Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is without a title, and its author is unknown. The occasion on which it was composed is not particularly designated, though from Psa 107:2-3, it is probable that it was on a return from exile or captivity. There is nothing in the psalm to forbid the supposition that this was the return from the captivity at Babylon, and that the psalm was designed to be used at the re-dedication of the temple after the restoration. Every part of it would be appropriate to such an occasion, and it is every way probable that so important an event would be celebrated with appropriate songs of praise.
The "design" of the psalm, so far as it has a practical bearing, is indicated in Psa 107:8, Psa 107:15, Psa 107:21, Psa 107:31, in the language repeated in those verses: "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" The purpose of the psalm is so to set forth these "works," or these "doings" of God, as to lead men to praise and adoration.
The psalm is very regular in its structure. The first three verses are introductory, intended to designate the people who were specially called on to praise God - as those who had been redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands - east, west, north, and south.
The remainder of the psalm is divided into portions marked by the above words, "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness," etc., Psa 107:8, Psa 107:15, Psa 107:21, Psa 107:31. These portions are of unequal length, and this language (with a few appropriate words added) is placed "at the close of each part," as being that which was suggested by the previous thoughts. In the closing portion, however, Psa 107:32-43, this language is not employed, but the expression of "desire" in the other cases is changed into an "affirmation" that all who were wise would "observe these things," and would "understand the loving-kindness of the Lord."
The particular parts of the psalm are the following:
I. A reference to the redeemed of the Lord as having wandered in the wilderness; as having been hungry and thirsty; as having no city to dwell in; and then, as calling upon the Lord in such a manner that he heard them, and led them in a right and safe way. For "this" the psalmist expresses the wish that "men would praise the Lord for his goodness," Psa 107:4-9.
II. A reference to God as displaying goodness toward those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and who are bound in affliction and iron: illustrated by a reference to the people of God in the times of bondage, as being cast down and punished for their sins, and as then calling upon the Lord in their trouble, so that he brought them out of that darkness and shadow of death, and brake their bands asunder. For "this" the psalmist expresses the wish that "men would praise the Lord for his goodness," Psa 107:10-16.
III. A reference to the deliverance performed for the people of God. They had sinned; they had shown their folly; they had drawn near to the gates of death, and then they cried unto the Lord, and he sent his word and healed them. For "this" the psalmist expresses the desire that "men would praise the Lord for his goodness," Psa 107:17-22.
IV. A reference to the goodness of the Lord as manifested toward those who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in the great waters. They see the wonders of the Lord in the deep. They encounter storms and tempests. They are raised up to the heavens on the waves, and then sink to a corresponding depth. They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunkard; and then they cry to the Lord, and he hears them, and makes the sea calm, and brings them to the desired haven. For "this" the psalmist expresses the wish that "men would praise the Lord for his goodness," Psa 107:23-32.
V. A reference to the goodness of the Lord in preparing a place for men to dwell in: turning rivers into a wilderness, the water-springs into dry ground, the wilderness into standing water, and the dry ground into water-springs: making arrangements for people to dwell upon the earth, so that they may sow the fields and plant vineyards - setting the poor on high from affliction, and making them families like a flock. In reference to "this," and to "all" that God does, the psalmist says, in the conclusion of the psalm, that all who are "wise, and will observe these things, shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord," Psa 107:33-43.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good - See the notes at Psa 106:1.
For his mercy endureth for ever - He is unchanging in his mercy. It is an attribute of his very nature. He is constantly manifesting it. The word rendered "mercy" here, however - חסד chesed - is more general in its signification than our word "mercy." Our word means "favor shown to the guilty;" the Hebrew word means kindness, goodness, benignity in general. It is this which is celebrated in the psalm before us.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so - They are especially qualified to say so; they have special occasion to say so; they can and will appreciate this trait in his character. The word rendered "redeemed" here - from גאל gā'al - means "delivered, rescued," without reference to any price paid for the deliverance. It refers here not to a ransom from "sin," but to deliverance from "danger." The probable allusion is to the deliverance from the captivity in Babylon. Compare the notes at Isa 43:3.
Whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy - the power of the enemy. That is, He has saved them from their enemies, and has not suffered them to be destroyed by them. What is here said is true in the most eminent sense of those who are redeemed by the blood of the Son of God, and who are made heirs of salvation. Every consideration makes it proper that they should praise the Lord. Of all on earth, they have most occasion for such praise; of all among people, it may be presumed that they will be best qualified to appreciate the goodness of the Lord.
And gathered them out of the lands - The countries where they were scattered. In the times of the captivity the people were not all taken to one place, or did not all abide in one place. In the long exile - of seventy years - in Babylon, they would naturally be much scattered in the different provinces; and the attempt to collect them together, to restore them again to their native land, might be attended with much difficulty.
From the east ... - From all quarters; from the places where they were scattered abroad. That is, one taking his position in Babylon would see them dispersed from that place as a center into all the surrounding country.
And from the south - Margin, as in Hebrew, "from the sea." In general, in the Old Testament, the word "sea" is used for the west, because the western boundary of the land of Palestine was the Mediterranean Sea. Compare Psa 139:9. But the supposed position of the speaker here is "Babylon," and on that account the south might be fitly designated by the word "sea;" as, on the south of Babylon, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean would be soon reached.
They wandered in the wilderness - On their return from Babylon; or, when God was conducting them again to their own land. The word "wilderness" in the Scriptures means a desolate, barren, uninhabited region, usually destitute of trees, of springs, and of water-courses. It does not denote, as it does with us, a region of extensive "forests." Compare the notes at Mat 4:1.
In a solitary way - Rather, in a "waste" way; a land that was desolate and uncultivated.
They found no city to dwell in - In their journeyings. This was true of the region between Babylon and Palestine; a wide, barren, desolate waste.
Hungry and thirsty - As they would be, when wandering in such a desert. A more literal and expressive rendering would be, "Hungry - also thirsty."
Their soul fainted in them - The word used here - עטף ‛âṭaph - means properly to cover, to clothe, as with a garment, Psa 73:6; or a field with grain, Psa 65:13; then, to hide oneself, Job 23:9; then, to cover with darkness, Psa 77:3; 102, title; thus it denotes the state of mind when darkness seems to be in the way - a way of calamity, trouble, sorrow; of weakness, faintness, feebleness. Here it would seem from the connection to refer to the exhaustion produced by the want of food and drink.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble - The language in this verse is repeated in this psalm in Psa 107:13, Psa 107:19, Psa 107:28 - as if this were the main subject of the psalm, that when the people of God in different circumstances, or under various forms of trouble, call upon God, he hears them and delivers them.
And he delivered them out of their distresses - The verb from which the noun used here is derived has the idea of being "narrow, straitened, compressed." Hence, the word comes to be used in the sense of distress of any kind - as if one were pressed down, or compressed painfully in a narrow space.
And he led them forth by the right way - A literal version, if the term necessary to express it might be allowable, would be," He wayed them in a straight way;" he made a way for them, and that was a straight way. He conducted them in the most direct path to the land to which they were going.
That they might go to a city of habitation - A city where they might permanently dwell. The word "city" here seems to be used in the sense of "abode;" and the idea is, that he led them to a land where they might cease to be wanderers, and might find a settled home.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness - More literally, "Let such - or, let these - praise the Lord for his goodness," the word "men" having been supplied by our translators. Yet it is not improper to suppose that a wider range is intended than would be denoted if it were confined to those who had then been delivered. It was evidently designed to impress the minds of those who might use this psalm in their devotions; and the idea is, that the deliverance then vouchsafed to the people of God in their troubles should lead all to praise and adore him. Such a surprising interposition suggested an important lesson in regard to God, applicable to all people; and should lead all to praise him in view of the trait of character thus manifested, as that of a God who hears prayer when his people are in trouble, and who can make a straight path before them when they are in danger of being lost, and who can conduct them through the wilderness - the waste places - of this world, as he did his people across the pathless sands of the desert. The true use of all history is to teach us lessons about God.
And for his wonderful works to the children of men - His doings as suited to excite wonder and admiration. His dealings with his people in the desert furnished one illustration of this; the world is full of such illustrations. The desire expressed in this verse suggests the great lesson of the psalm.
For he satisfieth the longing soul - This does not mean - what is indeed true in itself - that God has made provision for the "soul" of man, and satisfies it when it longs or pants for its needed supply, but the reference is to the creatures of God - the living things that he has made; and the idea is, that he has made provision for their needs. He gives them food and drink, so that their needs are met. The "particular" reference here, however, in the word rendered "longing" is to "thirst," as contradistinguished from the other member of the verse, where the reference is to "hunger." So the word is used in Isa 29:8.
And filleth the hungry soul with goodness - Supplies the needs of the hungry with "good;" that is, with that which is "good" for it; which meets its needs, and imparts strength and happiness.
Such as sit in darkness - The reference in these verses Psa 107:10-14 is evidently to the children of Israel, when in Babylon; and the design is, to show the goodness of God to them in their trouble, and the occasion which they had for praising him on that account. To "sit in darkness" is significant of great ignorance (compare the notes at Luk 1:79; notes at Isa 9:2); or of affliction and trouble, as darkness is an emblem of calamity.
And in the shadow of death - A dark, gloomy, chilly shade such as "Death" would cast if he stood between us and the light. See the notes at Job 3:5; compare Job 10:21; Psa 23:4; Psa 44:19; Isa 9:2. The reference is to the sad and gloomy residence of the Hebrews in the land of captivity.
Being bound in affliction and iron - Captives and slaves. Compare Psa 105:18.
Because they rebelled against the words of God - The commands of God. They did not keep his commandments. Their captivity was produced by national disobedience. See the notes at Dan 9:5-8.
And contemned the counsel - They despised the instructions of God. The law of God, at the same time that it "is" law, is of the nature of "counsel," since it is indicative of what God regards as wise and good, and since it is the best "advice" that God can give to people. A just and righteous law, while it involves "obligation" to obey it, is also the best counsel that can be given, and implies that the highest "wisdom" would be shown in being obedient to it. God will "command" nothing which he would not "advise," and which it would not be "wisdom" to obey.
Of the Most High - Of God, who, being supreme, has a right to rule over all, and to require that his laws shall be obeyed.
Therefore he brought down their heart - Their pride; their self-sufficiency; their self-complacency. They thought that they could do without God; they relied on their own resources, and were self-satisfied; but God showed them that all this was vain, and humbled them, as he often does the proud, in the dust.
With labour - With trouble; with affliction; with disappointment; with reverses; with sorrow. The Hebrew word - עמל ‛âmâl - would include all this. Compare Gen 41:51; Deu 26:7; Job 3:10; Job 16:2.
They fell down - They, as it were, "stumbled" - for so the Hebrew word means. They were walking along with a haughty air, and a high look, and suddenly they stumbled and fell.
And there was none to help - No God to interpose; no nation to befriend them; no human arm to be stretched out for their deliverance. God gave them up, helpless, to the just consequences of their folly and wickedness.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble - Compare Dan. 9. This is repeated in the psalm in Psa 107:6, Psa 107:13, Psa 107:19, Psa 107:28 - in all the divisions of the psalm except the last. See the notes at Psa 107:6.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death - From their captivity; from calamity which seemed to be as gloomy as the shadow of death.
And brake their bands in sunder - Delivered them from their bondage, as if the bands of a prisoner or captive were suddenly broken.
Oh that men would praise ... - See the notes at Psa 107:8. The idea here is that the things just referred to "should" call forth expressions of gratitude to God. The immediate reference is to those who had partaken of these proofs of the divine goodness, but still the language is so general as to be applicable to all classes of people.
For he hath broken the gates of brass - The immediate "reason" here given for praising the Lord is that he had "broken the gates of brass," continuing the thought from Psa 107:10-14. In the previous part of the psalm, in giving a reason for praising the Lord, the fact that he feeds the hungry was selected Psa 107:9 because in the preceding part the allusion was to the sufferings of hunger and thirst Psa 107:4-5; here the fact that he had broken the gates of brass is selected, because the allusion in the immediately preceding verses Psa 107:12-14 was to their imprisonment. In the construction of the psalm there is great regularity. The "gates of brass" refer probably to Babylon; and the idea is, that their deliverance had been as if the brass gates of that great city had been broken down to give them free egress from their captivity. Thus the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus is announced in similar language: "I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron," Isa 45:2. See the notes at that passage.
Fools, because of their transgression - Wicked people, considered as fools, because they "are" transgressors. Compare Psa 14:1, note; Psa 73:3, note; Psa 75:4, note. The immediate allusion here, probably, is to the Jews, who had been so wicked and so supremely foolish in violating the commands of God, and making it necessary to bring upon them as a punishment the captivity at Babylon; but the language is made general because it will with equal propriety describe the conduct of all wicked people. There is nothing more foolish than an act of wickedness; there is no wisdom equal to that of obeying God.
And because of their iniquities, are afflicted - A more literal rendering of this verse would be, "Fools from the way of their transgressions (that is, by their course of transgression), and by their iniquities, afflict themselves." The idea is, that it is "in the very line" of their trangressions; or, that they "bring it upon themselves." All punishment is in fact in the line of the offence; that is, sin leads directly to it; or, in other words, if a man treads along in the path of sin, he will come to this result - to punishment. Punishment is not arbitrary on the part of God, and it is not of the nature of a mere direct infliction from his "hand." It is what people mete out to themselves, and what they might have avoided if they had chosen to do so.
Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat - All food; all that is to be eaten. The word rendered "abhorreth" is a word which is used with reference to anything that is abominable or loathsome; that from which we turn away with disgust. The language is expressive of sickness, when we loathe all food.
And they draw near unto the gates of death - They are sick, and are ready to die. The reference is to the under world - the world where the dead are supposed to dwell. This is represented here as a city which is entered through gates. See the notes at Psa 9:13.
Then they cry unto the Lord... - See Psa 107:6, note; Psa 107:13, note. The meaning here is, that if the "sick" cry to the Lord, he hears them, and delivers them. This cannot mean that it "always" occurs, but it occurs "so often" as to show that God can and does interpose to save; "so often" as to encourage us thus to call upon him when we are sick; "so often" as to lay a proper foundation for praise. Many persons - very many - can recall such instances in their own lives, when they seemed to all human appearance to be drawing near to the gates of death, and when, in connection with prayer, their disease took a favorable turn, and they were restored again to health. Compare the notes at Jam 5:14-15.
He sent his word, and healed them - He did it by a word; it was necessary for him merely to give a command, and the disease left them. So it was in the life of the Saviour, who often healed the sick by a "word" Mat 8:8; Luk 7:7; and so now restoration from disease often seems to be accomplished as if some word had been spoken by one who had power, commanding the disease to depart. In all cases, also, whatever means may be used, healing power comes from God, and is under his control. Compare Psa 30:2.
And delivered them from their destructions - From what would have destroyed them, if it had not been checked and removed.
Oh that men... - See the notes at Psa 107:8. Who can help joining in this wish, that those who have been restored from sickness, who have been raised up from the borders of the grave, "would" praise God for it! Who can help wishing that they had the feelings of Hezekiah when he was saved from the sickness which threatened his life - saved by the direct and manifest interposition of God - when he said Isa 38:20, "The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments, all the days of our life in the house of the Lord!" Who can help wishing that people everywhere would see in such interpositions the proof of the benevolence of God, and would thank him that he has not forgotten guilty and suffering people!
And let them sacrifice - As in the cases before Psa 107:9, Psa 107:16, this is connected with the preceding part of the psalm, or is a "continuation" of the thought which had been interrupted by the prayer, "Oh that men would praise the Lord." The particular idea here is, that they who have been sick, and who have been restored to health, should offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving; or, that they are the proper persons to praise the Lord. The word "sacrifice" here is used in a large sense to denote worship or adoration. Let them worship God with thanks or praises.
The sacrifices of thanksgiving - Hebrew, "praise." Let them offer praise.
And declare his works with rejoicing - Margin, as in Hebrew, "singing." Let them set forth his "doings" in songs. Compare Psa 9:11.
They that go down to the sea in ships - The scene here changes again. From those that wander in the desert - from those who are in prison - from those who are sick - the eye of the psalmist turns to those who encounter the perils of the ocean, and he finds there occasion for praise to God. The phrase "go down" or "descend" is employed here because the sea is lower than the land, and because we "descend" when we embark on board of a vessel.
That do business ... - Whose business or employment is on the ocean.
These see the works of the Lord - They - sailors - have a special opportunity to see the works of God. They see manifestations of his power which are not seen on the land. They see things which seem to come "directly" from God; which are "immediately" produced by him - not as the things which occur on the land, which are the result of "growth," and which are slowly developed. They seem in the solitariness and grandeur of the ocean to stand more directly in the presence of the great God.
And his wonders in the deep - In the abyss; in that which is distinguished for its "depth," as the mountains are for their height. Compare Psa 148:7.
For he commandeth - Hebrew, "he says;" that is, He speaks the word, and it is done. The mere expression of his will raises up the storm, and throws the sea into commotion.
And raiseth the stormy wind - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Maketh to stand." The "stormy wind" is literally, the wind of the tempest.
Which lifteth up the waves thereof - The waves of the ocean. The wind seems to take them up, and lift them on high.
They mount up to the heaven - The mariners. That it refers to the seamen, and not to the waves, is apparent from the close of the verse: "their soul is melted."
They go down again to the depths - The word here is different from that used in Psa 107:24, and rendered "deep," but the idea is essentially the same. It is the sea or ocean considered as "deep;" as bottomless. The idea here is, that they seem to descend into the very depths of the ocean.
Their soul is melted because of trouble - It seems to dissolve; it loses all its vigor; it faints. The word used - מוג mûg - means to melt; to flow down; to soften; and is then applied to the heart or mind that loses its courage or vigor by fear or terror. Exo 15:15; Jos 2:9, Jos 2:24; Nah 1:5. The "trouble" here referred to is that which arises from fear and danger.
They reel to and fro - The word used here - חגג châgag - means to dance as in a circle; then, to reel, or be giddy as drunkards are.
And stagger ... - This word means to move to and fro; to waver; to vacillate; and it is then applied to a man who cannot walk steadily - a drunkard. So the vessel, with the mariners on board, seems to stagger and reel in the storm.
And are at their wit's end - Margin, as in Hebrew, "All their wisdom is swallowed up." That is, They have no skill to guide the vessel. All that has been done by the wisdom of naval architecture in constructing it, and all that has been derived from experience in navigating the ocean, seems now to be useless. They are at the mercy of the winds and waves; they are dependent wholly on God; they can now only cry to him to save them. Often this occurs in a storm at sea, when the most skillful and experienced seaman feels that he can do no more.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble ... - See Psa 107:6, Psa 107:13, Psa 107:19. Sailors pray. If they do not pray elsewhere, they often do in a storm, when in danger of being wrecked and lost. A storm at sea brings hundreds on their knees who never prayed before - for they feel that their only help is in God, and that it is a fearful thing to die. Then they do "right." They do what "ought" to be done. But they do then only what people ought always to do, for it is as plain a duty to pray when we are in safety as when we are in danger; when sailing on a smooth sea as in a storm; when on the land as on the ocean. People anywhere, and at any time may die; and people everywhere and at all times "should," therefore, call upon God. Storms, tempests, fire, disease, and danger, only impel people to do what they should do always from higher motives, and when their motives will be likely to be more disinterested and pure.
He maketh the storm a calm - God does this, and God only can do it. The fact, therefore, that Jesus did it Mat 8:26, proves that he was divine. There can be no more striking proof of divine power than the ability to calm the raging waves of the ocean by a word. This is literally, "He places the tempest to silence."
So that the waves thereof are still - Are lulled. The ocean ceases to be agitated, and the surface becomes smooth. Nothing is more still than the ocean in a calm. Not a breath of air seems to stir; not a ripple agitates the surface of the sea; the sails of the vessel hang loose, and even the vessel seems to be perfectly at rest: "As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean." So God can calm down the tempest of the soul. He can make the mind which was heaving and tossed, like the ocean, with anguish on account of guilt, and which trembled in view of the coming judgment, as calm as the ocean is when in its state of perfect repose. God can do "this," and none "but" God can do it; and as Jesus thus stills the agitation of the guilty soul, as he did the waves of the sea, "this" proves also that he is divine.
Then are they glad because they be quiet - Because the storm subsides, and they have the feeling of safety from danger.
So he bringeth them - Rather, "And he guides them."
Unto their desired haven - The word translated "haven" occurs nowhere else. By some it is rendered "shore," but the word "haven" or "port" seems best to express the sense of the passage: "the haven of their desire." No one can appreciate this fully who has not been long at sea, and who has not experienced the intense desire once more to see "land." Even then no one experiences it fully who has not some object there which he desires to see, or to accomplish. If his business is there, if it is his native land, if his father, mother, wife, or children are there, if it is the place of his father's sepulchre, and the place where he was born and reared, how intense becomes the desire to see that land once more. So God brings his people to rest in heaven - their haven, their home. After being tossed by the tempests of life, after encountering its storms and dangers, after the fear and agitation experienced, he stills the storms; the way becomes smooth and calm; the end of the voyage is serene; and death is like the ship smoothly gliding into port with its sails all set. The soul enters heaven - the desired haven - the port that was longed for; a safe haven, beyond all storms or tempests; an eternal home!
Oh that men... - See Psa 107:8, note; Psa 107:15, note; Psa 107:21, note. Assuredly they who are thus delivered from the dangers of the sea should praise the Lord; they who have seen the wonders of God on the great ocean should "never" forget God.
Let them exalt him also - Let them lift up his name on high; let them make it conspicuous. The word means "to lift up," and is applied to praise because we thus, as it were, "lift up" God, or make him conspicuous.
In the congregation of the people - Not merely in private, but in public. As his doings are public and conspicuous - as they pertain to all - people should acknowledge him in their public capacity, or when assembled together.
And praise him in the assembly of the elders - The old men; the men eminent for experience and wisdom. Perhaps this refers to those who occupied some official position in public worship, as appointed to preside over that worship, and to conduct it. We know that the arrangement was early made to appoint a body of aged men to preside over the assemblies for worship, and to direct the devotions of the people. In the presence of such venerable and venerated men, they are here exhorted to give due praise to God. The "reason" for this seems to be partly drawn from what had been referred to in the previous verses - the power of God as seen in stilling the tempests of the ocean; and partly from what is immediately referred to - the blessing of God on the labors of man in cultivating the earth.
He turneth rivers into a wilderness - He makes great changes in the earth; he shows that he has absolute dominion over it. See the notes at Isa 44:26-27. On the word "wilderness," see the notes at Psa 107:4. The point here is, that God had such control over nature that he could make the bed of a river dry and barren as the rocky or sandy desert. He could effectually dry up the stream, and make it so dry and parched that nothing would grow but the most stunted shrubs, such as were found in the waste and sandy desert.
And the water-springs into dry ground - The very fountains of the rivers: not only drying up the river itself by leading it off into burning wastes where it would be evaporated by the heat, or lost in the sand - but so directly affecting the "sources" of the streams as to make them dry.
A fruitful land - Hebrew, A land of fruit. That is, a land that would produce abundance. The word "fruit" here is not used in the limited sense in which we now employ it, but means any productions of the earth.
Into barrenness - Margin, as in Hebrew, "saltness." The word is used to denote a barren soil, because where salt "abounds" the soil "is" barren. Thus it is around the Dead Sea. Compare Job 39:6; Jer 17:6. See also Virg. Geor. II. 238, "Salsa ... tellus - frugibus infelix;" Pliny, Hist. Nat. 31. 7; Bochart, Hieroz. t. i., p. 872.
For the wickedness of them that dwell therein - As he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; probably alluding to that.
He turneth the wilderness into a standing water - A pool; a lake. See the notes at Isa 35:6-7.
And dry ground into water-springs - Not merely watering it with rain from heaven, but causing gushing fountains to break forth, and to flow continually, diffusing fertility and beauty everywhere.
And there he maketh the hungry to dwell - Those who were in want; those who would have perished. It is not necessary to refer this to any particular case. It is a general statement, pertaining to changes which God makes upon the earth, as great as if he "should" thus convert a desert into a fruitful field - a barren waste into a land abounding in springs of water; as if he should conduct there a company of famished men, and provide for them food in abundance.
That they may prepare a city for habitation - A permanent dwelling-place for man.
And sow the fields, and plant vineyards - Cultivate the earth. The culture of the vine was an important feature in agriculture in Palestine, and hence, it is made so prominent here.
Which may yield fruits of increase - The fruits which the earth produces.
He blesseth them also - In the manner immediately specified.
So that they are multiplied greatly - This was regarded as one of the highest blessings which God could confer, and hence, it was so often promised by him to the patriarchs, as a proof of his favor, that their seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand upon the sea-shore. Gen 13:16; Gen 22:17; Gen 26:4; Gen 32:12.
And suffereth not their cattle to decrease - The keeping of herds of cattle was also an important point in husbandry, and hence, it was a blessing that they were made to increase, and that they were kept from the diseases to which cattle are subject.
Again, they are minished ... - literally, "And they are made to decrease." That is - all is in the hand of God. He rules and directs all things. If there is prosperity, it comes from him; if there are reverses, they occur under his hand. People are not always prosperous. There are changes, misfortunes, disappointments, sorrows. God so deals with the race as in the bests manner to secure the recognition of himself: not always sending prosperity, lest people should regard it as a thing of course, and forget that it comes from him; and not making the course of life uniformly that of disappointment and sorrow, lest they should feel that there is no God presiding over human affairs. He visits now with prosperity, and now with adversity; now with success, and now with reverses, showing that his agency is constant, and that people are wholly dependent on him. In existing circumstances - since man is what he is - it is better that there should be alternations, reverses, and changes, than that there should be a uniform course.
Through oppression - Anything that "presses" or "straitens."
Affliction - Evil; here, in the sense of calamity.
And sorrow - Anguish, pain: of body or mind.
He poureth contempt upon princes - He treats them as if they were common people; he pays no regard in his providence to their station and rank. They are subjected to the same needs as others; they meet with reverses like others; they become captives like others; they sicken and die like others; they are laid in the grave like others; and, with the same offensiveness, they turn back to dust. Between monarchs and their subjects, masters and their slaves, mistresses and their handmaidens, rich men and poor men, beauty and deformity, there is no distinction in the pains of sickness, in the pangs of dying, in the loathsomeness of the grave. The process of corruption goes on in the most splendid coffin, and beneath the most costly monument which art and wealth can rear, as well as in the plainest coffin, and in the grave marked by no stone or memorial. What can more strikingly show "contempt" for the trappings of royalty, for the adornings of wealth, for the stars and garters of nobility, for coronets and crowns, for the diamonds, the pearls, and the gold that decorate beauty, than that which occurs "in a grave!" The very language used here, alike in the Hebrew and in our translation, is found in Job 12:21. The word rendered "princes" properly means "willing, voluntary, prompt;" and is then applied to the generous, to the noble-minded, to those who give liberally. It then denotes one of noble rank, as the idea of rank in the mind of the Orientals was closely connected with the notion of liberality in giving. Thus it comes to demote one of noble birth, and might be applied to any of exalted rank.
And causeth them to wander in the wilderness - Margin, "void place." The Hebrew word - תהו tôhû - means properly wasteness, desolateness; emptiness, vanity. See Gen 1:2; Job 26:7; Isa 41:29; Isa 44:9; Isa 49:4. Here it means an empty, uninhabited place; a place where there is no path to guide; a land of desolation. The reference seems to be to the world beyond the grave; the land of shadows and night. Compare the notes at Job 10:21-22.
Where there is no way - literally, "no way." That is, no well-trodden path. All must soon go to that pathless world.
Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction - Margin, "after." The sense is not materially different. The idea is, that while he thus humbles princes, bringing them down from their lofty position, he has respect to the poor in their condition of suffering and trial, and raises them from that depressed state, and gives them prosperity. Thus he orders the circumstances of people, and shows his sovereignty.
And maketh him families like flock - Numerous as a flock. Large families were accounted a blessing among the Hebrews. See the notes at Psa 107:38.
The righteous shall see it, and rejoice - Shall see all these changes; shall see in their own case the proofs of the divine favor. They shall thus have occasion for praise.
And all iniquity shall stop her mouth - The wicked shall be silenced; they shall be dumb. The righteous shall find, in these varied scenes, occasion for praise and joy; the wicked shall be able to find no occasion for complaining or murmuring. The divine dealings shall be manifestly so just, and so worthy of universal approval, that, even though the wicked are disposed to complain against God, they will be able to find nothing which will justify them in such complaints.
Whoso is wise - All who are truly wise. That is, all who have a proper understanding of things, or who are disposed to look at them aright.
And will observe these things - Will attentively consider them; will reason upon them correctly; will draw just conclusions from them; will allow them to produce their "proper" impression on the mind. The meaning is, that these things would not be understood at a glance, or by a hasty and cursory observation, but that all who would take time to study them would see in them such proofs of wisdom and goodness that they could not fail to come to the conclusion that God is worthy of confidence and love.
Even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord - They will perceive that God is a merciful Being; that he seeks the welfare of the universe; that he desires the good of all; that the whole system is so arranged as to be adapted to secure the greatest good in the universe. No one can study the works of God, or mark the events of his providence, without perceiving that there are "innumerable" arrangements which have no other end than to produce happiness; which can be explained only on the supposition that God is a benevolent Being; which would not exist under the government of a malevolent being. And, although there are things which seem to be arrangements to cause suffering, and although sin and misery have been allowed to come into the world, yet we are not in circumstances to enable us to show that, in some way, these may not be consistent with a desire to promote the happiness of the universe, or that there may not be some explanation, at prosent too high for us, which will show that the principle of benevolence is applicable to all the works of God. Meantime, where we can - as we can in numberless cases - see the proofs of benevolence, let us praise God; where we cannot, let us silently trust him, and believe that there will yet be some way in which we may see this as the angels now see it, and, like them, praise him for what now seems to us to be dark and incomprehensible. There is an "eternity" before us in which to study the works of God, and it would not be strange if in that eternity we may learn things about God which we cannot understand now, or if in that eternity things now to us as dark as midnight may be made clear as noonday. How many things incomprehensible to us in childhood, become clear in riper years!