The one great corruption to which all religion is exposed is its separation from morality, and of all religions that of Israel was pre-eminently open to this danger. It was one of the main functions of the prophetical office to maintain the opposite truth—the inseparable union of morality with religion. This psalm takes rank with the prophets in such a proclamation. It makes it under a highly poetical form, a magnificent vision of judgment, in which, after summoning heaven and earth as His assessors, God arraigns before Him the whole nation, separated into two great groups; sincere but mistaken adherents to form; hypocrites, to whom religious profession is but a cloak for sin. The rhythm is fine and fairly well sustained.
Title.—Asaph was a Levite, son of Berachiah, and one of the leaders of David’s choir (1 Chronicles 6:39). He was also by tradition a psalm writer (2 Chronicles 29:30, Nehemiah 12:46). It is certain, however, that all the psalms ascribed to Asaph (73-83) were not by the same hand, or of the same time (see Introduction to Psalms 74); and, as in the case of the Korahite psalms, probably the inscription, “to Asaph,” only implies the family of Asaph, or a guild of musicians bearing that name (1 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 20:14; Ezra 2:41).
Hath shined.—Comp. Psalm 80:1; Deuteronomy 33:2. A natural figure of the Divine manifestation, whether taken from the dawn or from lighting.
Israel, politically so insignificant, must have been profoundly conscious of the tremendous issues involved in its religious character to demand a theatre so vast, an audience so august.
In the language of modern thought, order and law in the physical world are an evidence of an ordered moral government, and the obedience of the unconscious stars to that sway which, as Wordsworth says, “preserves them from wrong,” is a challenge to man to submit himself consciously to the same will.
As usual in such visions of judgment (comp. Matthew 25:32) the arraigned nation is separated into two classes when brought before the bar of the judge, and the better part is first reproved.
What hast thou to do?—i.e., how darest thou?
Frameth.—Literally, weaves. So LXX. To weave snares is a common figure in all languages. Comp.
“My brain, more busy than the labouring spider,
Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.”
SHAKSPERE: 2 Henry VI. 3:2.
Slanderest.—Literally, givest a thrust; but, from the parallelism, used of words that often hurt more than blows.
Mother’s son.—In a country where polygamy was practised, this marks a closer relationship than the more general “brother” would do. (See Song of Solomon 1:6, Note.)
That I was altogether.—We might render, that I was actually.
And set them in order.—The insertion of “them,” referring back to “these things,” is rather confusing. Better supply thine offences. All the sins of the wicked are marshalled before them.
To him that ordereth . . .—Literally, as the text stands, placeth his way, which is hardly intelligible. The version of Symmachus suggests the reading tam, instead of sam, “to him who walks uprightly.” But being plainly intended for the ungodly, we want in this clause some mention of amendment; and if the poet wrote shab, we get, literally, him who has turned his way, i.e., who has changed his course of life.