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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


This psalm consists of two parts. Whoever was its author, he exhorts the people to remember the unparalleled grace of God towards them, in delivering them by his outstretched arm, and choosing them to be a kingdom of priests, and a peculiar Church to himself; that thus they may be excited devoutly to honor their deliverer, both by celebrating his praises, and by leading a holy life. God is next introduced as upbraiding them for their ingratitude in continuing obstinately to refuse to submit to the yoke of the law, notwithstanding the tender and gracious manner in which he allured them to himself.

To the chief musician upon Gittith. A Psalm of Asaph.  401

Psalm 81:1-3

1. Sing joyfully to God our strength sing with a loud voice: to the God of Jacob. 2. Raise a song,  402 and bring forth the tabret, the pleasant harp, with the psaltery.  403 3. Sound the trumpet at the new moon; at the time appointed on the day of our sacrifice.  404 4. For this is a statute to Israel, a law to the God of Jacob. 5. He set it for a testimony in Joseph, when he went forth over [or above] the land of Egypt: I heard a language which I understood not. 6. I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the pots.  405 7. Thou didst cry in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah. Selah.


1 Sing joyfully to God our strength. This psalm, it is probable, was appointed to be sung on the festival days on which the Jews kept their solemn assemblies. In the exordium, there is set forth the order of worship which God had enjoined. They were not to stand deaf and dumb at the tabernacle; for the service of God does not consist in indolence, nor in cold and empty ceremonies; but they were, by such exercises as are here prescribed, to cherish among themselves the unity of faith; to make an open profession of their piety; to stir up themselves to continual progress therein; to endeavor to join, with one accord, in praising God; and, in short, to continue steadfast in the sacred covenant by which God had adopted them to himself.

Such having been the use of festival days under the law, we may conclude, that whenever true believers assemble together at the present day, the end which they ought to have in view is to employ themselves in the exercises of religion — to call to their remembrance the benefits which they have received from God — to make progress in the knowledge of his word — and to testify the oneness of their faith. Men only mock God by presenting to him vain and unprofitable ceremonies, unless the doctrine of faith go before, stirring them up to call upon God; and unless, also, the remembrance of his benefits furnish matter of praise. Yea, rather it is a profanation of his name, when people quench the light of divine truth, and satisfy themselves with performing mere outward service. Accordingly, the faithful are here not only enjoined to come together to the tabernacle, but are also taught the end for which they are to assemble there, which is, that the free and gracious covenant which God has made with them may be brought anew to their remembrance, for increasing their faith and piety, that thus the benefits which they have received from him may be celebrated, and their hearts thereby moved to thanksgiving. With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves. Under the new moon, by the figure synecdoche, is comprehended all the other high feasts. Sacrifices were daily offered; but the days on which the faithful met together at the tabernacle, according to the express appointment of the law, are called, by way of eminence, the days of sacrifice.

4 For this is a statute to Israel. To give the more effect to the preceding exhortation, it is here taught that this law or ordinance had been prescribed to God’s ancient people, for the purpose of ratifying the everlasting covenant. And as in covenants there is a mutual agreement between the parties, it is declared that this statute was given to Israel, and that God, in contracting, reserved this for himself, as a right to which he was justly entitled.

5 He set it for a testimony in Joseph. The Hebrew word עדוה, eduth, is by some derived from עדה, adah, which signifies to adorn; and they translate it the honor or ornament of Joseph. But it rather comes from the verb עוד, ud, to testify; and the scope of the passage requires that it should be translated a testimony or covenant. Farther, when Joseph is named in particular, there is a reference to the first original of the chosen people, when, after the death of Jacob, the twelve tribes were distinguished. As the sovereignty had not at that time come to the tribe of Judah, and as Reuben had fallen from his right of primogeniture, the posterity of Joseph justly had the pre-eminence, on account of the benefits which he had been instrumental in conferring; having been the father and nourisher of his brethren and of the whole nation. Moreover, the sacredness of the covenant is commended by a special appeal to the fact, that at the time when God stipulated that this honor should be yielded to him, he had purchased that people to himself; as if it had been said, The condition upon which the people were delivered was, that they should assemble together on the days appointed for renewing the remembrance of the grace which had been exercised towards them. The words when he went forth will apply equally to God and to the people.  406 It is a common form of expression to speak of God as going forth before his people, as a shepherd goes before his flock, or as a general before his army. When it is said ABOVE the land of Egypt, some think there is an allusion to the situation of Judea, which was higher than that of Egypt; so that those who come out of Egypt to Judea ascend. But I understand the language as meaning simply, that the people, having God for their conductor, passed freely and without obstruction through the land of Egypt, the inhabitants having been so discouraged and dismayed as not to dare to make any opposition to their passage.  407 The prophet enhances the blessing of their deliverance, when, speaking in the name of the whole people, he affirms that he had been rescued from profound barbarism: I heard a language which I understood not.  408 Nothing is more disagreeable than to sojourn among a people with whom we can hold no communication by language, which is the chief bond of society. Language being, as it were, the image and mirror of the mind, those who cannot employ it in their mutual intercourse are no less strangers to one another than the wild beasts of the forest. When the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 33:19) intends to denounce a very dreadful punishment, he says, “Thou shalt see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.” Thus the people acknowledge that the benefit which God conferred was so much the more to be valued, because they were delivered from the Egyptians, with whose language they were unacquainted.  409

6 I have removed his shoulder from the burden. Here God begins to recount the benefits which he had bestowed upon the Israelites, and the many ways in which he had laid them under obligations to him. The more galling the bondage was from which they had been delivered, the more desirable and precious was their liberty. When, therefore, it is affirmed that their burdens were so heavy that they stooped under them, and that they were doomed to the labor of making bricks, and to other slavish and toilsome occupations, the comparison of this their first state with their condition afterwards is introduced to illustrate the more strikingly the greatness of the blessing of their deliverance. Let us now apply this to ourselves, and elevate our minds to a higher subject, of which it was an image. As God has not only withdrawn our shoulders from a burden of brick, and not only removed our hands from the kilns, but has also redeemed us from the cruel and miserable tyranny of Satan, and drawn us from the depths of hell, the obligations under which we lie to him are of a much more strict and sacred kind than those under which he had brought his ancient people.

7 Thou didst cry in trouble, and I delivered thee. Here the same subject is prosecuted. By their crying when they were in distress, I understand the prayers which they then offered to God. It sometimes happens that those who are reduced to extremity bewail their calamities with confused crying; but as this afflicted people still had in them some remains of godliness, and as they had not forgotten the promise made to their fathers, I have no doubt that they directed their prayers to God. Even men without religion, who never think of calling upon God, when they are under the pressure of any great calamity, are moved by a secret instinct of nature to have recourse to Him. This renders it the more probable that the promise was, as it were, a schoolmaster to the Israelites, leading them to look to God. As no man sincerely calls upon Him but he who trusts in him for help; this crying ought the more effectually to have convinced them that it was their duty to ascribe to Him alone the deliverance which was offered them. By the secret place of thunder some, in my opinion, with too much refinement of interpretation, understand that God by thundering rendered the groanings of the people inaudible to the Egyptians, that by hearing them the Egyptians might not become the more exasperated. But the meaning simply is, that the people were heard in a secret and wonderful manner, while, at the same time, manifest tokens were given by which the Israelites might be satisfied that they were succoured by the Divine hand. God, it is true, was not seen by them face to face; but the thunder was an evident indication of his secret presence among them.  410 To make them prize more highly this benefit, God upbraidingly tells them that they were unworthy of it, having given such a manifest proof at the waters of Meribah,  411 that they were of a wicked and perverse disposition, Ex 17:7. Your wickedness, as if he had said, having at that time so openly shown itself, surely it must from this be incontrovertible that my favor to you did not proceed from any regard to your good desert. This rebuke is not less applicable to us than to the Israelites; for God not only heard our groanings when we were afflicted under the tyranny of Satan, but before we were born appointed his only begotten Son to be the price of our redemption; and afterwards, when we were his enemies, he called us to be partakers of his grace, illuminating our minds by his gospel and his Holy Spirit; while we, notwithstanding, continue to indulge in murmuring, yea, even proudly rebel against Him.

Psalm 81:8-12

8. Hear, O my people! and I will protest to thee:  412 O Israel! if thou wilt hearken to me. 9. Let there be no strange god in thee: neither worship thou a strange god. 10. I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11. But my people hearkened not to my voice, and Israel would none of me 12. And I gave them up to the thoughts  413 of their own heart: they shall walk in their own counsels.


8 Hear, O my people! The more effectually to touch the hearts of the people, God is here invested with the character of a teacher, and introduced as speaking familiarly in the midst of the congregation; and this is done for the purpose of instructing them, that all assemblies are unprofitable and trifling in which the voice of God stirring up men to faith and true godliness is not uttered. But let us proceed to the consideration of the words. This preface was intended to teach in a few words, that festival days were not purely and rightly observed unless the people listened with attention to the voice of God. In order to consecrate their hands, feet, eyes, and their whole persons, to his service, it behoved them, in the first place, to open their ears to his voice. Thus the lesson is taught that he acknowledges as his servants those only who are disposed to become learners. By the word protest he intimates that he covenants after a solemn manner, thereby to give his words the greater authority. The clause which follows, O Israel! if thou wilt hearken to me, is, I presume, an abrupt expression, similar to what is frequently employed in pathetic discourses, the ellipse serving to express the greater earnestness. Some connect it with the following verse in this way, O Israel! if thou wilt hearken to me, there will be no strange god in thee But it is rather to be viewed as the language of regret on the part of God. He indirectly intimates that he distrusts this obstinate and rebellious people, and can hardly indulge the hope that they will prove obedient and teachable.

9 Let there be no strange god  414 in thee. Here there is propounded the leading article of the covenant, and almost the whole sum of it, which is, that God alone must have the pre-eminence. Some may prefer this explanation: O Israel! if thou wilt hearken to me, there is nothing which I more strictly require or demand from thee than that thou shouldst be contented with me alone, and that thou shouldst not seek after strange gods: and of this opinion I am far from disapproving. God by this language undoubtedly confirms the truth which he so frequently inculcates elsewhere in the law and the prophets, that he is so jealous a God as not to allow another to be a partaker of the honor to which he alone is entitled. But at the same time he teaches us that true religious worship begins with obedience. The order which Moses observes is different, Exod. 20:2, 4, and Deut. 5:6, 8. In these passages God sets out with declaring that he is the God of Israel; and then he forbids them to make for themselves any new gods. But here the prohibition is put first, and then the reason of it is subjoined, which is, that the people ought to be abundantly satisfied with the God who had purchased them to be his people. Perhaps also he sets this in the front to prepare the way for his obtaining the throne of their hearts. He would first withdraw the people from superstitions, as these must necessarily be plucked up and cleared away before true religion can take root in our hearts.

10. I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide. God, by making mention of the deliverance which he had wrought for the people, put a bridle upon those whom he had taken under his protection, by which he might hold them bound to his service; and now he assures them, that with respect to the time to come, he had an abundant supply of all blessings with which to fill and satisfy their desires. The three arguments which he employs to induce the Israelites to adhere exclusively to him, and by which he shows them how wickedly and impiously they would act in turning aside from him, and having recourse to strange gods, are worthy of special attention. The first is, that he is Jehovah. By the word Jehovah, he asserts his claims as God by nature, and declares, that it is beyond the power of man to make new gods. When he says I am Jehovah, the pronoun I is emphatic. The Egyptians, no doubt, pretended to worship the Creator of heaven and of earth; but their contempt of the God of Israel plainly convicted them of falsehood. Whenever men depart from Him, they adorn the idols of their own invention with His spoils, whatever the specious pretexts may be by which they attempt to vindicate themselves. After having affirmed that he is Jehovah, he proves his Godhead from the effect and experience, — from the clear and irrefragable evidence of it in his delivering his people from Egypt, and especially, from his performing at that time the promise which he had made to the fathers. This is his second argument. The power which was displayed on that occasion ought not to have been contemplated apart by itself, since it depended upon the covenant, which long before he had entered into with Abraham. By that deliverance he gave a proof not less of his veracity than of his power, and thus vindicated the praise which was due to him. The third argument is, that he offers himself to the people for the time to come; assuring them, that, provided they continue to persevere in the faith, he will be the same towards the children as the fathers experienced him to be, his goodness being inexhaustible: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. By the expression open wide, he tacitly condemns the contracted views and desires which obstruct the exercise of his beneficence. “If the people are in penury,” we may suppose him to say, “the blame is to be entirely ascribed to themselves, because their capacity is not large enough to receive the blessings of which they stand in need; or rather, because by their unbelief they reject the blessings which would flow spontaneously upon them.” He not only bids them open their mouth, but he magnifies the abundance of his grace still more highly, by intimating, that however enlarged our desires may be, there will be nothing wanting which is necessary to afford us full satisfaction. Whence it follows, that the reason why God’s blessings drop upon us in a sparing and slender manner is, because our mouth is too narrow; and the reason why others are empty and famished is, because they keep their mouth completely shut. The majority of mankind, either from disgust, or pride, or madness, refuse all the blessings which are offered them from heaven. Others, although they do not altogether reject them, yet with difficulty take in only a few small drops, because their faith is so straitened as to prevent them from receiving an abundant supply. It is a very manifest proof of the depravity of mankind, when they have no desire to know God, in order that they may embrace him, and when they are equally disinclined to rest satisfied with him. He undoubtedly here requires to be worshipped by external service; but he sets no value upon the bare name of Deity — for his majesty does not consist in two or three syllables. He rather looks to what the name imports, and is solicitous that our hope may not be withdrawn from him to other objects, or that the praise of righteousness, salvation, and all blessings, may not be transferred from him to another. In calling himself by the name Jehovah, he claims Godhead exclusively to himself, on the ground that he possesses a plenitude of all blessings with which to satisfy and fill us.

11. But my people hearkened not to my voice. God now complains, that the Israelites, whom he endeavored gently to allure to him, despised his friendly invitation; yea, that although he had for a long time continued to exhort them, they always shut their ears against his voice. It is not a rebellion of one day which he deplores: he complains, that from the very beginning they were always a stupid and hardened people, and that they continued to persevere in the same obstinacy. It is assuredly monstrous perverseness to exclude God from obtaining access to us, and to refuse to give him a hearing, when he is ready to enter into covenant with us, making the terms almost equal on both sides. To leave them no room for extenuating their guilt under the pretense of ignorance, he adds, that he was rejected with avowed and deliberate contempt: Israel would none of me. From this it is evident, that their minds were bewitched by the god of this world.

This is the reason why, as is stated in the following verse, he gave them up to the hardness of their own heart, or, as others translate it, to the thoughts of their own heart. The root שרר, shorer, from which the word rendered thoughts is derived, signifies properly the navel Accordingly, the translation is very appropriate, which takes this word either for the thoughts which are wrapped up in the hearts of men, or for the hardness which possesses the heart. It being, however, as is well known, a usual thing in the Psalms for the same thing to be twice repeated, I have preferred the word thoughts, because it follows immediately after, They shall walk in their own counsels. Besides, by these words, God testifies, that he justly punished his people, when he deprived them of good and wholesome doctrine, and gave them over to a reprobate mind. As in governing us by means of his word, he restrains us, as it were, with a bridle, and thereby prevents us from going astray after our own perverse imaginations, so, by removing his prophets from the Jews, he gave loose reins to their froward and corrupt counsels, by which they were led into devious paths. It is assuredly the most dreadful kind of punishment which can be inflicted upon us, and an evidence of the utter hopelessness of our condition, when God, holding his peace, and conniving at our perverseness, applies no remedy for bringing us to repentance and amendment. So long as he administers reproof to us, alarms us with the dread of judgment, and summons us before his tribunal, he, at the same time, calls upon us to repent. But when he sees that it is altogether lost labor to reason any longer with us, and that his admonitions have no effect, he holds his peace, and by this teaches us that he has ceased to make our salvation the object of his care. Nothing, therefore, is more to be dreaded, than for men to be so set free from the divine guidance, as recklessly to follow their own counsels, and to be dragged by Satan wherever he pleases. The words, however may be viewed in a more extensive sense, as implying that the patience of God being worn out, he left his people, who, by their desperate perverseness, had cut off all hope of their ever becoming better, to act without restraint as they chose. It is a very absurd inference which some draw from this passage, that the grace of God is bestowed equally upon all men until it is rejected. Even at that time, God, while he passed by all the rest of the world, was graciously pleased to bring the posterity of Abraham, by peculiar and exclusive privilege, into a special relation to himself. At the present day, this distinction, I admit, has been abolished, and the message of the gospel, by which God reconciles the world to himself, is common to all men. Yet we see how God stirs up godly teachers in one place rather than in another. Still the external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to himself those whom he has called. Further, as this passage teaches us, that there is no plague more deadly than for men to be left to the guidance of their own counsels, the only thing which remains for us to do is to renounce the dictates of carnal wisdom, and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 81:13-16

13. O if my people had hearkened to me! If Israel had walked in my ways! 14. I would soon have brought their enemies low, and turned my hand against their adversaries. 15. The haters of Jehovah would have lied to him, and their time should have been everlasting. 16. I  415 would have fed them with the fat of corn: and I would have satisfied thee with honey from the rock.


13. O if my people had hearkened to me! By the honorable designation which God gives to the people of Israel, He exposes the more effectually their shameful and disgraceful conduct. Their wickedness was doubly aggravated, as will appear from the consideration, that although God called them to be his people, they differed nothing from those who were the greatest strangers to him. Thus he complains by the Prophet Isaiah,

“The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib:
but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”
(Isa 1:3)

The Hebrew particle לו, lu, which I have rendered O if! is not to be understood as expressing a condition, but a wish; and therefore God, I have no doubt, like a man weeping and lamenting, cries out, O the wretchedness of this people in wilfully refusing to have their best interests carefully provided for! He assumes the character of a father, and observing, after having tried every possible means for the recovery of his children, that their condition is utterly hopeless, he uses the language of one saddened, as it were, with sighing and groaning; not that he is subject to human passions, but because he cannot otherwise express the greatness of the love which he bears towards us.  416 The Prophet seems to have borrowed this passage from the song of Moses in De 32:29, where the obstinacy of the people is bewailed in almost the same words: “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” He means tacitly to upbraid the Jews, and to impress upon their minds the truth, that their own perverseness was the only cause which prevented them from enjoying a state of great outward prosperity. If it is objected, that God in vain and without ground utters this complaint, since it was in his power to bend the stiff necks of the people, and that, when he was not pleased to do this, he had no reason to compare himself to a man deeply grieved; I answer, that he very properly makes use of this style of speaking on our account, that we may seek for the procuring cause of our misery nowhere but in ourselves. We must here beware of mingling together things which are totally different — as widely different from each other as heaven is distant from the earth. God, in coming down to us by his word, and addressing his invitations to all men without exception, disappoints nobody. All who sincerely come to him are received, and find from actual experience that they were not called in vain. At the same time, we are to trace to the fountain of the secret electing purpose of God this difference, that the word enters into the heart of some, while others only hear the sound of it. And yet there is no inconsistency in his complaining, as it were, with tears, of our folly when we do not obey him. In the invitations which he addresses to us by the external word, he shows himself to be a father; and why may he not also be understood as still representing himself under the image of a father in using this form of complaint? In Eze 18:32, he declares with the strictest regard to truth, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” provided in the interpretation of the passage we candidly and dispassionately take into view the whole scope of it. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner: How? because he would have all men turned to himself. But it is abundantly evident, that men by their own free-will cannot turn to God, until he first change their stony hearts into hearts of flesh: yea, this renovation, as Augustine judiciously observes, is a work surpassing that of the creation itself. Now what hinders God from bending and framing the hearts of all men equally in submission to him? Here modesty and sobriety must be observed, that instead of presuming to intrude into his incomprehensible decrees, we may rest contented with the revelation which he has made of his will in his word. There is the justest ground for saying that he wills the salvation of those to whom that language is addressed, (Isa 21:12,) “Come unto me, and be ye converted.” In the second part of the verse before us, we have defined what it is to hear God. To assent to what he speaks would not be enough; for hypocrites will grant at once that whatever proceeds from his mouth is true, and will affect to listen just as if an ass should bend its ears. But the clause is intended to teach us that we can only be said to hear God, when we submit ourselves to his authority.

14. I would soon have brought their enemies low. Here the Israelites are taught, that all the calamities which had befallen them were to be imputed to their own sins; for their enemies did not fight against them with any other strength than that with which they were supplied from above. God had promised that under his leading the chosen people would prove victorious over all their enemies; and now to take away all ground for charging him with violating his word, he affirms that he would not have failed to enable them to do this had he not been prevented by their sins. He doubtless intends tacitly to remind them that the victories which they had formerly achieved were not owing to their own military valor, but to Him under whose conduct they had been placed. Now, he tells them that he was not only kept back by their sins from putting forth his power to defend them, but that he was also compelled by their perverseness to rush against them with the sword in his hand, while he left their enemies to remain in undisturbed tranquillity.

15. The haters of Jehovah would have lied to him. Here the same thought is pursued, when the Israelites are informed that their enemies would have humbly submitted to their authority had not their impiety emboldened them to run to excess, when they shook off the yoke of God, and waxed wanton against him. In calling these enemies the enemies of Jehovah, it is intended to censure the folly of the Israelites in breaking the bond of the covenant made between God and them, and thereby separating themselves from him, and preventing him from forthwith engaging in war in their behalf against those who were alike their and his enemies. As earthly princes, when they are disappointed of the assistance promised by their allies, are excited to enter into terms of agreement with their enemies, and in this way avenge themselves on those who have been found to be guilty of perjury and covenant-breakers; so God declares that he had spared his own enemies, because he had been treacherously and wickedly deceived by the people of Israel. Why does he permit his avowed enemies to remain unpunished, and cease for a time to maintain his own glory, if it is not because his object is to set them in contrast with his own rebellious and disobedient people, whom, by this means, he intends to subdue? The meaning of the word כחש, cachash, which we have rendered lied, has been explained in a previous psalm  417 . It is here intimated that peace with the reprobate cannot be looked for except in so far as God restrains their rage by hidden chains. A lion shut up in an iron cage still retains his own nature, but he is kept from mangling and tearing in pieces those who are not even more than five or six feet distant from him. Thus it is with respect to the wicked. They may greedily desire our destruction; but they are unable to accomplish what their hearts are set upon; yea God humbles and abases their fierceness and arrogance, so that they put on the appearance of gentleness and meekness. The amount of the whole is, that it was the fault of the Israelites themselves that their enemies prevailed against them, and insolently triumphed over them; whereas, had they continued the humble and obedient children of God, these enemies would have been in a state of subjection to them. When it is said, their time should have been everlasting,  418 the expression is to be referred to the promises; and so must the abundance of wheat and of honey, with which they would have been fully satisfied. God had solemnly declared that he would be their protector and guardian even to the end. The change, then, which so suddenly befell them is set before them as a matter of reproach, inasmuch as they had deliberately cast away all at once their happy state. The same remarks are applicable to the fruitfulness of the land. How is it to be accounted for that they suffered hunger in the land in which God had promised them abundance of wheat and honey, but because the blessing of God had been withheld on account of their iniquity? By the fat of corn  419 is meant, metaphorically, pure grain, unless it may be thought preferable to understand it of the finest wheat. Some are of opinion that the expression, honey out of the rock, is hyperbolical, implying that honey would have flowed from the very rocks rather than that God would have failed to satisfy his people. But as it is evident from sacred history that honey was found everywhere in the hollows of the rocks  420 so long as they enjoyed the blessing of God, the meaning simply is, that the grace of God would have continued to flow in an unbroken and uniform course, had it not been interrupted by the perverseness and wickedness of the people.



There are various opinions as to the time and occasion of the composition of this psalm. Bishop Horsley observes, “It is certainly older than the time of David; for the use of Joseph’s name, in the 5th verse, as the name of the whole nation, shows that it was composed before Judah became the principal tribe, while the place of worship was in the tribe of Ephraim; that is, among Joseph’s descendants.” “This, however,” says Fry, “is not conclusive, as a psalm, whenever composed, referring to the events of those times, might use the same distinctions.” According to Walford, it “was most likely written to be sung at some celebration of the feast of the Passover, during the reign of Jehoshaphat or of Hezekiah.” But the generally received opinion is, that it was composed, in the first instance, for the feast of trumpets. This feast was celebrated on the first day of the month Tisri, which was the beginning of the Jewish year, answering to our September. It has been supposed by some, that this feast was appointed in commemoration of the creation of the world, which is conjectured to have been completed at that season of the year. The Hebrew months were lunar, and the first day of each month had its religious services, accompanied with sound of trumpets, Nu 10:10; but the feast of trumpets was kept with additional sacrifices, Le 23:24; Nu 29:1. The trumpets were blown from sunrise until sunset. It appears from the book of the Jewish Liturgy, that this psalm is still sung at that feast. “It may have been used,” observes Dr Adam Clarke, “in celebrating the feast of trumpets on the first of Tisri; the feast of tabernacles, on the fifteenth of the same month; the creation of the world; the feast of the new moons; and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt; to all which circumstances it appears to refer.”


Take a psalm. Ainsworth, Take up a psalm. Bishop Horsley says, ‘The word (psalm) must in this place denote some musical instrument.’ But, with all due deference to his Lordship, suppose a clergyman in the present day were to say to his clerk, ‘Strike up a psalm!’ (quite a similar phrase,) would the clerk understand him to mean a musical instrument? Certainly not.” — Williams.


For an account of these musical instruments, see Appendix.


Hammond translates this verse thus, “Blow the trumpet on the first day of the month, on the new moon, on the day of our feast." "The word כהדש," says he, "must here be rendered, in the beginning of the month, that so ככסה, that follows, may be rendered, as it truly signifies, in the new moon. It is true, that from הדׁש, new, הדׁש indifferently signifies the novilunium, and the first day of the month; but here, the new moon being peculiarly expressed by כסה, to avoid tautology, הדש must be rendered the new month; i.e., the first day of the month. The Syriac sets this down here most expressly, 'In the beginning or first of the month, and in the new moon;' which, meeting always together, were festival among the Jews, and so the trumpet was to be sounded thereon.” [Note: The Hebrew words and stems being discussed in this footnote require punctuation which cannot be shown using the OLBHEB font. The reader should refer to the original commentary for the actual puctuation. — sg.]


The word translated pot was, according to Kennicott, a large vessel in which the earth was mixed and worked up for making the bricks. The LXX. the Vulgate, Symmachus, Jerome, Street, Parkhurst, Ainsworth, Fry, Walford, and others, render the original word, by the basket. Parkhurst observes, that baskets might probably be employed both in carrying the earth of which the bricks were made, and also the bricks themselves.


When he went forth, etc.; i.e., When God went forth to destroy the first-born in all the land of Egypt, on account of which the passover was appointed.” — Walford.


“Going forth (על) over the land of Egypt seems to express dominion over it, which God exercised in bringing out the Israelites; and they were then in what may be called a state of superiority over the Egyptians, and went out with a high hand. Ex 14:8; Nu 33:3. And soon after that the law was given.” — Archbishop Secker


The Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and all the versions except the Chaldee, have the third person, “He heard a language which he understood not;” Doederlein reads, “I heard a voice which I understood not;” and retaining the first person, interprets the words as an abrupt exclamation of the Psalmist upon feeling himself suddenly influenced by a divine afflatus, and upon hearing an oracle addressed to him by God, which consisted of what immediately follows, from the 6th verse to the close of the psalm, and which is spoken in the person of God. This voice he heard, but he did not understand it; that is, he did not fully comprehend its design and import.


“The Egyptian language was not intelligible to the children of Jacob; for Joseph spake to his brethren by an interpreter, when he appeared as ruler of Egypt, and did not as yet choose to make himself known to them. See Ge 42:23.” — Street.


Bishop Lowth understands by “the secret place of thunder” the communication of the Israelites with God upon mount Sinai, the awfulness of which is expressed by these few words. (Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, volume 2, page 220.) Walford reads, “I answered thee by thunder, from a hidden retreat;” and he observes, that this contains “a reference to the majestic display on Sinai, where, though the symbols of the present Deity were seen and heard, the lightnings and thunders, he himself was concealed from all human view.” The only objection which can be made against interpreting this of Sinai is, that the murmuring at Meribah, Ex 17, was before the thundering on Sinai, Ex 19; whereas here the thunder is mentioned first, and then what took place at Meribah in the end of the verse. But this objection is easily removed; for in the poetical compositions of Scripture strict order is not, always observed in the narration of facts. Thus in Ps 83:9, the victory over the Midianites (Jud 7) is mentioned before that over Sisera, (Jud 4,) which was the victory first achieved.


Literally “the waters of contradiction;” מריבה, meribah, from רוב, rub, to quarrel, being a noun signifying contention, strife It is therefore fitly used as the name of the place in the desert where the Israelites quarrelled with Moses. “The local specification,” observes Bishop Mant, “as used in our Bible translation, is much more poetical than the rendering in the Common Prayer-Book, ‘the waters of strife.’” “The mention of Meribah,” says Lowth, “introduces another idea, namely, the ingratitude and contumacy of the Israelites, who appear to have been ever unmindful of the favors and indulgence of their heavenly Benefactor.”


Street reads, “and I will make a testimony with thee.” “אעידה” says he, “is in the hiphil conjugation, which frequently signifies to make or cause a thing to be made. The ark is called the ark of the testimony, ארון העדת, Ex 30:26, and the ark of the covenant, Jos 3:6, and Ex 25:21. Moses is commanded to put the testimony which God shall give him into the ark. It is plain, therefore, that the covenant and the testimony are the same.” “I will testify unto thee I will, upon all occasions, give the oracular direction, so that thou shalt have no occasion to resort to other gods, nor shall any pretended god have power to harm thee.” — Horsley


Ou, perversite, ou, durete.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the perversity, or, the hardness.” Hammond reads: “I gave them up unto the imaginations of their hearts.” Horsley: “So I gave them up to the government of their own hearts.” Fry: “And I gave them up to the desires of their heart.” Walford: “Therefore I gave them up to the purposes of their heart.”


“Heathen, or foreign god.” — Hammond.


In our English Bible it is, “He should have fed them.” The LXX., Vulgate, and Syriac versions, Green, Walford, and others, read as Calvin does, “I would have fed them.” “This is the preferable reading,” says Walford, “as the common lection introduces a too sudden change of person.”


“Nothing,” says Dr Adam Clarke on this verse, “can be more plaintive than the original: sense and sound are surprisingly united. I scruple not to say to him who understands the Hebrew, however learned, he has never found in any poet, Greek or Latin, a finer example of deep-seated grief, unable to express itself in appropriate words, without frequent interruptions of sighs and sobs, terminated with a mournful cry —

יל עמש ימע ול
וכלהי יכרדב לארשי
Yishrael-bid’ rakee-yehallekoo!

“He who can give the proper guttural pronunciation to the letter ע, ayin; and gives the ו, vau, and the י, yod, their full Asiatic sound; and does not pinch them to death by a compressed and worthless European enunciation; will at once be convinced of the propriety of this remark.”


See volume 1, page 301.


Their time, etc.: that is, the time, the continuance, the prosperity of my people, would have been durable.” — Warner.


It is an usual phrase with the Hebrews to call the most esteemed part of anything חלב, cheleb, “the fat.” The word is used with this combination in De 32:14; and is adopted again in Ps 147:14. See also Ge 45:18; Nu 18:29; and Ps 73:4. The translators of our English version have rendered it here “the finest of the wheat.”


Palestine abounded in wild bees, which, living in the crevices of rocks, and in the hollows of trees, furnished honey in great plenty. To this there are frequent allusions in Scripture. In De 32:13, Moses, speaking of God’s goodness to Israel in the song with which he closed his long and eventful career, says, “He made him suck honey out of the rock.” As an evidence of the great abundance of wild honey in that country, we may refer to 1Sa 14:25, where it is said, “And all they of the land came to a wood, and there was honey upon the ground; and when the people were come to the wood, behold the honey dropped.” In proof of the same point, reference may be also made to the fact, that a part of the food of John the Baptist in the wilderness was wild honey, which most probably he found in rocks or hollow trees. In Scripture, the country is frequently described by a familiar phrase, as “A land flowing with milk and honey;” and in Job 20:17, we meet with the strong expression of “Brooks, floods, and rivers of honey.” Palestine is still remarkable for this natural production. It may be observed, that the change of person in this last verse from the third to the first is highly poetical.

Next: Psalm 82