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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 115

Psalms 115

After an Introduction, Psalms 115:1, in which the Lord is called upon to vindicate the honour of his name, which was endangered by the miserable condition of his people, the Psalmist contrasts with each other, in Psalms 115:2-4, the God of Israel, who is in heaven, and who does all things according to his own will, and the heathen deities, silver and gold, the work of men’s hands, and describes at length the nothingness and feebleness of the latter, a description which applies to their worshippers, in Psalms 115:5-8. There rises in Psalms 115:9-11, on the basis thus laid, the exhortation to Israel to trust in the Lord his God, and the confident assurance that he will bless the people, Psalms 115:12-15, HE, who has given the earth to men, and cannot suffer his people to be rooted out from it, or himself to be deprived of praise, Psalms 115:16-18.

The Psalm falls into a strophe of seven and one of ten verses. The seven is divided by the three and the four, the ten by the seven (which again falls into three and four) and the three. Jehovah occurs ten times, Jah twice—in all, therefore, the names of God twelve times.

The idea that the Psalm was sung by alternate choruses is without any proper foundation. By the Sept., the Syr., the Vulg., and in several M.S., the Psalm is, without and against all reason, joined to the preceding one, so that the two together may form one whole.

The Psalm was composed at a time when the name of God, the renown of his faithfulness and mercy towards his people, which he had acquired by his early deeds, was exposed to danger, Psalms 115:1, when the heathen could say in triumph, “Where is now their God?” when, in the relation in which Israel stood to the heathen, it was only the consideration of the back-ground which was concealed from the fleshly eye that could afford consolation, Psalms 115:3 ss., when there was still only a small number of people, when the thought of destruction, as far as could be seen, was one which was not very remote, and which required to be combated in faith, Psalms 115:16-18, but when the Lord still remembered his people, Psalms 115:12, and by the commencement of deliverance which had taken place had given a foundation on which the hope of complete restoration might rest. All those features suit exactly the time in which we have placed the whole cycle of Psalms to which the one before us belongs, the time, viz., immediately after the captivity. The prominent position occupied by the priests leads us also to the period after the captivity. These appear, in every allusion made to them, as the leaders of the people. The concurrence of priesthood and royalty has disappeared.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, because of thy mercy, because of thy truth.

The name of God is his fame, Numbers 14:15, his praise which he has acquired by his former deeds, Isaiah 48:9, and which he cannot now give up. The mercy and the truth of God, the manifestations of which form the main ingredients of his name, form the moving and impelling principle in God, which leads him to give glory to his name. As the deeds have proceeded from these, the remembrance of which forms the name, in like manner it is by them that those new deeds must be called forth, which are necessary to prevent the dishonouring of the name. Were God not good nor true, there would be no obligation upon him to guard against a false report. In reference to the name of God, comp. at the parallel passage, Psalms 79:9. The “not to us,” &c., is equivalent to “not to our merits and claims,” or “not because of us;” comp. Daniel 9:18, “not for our righteousnesses, but for thy great compassion,” Isaiah 43:22-25, “thou hast not honoured me, O Jacob, &c., I, even I, forgive your transgressions for my own sake,” Isaiah 48:11. The expression is emphatically repeated for the purpose of conveying the impression that Israel is deeply sensible that there is nothing in him which can call forth salvation. [Note: Calvin: “This beginning shows that the faithful, in cases of extremity, flee to God. They do not, however, say in express words what they wish, but indirectly insinuate their request. In the meantime they declare, by way of preface, that they do not adduce any merits of their own or deserve the hope of obtaining what they want from any other source except from this, that God in delivering them promotes his own glory . . . . They are indeed desirous to obtain consolation and aid in their misery, but because they find nothing in themselves worthy of the divine favour, they appeal to him to vindicate his own glory.”] On the truth of God at Psalms 30:9, Psalms 54:5.

Verses 2-8

Ver. 2.

Why should the heathen say, where is now their God; Ver. 3. Our God is in heaven, he does whatever he pleases. Ver. 4. Their gods are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. Ver. 4. Mouths have they and they speak not, eyes have they and they see not. Ver. 5. Ears have they and they hear not, noses have they and they smell not. Ver. 7. Their hands do not handle, their feet do not walk, they do not speak through their throat. Ver. 8. Like to them are those who make such all who trust in them.

Psalms 115:2 is literally from Psalms 79:10. It is impossible to doubt that the clause is borrowed, as of the contents of the verse which ought properly to be provided with inverted commas, it is only the assertion of the heathen, not the expression “why should they say so,” that is illustrated by the contrast drawn between the God of Israel and the gods of the heathen—a contrast which exhibits in all its pitiableness their cry, “Where is their God?” As the God of Israel is omnipotence and their idols feebleness, “where is their God” will in due time descend with terror on their own heads; and the man in the congregation of the Lord would be stupid indeed who should pay any regard to it. A God such as Israel’s may conceal himself for a time, and give the world the joy of a fancied victory, but he must always again come out of his concealment in the full glory of his being.

Our God is in heaven, ver. 3 (comp. at Psalms 2:4, Psalms 11:4, Psalms 103:19), far exalted above the earth, the place of feebleness, above the heathen and their idol trash. On the second clause comp. Genesis 18:14, where even at the very beginning of revelation we find uttered, “is anything too hard for the Lord?” The parallel passage for Psalms 115:4, the basis, and Psalms 115:5, the development, is Deuteronomy 4:28, “and ye serve these Gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone (here silver and gold), which see not, and eat not, and smell not,” and are thus inferior to the stupid men who trust in them. Our passage is the locus classicus in the Psalms on the subject of idols, corresponding to the one in the prophets, viz., Isaiah 44:9-20. It has been maintained that the place which the Psalmist assigns to the heathen idol-worship is a false one. “The Jew, accustomed to no image of the godhead, adopts the error (often intentionally) of considering the idols of the heathen as their gods, whereas they were only symbols of their gods.” But the Psalmist has to do not with the view which the heathen took of their gods, but with the thing itself. And in reality and apart from the vain imaginations of their worshippers (seen to be such by their changing character), the heathen gods had no existence beyond that of the images; compare at Psalms 95:3, Psalms 96:5. Further, it has been maintained that the whole description is “feeble by its oneness of tone.” It is only so, however, in so far as we do not vividly transfer ourselves into the age in which the Psalms were composed, an age in which, with the exception of one small corner, the whole world did homage to these miserable gods, and in which what now appears trivial and self-evident went in the face of the consent of the whole human race. If any one will keep in view, throughout, the whole description, the refined worship of the present age, which, in reality, is the same in substance as the grosser idolatry of ancient times—whether the idols be formed of silver and gold or of thoughts and feelings is a matter of indifference—he will find the description to be full of life and interest.

On Psalms 115:5-6 compare the opposite description of Jehovah in Psalms 94:9, “He who has planted the ear,” &c.

In Psalms 115:7 the ידיהם and the רגליהם are nomin. absol. On הגה , to murmur, to whisper, comp. at Psalms 90:9. The whispering stands opposed to loud and strong discourse; Michaelis: They cannot even whisper.

Like to them are those who make them, Psalms 115:8,—just as null and feeble, inasmuch without strength they fall from on high and under the judgment of omnipotence. Even though it may appear on a superficial view to be otherwise for a time, yet it remains eternally true, and shall always be confirmed anew by the results: every one is just what his God is; whoever serves the Omnipotent is omnipotent with him: whoever exalts feebleness, in stupid delusion, to be his god, is feeble along with that god. This is an important preservative against fear for those who are sure that they worship the true God. Berleb.: “ Are like them, and therefore richly deserve to be treated with insult, when they have the heart to scoff at others who desire to trust in God, and to adhere to him.” The expression “who make them” refers naturally not so much to the artificers as to those who get the images made.

Verses 9-18

Ver. 9-18. Ver. 9. Israel, trust thou in the Lord, who is your help and your shield. Ver. 10. Ye of the house of Aaron, trust in the Lord, who is your help and your shield. Ver. 11. Ye who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord, who is your help and your shield. Ver. 12. The Lord hath been mindful of us, he shall bless, he shall bless the house of Israel, he shall bless the house of Aaron. Ver. 13. He shall bless those who fear the Lord, the small with the great. Ver. 14. May the Lord add to you, to you and to your children. Ver. 15. May ye be blessed of the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth.

Ver. 16. The heaven is heaven for the Lord, and the earth he has given to the sons of man. Ver. 17. The dead praise not the Lord, nor those who go down to silence. Ver. 18. And we will praise the Lord from henceforth even for ever.

Psalms 115:9 depends upon Psalms 33:20, “Our soul trusteth in the Lord, he is our help and our shield.”

In Psalms 115:10, the house of Aaron is specially named, because it was proper that it should go forward at the head of the people in the way of trusting in the Lord.

By “those who fear the Lord,” Psalms 115:11, we cannot, either here or in the parallel passages, Psalms 118:4, Psalms 135:20, understand either the proselytes, unsuitably referring to the φοβού?μενοι τὸθεὸ?ν of the New Testament, or the laity, but only the whole people. This is evident from Psalms 115:13, where by the great are manifestly meant, by way of pre-eminence, the priests; these, therefore, must be included among the fearers of God. The expression also is used with reference to the whole of Israel in Psalms 112:1; comp. Psalms 22:23, where “the fearers of God” stand parallel to “the seed of Jacob.” The particular is thus enclosed on both sides by the general. The peculiarity, however, of our verse, in connection with the ( Psalms 115:9) 9th, lies in the term employed to designate the general; in which there is indirectly contained a basis for the exhortation to trust in the Lord. This trust is intimately connected with child-like fear of God, reverential awe before him. The man, therefore, who has a right to bear the name of a fearer of the Lord, who does not wish to excommunicate himself from the people of the Lord, must yield obedience to the exhortation of the Psalmist. A commentary on the short and hasty expression, “he hath been mindful of us,” is furnished by Psalms 116:18, according to which a great deliverance had just been imparted to the people of the Lord; comp. Psalms 107. The cry “remember me, O Lord,” which the church had uttered in captivity, is now about to be fulfilled.

The small with the great, Psalms 115:13, the low who give way so easily to despondency no less than the high; comp. Jeremiah 16:6, 2 Kings 18:24, Revelation 13:16, Revelation 19:5, Matthew 18:6

Psalms 115:14 depends upon Deuteronomy 1:11; “may the Lord God of your fathers add to you a thousand fold, and bless you as he bath blessed you.” This passage, which again depends upon Genesis 30:24, and to which Joab alludes in 2 Samuel 24:3, shows that we can neither dispense with the optative (and there is the less reason for this, as behind the wish there is still a prophecy concealed), nor refer the multiplying to the blessing instead of the number of the people as Luther does: “the Lord bless you more and more.” For the aggregate body of the church of to the Lord (comp. Psalms 119:87, “they have almost annihilated me in the land”) increase of numbers is one of the forms of blessing. The “you and your children” indicates that the multiplying shall begin immediately but shall be more glorious afterwards. It became most glorious in Christ, comp. Isaiah 10:16

Psalms 115:15 alludes to the blessing of Melchisedec upon Abraham, Genesis 19:19, which was uttered in him on behalf of his posterity. The Creator of heaven and earth,—who, as such, is infinitely rich in blessing for his people, in assistance in all troubles, and against all even the most powerful enemies,—the Psalmist appending an addition to the expression, “Creator of heaven and earth,” the Psalmist, in Psalms 115:16, draws from the fact that God, retaining only heaven for himself, has given up as a free gift, rich in love, the earth to the children of men (comp. Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and possess it,” chap. Genesis 9:1), a ground of consolation in view of the circumstances which threatened destruction to the people of God: he cannot therefore permit it to be robbed of the occupants assigned to it by him, to be depopulated (comp. Habakkuk 1:14-17), assuredly not that the election of the children of men should disappear from the earth.

He shall rather maintain us, is added in Psalms 115:17-18, because he would otherwise be robbed of the song of praise which only his church on the earth can give him,—the people of God cannot die, because the praise of God would die with them, which would be impossible. In Psalms 115:18, “we shall bless” is equivalent to “he shall give us the opportunity to do so, inasmuch as he maintains us in life, blesses us, Psalms 115:12-13, in deeds, in order that thus we may bless him with our lips; comp. Psalms 118:17, “I shall not die, but live and make known the deeds of the Lord.” “And we shall” is in reality equivalent to “we shall thus.” The other constructions of the two verses, such as that which finds them containing a praise of “the grace of God which gives the earth to men in opposition to the miserable inhabitants of the lower world who cannot praise him,” are set aside by the circumstance that the position that the dead do not praise the Lord is everywhere else represented to the Lord as a reason for him to deliver from death; comp. Psalms 6:5, Psalms 30:9, Psalms 88:10-12, Isaiah 38:18-19. The passage before us can scarcely be separated from these very striking parallel passages, as it belongs to such a late author, who is not to be supposed to strike out a path entirely new. In reference to the דומה , silence, comp. at Psalms 94:17.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 115". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-115.html.