Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm has no title in Hebrew; and the author, and the occasion on which it was written, are alike unknown. It is general in its character, though its imagery is taken mostly from Hebrew history.
The sole design of the psalm is to excite to the praise of God; or to show reasons for that praise. As grounds or reasons for this, the psalmist refers to the fact that God is good, Psa 135:3; to the fact that he had chosen Jacob for himself, Psa 135:4; to the greatness of God as seen in the works of nature, Psa 135:5-7; to the history of the Hebrew people, Psa 135:8-12; to the inability of idols to aid, Psa 135:13-18; and, in view of all this, he calls on all classes of the people to praise the Lord, Psa 135:19-21.
Praise ye the Lord - Hebrew, Hallelu-jah. Literally, "Praise Jah," an abridged name for Yahweh. See the notes at Psa 68:4.
Praise ye the name of the Lord - The same as praising God himself.
Praise him, O ye servants of the Lord - You who are especially designated or appointed to this service, Psa 134:1.
Ye that stand in the house of the Lord - See the notes at Psa 134:1. That is, those who were appointed to conduct the services of religion, the priests and Levites.
In the courts of the house of our God - The areas, or parts assigned for different classes of worshippers around the tabernacle and the temple. See the notes at Mat 21:12; notes at Psa 92:13.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good - See Psa 107:1.
Sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant - See Psa 33:1; Psa 92:1. The idea here is, that it is a source of happiness, and that it is proper in itself.
For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself - The descendants of Jacob. He has selected them from among all the inhabitants of the earth to be his special people.
And Israel for his peculiar treasure - The word here rendered treasure, means that which is acquired; property; wealth. They were what God possessed, owned, or claimed among all the people of the earth as especially his own. He had chosen them; he had redeemed them; he had made them his own, and he regarded them with the interest with which anyone looks on his own property, the fruit of his own toil. See Exo 19:5; Deu 7:6; Deu 32:9; Kg1 8:53.
For I know - I, as the representative of Israel, and speaking in the, name of the people. This is said as the foundation or the reason for praise. It was the thorough conviction of the psalmist that God was great above all who were claimed to be gods, and that he only was worthy of worship.
That the Lord is great - See the notes at Psa 95:3.
And that our Lord is above all gods - All that are worshipped as gods.
Whatsoever the Lord pleased - God is an absolute sovereign. He has formed a plan, and has carried it out. He has made the world as he chose, and he has ordered all its arrangements according to his own pleasure. As a universal sovereign, he has a right to universal adoration. See the notes at Psa 115:3.
In heaven, and in earth ... - These are put for the universe; these are the universe. In these places - in all worlds - on the land and in the ocean - even in the profound depths of the sea, there is nothing which has not been placed there by his will, and which he has not arranged according to his eternal plan.
He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth - The word rendered vapors means literally risings; things raised up; and it may be applied, therefore, to vapors or clouds. The Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and Luther render it clouds. It is among the proofs of the divine wisdom and power that he causes them to ascend contrary to the common law which drags all things down toward the earth. The arrangement by which this is done is among the most wise and wonderful of all the works of God. See Job 26:8, note; Job 38:25-28, notes.
He maketh lightnings for the rain - To accompany the rain. See the notes at Job 28:26.
He bringeth the wind out of his treasuries - Where he has, as it were, treasured it up, to be used when there should be occasion for it. See the notes at Job 38:22.
Who smote the firstborn of Egypt - As the last and the greatest of the plagues brought upon the Egyptians; the chief and crowning judgment under which they were made willing that the children of Israel should go, and which was in fact the judgment which secured their freedom. This is selected here evidently for this reason, instead of recounting all the plagues which were brought upon the Egyptians.
Both of man and beast - Exo 11:5. Margin, as in Hebrew, From man unto beast. That is, including both; smiting both.
Who sent tokens and wonders - Tokens: that is, signs or evidences of the divine power. Wonders: things suited to impress the mind with awe; things outside of the ordinary course of events; things not produced by natural laws, but by the direct power of God. The allusion here is, of course, to the plagues of Egypt, as recorded in Exodus. See the notes at Psa 105:27-36.
Who smote great nations ... - To wit, those specified in the following verse.
Sihon king of the Amorites ... - These are specimens of what was done, or instances of the mighty kings who were subdued. It is not pretended that all were enumerated. The subjugation of these nations and kings showed the power of God, and laid the foundation for praise.
And gave their land for an heritage ... - See the notes at Psa 111:6.
Thy name, O Lord, endureth for ever - Thou art the ever-living, the unchanging God. The generations of people pass away; the kingdoms of the earth change; the idols perish, but thou art the same. The object here seems to be to bring the image or the idea of God before the mind as he was when he performed these great works, as a God interposing in behalf of his people, and as worthy of praise. The idea is that he is the same now that he was then; and as he then impressed the world with a sense of his majesty and power, and as he then interposed in behalf of his people by mighty signs and wonders, we should feel that, being an unchangeable God, he can do it now, and is now equally worthy. of confidence, adoration, and praise.
And thy memorial - Thy remembrance; the memory of thyself. That is, What thou hast done to secure a remembrance among people is of such a nature as to make the same impression to all coming time. The events were such that the memory of them should never pass away from mankind.
Throughout all generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, To generation and generation. There never will be a generation on the earth, in the latest periods, to which the memory of these things should not be transmitted.
For the Lord will judge his people - He will interpose in their behalf by his judgments, or by directing the course of events in their favor. This language is copied literally from Deu 32:36 : "For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants." It is there a part of the song of Moses after the journey through the wilderness, after smiting the kings of the Amorites and of Bashan; and when, delivered from their enemies, the Israelites had come to the borders of the promised land, Deut. 31. The language was, therefore, especially appropriate to the design of this psalm.
And he will repent himself concerning his servants - In behalf of his people. That is, he will do as if he repented, or had changed his mind. He will stay his judgments. He will not suffer his people to be destroyed. He will not permit the judgments which seemed to threaten their entire ruin to be carried out to the full. They shall be arrested midway as if God had then changed his mind. Of course, all this is language accommodated to human weakness, and to the manner of speaking among people.
The idols of the heathen are silver and gold ... - To show more fully the propriety of praising God, and him alone as God, the psalmist instituted a comparison between him and idols, showing that the gods worshipped by the pagan lacked every ground of claim to divine worship and homage. They were, after all that could be done to fashion, to decorate, and to adorn them, nothing but silver and gold, and could have no better claim to worship than silver and gold as such. They had, indeed, mouths, eyes, ears, but they could neither speak, see, hear, nor breathe. The passage here is substantially the same as in Psa 115:4-8; and the one was evidently copied from the other, though in the latter the description is in some respects amplified; but which was the original it is impossible to determine. See the notes at that passage.
Bless the Lord, O house of Israel ... - This passage, also, is evidently an imitation of the passage in Psa 115:9-13. The form in Ps. 115, however, is rather an exhortation to trust in the Lord, and an assurance that God would bless the classes spoken of, than a call on them to bless the Lord. Still the same classes of persons are referred to; the house of Israel; the house of Aaron; and those who feared the Lord. The passage needs no further illustration than what is found in the notes at Psa 115:9-13. It is an earnest call on all classes of the people to bless and praise the Lord. It is language expressive of overflowing joy; the utterance of a heart full of exalted conceptions of the majesty, the glory, and the mercy of God; of a heart which feels to the utmost the fitness of praise, and desires that all classes of people - priests and people - that all created things should unite in the praise of Yahweh. Who, in reading the psalm, can fail to catch the feelings of the psalmist, and to say Amen and amen!