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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 132

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-18

Psalms 132:1-18

THE continuance of "the sure mercies of David" to his descendants for his sake is first besought from God, and is then promised, for his sake, by God Himself, speaking in the singer’s spirit. The special blessing sought for is Jehovah’s dwelling in His house, which is here contemplated as reared after long toil. Expositors differ, as usual, in regard to the date and occasion of this psalm. Its place among the pilgrim psalms raises a presumption in favour of a post-exilic date, and one class of commentators refers it confidently to the period of the rebuilding of the Temple. But the mention of the Ark (which disappeared after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple) can be reconciled with that supposed date only by a somewhat violent expedient. Nor is it easy to suppose that the repeated references to David’s descendants as reigning in accordance with God’s promise could have been written at a time when there was no king in Israel. Zerubbabel has indeed been suggested as "the anointed" of this psalm; but he was not king, and neither in fact nor in idea was he anointed. And could a singer in Israel, in the post-exilic period, have recalled the ancient promises without some passing sigh for their apparent falsification in the present? Psalms 89:1-52, is often referred to as the "twin" of this psalm. Its wailings over the vanished glories of the Davidic monarchy have nothing corresponding to them here. These considerations are against a post-exilic date, for which the chief argument is the inclusion of the psalm in the collection of pilgrim songs.

If, on the other hand, we disregard its place in the Psalter and look at its contents, it must be admitted that they perfectly harmonise with the supposition that its occasion was the completion of Solomon’s Temple. The remembrance of David’s long-cherished purpose to build the House, of the many wanderings of the Ark, the glad summons to enter the courts to worship, the Divine promises to David, which were connected with his design of building a Temple, all fit in with this view of the occasion of the psalm. Singularly enough, some advocates of later dates than even the building of the second Temple catch in the psalm tones of depression, and see indications of its having been written when the glowing promises which it quotes appeared to have failed. It is not in reference to "Nature" only that "we receive but what we give." To other ears, with perhaps equal though opposite bias, glad confidence in a promise, of which the incipient fulfilment was being experienced, sounds in the psalm. To some it is plain that it was written when Ark and king had been swept away; to others it is equally clear that it presupposes the existence of both. The latter view is to the present writer the more probable.

The psalm is not divided into regular strophes. There is, however, a broad division into two parts, of which Psalms 132:1-10 form the first, the pleading of Israel with Jehovah; and Psalms 132:11-18 the second, the answer of Jehovah to Israel. The first part is further divided into two: Psalms 132:1-5 setting forth David’s vow; Psalms 132:6-10 the congregation’s glad summons to enter the completed sanctuary and its prayer for blessings on the worshipping nation with its priests and king. The second part is Jehovah’s renewed promises, which take up and surpass the people’s prayer. It is broken by a single verse (Psalms 132:13), which is an interjected utterance of Israel’s.

"One remembers anything to another, when one requites him for what he has done, or when one performs for him what one has promised him" (Delitzsch). David’s earnest longing to find a fixed place for the Ark, his long-continued and generous amassing of treasure for the purpose of building the Temple, are regarded as a plea with God. The solidarity of the family, which was so vividly realised in old times, reaches its highest expression in the thought that blessings to David’s descendants are as if given to him, sleeping in the royal tomb. Beautifully and humbly the singer, as representing the nation, has nothing to say of the toil of the actual builders. Not the hand which executes, but the heart and mind which conceived and cherished the plan, are its true author. The psalmist gives poetic version of David’s words in 2 Samuel 7:2. "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwelleth in curtains," contains in germ all which the psalmist here draws out of it. He, the aged king, was almost ashamed of his own ease. "God gave him rest from his enemies," but he will not "give sleep to his eyes" till he finds out a place for Jehovah. Wearied with a stormy life, he might well have left it to others to care for the work which the prophet had told him that he was not to be permitted to begin. But not so does a true man reason. Rather, he will consecrate to God his leisure and his old age, and will rejoice to originate work which he cannot hope to see completed, and even to gather materials which happier natures and times may turn to account. He will put his own comfort second, God’s service first.

Such devotedness does make a plea with God. The psalmist’s prayer goes on that supposition, and God’s answer endorses it as valid. He does not require perfect faithfulness in His servants ere He prospers their work with His smile. Stained offerings, in which much of the leaven of earthly motives may be fermenting, are not therefore rejected.

Psalms 132:6-10 are the petitions grounded on the preceding plea, and asking that Jehovah would dwell in the sanctuary and bless the worshippers. Psalms 132:6 offers great difficulties. It seems clear, however, that it and the next verse are to be taken as very closely connected (note the "we" and "us" occurring in them for the only time in the psalm). They seem to describe continuous actions, of which the climax is entrance into the sanctuary. The first question as to Psalms 132:6 is what the "it" is, which is spoken of in both clauses; and the most natural answer is-the Ark, alluded to here by anticipation, though not mentioned till Psalms 132:8. The irregularity is slight and not unexampled. The interpretation of the verse mainly depends on the meaning of the two designations of locality, "Ephrathah" and "the fields of the Wood." Usually the former is part of the name of Bethlehem, but the Ark in all its wanderings is never said to have been there. Most probably Shiloh, in which the Ark did remain for a time, is intended. But why should Shiloh be called Ephrathah? The answer usually given, but not altogether satisfactory, is that Shiloh lay in the territory of Ephraim, and that we have instances in which an Ephraimite is called an "Ephrathite," {Judges 12:5; 1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Kings 11:26} and therefore it may be presumed that the territory of Ephraim was called Ephrathah. "The fields of the Wood," on the other hand, is taken to be a free poetic variation of the name of Kirjath-jearim (the city of the woods), where the Ark long lay, and whence it was brought up to Jerusalem by David. In this understanding of the verse, the two places where it remained longest are brought together and the meaning of the whole verse is, "We heard that it lay long at Shiloh, but we found it in Kirjath-jearim." Delitzsch, followed by Cheyne, takes a different view, regarding "Ephrathah" as a name for the district in which Kirjath-jearim lay. He founds this explanation on the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2:19; 1 Chronicles 2:50, according to which Caleb’s wife, Ephrath, was the mother of Hur, the ancestor of the Bethlehemites, and whose son Shobal was the ancestor of the people of Kirjath-jearim; Ephrathah was thus a fitting name for the whole district, which included both Bethlehem and Kirjath-jearim. In this understanding of the names, the verse means, "We heard that the Ark was at Kirjath-jearim, and there we found it."

Psalms 132:7 must be taken as immediately connected with the preceding. If the same persons who found the Ark still speak, the "tabernacle" into which they encourage each other to enter must be the tent within which, as David said, it dwelt "in curtains"; and the joyful utterance of an earlier age will then be quoted by the still happier generation who, at the moment while they sing, see the sacred symbol of the Divine Presence enshrined within the Holy Place of the Temple. At all events, the petitions which follow are most naturally regarded as chanted forth at that supreme moment, though it is possible that the same feeling of the solidity of the nation in all generations, which, as applied to the reigning family, is seen in Psalms 132:1, may account for the worshippers in the new Temple identifying themselves with the earlier ones who brought up the Ark to Zion. The Church remains the same, while its individual members change.

The first of the petitions is partly taken from the invocation in Numbers 10:35, when "the Ark set forward"; but there it was a prayer for guidance on the march; here, for Jehovah’s continuance in His fixed abode. It had wandered far and long. It had been planted in Shiloh, but had deserted that sanctuary which He had once loved. It had tarried for awhile at Mizpeh and at Bethel. It had been lost on the field of Aphek, been borne in triumph through Philistine cities, and sent back thence in terror. It had lain for three months in the house of Obed-edom, and for twenty years been hidden at Kirjath-jearim, It had been set with glad acclaim in the tabernacle provided by David, and now it stands in the Temple. There may it abide and go no more out! Solomon and Hiram and all their workmen may have done their best, and the result of their toils may stand gleaming in the sunlight in its fresh beauty; but something more is needed. Not till the Ark is in the Shrine does the Glory fill the house. The lesson is for all ages. Our organisations and works are incomplete without that quickening Presence. It will surely be given if we desire it. When His Church prays, "Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the Ark of Thy strength," His answer is swift and sure, "Lo, I am with you always."

From this petition all the others flow. If "the Ark of Thy strength" dwells with us, we too shall be strong, and have that Might for our inspiration as well as our shield. "Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness." The pure vestments of the priests were symbols of stainless character, befitting the ministers of a holy God. The psalmist prays that the symbol may truly represent the inner reality. He distinguishes between priests and the mass of the people; but in the Church today, as indeed in the original constitution of Israel, all are priests, and must be clothed in a righteousness which they receive from above. They do not weave that robe, but they must "put on" the garment which Christ gives them. Righteousness is no hazy, theological virtue, having little to do with everyday life and small resemblance to secular morality. To be good, gentle, and just, self-forgetting and self-ruling, to practise the virtues which all men call "lovely and of good report," and to consecrate them all by reference to Him in whom they dwell united and complete, is to be righteous; and that righteousness is the garb required of, and given by God to, all those who seek it and minister in His Temple.

"Let Thy favoured ones utter shrill cries of joy." Surely, if they dwell in the Temple, gladness will not fail them. True religion is joyful. If a man has only to lift his eyes to see the Ark, what but averted eyes should make him sad? True, there are enemies, but we are close to the fountain of strength. True, there are sins, but we can receive the garment of righteousness. True, there are wants, but the sacrifice whereof "the meek shall eat and be satisfied" is at hand. There is much unreached as yet, but there is a present God. So we may "walk all the day in the light of His countenance," and realise the truth of the paradox of always rejoicing, though sometimes we sorrow.

The final petition is for the anointed king, that his prayers may be heard. To "turn away the face" is a graphic expression, drawn from the attitude of one who refuses to listen to a suppliant. It is harsh in the extreme to suppose that the king referred to is David himself, though Hupfeld and others take that view. The reference to Solomon is natural.

Such are the psalmist’s petitions. The answers follow in the remainder of the psalm, which, as already noticed, is parted in two by an interjected verse (Psalms 132:13), breaking the continuity of the Divine Voice. The shape of the responses is determined by the form of the desires, and in every case the answer is larger than the prayer. The Divine utterance begins with a parallel between the oath of David and that of God. David "sware to Jehovah." Yes, but "Jehovah has sworn to David." That is grander and deeper. With this may be connected the similar parallel in Psalms 132:13 and Psalms 132:14 with Psalms 132:5. David had sought to "find a habitation" for Jehovah. But He Himself had chosen His habitation long ago. He is throned there now, not because of David’s choice or Solomon’s work, but because His will had settled the place of His feet. These correspondences of expression point to the great truth that God is His own all-sufficient reason. He is not won to dwell with men by their importunity, but in the depths of His unchangeable love lies the reason why He abides with us unthankful. The promise given in Psalms 132:12, which has respect to the closing petition of the preceding part, is substantially that contained in 2 Samuel 7:1-29. Similar references to that fundamental promise to David are found in Psalms 89:1-52, with which this psalm is sometimes taken to be parallel; but that psalm comes from a time when the faithful promise seemed to have failed for evermore, and breathes a sadness which is alien to the spirit of this song. Psalms 132:13 appears to be spoken by the people. It breaks the stream of promises. God has been speaking, but now, for a moment, He is spoken of. His choice of Zion for His dwelling is the glad fact, which the congregation feels so borne in on its consciousness that it breaks forth into speech. The "For" at the beginning of the verse gives a striking sequence, assigning, as it does, the Divine selection of Zion for His abode, as the reason for the establishment of the Davidic monarchy. If the throne was set up in Jerusalem, because there God would dwell, how solemn the obligation thereby laid on its occupant to rule as God’s viceroy, and how secure each in turn might feel, if he discharged the obligations of his office, that God would grant to the kingdom an equal date with the duration of His own abode! Throne and Temple are indissolubly connected.

With Psalms 132:14 the Divine Voice resumes, and echoes the petitions of the earlier part. The psalmist asked God to arise into His rest, and He answers by granting the request with the added promise of perpetuity: "Here will I dwell forever." He adds a promise which had not been asked-abundance for all, and bread to fill even the poor. The psalmist asked that the priests might be clothed in righteousness, and the answer promises robes of salvation, which is the perfecting and most glorious issue of righteousness. The psalmist asked that God’s favoured ones might utter shrill cries of joy, and God replies with an emphatic reduplication of the word, which implies the exuberance and continuance of the gladness. The psalmist asked for favour to the anointed, and God replies by expanded and magnificent promises. The "horn" is an emblem of power.

It shall continually "sprout"-i.e., the might of the royal house shall continually increase. The "lamp for Mine anointed" may be simply a metaphor for enduring prosperity and happiness, but many expositors take it to be a symbol of the continuance of the Davidic house, as in 1 Kings 15:4, where, however, the word employed is not the same as that used here, though closely connected with it. The promise of perpetuity to the house of David does not fit into the context as well as that of splendour and joy, and it has already been given in Psalms 132:12. Victory will attend the living representative of David, his foes being clothed by Jehovah with shame-i.e., being foiled in their hostile attempts-while their confusion is as a dark background, against which the radiance of his diadem sparkles the more brightly. These large promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, of the seed of David; and the psalm is Messianic, as presenting the ideal which it is sure shall be realised. and which is so in Him alone.

The Divine promises teach the great truth that God over answers our desires, and puts to shame the poverty of our petitions by the wealth of His gifts. He is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think," for the measure of His doing is none other than "according to the Power that worketh in us," and the measure of that Power is none other than "the working of the strength of His might, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 132". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-132.html.
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