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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 115

This, which the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac and other versions join with the preceding psalm as one, is of such distinct style and theme as to establish its individuality, and determine its separate occasion. “It is a supplicatory song, with a hopeful prospect before it.” Delitzsch. A sharp issue had been taken between God and the idols of the nations, (Psalms 115:2,) which, while in its beginning it seemed to imperil the Hebrew nation, in its result discovered the emptiness and impotence of idolatry. A great and recent deliverance had been wrought, (Psalms 115:12,) wholly without human cause or merit, solely by the interposition of God. Psalms 115:1. Yet an instrumentality of some sort had been employed, in which the priesthood had been brought into singular prominence, as appears from the special notices of them, Psalms 115:10; Psalms 115:12. Compare the parallel passage, (Psalms 135:19-20,) where “the house of Levi” is added to that of Aaron. The prominence given to the vanity of idols, and the taunting challenge of idol-worshippers, (mentioned Psalms 115:2,) do not comport with the circumstances of the deliverance from Babylon, for that was not the result of an immediate public issue between the true God and idols. Cyrus was not an idolater, at least not in the sense described in this psalm, and the Hebrew people were not in reproach and contempt after the death of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:30,) and before the decree of Cyrus. Ezra 1:4. The psalm better befits the time of Sennacherib, but still more aptly the invasion of the Arabians in Jehoshaphat’s reign. 2 Chronicles 20:0. In this the issue was made distinctly between God and the idolatrous invaders; the victory was achieved without a battle, through prayer and the religious presentation of the people headed by the priests and the Levitical choristers. 2 Chronicles 20:19; 2 Chronicles 20:21.The psalm has the artistic structure of an antiphony. The whole band of the Levite singers are supposed to have chanted Psalms 115:1-8. Then a solo by the precentor, who chants the first line of Psalms 115:9-11 severally, the chorus responding in the second line, thus:

Precentor “O Israel, trust thou in the Lord.”

Chorus “He is their help and their shield,” etc.

Then follow Psalms 115:12-13, sung by the laity, who are answered by the full choir of the Levites in Psalms 115:14-18. The reader will compare the psalm, with this reference to the priesthood, with 2 Chronicles 20:18-22. Delitzsch says: “It is a prayer of Israel for God’s aid, probably in the presence of an expedition against heathen enemies;” but it is an exhortation to trust in Jehovah as well a strengthening themselves in him as if the victory were yet pending, though promissory and certain.

The strophic divisions are five. Psalms 115:1-2, are a call upon Jehovah to interfere for his name’s sake, and help them against their enemies; Psalms 115:3-8 present a contemptuous delineation of the vanity of idols; Psalms 115:9-11 are an exhortation to trust Jehovah; Psalms 115:12-14 contain an expression of confidence and a confession of help already given; Psalms 115:15-18 are a double blessing pronounced upon Israel, and upon the name of Jehovah for his supreme majesty and his condescending interference to save them from death. The whole closing with a hallelujah.

Verse 1

1. Not unto us Not to us the glory, nor for our sakes. The repetition of this is for emphasis, showing how thoroughly the nation disclaimed any desert or merit as the ground of their prayer for help. The “glory” was wholly the Lord’s.

For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake Two distinguishing attributes displayed in redemption, (John 1:7,) for the vindication of which God is now called to interfere.

Verse 2

2. Where is now their God This was the common taunt and challenge of the heathen whenever Israel fell into their hands, or they were flushed with expectation of a victory; Psalms 42:3; Psalms 42:10; Psalms 79:10; Joel 2:17: and this placed the issue directly between Jehovah and the idols. No reproach of the heathen ever stung the Hebrew heart like this.

Verse 3

3. But our God is in the heavens A fine retort. Our God is not represented by images of gold, silver, and wood, but is invisible, dwelling in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he… pleased.

Verse 4

4. Their idols are silver and gold The contrast still appears between “our God” and “their idols.” The idols of the heathen are pretended images or representations of deities, who, upon the consecration of the images, are supposed to take up their dwelling in them, and to act through them. The image itself was considered as a help to the mind, through the senses, to ascend to the divinities. But the vulgar mind has always omitted this distinction, and paid sacred honours to the image. The Romish Church has borrowed its system of image worship from the heathen, defending it upon the same principle, but has succeeded no better than they in rescuing the mind from depraved and depraving conceptions of God and his worship.

The description of idols in Psalms 115:4-8 is given in the sarcastic style of Isaiah 44:9-20, and developed from the fundamental passage, (Deuteronomy 4:28,) later on copied by the returned exiles.

Verse 7

7. Neither speak they through their throat The speaking through the throat seems here to be contrasted with speaking with the tongue. Compare Psalms 35:28. The latter was open, articulate speech; the former, low, whispering, and often inarticulate a muttering. See Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 59:3. The word rendered “speak,” here, is sometimes rendered meditate, (see Joshua 1:8; Psalms 77:12,) because meditating is an inward speaking to one’s self, often accompanied with low, half inarticulate sounds. See on Psalms 90:9. The idea of the text seems to be, that these idols could not make even a breathlike, inarticulate sound. The psalmist had already denied their power of enunciating words, or of speech proper, in Psalms 115:5, where another word is used. A satirical allusion may also be here intended to the custom of the heathen priests and necromancers of uttering their magical formulas in a low, guttural tone.

See Isaiah 8:19. The Septuagint calls them, those who speak, or make a sound, from the belly, ventriloquists.

Verse 8

8. They that make them are like unto them The worshipper and the worshipped are alike vain, impotent, corrupt. Isaiah 44:9-11; Jeremiah 10:5; Habakkuk 2:18. The morals of the worshipper can never rise above his conceptions of the object worshipped. The heathen deities were deemed guilty of all the faults and vices of men, as their mythology shockingly attests, and the worship of them could never elevate men to a higher standard of purity. The heathen religion throughout is the invention of men who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” and hence, like all man-made religions, it was accommodated to the corrupt inclinations of human nature.

Verse 9

9. O Israel, trust thou in the Lord From the disgusting picture of idols and idol worshippers, the author turns to Jehovah, the object of Israel’s “trust,” “their help and shield.” This change in the strain of the psalm, Perowne thinks, “must unquestionably have been accompanied by a change in the music.” The exhortation to trust, founded on the doctrine of Psalms 33:20, contrasts with the nothingness of idols and the depraving effect of idol worship.

Help Coupled with shield, should be understood in the military sense of succour. A threefold division of Israel is here given Israel, the house of Aaron, and those who fear God; to which the “house of Levi” is added, Psalms 135:20.

Their help That is, that of all those who fear God and trust him.

Verse 11

11. Ye that fear the Lord This should not be applied to proselytes, as distinct from “Israel,” for the New Testament usage had not yet obtained. See Acts 13:16. Neither can we apply it to spiritual worshippers as distinguished from nominal Israel. Rather, with Hengstenberg, we accept it as a generic term for “the whole people,” for they were fearers of God by profession, and the term supplied a basis for the exhortation to trust God. This view is supported by Psalms 115:13, and Psalms 22:23; Psalms 135:20

Verse 12

12. The Lord hath been mindful of us A recognition of recent victory, or of victory assured by some prophet or oracle upon which the people were wont to rely, as 2 Chronicles 20:14-18; 2 Kings 19:20-34. Here, and in Psalms 115:13, the above three classes are again brought into view.

Verse 14

14. A form of blessing founded on Deuteronomy 1:11, and timely here, as the danger threatened general wasting and desolation.

Verse 15

15. A form of blessing borrowed from Melchizedek. Genesis 14:19

Verse 16

16. The heaven, even the heavens Hebrew, The heavens, the heavens to Jehovah; that is, belong to him. This prepares for the next utterance.

The earth hath he given to the children of men Hebrew, To the children of Adam. אדם , Adam, here, should be taken as a proper name. God, the possessor of all worlds, has sovereignly given the earth to the sons of Adam as their patrimony, to be used for their good and his glory. It being a gift, man holds it subject to the will of God. The reference is to the original grant, (Genesis 1:28,) but the scope and occasion require the further idea of a special grant to nations, or a providential order of their settlement and boundaries. This doctrine is taught in Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26. It is also displayed in the settlement of nations, according to family ties and language, at the dispersion: Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31-32. So was the dwelling of Ishmael determined: Genesis 16:12; Genesis 17:20; Genesis 25:18. So also of Edom, Moab, and Ammon: Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:18-19. Especially had God given to Israel the land of Canaan, (Genesis 17:8,) and “when he divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated [dispersed] the sons of Adam, he firmly established the bounds of the [Hebrew] people according to the number of the children of Israel:” Deuteronomy 32:8. The argument, then, of our psalmist stands thus: The earth has God given as a patrimony to the children of Adam, dividing it to the nations according to a providential order, which cannot be broken up but by his permission. In giving the nations their separate portions, he has fixed specially the bounds of Israel’s inheritance, and no combinations of enemies shall dispossess him. This view meets the connexion and scope of the psalm. Israel had just been rescued from a hostile power which had purposed to destroy his nationality and to make the land a spoil.

Verse 17

17. The dead praise not the Lord That is, they do not show forth God’s praise upon earth, and among the living. If they have any office, to living men it is invisible, and cannot be recognized as a public medium before human beings for showing forth the praise of God. These forms of speech are simply phenomenal, and are no proof that the doctrine of a future state is not taught in the Old Testament. See notes on Psalms 6:5; Psalms 49:14-20; Psalms 88:10-12

Verse 18

18. From this time See note on Psalms 113:2.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 115". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-115.html. 1874-1909.