A Review of Israel’s History as a Source of Consolation.
Maschil of Asaph, a didactic poem, intended to instruct the children of Israel in the wonderful ways of the Lord and to warn them against apostasy.
THE INTRODUCTION. — V. 1. Give ear, O my people, to my law, the religious teacher calling attention to his instruction which he is now about to begin; incline your ears to the words of my mouth, in the attitude of most careful attention. V. 2. I will open my mouth in a parable, in proverbial sayings; I will utter dark sayings of old, make statements which would appear as oracles or riddles if unexplained, or if the application to present conditions were omitted, v. 3. which we, the people of the older generation, have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, this being the custom in Israel, according to God’s command, Deut. 6, 6. 7. 20-25. V. 4. We will not hide them from their children, by refusing to hand them down by word of mouth and by written record, showing to the generation to come, the children which are now growing up, the praises of the Lord, the acts of His government which redound to His glory, and His strength, in its various manifestations, and His wonderful works that He hath done. V. 5. For He established a testimony in Jacob, setting it up to be observed in the midst of His people, and appointed a Law in Israel, laying it down as a rule of life, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children, Deut. 4, 9; v. 6. that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and, in turn, declare them to their children; v. 7. that they might set their hope in God, making Him the one foundation of their trust, and not forget the works of God, all the miracles by which He manifested Himself, but keep His commandments, observing all that He had ordered, v. 8. and might not be as their fathers, the reference being chiefly to those of the wilderness journey, a stubborn, faithless, disloyal, and rebellious generation, Ex. 32, 9; Deut. 21, 18; a generation that set not their heart aright, did not direct it to the service of God alone, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God, was not faithful toward Him. V. 9. The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, fully equipped for battle, turned back in the day of battle; although this tribe possessed the privileges, and therefore should have fulfilled the duties, of the first-born, by being leaders of the nation in everything that was good, its members showed their leadership rather in apostasy from God. V. 10. They kept not the covenant of God, they were backsliders almost from the start, permitting idolatry within their coasts almost immediately after the conquest of Canaan, and refused to walk in His Law; v. 11. and forgat His works and His wonders that He had showed them, not heeding the impressive lessons connected with the guidance of the Lord. So much is said, by way of introduction and summary, to prepare the way for the warning contained in the remainder of the hymn.
THE NARRATIVE OF GOD’S DEEDS. — V. 12. Marvelous things did He in the sight of their fathers, before the exodus, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan, this being the residence of the Pharaohs at the time of the deliverance from Egypt, Num. 14, 22. The miracles performed by Moses were probably all done in or near this capital, and it is mentioned also at a later date because it was located in the most easterly portion of Egypt, in the part nearest to the land of Canaan. V. 13. He divided the sea and caused them to pass through, Ex. 14, 21; and He made the waters to stand as an heap, Ex. 15, 8. V. 14. In the daytime also He led them with a cloud and all the night with a light of fire, this pillar of fire being mentioned frequently in the account of the wilderness journey, Ex. 13, 21. 22. V. 15. He clave the rocks in the wilderness, on two different occasions, Ex. 17, 5; Num. 20, 11, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. V. 16. He brought streams also out of the rock, in performing the miracles just referred to, and caused waters to run down like rivers. V. 17. And they sinned yet more against Him by provoking the Most High in the wilderness, with their continual rebellious murmurings. V. 18. And they tempted God in their heart, Matt. 15, 19, by asking meat for their lust, when they declared that their soul loathed the very sight of the manna, Num. 11, 4-6. V. 19. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? V. 20. Behold, He smote the rock that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed, giving them water in rich abundance; can He give bread also? Can He provide flesh for His people? It was a blasphemous murmuring in the face of the great miracles performed for their benefit. V. 21. Therefore the Lord heard this and was wroth, Num. 11; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, v. 22. because they believed not in God, had no faith in the covenant God, and trusted not in His salvation, the deliverance which He had promised them; v. 23. though He had commanded the clouds from above and opened the doors of heaven, v. 24. and had rained down manna upon them to eat and had given them of the corn of heaven, miraculous food, John 6, 31. V. 25. Man did eat angels’ food, so called because it came down from heaven, Ps. 105, 40; He sent them meat to the full, all they needed to sustain their lives by the way. V. 26. He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven, and by His power He brought in the south wind, the exact direction of the wind therefore being southeast, Num. 11, 31. V. 27. He rained flesh also upon them as dust, in great abundance, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea, a day’s journey wide around their camp and two cubits high; v. 28. and He let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. V. 29. So they did eat and were well filled, falling upon the quails with the greatest greed; for He gave them their own desire. V. 30. They were not estranged from their lust, they were still indulging their desire to the full; but while their meat was yet in their mouths, v. 31. the wrath of God came upon them and slew the fattest of them, those physically in the best condition, and smote down the chosen men of Israel, those in the fullness of their strength, Num. 11, 33. V. 32. For all this they sinned still, refusing to let the punishments of the Lord lead them to repentance, and believed not for His wondrous works, even His miracles did not succeed in bringing about a lasting change of heart in them. V. 33. Therefore their days did He consume in vanity, literally, “He caused their days to vanish in a breath,” and their years in trouble, with abrupt speed, for by His decision all the members of the nation which were forty years of age at the time of the exodus died in the wilderness. V. 34. When He slew them, then they sought Him, making a show at outward reformation, more from fear than from conviction; and they returned and enquired early after God, Num. 21, 7. V. 35. And they remembered, with a repentance of fear, that God was their Rock, Deut. 32, 15. 37, and the high God their Redeemer, from whom alone they might expect deliverance of body and soul. V. 36. Nevertheless, they did flatter Him with their mouth, trying to appease Him with a feigned change of heart, and they lied unto Him with their tongues. V. 37. For their heart was not right with Him, they were not sincere in their repentance, it was not a lasting sorrow which they felt, neither were they steadfast in His covenant, they did not prove themselves faithful. V. 38. But He, being full of compassion, of merciful patience, forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not, especially since Moses interceded for them time and again; yea, many a time turned He His anger away and did not stir up all His wrath. Cp. Num. 14, 20. V. 39. For He remembered that they were but flesh, weak and sinful mortals; a wind that passeth away and cometh not again, altogether evanescent. V. 40. How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, with rebellion upon rebellion, and grieve Him in the desert, troubling His loving fatherly heart with their unruly behavior. V. 41. Yea, they turned back and tempted God, testing out His kindness in a total of ten temptations, Num. 14, 22, and limited the Holy One of Israel, worrying, troubling, vexing Him with their rebellious conduct. V. 42. They remembered not His hand, outstretched as it had been for their deliverance, nor the day when He delivered them from the enemy, from the oppression of the Egyptians, v. 43. how He had wrought His signs in Egypt and His wonders in the field of Zoan, v. 12. the psalmist now turning to a recital of the plagues which God sent upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in order to compel them to give Israel permission to leave, v. 44. and had turned their rivers into blood, in the first general plague, Ex. 7, 17, and their floods, that they could not drink. V. 45. He sent divers sorts of flies among them, the insect pests of the fourth plague, Ex. 8, 21-29, which devoured them, and frogs, in the second plague, Ex. 8, 2, which destroyed them. V. 46. He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar, literally, “the eater,” the cricket, and their labor unto the locust, in the eighth plague, Ex. 10, 13-15. V. 47. He destroyed their vines, the growth of which was a very important industry in ancient Egypt, with hail, in the seventh plague, Ex. 9, 23-25, and their sycomore-trees, the sycomore fig-trees of the Orient, with frost, great hailstones. V. 48. He gave up their cattle also to the hail, Ex. 9, 23, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts, for the play of lightning accompanying the hail was unparalled, Ex. 9, 22. 24. V. 49. He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them, that is, angels bringing all these misfortunes, destroying messengers of Jehovah. V. 50. He made a way to His anger, giving it free rein; He spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence, in the plague of murrain, Ex. 9, 6; v. 51. and smote all the first-born in Egypt, in the final plague, Ex. 12, 29; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham, in the habitations where the Egyptians, the descendants of Ham, dwelled; v. 52. but made His own people to go forth like sheep, under His protecting leadership, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock, Ps. 77, 21. V. 53. And He led them on safely, so that they feared not, there was no reason for worry or fear; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies, covering them, wiping them out. V. 54. And He brought them to the border of His Sanctuary, literally, “to the boundary of His holiness,” the region or land in which His holiness was to rule, even to this mountain, which His right hand had purchased, the Holy Land itself. V. 55. He cast out the heathen also before them, under the leadership of Joshua, and divided them an inheritance by line, Josh. 13, 7, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents, every family in its own home, according to the allotment. V. 56. Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, even after they were in possession of the Promised Land with all its blessings, Judg. 2, 11, and kept not His testimonies, all the regulations intended for the guidance of their conduct, v. 57 but turned back, aside from the prescribed path, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers, they apostatized from their promised loyalty to Jehovah; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow, one which turns back and thus fails to shoot the arrow placed upon it. V. 58. For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, the altars on the hills devoted to idolatry, and moved Him to jealousy with their graven images, with the idols to which they turned in preference to Him. V. 59. When God heard this, He was wroth, filled with indignation, and greatly abhorred Israel, although not to the point of total rejection, v. 60. so that He forsook the Tabernacle of Shiloh, where it had first been erected after the conquest of the country, Josh. 18, 1; the tent which He placed among men, where He had promised to dwell and to reveal Himself to His people, for the Tabernacle was later erected near Gibeon, apparently on the hill between this town and Nob; v. 61. and delivered His strength, namely, the Ark of the Covenant, into captivity, by letting the Philistines capture it, 1 Sam. 4, and His glory into the enemy’s hand, 1 Sam. 4, 21. 22. V. 62. He gave His people over also unto the sword, 1 Sam. 4, 10; and was wroth with His inheritance, with the people which belonged to Him by virtue of their deliverance. V. 63. The fire, namely, that of wars, consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage, no marriage anthems were intoned in their honor, for they were killed or dragged into exile during the troublous times of the judges. V. 64. Their priests fell by the sword, Hophni and Phinehas being examples, 1 Sam. 4, 11; and their widows made no lamentation, being kept from the customary rites of mourning by the terrors of war. But then came the change of Israel’s fortunes. V. 65. Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, for it had seemed to Israel that He had slumbered while the heathen were enslaving His people, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine, filled with heroic courage by its proper enjoyment. V. 66. And He smote His enemies in the hinder parts, His blows raining down upon the backs, principally of the Philistines, who at that time were the chief enemies of Israel; he put them to a perpetual reproach, the disgrace recorded 1 Sam. 5, 6. V. 67. Moreover, He refused the Tabernacle of Joseph, taking it away from Shiloh, in the midst of the tribe of Ephraim, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, v. 60, v. 68. but chose the tribe of Judah, the bearer of the Messianic promise, the Mount Zion which He loved, selecting Jerusalem as the city of His central Sanctuary. V. 69. And He built his Sanctuary like high palaces, firm as the heights of heaven, most excellent and glorious, like the earth which He hath established forever, founded most solidly. V. 70. He chose David also His servant, the ancestor of the Messiah, and took him from the sheepfolds, 1 Sam. 16, 11; v. 71. from following the ewes great with young He brought him to feed Jacob, His people, and Israel, His inheritance, the children of Israel being a type of the spiritual Israel, and David a type of the great Shepherd, the Messiah Himself, Is. 40, 11. V. 72. So he fed them, as their ruler, with all care and kindness, according to the integrity of his heart, striving after ever greater understanding of their needs, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands, with the proper appreciation of all that was best for them. Herein also David prefigured the great King of the Church, whose understanding of our needs and wants resulted in our eternal redemption.