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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 94


Psalms 94:5; Psalms 94:14, and, by implication, Psalms 94:10, show that this psalm was the expression, not of individual, but of national, sense of wrong and injustice. Yet the poet must, in his own person, have experienced the bitterness of the trouble, from the reference he makes, towards the close, to his own experiences. Apostate Jews may have been joined with the heathen oppressors. (See Note, Psalms 94:6.) There is no indication on which to found a conjecture as to date or authorship. The poetical form is regular.

Verse 1

(1) The original is far more striking in its conciseness. God of retributions, Jehovah, God of retributions shine forth. The emphatic repetition of a phrase is a feature of this psalm. (See Psalms 94:3; Psalms 94:23.)

Verse 2

(2) Lift up thyselfi.e., either be exalted, or rise to give sentence.

Verse 4

(4) How long . . . and.—It is better to omit the italics, and render: They speak out of utter impudence: all evil-doers boast. The word rendered “boast” is by modern scholars connected with the Arabian title Emir, a “commander.” They make themselves out to be persons of distinction, or, perhaps, lord it over God’s people.

Verse 5

(5) Break in pieces.—Or, crush. (See Isaiah 3:15, where the word is in parallelism with “grind the faces of the poor.”)

Verse 6

(6) Stranger.—The mention of the stranger as one friendless and helpless (Exodus 22:21), under the tyranny of the great, seems to imply that domestic, and not foreign oppression, is the grievance.

Verse 7

(7) The Lord.—In original, “Jah.” This carelessness of heaven to injustice and crime, which, in the mouth of the heathen (or, perhaps, of apostate Jews), appeared so monstrous to the Hebrews, was a doctrine of the philosophy of ancient times. It appears in the saying of Seneca: “Stoicus deus nec cor nec caput habet.” And in the Homeric hymn to Demeter men are represented as only enduring the gifts of the gods because they are stronger, and give only grudgingly. (Comp. Lucretius, 1:45.) The feeling has been well caught in Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters:

“Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotus-land to live and lie reclined,
On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind.”

Verses 8-10

(8-10) The reality of a Divine Providence is proved both from nature and history—from the physical constitution of man and the moral government of the world. The psalmist’s question is as powerful against modern atheism, under whatever philosophy it shelters itself, as against that of his day. Whatever the source of physical life or moral sense, their existence proves the prior existence of an original mind and will.

Verse 10

(10) He that chastiseth.—Or, He who instructeth. The thought to some extent anticipates St. Paul’s teaching about the divine education of the heathen, in Romans 1:0.

Verse 11

(11) That they are vanity—The literal rendering, “for they are breath,” referring not to thoughts, but to man collectively, gives equally good sense, and would, notwithstanding the order of the words, be natural, since the masculine pronoun is used. But the LXX. stands as the Authorised Version, and is so quoted by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:20), with the substitution of wise men for men.

Verses 12-13

(12, 13) Blessed.—A far higher note than one of mere complaint, or even of trust in God, is struck here. The beatitude of suffering could not be made altogether plain in the Old Testament, though in Job the spirit of it is nearly reached. Here the poet sees thus far, that he who is the victim of misfortunes may be congratulated if he may stand aside and calmly watch the course of Divine Providence involving evil men in punishment. What he has himself endured has chastened him, and caused him to be quiet from the evil daysi.e., has calmed him in viewing evil circumstances. It would, however, but for the next clause, be more natural to understand, “shall deliver him from evil days.”

Pit.—Comp. Psalms 9:15.

Verse 15

(15) But.—Better, For; literally, for to righteousness judgment shall turn, and after it all upright in heart—i.e., there shall no longer be the seeming contradiction in things. God’s righteousness will triumph over the injustice under which Israel groans; His ways will be vindicated, so that all the upright in heart will acknowledge that “there is a reward for the righteous, a God who judges in the earth” (Psalms 58:11). Luther’s fine paraphrase, “For Right must, whatever happens, remain Right,” expresses the feeling; but, better still, the question, “Shall not the Lord of all the earth do right?” The phrase, “shall after it,” is a common one for expressing attachment and adherence to a party or cause (Exodus 23:2; 2 Samuel 2:10; Psalms 49:13), and specially of adherence to Jehovah (1 Samuel 12:14; 1 Kings 14:8).

Verse 16

(16) Rise up.—Stand up—i.e., as champion. (Comp. 2 Samuel 23:11, of the exploit of Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite; comp. Psalms 2:2.)

Verse 17

(17) In silencei.e., of the grave, as in Psalms 31:17.

Verse 19

(19) Thoughts.—Properly, dividing—i.e., “perplexing” or “anxious” thoughts. (See Job 4:13; Job 20:2.) LXX. and Vulg., “griefs.”

We may compare the Virgilian “animum nunc huc celerem, nunc dividit illuc,” imitated by Tennyson:
This way and that dividing his swift mind,
In act to throw.”

Delight.—Literally, stroke, and so soothe. The Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 66:11 of a mother quieting her child with the breast, and in Jeremiah 16:7 of the cup of consolation given to mourners at funerals.

Verse 20

(20) Throne of iniquity.—This is an apt expression for an oppressive and unjust government. The word rendered “iniquity” might mean “calamity” or “destruction” (seePsalms 57:1; Psalms 57:1, and comp. Psalms 91:3 : “noisome”), but in Proverbs 10:3 it seems to mean “lawless desire,” which best suits this passage.

Have fellowshipi.e., be associated in the government. Could the theocracy admit to a share in it, not merely imperfect instruments of justice, but even those who perverted justice to evil ends?

Which frameth mischief by a law?i.e., making legislation a means of wrong. Others, however, render, “against the law.” But the former explanation best suits the next verse.

Verse 21

(21) They gatheri.e., possibly, They crowd into the courts of law to take part in the unjust condemnation of the just, or more generally, “They attack the life of the righteous.” LXX., “they hunt.” (Comp. Psalms 35:15.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 94". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.