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This psalm, in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, is entitled “A Psalm of David, for the fourth day of the week.” What is the origin of this title is unknown, as there is nothing corresponding to it in the Hebrew. In the original the psalm is without a title, nor is there anything in the contents of it which will enable us to determine who was the author, or to fix the date or the occasion of its composition. There is in it nothing necessarily inconsistent with the supposition that David was the author; and there were undoubtedly occasions in his life, when it would have been appropriate. There have been many conjectures as to the author, and as to the occasion on which it was composed. Rudinger refers it to the times of David and the rebellion of Absalom; Venema supposes that it refers to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the persecution under him; DeWette refers it to the time of the Babylonian exile; others suppose that it was written on the eve of the Babylonian captivity. Whatever may have been the occasion, the style and form of the psalm are so general that it may be made a vehicle of pious thought, and of the feelings of the people of God, in all ages.
From the psalm itself it is plain that it was composed during some Impending or actual national calamity. This is evident from Psalms 94:3-5, Psalms 94:14, Psalms 94:20. It would seem, also, from Psalms 94:7-10, that it was probably some calamity which was brought upon the people by a foreign nation - a nation that defied Yahweh, and proclaimed that he was unable to defend his friends, or that he would not interpose in their behalf: “They say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” The object of the psalm is to show that God “is” the protector of his people; that he “does” regard them; that he “will” interpose in their behalf.
The psalm embraces the following subjects:
(1) An appeal or prayer to God as the God of vengeance, or as a just God, Psalms 94:1-2.
(2) a statement of the character and purposes of the wicked who were bringing these calamities upon the nation, Psalms 94:3-7.
(3) a direct appeal to these invaders themselves - an appeal based on the ground that God could “not” be indifferent to the conduct of people; that he must hear their words, understand their thoughts, see their acts, and know all that they did, Psalms 94:8-11.
(4) Consolation in the trouble derived from the fact that this was a deserved chastening of the Lord, and was not designed for their destruction, but for their good, Psalms 94:12-15.
(5) The fact that God is a source of confidence, comfort, and support to his people, in all Such times of trial, Psalms 94:16-23.
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth ... - Margin, God of revenges The idea is, that it pertains to God to take vengeance, or to punish for crimes. See the notes at Romans 12:19. The appeal here is made to God in view of the crimes committed by others, and which are referred to in the subsequent part of the psalm. God is addressed as having the right to restrain and punish wicked people, and he is asked to interpose and assert that right in a case which clearly demanded it. The appeal is repeated to make it emphatic, or to denote “earnestness” in the petition.
Show thyself - Margin, as in Hebrew, “shine forth.” The meaning is, Manifest thyself; come forth as such a God; prove thy right; display thy power, and show that thou art a God opposed to crime and wrong. The same Hebrew word is used here which is found in Psalms 80:1, and which is there rendered “shine forth.” See the notes at that passage.
Lift up thyself - Be exalted or lifted up so as to be manifest in thy true character. The idea is that God was, as it were, sitting at his ease, or as if he were indifferent to what was occurring in the world. See the notes at Psalms 3:7.
Thou Judge of the earth - Ruler of the world; to whom it pertains to exercise judgment over all classes of people, and in all circumstances. The meaning here is, that as he was the Ruler of the whole earth, this matter came without doubt under his jurisdiction. It was a case for his interposition.
Render a reward to the proud - A just recompence to the people who are confident in their own strength, and who are manifesting their pride in depriving others of their rights.
Lord, how long shall the wicked ... - As if there were to be no end to their exaltation; their joy; their success. How long would God allow this? How long would he sit by and see it done? Was he disposed to let them go on forever? Would he never interpose, and arrest them in their career? How often do we wonder that God does not interpose! How often does it seem inexplicable that a Being of almighty power and infinite goodness does not interfere with respect to the wickedness, the oppression, the slavery, the wrong, the cruelty, the fraud, the violence of the world - and put an end to it! Nay, how entirely are we overwhelmed at the thought that he does not put an end to iniquity in the universe altogether; that he never “will” thus interpose, and put an end to sin and sorrow! Such things are too high for us now; perhaps will be always so. Things on earth are not as we should suppose they would be; and we can only pause and adore where we cannot comprehend!
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? - The word rendered utter means to pour forth - as water from a fountain; to pour forth copiously. The meaning is, that they seemed to be full, and that they poured forth evil words as a fountain pours forth water. The phrase “hard things” means proud, unfeeling, insolent things; things which are unjust, unkind, severe, harsh.
And all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? - Boast of their power and their success. How long shall they be permitted to have such success as may seem to justify them in their exultation?
They break in pieces thy people - They tread down; they grind; they crush. The Hebrew word is often used as meaning to crush under foot; to trample on; and hence, it means to oppress. Lamentations 3:34; Isaiah 3:15.
And afflict - To wit, by oppression and wrong. If this refers to foreigners, it means that they did this by invasion and by the ravages of war.
Thine heritage - Thy people, regarded as an inheritance or possession. See Psalms 28:9, note; Psalms 33:12, note; Psalms 68:9, note; Psalms 74:2, note; Isaiah 19:25, note; Isaiah 47:6, note; 1 Peter 5:3, note.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless - To do this is everywhere represented as a special crime, and as especially offensive to God from the fact that these classes are naturally feeble and unprotected. See the notes at Isaiah 1:17; Psalms 68:5; Psalms 82:3.
Yet they say - By their conduct; or, they seem to say.
The Lord shall not see - In the original, יה Yâhh. This is an abbreviation of the word יהוה Yahweh. See Psalms 68:4, note; Psalms 83:18, note. On the impious sentiment here expressed, see the notes at Psalms 10:11.
Neither shall the God of Jacob regard it - Implying that God was indifferent to the conduct of people; that he would not punish the wicked; that sinners have nothing to fear at his hand. This sentiment is very common still, either as an article in their creed, or as implied in their conduct. The doctrine of universal salvation is really founded on this opinion; and most people ACT as if it were their belief that the wicked are in no danger of being punished, and that there is no such attribute in God as justice.
Understand, ye brutish among the people - See Psalms 73:22. The meaning here is, “You who are like the brutes; you who see and understand no more of the character and plans of God than the wild beasts of the desert.” The meaning is, that they did not employ their reason in the case; they acted like beasts, regardless of the consequences of their conduct - as if God would treat people as he does the beasts; as if there were no retribution in the future world.
And ye fools, when will ye be wise? - How long is this stupidity to continue? When will you attend to the truth; when will you act as immortal beings; when will you suffer your rational nature to lead you up to just views of God? It is implied that this folly had been manifested for a long period, and that it was time they should arouse from this condition, and act like people. With what propriety may this language be addressed still to the great mass of mankind! What numbers of the human race are there now, who in respect to God, and to the purpose for which they were made, evince no more wisdom than the brutes that perish! Oh, if people were truly wise, what a beautiful world would this be; how noble and elevated would be our now degraded race!
He that planted the ear - He that made the ear. The word here used in the original is a participle. “Shall not he planting the ear;” that is, the “planter” of the ear. The idea seems to have been taken from the act of making a “hole” in the ground when we set out a plant - as if, in like manner, a “hole” had been made in the side of the head to insert the ear.
Shall he not hear? - He could not have created the faculty of hearing, without possessing it himself. Or, it is reasonable to suppose that he who has made man capable of hearing, must be able to hear himself. We have nothing in our nature which is not possessed in an infinitely higher measure by God.
He that formed the eye - This, too, is a participle: “He forming the eye;” that is, the Former of the eye. The word used here is frequently employed in reference to a “potter;” and the idea is that God has moulded or formed the eye as the potter fashions the clay. The more the eye is studied in its structure, the more deeply shall we be impressed with the wonderful skill and wisdom of God. See this beautifully illustrated in Paley’s Natural Theology.
Shall he not see? - He that made the eye to see must himself be able to see. He must see all that the eye itself can see; he must see all that all eyes see; he must have the power of sight far beyond what there is in the mere organ which he has made.
He that chastiseth the heathen - More literally, “Shall not the Reprover of nations - shall he not chastise - he that teaches man knowledge?” The idea is, that God exercises a government over the nations of the earth; that he has them under his control; that he brings heavy judgments on them; that he thus conveys great lessons to man. And shall not such a Being, in individual cases, reprove and correct for sin? It is assumed here that God, in fact, brings judgments on nations; that he does this by fire, flood, famine, pestilence; that these things are proofs that he presides over the nations of the earth; and the question here is, whether he that does this on the large scale must not be expected to do it in individual cases, so that the offender will not escape.
Shall not he correct? - Shall he not chastise, or bring judgments on offenders?
He that teacheth man knowledge ... - The idea in our translation, that he who imparts knowledge to mankind must himself possess intelligence, is a true one, but it is probably not that which is in the original. The sense is probably merely that God is the great Teacher, and this is the impression which it is intended should be impressed on the mind, leaving the consequences of this to be supplied by the reader: “He that teaches man all the knowledge that he has!” - reflect on the consequences of this, or what must follow from this! Such a Being cannot be ignorant; he must understand all things; he must, therefore, see human conduct everywhere as it is. The consequence - the result - of this is staffed in the next verse, that he must see the thoughts of man, and understand his real character.
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man - That is, He who teaches people all that they know Psalms 94:10, must understand all that there is in the mind. See the notes at 1 Corinthians 3:20.
That they are vanity - That is, that they are foolish, vain, unwise, wicked. The knowledge of the thoughts themselves carries with it also the knowledge that they are vain and foolish - for that is their character, and to know them truly is to know this of them. They do not appear to him as they do to people themselves. They are to his view stripped of all that is flattering and illusive, and are seen to be vain and foolish.
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord - “Happy the man;” or “Oh the blessedness of the man.” See the notes at Psalms 1:1. The word here rendered “chastenest” does not mean to chasten in the sense of afflicting or punishing. It means here to instruct; to warn; to admonish; to exhort. So the word is employed in Proverbs 9:7; Job 4:3; Psalms 16:7. The meaning here is, that the man is blessed or happy whom God so “instructs, warns, or teaches,” that he understands the principles of the divine administration. Such a man will see reasons for confidence in him in trouble, and for calmness of mind until punishment is brought upon his enemies.
And teachest him out of thy law - Causest him, from thy word, to understand the great principles of thy government.
That thou mayest give him rest - Mayest make his mind quiet and calm; mayest save him from murmuring, from despondency, from impatience, by just confidence in thee, and in thy government.
From the days of adversity - Or, in the days of evil; the time of calamity and trouble. That his mind may then be composed and calm.
Until the pit be digged for the wicked - Until the wicked be punished; that is, while the preparations are going on, or while God seems to delay punishment, and the wicked are suffered to live as if God did not notice them, or would not punish them. The idea is, that the mind should not be impatient as if their punishment would not come, or as if God were unconcerned; and that just views of the divine administration would tend to make the mind calm even when the wicked “seemed” to prosper and triumph. See the notes at Psalms 73:16-22. The phrase “until the pit be digged” is derived from the method of hunting wild beasts by digging a pit into which they might fall and be taken. See the notes at Psalms 7:15.
For the Lord will not cast off his people ... - He will interpose in their behalf though the wicked seem now to triumph. The certainty of this would give consolation; this would make the mind calm in the days of trouble. Compare 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 6:13; Deuteronomy 31:6. See the notes at Romans 11:1-2.
But judgment shall return unto righteousness - That is, The exercise of judgment shall be so manifest to the world - as if it “returned” to it - as to show that there is a righteous God. The truth here taught is, that the “results” of God’s interposition in human affairs will be such as to show that he is on the side of righteousness, or such as to vindicate and maintain the cause of righteousness in the earth.
And all the upright in heart shall follow it - Margin, shall be after it. The meaning is, that all who are upright in heart - all who are truly righteous - will follow on in the path of justice; that they will regard what God does as right, and will walk in that path. The fact that what occurs is done by God, will be to them a sufficient revelation of what ought to be done; and they will follow out the teachings properly suggested by the divine dealings as their rules of life. In other words, the manifested laws of the divine administration will be to them an indication of what is right; and they will embrace and follow the lessons thus made known to them by the dealings of Divine Providence as the rules of their own conduct.
Who will rise up for me against the evil-doers?... - This is the language of the psalmist. It is what he had said in the circumstances referred to in the first part of the psalm, when the wicked seemed to triumph; when they had come in upon the land, and laid waste the heritage of God, Psalms 94:3-6. At that time, full of anxiety and trouble, and deeply impressed with a sense of danger, he had anxiously looked around for help, and had asked with deep concern who would stand up for him and defend him. The following verses Psalms 94:17-18 show what was then his reliance, and in what way confidence in God had kept him from falling into despair.
Unless the Lord had been my help - At the time referred to. If I had not had a God to whom I could have gone - if my mind had not been directed to him - if I had not actually found him a refuge and strength, I should have despaired altogether. There was no other one to whom I could go; there was nothing else but the help of God on which I could rely.
My soul had almost dwelt in silence - Margin, quickly. The original is, “It was as it were but little;” that is, there was little lacking to bring this about; a little heavier pressure - a little added to what I was then suffering - a little longer time before relief was obtained - would have brought me down to the land of silence - to the grave. The Latin Vulgate renders this, “My soul had dwelt in inpherno.” The Septuagint, “in Hades” - τᾤ ἅδῃ tō Hadē. See Psalms 31:17. The grave is represented as a place of silence, or as the land of silence: Psalms 115:17 : “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” Compare Amos 8:3.
When I said, My foot slippeth - I can no longer stand. My strength is gone; and I must sink into the grave. The original here is, “If I say, My foot slippeth,” etc. The statement is general; that if at any time he had been, or should be, in such circumstances, then God would interpose. The general remark, however, is founded on his interposition on this particular occasion. His aid was then so marked and timely, that he felt that he could make the declaration general in regard to his whole life - to all circumstances in which he would ever be placed.
Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up - By thy merciful interposition thou didst keep me from falling. It was strength put forth as the expression of “mercy;” not strength to which he had any claim. How often in life may we say this of ourselves, that when just ready to sink; when our strength was almost gone; when a little severer pressure would have brought us to the grave, God by his mercy and his power interposed and saved us! Every such act of mercy - every new interposition in this manner - is a new gift of life, and lays us under obligation as if we had been just created, for it is just so much more of life given us by God.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul - The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, “In the multitude of my griefs within me,” etc. DeWette renders it, “Bei meinen vielen Sorgen,” “in my many cares.” The Hebrew word, however, properly means “thoughts;” and the idea seems to be that in the great number of thoughts which passed through his mind, so many of them perplexing, anxious, burdensome - so many of them vain and profitless - so many of them that seemed to come and go without any aim or object, there was one class that gave him comfort. They were those which pertained to God. In those thoughts he found calmness and peace. However much he might be disturbed by other thoughts, yet here he found rest and peace. In God - in his character, in his law, in his government - he had an unfailing source of consolation; and whatever trouble he might have from the cares of life, and from the evil imaginings in his own mind, yet here his soul found repose.
God was an unfailing refuge; and meditation on him and his perfections made the mind calm. How many thoughts pass through our minds in a single day or a single hour! Who can tell from where they come, or by what laws they are linked together! How many of them seem to have no connection with any that went before! How many of them seem to be thrown into our minds when we would avoid them! How many are vain and frivolous; how many are skeptical; how many are polluted and polluting! How many come into the mind which we would not for worlds disclose to our best friends! How few of us would walk abroad if we were conscious that all whom we meet could look into our bosoms, and see all that is passing there! What a consolation it is to us that they cannot see it! What a world of confusion and blushes would this be if, in the streets of a crowded city, or when man meets his fellow man anywhere, all that is in his bosom were known! And yet, in this multitude of thoughts - so empty, so foolish, so sinful, so vexing, so skeptical, so polluting - there are others - there are thoughts of God, of Christ, of heaven, of hope, of faith, of love, of benevolence; thoughts within us, when the divine promises come to the heart, and the prospect of heaven warms the soul. These give “comfort;” these fill the soul with “delight.” Happy he who can find in his bosom, amidst the multitude of thoughts within him, those which pertain to God; to a higher life; to heaven!
Shall the throne of iniquity - The throne established in iniquity; or, sustaining iniquity. The allusion is probably to what was referred to in the former part of the psalm - the powers that were spreading desolation through the land - wicked princes or rulers, Psalms 94:3-7. Their thrones were established on evil; they defended wickedness and wrong by their authority; they abused their power, and employed it to overthrow the rights of others. The “phrase” would be applicable to any unjust government, or to any laws that are designed to uphold that which is wrong. Such are all the laws which authorize or uphold slavery, gaming, lotteries, the traffic in intoxicating drinks, etc.
Have fellowship with thee - With God. Shall they be united with thee; be sustained by thee; be regarded as a part of thine administration? Wilt thou sanction them? Wilt thou give to them thy patronage, as if they met with thine approbation? The Hebrew word means to be associated with, or allied to, and would be properly applied to a partnership, or anything where there is fellowship or alliance. The interrogative form here strongly implies that this “cannot be.” Such laws - such purposes - “cannot” be in accordance with the laws and authority of God; or, in other words, God does not sit on the same throne with those who authorize and by law sustain slavery, intemperance, and gambling. There can be no partnership here.
Which frameth mischief by a law - The word rendered “mischief” usually means labor, toil; and then, trouble, vexation, sorrow. It may, however, be used to denote evil of any kind - crime, or wrong. The word rendered frameth means to form, to fashion, to make, as a potter does clay; Genesis 2:7-8, Genesis 2:19; or as a workman does statues, Isaiah 44:9-10, Isaiah 44:12; or as one makes weapons, Isaiah 54:17. It is often applied to God as the Creator. See the notes at Psalms 94:9 : “he that formed the eye.” The word law here means a rule or statute; and the idea is, that the iniquity referred to was not the result of an irregular and fitful impulse; or of passion; of sudden excitement; or of mere “will” in a particular case; but was reduced to statute, and sustained by law. The expression would apply to all those cases where evil is upheld by the government or by civil authority, or where those who are engaged in it can plead in their defense the sanction of law. The statement here is, that such acts “cannot” have fellowship with God, or receive his approval. It is an insult to God to suppose that he has ever appointed legislators or magistrates for the purpose of making or upholding such enactments. Yet there are many such laws in the world; and a main reason why it is so difficult to remove such evils as have been above referred to is the fact that they are sustained by law, and that they who hold slaves, or open gambling-houses, or sell intoxicating drinks, can plead the authority of the law; or, in other words, that the laws have done all they can to place such things on a level with those which “ought” to be protected by statute. Many a man in his business looks no further than to the laws of the land, and if he has their sanction, in vain is the attempt to induce him to abandon a business that leads to oppression, or that scatters woe and sorrow through a community.
They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous - Against the life of the righteous; that is, to take their lives. The Hebrew word rendered “gather together,” means to press or crowd upon anyone; to rush in crowds or troops. It would refer particularly to a tumultuous gathering - “a mob” - intent on accomplishing its purpose.
And condemn the innocent blood - literally, make guilty; that is, they hold that blood to be guilty; or, they treat the innocent as if they were guilty.
But the Lord is my defense ... - In all these purposes of the wicked; in all that they do - whether under the form and sanction of law Psalms 94:20, or by the excitement of passion - my trust is still in God. He is able to interpose in either case, and I may confidently commit my cause to him. On the language used here, as well as the sentiment, see the notes at Psalms 18:2.
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity - The consequences of their sin. He shall punish them as they deserve. See the notes at Psalms 7:16.
And shall cut them off in their own wickedness - As the result of their wickedness, and while they are engaged in perpetrating acts of sin.
Yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off - Expressing, by the repetition of the sentiment, the utmost confidence that this would be so. This is in accordance with the prayer with which the psalm opens, and is expressive of entire faith that God will deal justly with the children of men. However the wicked may seem to prosper and to triumph, yet the day of vengeance is approaching, and all which they have deserved will come upon them.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 94". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26