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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 115

 

 

Verses 1-18

Psalm 115

1 Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,

But unto thy name give glory,

For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

2 Wherefore should the heathen say,

Where is now their God?

3 But our God is in the heavens:

He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,

The work of men’s hands.

5 They have mouths, but they speak not:

Eyes have they, but they see not:

6 They have ears, but they hear not:

Noses have they, but they smell not:

7 They have hands, but they handle not:

Feet have they, but they walk not:

Neither speak they through their throat.

8 They that make them are like unto them;

So is every one that trusteth in them.

9 O Israel, trust thou in the Lord:

He is their help and their shield.

10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord:

He is their help and their shield.

11 Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord:

He is their help and their shield.

12 The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us;

He will bless the house of Israel;

He will bless the house of Aaron.

13 He will bless them that fear the Lord,

Both small and great.

14 The Lord shall increase you more and more,

You and your children.

15 Ye are blessed of the Lord

Which made heaven and earth.

16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s:

But the earth hath he given to the children of men.

17 The dead praise not the Lord,

Neither any that go down into silence.

18 But we will bless the Lord

From this time forth and for evermore.

Praise the Lord.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—Jehovah is called upon for the sake of His mercy and truth, and not on account of the worthiness of His people, to manifest His glory which had been reviled or brought into question by heathen ( Psalm 115:1-2). For He is the heavenly, almighty God, while the idols of the heathen are worthless images of men’s hands, of whose worthlessness those partake, who have made them and yet trust in them ( Psalm 115:3-8). But those who belong to God’s house, and who fear Him, may be called upon to trust in Him ( Psalm 115:9-12) with the assurance that He who has been mindful of them will bless and increase them ( Psalm 115:12-14), in order that they, as the blessed of the Lord, may continue preserved in life upon the earth which has been given to them by God who dwells in heaven, and may give Him the glory forever ( Psalm 115:15-18).

The matter and style of this Psalm differ so greatly from those of the preceding that the union of the two into one whole (Sept. and others) cannot have been the original form, and must have been made later for liturgical purposes. The liturgical character is strongly marked, especially in Psalm 115:9 ff. But there is no sure ground for a distribution among different choirs (Köster, Ewald).

The time of composition is no less uncertain, since the invocation to God for help against the heathen is altogether general in its character. It is possible that the thrice-pronounced refrain, “He is their help and their shield,” instead of “our help,” as in Psalm 33:20, may have had some connection with a host going forth to war, (Hitzig). But nothing follows from this in favor of the military expedition of the Maccabæan prince Jonathan, since the supposition, that the three following Psalm are connected with the same event, and are to be explained from 1 Maccabees11has not been established. It is likewise possible that this was an antiphony sung by the same voice (Delitzsch), which had announced the propitious acceptance of the sacrifice supposed to have been offered (Ewald); but there is not the least indication or the offering of a sacrifice in these Psalm. [See the Introduction to the exposition of Psalm 113—J. F. M.] It is possible, finally, to divide the antiphony, Psalm 115:9 ff. so as to make, first, the whole people, then, the priests, and, lastly, the laity speak. (Köster). But on this point nothing more certain can be said, especially as it is not even decided whether “those who fear God” refer to the laity as distinguished from the house of Aaron, or to the whole priesthood (Hitzig), or to the whole nation of Israel, in the sense of God’s servants (De Wette, Hengst, Hupfeld) or to those in the nation who are truly pious (Calvin), or to the proselytes, according to the later Judaistic and New Testament usage (Isaaki and others, Ewald, Delitzsch). Still more arbitrary is the supposition that in Psalm 115:12-13 the laity sing, then in Psalm 115:14-15 the priests, and in Psalm 115:16-18 the whole people end in chorus (Köster). In Psalm 118:2; Psalm 118:4 the same triple classification is given: Israel, the house of Aaron, and those that fear God. In Psalm 135:19 f. the house of Levi Isaiah, in addition, distinguished from the house of Aaron. [Perowne and Alexander agree with Hengstenberg in thinking it probable that the Psalm was composed after the return from Exile and before the Temple was built. Delitzsch offers no conjecture as to the date.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 115:2 is the same, verbatim, as Psalm 79:10. It must not be too confidently maintained that it was taken from that Psalm (Hengst.), for the same expression occurs also in Joel 2:17. Similar in thought are Psalm 42:4; Micah 7:10.

[ Psalm 115:3. Perowne: “The answer to the taunt of the heathen, who, seeing no image of Jehovah, mocked at His existence. First, He is in heaven, invisible indeed, yet thence ruling the universe: next, He doeth what He will, in fine contrast to the utter impotence of the idols of the heathen. The last expression denotes both God’s almighty power, and His absolute freedom. This, truthfully accepted, does away with all a priori objections to miracles.”—J. F. M.]

Psalm 115:4 ff. Idols. Literally: carved images. The assertion that the polemic of the Psalmist was directed only against the images and not the gods of the heathen (De Wette) is not justified by this expression. For, as images of men’s mistaken faith, these gods have no real existence. They are really only represented in their images, the work of men’s hands. In both respects these gods fall under the common idea of human construction, and of being inanimate. It is just against these points that the attack is directed after Deuteronomy 4:28, in the same manner as in Isaiah 44:9 ff.; Jeremiah 10:3 ff.: Wisdom of Solomon 15:15, in order to make it clear that their lifeless gods are nothings, whose fate shall be shared by those who trust in such idols.

[ Psalm 115:7. Alexander: “The sameness of this long enumeration, the force of which is logical and not poetical, is partially relieved by a change in the form of the original, which cannot well be imitated in translation: Their hands and they feel not, their feet and they walk not. Some make the first words in each clause nominatives absolute, their hands—they feel not; their feet—they walk not. But in the preceding parts of the description the verbs relate not to the particular members, but to the whole person. It is better, therefore, to supply a verb: their hands (are there) and (yet) they feel not; their feet (are there), and (yet) they go not. The English feel is to be taken in its outward and physical sense, answering to the Latin palpo, here used by the Vulgate and Jerome. A less equivocal translation would be touch. … The meaning of the last clause Isaiah, that they cannot even make the faintest and most inarticulate guttural noise, like the lower animals, much less speak as men do.”—J. F. M].

[In Psalm 115:16 translate: “The heavens (are) heavens for Jehovah, and the earth He has given to the children of men.” If God, while reserving the heavens to Himself, gives the earth to men, that they may multiply and replenish it, He will increase them.—J. F. M.] Silence in Psalm 115:17 is that of the underworld, as in Psalm 94:17.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. The pious are not concerned for their own honor, which they are not worthy to have ( Ezekiel 36:22 f.), but for the glory of God. This seems to suffer when it fares ill with those who fear God. Then unbelievers appear to be justified in deriding the faith of the Church. But her members do not rely upon their worthiness or desert, but upon the fact that the cause and the glory are not theirs, but their God’s. This God, who has made Himself an unequalled name in the world, cannot allow it to be dishonored with impunity, and just as little can He leave those in distress who confess and call upon it. His mercy and His truth are the foundations of this belief.

2. Unbelievers have not, in any respect, the slightest cause for derision or self-laudation. For the God of historical revelation is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. He not only lives, but He is a self-conscious, active Person, as unlimited in His power as in His will. The gods of the heathen, on the contrary, are idols fashioned by human hands, without life and being. They have only the outward appearance of personality, only the semblance of life and of power to Acts, but no reality and no efficiency.

3. To trust in such effigies of humanity, and such works of human hands, is not merely foolish but ruinous. Idolatry, in a refined or in a grosser sense, brings its votaries inevitably to destruction. But that people which is wholly devoted to God, is blessed in all its members, and increases constantly by the blessing of that God, who has reserved for His special dwelling the heavens which He has created, but has portioned out to mankind ( Acts 17:26) the earth which He has created, and will receive their praise, presented to Him willingly and unceasingly by the members of His Church, who will encourage each other to the performance of this holy and blessed service.

4. As long as the redemption of the world and its reconciliation with God remain uncompleted, so long must the separation between God’s dwelling-place and that of men remain in actual fact unremoved. Heaven and earth still continue distinct, and the believer in revelation indulges no illusions, as do the heathen, concerning this relation and its future conditions. As with regard to God’s being, power, and will, so with regard to this he does not fondly cherish or indulge any ideas, or speculations, or visions of his own fancy. He adheres simply and entirely to God’s word. As long as he has no clear word of promise he knows nothing of the Church which praises God eternally in heaven. His hopes are directed towards the possession of the promised land, a long life upon earth, God’s blessing in the increase of his generation, and the continued existence of God’s Church in the world. And even though the prophetic vision and announcement of an indestructible personal and vital communion of believers with God, or even of the Idea of the resurrection, have been presented to him, yet their appropriation and the introduction into the life of faith enjoyed by the Church remain a subject of anxious thought, upon which, as the Psalm show, light is but slowly scattered, and which becomes only gradually cleared up by successive revelations.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

We are unworthy of any glory. God is worthy of all; but it is our part to ascribe it to Him.—Faith is in opposition and conflict not merely with unbelief, but also with false belief.—God is never weary of hearing, helping, and blessing; but how often and how soon do men cease to pray, to trust, and to give thanks!—God dwells in heaven, wouldst thou not go to Him? Now, while thou livest, seek and serve Him upon earth, and trust His mercy and truth.—The Almighty, who dwells in heaven, has given the earth to the children of men, not merely as a residence while they live, but also as the place where He has revealed Himself, and where they shall serve Him. The relation of the questions, where is our God? and, who is our God?

Starke: There is no idol in the world so great as inordinate self-love. Self-denial thrusts this god from its throne.—God’s mercy and truth are the foundation of our faith and hope, and of all our help and comfort.—There is no child of God so poor and forsaken as not to be able to point with his finger on high, and say: behold my witness is in heaven, and He who knows me, on high ( Job 16:19). Those who serve idols are much more liberal in devoting their substance to their false gods, than worshippers of the true God are, in giving theirs to churches and schools.—No man’s curse can injure him whom God blesses.—None can receive God’s blessing but those who fear the Lord.—God is not so much confined to heaven as to be shut out from the government of the world.—As the earth is not the property of men, but they have received it from the great God only as a trust, they are to use it, as not abusing it.—Do good while you live and have opportunity; death shuts the mouth from speaking and the hand from doing good.—Only wait a little, and see how the lofty speeches of God’s enemies end. They are surely followed by great stillness, by eternal silence.—Hallelujah! Who will join in the song? This harmonious praise on earth is as it were the prelude to the heavenly hallelujah ( Revelation 19:6).

Frisch: Let the living not neglect to do what the dead can no longer do.—(Œtinger: God has given the earth to the children of men, especially for this end, that they may most earnestly devote their short and transitory lives to the praise of the living God, and not to that of dead idols, and thus learn that, in view of the future world, the earth fulfils a special purpose, and that Isaiah, that God’s wisdom may be glorified.—Rieger: Urged by the fear of God, men must cast away many natural and unnatural grounds of hope, but for these they receive a rich compensation from God’s mercy and truth. But, unless they trust in His mercy and truth, they treat our beloved God no better than a dumb idol.—Tholuck: It is the curse which follows all false belief with regard to God, that man in a manner, becomes his own God.—Guenther: Different ages have different customs. This is true also with regard to sin. Its essential nature is always the same, departure from the true God, but the forms of its manifestation are determined by the circumstances of education and culture.—Diedrich: God’s Church needs the help of her King against more powerful heathenism, but not for her own merit, or that she should receive the praise, but only for the sake of the glory of God’s name.—Taube: One sad consequence of the fall is the band, by which Prayer of Manasseh, separated from communion with the invisible God, lies fettered beneath the influence of the temporal and visible.

[Matt. Henry: Wherever there is an awful fear of God, there may be a cheerful faith in Him. They that reverence His word may rely upon it.—Scott: When conscious unworthiness is ready to extinguish our hopes, we have a never-failing plea, and we may entreat the Lord to serve and bless us, for the glory of His mercy and truth in Jesus Christ, when all our other arguments are silenced.—Barnes: It is always a sufficient answer to the objections which are made to the government of God, as if He had forsaken His people in bringing affliction on them, and leaving them, apparently without interposition, to poverty, to persecution and to tears, that He is “in the heavens;” that He rules there and everywhere; that He has His own eternal purposes; and that all things are ruled in accordance with His will. There must, there fore, be some good reason why events occur as they actually do.—J. F. M.].

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 115:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-115.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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