The Wisdom Literature And Psalms

James E. Smith


Joplin, Missouri

Copyright 1995

James E. Smith

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Smith, James E. (James Edward), 1939–

The wisdom literature and Psalms / James E. Smith

p. cm.—(Old Testament survey series)

Includes bibliographic references.

ISBN 0-89900-439-3

1. Wisdom Literature—Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Wisdom literature—History of Biblical events. 3. Wisdom literature—History of contemporary events. 4. Bible. O.T. Psalms—Criticism, interpretation, etc. I. Title. II. Series: Smith, James E. (James Edward), 1939– Old Testament survey series.

BS1455.S67 1996





Robert* & Wilma Authur

James & Sophie Pennington

Riley & Irene Prather

Vernon* & Thelma Simpson

Victor & Doloras Steger

George & Billie* Whitton



*Gone to be with the Lord



    1.    Getting Acquainted with the Poetic Books


    2.    Getting Acquainted with Job

    3.    The Testing of Job (Job 1–3)

    4.    The Debate at the Dunghill (Job 4–14)

    5.    The Second Cycle of Speeches (Job 15–21)

    6.    The Final Round in the Debate (Job 22–31)

    7.    An Angry Young Speaker (Job 32–37)

    8.    The Voice from the Storm (Job 38–42)


    9.    Getting Acquainted with Psalms

    10.    The Believer’s Life (Pss 1–15)

    11.    The Believer’s Salvation (Pss 16–29)

    12.    The Experiences of the Redeemed (Pss 30–41)

    13.    Deliverance for the Estranged (Pss 42–51)

    14.    The Faithful and the Faithless (Pss 52–60)

    15.    David and the Great King (Pss 61–72)

    16.    The Mighty Help of God (Pss 73–83)

    17.    The Hope of Divine Help (Pss 84–89)

    18.    The Universal Rule of Yahweh (Pss 90–106)

    19.    The Ways and the Word of God (Pss 107–119)

    20.    Songs of the Pilgrimage (Pss 120–134)

    21.    Songs of Final Praise (Pss 135–150)


    22.    Getting Acquainted with Proverbs

    23.    The Call to Wisdom (Prov 1:10–3:35)

    24.    The Warnings of the Teacher (Prov 4–6)

    25.    Wisdom and Her Rival (Prov 7–9)

    26.    Contrasting Lifestyles (Prov 10–12)

    27.    True Perspectives on Life (Prov 13:1–15:19)

    28.    Making Right Choices (Prov 15:20–19:25)

    29.    Acknowledging God in Everyday Life (Prov 19:26–22:16)

    30.    The Words of the Wise (Prov 22:17–24:33)

    31.    Wisdom as the Greatest Blessing (Prov 25–29)

    32.    Final Words of the Wise (Prov 30–31)


    33.    Getting Acquainted with Ecclesiastes

    34.    The Vanity of All Things (Eccl 1:1–2:23)

    35.    The Secret of Satisfaction (Eccl 2:24–3:22)

    36.    More Vanity in the World (Eccl 4:1–6:9)

    37.    Counsel for Troubled Times (Eccl 6:10–8:17)

    38.    Ignorance of the Future (Eccl 9:1–11:6)

    39.    The Conclusion of the Matter (Eccl 11:7–12:14)


    40.    Getting Acquainted with the Song

    41.    The Shulamite in the Palace (Song 1:2–3:5)

    42.    Love Wins Out (Song 3:6–6:3)

    43.    Back with the Beloved (Song 6:4–8:14)


    1.    Technical Designations of Psalms

    2.    Messianic Psalms

    3.    The Ten Vanities


As early as the fourth century a.d. Christian writers referred to the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon as the “poetic books.” Perhaps more controversy swirls about these five books than any other division of the Old Testament. The canonicity of three of these books was questioned in ancient times. The interpretation of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are notoriously difficult. Even among conservative scholars there is no unanimity regarding the date of Ecclesiastes and Job. The archaic poetry of some passages in these books make them virtually impossible to decipher at points.

In spite of these difficulties, the careful study of the poetic books is most rewarding. Job depicts faith under trial. Here the believer is assured that his suffering is not necessarily the result of grievous sin on his part, and that an all-wise and all-powerful God ultimately is in charge of the universe. In Psalms the believer can learn to express his faith in the various circumstances of life. This book is also full of direct messianic prophecies from the pen of the prophet David. Proverbs provides a collection of wise observations to guide the believer in his daily walk. Ecclesiastes stresses that faith is the key to meaning in this life, and that the enjoyment of life is a duty. The Song of Solomon places the divine seal of approval upon the human emotion of love and physical attraction. Lessons are taught in these books which help to place in proper perspective the message of the rest of the sacred word.

This present volume completes the Old Testament Survey Series. The author is indebted to College Press for the opportunity to make these notes available to the general public. As in the previous volumes of this series, Linda Stark, Librarian of Florida Christian College, has rendered invaluable service in securing research materials and in proofreading the manuscript.

Unless otherwise indicated, the translation of the text is that of the author. Primary commentaries which have guided the author in the preparation of this material are these: For Job, A.B. Davidson, and H.C.O. Lanchester, The Book of Job in The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (1937); for Psalms, A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms in The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (1910); for Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, W.J. Deane, in The Pulpit Commentary (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1909); and for Song of Solomon, S.M. Lehrman, “The Song of Songs” in The Five Megilloth (1961).

chapter one

Getting Acquainted with the Poetic Books

Aspiration for Christ

The poetic books have certain characteristics which set them apart from the other books of the Bible. First, these books are almost entirely written in Hebrew poetry. Second, they are not historically oriented. Except for the Book of Psalms, there are few historical allusions here. Third, these books deal with issues which are of universal concern to mankind. From the dawn of history human minds have grappled with such issues as suffering, love, and the brevity and meaning of human life. Fourth, direct divine speech is rare here. As a rule the writers are speaking for man to God rather than the reverse which is the essential characteristic of the prophetic books. Fifth, in treating these difficult topics these books exhibit boldness and honesty. Thus one could list a courageous spirit as one of the characteristics of this literature.

Canonicity Of the Poetic Books

As to why these books were collected and preserved as part of the Israelite sacred literature, little knowledge exists. One can only speculate.

Three factors no doubt contributed to the preservation of the Book of Psalms. First, many of the psalms are connected with David, a man who claimed the gift of inspiration (2 Sam 23:2–3). Second, the prophetic emphasis of many of the psalms made this a valuable collection to preserve. Third, the use of the psalms for liturgical purposes in the temple no doubt would have made the truly religious among the Jews interested in preserving the collection for future generations.

Meredith Kline has argued that the Pentateuch was deliberately cast in the form of an ancient treaty. In his view the canonization of the rest of the books of the Old Testament can be explained in relationship to the ancient treaty components and concomitants. In that period a ceremony of ratification followed the acceptance of any treaty or covenant. So the record indicates that both at Sinai and in the plains of Moab when the covenant was renewed, such ceremonies were conducted. The Book of Psalms is in reality an amplification of the covenant ratification response described in the Pentateuch.

The wisdom books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were preserved and collected because (1) wisdom was regarded as a gift of God (1 Kgs 3:28; 4:29); and (2) because these books—at least three of them—have Solomonic connections. The wisdom literature has at least five points of correspondence with the foundational books of the Pentateuch. First, they begin with the fear of God. Thus the way of wisdom is the way of the covenant which Israel received as a gift from Yahweh at Mt. Sinai. Israel manifested wisdom by keeping the covenant (Deut 4:6–8). Second, the wisdom books translated covenant stipulations into maxims and instructions which regulate conduct in different areas of life. Third, the wisdom books are concerned about explaining the covenant sanctions (penalties) which are set forth in the Pentateuch. Fourth, the wisdom books, as well as the Pentateuch, are concerned about the transmission of precepts to successive generations. Fifth, both the Law of Moses and the wisdom books emphasize wholehearted obedience to the Lord.


Even before the Christian age the Jews organized the holy books of Scripture into three divisions which came to be designated Torah (“Law”), Nebhi˒im (“Prophets”) and Kethubhim (“Writings”). The earliest testimony to the order of books in the third division is found in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b): Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra and Chronicles. Subsequently, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs were segregated from Psalms, Job and Proverbs and placed with three others—Ruth, Lamentations, Esther—in a separate section of the Kethubhim called the Megilloth (“Rolls”). This was done for liturgical purposes. Each of the five books was read at one of the major Jewish festivals during the year.

In Jewish circles Psalms, Job and Proverbs were always juxtaposed in the arrangement of Old Testament books. In the Middle Ages the scribes called Masoretes gave to this collection of three a special system of accentuation called mnemonically after the initial Hebrew letters of the books themselves, sometimes “Truth” (˒emeth; reflecting the order Job, Proverbs, Psalms) and sometimes “Twins” (te˒om; reflecting the order Psalms, Job, Proverbs). The principal Hebrew manuscripts have the three books in the order Psalms, Job, Proverbs. The first five editions of the Hebrew Bible have the books in this order. In the earliest Greek manuscripts, however, Psalms, Job and Proverbs are not inseparably linked.


A. Recognition of the Group

The first Church Father to recognize the five devotional books as a distinct group seems to have been Cyril of Jerusalem (d. a.d. 363). After “the historical books” he mentions the five books which are “written in verses”: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Apparently chronological considerations dictated the position of Job. Since Job was connected with the Patriarchal age, this book was placed before Psalms which was connected with David. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song follow Psalms by virtue of their association with David’s son Solomon.

Epiphanius speaks of the “five poetic works” and Gregory of Nazianzus the five “poetic books.” In the course of time the view that the five books were a distinct section of the Old Testament eventually prevailed in the church.4

B. Apocryphal Books

Two other poetic/wisdom books circulated among the churches from the second century a.d. forward: the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach [also called Ecclesiasticus], and the Wisdom of Solomon. These books are found in the three oldest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament. The great Latin scholar Jerome (a.d. 346–420), after thorough investigation of the facts, discussed the status of Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom in the prologue to his commentary on “the three books of Solomon” (i.e., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song). He acknowledged that these books circulated among the Christians. He labeled the Wisdom of Solomon as a “pseudepigraph,” i.e., a book pretending to have been written by some hero of antiquity. He had seen a Hebrew copy of Ecclesiasticus, but affirms that Wisdom “is nowhere found among the Hebrews.” He passes on the opinion of several ancient writers that Wisdom was actually written by the Jewish philosopher Philo. Jerome concluded his discussion of Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom with these words: “Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.”

In a.d. 1546 the Council of Trent erased the distinction which Jerome made between books which are authoritative for doctrine and books which might be profitably read for edification. The Council decreed that no distinction should be made between the various books found in the Latin Vulgate Bible. All were equally authoritative. By decree of this council the Apocrypha had now officially become part of the Bible. The Vatican Council of 1869–70 reaffirmed and amplified the decree of Trent. In actual practice, however, Roman Catholic scholars refer to the fourteen books of the Apocrypha as “deuterocanonical,” a term that in effect recognizes the distinction made by Jerome back in the fourth century.

Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom of Solomon were not part of the Bible Jesus knew, loved, and endorsed. These books were never received by the Jews as Scripture. According to Paul, the Jews were given the oracles of God (Rom 3:2). They had the privilege of guarding the sacred Scriptures through the centuries. Thus Christian theology requires the church to limit its Old Testament canon to those books received as Scripture by the Jews.


About one third of the Old Testament is written in poetic form; but the psalms are the prime example of Hebrew poetry. Much controversy surrounds the discussion of the nature of this poetry.

Discoveries in the ancient Near East have forced critics to reevaluate their position that biblical poetry was a late development—postexilic—in the history of Israel. Now it is clear that in neighboring cultures the hymnodical genre was being cultivated as early as the second millennium b.c. Hymns from Egypt and Babylonia have surfaced as well as from the Canaanite culture. In terms of external data, there is no inherent difficulty with contending that biblical poetry was produced in written form in exactly the way the Bible portrays.

A. Poetic Parallelism

Hebrew poetry is not primarily a poetry of rhyme and meter, although there is a certain rhythmic quality about it. To Robert Lowth in 1753 goes the credit for elucidating the primary characteristic of this kind of poetry, viz., parallelism. Lowth identified three basic types of parallelism: synonymous, antithetic and synthetic.

In synonymous parallelism an initial line finds verbal parallels in the succeeding line. A good example is Ps 19:1.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the expanse declares the work of his hands.”

Here each of the key elements in line one has its parallel in the second line. Chiastic parallelism is a subtype of synonymous parallelism, but instead of giving the parallel ideas in the same order they are presented in the opposite order. Ps 51:1 is an example:

“Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your lovingkindness,

according to the multitude of your mercies

Blot out my transgression.”

In antithetic parallelism the second line of a couplet expresses the opposite of the first. Ps 1:6, for example, places in contrast the way (lifestyle) of the righteous and the way of the wicked.

“Because Yahweh knows a way of righteous ones,

but a way of wicked ones shall perish.”

The term “synthetic” or “constructive” parallelism is used to describe all poetry which is not clearly synonymous or antithetic. Here the second line expands or amplifies the first line. In Ps 2:6, for example, the second line completes the first line:

“But as for me, I have installed my king

Upon Zion, my holy mountain.”

Synthetic parallelism sometimes indicates a comparison. This is especially common in Proverbs, as in 15:17.

“Better is a dish of vegetables where love is,

Than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

In the reason type of synthetic parallelism the second line offers an explanation for what the first line affirms, as in Proverbs 26:4.

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly,

Lest you also be like him.”

Synthetic parallelism sometimes extends to more than two lines. In Ps 1:1, for example, the verbs “walk,” “stand,” and “sit” build to a climax.

“How blessed is the man who does not

walk in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stand in the path of sinners,

nor sit in the seat of scoffers.”

Some authorities identify other types of parallelism in Hebrew poetry, but those illustrated above represent all the really significant types.

B. The Issue of Rhythm

Does Hebrew poetry have an identifiable rhythmic pattern? That question has been hotly debated for years. A certain cadence is often observable in a selection, sometimes extending over several verses. For example, the opening verses of Ps 23 reflect a 2:2 pattern, i.e., each half-verse has two accentual stresses. Critics were convinced that where a given pattern broke down, they could emend (alter) the standard Hebrew text to restore the “original” rhythm. Liberal commentaries on the poetic books offer large numbers of conjectural emendations to accomplish this goal, emendations which often radically affect the meaning of the text.

The discovery of the Ras Shamra Tablets in 1928 shed great light on this issue. These poetic tablets are written in a Canaanite dialect (Ugaritic) closely related to Hebrew. The tablets date back to the time of Moses, and thus are contemporaneous with some of the oldest poetry in the Bible. A careful study of this literature has demonstrated that this ancient poetry displays no discernible metric pattern. Parallelism requires lines of approximately equal length often with the same number of stressed syllables. This is what creates the impression at times that some rhythm was intended. In other words, what appears to be rhythm is really an accidental result of parallelism.8

C. Other Features

Hebrew poetry has other features some of which are difficult, if not impossible, to display in English translation. These include:

1. Alliteration: the use of the same or similar sounds at the beginning of verses, or in stressed positions within a verse.

2. Paronomasia: a play on the sound and meaning of words.

3. Acrostic structure: verses (or sometimes half-verses, or stanzas) begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In Psalms 119, for example, each of the eight verses in the first stanza begins with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The subsequent twenty-one stanzas display the same pattern, employing the remaining letters of the alphabet. In another example, the twenty-two verses in the poem concerning the virtuous woman (Prov 31:10–31) begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

4. Terseness: The Hebrew poets said much in few words. The psalms consist for the most part of brief poetic phrases usually containing three Hebrew words, rarely more than four. Conjunctions are often omitted (e.g., Ps 23:1). In the technique of ellipsis the second line of a poetic verse assumes part of what appeared in the first line (e.g., Ps 88:6). Compactness of expression, however, sometimes makes difficult the interpretation of what the poets were trying to say.

5. Imagery: The use of imagery is not unique in poetic texts, but is particularly prominent there. Imagery is a concise way of writing because it simultaneously conveys information and evokes an emotional response. Pages of prose texts might be required to explain one simple line of poetic imagery such as “Yahweh is my shepherd.” Imagery stimulates imagination.


A. Backgrounds of Wisdom

In the ancient Near East daily life was regulated by four classes of leaders: princes, priests, prophets, and pontificators or wise men. Practitioners of wisdom were quite prominent in Edom (Jer 49:7; Obad 8), Phoenicia (Ezek 28; Zech 9:2), Babylon (Isa 44:25; 47:10), Assyria (Isa 10:13), Egypt (Isa 19:11–13), and Persia (Esther 1:13).

At the time Israel’s wisdom books were written, wisdom literature in neighboring cultures had been on scene for at least a millennium. Ancient Sumer and Babylonia, and especially Egypt, have contributed numerous compositions which fall into this category. From Egypt several collections of “instructions” designed for school boys or for royal trainees have come to light. Perhaps the most famous of these documents is “The Instruction of Amen-em-opet.” “The Babylonian Theodicy” (ca. 1000 b.c.) is a dialogue between a sufferer and a friend concerning social injustice, a theme very similar to that of Job. Another Babylonian composition, “The Dialogue of Pessimism” is a dialogue between a master and servant on the value of various human enterprises. This work, like Ecclesiastes, reflects upon the real meaning of life.

This brief survey suggests that the outward forms of biblical wisdom literature were well-known in the ancient Near East. The content of Hebrew wisdom, however, was grounded in her unique theology. Furthermore, New Testament teaching demands that biblical wisdom literature be regarded as the word of God. The Holy Spirit guided in the selection and/or production of the materials which appear in these books. Although revelational material is sparse here, one should not conclude that the Spirit was not active in the writing of these books.

B. Dimensions of Wisdom

A survey of the Old Testament indicates the broad dimensions of “wisdom.” First, skilled artisans were considered endowed with the gift of wisdom. Yahweh is said to have filled those craftsmen associated with the construction of the tabernacle (Bezalel, Oholiab) “with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer” (Exod 35:35). Elsewhere the wisdom vocabulary is used of goldsmiths (Jer 10:9).

Second, those who are skilled in musical arts, either in composition (1 Kgs 4:31–32) or performance (Jer 9:17) are said to be endowed with wisdom. Third, military strategists and statesmen are called wise (Isa 10:13; 29:14; Jer 49:7). Fourth, magicians and soothsayers are considered wise men (Gen 41:8; Isa 44:25). Fifth, those who could make difficult judicial decisions are said to possess wisdom (2 Sam 14:17, 20; 19:27). David, for example, was compared with the angel of God in respect to his judicial wisdom.

In Israel wise men ranked alongside priests and prophets as a legitimate source of national guidance. Wicked men plotted against the life of Jeremiah because his controversial preaching challenged the conventional thinking. They wanted Jeremiah removed from the scene so that “instruction may not perish from the priest, counsel from the wise or an oracle from the prophet” (Jer 18:18; cf. Ezek 7:26). Thus the priests were the official teachers of the law of God. The prophets delivered what were regarded as direct revelations from God. The wise men operated in the sphere of personal counsel and political advice.


Biblical wisdom literature began to emerge during the period of the United Monarchy.

A. Solomon and Wisdom

God gave Solomon practical wisdom, understanding (ability to solve difficult problems), and “largeness of heart,” i.e., comprehensive knowledge. The magnitude of his wisdom is indicated by four comparisons. His wisdom was like (1) “the sand of the seashore.” (2) It exceeded that of the “children of the east,” i.e., the various Arab tribes dwelling east of Canaan including the Edomites who were famous for their wisdom. (3) It exceeded that of Egypt which was famous for the knowledge of geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and medicine. (4) It exceeded that of the wise men of his own nation: Ethan, Heman, Calcol and Darda. Solomon’s reputation as a polymath spread throughout all the surrounding nations (1 Kgs 4:29–31).

The Queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to test the wisdom of the king himself. She observed that Solomon’s servants were blessed because they had the opportunity to hear his wisdom continually (1 Kgs 10:8). Her comment may be evidence of a royal wisdom school for upper-class youth in the days of Solomon.

Only a small portion of the literary fruits of Solomon’s wisdom has been incorporated into the Bible. During his reign this king spoke three thousand proverbs of which less than one third are preserved in the Book of Proverbs. Of his 1,005 songs, only three have survived: the beautiful Song of Songs, and two of the psalms (72, 127). In addition Solomon made observations based on his botanical and zoological studies. His great wisdom attracted the attention of the rulers throughout the Near East (1 Kgs 4:32–34).

The opening chapters of 1 Kings have as their major theme the wisdom of Solomon. His wisdom was not confined to writing clever verses or beautiful songs. The broad dimensions of ancient wisdom are revealed here. The sacred historian demonstrates Solomon’s wisdom in political matters (1 Kgs 2:13–3:1), petition (1 Kgs 3:2–15), judgment (1 Kgs 3:16–28), administration (1 Kgs 4:1–6), economics (1 Kgs 4:7–28), negotiations (1 Kgs 5:1–12), and organization (1 Kgs 5:13–18).

Solomon’s name is associated by text or tradition with three biblical wisdom books. As Moses was the mediator of the law, and David was chief contributor to Israel’s psalmody, so Solomon is the father of biblical sapiential literature. He was Israel’s wise man par excellence.

B. Wisdom and the Psalms

The psalmists frequently employ the language of wisdom. Four types of wisdom material are found in the Psalter. First, a psalm might incorporate a brief saying or proverb (Ps 127:1; 133:1). Ps 37 is largely made up of disconnected proverbs arranged in an acrostic format. Second, the wisdom poem focuses on the discussion of problems of life. For example, Ps 49 discusses the proper attitude toward earthly possessions. Third, the didactic psalms contain teaching about the “fear of God” (Ps 25) or contain admonitions to godliness based on the psalmist’s experience (Pss 34; 62; 111). A fourth category of wisdom psalms are those which focus on religious doubt. The outstanding example is Ps 73 which wrestles with the problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the just. This psalm has affinity with the Book of Job.

C. Hezekiah and Wisdom

In the days of good King Hezekiah the royal court was also active in wisdom activity. A major section of the Book of Proverbs has a superscription which ties the court of King Hezekiah to the wisdom schools: “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied” (Prov 25:1). The immediate inference is that Hezekiah was a patron of literature. He was surrounded by scribes who were qualified to read and transcribe the proverbs which appeared in ancient manuscripts which had come down from the time of Solomon. In his efforts to recapture the glories of the reign of Solomon, Hezekiah endeavored to revive the ancient interest in wisdom.

D. Wisdom and the Prophets

How did the prophets of Israel view wisdom? Were they totally at odds with the wise men? McKane argued that the presuppositions of wise men and prophets were so different as to necessitate friction between the two groups. Certain passages might suggest that such was the case (e.g., Jer 8:8–9). What appears to have happened is that the practitioners of wisdom increasingly became secularized and politicized as time went on. Such individuals applied cold logic to political situations. The prophets brought God’s revelation to bear on those same situations, a revelation which might be diametrically opposed to the course of action proposed by logic. Obviously wise men who had rejected the word of God would be at odds with the prophets. Prophets, however, attributed true wisdom to Yahweh (Isa 28:29; Jer 10:12). They borrowed from the practitioners of wisdom certain teaching techniques and vocabulary. Therefore, the conclusion seems fully justified that the prophets would be supportive of wisdom which had not strayed from its core commitment to the fear of Yahweh.


At least two types of wisdom literature are represented in the poetic books. Philosophical wisdom, sometimes called higher or reflective wisdom, is illustrated in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. The Book of Job is concerned about the issue of justice in the world. Ecclesiastes focuses on the meaning of life. Both books ask “Why?” In both books faith is grappling with serious issues. The “fear of Yahweh” undergirds all of the presuppositions and premises of these books.

Practical wisdom, sometimes called lower or prudential wisdom, is represented by the Book of Proverbs. This “home-spun” wisdom is also grounded in the the fear of Yahweh. Probably among the common people this type of wisdom was more popular than the reflective type.

Song of Songs also has been classified as wisdom literature, at least by some scholars. It is true that the core emphasis of the fear of Yahweh is not present in this book. In fact, the name of God is not even mentioned. Yet the “song” was also one of the many manifestations of wisdom. Furthermore, the intention of this book also seems to be didactic. It celebrates both virtue and fidelity, two qualities which certainly are prominent in wisdom literature. Furthermore, the ascription of this book to Solomon, the father of Israel’s wisdom heritage, argues that this book should be regarded as a wisdom book. Viewed as such, “the Song is wisdom’s reflection on the joyful and mysterious nature of love between a man and a woman within the institution of marriage.”16


Hebrew wisdom is built upon the foundation of the Law of Moses. In terms of emphasis, one reads little in the wisdom books of God as redeemer of his people. The mercy of God is also not particularly prominent, nor is the concept of repentance and restoration after sin. While the books make a few allusions to sacrifice (e.g., Job 1:5; Prov 21:27), this is not a major theme in this literature.

A. Foundational Principle

Israel’s wisdom was founded upon the fundamental concept of “the fear of Yahweh.” The wisdom teachers seem to be concerned about translating the principles of the law of God into practical guidelines for everyday living. They did what the priests could not or would not do, viz., offer practical counsel for the life of the individual. The earliest wise men in Israel were deeply devout men who developed their teaching on a religious base. Early wisdom schools may have been sponsored by the king rather than the temple. Nonetheless, godly priests could hardly have been opposed to the strong emphasis upon faithfulness to Yahweh and his law.

B. Major Tenets

Besides the fear of the Lord, the key points in the theology of the wisdom teachers are these:

1. God is the creator of the universe (Job 28:23–27; 38:4–39:30; Prov 3:19–20; 8:22–34). Corollaries of this doctrine are these: (1) Man is a moral creature responsible to the Creator for his conduct toward fellow creatures. The ethical content of this literature is built upon this doctrine. (2) God is viewed in broad, universal terms rather than narrow nationalistic terms. He is God of all mankind, not just Israel.

2. God is the source of wisdom (Job 9:4; 11:6; 12:13; 32:8; Prov 2:6; 8:22–31). Wisdom is God’s word written in nature and human experience illuminated by direct revelation in the law. Parents and teachers are the custodians of this wisdom. They have the responsibility to pass it on; young people have the responsibility to receive it.

3. The individual has a moral responsibility to be a positive influence in society. He must not harm his neighbor in word or deed. He must provide for himself and his family. He must live up to his God-given potential.

4. The moral universe operates by the law of cause and effect. Righteousness is rewarded, and wickedness is punished (e.g., Prov 10:30). When this principle clashed with experience, the wisdom teachers explored and attempted to explain the contradiction.

The question of whether the biblical poetic books teach any concept of life after death has been debated through the years. Critical scholars generally do not allow for any thought of immortality before the exile. Any text which might express such a hope is forced to express a “this-world” expectation. On the surface this view seems questionable. The hope of life after death loomed large in the theology of surrounding nations (especially in Egypt) even before Israel became a nation. How is it that Israelites were incapable of expressing such a hope until it evolved in the closing decades of Old Testament history?

Recent studies among critical scholars such as Dahood and Brichto21 have reopened the issue about belief in life after death in the poetic books. Life and immortality were brought to light through the Gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Though their hope was not as well-defined nor as firmly grounded as that of New Covenant believers, it now appears that the Old Testament saints also had an expectation of life beyond the grave.


Baumgartner, W. “The Wisdom Literature.” In The Old Testament and Modern Study, ed. H.H. Rowley, pp. 210–237. Oxford: Clarendon, 1951.

Bergant, Dianne. What are they Saying about Wisdom Literature? New York: Paulist, 1984.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Bullock, C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Chicago: Moody, 1979.

Crenshaw, James L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

Gray, G.B. The Forms of Hebrew Poetry. 1915. New York: Ktav, 1972.

Kidner, Derek. “Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament” in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. J. Barton Payne, pp. 157–171. Waco, TX: Word, 1970.

Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews. 2 vols. 1787. New York: Garland, 1971.

Morgan, Donn F. Wisdom in the Old Testament Traditions. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

Murphy, Roland E. Introduction to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Old Testament Reading Guide. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1965.

Noth, M., and D. Winton Thomas, eds. Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, vol. 3. Leiden: Brill, 1955.

Rankin, O.S. Israel’s Wisdom Literature: Its Bearing on Theology and the History of Religion. 1936. Reprint. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1954.

Robinson, T.H. The Poetry of the Old Testament. London: Duckworth, 1947.

Rylaarsdam, J. Cobert. Revelation in Jewish Wisdom Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1946.

Scott, R.B.Y. The Way of Wisdom. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Skehan, Patrick W. Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom. Washington: Catholic Biblical Associations of America, 1971.

Wood, James. Wisdom Literature: An Introduction. London: Duckworth, 1967.


chapter two

Getting Aquainted with Job

Faith Under Fire

Perhaps the Book of Job is the best known of the sacred sixty-six in circles outside the immediate company of believers. Literature classes in high schools and colleges throughout the land invariably discuss this work. Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century Scottish essayist and historian, said concerning this book: “There is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.” Few other compositions have such power to stretch minds, evoke sympathy, provoke inquiry, and expand vision. One who has eavesdropped on the discussions in the heavenly court, visited Job at the city dump, weighed the arguments of Job and his friends, and cowered before the thundering barrage of questions from the God of the whirlwind can never be the same again.

The book contains 10,102 words organized into forty-two chapters and 1,070 verses. The book is very moving, but it is incredibly complex. It is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to translate and interpret.


The Book of Job, like several other Old Testament books, takes its title from the name of the principal character around whom the narrative revolves. The title “Job” is also found in the ancient Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament.

The name Job (Heb., ˒iyyobh) has been traced by some scholars to a root which means “to be an enemy.” Those who accept this analysis suggest that the biblical name means either (1) opponent of Yahweh, or (2) one whom Yahweh has treated as an enemy. Others trace the name to an Arabic root which suggests the meaning “one who repents.”

W.F. Albright has offered the suggestion which is most widely accepted today. He interpreted the name as meaning “Where is (my) Father?” This name has been attested in the Egyptian texts as early as 2000 b.c. as well as in the famous Amarna letters (ca. 1350 b.c.). In both cases the name is that of tribal leaders in Palestine and its environs. The fact that the name is attested in ancient literature and is not merely an artificial symbolic designation of the leading character supports the conclusion that the book records the actual experiences of an ancient tribal leader.

Job is mentioned three times in the Bible outside this book. In two of those occurrences (Ezek 14:14, 20) he is mentioned alongside two other historical figures from the Old Testament, Noah and Daniel. James (5:11) commends Job’s steadfastness during suffering as a model for Christians. These references indicate that later biblical writers viewed Job as a real person who lived in the past and who suffered.


The nature of the Book of Job raises interesting questions regarding the inspiration and authority of this book.

A. Inspiration

The inspiration of Job, as part of a body of literature called “Scripture” is affirmed in 2 Tim 3:16. Though accolades may be heaped upon this book for its literary excellence, the Christian must never lose sight of the fact that this is God’s word.

Explicit claims to inspiration are rare in the devotional books. A claim to inspiration is implicit, however, in the presentation of the heavenly council scene in chapters 1–2 and in the citation of the actual words of God in chs. 38–41. These chapters contain direct revelation which always requires inspiration to receive and to transmit accurately.

Chapters 3–37 contain the speeches of Job and four of his friends. In what sense are these chapters inspired? God himself pronounces Job’s speeches to be “words without knowledge” (38:2). The Lord was angry with the sentiments expressed by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar because they had not spoken what was right about him (42:7). In these chapters inspiration is working on the level of judicial selection and accurate narration, i.e., here God’s Spirit has guided the author in the selection and accurate reporting of the materials. This is not to say that these wise men did not have certain true insights regarding God and life problems. Not every proposition generated by human wisdom and reason is false. Whatever truth these men spoke was offset by being set within a framework of a theology which was wrong headed.

What about the speeches of Elihu? His words are not explicitly repudiated in the epilogue. Should he be regarded as a prophet inspired to present the truth about God and life? Probably not. While Elihu’s observations were closer to the truth, they too were based on human reason. Much of what he says is simply a restatement of the opinion of the older men.

B. Canonicity

A key witness in the history of the Old Testament canon was Josephus (ca. a.d. 90). He indicates that the sacred books, which number only twenty-two, were organized into three divisions: five books “which belong to Moses;” thirteen books by “the prophets who were after Moses;” and four books containing “hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life” (Against Apion 1:8). An analysis of this statement about the breakdown of the books of Scripture indicates that in the first century a.d. Job must have been counted among the prophetic books.

The presence of the Book of Job in the collection of the Old Testament books has not been questioned either in the synagogue or in the church. Citations in ancient Jewish sources make it clear that Job was part of the Scriptures recognized as divinely inspired by Jesus and the early Church. This is reason enough to view the canonicity of this book as settled forever.


Whereas the placement of Job in the Old Testament canon is secure enough, the position of the book in that collection has shifted over the years. Within a century of Josephus, Job’s position had shifted from its placement among the “prophets” to an enlarged third division called by Jewish rabbis Kethubhim (Writings). The earliest testimony to this effect is found in a baraitha (a tradition from the period a.d. 70–200) quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b–15a). Jerome (ca. a.d. 405) seems to have been the first Christian writer to take note of the threefold arrangement of the Jewish tradition. He lists nine books among the Holy Writings (Hagiographa), including Job.

In the Hebrew tradition the Book of Job has been inseparably bound to the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Psalms stood first in the triad, while Proverbs and Job were interchangeable. This tripartite collection was given a special system of accentuation by the Masoretic scribes in the Middle Ages.

Septuagint (Greek) manuscripts differ widely in the placement of Job. One LXX manuscript places it at the very end of the Old Testament. The early lists of Old Testament books by Church Fathers also reflect great disparity in the placement of Job. Several place Job among the historical books (e.g., Augustine).

Jerome favored the order with Job as the first of the great poetic trilogy. This order was also favored by Cyril of Jerusalem and Gregory of Nazianzus. The Council of Trent ruled in favor of this order, and this has been generally accepted in modern versions. The basis of this order is not clear. Perhaps it is influenced by the tradition that this book antedates both Psalms and Proverbs. On the other hand, since the book begins and ends in historical prose perhaps it was viewed as an appropriate transition between the purely historical books and the purely poetical books.

In the ancient Syriac version the book of Job appears between Deu teronomy and Joshua. This placement may have been suggested by the patriarchal setting of the book and the belief that Moses was the author.


The Book of Job itself names no author and claims no definite date for its composition. It is therefore an anonymous work; any assertion about the author or date must of necessity be deduced from contents of the book.

The Talmud tradition, followed by many early Christian writers, is that the book was written by Moses (Baba Bathra 14b). The time, nature, and theme of the book fit with this tradition. The great lawgiver may have compiled this work from records of the conversations made by Elihu.

Certainly nothing about the style of the book points to Moses. The theory of Mosaic authorship, however, would explain (1) how this foreign book came to be possessed by the Hebrews; (2) how it attained a canonical status; (3) its patriarchal flavor and setting; and (4) the Aramaic flavor in some of the terminology of the book. In addition, one might argue that an historical book is more likely to be reliable when it is written close to the events it describes. Since the book is set in an early period (see below), it is easier for some to believe that it was also written comparatively early.9

Critical scholars are of the opinion that the Book of Job was the result of an evolutionary process extending over centuries. In general they believe that the dialogues (chs. 3–31) form the original core of the book. At a much later time an old prose folk tale was divided and used as a frame for the poetic core. Some of these scholars would date the speeches of Elihu and Yahweh even later.


The issue of the date of the writing of the book is separate from the issue of the date of the events described in the book. It is a mistake to try to infer the age of the writer from the circumstances of the hero of the book.

A. Date of the Events

Because the book contains no references to historical events it is not easy to assign a probable date for the lifetime and career of Job. In addition, the book reflects a non-Israelite cultural background concerning which little or no information is available.

The events seem to have taken place ca. 2000 b.c. during the Patriarchal period of Bible history. Several marks of antiquity appear in the prose sections. Some examples are: (1) Job performed his own sacrifice without priesthood or shrine (1:5); (2) Job’s wealth is measured in flocks, herds and servants (1:3); (3) his land was subject to invasion by roving tribes (1:15–17); (4) Job’s life span of 140 years is in harmony with the long lives of the patriarchs of Genesis (42:16); and (5) the names used in the book are authentic second millennium names.

While these indications seem strong enough there is a problem. The locale of the book is Uz, not Palestine. A patriarchal/tribal society may well have persisted in that region even as late as the monarchy period in Israel. Nonetheless, in terms of the progress of redemption, Job is best understood as having lived before the Abrahamic covenant which narrowed the covenant to one particular family.

B. Date of the Composition

A survey of the scholarly discussions of Job indicates the widest divergence on the issue of the date for the composition of the book.

If the authorship is assigned to Moses, the book would have been written ca. 1450 b.c.; if to the age of Solomon, ca. 950 b.c. Some would place the writing of Job even earlier. Baxter thinks that Job might be “the oldest book in the world.” Few modern scholars, however, would date the book as early as Moses. Other conservative scholars place the composition in the age of Solomon.15 H.L. Ellison states that “a Solomonic date … is the earliest we can reasonably adopt.” Some conservative scholars believe that the internal evidence in the poetic sections points to the seventh century b.c. or later.

Arguments based on the alleged lateness of the language is precarious. The book may have been editorially updated from time to time. Be that as it may, the linguistic evidence is so ambiguous that some scholars have reversed the argument. The language, they say, points to an early period of Israel’s history.

The writing of the book is best assigned to the age of Solomon, which was a time of literary flowering and interest in wisdom. There is nothing in the book, however, which conclusively refutes the ancient association of this book with Moses.


Job was a native of the land of Uz (1:1), a region somewhere northeast of Palestine. He was very wealthy (1:3, 10). He was a respected judge and benefactor of his fellow citizens (29:7–25). He was a very righteous man (1:1, 5, 8). He was the father of seven sons and three daughters (1:2) at the outset of the book.

Is Job an historical book? Did the author intend this book to be a historical record of an actual event in the past and, if so, how precise did he intend it to be?

Most scholars today concede an historical “core” to this book. The author had before him an ancient tale of a patriarch who suffered. He has created ex imagino the poetic speeches which enable the major characters to discuss the theological issues pertaining to his suffering. Such is the view of many scholars who are considered conservative in their overall orientation.

So why are the speeches regarded as literary creations rather than actual orations? Primarily because they are in poetic form, and people did not normally speak to one another in poetic form, especially when in extreme distress. The author has chosen to cast these speeches in poetry in order to elevate the book “from a specific historical event to a story with universal application.”20 Dillard and Longman pose a false dichotomy when they write: “The book of Job is not simply a historical chronicle; it is wisdom that is to be applied to all who hear it.” Could not the book at the same time be an accurate historical record and wisdom to be applied through the ages?

One would certainly have to concede that western people in the twentieth century do not ordinarily speak to one another in poetic verse, especially in times of distress. The main characters in Job, however, are wise men, living in the patriarchal world at least two thousand years before Christ. In oral societies speech tends to be more rhythmic and poetic. One of the subplots in the book is the contest in wisdom between Job and the other speakers. This was not just a contest of logic and theology; wisdom required artistic expression. Wise men competing in the field of wisdom might well have communicated with one another in poetic form, even in a time of distress, especially if the distress was the very point under discussion.

The conclusion then is this: there is no good reason for not regarding the poetic sections in the book as transcriptions of what was actually said in a concrete historical situation.

The rabbinic sages were sharply divided in their interpretation of the man Job. Some regarded him as one of the few truly God-fearing men of the Bible, and certainly the most pious of Gentiles who ever lived. Others called him a blasphemer. Some said he served God out of love; others that fear alone motivated his godly service.


In essence, Job challenged the sovereignty of God. Before his ordeal Job viewed God as mandated to always act in certain ordered and predictable ways. Job agreed with his friends that God was responsible for his sufferings. They argue from their orderly worldview that Job must have sinned else he would not be punished with suffering. Job argues from his personal experience of righteousness that his suffering cannot be punishment for sin for he has committed no sin worthy of such punishment. Nor will he accept that he is being tested. What he has experienced is torture, not testing. Therefore Job demands an explanation from God, although he realizes the hopelessness of any prospect of divine redress. For Job, it is not so much suffering which has become problematic; it is God himself. The challenge is: Can Job trust a God who is totally sovereign and whose activities cannot be circumscribed by the dictates of philosophy or theology?

God’s response to Job accuses him only of one thing. He, a mere mortal, has interfered in God’s affairs. God does not dismiss Job; he instructs him. The speeches of God at the conclusion of the book serve the purpose of bringing center stage both the majesty and mystery of the universe. All creation bears witness to God. Job’s dilemma is resolved when he withdraws his challenge and acknowledges that he too is under the protection of the mysterious God who governs all creation.

To be more specific, the Book of Job reveals who God is. It shows the kind of trust which God wants his children to have regarding him. Here is revealed God’s favor toward his children and his absolute control over Satan.


The Book of Job may be described as a lengthy poem bracketed by two prose narratives (chs. 1–2; 42:7–17). The core of the book—the debate between Job and his friends—itself is bracketed by Job’s lament (ch. 3) and his complaint (chs. 29–31). Hence in relation to his friends, Job is given the first and last words. The speeches of Elihu and Yahweh deliberately unbalance the symmetry of the book to call all the more attention to the inability of the major speakers to articulate a solution to the problem of the suffering of the righteous.


A. Genre

Among the books of the Bible, Job is unique. Scholars have advanced a variety of proposals as to the genre of this book. No single genre classification, however, has gained widespread support. Some scholars have therefore suggested that the book is sui generis, i.e., a unique composition. The designation “wisdom debate” seems to be as good as any for the book. Such a designation describes both its form as well as its content.25

One should not be surprised to find Near Eastern parallels to the Book of Job for two reasons. First, this is wisdom literature, and wisdom always has an international flavor. Second, the issue of the relationship of personal suffering and piety is one that challenges all religious systems.

The literature of the ancient Near East contains several examples of tales of righteous sufferers. None of these ancient stories is a true parallel to Job. Differences in theology, ethics, tone and mood clearly set apart the biblical account from its nearest competitors. Job’s predicament “has a lengthy chain of precedent but no sign of direct ancestry.”28

B. Style

The Book of Job is mostly poetry. It contains examples of most of the various types of Hebrew parallelism. The author was a master of metaphor. He draws from flora, fauna, natural phenomena, and the human realm. Particularly noteworthy are the many botanical metaphors and similes used to depict the transience of human life (e.g., 14:2, 7–12).

Quotations play a significant role in the book, though they sometimes are hard to identify. These include (1) direct quotations from a speaker’s thoughts (e.g., 7:4); (2) quotations of a previous speaker’s point of view (e.g., 31:1f.); and (3) proverbs (e.g., 32:6–8).

The Book of Job contains examples of almost every kind of literature which appears in the Old Testament. The author has incorporated (1) laments (e.g., ch. 3), (2) complaints (e.g., chs. 6–7), (3) hymns (e.g., 9:4–10), (4) proverbs (e.g., 5:2), and (5) rhetorical questions (e.g., 4:7) in abundance.

C. Unity

Critics have labeled large chunks of the Book of Job as later additions which add nothing to, or actually detract from, the message of the book. These include (1) the prose prologue and epilogue; (2) the wisdom poem (ch. 28); (3) Yahweh’s second speech (40:1–41:34); and (4) the Elihu speeches (32:1–37:24). Even many conservative scholars concede that textual dislocation has occurred in the third cycle of the debate (chs. 22–27) because (supposedly) Bildad’s speech is strangely short, and some of Job’s speech sounds more like what Bildad had been saying. Some try to find the missing third speech of Zophar in the concluding words of Job’s speech (27:13–23).

Discussions of the integrity of the Book of Job will no doubt continue. The tendency at the moment, however, is a commitment to grasp the message of the book in its present form. The opinion of Gordis indicates the direction of modern scholarship. He regards the book “as a superbly structured unity, the work of a single author of transcendental genius, both as a literary artist and as a religious thinker, with few peers, if any, in the history of mankind.”


Without question, suffering is the key issue discussed in this book. Specifically, why do righteous people like Job suffer?

A. Human Speculation

The various characters who appear in the book reflect starkly different attitudes towards the issue of suffering. The three friends of Job all have essentially the same position regarding his suffering, viz., that he is being punished for some terrible sin, that only the acknowledgment of that sin would secure his restoration. Yet each of the three has his own way of arguing the point. Eliphaz was more of a mystic type. He based his argument on a vision of God which he claimed to have had. Bildad was a traditionalist who based his argument on time-honored concepts of justice. Zophar was the blustering dogmatist who stressed the consensus of human wisdom on the subject.

Elihu speaks at the conclusion of the third round of the debate. He was the youngest of the speakers. Though his view of suffering was also flawed, it certainly was more positive than that of the three older friends. He stressed that God refines people through suffering. Elihu saw in suffering a warning that has an educative function.

Job himself struggled with the issue of his suffering. In his worst moments he bitterly accused God of injustice toward him. In his better moments his faith soared, and he expressed confidence in something better beyond.

This can be summarized in three answers to the problem of pain presented in the book. (1) The bitter answer of Job. Suffering in my case is unwarranted, unjust and cruel. (2) The wrong answer of the friends: suffering is God’s way of punishing specific sins. (3) The enlightened answer of Elihu: suffering is God’s way to teach, discipline and refine.

B. Divine Response

In the end Job is humbled by the realization that man cannot understand the ways of God in the natural order; so how can he begin to understand the principles of God’s government in the spiritual realm? Suffering is one more manifestation of the mystery of providence.

The speeches of God indicate an interim solution to the problem at hand: suffering is a test of trusting God for who he is, not for what he does. The term “interim solution” is appropriate because the book does not purport to give the final answer. The book reveals enough to permit the believer to cope with disaster. Suffering fulfills a divine purpose and exercises a gracious ministry in the godly. Behind the suffering of the godly is a loving Father with a high purpose, and beyond this veil of tears is a glorious “afterwards.” Such suffering “is not judicial, but remedial; not punitive, but corrective; not retributive, but disciplinary; not a penalty, but a ministry.”32 This is the interim solution to the problem of suffering. The ultimate solution awaits that day when Christ comes to be glorified in his saints, and all the mysteries of life will be unlocked.

Some scholars argue that the book does in fact offer an answer to the problem of the suffering of the innocent. For M. Tsevat only the elimination of the principle of retribution can solve the problem of this book. He points to three passages in the God-speeches (38:12–15; 38:25–27; 40:8–14) suggesting that the natural world is not concerned with retribution. In this life God is not just or unjust but simply God.

Obviously the God speeches at the conclusion of the book are supposed to offer some kind of answer to the issue of innocent suffering. Negatively, this material repudiates the old doctrine of a causal connection between suffering and moral evil. These points are made in the God-speeches: (1) the splendors of creation and providential sustainment (38:39–40) are proof of the justice of God. (2) The question of man’s actual lot as contrasted with his rightful deserts is one on which God prefers to maintain silence. (3) Only if men could match God’s wisdom and power could they grasp the working of God’s providence.


A. Theology of the Book

The Book of Job underscores the mysteries of God and the limitations of man’s knowledge of him as perhaps no other book in the Bible. Certainly the book clearly presents the omniscience, omnipotence and justice of God. The attribute of God, however, which most baffled Job and his friends was his sovereignty, or freedom to act as he pleases. The God of this book does not operate by the books that men have written about him. He refuses to be bound by human concepts of him. He follows his own agenda, not one prescribed by theologians. He is free to keep secrets about himself, free to intervene or not intervene on man’s behalf, free to answer man’s objections about him or not. Job and his friends were frustrated because they were holding God to promises he had never made and setting forth rules for him which he would not follow.

The book also stress divine wisdom. The characters in the book all claim to possess wisdom. In the end, however, it is God alone who is the source of wisdom, and he distributes it as he sees fit. The proper human response to God’s wisdom is repentance and submission, and that is exactly how Job responded (42:5f.). No matter how right his defense against his friends, before God the patriarch manifests heartfelt repentance of his own impatience toward the Lord. Thus the book encourages reverence.

B. Doctrine of Satan

Job introduces Satan, “the adversary.” His role in Job anticipates his role in the rest of the Bible. Satan had access to the presence of Yahweh, yet he was governed by his sovereignty. Satan fosters ill-will toward both God and man, who is made in God’s image. His aim in this book is not so much to tempt Job to commit various sins, but to force him to the ultimate sin, the denial of God. Yet he is on a leash. He can do no more than he is permitted by his creator to do. In the end Satan is proved wrong about men and their relationship to God. He loses this skirmish. Believers can therefore take courage. Though Satan does his worst, Job proves that man can indeed remain faithful to the Lord.

C. Christological Content

Like the other books of the Old Testament, Job looks forward to Christ. Questions are raised, great sobs of agony are heard, which Jesus alone can answer. The book takes its place in the testimony of the ages that there is a blank in the human heart which Jesus alone can fill.

In this book Christ is anticipated in several ways. Job cries out for a mediator (9:33); he longs for a heavenly witness/advocate (16:19–21), a divine bondsman (17:3), and an interpreter (33:23–28). Job knows he needs someone who can unlock the mystery of suffering. Through his own suffering on the cross, Christ provided the victory over the plague of evil, pain and death itself.

The one passage in Job which may be regarded as predictive of Messiah is 19:23–27. Job here expresses confidence that his redeemer would one day stand upon the earth as “the last,” i.e., he who survives the desolation of the present order. Job anticipated his personal resurrection to life in connection with the appearance of this redeemer.


Andersen, Francis I. Job, An Introduction and Commentary in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1976.

Clines, D.J.A. Job 1–20 in Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word, 1989.

Driver, S.R. and G.B. Gray. The Book of Job in International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: Clark, 1921.

Dhorme, Edouard. A Commentary on the Book of Job. Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

Gibson, Edgar C.S. The Book of Job. 1899. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1978.

Gordis, R. The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation, Special Studies. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1978.

Green, W.H. The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded. New York: Robert Carter, 1874.

Habel, N.C. The Book of Job in The Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.

Hartley, J.E. The Book of Job in New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Pope, M.H. Job in Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.

Reichert, Victor. Job in Soncino Books of the Bible. London: Soncino, 1946.

Rowley, H.H. Job in New Century Bible New Series. Greenwood, SC: Attic, 1970.

Zuck, Roy B. ed. Sitting with Job. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

———. Job, in Everyman’s Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1978.

chapter three

The Testing of Job

Job 1–3

The prologue to the book is designed to introduce the main characters and the setting. The author flashes before the reader pictures of Job’s character and suffering, and Satan’s accusations and attacks. The prologue initiates the plot by raising the problem that needs a resolution. It reveals to the reader circumstances of which the main characters are not aware throughout the book. The conflict in the prologue centers around the character of human devotion to God. Does anyone serve God unconditionally, without ulterior motive? This is the question on the human side. On the theological side, an even more profound issue is raised: What kind of God would allow his faithful servant to become a pawn in the hands of Satan? This is the problem of theodicy which has baffled believers and fueled atheism for centuries.


Job 1:1–5

The opening paragraphs of the book set forth the place, person, piety and prosperity of the hero of this book.

A. His Name (1:1)

Those who regard the story of Job as fictional believe that the patriarch’s name has been contrived by the author. The name seems to be derived from a root which carries the idea of “enmity, hostility.” The vocalization of the Hebrew reflects a pattern which regularly designates a profession, or a habitual or characteristic activity. Thus Job would indicate one who is an implacable foe. Some take this idea of enmity in a passive sense, i.e., the name is intended to designate one who is the object of enmity or persecution. Job then would mean something like “the persecuted one.”

As appealing as this explanation of the name may be, some strong arguments can be raised against it. First, there is no play on the name or allusion to its significance in the book. This is strange if the author coined the name. Second, though the name Job is unique to this man in the Bible, it appears to have been quite common in the second millennium b.c. The name may have been chosen for the hero of the story simply because it was an ordinary name. The position taken here, however, is that an ancient patriarch named Job actually experienced the trials set forth in this chapter.

B. His Place (1:1)

The setting of the book is in the “land of Uz.” The exact location of Uz is uncertain. The name Uz appears several times in the Old Testament. Uz was certainly outside Palestine as is indicated by the geographical references, customs and vocabulary reflected in the book. This land appears to have been east of Edom, in northern Arabia.3 The narrative makes clear that Job lived near the desert (1:19); yet his land was fertile for agriculture and livestock (1:3, 14; 42:12).

C. His Piety (1:1)

Four expressions describe the piety of Job. First, he was blameless (tam), i.e., whole, complete. He was a man without any obvious moral blemish, a man of integrity. The term tam, which is first used in Scripture of Noah (Gen 6:9), does not suggest that Job was sinless. Job’s blamelessness is affirmed in heaven (1:8; 2:3), by Job’s wife (2:9); and by Job himself (9:21). Even Job’s antagonists concede the blamelessness of Job in a general way (e.g., 4:6), although they argued that he must have been guilty of some serious offense to account for his calamities.

Second, Job was “upright” (yashar), i.e., he did not deviate from God’s standards. The combination of the terms “blameless” and “upright” indicate the peak of moral perfection.

Third, this patriarch is described as “fearing God,” i.e., he reverenced the creator and humbly submitted to his will. The ancient sages viewed the fear of God as the foundation of wisdom as well as its goal.

Finally, Job “turned aside from evil,” i.e., he avoided all that area which the Holy One had designated as sinful. The fear of God gives one the moral discernment to avoid evil.

D. His Prosperity (1:2–3)

Job was blessed with many children. He had seven sons and three daughters. In the Patriarchal period a large family was viewed as an asset. The children are mentioned directly following Job’s piety to suggest that they were the reward of the Lord (cf. Ps 127:3). Seven children, especially sons, were considered the ideal blessing from the Lord (Ruth 4:15; cf. 1 Sam 2:5).

Job was a semi-nomadic chieftain whose wealth was measured in terms of livestock and servants. Seven thousand sheep provided clothing, food and wool for export. Three thousand camels and five hundred donkeys provided transportation of produce and merchandise to distant cities. Five hundred yoke of oxen provided meat, milk and plowing power for crops of wheat and barley (cf. 31:38–40) in Job’s extensive fields. Job also had a very large number of servants.

Measured by the standards of his day, Job was “the greatest of all the men of the east” (1:3). His greatness did not lie in his wealth alone, but in the respect in which he was held and in his influence. Since the children of the east were noted for their wisdom (1 Kgs 4:30), the text may be suggesting that Job excelled in this respect as well as in his wealth.

E. His Priesthood (1:4–5)

Job’s godly character is indicated in his concern for the spiritual well being of his grown children. He was faithful in his priestly ministry to his family. Each year the ten children of Job got together at one of their homes to celebrate birthdays. That Job’s sons each had their own house is another indication of the family wealth. The unmarried daughters probably stayed in their father’s house (cf. 2 Sam 13:7, 8, 20). They were invited to share in the drinking feasts (1:4).

When the annual round of drinking feasts was concluded, Job performed a priestly ritual for his children. He first sent for his sons and “sanctified” them. This ritual probably consisted of washings and a change of garments (cf. Gen 35:2). Early the next morning he offered up burnt offerings “according to the number of them all.” Perhaps he offered up the seven bulls and seven rams mentioned in 42:8.

Why these religious ceremonies? The old patriarch was concerned lest while under the influence of strong drink his children might have sinned by renouncing God in their hearts. The text probably has in mind a momentary turning away of the heart from God in the midst of social merriment. This priestly sacrifice Job performed continually, i.e., after each year’s round of feasting. This man of God was exemplary in his concern for his family (1:5).


Job 1:6–2:13

The calamities of Job came in two stages: (1) his possessions were first assaulted (1:6–22), and then his person (2:1–10). In both stages the reader is permitted to know what Job could not know, viz., that these calamities were part of the testing of his faith orchestrated by Satan himself with the permission of Yahweh.

A. Satan’s Slander of Job (1:6–12)

On a certain day the “sons of God” (angels) presented themselves (lit., stationed themselves) before the creator to report on their activities. A scene similar to this appears in 1 Kings 22:19–23 (cf. Ps 89:7). Satan was among them. The term Satan means “the adversary” or “the opposer.” Here, as in Zechariah 3:1, Satan stands before the Holy One to challenge the spiritual credentials of one of God’s most noble servants (1:6).

Yahweh interrogated Satan about his activities. Satan responded that he had been traversing the earth. As he had walked back and forth in the earth he apparently was searching for those that he could accuse and devour (cf. 1 Pet 5:8). Yahweh asked Satan if he had considered the piety of Job “my servant.” Yahweh knows that Satan hates mankind and that he is convinced that every man has his price or breaking point. The Lord repeated the evaluation of the author of the book. Job was a man who was blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. In Job Yahweh has a champion who will prove Satan wrong (1:7–8).

Satan responded to Yahweh’s question with one of his own. “Does Job fear God for nought?” Thus the arch slanderer accused the patriarch of ulterior motives. Satan could not deny that Job was in fact a godly man. But why was he godly? The allegation is that Job is being paid by God through a life of ease and prosperity to be pious. Here is the fundamental issue in the book. Do men serve God for who he is? Or for what he does for them? Will a person worship God without personal gain? Is worship essentially selfish? (1:9).

Satan’s second question accuses God of placing a thorny hedge around Job, his family and his possessions thereby protecting him from pain and hardship. Then Satan pointed out that God had blessed all the work of Job’s hand thereby increasing (lit., causing to burst out) his substance in the land (1:10).

The stage was now set for Satan’s challenge. “Put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face!” Yahweh then put all of Job’s possessions into the power of the evil one. Satan was restricted, however, with regard to touching the person of Job. Armed with this warrant, Satan “went out from the presence of Yahweh” (1:11).

At least before the redemptive work of Christ, Satan had access to the heavenly throne room. Indeed he seems to have relished his role as the accuser of the brethren. The Scriptures say amazingly little about the origins and workings of Satan. He appears to have led a rebellion against God sometime before the fall of Adam in the garden (cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). Here in Job he is seen as subordinate to God. His powers and sphere of influence are limited by the Lord. Yet the righteousness of God required, it would seem, a response to the criticism of Satan regarding Job.

The final book of the Bible suggests that at the ascension of Jesus Satan lost the right to appear in heaven. This one who accused the brethren day and night before God has now been “thrown down.” Through the blood of the Lamb believers can overcome him (Rev 12:7–11). There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1).

B. First Assault Against Job (1:13–22)

The hammer blows of calamity began to fall almost immediately upon Job. The disasters fell on the day when Job’s children were enjoying a feast at the home of the eldest brother (1:13).

A messenger came to Job with the news that the oxen and donkeys were seized by the Sabeans. All the servants who attended these animals had been slain. Only the messenger had survived the attack (1:14–15).

Before the first messenger had finished his report, a second arrived. He notified Job that “the fire of God,” i.e., lightning, had destroyed all the sheep and killed the servants who tended them. Again the messenger was the only survivor of the disaster (1:16).

While the second messenger was still speaking, a third arrived with more bad news. The Chaldeans had executed a well-planned three-pronged attack in which the camels had been captured and their keepers slain (1:17). The Chaldeans here are unsettled semi-nomadic marauders. Beginning in the ninth century they filtered into the civilized world and eventually took control of Babylon.

A fourth messenger brought the worst news of all. A blast of wind (a tornado?) off the desert had ripped through the house where Job’s children were feasting. Job’s sons—and presumably his daughters also—died in the disaster. The messenger alone had escaped the collapse of the house (1:18–19).

Job responded to these devastating reports by entering into a state of mourning. To demonstrate his agony he tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and did obeisance before God. The act probably consisted of touching the face to the ground a number of times (Gen 33:3; 1 Sam 20:41). In immortal words which still eloquently articulate human grief, Job cried out to God: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh” (1:20–21). Of course Job did not mean that he would return to his mother’s womb, but to the earth which was the “womb” from which the original body of man was created.

In spite of these blows against him, Job “sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (tiphlah),” i.e., he did not consider that God had acted out of character (1:22). Satan is defeated, for he had predicted a curse.

C. Satan’s Second Challenge (2:1–6)

The time lapse between the first and second assaults on Job cannot be determined. Jewish tradition assigns a year to the interval. On another day when the angelic hosts assembled before the Lord “Satan came also among them to station himself before Yahweh.” These words suggest a distinction between Satan and those other spirit beings who were accustomed to report to the Lord (2:1).

The conversation between Yahweh and Satan follows the same pattern as in the first encounter. In response to a query by the Lord, Satan explained that he had been roaming about on the earth. Again Yahweh directed Satan’s attention to the excellent character of Job. In spite of all that had happened to him the patriarch was holding fast to his integrity. Satan had incited Yahweh against this godly man “to destroy him without cause.” Though Satan had instigated the experiment, Yahweh accepts responsibility for what happened to Job. The Lord seems indignant that Job should have been put through such torment (2:2–3).

Satan responded: “Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has will he give for his life.” Obviously this is some ancient proverb, but there is no agreement as to what it means. Sometimes in Job the term “skin” means body (cf. 19:26). Perhaps the meaning here is “skin (or body) of others for one’s own.” In any case Satan was sure that if God touched this pious patriarch in his bone and flesh Job would curse the Lord to his face. Again Yahweh unleashed Satan. Job was placed in Satan’s hands. The only restriction is that Job’s life must be spared (2:4–6).

D. Job’s Second Trial (2:7–13)

Immediately upon leaving the presence of Yahweh, Satan smote Job with “sore boils” from the sole of his feet unto the crown of his head. These skin ulcers must have itched, for Job scraped himself with a piece of broken pottery. He sat in the ashes, probably at the city garbage dump (2:7–8).

Job’s malady has received several diagnoses. The term “boils” (shechin) is connected with Egypt in Deut 28:27. For this reason Job’s disease has been diagnosed as the leprosy called elephantiasis. The disease got its name from the swollen limbs and the black, corrugated skin which resembled that of an elephant. Ancient writers connected this disease with Egypt.

The book describes Job’s affliction in some detail, but the language is that of the poet, not the pathologist. The ulcers broke out within the body as well as without, making the breath loathsome (19:17). The sores bred worms (7:5). They alternately closed, having the appearance of clods of earth, and opened and ran. This means that the body was alternately swollen and emaciated (16:8). Job was haunted with horrible dreams (7:14), and unearthly terrors (3:25). He was harassed by a sensation of choking (7:15) which made his nights restless and frightful (7:4). His incessant pains made his days weary (7:1–4). His skin was black, his bones were filled with gnawing pains, as if a fire burned in them (30:30).

Job’s wife broke under the strain of seeing her husband’s suffering. She could not believe that her husband could “retain his integrity” in the face of such adversity. She urged Job to “curse God and die.” Perhaps her actions here explain why Satan spared her in the first assault. Just as Eve in the garden became Satan’s ally, so now Job’s wife unknowingly is urging her husband to do the Devil’s bidding. Her religion is represented as precisely the kind which Satan ascribed to Job (2:9).

Did Job’s wife anticipate that renouncing God would bring an immediate and deadly stroke from heaven? Perhaps she only meant to suggest that one experiencing a terminal disease might as well give vent to his personal feelings and animosity toward God.

Job rebuked his wife for her audacity. She was speaking as “foolish women,” speak. He avoids calling his wife a “fool,” i.e., godless person. Yet he implies that she had fallen into the snare of the Devil, and was attempting to use her influence to draw her husband after her. He pointed out that for many years they had received good things from the hand of God. Should they not expect from time to time to experience calamity?

Again Job passed the test. Satan was proved wrong. “In all this Job did not sin with his lips,” i.e., he said nothing inappropriate about the justice of God. Some have taken the phrase “with his lips” to suggest that Job had inappropriate thoughts toward God but did not give voice to them. But thinking and speaking hardly differ in the East. The lips reveal what is in the heart (2:10).

Three friends of Job heard of his misfortune. How long a time intervened between Job’s second affliction and the arrival of his friends cannot be ascertained. From various allusions (chs. 7, 19, 30), it is probable that a considerable time elapsed. The three friends who came to Job in his distress would have been semi-nomadic princes like himself, men who were all but his equals in rank, wealth, wisdom, and influence.

From Teman came Eliphaz. He may be the same Eliphaz who was the firstborn of Esau and the father of Teman (Gen 36:11, 15, 42; 1 Chron 1:36, 53). Though the site has not been conclusively identified, Teman is thought to have been in the vicinity of Petra. Scripture represents Teman as one of the principal locations of Edom. The Temanites had a great reputation for wisdom (cf. Jer 49:7).

Less is known about the other two friends. Bildad came from Shuah, a site in Edom or Arabia perhaps named after one of the sons of Abraham and Keturah (cf. Gen 25:2). Zophar made his way to Job from Naamah, the location of which is unknown. These three men came with good intentions. The three friends had agreed among themselves to come to mourn with Job and to comfort him. This suggests that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar lived in the same general vicinity (2:11).

When they first laid eyes on Job, the three friends did not even recognize him. His disease had completely disfigured him. They joined Job in mourning. They lifted up their voices, tore their clothing, and threw dust into the air (a gesture of anger and disdain). For seven days and nights—the time normally allotted to mourning for the dead—the four friends sat upon the ground. No one spoke during that time because they could see that Job was in too much pain to engage in conversation. Comforters were not permitted to say a word until the mourner opened the conversation (2:12–13).


Job 3:1–26

At the end of the seven days of silent mourning with his friends Job finally spoke. He broke out in a passionate cry that he might die.

A. He Prefers Nonexistence to Life (3:1–10)

Job cursed “his day,” i.e. the day of his birth (cf. Jer 20:14–18). In this context the birthday stands for a life now so embittered that Job prefers nonexistence to life. This thought he expresses in a series of wishes.

First, Job curses the day of his birth and the night of his conception together. He wishes that the birthday would “perish,” i.e., be stricken from history. Job next seems to go back in time before the birth to the conception. In poetry day and night can speak. The night knew the gender of the child before the actual birth. The night whispered the happy news that a male child had been born. In retrospect that conception announcement was really a sentence to a life of suffering. The language here (gebher) is consistent with other Scripture in recognizing the fetus as “a man” (3:1–3).

The next two verses focus on the day. Job wishes that “darkness” would seize that day. The Hebrew here uses several different words for darkness for which there is no equivalent English word. For the ancients darkness symbolized everything that was evil, fearsome and mysterious. Job wants that day so thoroughly to be hidden away that not even God would inquire after it. He requests that thick darkness and the shadow of death would claim that day as part of their domain. He wishes that clouds and anything else that blackens the sky “terrify” that day, i.e., frighten it into not appearing. The point is, Job’s birthday should never have happened (3:4–5).

The next four verses focus on the night. Job wants thick darkness to blacken the glittering desert night sky. That night, personified once again, should not express joy. Let that night “be barren,” i.e., let no living thing date its birth to that night. Let there be no joyful birthday celebrations on that night (3:6–7).

That conception night should be cursed by those who, it was popularly believed, had the power to cast their spells on a day by making them dark with misfortune. These enchanters were skilled “to rouse up leviathan,” i.e., the dragon. In poetic imagination a dark cloud that swallows up the lights of day or night is compared to a monster dragon. The enchanters were thought to have the power to set this dragon in motion (3:8).

Job asks that the “stars of the morning twilight” be darkened. Those stars normally herald the approach of day. That night of his conception should never be allowed to “behold the eyelids of the morning,” i.e., the long streaming rays of morning light that come from the opening clouds which reveal the sun (3:9).

Why this bitter curse on that night of conception? Because that night personified should have shut up “the doors of my mother’s womb” so as to prevent his conception. The night is under Job’s curse for the crime of allowing his conception (3:10).

B. He Prefers Death to Survival (3:11–19)

If conception and birth had to be, Job asks why he had not died in infancy. A high incidence of infant mortality was the curse of the ancient world. Job considered himself unfortunate because he had survived to adulthood. He should have died as he came forth from the womb, or before they placed him on his father’s knees, or at least before he suckled at his mother’s breasts for the first time (3:11–12).

Had he died in infancy he would have entered into rest. In death he would have joined the great kings and counselors of the past who were famous because of their building enterprises or their wealth. The point is, in death he would have been with honorable, even illustrious men. As it is, Job is viewed with contempt by even the lowliest of men (cf. ch. 30). Thus he wishes he had died in infancy (3:13–15).

The thought of dying in infancy triggers another thought. In view of his present anguish, it would have been better had he been stillborn and never had seen the light. Thus Job wishes he had never been conceived, never been born, was stillborn or had died in infancy. Any of those alternatives were better than the anguish which he was currently experiencing (3:16).

In Job’s view death offered peace and quiet to men of all ranks and stations. In death the wicked are silenced as to their raging. Those who are weary with the burdens of life find rest there. Captives no longer are driven to forced labor. In death the small and great are alike. Job longs to be released from the suffering of the flesh. Yet he does not ever contemplate suicide. Godly men regard life as a precious gift which God gives and which only he can recall (3:17–19).

C. He Prefers the Grave to Misery (3:20–26)

In the final phase of his complaint, Job raises this question: Why does God not simply take the life of those who suffer rather than letting them continue in their miserable state? Job cannot understand why God gives light and life to those who live in “misery” and who are “bitter in soul.” Though God is not directly named here, this constitutes an oblique criticism of the Lord. The term “bitter” is the plural of intensity. Job believes that many in this world are in the same miserable condition as he. The patriarch simply cannot understand why the Lord allows such miserable people to continue to live (3:20).

Job concludes that many, like himself, “long” (lit., wait) for death. Just as treasure hunters dig frantically until exhausted, so those who suffer intensely plead with God for death until they are weary in so doing. Such people actually rejoice at the moment when they are about to slip into the grave (3:21–22).

Job next turns from the general principle addressed in vv. 20–22, to the specific application to himself. He considers his way hidden or lost. God has shut him off from his former life by placing a hedge across his path. Job feels trapped in a miserable life. Not only does he refer to his physical condition, but also to his mental confusion as he tries to explain his fate rationally. He has no room to maneuver physically, emotionally, psychologically or theologically (3:23).

The complaint concludes in vv. 24–26 with further description of the suffering which Job was experiencing. Job complains that “my sighing comes before I eat,” i.e., he cannot even think of eating. His condition has robbed him of all appetite. His groanings “are poured out like water,” i.e., in a broad and constant stream. His worst fears come immediately upon him, everything that he imagines could happen actually happens. The affliction comes upon him like waves of the sea, but between each wave there is no respite. Before he can recover from one calamity, another falls upon him (3:24–26).

This frank and bitter complaint sets the stage for the discussion with his friends. Job’s words and attitude shocked them into the response which appears in the following chapters.

chapter four

The Debate at the Dunghill

Job 4–14

The body of the Book of Job is a debate between Job and his three friends. The tone of Job’s complaint and the implicit criticism of God’s work in the world compelled them to speak up. The war of words focuses on the plight of the patriarch. Yet the discussion inevitably broadens to include the entire issue of theodicy, i.e., the question regarding the meaning of calamity in this life. In round one of this classic debate each of the friends speaks and Job responds to each in turn.


Swift Punishment to the Wicked

Job 4:1–5:27

Each of the friends of Job is a distinct personality. Eliphaz was a religious visionary. He claimed to have received his insights about suffering through revelation. He is the most contentious of the three, perhaps because he was the oldest. The speech of Eliphaz moves through five distinct phases.

A. Shock at Job’s Despair (4:1–11)

Eliphaz began his speech with an apology for presuming to lecture his friend in such a time of personal anguish. Since Job, however, had broken the silence he now feels free to speak. Yet Eliphaz inquires whether his friend is able physically and emotionally to bear what he is about to say. Yet Eliphaz feels he cannot keep silent, (lit., hold back with words) (4:1–2).

In better times Job had “instructed” (yissarta) others. The word carries the connotations of chastisement, correction, discipline, and admonition. The patriarch had “strengthened” feeble hands, encouraged the faint, and provided support for tottering knees. Now it was time for Job to heed his own words (4:3–4).

Eliphaz was amazed that Job was now wilting under the calamity which he had experienced. The patriarch physically “faints” (tele˒) and mentally is “perplexed” (tibbahel) (4:5).

Job, of all people, should be able to cope with adversity. Job’s “fear” of the Lord, i.e., his piety, should be his confidence. His hope should be in the “perfect conduct” of his ways. Eliphaz seems to concede that Job’s walk outwardly was beyond reproach. Thus the patriarch should have confidence that God would deal with him accordingly. Job needed to remember, however, that innocent people never perish. God never cuts off a righteous man in the prime of life. Therefore, Eliphaz’s argument is that Job will either recover, in which case his outward righteousness would be confirmed, or he would die in which case men must conclude that there was some terrible hidden sin in his life (4:6–7).

Eliphaz bears testimony to his personal observation that “those who plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” These sinners wilt when God merely breathes upon them. They “perish” in the “blast of God.” God silences the voice of the most powerful lions. By this figure Eliphaz is suggesting that no sinner, however powerful, can escape divine wrath (4:8–11).

B. Warning Against Job’s Murmuring (4:12–21)

Eliphaz claims to have experienced an ominous dream or nightmare. What he saw in that dream caused his bones to shake, i.e., terrified him. He felt a “spirit” or “breath” pass near him. He sensed he was in the presence of some supernatural being. The hair of his flesh stood up. The figure stood still before him, but Eliphaz was not able to discern its form. He therefore cannot describe nor name this mysterious presence. Like Elijah on Mt. Horeb (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12), Eliphaz then heard a still voice (4:12–16).

The visiting spirit—probably an angel—first asked two rhetorical questions: “Can mortal man be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” Even angels and other heavenly servants fall far short of the glory of God. The Lord cannot put trust in his servants. His holy eye finds “folly” (error) in his angels. If these heavenly beings fall short of God’s expectations, how much more “those that dwell in houses of clay,” i.e., physical bodies. The foundation of man’s house of clay is in the dust, not the heavenly places. Man is built on earth, derived from earth, and limited to earth. In this world man can be crushed as easily as a moth. Man’s life span is but for a day compared to the heavenly beings. So insignificant is he that he passes away unobserved, like an insect. The death of man is like the collapse of a tent. When the supporting cord is pulled up, the tent collapses, and the inhabitant perishes from the earth. Worldly wisdom deserts man when he faces his mortality (4:17–21).

C. Application to Job’s Situation (5:1–7)

Eliphaz thus far has addressed Job’s complaint obliquely. He emphasizes the exalted purity of God, in order to rekindle reverence in Job’s heart. He has pointed out that all creatures above and below have sinned against the Lord. Eliphaz now begins to apply these general principles to the case of Job.

First, Eliphaz, by means of two rhetorical commands, makes the point that Job has no one to whom he can appeal against God. Certainly “the holy ones” (angels), who are generally helpful to man, would not receive his complaint and come to his aid. They would view a complaint against God as utter folly. Thus Job’s complaint is useless (5:1).

Second, Eliphaz warns that such complaint betrays a mind out of harmony with the Lord. Impatience with the chastisements of heaven and angry outbursts are the marks of a “fool” and a “silly person.” Thus by such impatience Job will only bring increased calamity till he has perished from the earth (5:2).

Eliphaz now cites an example from his own experience to illustrate the truth of the observation in v. 2. He had observed a foolish man “taking root,” i.e., giving evidence of permanence and prosperity. Suddenly God’s judgment fell upon this man. Eliphaz, seeing the fall of this promising person, and knowing the significance of his fall, pronounced his habitation accursed (5:3).

The home of that fool who hardened himself against God became a desolation. His children were “crushed in the gate,” i.e., they were powerless to defend themselves in the court which sat in the complex of buildings at the main gate of the city. No one stands up to deliver them in that venue. The abandoned lands of the fool are overrun by marauders. They break through the thorn-hedge which surrounds the field to eat the harvest. All of his substance falls prey to crafty schemers (5:4–5).

Eliphaz now sets forth a pithy observation about life. “Affliction does not come forth from the dust, neither does trouble spring out of the ground.” The point is that affliction is not accidental. Men bring it on themselves by the choices which they make. “But man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Man inclines toward sin which inevitably brings calamity upon himself. Evil desires flow from the heart of man as easily as sparks shoot up from a fire (5:6–7).

D. Exhortation to Seek the Lord (5:8–16)

Now Eliphaz begins to say what he would do if he were in Job’s place: “I would seek unto God,” i.e., he would turn his case over to the Lord. To support his suggestion to seek the Lord, Eliphaz paints a brilliant picture of God’s power. He does “great things and unsearchable.” He does “marvelous things” without number. Then follows a list of some of those wonderful acts (5:8–9).

First, the goodness of God is seen in that he sends rain upon the fields of the earth. Second, God “sets up on high those that be low.” The Hebrew text allows that these words be connected to the sending of the rain in the previous verse giving this meaning: the abundant harvests resulting from the rains enable lowly people to prosper. The text can also stand on its own as a second beneficent act of God. This latter interpretation seems to be supported by the clause: “and those which mourn are exalted to safety,” i.e., salvation. Such is the graciousness of God toward those who love and seek him (5:10–11).

When God deals with the arrogant and perverse, his power manifests itself in another way. First, “he frustrates the devices of the crafty.” All of their schemes go awry so that they do not succeed. Second, “he takes the wise in their own craftiness.” This is the only quotation from the Book of Job in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor 3:19). The shrewd plans of the wicked are quickly thwarted. These worldly wise men are totally confused by the reversal of their counsels. Even in broad daylight they grope about in darkness, i.e., they have no clear insight as to how to cope with what has befallen them (5:12–14).

God rescues those against whom the wicked were scheming. The Lord is the champion of the “poor” and “needy.” In the Lord is the hope of the world’s downtrodden. Ultimately “iniquity must shut its mouth.” The idea is that God has the last word (5:15–16).

E. Assurance of God’s Goodness (5:17–27)

In view of the beneficent character of the Lord, Eliphaz can argue that those who experience affliction can be happy. God afflicts men only for the purpose of more abundantly blessing them. Therefore, affliction was a guarantee of greater blessing to follow. One, therefore should not “despise,” i.e., take lightly, the chastening of the Almighty (5:17).

Eliphaz further amplifies his contention about the purpose of suffering. The Lord “makes sore” in order to bind up, he “wounds” in order to heal more perfectly. The Lord is like a surgeon who must inflict wounds in order to bring a sick man to sound health (5:18).

Eliphaz assures Job that God will deliver the one who trusts in him “in six troubles,” yes even in “seven.” This so-called X+1 formula appears frequently in the wisdom literature. It expresses the idea of completeness, i.e., in all troubles the Lord would deliver those who responded positively to his chastisement. Specific examples of how God would deliver such a person are cited by Eliphaz: (1) in famine, (2) war, (3) the “scourge of the tongue,” i.e., slander, and (4) the beasts of the earth. If he trusted in God, Job would be able to laugh in the face of “destruction and dearth” (5:19–22).

Once restored to the favor of the Lord, Job would “be in league with the stones of the field.” The idea is that these stones would not impede him when he tilled his fields. The “beasts of the field” would be at peace with him, i.e., they would not be a menace to his flocks and herds. Job would have confidence in regard to his possessions. He would know peace in his “tent,” i.e., homestead (5:23).

Eliphaz has described the blessings which Job would receive after restoration quite eloquently. Now he showed his insensitivity by a reference to the restoration of Job’s “seed,” i.e., progeny. His offspring would be numerous and powerful. Furthermore, Job would come to his grave “in a full age.” In ancient culture this was the crowning blessing of man on earth, to live long and die old and full of years (5:25–26).

Eliphaz concludes his speech with an exclamation point. He acts as a spokesman for the other visitors when he says, “We have searched it, and so it is.” Eliphaz and his companions believed in the health and wealth gospel. Serve God and prosper. Submit to God and be restored (5:27).

The speech of Eliphaz is a masterpiece. He certainly had a lofty conception of God. Yet he erred in two particulars. First, his speech showed little sympathy for Job’s plight. Second, his theory that suffering is punishment for sin is not capable of universal application. Job certainly thought he was the exception. So in the final analysis, the speech of Eliphaz aggravated Job’s misery rather than soothed it.


Job 6:1–7:21

Eliphaz had not mentioned any specific sin on Job’s part. He had, however, painted dark pictures of the evil of human nature. Job saw the implication of what Eliphaz saw. He cannot believe that his friend really meant what his words suggested, viz., that Job was being punished for his evil nature.

A. Job Defends his Complaint (6:1–7)

Eliphaz had suggested that Job’s complaint was inappropriate and disproportionate. Job counters by making four arguments. First, his “impatience” (ka˓as), i.e., the attitude expressed in his initial complaint, would be outweighed in any balances by his calamities (hayyah). Job felt that it would take all the sand of the seashore to counterbalance the weight of his affliction in those balances. For this reason his initial words were “rash” (la˓ah), i.e., wild or vain. Job admits a certain extravagance in his language, but he justifies it in view of the enormous burden of his affliction (6:1–3).

Second, the burden on Job’s mind was as great as the affliction of his body. The physical pain alone was not what drove him to his complaint, but the fact that this affliction had come to him from God. He had been smitten by “the arrows of the Almighty,” i.e., by the diseases and plagues with which God smites mankind. Job has concluded that God has become his enemy. God’s arrows are poison-tipped. That poison has spread through Job’s mind numbing his spiritual sensitivities and paralyzing his spirit. If he has spoken inappropriately it is because of what God has done to him. The “terrors of God” have besieged Job, i.e., he fears even worse things to come (6:4).

Third, the depth of his agony is indicated by the fact that he wants no food. Lowly animals moan if they do not have the food they need. Job wants nothing to eat. He can no more eat his food than one can eat unsalted food. Food is loathsome to him. It has no more taste than the white of an egg. The lack of food might have caused a weakness which Job offers as another legitimate excuse for the tone of his complaint (6:5–7).

B. Job Laments his Condition (6:8–13)

Job’s logical defense of his complaint is interrupted by an outburst of lamentation. He has one wish, one request of God. Job longs for death. He wishes that God would crush him, i.e., extinguish his life, that he would “cut me off,” i.e., from the land of the living. The only comfort of which he can conceive is death. He is certain that nothing would mar his comfort in death, for he has never denied nor disobeyed the words of the Holy One. These are the words of a believer who is confident of his destiny in eternity (6:8–10).

Job describes the condition which has led him to prefer death to life. He feels he has no more strength to hold out any longer. He would need the strength of stones or brass to continue to hold out against the exhausting afflictions which oppress him. His disease has broken him, exhausted him. He has no inner resources left with which to cope with his affliction. Any thought of possible recovery is gone (6:11–13).

C. Job Derides his Comforters (6:14–30)

Job now feels that his friends are against him, that they do not appreciate his plight. To one who is “ready to faint,” i.e., give up in despair, a friend should show “kindness” (chesed). The kindness should be shown “even if he forsake the fear of the Lord.” Job has received no such treatment from his friends. Though Eliphaz alone has spoken thus far, the others have indicated their agreement with his sentiments by gesture or facial expression (6:14).

Job accuses his “brethren” (is there a note of sarcasm here?) of being like a wadi which gushes with turbulent water produced by melting snow. Those same wadis wind their way toward the desert only to be consumed by the heat or lost in the sand. “They go into nothing and perish.” Merchant caravans from Tema (in northern Arabia) or Sheba (in southern Arabia) could not find those brooks once they have reached the desert. Job’s visitors are like that. When he needs them most they are nowhere to be found. They came and saw “a terror,” the horrible appearance of Job, and they “were afraid.” They were paralyzed at the sight of his calamity. Even worse, they judged his calamity to be an act of God, and therefore they were afraid to extend to him sympathy lest they also become a target for the wrath of the Almighty! (6:15–21).

Job had asked little of these friends. He had not asked them for a monetary gift. He had not asked them to deliver him from some adversary or ransom him from powerful robbers who might hold him captive. All he asks them to do is to point out to him the sins which they insinuate that he has committed, sins worthy of such severe punishment. If they will point these out to him, Job pledges to hold his peace (6:22–24).

Job points out that honest words are “powerful” (marats), or perhaps “painful” (NASB). Yet Job would welcome such forthrightness on their part. Their arguments, however, proved nothing for they were based on insinuations, non sequiturs, and faulting Job’s language. Did these friends really intend to reprove Job’s words? The words of one in despair like Job “are as wind,” i.e., they should be overlooked as mere empty talk coming from a mind preoccupied with suffering (6:25–26).

Job accuses his friends of heartlessness. His words are quite severe. These three would “cast lots” for possession of an orphan. The situation envisioned here is that of ruthless creditors going after a potential young servant after a debtor has died (6:27).

Job requests that his friends please look him in the face. They should be able to judge by his countenance that he was not lying when he asserted his innocence. Job urges them to “turn” from their presuppositions about his problems. Let there be no injustice or wrong on the part of these friends in accusing him of guilt. Job boldly affirms: “My cause is righteous” (lit., “my right is in it”). The patriarch means that his plea against God in reference to his suffering has right on its side. He affirms that he has the ability to say whether or not he was innocent. He was able to discern the difference between right and wrong (6:28–30).

D. Job Reflects on Life (7:1–10)

Job’s complaint now takes a new direction. His own problems cause him to look at mankind in general.

1. The pain of life (7:1–5). Mankind is doomed to a short and hard life. His life is compared to “a time of service” or “the days of a hireling,” i.e., a day laborer. In the heat of the day such a one “pants for” the shade, the shadows that signal the end of the day’s work. He eagerly awaits the wages which the law required his employer to pay him at the conclusion of working day (7:1–2).

Like the day laborer, Job longs for the end of his hard day of toil under the affliction which has decimated his body. He describes his time of toil as “months of vanity” and “wearisome nights,” indicating that his disease had already endured a long time. He tosses and turns throughout the night longing for the sunrise which never seems to come (7:3).

Job’s skin ulcers had bred worms. The hard, earth-like crusts which covered his sores were like lumps of dust. The sores would now and again break open and ooze pus (7:4–5).

2. The brevity of life (7:6–10). Job complains that his “days” (i.e., life) are “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.” The point is not that each day was passing quickly, for he has already said that was not the case. Rather he means that his life is near its end. The “weaver’s shuttle” moves rapidly across a loom in the making of cloth. What is worse, Job lives out his days “without hope,” without any expectation of recovery or relief (7:6).

His hopeless condition drives Job to supplication. He asks the Lord to take note of the fact that his life is but “breath,” i.e., brief. He is a mere mortal. Furthermore, Job asks God to remember that “my eye will not again see good,” i.e., happiness or prosperity. Job has given up on this life. He will disappear from the earth. Then God may look for him among the living, but he shall be gone (7:7–8).

Like a cloud which soon disappears never to return, so a man who goes down to Sheol does not return to this world. Sheol is never the grave in the Old Testament but the abode of departed spirits. “He shall return no more to his house.” The point is that if God does not deal with him soon it will be too late. He will be dead (7:9–10).

E. Job Reasons with God (7:11–21)

The thoughts of the brevity and bitterness of life trigger a new outburst on Job’s part. Therefore he affirms that he will not restrain his mouth. He will speak out of the anguish of his spirit. He will lodge his complaint in the bitterness of his soul (7:11).

First, he argues that he is no threat or danger to anyone which might demand the attention of the Almighty. He is not the sea which must be confined lest it sweep over the land. Nor is he the mythological sea monster which threatened the universe. Job appears to allude to the Babylonian mythology in which the sea monster Tiamat had to be slain by the god Marduk at the creation of the world. A literary allusion to mythology does not imply that Job believed the myth any more than an allusion to Santa Claus means that one believes in the real existence of the jolly elf. To the ancients the tempestuous sea was viewed as a threat to the existence of civilization. God must watch and control that “monster.” Job’s point is that he is no threat to anyone. So why is God focused on him to bring him down? (7:12).

Second, Job argues that he is too weak to deserve the continued harassment from God. Normally a suffering person can find some relief in sleep. Job could not. In his sleep he was terrified by dreams and visions. He experienced a choking sensation as part of his disease. Job declares that his terrifying nightmares drove him to long for a choking episode which hopefully would be fatal. His affliction had reduced him to nothing but bones. Thus he longed for death (7:13–15).

Third, Job breaks out into a passionate cry that he loathes, i.e., hates, life. He does not wish to continue to live. He asks God to leave him alone, i.e., cease afflicting him. Job thus agreed with his friends that his disease came directly from the hand of God. If only the Lord would desist from his attacks, his pains would cease. To support his demand that God leave him alone, Job mentions the brevity of his life: “For my days are vanity.” Thus the patriarch seeks a respite from his agony before his impending death (7:16).

Fourth, he argues that he is too insignificant to command the unrelenting attention of the Almighty. Why does God “magnify,” i.e., consider as important, man by making him the object of such continued affliction? Why would the omnipotent God set his “heart,” i.e., his mind, on an insignificant man? Does God have nothing better to do than to “visit” a man with affliction every morning, and “try” him every moment of the day? (7:17–18).

Fifth, Job argues that God could at least give him a moment’s respite. “How long will you not look away from me?” At least God could suspend the agony long enough for Job to “swallow down my spittle.” The expression seems to be proverbial for a brief period of time, long enough to at least swallow (7:19).

Sixth, Job argues that sin cannot affect God. So sin should not be the reason for the afflictions which man must suffer. This point is repeatedly raised in this book. God is too high to be affected by what a person does in this world, whether his actions are sinful or righteous. Job calls God the “watcher” (notser) of men. The title here bears an accusatory tone. This sufferer thinks of God constantly watching for sin, watching for reasons to afflict men. At the moment Job was his “target” (NASB). As a result Job has become a “burden” to himself, i.e., weary of his life (7:20–21).

Seventh, Job argues that God should simply forgive him of whatever sin he may have committed, not continue to punish him for some transgression of which he was unaware. The removal of sin would enable fellowship to be restored. The miserable patriarch was about to “lie down in the dust,” i.e., die. Once that happens, it will be too late for God to seek after him. The sad implication is that the Lord will miss his old friend once he is gone (7:21).


Just Discrimination

Job 8:1–22

Bildad ignored much of what Job had said in his long complaint. He comes directly to the point, viz., Job’s complaint against God. Whereas Eliphaz had supported his argument with revelation and religious feeling, Bildad cites the moral traditions of the ancient sages.

A. Bildad’s Argument (8:1–7)

Bildad began his speech by expressing his shock that any man could speak as Job had done to and about God. “How long will you speak these things?” He refers to the general tenor of the patriarch’s speech which appears to him to be accusing God of injustice. Such words are “a mighty wind,” i.e., violent and vain (8:1–2).

Bildad states his position in the form of a double question: “Will God pervert judgment? Will the Almighty pervert justice?” The Hebrew emphasizes the words “God” and “Almighty.” Men may twist justice, but surely not God! The repetition of the word “pervert” (ye˓avvet) adds to the force of the astonishment which Bildad expresses (8:3).

With insensitivity bordering on cruelty, Bildad recalls the death of Job’s children. Bildad assumes that Job would agree that his children had been punished for sin against God. The Lord had “delivered them into the hand of their transgression,” i.e., they were destroyed by the very sin they committed. The idea here is that wickedness carries its own retribution with it. Bildad’s argument is built on the assumption that all suffering is a punishment for sin (8:4). The ultimate teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, decisively rejected this notion in his explanation of a man’s blindness (John 9:2–3) and his allusion to the accident in the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4).

Bildad concluded that Job too had sinned, but not to the extent of his children. Their sin had been punished by instant death. Job, however, had been spared. Though his afflictions were severe, they were but chastisements meant for his correction. If Job would but make himself pure and upright, Bildad was certain that Yahweh would “awake” for him, i.e., hear his prayer and remove his affliction. The Lord would then restore the lost prosperity of Job’s habitation. The patriarch’s former estate, as great as it was, would be regarded as a small beginning compared to what God had in store for him after his affliction had passed (8:4–7).

B. Support for the Argument (8:8–19)

Bildad now supports his argument by citing the accumulated wisdom of the ages. He asks Job to consider “the former age” and “that which their fathers have searched out.” Bildad is suggesting that the truth which he has just presented had been recognized through all antiquity backwards to the dawn of history. The patriarchs of those generations lived much longer than men in Job’s day. Their long lives gave them a better opportunity to assess the truth about life. Compared to those patriarchs, Bildad says “we are but of yesterday,” i.e., we have arrived on the scene of history just recently. Furthermore, whereas they lived enormously long lives, “our days upon earth are a shadow,” i.e., our lives are transitory or fleeting. Therefore, the ancients can teach Job something, if he will listen. They will utter “words out of their heart,” i.e., their true convictions based upon their long experience (8:8–10).

So what is the wisdom of the ancients? They referred to the papyrus plant and the rush—Egyptian plants—which in their proper environment, grow rapidly to great heights. Yet while those plants are still green, and before being cut down, the water is withdrawn from them and they suddenly wilt “before any other herb.” So it is with godless men who forget the Lord. His sustaining grace is removed from their lives and they perish (8:11–13).

In a second figure from nature the ancients compared the confidence of men who forget God to a spider’s web (lit., spider’s house). When one leans on that flimsy house it falls (8:14–15).

In a third figure from nature a man is like a luxuriant plant which is suddenly destroyed leaving no trace of its former existence. Under the heat of the sun the plant becomes green. Its shoots spread over the garden. Its roots are entwined about a heap of rubble. They pierce the stony soil, and grip firmly the heart of the earth. Yet suddenly and wholly this plant is swept away. The place where once it grew denies ever having known the plant, i.e., there is no evidence that the plant was ever there. So ends the “joy” of his way, i.e., course of life of the man who rebels against God. “Out of the earth shall others spring,” i.e., his place is occupied by others as if he had never existed (8:16–19).

C. Restatement of the Argument (8:20–22)

Bildad repeated his contention that “God will not cast off a perfect man.” The word “perfect” (tam) describes Job in 1:1. Nor will God “uphold” (lit., hold the hand) of evildoers so as to help them. Bildad was confident that God would yet change the fortunes of Job. He would fill Job’s mouth with laughter and jubilant shouts. Those who hate Job and rejoice in his suffering would be put to shame. Their “tent” or habitation would be destroyed. With these closing words Bildad clearly identifies himself and his two companions as friends of Job who wish him well. The friends apparently regarded Job as pious at heart. They concluded from calamities which befell him that he had committed some grievous sin against God.


Job 9:1–10:22

Job’s rambling response to Bildad is difficult to divide into paragraphs. The patriarch is giving vent to emotion which does not express itself in cold logic. At times in this speech Job takes up again matters discussed earlier by Eliphaz. A twofold analysis of this speech seems best. Job speaks of (1) the might of God which prohibits man from making a credible defense of his innocence; and (2) the mind of God which alone holds the key to the mystery of suffering.

The Might of God

Job 9:1–35

The speech begins with a conciliatory word. “Of a truth I know that it is so.” Job agreed in principle with Bildad that God would not cast away the perfect man nor hold the hand of those who do evil. The problem, however, is that it is impossible for mere mortal man to defend his innocence before such an awesome being. Might makes right, and God is almighty. By these calamities the Lord has declared him guilty of something, while at the same time Job’s conscience declared him innocent. He must therefore accept the verdict because he cannot contend with omnipotence which seemed resolved to hold him guilty (9:1–2).

If a man should desire to “contend,” i.e., enter into a legal dispute, with God he could not succeed. A mere mortal could not answer even one of a thousand questions which the great Judge might ask him under cross examination. The Lord is as wise in heart as he is mighty in strength. No one has “hardened himself” against God with impunity (9:3–4).

A. God’s Might in Creation (9:5–10)

God shakes the earth whenever he pleases, toppling mountains and shaking “the pillars of the earth,” a poetic reference to the massive rock formations upon which the mountains rest (9:5–6).

When God wishes, the sun does not rise. The reference is probably to storms and darkness or to eclipses which make the sun seem not to rise. By those same mechanisms God “seals up the stars,” i.e., blots out their light (9:7).

By himself alone God stretched out the heavens as a curtain, i.e., he placed each of the stars and planets in its proper place (9:8a).

God “treads upon the waves of the sea.” The reference is probably to the storms which produce enormous waves which mount up to the heavens. They are but stepping stones for the feet of the Lord (9:8b).

The Lord created the great constellations of stars: the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades as well as the “chambers of the south.” The latter reference may be to the great spaces of the southern hemisphere of the heavens, with the constellations which they contain (9:10).

B. God’s Might Among the Creatures (9:11–24)

The power of God is invisible. It can be felt, but it is impossible to grasp. Yet the power of God is as irresistible as a ferocious beast carrying off its prey. Nobody dares to question that power when it is being displayed (9:11–12).

God does not withdraw his anger, i.e., his fury is persistent until it has accomplished its purpose. “The helpers of Rahab stoop under him.” Rahab here is the monster of the sea, or perhaps just the sea itself. The waves of the sea are the “helpers” of Rahab. Those monstrous waves are subdued before the Lord. If the mighty Rahab cannot stand before God, then Job certainly could not “answer” him, i.e., stand up to him. In a plea against the Lord one would need to choose his words very carefully. Because of the overbearing power of God, the calmness needed to choose those words would be destroyed. Even though he was righteous, yet he could not stand up to God. Thus he would “make supplication” to his “adversary,” i.e., he would desert his own just plea and pray for mercy (9:13–15).

So what would happen if Job were to cite God to appear as a witness against divine injustice? Even if God should answer Job’s complaint, he still could not hope for justice from his hand. Should he appear, Job would not believe that God would even listen to him (9:16).

Job next portrays what would happen if God did actually respond to Job’s citation. He would not listen to Job’s plea, but would crush him with his infinite power. Already God has sent a tempest of torment against Job. He had multiplied Job’s wounds “without cause,” i.e., for no reason. Job can hardly catch his breath. God has filled Job with “bitterness,” i.e., made his life bitter. His present condition was another indication of the might of the Lord with which he would have to contend if he were to try to present his case to God (9:17–18).

Job feels the hopelessness of expecting legal justice in his plea against God. The might of God would intimidate him in any direct confrontation. Though he had right on his side, his own mouth would make him out wrong. Somehow God would twist his words into evidence against him. Were Job perfect, i.e., free from willful transgression, the effect of God’s power would be that he would appear perverse or wicked (9:19–20).

The thought that he is helpless in the face of the might of the Lord who had no regard for his innocence, drives Job to a reckless outburst. Job declares: “I am perfect.” He decides to take his life in his hands and plead his case before God. The phrase “I regard not myself” is literally, “I know not my soul.” Job feels that the bold assertion of his innocence will provoke God to terminate his life instantly. That, however, no longer mattered. “It is all one,” i.e., it does not matter whether or not he dies. He will have his say. God is a mighty crushing force which destroys both the perfect and the wicked, i.e., he destroys indiscriminately (9:21–22).

In Job’s view God strikes suddenly with “the scourge,” i.e., plague, pestilence, famine, war and the like. He then mocks at the “trial” or calamity of the innocent. God had permitted injustice to prevail throughout the earth. The wicked prevail in the earth, it is given into their hand. God “covers the faces of the judges” so that they cannot see the right to give the innocent justice. Thus, Job is charging that God does not just permit wrong, he causes wrong to have the upper hand. If God is not responsible for the prevailing wickedness, then who is? (9:23–24).

C. God’s Might and Human Frailty (9:25–35)

This is Job’s spiritual low point in the book. He thinks of God as the omnipotent power who prefers wickedness to righteousness. Job has generalized his own special situation. If he, being a “perfect” man, must suffer so much, then there is no justice in the world. In his mind God is the direct cause of all that transpires in the earth. Therefore, he cannot help but conclude that God is an unjust tyrant.

Job reflects again on the brevity of his life. He uses three new images to convey this thought. First, his days are “swifter than a runner,” i.e., a courier. The days flee away, they result in nothing good for the patriarch. Second, the days are passed as “the swift ships,” lit., the ships of reed. These two-man skiffs were constructed of a wooden keel and the rest of reeds. (cf. Isa 18:2). These vessels were light and extremely swift. Third, the days speed away “as the eagle that swoops on the prey” (9:25–26).

Job had contemplated putting his problems in the best possible light. He tried to forget his complaint, and change his sad face. He tried to “be of good cheer,” lit. to brighten up. He was afraid, however, that such a show of cheerfulness might agitate God to intensify his sufferings. He was confident that God would not hold him to be innocent. Job’s afflictions were the proof of his guilt in the estimation of God. Thus to hold him to be innocent would mean to remove his afflictions (9:27–28).

No matter what he does, Job feels that he will be condemned by God. That condemnation would reveal itself in his continued suffering. If he washed himself with snow, a symbol of the most perfect purity, still he would stand condemned. If he washed his hands with lye or potash, still God would plunge him into the ditch. He would be covered with such filth that his own clothes would refuse to cover him. The point here is Job’s feeling that nothing he can do will enable him to regain good standing with God. In his view the Lord had predetermined to hold him guilty of something no matter what (9:29–31).

Why did Job feel that he could not establish his innocence before God? Because God is not a man like himself. Job felt the need for an intermediary, an arbiter, who would referee any confrontation which he might have with God. In his day, however, there was no such “umpire” (mokhiach) between the two of them. Such a mediator could put his hand on the two parties (God and Job), i.e., impose his authority over both, and force a just resolution of their differences. Here Job reflects the aspiration of Old Testament saints to see God as a man. In the incarnation the Lord fulfilled that aspiration (9:32–33).

If Job is to have any chance of pleading his cause to God, the “rod” of affliction must be removed from him. If God would lay aside his awful majesty, Job would assert his innocence and plead his own cause without fear. In his own consciousness he had no reason to fear God. Nevertheless, the might of God intimidated him. He feared even worse from God should he protest his plight (9:34–35).

The Mind of God

Job 10:1–22

Job now begins to make various suppositions as to why God has treated him so harshly. Each supposition is immediately refuted as being in contradiction to God’s true nature. This part of the speech begins with another complaint about the weariness of life. He resolves to give free vent to his complaint, to let the bitterness of his confused soul express itself. He would plead once again that God not condemn him out of hand. He would insist that God reveal to him whatever it was that was causing the problem between them (10:1–2).

A. Does God Delight in Oppression? (10:3–7)

Job speculates about why God was treating him in this violent manner. Is it because God delights in oppression? Does he take pleasure in despising the work of his hands—a righteous man—in order to “shine” upon the “counsel of the wicked?” Is it possible, Job speculates, that God has eyes like a man? Maybe he has bad eyesight. Maybe he has seen some wickedness in the patriarch which is not there. Next Job asks if God is mortal, if his life be brief like human life. Is he afraid that Job will outlive him? Is he hastening to bring Job’s sin to light by these crushing afflictions lest someone should rescue his victim? All of these speculations are vain. God knew that Job was guiltless. He knew that no one could rescue Job from his hand (10:3–7).

B. Did God Predestine Suffering? (10:8–13)

Job notes that he has been fashioned in all of his parts by the hands of the Almighty. The figure is that of a potter who has lavished infinite care upon his vessel. Now, however, the potter has chosen to crush that exquisite ornament into dust again (10:8–9).

Job next describes in poetic language the formation of the child in the womb, from conception to full growth. The “milk” which was poured out is his father’s semen. The figure of being “curdled like cheese” refers to conception and the formation of the fetus. Flesh and bones began to appear. From the time of his birth God had granted “life and favor” to Job. Through God’s “visitation” or care, his spirit, i.e., life, had been preserved to the present moment (10:10–12).

Job sees a contradiction between the treatment he had received in the womb and since his birth, and God’s present treatment of him. He offers the theory that God must have determined this harsh treatment of Job from the very first. God had carefully fashioned him and cared for him in order the better to carry out his cruel purpose. “This [disaster] was with you,” i.e., was your purpose, “and in your thoughts.” The theme of the cruel purpose of God is further developed in the following verses (10:13).

C. Does God Mark Trivial Sins? (10:14–17)

Job accuses God of having marked every trivial sin which he had committed just so he could punish him. He cannot even imagine what would have been the outcome had he been wicked. Had he been absolutely righteous, it did not really matter. He would not have been allowed to lift up his head since he would have been filled with ignominy looking upon his affliction. If from time to time Job tried to lift up his head in some measure of human dignity, God would have hunted him as a lion. He would have shown himself “marvelous” against Job, i.e., marvelous in the variety and nature of his plagues and afflictions. God would have renewed his “witnesses,” i.e., the afflictions which witnessed against him. The indignation against Job would only have increased. An ever-changing “host,” i.e., army, of problems would have pursued him.

D. Conclusion (10:18–22)

Driven to despair by his conclusion about God’s purpose regarding him, Job asks: Why did God ever give me existence at all? As in chapter 3 he wishes he had never been born, or that he had been carried straight from the womb to the tomb. It would have been better had he given up the spirit of life and no human eye had ever seen him (10:18–19).

Job concludes this speech by begging for a little respite from his pain before he departs to the land of deep darkness, i.e., the mysterious afterlife. Here Job reveals the Old Testament concept of Sheol. It was a land of darkness “without order,” i.e., the kind of order which one observes in the physical creation (10:20–22).


If A Man Could Meet God

Job 11:1–20

In his opening lament Job did not assert his innocence, but only bewailed his fate. Thus Eliphaz tacitly assumed his guilt without alluding to it. In his response to Eliphaz (chs. 6–7) Job only incidentally affirmed his innocence. Bildad overlooked these passing remarks. He regarded them as natural and not seriously intended. In his response to Bildad (chs. 9–10), however, Job had vigorously denied his guilt. Thus a new element is introduced into the debate. Job really did believe in his own innocence. Zophar addresses this issue head on.

A. Zophar’s Wish (11:2–6)

After Job’s last speech the friends sat in stunned silence for a time. Then Zophar spoke up. He felt compelled to reply lest Job think that by his many words he had proved his point. Zophar asks: “Should a man full of talk (lit., a man of lips) be justified?” The insinuation is that Job’s words came merely from his lips. He had not spoken from the heart as had the ancients (cf. 8:10). His oration was so much hot air. Zophar accuses Job of “boastings.” The reference is probably to the protestations of innocence. He also accused Job of mockery, i.e., of irreligious or skeptical talk. Someone had to stand up to this insolence. Someone had to make Job ashamed that he had ever uttered such words (11:2–3).

Specifically, Zophar accuses Job of having said: “My doctrine is pure.” Though Job had never used precisely such words, Zophar is giving the gist of the patriarch’s position. Job’s doctrine is the shocking allegation that God afflicts a man whom he knows to be righteous. In addressing God, Job had said in effect: “I am clean in your eyes” (cf. 9:21; 10:7). He was the living proof of the truth of his “doctrine” about God. Zophar had never met a man with such a doctrine before. His irritation and lack of patience with such a novel idea are evident in the language he uses (11:4).

Job brashly had expressed his readiness to meet God face to face and plead his cause before him (cf. 9:16). Zophar wishes that such would transpire. He was quite sure, however, that the results of such a meeting would be very different from what Job imagined. The Lord would show Job “the secrets of wisdom,” i.e., his omniscience. After all, sound wisdom has two sides, that which is obvious and that which is hidden. God knows both. Should the requested confrontation with God take place, Job might discover that he is actually being given less than he deserves from the hand of God (11:5–6).

B. God’s Wisdom (11:7–12)

As Eliphaz focused on the holiness of God, Zophar now begins to describe the wisdom of God. By wisdom, Zophar refers to what theologians call the omniscience of God. He makes four points on this subject.

First, God’s wisdom cannot be fathomed by man. The point is made by means of two questions: “Can you find out the deep things of God?” “Can you find the limits of the Almighty?” (11:7).

Second, God’s wisdom fills all things. It is as high as the heavens and deeper than Sheol, the abode of the dead. It is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. Job cannot scale heaven nor penetrate Sheol. Job cannot travel across the earth nor span the sea. Thus his knowledge must be inferior to that of God (11:8–9).

Third, God’s wisdom perceives hidden wickedness. No man can restrain the Lord when he “passes by” (cf. 9:11), or “shuts up,” i.e., arrests people, or “calls an assembly” for judgment on a sinner. God is irresistible and accountable to no one. Why? Because he alone knows “false men.” Without expending any effort to investigate, God “sees iniquity.” His omniscience is immediate, absolute and beyond challenge (11:10–11).

Fourth, God’s wisdom is the more glorious when compared to the stupidity of man. Empty headed men will only get understanding when a wild donkey gives birth to a man. This proverbial statement suggests something which can never be. It is impossible for human beings to ever achieve anything like the wisdom of God (11:12).

C. Zophar’s Exhortation (11:13–20)

Zophar appeals directly to Job. The second person pronoun in v. 13 is emphatic and serves to set Job apart from the “idiot” (NASB) of v. 12. First, he appeals to Job to set his heart right, i.e., bring his heart into a condition of right thought and feeling towards God. Second, Job needs to “stretch out” his hands in supplication to God. Third, he urges Job to put far away his personal “iniquity.” Fourth, Zophar implores Job to remove “wickedness” from his “tents,” i.e., his home (11:13–14).

Job had complained that he was not able to lift up his head before God (10:15). If Job will pursue the four-point plan outlined by Zophar then he would in fact be able to lift his head up “without spot,” i.e., in conscious innocence. Job would then be “steadfast,” i.e., would not experience those radical swings in feelings which he had displayed in his previous speeches. Gone will be the “fear” of which Job complained in 9:28. His misery then would be removed. He would forget his afflictions “as waters that are passed away.” His life would be “clearer than the noonday,” i.e., the confusion and perplexity would be gone. The “darkness” which he would experience in his life would only be a lesser light like that of the morning (11:15–17).

Zophar continues his litany of blessing which would follow Job’s repentance. He would enjoy security. His despondency would be replaced by “hope.” Before retiring at night he would look about for any potential dangers. There would be none. He would be able to rest in peace. His security and prosperity would draw to him the homage of many, who (as before) would seek his favor, lit., stroke your face (11:18–19).

On the other hand, Zophar sees a terrible fate for the wicked. Their eyes would fail, i.e., they would go blind. For them there is no escaping the righteous retribution of God. Their only hope is “to breathe their last,” i.e., die. Eliphaz spoke of no cloud in the brightness which he anticipated for Job’s future (cf. 5:19–26). Bildad spoke of perishing, but that would be the future of Job’s enemies (cf. 8:22). Zophar threw out his warning in a more general way. Job may accept it if he feels it applies to him (11:20).


Job 12:1–14:22

Zophar stressed the omniscient wisdom of God before which men should silence all complaint. This stung Job for it implied that he was ignorant of both himself and of God. He deeply resented these three men who because of his afflictions thought they were entitled to lecture him on the wisdom and the power of God. Job’s reply to Zophar is full of sarcasm against their supposed superiority. Here also are further pathetic references to the lowness into which Job had sunk.

Job Defends his Wisdom

Job 12:1–25

Job first stresses that he has as much, if not more, knowledge about the workings of God than do his friends.

A. The Wisdom of his Friends (12:1–6)

Job begins with some cutting sarcasm aimed at demonstrating how inappropriate the remarks of his friends had been. He feigns admiration for their wisdom. “No doubt you are the people,” i.e., the entire people, “and wisdom shall die with you!” Paraphrased Job is saying: You must be the only people in the world that know anything about wisdom! (12:1–2).

Job was not about to let these friends insinuate that he was stupid, or that they knew more about God than he. “I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you!” The knowledge which Zophar thought was so profound was really common knowledge. Everybody knew what Zophar had said about God’s wisdom to be true (12:3).

The facts of Job’s situation, however, do not fit the theory of the friends that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always punished. Look how far he had fallen. In former days he had called upon the Lord and had experienced answers to his prayers. Now Job has become a “joke” to his friends. This man who formerly was considered “just” and “blameless” is now considered to be a spiritual ignoramus. The three friends who were presently “at ease” had nothing but contempt for unfortunate sufferers whose feet had “slipped” (12:4–5).

On the other hand, “the tents of the destroyers prosper.” Some actually “provoke” God by word and deed, yet they are secure. The last line of v. 6 is difficult. NASB “whom God brings into their power” does not fit well. The Hebrew reads literally “to whom God brings in his hand.” Perhaps the NIV margin is the best translation: “secure in what God’s hand brings them.” In any case, the main point in the verse is clear. While godly men like Job suffer, grossly wicked men are blessed by God (12:6).

B. Wisdom through Observation (12:7–10)

The knowledge of God flaunted by the friends of Job was really not that profound. Anyone who had eyes to observe the life and fate of the lower creatures could have as much knowledge of God’s wisdom and power as the three friends. In the beasts and birds, the earth and the fish of the sea one can see that the Lord rules with an absolute sway in this world. God moves among the living creatures upon the earth, dispensing life and death, in a way absolute and uncontrollable. Thus in nature one can see God’s power and wisdom displayed.

C. Wisdom through Instruction (12:11–25)

One can also learn about the wisdom of God by listening to the elders discourse on this subject. Job does not despise the knowledge learned from the observations of others when it is pertinent. In the verses which follow Job refers to catastrophes both in nature and society which he could not have personally witnessed. He must have learned of these incidents from tradition.

Job respected the wisdom of the elders. Yet he does not advocate accepting as truth everything that one might hear from older people. The ear must “test words.” Thus the ear here represents the reasoning faculty. Just as the palate instinctively tests the food men eat, so reason intuitively tests the truth of the words which enter the ear (12:11–12).

With him, i.e., God, is wisdom and might. The pronoun is emphatic in v. 13. “Might” is the power to execute what wisdom plans. The passage that follows to the end of the chapter describes God’s operations in the world as they had been observed by men through the ages (12:13).

God breaks down walled cities, bringing them to ruins. He imprisons men and there is no escape. He withholds the waters, creating droughts. On other occasions, he sends cataclysmic floods upon the earth (12:14–15).

With God are “strength” and “wisdom” (tushiyyah). Both he that errs and he that leads into error are the same to God. They are both equally in his hand. Earthly distinctions mean nothing to him as far as his power is concerned. He leads powerful and wise counselors away “barefoot” (sholal), i.e., as slaves and captives. The greatest judges God turns into fools or shows to be fools. God “removes the bonds of kings,” i.e., removes the authority of kings; and “binds their loins with a girdle,” i.e., a common girdle of the laborer or the cord of the captive (12:16–18).

The litany of earth’s great ones continues. God can and does suddenly change their circumstances and humble them. Influential priests he also dispatches into captivity. “The mighty” (lit., the established) are overthrown by God’s power. The word refers to those who occupied a high and permanent place among men. “The speech of the trusted men,” i.e., eloquent men, he removes or silences. He removes “understanding” (sense, discretion) from the elders. He pours out “contempt” upon princes or nobles. He “loosens the belt of the strong.” Garments were girt up for active endeavors. To loose the girdle means to incapacitate (12:19–21).

Other great transformations in life are attributed to God. He reveals “deep things” out of darkness. The idea is that the Lord sees into the most profound mysteries, and brings what is hidden to light. He brings to light “the shadow of death,” the deepest darkness. God exposes and frustrates the deep and concealed plans of men. He also brings to light his own eternal counsels (cf. Rom 16:25) when the time is right (12:22).

Mighty nations are like putty in God’s hand. He builds them up and tears them down. He scatters nations, and reassembles them. God removes the “heart,” i.e., the understanding, of the leaders of men and thereby causes them to walk “in a wilderness,” i.e., in perplexity. There they “grope in the dark without light,” they stagger like drunkards in their confusion (12:23–25).

Job Rebukes his Friends

Job 13:1–12

Job has just painted a graphic picture of God’s wisdom and might. He assures his friends that his knowledge of these things is not inferior in the least to theirs. Yet his theological knowledge has offered him no solution to the question which is haunting him, viz., Why am I suffering? (13:1–2).

In spite of his knowledge of God’s wisdom and might, Job desires to speak directly to the Almighty, to reason with him. Surely God would understand him even if his friends did not. Job calls his friends “forgers of lies.” Literally, they are falsehood plasterers. They smear their lies over God’s government of the world so as to cover up all its hideous defects and give it a fair appearance. They were “physicians of no value” for they were trying to deal with a problem which they were not competent to treat. Since the friends could not help Job, their silence would be the most helpful thing they could do. Job is hurling back at the friends the concluding words of Zophar’s last speech: “Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise” (13:3–5).

Job now goes on the attack against his friends. He calls upon them to listen to his argument against them. First, he charges them with partiality for God. They are acting like advocates for God. In so doing they were speaking “unrighteously” and “deceitfully” in behalf of the Lord. In their partiality for God they were ignoring the facts in Job’s case. They had no personal knowledge of any guilt in Job’s life, yet they assumed that guilt. They took God’s part in the argument, not because they had facts to back them, but because of superficial religiosity bordering on superstition (13:6–8).

What if God should search out the hearts of the three friends? Would they be able to deceive God as they had deceived their fellow man? God is so righteous and impartial that he would rebuke them for their misrepresentation of the facts even in his defense. These phony friends would stand paralyzed before God should their hearts come under scrutiny (13:9–11).

Job accuses the friends of using cliches—”memorable sayings”—which were nothing but “proverbs of ashes,” i.e., worthless. The great arguments which they had used in defense of God turn out to be “defenses of clay” (13:12).

Job Challenges God’s Wisdom

Job 13:13–22

Job senses that the friends were now anxious to jump back to the attack. He orders them to hold their peace so that he may have his say. In the Hebrew the first person pronoun is emphatic. He is willing to take whatever risk there may be to voice his complaint against God. He knows that what he is about to say will place his life in jeopardy (13:13–14).

Job 13:15 as translated in the KJV is one of the greatest statements of faith in the entire Bible: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him; even so I will defend my own ways before Him.” As much as one might wish to cling to this rendering for sentimental reasons, the Hebrew rendering points in a different direction. Literally, the verse reads: “Behold, he shall slay me, I shall not wait; but my ways to his face I will defend.” Job anticipated that God would slay him for what he was about to say. He would not wait for a death in the more distant future. He would speak his piece and accept his punishment.

The very fact that Job wishes to defend his life before God indicates that he is a righteous man. A godless man would not dare to go before God. His sense of innocence would be his “salvation,” i.e., would secure him victory in his plea with God. To Job his consciousness of innocence was equivalent to innocence itself (13:16).

Job is certain of ultimate vindication. Therefore, he commands his friends to listen carefully to his cause. He declared: “I know that I shall be justified,” i.e., found to be in the right (cf. 11:2). Who then would dare to stand up to oppose him? If anyone could produce a case against him, Job pledges that he would forever keep quiet, i.e., he would stop pleading his innocence. He would simply give up the effort of self-defense and die (13:17–19).

In his present condition Job did not feel capable of appearing before the Lord in his own defense. He therefore makes two petitions: (1) that God would withdraw his hand far from him; and (2) that God would not terrorize him. If those conditions are met, Job would certainly be willing to answer any summons to stand before God either as respondent or as appellant. The choice is left in God’s hand. The silence of heaven caused Job to conclude that he must present his case before God in his present condition (13:20–22).

Job Laments his Condition

Job 13:23–28

Job now confidently presents his case before God. His plea resembles that in chapters 7 and 10, but is more subdued and calm. Though he has not convinced his friends of his innocence, in his own mind he has settled the issue. In spite of the suspicions expressed by the friends, and in spite of the implications of his terrible suffering, he was convinced that he was innocent of any sin meriting such treatment. His boldness in presenting his case to God is viewed by Job as evidence of his innocence. A guilty man would have no inclination to plead his case before the righteous judge.

Job begins his plea with a demand to know the number of his sins. He wants to have heaven’s indictment against him made clear. He is referring to great transgressions, to recent transgressions, to transgressions which would call forth such affliction from God. Job does not claim to be sinless (cf. v. 26); what he denies is that he was guilty of any sins of such magnitude as to account for his calamities (13:23).

Job cannot understand why one as great as God would pursue such an insignificant one as he. Why does God continue to hide his face from him thus making it appear that Job was a terrible enemy? Compared to the living God, Job felt he was nothing but a driven leaf or dry stubble, figures for that which is light and worthless. Can God take delight in assailing such an unequal opponent? (13:24–25).

The heavenly judge had written a bitter decision regarding Job. He was making the patriarch to “inherit” the sins of his youth. Job freely admitted the errors he had committed in his youth. Job entertains the possibility that his present afflictions might be the punishment for his former sins which he had thought were forgiven long ago (13:26).

Again Job describes in three figures his physical plight. First, God had put his feet “in the stocks.” The figure is derived from the practice of tying a log of wood to a prisoner’s feet to make it difficult for him to move. Second, God watches all his paths. Job feels he is under constant surveillance. Third, God has drawn a line about the soles of his feet, i.e., he has prescribed his movements. Job is not permitted to overstep his bounds. His physical affliction and mental anguish restrict his ability to present an effective defense before God. Meanwhile, Job was like a worm-eaten object or a moth-eaten garment. He was slowly wasting away (13:27–28).

Job Reflects on the Human Predicament

Job 14:1–12

In the last verse of chapter 13 Job thought of himself as one member of the human race. Now he begins to expound on the characteristics of this race. First, human-kind experience a short and difficult life. Since woman was under the judgment of sorrow (Gen 3:16), one who is “born of woman” is of necessity weak and doomed to trouble. His days are few, like a flower which soon withers, or a shadow which quickly passes across a path. Flowers in the Bible nearly always suggest a beauty which is short-lived. Job expresses amazement that the great omnipotent God singled out such a creature for judgment (14:1–3).

Second, sin holds sway in the human race. He expresses this thought in a wish that one could bring forth something clean out of something unclean. Here Job expresses the same thought as Paul that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” To be human is to possess a tendency to sin. Job wishes it were otherwise. The point is this: since sinfulness is the universal lot of mankind, should not God show some forbearance? How can he single out certain individuals for such horrendous affliction? (14:4).

Third, the length of each person’s life is predetermined by the Almighty. The Lord has “appointed his bounds that he cannot pass over.” Therefore, Job pleads that God will “look away” from man, i.e., leave him alone, that they may have “rest.” This will enable him to “fulfill his days like a hired man.” Life at its best is hard. During the hot day the laborer has few joys. He looks forward to completing his day’s work. Only at the end of the day does he have rest. So man will find no rest until the end of life’s toilsome day (14:5–6).

Fourth, man’s life inevitably terminates in death. His destiny is sadder than than of a tree. If a tree is cut down, it will sprout again. The roots may grow old, and the tree die from lack of moisture. The scent of water, however, causes the old dead stump to put forth sprigs like a plant. On the other hand, man dies and lies prostrate. He expires and disappears from the earth. His death is like that of a lake or river which dries up. The waters do not return. So man lies down and does not arise. The death sleep will continue until “the heavens be no more,” i.e., throughout the duration of the present universe. Later Scripture (cf. Isa 26:19) will affirm that God will resurrect man from the grave at the end of the present age (14:7–12).

Job Contemplates the Here and the Hereafter

Job 14:13–22

Job did not believe that death ended personal existence. One continued to existence in the spirit world, in a place called Sheol. Job prayed that Sheol would be for him a place of refuge where he might hide until God’s wrath had subsided. Should that happen, a resurrection might be possible in the future. Job frames this potential in a rhetorical question: “If a man die shall he live?” If only he could be sure there was another life, then he could bear up under all the affliction which he was experiencing. When his rest in Sheol was over, and God called, Job would be most happy to respond (14:13–15).

The momentary contemplation of a future life is followed by a picture of the severity with which God deals with man in this present life. God had focused his attention on Job. He scrutinized every step the patriarch made. He made note of every sin. All of Job’s transgressions were “sealed up in a bag” by the Lord, i.e., collected and preserved. Now God had brought down on Job the full force of his judgment. The present affliction is not due, then, to any one transgression, but is heaven’s response to Job’s sins collectively (14:16–17).

Man could not possibly survive this mighty outpouring of wrath. He must certainly perish. Even the greatest things in nature are eroded with the passing of time. Mountains eventually are shattered when their mighty rocks careen downhill. Turbulent waters eventually wear away the stones of the brook and wash away its banks. So God’s visitations wear down the hope of man. The “hope” here envisioned is the hope of survival and recovery from affliction (14:18–19).

In his contest with man God must forever prevail with the result that man passes from the scene. Job graphically describes death when he says, “you change his countenance.” At will God dispatches man to death. A father does not live to see his sons come to honor, nor brought low. Those in the abode of the dead know nothing of what is transpiring in the land of the living. Yet Job poetically depicts the dead man still suffering as his flesh rots away. In Sheol he knows only a mournful and dreary existence. Such was Job’s concept of what would happen to him after his death (14:20–22).

Thus concludes the first cycle of speeches which was triggered by Job’s first complaint in chapter 3. The three friends saw in Job’s lament an implied indictment of God. Each in his own way, the friends have tried to defend God. Eliphaz emphasized the moral purity of God and his universal goodness. Bildad insisted on the justice of God in his rule of the world. Zophar stressed the omniscience of God as it impacts on his dealings with men.

At first Job answered the arguments of his friends, for the most part, indirectly. Since his suffering was the silent refutation of all they said, the patriarch dwelled mainly on those afflictions. The words and demeanor of Zophar, however, drove Job to respond directly to the argument against him. He was not terrified to meet God. In fact, he yearned to present himself before the Almighty. He called upon God to make clear the sins for which he was being punished.

Job’s fearless defense of his integrity even in the face of their arguments concerning the nature of God caused the friends to look elsewhere for arguments to silence him.

chapter five

The Second Cycle of Speeches

Job 15–21

The visitors have thus far failed to get Job to acknowledge the heinous sins which have called forth this terrible affliction from God. Their theological arguments, based on the attributes of God, have made no impression on the patriarch. Job has staunchly defended his innocence. He has accused his friends of being insincere partisans for God (13:4f.). They concluded, therefore, that any further arguments in this direction would be equally fruitless.

If the first cycle of speeches focused on God, the second focuses on man, especially the wicked man. History and experience provided ample proof of how such a man is treated in the providence of God. The nature of the argument causes the accusations of the friends to become more pointed. At the same time, Job begins to realize more keenly his alienation from the friends. They regarded all of his protestations of innocence as clever obfuscations. In his three responses to the friends, Job fights his way through self-pity to finally tackle head on the arguments which the three had raised.


Job 15:1–35

As before, Eliphaz takes the lead. His speech sets the tone for the second round of the debate. His discourse builds on Job’s last speech (chs. 12–14). Eliphaz first rebukes Job (vv. 2–16). Then he sets forth his understanding of the fate of a wicked man (vv. 17–35).

The Rebuke of Job

Job 15:1–16

The rebuke of Eliphaz alternates between accusing Job of pretentious boasting and charging him with irreverent reasoning.

A. Attack on Job’s Attitude (15:2–6)

Eliphaz first attacks Job’s contention (12:3; 13:2) that he had a wisdom beyond that of his friends. “Should a wise man make answer with knowledge of wind,” i.e., empty and loud. A truly wise man should not need to “fill his belly with the east wind,” i.e., puff himself up and then bring out of his mouth violent blasts of barren words. The east wind in the Near East was a figure for that which is violent and dry. A truly wise man would not attempt to reason with “unprofitable talk” or “speeches with which he can do no good” (15:2–3).

In the view of Eliphaz, Job had done worse than fill the debate with bluster. His words were impious. His conduct and logic tended to undercut the foundation of all devoutness and “fear,” i.e., fear of the Lord. Job’s outbursts hindered the quiet, scholarly and reverent meditation which normally characterized the interchange between scholars. Only a person who was inspired by deep evil within his own heart could speak in this fashion. Job had chosen to use the language of “the crafty.” His protestations of innocence and complaints of unrighteousness in God were merely disingenuous pretenses put forward to divert attention from his own wickedness (15:4–5).

Job’s utterances clearly proved his guilt. No other evidence was necessary. Eliphaz engages in a bit of circular reasoning regarding Job’s wickedness. In v. 5 he argues that the patriarch’s language and attitude are the result of his guilt. Then in v. 6 he argues that Job’s guilt is proved by his language. Both verses support the contention of v. 4 that Job was undermining the foundations of religion (15:6).

B. Rebuke of Job’s Claim (15:7–11)

Eliphaz returns to Job’s claim of superior wisdom. He now interrogates the patriarch regarding the basis of that claim. Was Job the first man created? Such a man would naturally be endowed with preeminent wisdom as well as other superior attributes. Job, however, was not that man. Was Job that personified wisdom which was created before the earth? (cf. Prov 8:22ff.). Obviously not! Has Job been privy to the secret counsel of God? Was he a member of that divine council which surrounded God (Jer 23:22; Ps 89:7; Amos 3:7). Such a one would have full knowledge of the mysteries of God. Job obviously could not make a claim to this honor (15:7–8).

Eliphaz now abandons his biting sarcasm. In what specific respect did Job think that he knew more than his friends? Among those friends were men older than Job’s father! Eliphaz probably is diplomatically referring to himself. Job has rejected the words of this graybeard even though his words contained “the consolations of God,” i.e., comforting words from God. Eliphaz seems to be claiming that his first speech was inspired of God. He describes his previous words (ch. 4) as gentle and conciliatory. How can Job show such disrespect for the wisdom of one much older than he? (15:9–11).

C. Accusation of Job’s Impertinence (15:12–16)

Eliphaz next rebukes what he considers to be Job’s violent and irreverent behavior towards God. Again the accuser resorts to questions to make his points. Why had Job allowed his heart to carry him away? The “heart” is the excited mind and strong emotion. Why did his eyes “wink” or flash with signs of violent emotion? How could he allow his spirit (i.e., anger) to be turned against God? How could he allow such words to go forth out of his mouth? The reference is not so much to the content of the words, but to the passionate manner in which they were uttered (15:12–13).

What was there in man to justify Job’s passionate defense of his innocence? “What is man that he should be clean?” One born of woman has no righteousness. Even the “holy ones” (i.e., angels) do not deserve God’s trust. The heavens are not clean in God’s sight. If that is true, how much less could a lowly human being stand before God? Man is abominable and corrupt. His lust for evil is like that of a thirsty man for water (15:14–16).

Defense of Traditional Theology

Job 15:17–35

Having concluded his personal attack, Eliphaz next takes up the principles which Job had set forth regarding God. Perhaps emboldened by the destitute condition of Job, the Temanite assumed a lofty tone.

A. The Source of his Theology (15:17–19)

“That which I have seen I will declare.” Eliphaz attributed part of his first address to revelation (cf. 4:12ff.). It is not clear here whether the verb “see” refers to prophetic vision, or to natural observation. In any case, the doctrine set forth by Eliphaz was nothing new. What he has come to understand about God was the consistent theology of wise men throughout the generations. This theological tradition had never been corrupted by the inclusion of foreign philosophies. By rejecting such teaching, Job was showing disdain for the special tradition of his people, and he was espousing alien teaching (15:17–19).

B. The Essence of his Theology (15:20–24)

According to the tradition of the ages, “the wicked man travails in pain all of his days.” The years of the “oppressor” are appointed by God, i.e., at the appropriate time such a one will be cut off from the land of the living. Eliphaz is suggesting that Job is being treated like a tyrant, one who strikes fear into the hearts of others. Divine justice, however, makes such oppressors imagine that they hear the sound of coming destruction. Eventually the day comes in the midst of his prosperity when “the spoiler” comes upon him and he is destroyed (15:20–21).

The wicked man anticipates a calamity from which he shall not escape. He feels that he is marked for the sword, i.e., the avenging sword of God. He anticipates the time when he shall be a hungry wanderer, roving about in search of bread. The shadow of calamity accompanies him wherever he goes ready at any moment to envelop him. “Distress and anguish” make the tyrant afraid. They prevail against him “as a king ready for battle,” i.e., fully prepared and therefore irresistible. Such is the foreboding of the wicked. Eliphaz here articulates what he believes happens to the most wicked of men. At the same time he argues that even wicked men themselves recognize the principle that disaster will befall them because of their oppression (15:22–24).

C. Justification of his Theology (15:25–28)

Why do such terrible temporal judgments fall upon oppressors? First, because “he has stretched out his hand against God,” i.e., he has defied God. He has acted arrogantly toward the Almighty. Like a warrior making an assault, he has run upon God with a massive shield. Whereas Job accused God of warring against him, Eliphaz accused Job of warring against God. Second, the wicked oppressor is cut down because he is guilty of self-indulgence. His face and thighs were fat. In the Old Testament a corpulent person symbolizes selfish luxury and spiritual insensitivity (15:25–27).

Third, the wicked would be cut off because he “dwelled in uninhabited cities.” An uninhabited city was considered to be under the curse of God (cf. Josh 6:26; 1 Kgs 16:34). To occupy that which God had made desolate was considered extreme impiety (15:28).

D. The End of the Wicked (15:29–35)

The wicked will not be permitted to retain their wealth. Their crops will not bend down to the earth because of abundance. They will not “escape from darkness,” i.e., the dreaded calamity which ultimately befalls such people. Their crops will be devastated by “the fire,” i.e., drought. God’s breath will blow him and his possessions away (15:29–30).

If the a man trusts in “vanity,” i.e., emptiness, then that is what he ultimately will experience. “It shall be accomplished before his time,” i.e., his demise would come prematurely. His wealth would disappear like a flower dropping from an unripe olive tree or a grape falling from an unripe vine (15:31–33).

Eliphaz now drops the figures of speech to state in plain language the final fate of the wicked. “The company (i.e., households) of the godless shall be barren,” i.e., unfruitful. Under the curse of God they come to nothing. “Fire (i.e., judgment) shall consume the tents of bribery,” i.e., households built up by injustice. The wicked “conceive mischief” and “bring forth calamity (‘aven).” The point is that suffering and disaster inevitably follow evil and wrong.


Job 16:1–17:16

In the first cycle of speeches Job complained of God’s enmity toward him. His appeal to the creator had been unanswered. God had abandoned him. In the second cycle of speeches a new realization weighs heavily on the mind of Job. Men have turned against him as well as God. Job longs for human sympathy. Yet he will not compromise on his conviction that he is innocent of any wrong which would merit such affliction as he was experiencing. In his response to Eliphaz, Job (1) expresses his exasperation with his friends; (2) pictures his sorrowful isolation; (3) appeals to God for vindication even after death; and (4) expresses his resignation to death.

A. His Continuing Disappointment (16:1–5)

Job begins his reply to Eliphaz by expressing his weariness with the monotonous speeches of his three friends. All three of his friends were “miserable comforters” (lit., comforters of trouble). Their “comfort” was based on the false assumption that he was guilty of some unconfessed sin. Their solution to his problem was to call upon him to repent. These words of “comfort” only increased his perplexity and misery (16:1–2).

Eliphaz had accused him of “windy knowledge” (cf. 15:2). Rhetorically Job asks, “Is there any end to words of wind?” The patriarch did not fear the empty harangues against him. Yet he cannot help but wonder aloud what provoked these friends to continue to answer him. Why do they not simply let the controversy drop? (16:3).

Job assures his friends that were their positions reversed, he would be able to speak as they do. He could “join words together” in formal and heartless speeches. He could shake his head at them in mocking astonishment that such pious men had fallen upon such hard times. In fact, were their positions reversed, he could do better than they, for he had the ability to strengthen people with his words (cf. 4:4). The point is, were their conditions reversed, Job would not do to his friends as they had done to him (16:4–5).

B. His Present Distress (16:6–17)

At this point Job seems to grasp clearly his isolation from men as well as God.

1. The isolation from man (16:7–11). Whether Job speaks out or restrains his speech his condition has not changed. God has placed yet another burden upon him. The term “now” introduces the new situation which he finally had perceived. In the second person—prayer—he blames God for having “made desolate all my company.” God’s enmity toward Job has turned all his friends against him. All of those upon whom Job might depend for support had been turned into his enemies. He feels totally alone in this world. God has laid hold on Job. His afflictions were assumed by everyone to be witnesses of his guilt. His emaciated body rose up, as it were, and testified to his face that he was a sinner (16:7–8).

Job pictures the hostility of God toward him as a wild beast of prey with rending fury, flashing eyes and gnashing teeth. Since he has been so viciously treated by Yahweh, his friends have felt free to pounce upon him as well. Like a pack of wild dogs, they have snipped at him. Fearing no reprisal, they contemptuously have slapped, as it were, Job on the cheek. They have ganged up on him in his adversity. In his broken condition, God had delivered him to “the ungodly.” He does not refer to his friends, but to the rabble of men which are further described in chapter 30 (16:9–11).

2. The brutality of God (16:12–14). Job now paints an even more graphic picture of the hostile attack of God. First, like some all-powerful wrestler, God seized him by the neck and dashed him to pieces. This attack came when Job was at ease and in security. He had not experienced any forebodings of conscience as Eliphaz had suggested (cf. 15:20ff.). Second, God had set him up like a target for his arrows. Arrow after arrow ripped into him, as it were, spilling his internal organs to the ground. Third, Job compares himself to a fort which has been breached and then stormed by enemy warriors.

3. The results of the hostility (16:15–17). Job next describes the result of these destructive attacks by God. First, he has put on sackcloth next to his skin as a sign of mourning. He “sewed” it on, i.e., it was his permanent garment. Second, he has thrust his “horn” in the dust. This was a sign of humiliation, the opposite of lifting up the horn (1 Sam 2:1). Third, he has wept until his face was flushed or inflamed and his eyes have become dim. Yet Job could identify no misdeed in his life deserving of such suffering. His relations with his fellow man had not been characterized by “violence.” His “prayer,” i.e., his whole religious walk with God, was pure. Job thus repudiates the insinuations of Eliphaz (cf. 15:4, 34) to the opposite effect.

C. His First Appeal to God (16:18–17:2)

The thought that he is suffering unjustly causes Job here, as elsewhere in the book, to lose self-control. He seems to have given up hope of any restoration in life. He longs now for vindication in the life to come.

God’s destructive enmity will bring Job to death, though he had committed no sin worthy of such abuse. He therefore appeals to the earth not to cover his innocent blood. Even after death he wishes that his blood could lie on the surface of the earth unceasingly crying out to heaven for justice (cf. Gen 4:10). The “blood” here is a figure for violent and wrongful death (16:18).

Job’s faith shines through the gloom at this point. He is convinced that even now he had a witness/advocate in heaven. In the Hebrew court the witness/advocate had the responsibility to testify in behalf of one, and to see justice done to him. The “witness” is not merely one who knows Job’s innocence, but one who will testify to it in the court of public opinion (16:19).

Who is this heavenly witness? Not his friends! Does Job refer to God himself as his witness? Not likely, for he has just described God as his enemy. The context seems to connote that Job meant someone else. He was sure that in heaven he had a sponsor who would stand on his behalf and plead with God on his behalf.

Job’s friends are in fact mockers. No sympathy can be expected from that quarter. Therefore, Job “weeps to God,” i.e., he appeals with tears to God himself. He longs that his heavenly witness would plead with God on his behalf, just as a person would do for his neighbor. Job needed an advocate because his few years would soon come to an end. He would enter Sheol never to return to appear in the court of public opinion for self-vindication (16:20–22).

The first appeal concludes with further description of Job’s plight. His spirit (life principle) was broken. His days were extinguished, i.e., had run their course. The grave was ready to receive him [lit., graves are mine]. Yet his friends still mock by holding out illusionary hopes of restoration. Through his tearful eyes he could only gaze on their “provocation” (lit., rebelliousnesses). The accusations of the friends revealed an attitude of rebellion against himself and God. Job gazes with incredulity on their audacity (17:1–2).

D. His Second Appeal to God (17:3–9)

Job now makes a new appeal to God. He asks God to put forth a pledge for him that at some point in the future he will cause his innocence to be recognized. Thus he is asking for God to be his defender as well as his judge. Such a request was necessary because there was no one else to stand up for him as his advocate at his trial. Literally Job asks, “Who is there who will strike hands with me?” Striking hands was a practice for ratifying an agreement or business transaction (17:3).

Job argues that if God will not stand up for him, no one will. The hearts of his three friends and all others have been blinded. They cannot make a true assessment of Job’s cause. Therefore God would not “exalt them” by permitting some outcome which would meet their expectations. In fact, Job was so disgusted with his friends that he accused them of turning against him in order to seize some of his property. Such a despicable crime should bring upon their children the curse of blindness (17:4–5).

Again Job launches into a gloomy survey of his condition. Among the peoples of the surrounding tribes Job had become a byword. His calamity and the wickedness inferred from it would be widely known. He was treated like one upon whom people spit in contempt. His eyes had become dim through sorrow. His body was but a shadow of what it once was (17:6–7).

Religious people are appalled at seeing such afflictions inflicted upon a godly man. Such perversions of justice in the moral government of the world raise up moral indignation against the wicked who are prosperous. Yet Job is confident that righteous people would not allow themselves to be misled from the right path by the moral wrongs which God might permit in his world. They will cling to the life of righteousness. In fact, they will grow stronger and stronger in their commitment to purity. Though Job speaks here in the name of all upright people, he is expressing his own commitment. This verse is a brief but brilliant burst of light in the otherwise dark gloom of Job’s present condition (17:8–9).

E. His Resignation to Death (17:10–16)

Job concludes his response to Eliphaz by rejecting the false hopes which his friends had held out to him. He challenges them to renew their attempts to solve his problem. Job, however, is confident that their renewed attempts would have no better success than their former efforts. They would be found by Job as foolish as before (17:10).

The friends held out hope that the bright day of restoration was about to dawn on the darkness of Job’s calamity (cf. 11:17). The patriarch, however, was a realist. He views his days on earth as already past, his life with all its cherished purposes cut off. He has not been allowed to live long enough to fulfill the aspirations of his heart (17:11–12).

Job could only look forward to Sheol, and there was no light in Sheol! He was so close to death that he could call “the pit” (i.e., the grave) his father, and the worm, which would consume his body, his mother and sister. He is, as if were, a child of the grave! If he had any hope at this point it surely would go down to Sheol with him (17:11–16).


Job 18:1–21

Several things in Job’s last speech had offended Bildad the Shuhite. He resented the way Job spoke of his friends; he took offense at the way he spoke to and about God. The principal theme of this discourse is the destruction of the wicked. Eliphaz had suggested that the punishment of a sinner came largely from his own conscience. Bildad, however, argued that the punishment of sinners is part of the fixed order of the world and the moral instincts of mankind.

A. Bildad’s Indignation (18:1–4)

Bildad begins with the same exclamation of impatient astonishment (“How long?”) that he used in his earlier speech (cf. 8:2). What Job has done in his former speeches is to “lay snares for words,” i.e., hunt for words to create specious arguments. He is suggesting that Job’s remarks were unintelligent ramblings. Job had accused the friends of lacking understanding (cf. 17:4). It was not they, but he who was without wisdom. If any progress is to be made in the discussion, Job would have to admit some basic principles. In answering Job, Bildad uses the plural “you” possibly because the patriarch had identified himself with righteous sufferers (cf. 17:6ff.) who were persecuted by the wicked (18:1–2).

Bildad resented the implication that he and his friends were stupid beasts (cf. 12:7–9). What was worse, Job was treating his friends as “unclean” beasts (cf. 17:4, 9–10). Much less should God be compared to a beast (cf. 16:9) who rips and tears. It is Job who tears himself in his self-righteous zeal. The earth is not going to be made desolate, nor is the rock to be removed from its place. The idea is that God is not about to overthrow the inextricable moral laws that govern the universe. God will not, Bildad argues, overturn the law that imputes wickedness to those who suffer (18:3–4).

B. The Principle of Retribution (18:5–11)

The rest of the speech of Bildad is devoted to his main theme: the destruction of the wicked. As in his first speech, Bildad employs graphic figures and proverbial sayings to argue his position. Bildad sets forth the moral principle that “the light of the wicked shall be put out.” The beacon which marked his tent is extinguished, the flame in the hearth shines no more. His home is desolate (18:5–6).

Bildad employed a second figure to express the same thought. The firm, wide steps of prosperity become narrowed and hampered. Finally “his own counsel shall cast him down,” i.e., the evil principles that guided his conduct ultimately lead to calamity (18:7).

The fall of the wicked is inevitable. The moral order of the world is such that wherever the wicked person turns he walks into a snare, a trap or a noose. In the end he realizes his predicament. “Terrors shall make him afraid on every side.” He tries to escape, but the terrors pursue close behind him (18:8–11).

C. The End of the Wicked (18:12–21)

The last days of a wicked person are next described by Bildad. First, his strength is weakened for lack of food. Second, the sinner’s body is consumed by a terrible disease. That calamity here is called figuratively “the firstborn of death,” i.e., the strongest child of death. The reference is to a fatal disease. Third, the wicked one is rooted out of his “tent,” or home and is led away to “the king of terrors,” i.e., to death (18:12–14).

Next Bildad speaks of the extinction of the name and race of the wicked person. First, he presents two pictures of the fate of the sinner’s possessions. Either his possessions would pass into the hands of others, or be destroyed with a rain of brimstone from heaven. Second, the sinner’s “branches shall wither.” The tree is a figure for the family of the sinner. The sinner’s family perishes with him. Third, even the memory of the wicked man would perish from the land (18:15–17).

Bildad concludes his oratory with a description of the horror which people feel over the fate of the sinner. When the sinner was driven from the light of life to the darkness of death he would leave no offspring behind. Through the generations people would be horrified at the fate of that sinner. Bildad inscribes the picture which he has painted of the fate of the wicked with these words: “Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked, the place of one who does not know God” (18:18–21).


Job 19:1–29

Although Bildad had attempted a theological discussion of the fate of the wicked in the abstract, many details in his description were borrowed from the circumstances of Job’s case. After preliminary words of a personal nature, Job develops the theme which occupies the rest of the chapter, viz., God’s relationship to his suffering.

A. Job’s Impatience with his Friends (19:2–6)

Job was weary with the tormenting and crushing words of his friends. “Ten times,” i.e., over and over again, they had heaped their shameless reproach on Job. Even granted that Job may have “erred” (the mildest expression for sin), is it fair that this error abides constantly with him? (19:1–3).

If his friends mean to draw inferences from his calamities, then Job will tell them that it is God who had brought these on him unjustly. God had perverted his right. This, not his guilt, is the explanation of his afflictions. It was not his own feet which had led him into the net, as Bildad had alleged (cf. 18:8f.). Rather God had thrown his net about Job (19:4–6).

B. Job’s Alienation from God (19:7–12)

Job begins to accuse God of hostile persecution. He feels that he has been entangled as a creature is snared. His cries for help in the face of the divine violence are not heard. From his ordeal there was no escape. God had “walled up” his way. He was trapped in “thick darkness,” a symbol for perplexity and depression. These calamities were evidence that he was a transgressor. God took his “crown” of righteousness from his head, and stripped the glory of godliness from him (19:7–9).

God had broken Job down like one might dismantle a worthless building. Job declared: “I am gone!” He refers to his inevitable death from his disease which he regards as already upon him. His hope of life or recovery had been uprooted as a tree is torn down by a tornadic wind. God had kindled his wrath against him. He had treated Job as one of his adversaries. Job feels he is under attack by troops dispatched by God (19:10–12).

C. Job’s Estrangement from Men (19:13–22)

Not only had God afflicted him with trouble, he had removed far from him all human sympathy. His relatives, outside his own immediate circle, and his acquaintances stood aloof from him. The menial servants within his house pay no respect to his calls for assistance. Even those most dear to him can no longer tolerate him. His breath is offensive to his wife. He was loathsome to his own brothers. Little children, taking their cue from the attitude of their elders, mocked his feeble efforts to arise from the ground. Those who were his “associates” (lit., the men of my council) abhor him. Job had loved these men, had treasured the intellectual discourse which passed between them. Now they too had turned against him. This was the unkindest cut of all! (19:13–19).

In addition to facing the desertion and loathing of his fellow man, Job had to cope with the continuing deterioration of his body. He described his emaciated condition in these words: “My bone clings to my skin and my flesh.” He is surviving the attack of disease “by the skin of my teeth.” By this proverbial expression he means that there was next to nothing between him and death (19:20).

Overcome by his sense of the terrible enmity of God, Job cries out for the compassion of his fellows: “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O you my friends!” Only their sympathy can help him bear the thought that God has smitten him. He could not understand why they would join with God in persecuting him. Why could they not be satisfied with his flesh? In Near Eastern metaphor, to eat one’s flesh is to attack someone verbally. Thus the question here is, Why do they not tire of making accusations against him? (19:21–22).

D. Job’s Hope in the Future (19:23–27)

From the miserable present, Job turns to the future. He desires that his protestation of innocence be inscribed in a book, even chiseled into a rock. He wants future generations to realize that he suffered unjustly. Yet his faith soars to an even greater thought: “I know that my redeemer lives!” Job may die, but his redeemer lives on after him.

The term redeemer (go˒el) is frequently used of God as the deliverer of his people out of captivity (e.g., Isa 49:7, 26), and also as the deliverer of individuals from distress (e.g., Gen 48:16). Among men the go˒el was the nearest blood-relation, who had certain duties to perform in connection with the deceased. Those duties included buying back lost property, caring for the widow of the deceased, and insuring justice be done if the relative had been unjustly slain (cf. Ruth 2:20; Num 35:19). Job here names God as his go˒el. This divine go˒el will vindicate his rights against the wrong done to him by both men and God. This passage is closely related to 16:18f. where Job alludes to a heavenly “witness” and “sponsor” or representative.

Concerning his redeemer (God) Job was confident of three facts. First, his redeemer would arise, i.e., he would appear, he would come forward. Heaven’s inactivity would end in that great moment when God would intervene in human history. Second, his redeemer would arise upon the dust. The context here speaks of Job’s body. The idea seems to be that there will be a coming of God to the soil in which Job’s body lies buried. Third, his redeemer would appear on the earth as “the last.” The God of the Bible is the first and the last (Isa 44:6; 48:12). He existed before all things; he shall survive after the present order has been swept away (19:25).

Job here also expresses a strong confidence about himself. First, he is confident that he would survive death. After death he had hope that in the condition of a genuine human being he would have a favorable meeting with God. He would see God “after my awakening.” Even though his body be destroyed, yet Job was confident that from the standpoint of his flesh he would see God.10

Second, Job is confident that he will see God. Heretofore Job had indicated a need to hear God. In verses 26f. three times he speaks of seeing God. The reference to skin, flesh, and eyes make it clear that Job expected to have the experience of seeing God as a man would see him, not in a vision or as a disembodied spirit. Third, Job is confident that in that blessed day of sight, he would not see God as a stranger, i.e., God would no longer act as a stranger toward him (19:26–27).

E. A Final Threat (19:28–29)

Job’s response to Bildad concludes with a threat to the three friends. God’s future appearance which will bring joy to Job, will be terror to those who persecute him and charge him falsely. The three kept asserting that “the root of the matter,” i.e., the real cause of Job’s afflictions, was found in himself, in his transgressions. For such unfounded accusations these friends should fear the “wrath” of God and the “sword” of divine vengeance. They would thereby learn that God brings judgment on such injustice as they have heaped upon Job.


Job 20:1–29

Zophar was angry with Job’s threats against the three friends. After venting his anger against his host, Zophar developed his main point, viz., the brevity of the wicked person’s prosperity. Like Bildad before him, he stressed that the wicked person is suddenly brought to destruction and destitution in the midst of his days. This speech is the most stinging speech of the friends thus far.

A. Reaction to Job’s Reproach (20:1–11)

The Naamathite began his speech with “therefore,” perhaps to indicate that what he had to say came in response to what had just been said. Zophar gives two reasons for his second speech. First, he was inwardly agitated by the reproaches and windy warnings of Job. Second, he had heard the insulting reproof of Job, and his “spirit of understanding” had formulated a rebuttal to what the patriarch had set forth. Perhaps Zophar put it this way to answer Job’s earlier question, “What plagues you that you answer?” (20:1–3; cf. 16:3).

Zophar asserts that a principle of life had been observed since man was placed on earth, viz., “the triumphing of the wicked is short.” The “joy” of the godless person is momentary. For a time he may rise to the heights of earthly glory where his head “touches the clouds.” Yet he perishes like his own dung (20:4–7a). Zophar is not the most refined of the three friends.

Associates will be amazed at the sinner’s quick demise. His moment of power and glory is as ephemeral as a dream or vision. Then those who knew him would see him no more. He will forever be missing from his place in society (20:7b–9).

In the midst of his years, when his bones are full of his youthful strength, the wicked man shall be cut off. His youth shall go down to the grave with him. The ill-gotten gain of the wicked person will be given away by the children of the deceased (20:10–11).

B. Divine Retribution of Sinners (20:12–22)

Zophar compares sin to a dainty morsel which tickles the palate. He will not swallow it hastily, but instead will turn it in his mouth with delight. Eventually he must swallow it, and in his bowels it will become deadly poison akin to the venom of cobras. A specific example of this principle is the ill-gotten gain which he amassed. That wealth does not abide with him. It must be disgorged. The figure is perhaps that of a food which the stomach cannot retain. “God shall cast them out of his belly” (20:12–15).

Whatever the sinner “sucks,” i.e., indulges in, turns to the venom of cobras. He shall not look on “rivers of honey and curds,” i.e., he would never enjoy life more abundant. He would be compelled to restore that for which he had labored. He shall not “swallow it down,” i.e., enjoy it. However great the substance be which he has acquired, he shall not have the joy of it which he had promised himself. Why? Because he had oppressed and then abandoned the poor. He seized houses which he had not built (20:16–19).

The divine retribution upon the sinner is appropriate to his sin. He had felt and displayed a restless, insatiable greediness. “Nothing remains for him to devour.” The greed of this person is recompensed by utter loss and want. In the moment of his greatest abundance his distress comes suddenly upon him. All those in destitution, and those he has oppressed shall rise up against him and make him their prey.

C. The Fullness of Judgment (20:23–29)

The belly of the sinner shall indeed be filled, but only by the judgments of the Almighty. The wrath of God comes upon him like rain. Seeking to escape from one death, he will flee into another. He faces an enemy, as it were, armed with a brass bow. That powerful weapon would send forth an arrow to pierce right through his body. Zophar depicts the sinner drawing out of his body the shaft of glittering steel, hoping to save himself. Soon, however, the terrors of death fall upon him (20:23–25).

Zophar piles up other figures for the judgment on the sinner. Complete darkness—a symbol for calamity—is reserved for the treasures of the sinner. An “unfanned fire,” i.e., a supernatural fire, shall consume all that is left in his tent (20:26).

Heaven and earth conspire together against the sinner. There may be allusion here to Job’s appeal to the earth (16:18) and his pretended assurance of having a witness in heaven (16:19; 19:25). The heavens “reveal” his iniquity in the chastisements which fall upon him. Earth rises up against him in the form of the hostility of his fellow man. In the day of God’s wrath the possessions of the sinner shall be swept away with a flood (20:27–28).

Zophar concludes his speech by underscoring the picture he has drawn. Job should see himself in the picture. The insistence that such sudden reversal of fortunes as Job has experienced comes as judgment from God forces Job again to reply to his friend (20:29).


Job 21:1–34

In the first round of the debate Job was overwhelmed with the thought that God had become his enemy; in the second with the thought that men had turned against him. In both rounds it took the caustic words of Zophar to focus his keen mind on the arguments of his friends. In his first response to Zophar, Job employed bitter sarcasm (ch. 12). Now the patriarch unleashes a barrage of facts which directly bear on the argument of the friends.

A. An Appeal for Attention (21:1–6)

To introduce his speech, Job offers four reasons why the friends should listen to him. First, the friends believed they were offering Job the consolations of God (15:11); the consolation he seeks from them is that they listen to him. Second, after he has spoken, Zophar (the verb is singular) may mock him if he wishes. Third, Job’s complaint did not concern the friends, nor men in general for that matter. His complaint pertained to God. Because God was silent, Job felt he had reason to be impatient. Fourth, just a glance at the sufferer should astonish the friends into silence. Yet they gazed at him and just kept gabbing. Job himself was certainly horrified when he looked at himself.

B. The Prosperity of the Wicked (21:7–16)

Job now addresses the question, Why do the wicked prosper? Why under the moral government of God does he permit them to live? They not only live, they live to a ripe old age, and become mighty in the earth. Unlike Job, the wicked have the blessing of seeing their children grow up beside them. Not merely themselves and their children, but their homes and all in them are full of peace—another allusion to the rod of God which had fallen on all which belonged to Job. Their children dance and sing and play musical instruments (21:6–12).

The wicked spend their days in prosperity. Then in a moment, without the miseries of a prolonged illness, they die and go down to Sheol, the abode of dead spirits. Thus Job draws the picture of the peaceful end to a prosperous life (21:13). This is exactly opposite the picture presented by the friends. According to them, the wicked experience the pangs of conscience (15:20), an early death (20:11), a childless old age (18:19), and a disastrous end (20:24).

The wicked experienced all this joy and prosperity in spite of the fact that they had consciously excluded God from their lives. Their godlessness was not momentary and rash, but formal and reasoned. They did not wish to know his ways. They openly scoffed at the value of serving the Almighty or praying to him (21:14–15).

Finally, Job articulates the mystery. The prosperity of wicked “is not in their hand,” i.e., it does not depend upon them. It comes rather from God. Why does God so bless the faithless? Whatever the answer to that question—and Job certainly had no answer to offer—this suffering patriarch wanted no part of the counsel of the wicked. He repudiates the principles by which they live. His glowing description of the life of the wicked should not be interpreted to mean that he endorsed their lifestyle. Even though he does not understand the ways of God, he will not abandon God (21:16).

C. The Peace of the Wicked (21:17–21)

Job next argues that the wicked experience peace as well as prosperity. Sudden and disastrous visitations by God do not come upon them as the friends had repeatedly suggested. What examples can his opponents offer to support their assertion that the light of the wicked is put out (cf. 18:5–6), or that they experience calamity (cf. 18:12). What examples can his friends produce of the wicked being swept away like stubble of chaff before the wind? (21:17–18).

Perhaps his opponents will argue that though the wicked man personally may not suffer, his children certainly will. A dead man, however, does not know nor care what his children are experiencing. In a moral universe the wicked man personally should experience retribution. He should “drink of the wrath of the Almighty” (21:19–21).

D. The Audacity of the Friends (21:22–26)

The doctrine of providence articulated by the friends did not correspond to reality. By clinging to such a doctrine the friends were making themselves wiser than God. Will they then presume to teach God how to run the universe? The Almighty judges “those on high,” i.e., heavenly beings. What man, then, can instruct him with regard to the affairs of earth? (21:22).

Job observed that death is the great leveler. Of those who die suddenly, one person is at the height of prosperity; another dies in bitterness, never having experienced the blessings of life. Though vastly different in life, both persons are together in the dust where the worm consumes their flesh. Job is arguing that one’s character cannot be determined by his lot in life. Thus, the three friends should not presume to tell God to judge a person’s life by his wealth or his health. All people die, and only God can be the accurate judge of their lives, regardless of the circumstances which they experienced in life (21:23–26).

E. The Ignorance of the Friends (21:27–34)

Job finally addresses the insinuations of his friends about himself. In describing the fate of the wicked they had Job in mind. When they asked in astonishment, “Where is the house of the prince?” they were speaking of him. The implication is that the dwelling of the wicked prince had been swept away (21:27–28).

Such insinuations reveal the gross ignorance of these antagonists. Have the three of them never asked for the witness of caravaneers who travel throughout the world? Such travelers tell a story quite different from that of the friends. What have these travelers observed? (21:29).

First, they observed that the wicked person was preserved in the day of destruction. Second, they testified that the wicked man was allowed to continue in his evil ways without censure from any quarter. Third, they witness that the wicked man is buried in honor. He would be carried to his grave in solemn procession. His tomb would be guarded against desecration. Fourth, they observe that, far from being shunned by his fellow man, the wicked person is idolized. “All men shall draw after him,” i.e., he shall have innumerable successors and imitators, just as he was preceded by countless others whom he resembled (21:30–33).

Job feels that he has refuted the theories of his friends in regard to the supposed calamities and misery of the wicked man, whether in life or death. Hence their attempts to comfort him by this line of thinking are vain. The suffering patriarch regards all their answers as falsehood. In spite of all their talk, the three friends had been of no help to him (21:34).

chapter six

The Final Round in the Debate

Job 22–31

In the first round of the debate Job’s guests implied that he was a sinner, and they appealed to him to repent. In round two, they insinuated that he was guilty and stressed the terrible fate of the wicked, but they gave Job no opportunity to repent. In the last round of the debate, the friends attack Job with open accusations of specific sins. Job again stands his ground. He denies that the wicked always suffer; he emphatically rejects the contention that he is a deliberate transgressor.


Job 22:1–30

Eliphaz takes up the argument made by Job that no moral principle could be detected in God’s treatment of man (cf. 21:23–26). His speech moves through five phases.

A. God’s Disinterest in Job (22:1–5)

As Eliphaz sees it, God’s treatment of men cannot be due to any respect which he has to himself, for he is too lofty to be affected by anything human. Neither the “vigorous man” nor the “wise man” can be of any use to him. God receives no pleasure from man’s righteousness, nor profit from his integrity. Eliphaz viewed God as largely disinterested in mankind (22:2–3).

God’s treatment of men is for their sakes and according to what they are. Eliphaz did not think it possible that God would chastise men for their piety. Therefore, if Job has been afflicted, it must be for his sins. God’s only concern was with justice. Therefore, he needed only to interact with man when retribution was required by man’s sin (22:4–5).

B. Social Accusations Against Job (22:6–11)

What specific sins had Job committed? Eliphaz now begins to enumerate them. They are such sins as a powerful Eastern ruler might naturally be expected to commit. First, he accused Job of inhumanity toward the poor. He had required collateral from destitute brothers who needed help, even taking their outer garments for such purposes (22:6).

Second, he had been inhospitable. He had not given water to the weary nor bread to the hungry. The duties of hospitality were very stringent in the ancient Near East. Job’s stinginess was all the more inexcusable since he was a “mighty man” and highly respected. Third, Eliphaz accused Job of cruelty. When widows came seeking his help, he sent them away empty. The “strength” (lit. arms) of orphans had been crushed (22:7–9).

Because of his inhumanity and heartlessness, Job is surrounded by the snares and terrors of God. He finds himself in darkness, overwhelmed by a flood of affliction (22:10–11).

C. Spiritual Accusations Against Job (22:12–20)

Eliphaz has suggested what Job’s offenses must have been. Now he imagines what attitudes toward God were reflected in such actions. Job must believe that God is so far removed from earth that he could not possibly know what was happening here. From the perspective of the infinitely high heavens, how was it possible for him to distinguish the actions of one person from that of another? Furthermore, thick clouds block his view of earth as he walks about the circle of the heavens (22:12–14).

According to Eliphaz, Job’s attitude toward God resembled that of the great sinners before the Flood. Does Job wish to follow in those notorious footsteps? Those people were snatched away in judgment before their time. Their false foundation of beliefs was swept away by a river. The reference is probably to the Deluge (22:15–16).

Eliphaz next twisted Job’s words. He turns the patriarch’s sentences around to make it appear that he was a flagrant sinner who ordered God to depart from his life even though the Lord had caused him to prosper. Such was the attitude of those who lived before the Flood. So Eliphaz distanced himself from such arrogant defiance of deity and ingratitude. “The counsel of the wicked is far from me,” he declared (22:17–18).

Righteous people see the judgment that comes to sinners “and are glad,” Eliphaz asserts. The “innocent” mock them. The cutting off of those adversaries would be an occasion of great joy. To see their abundance destroyed in the fire of God’s judgment would vindicate their belief in the justice of God (22:19–20).

D. Appeals and Incentives (22:21–25)

Eliphaz urges Job to reconcile himself with God, assuring him of restoration and peace if he will do so. Three exhortations, each accompanied by a promise, are directed to the sufferer. First, Eliphaz asked Job to “yield” to the Lord, and receive God’s words into his heart. Should he do so he would he have peace and good would come to him (22:21–22).

Second, he should return to the Almighty by putting away his evil. Should he do so he would be restored to his former state. Third, he should renounce his worldly wealth by flinging it to the dust or to the pebbles of a brook. If he should do so, the Almighty would be his gold and silver (22:23–25).

E. The Rewards of Repentance (22:26–30)

Following his appeals for repentance and accompanying incentives, Eliphaz lists four promises of what would follow upon Job’s restoration. First, again Job would delight in the Almighty and lift up his face in confidence, unashamed by afflictions. Second, Job would be able to pray unto God with assurance of being heard. Since his prayers would be answered, he would have occasion to pay the vows which he made to the Lord (22:26–27).

Third, Job’s plans for the future would stand and be realized, for the light of God would be on his ways. Fourth, any future casting down which he might experience would speedily be turned by God to an up-rising, because of his humility. Finally, Job’s intercessory prayers on behalf of others who had sinned would be effective because of his own “clean hands,” i.e., innocence. They would be delivered from judgment through his availing prayers (22:28–30).

The charges of unrighteousness (vv. 5–11) and ungodliness (vv. 12–17) illustrate how far men will go in the heat of debate to defend their religious theories. The concluding words of Eliphaz (vv. 21–30), however, are conciliatory and appropriate to one who is both aged and devout.


Job 23:1–24:25

Job is too absorbed with the painful mystery of God’s providence to be able yet to give attention to the direct charges of wickedness which Eliphaz had made against him. In chapter 23 he speaks in reference to the injustice of what he has experienced. In chapter 24 he focuses on the injustice in the world in general.

Job Speaks Regarding Himself

Job 23:1–17

Job continues to be confident that he is experiencing an incredible wrong at the hands of God. He expresses again his desire to find God so as to present his case before him. Then Job lapses into discouragement as he contemplates his hopeless condition.

A. Job’s Desire (23:1–7)

Job knew that his complaint against God was a rebellious act, and would be so viewed by his friends. Though he tried to restrain his groaning, he could not. The text is properly translated: “My hand is heavy upon my groaning” (23:2).

Job ardently desires that he could come to God’s judgment seat to plead his cause before him. There he eloquently would argue his case with irrefutable arguments. In that context he could demand plain answers. Faced with the facts of Job’s case, God would be forced to admit the injustice which had been done to his servant. He was convinced that God would not take advantage of his great power. On this point Job has changed his opinion since his speech of 9:14–16. At that divine tribunal, Job was confident that he would be delivered forever from injustice at the hands of the heavenly judge (23:3–7).

B. Job’s Defense (23:8–12)

Job suddenly returns to the reality of his isolation. God is everywhere, yet he can find him nowhere. The words “forward,” “backward,” “on the left hand,” and “on the right hand” probably denote the four points of the compass. Job concluded that God must be avoiding him because he knew he was innocent. Should he encounter Job he would have to admit that a grave injustice had been done (23:8–10).

How could Job declare that if tried by God he would come forth as shining gold? Eliphaz had insinuated that Job was following the ancient path of wicked men (cf. 22:15). Not so. He had followed in the steps of the Lord and had never deviated therefrom. According to Eliphaz, Job needed to hear instruction from the mouth of God (cf. 22:22). In fact Job had never departed from the commandments of God. They were more precious to him than his daily bread (23:11–12).

C. Job’s Discouragement (23:13–17)

Though he knows that Job is innocent, God is resolute in his determination to destroy the patriarch. Since God is omnipotent, he can do as he pleases. Eliphaz had argued that if Job repented he could have all his plans confirmed (cf. 22:28). Not so! God was carrying out in Job’s life what he had decreed. All of this was a profound enigma to Job; but it was far from being a solitary one: “many such things are with him,” i.e., this is but one out of many similar mysteries that happen under God’s government of the world (23:13–14).

God’s mysterious and irresistible ways trigger in Job a sense of dismay, terror and faintheartedness. By acting in what Job perceived to be an unjust way, the Lord had made the heart of the patriarch faint. The emphasis here is on what God had done. What dismays Job and renders him speechless is not the dark calamity which had overtaken him, and not the fact that his face had been marred and distorted by disease. What bothered him most was this: It was God who had inflicted the calamity upon him, and that for no just cause! (23:15–17).

Job Speaks Regarding the World Around Him

Job 24:1–25

In chapter 24 Job cites several examples of the absence of any righteous rule of the world. The chapter begins with a question. Why does not the Almighty set aside times for sitting in judgment and dispensing justice to men? The question is in reality an accusation that God fails to exercise a righteous rule. They that “know” him, i.e., his people, wait in vain for some manifestation of his divine righteousness (24:1).

A. Complaint Regarding Public Crimes (24:2–12)

Job now proceeds to illustrate his complaint of the absence of righteousness in God’s rule of the world. He mentions three crimes in particular: removing landmarks, stealing, and mistreatment of the needy. Boundary stones marked property lines. Disreputable men would move them in an attempt to enlarge their property. Stealing flocks of sheep and then pasturing them as one’s own would be a brazen kind of theft in a pastoral society. Widows and orphans were deprived of the single ox or ass with which they might work their small fields. The needy were deprived of their rights (24:2–4a).

Job next paints a pitiful picture of the destitution of those he calls the “poor of the earth.” Some think that Job is speaking in these verses of the plight of the aboriginal races of the regions east of the Jordan. Their land and homes had been seized by more powerful tribes. They had fled the bitter oppressions to which they were subjected by their conquerors. They could only huddle together, like wild donkeys, in obscure haunts to escape the violence of the oppressor. The roots and herbage of the desert are the only nourishment they can find for their children. For fruit they had to be content with the neglected late gleanings of the vineyard of the wicked. The mountain rains drench these thinly-clad outcasts as they “hug the rock,” i.e., huddle closely under its ledge, for protection from the elements (24:4b–8).

Wealthy men seized the nursing infants of bankrupt young widows to raise as a slaves in expectation of recouping financial loses. They require as collaterial that which is upon the poor, i.e., their outer garments. This class of destitute people would be forced by these actions to go about “naked without clothing” (24:9–10a).

Though the slaves labored amidst the abundant harvest (“among the sheaves”) of their masters, these slaves were themselves faint with hunger. Animals were treated more kindly (cf. Deut 25:4). Within the walled vineyards and groves of the wealthy they pressed the olives for oil and trod the wine presses. Though they produced an abundance of wine by such labors, the slaves were not allowed to drink, thus they “suffer thirst” (24:10b–11). The same injustice which was abundant in the rural areas was also prevalent in the population centers. There too men groaned under oppression. The wounded cried out for justice. Yet God takes no note of such wrongdoing. He appointed not days (v. 1) for setting things right and thwarting the injustice (24:12).

B. Complaint Regarding Secret Sin (24:13–17)

The focus now shifts to those who “rebel against the light,” i.e., they prefer to act under cloak of darkness. A murderer “arises with the light,” i.e., toward daybreak, while it is still partially dark. At that early hour he waylays a solitary traveler. At night that same person may act the part of a thief (24:13–14).

The adulterer waits for the twilight, i.e., of evening. Then he disguises himself so that he may enter undetected into the house of his neighbor. They “dig into houses,” i.e., cut a hole through the mud brick, as a secret entrance into the quarters of the woman with whom they were committing sin. Since they are busy by night, the adulterers shut themselves up in their own homes during the day. They fear the light of day as most men fear the dead of night. The “shadow of death,” i.e., thick darkness of night, is where they are most comfortable (24:15–17).

C. Confidence in Final Judgment (24:18–25)

In the previous verses Job was upset because God did not do something to stop oppression and sin. Now he states that God does punish the wicked. Because commentators see a contradiction here, many try to circumvent what the patriarch plainly declares. Job, however, never said that the wicked do not suffer. Instead, he argued that both the righteous and the wicked suffer, and both prosper. The friends, on the other hand, argued that only the wicked suffered and only the righteous prospered.

To Job the wicked are as insignificant as a splinter on the surface of raging water. “Their portion,” i.e., their fields and possessions, were under a curse, and consequently would become non-productive. The day would come when that wicked person would no longer be able to “turn toward vineyards,” i.e., enjoy the good life of which vineyards are a symbol. Sheol engulfs sinners. They disappear from earth as surely as the fierce heat melts winter snow. Even the one who gave birth to the sinner would forget him. None would take pleasure in him except the worm to which the decaying body would have a sweet taste. The wicked would be broken as suddenly as a tree that snaps in two in the throes of a storm (24:18–21).

This one who had taken advantage of defenseless women would be dragged off by God. In that day the wicked would have “no assurance of life,” i.e., that he would survive the judgment. Although it appears that he is giving the wicked security, God’s eyes are upon them. For a time they are exalted because of their wealth and power. In judgment they will be debased, gathered up like heads of grain which have been cut off (24:22–25).

The friends had argued that the wicked were cut off immediately; Job argued that they were “exalted for a time.” For this patriarch even a temporary exaltation of such people was an injustice. Job concludes his speech with a challenge to the three friends to prove him wrong (24:25).


Job 25:1–6

Bildad perhaps felt himself unable to reply to Job’s arguments. Yet he will not retire from the field without at least uttering one more protest against the spirit of his adversary. The facts of history and experience may support Job’s contentions. Yet the spirit in which he has presented his arguments and the conclusions in respect to God which flowed from those arguments must be labeled false. Bildad repeats here the thoughts expressed earlier by Eliphaz and this is a sure indication that the controversy has exhausted itself.

To God belongs “dominion” and rule, and his majesty inspires terror. He dwells in the “high places,” i.e., the heavens. There he “makes peace,” i.e., brings calm to storms, through his awesome power. The armies which obeys Yahweh’s commands are innumerable. The reference here may be to the angelic host or to the stars themselves (cf. Isa 40:26). He commands the light of day as well. By the light which he sends forth, God reaches all, and brings all under his sway (25:1–3).

In view of the majesty and universal power of God, how can a man be righteous before him? Here Bildad is repeating the earlier words of Eliphaz (cf. 4:17a) and of Job himself (cf. 9:2b). Human beings are unclean by virtue of the sin they commit in their lives (cf. 4:17b; 15:14). Since Job was a member of the human race, he must be unclean before God (25:4).

Before the great creator, the moon and stars are only insignificant luminaries. Surely then, man—the Hebrew word points to man in his creaturely weakness—is puny before him. The “son of man,” i.e., one born of man, is a weak and putrid maggot spiritually speaking. The moon “has no brightness,” i.e., it only reflects light. The stars “are not pure in his sight,” i.e., they are not bright in comparison with God. Eliphaz had contrasted man with the angels (cf. 4:18–19; 15:15–16), and here Bildad contrasts man with the moon and stars (25:5–6).

Bildad is aiming to get Job to face up to his worthlessness in the big scheme of things. The majesty of God, however, was not at issue in the debate. Therefore, Bildad’s third speech was pointless. It offered no hope for the vindication which Job craved, and no hope for purification which Job already had said he did not need. This final word from Job’s friends is disgusting in its evasiveness, heartlessness and hopelessness.


Job 26:1–28:28

The poverty of the position of Job’s adversaries is indicated by the brevity of Bildad’s last speech. Zophar did not even rise to speak in this third round of the debate. Job had the last word. In chapter 26 he directly addressed the preceding speech of Bildad. In chapters 27–28 the patriarch begins his grand finale to all three opponents.

Response to Bildad


Job responds to Bildad by (1) rebuking his attitude; and (2) presenting his own portrait of the greatness of God.

A. Bildad’s Weakness (26:1–4)

Bildad had argued that man, including Job, was puny and vile; Job responded by indicating that Bildad was the puny one. Job sarcastically expresses his admiration of Bildad’s speech, and gratitude for the help it has been to him. The patriarch makes four accusations.

First, Bildad’s brief speech had been no help to Job. If the patriarch was so weak and puny, why had not this friend “saved the arm without strength,” i.e., supported, or helped Job. Second, Bildad had offered Job no wisdom or given any helpful insight regarding his plight. If Job was so stupid, why had not Bildad educated him? (26:2–3).

Third, Bildad had addressed his speech to one who was superior to him in wisdom: “To whom have you uttered words?” (12:3). Fourth, Bildad had spoken under his own inspiration, not that of the Holy Spirit, nor even that of the wise men of old. Bildad had been unable to help Job, and no one had helped him with his speech. Bildad was only speaking off the top of his head (26:4).

B. God’s Greatness in the Underworld (26:5–6)

Bildad had stated that God was majestic; Job responded with statements about God’s majesty that were far more majestic than Bildad’s. God’s power manifests itself in the underworld of departed spirits, and in the upper world of the earth and heavens.

Bildad had referred to the power of God as “making peace on high,” i.e., in the heavens (25:2). Yet Job affirms that God’s power is felt even in Sheol. The Rephaim (departed spirits) reside in Sheol. The word seems to mean “the elite among the dead.” That place of departed spirits is represented poetically as lying deep down under the waters of the sea, i.e., far removed from the scenes of earth. The dark and dreary Sheol is naked before the eyes of God. Abaddon6 or Destruction (cf. 28:22) here is a synonym for Sheol (26:5–6).

C. God’s Greatness in the Heavens (26:7–10)

In the heavens Job sees three evidences of the majesty of the Lord. First, God stretches out the brilliant constellations of the northern heavens as one would stretch out a tent on a pole. The heavens are stretched out “over empty space,” i.e., the massive void between earth and heaven. He “hangs the earth on nothing.” The earth is supported by nothing material. Therefore it must be supported by God himself (26:7).

Second, men bind up water in skins or bottles; God “binds up the waters in his thick clouds.” Job was amazed at the thought that the clouds are floating reservoirs, which do not burst under the weight of torrential waters which they contain. God’s power alone can account for this amazing thing. God can even use the clouds to obscure the full moon (26:8–9).

Third, God has “drawn a circle on the surface of the waters.” The reference most likely is to the horizon which appears to be circular. The sun rises over the eastern horizon, moves across the arch of the heavens, and sets beyond the western horizon. Beyond this invisible circle lies the utter darkness of space (26:10).

D. God’s Greatness in the Earth (26:11–14)

On earth Job sees three more evidences of God’s majesty. First, the “pillars of heaven,” i.e., the lofty mountains that reach into the clouds, “tremble” at the rebuke of the Lord. The reference is probably to thunder which in poetic literature is depicted as the voice of God. Another view is that when earthquakes shake the earth the mountains tremble with terror at his majesty (26:11).

Second, God stills the tempestuous sea. In Semitic thought the raging sea was personified and called Rahab (cf. 9:13). The God of the Bible smites this raging monster, i.e., he brings calm to the turbulent waters (26:12).

Third, by the breath of his mouth the Lord clears away the dreary skies so as to reveal the brightness of the heavens. Like a great dragon, the storm clouds swallowed up, as it were, the heavenly bodies. God, however, pierces and slays that swift serpent (26:13). In both this verse and the preceding there may be an allusion to the monsters which were deities in Canaanite theology. If so, the thought is that Yahweh is superior to all the imaginary gods of the heathen.

The power of God is surely illustrated in the mighty works described above. Yet what men can see of him in these works is but the “fringes” of his real operations. What men may hear of God is but a faint whisper. No man can comprehend the full unfolding of the thunderous power of the Almighty! (26:14). That Job’s awareness of God’s awesome power exceeded that of Bildad is clear from these words.

A Defense of his Innocence


Job paused to permit Zophar to speak, but this blustering friend had exhausted his wisdom on the subject at hand. Therefore, Job resumes his own discourse. Here he addresses all three companions.

A. Proclamation of Innocence (27:1–6)

With the solemnity of an oath by God, Job declares that he speaks in sincerity when affirming his innocence. “As God lives” was a traditional oath formula which indicated that what was about to be said was as certain as God’s existence. Job senses the irony of swearing by God while at the same time accusing the Lord of gross injustice. By afflicting him, God has taken away Job’s “right,” i.e., his right standing before the Lord. By refusing to hear Job’s case God had “embittered” his soul. From these words it is obvious that Job’s mind has not changed. He still believes in God for he swears by him; but he charges God with injustice. An appeal to God stands side by side with an accusation against him (27:1–2).

As long as there was life (lit., breath) in his emaciated body, Job insisted that he would speak only the truth. He, therefore, could not concede that the friends were right in charging him with gross sin. Until his death Job declares that he would not “put away my integrity,” i.e., refrain from asserting his innocence. Throughout his days he had held fast to righteousness, and he would not now let it go. His “heart,” i.e., conscience, did not reproach him for his claims. This strongly worded oath of innocence is consistent with Job’s earlier protestations of innocence (27:3–6).

B. Imprecation Regarding his Enemies (27:7–11)

In the remaining verses of chapter 27 Job recounts the fate of the wicked man. He expresses the desire that his enemies share the fate of that wicked man. This is another way in which he affirms his own innocence. He did not consider himself among the wicked or guilty. In ancient justice one who made a false accusation against another had to suffer the penalty of the crime wrongly charged. The implication is that the three friends had falsely accused Job and thus deserved to suffer the punishment which they imagined that he should suffer (27:7).

In a series of three questions Job points out the dreary and desolate condition of the mind of the wicked person in affliction. The godless person has (1) no hope in the hour of death, (2) no answer when he cries for help in time of distress, and (3) no recourse to God throughout his life. The point is that the wicked have no place to turn when they need higher help. Since he had no fellowship with God, the wicked person cannot appeal to him. If Job was discouraged because of the silence of the heavens, at least he had someone to whom he could run in his plight. This fact alone would prove that he was not to be numbered among the wicked (27:8–10).

Eliphaz had urged Job to receive instruction from God (cf. 22:21–27). Job now reverses this suggestion. He will instruct the three friends—the second person pronoun is plural—regarding God’s power as it is revealed in his dealings with the wicked. Nonetheless, what he would tell them would only be reminders of what they already knew about God (27:10–11).

C. The Portion of the Wicked (27:12–23)

Job next begins to discourse on the fate of the wicked. The utter destruction of the wicked is exhibited in five pictures. First, the wicked person loses his children. Though they be numerous, his children would be killed in war or would suffer in famine. Those who survived these fates would die of plague. The urgency of their burial would be such that customary funeral rites would be suspended (27:12–15). These words seem to contradict what Job asserted about the children of the wicked in 21:8–9. The earlier passage refutes the notion that the loss of children are proof of wickedness; this passage points to the ultimate fate of the wicked.

Second, the wicked person loses his wealth. Though he may pile up silver like dust and garments like clay, i.e., in plentiful amounts, he would not, however, be able to enjoy these material things. In the end his wealth would pass into the hands of the righteous and the innocent, who in this book are often equated with the poor (27:16–17). The ungodly are swept away. The righteous remain and enter into their possessions. The meek inherit the earth (Ps 37:29, 34).

Third, the wicked person loses his home. His house would prove to be as unstable as a moth’s cocoon or the temporary shelter erected by farmers as guard posts during the harvest. One day the wicked person is rich, but the next day he wakes up to poverty or worse. He “opens his eyes and he is not,” i.e., he awakes just in time to view the coming destruction before being swept away (27:18–19).

Fourth, the wicked person himself would also be swept away. Overnight he would be overtaken by a terrifying flood. A windstorm off the eastern desert—known to natives as the sirocco—would snatch him away. This tempest would “hurl” at him its destructive arrows. Any attempt to escape would be futile (27:20–22).

Fifth, the fall of the wicked would produce glee in the hearts of those who hear of it. They would express their scorn and derision by hissing, or whistling (27:23).

A Discourse on Wisdom


Chapter 28 contains a single thought, viz., that wisdom cannot be reached by man. Though the wicked ultimately suffer a terrible fate (27:13–23), yet that does not solve all the riddles of providence. The three counselors had maintained that they knew God’s ways. Job argues here that no man can discern the inscrutable mysteries of the majestic God.

A. Wisdom Cannot be Mined (28:1–14)

Job speaks of the various metals—silver, gold, iron, copper—and the precious stones which are mined by man in the most ingenious ways. Miners were lowered by ropes through shafts into subterranean regions far below the sight of men on the surface. The digging beneath the ground produces rubble like that caused by fire on the surface (28:1–6). Palestine had some minerals (cf. Deut 8:9), but no evidence exists that mining was practiced there. Important mines, however, did exist in the Sinai peninsula, in Egypt, and on the slopes of the Lebanon mountains.

The mines to which men go for their metals are inaccessible to animals. The birds of prey with their keen sight cannot find those places. The “proud beasts”—probably lions—which tread the earth have never had the courage to go where the miners go. Even the traditionally crafty serpent which lives in holes of the ground is unable to see or touch the underground treasures. Job seems to be expressing amazement at the ingenuity and boldness of man in securing the resources which he needs from beneath the earth (28:7–8).

If the place of mining is amazing, even more so is the mining operation itself. Man breaks through solid rock, overturns mountains at their base, cuts channels or tunnels in the rocks, and thus is able to reach the valuable metals. At times he must dam up underground streams so that they do not seep into the mine and hamper the work. All of this effort results in bringing to light that which was hidden in the darkness, viz., the precious metals (28:9–11).

In spite of man’s technological sophistication, he cannot find wisdom. Nowhere in the “land of the living” (i.e., the inhabitable earth) has he been able to find this precious treasure. Even the mighty oceans must confess that wisdom is not to be found in them (28:12–14).

B. Wisdom Cannot be Purchased (28:15–19)

Not only can man not find wisdom, he cannot even purchase it with the precious metals he has mined. Job uses a dozen different words for various valuable substances which were used as exchange in his day. Three of these words—”pure gold,” “glass,” and “crystal” in NASB—are used only here in the Old Testament, with the result that the meaning of them is far from certain. The main point, however, is clear. The most valuable substances known to man cannot purchase wisdom.

C. Wisdom Comes from God (28:20–28)

Where, then, is wisdom to be found? It is hidden from the eyes of all living creatures on earth. The keen-sighted birds do not know its location. Even Abaddon (Sheol, the abode of the dead) and death personified must confess that they have heard only rumors about wisdom, hence they know little about it (28:20–22).

God—the word is emphatic in the Hebrew—knows where wisdom can be found. He alone is omniscient. He sees in one effortless glance “to the ends of the earth” and “everything under the heavens” (28:23–24).

God is sovereign over his creation. In his providence he established regulations by which he governs the various aspects of nature. Storms appear to be without order; but they are determined by his wise and creative genius. He prescribed laws to govern the wind, waters, rain and lightning: the weight (i.e., force) of the wind, the measure (i.e., amount) of water, regularity of the rain, and the path followed by the thunderbolt (28:25–26).

At the very time when God established the laws of nature, he explored wisdom. He saw it, probed it, established it, and investigated it. While man cannot even find wisdom, these verbs suggest that God perfectly understands it. He has revealed a part of his wisdom to man. Although man cannot discover wisdom or purchase it, he can receive it from God. The essence of that wisdom is twofold: (1) fear God; and (2) depart from evil (28:27–28). To fear God is to bring one’s life into submission to him, to have confidence that he does all things right even when the rightness of his actions is not apparent to man. The “evil” from which man is to depart is determined by divine revelation. Thus the life of a truly wise person is God-centered, not self-centered (28:27–28).

Job 28 accomplishes several purposes in the book. First, it rebukes the shortsighted and superficial wisdom of his adversaries. It demonstrates that their limited theological outlook was false. Second, the chapter serves as a rebuttal to the friends’ accusations that Job did not fear God, and needed to turn from evil. Third, the chapter underscores that God’s earlier assessment of Job (1:1, 8; 2:3) was correct, and the three friends were incorrect in their analysis of his life. Job had been fearing God and hating evil, but they had not. Truly the last verse of chapter 28 is one of the climactic moments in this book.


Job 29:1–31:40

The debate is now over; but as it was preceded in chapter 3 by a monologue of Job, so here it is followed by another of even greater literary beauty. The passage falls into three parts, corresponding to the separate chapters: (1) a picture of Job’s former happiness; (2) a portrayal of his present condition; and (3) a protestation of innocence.

A Picture of Former Happiness

Job 29:1–25

Chapter 29 has four parts: (1) recollections of former happiness; (2) the reason for the adulation of men; (3) anticipation of continued prosperity; and (4) recapitulation of the respect which he had enjoyed.

A. Recollections of Former Happiness (29:1–10)

Job begins with a pathetic expression of regret as he remembers happier times. In those days he had experienced a different relationship with both God and men.

In former times God had watched over him, i.e., preserved him from harm. God’s lamp shone above him and lighted his path illuminating the darkness before him. God’s “lamp” is a figure for his favor, enlightenment and blessing. Job compares those former days to the “autumn” (NASB margin) of the year, the time of fruit-gathering and plenty, joy and thanksgiving. Those were the days when the “friendship” (lit., counsel, secret) of God watched over his tent (29:1–4).

As proof that God was with him in former days, Job cites two facts. First, he enjoyed his progeny: “My children were around me.” Second, he experienced prosperity: “My steps were bathed in butter.” This is a figure for the overflowing abundance amidst which he walked. The butter used in Palestine was often half liquid and could be drunk. Even the unfruitful “rock” seemed to pour out rivers of oil beside Job. The idea is that his blessings were so numerous that they came from the most unlikely sources (29:5–6).

Job’s relationship with his fellow men was quite different in those former days. He had their respect; he enjoyed his association with them. From time to time Job left his estate to go to the city gate to transact some business. Such a “gate” was usually a building of considerable size where commercial and legal transactions were conducted. When Job entered the gate, the young men withdrew out of respect and the older men rose from their seats for the same reason. Job’s arrival put a stop to speech and discussion already going on, which was not resumed until he had been heard (29:7–10).

B. Reasons for his Prestige (29:11–17)

Why did the leading citizens of the land show such respect for Job in those former days? Job’s benevolence and kind treatment of the needy had earned him this respect. Even those who merely heard reports of his philanthropy “blessed” him, i.e., wished him happiness. The fatherless and widows are specific examples of the “poor” who needed kindness and help. Job even received the blessing of “the one ready to perish,” i.e., the poorest of the poor (29:11–13).

In his dealings with his fellow man Job “put on righteousness,” i.e., his life was wrapped up in doing what was right. He assisted the blind and the lame to do that which they were unable to do on their own. Job was “a father” to the needy. He even took up the case of strangers who came to him for assistance. As a great sheik, Job would often have to judge cases brought before him. In this work he acted with strict conscientiousness. Job “broke the jaws of the wicked.” The figure is that of a beast of prey which has its booty already in its teeth. When an unjust oppressor seemed already to have triumphed and carried off his prey, it was torn from his jaws (29:14–17).

C. Anticipation of Continued Prosperity (29:18–20)

In the midst of that active and happy life Job anticipated length of days and continued prosperity. He thought that he would see death in his “nest,” i.e., surrounded by those who belonged to him. He thought his days would be multiplied “as the sand,” i.e., without number. His life was like a well-watered tree whose roots spread out to the waters and whose branches were kept fresh by the night dew. Job’s “glory,” i.e., the high respect and rank, would continue “fresh,” i.e., new, untarnished or diminished. His “bow,” symbol of strength and power, would be “renewed” like a living tree, i.e., it would not lose its freshness and suppleness in his hand.

D. Recapitulation of his Previous Position (29:21–25)

Again Job mentions the prestigious position which he occupied in society prior to his affliction. People paid attention to him, i.e., they listened to his counsel. His wise words dropped like refreshing rain upon them. They anxiously waited for Job’s pronouncements as a farmer might wait for the “latter rain,” the spring showers. This rain was essential for a bountiful harvest. Job was superior in wisdom to those who came to him (29:21–23).

Job, with his broader insight and more capable counsel, smiled on those who were perplexed and despondent. What seemed insurmountable difficulty to them, seemed to Job a thing easy to overcome and nothing which should create anxiety. The despondency of others was never able to cloud the cheerfulness of his countenance. Job “chose out their way,” i.e., he sought out their company. The perplexed recognized his leadership and set him as a king among them. Yet Job manifested no superior attitude toward them. He did his best to comfort those who mourned (29:24–25).


Job 30:1–31

Chapter 30 forms a contrast to the previous chapter. The same subjects treated in the earlier chapter are repeated here, but in reverse order. The word “now” introduces three of the four paragraphs in this chapter.

A. Job’s Present Ignominy (30:1–8)

In former days the young men retreated from court out of respect for Job. Now those young men hold Job in derision. The fathers of these youth had not been considered worthy of treatment which one might give his dogs. Those fathers were enfeebled and had fallen into premature decay. Yet the sons of these powerless men now look down on Job (30:1–2).

Job next describes an outcast race which were perhaps the aboriginals who once inhabited that land. Having had the respect of the most respectable, Job now had the contempt of the most contemptible (cf. 19:18), the very scum of the earth. These people had a shriveled appearance from lack of proper nourishment. They were reduced to devouring the roots which they gathered in the waste places. When these wretched men tried to approach civilized dwellings, they were driven away and pursued with cries as men do a thief. They hid out in caves and bushes. Among the bushes they bray like the wild ass seeking for food. They throw themselves down like wild beasts under the bushes of the desert. These children of fools and the lowest of men had been crushed out of the land (30:3–8).

B. Job’s Present Indignities (30:9–15)

The outcasts described in vv. 3–8 now treated Job with contempt. He was a subject for their taunt songs and bywords. They arrogantly stood aloof from Job. Some gave him the ultimate insult when they spat in his face. Earlier Job had spoken of this race of men with compassion (ch. 24); now he speaks of their conduct toward him with resentment. This race showed no appreciation for Job’s feelings about them. They regarded Job as a member of the class that had dispossessed and oppressed them. So now they took a malicious delight in the calamities that had overtaken him (30:9–10).

God had loosed his bowstring and sent the arrow of affliction hurling into Job. So now the outcasts of society had “cast off the bridle” in respect to Job, i.e., they have cast off all restraint. They thrust aside the feet of Job as he tries to move from place to place. Like a besieging army, they had raised up their siege mounds from which to better attack him. They “break up” his path, i.e., the path of his life. They profit from Job’s calamity and no one is able to restrain them (30:11–13).

As soldiers charge through a breach in the wall of a besieged city, so these lowly rabble come at Job. The terrors continue to roll over the patriarch. The rabble pursue Job’s honor as the wind blows away chaff. Job’s prosperity has passed away like a cloud (30:14–15).

C. Job’s Present Condition (30:16–24)

By his afflictions Job had been reduced to a condition of abject despondency: “My soul is poured out within me.” In the night seasons he especially felt the gnawing pains of depression. His agony was so great that it seemed as though his bones had been pierced by a sword and his limbs wrenched from him. The great force of his disease had caused his garment to be disfigured, possibly by the discharge of his skin ulcers. His garment “binds” him, possibly because his writhing body has twisted them tightly about him (30:16–18).

God has indeed dealt severely with Job. He has plunged Job into the mire, dust and ashes. The reference may be to the custom of throwing dust over one’s head to express lamentation. His garments are now covered with this filth. Job lifts his eyes heavenward and cries out to the Lord, but there is no answer. He tried to get God’s attention by standing up. In spite of his importunity, God only seems to look upon him with silent indifference (30:19–21).

Job likens his afflictions to a roaring storm. God has not only cast him down into the mire (v. 19), he has tossed him to the wind. He has been carried away by that storm, destroyed by it. He knows that his afflictions can end in nothing but his death. Soon he will enter “the house of meeting for all living,” i.e., Sheol, the place of the dead. Yet he instinctively cries out to God for help, even though he now has concluded that the effort is useless (30:22–24).

D. A Final Contrast (30:25–31)

The compassion which Job seeks in his affliction, was his practice to bestow in former days. He wept for those in trouble, and grieved for the needy. Since he had been so kindhearted, Job had expected that his own prosperity would continue. His afflictions were totally unexpected. He looked “for good” but he received “evil,” i.e., calamity; he waited for “light” but experienced darkness (30:25–26).

Again Job describes his present state. He says that his “bowels,” i.e., the seat of emotion, “boil.” He is overcome by a tumult of mixed feelings, griefs, regrets and pains. He goes about “blackened” (NASB “mourning”) but not by the sun. The reference is to the way his disease has affected his appearance: his color has turned black. He “stands up” in the assembly of desert creatures to cry for help. His cry was as mournful as that of the jackal (cf. Micah 1:8), as piercing as that of the ostrich. His blackened skin and burning fever silenced the joyous music which once filled his house. His harp and flute now played only funeral dirges to accompany the weeping of grief-stricken people (30:27–31).


Job 31:1–40

Chapter 31 consists of a series of protestations, accompanied by curses on himself if these protestations of innocence are not true. Here and there Job appeals to God to judge him. Fourteen times he employs the “if guilty” oath often followed by self-malediction (“let” thus and thus happen). The sins enumerated in this chapter are not monstrous crimes, but minute deviations from the loftiest standards of ethics and piety.

A. Not Guilty of Sensual Sin (31:1–12)

Job clears himself of cherishing or yielding to sensuous desires. Three different instances of sensual sin are cited. First, Job had not succumb to the simple desire excited by the eye. He had made a “covenant” or agreement with his eyes, that they should obey his mind, or act always in harmony with his higher self. This contract with his eyes did not permit him to look upon a woman with lust (cf. Matt 5:28). He knew that the look could lead to the desire, and the desire to sinful action. He had resolved to avoid the very source of potential sin. Job kept his eyes in check because he knew that God would take note of the smallest step in the direction of lust. A sinful glance at a woman might lead to “iniquity” and unrighteousness. The Almighty would bring calamity and disaster upon such sin. Hence, the fear of judgment caused Job to control his eyes (31:1–4).

Second, Job denies that he had ever yielded to sensual desire in word or deed. The patriarch denied that he had ever “walked with vanity” (falsehood) or “hasted to deceit.” His feet were as innocent as his eyes. Here “vanity” and “deceit” are virtually personified. He has not kept company with these unsavory characters, nor allowed them to entice him to do some evil deed. Parenthetically he solemnly asserts before God that this denial is true. The “even” or fair “balance” of God’s judgment would testify to his integrity. Never had Job turned out of the way of righteousness set before him by God (cf. 23:11). Never had his mind yielded to the lust of the eye. Never had his hands been stained by any sin resulting from lust (31:5–7).

To underscore this declaration of innocence Job pronounces a self-malediction. If what he had just claimed for himself is not true, then let another eat the fruit of his labor in the field, or even worse, simply uproot his crops (31:8).

Third, Job declares his innocence from the grossest form of sensual sin, adultery. He had never allowed his heart to be enticed by a woman. He had never laid wait at his neighbor’s door for an opportunity to have illicit relations with another man’s wife. Again Job seals the truthfulness of his assertion by pronouncing a self-malediction. If he has spoken untruth, then let his wife “grind” meal for another, i.e., be the slave of another, or let others “kneel down over her,” i.e., degrade her sexually (31:9–10).

Adultery was a heinous crime punished “by the judges.” This is a sin which grows and destroys as a fire. Ultimately adultery brings one to “Abaddon,” i.e., Sheol, the abode of the dead. This sin will “uproot” one’s increase, i.e., lead to utter ruin (31:11–12).

B. Not Guilty of Abuse of Power (31:13–23)

Job next repudiates all misuse of the power which his rank gave him. First, he denies that he ever treated his servants contemptuously when they had a complaint against him. He treated them not as possessions, but as persons who had rights as well as he. And why so? Job understood that all men were fashioned by God in the womb. He also understood that one day God would “rise up” in judgment. In that day he would be required to give an account for the way he had treated his servants (31:13–15).

Second, Job denies that he was ever indifferent to the needs of the helpless. Earlier, Eliphaz had falsely accused Job of failing to help those in need (cf. 22:7–9). He did not withhold from the poor what they desired, viz., food. Widows did not look to him in vain for help. He shared his bread with the fatherless. Even from his youth he had assumed the role of the benefactor of the poor. From his mother’s womb—a bit of a hyperbole—he had been a father to the fatherless and a guide to widows. He probably means that he had been taught by his mother to always assist the helpless. Job claims that he never saw a person perishing for want of clothing or covering that he did not supply them with wool from his sheep (31:16–20).

Third, Job denies that he had ever violently wronged anyone. He had not lifted up his hand against the fatherless because he saw his “help” in the gate. Because of his influence, Job could always have received a favorable verdict in court. Yet he did not oppress the helpless. To underscore the truth of his claim, Job again resorts to self-malediction. If he had ever used violence against another, then he wishes upon himself that the arm which he had used to injure others should be broken, that his shoulder should be dislodged from its socket (31:21–22).

Job concludes this unit by expressing the conviction by which his conduct was regulated. He stood in awe of the majesty of God and in fear of his judicial anger. Thus he was restrained from any of the sinful actions named in this unit (31:23).

C. Not Guilty of Dishonorable Attitude (31:24–34)

Job now repudiates another class of secret sins that would have dishonored him. First, he denies that he had a secret joy in the possession of wealth, that love of gain which is idolatry (Col 3:5). He had not put his hope or confidence in gold nor in the accumulation of wealth of other kinds (31:24–25).

Second, never had he been enticed to let his mouth kiss his hand in order to salute the rising sun or moon. The reference is to a gesture by which ancients symbolized the homage of the lips towards an object of veneration. The worship of the heavenly bodies was widespread in the ancient Near East. Such adoration would have been an iniquity punishable by earthly judges. It would also be a denial of the existence of the living God who created the heavens and earth (31:26–28).

Third, Job denies that he ever felt secret joy at the misfortune of his enemy. He had never permitted himself, even in hasty anger, to throw out an imprecation against an enemy (31:29–30).

Fourth, the patriarch denies that he was stingy. The household servants wondered if there was any one who had not yet been filled from Job’s rich table. Job took in strangers who were traveling near his home (31:31–32).

Finally, Job denies hypocrisy. He did not try to conceal his transgressions like Adam had done in the garden (cf. Hos 6:7). Had he been conscious of sins Job never would have ventured forth from the doors of his house. Fear of the contempt of men would have deterred him. A prominent person cannot play the role of a hypocrite long without facing exposure and humiliation. Job, however, was not deterred by any such fear; he frequented the assembly (29:7ff.). He knew he had nothing to hide. He lived in the broad daylight and without fear confronted all. The main charge made against Job by his friends was that he was a hypocrite. This charge is categorically repudiated in this unit (31:33–34).

D. Final Appeal to God (31:35–37)

Since the friends would not listen to him, Job desperately cried out to God to hear him. He puts his signature, as it were, to his plea of “Not guilty” which he has presented in the preceding verses. He desires his adversary—God—to submit his indictment against him in writing. The language is evidently taken from the judicial practice of the time, according to which both charge and defense were laid before the court in writing (31:35).

If Job but possessed the Almighty’s indictment against him, he would not hide it as a thing that caused him shame. He would bear it in triumph before the world as that which was his greatest honor. He would even wear it as a diadem upon his brow as that which would give him kingly dignity and adornment. The language expresses the strongest assurance that the indictment could in truth contain nothing against him. Job would declare to God “the number of my steps,” i.e., every act of his life. He would approach God “as a prince,” i.e., with the confident step and erect bearing of one who knows that nothing dishonoring can be laid to his charge (31:36–37).

E. Final Plea of Innocence (31:38–40)

Job now renews his protestations of innocence by denying that he had been guilty of land seizure. Land unjustly seized would (so to speak) cry out against the thief. The land would join its rightful owner in mourning over the loss. Job’s land, however, did not cry out against him. He had not seized that land by doing violence to its rightful owners. If any of these assertions be untrue, then let that field produce briars instead of wheat, and stinkweed instead of barley. That would make the land utterly worthless.

chapter seven

An Angry Young Speaker

Job 32–37

The lengthy debate between Job and his three friends has now ended. The visitors argued that Job was being justly punished for some sin which he would not acknowledge. They have now been silenced by the patriarch’s strong insistence that he did not deserve such suffering. Because the three considered Job’s attitude to be self-righteous, they gave up (32:1).

At this point a fifth speaker enters the picture. Elihu was deeply angry with both sides of the debate. This young man’s view of suffering is distinct from the three friends and his view of God is higher than theirs. In addition, Elihu makes an honest effort to respond to Job’s complaints about God. Whereas the three friends urged Job to repent of sins committed before the calamity, Elihu thought he needed to repent of pride which surfaced during the calamity. Whereas Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar argued that Job was suffering because he had committed sin, Elihu suggests that Job has now sinned because he has been suffering. Job does not attempt to answer Elihu.

The Elihu speeches play a significant role in the movement of the book. They enhance the suspense by postponing the climax. They restate and reinforce the issues by reviewing Job’s arguments (33:8–13), and the friends’ answers, as well as introducing new ones. These speeches show that the younger wisdom was essentially no more effective than the older, despite its great verbosity. They amplify the theme stated briefly by Eliphaz (5:17) that suffering may have a disciplinary and refining role in God’s providence (33:14–30; 36:8–12). These speeches prepare for the voice of God by chiding Job’s arrogant ignorance of God’s ways (35:16), and by placarding God’s sovereignty over the whole creation as evidence of his trustworthiness in matters of justice. They give the final evidence of earthly inability to fathom heaven’s mysteries.


Job 32:1–22

Chapter 32 contains an introduction to Elihu, first by the narrator, and then by Elihu himself.

A. The Narrator’s Introduction (32:1–5)

The first five verses in chapter 32 are in prose, although, strange to say, the Hebrew is accented with the markings characteristic of poetic literature. Elihu appears to have been a listener during the progress of the debate between Job and his three friends. He is said to have been a Buzite. Buz was the brother of Uz (Gen 22:21) and son of Nahor. Later passages mention Buz along with Tema and reckon them among the Arab tribes (Jer 25:23). Elihu was of the family of Ram, and thus may have been an ancestor of David (32:2a; cf. Ruth 4:19–22).

The name Elihu means something like “my God is he.” With a name like that it is little wonder that this young man presents himself as a champion of God’s justice. Now he steps forward because his anger burned against Job “because he justified himself against God” (32:2b). The idea seems to be that he justified himself at the expense of God’s justice (cf. 40:8). Three times in the opening five verses of the chapter the narrator makes reference to the anger of Elihu. He was definitely an angry young man!

In Job’s view, and that of his time, God wrongly had passed a judgment of guilty upon him by smiting him with affliction. Scarcely mentioning the specifics of Job’s case, as the three friends had done, Elihu addresses the question, Can God’s justice be protested?

Elihu was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar as well as Job. The three friends “had found no answer,” yet they condemned the patriarch. Because they were his elders, the young man had waited in vain for them to produce an adequate answer to Job’s perplexity concerning God. Elihu was angry because they had not been able with their logic to silence Job’s charges against the Lord. The young man is not defending Job. Far from it. He blames the three for not producing good reasons to place upon Job’s attitude a deserved condemnation (32:3–5).

B. Elihu’s Self-introduction (32:6–22)

In his self-introduction, Elihu presents a lengthy justification of his speaking. First, he indicates his respect for Job’s three counselors. Elihu, being a youth, shrank from interfering in the discussion between the aged men. He was of the opinion that older and more experienced men should be those who teach wisdom to others. Now, however, Elihu perceived that wisdom did not always accompany gray hairs; it is a gift of God. In the beginning the Lord had placed his “spirit” or “breath” of life in man (Gen 2:7). This was a spirit of intelligence as well as life (cf. 33:4). Thus Elihu defends his right to speak on the basis of his God-given intellect. He implores the older men to listen to his opinion on the subject. He is not here claiming some miraculous illumination for this moment as some have argued (32:6–10).

Second, Elihu evaluates what he had heard from the three friends of Job. He had hoped to hear them refute Job. He kept listening for further and different arguments from them. None of them, however, was able to convince Job or answer his arguments (32:11–12).

Elihu refuses to let the three friends excuse themselves for their failure to answer Job. They might try to say that they had found an unexpected wisdom in Job which only God could overcome. Job’s wisdom, however, was not invincible. It remained to be seen how his wisdom would fare against another wisdom different from that of the three friends. Job had not yet matched his arguments against those of Elihu. In this angry young man, Job would face arguments much different from that of the three friends (32:13–14).

Third, Elihu expresses his desire to speak to the issue. The three friends had been embarrassed to silence before Job. Their silence, however, shall not have the effect of imposing silence on Elihu. He feels a crowd of arguments in his mind pressing for utterance with a force that cannot be resisted. He is, therefore, constrained to speak. He claims he is “full of words.” Elihu compares his speech to fermenting wine in a sealed wineskin. He is about to explode. He cannot restrain himself. He must speak that he might find relief (32:15–20).

Elihu closes out his introduction by insisting that he will speak without partiality. He will speak to the issue sincerely and fearlessly. He will not allow himself to be influenced by respect to the persons who sat before him, whether Job or the friends. Elihu is concerned only with the truth. Flattery is not part of his nature. His fear of God would prevent him from engaging in such a thing (32:21–22).


Does God Hear Man?

Job 33:1–33

The long introduction over, Elihu now begins to set forth his arguments. Chapter 33 addresses the issue: Does God hear man?

A. Request for Attention (33:1–7)

Elihu begins with an appeal that Job would hear him. Unlike the other speakers, he addresses Job by name. Elihu offers five reasons why Job should hear him. First, he promises the patriarch that he will speak candidly and sincerely. He possess what Job had hoped to find in his three friends, viz., uprightness. Second, Elihu will set forth a conviction flowing from that spirit of God given to him in his creation. Because of his zeal for the Lord, Elihu feels that this spirit of God is within him in a powerful degree, and that gives him a higher wisdom than ordinary (33:1–4).

Third, Elihu will give Job an opportunity to respond. He offers, not a sermon, but a dialogue. Fourth, Elihu will not be condescending to Job, nor take advantage of his physical weakness. Since both men had been “formed out of the clay” (Gen 2:7), both stood on equal footing before God. Thus Elihu considered himself to be equal with Job before God and not superior to him, as had the friends. Fifth, Elihu assures Job he will have no cause to be fearful in entering into this new discussion. Job had often complained that the terror and majesty of God overpowered him and made it impossible for him to plead his cause. He will feel no such pressure upon him from Elihu (33:5–7).

B. Summary of Job’s Complaint (33:8–12)

Elihu summarizes what he has heard Job say in the preceding speeches, viz., that he was “clean,” “without transgression,” “innocent,” and without “iniquity.” Yet in spite of this, God had found, i.e., invented, grounds of enmity or hostility against him. The Lord now counted Job as an enemy to be shackled and guarded (cf. 13:27). Such was Job’s feeling about how he had been treated by God (33:8–11).

Elihu now gives a general and preliminary answer to Job’s charges against God. The patriarch cannot be in the right in such charges because God is greater than man. The three friends of Job had argued in the same way (cf. 8:3), though they hardly gave the idea the same importance that Elihu does. Elihu is suggesting that whatever concepts of justice may be prevalent among men, God’s justice must of necessity be greater still. Hence charges of injustice must of necessity be ludicrous (33:12).

C. Divine Communications (33:13–28)

Job had interpreted the silence of heaven to be an indication that God acts in an arbitrary and hostile manner toward man (cf. e.g. 19:7; 30:20). To this charge Elihu responds that God speaks to man in many ways. He speaks in dreams and visions by which he instructs men and seeks to turn them away from doing evil. If man gives no heed to the warning, God speaks again to him in the same manner (33:13–15).

In dream revelations God “opens the ears of men,” i.e., communicates clearly to them. He “seals their instruction,” i.e., he confirms it, probably through the impressive circumstances and manner of the dream or vision. The recipient would have no doubt that God had spoken to him (33:16).

The purpose of such divine communication is to arrest men in their plans to do evil. God wishes to “turn man aside from his conduct,” i.e., the prideful rebellious conduct to which he might be inclined. The effect of such revelation is that man is preserved from committing deadly sin, which would have brought destruction upon him “by the sword.” Five times in chapter 33 Elihu affirms that God saves men from “the pit,” i.e., Sheol. Being frightened by nightmares (cf. 7:14), Job had missed the purpose of God’s dream-warnings, namely, to preserve man from sin and death (33:17–18).

One who failed to learn from direct revelation through dreams would experience yet further discipline. He is chastened with pain which he felt even within his bones. In this condition he had no appetite for food. His body became emaciated. His flesh was consumed. If the words are to be interpreted literally, the description seems to point to leprosy. The life of this person gradually drew near “the pit,” i.e., death. The “destroyers”—possibly the angels that bring death—were drawing near (33:19–22).

The afflicted man may have “an angel” who would interpret to him God’s providential treatment of him. Such an angel would simply be “one among a thousand,” i.e., one of the thousands of ministering spirits sent forth to do service on behalf on the people of God. This angel has the function of showing to a person what is right for him to do. Here Elihu contradicted Eliphaz, who had stated earlier that no angels could assist Job in his plight (cf. 5:1). In 9:33 Job too had bemoaned the absence of an arbiter to intercede on his behalf (33:23).

When the sufferer does what is right, then God is gracious to him. The Lord would order that the sufferer should be delivered from going down to the pit. He has been ransomed from death. The “ransom” might be the sinner’s suffering or his repentance. On the other hand, the text might simply mean that God treats this man as ransomed and delivered (33:24).

As a consequence of the grace of God, the sufferer experiences restoration. His new-found health is like the freshness of a new childhood and the strength of a new youth. He is then restored to fellowship with God as well. His prayers are again answered. He again “may see his face with joy.” One “sees” the invisible God in worship (cf. Heb 11:27). The point is that this man who once suffered is restored to his righteous standing before God. He therefore admits this man to all the blessings of righteousness (33:25–26).

The restored man would express thanksgiving for all that God had done for him. He will first confess his past sin. He would sing of the grace that did not deal with him as his sins deserved. He praises the Lord for having delivered his soul from going into the pit of death. Consequently he would see “the light” of life (33:27–28).

D. Summary and Challenge (33:29–33)

Elihu sums up his doctrine regarding the gracious purpose and effect of God’s methods of speaking unto man. Again and again his graciousness is made obvious to men. He does whatever is necessary to bring back a soul from the pit of death so that he might see the light of life (33:28–29).

Elihu next challenges Job to continue to listen to his arguments. If he can reply to what has already been said, by all means he should do so. Elihu desires to do right by Job. If Job could give a satisfactory reply to his arguments he would be glad to acknowledge that the patriarch was in the right. If, on the other hand, he cannot reply to what has been said, then let him listen and learn wisdom from the young man (33:30–33).

Elihu viewed suffering as protective rather than retributive. Suffering was designed to preserve a person from death rather than a means of punishment leading to death as affirmed by the three counselors. The older men insisted that Job must take the initiative in repentance if he would be restored. Elihu urged Job to listen to an angel, and God would restore him.

Elihu may have been closer to the truth than the three older men. Like the three, however, he was wrong in assuming that Job’s sickness had come upon him because of his sin. Also, when God spoke to Job he did so directly, not through an angel as Elihu had suggested. The young man was correct, however, in pointing out the pride which had grown in Job’s heart as a result of his suffering.


Is God Unjust?

Job 34:1–37

In his second speech Elihu answered Job’s accusation that God was unjust. At first (vv. 1–15) he addressed the bystanders. Then in v. 16 he spoke directly to Job.

A. Introduction (34:1–4)

Elihu invites the wise among those who listen to him to pay attention to what he further says, and to unite with him in seeking to discover the right in this cause between Job and God. The “wise men” are not the three friends, but bystanders. Elihu suggests that “the ear,” i.e., the inner ear or understanding, tests words just like the palate is a judge of meats. In respect to Job’s plea with God, Elihu pleads that all present will reach a just decision based upon common reason, i.e., the common reverent and just thoughts about God.

B. Job’s Charges against God (34:5–9)

Elihu recites Job’s statement of his cause against God. The patriarch had declared: “I am righteous,” i.e., in the right, yet “God has taken away my right,” i.e., what is rightly due to me. In other words, Job is saying that God has dealt with him unjustly. God’s treatment of him seemed to undercut Job’s claims of being in the right. Job had said that the “arrow” of divine affliction (NASB “my wound”) is incurable even though he was without transgression (34:5–6).

Elihu cannot restrain his abhorrence of Job’s sentiments. The patriarch has lapped up derision and scorn, i.e., impiety, like water. In expressing such opinions Job has gone over to the camp of the professed ungodly. Elihu concludes that Job did not think that being religious was of any benefit to a person. This idea Elihu will refute in the following chapter. Meanwhile, he directs his attention to the general charge that God is unjust (34:7–9).

C. Elihu’s Response to Job’s Charges (34:10–30)

Elihu first expresses his rejection of such sentiments as those of Job. They are contrary to right thoughts of God. Elihu rebuts the charge that God is unjust on the grounds of impiety. God cannot be thought of as acting in the way Job asserted (34:10–12).

Elihu argues that no motive for injustice in God, the creator of all, can be discovered. God of his own will made the world. He filled the creatures therein with his spirit of life. If God thought only of himself and withdrew his life-giving spirit, all flesh, including man, would perish immediately (34:13–15).

Elihu further argues that the foundation of government is justice. Injustice in the highest ruler is inconceivable. Partiality or injustice is not to be thought of in God, for all people, rich and poor, are alike the work of his hands. Suddenly and without anticipation (“at midnight”) the people “are shaken and pass away.” “Without hand,” i.e., without human agency, the mighty ones of the earth are taken away (34:16–20).

God’s strict justice may be seen in his government of the peoples and their princes alike. God’s justice is unerring, for it is guided by omniscient insight. “His eyes are upon the ways of a person.” No dark place can hide the sinner from the all-seeing eye of God. The supreme judge needs no corroborating evidence or testimony in order to bring judgment on the wicked. God’s observation of the sin is a sufficient basis of judgment. Mighty men are broken in pieces in ways which cannot be anticipated. Others are set in their place. Such is the way in which God manifests his just rule over peoples and princes (34:20–24).

Armed with such omniscient insight, God takes knowledge of men’s works, and his judgment overtakes them without fail. He “overturns” the wicked in the night, thus destroying them. At other times he strikes them “in the open sight of others.” Those who are swept away in judgment are (1) those who had turned aside from following the Lord; and (2) those who through oppression had caused the cry of the poor to come up to God (34:25–28).

Elihu upholds the sovereignty of God. Who can question him when he “gives quietness,” i.e., rest or relief, to those who are oppressed? On the other hand, when he “hides his face,” i.e., withdraws his favor or help in anger, who is able to “behold” him, i.e., obtain his favor? In either case, no one can condemn God’s sovereign rule whether it be expressed with respect to individuals or with nations. God’s operations are directed by the great purpose of the good of men, that the nations be righteously and mercifully ruled (34:29–30).

D. Application to Job (34:31–37)

Elihu imagines a situation in which a complainer under affliction protests his innocence. He disclaims knowledge of any offense and desires to know what his sin was. He professes his readiness to desist from that sin when it is made clear to him. Elihu sees such a complaint as an effort to regulate the government of God, to dictate to him how he should act. Elihu distances himself from any such position: “You shall choose, and not I.” Elihu encourages Job to specify what retribution he would regard as superior to that observed in God’s rule of the world (34:31–33).

Elihu’s second speech concludes with a verdict which all men of understanding must render regarding Job’s demeanor. First, they would conclude that “Job speaks without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom.” Second, they would desire that Job “were tried until the end,” i.e., that his afflictions might be continued till he should desist answering in the manner of wicked men. Job’s “answers” are his speeches in reply to the three friends, which are characterized as such as only ungodly men would utter (34:34–36).

Third, by his conduct Job had added “rebellion” to his “sin.” His “rebellion” is his unsubmissive, defiant demeanor against God in his speeches; his “sin” is that of his former life, for which he has been cast into afflictions. Fourth, Job has shown his defiance against God openly (“among them”) by “clapping his hands,” a gesture of mockery and contempt (34:37).

Elihu here reveals his attitude toward Job. His judgment is that Job was a sinner in his former life, and a defiant rebel under his afflictions. Whereas Elihu had assured the three counselors that he would not use their kinds of arguments, yet in this speech he follows their lead. The language here exceeds in harshness almost anything that the three friends had said.

Was Elihu right? He certainly was right about God’s authority, omniscience and power to judge sin. Elihu was right in reprimanding Job for demanding that God answer him by showing where he had sinned. However, in defending God’s justice Elihu impugned Job’s honesty about his innocence. None of the human speakers in the book knew anything about the contest between God and Satan. Consequently Elihu’s assessment of the reason for Job’s suffering was incorrect.


Does it Pay to Serve God?

Job 35:1–16

Job had argued that under God’s government of the world it availed a person nothing to be righteous. This proposition, to which Elihu had earlier referred (34:9), is taken up in depth.

A. A Statement of Job’s Position (35:1–4)

Elihu represents Job as maintaining that he has a just cause against God. Did he then have a right to assert this: That godliness profits nothing? If Job could successfully maintain this contention, his cause against God would be right. Elihu promised to rebut this position held by Job and “his companions,” i.e., that circle of persons who cherished the same irreligious doubts in regard to God’s providence as Job did.

B. A Statement of Elihu’s Position (35:5–8)

To Elihu, one glance at the heavens, the infinitely exalted abode of God, must reveal that man’s conduct, whether good or evil, cannot affect the Lord (cf. 22:12). He does not profit from man’s righteousness, nor does he incur any loss from man’s sin. It is in human life that the influence of righteousness or wickedness is seen. Since righteousness and wickedness are poles apart, they cannot have the same effect upon man.

C. Possible Exceptions Refuted (35:9–16)

So how does Elihu explain the anomaly that sometimes the righteous cry to God from under the heel of the oppressors? Why is it that such prayers for relief are not answered? The reason is that the cry is merely the natural voice of suffering; it is no true appeal to heaven. No one says, “Where is God?” This is the language of one who is devoutly seeking the Lord. True faith would recognize that God gives “songs in the night,” i.e., sudden deliverances which cause one’s mouth to be filled with praise (35:9–10).

God has given to men higher wisdom than he has given to the beasts. He communicates to them continuous instructions through his fellowship, his ways and his word. Their appeal to heaven, then, should not be the mere instinctive cry of suffering, but the voice of trust and submission. Man in his evil pride afflicts the beasts and fowl so that they cry out to heaven. They remain unheard, however, because their cry is “vanity,” i.e., empty. When men address heaven their speech must be much more than the plaintive cry of a wounded beast! (35:11–13).

God will not hearken to the voice of one whose cries are empty, devoid of faith and devotion. How much less will he listen to one who, like Job, complains to him (1) that he cannot see him (as in 23:8); (2) that his government in the world is not righteous; and (3) that he refuses to receive a just appeal (35:14).

Because God does not bring judgment speedily upon the wicked, he seems as if he takes no knowledge of wrong and oppression. From this Job drew the futile conclusion that there was no advantage in being righteous more than in sinning. For this reason Job was opening his mouth in vain (35:15–16).


Focus on the Greatness of God

Job 36:1–37:24

In his fourth and greatest speech Elihu is less philosophical and more practical. In his previous speeches he attempted to correct false theology. Here he presents his own more positive concepts of the creator.

A. Introduction (36:1–4)

Elihu desires Job to hear him still further. He offers four reasons why Job should continue to listen to him. First, he has still more to say in God’s behalf. Second, what he is about to say is not trivial or commonplace. He claims that he will “fetch knowledge from afar,” i.e., he will speak comprehensively by throwing light upon his subject from far-off regions. Third, his object again is to ascribe righteousness to his maker. All of Elihu’s speeches are meant to be a defense of God against the charges of Job. Finally, Elihu claims complete truth for the teaching he is about to give.

B. God’s Greatness in his Earthly Works (36:5–15)

Elihu argues that God is “mighty,” especially in understanding. For this reason he does not despise anyone. He gives to the weakest his rights as much as to the most powerful, for they are all the work of his hand (cf. 34:19). His perfect “understanding” makes it impossible for him to “despise” any. Four times in chapter 36 Elihu uses the word “behold” to introduce a statement about God’s power (36:5).

Elihu pointed out that although God is mighty, he does not lack mercy. Because of his perfect understanding, God gives to all men their due. He does not preserve the wicked, but he does give the afflicted their right. His careful providence especially keeps the righteous, whom he exalts to the loftiest stations, even kingship (36:6–7).

So how are the difficulties of life to be explained? That people are sometimes bound in the “fetters” of affliction cannot be denied. Such affliction is a discipline. It is a stimulus to rouse men out of their sinful lethargy; it is a warning to bring sin to their remembrance (36:8–10).

Affliction is graciously intended, but it may have different results depending on how people receive it. If people hearken to affliction, they shall spend their days “in prosperity.” If they do not hearken, “they shall perish by the sword.” As in 33:18, “the sword” is figurative for God’s destructive judgments. That sinner would “die without knowledge” (cf. 4:21), i.e., he would die as a reprobate without any spiritual knowledge (36:11–12).

Sometimes afflictions are the means of revealing the true character of people. Those who are “godless in heart” will “lay up anger,” i.e., become bitter and angry with man and God within their heart. They do not turn to God and cry out to him when they are bound with affliction. They perish in the midst of their days “among the unclean,” lit., like the sodomizers. The reference seems to be to the male temple prostitutes (36:13–14).

Elihu argued that affliction was an instrument in the hands of God for deliverance. In the time of difficulty people generally are more open to hear the instruction of God and to bring their lives into harmony with his word (36:15).

C. Application to Job (36:16–25)

Elihu now applies the principles he has just enunciated to the case of Job. God was now attempting to lead Job out of “distress” into “a broad place” (a symbol of prosperity) where there is no “confinement” (a symbol of affliction). There his table would be full of “fatness,” i.e., abundance. Job’s present affliction is designed to save him from a worse evil (36:16).

Like the wicked, Job has expressed a negative judgment concerning the work of God in affliction. As long as Job acts in this way, then judgment and justice shall keep hold on him. God’s condemnation of him will reveal itself in the continuance and increase of his chastisement (36:17).

Elihu warns Job not to allow his anger to entice him into rebellion against God. He also warns Job about being led astray by “the greatness of the ransom” by which he means the patriarch’s severe affliction. No other ransom will avail—not riches nor all the power of wealth. Only the purification of suffering will cleanse him from his evil and deliver him from worse judgment (36:18–19).

Job had frequently expressed the desire to meet God in judgment. Elihu warns him that he should not desire “the night,” here a figure of judgment. By the judgment of God nations are “taken away” in their place, i.e., on the spot, suddenly and without power of escape. Job is warned about desiring, (lit., panting after) such a judgment. He is further warned not to “turn to evil,” i.e., a rebellious spirit. Job was more inclined to this attitude than toward submission to God’s chastening hand (36:20–21).

Instead of murmuring, Job should bow under the mighty hand of God. God is supreme; though his providence he is a great teacher of men. No teacher can compare to him. None can pass judgment on his doings or accuse him of unrighteousness. Individuals should exalt the work of God which “men have sung,” i.e., celebrated with praise. Men look on God’s work, his operations, with wonder and awe, from a distance. His work is too great to be seen close at hand (36:22–25).

D. God’s Greatness in Heavenly Works (36:26–37:13)

This section of the fourth speech begins (36:26) and ends with a statement of God’s greatness (37:22–23). A similar statement is found in the middle of the unit (37:5).

God is so great as to transcend all knowledge of man. “The number of his years is unsearchable,” i.e., he is eternal. A specific example of the greatness of God is seen in the formation of raindrops. He draws away from the great mass of waters the vapor which then condenses and falls in abundant rain upon the earth (36:26–28).

If the raindrops are wonderful, even more so the thunderstorm. The clouds accumulate and diffuse over the heavens. The dark clouds roar with thunder. These mighty clouds are here poetically called the “pavilion” of God. Though God is enveloped in the dark cloud, he is there encircled with his light. This light manifests itself to men’s eyes in the lightning that shoots from the cloud and illumines it. He sits in the heavens enshrouded in the masses of water in the thunderclouds (36:29–30).

God judges peoples by the lightning and the rain cloud. By the former he scatters and confuses his enemies; by the latter he makes the earth fruitful. He holds in his hand, as it were, the lightning bolts and directs them to their mark. The noise of the thunder declares his presence. Even the cattle are alerted to what is about to happen by the thunder (36:31–33).

Elihu confesses that his heart trembles when he hears the thunder. The thunder is the voice of God, going forth out of his mouth. This thunderous voice and the accompanying lightning can be heard and seen to the ends of the earth. After each lightning bolt again the voice of thunder is heard. By the thunder and lightning God does wondrous things which are beyond the comprehension of man (37:1–5).

Snow is another wonder of God’s power. He sends down the snow and the heavy winter rains. This winter weather “seals the hand of every man,” i.e., forces labor in the fields to cease. All men by this enforced inactivity through the operations in nature may know his sovereign power. Also the beasts of the fields seek refuge from the winter storms in their dens (37:6–8).

Frost and ice are next cited as wonders of God’s power. The cold wind blows from the north, the warm wind from the south. “By the breath of God,” i.e., the wind, the ice is formed (37:9–10).

The movements of the clouds are directed by God over the face of the inhabited earth. These movements serve the purpose of correction or mercy in respect to men. Sometimes the movements are simply “for his earth,” i.e., for the inanimate world (37:12–13).

E. Exhortation to Job (37:14–21)

Elihu concludes his speeches by exhorting Job to observe the wonders of God and to learn from them the unsearchableness of their creator. He uses a series of questions to humble Job and kindle awe in his soul (37:14).

Can Job explain how God establishes the clouds and causes the lightning to flash forth therefrom? Can he explain the marvelous way in which the clouds are poised in the heavens? Man has no part in causing these wonders, but only passively feels the effect of them. Beneath the sultry summer cloud when no wind is blowing, the clothing of a man gets warm. He is helpless to change the weather. The clear, dry summer skies of the land are compared to “a molten mirror” reflecting the bright rays of the sun upon the earth. Can Job “spread out” such a sky? (37:15–18).

The thought of the strong expanse of heaven stretched out by God suggests to Elihu his unspeakable greatness and unsearchableness. The young man demands that Job identify the words by which such a being can be addressed, if one sought to contend with him. “We cannot order our speech by reason of darkness,” i.e., our ignorance in the presence of the unsearchableness of God. Elihu could not imagine that anyone would wish to enter into God’s presence to strive with him. To do so would be to express a death wish, a wish “to be swallowed up” by disaster (37:19–20).

When the north wind has cleared the clouds from the sky, the light of the sun is too great to look upon. That golden splendor dazzles the beholder. Men cannot look upon the light when it shines in the cloudless heaven, much less look upon the majesty of God, surrounded as he is with awesome glory (37:21–22).

Elihu sums up his teaching regarding the greatness of God. The Lord is unsearchable. He is exalted in power. He will not do violence to justice. He would not unjustly afflict anyone. Elihu pleads with Job to join with mankind everywhere in showing reverence to God. The Lord has no regard for those “who are wise of heart,” i.e., those who are wise in their own eyes. Thus Elihu is calling upon Job to humble himself (37:23–24).

Elihu thus prepared the way for God to speak. Although he brought out aspects of the issue of suffering undeveloped by the three older friends of Job, he did not have total insight into Job’s situation. Only a clear word from heaven can speak adequately to this problem.

chapter eight

A Voice From the Storm

Job 38–42

The Book of Job began with this question: “Does Job serve God for nothing?” Under challenge by Satan, the Lord had permitted the trial of Job. He has not renounced God as Satan had predicted. He has continued to cleave to God. His faith has soared to heights never experienced when he was healthy. Nonetheless, Job has not come out of the trial unscathed. His attitude toward God, especially in presuming to contend with him, has at times been blameworthy. Job had repeatedly requested that God answer him (e.g., 13:22; 31:35). That request is now granted.

The confrontation with God was not as Job imagined that it would be. The issue of Job’s suffering was never addressed. The divine speech was not a lecture on theodicy. Nor does the Lord respond to the brash charges which the patriarch had made against his just rule of the world. Instead of answering questions from Job, God fired the questions—over seventy—at him! God was not on the witness stand. Job was, and he was subjected to intensive cross examination.

The Lord spoke “out of the storm” (38:1). When Yahweh condescends to speak with men he must veil himself in the storm cloud in which he descends and approaches the earth (cf. Exod 19:16f.; 1 Kgs 19:11ff.). Since part of the purpose here was to rebuke Job’s attitude, he veils himself in terrors.

The object of God’s answer to Job out of the storm is twofold: (1) to rebuke Job, and (2) to heal him, i.e., help him see the error of his accusations against the Lord. The speech of God is organized around two related questions: (1) Shall mortal man contend with God (38:1–40:5); and (2) Shall man charge God with wrong in his rule of the world? (40:6–42:6).


Shall Mortal Man Contend with God?

Job 38:1–40:5

The voice from the storm touches first on the presumption of a man seeking to contend with God. After reviewing the greatness of God as revealed in the inanimate world (38:1–38) and animate world (38:39–39:30), Job is humbled and brought to silence (40:1–5).

A. The Opening Challenge (38:2–3)

The speech of the Lord opens with a question expressing his astonishment and impatience with Job. “Who then is darkening counsel?” The word “counsel” suggests that the Lord has a plan or meaning in Job’s afflictions. That purpose was being “darkened” or obscured by the perverse and ignorant construction put upon those afflictions by Job. His words were “without knowledge,” i.e., without a true awareness of the facts, without an understanding of the controversy which had precipitated the trial (38:2).

God challenges the patriarch to “gird up” his loins, i.e., prepare for that contention which he had desired (cf. 9:35; 13:20). When undertaking a strenuous task a man in biblical times would gather up his flowing robe and tuck it into his waistband. Girding up the loins became a metaphor for preparation. Job had boasted that when God called to him, he would answer (13:22). The Lord is about to demonstrate that such a boast was empty (38:2–3).

B. Wonders of the Earth (38:4–18)

The questions began immediately. Dozens of inquiries are hurled at Job in rapid-fire with scarcely a moment allowed for reflection and response.

1. The creation (38:4–7). The examination begins in the area of cosmology. The smallness of man is indicated by his total ignorance regarding the creation of the earth. The creation is represented poetically as being like the construction of a building. “Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?” If so, let Job explain how this was done. For starters, God hurls four questions at him. (1) Who determined the measures of the earth? Of course Job knew the answer to this question. But the point is, Was he present to observe the creation? (2) Who stretched the line upon it [the earth], i.e., the construction line? If Job had firsthand knowledge of creation, then let him speak. (3). Upon what were the foundations [of the earth] sunk? (4) Who laid the cornerstone thereof? Here the earth is poetically compared to a great building with deep foundations. The cornerstone, as it were, was laid with great rejoicing among “the morning stars” and “the sons of God” (angels). The “morning stars” may be another name for the “sons of God” or the phrase may refer to the planets and stars. But was Job there at creation? (38:4–7).

2. The sea (38:8–11). Next the Lord turns to the sea. The poet used the language of childbirth to describe the origin of the oceans. The ocean here is represented as an infant giant, breaking forth from the “womb” at creation. The infant ocean was clothed in dark clouds (cf. Gen 1:2). That newborn monster had to be tamed by almighty power. An impassable boundary had to be set to restrain its fury. The earth’s shorelines are presented as gates that hold back the proud waves as they try to advance against the earth (38:8–11).

3. The dawn (38:12–15). From the remote primeval origins, the Lord turns to an everyday occurrence. Since the day he was born had Job been able to “command” the morning, i.e., order it to appear? The poet depicts the dawn pouring forth its light along the whole horizon. It takes hold of the darkness which stretches as a covering over the earth. Seizing this covering by its extremities, the dawn shakes the wicked out of it. The idea here is that the wicked flee from the light (cf. John 3:19). The “light” of the wicked is really darkness (cf. 24:13–17). The “high arm” is the arm already uplifted to commit violence. With the dawning of a new day that arm is broken, i.e., the violent deed is not performed in the light. Thus the dawn is a moral as well as a physical agent (38:12–13, 15).

Under the light of morning, the earth, which was formless in the darkness, takes shape like the clay under the impression of a seal. All things with clear-cut impression and vivid coloring stand forth under the light. Together they form a various, many-colored garment in which the earth is robed. Thus the blanket of darkness is removed daily, and the bright garment of light is put on (38:14).

4. The depths (38:16–18). Again the Lord resorts to the method of interrogation. Had Job explored the abysses of the deep? Had he entered the gates of Sheol, the abode of the dead? Sheol is poetically regarded as even lower than the abysses of the deep. Had Job surveyed the breadth of the earth? If he comprehends the vastness of the earth, let him declare it.

C. Wonders of the Heavens (38:19–38)

The divine examination now turns to meteorology and astronomy. Here again Job is humbled by his lack of knowledge.

1. Light and darkness (38:19–21). Here the poet imagines both light and darkness having dwelling places in the heavens. Can Job find his way to the abode of light, i.e., the place from which it streams forth over the earth? Does he know where the darkness resides? If he knows the way to the “house” or “boundary” of the territory of light let him take the light back to its abode! No doubt, the Lord says sarcastically, Job knows the way to the place of light, for he was on the scene when the light first was called forth out of darkness! He is as old as the dawn which morning by morning has overspread the earth since creation. The sarcasm is obvious. The point is that Job was not present at the creation (38:19–21).

2. Meteorological phenomena (38:22–30). The poet represents snow and hail as having been created and laid up in great storehouses in the heavens. The Lord brings them forth from his treasuries for use in his moral government of the earth. An example might be the hailstorm by which Yahweh defeated the Canaanites in the days of Joshua (Josh 10:11). Has Job inspected those treasuries? Was he present when God filled those storehouses at creation? (38:22–23).

Can Job explain the paths sought out by the lightning bolts, i.e., predict where the lightning will strike? Can he explain how the east wind spreads over the earth? Can he explain why the rain-flood seems to come down in channels from the heavens? Man is not, as he might think, the only object of God’s regard. God’s goodness is over all his works. He satisfies with rain the thirsty wilderness where no man is, that the tender grass may be refreshed (38:24–27).

Does the rain have a human father? Does Job, or any man, beget the rain or the drops of dew? No, they are marvels of God’s creative power. What about the ice which was as hard as stone? Who generated ice? The phenomenon of ice, rare in that region, naturally appeared wonderful (38:28–30).

3. The stars (38:31–33). What control does Job have over the stars? Can he bind the stars of the constellation Pleiades together in their configuration? Can he loose the constellation Orion to make its way across the heavens? And what about the constellation Mazzaroth or the Bear? Does Job know the “ordinances of the heavens,” i.e., the laws which govern the movements of the heavenly bodies? Can Job in any way affect the way the heavenly bodies influence the earth? (38:31–33).

4. The clouds (38:34–38). Can Job lift up his voice and call down torrents of rain? Do the lightning bolts answer to the summons of Job? What about the inner man? Where does his wisdom come from? Yet even with that wisdom, who can count the clouds of the heavens? Who can pour out “the bottles of heaven,” i.e., bring forth the rains which turn powdered earth to mud?

D. Wonders of Animal Life (38:39–39:30)

A series of brilliant pictures from the animal world have the same purpose as those given in the preceding section, i.e., they reveal the wisdom and power of God. Ten animals are mentioned, six beasts and four birds. They include the ferocious, the helpless, the shy, the strong, the bizarre, and the wild. The questions concerning these animals are grouped in twos. The list begins with the king of the beasts and concludes with the king of the birds.

1. The lion and the raven (38:39–41). First, the Lord points out the contrast between the lion and the raven in respect to the provision of food. The lioness is equipped with an instinct to hunt and catch her prey. She then returns to the den to feed her hungry young. Job cannot teach her anything about this skill. From the powerful lion the Lord turns to the lowly raven, one of the most common birds in Palestine. While the lion waits patiently and silently in his lair, the noisy raven surveys the terrain from her perch and wanders over the surface of the ground in search of food for her young. The cry of the young birds is considered an appeal to God (cf. Joel 1:20); the feeding of those chicks is proof of the providential care of the Almighty who does not overlook even the least of his creatures (38:39–41).

2. The goat and the hind (39:1–4). The goats and the hinds are next mentioned. The focus here is upon the birthing process of the two animals. Does Job know the time when the shy wild goat (or ibex) will bear its young? Does he know the gestation period for the hind? At the appointed time these animals “bow themselves” and “cast out their sorrows,” i.e., get rid of their labor pains. These shy and solitary creatures, inhabiting the rocks, are without the care and help in bearing their young which domesticated creatures enjoy; yet their bearing is light and speedy. The young become strong and robust in the open field. Soon they leave their mothers to go forth and never return. God has equipped them to provide for themselves (39:1–4).

3. The wild donkey and ox (39:5–12). The questions concerning the next two animals have to do with freedom. The wild donkey has an indomitable love of liberty. Who gave this animal its freedom? It dwells in the desert, not under “bonds” (harnesses) like his domesticated cousin. He scorns the noise of the city and scoffs at the shouts of the driver which the tame donkey obeys. In the spring the wild donkey frequents the plains in which there are pools of water, and later the heights where grass is abundant. This animal is another marvel of God’s creation (39:5–8).

The powerful wild ox (rem) cannot be bound by ropes to pull the plow through the fields. This wild creature will not abide by the grain crib like his domesticated brother. A farmer could not trust the wild ox to gather the grain to the threshing floor or to thresh it once it was there. The point here is the contrast between the wild ox and his tame brother. The wild ox was fitted for all the labor performed by the domestic animal, but was untamable. Man can make use of the one; but who would dare to attempt to subdue the other. The Lord is the author of this diversity in these creatures which outwardly look so similar (39:9–12).

4. The ostrich (39:13–18). In several ways the ostrich is a strange bird. The female ostrich flaps her wings joyously “with pinion and plumage of a stork” (lit., a pious one). The point seems to be that there is an external similarity between the ostrich and the stork. The disposition of the two birds, however, is very different. She buries her eggs and allows the earth to warm them (39:13–14).

The ostrich leaves some eggs outside the nest to serve as food for the newly hatched brood. To this practice the poet refers when he says: “she forgets that a foot may crush them, or that a wild beast may break them.” She appears to treat her young “harshly.” The reference is to another strange practice of this bird. When chased by hunters the adult birds will act as decoys, running hither and yon in an effort to draw off the intruders. From man’s point of view, the ostrich shows no concern for her young (39:15–16).

The mother ostrich acts as she does because God has deprived her of wisdom. Yet he has granted to that bird a swiftness of foot. The “flying” of the ostrich consists of swift running, in which she maintains her balance by her outspread wings and tail. The bird has been clocked at up to forty miles per hour over short distances. With her head elevated to full height, she is able to laugh at the swiftness of the horse and its rider. This combination of questionable and admirable qualities illustrates the creative genius and sovereign ways of the Almighty. God has chosen to create this bizarre bird, and Job can do nothing about it (39:17–18).

5. The horse (39:19–26). The mention of the horse in contrast to the ostrich in v. 18 triggers the dramatic depiction of the war horse, another example of the creative diversity of God. Did Job, perhaps, give that animal his might? Did he clothe the neck of the horse with his mane? With a terrible snort the horse leaps effortlessly over obstacles like a locust. Did Job give the horse this strength? (39:19–20).

Anxious to enter the battle, the war horse paws the ground in anticipation. Fearlessly he goes out to meet an army of armed men. The movements of the rider’s quiver, spear and javelin against the horse’s side seems to spur the animal forward. The sound of the trumpet seems to instill in him fierceness and rage. The trumpet blast, thunderous commands of the officers and shouts of the troops cause the war horse to “smell” battle ahead. He says “Aha!” i.e., he impatiently neighs. He is anxious for action. The point is, Job had nothing to do with these wonders of beauty, courage and power which cause this animal to mingle in the conflicts of men with a fury which exceeds even their own (39:21–25).

6. The hawk and the eagle (39:26–30). The last series of questions has to do with the subject of flight. Does Job have anything to do with the wisdom of the hawk which migrates southward when the cold weather sets in? What about the eagle? Is it at Job’s command that the eagle fixes her habitation fearlessly on the dizzy heights of the mountain cliff? Did he give to this bird her penetrating vision which scans the wide expanse and pierces into the deep ravine? Did he endow the eagle with her terrible instincts that show themselves at once in her young which “suck up blood”? The reference is to the scavenger habits of these birds which kill and rip apart their prey in order to take the bloody meat to their young (39:26–30).

E. The Reaction of Job (40:1–5)

The first speech of God ends as it began, with a challenge to Job. In the light of this awesome array of illustrations of divine power and wisdom, will the critic still persevere in his contention with Yahweh? The Lord directly appealed to the patriarch to respond to him (40:1–2).

Job, however, had been put in his place by the glory of God which has just been displayed to him verbally. He now sees himself as “insignificant.” He declares: “I will lay my hand upon my mouth,” i.e., restrain my speech. He had spoken his mind earlier (“once I have spoken … even twice”). Now he will be silent before God (40:3–5).


Shall Man Charge God with Unrighteousness?

Job 40:6–42:6

Job had charged God with unrighteousness in his rule of the world. He regarded what had happened to himself as the prime illustration of that unrighteousness. God’s second speech makes the point that any alleged superiority to God’s justice must be accompanied by corresponding superiority in power. The speech demonstrates that Job does not even possess equality of power, not to mention superiority.

The second speech of God follows the pattern of the first. A challenge and interrogation of Job regarding nature is followed by a reply from Job. In the first speech two areas of nature were highlighted—the inanimate and animate. In this second speech two specific animals—Behemoth and Leviathan—are presented.

A. A Sarcastic Challenge to Job (40:6–14)

Again God speaks from the storm. Again Job is ordered to “gird up” his loins like a man, i.e., prepare to face God like a man (cf. 38:3). God has two questions which he demands that Job answer. First, will this feeble man “annul,” i.e., make void or deny, God’s “judgment,” i.e., his rectitude as ruler of the world? Second, will Job condemn God’s righteous rule of the world so as to make himself look more righteous? Such would be as much an offense against God as daring to contend with him (40:6–8).

God now sarcastically invites Job to “play God,” and see if he could do any better. In order to play the role he would first need to deck himself with the thunder and majesty of the supreme Ruler. Let this man see if he is able to undertake the government of the world. Let Job humble all the proud ones on the earth. Let him tread down the wicked “where they stand,” i.e., immediately after the wickedness has been committed. Though this is what Job would have, it is not God’s method of government (40:9–12).

Let Job bring the wicked to “the dust,” i.e., death. Let him “bind them,” i.e., shut them up, in the “hidden place,” i.e., Sheol. If he can do this, he will prove himself worthy of that place to which he aspires when he reproves the rule of God in the world. Then Yahweh himself will admit Job’s independent might and will praise him as one who is able to save himself by his own “right hand,” i.e., power (40:13–14).

In this challenge to Job there are two underlying assumptions. First, omnipotence is necessary in the ruler of the world; second, the government of the world involves keeping in check the forces of evil. God’s rule is of this kind. It is a moral government. Exceptions to that moral government there may appear to be from time to time. These, however, are not real exceptions.

B. The Monster Behemoth (40:15–24)

If Job is able to assume rule of the world and even contend with God, surely he would have no trouble subduing the mighty Behemoth and Leviathan. The point of introducing these monsters here is to impress on Job his puniness as over against God’s power. If Job cannot enter into conflict with these creatures, he certainly could not stand up to the one who created them.

God first introduces the Behemoth. The exact identity of the Behemoth is not certain. Modern commentators assume that the hippopotamus is intended. The tail of the hippopotamus, however, is short and stumpy; it resembles in no way the description of the tail of Behemoth. Some scholars have proposed that some mythological monster is intended. In this context, however, it is more natural to regard both Behemoth and Leviathan as actual animals. Some have suggested that Behemoth was a brontosaurus dinosaur. Every interpretation presents difficulties. This author, however, believes that the hippopotamus is probably intended.

The Behemoth was as much a creation of God as was Job himself. This strange animal, though fitted by its size and strength to prey upon other creatures, feeds upon grass like the cattle. “He moves his tail like a cedar.” If Behemoth is the hippopotamus, this description of its tail is an extreme exaggeration. The poet describes the bones of Behemoth as “tubes of bronze,” i.e., very strong. His limbs are “like bars of iron” (40:15–18).

Behemoth is “the first of the ways of God,” i.e., first in magnitude and power. The creator has given this creature teeth (or perhaps tusks) like a sword with which Behemoth shears the vegetation in front of him. To satisfy its hunger the animal depastures whole mountains where other beasts “play,” i.e., they do not fear this grass-eating giant. His hunger satisfied, Behemoth lies down in thickets of lotus, reeds and willows (40:19–22).

Because of his size, Behemoth is not intimidated by raging rivers. He is confident though “Jordan rushes to his mouth,” a specific example of a river in flood. When this creature is awake, no one can capture him (40:23–24).

C. The Monster Leviathan (41:1–34)

Leviathan has been identified as the whale, the dolphin, a marine dinosaur that survived the Flood, and the crocodile. The last view is the one this author accepts. The Lord first stresses the difficulty of capturing the animal through fishing or hunting techniques. Sandwiched between these two units is a lengthy description of the creature.

1. Fishing for Leviathan (41:1–11). One cannot snare this creature with a baited fish hook or “press down his tongue with a cord.” The idea seems to be to pass a cord round the lower jaw to lead the animal about. One cannot put a rope through the nose of Leviathan as one might put a stringer through the gills of fish. With sarcasm the poet points out that Leviathan would never beg to be spared or treated kindly by a would-be capturer (41:1–3).

Leviathan would never willingly bind himself to perpetual slavery as a Hebrew bondsman might do (cf. Deut 15:12–17). One cannot make a pet out of this creature. This beast cannot be found in the marketplace where traders and merchants (lit., Canaanites) haggle over its worth. One attempt to lay a hand on Leviathan will result in a battle which will never be repeated nor forgotten. The hope of any assailant to overcome this creature is vain. Most men would cower before the sight of this monster (41:4–9).

If none dare stir up Leviathan, who will stand before God who created him, or venture to contend with him? On the other hand, no one has any ground of contention with God. None has given anything to God, so as to have a claim against him, for all things under the heavens are his (41:10–11).

2. Description of Leviathan (41:12–25). The Lord now describes the mighty Leviathan: his limbs, strength, and graceful frame. He first focuses on the jaws of Leviathan. Who is able to strip off the outer garment, i.e., his coat of scales? Who is able to come with “his double bridle”? The term may refer particularly to the corners of the jaws. “Who can open the doors of his mouth,” i.e., his mouth. “Around his teeth there is terror” (41:12–14).

Next the focus is on the scales of Leviathan. Each of his scales is like a shield. These shields are arranged in rows. These shields are “shut up as with a tight seal,” i.e., they adhere closely to the body (41:15–17).

Leviathan breathes smoke and flame. The animal is said to inflate itself, as it lies basking in the sun, and then force the heated breath through its nostrils, which in the sun appears like a stream of light. The first parts of the animal that a person sees when it emerges from the water are the small eyes which are compared to the dawn’s rays gradually appearing upon the horizon. The long-repressed hot breath is blown out along with water from his mouth; it shines in the sun like a fiery stream (41:18–21).

Leviathan is noted for his strength and hardness of muscle. His strength seems to reside in his neck. Wherever he appears, terror leaps up. The idea is that in the presence of Leviathan other creatures are startled and seek to escape. The “folds of his flesh”—the parts beneath the neck and belly—are firm and hard. His heart is as hard as the lower millstone which bears all the pressure upon it. When Leviathan arouses himself “the mighty are afraid” and bewildered (41:22–25).

3. Hunting for Leviathan (41:26–34). Leviathan can be subdued by no weapon known to man at that time. Sword, spear, dart or javelin have no effect upon him. Iron and bronze break before him like straw. He “laughs,” as it were, at such weapons (41:26–29).

The scales on the underside of Leviathan, though smoother than those on the back, still are sharp. They leave an impression on the mire where he has lain as if a sharp threshing-sledge with teeth had gone over the area. As he glides through the water he leaves in his wake a shining track (41:30–32).

Leviathan has no rival on the earth. He is king among the proud beasts. He “looks on everything that is high,” i.e., he looks them boldly in the face without terror (41:33–34).

D. Job’s Reply to the Challenge (42:1–6)

The Lord’s words make Job feel more deeply than before that greatness which belongs to God alone. With deep compunction he retracts his past words and repents in dust and ashes. One “who cannot undertake God’s works has no right to undermine God’s ways.”

Job now realizes that God can do all things. There is no purpose which the Almighty cannot carry out. Job’s reply reflects the great, general impression which God had made on him. The exhibition of the divine wisdom as it operates in nature has led him to feel that within his own history also there is a divine “thought” or “counsel” though he is unable to understand it (42:1–2).

Job repeats the words of the Almighty (38:2): “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” He speaks of himself. As one that obscured counsel Job had uttered that which he did not understand. The reference is to his former judgments regarding God’s operations in the world, and the rashness of his own language. Job now admits the justice of the rebuke implied in this question (42:3).

Again Job repeats the words of the Lord (cf. 38:3; 40:7): “Hear, I beseech you, and I will speak; I will demand of you, and you declare unto me.” Verse 5 reveals the spirit in which Job repeats the challenge. Now in the light of what he has learned about the Lord, he distances himself from that challenge to enter into a confrontation with the Almighty (42:4).

Job now disparages his former knowledge of God of which he had boasted in his previous speeches (chs. 12–13). That former knowledge now seems to him to be only such a knowledge as one gets by hearsay, i.e., it is confused and defective. Now his knowledge of God is that of eyesight, i.e., immediate and full (42:5).

Job’s last word is the one he had resisted throughout the tense and tedious debate with his friends: “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6). This is not an admission that his suffering is deserved because of sin, but rather that his complaints against God stem from his ignorance of God. The answer to Job’s questions lies not so much in a flood of new information as in a new relationship with the Lord. The “why” of suffering is not nearly so important as the “Who.”


Job 42:7–17

The book closes as it began, in prose narrative. In the epilogue God rebukes Job’s friends (vv. 7–9), and restores Job’s fortunes (vv. 10–17).

A. Rebuke of Job’s Friends (42:7–9)

The Lord now announces his opinion of the three friends. Eliphaz is directly addressed because he was the eldest and leader of the group. God’s wrath had been kindled against Eliphaz and his two companions. They had not spoken that which was right concerning the Lord. The reference must be to the theories they put forth in regard to God’s providence and the meaning of afflictions. In attacking the theories of the three friends, Job had spoken what was right on this matter (chs. 21, 23–24). This in no way endorses everything Job had said. He had in fact spoken many things that were both blameworthy and false, things for which he was rebuked by the Almighty (42:7).

The three friends had really impugned the providence of God in their professed defense of it. By covering up and ignoring the enigmas and seeming contradictions, they had cast more discredit upon God’s providence than had Job, who had honestly held them up to the light.

The friends are directed to take seven bulls and seven rams and go to “my servant Job.” He would pray for them, and the Lord promised to accept his intercession. Job was noted as a great intercessor (22:30; Ezek 14:14). Only by offering up these sacrifices and the accompanying intercessory prayer of Job would the three be spared from facing the wrath of God upon their folly. Again the Lord stresses that the three had not spoken the right thing about God’s providence as had Job. The three friends did as they were told, “and the Lord accepted Job” (42:8–9).

B. Restoration of Job’s Fortunes (42:10–17)

The Lord “turned the captivity of Job,” i.e., reversed his fortunes, when he prayed for his friends. The expression means that Job’s afflictions were removed and his prosperity restored. The patriarch was restored to a prosperity double that which he formerly enjoyed (42:10).

Earlier Job had lamented over the alienation of all his friends and acquaintances (cf. 19:13ff.). Now his former friends gathered about him. These guests each brought Job a piece of money and a gold ring. They comforted him concerning all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him (42:11).

Job’s former prosperity was exactly doubled: fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand female donkeys. “So Yahweh blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).

The former number of Job’s children was restored to him. He had seven sons and three daughters. The daughters were particularly outstanding and they are given special emphasis. They were named Jemimah (“dove”), Keziah (cassia, the aromatic spice), and Keren-happuch (“horn of eye paint”). “In all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job.” Normally only sons received an inheritance. Job, however, gave these three daughters an inheritance among their brothers (42:13–16).

After his ordeal Job lived another 140 years. He saw his sons to the fourth generation. “So Job died, being old and full of days.” James sums up the book: “You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).


chapter nine

Getting Aquainted with Psalms

Faith in Various Circumstances

The Book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible. The 150 psalms which constitute this book are organized into 2,461 verses. The book contains 43,743 words. This book is unique in ancient literature. Although a variety of hymns from Egypt and Mesopotamia have been preserved, no comparable collection of songs from biblical times has come to light.


The term psalmos was used in the Greek translation to render the Hebrew mizmor, the technical term for a song sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments.

A. Hebrew Tradition

The Hebrew Bible does not preserve any original title for the compilation of psalms as a whole. The closest one comes to finding a designation within the book itself is in 72:20, “The supplications (tiphilloth) of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Not all the compositions of David prior to 72:20 are, strictly speaking, supplications. The term tiphilloth may therefore be used in a more generalized sense of any communication of man with God.

Building on the term mizmor, which occurs fifty-seven times in titles of individual psalms, some rabbis referred to all the psalms by the plural form mizmoroth. That designation, however, never really “caught on.” In Jewish literature the universally accepted Hebrew name for this book is Sepher Tehillim, “Book of Praises.” Tehillim is frequently contracted to Tillim (Baba Bathra 14b).

Tehillim and its singular form tehillah occur more than twenty times in the Psalter but only once to designate an individual psalm (Ps 145). The verb root from which this noun is derived, however, occurs at least seventy-one times in the book, predominately in the imperative form. The term “Hallelujah” (“Praise Yah”) which occurs exclusively in the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible was also, no doubt, a factor in name selection. That the name Tehillim (“Praises”) emerged (or was selected) is thus appropriate, because (1) this book continuously calls upon men to praise the Lord; and (2) hymns play the dominant role among the various categories of psalms.

B. Greek Tradition

Two traditions as to title are represented in Greek Old Testament manuscripts. Codex Vaticanus (4th century a.d.) titled this book Psalmoi (Psalms). This title follows the precedent of the New Testament. Jesus referred to “the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42), and Peter did likewise (Acts 1:20).

The second Greek tradition is represented in Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) where this book is entitled Psalteriou, from which is derived the Latin Psalterium, and the English Psalter. This term refers to a stringed instrument which was normally used in psalm accompaniment.


To appreciate the Book of Psalms one needs to be familiar with the backgrounds of psalmody and worship in Israel as well as the background of the individual psalms.

A. Backgrounds of Psalmody

Biblical psalmody is traced back to Lamech in the Antediluvian period of biblical history (Gen 4:23–24). In the early history of Israel hymns were used to celebrate God’s victory over his enemies, i.e., enemies of Israel. Moses and Miriam led the people in singing victory songs (Exod 15:18, 21). Some time later Deborah the prophetess composed a hymn to celebrate Israel’s victory over Canaanite oppressors (Judg 5).

The Old Testament record contains two allusions to ancient collections of poetic materials. The Book of the Wars of Yahweh (Num 21:14) appears to have been a collection of war songs celebrating Israel’s conquest of the Transjordan area. The Book of Jashar apparently contained war songs from as early as the time of Joshua to at least the time of David. Fragments of this ancient book are quoted in Scripture (Josh 10:13; 2 Sam 1:18).

B. Backgrounds of Worship

The growth of the Book of Psalms is directly related to interest in the temple of God. David gathered materials for that structure. He also organized the music program which would be used in the temple. Solomon began to build the temple in the fourth year of his reign (967 b.c.). The work was completed in the year 959 b.c.

In the ancient Near East, guilds of singers and musicians connected with temples enjoyed official status and were highly organized. The Bible claims that David established similar guilds in Israel (1 Chron 6, 15, et al.). That such singers existed during the first temple period is confirmed externally by a reference to male and female singers among the booty sent by King Hezekiah to Sennacherib in 701 b.c. Among the Israelites who returned from captivity in Babylon were two hundred singers of both sexes (Ezra 2:65, 70) besides the Asaphites (Ezra 2:41; Neh 7:44) who were also connected with temple music (1 Chron 6:39).

Another group associated with temple music were the Korahites (1 Chron 6:31–33). They are not mentioned among those who returned from Babylon. This supports the Biblical claims that the Korahites were singers and musicians in the first temple period. External evidence of the existence of such a group during the late monarchy was found among inscribed Hebrew ostraca discovered in the temple in Arad.

Not all Israelite psalms found their way into the Book of Psalms. Many great hymns are found in the prophetic books. Two examples are the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1–7 and the great hymn with which Habakkuk closed his prophecy.

C. Backgrounds of Individual Psalms

For the most part the individual psalms are historically nonspecific. Widespread disagreement among scholars exists over the situation out of which each psalm originated. In the case of those who take the Hebrew psalm superscriptions seriously, the options are narrowed considerably. A psalm assigned to David, however, may be appropriate to several different events in his life. Only in thirteen cases do the superscriptions indicate a specific historical context for the psalm. Commentators often ignore the claims of the psalm super scriptions. (See below under “Psalm Title Claims”). They attempt to deduce from the contents of each psalm its historical background. Such attempts fall far short of compelling proof.

Another factor with which the interpreter must reckon is that psalms written by David, for example, may have experienced editorial “updating” in the course of time in order to adapt the language to a new historical situation. This may be the case especially in Books Three-Five. (See below under “Organization of the Book”). Some scholars, therefore, speak of the “dynamic” quality of the psalms.

Attempts to root individual psalms in one historical event may work against the intention of the psalms themselves. As instruments of worship, the psalms were meant to be historically generic. Perhaps this was a criterion used for determining which poems were included in these five collections. This might explain, for example, why some of those poems which appear in the historical books (e.g., Judg 5) were not included in the Psalter. It is true that the lack of historical specificity may at times make the precise meaning of a verse more difficult. On the whole, however, this characteristic of the psalms probably has enhanced rather than detracted from their value in worship.


The texts of the psalms themselves do not indicate the author by name. There are two sources of information regarding the authorship questions: (1) the psalm titles; and (2) Jewish and Christian tradition.

A. Psalm Title Claims

The Hebrew superscriptions of one hundred psalms contain what appears to be a claim of authorship. A more or less prominent person is named, and to his name the preposition lamed is prefixed, what some have designated the lamed auctoris. Some scholars have argued that the expression does not in fact make an authorship claim, but merely indicates the name of an original collection from which an individual psalm was lifted. Others would claim that the expression indicates dedication of the composition to the memory of some worthy person in the mode of a modern book dedication.

In support of the lamed formula as an authorship claim these points can be made: (1) In the psalm title of Habakkuk 3:1 the same formula is used in a manner which clearly indicates an authorship claim. (2) The Psalter is internally consistent in the use of the formula, i.e., it is used with names in addition to David where the concept of “dedication” or “collection” seems rather remote. (3) Very early the lamed formula was interpreted in terms of authorship as is indicated by the heading of Ps 18 and by the editorial insertion of 72:20.

According to the superscriptions at least seven individuals wrote psalms which have been included in the biblical book. Seventy-three psalms are attributed to David, ten to the sons of Korah, twelve to Asaph, two to Solomon and one each to Ethan, Heman and Moses. Fifty psalms are anonymous. Probably a good portion of the anonymous psalms were also written by David.

David’s skills as a musician are documented in the historical books of the Old Testament. The text of five poems composed by him have been incorporated by the biblical historians into their records. In his youth David was known as a skillful player on the harp (1 Sam 16:16). He invented certain musical instruments (Amos 6:5).

Solomon must have inherited his father’s love for music. He is said to have written 1,005 songs. One of these—the Song of Songs—appears in the Hebrew canon as a separate book. Korah, Asaph, Heman and Ethan were Levites who led the musical service of the temple in the days of David and Solomon.

Of those contributors known by name, only one is not associated with the period of David and Solomon. Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. That Moses was musically inclined is indicated by the songs associated with him in the Pentateuch (Exod 15; Deut 31:22; 32:1–43).

B. Credibility of the Title Claims

Critics, following the lead of Theodore of Mopsuestia (4th cent a.d.), generally regard the Hebrew titles which appear over many of the psalms to be of late date and unreliable as regards authorship. They point to the occasional discrepancies between the psalm titles in the standard Hebrew text, and those which appear in the Greek version. They further argue that the historical background reflected in the psalm itself sometimes seems to be at variance with that which is claimed in the title.

Several lines of argument can be put forward in support of the reliability of the Hebrew psalm titles.

1. Why would “later rabbis” attach titles to psalms whose texts clearly did not reflect the situations in David’s life which they stipulated in the title?

2. Some of the titles allude to incidents in David’s life which are mentioned nowhere else in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps 60). Would “later rabbis” manufacture historical incidents for David’s life? If so, what possible motive could they have had?

3. Why did not “later rabbis” supply titles for the so-called “orphan psalms,” i.e., titleless psalms, which often teem with historical details which might have been used to conjecture about the background of the poems?

4. Certainly the titles are much earlier than the Greek translation of the Old Testament. By the time this translation was made (ca. 150–100 b.c.) the meaning of some of the technical terms which appear in the Hebrew titles had been completely forgotten. This evidence would suggest that the titles are at least as old as Ezra.

5. Apparently it was customary for ancient poets to prefix titles to songs. This tendency can be seen in Isa 38:9; Hab 3:1; 2 Sam 1:17f.; 2 Sam 23:1 and Num 24:3.

6. The titles in the Hebrew Bible are counted as part of the text. Longer titles are numbered as separate verses. This reflects a tradition that the titles are very old, perhaps a part of the original text of the psalm.

The conclusion can only be that the Hebrew psalm titles were either part of the original text of the various psalms, or were added during the final collection of the psalms in the days of Ezra-Nehemiah.

C. Jewish Traditions

In Jewish tradition three tendencies regarding authorship are worthy of note. First, there was a tendency to increase the number of individual contributors. The Septuagint translators were of the opinion that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah also contributed psalms to the book. Later rabbinic traditions spoke of ten contributors to the book, but the rabbis were not agreed on who the ten were (Baba Bathra 14b, 15a). Besides those named in the titles, they proposed the following additional contributors: Adam (4 psalms), Melchizedek, Abraham and/or Ezra.

A second tendency in Jewish tradition was to increase the individual contribution of some of the known authors of the book. In the Septuagint version thirteen additional psalms are assigned to David. Another tradition expanded the contribution of Moses from one psalm to eleven (Pss 90–100). Because he was the dominant contributor, Jewish tradition often refers to David as the author of the book. A curious reference in the Qumran Psalm Scroll 11QPsa ascribes to David a library of 3,600 “psalms” (tehillim) and 450 “songs” (shirim). These speculations carry little weight and are presented here only as curiosities in the discussions of psalm authorship.


Critics have offered a number of arguments to contradict the biblical claim that David wrote psalms. Their arguments and the refutation offered by Archer are summarized below.

1. Psalms attributed to David speak of the king in the third person rather than the first person (e.g., Ps 20, 21 etc.). Answer: A number of ancient writers (e.g., Xenophon, Julius Caesar) referred to themselves in the third person. First-person speeches attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament frequently shift from first to third person.

2. Psalms attributed to David speak of the sanctuary as already standing (e.g., Ps 5, 27, etc.) when in fact the temple was not constructed until after David was dead. Answer: The terminology “temple,” “house of Yahweh,” and the like are used of the tabernacle long before the time of David (Josh 6:24; Judg 18:31; 1 Sam 1:9). Furthermore, David sometimes uses terminology like “booth” and “tent” (Ps 27). Such language would not be appropriate for Solomon’s temple.

3. The psalms attributed to David reflect the influence of the Aramaic language, hence must come from the later period when Aramaic was the international language. Answer: The biblical text indicates that David had extensive contact with the Aramean states. Furthermore, even the Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) texts which are earlier than David, reflect the influence of the Aramaic language. Thus the presence of Aramaic influence in a psalm cannot disqualify David as the author.

4. David would not have the time nor the inclination to compose poetry. Answer: The psalm titles, and the historical and prophetic books testify to the importance of music and poetry in the career of David. Indeed he was called “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1).

Psalm 18 is a virtual duplicate of David’s Song of Thanksgiving when he had been delivered from all his enemies (2 Sam 22:2–51). Kirkpatrick comments on the creative genius reflected in this composition. He then remarks: “If such a Psalm could have been written by David, so might many others.”

Davidic authorship of many psalms is confirmed by New Testament usage. Some of those psalms which are anonymous in the Psalter are specifically attributed to him. In no case, however, is any psalm attributed to David in the New Testament which the Hebrew title attributes to another writer. Some argue that “David” was simply the name assigned to the Book of Psalms in New Testament times. A survey of New Testament usage, however, indicates that both Jesus and his disciples assumed without question that David was the personal author of many of the psalms. Sometimes the very argument which is being made depends on Davidic authorship (cf. Matt 22:45).


The issue of the date of the psalms is closely tied to that of authorship. The following discussion is based on the assumption that the authorship claims of the headings are reliable.

Psalm 90 by Moses is the earliest datable psalm. It was written about 1407 b.c. The psalms of David and Asaph would have been composed between 1020 and 975 b.c. Two psalms (Ps 72, 127) comes from the period of Solomon’s reign, about 950 b.c. Dating the sons of Korah and the two Ezrahites who are mentioned as authors is difficult. Presumably they were preexilic. Of the psalms which carry no titles, some were undoubtedly Davidic (e.g., Ps 2 and 33) and the others date from a later period. A few are as late as the exile. Psalm 126 is the latest datable psalm. It comes from the period of restoration from captivity about 525 b.c. No convincing argument has been made for dating any of the psalms later than about 400 b.c.

The old liberal view that some of the psalms date to the Maccabean period between the Old and New Testaments has been discredited in recent years. The Ugaritic texts reveal an advanced poetic tradition in Canaan centuries before David. A large number of striking parallels between the biblical psalms and the Ugaritic poetry has been pointed out. These parallels suggest that the Israelites adapted a poetic genre which they found already highly developed by the culture which surrounded them in Canaan.19 Much of the phraseology of the psalms was current in Palestine long before the time of David. Hence one is hard pressed on linguistic grounds any longer to deny Davidic authorship of the psalms.

Nahum Sarna amasses abundant evidence against the Maccabean theory of authorship. Among his more telling points are these: (1) The Psalter is free of Greek linguistic influence; (2) the theology of the Psalter is wholly devoid of Hellenistic concepts; and (3) psalms known to have been written during or shortly after the Maccabean period—those found in the Qumran library—indicate significant linguistic, stylistic, structural, thematic, and theological departures from the biblical psalms.


The canonicity of the Psalter has already been discussed in a general way in the first chapter of this study. Here a few other pertinent points need to be made.

A. Canonical Psalms

The Book of Psalms was considered the most important book in the third division of the Old Testament canon, the so-called Kethubhim or Hagiographa. Though disputes arose over the organization of the book, no Jewish or Christian authority ever questioned the canonical status of this body of material.

Some discussion did arise in rabbinic circles as to the placement of the book within the third division of the canon. Some scholars thought it should follow the Book of Ruth. Since David was accepted as the author of (most of) Psalms, it was thought appropriate that his genealogy as reflected in the last chapter of Ruth should immediately precede this book. In Hebrew manuscripts Psalms either stands first in the Kethubhim or comes immediately after Ruth. In printed editions of the Hebrew Bible Psalms always heads the Kethubhim. Likely this is the oldest position as is suggested by Luke 24:44 (cf. 2 Macc 2:13). One can reasonably infer from this placement of the Psalter in the canon that the book was considered the most important in the Kethubhim.

The LXX locates Psalms at the beginning of the poetic books. The Latin and English order, where Job precedes Psalms, probably is based on the supposed antiquity of Job.

B. Apocryphal Psalms

In Syriac (Syrian) manuscripts of this book five apocryphal psalms appear including one which is contained in Greek (Septuagint) manuscripts. The LXX adds Ps 151 with the notation “outside of the number,” a recognition that the familiar 150 were the only psalms recognized as canonical. This is probably the earliest of the apocryphal psalms. The Hebrew original of this psalm has been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1962 three of the five Syrian apocryphal psalms were found in the Qumran library. This find confirmed the existence of an Hebrew original of (at least three) of the Syrian psalms. The Qumran Psalm Scroll (11QPsa) may not be a manuscript of the Book of Psalms, but a liturgical compilation used in religious services containing both canonical and non-canonical material.

A collection of eighteen apocryphal psalms attributed to Solomon appeared during the intertestamental period (ca. 68 b.c.). These psalms are modeled after the canonical Psalter. Many of the same themes appear: protests against man’s injustice, petitions for God’s deliverance, threats of punishment for sinners, and promises of reward for the righteous. Technical musical notes for musical settings suggest that the Psalms of Solomon may have been sung in some synagogue services. The book, however, was never considered part of the sacred canon either in Jewish or in Christian circles.

C. Canonical Intention

Traditionally the psalms have been studied individually. More recently Brevard Childs has emphasized the question of the literary shape and theological intentionality of the Book of Psalms as a whole. The work of Walter Brueggemann22 illustrates where this line of study is leading. What follows summarizes his contributions to Psalm study.

Psalm 1 functions as an introduction to the entire book. The Psalter begins with a summons to obedience to the law and the confident assurance of the blessing to follow such obedience. The Psalter concludes with a psalm (150) which is absolutely unique. It urges praise, but offers no reason or motivations for the praise. The entire Psalter lives between the pious, trusting, confident boundaries of obedience and praise. Obedience is the launching pad for praise, and praise is the appropriate culmination of obedience. The structure of the Psalter would suggest that only the obedient can truly praise God.

The journey from dutiful obedience (Ps 1) to self-abandoning praise (Ps 150) is one that passes through the deep valley of candor about suffering in relationship to God’s lovingkindness. The thesis of Ps 1 is sometimes questioned. Are the obedient always blessed, and the disobedient always punished? The faithful can only trust God and wait for his intervention.

Brueggemann sees Ps 73 as pivotal in the canonical structure of the Psalter. It is the theological center of the book. This psalm functions to introduce Books Three–Five just as Ps 1 introduced Books One–Two. Ps 73 begins with a reassertion of the thesis of Ps 1 that the obedient are blessed (v. 1). Then the psalmist immediately begins to suggest that the wicked in fact do prosper at times (vv. 2–13). Then he goes to the sanctuary where he realizes that the wicked will surely one day perish (vv. 17–20). The psalm then moves toward radical faith in which communion with God is the supreme good which dwarfs all other issues (vv. 23–26).


As noted above, the individual psalms were written over a period of at least 850 years, from the time of Moses (Ps 90) to the exile (Ps 137) and beyond (Ps 126). The Psalter as it appears in the Hebrew Bible evolved in stages over centuries of time.

A. Small Groupings

Within the Psalter are subordinate groupings of psalms. At some very early stage these smaller groups may have existed independently, but this is not certain. Attention has already been directed to the psalms of “the sons of Korah” (42–49), Asaph (73–83) and the Davidic groups (Book One; 138–45). Other groups include “the songs of ascents” (120–34), the “hallelujah” psalms (111–18; 146–50), the maskil groups (42–45, 52–55), mikhtam group (56–60), and the hodu psalms (105–7) which all begin with the Hebrew imperative for “give thanks.”

B. The Development of Psalm Books

From early times the psalms were grouped into five “books.” The exact antiquity of the fivefold division of the Psalter cannot be determined. The earliest mention of this organization in Christian literature is in Hippolytus (ca. a.d. 200).

At the end of each “book” the editors inserted doxologies and other indications of the termination of a collection of psalms (cf. 72:20). That the first three “books” at one stage existed separately may be conceded. The first three doxologies (41:13; 72:18–19; 89:52) are clearly independent of the preceding psalm.

In the efforts to reconstruct the early history of the Psalter, Ps 72:20 is pivotal. This verse concludes the second “book” of the Psalter in this way: “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” One would assume that at some point in the transmission of the Psalter that only Davidic psalms preceded this statement and that no Davidic psalms appeared after it. As a matter of fact, however, in the final edition of the Psalter several non-Davidic psalms precede Ps 72:20, and several Davidic psalms follow. This fact invites the conclusion that at some point psalms were editorially interwoven into an existing collection to create Book Two as it currently exists.

The presence of duplicate psalms in the book also supports the contention that the five “books” represent independent and sequential collections. Ps 53 is a duplicate of Ps 14; Ps 70 repeats 40:13–17; and Ps 108 repeats material found in 57:7–11 and 60:5–12.

The division between Book Four and Book Five is another matter. Several factors indicate that these two “books” were originally one. (1) The doxology at the conclusion of Book Four is part of the Psalm 106, not an editorial addition as the doxologies at the end of the first three “books.” (2) The two “books” have much in common. For example, eighteen of the sixty-one psalms in these two books have no superscription compared to only six psalms in the preceding eighty-nine. (3) No musical terms are found in these “books,” in fact very few technical terms such as abound in the earlier psalms. (4) The term “Hallelujah” appears exclusively in books Four and Five. (5) The subject matter in both “books” is similar; praise and thanksgiving predominate here. (6) The Qumran Psalm Scroll intersperses into Book Five selections from Book Four. The impact of this Qumran scroll on the history of the Book of Psalms is difficult to assess. Perhaps it reflects a period before the division of Pss 90–150 into two “books.”

At some point Book Four was separated into two separate books to make a total of five books. A psalmic tetrateuch became a pentateuch under the influence of the Torah which contains five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy. The connection of the five psalm “books” with Torah and worship may be indicated by the following points: (1) The doxologies indicate that the book divisions were fixed for the purposes of public worship. (2) Ps 1, which serves an an introduction to the entire Psalter, stresses the importance of Torah study. (3) The linkage between the two bodies of sacred literature was made in the tenth century rabbinic midrash to Ps 1 which states: “Moses gave the five books of the Torah to Israel, and David gave the five books of the Psalms to Israel.”

C. Explanations of the Organization

Various explanations have been offered for the fivefold organization of the Psalter. The fivefold arrangement cannot be attributed to subject matter, authorship, order of composition, or psalm form. The “books” do have certain distinctives associated with all these factors. Certainly there is no support for the fanciful suggestions that the five Psalter “books” were connected with the five great feasts of Judaism (like the five books of the Megilloth); or with five steps to moral perfection (Gregory of Nyssa).


Problems arise in the chapter and verse enumeration in the Psalter. This fact becomes very confusing to those who do research in this book.

A. Chapter Divisions

Both the Hebrew text and the Greek text of Psalms contain 150 psalms. The division of the material into individual psalms, however, differs in these two major editions of the text. The LXX indicates a different tradition in five places: (1) it combines Pss 9–10 and (2) Pss 114–115. On the other hand, the LXX divides (3) Pss 116 and (4) Ps 147. The Latin Vulgate follows the numeration of the Greek version, and the Catholic English versions reflect that tradition. Protestant English versions have followed the numeration of the Hebrew Bible. Students must be aware of this difference in numbering when researching psalm references in Roman Catholic works.

The Talmud indicates that at some point Pss 1 and 2 were regarded as one chapter (Berachoth 9b). The New Testament, however, clearly quotes Ps 2:7 as coming from “the second psalm” (Acts 13:33).

Modern readers are familiar with a division of the Psalter into 150 chapters. Evidence indicates that various other arrangements were known. A Psalter of 148, 149, 151, 159 and even 170 chapters is mentioned in various rabbinic discussions. The most frequently attested arrangement (other than the 150) is 147, according to tradition, one for each year of Jacob’s life. Some Hebrew manuscripts and early printed editions of the Hebrew Bible have the Psalter divided into 147 chapters.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the number of sedarim in the Torah (Pentateuch) is 147. These were the sections read in a three-year cycle in the Jewish synagogues. At one point there may have been an effort to have one psalm reading for each sedar from the Torah on sabbath days. Of the regular sabbath reading of Psalms, however, there is no certain evidence.

The chapter variations mentioned above have nothing to do with the content of the Psalter which remains the same in all editions. This evidence reflects differences in the divisions and combinations of the psalm units, a process which can be attested as early as the Septuagint (second century b.c.) as noted above. All in all, it is quite clear that no fixed and uniform system of chapter divisions of the Psalter existed in ancient times. Extant manuscripts suggest that early on scribes did not mark the transitions from one psalm to another, thus easily permitting variations in verse groupings.

B. Verse Divisions

In the oldest manuscript of Psalms—the Qumran Psalm Scroll—the psalms were written in prose form with nothing to indicate verse division, except in Ps 119 where the alphabetic arrangement provides a natural indication. Other Qumran scrolls, however, do indicate a rudimentary verse division. Thus verse division in the psalms must have come quite early.

Early (Tannaitic) rabbinic sources put the verse count of Psalms at 5,896, eight more than the Torah (Kid. 30a). Yet a Masoretic note at the conclusion of the Psalter lists the verse count as 2,527. Apparently the definition of what constituted a verse differed even among the Jewish scholars.

The English Bible differs somewhat from the Hebrew Bible in verse numeration. Though the Protestant English versions have followed the number of the individual psalms as found in the standard Hebrew text, they do not follow the verse numbering of the Hebrew. In the Hebrew Bible psalm titles consisting of three words or more are counted as one verse, sometimes two verses, in the Hebrew Bible. This means there may be a divergence in verse numbering between the Hebrew Bible and the English Bible when the psalm has a title. The Hebrew verse number will generally be one higher than the English number in this case. Some Bible commentaries cite the Hebrew verse numbers, and some cite the English numbers, and some indicate both in each citation.


In the Hebrew Bible superscriptions or titles appear before 116 of the psalms, 125 if “Hallelujah” is regarded as a title in all the psalms which commence with it. The Talmud referred to those 34 (or 25) psalms without titles as “orphan psalms.” The Greek version has assigned titles to all of the psalms except the first two.

A. Musical Notations

A thorough study of the titles by J.W. Thirtle has indicated that the present arrangement of the psalm titles may not be original. Using the psalm in Habakkuk 3 as a paradigm, Thirtle argued that many of the psalms originally possessed a postscript as well as a title. As time went on, a postscript of one psalm became confused with heading of the following psalm. This study assigned to the postscript the various musical notations which currently appear in the headings. When these elements appear in the English Bible in the beginning of a title, according to Thirtle, they have been incorrectly transferred from the original postscript at the end of the preceding psalm.

The most frequent (55 times) of the musical notations appearing in the book is lamenatseach, “to the choir leader.” Perhaps this term was affixed to those psalms which were part of a special collection used in temple liturgy. It is interesting to note that one of the earliest English translations of the Psalter, that of Coverdale in 1535, arbitrarily omitted all the the technical terms from the titles.

B. Other Information

If Thirtle is right—and his argument is persuasive—then the psalm title or prescript would contain any one or all three of these elements: (1) the technical classification of the psalm (e.g., mizmor); (2) the assignment of authorship; and (3) the occasion.

At least seven technical designations for psalm genres appear in the titles. These are displayed in Chart No. 1.

Chart No. 1



No. Psalms

Suggested Significance



A song sung to the accompaniment of musical (stringed) instruments.



A general term for (vocal?) music.



A didactic or contemplative poem.



Uncertain. Perhaps a composition intended to record memorable thoughts, pithy sayings, or eloquent refrains.



A prayer.



A song of praise.



An irregular or wandering song.

Thirteen titles contain information concerning the historical occasion of the compositions. All of these refer to events in the life of David. Critics generally dismiss these statements as unreliable. Conservative commentaries, however, are generally able to show rather convincing connections between what is said in the title and what is related in the psalm. Of course no one argues that these thirteen psalms were written immediately on the spot, but only after later reflection on the event.

Three positions have been taken with regard to the psalm titles or superscriptions: (1) they are secondary additions which can afford no reliable information toward establishing the genuine historical setting of the psalms; (2) they are authentic and infallible;30 and (3) they are not original but reflect early reliable tradition. Probably this third position is the most responsible.


The literary appreciation of Psalms has a long history. The pioneer in this effort was Robert Lowth, an English professor at Oxford in the eighteenth century. His study of the poetry of the Psalms is still valuable. Even earlier, Jerome, Augustine and Josephus applied literary categories in their understanding of this material. In recent years psalm classification has become a major thrust of Old Testament study.

A. Form Criticism

Hermann Gunkel (1904) pioneered the form critical approach to the psalms. His goal was to classify the psalms into various categories and then to identify the general situation in life which brought that category into existence. The great majority of psalms he was able to divide into five categories: (1) hymns intended for communal worship; (2) communal laments to express grief over some national disaster; (3) royal psalms which exalt the king as the servant of Yahweh; (4) individual laments over personal tragedy; and (5) individual songs of thanksgiving.

A few scholars have attempted to find significance in the consecutive groupings within the Psalter. Most scholars, however, follow the lead of Hermann Gunkel in categorizing the psalms into subgroups according to their literary form. No consensus exists among scholars regarding these categories because of differing conceptions about the function of the Psalter during Old Testament times.

B. Suggested Classification

Classification of the psalms is made difficult by the fact that often two very different types of material have been fused into one psalm. The individual psalms are susceptible of diverse interpretation, and this makes uniformity in classification impossible. The tense system of the Hebrew language has a built in ambiguity (so it seems) which makes it difficult at times to decide when a psalm is a prayerful description of present trouble or when it is an enumeration of afflictions now happily past. Sarna sounds this caution: “Any attempt … to effect a systematic generic classification based on a commonality of theme, mood, occasion and style is bound to be more an exercise in convenience than precision.”

Though the psalms can be classified in various ways, the following patterns stand out.

1. Predictive psalms. Psalms 2, 16, 22, 45, 110, for example, are cited in the New Testament as personally predictive of events in the life of Jesus.

2. Praise hymns or hallelujah psalms such as 146–150 extol the wisdom, power and graciousness of God. Hymns are prominent in the Psalter. Some psalms extol God’s greatness and providence (e.g., Ps 8, 100), while others extol his sovereignty over the universe (e.g., Pss 47, 96–99). Still others—the so-called Zion songs—praise the city which God had chosen for his habitation.

3. Petition or supplication psalms such as 6, 39, 86 pour out the needs of the human heart before God. Sometimes these supplications become psalms of confidence because of the absolute certainty that the prayers contained therein will be answered.

4. Penitential psalms such as 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143 confess sin and beg for reinstatement with God.

5. Perceptive or didactic or wisdom psalms such as 1, 19, and 119 discuss issues which perplex the human mind.

6. Profession or confession psalms such as 33, 103 and 107 set forth the psalmists’ convictions about the mighty works of God.

7. Patriotic or historic psalms (e.g., 78, 105, 106) review the history of the relationship between Yahweh and his people.

8. Pilgrimage psalms (e.g., 120–134) were sung as worshipers made their way up the hill of Zion to celebrate the great festivals of the Mosaic dispensation.


The parallelism which is characteristic within individual verses of biblical poetry is also discernible in entire psalms. Older scholars referred to this phenomenon as alternation or inverted parallelism. In recent years the term “chiastic parallelism” has come into vogue. The word “chiasm” comes from the name of the Greek letter chi, which looks like the English letter X. An outline of a verse, a paragraph, or even a book which conforms to such a shape is called “chiastic.” In its simplest form the chiastic outline could be diagrammed A-B-C-B-A, meaning that the first and fifth verses were parallel in thought as well as the second and fourth. The key verse in the psalm is represented by the letter C.

Robert Alden identified some forty-five psalms which reflected the chiastic structure in whole or in part. Alden likens a chiastic psalm to climbing a mountain, reaching its summit, and then descending the opposite side. One would discover on the reverse side the same climate zones, varieties of growth, temperature and barometric changes which he passed through on the climb to the summit. The recognition of chiastic structure in the psalms is an important advance. Conventional exegetical and homiletical outlines of the psalms, are appealing but artificial. The psalmists often appear to have organized their thoughts, whether consciously or unconsciously, according to this chiastic pattern. Discovery of the chiastic structure in these larger blocks of material can only enhance one’s appreciation of the literary genius that produced the Hebrew Psalter.


The Book of Psalms stands virtually in the middle of the sixty-six books which comprise the Christian Bible. Athanasius, the fourth-century theologian, called the Psalter “an epitome of the whole Scriptures.” The Psalter’s teaching is not presented systematically, but it is extensive. Some question this proposition on the grounds that the Psalter consists mostly of prayers offered to God, not oracles from God. Yet the book is part of the sacred canon, and that attests to this collection of (mostly) prayers as the word of God. These prayers were sanctioned for use in temple worship. In these two facts—canonicity and liturgical usage—the theology of the psalms is endorsed as normative teaching.

A. Theology

The Psalter exhibits great diversity in terms of authorship, mood, occasion and use of the various psalms. Yet the Psalter reveals a unity of faith in Israel’s covenant Lord and in covenant responsibility. Whereas some psalms raise questions about God’s actions in the world, there is no room in this collection for denial of faith.

The central figure in the psalms is God. Three names of God are prominent in this book: ‘Elohim (344), Yahweh (676) and ‘Adonay (53). The name ‘Elohim depicts God in his role as omnipotent creator. Yahweh is the self-existing God of covenant commitment. ‘Adonay depicts God as sovereign ruler. In certain sections of the Psalter one or the other of these names is used predominately. Thus scholars speak of Yahwistic and Elohistic psalms or sections of psalms.

Many of the psalms focus on Mount Zion, the center of the worship of Yahweh. Beginning with Psalm 90, most of the psalms are of a liturgical nature. These psalms constituted the hymnbook of the temple worshipers. They stress three responses to the grandeur of God’s person. Submission is the appropriate response to the sovereignty of Yahweh. The power of God should evoke trust in those who come before him. Joy should characterize those who comprehend the grace of God.

Psalms makes a clear-cut distinction between sin and righteousness, the wicked and the righteous. The very first psalm emphasizes this contrast. The person who delights in the law of God is blessed. He is like a tree planted by plenteous waters. The wicked, however, are like the chaff which the wind drives away in the winnowing process.

B. Christology

If one regards the New Testament as the final authority, then Psalms must be regarded as one of the most Christological books in the Old Testament. Sixteen psalms may be classified as personal messianic. These are displayed with supporting New Testament references in Chart No. 2.

Chart No. 2




NT References

















The Enthroned Son

The Last Adam


Death & Resurrection

Before Bethlehem

Messiah’s Deity

Advent & Ascension

Betrayer Punished

Messiah’s Reign

Parable Teller

Promise to David

Externality of Christ

Judgment on Judas

The Royal Priest

Rejected Cornerstone

Promise to David

Acts 4:25–27; 13:33

Heb 2:6

Acts 2:25ff.; 13:35

John 19:23f.; Matt 27:39ff.

Heb 10:5ff.

Heb 1:8

Eph 4:8

Acts 1:16f.; Matt 23:38; 27:34

Matt 13:34f.

Acts 13:34

Heb 1:10ff.

Acts 1:16f.

Heb 1:8f.; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21

Matt 21:9, 42; Acts 4:11

Acts 13:34

C. Imprecatory Psalms

Imprecatory psalms are those in which the psalmist appeals to God to pour out his wrath upon enemies. Eighteen psalms include imprecatory language of some sort. Of the 368 verses in these psalms, fewer than seventy contain imprecation, most of which are found in three psalms (35, 69, 109). These passages are jarring to the sensitivities of Christians who are taught in the school of Christ to turn the other cheek and pray for enemies.

Why are such violent sentiments expressed in the psalms? Some excuse this material on psychological grounds, i.e., the psalmist was under great stress. Others gloss over them on the grounds that the Old Testament sets forth a lower standard of morality. Others insist that these are inspired accounts of uninspired attitudes and utterances. These passages supposedly represent a low degree of morality or of revelation. Still others argue that David really did not write these psalms of imprecation; they were written during the Maccabean persecution which takes the personal vindictiveness out of these psalms. These explanations, however, ignore (1) the Old Testament condemnation of acts of revenge (Lev 19:18); and (2) the biblical claim that “all Scripture is inspired of God” (2 Tim 3:16).

So what can be said that might help a believer put the imprecatory psalms in proper perspective?

1. The psalmist was zealous to defend the righteousness of God wherever it was attacked or ignored. These are not expressions of a desire for personal revenge.

2. The psalmist was deeply concerned about defending God’s representative, the king. Any action against this representative was viewed not simply as an act of treason, but as highhanded offense against God himself. Offending God’s anointed was equivalent to offending God.

3. The psalmist’s harsh cries of judgment were his way of expressing hatred for sin. This is poetry, and poetry tends to exaggerate passions. These exaggerated cries for destruction of sinners emphasize the writer’s abhorrence of what God hates as well.

4. Old Testament believers did not have a clear view of judgment after death. Therefore, all judgment must be in this present life. Prior to the cross, the only tangible way in which the truth of God could be demonstrated to human observers was by the pragmatic test of disaster befalling those who were in error, and deliverance being granted to those who held to the truth. The cross was the supreme demonstration of God’s displeasure over sin, and the empty tomb was the demonstration of his power over evil. In the light of the cross and the empty tomb the believer today can wait patiently while God’s longsuffering permits the wicked to enjoy his temporary success.

5. Most of the imprecatory psalms were written by David, a man who did not possess a vengeful spirit. Frequently the Psalmist prayed for his enemies and tried to save them from their sins (e.g., Ps 35:13; 109:4, 5).

6. Some of the questionable verses actually call for the destruction of sin, not the sinner.

7. Imprecations also appear in the New Testament.

8. A harsh sentence does not necessarily imply a hateful spirit.

9. The Hebrew verbs can often be rendered in the future tense as simple prophecies, not wishes—the difference between “Let this happen” and “This will happen.” In some instances these questionable verses (cf. 69:25) are quoted in the New Testament as prophecies of the fate of the wicked. Some of the imprecations are in messianic passages in which the language is prophetically put in the mouth of Messiah.

10. The culprits condemned in these passages persisted in sin. They were vicious, blasphemous, blood-thirsty men. The imprecations are against a class of sinners, not individuals. For the sake of the righteous and the advancement of God’s kingdom evil must be rooted out.

11. Many of the imprecatory psalms are quoted in the New Testament.


The immediate purpose of the Book of Psalms was to provide for ancient worshipers a service hymnal which was the medium of prayer and praise for the Old Testament saints. The ultimate purpose was to reveal to saints of all the ages the appropriate ways to express their faith in various circumstances.

Psalms is a model for prayer and praise. The psalmists wrote with the expectation that others would use their compositions to express their own feelings before the Lord. They bared their souls. Sin, sorrow, shame, repentance, hope, faith, reverence and love are all forthrightly expressed here. Thus the book is one of the most practical books of the Bible. It is wondrously suited to the human heart in any generation. Believers through the centuries have found in this book the counterpart of every human experience.

Psalms has a polemical function. The psalmists were concerned to promote the exclusive worship of Yahweh over the nonexistent gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East. Ps 29 is particularly rich in this respect.

The Book of Psalms provides guidance for the believer’s emotions just as the other books of Scripture provide guidance in the areas of faith and action. Here those who walk the path of persecution find solace in those saints who walked that same difficult path centuries ago. Here those who suffer can enter into a fellowship of sympathy which helps to remove the bitterness out of their tears. Here the penitent can find assurance of acceptance with God in the experiences of the psalmists. Here the Christian can discern the presence of the Savior in the prophetic sketches of his journey from glory to the cross and back to glory. In these inspired songs and sighs the believer can find consolation, confirmation and courage to face all the vicissitudes of life.


The consonantal text of the Book of Psalms is more reliable than earlier critical scholars had judged. Inscriptions and literature from the ancient Near East have opened up new vistas in understanding biblical idiom, ancient Hebrew orthography, lexicography, grammar, and syntax. Many of the alleged “corruptions” of the Hebrew text have melted away as each new discovery has been brought to light.

Some thirty manuscripts of the Book of Psalms were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, more than any other book of the Bible. The remains of one scroll contain parts or all of thirty-seven of the canonical psalms.

For the most part, the Qumran materials support the readings in the standard Hebrew text, the so-called Masoretic text. Some of these manuscripts are very small and in a poor state of preservation. Most of the numerous variations from the standard Hebrew text are merely orthographic in character. The variations very rarely require significant differences in interpretation. One interesting feature is that the name Yahweh—the so-called Tetragrammaton—is written in ancient Hebrew script. This has the effect of emphasizing the holy name and making it stand out on the pages which are written in the Aramaic script.


Without question the Book of Psalms has been the single most influential and widely used book of the Bible in both Jewish and Christian communities.

A. In the Temple

The Book of Psalms was the hymn book of Mosaism, the proper name for the sacrificial worship of Old Testament times. Internal evidence suggests that this is so. Ps 33 apparently was sung as people approached the temple for worship. Ps 5:7 witnesses to the worship setting of that psalm. Similar references could be multiplied.

Psalm headings also point to the temple usage of the psalms. One psalm contains a specific liturgical note in the Hebrew title. Psalm 92 is entitled “A Psalm for the Sabbath Day.” A few other less specific liturgical notations also appear, e.g., “to bring to remembrance” (Ps 38) and “a psalm of thanksgiving” (Ps 100). By the second century b.c. individual psalms were firmly anchored to the temple liturgy.

The Septuagint version includes titles which assign various psalms to be chanted in the temple on certain days of the week following the offering of the daily sacrifice. These notations may represent a tradition which was handed down from the times of Ezra-Nehemiah. The Mishnah (codified in late second century a.d.) accepted this same liturgy (Tamid 7.4).

Other psalms were chanted on special festivals. The Hallel (Pss 113–18)—the Hallelujah psalms—were chanted at virtually all the festivals. In addition, Ps 7 was used at Purim; Ps 12 was assigned to the eighth day of Tabernacles; Ps 30 for the Feast of Dedication; Ps 47 for New Year; Psalms 98 and 104 for New Moon, and the penitential psalms for the Day of Atonement.

B. In the Synagogue

The institution of the synagogue was the creation of the Pharisees during the intertestamental period. Whereas temple worship centered around the sacrificial altar, synagogue worship focused on the reading of Scripture and prayer. Over a three year period the entire Pentateuch was read publicly. Selections from the Nebhi˒im (Prophets) called the Haphtarah were also prescribed. While there is no evidence of a similar lectionary custom as regards the Psalter, it is clear that the psalms were prominent in the ancient synagogue.

Psalms were chanted antiphonally. The congregation often repeated after every verse chanted by the presenter the first verse of that psalm. At the conclusion the presenter added a doxology ending with “and say Amen,” whereupon the congregation replied “Amen, Amen.”

C. In the Church

Surprisingly little is known about worship in the New Testament church. Three times the epistles refer to the use of psalms by the early Christians (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Jas 5:13) without specifically linking that usage with the public assembly. Only in 1 Cor 14:26 is the term psalmos used specifically in the context of public worship. That the early Christians employed the Psalter in their public praise is probably a correct inference.

The delight of first century Christians in this book is indicated by the extensive quotations from it found in the New Testament. By one count, there are 283 direct quotes from the Old Testament in the New. Of these 116 (over 40%) are from Psalms.

In post-New Testament church history the Psalter seems to have become increasingly popular in the church. Church leaders prescribed the use of various psalms for Communion time, and for morning and evening worship. Some of the early Protestant leaders produced metrical arrangements of the Psalter designed for singing in the worship services of the church. The followers of John Calvin, for example, produced the Geneva Psalter in 1562. Some Protestants would use nothing but the Psalms in their public praise services.


Alexander, Joseph A. The Psalms Translated and Explained. 1873. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Alexander, William. The Witness of the Psalms to Christ and Christianity. New York: Dutton, 1877.

Clarke, Arthur G. Analytical Studies in the Psalms. Kilmarnock: John Ritchie, 1949.

Dahood, Mitchell. Psalms. The Anchor Bible. 3 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966, 1968, 1970.

Delitzsch, Franz. The Psalms, 1859–60. Keil and Delitzsch Commentaries. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.

Dickson, David, A Commentary on the Psalms. 1655. 2 vols. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1959.

Leupold, H.C. Exposition of the Psalms. 1959. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969.

Lewis, C.S. Reflections on the Psalms. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.

Perowne, J.J.S. The Book of Psalms. 1864. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966.

Phillips, O.E. Exploring the Messianic Psalms. Philadelphia: Hebrew Christian Fellowship, 1967.

chapter ten

The Believer’s Life

Psalms 1–15

Faith enables the believer to soar over the circumstances of life. After a two-psalm introduction to the entire Psalter, David sets forth the secret of living confidently, expectantly, and victoriously.


Pss 1–2 form an appropriate prologue to the Psalter. They focus on two fundamental doctrines of the of the Old Testament, viz., (1) that the righteous ultimately prosper, and the wicked will finally face judgment; and (2) that ultimate victory for the righteous will occur with the coming of Messiah. Believers clung to these truths throughout the centuries of Old Testament history.

A. The Theme of the Psalter (Ps 1)

The first psalm is anonymous. David is most likely the author. Ps 1 has two main divisions: (1) The prosperity of the righteous (vv. 1–3); and (2) the insecurity of the wicked (vv. 4–6).

1:1. Sin takes a downward course. Adoption of the principles of the wicked (“walked in the counsel of wicked men”) leads to persistence in the practices of notorious offenders (“stood in the way of sinners”). This in turn leads to deliberate association with those who openly mock at faith (“sit in the seat of the scorners.”).

1:2. True happiness is to be found not in ways of man’s own devising, but in the revealed will of God.

1:3. The righteous person is like a well-watered and firmly-rooted tree, nourished by the supply of grace drawn from constant communion with God through the word.

1:4. The wicked are like chaff, i.e., worthless and liable to be swept away by every passing breeze.

1:5. The real character of the wicked shall be manifested in God’s judgment. There the chaff shall be separated from the wheat (cf. Matt 3:12). Forever the wicked are separated from the people of God. The teaching of the psalm is grounded in the providence of God. Divine knowledge involves approval, care and guidance.

B. The Hope of the Psalter (Ps 2)

Psalm 2 is quoted seven times in the New Testament. In each instance it is applied to the Messiah. The king, who in this psalm is the object of the fiercest hostility from man and the highest honor from God, is the Messiah.

Psalm 2 is attributed to David in the New Testament (Acts 2:30). What historical event, if any, prompted the writing of this psalm cannot be determined. At no time did David personally face rebellion from Gentile foes which once had been subject to him (vv. 1–3). Furthermore, David was anointed at Bethlehem and Hebron, not Mt. Zion (v. 6). David here is speaking strictly as a prophet.

Psalm 2 has four main divisons: (1) the revolt of men against God (vv. 1–3); (2) the response of God to the revolt (vv. 4–6); (3) the reign of Christ on Zion (vv. 7–9); and (4) the remarks of the psalmist (vv. 10–12).

2:1–3. A revolt by Gentile rulers against God and his anointed is doomed to failure. The early church took this to be a prophecy of the rejection and execution of Jesus (Acts 4:27f.).

2:4–5. God has but to speak, and those who arrogantly lifted themselves up against him are stricken with terror.

2:6. In spite of the rejection of his anointed one, God expresses his determination to install his earthly representative on Mt. Zion. Old Testament Zion is a type of the church of Christ (Heb 12:22). Here is predicted Messiah’s enthronement as head over all things to the church (Acts 2:33).

2:7. God speaks directly to Messiah and declares him to be his Son. The words “today I have begotten you” refer to his installation in the royal office, not to his birth. The New Testament applies these words to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 13:32f.; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

2:8. As a consequence of his elevation to royal rule, God bestows on the Son as an inheritance the Gentiles living throughout the world.

2:9. The enthroned Messiah smashes those who oppose him with an iron rod. The language of Rev 2:27 points to the fact that Christ has already received his rod of iron.

2:10–12. David pleads with his readers to “kiss the Son,” i.e., kiss his feet in submission to his Lordship. The alternative is to face his fierce wrath.


Psalms 3–7

Ps 2 and Ps 8 reveal the hope of ultimate victory through the Messiah. Sandwiched between are five psalms which depict God’s help to his people in the crises of life. The dominant theme in these psalms is that of the confidence with which the righteous can face life’s problems.

A. Guarded in Battle (Ps 3)

Ps 3 was written by David when he fled for his life from his son Absalom (2 Sam 15–18). It has four stanzas of two verses each: (1) the present distress (vv. 1–2); (2) the glorious deliverer (vv. 3–4); (3) the sublime confidence (vv. 5–6); and (4) the climatic petition (vv. 7–8).

3:1–2. David lays his need before Yahweh. He is threatened by a rebellion which hourly gathers fresh adherents. His cause is pronounced utterly desperate.

3:3. Men say that God has forsaken him, but David knows that it is not so. God is his “shield,” and his “glory,” and the one who had lifted him up from the depths of trouble on numerous occasions.

3:4. God had heard the previous prayers of David from “his holy hill,” i.e., Mt. Zion, where the ark of the covenant was located. Though the ark was not with David during his flight from Absalom (2 Sam 15:25), still God would answer his prayers from that hill.

3:5–6. David’s calmness on the eve of battle was a practical proof of his faith. The numbers were on the side of the rebellious son. But for divine intervention, David would have been defeated.

3:7–8. The concluding prayer for deliverance begins with the opening words of Israel’s ancient marching song: “Arise, O Lord” (Num 10:35). This song was rich in memories of past deliverances of Israel.

B. Protected in Sleep (Ps 4)

Ps 4 is an evening hymn authored by David. It reflects the same crisis as the previous psalm. The psalm has a fourfold structure. An appeal to the rebels for repentance (vv. 2–5) is sandwiched between two short appeals to God for help (vv. 1, 6). The psalm concludes with a final affirmation of trust in the Lord (vv. 7–8).

4:1. David addresses the Lord as “God of my righteousness.” He was confident of the justice of his cause. To God alone he looks for help to vindicate his righteousness in the sight of men by making his cause to triumph.

4:2. David’s “glory,” i.e., his personal honor and royal dignity, was being assaulted. This rebellion, however, is vain. It cannot succeed any more than the rebellion against God and his anointed could succeed in Ps 2.

4:3. David is confident of victory because he is a godly man (chasid), i.e., one who is characterized by dutiful love to God and to his fellow men.

4:4–5. David warns the rebels to reflect on their course of action before it is too late. They should not allow their anger with his government to force them into sin. They needed to approach God in the right spirit and with “sacrifices of righteousness.” They needed to “trust in Yahweh,” not in revolution.

4:6. The masses had not yet made up their mind whether to follow the rebels or not. David prays that God would “lift up the light” of his countenence on both himself and his people, i.e., bless them.

4:7–8. David knows a joy and peace which are independent of outward circumstances. No anxieties would delay his sleep. In unshaken faith he claims Yahweh as his sole protector beside whom he needs no other.

C. Guided in Walk (Ps 5)

Like Ps 3, this psalm is a morning prayer. Just as David could face the night with confidence of anxiety-free slumber, so he could face each new day knowing that God would guide his steps. Ps 5 probably comes also from the period of Absalom’s rebellion, but perhaps later than the preceding psalm. There David pled with the rebels; here he pleads against them because they have not responded to his loving appeals.

Ps 5 has a beautiful chiastic structure as has been pointed out by Scroggie.

A. The Devout Soul (vv. 1–3): singular.

B. The Wicked (vv. 4–6).

C. Personal (v. 7).

C. Personal (v. 8).

B. The Wicked (vv. 9–10).

A. The Devout Soul (vv. 11–12): plural.

5:1–2. David asks Yahweh to hear his “meditation.” The word, which is used elsewhere only in Ps 39:3, denotes either unspoken prayer of the heart, or the low, murmuring utterance of brooding sorrow.

5:3. The first thought of David’s day was prayer. When he prayed he would “look up,” i.e., expect an answer.

5:4. The ground of David’s confidence in an answer to prayer is the holiness of God (‘El), who will tolerate no evil. An evil person cannot enjoy the hospitality and protection of heaven’s king.

5:5–6. David mentions four classes of sinners: (1) the arrogant, who are guilty of blustering presumption; (2) workers of iniquity, those who make a practice of immorality; (3) those who speak lies; and (4) men of bloodshed and deceit, those who engage in murder by treachery.

5:7. While the wicked are banished from fellowship with God, David was confident that he had freedom of access by the grace of the Lord. In “fear,” i.e., the spirit of awe and reverence, he would “worship toward” God’s “holy temple,” i.e., either the tabernacle or the heavenly temple (1 Kgs 8:22).

5:8. David prays that his path might be “straight,” i.e., plain and level, so that he might not stumble or lose his way.

5:9. Such guidance is needed because his enemies plot rebellion and death while using deceitful words.

5:10. David prays that the plotting of the rebels might recoil upon themselves, that God might “cast them out” of their positions of power. Those who have rebelled against Yahweh’s king have in effect rebelled against Yahweh.

5:11. The punishment of the wicked according to their deeds would be an occasion of rejoicing on the part of the godly. Such people love God’s “name,” i.e., everything he has revealed about himself.

5:12. The psalm concludes with an affirmation that God will indeed bless the righteous, protecting them as with a large shield from the insults and assaults of their enemies.

D. Sustained in Sickness (Ps 6)

Ps 6 is one of seven psalms in the Psalter known from ancient times in the church as the “penitential” psalms. David composed this psalm probably some time after his sin with Bathsheba, but before Absalom’s rebellion. It falls into three divisions: (1) earnest appeal (vv. 1–5); (2) extreme anguish (vv. 6–7); and (3) expected answer (vv. 8–10).

6:1. In his initial appeal, David pleads that his present suffering exceeds the measure of loving correction. He can interpret his suffering as a sign that the wrath of God was resting on him. David makes no confession of specific sin. Perhaps, like Job, he cannot think of any reason why God would treat him in this way.

6:2. David describes himself as “weak.” He says his “bones” are “dismayed.” In Hebrew poetry “bones” denote the whole physical organism of man. They are often depicted as the seat of health (Prov 16:24) or of pain, as here.

6:3. The inner self as well as the physical body is dismayed by the suffering. Jesus used the words of v. 3 in view of his approaching Passion (John 12:27). The appeal concludes with a haunting question: “How long?” He may refer to his suffering, or to the anger of God, or to the seeming refusal of God to hear his plea.

6:4. David appeals to God to “return,” for Yahweh seems to have abandoned him. He entreats the Lord to be true to his nature as a God of “lovingkindness.”

6:5. In Sheol, the abode of the dead, man would not be able to witness to others of the greatness of God as he does in this life. Old Testament saints were granted but a very partial revelation of the state after death. Nonetheless, this verse is misused when it is made to teach the doctrine of soul sleeping or annihilation.

6:6–7. David was weary with groaning and weeping. His sorrow was of long duration, and knew no respite. Malicious enemies aggravate his suffering by taunting him with being forsaken by God.

6:8–10. The cloud of gloom lifts. David suddenly realizes that his prayers have been heard. He therefore predicts the speedy confusion of his enemies. The dismay which he had felt in vv. 2–3 now rebounds on those who took malicious delight in his misfortunes.

E. Vindicated in Slander (Ps 7)

David wrote this psalm during the period when he was being pursued by Saul. A certain Benjamite named Cush—one of Saul’s partisans—had made slanderous insinuations against David (cf. 1 Sam 22:8) which inflamed the king’s hatred toward his rival. This psalm has two principal divisions: (1) personal request for divine intervention (vv. 1–10); and (2) general reflections on divine righteousness (vv. 11–17).

7:1–2. David’s cry for divine assistance is based on (1) his relationship to Yahweh: “my God” in whom “I put my trust;” and (2) the extremity of his need. His enemies are many, but one is conspicuous above all the others. This antagonist was as vicious as a lion. Cush, or perhaps Saul himself, is meant.

7:3–5. The appeal for help is supported by a strong assertion of innocence. If he is guilty of the crimes laid to his charge, may he be surrendered to the utmost fury of his enemies. Time and again David had “delivered” him who without cause had now become his enemy (1 Sam 24:4ff.; 26:8ff.). His conduct had been the exact opposite of that which was attributed to him.

7:6–7. David calls for Yahweh to convene an assembly, conduct an inquiry, and vindicate his innocence. The terms “arise” and “awake” simply invoke action on God’s part (cf. 121:3f.). David requests that the peoples—both Israel and the Gentiles—stand around the tribunal. He asks God to “return on high,” i.e., to the high throne of judgment from which for a time, it seemed, he had stepped down.

7:8. David asks for a favorable judgment from the divine judge based on his “righteousness” and his “integrity.” He does not claim to be sinless, but he has a clear conscience. Specifically, he claims innocence of the charges of treachery which have been brought against him.

7:9. David now prays for the larger hope of the universal destruction of evil and the triumph of righteousness. This plea is grounded in these facts: (1) that God himself is righteous; (2) that he is a discerner of hearts, and (3) thus is able to render impartial judgment.

7:10. David recognizes that his “shield,” i.e., defense, is “upon” God, i.e., it rests with God to defend him.

7:11–13. Whatever men may think, God’s judicial wrath against evil never rests. God has already sharpened his sword and strung his bow with the arrow of punishment for evildoers.

7:14–16. The punishment of a wicked person is the inevitable result of his own actions. He falls into the snare which he has laid for others.

7:17. The psalm closes with a doxology. “Praise” in the Psalter is the acknowledgment due from man to God for his goodness. God’s “righteousness” is manifested and vindicated in the judgment of the wicked. Because he is supreme governor, Yahweh is designated as “Most High,” a title which is used some twenty-one times in the Psalter.


Psalms 8–10

The Old Testament believer anticipated a glorious future. He looked forward to the subjugation of all things, including enemies both within and without.

A. Ultimate Victory (Ps 8)

Ps 8 is messianic in some sense as is indicated by the fact that it is quoted four times in the New Testament and applied to Christ (Matt 21:16; Eph 1:20ff.; 1 Cor 15:27; Heb 2:6–9). David probably wrote this psalm in his mature years, but it contains meditations from his early shepherd days.

Ps 8 is organized around a basic proposition stated in identical words in the opening and closing verses. The intervening verses offer specific proofs or illustrations of the truth stated in the proposition. The psalm is organized in four units: (1) the proposition stated (v. 1); (2) the proof presented (vv. 2–4a); (3) the person anticipated (vv. 4b–8); and (4) the proposition repeated (v. 9).

8:1, 9. Yahweh is sovereign ruler over all. His majestic “name”—his character, nature, personality—is recognized throughout the earth. The heavens bear witness to him.

8:2. Young children sang vigorous praises of Christ when he made his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem (Matt 21:15f.). Their praise silenced the mouths of the enemies. The early disciples in childlike faith (cf. Matt 11:25; 18:1–6) embraced the Messiah and later bore powerful testimony to his identity.

8:3–4. God’s condescension to “man” in his creaturely weakness (˓enosh) points to his glory.

8:5. The ultimate manifestation of God’s glory came when the Son of Man was made for a time to be lower than the angels. The correct interpretation of v. 5 is found in Heb 2:7. The incarnation and subsequent exaltation of Christ (Phil 2:6f.) are in view here.

8:6–8. Messiah was given universal authority at the time of his ascension. The original dominion over the earth given to Adam and subsequently lost is restored in the Messiah (Heb 2:8f.). During his earthly ministry the Son of Man on many occasions demonstrated his authority over nature. All things now have been put under his feet. Christ now reigns from his throne on high (Heb 2:5; Eph 1:22; 1 Cor 15:25–27).

B. Judgment on External Enemies (Ps 9)

A close relationship exists between this Ps 9 and Ps 10. In some ancient versions they are reckoned as one. The absence of the title over Ps 10, the remnant of an acrostic structure, and similar language may indicate that at one time these two psalms were one also in the Hebrew text. The appropriateness of the separation, however, is indicated in the difference in tone and subject matter. Ps 9 focuses on the judgment of foreign enemies while in Ps 10 godless men within the nation are in view. On the whole, then, it is best to view Ps 10 as a companion piece to Ps 9, but not a continuation.

The occasion on which David penned Ps 9 cannot be determined. This psalm may celebrate his victories over foreign enemies (2 Sam 8). The psalm is a partial acrostic with segments beginning consecutively with nine of the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The psalm has three main divisions: (1) praise for victories over national enemies in the past (vv. 1–12); (2) petition for personal victory in the present (vv. 13–16); and (3) prediction of universal victory in the future (vv. 17–20).

9:1–2. The psalmist resolves wholeheartedly to praise God for past deliverances even though he was faced with a current crisis.

9:3–4. In the defeat of his enemies David sees God’s judicial intervention on his behalf. God has taken his seat upon the judgment throne, as it were, and he has pronounced and executed sentence in David’s favor.

9:5–6. God has rebuked by defeat those wicked nations which had come against Israel. The very names of those enemies have been blotted off the roster of active nations.

9:7–10. The enemies of Israel are destroyed, but Yahweh sits forever enthroned as king and judge. His administration will be one of perfect righteousness. He is a “refuge” (lit., high tower) to those who trust in him.

9:11. Zion became the special abode of Yahweh from the time when the ark, the symbol of his presence, was placed there early in the reign of David. The psalmist calls upon his countrymen to declare among the peoples (foreign nations) the “doings” of Yahweh, i.e., his mighty works on behalf of his people. The first step toward their conversion is that they might know the evidences of his power and love.

9:12. The call to praise in v. 11 is based on the fact that Yahweh is the great go˒el, the avenger of blood. He investigates all offenses against his sacred gift of human life, and demands satisfaction for “bloodshed,” i.e., the wrongful taking of life. He does not forget the cry of the “humble,” i.e., those whose condition calls for his special protection.

9:13–14. The psalmist had been brought down, as it were, to “gates of death” by those who hated him. He prays that he might be permitted to show forth anew the praises of the Lord “in the gates of the daughter of Zion,” i.e., the most public places of Jerusalem. The citizens of Zion collectively are personified as a daughter of the place. This is the only place where this language appears in the Psalter.

9:15–16. Wicked nations fall into the pit or net of their own making. “Haggaion” is a musical term which, in conjunction with “Selah,” here directs the musicians to produce a jubilant interlude to celebrate the divine triumph (vv. 15–16).

9:17. The experience of Yahweh’s recent victory over the wicked gives the psalmist confidence that “the wicked shall be turned into Sheol,” i.e., the career of the wicked in this world will be cut short by the judgment of God. The “wicked” are identified as the “nations that forget God.” The implication here is that even heathen should know through nature the God of creation, even though they might not know of Yahweh through revelation.

9:18. Man forgets God; but God does not forget man.

9:19–20. The psalm ends with a prayer for further and still more complete judgment upon the wicked. “Strength” is a divine attribute which should not be given to mortal man (‘enosh). The psalmist asks that the heathen nations be summoned to Yahweh’s presence and taught a lesson about strength. He prays that some awe-inspiring demonstration of divine power might be displayed before them. The resulting terror would teach those nations that they are but mortal men.

C. Judgment on Internal Enemies (Ps 10)

The previous psalm focused on external enemies. Ps 10 points to the final overthrow of all enemies within Israel. The misgovernment of Saul’s later years, and the civil war between David and Ishbosheth, may have created a climate of civil disorder in Israel at the time David began to rule over all Israel. The psalm has three divisions: (1) the opening complaint (v. 1–2); (2) the portrait of the wicked (vv. 3–11); and (3) the plea for divine intervention (vv. 12–18).

10:1. The opening question is in reality an accusation against the Lord for being an indifferent spectator when the poor one is taken in the devices of the wicked.

10:3–4. The wicked one boasts that he obtains all that he wants without troubling himself about God. His lawless plundering of the poor indicates contempt for the Lord.

10:5–6. The wicked person feels secure. He fears neither man nor God. “His ways prosper at all times.” He is never harassed by vicissitudes of fortune. He views God as too far away in heaven to interfere in his life. The possibility of retribution never crosses his mind. He “snorts,” i.e., expresses scorn, at all his adversaries.

10:7. The wicked person is revealed in his speech. His mouth is full of “cursing,” i.e., malicious imprecation; and all types of “deceits”; and “oppression,” i.e., threatening words.

10:8–11. The crimes of the wicked person are ruthless. He lies in wait to rob as a lion lurking for its prey or a hunter snaring his game. His victims are the innocent and defenseless poor. The reference may be to (1) outlaw gangs; or (2) powerful nobles who plundered poorer neighbors.

10:12–13. The acrostic structure resumes in v. 12. Segments beginning consecutively with the last four letters of the Hebrew alphabet appear here. God is urged to “arise,” i.e., get involved; to “lift up” his hand, i.e., assume the posture of action. The psalmist urges God not to forget the humble. Thus will the Lord vindicate his character against the blasphemous thoughts of the wicked.

10:14. God has seen all the oppression of the wicked one. His observation cannot fail to lead to action. The poor one can therefore commit his cause to God who will never abandon him. Experience teaches that God has always been a helper to the “fatherless.”

10:15. The psalmist asks God to break the arm of the evildoer, i.e., render him powerless. He wants this judgment process to continue until God can find no wickedness to punish.

10:16. Yahweh is king forever. Just as the Canaanites were driven out before God’s people, so the wicked must ultimately give place to the godly. Then Yahweh’s land will become in truth the Holy Land.

10:17–18. God not only has seen the plight of the godly, he has heard their prayers. The prayer of faith will be answered. The day will come when oppression will cease from the land.


Psalms 11–15

Pss 8–10 speak of the ultimate victory of the Lord in judgment over his enemies. Pss 11–15 speak of the daily victory which David experienced and which all believers can know.

A. Overcoming Fear (Ps 11)

David probably wrote this psalm during the period when he served in the court of King Saul (1 Sam 18–19). The psalm has three divisions: (1) the fearlessness of faith (vv. 1–3); (2) the foundation of faith (vv. 4–5); and (3) the fruit of faith (v. 7).

11:1. David had taken refuge in Yahweh. To flee from the potential danger would be an act of unbelief as well as cowardice. David’s friends who urged him to flee to the mountains were misguided.

11:2. The situation was desperate. David’s life was in danger. The wicked are about to use the upright for target practice.

11:3. The state is compared to a building. The foundations upon which it rests are the fundamental principles of law and justice. The efforts of the righteous have done nothing to avert the general anarchy.

11:4. David is confident that “Yahweh is in his holy temple.” Others judge by the appearance of the moment; his faith beholds the heavenly ruler exercising his sovereignty.

11:5–6. God’s “soul” is his innermost, essential nature. He hates evil, and of necessity also the evil men who practice violence. The psalmist expresses the wish that the wicked might experience the fate of Sodom.

11:7. The character of Yahweh is the ground of the judgment which has been described. He not only punishes the wicked, he also rewards the righteous. If he hates violent deeds, he loves righteous acts. The righteous are admitted into the presence of the Lord. This theme will be further developed in Ps 15.

B. Overcoming Hypocrisy (Ps 12)

Ps 12 was probably written during David’s period of service in Saul’s court, or during the period of his flight from Saul. This was a time when unscrupulous enemies were poisoning Saul’s mind against David with slanderous accusations. This psalm has two main divisions: (1) a prayer (vv. 1–4); and (2) a prophecy (vv. 5–8).

12:1–2. David cries out for help because godly men are disappearing from the land. Hypocrisy and duplicity seem to be universal. Their words are “vanity” or falsehood, i.e., hollow and unreal. Their flatteries come from a double heart (lit., a heart and a heart) which thinks one thing and utters another.

12:3–4. David prays for the removal of these false-hearted braggarts. Unscrupulous courtiers appear to be meant. They deliberately propose to obtain their own ends by reckless disregard of truth, e.g., by flattery, slander, and false witness.

12:5. Because of the unjust oppression of the poor, Yahweh promises to “arise,” i.e., get involved. The despised victim will be put beyond the reach of his tormentors.

12:6. In Yahweh’s words there is no dross of flattery or falsehood. Unlike the words of men, they are wholly trustworthy.

12:7–8. David concludes with a final expression of confidence in Yahweh’s protection, which is sorely needed when wickedness is unchecked.

C. Overcoming Anxiety (Ps 13)

Ps 13 reflects the anxiety of David when he was in flight from Saul. The language is general but one foe in particular stands out above the rest. This psalm has three divisions: (1) exasperation (vv. 1–2); (2) entreaty (vv. 3–4); and (3) exultation (vv. 5–6).

13:1–2. In the opening lines hope despairs. David feels that the Lord has forgotten him. Yet hope also dares. The question “How long?” implies a termination of the Lord’s neglect of him.

13:3–4. David asks for divine intervention before he dies at the hands of his enemies. The implication is that the triumph of the enemies will cause the honor of God to suffer.

13:5–6. David begins to rejoice because he is certain that the deliverance will come.

D. Overcoming Corruption (Ps 14)

Ps 14 is also found in Book Two of the Psalter as Ps 53 with some variations. David wrote this psalm at some point between the capture of the stronghold of Jebus (1 Chr 11) and the transportation of the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chr 15–16). It has two equal stanzas with a concluding verse: (1) corruption of the world (vv. 1–3); (2) the oppression of the righteous (vv. 4–6); and (3) the aspiration of the psalmist (v. 7).

14:1. “The fool” is a class of people, not a particular individual. The word denotes moral depravity, not mere ignorance or weakness of reason. The fool conducts his life as if there is no God. This is not so much the philosophical denial of the atheist as the practical disregard of the immoral. Corrupt men give themselves over to practices which God abhors. Some think David is describing conditions before the Flood, at Babel, and in Sodom.

14:2. God “looked down” from heaven (cf. Gen 11:5; 18:21) with disapproval upon this corruption. He could find none who did “understand” and seek God. Note the use of God, not Yahweh. He speaks of mankind in general, not Israel.

14:3. The investigation showed that all had turned aside from the path of righteousness; all had become filthy. The first three verses of this psalm are quoted in Rom 3:10–12 to illustrate the principle that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

14:4. God expresses amazement that the sons of men do not know the difference between right and wrong, do not call upon him, and oppress his people. The reference may be to the oppression of Israel by the Egyptians.

14:5. At some point, overwhelming calamity overtook “the workers of iniquity.” If the previous verse refers to the oppression in Egypt, v. 5 would refer to the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. God is among “the generation of the righteous,” i.e., his people.

14:6. The wicked mocked the trust which the poor put in Yahweh; but in the Lord the poor would find refuge.

14:7. David prays for the “salvation of Israel” to come out of Zion, the dwelling-place of Yahweh. The Lord will one day “restore the fortunes of his people” (NASB margin).

E. Reward for Overcoming (Ps 15)

Ps 15 was composed by David, probably when he transported the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:12–19). This psalm begins with a question (v. 1), and ends with a promise (v. 5b). The intervening verses answer the initial question.

15:1. The “tent” is that tent which David pitched for the ark of God on Mt. Zion. The question concerns who is worthy to be received as Yahweh’s guest, to enjoy his protection and hospitality.

15:2. The conditions of access to God’s presence are first stated positively and in general terms: one who (1) walks with integrity, i.e., blamelessly (tamim); (2) works righteousness; and (3) is committed to the truth.

15:3. He who would be God’s guest (1) has no slander on his tongue; (2) does not do evil to his neighbor; nor (3) “takes up a reproach against his friend.” He does not make his neighbor’s faults or misfortunes the object of his ridicule or sarcasm.

15:4. The guest of God is one who (1) treats with contempt those who are reprobate, i.e., morally worthless; (2) honors those who fear Yahweh; and (3) performs his oaths without modification, even those that may have been made to his own disadvantage.

15:5. The guest of God would never lend money at interest to a brother in need (cf. Lev 25:36f.); nor would he take bribes to render judgments against the innocent (cf. Deut 27:25; Exod 23:7f.). The promise is that one who lives this lifestyle “shall never be moved.” Such a person will not only be admitted to fellowship with Yahweh, but, under his protection, will also enjoy prosperity.

chapter eleven

The Believer’s Salvation

Psalms 16–29

God is the source of deliverance for the believer. In the next series of psalms, the focus is on what God does for his people. The psalmist then indicates how God’s people can draw near to the Lord.


Psalm 16

Ps 16 is quoted twice in the New Testament and applied by apostolic inspiration to Jesus (Acts 2:25–28; 13:35). Biblical authority, then, requires the personal messianic interpretation of at least v. 10. Since there is no change of subject indicated, one must conclude that the entire psalm speaks exclusively of Messiah. Such was the ancient view of the church.

David wrote Ps 16 (Acts 2:25ff.). The title refers to this psalm as a mikhtam of David. Six psalms have such a title. The term is obscure, but it has been traced by some scholars to a root meaning “gold.” A mikhtam then would be a precious psalm. Though David is the writer, he is not the speaker in the psalm. The speaker is Christ (Acts 2:25–28).

Ps 16 consists of four thought divisions: (1) the cry (vv. 1–2); (2) the confession (vv. 3–4); (3) the commitment (vv. 5–8), and (4) the confidence (vv. 9–11) of Christ.

16:1–2. The opening verses of the psalm suggest that Messiah is in the depths of trouble. He refers to his Father as ‘El, the strong one, mighty to deliver in time of danger.

16:3. Messiah affirms his submission to the Father in that he calls him Lord (‘adhonay). He acknowledges that doing the will of God is the priority of his life. Christ also confesses his high estimation of the saints of God. He delights in them, considers them the “excellent” ones, i.e., nobles.

16:4. Christ repudiates those who hasten after another god or messiah. Such will have multiplied sorrows. They will have no sacrifice for sin, for Messiah will not pour out on their behalf blood libations. Neither will he take their names upon his lips, i.e., he will make no intercession for them.

16:5–6. Christ regarded God’s will as his portion and cup (sustenance). His “lot” (ministry) was in the hand of God. The Lord is to him as the choicest of possessions in the best of lands.

16:7–8. Christ received counsel, i.e., direction, from Yahweh. His goal was to always execute Yahweh’s will.

16:9–10. Christ is confident that he would not be abandoned to the grave. He knew that his stay in the grave would not be of sufficient duration to produce corruption. He would be in that tomb only sufficient time to prove the reality of his death.

16:11. Christ expresses confidence that he would walk the path of life. He led the way out of the realm of death to become the firstfruits of the dead (1 Cor 15:20). He was confident that he would assume his rightful place at the right hand of the Father.


Psalms 17–18

Deliverance is the theme of Pss 17–18. In the first psalm the danger is clearly present; in the second the danger is past.

A. Prayer for Deliverance (Ps 17)

Ps 17 comes from the period of David’s outlaw life. He is beset by proud and pitiless enemies bent on his destruction. One among those enemies—Saul—was particularly hostile (cf. 1 Sam 23:25–29). The psalm is one of five in the book to be called a “prayer.” It contains three distinct petitions. David asks for deliverance on the grounds of (1) his personal integrity (vv. 1–5); (2) his relationship to God (vv. 6–12); and (3) his spiritual aspirations (vv. 13–15).

17:1. David comes before God with a righteous cause and a just appeal. He is confident of the integrity of his motives towards God and man. “A good conscience is an indispensable condition of earnest prayer.”

17:2. Yahweh’s eyes “behold with equity,” i.e., his discernment is complete and impartial.

17:3–5. David speaks boldly of his innocence of wrongdoing. In thought, word and deed he has nothing to fear from thorough scrutiny from Yahweh. He had followed the word of God and had shunned the ways of violent men. He had kept his feet steadfastly in the beaten path marked out by God.

17:7. David calls on the Lord to “make marvelous” his lovingkindness. The petition suggests a dramatic intervention on his behalf. The need was great, but the “right hand” (power) of his God was greater.

17:8–9. David asks (1) that God might guard him as one would guard the “apple” (pupil) of his eye; and (2) that God might “hide” him as a mother bird hides her chicks under her wings.

17:10–13. Those who attacked David are described as compassionless and contemptuous. They look for every opportunity of overthrowing David and his associates. One of their number—Saul—is compared to a lion, i.e., he is conspicuous by his ferocity and craftiness. David calls upon God to meet that lion as he is about to attack, to make him bow down in humble submission.

17:14. The enemies are described as “men of the world” who have their “portion” in this life only. By contrast, Yahweh himself is the portion of the righteous. Men of the world care only for the satisfaction of their lower appetites. God gives them their due in life, for example, treasure and children to whom to leave it.

17:15. David has higher aspirations than his attackers. Their prosperity is no problem to him, because his blessings are greater. To “behold” the face of God in worship is for him an incomparable joy. The phrase “when I awake” does not refer directly to resurrection from death, but to a renewal daily of his personal communion with God.

B. Praise for Deliverance (Ps 18)

Ps 18 is a thanksgiving hymn of David, the warrior king. It is a duplicate of 2 Sam 22. Such differences as appear between the two passages are due, no doubt, to revisions made by David himself as he prepared the psalm for use in the public services. The psalm seems to come from the middle of David’s reign, when he was at the zenith of power (cf. 2 Sam 7:1). The king attributes his military success to the aid of Yahweh. In the title David is called “Yahweh’s servant.” Only a few who had a special relationship with the Lord are so designated, e.g., Moses, Joshua, Job and especially Jesus. In using the title of himself David seems to be claiming divine authority for the words of this psalm.

Ps 18 has a chiastic structure which may displayed as follows:

A. Praise to the Deliverer (vv. 1–3).

B. Divine Power (vv. 4–19).

C. Divine Procedure (vv. 20–24).

D. Divine Principles (vv. 25–26).

C. Divine Procedure (vv. 27–31).

B. Divine Power (vv. 32–48).

A. Praise to the Deliverer (vv. 49–50).

18:1–2. David uses nine titles for Yahweh to express all that he had found the Lord to be in his experience. Here occurs for the first time in the Psalter the title “rock” (tsur), so often used to describe the strength, faithfulness, and unchangeableness of Yahweh. The “horn” is a common symbol of irresistible strength, derived from horned animals, especially wild oxen.

18:3. “I will call upon Yahweh” expresses the conviction of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer. Yahweh is the only object of Israel’s praise.

18:4–6. In forceful figures David pictures the extremity of need in which he cried for help. The perils to which he had been exposed are described as waves which threatened to engulf him and sweep him away. Sheol and death are represented as hunters laying wait for his life with nets and snares.

18:7–15. David’s prayer is answered forthwith. Yahweh comes to scatter his enemies. The Lord manifests himself in earthquake and storm. This awesome display of divine power in nature is probably an “ideal” theophany, i.e., visible manifestation of God. No record in the histories of David documents such an actual occurrence when God intervened through nature to rescue David. Yahweh is said to ride upon “a cherub” (v. 10). Cherubim in Scripture are depicted as attendants of God or guardians of sacred places. The cherubim depicted in the tabernacle and temple seem to have been winged human figures, representing the angelic attendants who minister in God’s presence.

18:16–19. Yahweh reached forth from on high and rescued David from the floods of persecution. The “enemy” from whom David was delivered was Saul. From the narrow straits of peril, God had brought forth David into the “large place” of freedom. The reason Yahweh intervened was because he “delighted” in David.

18:20–23. David here does not claim sinlessness, but single-hearted devotion to the Lord. God (1 Kgs 14:8) and the sacred historian (1 Kgs 11:4; 15:5) testify to the essential integrity of this man. God’s commandments were continually present to his mind as the rule of his life. He had carefully guarded himself against transgression. Obviously this psalm was written before David’s great sin with Bathsheba.

18:24–27. Here is the law of God’s moral government. His attitude towards men is conditioned by their attitude towards him. The person whose life is governed by the spirit of lovingkindness will himself experience the lovingkindness of the Lord. On the other hand, God is at cross purposes with the wicked, frustrating their plans, and punishing their wickedness. He permits such to follow their crooked ways till they bring them to destruction. God rewards humility, but crushes pride.

18:28–30. The general principles of God’s dealing with men are confirmed by David in his own experience. The burning lamp is a natural metaphor for the continuance of life and prosperity. The figure is derived from the Oriental practice of keeping a light constantly burning in the tent or house. The allusion to the “troop” and the “wall” may refer specifically to David’s pursuit of the Amalekites (1 Sam 30), and the ease with which he captured the fortress of Zion (2 Sam 5:6–8).

18:31–34. David’s strength in battle is attributed to Yahweh. He alone is ‘Eloah, a God to be feared. God has made David’s way “perfect,” i.e., has enabled him to accomplish the goals of his life. God had made his feet like those of the hind. This animal was a type of the agility, swiftness, and surefootedness which were indispensable qualifications in ancient warfare. The “high places” where God had set him were the mountain fortresses of Judah. The ability to bend a metal bow was a sign of superior strength.

18:35–38. David gives Yahweh praise for his saving help. Yahweh’s right hand supported him so that his feet would not slip. He enabled David to advance with firm, unwavering steps. Thus he had been able to consume his enemies. They had fallen wounded at his feet.

18:39–42. Thus girded with divine strength, David was able to subdue all his enemies. He had been able to place his feet upon their neck. In desperation these pagan enemies called upon Yahweh to save them from David. Yet he was able to crush them as dust, and cast them away as refuse.

18:43–45. David’s dominion was established at home and abroad. Yahweh had brought David safely through the internal dissension which disturbed the early years of his reign while Saul’s house still endeavored to maintain its position. He had enabled him to subjugate foreign nations as well. At the mere report of David’s victories, other nations offered their allegiance (cf. 2 Sam 8:9ff.).

18:46–48. Yahweh is the living God, in contrast to the lifeless idols of the heathen. Vengeance is God’s vindication of the righteousness and integrity of his servants. God had avenged David because of the cruel injustice of Saul. The “man of violence” from whom David was delivered is most likely Saul.

18:49. The praise of Yahweh for his faithfulness should be proclaimed among the nations. Thus someday these Gentiles may be brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord. These words are quoted by Paul in Rom 15:9 in proof that the Old Testament anticipated the admission of the Gentiles to the blessings of salvation.

18:50. David is God’s anointed. The lovingkindness shown to David personally will be shown to his seed—including Christ Jesus—forever. “The words reach forward to the perfect life, and the world-wide victories, of the Christ, the Son of David.”


Psalm 19

Psalm 19 comes from the pen of David. The exact occasion, however, is not indicated. This psalm has three distinct parts: (1) God’s revelation in nature (vv. 1–6); (2) God’s revelation in the law (vv. 7–11); and (3) David’s prayer for pardon (vv. 12–14). Some scholars believe that originally the first six verses were a separate psalm. If so, the two poems have been combined to make this point: Yahweh, the lawgiver of Israel, is ‘El, the creator of the universe.

19:1. The “glory of God” is the unique majesty of Yahweh’s being as it is revealed to man. It is that manifestation of his deity which the creature should recognize with reverent adoration. The heavens in their vastness, splendor, order and mystery are the most impressive reflection of his greatness and majesty. Simple men stand in awe of the starry skies; how much more those who are familiar with the probings of astronomy.

19:2. The proclamation of the heavenly bodies is continuous. The day and the night have been compared to the two parts of a choir, chanting forth alternately the praises of God.

19:3. The message of the heavenly bodies is real, but it is inarticulate. Theirs is a silent eloquence. The Hebrew will not support the KJV rendering that states that the message of the heavens reaches all nations of every language alike.

19:4. The proclamation of the heavenly bodies is universal. Paul quotes these words in Rom 10:18 in making an analogy to the universal proclamation of the gospel. The poet singles out the sun as the chief witness to God’s glory. He personifies the sun as though it were a king or hero, for whose abode the creator has fixed a tent in the heavens.

19:5. The sun comes forth morning by morning like the bridegroom in all the splendor of his bridal attire, like the hero eager to put his strength to the test.

19:6. The beneficent influences of the sun’s light and heat are universally felt.

19:7. The law of Yahweh—his special revelation through his word—is more glorious than the heavenly witness. That word revelation is “perfect,” i.e., flawless, without defect or error; a guide which can neither mislead nor fail. The name Yahweh now replaces the name ‘El because the remainder of the psalm enters into the sphere of special revelation to Israel. Like food for the hungry, the law can refresh and restore the soul. The law is a “testimony” to God’s will and man’s duty. As such it is “sure,” i.e., not variable or uncertain. The “simple” are those who have not closed their heart to instruction.

19:8. The “precepts” of the Lord are the various special injunctions in which man’s obligations are set forth. These “make glad the heart” with the joy of moral satisfaction. To the psalmist the law was not a burdensome restriction of liberty, but a gracious reflection of the holiness of God, designed to lead man in the way of life and peace.

19:9. The “fear of Yahweh” is another synonym for the law, inasmuch as the aim of the law was to implant reverence for God in the hearts of men. It is “clean” or “pure” in contrast to the immoralities of heathenism.

19:10. The law in all its parts is a treasure to be coveted, a sweet treat to be savored.

19:11. As Yahweh’s servant, David allows himself to be warned by God’s law.

19:12–13. The contemplation of the holy law leads the psalmist to express his personal need of preservation and guidance. For sins committed in error and for hidden offenses the ceremonial law provided an atonement; but for sins committed “with a high hand,” i.e., with a spirit of proud defiance, there was no atonement (Num 15:30f.). From such presumptuous sins he asks to be restrained.

19:14. Prayer uttered or unexpressed is a spiritual sacrifice. David asks that this sacrifice be accepted by the Lord. Yahweh is his “rock” and “redeemer,” i.e., one who delivers David from the tyranny of enemies and the bondage of sin.


Psalms 20–21

Psalms 20 and 21 are closely related in structure and contents. Both depict Yahweh as king of battle. The first is an intercession before the battle; the second is thanksgiving after the battle.

A. Intercession before Battle (Ps 20)

The writer is David; the occasion is uncertain. Most likely this psalm belongs to the period of David’s wars recorded in 2 Sam 8–10. An ancient tradition assigned it to the time of David’s war with the Ammonites (2 Sam 10:8; 12:26ff). This psalm was apparently intended to be sung as the sacrifice was being offered. It consists of two stanzas with a concluding verse: (1) the people’s intercession for the king (vv. 1–5); (2) the king’s anticipation of victory (vv. 6–8); and (3) concluding prayer of the whole congregation.

20:1. The prayer is that Yahweh would hear the king in the day of trouble. The impending military campaign is in view. The people pray that God will prove himself to be all that his name implies that he is. They wish for God to protect the king as he protected Jacob.

20:2. The earthly sanctuary of Yahweh was located in Zion, the city of Jerusalem. From that sanctuary the congregation prayed that help would come to their king.

20:3. The prayer is that Yahweh might remember all the offerings by which in past time the king had expressed his devotion to the Lord. This would include the sacrifices presently being offered. Sacrifices were regularly offered before a war (1 Sam 7:9f.; 13:9–12).

20:4. The prayer continues that God might grant the counsel, i.e., fulfill the battle plans, of David.

20:5. Yahweh was Israel’s savior, and David was his chosen instrument for saving the people from their enemies. The citizens looked forward to waving the victory banners.

20:6. The voice of a priest, prophet or possibly the king himself expresses confidence that the pre-battle sacrifice had been accepted by Yahweh. To faith, the victory was already won. God’s “anointed”—the king—most certainly would receive God’s help.

20:7. The enemy puts its trust in horses and chariots; but Yahweh’s name is the watchword and strength of his people.

20:8. Faith anticipates the entire subjugation of the enemy and the triumph of Israel.

20:9. The prayer for the earthly king is addressed to the heavenly king whose representative he is.

B. Thanksgiving after Battle (Ps 21)

David is the author of Ps 21, but the occasion is uncertain. Some think this may have been a national anthem which was used as a thanksgiving for victories granted in answer to prayer. The outline is similar to that of the preceding psalm: (1) thanksgiving for victory achieved; (2) anticipation of future victories; and (3) concluding prayer.

21:1–2. The prayers of Ps 20 have been answered. The victory has been won and the king rejoices in the strength of Yahweh which has been demonstrated on the battlefield. God has listened to the prayers for success of the expedition referred to in 20:3–5.

21:3. The victory is a divine confirmation of the sovereignty of the king. Once more, as it were, David has been crowned king. Some think an allusion to the confiscated crown of the king of Ammon is intended (2 Sam 12:30).

21:4–5. Long life was one of Yahweh’s special blessings under the old covenant. David had been granted “length of days for ever and ever.” To regard such language as fulfilled only in the sense that his posterity succeeded him on the throne is to rob this passage of its hint of immortality. Glory, honor and majesty are divine attributes. The victorious king shines with a reflection of these attributes.

21:6–7. The victorious king is the possessor and the medium of blessing. The victory is a pledge of divine favor and fellowship, an evidence that David walks in the light of Yahweh’s smile. The blessing is grounded in two facts: David’s trust in Yahweh, and the Lord’s lovingkindness.

21:8–10. The king is addressed. He is promised triumph over all his enemies. They will all be consumed as fuel in a furnace. Even the “fruit,” i.e., posterity, of the enemies would be destroyed. Some see here a direct reference to the terrible vengeance which David inflicted upon the Ammonites (2 Sam 12:31).

21:11–12. The enemies might come against David with evil intent. He would unleash against them a barrage of arrows which would cause them to turn their backs and flee.

21:13. The congregation’s concluding prayer. Yahweh is exalted when he manifests his strength in mighty acts of salvation.


Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is the first and greatest of the passional psalms. New Testament usage makes it clear that this Davidic psalm should be numbered among the messianic psalms. The description of the suffering here transcends anything which might have befallen David personally. So much of the language is inappropriate to David (cf. vv. 6, 11, 16, 18). The truth is that this psalm reads as if it were composed at the foot of the cross. Ps 22 has two major divisions: (1) the gloom of the cross (vv. 1–21); and (2) the glory of the resurrection (vv. 22–31).

22:1. Christ has been forsaken by his Father. The forsaking was real. The opening utterance of the psalm furnished Jesus with the agonizing cry of his dying hour (Matt 27:45ff.). The word “groaning” is a strong word used of the shrieking of a person in intense pain.

22:2. The abandonment seemed permanent. The “night” here may refer to the darkness which covered the land at high noon during the crucifixion, or perhaps to the gloomy night spent in the garden.

22:3. The abandonment was necessary. The holy God cannot ignore sin. By punishing the sins of mankind on the cross God was demonstrating both his holiness and his compassion for lost humanity. Having been redeemed from sin’s bondage by the suffering of Calvary, the true Israel of God raises up continuous praise to the Lord.

22:4–5. The abandonment does not suggest lack of power on God’s part to deliver. History contains many examples of how God delivered those who trusted in him. The sufferer here trusted in the Lord. He knew that God could deliver him. In patient trust he accepted his lot as the will of God.

22:6–10. Another reason for the gloom of the speaker: he had become a reproach among men. He was regarded as a “worm”—a weak creature of the dust—and not a man. He was jeered by the people. The mocking priests used these words as they stood at the cross (Matt 27:39–44). They scoffed at Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son by urging him to cast himself upon Yahweh. Yet in spite of the cruel mockery, the sufferer remained firmly committed in faith to his Father.

22:12–18. The focus now is upon the physical agony of the sufferer. He likens his foes to strong bulls, lions, half-starved dogs, and wild oxen. He is utterly exhausted by the ordeal. His bones are disjointed. His heart is failing. His thirst is raging. He is near death. His hands and feet have been pierced. His skin is so taut that he can count his bones. He watches helplessly as his persecutors gamble over custody of his garments (cf. John 19:23f.; Matt 27:35).

22:19–21. In spite of all his agony, the sufferer continues to trust God and pray to him for deliverance.

22:22. Here the mood of the psalm changes. Christ’s victory over death is the occasion of great joy. After the suffering of the cross, Christ rejoined his “brethren,” i.e., his faithful followers (Matt 28:10; John 20:17). Together the Redeemer and the redeemed praise the Father for the victory which has been won. The author of Hebrews applies this verse to the Savior. He identifies the assembly of this verse as the church (Heb 2:11f.).

22:23–24. Christ calls on all true descendants of Jacob to honor and praise the Father. Christ had not been permanently forsaken. The resurrection was the answer to Christ’s cross petitions for deliverance. He was not delivered from death, but was triumphant over death.

22:25–27. Christ’s victory over death is celebrated in worship. The “great assembly” consists of all those who fear the Lord. These “meek ones shall eat and be satisfied.” They appropriate the benefits of his death by eating his body and blood (John 6:55). The believers pray for one another that each may remain faithful unto death. All the ends of the earth join in this worship.

22:28–29. Christ’s victory over death ushers in his universal kingdom. All the wealthy will someday worship him (cf. Rev 21:24). Every mortal will one day yield to his sovereignty (cf. Phil 2:10).

22:30–31. Christ’s victory over death demands evangelism. The true seed of Abraham (Gal 3:29) and Eve (Gen 3:15) will faithfully render service to him through the years. God’s plan for world redemption involves the proclamation of God’s “righteousness” as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. “He has done it” is one word in the Hebrew. God’s work of redemption is finished. Should the Lord tarry, generations yet unborn will learn of this great truth and respond to it.


Psalm 23

David is the writer of this “the pearl of psalms.” It seems to be based on recollections of his early shepherd life, and perhaps on his gracious treatment by his friend Barzillai (2 Sam 17:27–29) late in his reign. Ps 23 has two main divisions. God is presented as (1) good shepherd (vv. 1–4) and (2) gracious host (vv. 5–6).

23:1. Yahweh is often presented as the shepherd of Israel. The words “I shall not want” reflect both past experience and future confidence.

23:2. The shepherd makes his flock lie down in the noontime heat in pastures of tender grass. He gently leads the flock beside “waters of rest,” i.e., streams where they may find rest and refreshment. The eastern shepherd always leads and never drives his flock.

23:3. Yahweh renews and sustains the life of the psalmist. He guides his people individually and collectively “in the paths of righteousness,” i.e., in a way that is right with God and thus beneficial for man. This Yahweh does “for his name sake,” i.e., in order to prove himself to be what he has declared himself to be (Exod 34:5ff.).

23:4. Walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” or deep gloom will not terrify the godly man. God’s presence is the strength of his people and their comfort. The shepherd’s crook is poetically described by two names. It is the rod or club with which he defends his sheep from attack; and the staff with which he draws the straying sheep back to safety.

23:5. The figure is changed. Yahweh is now described as the host who bountifully entertains the psalmist at his table. This mark of favor is public and unmistakable. Yahweh “anoints” the head. The reference is to the perfumes which were the regular accompaniment of an Oriental banquet. The overflowing cup is the symbol of the generosity of the host. He provides for the joys as well as the necessities of life.

23:6. Though the wicked are hunted by calamity, the godly man anticipates nothing but goodness and mercy. He anticipates dwelling in the “house of Yahweh” forever. At the very least these words anticipate a long life spent in communion with God in his earthly dwelling, the tabernacle. Probably David is alluding to the hope of dwelling in the heavenly abode with the Lord.


Psalm 24

David wrote Ps 24 most probably for the inauguration of the newly captured fortress of Zion (2 Sam 6). The psalm is antiphonic, i.e., it consists of questions chanted by one part of the Levitical choir, and responses by another part of the choir. Ps 24 consists of three parts: (1) the conqueror’s approach (vv. 1–2); (2) the conditions of access to Yahweh’s sanctuary (vv. 3–6); (3) and the conqueror’s arrival (vv. 7–10).

24:1. He who comes to take possession of Zion is Lord of all the earth. The word order of the Hebrew fixes attention on him whose approach is the theme of the psalm. This verse is cited by Paul (1 Cor 10:26) to confirm the intrinsic lawfulness of eating whatever is sold in the market.

24:2. The sovereignty of Yahweh is grounded in the fact that he is the creator of all that exists. He and no other laid the foundation of the world (cf. Job 38:4). The poetic imagery used here is derived from the observation of the land rising out of the seas.

24:3. The hill of Zion is Yahweh’s holy place. Who can ascend that hill? Who can stand his ground in the presence of this awesome God?

24:4. To have clean hands is to be innocent of violence and wrongdoing. To be pure of heart is to be innocent even in thought and purpose as well as in deed. To “lift up the soul unto vanity” is to direct one’s thoughts toward that which is transitory, false and unreal. It includes all that is unlike or opposed to the nature of God. To “swear deceitfully” is to misuse the name of God in false oaths so as to deceive one’s fellow man.

24:5. The person who ascends that holy mount will receive a blessing from the Lord. “Righteousness” here is the vindication which comes by deliverance at the hand of “the God of his salvation.”

24:6. The two previous verses describe the “generation,” i.e., class of people, which seeks the Lord and seeks to be like their godly ancestor Jacob.

24:7. The procession has now reached the gates of Zion. The gates are summoned to open to admit the great king of glory. The ark was the symbol of Yahweh’s majesty and the pledge of his presence among his people (2 Sam 6:2; Num 10:35f.). The “doors” of Zion are called “everlasting” because of their antiquity.

24:8. Those who guarded the gates are represented as challenging the comer’s right to enter. The choir responds that Yahweh is the victor. He comes as he had purposed, to take his kingdom.

24:9–10. The challenge and response are repeated, with one important change. “Yahweh of hosts” is identified as the one who would enter the city. He claims to enter, not merely as a victorious warrior, but as the sovereign of the universe. This great title appears here for the first time in the Psalter. He is God of the armies of Israel (1 Sam 17:45), as well as the celestial bodies (Gen 2:1) and heavenly angels (1 Kgs 22:19). Hence the title came to mean: sovereign Lord of the universe.


Psalms 25–29

The next series of psalms focuses on the redeemed as they seek to draw near to the redeemer. The psalms seem to be linked by key thoughts. The “integrity” of 25:21 is the main theme of Ps 26. David’s love for God’s house in 26:8 surfaces again in 27:4–5. The exhortation to wait on Yahweh in 27:14 becomes the victorious experience of 28:6–7. The predicted judgment of 28:4–5 reaches a climax in the description of the terrible thunderstorm of Ps 29.

A. In Simple Trust (Ps 25)

David wrote Ps 25, probably at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. This is one of nine acrostic psalms, but it is irregular. Two Hebrew letters are omitted, and two are doubled—the aleph and the resh. Perhaps the irregularity was intended by David to reflect the turbulent times in which the poem was written.

The psalm is built around three prayers: one at the beginning (vv. 1–7), one in the middle (v. 11), and one at the end (vv. 15–22). Sandwiched between these prayers are two reflections. One deals with the character of Yahweh (vv. 8–10), and one with his dealings with those who fear him (vv. 12–14).

25:1–2. David expresses a personal longing to approach God. Since his trust is in Yahweh alone, he asks that he would not be put to shame before his enemies.

25:3. David is confident that none who wait upon the Lord shall be put to shame. Those who “deal treacherously,” i.e., desert Yahweh, will find themselves put to shame.

25:4. God’s “ways” and “paths” are the purposes and methods of his providence; or more specifically, the course of life and conduct which he prescribes for men. David wants God to make those ways clear to him.

25:5. David wants to experience God’s faithfulness because Yahweh is the “God of my salvation.” He “waits” on the Lord all day.

25:6. David appeals to the unchangeableness of Yahweh. From ancient days he had shown himself to be a God of lovingkindness.

25:7. David asks God to overlook “the sins of my youth,” i.e., the failures, errors, and lapses; the thoughtless transgressions of youth. Such forgiveness would make clear to all the essential “goodness” of God.

25:8–9. He who is simultaneously perfectly loving and perfectly upright must guide those who are prone to error. Those who are humble in spirit he will guide “in judgment,” i.e., the practice of right.

25:10. In all his dealings, Yahweh shows his loving purpose and his faithfulness to his promises to those who on their part are faithful to him. The “covenant” is that system of law revealed at Mt. Sinai. The “testimonies” are the individual commandments of the Lord.

25:11. The thought of God’s requirements makes David aware of his shortcomings. He prays for pardon and bases his petition on God’s name, i.e., his revelation of himself as the God of mercy.

25:12–14. Yahweh will teach one who fears him “in the way he shall choose,” i.e., what course to take in circumstances of doubt or difficulty. That man will prosper. His posterity after him shall inherit the land. “The secret of Yahweh” is with those who fear him, i.e., his intimate friendship and secret counsel (cf. Amos 3:7).

25:15. The psalmist’s eyes are “ever towards Yahweh,” i.e., in the attitude of expectant prayer. He was confident that the Lord would pluck his feet out of the net, i.e., release him from the entanglements and perplexities of life, whether due to his own mistakes or to the hostility of his enemies.

25:16–17. David asks that God turn his face of mercy unto him because he is “desolate,” i.e., without other friend or helper. His troubles have multiplied. He needs deliverance from his distresses.

25:18. Sin is viewed as a burden which causes affliction and travail. He asks that this burden might be removed.

25:19–20. David’s enemies are many and vicious. He calls upon the Lord to “keep” his soul and deliver him from these enemies. He asks that he not be put to shame because he trusts only in the Lord.

25:21. David asks that his single-hearted devotion to God and his honorable conduct toward men be as it were guardian angels at his side. He does not pray on the basis of his own merits, but on his total dependence upon God.

25:22. A concluding prayer for the nation may have been added to this psalm to make it more suitable for use in public worship.

B. In Godly Confidence (Ps 26)

At what time David penned these words cannot be determined with certainty. The psalm seems to have come from a period of national calamity. Some terrible fate is about to befall both the righteous and the wicked. In the previous psalm David contrasted his character with the character of God and he confessed his sin. Here he compares his character with that of the godless and he professes his sincerity.

This psalm consists of two prayers for vindication with reasons attached to support the petition. In the first (vv. 1–7) he grounds his request in his godly walk; in the second (vv. 8–12), in his devoted worship. The point of both petitions is to request that he may not share the premature fate of the wicked.

26:1. “Judge me” means “do me justice.” David wants God to show him to be in the right, to vindicate his integrity by discriminating between him and wicked men. “Integrity” is sincerity of purpose and single-hearted devotion to the Lord. Such had been the rule of his life.

26:2. God already knows David, but he nonetheless offers himself fearlessly for a fresh scrutiny. His conscience is clear. If any sin remained in his heart, he was perfectly willing to have it purged away. Three verbs are used to express the thoroughness of the scrutiny: “examine me,” “prove me,” and “try me.”

26:3. David’s prayer is first of all grounded in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of Yahweh. These wonderful attributes were the object of his constant meditation, the daily experience of his life.

26:4–5. David offers proof of his integrity. He did not “sit with vain persons,” i.e., he did not have prolonged involvement with them. “Men of vanity” live hollow lives based on unreality. David would have no association with hypocrites. He hated the congregation of evil doers and shunned it.

26:6–7. David would wash his hands to symbolize his innocence before taking his place in the ring of worshipers about the altar. There in public worship he would make known his thanksgiving to the Lord by declaring all his wondrous works.

26:8. David loved the house of God, the sanctuary where Yahweh dwelt among his people (Exod 25:8f.). Yahweh’s “glory” is his manifested presence, of which the ark was the outward symbol.

26:9–10. Because of his genuine love of worship, David asks again that he might be spared from the fate of sinners. Such a prayer would be natural in a situation where some pestilence was striking down the righteous and the wicked indiscriminately. The sinners are described as “men of blood” because they do not hesitate to employ violence and murder to further their ends. “In whose hands is mischief” suggests that they deliberately plan and execute crime. Their right hand is full of bribes which they take to pervert justice. Nobles and men in authority are in view here.

26:11. With such evildoers David contrasts himself. Should his life be spared, his purpose will be to continue to walk in integrity. Therefore, he asks that Yahweh might “redeem” him from the fate of the wicked, and “be gracious” to him.

26:12. By faith David views his prayer as already granted. He has traversed the rough and gloomy path; now he stands in the open plain, where there is no more fear of stumbling or sudden assault. Hence he can render public thanksgiving to the Lord.

C. In Time of Attack (Ps 27)

David is the writer, but the occasion is not clear. An ancient tradition assigned this psalm to the turbulent period before David was anointed king over all Israel. Some modern scholars have suggested that this psalm comes from the time of Absalom’s rebellion. The psalm contains (1) a testimony of faith (vv. 1–6); (2) the testing of faith (vv. 7–12); and (3) the triumph of faith (vv. 13–14). The radical change of mood following v. 6 has caused some to suggest that two separate psalms have here been combined into one.

27:1. With Yahweh on his side, David knows no fear. The Lord illuminates the darkness of trouble, anxiety, and danger. He is the psalmist’s “salvation” and “stronghold,” i.e., defense against all assaults.

27:2. David compares his enemies to wild beasts, eager to devour him. They stumble and fall in the effort.

27:3. Though he was often exposed to war, David was full of confidence. His faith banished fear.

27:4. David’s chief desire in life was to be a guest in the house of Yahweh, i.e., the tabernacle which was God’s temple or palace. There he could “behold,” i.e., see with the eye of faith, “the beauty of Yahweh,” i.e., his gracious kindness and loving character. David wished to “inquire” in Yahweh’s temple, i.e., to seek the answers to spiritual mysteries.

27:5. One who abides in the house of God as his guest is secure from danger as one who is sheltered from heat and storm, or one who is safe from assault in some inaccessible rock fortress.

27:6. In the immediate future David anticipated not only protection, but victory over his enemies. In the “tabernacle” he would offer joyous sacrifices and sing praises to the Lord. The reference seems to be to the tent which David erected for the ark on Mt. Zion (2 Sam 6:17).

27:7–9. Here the psalm changes abruptly to plaintive and anxious supplication. While David had accepted the invitation to seek the face of the Lord, God seemed to be on the verge of hiding his face from him. Yahweh had been his help in past trials. Surely God cannot have changed.

27:10–11. Though he is friendless and forsaken as a deserted child, Yahweh would adopt him and care for him. God’s love is stronger than that of the closest human relations. If David follows the course of life designed for him by God he will be safe. He prays that this way might be like a path along a level open plain, free from pitfalls and places where enemies may lurk in ambush.

27:12–14. David faced “false witnesses” who slandered him with cruel intent. He would have given up had he not had strong faith that he would continue to see “the goodness of Yahweh” in the land of the living. He refers here to this life on earth in contrast to Sheol, the abode of the dead. David encourages himself to be patient. Here faith rebukes faintheartedness.

D. In Time of Heavenly Silence (Ps 28)

Ps 28 was written by David, apparently during a time of national calamity. The flight from Absalom has been suggested as the occasion. The psalm consists of four strophes: (1) invocation (vv. 1–2); (2) supplication (vv. 3–5); (3) exultation (vv. 6–7); and (4) intercession (vv. 8–9).

28:1. David appeals to Yahweh as his “rock,” the ground of his confidence. He asks the Lord not to turn aside from him as though he did not hear. If Yahweh remains silent, David believes that he will become “like those that go down into the pit,” i.e., the dying or the dead. The “pit” is Sheol, the abode of the dead.

28:2. David uses a stronger word for “cry,” one which means to cry for help. The gesture of lifting up the hands in prayer was the outward symbol of the uplifted heart. The exact posture of the hands in prayer (e.g., folded at the chest, or lifted over the head) remains uncertain. “The holy oracle” was the most sacred part of the tabernacle/temple where the ark was housed. The Old Testament worshiper faced the temple as he prayed to the Lord.

28:3. David prays that he may be distinguished from the wicked, and that they may be judged as they deserved. He asks that God might not “draw” him away as a criminal might be dragged off to execution. The “wicked” that he has in mind are those who profess “peace” with their neighbors, but who plot mischief in their hearts against them.

28:4. David prays that Yahweh might openly convict false and wicked men by manifesting his righteous judgments upon them, and punishing them as they deserve. This verse contains no vindictive craving for personal revenge.

28:5. The wicked are atheists in practice if not in profession. They deny that Yahweh governs the world. They refuse to discern his working in creation or in providence. Unbelief was the root sin in their lives. For this reason God will “break them down” rather than “build them up.”

28:6–7. The psalmist breaks forth in thanksgiving. His prayer has been answered. He now knows by experience that Yahweh is his “strength” and “shield.” David’s trust in God was rewarded with help. He can now rejoice and sing.

28:8–9. The Lord is a strength unto his people. He is a “stronghold” of “salvation” (the Hebrew is plural, indicating manifold deliverance) to “his anointed,” i.e., Israel’s king. David calls upon Yahweh to “save” and “bless” his “inheritance,” i.e., Israel (cf. Deut 4:20). He asks God to “feed” his people as a shepherd might care for his sheep. Finally, he asks that God might “lift up,” i.e., carry them as a shepherd carries his sheep or a father carries his child.

E. The God of the Thunderstorm (Ps 29)

Ps 29 was written by David, but the specific occasion is uncertain. The placement of the psalm here is most appropriate. David raised his “voice” in supplication to Yahweh in 28:2; now the “voice” of God responds. Both psalms have similar conclusions.

The core of Ps 29 is a description of a terrible thunderstorm (vv. 3–9). This description is set between two stanzas of two verses each. The first of these (vv. 1–2) is an introductory call to worship; the last (vv. 10–11) is a concluding assurance of blessing.

29:1–2. David calls upon the “sons of God,” i.e., angels (cf. Job 1:6; 2:2) to celebrate the glory of Yahweh. They are called upon to “give,” i.e., ascribe or attribute, “glory and strength.” The angels should confess and proclaim the glory which is due “his name,” i.e., the glory which he reveals to the world. As the priests in the earthly temple are clothed in holy garments (Exod 28:2), so David calls upon these servants in the heavenly temple to so adorn themselves.

29:3–4. The particular occasion which is the basis of the opening call to praise is the exhibition of divine power in a thunderstorm. This “voice of Yahweh” is heard in the pealing of the thunder above the “many waters,” i.e., the waters collected in the dense masses of storm-clouds. Not Yahweh’s voice alone, but Yahweh himself is there upon those waters. Yahweh is thus depicted riding upon the clouds (cf. 18:9ff.).

29:5–6. In the storm the great cedars, symbols of that which is noblest and strongest in the forest, come crashing down. Mt. Lebanon and Mt. Sirion (i.e., Hermon; see Deut 3:9) seem to “skip about,” i.e., shake, like a calf or wild ox.

29:7. The voice of Yahweh “divides the flames of fire.” This is a poetical description of the forked lightnings darting from the cloud.

29:8. From the mountains of the far north, the storm sweeps down to the “wilderness of Kadesh” in the distant south.

29:9. The voice of Yahweh makes the hinds calve prematurely, in fear. The storm strips the forests bare of branches, leaves, and bark. Meanwhile in his heavenly temple the angelic worshipers (cf. vv. 1–2) are chanting praise as they witness this manifestation of Yahweh’s glory.

29:10. The storm reminds David of that great Flood (mabbul) of Genesis. At that time God took his seat on his throne in order to execute that memorable judgment. If Yahweh was sovereign over that world-wide catastrophe, he is in control of all lesser storms since. He sits as king forever.

29:11. For his people Yahweh is not a God of terror. For them all ends in peace. The words “with peace” are like a rainbow of promise across the dark storm cloud of Ps 29. The psalm opened by revealing the throne of God in heaven surrounded by the praise of the angelic hosts. It ends on earth with God’s people, blessed with peace even in the midst of the most awesome manifestations of his power.

chapter twelve

The Experiences of the Redeemed

Psalms 30–41

The next series of psalms depicts the reaction of the people of God to the revelation of the deliverer in the preceding series. Here is the testimony of faith to the announcement of salvation. Here is a fuller appreciation of divine grace.


Psalms 30–34

Gratitude is the dominant element in Pss 30–34. The successful petition of heavenly grace can only result in thanksgiving.

A. For Deliverance (Ps 30)

David wrote Ps 30 on the occasion of the dedication of the “house of God.” The reference is probably to the dedication of the site of the temple (1 Chron 21:26; 22:1). The psalm has four closely related parts: (1) praise (vv. 1–5); (2) confession (vv. 6–7); (3) supplication (vv. 11–12); and (4) testimony.

30:1. God had drawn up David from the depths of trouble. His death would have given his enemies occasion to rejoice; but that had not happened. So David expresses his determination to “exalt” Yahweh, i.e., extol his attributes.

30:2–3. Yahweh had “healed” David of some terrible sickness. His recovery was as life from the dead, a veritable resurrection from Sheol, the abode of the dead.

30:4. The godly are invited to join in thanksgiving, in view of those attributes of Yahweh which David recently had experienced. The thanksgiving would be “a memorial of his holiness” for the mercy and faithfulness in which Yahweh had manifested his holiness.

30:5. The adversity which results from God’s anger lasts only for a moment, but his favor endures for length of days. The night of weeping inevitably gives way to the morning of singing for those who belong to him.

30:6. David confesses that carnal pride sprang up during the days of his good fortune. He forgot his dependence upon God and came perilously close to the godless man’s self-confident boast: “I shall not be moved.”

30:7–8. Yahweh had made David’s “mountain” (Zion) to stand strong in the day of his prosperity. Because of David’s pride, however, the Lord had hidden his face, i.e., withdrawn his favor. David therefore had become “troubled,” a strong word expressing the confusion and helplessness of terror. In his trouble David learned the source of his strength. He turned to God in prayer.

30:9–10. The prayer begins with a rhetorical question. What advantage would it be to the Lord to permit his blood to be shed or to allow him to go down to the pit? Should that happen Yahweh would lose the praise of his devoted servant. The “dust,” i.e., the grave, does not praise God’s “truth,” i.e., faithfulness. The point of the verse is not to describe the conditions which exist in the afterlife, but to stress that death would remove one voice from the choir of those who sing God’s praises on earth. Since it is in the best interest of the Lord to preserve the life of David, he asks for divine mercy and help.

30:11–12. His prayer had now been answered. His life had been preserved. Sorrow had been turned to joy, the mourner’s garb (sackcloth) replaced by festal clothing. David anticipates singing praise to the Lord “forever,” i.e., for the rest of the days of his life. David’s “glory” here is his soul or spirit.

B. For Lovingkindness (Ps 31)

Ps 31 was written by David most probably during the period of his persecution by Saul. The psalm may reflect his experience with the town of Keilah (1 Sam 23). It depicts the ebb and flow of faith during a period of deep distress. It has three main divisions: (1) sincere prayer of faith based on past experience (vv. 1–8); (2) urgent pleading because of present distress (vv. 9–18); and (3) grateful celebration of God’s goodness (vv. 19–24).

31:1. David put his trust in God. He asks that he would never be “ashamed,” i.e., be disappointed, by finding that his trust was vain. To desert his servant would be inconsistent with Yahweh’s righteousness.

31:2–3. David asks that God might be his “strong rock” or “fortress-house” as he had been in the past. For the sake of “his name,” i.e., his self-revelation, Yahweh would show himself to be all that he had revealed himself to be.

31:4. David compares his enemies to hunters or fowlers who would throw a net over him. He asks that God would rescue him from that net.

31:5. David commits his life spirit into God’s care. He states a double ground for his act of trust: (1) his own past experience of God’s redemption; and (2) the known character of Yahweh as God of faithfulness. To “redeem” here means primarily to deliver from temporal danger. The first line of this verse was uttered by Jesus just before his death (Luke 23:46).

31:6. David disclaims all sympathy and fellowship with those who worship false gods. The idols are “vanities of nothingness,” i.e., they have no real existence, and delude their worshipers. David, however, knows Yahweh to be the “God of truth,” i.e., the God who constantly proves his faithfulness.

31:7–8. An entreaty based on past experience. David asks that he might experience the joy that flows from the lovingkindness of God. In the past God had seen his affliction. He had not permitted David to be surrendered into the hand of his enemies. Yahweh had made David’s feet to stand “in a large place,” i.e., had enabled him to move and act with freedom.

31:9–10. The tone of the psalm changes. David again finds himself in deep distress which has affected him soul and body. He is grief-stricken. He feels his pain in his “bones,” which poetically represent the entire body. He attributes his weak physical condition to some unspecified sin which called for chastisement through suffering.

31:11–12. David feels totally isolated. His enemies hold him in disdain. His neighbors avoid him lest any sign of sympathy bring upon them similar divine retribution. As a dead man passes out of men’s minds, so he has been forgotten. He is like a “broken” (lit., perishing) vessel, contemptuously flung aside and remembered no more.

31:13. David thinks he hears the enemies plotting against him on every side. Jeremiah used these very words to describe his plight (Jer 20:10).

31:14–15. When men turned from David, he turned to God. He recognized that his “times,” i.e., the vicissitudes of his life, were under divine control. Thus he can appeal for deliverance from the hand of his enemies.

31:16. David asks that God might again let his face shine upon him, i.e., bless him. He pleads the lovingkindness of God as the ground of his appeal.

31:17–18. Again David asks that he not be made ashamed that he has placed his trust in God (cf. v. 1). Instead he asks that the wicked be put to shame, i.e., be shown to be totally wrong in their attitude toward God. Let those wicked ones who arrogantly speak against the righteous be silenced in the grave.

31:19–20. An interval has elapsed; David’s prayer has been answered; the danger is past. God’s goodness is like a treasure stored up, and at the proper time brought out and used for them that take refuge in him. This goodness is displayed “before the sons of men,” i.e., publicly. Yahweh will hide the faithful in his presence. There the darkness of evil cannot penetrate.

31:21. David offers thanksgiving for deliverance which he has experienced. The Lord is praised because he had “made marvelous his lovingkindness” to David. The words “in a strong city” have been taken as a metaphorical reference to trouble generally. Those who take the words literally think the reference could be to David’s escape from Keilah.

31:22. David admits that his faith had wavered during the hour of trial. Nonetheless, God had responded positively to his prayer.

31:23–24. David concludes by exhorting the faithful to love Yahweh because he “keeps faithfulness” and “rewards” the arrogant with judgment. Those who “hope in Yahweh” will be strengthened by him in the inner man. Therefore the faithful can be courageous.

C. For Forgiveness (Ps 32)

Ps 32 is the second of the seven so-called “penitential” psalms and the first of thirteen “maskil” psalms. A “maskil” is a psalm that gives instruction. The psalm was written by David almost certainly after his great sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11–12). Ps 51 was probably David’s first prayer for pardon. This psalm fulfills the promise stated in 51:13 to instruct others about God’s ways of forgiveness.

The main body of this psalm consists of two stanzas, one in which David addresses the Lord (vv. 3–7) and one in which the Lord speaks to David (vv. 8–9). An introduction (vv. 1–2) expresses the overflowing joy of realizing that sins have been forgiven. A conclusion (vv. 10–11) draws the stark contrast between the wicked and the trustful.

32:1–2. The person who experiences God’s forgiveness is “blessed” or happy. This is the second beatitude of the Psalter (cf. Ps 1:1). Three words describe various aspects of sin. Transgression: rebellion, breaking away from God. Sin: missing the mark, wandering from the path. Iniquity: depravity, moral distortion. Forgiveness is also triply described as (1) the taking away of a burden; (2) covering, so that the foulness of sin no longer offends the eye of the holy God; and (3) the canceling of a debt, which is no longer held against the offender. The condition of God’s forgiveness is absolute sincerity. There must be “no guile” in the spirit, no attempt to deceive self or God.

32:3–4. For a time David refused to acknowledge his sin to himself or to God. During that time the hand of the Lord was heavy upon him. He suffered a terrible illness. His “bones,” i.e., his body seemed to grow old overnight. A fever burned up his vital body fluids. The term “Selah” indicates a musical interlude. This helped to underscore David’s distress of mind.

32:5. Finally David acknowledged his sin to God, and he was pardoned. The form of the sentence emphasizes the immediateness of the pardon. The second person pronoun is emphatic. Another musical interlude (Selah) may have expressed the joy of forgiveness.

32:6. Based upon his experience, David exhorts sinners to call upon Yahweh “in a time of finding,” i.e., in a time of acceptance. One who finds forgiveness will have nothing to fear when the flood of divine judgment is poured out. In that day the forgiven will find Yahweh to be a rock of refuge.

32:7. Forgiven David is now confident that Yahweh would be his hiding place in time of trouble. All about him the godly rejoice over his deliverance.

32:8. Surely God must here be the speaker, not the psalmist. Yahweh will now guide David. He will keep his ever-wakeful eye of providence upon him.

32:9. A warning is addressed to all not to resist God’s will, nor neglect his instruction. Animals must be controlled and compelled by force to learn to submit to man’s will. If man will not draw near to God and freely choose to obey his will he lowers himself to the level of a brute. God will treat him accordingly.

32:10–11. The wicked face “many sorrows,” i.e., calamities and chastisements. Those who trust in Yahweh will be compassed about with his lovingkindness. For this reason the righteous can be glad and rejoice.

D. For Providence (Ps 33)

This congregational hymn of praise is closely related to the previous psalm. For this reason it has no title. That David is the writer is reflected in the Septuagint version. The historical occasion is not known, but it probably was written after some national deliverance. Following an introduction (vv. 1–2) the psalm focuses on (1) God in creation (vv. 4–9); and (2) God in history (vv. 10–19). The last three verses (vv. 20–22) form the conclusion which is a declaration of trust.

33:1–3. David exhorts all men to praise Yahweh. Similarity between v. 1 and the last verse of the preceding psalm indicates the connection between the two poems. The harp and psaltery were both stringed instruments, differing somewhat in form. Fresh mercies require new expressions of gratitude. The “loud voice” could refer to the music itself, or to the accompanying shouts of joy.

33:4–5. Yahweh’s word and works are always in keeping with his character, viz., upright, righteous and just. The whole earth reflects the lovingkindness of Yahweh.

33:6. The “breath of his mouth” is synonymous with “the word of Yahweh.” God had merely to will and the universe came into being. The “host” of the heavens are the heavenly bodies.

33:7. The separation of land and water (cf. Gen 1:9f.). The verb tense suggests that God continues to maintain the relationship between land and water. The “heap” probably refers to the appearance of the sea from the shore. The “storehouses” of the deep are the subterranean abysses where masses of water are stored (cf. Gen 7:11).

33:8–9. Man should stand in awe of the almighty creator. By simple divine fiat he created all that exists. He merely issued a command and the material universe stood before him ready to do his bidding. The third person pronoun is emphatic in v. 9.

33:10–11. Yahweh is sovereign over the earth. He frustrates the plans of the heathen. Yahweh’s counsel, however, stands fast like his work of creation.

33:12. The psalmist now turns to Israel, the chosen people, Yahweh’s inheritance among the nations. He pronounces a beatitude upon them (cf. Deut 33:29).

33:13–15. The God of Israel is omniscient. Since he created man, he must know man’s heart. He continues to “form the hearts” of those who are born into this world. All are in some sense subservient to his plan and purpose.

33:16–19. Earthly resources—great armies, physical strength, a powerful horse—are deceptive. They cannot provide deliverance. True security is found in Yahweh’s providential watch care. He aids those who “fear” him and “wait for his lovingkindness.” He can deliver from violent death by war.

33:20–22. The people respond to the opening invitation to praise God. They “wait” on the Lord, “trust” in his holy name, i.e., his revelation of himself. They recognize him as their “help” and “shield.” Therefore they can ask for his lovingkindness to be upon them.

E. For Salvation (Ps 34)

This acrostic psalm was written by David when he was a fugitive at the court of “Abimelech” of Gath. This must be a dynastic title (like Pharaoh) of the kings of Gath. The king’s personal name was Achish. David discovered that he was in jeopardy in Gath, and so feigned madness so that his antagonists would leave him alone (1 Sam 21). Ps 34 has two main divisions. In the first the psalmist assumes the role of a joyous singer (vv. 1–10); in the second, that of a serious teacher (vv. 11–22).

34:1–2. David expresses his determination to praise God continually. “In Yahweh”—emphatic by position in the sentence—he will make his boast. He claims the sympathy of those who have learned humility in the school of suffering.

34:3–4. David invites the humble to join him in thanksgiving for deliverance. Man “magnifies” Yahweh by acknowledging and celebrating his greatness. He “exalts” God’s name by confessing that he is supreme over all.

34:5–6. Such experience of Yahweh’s help is not limited to the psalmist. Those who look unto him in earnest faith “are brightened,” i.e., the light of the Lord illuminates their darkness. Their faces “shall not be put to blush” with disappointment. “This afflicted man” could refer to the poet himself, or to others who had been examples of God’s protecting care.

34:7. The “angel of Yahweh” is a manifestation of God in the presence of his people (cf. Exod 23:20ff.). He is mentioned in only one other passage in the Psalter (cf. 35:5f.). He protects those who fear the Lord.

34:8. David invites everyone to “taste,” i.e., put God to the test, and discover for themselves that he is “good.” The strong man who takes refuge in him is “blessed” or happy.

34:9–10. The saints (holy ones) of God lack for nothing. The strongest beasts may lack food from time to time; not so God’s people.

34:11. The fear of Yahweh includes reverence, and the conduct which reverence for God requires.

34:12–14. One who desires a long and happy life must guard his tongue from any evil, especially “guile” (deceit). He must depart from evil, and do good. He must “pursue” peace even when prolonged effort is required to apprehend it.

34:15–18. Yahweh watches over the righteous. He is attentive to their cries for help. “The face of Yahweh”—the manifestation of his presence—is against evildoers. In his wrath he will cut off even the name by which they might be remembered. The Lord is near those who have a contrite heart.

34:19–20. The righteous are not exempt from afflictions; but Yahweh sees them through each trial. He preserves the “bones,” i.e., their whole being. No one of his bones would be broken (John 19:36).

34:21–22. While the righteous are rescued out of all evils, evil brings the wicked to their death. Those who hate the righteous shall be held guilty by the Lord. Those who trust in the Lord shall be declared innocent.


Psalms 35–39

The previous group of psalms celebrates the deliverance of the righteous out of difficulties. The next five psalms deal with specific problems which the righteous must face in their pilgrimage.

A. Attack by Ingrates (Ps 35)

Ps 35 was written by David, most probably during the period of Saul’s persecution. Malicious courtiers stirred up the king against David. Against such men David directs his appeals to Yahweh. At the same time he solemnly protests his innocence of the charge of disloyalty. The psalm consists of three strophes, each ending on a vow of thanksgiving: (1) the intrigue (vv. 1–10), (2) ingratitude (vv. 11–18), and (3) inhumanity (vv. 19–28) of David’s enemies.

35:1–3. David appeals to Yahweh to arm himself with “shield and buckler” as his champion. He should draw out his spear and “battle-axe” (NASB) and “stop the way” against his persecutors, i.e., stop them in their tracks.

35:4–6. David prays that those who pursued him might be disappointed in their aim, and that their attack might be repulsed. Then he prays that the enemies might be put to headlong flight as chaff is blown by the wind. He asks that these enemies be driven down a dark and slippery track, where they can neither see nor keep their footing. The angel of Yahweh (cf. 34:7) would then smite them down as they vainly tried to escape.

35:7–8. The enmity against David is not justified. A hunter’s net and pitfalls are used as metaphors for the insidious character of their plots. David asks that their plans rebound upon them to their destruction. The plural “enemies” of v. 7 becomes focused on a single enemy in v. 8.

35:9–10. David rejoices over deliverance. The bodily frame (“all my bones”) feels the joy. His experience has confirmed his faith that Yahweh is incomparable in power and goodness.

35:11–13. Enemies accused David of crimes of which he had no knowledge. Their treatment of him “bereaved” David’s soul. The persecution of David is unjustified. He had showed sympathy when they were in trouble. He had prayed for their recovery, humbling himself before God with mourning and fasting. David says his prayer “kept returning” to his “bosom.” This probably means that God rewarded him for his thoughtful prayer even though those he prayed for did not.

35:14–16. David had displayed the deepest grief for these enemies, a grief such as one might show for a friend or relative. These enemies, however, had rejoiced over his adversity. Like beasts of prey, they shredded his reputation with their vicious slander. With rage “they gnashed” on David “with their teeth,” i.e., ripped him apart, “like godless jesters at a feast” (NASB).

35:17–18. David cannot understand how God can continue to look on his desperation and do nothing. He cries out for help. He pledges that he will give God public thanksgiving for this intervention.

35:19. David asks that his enemies not be able to rejoice over his misfortune, nor signal one another of their satisfaction with his fate by winking the eye. The words “They hate me without a cause” were quoted by Jesus as “fulfilled” in himself (John 15:25).

35:20–21. The enemies falsely had accused peaceful men of being troublers of Israel. With their open mouths they mocked the fall of the man whose skyrocketing fortunes had excited their envy.

35:22–24. Yahweh had seen the taunts of the enemies. He asks that God be not “silent,” i.e., inactive, that God not make himself distant from him. He asks God to “awake” to his cause, to do him justice according to his righteousness.

35:25–26. David prays that the enemies might be frustrated in their wicked plans to “swallow” him, i.e., destroy all trace of his existence. Let those enemies be “clothed with shame.”

35:27–28. David asks that those that welcomed the vindication of his innocence might be able to celebrate his deliverance. Those friends would magnify Yahweh who had shown delight in the welfare of his servant. David would join in the praise of Yahweh’s righteousness “all the day long.”

B. Attitudes of the Ungodly (Ps 36)

The occasion of this Davidic psalm is unknown. The only other psalm with the title “David the servant of Yahweh” is Ps 18. The three main divisions of Ps 36 focus on the sinner, the Savior, and the saint. The outline might be: (1) the wickedness of the wicked (vv. 1–4); (2) the graciousness of God (vv. 5–9); and (3) the confidence of the believer (vv. 10–12).

36:1–2. Transgression is personified and “utters its oracle” to the heart of the ungodly. The wicked person has made rebellion his god, and it is a lying spirit within him. Transgression persuades the wicked man that there is no need for him to dread God’s judgments.

36:3–4. The fruits of reckless atheism are now indicated. The unbeliever’s words are evil and deceitful. He has ceased to make any effort to follow the path of wisdom and goodness. He plans evil upon his bed at night. He has consciously chosen the wrong path; wrong excites no abhorrence in him.

36:5. For his part, David focuses on the character of God. Yahweh’s lovingkindness and faithfulness reach to the heavens, i.e., they cannot be measured.

36:6. Yahweh’s “righteousness”—his faithfulness to his character and covenant—is like the “the mountains of God,” i.e., firm, unchanged, majestically conspicuous. God’s judgment are “a great deep,” i.e., mysterious, unfathomable, inexhaustible as the vast subterranean abyss of waters. The lower animals are the objects of God’s care as well as man.

36:7. The lovingkindness of God is a precious treasure to David. The use of God rather than Yahweh here suggests that the love of God extends to all men, not just Israel. The “sons of man” take refuge in their loving creator.

36:8. God is gracious host as well as protector. He royally entertains his guests with “fatness” and “the river” of his delights. The metaphor is derived from the sacrificial meal, in which God receives the worshiper at his table.

36:9. God is the source of life and light. From him springs all that constitutes life, physical and spiritual—all that makes for true happiness.

36:10. David prays for the continuance of God’s lovingkindness and righteousness, i.e., faithfulness, to those who “know” the Lord, i.e., have an intimate relationship with him. Such are also called “upright in heart.”

36:11. He asks that he might not be trampled underfoot by proud oppressors, or driven from his home by wicked violence. The first four verses indicate that the psalmist was in danger of falling victim to these ruthless oppressors.

36:12. With the eye of faith David beholds the certain ruin of those who work iniquity. Such will be thrown down, and shall never be able to rise again.

C. Adversity of the Righteous (Ps 37)

David wrote this psalm, probably late in his life. It is acrostic in structure and didactic in tone. The acrostic is nearly perfect. Ps 37 grapples with the issue of theodicy, i.e., why do the wicked prosper and the righteous experience adversity. The psalm has four symmetrical divisions of 11, 9, 11, 9 verses respectively: (1) counsel to troubled souls (vv. 1–11); (2) the fate of the wicked (vv. 12–20); (3) the future of the righteous (vv. 21–31); and (4) the final contrasts (vv. 32–40).

37:1–2. The psalm opens with an exhortation against discontent and envy over the prosperity of the wicked because their prosperity would be short-lived, like grass of the field.

37:3–4. The antidote to envious discontent is patient trust in Yahweh, and perseverance in the path of duty. The faithful should continue to “dwell in the land,” i.e., the land of promise. It would seem that poor Israelites, driven from their homes by the powerful, were tempted to seek their fortunes in foreign lands. Thereby they would forfeit their national and religious privileges. To “delight” in the Lord is to take pleasure in his service, to enjoy his fellowship. Such as “delight” in the Lord shall be rewarded with their heart’s desire, i.e., they will draw ever closer to their God.

37:5–6. David urges believers to “commit” (lit., roll) their way unto Yahweh. The believer should transfer all anxiety about life to the Lord “and he [emphatic] will do it,” i.e., the Lord will take care of the situation. Whereas the just cause of the psalmist has been hidden, Yahweh would make it shine forth like the sun rising out of the darkness of the night. The rightness of his cause will become as clear as the full light of the noonday.

37:7–9. The remedy for impatience is to “rest in” or “be silent to” Yahweh in the calmness of faith. One should not be angry over the prosperity enjoyed by the wicked. Discontent is not only foolish and useless, but dangerous. It may lead one to deny God’s providence and to cast his lot with the wicked. In the end, however, the evildoers will be “cut off,” i.e., destroyed. The true Israel will then have undisturbed enjoyment of their inheritance in the Land of Promise.

37:10–11. The thought of the complete destruction of the wicked and the blessed inheritance of the meek is amplified. Here the inheritance of the land is equated with the enjoyment of abundant peace (cf. Matt 5:5).

37:12–13. Like a fierce beast the wicked gnashes his teeth in anticipation of seizing and devouring “the just.” Yahweh, however, laughs, because he foresees the punishment of the wicked. “His day” is the day of appointed retribution for the sinner.

37:14–15. The poor, needy and “the upright of the way” were defenseless before the weapons of the wicked.

37:16–17. Better is “the little” possessed by a righteous person than the abundance (lit., tumults), i.e., ostentatious opulence, of the wicked. While Yahweh upholds the righteous, the “arms,” i.e., power, of the wicked will finally be broken.

37:18–19. Yahweh cares for the godly. He knows “the days” of the upright, i.e., their lives are under his watchful care. Their posterity will continue in possession of the ancestral inheritance. In times of evil (calamity) such as famine, they will still find satisfaction in life.

37:20. In the end, the wicked perish. The enemies of Yahweh will fade away like “the glory,” i.e., beautiful flowers, of the pastures. They shall disappear as completely as smoke.

37:21–22. The wicked are brought to poverty. They are forced to borrow what they can never repay. The righteous person, on the other hand, has enough and to spare. He is generous with his bounty. The former condition proceeds directly from the curse of God, the latter from his blessing.

37:23–24. If Yahweh directs the steps of a person then he will delight in his way. When he stumbles in life he will not be “cast down,” for Yahweh will uphold him with his hand (power).

37:25–26. In support of the preceding verses, David offers a personal observation. He had never seen the righteous permanently deserted by God, or his children reduced to homeless beggary. Quite the contrary. The righteous not only have abundance, but they know how to use it.

37:27–29. One who departs from evil has the hope that he, in the person of his descendants, will dwell forever in the land. Yahweh loves justice. He will not forsake his saints (holy ones). The “seed” (descendants) of the wicked, however, will be “cut off” (destroyed).

37:30–31. The believer is secure because the “law of his God is in his heart.” Without wavering he pursues the path of right.

37:32–33. The wicked constantly watch for opportunities to harm the righteous. Yahweh, however, will not leave the righteous in the power of the wicked, will not allow them to be unjustly condemned.

37:34. One who “waits on Yahweh” may be downtrodden, but ultimately he will be exalted. The wicked, on the other hand, will be cut off or destroyed.

37:35–36. The wicked are transitory. David had observed the wicked temporarily flourishing like a great tree. Shortly thereafter passers-by could find no trace of that once proud tree.

37:37–38. The upright one is destined for peace. Those who rebel against God will be destroyed. Without posterity they would be annihilated.

37:39–40. Yahweh is the stronghold of the righteous in time of trouble. Because of their trust in him, he will deliver them from the wicked.

D. Afflictions of Sin (Ps 38)

The third of the so-called “penitential” psalms was written by David, probably during the period of Absalom’s revolt. The sin to which he alludes may be the folly of indulging his children which led to disastrous consequences to David personally, and to his kingdom as well. The phrase “to bring to remembrance” in the title appears also in the title of Ps 70. This psalm consists of eleven double verses. These divide into three parts, each beginning with an appeal to Yahweh. This produces the outline: (1) the sufferings caused by sin (vv. 1–8); (2) the separation caused by sin (vv. 9–14); and (3) an appeal for deliverance (vv. 15–22).

38:1–2. David feels that he has experienced a chastisement of an angry judge, not a loving father. God’s arrows of judgment had penetrated him. The reference is to some pain and sickness. Blow after blow from God’s hand had fallen upon him.

38:3–4. David acknowledges that his own sin is the cause of the divine indignation. While God’s wrath assaults him from without, the fever of sin consumes him from within. His sins are like a flood which overwhelms; like a burden which crushes.

38:5–6. David’s festering and putrid “wounds” refer metaphorically to his scourging by God because of his “foolishness,” i.e., sin. David is bent with pain. He goes about in the guise of a mourner.

38:7–10. His sickness has caused fever and inflammation. The inward moaning of his heart finds utterance in loud cries of distress. God knows the needs of David. His eyes are dim and dull with weakness and weeping.

38:11–12. David’s friends stood aloof from him, treating him as if he were a leper. At the same time, pitiless enemies beset him with deadly snares and slanders.

38:13–14. Conscious of guilt David must keep silent and commit his cause to God. He had to exercise patience as though he had not heard the attacks on him. He could offer no arguments in his defense before God.

38:15–16. David could face the opposition of his enemies because his hope was in God. He was confident that God would answer his prayers for deliverance and thus refute the taunts of the enemies. The wicked always rejoice when the godly slip, for it confirms them in their ungodly lifestyle.

38:17–18. David is stumbling under the burden of his suffering. He confesses that sin is the cause of that suffering. He professes sorrow for that sin.

38:19–20. While he is weak, his enemies are vigorous. Their hatred of him is based on misrepresentations. He had endeavored to do good to these very men who now hate him. They were manifesting base ingratitude.

38:21–22. A final prayer. True repentance includes faith. David casts himself upon the mercy of God.

E. Agony of Unexpressed Grief (Ps 39)

This beautiful elegy was written by David, possibly during the period of Absalom’s rebellion. It is definitely a sequel to the preceding psalm, and is related to Ps 62. David speaks throughout as one failing in strength. He expresses perplexity over the fact that ungodly men (e.g., Shimei) continue their evil with impunity. Ps 39 is organized in four thought movements: (1) the frustration of silence (vv. 1–3); (2) the brevity of life (vv. 4–6); (3) the comfort of hope (vv. 7–9); and (4) the cry for relief (vv. 10–13).

39:1–2. After meditation, David resolved to keep watch over thought, word and action. He fears that he may sin with his tongue by murmuring against God as he contrasts the prosperity of the wicked with his own circumstances. For this reason he kept absolutely silent, speaking neither good nor bad. The effort to suppress his feelings only aggravated his pain.

39:3. Silence proved impossible. The fire of passion could no longer be restrained from bursting into a flame of angry words.

39:4–5. David prays that he might realize how surely life must end, and how brief it must be at best. Thinking along these lines will cause him to know his frailty, i.e., his mortality. Life is but a “hand breadth,” i.e., four fingers, half a span. Life is very short. Compared to the eternality of God, man’s existence in the world amounts to nothing. At their very best, men are but a breath.

39:6. Man is an unsubstantial “phantom” (NASB) or shadow. Yet they are in constant turmoil over things which will not endure. He spends his days heaping up riches, but when he is dead someone else carries them off.

39:7. The Lord is the one stay in life. To him David turns. Nothing else was possible.

39:8–9. David prays to be delivered from the power of the sins which he regards as the cause of his present afflictions. The fool regards the sufferings of the godly as a mark of God’s wrath, and taunts him accordingly. From this taunting David asks deliverance. He resigns himself to the will of God. He moves forward from the silence of bitterness to serene silence of the heart which submits to the will of God.

39:10–11. David asks that the “plague” of suffering might be removed because he is perishing under the blow of God’s hand. Men are destroyed by God’s chastisement as easily as the moth destroys a beautiful garment. Every man is only a transitory “breath.”

39:12–13. David asks that Yahweh might take note of his tears and thus answer his prayers. Man is but a pilgrim passing through the earth which belongs to God. In this life man is God’s guest, and David asks to be treated with the kindness extended to guests. Faced as he was with imminent death, David throws himself into the arms of God.


Psalms 40–41

Psalms 40–41 form an appropriate conclusion to Book One. Here the two major themes of the preceding psalms are displayed once again. In Ps 40 the heart of the redeemer is revealed; in Ps 41 the heart of men, both sinners and saints.

A. Past Deliverance and Present Distress (Ps 40)

Three verses from Ps 40 are quoted in Heb 10:5–7. According to the inspired apostle, in these verses Christ is speaking to the Father at the time he left heaven to come into the world. If Christ is the speaker in vv. 6–10—those quoted in Hebrews—then he probably should be regarded as the speaker throughout this psalm.

David wrote this psalm either at the time of Absalom’s rebellion, or the rebellion of Adonijah. Ps 40 speaks of a great (1) deliverance (vv. 1–4); (2) program (vv. 5–8); (3) message (vv. 9–10); (4) petition (vv. 11–13); (5) prediction (vv. 14–16); and (6) confidence (v. 17).

40:1. The Father inclined his ear and heard the cry of his Son. The image is that of one leaning forward to catch a faint or distant sound.

40:2. Messiah describes the ordeal which he had gone through as a horrible pit filled with clay in which there can be no firm footing. He was delivered from that experience, he regained his footing.

40:3–4. Messiah’s joy after deliverance is expressed in song and praise. Many will take note of his victory and will come to fear Yahweh. A beautiful beatitude is pronounced on those who continue to trust Yahweh. Such do not look to arrogant rebels who spurn God.

40:5. Messiah praises the Father for his wonderful works. These acts are the product of God’s incomparable wisdom respecting his people. Examples of divine beneficence are so numerous they cannot be counted.

40:6. On the eve of his descent into the world to provide the once-for-all sacrifice, Messiah indicates the attitude of God toward the hypocritical offerings being presented at the altar. Messiah speaks of his ears being “pierced” or “opened.” This is an allusion to submissive obedience to the Father (cf. Exod 21:1–6).

40:7–8. Messiah declares his intention to enter the world. He understood that in “the scroll of the book,” i.e., the Old Covenant Scriptures, “it is written of me.” The “book” specifically testified that Messiah would delight to do the will of the Father.

40:9–10. Christ proclaims the message of God in “the great congregation,” either the whole of mankind, or among the people of God. He proclaims: (1) the righteousness, (2) faithfulness, (3) salvation, (4) lovingkindness, and (5) truth of God.

40:11. The unchangeableness of God’s lovingkindness, and the truth of promises made to Messiah and through him are a solid ground of assurance that the Father would not withhold his tender mercies from the Son.

40:12. Since Messiah is the speaker, this verse should not be taken as a confession of sin but rather a description of what was done to the speaker. He is encompassed by evils. “My iniquities” are to be understood as “the iniquities done to me.” The crimes committed against him had overwhelmed him: the unjust trials, the mockery, the buffeting, the scourging, the crown of thorns.

40:13–15. Messiah calls on the Father to aid him. He is confident regarding the fate of his enemies. On account of their shameful conduct with respect to Messiah, they would be desolate (cf. Matt 23:38).

40:16. While the enemies of Messiah face a bleak future, true worshipers rejoice and praise God.

40:17. Messiah describes himself in the midst of his suffering as afflicted and poor. Yet he knows the Father will remember him and make plans for his deliverance. He simply asks that God delay no longer in effecting the deliverance which he knows will be forthcoming.

B. Triumph over Trouble (Ps 41)

Ps 41 is another product of the pen of David, written probably during the rebellion by Absalom. This psalm has four divisions: (1) assurance of favor (vv. 1–3); (2) the sufferer’s bed chamber (vv. 4–6); (3) the enemies’ council chamber (vv. 7–9); and (4) appeal for restoration (vv. 10–12).

41:1–3. The last psalm in Book One begins like the first, with a beatitude. One is “blessed” who “considers” the poor (lit., the weak), i.e., shows compassion for them, in their day of calamity. David asks that the compassionate person not be given over to his enemies. Prayer becomes confidence that Yahweh would turn his sickness to health.

41:4–6. David presents his own case to the Lord. He asks for mercy. He regards his bodily ailment as the sign of spiritual disease. He wants healing of both. The enemies are anxiously awaiting his death and that of his posterity (“that his name perish”). Those who visit him feign friendship, but speak “vanity” or falsehood. During the visit they collect new information to turn against him in slander.

41:7–8. Outside the sickroom the enemies whisper their vicious speculations as to the cause of his illness. They speculate that David has a fatal disease caused by his wickedness. He will never leave his bed again.

41:9. His most trusted friend (lit. “the man of my peace”), who had eaten at the royal table, had “made great the heel” toward David, i.e., spurned him with brutal violence, exerted himself to trip up David and throw him down. The reference is probably to the betrayal of his trusted advisor Ahithophel who foreshadowed the treachery and fate of Judas (John 13:18).

41:10–12. David renews his prayer from v. 4. He is confident of God’s favor and healing, that God would raise him up so that he, as the highest judicial official, might punish the traitor. His restoration will confirm his “integrity,” i.e., his sincerity of purpose. He knows that he will be admitted to stand in the presence of the King of Kings “forever.”

41:13. This doxology is not part of Ps 41, but stands here to mark the conclusion of Book One of the Psalter. For all of eternity let Yahweh be blessed. “Amen and Amen” means “so it is.” This is the response of the congregation.

chapter thirteen

Deliverance for the Estranged

Psalms 42–51

Book Two of the Psalter contains thirty-one psalms. In these psalms the name ‘Elohim (God) is used virtually to the exclusion of the name Yahweh. The overall theme of this second collection of psalms is “ruin and redemption.” Sometimes Book Two is called the “Exodus” book of the Psalter because most of the illustrations are from Exodus, as those in Book One are from Genesis.

This second book of the Psalter is sometimes called the Korahitic book. The first eight psalms in this Book are attributed to the sons of Korah. Korah was the grandson of Kohath and great-grandson of Levi. He perished for his role in the rebellion against Moses at Kadesh-barnea. His family, however, escaped (Num 16; 26:11). The descendants of this infamous man came to hold important positions in Israel.

The Korahites were connected with temple music. Heman, one of David’s three principal musicians, was a Korahite (1 Chron 6:31–33). His sons were leaders of fourteen out of the twenty-four courses of temple musicians (1 Chron 25:4ff.). In the days of Jehoshaphat they are mentioned as singers as well (2 Chron 20:19).

The Korahite psalms breathe a spirit of strong devotion to the temple, as one might expect. These psalms celebrate with enthusiastic pride the praise of Jerusalem as “the city of the Great King” which he had chosen for his own abode.


Longing for Restoration

Psalms 42–43

As Book One began with a double psalm introduction, so also does Book Two. Pss 42–43 were originally one connected poem. The same circumstances appear to lie in the background of both. Both psalms have the same tone, spirit and language. The original poem probably was divided into two for devotional or liturgical purposes. Ps 42 emphasizes complaint; Ps 43 a prayer which supplements it. This division, however, was ancient. It appears in all the ancient versions of the Old Testament and in most Hebrew manuscripts.

Pss 42–43 were written by a Levite who had crossed the Jordan with David (v. 6). In the past he had been accustomed to conducting pilgrim companies up to Jerusalem for the great festivals. These psalms may be assigned to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. They jointly constitute the second “maskil” psalm (cf. Ps 32).

Pss 42–43 consist of three verses of five verses, each ending with the same refrain: (1) the desire of his heart (42:1–5); (2) the description of his plight (42:6–10); and (3) the prayer for his deliverance (43:1–5).

42:1–2. The hind panting after water is a figure based on the sufferings of wild animals in a prolonged drought. The psalmist “thirsts” for the living God, as opposed to dead, impotent idols. This spiritual thirst is satisfied when the psalmist is able to “appear before God,” i.e., visit the temple for worship.

42:3–4. Present sorrow is contrasted with past happiness. Tears take the place of his daily bread. The heathen taunt his plight, and the indifference or impotence of his God. In the past he had led pilgrims to Jerusalem for the festivals. The joyousness of these processions was proverbial. The God in whom he took such delight could not possibly have forsaken him in his personal exile.

42:5. Faith chides the despondent soul. To be “cast down” is to be bowed down like a mourner. He exhorts himself to “hope in God,” i.e., to wait on him. He was confident that he would yet praise or thank God as in past times “for the help of his countenance.” See also 42:11 and 43:5.

42:6. Overwhelmed with sorrow, the psalmist must turn to the Lord. He is cut off from the temple “in the land of Jordan and the Hermons.” This would be in the vicinity of the town of Dan where the Jordan rises from the foothills of Mt. Hermon. The place is further pinpointed as “the hill Mizar,” a spot otherwise unknown.

42:7. God is sending upon him one trouble after another. He is overwhelmed with a flood of misfortunes. The rushing waters near by suggested this metaphor. The latter part of this verse was quoted by Jonah in his submarine prayer (Jon 2:3).

42:8. The psalmist expresses the confidence that he will soon again experience the favor of God and give him thanks for his goodness. “Prayer” denotes any form of communion with God, but here predominantly thanksgiving. For one of the few times in Book Two the name Yahweh is used.

42:9–10. Though God has helped him in the past, he seems to have abandoned him in the present. God is still his “rock” (sela˓) or refuge. His enemies reproach him “with crushing in my bones,” i.e., they stab him to the heart with their taunts. The “bones” in Hebrew poetry denote the whole physical organism. They are the seat of pain.

43:1. A prayer for deliverance grounded upon God’s relation to him. “Judge me” is an appeal to the heavenly judge to do him justice and to vindicate his innocence by delivering him from the power of “a nation without lovingkindness,” i.e., heathen without any feelings of humanity. The leader of these heathen is called “the deceitful and unjust man.” Perhaps he had distinguished himself by his treachery.

43:2. The psalmist still views God as his “strength,” his natural refuge and protector. Facts, however, seem to contradict faith. God seems to have cast him off. He goes about by himself in mourning.

43:3. He prays for restoration. God’s “light and truth” are personified. “Light” symbolizes God’s active presence. That “light” would prove God true to his character and promises. He asks that God’s “light and truth” might lead him to the holy hill of Zion where the tabernacles of God are located. The plural indicates that Zion was God’s preeminent earthly dwelling place.

43:4. God himself is the goal of pilgrimage. The altar is the means of approaching God and realizing his presence. There the psalmist will praise God through the music of his harp.

43:5. See on 42:5, 11.


Psalms 44–45

Pss 44–45 are concerned about God’s power. In the first of these two poems it is the failure to manifest divine power that bothered the psalmist. Ps 45 answers the perplexity of faith by pointing to the ultimate victories of Messiah.

A. The Perplexities of Faith (Ps 44)

The author was one of the Levitical sons of Korah. The psalm was written after an occasion of great national deliverance. The reference may be to the deliverance from the Assyrian attack against Judah in the days of good King Hezekiah. This is one of thirteen psalms called “maskil,” which probably means a psalm intended to teach a lesson. The psalm has five main parts which can be summarized: (1) praise (vv. 1–3); (2) hope (vv. 4–8); (3) disappointment (vv. 9–16); (4) innocence (vv. 17–22); and (5) prayer (vv. 23–26).

44:1–2. Canaan was not captured through Israel’s heroics, but through God’s help. The “fathers” had passed down the reports of what God had done for his people “in the times of old,” i.e., the days of the conquest under Joshua. By God’s hand (power) the Canaanites were “cast out” and the Israelites were “planted” in the land. God made them “spread abroad” (NASB) in that land like a great tree which struck root and spread its branches in all directions.

44:3. The thought of the two previous verses is emphasized. It was not Israel’s sword hand, but God’s right hand which gave the victory. The “light” of God’s countenance is his manifestation in human affairs. This God did for Israel as a favor, not as a reward for their national merit.

44:4. The recollection of the past gives fresh confidence in the present. God is Israel’s king. It is his duty to defend his people. He has but to “command” and “Jacob” (the nation) would experience “deliverances,” i.e., a full and complete deliverance.

44:5–8. Relying upon all that God had revealed about himself (“his name”), Israel would trample enemies as an ox might trample grain under its feet. Israel repudiates reliance upon deliverance by military prowess. Past experience justifies this confidence in the Lord. God has been the object of their praises in the past, and to him they are resolved to give thanks continually. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude which gives time for reflection.

44:9–11. Present circumstances seem to contradict the expressions of faith based on past experience. God had cast them off. He no longer went before the armies of Israel. (In ancient times the ark was carried into battle as the symbol of Yahweh’s presence with the troops.) As a result, Israel had fled from the enemies, who had plundered the land at their will. Some of God’s people had been butchered like sheep; others had been captured and sold as slaves.

44:12–14. God “sells” (delivers over) his people as though they were worthless. By so doing, God had gained nothing for himself. He had made his people an object of ridicule to neighboring nations. They shake their heads at Israel in derision. Among the heathen, Israel had become a “byword,” i.e., they pointed to Israel’s fate as a proverbial instance of a people abandoned by its God.

44:15–16. Disgrace stares the psalmist in the face all day long. Shame covers his face like a garment, inasmuch as the sense of shame betrays itself in one’s countenance. The enemy “reproaches” Israel’s impotence and “blasphemes” Yahweh by suggesting that he too is impotent. These two words are found in combination only in reference to Sennacherib’s attitude during the Assyrian attack of 701 b.c. (cf. 2 Kgs 19:6, 22). The enemy is called “the avenger” because he is acting arrogantly in taking a role which belongs only to God (cf. Deut 32:35).

44:17–18. The calamity is unmerited. Israel had not “forgotten” Yahweh as their fathers often had done. They had not been unfaithful to God’s covenant made at Sinai. They had not turned back from the Lord, neither inwardly nor outwardly (their “steps”).

44:19. A “place of jackals” is a proverbial expression for a scene of ruin and desolation. The thought may be that God has reduced their land to a desert. God had covered them with “the shadow of death,” i.e., the deep gloom which surrounds the time of death.

44:20–21. No apostasy could be concealed from the God who searches hearts. To “stretch out the hands” was a gesture of prayer in which the open palms symbolized the reception of blessing from the deity.

44:22. The claim here is that Israel was actually suffering as martyrs for the sake of their faith in Yahweh. Paul quoted this verse in Rom 8:36 to fortify Christians against the possibility that they too might have to face death for their faith.

44:23–24. God seemed to be asleep, though the psalmists knew that Yahweh never got weary as men do (121:3f.). He is urged to awake, i.e., to get involved in their plight, and not to leave them in a state of being “cast off.”

44:25–26. To “hide the face” is the opposite of showing the light of his countenance. One might hide his face in anger or indifference. The psalmist asks that God no longer ignore the plight of his people since they lie crushed to the earth and helpless. The grounds of appeal is Yahweh’s lovingkindness. The psalmist entreats God to be true to this central attribute of his character.

B. The Power of the King (Ps 45)

Ps 45 is a marriage song in which a mighty warrior and king is married to a beautiful princess. From the earliest times in Jewish and Christian circles Ps 45 has been understood to refer directly to Messiah. The most popular of many views is that this psalm was based on the marriage of Solomon to Pharaoh’s daughter. A greater than Solomon, however, is here. This psalm has been called “the center and crown of the messianic psalms.” If this poem had any relation at all to a concrete historical situation, that is now lost.

Ps 45 is attributed to the sons of Korah. This is another maskil or teaching psalm. The nature of the psalm is described in the words “a song of beloved ones,” i.e., a song of love. After a brief preface (v. 1) Ps 45 focuses on (1) the bridegroom (vv. 2–9a), (2) the bride (vv. 9b–12), and (3) the marriage (vv. 13–16).

45:1. The psalmist here states his theme: “I speak things I composed concerning a king.” He then uses two figures to describe his eagerness to share his composition. His heart is a bubbling fountain; he cannot restrain himself. In the second figure he compares his tongue to the pen of a “ready writer,” i.e., it is prompt to express and record the thoughts with which his mind is overflowing. He seems to realize that he is the instrument of a higher power.

45:2. The bridegroom was attractive to others because of the graciousness of his speech. These were blessings given forever to him by God.

45:3. The bridegroom is awesome in majesty. He is well-armed and capable of doing mighty things. He is called a mighty hero (gibbor). The terms “splendor” and “majesty” may refer to his armor.

45:4. The bridegroom is victorious in his cause. He rides forth on a warhorse or chariot to the conflict for which he is destined. He marches forth on behalf of truth, meekness, and righteousness. The bridegroom is triumphant over his enemies. The “right hand teaches” the king. This is a way of saying that the king shall demonstrate tremendous powers.

45:5. The battle is visualized. Arrows bring the king’s enemies down under the advancing warrior.

45:6–7a. The bridegroom is a divine ruler. He is addressed as “God.” He occupies an eternal throne. He is a righteous ruler who hates wickedness. His scepter would be the symbol of uprightness.

45:7b. The bridegroom is anointed by God and thus is elevated above his fellow kings. God anoints God! Hebrews 1:8–9 has these words spoken by God concerning the Son. The anointing oil is generally regarded as symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18).

45:8. The joy of the bridegroom is indicated. His garments are fragrant. He is made glad by the music of stringed instruments which are playing as he leaves the ivory palaces to attend his own wedding. Palace walls in antiquity frequently featured ivory inlays.

45:9a. In Oriental nuptial celebrations, virgin friends of the bride would greet and accompany the bridegroom to the marriage celebration. The fact that these friends of the bride are kings’ daughters may serve to underscore the rank of the bride.

45:9b. The psalmist envisions the beautiful bride at the right hand of the divine king. Even before the marriage the bride is accorded royal dignity. She wears the title “queen” and is attired in gold. In God’s eyes she is very precious. If the bridegroom in this psalm is Messiah, then the bride must be his people, the church of Christ (cf. Eph 5:22ff.).

45:10–11. The bride prepares to make the transition from the single to the married state. The psalmist advises the bride to sever the old ties and give Messiah wholehearted allegiance. She is encouraged to be submissive to him. Thus will she make herself most attractive to her divine husband.

45:12. The daughter of Tyre, i.e., the city personified as a woman, brings to the bride a gift. Prophetically this anticipates the conversion of Gentiles and the dedication of their possessions to the church, the bride of Christ. The “rich among the people” dedicate their wealth as well to the bride.

45:13–14. The bride is “all glorious within” her heart. Her outer garments are woven with gold. She is escorted to meet her husband by virgins, who here represent individual believers who are models of purity.

45:15. The bride and her maids enter the palace of the king in a mood of gay festivity. Weddings in biblical times were occasions of great happiness marked by music and dancing.

45:16. The king will have sons. The king’s fathers according to the flesh are the patriarchs, prophets and priests of the Old Covenant. They will give way to the king’s sons—the apostles and evangelists of the New Covenant. These sons will share the royal dignity. On the royal dignity of New Testament believers see 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6; 5:10.

45:17. The writing of the psalmist will perpetuate the memory of the king throughout the generations. Other peoples besides Israel will praise the king throughout the ages.


Psalms 46–48

Psalms 46–48 form a trilogy of praise, in which a wondrous deliverance of Jerusalem from foreign enemies is celebrated. All three are designated as psalms of the sons of Korah. They may allude to the deliverance of Jerusalem in 701 b.c. from the armies of Sennacherib.

A. The Protection of the City (Ps 46)

Ps 46 has three parts: (1) Yahweh’s protection (vv. 1–3); (2) Yahweh’s presence (vv. 4–7); and (3) Yahweh’s preeminence (vv. 8–11).

46:1–3. God’s people are secure under his protection. They have nothing to fear, even though the solid earth were rent asunder and the mountains tumble into the sea. The raging sea depicts trouble on every side.

46:4. In contrast to the tumultuous sea threatening to engulf the solid mountain, is the gently flowing river which fertilized all the land over which it is distributed in channels and rivulets. This river is a symbol of the presence of Yahweh, blessing and gladdening his city (cf. Isa 8:6). God’s people are likened unto a city. Yahweh is called “the Most High.” By delivering his own city, he has proved himself the supreme ruler of the world.

46:5. Because God is in the midst of Jerusalem the city is more stable than the solid mountains of v. 3. God will help her “when morning dawns” (NASB). The dawn of deliverance follows the night of distress.

46:6. The same words which were used in vv. 2–3 of convulsion in the natural order are here applied to the commotions among the nations. God has but to speak with his voice of thunder and the earth melts in terror.

46:7. Here is a rare use of the name Yahweh in Book Two. The name “Yahweh of hosts” depicts God as commander of all the powers of earth and heaven, thus supreme sovereign. God had watched over Jacob their ancestor; now this God was the “refuge” (lit., high fortress) of Jacob’s descendants. “Selah” suggests a musical interlude at this point.

46:8. The psalmist exhorts all nations to reflect upon this marvelous deliverance. They are invited to “behold,” i.e., gaze, upon the sight. Yahweh has set “desolations” in the earth, viz., the total destruction of the enemy army.

46:9–10. Yahweh would one day bring about the final abolition of war. He would destroy the weapons of war. Yahweh admonishes the nations to desist from their vain endeavors to destroy his people. He bids them to recognize him as the true God who will one day manifest his absolute sovereignty.

46:11. The refrain of v. 7 is repeated with appropriate musical interlude.

B. The Preeminence of the Lord (Ps 47)

The second psalm in the triology of praise has three units: (1) Yahweh’s exalted position (vv. 1–4); (2) recent deliverance (vv. 5–7); and (3) ultimate dominion (vv. 8–9).

47:1. All nations are called upon to acknowledge Yahweh as their king. On his accession to the throne a new king was saluted with clapping of hands and shouting. The “shout of triumph” is the joyous shouting which welcomes the victorious king.

47:2. Yahweh is not merely king of Israel, but king of all the earth. He is the Most High and should be respected for that.

47:3–4. The recent triumph by which Yahweh had once more driven out the enemies of his people from the land, proved that he had chosen that land for Israel’s inheritance. The “pride of Jacob” is Canaan, the land on which Israel prided itself. Yahweh’s love, not Israel’s merit, was the ground of the choice.

47:5. Again the psalmist calls on the people to celebrate Yahweh’s sovereignty. “God is gone up,” i.e., returned to heaven, from the victory. Carrying the ark up the hill to the temple to the accompaniment of shouts and trumpets may have been the outward ceremony to celebrate God’s return to heaven.

47:6–7. These verses contain five exhortations to sing praises to Yahweh for he is king over all the earth. The people are urged to sing a “maskil,” a song that teaches others about the Lord.

47:8. Yahweh rules over the world. This verse declares not merely a fact, but an act. God has given fresh proof of his universal sovereignty. He has taken his seat upon his throne to judge and rule.

47:9. The psalmist foresees the day when the nations acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty. He sees the “princes of the peoples” gathering to Jerusalem to pay homage. There they join the “people of the God of Abraham” in worship. Here is a prophecy of the union of Jews and Gentiles in the church of Christ. The “shields of the earth” are princes who are the protectors of their people. Yahweh is their overlord, and they come to acknowledge their dependence on him.

C. The Praise for the Redeemer (Ps 48)

The third psalm in the trilogy of praise has two main divisions: (1) Yahweh’s actions on behalf of Zion (vv. 1–8); and (2) Zion’s reactions to Yahweh’s deliverance (vv. 9–14).

48:1. Yahweh has proved himself to be an exceedingly present help in trouble (46:1). By his triumph over the nations he is exceedingly exalted (47:9); and therefore he is exceedingly worthy to be praised. Zion in this psalm denotes the whole city of Jerusalem, not merely one of the hills on which it was built. As the place of the earthly abode of Yahweh, Zion is called his holy mountain.

48:2. In pagan mythology the uttermost part of the north was the home of the gods. The sacred city of Yahweh was not in the remote recesses of the north, but in the very midst of the city of his choice. Zion is in reality all that the pagans claimed for their fabled mount of the gods. The city of the great king Yahweh was beautiful in its elevation, and “the joy of the whole earth,” i.e., the city which brought joy to all who visited it.

48:3. The enemy anticipated plundering the palaces of Zion. Yahweh, however, made himself known there as a high fortress.

48:4–7. The enemy joined together and crossed the border into Judah. When they came to Zion, they were smitten with terror and they retreated. They were as terrified as a woman in childbirth. God smashed the invaders just as he used the east wind to smash the merchant ships of Tarshish from time to time.

48:8. Experience had confirmed what tradition related of God’s marvelous works on behalf of his people. Now God’s people were confident that Yahweh would never cease to guard the city of his choice.

48:9–10. In temple worship Zion’s citizens meditated on the significance of the deliverance. They realized that they had just experienced another manifestation of Yahweh’s lovingkindness. God’s revelation of power and lovingkindness receives worldwide celebration. To other nations besides Judah the destruction of the enemy was a cause of rejoicing. Now his people realized that Yahweh’s “right hand is full of righteousness,” i.e., ready to be exercised on behalf of his people in judgment on his enemies.

48:11. Mt. Zion should rejoice as well as “the daughters of Judah,” i.e., the cities of Judah which had been captured by the enemy. Country towns were regarded as “daughters” of the capital.

48:12–13. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had been confined within its walls during the siege. Now they can freely walk around, and thankfully contemplate the safety of the walls, towers and palaces which had so recently been threatened by the enemy. They need to convince themselves that the city was intact so that they could bear accurate testimony to future generations.

48:14. Yahweh had proved himself the defender of his city and people. He will continue to be the same forever. His people confess their willingness to follow him until death.


Psalms 49–51

The next three psalms are by different writers, but they share the common theme of redemption.

A. The Means of Redemption (Ps 49)

Ps 49 is another Korahite psalm. The author is a moralist who teaches that there are limits to what wealth can do. There is little to determine the date of this psalm. It may come from the eighth century b.c. when great wealth and great poverty existed side by side. The misuse of the power of wealth in this period is condemned by Isaiah, Micah, and Amos in particular. This psalm consists of an introduction (vv. 1–4) and two stanzas consisting of eight verses, each concluding with a refrain. Thus: (1) the false confidence of the wealthy (vv. 5–12); and (2) the final condition of the wealthy (vv. 13–20).

49:1–2. The problem of wealth is a universal one. Thus all people are called upon to pay attention to the words of this psalm. The word “world” is a peculiar word, found in this sense only in Ps 17:14. It denotes the lapse of time, the fleeting age, the world as uncertain and transitory. The “sons of mankind (‘adam) and the sons of men (‘ish),” i.e., the those from the common multitude and those from the upper crust, are called upon to listen.

49:3. The words “wisdom” and “understanding” are both plural in Hebrew, denoting manifold wisdom and profound insight.

49:4. The poet claims to receive by revelation what he desires to teach. He will bend his ear to listen to the voice of God before he ventures himself to speak to men. The term “parable” (mashal) has a wide range of meanings. Here it refers to a didactic poem. The term “riddle” (chidah) also has a range of meanings. Here it refers to a profound or obscure utterance, a problem. The prosperity of the godless was one of the great enigmas of life to the pious Israelite. What the psalmist has learned through revelation on this subject he will “open upon the harp,” i.e., set forth in a poem accompanied by music.

49:5–6. The psalmist has no need to fear “in the days of evil,” i.e., when evil men have the upper hand. These wealthy and unscrupulous neighbors were eager to trip him up and get him into their power.

49:7–9. Those who worship wealth find their god powerless to deliver anyone from death, or ransom one whose death God requires. In some circumstances the sum to be paid by the man whose life was forfeit was to be assessed, probably in proportion to his culpability and his means (cf. Exod 21:30); but there is no ransom which can be paid to God. It is hopeless to think of attempting it (cf. Num 35:31). That man will die and see corruption regardless of his wealth.

49:10. Experience shows the rich man that all alike come to the grave. Even wisdom cannot deliver from death. The foolish (the self-confident braggart) and the senseless “perish,” i.e., die in a similar way. Wealth can neither prolong life, nor be retained by its owner at death.

49:11–13. These godless ones do not consider that they must die. They comfort themselves with the delusion that their houses will last forever, and their names would be perpetuated in the names of their estates. Man’s magnificence, however, must come to an end. In that sense he is like the beasts that perish. So it happens to these self-confident fools and their deluded followers. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude at this point.

49:14. The wicked are driven down to Sheol like a flock of sheep. Death (personified) is their shepherd. They shall perish in the night, and in the resurrection morning they shall find that the righteous have the rule over them. Their form or beauty will have been delivered up to Sheol, the abode of the dead, far from their exalted habitations.

49:15. The believer, however, is delivered from the power of Sheol. Does the psalmist look forward only to deliverance from the premature death of the wicked? Or does he anticipate a redemption after death? Verses 7–8 are offered in support of the former position, i.e., wealth is powerless to avert death, but God will deliver his servant. Verses 7–8, however, may be referring to the ravishing effects of death, not to the fact that men must die. Taken in this way, vv. 7–8 do not preclude the reference here to the believer’s hope of victory over death.

49:16–17. The thought in v. 10 is resumed and amplified. The psalmist exhorts himself not to be afraid of the rich nor of the magnificence and splendor which accompany wealth. The rich man cannot take his wealth with him into Sheol.

49:18. The rich man congratulated himself on his good fortune. He flattered himself into thinking that he was beyond the reach of misfortune. The unthinking multitude worships success and wealth. They see nothing wrong in the selfish misuse of riches.

49:19. In the dark world of Sheol the rich man joins his ancestors, those whose lot had been fixed irrevocably, who will never see “light,” i.e., eternal life in the qualitative sense.

49:20. The refrain of v. 12 is repeated with a significant variation. It is not the rich man, as such, who is no better than the cattle that perish, but the rich man who is destitute of discernment. He who has no hope after death is that person who knows no distinction between false and true riches, who reckons earthly and transitory wealth more precious than spiritual and eternal fellowship with God.

B. The Need for Redemption (Ps 50)

The writer is Asaph, one of three choral leaders among the Levites (1 Chron 15:17–19). He was chief minister before the ark (1 Chron 16:4–15), a seer (2 Chron 29:30), and poet. This is the only Asaphic psalm in Book Two of the Psalter; eleven others are found in Book Three. In all of Asaph’s writings the holiness of God is a prominent theme. The historical occasion of this psalm may have been the great procession which brought the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chron 15–16). Like the preceding psalm, this is a didactic poem. It echoes the message of the prophets of Israel.

The psalm consists of four parts: (1) the arrival of the judge (vv. 1–6); (2) the judgment on dead works (vv. 7–15); (3) the judgment on despicable wickedness (vv. 16–21); and (4) a warning to the people (vv. 22–23).

50:1. Three names are used to point to various aspects of the character of the God with whom Israel must deal. ‘El is the mighty one; ‘Elohim, the awesome one; and Yahweh, the God of revelation and redemption. This exact threefold combination is found elsewhere only in Joshua 22:22. This great God summons all the earth to be witness to the trial of Israel.

50:2–3. Zion is now the abode of God. A dazzling blaze of light is the symbol of his presence. The poet is anxious for God to come near and declare his will. Lightnings and storm are the outward symbols which express his coming in judgment. He is a consuming fire (cf. Deut 4:24) devouring his enemies. He is an irresistible whirlwind sweeping them away like chaff.

50:4. The heavens and earth are summoned to be witnesses of the judgment of Israel because they are far older than man, and have watched the whole course of Israel’s history. The concept is quite common in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut 4:26).

50:5. A command is given, perhaps to the angels, to gather “my saints,” i.e., Israel, those who had entered into a covenant with the Lord. This covenant was inaugurated at Sinai by sacrifice (Exod 24:5ff.) and maintained through the generations by means of repeated sacrifices.

50:6. While the defendants are being gathered, the psalmist hears the heavens, which have been summoned to witness the trial, solemnly proclaiming the justice of the judge, as a guarantee of the impartiality of his judgment. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude during which worshipers could reflect on what was just said.

50:7–8. The trial begins. God acts as accuser as well as the judge. Because he is their God he has the right to give them law, and now to call them to account for their neglect of it. God’s indictment does not relate to sacrifice; the stated offerings are duly presented “continually,” i.e., daily, morning and evening (cf. Num 28:3ff.). In this section God is reproving those who offer sacrifices to him as a mere formality.

50:9–13. The owner of the vast herds of animals which roam the forests and range over a thousand mountains is not like some earthly king who comes and takes the choicest of his subjects’ possessions at his will. If God had need of sustenance, he would not be dependent upon man for it. In heathen theology the gods had to be fed daily. Yahweh, however, needed no such sustenance. A spiritual being needs no material support.

50:14–15. What sacrifice then does God desire? Not the material sacrifices of the altar, but the offering of the heart. He desires spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving. By such spiritual sacrifice the believer discharges his vows. Prayer also is proof of trust in God and commitment to him.

50:16–17. Yahweh now begins to reprove hypocrites. They pledged themselves to observe the the law. They professed to fulfill their duty under God’s covenant. Yet they hated “discipline,” i.e., instruction in moral discipline. They cast God’s words—his commandments—behind their back, i.e., they ignored them.

50:18–20. They gladly associated with thieves and adulterers. Their mouths spewed forth evil and falsehood. They deliberately slander even members of their own family.

50:21. These wicked people mistook the longsuffering of God for indifference. They degraded their conception of God into a reflection of themselves. They imagined that when Yahweh revealed himself he would prove to be only like a man. Instead, however, Yahweh was now listing the offenses of which they were guilty, bringing them under indictment in his court.

50:22. A final word is now given to the formalists who forget the spiritual character of worship, and the hypocrites who willfully ignored God’s word. God threatens to come against them and tear them like a lion (cf. Hos 5:14).

50:23. This verse summarizes the teaching of the two main divisions of the psalm. God will show salvation to (1) those who offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving (as in v. 14); and (2) those who order their way aright, i.e., follow his commandments.

C. The Prerequisite of Redemption (Ps 51)

Ps 51 is the fourth of the so-called “penitential” psalms (cf. Pss 6, 32, 38). David wrote this psalm after the prophet Nathan had rebuked him for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11–12). This is the first of some eighteen psalms in Book Two bearing the name of David. Eight of these have titles connecting them with historical events in the life of the great king. The psalm has three main parts: (1) confession (vv. 1–6); (2) cleansing (vv. 7–12); and (3) consecration (vv. 13–19).

51:1–2. David prays for forgiveness and cleansing. The ground of this prayer is God’s grace. “Lovingkindness” was the origin and the bond of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. Sin is described in three aspects: (1) transgression, i.e., defection from God or rebellion against him; (2) iniquity, i.e., the perversion of right, depravity of conduct; and (3) sin, i.e., error, missing the mark. The removal of guilt is also triply described: (1) “blot out,” i.e., sin is regarded as a debt recorded in God’s book which needs to be erased and canceled; (2) “wash me,” i.e., sin is regarded as an inward stain which only God can thoroughly cleanse; and (3) “cleanse me,” i.e., as a leper might be cleansed of his disease.

51:3. The pronoun here is emphatic. His sins have been known to God all along. Now, however, David has come to know them himself; they are unceasingly present to his conscience, at least since Nathan had pricked his conscience with the word of God.

51:4. All sin ultimately is a sin against God, as a breach of his holy law. Moreover, the king, as Yahweh’s representative, was in a special way responsible to him. David’s admission of sin would make any sentence concerning him by God appear just. Man’s sin brings out into a clearer light the justice and holiness of God.

51:5. David alludes to his sinful nature. He was born in sin, i.e., with a nature prone to do evil. The verse does not plead the sinfulness of his nature as an excuse for his conduct. Rather he is confessing that sin has infected his very nature. The verse furnishes no justification for the doctrine of total depravity.

51:6. God desires “truth,” i.e., wholehearted devotion which is incapable of deceiving self, as David had done, or deceiving man as David had tried to do. Along with truth, God desires wisdom in the inner person, that spiritual discernment which is synonymous with the fear of Yahweh.

51:7. David calls for cleansing and restoration. The figurative language is borrowed from the ceremony of the law. A bunch of hyssop, a common herb which grew upon walls, was used as a sprinkler, especially in the rites for cleansing the leper and purifying the unclean (cf. Lev 14:4ff.). Washing and clothing of the body regularly formed part of the rites of purification. David here, however, is thinking of the inward and spiritual cleansing of which those outward rites were the symbol. He appeals to God himself to perform the office of the priest and cleanse him from his defilement.

51:8. Under the law the purification of the unclean was the prelude to his readmission to the gladness of sanctuary worship. So the inward cleansing of David will be the prelude to his restoration to that joy of God’s salvation which he desires. God’s displeasure had crushed his “bones,” i.e., shattered his whole frame. Some prefer to read the verbs in this and the preceding verse as futures, thus indicating David’s confidence in God’s pardon.

51:9. David repeats his prayer for pardon, cleansing, and renewal. To hide the face from sin means to cease to look upon it in displeasure. “Blot out” again suggests a canceled debt (cf. v. 1).

51:10. David wants a radical change of heart and spirit, not a restoration of what was there before. A “steadfast spirit” is one that is fixed and resolute in its allegiance to God, unmoved by the assaults of temptation. Essentially here David is surrendering his heart to the Lord.

51:11. David prayed that he might not be cast away from God’s presence. The Spirit of God came upon David when he departed from Saul (1 Sam 16:13f.). David apparently feared that, because of his sin, he might be deprived of God’s favor and deserted by that Spirit which supplies comfort and guidance to believers.

51:12. Sin has destroyed the assurance of God’s help which is ever a ground of rejoicing. He prays for that deliverance which he is confident (v. 8) God can and will grant him. He desires to be upheld from falling in the future by God’s free or willing Spirit.

51:13. After he has experienced the joy of restoration to communion with God, he will endeavor to instruct transgressors in the ways of Yahweh. One of the most fitting fruits of repentance is the effort to keep others from falling into the same pitfall, and to guide back to the Lord those who have fallen.

51:14. David asks to be delivered from “bloodguiltiness,” i.e., crimes for which the death penalty was appropriate. He refers to his crimes of adultery and murder (cf. 2 Sam 12:5, 13). Should forgiveness be granted, David promises to sing of God’s “righteousness,” i.e., his faithfulness to his character and covenant. Pardon for the penitent is as much a manifestation of God’s righteousness as judgment on the impenitent.

51:15–17. David asks for the power (ability) as well as the occasion to sing God’s praise in the public assembly. He wants to praise God aright. Sin hinders genuine praise; pardon releases it. Such a thank offering he proposes to give because he knows that Yahweh does not desire a material offering so much as the sacrifice of a contrite heart. This is not a repudiation of all sacrificial worship but a recognition that the reality within is more desirable to God than the outward symbol. A “broken spirit and a contrite heart” are those in which the obstinacy of pride has been replaced by the humility of repentance. Some see here a reference to the fact that under the law no provision of sacrifice was made for deliberate transgression.

51:18–19. These verses may have been added by the exiles who adapted this psalm to their own situation. On the other hand, it is not impossible that the penitent David would utter this prayer on behalf of Zion, the city of God. To “build the walls of Jerusalem” may have been metaphorical for granting divine protection to the holy city. The “sacrifices of righteousness” are those offered in a right spirit and manner. In the whole burnt offering the worshiper symbolized his complete dedication to the Lord. A continued divine blessing on Zion would enable Yahweh’s people to continue presenting to him these whole burnt offerings.

chapter fourteen

The Faithful and the Faithless

Psalms 52–60

Nine Davidic psalms sketch a clear distinction between those who are faithful to God and those who are not.


Psalms 52–53

Pss 52–53 expose two types of faithless individuals, viz., the deceiver, and the fool.

A. The Deceiver Exposed (Ps 52)

The writer and occasion of this psalm are clearly indicated in the title (cf. 1 Sam 21–22). Doeg was chief of Saul’s herdsmen. With malicious intent he reported facts to Saul which fueled his insane suspicion that David was plotting against his life. The results were disastrous to the priestly family of Ahimelech, and near disastrous to David himself. This is the first of four “maskil” (didactic) psalms in succession. The psalm falls into two divisions. Here David paints a portrait of: (1) the sinner (vv. 1–5); and (2) the saint (vv. 6–9).

52:1. The theme of the psalm is the contrast between man’s wrongdoing, and God’s lovingkindness. The two halves of this verse outline the psalm. The mighty man boasts of his success in evildoing. Such boasting is vain. The covenant love in which David trusts endures “all the day,” i.e., long after the evildoer has faded from the scene. The word for God (‘El = the mighty one) reminds the braggart that there is one stronger than he, who will call him to account.

52:2. The tongue of the mighty man “devises destruction.” By falsehood, slander, false witness and the like Doeg hoped to bring about the destruction of David. His tongue is compared to a dangerous sharp razor which cuts before one is even aware. The mighty man is addressed as “worker of deceit.”

52:3–4. This sinner chooses evil rather than good. He had no concern for “righteousness,” i.e., truth which would lead to justice. The aim of his falsehoods was injustice. He loved “words of swallowing up,” i.e., words which destroyed others. The mighty man again is addressed, this time as “deceitful tongue.”

52:5. The punishment will correspond to the sin. The mighty man himself will be destroyed. God will pluck him out of his dwelling and drive him forth as a homeless wanderer. Though he be flourishing as a green tree, God will root him out of the land of the living, i.e., he will die suddenly and violently. “Selah“—a musical interlude—marks the conclusion of the first half of the psalm.

52:6. The sight of the fall of the mighty man fills the righteous with awe, i.e., a deeper respect for God’s moral government. Malicious satisfaction at the calamity of the wicked is condemned (Job 31:29; Prov 24:17). Every vindication of God’s righteousness, however, was greeted with joy. In this sense, the righteous laugh at the fall of the braggart.

52:7. The righteous sarcastically pronounce the epithet of the mighty man. As a matter of course he had not made God his stronghold. He trusted instead in his riches which were gained through wickedness.

52:8. The speaker compares himself to “a green olive tree in the house of God.” Two common figures are here combined: the flourishing tree and the house guest. While the wicked man is rooted up, the psalmist flourishes. He is a guest in God’s house, enjoying his favor and protection. God’s “house” here may refer to the land of Israel from which the wicked are driven out (v. 5).

52:9. The speaker gives forever to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving because he has brought down the deceiver and braggart. In the presence of other godly people, i.e., publicly, he will continue to “wait” on Yahweh, i.e., his trust in the Lord would be a matter of public knowledge.

B. The Fool Exposed (Ps 53)

This psalm is a new rendition of Ps 14. In accordance with the usage of this section of the Psalter, ‘Elohim has been substituted for Yahweh. The earlier psalm appears to have been adapted by slight alterations to a second great deliverance which is, probably, the destruction of Sennacherib’s army in 701 b.c. For observations regarding the contents of this psalm, see on Ps 14.


Psalms 54–56

The next three psalms are designed to encourage the faithful when they are faced with the trials of life.

A. When Faced with Betrayal (Ps 54)

This psalm is another “maskil” (didactic) psalm of David. He wrote it when the Ziphites twice betrayed his whereabouts to Saul (1 Sam 23:14–15, 19–24; 26:1–4). Ziph was a small town fifteen miles SE of Hebron in the territory of Judah. The psalm has a simple structure. It consists of (1) a prayer (vv. 1–3); and (2) the answer to prayer (vv. 4–7).

54:1–2. The “name of God” is the totality of his revealed attributes. David can appeal to the name because God has declared that it is his will to save those who put their trust in him. To “judge” means here “to do justice.” David is confident that if justice is done, he will be delivered from his foes. The phrase “by your strength” indicates that God has not only the will, but the power to deliver his servant.

54:3. Those who oppose David are described as (1) “strangers,” i.e., the Ziphites had not acted like fellow Judahites, but had betrayed David to the Benjamites who were seeking his life; (2) “violent men,” i.e., Saul’s men who were determined to destroy David; and (3) “they have not set God before them,” i.e., they have no regard for God’s will, nor do they fear his judgment. It was well known that God intended David to be Saul’s successor. In attempting to deliver over David to Saul, the Ziphites were in fact fighting against God.

54:4–5. Based on past experience, David knew that God was on his side. Yahweh is the “upholder” of his soul. David’s enemies lie in wait for him like a leopard for its prey. Yahweh would cause the evil which they were plotting to recoil upon their own heads. David asks God to “cut them off in your truth.” God cannot be false to his promise to deliver David.

54:6–7. The deliverance from trouble will be effected by the overthrow of the enemies. David was confident that he would see what he desired to see, viz., their demise. For such salvation he would praise God’s name (i.e., his nature, or attributes), and offer up free will sacrifices to him. It is not personal vindictiveness which brings David joy, but the vindication of God’s faithfulness. The proof of this is found in the fact that no man was more gracious to his enemies than David.

B. When Overcome by Sorrow (Ps 55)

Ps 55 was written by David, most probably during the period of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15–17). The psalm falls into three nearly equal divisions. It portrays David’s (1) anguish (vv. 1–8); (2) anger (vv. 9–15); and (3) anticipation (vv. 16–23).

55:1–3a. David passionately appeals to God for a hearing in his distress. He asks God not to “hide” himself like an unmerciful man who turns away from misfortune which he does not want to relieve. The insulting, threatening “voice of the enemy” has caused him to be “restless,” i.e., has distracted his mind. The wicked oppress, i.e, hem him in and crush him down.

55:3b–5. The enemy casts down “trouble” upon David, a metaphor from the practice of rolling stones down upon an enemy. Terrors such as only death alone can inspire have fallen upon him. He is overwhelmed with “horror.”

55:6–8. David wishes he could be like the dove which wings its flight swiftly to its nest in the clefts of the inaccessible precipice, far from the haunts of men. Then he could find solace and safety in the isolation of the wilderness. There he would escape the storms of faction and party spirit raging within the city. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude.

55:9–11. David prays for the confusion of his enemies’ counsels as the Lord confounded the language of all the earth at Babel. The city (Jerusalem) is full of violence and strife. “Iniquity” and “mischief” personified act as sentinels on the walls. Everywhere throughout the city, in the most public places of concourse, every form of evil and injustice was rampant, without check or intermission.

55:12. Foremost among David’s enemies is one who had formerly been one of his most intimate and trusted friends. This is the most bitter ingredient in his cup of suffering. Ahithophel is doubtless the false friend here mentioned. Bathsheba was his granddaughter. He may have been resentful about what David had done to her and her husband. See 1 Chron 3:5; 2 Sam 11:3; 23:34, 39.

55:13–14. David describes the chief enemy as “my equal,” “my companion,” and “my familiar friend,” i.e., the very best of friends. The two had shared intimate secrets and worshiped together.

55:15. David asks for the destruction of his enemies by death. He asks that this fate may fall upon them suddenly so that they go down to Sheol alive like Korah and his company (cf. Num 16:30, 33). Evil of every kind lodges in their homes and hearts. A sudden and premature death would be a visible judgment upon their crimes.

55:16–18. The trustful confidence of David begins to surface. He will continually offer up his prayers to his God. He is certain that his prayer will be answered. God will “redeem” his soul “in peace,” i.e., will put him in a place of safety, from the “battle,” i.e., the opposition which he was facing. This would be accomplished by “the many with me,” which may refer to angels who watched over him. The name Yahweh here is significant. It is the God of covenant redemption to whom he can appeal, and under whose protection he can rest.

55:19. God will hear the raging of the enemies and answer them with judgment. God is designated as “he that sits enthroned eternally,” i.e., as judge of the world. These enemies have as yet experienced no “changes,” i.e., vicissitudes of fortune. God will humble those whose prosperity is uninterrupted, and who consequently do not fear God.

55:20–21. David reverts again to the treachery of his former friend. This man had “put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him,” i.e., he had desecrated the sacred obligations of friendship. “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter,” i.e., he was guilty of hypocritical flattery. All the while “war” was in his heart. His words were “softer than oil,” yet behind those words were “drawn swords” ready to stab the victim to the heart.

55:22–23. David exhorts himself to cast his burden upon the Lord. God will not allow the righteous to be “shaken” forever. Their distress is but for a time. On the other hand, the enemies of the righteous will be brought down to the “pit of destruction,” i.e., death. A premature death awaits “bloodthirsty and deceitful men.” But the same God who destroys the wicked is the object of David’s trust.

C. When Coping with Fear (Ps 56)

This mikhtam (see on Ps 16) of David is said to have been written when the Philistines took him at Gath (1 Sam 21:10–15). This psalm is closely related to Ps 34. The psalm consists of two stanzas and a concluding thanksgiving. Each of the stanzas ends with a refrain. Thus the psalm depicts (1) a prayer for deliverance (vv. 1–4); (2) the peril of death (vv. 5–11); and (3) the thanksgiving for deliverance (vv. 12–13).

56:1–2. David asks for divine mercy because “man would swallow me up,” i.e., like a wild beast rushing upon its prey. He feels he is under the constant oppression of the enemy. The enemies are many; but God is the Most High (marom). David prays that God will prove his own supreme exaltation against these self-exalted braggarts.

56:3–4. David’s sojourn in Gath is the only occasion on which he is recorded to have been afraid of man (1 Sam 21:12). Nonetheless David is determined—the pronoun is emphatic—to put his trust in God. Each day of peril disciplined his faith. David was confident that with the help of the Lord he would no longer fear what mere “flesh” could do to him.

56:5–6. From the heights of faith David returns to the urgent reality of present distress. All day long his enemies twist his words. Daily they tried to poison Saul’s mind against him. The enemies lie in wait for David, i.e., try to ambush him. They mark his steps like hunters tracking their game. They watch for every opportunity to take his life.

56:7–8. Shall such wicked men escape punishment? David asks God to humble these people with judgment. The Lord knows all the days of David’s fugitive life, when he was driven from his home to become a wanderer. David believes that God has put all his tears into a bottle, as though they were as precious as wine. His difficulties have all been noted in God’s book of remembrance.

56:9–11. David is certain that God is on his side. His enemies, therefore, will be put to flight. David therefore repeats (essentially) the refrain of v. 4. He will praise God’s word of promise.

56:12. David acknowledges his obligations before God. He will give thank offerings as well as votive offerings. He can speak of his deliverance from death as an accomplished fact. The Lord had delivered his feet from stumbling as the enemy attempted to thrust him down. David was permitted to “walk before God,” i.e., serve him acceptably, here in the “light of the living,” i.e., in the land of light as contrasted with the darkness of death.


Psalms 57–60

The faithful have this consolation. No matter what their predicament may be in life, they know that they are compassed about by the all-powerful God. Nothing can befall them, save what he permits.

A. Protection from Pursuers (Ps 57)

Ps 57 is another mikhtam (see on Ps 16) of David written when he fled from Saul in the cave (1 Sam 24:1–8). This psalm has two main divisions: (1) a prayer for protection (vv. 1–5); and (2) a pledge to give thanks (vv. 6–11).

57:1. Beset by fierce and cruel enemies, David throws himself upon God’s protection. “The shadow of your wings” is a beautiful metaphor taken from the care of the mother bird for her young. When danger threatens, the young run to her for shelter until the danger be past.

57:2–3. David resolves to call on “God Most High.” The name implies that, as the supreme ruler of the world, God will be able to help him. God will send forth from heaven his “lovingkindness and truth” which are here personified as divine agents. By so doing God tramples those who attempt to trample David.

57:4. David depicts himself residing in the midst of vicious lions. He feels their hot breath and sharp teeth. They use their tongue against him like a sword. Yet David can lie down to rest in the midst of these savage beasts, knowing that God will protect him.

57:5. From his plight on earth, David looks up to heaven. He asks that God will manifest himself in majesty. What is needed is that he should manifest his supreme authority over the insolent rebels.

57:6. The enemies have tried to trap David in a net and a pit. For a time he was “bowed down,” i.e., brought low, by their actions. In the end, however, David sees these enemies falling into their own traps.

57:7. David is firmly resolved to sing praise to the Lord. He exhorts himself (“my glory”) to awake, to take up the instruments of music, and sing. By so doing he will “awake the dawn,” i.e., bring on the day of deliverance.

57:8–11. David will praise the Lord even “among the nations,” i.e., Gentiles. Mercy and truth which reach from earth to heaven demand worldwide praise. He concludes this psalm appropriately with the repetition of the refrain of v. 5.

B. Protection from Corrupt Judges (Ps 58)

David wrote Ps 58, probably during the period of Absalom’s rebellion. The psalm has three main divisions: (1) A description of injustice (vv. 1–5); (2) a depiction of justice (vv. 6–9); and (3) a declaration of praise (vv. 10–11).

58:1. The judges are called “mighty ones” (‘elim) because of their power over the lives of men. Two rhetorical questions seem to accuse these judges of not rendering righteous and upright decisions.

58:2. Far from judging equitably, these judges were themselves the greatest offenders. Inwardly they were ever contriving some scheme of injustice. Instead of weighing decisions in the scales of justice (cf. Job 31:6), they weigh out violence “in the land,” i.e., openly, and publicly they carry out the schemes they contrived in their hearts.

58:3. The judges belong to a class called the “wicked” who are estranged from God and his laws. From the day of their birth they seem to go astray, speaking lies.

58:4–5. The wicked are as insidious and venomous as serpents. They obstinately oppose all attempts to control them, like the poisonous deaf adder which resists the arts of the charmer. The ancients distinguished “the deaf” serpent from the one that answered the call of the charmer by hissing. The reference is to a class which manifests a diabolical aptitude for evil and opposition to good.

58:6. Since these enemies are obstinately and incurably evil, nothing remains but that they should be deprived of their power to hurt. The figure of the serpent is changed to that of the lion, typical of open ferocity. To “break” their teeth is equivalent to rendering them harmless.

58:7–8. David asks that these enemies be like a raging torrent which vanishes in the desert, or like broken arrows, i.e., he asks that they be rendered harmless. Let them be like a snail which seems to melt away and disappear as it leaves a slimy trail behind it; or like the miscarriage of a woman which never comes to term.

58:9. The disrupted meal is another picture of sudden destruction of the wicked and their schemes. A traveler in the desert lights a fire of dry thorns under his cooking pot. It blazes up rapidly, but even so, before the pots are heated and the meat in them cooked, a sudden whirlwind sweeps away the fire. The whirlwind of divine judgment will sweep away their schemes before they can be implemented.

58:10. The righteous will rejoice over the punishment of the wicked. They regard the judgment as the vengeance of God on those who have willfully and obstinately resisted every effort for their reformation. A time comes in the moral government of the world when evil can no longer be tolerated; and the righteous cannot but rejoice at the triumph of good over evil and the proof that God is true to his revealed character as a just judge and sovereign ruler. The righteous man shall “wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,” i.e., the wicked fall all about him.

58:11. The destruction of the wicked convinces men that (1) right living has its reward; and (2) God judges in the earth. The term “surely” used twice in the verse expresses the recognition of a truth which has been obscured or questioned in the past, but which has now been made clear.

C. Protection from Enemies Within (Ps 59)

Ps 58 is another mikhtam (cf. Ps 16) of David, written at the time when he was threatened with arrest by Saul while in his own home (1 Sam 19:11–18). This psalm has two main divisions: (1) David’s danger (vv. 1–9); and (2) David’s deliverance (vv. 10–17).

59:1–4. David prays for deliverance from the enemies who are bent on taking his life. These enemies are described as “workers of iniquity,” “men of blood,” i.e., bloodthirsty men, and “strong ones.” The tenses of the verbs indicate that secret plots have long been going on; now, however, the enemies are preparing a more open attack. Yet he has been guilty of no transgression, sin or iniquity with respect to these men. Their hostility is unprovoked (cf. 1 Sam 20:1; 24:11). In this crisis he calls upon Yahweh to arouse himself from his apparent slumber of indifference and “meet him” as with an army of relief.

59:5. The second person pronoun here is emphatic. Yahweh is “God of hosts,” i.e., he has power, and “God of Israel,” i.e., he has obligations to his people. David calls on the Lord to “visit,” i.e., punish, the nations. He asks that God be not gracious to them, the opposite of what he asks for himself. Since David’s personal enemies were not in fact foreigners, one must conclude that (1) an original psalm of David has been altered by the editors of the Psalter for liturgical use; or (2) the prayer for judgment upon personal enemies is expanded into a prayer for a judgment upon all the enemies of Israel.

59:6. David compares his enemies to a pack of savage and hungry dogs such as still infest the towns of that region. In the daytime they sleep in the sun, or slink lazily about; but at night they band together in search of food, howling dismally.

59:7–9. A flood of cursing and falsehood pours from the mouth of these enemies. They menace David with death, or openly boast that he will soon be removed. The enemies sneer that there is no one to take David’s part. The evil plans of David’s enemies are as absurd as those of the heathen. Yahweh laughs at all of them because he knows their plans will never come to fruition. David’s enemies are strong, but God is stronger still. They watch his house (see psalm title), but he will “watch unto God.” The Lord is his “high tower” of refuge in this time of attack.

59:10. David was confident that his prayer of v. 4 would be answered, that the Lord would “come to meet” him with lovingkindness. He believes that he will in fact live to see the demise of his attackers.

59:11. David does not want the enemies destroyed outright by some signal catastrophe, but visibly punished as a living example, until at last their own wickedness brings on their destruction. He wants God to “make them wander to and fro” like outcasts by means of his heavenly army (chayil). Yahweh is addressed here as “our shield.” David is speaking as the representative of the nation.

59:12–13. David asks that his enemies be caught in their own snare, their plots recoiling upon themselves. Because of their prideful words, their cursing and lying, he asks that God might consume them in wrath “that they be no more.” Thus will people unto the ends of the earth know that “God rules in Jacob,” i.e., the nation Israel. Exhibitions of judgment upon wicked and violent men are evidence of God’s sovereign reign.

59:14–15. A repetition of v. 6. The savage dogs prowl and growl all night in their efforts to get David in their teeth. They may tarry all night outside his doors. Yet David is confident that dawn will find him safe. The Hebrew suggests a strong contrast between the disappointed plots of the enemies (vv. 14–15) and the security of David (v. 16).

59:16–17. David is confident that “in the morning,” after the night of anxiety, he will be singing joyous songs of praise. He will again know by experience that God was his strength and his high tower of refuge.

D. Protection from Enemies Without (Ps 60)

This psalm was written by David during the time of his wars. While David had been occupied in campaigns with the Arameans (Syrians), the Edomites apparently had seized the opportunity for invading the south of Judah. David quickly dispatched a force which routed the Edomites with great slaughter in the Valley of Salt south of the Dead Sea. This psalm was probably written just after David dispatched the troops under Joab and before he knew the outcome of the battle. The poem has three stanzas of four verses each: (1) present defeat (vv. 1–4); (2) promised dominion (vv. 5–8); and (3) power for deliverance (vv. 9–12).

60:1. David complains that God has “cast off,” i.e., abandoned, his people. He has “broken” them in some great calamity. It is a metaphor from the destruction of a wall or a building. It appeared that Yahweh was angry with Israel. David appeals for restoration of his favor.

60:2. The disaster is compared to an earthquake, which is often the symbol of great catastrophes and divine judgment. David asks that God “heal the breaches,” i.e., repair, the damage which the calamity has caused.

60:3. Israel has been made to drink the “wine of staggering,” i.e., the cup of God’s wrath, a drugged potion which robs the drinker of reason. This metaphor expresses the confusion created by calamity, and the mockery which that confusion generates among bystanders.

60:4. Israel existed for one purpose: to display the glory of God among the nations. David believed that whenever an enemy came against his people, God would raise up a “banner” to represent his truth. Should Israel be defeated, that banner of truth was disgraced. David believed that God would not permit that to happen. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude at this point.

60:5. God’s “beloved ones” (plural) are the Israelites. David asks for victory for those whom God loves. The “right hand” was the symbol of power.

60:6. “By his holiness” God had spoken, i.e., promised or sworn, to give certain lands to his people. God’s holiness includes his whole essential nature in its moral aspect. His holiness makes it impossible for him to break his word. Here God is depicted as a victorious warrior, conquering the land and apportioning it out to his people. Shechem and Succoth, towns west and east of the Jordan, are both prominent in the history of Jacob (Gen 33:17–18). God will fulfill his promise to Jacob, apportioning to his people the land in which their great ancestor settled.

60:7. Gilead and Manasseh are territories east of Jordan. Ephraim and Judah are tribal areas west of Jordan. All are claimed by God and have a right to his protection. Ephraim, the most powerful tribe and the chief defense of the nation, is compared to a warrior’s helmet. Judah, as the tribe to which belonged the Davidic sovereignty, is compared to the royal scepter (cf. Gen 49:10).

60:8. In strong contrast to the honor assigned to Ephraim and Judah is the disgrace of Moab and Edom. Moab, notorious for its pride (Isa 16:6), is compared to the vessel which was brought to the victorious warrior to wash his feet when he returned from battle. The thought is that this ancient enemy of God’s people would become a vassal state, subject to the hegemony of Yahweh’s vice-regent David. Upon Edom Yahweh will cast his shoe, i.e., he would take possession of Edom. Mighty Philistia must raise the “shout” (NASB) of homage to its conqueror, Yahweh the God of Israel.

60:9. None but the Lord can give help to his people in the war against Edom. The “strong city” here is probably Sela (later Petra), the capital of Edom. Those who have visited the spot marvel with Obadiah (v. 3) at its inaccessibility. The thought of a successful invasion of Edom is hopeless, unless Yahweh himself leads the army.

60:10–12. Though God has for the moment deserted his people, he will surely now give them aid. In bold faith David asks for divine help against the adversary, for it is vain to look to human strength for victory. He is confident that through the strength supplied by God the armies of Israel will fight valiantly. God shall cast down the adversaries.

chapter fifteen

David and the Great King

Psalms 61–72

Book Two concludes with twelve psalms which focus on the relationship between the earthly king and his God.


Psalms 61–64

The first four psalms depict the desperate straits in which David found himself. Though the king was in need, yet he trusted in the Lord and confidently expected his merciful intervention.

A. The King’s Expectation (Ps 61)

This psalm was written by David probably when he was at Mahanaim in exile from Jerusalem and the temple. The revolt by Absalom has been put down (2 Sam 18). Though David’s heart was crushed with the loss of his son, he must rejoice over the preservation of his crown. The psalm has two main divisions: (1) David’s request for restoration (vv. 1–4); and (2) his expression of expectation (vv. 5–8).

61:1–2. The terms “cry” and “prayer” are often coupled to express the urgency of supplication. David cries “from the end of the land,” i.e., from a place far distant from the capital (Jerusalem). He asks that God would lead him to a rock that is too high for him to climb alone. The “rock” represents asylum. God himself is the rock of refuge.

61:3–4. In past experience David had found Yahweh to be “a refuge” and “strong tower” from various enemies. In his exile he prays that he may once more “sojourn” as Yahweh’s guest, enjoy his hospitality, and dwell in the place which he has consecrated by his presence. The term “tent” can refer to any dwelling, but it is natural to see here a reference to the tent which David erected in Jerusalem for the ark of God (2 Sam 6:17). David’s trust would be “in the hiding place” of Yahweh’s “wings.” The reference is to the Holy of Holies where the wings of the cherubim were outspread to cover the mercy seat and the ark. This was viewed as God’s earthly throne room.

61:5. David can offer the above prayers in confidence, for God has already heard his “vows.” Prayers normally accompanied vows. God had given David “the heritage of those that fear” God’s name. During the Absalom rebellion, true and faithful Israelites had supported David, the king of God’s choice. Now these faithful ones have been restored to the possession of their rightful inheritance, from which they had been expelled by the circumstances of the rebellion.

61:6. David’s life had been in danger, but now that danger was past. David here speaks in the third person because he is speaking of himself in his capacity as king, referring to the promises made to those who held that office. God promised faithful kings long life, and David here expresses confidence that the king’s life will be “as many generations,” i.e., he would be able to see more than one generation of his offspring.

61:7. The king shall sit enthroned before God forever. This is an allusion to the promise of eternal dominion to the house of David. To reside in the presence of God means that one enjoys his favor and protection. God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his promise are like guardian angels to the king. If reflected in the reign of the king, these attributes will be the safeguard of his throne.

61:8. The preservation of life demands lifelong thanksgiving. Fulfilling one’s vows to God is a means of demonstrating thanksgiving. David is the speaker here.

B. The King’s Trust (Ps 62)

David wrote this psalm, probably during the period of Absalom’s rebellion. Ps 62 contains three equal stanzas: (1) a declaration of trust (vv. 1–4); (2) an exhortation to trust (vv. 5–8); and (3) an admonition concerning trust (vv. 9–12).

62:1–2. “Truly” or “only” (‘akh) is characteristic of this psalm, appearing six times (vv. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9). To God alone David looks in patient calmness, waiting for the deliverance which will surely come. The three titles for God (“rock,” “salvation,” and “high tower”) are also found in 18:2. The term rock conveys the strength, faithfulness, and unchangeableness of Yahweh. Nothing could move David from his reliance on the Lord.

62:3–4. Enemies kept hammering away at David with the intent of slaying him as if they were battering down a leaning wall. Such efforts are futile. The plot against the king is the result of gross hypocrisy and duplicity. The adversaries pronounce blessing on the king with their lips, but plot murder against him in their hearts.

62:5–6. It is only by constant self-exhortation that the calmness of v. 1 can be maintained. David repeats vv. 1–2 with slight variation which may reveal growing faith. Earlier he stated that he would not be greatly moved from his position of trust in God. Now he simply says: “I shall not be moved.”

62:7–8. David exhorts his fainthearted followers, who were in danger of being carried away by the show of power on Absalom’s side. He urges them to “pour out” their heart, i.e., all their anxiety, before the Lord. He reminds them that God is their refuge. “Selah” indicates a musical interlude at this point.

62:9. David admonishes his followers not to put their trust in man. Whatever their rank, wealth, or power, men are merely a breath which vanishes away. They have no weight or substance to tip the scales. Waverers would be influenced by seeing a number of leading men on Absalom’s side.

62:10. David urges that they should not trust in wealth accumulated by oppression and robbery. Some were being tempted to covet the power which wealth brings, no matter what might be the means used for obtaining it.

62:11–12. “Once, yes twice,” i.e., repeatedly, God had spoken and David has heard the double truth which supplies the answer to those who are tempted to trust in ill-gained wealth. Both power and lovingkindness belong to the Lord. He is both able and willing to “render to every man according to his work.” The punishment of the wicked and the reward of the faithful attest God’s power and love. Paul quotes these words in Rom 2:6ff.

C. The King’s Satisfaction (Ps 63)

David wrote Ps 63 when he was in the wilderness of Judah during the Absalom revolt (2 Sam 15–18). Having been forced to leave Jerusalem, David and his followers took the Jericho road through the northern part of the wilderness of Judah. He lingered awhile at “the fords” before crossing the Jordan. The full extent of his danger from Absalom was not yet clear.

This psalm does not admit of clear division into stanzas. Scroggie suggests: (1) the need for satisfaction (vv. 1–4); (2) the hope for satisfaction (vv. 5–7); and (3) the way of satisfaction (vv. 8–11)

63:1–2. David acknowledges ‘Elohim as his ‘El, i.e., the strong one to whom he can appeal with confidence in time of need. He longs for the Lord as a person might thirst for water in the midst of a dry and thirsty land. The wilderness where David found himself triggered this metaphor. He longs for the communion with deity which he had previously experienced at the sanctuary. There he had “gazed” upon (meditated) the power and glory of the creator. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence, of his strength and glory. All the rituals of Old Covenant worship reinforced in his mind the greatness of God.

63:3. The lovingkindness of the Lord is better to him than life itself, for without it life would be nothing but a desert. It brings praise to his lips. Though his life was threatened, the danger faded out of sight in the consciousness of God’s faithfulness.

63:4. As long as he had life in him he would fervently bless, i.e., praise, the Lord. The lifting up of the hands (turning palms up, rather than folding them) was the outward symbol of an uplifted heart.

63:5. God feeds the hungry soul with rich and bountiful food. That too led to joyous praise.

63:6–8. As he lies down at night he calls God to mind. He becomes so engrossed with the thought of his love that he meditates on it all night long. In Old Testament times the night was divided into three watches. He rejoices in “the shadow” of Yahweh’s wings, i.e., in recollections of the ark with its cherubim of outstretched wings. He clings to the Lord and follows him. Because of that, God upholds him with his “right hand,” i.e., power.

63:9. Those who seek David’s life are emphatically contrasted with himself. While his path is upward toward God, theirs is downward to “the lower parts of the earth,” i.e., to Sheol.

63:10–11. The enemies face an ignominious end, but the king emerges triumphant from the struggle. The enemies fall to the sword and are left unburied on the battlefield. Their corpses become a feast for packs of jackals. On the other hand, the king—David—shall rejoice in his God. Those who invoke the name of God in their oaths are those who are faithful worshipers. They share in the triumph of the king who is Yahweh’s representative. Those who rebel against God and his king, who deluded men with false promises and lying accusations, shall be silenced.

D. The King’s Confidence (Ps 64)

Ps 64 was composed by David, almost certainly during the period of Absalom’s insurrection (2 Sam 15–18). The psalm has two main divisions: (1) David’s complaint (vv. 1–6); and (2) David’s champion (vv. 7–10).

64:1. David refers to his opening words as a “complaint.” He asks that he might be preserved from the terror which the enemy inspires.

64:2–4. David was confident that Yahweh would hide him from the secret plans and open attack of the insurrectionists. Their tongue is like a sharpened sword; their words are like poisoned arrows which they shoot in secret places at those who are blameless before God. These men fear neither God nor the king.

64:5–6. The enemies spare no pains to make their plot successful. They say to themselves that there is no God who will take any account of their proceedings. They conceal their evil plans deep in their own hearts, but in vain. God knows their hearts.

64:7–8. When the rebels aim their arrows at the righteous, God shoots back. Swift retribution overtakes them unawares. Their tongue, the weapon with which they sought to destroy others, is turned against themselves. All who see their fate shall “wag the head” in scornful contempt.

64:9. Men in general who see the fate of the rebels are overcome by a wholesome fear (in contrast to the profane fearlessness of the ungodly in v. 4). These will publicly acknowledge that Yahweh rules the world. They will wisely apply to themselves the meaning of God’s judgment.

64:10. For the righteous the judgment is an occasion of joy which stimulates even greater trust in the Lord.


Psalms 65–66

The annual rains are one indication that God has returned to his people. Even more, the deliverance of his people from oppression signals that the Lord has again been merciful to them. These two manifestations of God’s favor—the one natural, the other supernatural—are celebrated in the next two psalms.

A. Praise for Bountiful Harvests (Ps 65)

Ps 65 was composed by David, probably in connection with the Spring festival of firstfruits (Lev 23:10–14), in a period when his kingdom was established and peaceful. The psalm consists of three nearly equal stanzas: (1) the grace of God (vv. 1–4); (2) the greatness of God (vv. 5–8); and (3) the goodness of God (vv. 9–13).

65:1. It is the duty of grateful people to render thanks to God in the sanctuary. Praise is silent before God. The heart is so full that momentarily it can find no means of expression. Silence can be as full of praise as song and shout. In respectful silence the believers can perform their vows in offerings at the sanctuary.

65:2. Yahweh is the God who hears prayer. He is so addressed because once again he had demonstrated his willingness to respond to the cries of his people. David foresees the day when Yahweh’s sanctuary would become a house of prayer for all nations.

65:3. The assembled congregation speaks of itself first as an individual (“against me“), then as an aggregate of individuals (“our transgressions”). The worshipers cannot defeat sin, but God can. He will “purge away” (cover, blot out) that sin.

65:4. A beatitude is pronounced on those fortunate enough to be chosen to approach God in the sanctuary. Visiting the sanctuary was a badge of membership in the Old Covenant Israel. True believers found satisfaction in that holy place.

65:5. In the future, as in the past, Yahweh will prove his righteousness by awe-inspiring deeds on behalf of his people in answer to their prayers. God’s acts are “terrible” in that they strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, and fill his people with reverent awe. “Righteousness” is the principle of the divine government; it is closely related to “salvation.” By righteousness, God’s honor is pledged to answer prayer and deliver his people. Yahweh’s mighty acts on behalf of his people in destroying their oppressors will lead all the oppressed and needy throughout the world to turn to him in trust.

65:6–8. Yahweh’s power is demonstrated in that he created and sustains the mountains, the strongest and most solid parts of the earth. He controls the turbulent elements of nature and the tumultuous hosts of the nations which they symbolize. These mighty works impress distant people. From the furthest east to the furthest west he makes earth’s inhabitants to shout for joy.

65:9–10. The special object of this psalm is now taken up. David wishes to express thanksgiving for the plenty of the year. He gratefully acknowledges that the rains which have fertilized the soil were God’s gift. God’s “stream” is the rain, with which he irrigates the land as out of a brimming aqueduct. The rains had prepared the ground for the seed and fostered its growth.

65:11–12. The Lord had crowned the year with his goodness, i.e., added fresh beauty and perfection to a year already marked by special bounty. Wherever he traverses on the earth he leaves rich blessings. This again is probably a reference to the latter rain which was more uncertain than the early rain, and was generally regarded as special blessing. The pastures of the uncultivated countryside and hills rejoice over the outpouring of the rain.

65:13. Sheep and wheat in abundance clothe the land because of the bountiful rains.

B. Praise for Awesome Works (Ps 66)

Ps 66 is anonymous, but the language appears to connect it with the deliverance of Judah from the host of Sennacherib in 701 b.c. (Isa 36–38). The psalm has two main divisions. The first twelve verses use the first person plural, as though a choir were singing; verses 13–20 are in the first person singular, as though it were intended for a soloist. Within these two main divisions four stanzas appear: (1) a summons to praise God (vv. 1–4); (2) the mighty works of God (vv. 5–7); (3) the marvelous ways of God (vv. 8–12); and (4) the exuberant worship of God (vv. 13–20).

66:1–4. All are summoned to worship God and acknowledge the greatness of his power. They should “make a joyful noise” or shout, i.e., greet him with the acclaim which befits a victorious king. They should “sing forth” the honor of God’s name, i.e., his character. The praise should recognize the awesome works of God. It should contemplate the day when all enemies will become submissive to the Lord. It should acknowledge that one day all the earth will worship and praise God.

66:5. The nations are invited to contemplate some of God’s awesome works for his people in the past. All men must fear God; but it depends on themselves whether they will reverence him as their God, or dread him as their enemy.

66:6. God turned the Red Sea and the Jordan River into dry land before his people. Identifying with the Israelites of ancient times, the psalmist regards the nation as possessing an unbroken continuity of life. Thus he can say: “there [at the Red Sea and Jordan] did we rejoice in him.”

66:7–8. This God of awesome works past is still ruling in the present. He keeps watch lest any foe should injure Israel. The psalmist warns those who obstinately resist God’s will to humble themselves. The psalmist calls upon the nations to praise God. He is conscious of Israel’s mission to the world.

66:9. Israel was at the point of national death and ruin, but God preserved and upheld the nation. The particular deliverance will be described in the following verses.

66:10. Through the ordeal of the invasion, Israel had been purged of dross as impurities are smelted out of precious metals.

66:11. God had deliberately brought his people into the power of enemies to punish them for their sins. He had laid a crushing blow upon their “loins,” i.e., an affliction which caused them to bow down under its weight.

66:12. As a vanquished people Israel had been flung down upon the ground, and trampled under the horse hoofs and chariot wheels of their conquerors. “Fire and water” are symbolic of extreme and varied dangers. God brought them through that adversity to “abundance,” the opposite of the privations which had been endured.

66:13–15. The change to the singular pronoun indicates that the king enters the temple. He comes with burnt offerings expressing devotion, and peace offerings to fulfill his vows which he made in the hour of national distress. “Incense of rams” denotes the sweet savor of the sacrifice ascending as it was consumed by fire. Rams and he-goats were prescribed in the law for worship by the entire nation or its leaders, not by ordinary Israelites.

66:16. “All who fear God” are bidden to hear what he has done for the king who is speaking. In the light of the universal emphasis of this psalm, the phrase probably includes pious Gentiles who had been converted as well as Israelites.

66:17–19. Even while the king prayed, he had praises ready to offer up, so sure was he of a positive answer from the Lord. Hypocrisy would have disqualified the suppliant, but he was confident that he was no hypocrite. The answer to the prayer indicates that his assessment was correct. This is not self-righteousness, but the simplicity of a clear conscience.

66:20. The psalm concludes with praise to God for answered prayer and continued mercy.


Psalm 67–69

The next three psalms extol the glories of heaven’s king, and especially what he would do for his people through Messiah.

A. His Universal Reign (Ps 67)

Ps 67 is sometimes called Israel’s Missionary Psalm. The writer is anonymous. Most likely it is to be assigned to the writer of the previous psalm. The background also is the same, viz., the miraculous rescue of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 b.c. Ps 67 consists of a core (vv. 3–5) which begins and ends with the same refrain. This core is sandwiched between an introduction (vv. 1–2) and a conclusion (vv. 6–7).

67:1. The psalm begins with words taken from the priestly blessing of Num 6:24ff. only ‘Elohim is substituted for Yahweh. For the face of God to shine “with us” would suggest the thought of God’s favor abiding with his people.

67:2. The blessings which God bestows upon Israel will show the nations what a God he is and will make them desire to serve him. God’s way is his gracious method of dealing with men which can be summed up in the word salvation.

67:3–4. The wish is expressed that all nations may soon acknowledge the God of Israel as their God. The Gentiles can rejoice for God shall “judge” or rule them with just and equitable government. He will “lead” those Gentiles as he led Israel through the wilderness. These verses clearly anticipate the messianic kingdom.

67:5–6. The refrain of v. 3 is repeated, but perhaps here it is more of an assertion of confidence than a wish. At least the Hebrew could be so rendered: “The peoples shall give thanks to you, O God.” Under the rule of God the land will yield her increase, i.e., in God’s kingdom there is abundance of food.

67:7. The thankful people declare that God is blessing them. They express their faith that he will continue to bless them. The result of this will be that the most remote nations will become worshipers of the only true God, the God of Israel.

B. His Mighty Conquest (Ps 68)

Ps 68 is notoriously difficult to translate and interpret. David wrote this psalm, perhaps at the time when the ark was transported from the home of Obed-edom to the tent in Jerusalem (2 Sam 6). The key to the meaning of the psalm is the citation by Paul in Eph 4:8 which sees in this psalm a prediction of the ascension of Christ. The messianic interpretation of Ps 68 suggests five divisions: (1) the advent (vv. 1–6); (2) accomplishments (vv. 7–17); (3) ascension (vv. 18–21); (4) announcement (vv. 22–31); and (5) appeal (vv. 32–35).

68:1–2. David anticipates a glorious coming of God. Before him the wicked flee like smoke before the wind, their powers of resistance to God melt like wax before a fire.

68:3–4. The righteous, on the other hand, stand before God and rejoice in his presence. God’s advent is described under the figure of a journey of an oriental monarch before whose chariot engineers prepare the road. Through faith, obedience and godliness the righteous prepare for God’s advent.

68:4–5. The coming one is Yah, shortened form of Yahweh. This name points to the Lord as the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God of redemption who shows himself mighty in the deliverance of his people. Yahweh is “the father of orphans,” i.e., protector of the innocent and helpless. He is judge (vindicator) of widows. His abode, whether on earth or in heaven, is holy.

68:6. Only those who rebel against God never experience the spiritual transformation which may be likened to homecoming after a long journey or freedom after extended bondage. The rebels remain in the barren wastes of life.

68:7–10. David begins to set forth the history of Israel from the Exodus to the entry into Canaan. The thought here is that the past accomplishments of Yahweh are a key to his future actions. He pictures God leading his people through the wilderness to Sinai. A great thunderstorm and earthquake marked his presence there. During the forty years of wandering Yahweh showered upon them “rain,” i.e., refreshing gifts such as manna, quail and water. These deeds prove that God will prepare a resting place for those who are poor and afflicted.

68:11–14. God led his people into Canaan. He merely spoke his word, and kings of hosts fled before Israel. Peaceful non-combatants were able to share in the distribution of the spoils of the routed enemy. Following the times of war, Israel enjoyed periods of peaceful prosperity which are likened to (1) the beautiful plumage of the dove; and (2) the dazzling whiteness of a patch of snow in the midst of dark terrain.

68:15–17. The hill of God (God’s kingdom) is likened to a lofty mountain, i.e., his kingdom is invincible. The mountains (kingdoms) of the heathen world show envy or hostility toward Zion because Yahweh has chosen that place for his dwelling. Zion is protected by the innumerable chariots of God as well as Yahweh’s personal presence. That same glorious theophany (manifestation of God) which once took place on Sinai is now renewed on Zion.

68:18. Paul saw in this verse a prophecy of the ascension of Christ (Eph 4:8). The verse is in the second person. Thus it is a prayer. God is said to have ascended on high, i.e., to heaven, as a great conqueror. He has taken “captivity captive.” All that once held men captive—Satan, sin, death—has been conquered. At his ascension Christ received gifts and then gave those gifts to those for whom they were intended. These spiritual gifts are given to men so that God might dwell among them. The reference is to the church of Christ which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 6:16).

68:19–20. The Lord daily loads down his people with salvation. He now makes possible escape even from death itself. On the other hand, this God smashes the heads of all his enemies. The “hairy scalp” refers to the unshorn hair of a warrior who had taken a vow not to cut his hair until victory was achieved. In spite of such zeal, the enemies of God will not succeed.

68:21–23. Yahweh speaks directly for the only time in the psalm. He confirms the confident acclaim of the victory expressed in the preceding verse. Even when the enemy seems to have escaped, God brings them back for punishment and destruction. The people of God will wade through the blood of those fallen foes. Though the language is unpleasant, the truth expressed here is essential. The judgment of the oppressor is in fact the necessary condition of the deliverance of the oppressed. Moreover such judgment is also an indispensable vindication of God’s eternal justice.

68:24–28. The great victory over the forces of evil is celebrated in solemn worship. All men have been spectators of the conflict between God and his enemies. The goings refers to the festive procession celebrating God’s victory. The victor returns to heaven to be hailed as king. The triumphant procession is accompanied by musicians. In the solemn assemblies of God’s people the triumph over evil should be praised. The mention of the various tribes is a way of urging that all God’s people should praise the victory.

68:29. David anticipates the day when Gentiles would pay tribute to the God of Jacob at his yet-to-be-built temple in Jerusalem.

68:30–31. David prays for God to “rebuke the wild beast of the reeds,” i.e., the crocodile or hippopotamus, symbolic of Egypt, the most powerful of heathen states. The “crowd of bulls” may represent the leaders of the nations, the “calves” their subjects. Together these rulers and their subjects come to render tribute to the divine conqueror. Warlike enemies have been scattered by the hand of God. Princes of Egypt and Ethiopia submit to God’s will. David is predicting the spread of Messiah’s kingdom among the Gentiles.

68:32–34. In view of the conquests here foreseen, the whole world is summoned to acknowledge the God of Israel as universal sovereign. Yahweh rides as a conqueror in triumph through the heaven of heavens which existed long before the heavens as men know them. A voice from heaven urges people to acknowledge by the tribute of praise the power which is Yahweh’s. He is entitled to such praise because of the greatness he displays in protecting Israel.

68:35. The nations seem to respond to the appeal of the preceding verse. They acknowledge the awesome might which God displays from his sanctuary in the midst of Israel. They recognize him as the source of Israel’s preeminence. They bless his name, i.e., his revealed attributes.

C. His Innocent Suffering (Ps 69)

Ps 69 is quoted seven times in the New Testament. The manner in which this psalm is quoted seems to necessitate that the sufferer here is Messiah. Ps 69 claims to be Davidic in its heading. The psalm has three main divisions: (1) Messiah’s prayer for deliverance (vv. 1–21); (2) his prophecy regarding his enemies (vv. 22–28); and (3) his profession of thanksgiving (vv. 29–36).

69:1–4. In his first petition, Messiah cries out for help. He was in serious danger, like that of drowning, and being stuck in deep mire in which there was no solid bottom. He had waited patiently on God. His throat is parched by excessive exertion, his eyes are exhausted from continued looking to God for help. He was facing numerous enemies who were out to destroy him. Though he was absolutely honest, they treated him like a thief.

69:5. He was confident that God knew the truth about his conduct. From one point of view, he was free from the charges laid against him by his antagonists. From another point of view, all the iniquities of mankind were charged upon him by imputation. Hence he was being chastised for his “sins” and his “foolishness,” i.e., those sins which he had taken upon himself.

69:6. Should Messiah be left utterly to perish, those who put their trust in God will be put to scorn and confusion.

69:7–12. The second petition is that godly souls may not be hurt by the suffering which he experiences. This petition is strengthened by four reasons: (1) his sufferings were for God’s sake; (2) his friends had abandoned him; (3) his zeal for the honor of God’s house had brought reproach upon him; and (4) his religious commitment had brought him mockery. The spiritual agony of Messiah is mentioned here, not in reference to his own suffering only, but to the sins of his people. One thinks of the tears shed by Jesus as he looked down upon the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). People in positions of leadership (“those who sit in the gate”) and those rascals who compose drunken ditties made light of Messiah’s earnest concern for the salvation of his fellows.

69:13. In his third petition Messiah prays that God will hear him for three reasons: (1) he presents his petition “in an acceptable time,” i.e., before it was too late; (2) he makes mention of the multitude of God’s mercies; and (3) he speaks of the truth of God’s promises of salvation.

69:14–15. The fourth petition is for deliverance. Messiah supports this petition by again vividly describing his plight in terms of drowning and entrapment in a pit.

69:16–17. To his fifth petition for deliverance Messiah adds three additional supporting thoughts: (1) he refers to the multitude of God’s tender mercies; (2) he again refers to the trouble he experiences; and (3) he urges a swift response from God. Thus he implies that his situation was desperate.

69:18–21. In connection with his sixth petition for deliverance Messiah mentions four facts: (1) God knows the reproach which has been heaped upon him; (2) he is heavy hearted because of that reproach; (3) he was able to find no comfort on earth; and (4) tormentors had added affliction to affliction. Instead of meat they had given him gall (bitterness) and vinegar for drink.

69:22–23. The beginning of ten plagues which would befall those who persecuted Messiah. (1) God will curse all comforts of this life unto these adversaries. (2) All things will work for their woe and torment. (3) They shall not perceive the true intent of God’s work. (4) They shall have no peace.

69:24–25. The plagues on the persecutors continue. (5) The wrath of God will be poured out on them. (6) The curse of God shall be on their houses and prosperity, and the place in which they have dwelled shall be abhorred. Peter regarded v. 25 as a prophecy regarding Judas. The prophecy does not merely apply to Judas as an individual, but to him as a representative of the Jewish people who rejected Christ.

69:26. The circumstances which justify these dire predictions are indicated. These adversaries have heaped abuse on the one that God had smitten.

69:27–28. The last four plagues on the adversaries are now listed. (7) The persecutors will go ever deeper into sin. (8) They become so hardened in sin that they shall not come into God’s righteousness. (9) They shall meet with an untimely death. (10) These wicked enemies would not be numbered among the righteous.

69:29. The sufferer utters a confident prayer. He will not only be delivered, he will also be exalted. Messiah’s salvation or deliverance is the resurrection.

69:30–31. Messiah praises the Father following his deliverance from suffering and death.

69:32–33. The “humble,” i.e., true believers, shall rejoice over the victory of the sufferer (Messiah). They will experience a life more abundant because of his suffering. They can now have confidence that their prayers will be answered. The victory of the sufferer proves once and for all that God does not despise those who are imprisoned by affliction or oppression for his sake.

69:34. The psalm concludes with a prophecy of thanksgiving for blessings bestowed on God’s people. The deliverance of the sufferer signals the salvation of Zion. The God who is faithful to the individual believer will also be faithful to the whole church.

69:35–36. The prophecy anticipates the destruction of the cities of Judah, and the subsequent rebuilding thereof after the Babylonian exile. So it was that after the exile the Jews once again possessed the Promised Land. The restored postexilic community is a type of the church enjoying the peace and security of Messiah’s kingdom.


Psalm 70–72

Heaven’s king had a plan for world redemption. Ultimately his reign would be recognized to the ends of the earth. Meanwhile, believers must trust him and look to him for aid in times of difficulty.

A. An Urgent Call for Help (Ps 70)

What appears here is a repetition of Ps 40:13–17 which, with slight intentional variations, has been adapted for another occasion. The words “for a memorial” (NASB) also appear in the heading of Ps 38. This probably refers to the liturgical use of the psalm either in connection with the offering of incense (Lev 24:7), or at the offering of the Azkara, a special portion of the meal offering (Lev 2:2). The short psalm sets forth (1) a cry for help (v. 1); (2) a contrast in destinies (vv. 2–4); and (3) a confession of need (v. 5). For observations on this psalm, see notes on Ps 40:13–17.

B. A Testimony to Trust in God (Ps 71)

Ps 71 is anonymous. Some think that it originally was a continuation of the previous psalm. The close connection with the two preceding psalms, the absence of a title here, and the style, all suggest Davidic authorship. It probably belongs to the later period of David’s life. The composition contains many quotations from other psalms, but the new combination has a significance all its own. In this psalm one thought grows out of another, and there is no marked division into stanzas; but in the first half (vv. 1–13) the emphasis is on prayer, and in the second half, praise (vv. 14–24).

71:1–3. The psalm begins with a prayer of faith in the midst of danger. These verses are taken, with but little change, from 31:1–3. See notes at that reference.

71:4–6. The ground of the psalmist’s appeal for deliverance is now set forth. Those who threaten him are wicked, unrighteous and cruel. He has trusted in God all his life. Verse 5–6 are a free adaptation of 22:9–10.

71:7–8. Those who saw his sufferings regarded the psalmist as a typical example of divine chastisement; but his faith remained unshaken. His mouth is filled with praises and honor for God all the day.

71:9–11. The psalmist asks God not to cast him away in his old age. Even though he is an old man, still the enemies speak and plot against him. They regarded him as abandoned by God.

71:12–13. Again the psalmist asks for God’s swift help. He asks that those who oppose him would be confounded and consumed.

71:14–16. The psalmist contrasts his own future with that of his enemies. Salvation is coupled with righteousness, because the one is the outcome and visible manifestation of the other. The psalmist resolves to “come” with the mighty acts of God, i.e., he would use those might acts as the theme for his praise.

71:17–18. Past mercies are the ground of hope both for the psalmist and for the nation. He has been a lifelong disciple in the school of God. Through the years habitually he had been declaring God’s “wondrous works” as they were manifested in nature and in his dealings with his people. He wishes still to be able to testify to God’s strength and power in preserving him in his old age.

71:19–20. Yahweh is incomparable for power and goodness. His righteousness reaches to the height of heaven. The psalmist’s hopes are not merely personal; he speaks on behalf of the nation whose representative he is. He looks for its restoration from its present state of humiliation. Israel is, as it were dead; but God can and will recall it to life.

71:21–22. The psalmist thinks of himself as sharing in the honor of the resuscitated nation. He can hardly be referring to personal dignity only. In response to this new proof of God’s love he will praise God with “the psaltery,” a stringed instrument, and the harp. The title “Holy One of Israel” signifies that God, in his character of a holy God, had entered into covenant with Israel. His holiness is pledged to redeem his people.

71:23–24. When he has been delivered from danger, the psalmist joyously will sing praises to the Lord. By faith he will speak constantly of God’s righteousness which was manifested in the total confusion and shame of those that sought to hurt him.

C. Reign of a Glorious King (Ps 72)

Solomon is the author of this psalm. The imagery in the psalm is clearly borrowed from the peaceful and prosperous reign of this grand monarch. Solomon speaks here as a prophet. He anticipates the coming of the one who would be greater than himself (Matt 12:42). The reign of Messiah will be (1) righteous (vv. 1–7); (2) universal (vv. 8–11); (3) beneficent (vv. 12–14); and (4) perpetual (vv. 15–17). To these grand predictions Solomon appends his own doxology (vv. 18–19).

72:1–2. The king was the supreme court of the land. Messiah was expected to exercise judicial powers in perfection. His reign would be characterized by righteousness. Even the poor would be treated equitably by the glorious ruler here envisioned.

72:3–4. The result of the righteous rule would be a harvest of peace throughout the kingdom. Messiah would vindicate the rights of the afflicted. He would save the children of the needy from slavery, and crush those who oppress them.

72:5. Prayer and prediction are joined. Throughout all generations the name of God will be revered.

72:6–7. The coming of the messianic king is likened to “rain upon a mown field.” He brings renewal and refreshment to a world scarred by war. Under this prince of peace the “righteous will flourish.” His reign will continue so long as the moon endures and even beyond.

72:8. Messiah’s kingdom stretches from sea to sea and “from the river [Euphrates] unto the ends of the earth.” This is an obvious allusion to the boundaries of the Promised Land as defined in Exod 23:31.

72:9–11. Even those on the fringes of the civilized world will crouch in fear before him. In total humiliation and subjugation his enemies would “lick the dust.” From distant lands men will come bringing their offerings. The Hebrew terminology used here indicates that worship offerings are in view. Tarshish on the coast of Spain represents the distant west; Sheba in Arabia represents the east. Seba appears to have been in Ethiopia. The verbs “bow” and “serve” can refer to either civil or religious subjugation.

72:12–14. Messiah’s reign is beneficent. His justice is impartial. He would use his might on behalf of the unfortunate. He would not allow oppression and violence to be used against the humble.

72:15–16. The prosperity of Messiah’s reign is depicted in terms of agricultural abundance. Zion, his capital, will “flourish like grass of the earth,” i.e., the city has a flourishing population.

72:17. The name of Messiah will endure forever. Through him all nations of the earth would be blessed (cf. Gen 12:3). All nations will call him blessed because he is the source of their prosperity and salvation.

72:18–19. The psalm concludes with Solomon’s personal praise for the God who would bring such a wonderful king into the world. Truly these are “wondrous things” which the prophet has been describing.

chapter sixteen

The Mighty Help of God

Psalms 73–83

Book Three of the Psalter begins with Psalm 73. This is sometimes called the “Leviticus” book because of its emphasis on the sanctuary and holiness. The dominant name of God in the these psalms is still ‘Elohim. The dominant theme in this Book is the worship of God under all circumstances.

The psalms here are all attributed to Asaph and the sons of Korah with the exception of Ps 86 which is assigned to David. For this reason Book Three is called the Asaphitic book. It is clear that all of the psalms which bear the name of Asaph could not have been written by David’s musician, if indeed any of them were, for some unquestionably belong to the time of the Exile. The title may mean only that these psalms were taken from a collection preserved and used in the family or guild of Asaph. Yet these psalms are marked by distinctive characteristics. First, they have a prophetic character about them. Second, they are national rather than personal psalms.


The Problem Presented

Psalm 73–74

Book Three begins with a double psalm introduction which sets forth the spiritual problem to be addressed in the psalms that follow.

A. Inequities of Life (Ps 73)

Ps 73 is the second of the psalms attributed to Asaph. On the identity of the author, see on Ps 50. The historical occasion of this psalm is unknown. It is the record of personal experience common to believers of any age. Like Pss 37 and 49 it treats the perennial problem of reconciling the theology of God’s moral government of the world with experience and observation of the way things really are. This psalm has been dubbed the theological center of the Psalter. Following an introduction (vv. 1–2), the psalm is organized in two main divisions: (1) faith struggling (vv. 3–14); and (2) faith triumphant (vv. 15–26). Verses 27–28 form the conclusion.

73:1–2. The psalmist begins by stating the conclusion to which he had been led through the trial of his faith: “Truly God is good to Israel.” Though he permits his people to suffer, he is essentially good to his people, such of them as are of “clean heart.” Thus Asaph speaks throughout of the true Israel of God. Purity of heart and life is the condition of admission to his presence. At one point the psalmist had almost lost his faith in God’s goodness. He had all but lost his footing in the slippery places of life’s journey.

73:3–4. The reason why the psalmist nearly lost his footing is because he had become envious of the prosperity (lit., peace) of the “arrogant” and “wicked.” The former term refers to those guilty of blustering presumption. Such men seem to have no pain in their death, i.e., they die a peaceful and quiet death. On the contrary, “their body is fat,” i.e., healthy, when they die.

73:5–6.The wicked and arrogant seem to escape the misery which is the common lot of humanity. Consequently their pride and brutality go unchecked. Pride is their necklace and violence, their garment. The metaphor suggests that their attitude and action were clearly visible to all.

73:7–9. “Their eye bulges from fatness” describes the insolent look of these sleek-faced villains. Neither fear nor shame controls the utterance of their inward thoughts. Their own nefarious schemes are the subject of their conversation. They speak “from on high,” i.e., they pontificate like they were deities speaking oracles. They blaspheme God, and browbeat their fellow men with their words.

73:10–11. The wicked are popular. The masses are carried away by the evil example of these arrogant men. They drink the waters of sinful pleasure with the wicked. These misled men begin to question God’s omniscience. The names of God used here (‘El = the mighty one; ‘Elyon = supreme ruler) underscore the blasphemy of their skepticism.

73:12–14. The psalmist again frankly confesses the temptation which the prosperity of the wicked presents to him. If such evil men prosper, then the psalmist’s pursuit of holiness had been in vain. He is not claiming sinlessness, but he does have a clear conscience about the life he had lived. He feels that the recompense of his piety had been chastisement. He had suffered continuously.

73:15–17. The psalmist was aware that if he continued to express his misgivings about the good fortune of the wicked, he would have been faithless to the interests of God’s “children,” i.e., Israel. Yet in his mind he could not reconcile the inequities of life with the revealed truth of God’s character and promises. The pain of his perplexity continued to grow until he went to the temple, the place where God revealed his power and glory. There he began to reflect on the transitoriness of the prosperity of the wicked, and their nothingness in the sight of God.

73:18–20. The psalmist sets forth the awful fate of the wicked. They are set in dangerous places where they will stumble and fall to their ruin. They will be destroyed in a moment, swept away by sudden terrors. The dream would be over momentarily. When God arouses himself to judgment, he will have no particular regard for their “form,” i.e., all their pretense and power.

73:21–22. The psalmist confesses his own errors, e.g., the folly of his former impatience. He had lowered himself to the level of a beast, for what distinguishes man from animals is his power of communion with God. He worried instead of worshiped.

73:23–24. The psalmist contrasts his present fellowship with God with his former period of depression. He knows that God will guide him with the very “counsel” which the wicked despise. After following that counsel though life’s pilgrimage, the psalmist anticipated that God would “receive me to glory.” At the very least, these words anticipate a visible demonstration that he is the object of God’s loving favor. There may be much more here. He may anticipate reception into the glory of Yahweh’s presence after death.

73:25–26. The psalmist now confesses that his relationship with God was completely satisfying. As long as he had God, there was no other in heaven or earth that he desired. God is the only source of happiness in the whole universe. Though bodily and mental powers fail, the psalmist claims “God is the rock of my heart,” i.e., his sure refuge in every danger. Now that he has come to his spiritual senses, he will never look for any other refuge.

73:27–28. Desertion of God can lead only to ruin and death. To “whore” away from God is to be unfaithful to the terms of the covenant. The figure of marriage is used to express the closeness of Yahweh’s relation to his people, and consequently apostasy is spoken of as infidelity to the marriage vow. For his part, the psalmist intends to “draw near” to God. Once he had been tempted to ask what profit there was in serving God; once he had openly spoken of his doubts. Now he finds in God’s refuge a theme for endless praise.

B. Inactivity of God (Ps 74)

This psalm is the third attributed to Asaph. On the identity of this writer, see on Ps 50. This is the ninth in the series of thirteen maskil (instructional) psalms. A major disaster at Jerusalem is the background of this poem. Many commentators think the poem was written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 586 b.c. If this is the case, than “Asaph” would have to be a namesake of the famous Asaph, or else the family name rather than the personal name of the writer. The psalm contains three prayers (vv. 1–3; 10–11; 18–23) divided by two reflective meditations.

74:1. The psalmist appeals to God, who seems to have abandoned the people and city of his choice. God’s rejection seemed permanent. “Smoke” is an evidence of the hot anger of God. As “the sheep” of God’s pasture, Israel had a right to claim the love and protection of their divine shepherd.

74:2–3. Yahweh’s relationship to Israel is ancient. He had “redeemed” or “purchased” this people out of slavery to be “the tribe” of his inheritance, i.e., the people who belonged especially to him. The psalmist asks God to remember Mt. Zion, his dwelling place, and to “lift up your feet,” i.e., come in might and majesty to visit and deliver. The enemy has damaged the “sanctuary” (temple). The place appears to be perpetual ruins.

74:4. The psalmist begins to paint a vivid picture of the desecration of the temple by the heathen enemies. The temple courts were filled with shouting warriors instead of reverent worshipers. They had set up their military standards on those holy grounds, thus dramatizing the completeness of their triumph.

74:5–7. The enemy is compared to wood-cutters hewing down a forest. The beautiful artwork of the temple has been vandalized with hatchets and hammers. The sacred buildings have been burned and profaned.

74:8–9. By destroying the temple the enemy had done away with all the “solemn assemblies” in the land, i.e., the special occasions of worship and rejoicing. The “signs” or outward symbols of Israel’s religion (e.g., festivals, sabbaths) were now forgotten. No prophet is on the scene to offer any encouragement.

74:10–11. The psalmist turns to God with the question “How long?” With this rhetorical question he entreats God to have pity on his people and to have regard to his own reputation. God’s right hand which in days of old was stretched out to annihilate the Egyptians (Exod 15:12), is now, as it were, thrust idly into the folded garment. He asks God to take out that mighty hand, and use it on behalf of his people.

74:12. God’s mighty works of redemption and creation attest his power to interpose for the deliverance of his people. In spite of his present seeming inactivity, he was still Israel’s king. Yahweh works “salvations” (plural), i.e., manifold and great acts of deliverance. This he does “in the midst of the earth,” i.e., in the sight of all the nations. He thereby asserts his claim to universal sovereignty.

74:13–14. The Exodus from Egypt is the classic example of the deliverances mentioned in v. 12. God parted the sea to permit the escape of his people. He smashed the heads of the “sea monsters” (NASB) and Leviathan, which here are symbolic of Egypt. Leviathan is probably the crocodile. These monsters are imagined as floating upon the surface of the water. The reference is to the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. The bodies were washed up on the shore to be devoured by the wild beasts of the desert.

74:15. Other examples of God’s great power are cited. He broke open rocks and brought forth water from the rock (Exod 17:6; Num 20:8). He dried up the perennial stream of the Jordan to permit his people to cross over on dry land (Josh 4:23).

74:16–17. All the fixed laws of the natural world were established by God and are maintained by him. He established the pattern of day followed by night. The heavenly luminaries and even the sun were prepared by him. To him also are attributed the divisions of land and sea, and the apportionment of the land among the nations.

74:18–19. The psalmist returns to prayer. Yahweh, Israel’s king, should remember that his name has been reproached. The term “foolish people” denotes the moral perversity of opposition to God. Israel is likened to a defenseless dove. They are “afflicted ones” who will be totally destroyed if their God forgets, i.e., ignores, them.

74:20. The psalmist asks God to remember “the covenant,” i.e., the covenant with the patriarchs (Gen 17:2ff.); with the nation Israel (Exod 24:8); and with David (2 Sam 7:5–17). The people of God are desperate. They take refuge in “the dark places of the land,” i.e., in caves and hiding places. In these places violence makes its home.

74:21. The psalmist asks that God not allow his poor and needy people to turn back from him unanswered and disappointed; that God will let the afflicted have cause to praise him for answered prayer.

74:22–23. Ps 74 concludes with an appeal for God to “plead,” i.e., defend, his own cause, for his cause was the cause of Israel. The “fool” reproached God daily. His honor was at stake. The tumultuous voice of God’s (and Israel’s) adversaries was increasing. Delay in judgment was making matters worse by the day.


Psalms 75–77

Though the situation was desperate for God’s people, still they believed firmly that Yahweh would come to their aid.

A. The Certainty of Judgment (Ps 75)

Ps 75 is another work of Asaph (see on Ps 50), but whether the Asaph of David’s day or a namesake is problematic. This psalm seems intended to serve as the divine answer to the appeal of the previous poem. It consists of three movements: (1) God’s judgments in the past (vv. 1–3); the coming judgment upon the wicked (vv. 4–8); and (3) the ultimate vindication of the righteous (vv. 9–10).

75:1. The theme of the psalm is thanksgiving for a recent manifestation of God’s presence and power among his people. God’s “name,” i.e., that which he has revealed of himself to men, was near. God is viewed as especially near when he manifests his presence. God’s miracles of deliverance were on everyone’s mouth.

75:2. God speaks. At the appropriate moment foreordained in the divine counsels, he manifests himself as judge of all the earth. The pronoun is emphatic in v. 2. Whatever men may do or think, God’s intervention occurs right on schedule.

75:3. Though all the world is in terror and confusion, God has established a moral order in it. The first person pronoun is emphatic. Both the material and the spiritual world are often compared to a building with its foundations and pillars. The point is that God has established the fundamental laws which govern both the material and spiritual world.

75:4–5. The psalmist warns all presumptuous braggarts, based on the divine utterances of the preceding verses. The “fools” are warned not to “lift up the horn,” a figure derived from animals tossing their heads in a display of strength. They should not continue to speak “with a stiff neck,” i.e., arrogantly.

75:6–7. The psalmist sets forth the reason for the warning which he has just delivered to the foolish. True exaltation comes, not from earth, but from heaven, i.e., from God. He is the true judge or sovereign. He exalts one, and humbles another, according to his sovereign choice.

75:8. The judgment is described under the common figure of a cup of wine, which God gives the wicked to drink. The wine contains a “mixture” of herbs and spices to make it more seductive and intoxicating. The wicked must drink the cup to the last drop.

75:9. Forever—as long as life lasts (and beyond?)—the psalmist will praise the God of Jacob.

75:10. The speaker here is uncertain. Is it the psalmist? Or God? Probably God here answers the vow of praise of the preceding verse with a new promise. He will “cut off” all the horns of the wicked. On the other hand, the “horns” of the righteous one, i.e., Israel, will be exalted. Horns here are symbols of power.

B. The Overthrow of the Mighty (Ps 76)

Ps 76 is another psalm of Asaph (see on Ps 50). This is one of thirty psalms to also be designated a “song.” The historical background is uncertain. The psalm has four stanzas of three verses each: (1) the deliverance of Zion (vv. 1–3); (2) the overthrow of the enemy (vv. 4–6); (3) the result of the mighty act (vv. 7–9); and (4) praise for the God of judgment (vv. 10–12).

76:1–3. God has once more shown his might in Zion by shattering the power of her assailants. By this recent deliverance he has once more “made himself known.” The name “Israel” is the covenant name, denoting the people of God’s choice. “Salem” here is either an old name for Jerusalem (Gen 14:18), or a poetical abbreviation. The name means “at peace,” and it is used here as an allusion to the recent escape of Zion from destruction. At Zion Yahweh has “broken” the lightning-swift arrows of the enemy, as well as the other equipment which he might use in battle against the people of God.

76:4–6. In his destruction of the enemy, Yahweh shows himself to be more majestic than the “mountains of prey,” i.e., the strongholds of the enemy, or metaphorical for the invaders themselves. The stout-hearted enemies have allowed themselves to be spoiled. They have slumbered their last sleep, the sleep of death. They have not been able to find “their hands,” i.e., their strength was paralyzed and they are unable to put forth effective resistance to the judgment of God. All the rush and roar of the battlechariot and horse—are now as silent as the grave.

76:7–9. The judgment of God is irresistible. Yahweh is to be feared. No one can stand before him when God is angry. God pronounced sentence upon the enemy when he intervened for the rescue of his people. This sentence was spoken “from heaven,” the true abode of God and the seat of his judgment. The poet represents the earth watching in stunned silence as Yahweh arose from his heavenly throne to rescue “all the humble of the earth,” i.e., idealized Israel in contrast to the wicked of the earth.

76:10. The psalmist begins to draw lessons from the judgment. “The wrath of man shall praise God,” i.e., all rebellion against God’s will must in the end rebound to his glory; it serves to set his sovereignty in a clearer light. God girds on himself as an ornament the last futile efforts of human wrath, turning them to his own honor.

76:11–12. Israel should pay the vows it made to the Lord in its hour of peril. The nations that dwell near God’s city and people should now bring their tribute presents to the great king. Yahweh would cut off or destroy the plans of the enemy just as they are coming to maturity. The kings of the earth will meet their doom in his awesome power.

C. The Consolation of Recollection (Ps 77)

Ps 77 is another Asaph psalm, the occasion of which is difficult to fix. If the previous psalm depicted preservation from some mighty oppressor, this psalm depicts an oppression by some other oppressor. The psalm has two main divisions, the first presenting the present disaster (vv. 1–9), the second the past deliverance (vv. 10–20).

77:1–5. Faced with some terrible calamity, the psalmist resolved to cry aloud in prayer unto God. He was certain that the Lord would hear him. He sought God day and night with outstretched hands in the posture of prayer. He could not, however, find any consolation in prayer. In the agony of sorrow the psalmist was sleepless and speechless; it was God who withheld sleep from his eyes. He was perplexed and agitated by the mystery of Israel’s present rejection and humiliation. He began to ponder the glorious record of God’s mercies to his people in the days of old.

77:6–9. He recalled the songs of thanksgiving which he had once been able to sing in the night in contrast to his present cries of anguish or silent despair. He wonders if God has cast off his people forever. He wonders if God has forgotten or deliberately abandoned those attributes which he once proclaimed as the essence of his nature.

77:10–12. The psalmist rejects the implications of his own questions in the preceding verses. Such questions were prompted by his grief. Now he will recall “the years of the right hand of the most high,” i.e., the times when Yahweh manifested his power on behalf of his people. He will recite the “deeds of Yah,” i.e., Yahweh. This abbreviation “Yah” recalls the deliverance from Egypt (Exod 15:2), the greatest of all God’s Old Covenant works.

77:13–15. God’s way is holy. All the works of God in the world move in the sphere of holiness, separate from all sin and imperfection. No god (‘El) can compare to God (‘Elohim). The psalmist’s God does wonders. Among the peoples of the earth he made known his strength. With a strong arm God had redeemed his people from bondage. The names “Jacob” (the tribes which left Canaan to live in Egypt) and “Joseph” (those tribes—Ephraim and Manasseh—which originated in Egypt) stand for the whole nation.

77:16–18. When he redeemed his people from Egyptian bondage, Yahweh manifested his sovereignty over nature. The waters of the Red Sea personified were conscious of the presence of their creator, and they were afraid. God came in storm perhaps reflecting the situation described in Exod 14:24–25. Thunder roared across the skies; lightning, like arrows, streaked toward the ground. The great noise seemed to shake the earth.

77:19–20. Once they had crossed the sea, the waters returned leaving no visible trace of God’s victorious march. The convulsions of nature were the heralds of deliverance. The shepherd of Israel led forth his flock under the guidance of his chosen servants Moses and Aaron.


Psalm 78

Ps 78 is the seventh of the twelve Asaph psalms. This is also the first and longest of the so-called historical psalms as well as the twelfth of the maskil psalms which offer instruction. The psalm leads up to the choice of a site for the sanctuary. Asaph here functions as a prophet in interpreting Israel’s past. In the outline of national history, the order is logical rather than chronological. Israel’s misbehavior alternates with statements of Yahweh’s mercy. The psalm begins with an introduction (vv. 1–11). The body of the poem has two main divisions: Israel’s sin and God’s grace (1) before the occupation of the land (vv. 12–55) and after (vv. 56–72).

A. Introduction (78:1–11)

78:1–2. Asaph calls upon his people to listen to his instruction. He refers to what follows as a “parable” or “dark saying,” i.e., a record which has a deeper meaning. Jesus adopted the teaching methodology of the prophets of the old dispensation (Matt 13:34–35).

78:3–4.The trust of truth had been committed to the speakers by their ancestors to pass on to future generations. The “praises of Yahweh” are his praiseworthy acts, his “wonderful works.”

78:5–6. Israelite parents were under a solemn commandment to teach their children the great facts of Israel’s history, that the remembrance of them might be handed down from generation to generation (e.g., Deut 4:9).

78:7–8. Each generation should learn from the past to set their hope or confidence in God and not forget his mighty works. Evidence that they had not forgotten would be their obedience to the divine commands. They should learn not to be like their fathers who had proved to be stubborn and rebellious. The fathers did not “set their heart aright,” i.e., they did not purpose to serve God. Their “spirit was not steadfast” or faithful. Fickleness, instability, and untrustworthiness were the characteristics of Israel’s conduct.

78:9–11. Ephraim is singled out for special condemnation for cowardice in battle. The reference may be to the slackness of Ephraim in the conquest of Canaan (Judg 1). It seems better, however, to take the language figuratively. Like cowards who flee in battle, the Ephraimites failed to fight for the cause of God. They did not keep the covenant, nor obey the law. This came about because they forgot the wonders which God had showed them. The unfaithfulness of Ephraim after the entry into Canaan paved the way for the choice of Judah which is the climax of this psalm.

B. From Zoan (78:12–55)

78:12–16. Asaph reviews some of the mighty works of God in the land of Egypt and “the field (district) of Zoan,” one of the great cities in the Nile delta. Yahweh divided the sea by causing the waters to stand in a heap. He led them by pillar of cloud and fire. He miraculously brought forth water from the rocks for them (Exod 17:6; Num 20:8ff.).

78:17–20. In spite of these miracles of mercy Israel sinned yet more. They “rebelled” against Yahweh in the wilderness by constant disobedience to his revealed will. They “tempted” God by their skeptical doubts of his goodness, and insolent demands that he should prove his presence in their midst. The specific example cited is the lust for meat in the wilderness and the open expression of doubt as to whether God could provide food for his people at all (Exod 16:2ff.).

78:21–24. Yahweh was angry at Israel because of their unbelief. A fire was kindled against his people at Taberah (Num 11:1ff.) before the giving of quail. His anger, like smoke, went up against Israel. Their unbelief and rebellion was inexcusable in view of the miracles he had wrought for them in the provision of the manna.

78:25–28. The manna is called “angels’ food” because it came down from the heavens where the angels dwell. He also commanded the winds to bring in the quail which fell in abundance in the midst of their camp.

78:29–31. Yahweh gave them the food for which they lusted. Even while they were in the process of gorging themselves with the meat, judgment fell upon them (Num 11:33) and the plague broke out.

78:32–35. These judgments did not cause the people to repent. After the spies returned from Canaan, again they murmured in unbelief. For this they were condemned to wander in the wilderness (Num 14:22ff.). Punishments would result in temporary improvement. When under duress, they would cry out to the Lord. They would then remember that God Most High (‘El ˓Elyon) was their rock (refuge) and redeemer.

78:36. They treated God like a man who could be deceived by their hypocrisy. According to the reckoning of the Jewish scribes, this is the middle verse in the Psalter.

78:37–39. They lied to God because their heart was not right. The “heart” in Hebrew psychology is the seat of thought and will. While they pretended to serve God, they had not remained steadfastly loyal to their covenant obligations. Time and again Yahweh showed compassion to these hypocrites and did not destroy them. He took in account the frailty of their human nature.

78:40–48. An emphatic repetition of vv. 17–18. The Israelites “limited” God in that they did not believe that he could or would punish his special people. Israel limited God when they failed to remember his “hand” or power which had been exerted on their behalf, nor his mercy in redeeming them from the bondage of Egypt. They forgot the “signs” and “wonders” performed in the district of Zoan in northern Egypt. Of the ten plagues against Egypt the poet mentions (1) blood, (2) flies, (3) frogs, (4) locusts, and (5) hail. Cattle as well as crops were destroyed by the hail, being slain by the accompanying lightning.

78:49–51. The plagues against Egypt culminated in the death of the firstborn when Yahweh sent “a mission of evil angels” into the land, i.e., destroying angels, commissioned by God to execute his purposes of punishment (cf. Exod 12:23). He “leveled a path for his anger” through the land of Egypt. He delivered the firstborn, the chief of their strength, to the plague. The “tents of Ham” are the houses of Egypt, Ham being the ancestor of the Egyptians (Gen 10:6).

78:52–55. God led his flock out into the wilderness. They traveled safely through a harsh land, but their enemies were overwhelmed by the Red Sea. Yahweh brought his people to the border of his holy land, i.e., Canaan, that hill country where he would make his presence known. There he drove out the Gentiles and apportioned the land by lot to his people.

C. To Zion (78:56–72)

78:56–58. Once in the Promised Land Israel continued the pattern of rebellion. The name of God here “God Most High” (‘Elohim ˓Elyon) differs slightly from the title in v. 35. Israel rejected God’s “testimonies,” i.e., his commandments which bear witness to his will. They were unfaithful like their fathers. They were like a deceitful bow which looks good, but does not have the power to propel an arrow toward the target. By adopting Canaanite idolatries, they provoked the anger of the jealous God who can tolerate no rival.

78:59–64. Again God punished Israel for unfaithfulness. He abandoned them into the hands of their enemies. Yahweh abandoned his tabernacle, which was located in Shiloh in those days. The ark, the symbol of his strength and glory, he permitted to fall into the hands of the Philistines (1 Sam 4:17). Israelites fell by the sword in battle (1 Sam 4:2, 10, 17). The “fire” of war consumed the young men so that the maidens were forced to remain unmarried. The leading priests of the nation fell to the Philistine sword (1 Sam 4:11). In the universal distress the customary rites of mourning were not performed, even for a husband.

78:65–66. While they were at the mercy of their enemies, God seemed to be asleep. Suddenly he, as it were, awoke and rushed forward with the vigor of a mighty warrior refreshed by wine. He drove Israel’s enemies backward to their perpetual shame. This is a general allusion to the victories over the Philistines and other enemies under Samuel, Saul and David.

78:67–69. After the victories over the Philistines, Yahweh “rejected the tabernacle of Joseph,” i.e., Shiloh which was located in Ephraim, one of the two Joseph tribes. Shiloh apparently was destroyed by the Philistines. Never again did it serve as a sanctuary for Israel (cf. Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9). Instead, Yahweh chose Mt. Zion in the tribe of Judah as the place of his dwelling. There he built his sanctuary which was as magnificent as the “heights” of the heavens or the earth which he had created.

78:70–72. God chose David “his servant” to be king. The title signifies one who stood in a special relationship with the Lord. It is bestowed on Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Job as well as David. The shepherd boy was taken from being the keeper of Jesse’s sheep to being the shepherd of God’s flock. David performed that function with integrity, i.e., sincerity, of heart, and with “skillful hands,” i.e., the discernment which was so necessary for effective governance.


Psalms 79–81

The next three psalms focus on special manifestations of divine help to the distressed, the downtrodden and the faithful.

A. The Hope of the Distressed (Ps 79)

Ps 79 is attributed to Asaph. The occasion is not clear. Some think that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 586 b.c. is in view. If the Asaph who wrote the psalm was the famous Levite of this name in the time of David, this psalm would have to be prophetic. It is better to view Asaph here as a latter namesake of the famous Asaph, i.e., a son of Asaph. The famous family name is used rather than that of the individual writer.

The psalm consists of three stanzas: (1) the problem (vv. 1–4); (2) the prayer for intervention (vv. 5–8); (3) a second prayer for pardon and vindication (vv. 9–13).

79:1–4. Gentiles have invaded God’s “inheritance,” i.e., the holy land. They have defiled the temple and laid Jerusalem in ruins (cf. Micah 3:12). Blood has flowed as freely as water around the city. Corpses of those who died in the defense of the city have been left unburied in accordance with the threats of the law (Deut 28:26) and prophets (e.g., Jer 7:33). The disaster has caused God’s people to become the laughingstock of neighboring nations. The terms “servants” and “saints” stress Israel’s covenant relationship to God.

79:5. The psalmist prays that God will cease to be angry with his own people. They recognize that by their infidelity they have offended the jealousy of Yahweh. Now they have experienced the fire of his wrath.

79:6–7. The psalmist asks that God’s wrath be turned against the nations “which do not know” Yahweh, i.e., those who have made havoc of his people and who have mocked them (Jer 10:25).

79:8. Israel has been brought low by the destruction of its capital and temple. The people understand that this terrible disaster came in part because of the iniquities of the forefathers, i.e., sin has a cumulative effect. The psalmist prays that Yahweh would come to meet his people with mercy.

79:9–10. A new ground of appeal for God’s intervention is offered. Yahweh is “the God of our salvation,” i.e., the only savior of Israel. He urges God’s pardon and deliverance “for the sake of the glory of your name,” i.e., Yahweh’s own glorious reputation. In the ancient Near East the fate of a nation reflected positively or negatively on the power of the deity worshiped by that nation. The psalmist asks that God not defer vengeance against those who shed the blood of his servants until some future generation. He wants to live to see that judgment.

79:11. Those taken prisoner by the enemy are “the sons of death,” i.e., they live a harsh existence in which they could die at any moment. The groans of these should move Yahweh as well as the shed blood of his servants. On their behalf the Lord is asked to exercise his great power (lit., arm).

79:12. Neighboring nations (e.g., Edom, Moab, Ammon) had mocked Yahweh because of what had happened in Jerusalem. In the view of the psalmist, such deserve a “sevenfold” recompense. “In their bosom” is a metaphor from the practice of carrying articles in the folds of the robe.

79:13. On the assumption that the Lord will respond to the preceding appeals for help, the “sheep” of Yahweh’s pasture, the psalmist pledges thanksgiving forever. The nation will be able to resume its mission to set forth Yahweh’s praise to all generations to come.

B. The Restorer of the Downtrodden (Ps 80)

Asaph again is the writer. The specific occasion is unknown. The poem has four divisions: (1) an appeal for divine intervention (vv. 1–3); (2) the need for Yahweh’s intervention (vv. 4–7); (3) a metaphor for Yahweh’s past care (vv. 8–13); and (4) an appeal for a new relationship with the Lord (vv. 14–19).

80:1. Yahweh is the “shepherd of Israel,” hence the entire nation is entitled to his protective care (cf. 74:1). In the past he had led his flock Joseph (the northern tribes) through the wilderness. Yahweh sits enthroned “upon the cherubim.” From the time of the wilderness wandering he had manifested himself from the “mercy seat” above the ark. That mercy seat was overshadowed by the wings of golden cherubim. Now the psalmist asks Yahweh to “shine forth,” i.e., manifest himself anew in power and glory for the deliverance of his people.

80:2. The tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh were united by the tie of common descent from Jacob’s wife Rachel. The psalmist asks that Yahweh might march as a victorious champion “before” these tribes as he had marched before them through the wilderness. These tribes needed a strong deliverance which only the strength of Yahweh could effect.

80:3–4. The words “turn us again” should probably be taken in a spiritual sense. These people need the help of God in coming back into his good graces. Then Yahweh would again cause his face to “shine” upon them, i.e., show his favor, and effect their deliverance from the oppressor. How long would the great and powerful Yahweh continue to be angry with his people? God’s anger is so intense that even the prayers of his people are an offense to him.

80:5–6. Daily Yahweh’s people are eating and drinking their own tears. Neighboring nations quarrel with one another over the territory which God’s people can no longer defend. These enemies laugh at the helpless condition of God’s people.

80:7. The refrain of v. 3 is repeated.

80:8–9. God had transplanted his precious vine Israel from Egypt to Canaan. As the vinedresser prepares the ground by clearing away the stones and thorns and all that would hinder growth, so God prepared Canaan for Israel by the expulsion of its old inhabitants. The vine struck deep roots and filled that land.

80:10–11. The vine Israel grew so that it overshadowed the mountainous country to the south, and the cedars of Lebanon to the north. The vine spread westward to the Mediterranean, and eastward to the Euphrates. These verses allude to the ideal boundaries of the Promised Land (Deut 11:24), boundaries realized in the time of David and Solomon (1 Kgs 4:24).

80:12–13. The hedge protecting the precious vine had been broken down. The relentless enemies of Israel are compared to wild boars and other beasts which ravage the vine and feed upon it. These circumstances are a riddle to Asaph.

80:14–15. The psalmist again appeals to the mighty God of hosts (i.e., universal sovereign) to turn his attention to the plight of his people. They are not only God’s vine upon which he has expended so much effort; they are also “God’s son” whom he has raised up.

80:16–17. The vine has been “cut down” as though it were fit for nothing. The Israelites perish, for God has not merely hidden his face, he has turned it upon them in anger. Asaph asks that Yahweh would put forth his power to protect the people which his hand had delivered from Egypt and made into a nation. The phrase “son of man” underscores the present frailty of the nation which desperately needs divine aid. The figure of Israel as God’s “son” undergirds this verse.

80:18–19. A fresh intervention of Yahweh on behalf of his vine/ son would evoke a fresh response of grateful praise. A revived people would cheerfully call upon Yahweh’s name. The psalm concludes with a repetition of v. 7 with a significant change. “God of hosts” here becomes “Yahweh God of hosts.” Asaph clinches his appeal by the use of the covenant name Yahweh, along with the title which expresses universal sovereignty.

C. The Strength of the Faithful (Ps 81)

Ps 81 is another Asaph psalm. Since it tells of the early history of Israel, Ps 81 is classified as an historical psalm. The psalm has three main divisions: (1) a call for celebration (vv. 1–5); (2) a stimulus for recollection (vv. 6–10); and (3) an expression of lamentation (vv. 11–16).

81:1–2. The psalmist calls upon his fellows to celebrate the “strength” of the God of Jacob, i.e., Yahweh. In so doing they are encouraged to make use of the “timbrel” (or tambourine), “harp” and “psaltery” (another stringed instrument).

81:3. In the Pentateuch the shophar or ram’s horn is only prescribed for introducing the Jubilee year (Lev 25:9). Early Jewish tradition, however, stipulates that it was also used on the new moon of the month of Tishri, the civil New Year’s day. If that is the case, the “solemn feast” mentioned here must be the Feast of Tabernacles, which began at the full moon on the fifteenth day of that seventh month. The blowing of the shophar at the beginning of the month is regarded as pointing forward to the feast.

81:4–5. The feast should be celebrated joyously because it is a continual witness to God’s care for Israel. The festival ordinance had been established in the day when Yahweh “went out through the land of Egypt.” Speaking as a representative of Israel at the time of the Exodus, the psalmist states: “I heard a language I did not know.” This may be a way of underscoring the fact that the bondage suffered by Israel was in a foreign land. Another view is that the reference is to the “speech” of God, i.e., at the time of the Exodus God had not yet revealed himself as the God of redemption. Taken in this way, the following verse contains the substance of the words which Israel heard in Egypt from God.

81:6–7. Yahweh declares that he had set Israel apart from the bondage of Egypt. No more would they have to carry the baskets of bricks. He responded to their cries “in the secret place of thunder,” i.e., in the thunder-cloud in which Yahweh conceals and reveals himself (Exod 14:10, 24). He tested Israel’s faith and obedience at the waters of Meribah (Exod 17:1ff.). The name Meribah (“Strife”) was a reminder of unbelief and ingratitude (cf. Num 20:13). The libations of water at the Feast of Tabernacles were a commemoration of the supply of water in the wilderness at Meribah and elsewhere.

81:8–10. At Sinai Yahweh gave his people a solemn warning and exhortation. Absolute fidelity to him was the fundamental principle of the Sinaitic covenant. To Yahweh Israel owed its existence. The fact that he had redeemed them from Egypt constituted his claim upon their allegiance. God was ready liberally to satisfy all their needs. They but need to open their mouth, as it were, in expectation to him.

81:11–16. Israel did not hearken to Yahweh’s voice. God punished them by leaving them to their own self-willed course of action. This eventually proved to be the ruin of the nation. Yahweh’s mercy is inexhaustible. Even now if his people would obey him, he would subdue their enemies. The “hand” which had been turned against Israel would then be turned against their enemies. Those enemies would do homage to Israel. At that time God would bless his people with “wheat” and with “honey from the rock,” i.e., he would fulfill his ancient promises to them (Deut 7:12–13).


Psalms 82–83

Yahweh comes to the aid of his people both at home and abroad. He destroys wicked judges who oppress the poor. He overthrows foreign enemies who have as their goal the overthrow of God’s people.

A. At Home: the Judges (Ps 82)

Ps 82 is another Asaph psalm. It is a companion to Ps 50, the only Asaphic psalm in Book Two of the Psalter. In the latter all of Israel is gathered for judgment before the Lord; here the authorities of Israel are gathered for judgment. The psalm develops three thoughts: (1) the indictment of the judges (vv. 1–4); (2) the pronouncement against the judges (vv. 5–7); and (3) the exaltation of the supreme judge (v. 8).

82:1. The Lord “takes his stand” as supreme judge. He stands “in the assembly of God,” i.e., an assembly summoned and presided over by God in his capacity of almighty ruler. The earthly judges are called “‘Elohim,” lit., gods or mighty ones, because of the power that they wield in the land.

82:2. The divine judge accuses the earthly judges of injustice and partiality to the rich and powerful. A musical interlude (Selah) gives the congregation time to reflect on the accusation, and builds expectation regarding what might follow.

82:3–4. The judges have no defense, so God proceeds to remind them of their duty. They are the agents of God to see that the weak and friendless have justice done them.

82:5. God is still the speaker; but instead of addressing the evil judges, he describes their incorrigible blindness and obstinacy. They do not have the knowledge which is a prerequisite for effective judgeship. What is worse, they walk on complacently self-satisfied in their ignorance and moral darkness. Their actions have resulted in shaking the foundations of the land, i.e., the foundational principles of moral order were imperiled by their actions.

82:6. The verse begins with an emphatic “I.” It was by God’s appointment that they have been invested with divine authority to execute judgment in his name. Jesus appealed to these words (John 10:34ff.) when the Jews accused him of blasphemy because he claimed to be one with God.

82:7–8. Though the judges bear these high titles, they will not be exempt from punishment. They would die like common men, and fall like any other prince whose ruin is recorded in history. Having witnessed the trial and condemnation of Israel’s judges, Asaph is moved to appeal to God himself to assume the office of judge, not only for Israel, but for the entire world. The second person pronoun is emphatic. Yahweh must take possession of all the nations as their sovereign and their judge.

B. Abroad: the Enemies (Ps 83)

This is the last of the Asaphic psalms. The exact occasion is unknown. This is one of thirty psalms which also is identified as a “song.” The psalm has four divisions: (1) a prayer that God will rescue his people from an enemy (vv. 1–4); (2) a description of the enemy gathered against Jerusalem (vv. 5–8); (3) an appeal that the enemy might meet the same fate as past enemies (vv. 9–12); and (4) a rationale for the destruction of the enemy (vv. 13–18).

83:1–2. This psalm begins with an urgent prayer that God would come to the rescue of his people. For the present, God seems to be indifferent to the danger of his people. Israel’s enemies make a tumult, i.e., an uproar such as is produced by a throng of people. Their enemies need to be rebuked, and the heavens are silent. Yet God has only to speak a word and their schemes will be utterly frustrated. Israel’s enemies are God’s enemies. Their plot to destroy his people is a plot to frustrate the purposes of the Lord.

83:3–4. The enemy plots against Yahweh’s “hidden ones,” i.e., those the Lord protects in the day of trouble. The aim of the enemy is to obliterate the name of Israel from the map of the world.

83:5–8. The enemy is a confederacy of many nations. From the southeast come the nomadic Edomites and Ishmaelites. From the east come the Moabites and the Hagarenes who lived in the neighborhood of Hauran, east of Gilead. Gebal is either an area north of Tyre (Ezek 27:9) or a region in the northern part of the mountains of Edom. The Ammonites from the eastern desert and the Amalekites from the southern deserts were perennial enemies of Israel. Philistia and Tyre were on the Mediterranean coast. Assyria is mentioned here as an auxiliary of “the children of Lot” (Moab and Ammon), suggesting that it was not yet the world power it later would become.

83:9–10. Asaph prays that the confederation might be destroyed as the Midianites and Canaanites were destroyed in the period of the Judges. He takes these two historical examples in reverse order. The victory over the Canaanite forces of Jabin at the river Kishon by Deborah and Barak is narrated in Judges 4–5. In this case a storm contributed to the smashing defeat of Sisera’s nine hundred iron chariots. A key spot in the defeat of the Canaanites was En-dor, which is not mentioned in the narrative of Judges, but was situated in the same area as Taanach and Megiddo which are mentioned (Judg 5:19). The unburied corpses of those Canaanites became “dung” upon the ground.

83:11. The Midianites and their allies were destroyed by Gideon (Judg 7, 8). Oreb (“Raven”) and Zeeb (“Wolf”) were the princes, i.e., generals, of the Midianite forces; Zebah and Zalmunna were the kings of Midian. Isaiah also mentions this great victory (Isa 9:4; 10:26). These enemies fell by one another’s hands.

83:12–13. The present enemies covet for themselves “the pastures of God,” i.e., the land which he had given to his people Israel. Asaph prays that God will make the attacking confederacy “like whirling dust” (NASB) or stubble whirled away from the threshing floor.

83:14–18. Let the wrath of God come against the enemy as a forest fire. Let God pursue them with a destructive storm. Let that enemy experience defeat so that they may desire to seek the name of Yahweh, i.e., acknowledge him as true God, and submit themselves to his will. If they refuse to embrace Yahweh, let them experience the very ruin with which they currently threaten God’s people. Repeated judgments would bring them eventually, albeit reluctantly, to recognize Yahweh as God over all the earth.

chapter seventeen

The Hope of Divine Help

Psalms 84–89

The previous psalms in Book Three have stressed the fact of God’s help for Israel, and the experience of his help. The last six psalms in this book stress the hope of his help.


Psalms 84–85

Pss 84–85 express confidence that Yahweh will come to the aid of his people, who are depicted as pilgrims and wanderers in this world.

A. Strength for the Pilgrim (Ps 84)

Ps 84 is attributed to the sons of Korah. The date is uncertain. It probably belongs to the monarchy period when the temple was standing (v. 3). The psalm has the same structure as Pss 42–43 and may come from the same period. The former psalms stress the sadness of separation from God’s sanctuary; this psalm emphasizes the gladness of access to that holy place. The psalm consists of three stanzas which are distinguished by the use of the musical interlude (Selah) inserted after verses 4 and 8. The stanzas indicate a chronological progression: (1) the pilgrim’s ambition (vv. 1–4); (2) the pilgrim’s approach (vv. 5–8); and (3) the pilgrim’s arrival (vv. 9–12).

84:1–2. The psalmist expresses his delight in the house of God. The place is most lovely to him. He longs to set foot in that place again. Not the temple, but God himself is the final object of desire. The temple is only the means of realizing the presence of “the living God” (‘El chay as in 42:2).

84:3–4. The psalmist envies the privilege of the birds which build their nests within the precincts of the temple. The birds nested, not in the actual altars, but in their vicinity. The actual ministers of the temple who reside in its precincts are regarded as most blessed because they constantly can be raising their praise to the Lord.

84:5–6. Happy are those whose minds are wholly set on pilgrimage to Zion. The “valley of Baca” was some waterless and barren valley through which pilgrims passed on their way to Jerusalem. Faith turns that place into a place of springs. Meanwhile God refreshes the pilgrims with showers of blessing from above. Instead of fainting on their toilsome journey the pilgrims gain fresh strength as they advance.

84:7–8. Finally the entire company arrives at the temple to “appear before God” at one of the major festivals in conformity with their covenant obligations. On the arrival, the leader of the group of pilgrims prays for a favorable audience with the Lord.

84:9. Now all the pilgrims join in prayer. They pray first for their king who is called “our shield” and “your anointed.” The welfare of the whole nation was bound up with the welfare of the king. The prayer would be all the more appropriate if the king was godly, one who encouraged the pilgrimages to the temple.

84:10. A day spent in Yahweh’s courts was better than a thousand others, and therefore the most opportune occasion for this prayer. The psalmist would rather perform the humblest service at the temple of the holy God than to be entertained as a guest where wickedness makes its home.

84:11. For this psalmist Yahweh was “a sun and shield,” i.e., a source of light and protection. “Grace and glory” are the rewards of the upright, i.e., favor, honor and prosperity. The Lord would withhold no good thing from those who “walk uprightly,” i.e., those who are devoted to God and are honest with their fellow men.

84:12. The psalm closes with a blessing upon those who put their trust in Yahweh.

B. Restoration of the Wanderer (Ps 85)

This psalm is attributed to the sons of Korah. The date of the composition is uncertain. Some scholars see here a reference to circumstances during the reign of King Hezekiah. The psalm has three unequal parts: (1) grateful recollection (vv. 1–3); (2) earnest supplication (vv. 4–7); and (3) glad anticipation (vv. 8–13).

85:1. God has forgiven and restored his people. He had “brought back the captivity of Jacob,” i.e., reversed the fortunes of his people. He had received them back into his divine favor.

85:2. The Hebrew words here describe sin as (1) depravity or moral distortion; and (2) wandering from the way, or missing the mark. Forgiveness is represented as (1) the removal of a burden, and (2) the covering of the offense, which would otherwise meet the eye of the judge and call for punishment.

85:3. The wrath which had been unleashed against Israel had now been withdrawn. Yahweh now turned away from the fierceness of his anger which had been poured out upon Israel for its sin.

85:4. In spite of forgiveness and restoration, much is still lacking. The psalmist prays for assistance in turning even more completely to the Lord. He prays that God would cease to be provoked with this people.

85:5–7. Will God prolong his anger from one generation to another? Will Yahweh not now restore national life according to the promises of the prophets? The second person pronoun is emphatic. The prayer now turns to direct petition. The psalmist asks for mercy and salvation, i.e., deliverance.

85:8. The psalmist listens for Yahweh’s answer to the prayer of his people. He was confident that the Lord would not always be angry. He would shortly speak “peace,” i.e., words of reconciliation, with his saints, i.e., his holy ones. The assurance of a favorable response is based, not upon their merit, but on their relationship with the Lord. Yet the psalmist warns that this people must not “turn again to folly,” i.e., the folly of self-confidence leading to unbelief and disobedience. This had been the cause of their past misfortunes.

85:9. The psalmist expands on the meaning of the word “peace” from the preceding verse. Yahweh’s salvation is near to those that fear him, i.e., those who answer to their calling as “saints.” That would mean that God’s “glory,” i.e., his presence, would be manifested in the land once again.

85:10. God’s lovingkindness and truth—the love which moved him to enter into covenant with Israel, and the faithfulness which binds him to be true to his covenant—meet in Israel’s redemption. “Righteousness” and “peace” meet one another with joyous welcome. Yahweh is a righteous God, and therefore a savior. Because salvation is his eternal purpose, and he cannot change his purpose. Therefore he reconciles his people to himself.

85:11–12. Truth springs up as a natural growth in response to God’s manifestation of his saving righteousness. Thus harmony between earth and heaven is perfected. Material prosperity will go hand in hand with moral progress. Earth responds to the divine blessing.

85:13. Yahweh himself appears to lead his people forward. Before him as a herald goes the righteousness which moves him to the salvation of his people. His people will follow in his steps.


Psalms 86–87

In the next two psalms the attitude toward Yahweh, the great helper is displayed first on the personal level, then on the national level. In Ps 86 an individual submits to the Lordship of Yahweh; in Ps 87 the whole nation recognizes him as Lord.

A. Personal Submission (Ps 86)

This is the only psalm in Book Three which is ascribed to David. The occasion may have been the time of Absalom’s rebellion. This is one of five “prayer psalms.” Ps 86 is not easily subdivided but a threefold breakdown may be helpful: (1) earnest petitions (vv. 1–5); (2) the ground of confidence (vv. 6–10); and (3) prayer for guidance and protection (vv. 11–17).

86:1–4. The psalm begins with a series of petitions, each supported by the ground on which David pleads for a hearing. He asks (1) that God “bow down” his ear, i.e., hear him. The ground: he was afflicted and needy, and therefore one of those whom God has promised to help. (2) He asks that God would “preserve” his soul or life. The ground: he is a “godly man,” i.e., a member of the covenant family. (3) He asks for mercy, because he cries unto the Lord daily. (4) He asks for the restoration of joy, for God alone is the object of his desires, his aspirations, and his prayers.

86:5–8. All of the above petitions are grounded in the nature of God. Yahweh is good; he is ready to forgive. He displays abundant mercy on all who call upon him. David is sure of an answer to his prayer, for Yahweh is the only true God. In v. 5 he mentioned God’s willingness to answer prayer; here he comforts himself with the thought of his ability to do so. Among alleged gods none was like Yahweh. His power as manifested in his works is possessed by none of his would-be rivals.

86:9–11. All nations will one day come to worship Yahweh and glorify his name. He is great and performs marvelous works. He is the only true God. David quotes from one of his earlier psalms (27:11). Once he learns the way of God, he resolves to walk in it. He wants no divided allegiance. He wants all the powers of his heart to be focused on the Lord.

86:12–13. David will praise God with all his heart because he has been the recipient of abundant mercy from him. Yahweh had delivered his soul from the lowest Sheol. The reference here is to preservation from some premature death.

86:14–15. David is facing hostility from the “proud,” i.e., those who place themselves above the law of both God and man, and from “violent men” who were seeking his life. These enemies gave no thought to God; they were irreligious men. With this proud and merciless opposition David contrasts the revealed character of God. He quotes from Exod 34:6, which reveals Yahweh to be a gracious and compassionate God. Though David may have deserved punishment, God cannot surely abandon him to his adversaries.

86:16–17. David prays that Yahweh would turn to him in mercy. He refers to himself as Yahweh’s “servant” and “the son of your handmaid.” David had been born to a godly woman, and was raised by her. Thus from his earliest days he had been a devout follower of the Lord. God had been his help and comfort in times past. David requests some visible and unmistakable sign of Yahweh’s favor, a sign which his enemies could not mistake.

B. Formal Identification (Ps 87)

In its breadth of view and fullness of messianic hope, this psalm ranks with the grandest of prophetic utterances. Ps 87 anticipates the day when Gentiles would be incorporated into the New Covenant Israel, the church of Christ (Eph 2:12f.).

Ps 87 is another psalm and “song” of the sons of Korah. An exact date cannot be assigned to it, but it seems to be connected with the transfer of the ark to Zion. This psalm has two main parts divided by Selah. To this a liturgical note has been appended. Thus the psalm points to: (1) the city of God (vv. 1–3); (2) the citizens of the city (vv. 4–6); and (3) the joy over Zion’s prospects (v. 7).

87:1. Zion is a city founded by God himself. Its site is consecrated. The plural “mountains” may refer to the different hills upon which Jerusalem stood, or generally to the mountainous region in which the city was located.

87:2–3. Yahweh loves “the gates of Zion,” i.e., the city itself, more than any of the other cities of Israel. This is the city of Yahweh’s choice, his love, his care. “Glorious things” had been spoken about this city, promises which the psalmist now begins to enumerate.

87:4. God himself is the speaker. He publicly acknowledges “Rahab and Babylon” among them that recognize him as their God. “Rahab” (“arrogance”) is a nickname for Egypt (Isa 30:7). God points the finger also to Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia and in each case makes the shocking announcement: “This one was born there,” i.e., in Zion. By divine edict each of these Gentile nations is invested with the full rights and privileges of citizenship as though they had been born in Zion. The divine utterance is introduced with “Behold!” which always introduces something that is shocking.

87:5.The psalmist speaks as a prophet. Not merely certain specified nations but all the nations shall call Zion their mother city. Under the protection and blessing of Yahweh, Zion grows ever stronger and nobler as each fresh nation joins the universal kingdom of God.

87:6. Yahweh holds his census of the nations, and writes their names down in his book. One after another of them he registers as “born in Zion.” This is the official confirmation of their rights of citizenship.

87:7. The psalm ends as abruptly as it began, with a brief verse which is far from clear. It is best explained as snapshot of the universal rejoicing with which the citizens of the holy city greet their mother Zion. They dance and sing this refrain: “All my fountains are in you,” i.e., in Zion. The holy city is the “fountain” of salvation. “All my fountains are in you” may be the name of some hymn which was to be sung at this point.


Psalms 88–89

Pss 88–89 summarize the previous psalms of Book Three. They point to the constant human need for deliverance, and the divine resources which are available to meet that need.

A. Human Need (Ps 88)

Ps 88 is an elegy, the saddest song in the Psalter. The writer is in deep, but not utter, despair. His prayer, however, indicates the presence of a lingering hope. Ps 88 has a composite title. First, it is said to be a song or psalm of the sons of Korah. This may mean that the psalm was taken from the Korahite collection. Second, the psalm is attributed to Heman the Ezrahite.

The designation of Heman here (and Ethan in the following psalm) as an “Ezrahite” is problematical. An Ezrahite is equivalent to a Zerahite, i.e., a descendant of Zerah of the tribe of Judah. Both Heman and Ethan are listed in 1 Chron 2:6 as sons of Zerah. Both are also listed among the wise men whose wisdom was exceeded by Solomon (1 Kgs 4:31). It is not clear whether or not these wise men were contemporary with Solomon.

The names Heman and Ethan also appear along with Asaph among the Levitical (Korahite) leaders of temple music (1 Chron 15:17, 19). Heman also is called “the king’s seer” or prophet (1 Chron 25:5). Is Heman the Ezrahite the same person as Heman the Korahite? Perhaps. The Korahite might be called an Ezrahite because he lived in the area of the Ezrahites. On the other hand, it is not impossible that this and the following psalm were actually written by the famous sages of the tribe of Judah.

The precise occasion which triggered this remorseful poem is not known. This psalm is the eleventh of the maskil (instruction) psalms. Organization in this elegy is not easy to discern. After the opening invocation (vv. 1–2) there appear to be three parts: (1) his desperate affliction (vv. 3–8); (2) his urgent appeal (vv. 9–14); and (3) a request for an explanation (vv. 15–18).

88:1–2. The psalmist appeals for a hearing before God. Though he feels that God has forsaken him, he still refers to him as “my God.” He has cried night and day before the Lord. He asks God to incline his ear, i.e., listen, to his “cry.” The word “cry” denotes a shrill piercing cry, frequently of joy, but sometimes, as here, of pain.

88:3–5. He pleads the urgency of his need as the ground for a hearing. He had drawn near to Sheol or “the pit,” the abode of the dead. He was regarded as a dying man who had no strength left. He feels he is of no more worth than the dead who are slain in battle, whose corpses are hurled into a common grave. Those who are dead God “remembers” no more with his timely help and deliverance. They are “cut off” from Yahweh’s gracious help and protection.

88:6–7. He feels God is already treating him as though he were dead. The “lowest pit” is Sheol, that dark region beyond this present life, here is metaphorical for his depression and suffering. He describes his condition as “in the depths,” i.e., of the sea of misery. Wave after wave of God’s wrath seems to smash against him.

88:8. Like Job, the psalmist is deserted even by his closest friends. This is due to an act of God who has smitten him with a sickness which makes them loathe even the sight of him. His disease may have been leprosy, which was a living death in the ancient world. He was like a prisoner, shut away from all social contact.

88:9. He pleads that his prayers have been accompanied by the tears of mourning. His eyes have “wasted away,” i.e., they are sunken and hollow looking. His hands have been stretched forth to God in the attitude of prayer.

88:10. He presses for an immediate answer to his appeals. If there is delay, he will be dead. He cannot believe that even God can reach beyond the grave to perform his wonders. And if he should, how could the dead arise to perform their duty of praising God for his wonderful works?

88:11–12. To proclaim God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness is the delight of his people. In the grave, however, all praise as it is known in this world ceases. “Abaddon” (NASB) is a name for Sheol as the place of ruin. God’s wonders, as they are experienced in this life, will not be experienced in the land of darkness (death). Once dead, men are forgotten by their fellows. They are forgotten by God in the sense that he no longer performs his wondrous deliverances for them.

88:13–14. Unlike the dead, the psalmist can still pray, and in spite of all discouragement he will not cease to do so. His first thought each day will be a prayer. He cannot understand why the Lord seems to cast him aside, seems to hide his face (favor) from him.

88:15–18. The psalmist claims that his whole life has been spent at the point of death. Now and again he had suffered “terrors” brought on him by God. He probably refers to moments when he thought death was imminent. A flood of fiery streams of terror and calamity threatens to engulf him. There is none to stretch out a helping hand to this drowning man.

Thus does this song end in gloom. The psalmist obviously believes in God’s love, though all he has experienced is understood to be signs of his wrath. He keeps on appealing to God, though God seems hostile to him. He knows that if he has any hope at all it is in God alone.

B. Divine Resource (Ps 89)

Ps 89 was written by Ethan the Ezrahite. On the identity of this Ethan, see the introduction to the previous psalm. Ethan is thought by some to be the same as Jeduthun (1 Chron 16:41f.; 25:6). The exact occasion of the psalm is unknown. It certainly was written after the delivery of the Nathan oracle to David (1 Sam 7), for he believed firmly in these promises. Yet Ethan foresaw the day when the Davidic dynasty would be humiliated, and men would question whether those promises could possibly be true. Ethan may have outlived Solomon. He may have seen the breakup of the kingdom. This psalm is the twelfth of the maskil or instruction psalms. It sets forth Ethan’s (1) theme (vv. 1–4); (2) praise (vv. 5–18); (3) confidence (vv. 19–37); (4) lament (vv. 38–45); and (5) appeal (vv. 46–51).

89:1–4. The theme of this psalm is the “lovingkindness” and “faithfulness” of Yahweh. Each of these terms occurs seven times in the psalm. Ethan has reached the conclusion that one stone after another will continue to be laid in the building of God’s lovingkindness till it reaches to heaven itself. For Ethan the supreme illustration of the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God was the promise he made to David (2 Sam 7:5ff.). He was God’s “servant,” his “chosen one” to execute the divine program. With David, God had “ratified” a covenant. His descendants would be confirmed in permanent possession of the royal office in Israel. The “throne” of David would endure forever.

89:5–8. Ethan praises Yahweh by setting forth ten reasons why he believes in the fulfillment of the promises made to David. (1) The heavens are evidence of God’s power to keep his promises and his faithfulness in so doing. (2) God is superior to any being in the heavenly realm. He has abundant resources for carrying out his promises. (3) God is held in reverence by his people because of his power and faithfulness. Therefore, Ethan has additional reason to believe what God promised concerning David.

89:9–10. (4) God is Lord of hosts, incomparable in strength and faithfulness by which he is, as it were, surrounded. Men can, therefore, believe the promise made concerning David. (5) He is Lord of the raging sea. He can suppress any tumults and troubles which arise against his people. (6) God has already displayed his power by crushing Rahab (Egypt) and scattering his enemies from time to time. What he has done in the past, he can and will do again.

89:11–14. (7) The entire universe and all it contains belongs to God. He who cares for the kingdom of nature will watch over the affairs of his people. (8) God is omnipotent. He will do even more for his people in the future than he has done in the past. (9) God’s character underscores the certainty of his promises. Where he reigns there is perfect righteousness; mercy and truth are forerunners preparing the way before him.

89:15–18. (10) The blessedness of those who trust in God is another reason for continuing to maintain the faith. They walk in the light of God’s countenance and rejoice in God’s name (his self-revelation). They can take special delight in God’s righteousness which punishes the wicked and exalts the faithful. God is for his people a beautiful adornment and a mighty strength. Because of his favor, Israel can triumph over enemies. God is the protector of his people. The holy one of Israel is a king which believers can be proud to follow.

89:19–20. Through Nathan (“your holy one”) and other prophets, God revealed his purpose to send the Messiah into the world. The revelation came in the form of a “vision.” In describing the circumstances at the time God made this great revelation, Ethan makes five points: (1) God had helped David to help his people. (2) In his sovereign will, God had chosen David for exalted assignments among the people. (3) Having made David his choice, God “found” David through the mission of Samuel to Bethlehem. (4) David was God’s “servant.” (5) David had been set apart to his office by the anointing of holy oil administered by Samuel the prophet.

89:21–24. Ethan now begins to enumerate ten promises made to David through Nathan the prophet. (1) David would be given divine assistance in the administration of his kingdom. (2) David’s subjects would not be subdued, nor would wicked enemies succeed in making them so miserable that they would renounce their rightful king. (3) David’s enemies both without and within would be destroyed, beaten down suddenly or subjected to plague. (4) David would experience God’s faithfulness and mercy for the benefit of his subjects. All impediments to the growth of his kingdom would thus be removed. (5) David’s “horn” (i.e., power) would be exalted because his battles would be fought in the name of God.

89:25–28. (6) David would have a special relationship to God. He would be able to cry unto him in times of difficulty and call him “my Father.” (7) David would be exalted in rank over the kings of the earth. He would be made (declared to be) God’s firstborn. (8) God’s merciful covenant with David and his posterity would endure forever.

89:29–33. (9) The “throne” and “seed” of David would endure as long as the world stands. Only in the everlasting kingdom of Christ could such a promise find fulfillment. (10) God’s promise to David would not be disannulled by the unfaithfulness of some of his descendants. Any of his descendants who were disobedient to God would be punished with multiple blows. Yet even in those moments God would not turn his back on the commitment to David. God is faithful to his word even when men are not.

89:34–37. God adds additional confirmation that the covenant made with David was immutable. He promises not to break nor in any way alter that covenant. God has sworn by his holiness, for there is nothing higher by which to swear. He cannot lie. The sun and moon bear eloquent testimony to the faithfulness of God in covenant keeping. The endurance of David’s kingdom is likened to the permanence of the celestial bodies.

89:38–40. Ethan begins to describe conditions which seem to contradict what he confidently had affirmed. These verses should understood as prophetic anticipation. Ethan foresees the dilapidated condition of the house of David. He uses seven concise strokes to paint the picture. (1) Times would come when it would appear that God had contemptuously rejected his anointed. (2) It would then appear that the covenant was dissolved, and the kingdom and crown altogether ruined. (3) In those days Judah would be defenseless.

89:41–45. (4) Neighboring nations would take their fill of spoil, and in various other ways show their contempt for Judah. (5) The enemies of the house of David would be assisted by God, and the king himself would be put to flight. (6) All privileges and prerogatives of the Davidic kingdom would seem to be abolished. (7) The youthful vigor of the Davidic king would be cut short and he would be covered with shame.

89:46–48. The situation portrayed in the previous lament could not be allowed to continue. Ethan was convinced that God should give relief in those dark days. To this he offers seven arguments for speedy intervention. (1) The wrath of God against his people cannot last forever. (2) The Lord’s people are of short life. If any relief is contemplated, it must be given before they pass from the scene. (3) The mercies which were part of God’s promise to David, and the oath of God concerning those promises, compel his intervention.

89:49–52. (4) Zion should not be allowed to experience humiliation. (5) Zion bears in her bosom the nations of the world. She is their spiritual mother. This is a way of saying that Zion figures in the long-range plans of God for the world. (6) Israel’s enemies are really God’s enemies. (7) The enemies have reproached the footsteps of God’s anointed, the Messiah. Although they have been told of Messiah’s coming, yet they scoff at the delay in his coming. Nevertheless, the faithful cling to the promise of that coming and continue to praise God.

chapter eighteen

The Universal Reign of Yahweh

Psalms 90–106

Most of the psalms in Book Four (Pss 90–106) are anonymous, the exceptions being Ps 90 which is assigned to Moses, and Pss 101 and 103 which are Davidic. This is called the “Numbers” book because of the many allusions to the wilderness wandering of Israel. The dominant name of God in this book again is Yahweh. It occurs more than once in every psalm, and in some as many as eleven times. In addition, the abbreviated form Yah occurs seven times. The dominant thought in these psalms is the universal worship rendered to Yahweh.


Psalms 90–92

Moulton has pointed out that the opening two psalms of Book Four answer to the two clauses in Moses’ farewell blessing on Israel (Deut 33:27): “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Ps 90 develops the first of these lines, and Ps 91 develops the second.

A. Man’s Failure (Ps 90)

Ps 90 is probably the oldest of all the psalms. It was written by Moses, no doubt during the thirty-eight years of wilderness wandering. The psalm falls naturally into three parts: (1) man’s frailty before God (vv. 1–6); (2) man’s sin against God (vv. 7–12); and (3) man’s appeal to God (vv. 13–17).

90:1–2. The Lord (‘Adonay), the sovereign ruler, has proved himself to be Israel’s home “in generation and generation,” i.e., in each successive generation. Even before the mountains or “world” (habitable part of the earth) were formed, God existed. From the infinite past to the infinite future he is ‘El, the God of sovereign power.

90:3–4. Man’s life is at the disposal of the eternal God. He makes mortal man (‘enosh) to return to the dust (lit. “pulverization”) from which he came. God sweeps away one generation after another, for the longest span of human life is but a moment in his sight. A whole millennium to God, as he reviews it, is but as the past day when it draws towards its close, i.e., a brief space with all its events still present and familiar to the mind. Yea, to God a thousand years is as a “watch” of the night. Time no more exists for him than for the unconscious sleeper. The Hebrews divided each night into three watches.

90:5–6. Man is compared to a building swept away by a sudden burst of rain. He falls into the sleep of death. Man is like grass which grows up in the morning, but by evening it has withered.

90:7–8. Moses speaks of the current indignation of God which has “consumed” Israel. He has brought their sins into the light to deal with them, even the inward sin of the heart.

90:9–10. Man’s life is as brief as a “sigh.” Moses felt that life was drawing to a close under the cloud of God’s judgment. Seventy or eighty years have been allotted to man. All upon which man prides himself brings only trouble; it has no real value.

90:11–12. A right understanding of the wrath of God is man’s best safeguard against offending him. Learning to number the days of life—to recognize its brevity—will produce the kind of godly wisdom upon which God smiles.

90:13–14. Moses calls on God to return to his people, to “repent,” i.e., have a change of attitude toward his servants. Israel was in a night of trouble. Moses asks that the joyous dawn may soon come.

90:15–17. Moses prays that the joy of restoration to God’s favor be proportioned to the depth of Israel’s humiliation. He asks that God might manifest his power on their behalf. He prays that the favor of the Lord might be upon them all that they might be successful in all their undertakings.

B. Man’s Hope (Ps 91)

Ps 91 is anonymous, but there can be little doubt that it is by Moses. Like the previous psalm, it was probably composed at the beginning of the thirty-eight years of the wilderness wandering. Outlining this psalm is difficult. It seems to have two main divisions, both of which are introduced by professions of trust in Yahweh: (1) vv. 1–8; and (2) vv. 9–13. The psalm concludes with a divine assurance responding to the opening profession of trust.

91:1. Yahweh is a secure defense for those who take refuge in him. One who takes refuge in God will be treated as God’s guest. His almighty power will be spread around him during the night of peril and trouble. The figure of the protective “shadow” is probably derived from the mother bird which hovers over her young.

91:2. The psalmist can and will address God in the language of faith. The Lord is his refuge and object of his trust.

91:3–4. The providential care of God is described in detail. Some think the second person singular here refers to Israel; others apply it to any individual godly Israelite. He will rescue from “the snare of the fowler,” i.e., from insidious attempts against his life or welfare. He delivers as well from the deadly pestilence. As the mother bird covers her young with her wings, so God protects his people (cf. Deut 32:11). God’s truth, i.e., his faithfulness to his promises, is a defense (shield) against these dangers.

91:5–8. Neither sudden assaults of enemies by night, nor open attacks by day shall have power to harm the believer. Not even plague and pestilence, here personified as destroying angels walking through the earth, shall have power over him. The wicked shall fall on all sides by the thousands, but the believer is safe, just as Israel was safe when the firstborn of Egypt were smitten (Exod 12:23). Unharmed, the believer will witness the punishment of the wicked, as Israel witnessed the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea.

91:9–10. The Hebrew here is difficult, and various renderings have been proposed. The NASB understands v. 9 to be an explanation of the previous promises of security, viz., the believer has made the psalmist’s God his refuge.

91:11–12. Angels watch over the godly one (Israel) to keep him from falling to to his hurt. Satan quoted these verses in an effort to get Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple (Matt 4:6; Luke 4:10–11).

91:13. The believer triumphantly shall overcome all obstacles and dangers, whether of fierce and open violence (the lion), or of secret and insidious treachery (the serpent).

91:14–16. God himself speaks, solemnly confirming the psalmist’s faith. God “sets on high,” i.e., in a place of safety, those who love him and know his name, i.e., understand his character. He grants to such a one “length of days” in fulfillment of the ancient promises (cf. Exod 20:12). The term “salvation” here refers to the visible manifestations of God’s providence which prove his care for his people. Each such manifestation was a harbinger of the final messianic glory which is the goal of Old Testament hope.

C. Man’s Restoration (Ps 92)

The writer and occasion of this psalm are unknown. The central thought is concisely stated in v. 8, viz., that Yahweh is enthroned on high. That key verse is surrounded by three thoughts: (1) the praise of the Lord (vv. 1–3); (2) the sovereignty of the Lord (vv. 4–8); and (3) the Lord and the righteous (vv. 9–15).

92:1–3. Praise for the Lord is deserved tribute for him, and joyous delight for man. The “name” of God is that which he has revealed about himself. The title “most high” points to God as supreme governor of the world. Morning and evening are natural times for prayer. “Lovingkindness” and “faithfulness” are the two key attributes which sum up God’s relationship with his people. The praise may be verbal or instrumental.

92:4–6. Here the special ground for the praise of Yahweh is the manifestation of his sovereignty. The terms “work” and “doings” here refer to God’s providence. It is the victory of righteousness which has gladdened this psalmist’s heart. The grandeur and profundity of Yahweh’s designs for the government of the world stir his admiration. A “fool,” i.e., someone who acts like a sensuous animal, does not discern spiritual things, and especially that which is mentioned in the following verses.

92:7–8. The wicked experience a rapid growth, but an equally rapid ruin. Their triumph is but the preparation for their fall. The wicked are transitory, but God is eternal sovereign.

92:9–10. Further confirmation of the sovereignty of Yahweh is offered. Yahweh’s enemies will be scattered (lit., scatter themselves) and will perish. On the other hand, the “horn” of the godly will be exalted. The metaphor is derived from animals tossing their heads in the consciousness of their vigor and strength. The “unicorn” (KJV) is most likely the now extinct wild ox. The godly shall be anointed with oil as on occasions of festivity.

92:11. It is joyful news to godly people when those who threaten them are destroyed. The destruction of the wicked is the flip side of the deliverance of the godly. The one cannot take place without the other.

92:12–15. Though the wicked be but grass (v. 7), the righteous flourish like the fruitful palm and the fragrant cedar which apparently grew in the courts of God’s temple. Such trees achieve great age and yet continue to bear fruit. The prosperity and happiness of the righteous are a witness to the faithfulness and justice of Yahweh.


Psalms 93–96

Ps 93 is the first of seven “theocratic” psalms, the others being 95–100. The theme of these psalms is: Yahweh is king. Whereas this truth had been proclaimed in the days of Moses (Exod 15:18), in times of national difficulty God seemed to have abdicated his throne. These psalms celebrate some recent event in which Yahweh forcefully reasserted his sovereign rights.

A. The Fact of his Reign (Ps 93)

The writer of this psalm is anonymous and the occasion is unknown. Ps 93 has three thoughts: (1) the proclamation of Yahweh’s reign (vv. 1–2); (2) the security of his reign (vv. 3–4); and (3) the testimony of his reign (v. 5).

93:1–2. In some recent deliverance of Israel, Yahweh had asserted his sovereignty once again. He had put on his royal robes, and girded himself “with strength,” like a warrior for action. The result of his proclamation is that “the world,” i.e., the moral world, had been reestablished. Though Yahweh has proclaimed his reign afresh, it is no novel thing. His sovereignty and his being are eternal.

93:3–4. The powers of the earth menace Yahweh’s sovereignty in vain. Flooding rivers are here symbols of the great world powers which threaten to overspread the world (cf. Isa 8:7–8). The sea thundering against the shore as though it would engulf the dry land is a symbol of the heathen world menacing the kingdom of God. The Lord is above it all, untouched by those who would assert their sovereign will over the world.

93:5. The “testimonies” of God are his law which bears witness to his will and man’s duty. The revelation in Scripture is the distinctive mark of Yahweh’s kingdom. God’s “house” here could be either the temple or the land of Israel. “Holiness,” i.e., separation from sin and sinners, is appropriate for either. The psalm concludes with a wish that God’s house will reflect that holiness forever (lit., for length of days). The language here suggests that the land has been rescued from being overrun by the heathen.

B. The Affirmation of his Reign (Ps 94)

Kingly power has as its first priority the subjugation of those who rebel against it. The occasion for this anonymous psalm is unknown. Ps 94 has two main divisions: (1) the psalmist’s concern regarding the wicked (vv. 1–11); and (2) his confidence in Yahweh’s righteousness (vv. 12–23).

94:1–2. An appeal to Yahweh as God (‘El, the mighty one) to manifest himself as judge of the world and avenger of wrong. The word “vengeances” (plural) denotes the completeness of the retribution which he inflicts upon the wicked. To “shine forth” is to manifest himself in all the splendor of his presence. To “lift up” himself is to show himself to be the supremely exalted ruler. Yahweh is the “judge of the earth,” i.e., the universal judge, who is needed to call the subordinate judges or rulers of the earth to account. The “proud” are those who are powerful in this world.

94:3–4. The psalmist wonders how long this great judge will tolerate the arrogant words and deeds of the wicked. Scholars disagree as to whether these wicked ones are foreign (Delitzsch; Kirkpatrick), or domestic (Maclaren; Rawlinson).

94:5–6. By brute force and extortion these wicked ones afflict God’s “inheritance,” i.e., his people. They murder the most defenseless people like widows, orphans, and “strangers,” i.e., those whose lives, according to the traditions of Semitic hospitality, should have been inviolable.

94:7. The wicked proclaim their contempt for Israel’s God as one who is either ignorant of the sufferings which they inflict, or indifferent to them.

94:8. From pleading with God, the psalmist turns to argue with those who might be tempted to agree with their oppressors about God. Such are “senseless” because they lack spiritual discernment. They are called “fools” or “stupid ones” (NASB) because they have given no intelligent consideration to the workings of God in the world.

94:9–10. A series of rhetorical questions makes the psalmist’s point. It is absurd to suppose that the creator of the organs of sense does not himself have the ability to hear and see what is happening in this world. One who “chastens” the nations through disciplinary disasters must surely “rebuke” those who arrogantly oppress God’s people.

94:11. Here is the positive answer to the self-delusion of the wicked and the doubters. Yahweh not only sees their works, he knows their very thoughts. “They” (mas. plural) refers to “man.” The idea is that men are “vanity,” i.e., feeble creatures. They certainly cannot escape the knowledge of God, nor entertain designs which he cannot fathom.

94:12–13. God educates his people through revelation. This gives the godly an insight into the ways of God’s providence. It enables the godly person to endure calmly, without murmuring or losing heart, until the day of retribution overtakes the wicked. The figure of the “pit” is taken from the traps employed by hunters.

94:14–15. The day of retribution for the wicked will come because Yahweh cannot fully abandon his persecuted people. When those who pervert it are destroyed, judgment will again be administered upon principles of equity. The upright will then be supporters and adherents of that justice.

94:16–17. The psalmist has no champion but Yahweh. Without the help of the Lord, he already would have entered the silence of the grave.

94:18–19. At the very time the psalmist regarded himself as lost, the right hand of God’s love had hold of him. While he was entertaining perplexing thoughts, God brought him comfort.

94:20–21. Though he may tolerate them for a time, it is inconceivable that Yahweh would let these wicked judges shelter themselves under his authority. The “throne of destruction” denotes the rulers or judges who were ready, like a yawning gulf, to swallow up the innocent. They cloak their “mischief” in legal garb. They unite in attacking the “righteous,” i.e., the innocent, even condemning them to death.

94:22–23. The psalmist was confident that Yahweh would prove to be for him a “high tower” and a “rock of refuge.” He would cause the wrongdoing of the wicked to recoil upon their own heads.

C. The Warning of his Reign (Ps 95)

The writer of Hebrews assigned this psalm to David. The psalm has two main divisions: (1) exultation of the Lord (vv. 1–7); and (2) admonition to the people of the Lord (vv. 8–11).

95:1–2. The psalm begins with a call to unite in worshiping Yahweh. The Lord should be greeted with loud shouts, with the acclamations which befit a victorious king. Worshipers should present themselves before him in his temple, bringing with them the sacrifices of thanksgiving.

95:3–5. The psalmist sets forth the reason for this worship service. Yahweh is a great king, superior to all the gods of the Gentiles. The depths of the earth and the soaring mountain peaks are all under his control. He (emphatic) made the raging seas and formed all the dry land.

95:6–7. The psalmist renews his call to worship Yahweh, on the ground of his relation to Israel. Worship of God should reflect the lowliest of homage, i.e., by bowing down and by kneeling. “Our maker” here probably refers to the formation of Israel as a nation, rather than to the creating of the heavens and earth. Yahweh is “our God.” Israel is “his pasture,” the flock which he shepherds. The psalmist expresses his desire that his generation, unlike their ancestors in the wilderness period, would listen to the voice of their God.

95:8–9. Yahweh now speaks a warning. Israel must not repeat the sins of obstinacy and unbelief by which their ancestors provoked him. Meribah (“Strife”) and Massah (“Temptation”) were symbolic names given to the spot of murmuring at the beginning (Exod 17:1–7) and end of the wilderness wandering (Num 20:1–13). At these sites the Israelites tempted and tried God by faithless doubts of his goodness and arbitrary demands that he should prove his power to them. This sin was committed in spite of the fact that they had just seen proof of God’s power and goodwill in the Exodus and wilderness provisions.

95:10–11. God “loathed” that generation for forty years. Those people were prone to wander from the right way. They were incapable of recognizing the leadings of God’s providence. God, therefore, swore that they should not enter into “my rest,” i.e., the Promised Land (cf. Deut 12:9).

Verse 7b–11 are quoted in Hebrews 3:7–11, and applied as a warning to Christians who were in danger of unbelief, lest they too should fail to reach the rest promised to them.

D. The Response to his Reign (Ps 96)

Ps 96 is anonymous, but it is a substantial reproduction of the words written by David and handed over to Asaph on the occasion of the moving of the ark to the tent in Jerusalem (1 Chron 16:8–33). This psalm explores Yahweh’s relationship to (1) the Israelites (vv. 1–3); (2) the Gentile gods (vv. 4–6); (3) the nations (vv. 7–9); and (4) the universe (vv. 10–13).

96:1–3. Fresh mercies demand fresh expressions of thanksgiving. All the earth is summoned to join in Israel’s praise. Israel is urged to proclaim ceaselessly the good news of Yahweh’s salvation. All the nations should hear of his marvelous works.

96:4–6. Yahweh is worthy to be praised. He is to be feared above all the so-called gods of men. Those idols are “things of nought,” i.e., they do not really exist. Yahweh, however, is the creator of the heavens. The attributes of “honor” and “majesty” are perhaps personified and regarded as attendants standing in God’s presence. In the sanctuary the psalmist can see the ark, the symbol of Yahweh’s “strength” and “beauty” (cf. 78:61).

96:7–9. The psalmist appeals to the nations to acknowledge Yahweh. “The glory due his name” is given to the Lord when he is acknowledged as the one true and living God. The “offering” is that which subjects bring to their lord in token of their submission. The reference to the temple courts is one of the adaptations of the original poem by David written before the temple was built (cf. 1 Chron 16:29). As the priests were required to minister only in holy attire (Exod 28:2), so must the nations serve him in his temple clothed in holiness.

96:10–12. The message of Yahweh’s reign should be proclaimed among the nations. He will establish the moral world so that it cannot be shaken by injustice. He shall judge the people with perfect equity. The psalmist appeals to nature to rejoice in the reign of Yahweh. God’s righteous rule brings harmony and peace to all creation.

96:13. Yahweh comes to establish his righteous rule on earth. He comes to “judge,” i.e., govern, the earth. Such government will, of course, inevitably require judicial judgment. Truth and righteousness characterize his government. Such passages must be classified as messianic.


Psalms 97–100

The next four psalms focus on the government of the heavenly king and on the praise that is due him because of his righteous reign.

A. His Judgments (Ps 97)

The writer of this psalm was not an original poet. He skillfully combines here the language of earlier psalmists and prophets. Who he was and when he lived are not known. The psalm consists of four equal stanzas. The first two describe the coming of Yahweh to judgment, and the last two describe the consequences of this coming for Israel and for the nations.

97:1. The psalm begins with a proclamation of Yahweh’s kingdom of power and righteousness. Even the distant islands and coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea are called upon to join in the celebration of the manifestation of Yahweh’s reign. Some recent overthrow of an international tyrant may be in view here.

97:2–3. Though Yahweh shrouds himself in mystery (“clouds and darkness”) and comes with irresistible might, it is the consolation of his people to know that his kingdom is founded upon righteousness. Fire—symbolic of his wrath—goes before him to consume his enemies. The theophany at Sinai supplies the symbolism for this description.

97:4–6. The recent manifestation of Yahweh’s power is described in terms of the great theophanies of the past. “His lightnings” illuminated the world, as of old when he brought Israel out of Egypt. The earth trembled before him. The most solid and ancient parts of the earth are depicted as melting in his presence (cf. Mic 1:4). Yahweh’s faithfulness to his people and his sovereign justice in the punishment of evil have been openly and visibly manifested in the sight of all the world.

97:7. Idolaters are dismayed at the impotence of their idols when Yahweh approaches in judgment. They discover their idols to be “things of nought,” i.e., worthless. All supernatural beings, whether really existing or existing only in the minds of their worshipers, must do homage to Yahweh.

97:8–9. Zion and the “daughters” (cities) of Judah hear of Yahweh’s great judgment in some distant place. The people of God are glad for the news. Yahweh had shown himself to be sovereign over the earth and superior to the gods worshiped any place thereon.

97:10–12. The people of God are exhorted to prove themselves in practice to be what they profess themselves to be. They must abhor all that is antagonistic to this holy God. God preserves those who are his godly ones by delivering them out of the hand of the wicked. “Light” is sown like seed, i.e., is broadly diffused, for the righteous. Light here symbolizes joy, gladness and victory. Thus the righteous should rejoice in every mention of the name of the Lord which brings to remembrance all that he is and does.

B. His Praise (Ps 98)

Nothing is known of the date and authorship of this psalm. This is the only psalm which bears the title Mismor, “A Psalm” without any addition. An ancient tradition reflected in the Greek version assigns this psalm to David. The psalm consists of three equal stanzas. It urges singing praise to the heavenly sovereign (1) by Israel (vv. 1–3); (2) all the earth (vv. 4–6); and (3) all nature (vv. 7–9).

98:1–3. Praise Yahweh for the glorious salvation which he has wrought. He has accomplished this deliverance by “his right hand, and his holy arm,” i.e., he needed no help; his own might was all-sufficient. The deliverance of Israel was the outcome and the visible manifestation of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his covenant. He had not forgotten his people. Even the distant parts of the earth had observed this marvelous deliverance.

98:4–9. The psalmist asks all the earth to salute its king with the glad shouts and music which are the proper greeting for a king upon his accession. Nature, too, should join the chorus of rejoicing. The sea, the rivers and the mountains should sing his praises.

C. His Reign (Ps 99)

The writer and occasion of this psalm are unknown. The psalm has three parts, each of which is marked by a refrain which declares the holiness of the Lord. The psalm celebrates (1) the sovereignty of Yahweh (vv. 1–3); (2) his righteous character (vv. 4–5); and (3) his faithfulness (vv. 6–9).

99:1–3. Yahweh has proclaimed himself king in Zion. All the earth should worship this holy God. The title “he who sits enthroned upon the cherubim” suggests that he who is supremely exalted in heaven has yet in time past condescended to dwell among his people on earth. The mercy seat of the ark, with the wings of the golden cherubim overshadowing, was considered God’s earthly throne. Therefore, Zion is the seat of his universal sovereignty on earth. God’s name, i.e., the revelation of his character, is “great and terrible,” i.e., mighty deeds have been attributed to him. His highest claim to adoration, however, is his holiness, i.e., his absolute moral perfection.

99:4–5. Yahweh has established a kingdom of righteousness. The recent deliverance of Israel has given proof of the character of his reign. Believers are encouraged to worship “at his footstool,” i.e., the ark (1 Chron 28:2). Again, it is his holiness which calls forth this worship.

99:6. The psalmist mentions three great intercessors of ancient Israel: Moses, Aaron and Samuel. The two brothers, Moses and Aaron, were “among the priests,” i.e., they came from the priestly tribe. Moses interceded for Israel on numerous occasions. Aaron’s most important moment of intercession is recorded in Num 16:46ff. Samuel also had a reputation as a great man of prayer (1 Sam 7:8–9).

99:7. Following intercession by Moses, Yahweh once more spoke to his people in the cloudy pillar (Exod 34:5). The reason for the efficacy of the prayers of Moses, Aaron and Samuel is that they were obedient to the Lord.

99:8. God pardoned his people in answer to intercessory prayer. Yet to vindicate his holiness he still brought chastisement, lest his people should imagine that sin can be taken lightly.

99:9. The psalm concludes with a final call to worship the God of Israel in Zion, in his holy mountain, for “holy is Yahweh our God.”

D. His Worship (Ps 100)

Both the writer and the occasion of this psalm are unknown. This is the only psalm designated as “a psalm of thanksgiving.” From ancient times this psalm has been used in the daily service of the synagogue. This brief psalm consists of two stanzas, each of which is a call to praise and a reason for so doing.

100:1–2. All lands are called upon to greet their sovereign with joyful praise. In the worship of the Lord all mankind regains its lost unity. The homage of worship takes the place of the homage of submission (2:12); now the nations can draw near with joy instead of fear.

100:3. Mankind should learn from the works of the Lord that he is the only true God. He “made” Israel of old to be a people for himself (Deut 32:6, 18). Israel is his flock, the sheep of his pasture.

100:4–5. Yahweh’s people are urged to enter the temple gates with thanksgiving and praise. The exhortation is based on the essential goodness of the Lord. His lovingkindness and faithfulness are experienced by generation after generation.


Psalms 101

Ps 101 has been the favorite psalm of rulers in many lands through the years. David wrote this poem in the early period of his reign, perhaps in connection with his efforts to move the ark to Jerusalem. This psalm sets forth David’s desire to have a righteous court. Ps 101 has two major divisions. It focuses first on the king personally (vv. 1–4), and then on his kingdom (vv. 5–8).

101:1. “Lovingkindness and judgment” were characteristics of Yahweh’s rule which should be reflected in the godly human monarch.

101:2–3. David was determined to pursue the way of integrity. He earnestly longs for closer fellowship with God. Even in the privacy of his own home he would walk the walk of the godly, for obedience to God’s commands is a precondition of fellowship with him. He would entertain no wicked purpose; he would shake off any temptation to depravity like it wa