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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 115


That this is a late liturgical psalm all commentators agree, but the precise period of its composition cannot be ascertained. The belief that death cut the Hebrew off from all the privileges of the covenant seems to forbid so late a date as the Maccabæan age, though a psalm so priestly in its character, and which apparently celebrates some martial success, would else be appropriately ascribed to the Asmonean period. The psalm has a historic interest for Englishmen, having been chanted by order of Henry V. after the battle of Agincourt. The choric arrangement is indicated by the change of address.

Verse 1

(1) Not unto us . . .—This rejection of all self-praise is implied in all Hebrew poetry.

Mercy . . . truth . . .—Both a distinct reference to the covenant. Both these covenanted blessings were assailed by the heathen taunt, “Where is now their God?”

It is difficult for us to reproduce in imagination the apparent triumph, which the idolater, who could point to his deity, felt he had over the worshipper of the invisible God, when outward events seemed to be going against the latter. But we may estimate the strength of the conviction, which even under the apparent withdrawal of Divine favour, could point to the heavens as the abode of the Invisible, and to misfortune itself as a proof of the existence and power of One who could in everything do what pleased him.

Verses 4-8

(4-8) This passage cannot compare with the magnificent irony of Isaiah 44:9-20, but there is still a noticeable vein of sarcasm running through it, visible even more in the original than in the English. (Comp. Psalms 135:15-18.)

Verse 7

(7) Neither speak they.—The Hebrew implies not only the want of articulate speech, but of utterance at all.

Verse 8

(8) Every one that trusteth . . .

“Who moulds in gold or stone a sacred face
Makes not the god; but he who asks his grace.”

Verse 9

(9) O Israel.—There is consummate art in this sudden change of address. It is like the pointed application of some general truth in a sermon. It is possible that in the liturgic use a change in the music was made here, the Levites and choir turning to the people with a loud burst of song.

He is their help and their shield.—The original form of this motto of trust appears in Psalms 33:20. Here the change of person suggests some musical arrangement. Apparently one part of the choir, or, it may be, one officiating priest, addressed successively the whole congregation with the charge, “trust in Jehovah,” and each time the full choir took up the refrain, “He is their helper and shield,” repeating to the priest the ground on which he urged confidence and loyalty. Then in Psalms 115:12-13 congregation and choir join, changing to the first person.

Verse 13

(13) Them that fear the Lordi.e., all Israel.

Verse 14

(14) The Lord shall increase.—More literally,

“Jehovah shall heap blessings on you,
On you and on your children.”

Verse 17

(17) Silence.—The land of silence is, of course, Sheôl, the under-world. (So the LXX., “Hades.”)

Verses 17-18

(17, 18) The connection of these verses with the rest of the psalm is far from plain. Why the psalmist should suddenly be struck with the dreadful thought that death broke the covenant relationship, and silenced prayer and praise, is not easy to see. Was the psalm first chanted after some victory? and was this suggested by the sight of the slain, who, though they had helped to win the triumph, could yet have no share in the praises that were ascending to Jehovah?

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 115". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.