Psalms 132 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 132
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This psalm, at first sight, seems from comparison with 2 Chronicles 6 to be a hymn of Solomon’s, or of his age, in commemoration of the completion and dedication of the Temple. What, however, makes such an obvious conjecture at once suspicious is that David, and not Solomon himself, should figure as the founder and builder of the Temple. Beyond question the psalm is ideal in its treatment of the history, and it is just conceivable that Solomon, who in 2 Chronicles 6 is so careful to draw a contrast between his father’s project and his own accomplishment of that project, might in a poem have been entirely silent as to his share in the work. A poet of his court would hardly have been so reticent. It is, however hardly credible that Solomon would have blended incidents belonging only to the history of the ark with those relating to the building of his own Temple. Altogether Psalm 132:6 clears up only as we take a more and more distant standpoint from the incidents it notes. A very late poet might easily refer the Temple altogether to David, and see in the removal of the ark a step in a prepared design. Other indications, pointing to the Asmonean dynasty as that in whose honour the poem was composed, are alluded to in the notes. The parallelism is very marked, and well sustained.

A Song of degrees. LORD, remember David, and all his afflictions:
(1) Afflictions.—The word so rendered is the infinitive plural of a verb, which in its first sense means to declare or tell. It is better to keep this meaning here, “Lord, remember David and all his declarations”.

How he sware unto the LORD, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob;
(2) How he sware.—Literally, who sware. The expression “Mighty One of Jacob” is taken from the patriarch himself (Genesis 49:24; comp. Isaiah 1:24, &c).

Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed;
(3-5) It is vain to search the historical accounts for this vow. It may be implied from 2 Samuel 7:2, and from the persistent purpose which David certainly nourished. The LXX. and Vulg. give the vow in even greater detail, adding, “and rest to my temples.”

(3) Tabernacle.—We have in the mention of tent either a reminiscence of the old nomadic times of the race, or an allusion to David’s own wandering and warlike habits.

I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids,
(4) I will not.—For this proverbial expression see Proverbs 6:4.

Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.
Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood.
(6) Lo, we heard.—This verse has been pronounced inexplicable, and yet the general intention is clear. The vow in which David declared his purpose has just been quoted, and that which is now said to have been heard and found can hardly be anything else than this purpose. In fact, the feminine suffix to the verbs points directly back to the word rendered afflictions in Psalm 132:1, which is really a feminine form. This being settled, we need not go from the plain direction of such places as Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7; Ruth 4:11; Micah 5:2, which pronounce the identity of Ephratah with Bethlehem, to seek any other locality which might possibly be so called. David’s purpose would naturally be connected—especially after a long lapse of time—with the birthplace of his family. But though taking this poetical licence, the psalm keeps sufficiently close to history as to recognise in the discovery of the Ark at Kirjath-jearim an important, nay, a decisive step in the project of building the Temple. Though his purpose may not have been even dimly defined to David when he moved the Ark, history justly sees in that momentous change the initial step in the grander undertaking. That the fields of the wood” (Heb., sedey-yā‘ar) is one designation of Kirjath-jearim (city of Yaarim, which went by so many names: Jeremiah 26:20; Ezra 2:25; Joshua 15:10-11) there can be little doubt. We must not, of course, think here of David’s contemporaries, but of those of the psalmist, who poetically are represented as taking important part in the early plans for building the Temple—just as we might say, speaking of our old cathedrals, “we built fine churches in those days.” The poet makes them say, identifying themselves with the people of those distant times, while naturally the historical correctness suffers, “We heard his project at Bethlehem; we found out its meaning (saw it take shape) at Kirjath-jearim.” For mātsâ, in the sense of “finding out the meaning or discerning,” see Judges 14:12, “of a riddle.” This sentence reminds one of a riddle by its form.

We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.
(7) We will.Let us go, &c

Tabernacles.—Better, habitation, as in Psalm 132:5, where the same word is used. The plural occurs also in Psalm 84:1. These words do not, as the last verse, recall an incident of the past, but express the determination of the present. The result of David’s project is that the present generation have a place of worship. It does not detract from this explanation to refer the psalm to post-exile times, and to the second Temple, since the fact of the existence of a temple at any time could be poetically ascribed to David.

His footstool.—See on Psalm 99:5.

Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.
(8-10) These are the words which the chronicler (2 Chronicles 6:41-42) puts into Solomon’s mouth at the dedication of the Temple. Some think that they are there only as a quotation from this psalm, but the mode in which the words are here introduced points the other way. The psalmist does not at his distance from the events distinguish between David and Solomon. He merges the executor of the work in the projector; and in honour of the second Temple it is as natural for him to take up words used at the actual dedication of the first as it was to refer to the original purpose in David’s mind. All is blended together in the long perspective of poetry. As to the form of the words, they are of course themselves a reminiscence of the ancient battle-cry of the nation when the Ark set forward on the march. (See Psalm 68:1, Note.) The mention of the Ark does not definitely dispose of the Maccabæan theory of this psalm, though it doubtless must weigh against it. The quotation may have been adopted generally without meaning literal correspondence between all the circumstances—just as the battle-cry had become merely a religious formula—or, as Lightfoot and Prideaux suggest (see Prideaux, Connection, i. 141), there may have been an ark made for the second Temple in imitation of the original.

(8) Ark of thy strength.—See the reference in Chronicles. The expression occurs nowhere else but in Psalm 78:61, where the word strength by itself denotes the ark. The technical word ark nowhere else occurs in the psalms. For strength the LXX. and Vulg. have “sanctification.”

Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.
(9) Clothed with righteousness.—The original is “salvation,” as below in Psalm 132:16, though the Hebrew word is slightly varied. This variation, however, is an almost positive proof that the psalmist, not the chronicler, is adopting words for his own purpose.

Possibly the priestly garments are mentioned, not only as symbolic of righteousness, but also as investing whoever possessed them, with supremacy political as well as religious. This is rendered more probable by the express mention of the diadem below (Psalm 132:18, see Note). “Whoever had these, the priestly paraphernalia, in his possession, had virtually the appointment to the office (high priest)” (Stanley, J. C. iii. 353). But if so, the Vulgate of the verse, in the form it has passed from the Breviary into Anglican worship, has amply recovered for the verse its larger and deeper spiritual intention: “Endue Thy ministers with righteousness, and make Thy chosen people joyful.”

Saintschasîdîm. Here very possibly technical of the party so called in the Maccabæan period. (See Note, Psalm 16:10.)

For thy servant David's sake turn not away the face of thine anointed.
(10) The most obvious construction of this verse is that which makes it an intercession, on the ground of the Divine partiality for David, in behalf of another prince—one of his successors—by the people at large. In the original (2 Chronicles 6:42) it is of course Solomon who prays for himself; here (see Introduction) we must naturally think of one of the Asmonean princes. The expression “to turn away the face,” of a suppliant, instead of “turning from him,” is borrowed from court etiquette. (Comp. 1 Kings 2:16, margin.)

The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.
(11) In truth.—This is a possible rendering, but it is more impressive to render, Jehovah hath sworn unto David. It is a true oath; He will not depart from it. (Comp. Psalm 110:4.) The substance of the oath which follows is taken from 2 Samuel 7.

If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.
For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.
(13) Zion.—The dynasty of David and the location of the sanctuary at Zion are intimately associated, as in Psalm 78:67-68. (Comp. Psalm 122:4-5.)

This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.
I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.
(17) Horn of David.—The sprouting or growing horn is an image of young, vigorous life. (See Note, Psalm 75:5.) The Messianic application of this prediction comes out in Zechariah’s song (Luke 1:69).

I have ordained a lamp.—Or, I have trimmed a lamp; the word used in connection with the sacred lights, under the express charge of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 27:21; Leviticus 24:2-3). But with this distinctly sacerdotal allusion we must also combine the special allusion to the Davidic dynasty, according to the promise (1 Kings 11:36): “That David my servant may have a light (or, lamp, as here) always before me in Jerusalem.”

His enemies will I clothe with shame: but upon himself shall his crown flourish.
(18) Crown (nezer).—As the distinctive use of this word in Israel—by its derivation meaning mark of separation—was for the golden plate, inscribed “Holiness to the Lord,” worn on the high priest’s mitre (see Exodus 29:6; Exodus 39:30), we cannot be wrong in seeing here a special allusion to the same. This allusion is rendered more probable by the use of the word rendered “flourish” (properly, shine), a cognate to which was the technical name given to this golden plate. (See the reference in Exodus 39, above.) It is also possibly alluded to in Psalm 89:39, the only other place in the psalms where the word occurs, though as the word is used of the royal crown in 2 Samuel 1:10, &c, the allusion is not certain. But if the Maccabæan hypothesis is correct, the use of the word, instead of the more usual word for “crown,” is interesting. “One relic of the ancient insignia has been preserved, which was probably prized as the most precious of all. It was the golden plate affixed to the turban, inscribed ‘Holiness to Jehovah,’ which was believed to have come down from the time of Aaron, and which, treasured through all the vicissitudes of the Jewish state, was carried to Rome by Titus, and seen there by the great Jewish Rabbi, in the time of Hadrian” (Stanley, J. C. 3:353).

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