the whiteness of the land, as the fact that they fell in great numbers, covering the land as the snow-flakes do. It is perhaps not possible to determine which of these explanations is correct. Either of them would accord with the meaning of the words and the general sense of the psalm. That of Tholuck is the most poetical, but it is less obvious from the Hebrew words used.
The hill of God - The phrase "the hill of God," or the mountain of God, is elsewhere applied in the Scriptures only to Mount Horeb or Sinai Exo 3:1; Exo 18:5; Exo 24:13; Kg1 19:8, and to Mount Zion, Psa 24:3; Isa 30:29. There is no reason for supposing that there is a reference here to Mount Horeb or Sinai, as the psalm does not particularly relate to that mountain, and as there is nothing in the psalm to bring that mountain into comparison with other mountains. The allusion is, I think, clearly to Mount Zion; and the idea is, that that mountain, though it was not distinguished for its elevation or grandeur - though it had nothing in itself to claim attention, or to excite wonder - yet, from the fact that it had been selected as the place where God was to be worshipped, had an honor not less than that of the loftiest mountain, or than those which showed forth the divine perfections by their loftiness and sublimity. There is connected with this, also, the idea that, although it might be less defensible by its natural position, yet, because God resided there, it was defended by his presence more certainly than loftier mountains were by their natural strength. It should be remarked, however, that many other interpretations have been given of the passage, but this seems to me to be its natural meaning.
Is as the hill of Bashan - Luther renders this, "The mount of God is a fruit-bearing hill; a great and fruitbearing mountain." On the word Bashan, see the notes at Isa 2:13; notes at Isa 33:9; notes at Psa 22:12. Bashan was properly the region beyond Jordan, bounded on the north by Mount Hermon or the Anti-Libanus, and extending south as far as the stream Jabbok, and the mountains of Gilead. The "hill" of Bashan, or the "mountain of Bashan," was properly Mount Hermon - the principal mountain pertaining to Bashan. The name Bashan was properly given to the country, and not to the mountain. The mountain referred to - Hermon - is that lofty range which lies on the east of the Jordan, and in the northern part of the country - a range some twelve thousand feet in height. See the notes at Psa 42:6. It is the most lofty and distinguished mountain in Palestine, and the idea here, as above expressed, is, that Mount Zion, though not so lofty, or not having so much in itself to attract attention, was not less honored, and not less safe, as being the special dwelling-place of God.
An high hill ... - Or rather; a mount of peaks or ridges as Bashan. Mount Hermon was not a single hill, or a detached mountain, but a chain of mountains - a range of lofty peaks or summits. So of Zion. It was by the presence and protection of God what Bashan was by its natural strength and grandeur. Comparatively low and unimportant as Zion was, it had in fact more in it to show what God is, and to constitute safety, than there was in the loftiness and grandeur of Bashan. The latter, though thus lofty and grand, had no "advantage" over Zion, but Zion might in every way be compared with that lofty range of hills which, by their natural position, their strength, and their grandeur, showed forth so much the greatness and glory of God. The teaching would be, as applied to Zion, or the Church, that there is "as much" there to show the divine perfections, to illustrate the greatness and the power of God, as there is in the most sublime works of nature; or that they who look upon the works of God in nature to learn his perfections, have no advantage over those who seek to learn what he is in his church.
Why leap ye, ye high hills? - That is, with exultation; with pride; with conscious superiority. Why do you seem to regard yourselves as so superior to Mount Zion, in strength, in beauty, in grandeur? The Hebrew, however - רצד râtsad - rather means, "Why do ye watch insidiously? why do ye look askance at?" The word occurs only in this place. In Arabic it means to watch closely; to lie in wait for. This is the idea here. The mountains around Palestine - the mountains of the pagan world - the lofty hills - as if conscious of their grandeur, are represented as looking "askance," in their pride, at Mount Zion; as eyeing it with silent contempt, as if it were not worthy of notice; as if it were so insignificant that it had no claim to attention. The idea is not that of "leaping," as in our English Bible, or of "hopping," as in the version of the Episcopal Prayer Book, but that of a look of silent disdain, as if, by their side, Zion, so insignificant, was not worthy of regard. "Perhaps," by the high hills here, however, are disguisedly also represented the mighty powers of the pagan world, as if looking with contempt on the people of the land where Zion was the place of worship.
This is the hill which God desireth to dwell in - The hill which "he" has selected as his abode, and which "he" has honored above all the mountains of the earth, by his permanent residence there. As such, Zion has an honor above the loftiest hills and ranges of mountains in the earth.
Yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever - Permanently; he will make it his fixed habitation on earth. Not-withstanding the envy or the contempt of surrounding hills, he will make this his settled abode. He has chosen it; he delights in it; he will not forsake it for the mountains and hills that are in themselves more grand and lofty.
The chariots of God - The meaning of this verse is, that God is abundantly able to maintain his position on Mount Zion; to defend the place which he had selected as his abode. Though it has less natural strength than many other places have - though other hills and mountains, on account of their natural grandeur, may be represented as looking on this with contempt, as incapable of defense, yet he who has selected it is fully able to defend it. He is himself encompassed with armies and chariots of war; thousands of angels guard the place which he has chosen as the place of his abode. "Chariots," usually two-wheeled vehicles, often armed with scythes attached to their axles, were among the most powerful means of attack or defense in ancient warfare. See Psa 20:7, note; Psa 46:9, note; Isa 31:1, note; Isa 37:24, note; Compare Exo 14:7; Jos 17:16; Jdg 4:15.
Are twenty thousand - A closer version is "two myriads," or twice ten thousand. The original word is in the dual form. The language is designed to denote a very great number. A myriad was a great number; the idea here is that even "that" great number was doubled.
Even thousands of angels - Margin, "many thousands." The Hebrew is, "thousands repeated," or "multiplied." There is in the Hebrew no mention of angels. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "thousands of the rejoicing;" that is, thousands of happy attendants. The original, however, would most naturally refer to the chariots, as being multiplied by thousands.
The Lord is among them - The real strength, after all, is not in Zion itself, or in the chariots of the Lord surrounding it, but in the Lord himself. "He" is there as the Head of the host; He, as the Protector of his chosen dwelling-place.
As in Sinai, in the holy place - literally, "The Lord is among them; Sinai, in the sanctuary." The idea seems to be, that even Sinai with all its splendor and glory - the Lord himself with all the attending hosts that came down on Sinai - seemed to be in the sanctuary, the holy place on Mount Zion. All that there was of pomp and grandeur on Mount Sinai when God came down with the attending thousands of angels, was really around Mount Zion for its protection and defense.
Thou hast ascended on high - That is, Thou hast gone up to the high place; to thy throne; to thine abode. The idea is, that God had descended or come down from his dwelling-place in the case referred to in the psalm, and that having now secured a victory by vanquishing his foes, and having given deliverance to his people, he had now returned, or reascended to his seat. This may either mean his throne on earth, or his abode in heaven. It would seem most probable that the latter is the idea.
Thou hast led captivity captive - "Thou hast made captivity captive," or "Thou hast captured a captivity." The main idea is, that he had achieved a complete victory; he had led all his foes captive. The language "would" also express the idea that he had made captives for himself of those who were captives to others, or who were in subjection to another. As applied in the Christian sense, this would refer to those who were captives to Satan, and who were held in bondage by him, but who had been rescued by the Redeemer, and brought under another captivity - the yielding of voluntary service to himself. Those once captives to sin were now led by him, captives in a higher sense. See the notes at Eph 4:8.
Thou hast received gifts for men - Margin, "in the man." That is, "Among men," or while among them as a conqueror. The idea here most naturally conveyed would be, that he had obtained "gifts," privileges, advantages, "in" man; that is, that men, considered as captives, constituted the victory which he had achieved - the advantage which he had acquired. It was not so much "for" them as "in" them, and "by" them, to wit, by possessing them as captives or subjects to him. With this victory achieved, he had now ascended on high.
Yea, for the rebellious also - Or, more properly, "even the rebellious." That is, Those who had been in a state of rebellion he had subdued to himself, and had thus led captivity captive. It was a triumph by which they had become subdued to him.
That the Lord God might dwell among them - literally, "For the dwelling of Jah, God." The idea is, that he had achieved such a triumph; he had so brought the rebellious under subjection to himself, that he could take up his abode with them, or dwell with them as his people. His rule could be extended over them, and they would acknowledge him as their sovereign. This would be applicable to a people in ancient times that had been subdued by the people of God. It might now be properly applied, also, to sinners who by the power of truth have been so subdued as to submit to God. It is applicable to all who have been conquered by the Gospel - whose enmity has been slain - who have been changed from enemies to friends - so that the Lord may dwell in their hearts, or rule over them. This passage is applied by the apostle Paul in Eph 4:8 to the Messiah, not as having original reference to him, but as suggesting language which would appropriately express the nature of his work, and the glory of his triumph. See the notes at that place.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits ... - literally, "day, day;" that is, day by day; or, constantly. The words "with benefits" are not in the original, and they do not convey the true idea of the passage. The word rendered "loadeth" means to take up; to lift, as a stone, Zac 12:3; to bear, to carry, Isa 46:3. Then it means "to take up and place upon a beast of burden;" to load, Isa 46:1; Gen 44:13. Hence, it means to impose or lay a burden or a load on one; and the idea here is, "Blessed be the Lord God even if he lays a burden on us, and if he does this daily, for he is the God of our salvation." He enables us to bear it; he gives us strength; and finally he delivers us from it. "Though," therefore, he constantly lays on us a burden, he as constantly aids us to bear it. He does not leave us. He enables us to triumph in him, and through him; and we have occasion constantly to honor and to praise his name. This accords with the experience of all his people, that however heavy may be the burden laid on them, and however constant their trials, they find him as constant a helper, and they daily have occasion to praise and bless him.
He that is our God is the God of salvation - literally, "God is for us a God of salvation." That is, The God whom we worship is the God from whom salvation comes, and who brings salvation to us. It is not a vain thing that we serve him, for he is the only being who can save us, and he will save us.
And unto God the Lord belong the issues from death - The "outgoings" or "escapes" from death. That is, He only can save from death. The Hebrew word means, properly, a going forth, a deliverance; then, a place of going forth as a gate, Eze 48:30; a fountain, Pro 4:23. Probably the only idea intended here by the psalmist was, that safety or deliverance from death proceeds solely from God. The sentiment, however, is true in a larger sense. All that pertains to deliverance from death, all that prepares for it, all that makes it easy to be borne, all that constitutes a rescue from its pains and horrors, all that follows death in a higher and more blessed world, all that makes death "final," and places us in a condition where death is no more to be dreaded - all this belongs to God. All this is under his control. He only can enable us to bear death; he only can conduct us from a bed of death to a world where we shall never die.
But God shall wound the head of his enemies - More properly, "God shall crush the head," etc. The idea is that of complete destruction, - as, if the head is crushed, life becomes ex tinct. See Gen 3:15; compare Psa 110:6.
And the hairy scalp - More literally, "the top of the hair." The Hebrew word used here for "scalp" means the vertex, the top, the crown, as of the head, where the hair "divides itself;" and the idea is properly, "the dividing of the hair." Gesenius, Lexicon. The allusion is to the top of the head; that is, the blow would descend on the top of the head, producing death.
Of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses - Of the man who perseveres in a course of wickedness. If he repents, God will be merciful to him; if he persists in sin, he will be punished. The literal rendering would be, "the hairy scalp going on, or going, sc. "about", in his trespasses." The reference is to a wicked man "continuing" in his transgressions.
The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan - On the situation of Bashan, see the notes at Psa 68:15. There may be an allusion here to the victory achieved over Og, king of Bashan, in the time of Moses, Num 21:33-35. The idea may be that as, at that time, a victory was achieved over a formidable enemy, so in times of similar peril, God would deliver his people, and save them from danger. Or, as Bashan was the remote frontier of the holy land, the meaning may be, that God would bring his people from the remotest borders where they should be scattered. Another meaning is suggested by Professor Alexander, namely, that as the subject referred to in the subsequent verses is the "enemy" of God, the meaning may be that God would bring back his enemies for punishment, even from the remotest borders, when they were endeavoring to escape, and even when they supposed they were safe. The first of these opinions is probably the true one. God would rescue his people, as he had done from the attacks of the mighty king of Bashan; he would deliver them, as he had brought their fathers from the depths of the sea.
I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea - The words "my people" are not in the Hebrew, but they seem to be not improperly supplied by the translators. If so, the allusion is to the interposition of God in conducting his people through the Red Sea Exo 14:22; and the idea is, that God would at all times interpose in their behalf, and deliver them from similar dangers.
That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies ... - Margin, "red." A more literal rendering would be, "That thou mayest crush - thy foot in blood - the tongue of thy dogs from the enemies, from him." The idea of "dipping" the foot in blood is not in the passage directly; but the leading thought is that of "crushing" the enemy. It is then "added" that the foot would be in blood. So of the tongue of the dogs. The "meaning" is, that the tongues of dogs would be employed in licking up the blood of the enemies, though that is not "expressed" in so many words. The sense of the whole is, that the foes of the people would be slain.
They have seen thy goings, O God - That is, the lookers on in the solemn procession referred to in Psa 68:25; or, in other words, Thy goings have been attended by pomp and magnificence, and have been witnessed by multitudes. The word "goings" here refers to the solemn triumphal processions which celebrated the victories achieved by God.
Even the goings of my God, my King - The psalmist here speaks of God as "his" God and "his" King. The idea seems to have suddenly crossed his mind that this great God, so glorious, is "his" God. He exults and rejoices that He whom he adores is such a God; that a God so great and glorious is "his." So the believer now, when he looks upon the works of God, when he contemplates their vastness, their beauty, and their grandeur, is permitted to feel that the God who made them is "his" God; to find consolation in the thought that his "Father made them all."
"He looks abroad into the varied field
Of Nature, and, though poor, perhaps, compared
With those whose mansions glitter in his sight,
Calls the delightful scenery all his own.
His are the mountains, and the valleys his,
And the resplendent rivers; - his to enjoy
With a propriety that none can feel
But who, with filial confidence inspired,
Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And smiling say, 'My Father made them all!'
Are they not his by a peculiar right,
And by an emphasis of interest his,
Whose eye they fill with tears of holy joy,
Whose heart with praise, and whose exalted mind
With worthy thoughts of that unwearied love
That plann'd, and built, and still upholds a world
So clothed with beauty for rebellious man?"
task, Book v.
In the sanctuary - Or, "to" the sanctuary; in other words, as the ark was borne to the sanctuary, the place appointed for its rest, for, as above remarked, the psalm seems to have been composed on such an occasion.
The singers went before - That is, in the removal of the ark; in the solemn procession referred to in the previous verse. "In" that procession those who sang preceded those who performed on instruments of music. Compare Ch1 13:8; Ch1 15:16. "The players on instruments followed after." The different classes of performers would naturally be ranged together. In Ch1 13:8, the following instruments of music are mentioned as having been employed on a similar occasion, if not on this very occasion - harps, psalteries, timbrels, cymbals, and trumpets.
Among them were the damsels playing with timbrels - The true construction of the passage is, "Behind were the players in the midst of damsels playing." The singers and the players were surrounded by these women playing on timbrels. The word rendered "playing with timbrels" - תפף tâphaph - means to strike, to beat; and hence, to strike or beat upon a timbrel. A timbrel is a kind of drum, a tabret, or tambourine, usually beaten with the fingers. See a description of it in the notes at Isa 5:12, under the word "tabret." It is an instrument which has been in use from the remotest antiquity.
Bless ye God in the congregations - In the assemblages of the people; not only as individuals, but in solemn precessions; in triumphal marches; when the people are assembled together. In this public manner acknowledge God as the true God, and render him praise.
Even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel - Margin, "Ye that are of;" that is, "of the fountain of Israel." The margin has undoubtedly expressed the correct idea. The appeal is to the Hebrew people represented as descending from a common stock or ancestor - Jacob or Israel - as a stream or river flows from a fountain. Compare the notes at Isa 48:1; see also Isa 51:1; Deu 33:28. All the descendants of Jacob or Israel are thus called on to unite in solemnly praising the Lord their God.
There is little Benjamin - In that solemn procession. That is, the tribe of Benjamin is "represented" there; or, there are in the procession those who are connected with that tribe. The name "little" is given to the tribe either because Benjamin was the youngest of the sons of Jacob, or, more probably, because that tribe was among the smallest of the tribes of Israel. In fact, the tribe was so small, as compared with that of Judah, for instance, that, after the revolt of the ten tribes, the name of Benjamin was lost, and the whole nation was called, after the tribe of Judah, "Jews."
With their ruler - The word "with" is not in the original. The Hebrew is literally "ruling them." This would seem to mean that, on the occasion referred to, Benjamin, or those who were connected with that tribe, had the oversight, or the direction of those who were engaged in this solemn procession. Though small, it had the preeminence on this occasion. To it was committed the important duty of presiding over these solemnities; that is, those who were prominent in the arrangements for the occasion were of the tribe of Benjamin. This seems to me to be a better explanation than to suppose, as Professor Alexander does, that it has reference to the enemies of the people of God, and that Benjamin had "conquered" or "subdued" them.
The princes of Judah - The principal men of the tribe of Judah.
And "their council - Margin, "with their company." The Hebrew word here, - רגמה rigmâh - means crowd, throng, band. It never means "council." The idea is, evidently, that large numbers of the tribe of Judah attended - that the "princes" or leaders were accompanied by throngs of their own people; in allusion to the fact that Judah was one of the largest of the tribes of Israel - and in contrast with Benjamin, which was few in number, and yet thus occupied the most honorable place as having "charge" of the arrangements.
The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali - These were remote or border tribes, and they seem to be mentioned here to show that all the tribes were represented; that is, that this was a national celebration. The fact that these tribes are mentioned as being represented on the occasion, proves that this psalm was composed before the revolt of the ten tribes, and the formation of the kingdom of Israel; that is, as "early" as the time of Solomon. This increases the probability that the psalm was written by David.
Thy God hath commanded thy strength - Has ordered thy strength to appear, or to be manifested. This is addressed, evidently, to the people of the land; and the idea is, that, on this occasion, God had called forth a full representation of the strength of the nation; or, as we should say, there had been a full "turn out." It was an impressive sight, showing the real strength of the people.
Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us - Increase the strength thus manifested. Let it be still greater. The scene is now impressive and grand; make it still more so, by adding to the number and the prosperity of thy people. This is an illustration of the desire in the heart of every pious man that, whatever prosperity God may have given to his people, he would give a still larger measure - that however greatly he may have increased their numbers, he would add to them manymore. This desire of the heart of piety will not be satisfied until the whole world shall be converted to God.
Because of thy temple at Jerusalem - The word rendered "temple" here properly means a palace; then, the abode of God considered as a king, or his residence as a king. It might, therefore, be applied either to the tabernacle or to the temple, erected as the special dwelling-place of God. As the word has so general a meaning, the passage here does not prove that the psalm was composed after Solomon's temple was reared, for it may refer to the tabernacle that David set up for the ark on Mount Zion. See Psa 5:7, note; Psa 65:4, note.
At Jerusalem - literally, "upon," or "above" Jerusalem. Perhaps the idea is, that as the place of worship was built on Mount Zion, it was "above," or seemed to "overhang" the city. The city was built mostly in the valleys that lay between the different hills or eminences - Mount Zion, Mount Moriah, Mount Ophel.
Shall kings bring presents unto thee - In honor of God and his religion. Compare Psa 72:10. See also the notes at Isa 49:7, notes at Isa 49:23; notes at Isa 60:5, notes at Isa 60:16.
Rebuke the company of spearmen - Margin, "the beasts of the reeds." This is in the form of a prayer - "Rebuke;" but the idea is, that this "would" occur; and the meaning of the whole verse, though there is much difficulty in interpreting the particular expressions, is, that the most formidable enemies of the people of God, represented here by wild beasts, would be subdued, and would be made to show their submission by bringing presents - by "pieces of silver," or, with tribute. Thus the idea corresponds with that in the previous verse, that "kings would bring presents." The rendering in the margin here expresses the meaning of the Hebrew. It "might" perhaps be possible to make out from the Hebrew the sense in our common translation, but it is not the "obvious" meaning, and would not accord so well with the scope of the passage. On the word rendered "company," which primarily means an animal, see the notes at Psa 68:10.
It is applied to an army as being formidable, or terrible, "like" a wild beast. The word rendered "spearmen" - קנה qâneh - means "a reed" or "cane;" "calamus." Compare the notes at Isa 42:3; notes at Isa 36:6. This phrase, "the beast of the reeds," would properly denote a wild beast, as living among the reeds or canes that sprang up on the banks of a river, and having his home there. It would thus, perhaps, most naturally suggest the crocodile, but it might also be applicable to a lion or other wild beast that had its dwelling in the jungles or bushes on the banks of a river. Compare Jer 49:19; Jer 50:44. The comparison here would, therefore, denote any powerful and fierce monarch or people that might be compared with such a fierce beast. There is no particular allusion to Egypt, as being the abode of the crocodile, but the reference is more general, and the language would imply that fierce and savage people - kings who might be compared with wild beasts that had their homes in the deep and inaccessible thickets - would come bending with the tribute money, with pieces of silver, in token of their subjection to God.
The multitude of the bulls - Fierce and warlike kings, who might be compared with bulls. See the notes at Psa 22:12.
With the calves of the people - That is, the nations that might be compared with the calves of such wild herds - fierce, savage, powerful. Their leaders might be compared with the bulls; the people - the multitudes - were like the wild and lawless herd of young ones that accompanied them. The general idea is, that the most wild and savage nations would come and acknowledge their subjection to God, and would express that subjection by an appropriate offering.
Till every one submit himself with pieces of silver - The word here rendered "submit" means properly to tread with the feet, to trample upon; and then, in the form used here, to let oneself be trampled under feet, to prostrate oneself; to humble oneself. Here it means that they would come and submissively offer silver as a tribute. That is, they would acknowledge the authority of God, and become subject to him.
Scatter thou the people that delight in war - Margin, "He scattereth." The margin expresses the sense most accurately. The reference is to God. The psalmist sees the work already accomplished. In anticipation of the victory of God over his foes, he sees them already discomfited and put to flight. The mighty hosts which had been arrayed against the people of God are dissipated and driven asunder; or, in other words, a complete victory is obtained. The people that "delighted in war" were those that had a pleasure in arraying themselves against the people of God - the enemies that had sought their overthrow.
Princes shall come out of Egypt - That is, Shall come and acknowledge the true God. Egypt is referred to here as one of the most prominent of the foreign nations then known; and the idea is, that the distinguished men of foreign nations - the rulers and princes of the world - would come and submit themselves to God, and be united to his people. The word rendered "princes" here - חשׁמנים chashmaniym - occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. It means, according to Gesenius (Lexicon), the fat; then, the rich; the opulent; nobles. It is the word from which the name "Hasmonean" (or Asmonean), which was given by the Jews to the Maccabees, or Jewish princes in the time of the Jewish history between the Old and New Testaments, is supposed to have been derived. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac, render it "legates" or "ambassadors." Luther renders it "princes." The reference is undoubtedly to men of station or rank.
Ethiopia - Hebrew, "Cush." On the meaning of this word in the Scriptures, see the notes at Isa 11:11.
Shall soon stretch out her hands - literally, "Shall make its hands to run." The expression denotes the eagerness or haste with which it would be done. The act is an act of supplication, and the reference is to prayer.
Unto God - To the true God. The nation will supplicate the mercy of God, or will worship him. The idea, in accordance with that in the previous verses, is, that the country here referred to would become subject to the true God. It is a view of the future; of the time when the nations would be converted to the true faith, or would acknowledge the true God. Whether this refers to the Cush in Arabia, or to the Cush in Africa (Ethiopia as commonly understood), it is a description of what will yet occur, for all these lands, and all other lands, will be converted to the true religion, and will stretch out their hands in supplication and prayer, and will find acceptance with God. Even Africa - wronged, degraded, oppressed, injured Africa - will do it; and the worship of her children will be as acceptable to the Universal Father as that of any other of the races of mankind that dwell on the earth.
Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth - That is - that acknowledge the true God - celebrate his praise. The psalmist sees the conversion of the world to God to be so certain an event that he calls on all nations to join in the song.
To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens - The highest heavens. The heaven of heaven would properly mean the heaven above that which is heaven to us; that is, the heaven above the sky. This is represented as the special dwelling-place of God. The Jews were accustomed to speak of three heavens:
(a) The aerial heaven, or the region above us, where the birds fly, and the winds blow;
(b) the starry heavens, or the firmament in which the stars are fixed; and
(c) the heaven above all, the abode of God and of angels.
The word "rideth" here means that he appears there as a conqueror, or that he moves in majesty and glory. See the notes at Psa 18:10.
Which were of old - The words "of old" refer here to the heavens, and denote their antiquity. He rides upon those ancient heavens. He occupies a position above those ancient works of his power.
Lo, he doth send out his voice - Margin, as in Hebrew, "give." The reference is to thunder. The design of this is to increase the impression of his majesty and power.
And that a mighty voice - See the notes at Psa 29:3.
Ascribe ye strength unto God - literally, "give." That is, Acknowledge him as a God of power. Recognise his omnipotence in your worship. See the notes at Psa 29:1.
His excellency is over Israel - His majesty; his glory; his protecting care. The idea is, that his glorious character - his majesty - was manifested particularly in his protection of his people.
And his strength is in the clouds - Margin, "heavens." The Hebrew word rather means "clouds." The idea is, that while his character as Protector was evinced particularly in his care of his people, his "power" was particularly seen in the clouds - the storm - the thunder - the lightning. Thus, all the manifestations of his character, alike in nature, and toward his people, are adapted to produce a deep and solemn impression in regard to his majesty and glory, or to lay the just foundation of praise.
O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places - The places where thou dwellest, and from which thou dost manifest thyself. That is, The manifestations which thou dost make of thyself when thou seemest to come forth from thine abode are "terrible," or are suited to fill the mind with awe. Compare Psa 45:4, note; Psa 65:5, note; Psa 66:5, note.
The God of Israel - The God who is adored by Israel, or by his true people; our God.
Is he that giveth strength and power unto his people - He is not weak and feeble. He is able to protect them. He shows that he can gird them with strength; that he can defend them; that he can sustain them in the trials of life. The God whom they acknowledge as their God is not one whose strength fails, or who is seen to be feeble and powerless when his aid is needed. He is fully equal to all their needs, and they never trust him in vain. "Blessed be God." For all that he is, for all that he has done. This is the language of joy and praise in view of the contemplation of his character as depicted in the psalm. At the close of every right contemplation of his character, his government, his plans, his claims, his law, his gospel, the heart that is right will say, "Blessed be such a God." To one endowed with "such" attributes, praise - everlasting praise - is due.