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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 94

Psalms 94

The Psalmist, or rather the Church, begins with the expression of confidence in the appearance of God for help and vengeance, Psalms 94:1. On the ground of this there next rises the prayer that God would rise up against the proud enemies, to which there is added the description of their unreasonable and God-denying ungodliness, Psalms 94:2-7. Upon this there follows the emphatic refutation of those among the people in whom the ungodly assertion alluded to at the close, “that the Lord does not see, the God of Israel does not observe,” had found an entrance, Psalms 94:8-11. In opposition to these the Psalmist pronounces those men happy who continue in the firm faith of the help of the Lord: he will interest himself at his own time on behalf of his people, Psalms 94:12-15. He declares that in every suffering the Lord is his consolation and his confidence, Psalms 94:16-23.

If we separate the first verse, as is obvious from itself that we must do, as soon as we get at the correct interpretation of הופיע , it becomes manifest that the Psalm in regard to number is an alphabetical one. The main division consists of 12 verses. Up to this point there is prayer, description of trouble, rejection of despair; and after that, hope. The 22 therefore is divided by a 10 and a 12.

That the Psalm does not refer to the internal difference between the wicked and the righteous, but to the relation to heathen enemies, is evident from the ( Psalms 94:5) 5th verse, according to which the wicked distress the people of the Lord and oppress his inheritance, from the ( Psalms 94:14) 14th verse, according to which the Lord will not forget his people, and will not forsake his inheritance, from the ( Psalms 94:10) 10th verse, according to which the punishment of the impious heathen is what the ungodly part of the people deny, and the pious hope for in faith, and finally from the mention of “the throne of iniquity,” in Psalms 94:20, apparently favoured by God, by which we can understand only the heathen power. [Note: Hitzig’s assertion that the question is not applicable to a heathen throne, “as it is obvious that Jehovah is not in covenant with such,” is set aside by the remark that the question here has exactly the force of the strongest denial.]

That the Psalm is intimately connected with the series of Psalms of which it forms a part (Psalms 91–Psalms 100), is manifest from the anadiplosis characteristic of these Psalms, Psalms 94:1, Psalms 94:3-23 (compare the introduction to Psalms 93), from the sympathy expressed with the expectation peculiar to them of a joyful revelation of God, Psalms 94:1, from the soft tone never rising above a certain height, and from their quiet tenderness, as well as the simple language which flows on easily without any great difficulty.

There is hence a limit fixed, beyond which we cannot go in determining the date of the composition, by the (Psalms 93) 93d Psalm, which, as was shown, cannot have been composed at all events later than the Assyrian catastrophe. We are led to the same result also, by the mention here made of the throne of iniquity, which shews that the Asiatic power had at that time already arisen and taken up a hostile position against the kingdom of God. The plaintive tone, Psalms 94:6, according to which Israel finds herself in the situation of a widow and an orphan, Psalms 94:14, according to which the Lord appears to have wholly forsaken his people, Psalms 94:17, according to which the people is near destruction, leads us away from the time of the Assyrians in which prophets and psalmists are from the beginning full of joyful and triumphant hope, to that of the Chaldeans. But that we cannot advance too far into this period is manifest from the circumstance that no mention whatever is made here of the destruction of the city and temple, and of the leading away into captivity and of the dispersion. Yea, if we observe that the descriptions of the severe oppression of the power of the world is altogether general, and remember that Habakkuk, a considerable time before the Chaldean invasion, under Josiah, saw it present in spirit, and gave expression, in the language not only of prophecy but also of poetry, to those considerations which were fitted to minister comfort and support on its approach, we shall consider it as not improbable that even our Psalm formed part of that rich spiritual provision which the spirit of God prepared for the church before it entered upon that painful journey. It is antecedently probable that the voice of the spiritual “watchman of Zion, which made known so distinctly and so earnestly this catastrophe long before its arrival, had called forth a response from the midst of the church,—that prophecy was not unaccompanied by psalmody; this is all the more probable, as the third chapter of Habakkuk shows us the former in a state of transition to the latter. The tone and character of the Psalm appear much more intelligible if we assign it to the eve of this catastrophe, than if we assign it to the catastrophe itself. There occur in it, and this may be said of the whole series to which it belongs, no traces of excitement, no attempts at conflicting with despair, as these meet us in those Psalms which were composed in the midst of the terrible sufferings of the Chaldean catastrophe.

Finally, the special originating point of the Psalm does not deprive it of any of its universal truth

Luther remarks: “This Psalm, as may be easily apprehended, is a prayer of all the pious children of God, and of spiritual people, against all their persecutors, so that it may be used by all pious godly people from the beginning till the end of the world.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. The God of vengeance, the Lord, the God of vengeance shines. Luther: “He puts down God of vengeance twice as those are wont to do who speak vehemently, and with great earnestness; these men say a thing repeatedly that they may move God.” Even the plural, properly “the God of vengeances,” strengthens the expression. It indicates that there is in God a whole fulness of vengeance for his injured Church. The fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 32:35: “Vengeance is mine and recompense.” That God is the God of vengeance forms the sure foundation on which the confident hope of his appearing rests. This is the eternally powerful root from which springs the rod of help for the church. Arnd: “Therefore should the people of God rejoice and be glad because they have such a mighty, strong, and righteous God, who inquires after their blood and avenges it.” The הופיע is usually taken as an imperative do thou, God of vengeance, shine forth. But it must rather be taken as a preterite, after the example of the Septuagint and the Vulgate. The imperative would be הופיעד , as in Psalms 80:1; as in the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 33:2 (comp. at Psalms 50:2), the form which stands here is the preterite, it is all the more unlikely to have been erroneously taken here for the imperative; the preterite is also the form which occurs in Psalms 50:2, “from Sion

God shines:” Psalms 93, Psalms 97, Psalms 99 also begin with the preterite, “the Lord reigneth,” comp. Psalms 96:10. In these passages “the Lord reigneth,” and in the Psalm before us, “the Lord shines,” are presented to the noisy onsets of the world. The firm, confident expectation of an immediate, great manifestation of the Lord, is the distinguishing feature of the whole series of Psalms. The Psalmist looks down from the height of this expectation upon suffering; next, he descends into the deep, in order that, with strength thus received, he may again gradually mount up on high, laden with his heavy burden; or: ere he descends into the darkness, he kindles at the candlestick of the divine word, this pit-lamp which alone can enlighten it.

Verses 2-7

Ver. 2. Rise up thou, Judge of the earth, recompense a reward to the proud. Ver. 3. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph. Ver. 4. They sputter, speak impudent things, they brag, all the evildoers. Ver. 5. Thy people, O Lord, they crush and oppress thine inheritance. Ver. 6. Widow and stranger they put to death, and they murder the orphan. Ver. 7. And say: the Lord sees not, and the God of Jacob observes not.

On the “lift thyself up,” i.e., “show thyself mighty,” at Psalms 94:2, comp. at Psalms 7:6. Luther: “Because he only is judge and avenger, the pious pray that he would lift himself up, that is, that he would set himself on high on his seat as judge and show his work, not allow himself to be so oppressed as if he were nothing.” On גאול , comp. at Psalms 7:4, to present gifts = to recompense. The fundamental passage is Psalms 28:4, “give them their gifts,” comp. also Psalms 79:12. In reference to the גאים , Luther: “He means here the proud, not only those who are haughty in heart, but also those who have got the upper hand and the victory in persecution, as if they had conquered and suppressed the godly.”

The expression, “they sputter,” in Psalms 94:4, depends on Psalms 59:7, “behold they sputter with their mouth.” The Psalmist delights to make use of the words which former holy men of God had uttered in reference to troubles and dangers which God had already averted. What the wicked did sputter out, is not expressly mentioned in the fundamental passage; it is sufficient first to indicate the quantity, and after that, for the first time, the quality. Hence, we do not need to supply עתק here, in which case even “they speak” would be flat. In reference to “they speak impudence,” comp. at the fundamental passage, Psalms 75:5. The Hiph. of אמר occurs only here, and, in all probability, was formed by the Psalmist himself from the four Hithp. in Psalms 18:25-26. We must, however, all the more on this account, keep by the alone ascertained sense of אמר to speak. The Hithp. denotes zealous, vehement, impassioned speaking, comp. Ew. § 124. The translation, “they rise up,” is not only etymologically ungrounded, but is less suitable, even in the parallelism, as the first clause refers only to speaking. Psalms 94:5 treats for the first time of deeds. On “the evil-doers” comp. Psalms 92:7, Psalms 92:9.

They oppress, Psalms 94:5, as formerly Pharaoh in Egypt did, comp. Genesis 15:13; Exodus 1:12.— The ( Psalms 94:6) 6th verse is not to be understood literally: it is obvious from the mention of “ the strangers” that there is an abbreviated comparison,— thy people, who are as helpless as the widow, &c. The murdering also does not suit domestic relations, and the heathen enemies did not make the personae miserabiles the chief objects of their rage. The figurative expression here, as well as the individualizing one in Psalms 68:5, owes its origin to those passages in the law in which the widow and the fatherless are mentioned as objects of the tender care of God, and as such are specially committed to the loving treatment of Israel, for example, Deuteronomy 10:18, “He defends the right of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger,” Exodus 22:20 ss. “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him . . . ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If thou afflict them! For if they cry to me, I will hear their cry. And my anger waxes hot, and I kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows and your children orphans.” There is great emphasis in the reference to these passages. They contain a rich fulness of comfort for the afflicted people. If orphans in the proper sense are the objects of the loving care of God, he must also take under the same care his own destitute people. If he avenges the widows on their oppressors, he must also visit his widowed church on its oppression. Does he punish the wicked among Israel who oppress the miserable? he must also punish the wicked heathen who oppress his own people in their affliction

On Psalms 94:7, comp. Psalms 10:11, Psalms 10:13, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 59:7.

Verses 8-11

Ver. 8. Yet mark, ye fools among the people, and, ye stupid, when will ye become wise? Ver. 9. He who planted the ear shall he not hear? He who formed the eye shall he not see? Ver. 10. He who summons the heathen shall he not punish? he who teaches men knowledge. Ver. 11. The Lord knows the thoughts of men that they are vain.

The Psalmist, in Psalms 94:8, casts up the want of knowledge which the ignorance of God will imply to those, Psalms 94:7, to whom it belongs: but he does not address himself to those who first started the objection, the blind heathen, who could only become wise to their cost, but to the foolish among the people, among Israel, comp. Judges 5:9, among whom the assertion of the heathen found a response. That we cannot translate “ye foolish people,” understanding the address to be directed to the heathen, is clear from the circumstance—that the Psalmist has before his eyes those who acknowledge God as Creator—it would be in vain to instruct the heathen about providence from creation,—from the opposition of the other intelligent part of the people, in Psalms 94:12-13, finally, from the way and manner in which the heathen are spoken of in Psalms 94:10. On בערים , comp. Psalms 73:22; on the whole verse, Psalms 92:7:— Berleb: “Ye foolish” expresses wonder: how sensible you are in that you disown your God, which, nevertheless, above everything else, shows your ignorance. You have not even the spark of wisdom to believe in an all-seeing God. Reflect upon your stupidity and blindness! learn to mark how Satan mocks and deceives you!”

On Psalms 94:9, Luther remarks: “He would thus give away what he does not possess himself.” Arnd: “Learn to know God from the powers of your own body and soul. He who has made an understanding heart, should he not himself understand? he who has created a righteous heart, should he not himself be righteous? he who has made a compassionate heart, should he not himself have a father-heart?” We cannot translate he who has planted. The discourse is about a work of God which is in daily progress. Should he not hear, and see everything, and, therefore, also the scorn of the wicked, the sighs and sufferings of his own people.

In the first clause of Psalms 94:10, the power of God over the spirits of the heathen, by which he lets his voice be heard in their innermost depths, manifesting, as it does, that his being is elevated above all limits, is employed to show the folly of the assertion that he does not punish their deeds from ignorance of their crimes. The יסר occurs in the sense of to summon, to warn, a sense which it bears more frequently than that of punishment. It occurs in Psalms 94:12, exactly in the same way, comp. Psalms 2:10, and Proverbs 9:7, “he that reproveth a sinner begetteth to himself shame.” Genesis 20 is in reality parallel, where the heathen Abimelech receives a similar warning from God, comp. especially Genesis 20:6, “I held thee back from sinning against me,” but particularly Romans 1:20, Romans 2:14-15. As the doctrine of an influence exercised by God upon the consciences of the heathen, from which the conclusion is here drawn that he beholds and punishes their deeds, is of rare occurrence in the Old Testament—a fact to be explained by the very depraved condition of the heathen around the Israelites, among whom few traces of such an influence could be seen;—another translation has been thought of: shall not he who formerly chastised the heathen punish them also now? But the “formerly,” or the “always,” and the “now” would need in this case to be more distinctly marked. Even the “warning” suits much better in the parallel. For in the second clause, from an undeniable, subtle, and inward operation of God in reference to the heathen, a conclusion is drawn as to the folly of denying an operation of a more tangible and, external kind. Shall not he to whom the heathen owe all their power of judging know and punish also their deeds.

In Psalms 94:10 the proposition that God knows, and proportionally punishes the thoughts of men, and specially the plans of the wicked for the destruction of the righteous, is proved from the general relation of men to God: they are vanity, but he is Jehovah, Jahveh, the pure absolute Existence; comp. on the sense of Jahveh, Beitr: 2 P. 233 ss. Isaiah 40:17 is parallel: “all the heathen are as nothing before him.” The common translation is: the Lord knows the thoughts of the heathen that they (the thoughts) are vain, avail nothing. But this translation destroys the connection. The connection requires that something be said in opposition to the affirmation that God does not see, does not know, and, consequently, does not punish. The knowing comes into notice only as the condition of the punishing. The masc. pronoun המה is also against it. The masculine cannot be placed here, instead of the feminine, as the usual form, Ew. § 184 c., because a masc. noun preceded, and ambiguity would thus be occasioned. Even in the parallel passages, Psalms 39:5, Psalms 39:11, “all men are only vanity,” Psalms 62:9, “only vanity are the children of men,” הבל is used of men themselves.

Verses 12-15

Ver. 12. Blessedness to the man whom thou, O Lord, admonishest, and teachest him out of thy law. Ver. 13. To give him rest against the days of adversity till the pit shall be dug for the wicked. Ver. 14. For the Lord will not reject his people; and his inheritance he will not forsake. Ver. 15. For to righteousness the right will return, and all the righteous shall follow it.

Those who allow themselves to be admonished and taught by the Lord, in Psalms 94:12, stand in opposition to the foolish among the people, who go to school with the blind ungodly heathen. The object of the instruction appears from the connection, and especially from Psalms 94:13-15. Luther: “That the plans and doings of the ungodly are vain and do not last, although they are very confident of success, and carry things with such a high hand that they boast, sing, talk, gossip, and applaud. Here sense and nature can do nothing, and know not that such a way is nothing. For nature judges as it feels, and thinks no further: it cannot see things which are future, and are as, yet not in existence, it hangs upon the present. Therefore he says God must here be a master, and teach this. And blessed are those to whom he teaches it.” The law appears here as the means which God uses in this instruction, the fountain out of which he draws it, and then satisfies with it by his Spirit the thirsty soul. It comes into notice in connection with its doctrine of recompense (comp. for example the passages to which the Psalmist himself had alluded in Psalms 94:6), and its rich consolatory promises for the people of the Lord, whose end is always salvation, comp. for example Deuteronomy 32, Leviticus 26.

The Lord procures rest before or against the day of adversity, Psalms 94:13, inasmuch as by his instruction and consolation he brings it about that these do not any more inwardly distress the righteous, and lead him to murmur, to despair, or to fall away. Comp. Psalms 112:8, “his heart is established, he is not afraid till he see his desire upon his enemies,” Psalms 49:5, “wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my treaders-down compasses me about?”

In Psalms 94:14 we have the basis of the declaration as to the blessedness of those who meet adversity in patience and quiet: the Lord may perhaps forsake his people for a time (comp. Judges 6:13, Isaiah 2:6), as a righteous punishment for forsaking him, Deuteronomy 32:15, but not for ever,—he again at his own time takes under his care his people and inheritance oppressed by the heathen, Psalms 94:5. Arnd: “Lebanius, a sophist, asked a Christian: what is your carpenter’s son doing? The Christian replied: he is making a coffin for Julian the tyrant. Immediately after this he was killed in battle and brought home in a coffin.”

The right, Psalms 94:15, which at present is inverted, Habakkuk 1:14, inasmuch as the wicked have the upper hand, the wicked devour the man who is more righteous than he, Habakkuk 1:13, is brought back at the proper time to righteousness, is again administered according to its rule. Arnd “When a man suppresses the right, it is as if the sun were extinguished with water, and yet the sun is greater than the sea.” The suffix in אחריו can only refer to the right brought back to righteousness. The righteous accompany it with the joy of their heart and with happy shouts: comp. the song of triumph of the church of the Lord over the fall of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14.

Verses 16-23

Ver. 16. Who rises up for me against the evildoers? Who stands up for me against the workers of iniquity? Ver. 17. Had not the Lord been my help, my soul had soon inhabited silence. Ver. 18. If I say “my foot slides,” thy mercy, O Lord, holds me up. Ver. 19. In the multitude of my Thoughts within me, thy consolations delight my soul. Ver. 20. Is the throne of wickedness in covenant with thee, which maketh misery as a law? Ver. 21. They storm at the soul of the righteous, and condemn innocent blood. Ver. 22. But the Lord is my tower, and my God the rock of my confidence. Ver. 23. And he recompenses to them their unrighteousness, and will requite them because of their wickedness, the Lord our God will requite them.

Psalms 94:17 gives the answer to the question in Psalms 94:16: the Lord is the only help of the Psalmist, of his church,—without him the church would be irremediably destroyed, comp. Psalms 25:16, “Lord, have mercy upon me, for I am solitary.” For me = for my help. “With the wicked,” in conflict with them. On התיצב to put oneself down in a place, to step forward, comp. at Psalms 2:2.

The דומה in Psalms 94:17, like the דומיה in the Davidic Psalms, is silence, comp. at Psalms 62:1. Silence is what reigns in the noiseless kingdom of the dead, comp. Psalms 31:17. דומה does not denote the place of silence either here or in Psalms 62:1. Silence itself appears poetically as a habitation. We must translate: my soul would soon inhabit silence (comp. in reference to the כמעט , Psalms 81:14, and to the praeterite, Ew. § 135), not: has already inhabited, for that the כמעט cannot signify.

In reference to the sliding of the foot in Psalms 94:18, comp. at Psalms 66:9. Mercy upholds the Psalmist inwardly, or trust in mercy sets him up, for the outward help has not yet made its appearance, comp. Psalms 94:17, Psalms 94:19.

On Psalms 94:19, Luther: “He speaks of the many thoughts which one has in such a state of despair, how he could or might come out of it. Then he thinks this way and that way, and visits all holes and corners, but finds none. He therefore now says: when I was in such torture, and was killing myself with my own thoughts, when I sought comfort here and there and found none, then didst thou come with thy consolation and didst delight me.”

In Psalms 94:20 the יחברך is not Pü. but Kal, and the construction with the accusative is to be explained by observing that “to be bound together,” here stands instead of “to have for an ally,” comp. Ew. § 282. On הוות “wickedness,” comp. at Psalms 91:3. As a law,—properly “upon law,” the על being not unfrequently a reference to the rule which this particular case follows, comp. Ges. Thes. p. 1025. Ew. § 217. Isaiah 10:1 ought to be compared as a parallel passage to the whole verse. The sceptre of the wicked, in Psalms 125:3, corresponds to the throne of iniquity: for the sceptre of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous. Many translate: which meditates mischief contrary to the law (Maurer: quae id agit ut onmes leges nostras perfringat). But עמל , suffering, is the standing expression for the misery which comes upon men as the result of violence and wickedness; and that it is to be taken in this sense here, is evident from Psalms 94:21, which is to be considered as containing the developed sense, and therefore as a commentary, and also from the whole remaining contents of the Psalms, the subject of which generally is the suffering of the righteous.

On Psalms 94:23, Luther: “He who believes this, and is taught of God, can be patient, can let the ungodly rage, and look forward to the end, and wait the time.”

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 94". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.