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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 105

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-45

Psalms 105:1-45

IT is a reasonable conjecture that the Hallelujah at the end of Psalms 104:1-35, where it is superfluous, properly belongs to this psalm, which would then be assimilated to Psalms 106:1-48, which is obviously a companion psalm. Both are retrospective and didactic; but Psalms 105:1-45 deals entirely with God’s unfailing faithfulness to Israel, while Psalms 106:1-48 sets forth the sad contrast presented by Israel’s continual faithlessness to God. Each theme is made more impressive by being pursued separately, and then set over against the other. The long series of God’s mercies massed together here confronts the dark uniformity of Israel’s unworthy requital, of them there. Half of the sky is pure blue and radiant sunshine; half is piled with unbroken clouds. Nothing drives home the consciousness of sin so surely as contemplation of God’s loving acts. Probably this psalm, like others of similar contents, is of late date. The habit of historical retrospect for religious purposes is likely to belong to times remote from the events recorded. Psalms 105:1-15 are found in 1 Chronicles 16:1-43 as part of the hymn at David’s setting up of the Ark on Zion. But that hymn is unmistakably a compilation from extant psalms, and cannot be taken as decidedly the Davidic authorship of the psalm.

Psalms 105:1-6 are a ringing summons to extol and contemplate God’s great deeds for Israel. They are full of exultation, and, in their reiterated short clauses, are like the joyful cries of a herald bringing good tidings to Zion. There is a beautiful progress of thought in these verses. They begin with the call to thank and praise Jehovah and to proclaim His doings among the people. That recognition of Israel’s office as the world’s evangelist does not require the supposition that the nation was dispersed in captivity, but simply shows that the singer understood the reason for the long series of mercies heaped on it. It is significant that God’s "deeds" are Israel’s message to the world. By such deeds His "name" is spoken. What God has done is the best revelation of what God is. His messengers are not to speak their own thoughts about Him, but to tell the story of His acts and let these speak for Him. Revelation is not a set of propositions, but a history of Divine facts. The foundation of audible praise and proclamation is contemplation. Therefore the exhortation in Psalms 105:2 b follows, which means not merely "speak," but may be translated, as in margin of the Revised Version, "meditate," and is probably best rendered so as to combine both ideas, "musingly speak." Let not the words be mere words, but feel the great deeds which you proclaim. In like manner, Psalms 105:3 calls upon the heralds to "glory" for themselves in the name of Jehovah, and to make efforts to possess Him more fully and to rejoice in finding Him. Aspiration after clearer and closer knowledge and experience of God should ever underlie glad pealing forth of His name. If it does not, eloquent tongues will fall silent, and Israel’s proclamation will be cold and powerless. To seek Jehovah is to find His strength investing our feebleness. To turn our faces towards His in devout desire is to have our faces made bright by reflected light. And one chief way of seeking Jehovah is the remembrance of His merciful wonders of old, "He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered," {Psalms 111:4} and His design in them is that men should have solid basis for their hopes, and be thereby encouraged to seek Him, as well as be taught what He is Thus the psalmist reaches his main theme, which is to build a memorial of these deeds for an everlasting possession. The "wonders" referred to in Psalms 105:5 are chiefly those wrought in Egypt, as the subsequent verses show.

Psalms 105:6 contains, in the names given to Israel, the reason for their obeying the preceding summonses. Their hereditary relation to God gives them the material, and imposes on them the obligation and the honour of being "secretaries of God’s praise." In Psalms 105:6 a "His servant" may be intended to designate the nation, as it often does in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13. "His chosen ones" in Psalms 105:6 b would then be an exact parallel; but the recurrence of the expression in Psalms 105:42, with the individual reference, makes that reference more probable here.

The fundamental fact underlying all Israel’s experience of God’s care is His own loving will, which, self-moved, entered into covenant obligations, so that thereafter His mercies are ensured by His veracity, no less than by His kindness. Hence the psalm begins its proper theme by hymning the faithfulness of God to His oath, and painting the insignificance of the beginnings of the nation, as showing that the ground of God’s covenant relation was laid in Himself, not in them. Israel’s consciousness of holding a special relation to God never obscured, in the, minds of psalmists and prophets, the twin truth that all the earth waited on Him, and was the theatre of His manifestations. Baser souls might hug themselves on their prerogative. The nobler spirits ever confessed that it laid on them duties to the world, and that God had not left Himself without witness in any land. These two truths have often been rent asunder, both in Israel and in Christendom, but each needs the other for its full comprehension. "Jehovah is our God" may become the war cry of bitter hostility to them that are without, or of contempt, which is quite as irreligious. "In all the earth are His judgments" may lead to a vague theism, incredulous of special revelation. He who is most truly penetrated with the first will be most joyfully ready to proclaim the second of these sister thoughts, and will neither shut up all God’s mercies within the circle of revelation, nor lose sight of His clearest utterances while looking on His more diffused and less perfect ones.

The obligations under which God has come to Israel are represented as a covenant, a word and an oath. In all the general idea of explicit declaration of Divine purpose, which henceforth becomes binding on God by reason of His faithfulness, is contained; but the conception of a covenant implies mutual obligation, failure to discharge which on one side relieves the other contracting party from his promise, while that of a word simply includes the notion of articulate utterance, and that of an oath adds the thought of a solemn sanction and a pledge given. God swears by Himself-that is, His own character is the guarantee of His promise. These various designations are thus heaped together, in order to heighten the thought of the firmness of His promise. It stands "forever," "to a thousand generations"; if is an "everlasting covenant." The psalmist triumphs, as it were, in the manifold repetition of it. Each of the fathers of the nation had it confirmed to himself, -Abraham; Isaac when, ready to flee from the land in famine, he had renewed to him {Genesis 26:3} the oath which he had first heard as he stood, trembling but unharmed, by the rude altar where the ram lay in his stead; {Genesis 22:16} Jacob as he lay beneath the stars of Bethel. With Jacob (Israel) the singer passes from the individuals to the nation, as is shown by the alternation of "thee" and "you" in Psalms 105:11. The lowly condition of the recipients of the promise not only exalts the love which chose them, but the power which preserved them and fulfilled it. And if, as may be the case, the psalm is exilic or post-exilic, its picture of ancient days is like a mirror, reflecting present depression and bidding the downcast be of good cheer. He who made a strong nation out of that little horde of wanderers must have been moved by His own heart, not by anything in them; and what He did long ago He can do today. God’s past is the prophecy of God’s future. Literally rendered, Psalms 105:12 a runs "Whilst they were men of number," i.e., easily numbered. {Genesis 34:30, where Jacob uses the same phrase} "Very few" in b is literally "like a little," and may either apply to number or to worth. It is used in the latter sense, in reference to "the heart of the wicked," in Proverbs 10:20, and may have the same meaning here. That little band of wanderers, who went about as sojourners among the kinglets of Canaan and Philistia, with occasional visits to Egypt, seemed very vulnerable; but God was, as He had promised to the first of them at a moment of extreme peril, their "shield," and in their lives there were instances of strange protection afforded them, which curbed kings, as in the case of Abram in Egypt {Genesis 12:1-20} and Gerar, {Genesis 20:1-18} and of Isaac in the latter place. {Genesis 26:1-35} The patriarchs were not, technically speaking, "anointed," but they had that of which anointing was but a symbol. They were Divinely set apart and endowed for their tasks, and, as consecrated to God’s service, their persons were inviolable. In a very profound sense all God’s servants are thus anointed, and are "immortal till their work is done." "Prophets" in the narrower sense of the word the patriarchs were not, but Abraham is called so by God in one of the places already referred to. {Genesis 20:7} Prior to prophetic utterance is prophetic inspiration: and these men received Divine communications, and were, in a special degree, possessed of the counsels of Heaven. The designation is equivalent to Abraham’s name of the "friend of God." Thus both titles, which guaranteed a charmed, invulnerable life to their bearers, go deep into the permanent privileges of God-trusting souls. All such "have an anointing from the Holy One," and receive whispers from His lips. They are all under the aegis of His protection, and for their sakes kings of many a dynasty and age have been rebuked.

In Psalms 105:16-22 the history of Joseph is poetically and summarily treated, as a link in the chain of providences which brought about the fulfilment of the Covenant. Possibly the singer is thinking about a captive Israel in the present, while speaking about a captive Joseph in the past. In God’s dealings humiliation and affliction are often, he thinks, the precursors of glory and triumph. Calamities prepare the way for prosperity. So it was in that old time; and so it is still. In this resume of the history of Joseph, the points signalised are God’s direct agency in the whole-the errand on which Joseph was sent ("before them") as a forerunner to "prepare a place for them," the severity of his sufferings, the trial of his faith by the contrast which his condition presented to what God had promised, and his final exaltation. The description of Joseph’s imprisonment adds some dark touches to the account in Genesis, whether these are due to poetic idealising or to tradition. In Psalms 105:18 b some would translate "Iron came over his soul." So Delitzsch, following the Vulgate ("Ferrum pertransiit animam ejus"), and the picturesque Prayer Book Version, "The iron entered into his soul." But the original is against this, as the word for iron is masculine and the verb is feminine, agreeing with the feminine noun soul. The clause is simply a parallel to the preceding. "His soul" is best taken as mere periphrasis for he, though it may be used emphatically to suggest that "his soul entered, whole and entire, in its resolve to obey God, into the cruel torture" (Kay). The meaning is conveyed by the free rendering above.

Psalms 105:19 is also ambiguous, from the uncertainty as to whose word is intended in a. It may be either God’s or Joseph’s. The latter is the more probable, as there appears to be an intentional contrast between "His word," in a, -and "the promise of Jehovah" in b. If this explanation is adopted, a choice is still possible between Joseph’s interpretation of his fellow prisoners’ dreams, the fulfilment of which led to his liberation, and his earlier word recounting his own dreams, which led to his being sold by his brethren. In any case, the thought of the verse is a great and ever true one, that God’s promise, while it remains unfulfilled, and seems contradicted by present facts, serves as a test of the genuineness and firmness of a man’s reliance on Him and it. That promise is by the psalmist almost personified, as putting Joseph to the test. Such testing is the deepest meaning of all afflictions. Fire will burn off a thin plating of silver from a copper coin and reveal the base metal beneath, but it will only brighten into a glow the one which is all silver.

There is a ring of triumph in the singer’s voice as he tells of the honour and power heaped on the captive, and of how the king and many nations "sent," as the mightier King in heaven had done (Psalms 105:20 and Psalms 105:17), and not only liberated but exalted him, giving him, whose soul had been bound in fetters, power to "bind princes according to his soul," and to instruct and command the elders of Egypt. Psalms 105:23-27 carry on the story to the next step in the evolution of God’s purposes. The long years of the sojourn in Egypt are summarily dealt with, as they are in the narrative in Genesis and Exodus, and the salient points of its close alone are touched-the numerical growth of the people, the consequent hostility of the Egyptians, and the mission of Moses and Aaron. The direct ascription to God of all the incidents mentioned is to be noted. The psalmist sees only one hand moving, and has no hesitation in tracing to God the turning of the Egyptians’ hearts to hatred. Many commentators, both old and new, try to weaken the expression, by the explanation that the hatred was "indirectly the work of God, inasmuch as He lent increasing might to the people" (Delitzsch). But the psalmist means much more than this, just as Exodus does in attributing the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to God. Psalms 105:27, according to the existing text, breaks the series of verses beginning with a singular verb of which God is the subject, which stretch with only one other interruption from Psalms 105:24 to Psalms 105:37. It seems most probable, therefore, that the LXX is right in reading He instead of They. The change is but the omission of one letter, and the error supposed is a frequent one. The word literally means set or planted, and did is an explanation rather than a rendering. The whole expression is remarkable. Literally, we should translate "He" (or "They") "set among them words" (or "matters") "of His signs"; but this would be unintelligible, and we must have recourse to reproduction of the meaning rather than of the words.

If "words of His signs" is not merely pleonastic, it may be rendered as by Kay, "His long record of signs," or as by Cheyne, "His varied signs." But it is better to take the expression as suggesting that the miracles were indeed words, as being declarations of God’s will and commands to let His people go. The phrase in Psalms 105:5, "the judgments of His mouth," would then be roughly parallel. God’s deeds are words. His signs have tongues. "He speaks and it is done"; but also, "He does and it is spoken." The expression, however, may be like Psalms 65:4, where the same form of phrase is applied to sins, and where it seems to mean "deeds of iniquity." It would then mean here "His works which were signs." The following enumeration of the "signs" does not follow the order in Exodus, but begins with the ninth plague, perhaps because of its severity, and then in the main adheres to the original sequence, though it inverts the order of the third and fourth plagues (flies and gnats or mosquitoes, not "lice") and omits the fifth and sixth. The reason for this divergence is far from clear, but it may be noted that the first two in the psalmist’s order attack the elements; the next three. (frogs, flies, gnats) have to do with animal life; and the next two (hail and locusts), which embrace both these categories, are considered chiefly as affecting vegetable products. The emphasis is laid in all on God’s direct act. He sends darkness, He turns the waters into blood, and so on. The only other point needing notice in these verses is the statement in Psalms 105:28 b. "They rebelled not against His word," which obviously is true only in reference to Moses and Aaron, who shrank not from their perilous embassage.

The tenth plague is briefly told for the psalm is hurrying on to the triumphant climax of the Exodus, when, enriched with silver and gold, the tribes went forth, strong for their desert march, and Egypt rejoiced to see the last of them, "for they said, We be all dead men". {Exodus 12:33} There may be a veiled hope in this exultant picture of the Exodus, that present oppression will end in like manner. The wilderness sojourn is so treated in Psalms 105:39 sqq. as to bring into sight only the leading instances, sung in many psalms, of God’s protection, without one disturbing reference to the sins and failures which darkened the forty years. These are spread out at length, without flattery or minimising, in the next psalm; but here the theme is God’s wonders. Therefore, the pillar of cloud which guided, covered, and illumined the camp, the miracles which provided food and water, are touched on in Psalms 105:39-41, and then the psalmist gathers up the lessons which he would teach in three great thoughts. The reason for God’s merciful dealings with His people is His remembrance of His covenant, and of, His servant Abraham, whose faith made a claim on God, for the fulfilment which would vindicate it. That covenant: has been amply fulfilled, for Israel came forth with ringing songs, and took possession of lands which they had not tilled, and houses which they had not built. The purpose of covenant and fulfilment is that the nation, thus admitted into special relations with God, should by His mercies be drawn to keep His commandments, and in obedience find rest and closer fellowship with its God. The psalmist had learned that God gives before He demands or commands, and that "Love," springing from grateful reception of His benefits, "is the fulfilling of the Law." He anticipates the full Christian exhortation, "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 105". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-105.html.
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