St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 105
Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2016
A thanksgiving to God for His benefits to his people of Israel
Psa 105:1 Give glory to the Lord, and call upon his name: declare his deeds among the Gentiles.
The prophet, in the spirit of his fervor, invites God’s people to praise and invoke God, and to announce his wonderful works to other nations, that his praise and worship may be extended thereby. The true lover does not wish the praise and knowledge of his beloved should be confined to himself, but wishes that many, nay even all, should know her perfections and praise them. He, therefore, says, “Give glory to the Lord,” give him the just tribute of praise, “and call upon his name,” to help you to do it properly; for without his assistance you will not be able to accomplish it. “Declare his deeds among the gentiles;” speak in all directions among the gentiles of the wonderful works of God, that they, too, from a knowledge of his works, may begin to know, praise, and invoke their Creator.
Psa 105:2 Sing to him, yea sing praises to him: relate all his wondrous works.
An explanation of the previous verse, as much as to say, you are not only to sing to him, but also to sing with musical instruments, praising him in word and deed, by extolling him in your words and living up to the standard laid down by him as your rule of life, “relate all his wonderful works,” a repetition of the latter part of the previous verse; that is, announce to the gentiles God’s works, all of which are most astounding and sublime.
Psa 105:3 Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.
Having invited them to an expression of praise, united with chant, he now invites them to rejoice and be glad internally, first saying, “Glory ye in his holy name.” Glory in your heart for having come to the knowledge of God, the author of all good. “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.” Do not seek the Lord in grief and sorrow, but in joy and gladness; for the getting hold of him surpasses all other earthly treasures.
Psa 105:4 Seek ye the lord, and be strengthened: seek his face evermore.
He impresses on us the necessity of having constant recourse to God, “seek his face evermore.” If we refer this advice to those of the Old Testament, the meaning would be, seek to have God always present with you; through his grace and his favors endeavor that he may always look upon you with an eye of benignity—that he may pour his blessings from heaven on you—that he may not turn away his face, in his anger, from you, despise or afflict you. But, if we refer this passage, as we ought, to the new dispensation, the meaning will be, “Seek his face evermore.” Be always ascending in your hearts, in loving and longing for the face of the Lord, until you shall have got to see it in some measure. And, as nobody looks for what he knows nothing of, St. Augustine very properly says that they “who seek the face of the Lord” have already found him through faith, while they are still looking for him through hope and desire. Hence we infer that they who have no faith, or do not exercise that faith, do not seek the face of the Lord; and, therefore, that the beginning of the seeking the face of the Lord is to take its rise from the exercise of faith, by thinking and meditating on the excellence of the supreme good, and by firmly persuading themselves, from the Scriptures, that true happiness, such as can completely satisfy our desire, is not to be had but in beholding the infinite beauty of God, to which man can arrive if he seek the face of God as he ought. Now, to do that two things are necessary, viz., to remove all obstacles, and make use of the necessary means, as the Apostle informs Titus, “Renouncing impiety and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and piously in this world, waiting for the blessed hope.” The obstacles, then, are bad desires and an attachment to the things of this world; for in proportion to the absence of avarice is the increase of charity. They, then, who desire to be rich, and to amass wealth, administer not to the sufferer in his necessity, and, the slaves of gluttony or luxury, they do not ascend to seek the face of the Lord; but they descend, are farther removed from it, because, instead of removing, they multiply the impediments. True justice, or, in other words, the fulfillment of the law of God, is the means of finding the face of the Lord, as the Lord says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice,” the one as the end, the other as the means; and, “If thou will enter into life, keep the commandments.” The one, then, that always seeks the face of the Lord is he who exercises his faith in reflection and meditation, who mortifies his members in this world, and, having abnegated all secular desires, always lives with a pure heart and good conscience, always longing to behold the face of God.
Psa 105:5 Remember his marvellous works which he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.
He tells us now for what we are to praise God, and points out a sort of ladder by which we may ascend to the love, and a desire for God, to which two things he invited us in the preceding verses. The subject of God’s praise are his wonderful works, that indicate to us his omnipotence, his supreme wisdom, and his most sweet goodness, which, if faithfully turned in the mind and reflected on, will elevate it to the love of, and a longing for God. “Remember his marvelous works, which he hath done.” Bring before your memory, and think on all the wonderful things you know to have been done by God; “His wonders and the judgments of his mouth.” The prodigies he effected through Moses, Josue, Samuel, that could never have been done by natural means; and “the judgments of his month;” the dreadful scourges inflicted on Pharao and others, who persecuted his people, being both prodigies and judgments, inasmuch as they were wrought on Pharao for his pride.
Psa 105:6 O ye seed of Abraham his servant; ye sons of Jacob his chosen.
An explanation of the preceding verse; as if he said, I address you, ye Jews, who are “the seed of Abraham, and sons of Jacob;” you who have descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not from Esau or Ismael; for you are “his servants, his chosen,” God having chosen you as his own servants, to give you his law, and to teach you how he should be worshipped. St. Augustine observes, that, however applicable this may be to the children in the flesh of Abraham and Jacob, it is more applicable to the children by faith; for the Apostle says, Rom. 4, “And he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith, which is in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all the believers uncircumcised, that to them also it may be reputed to justice, and might be the father of circumcision, not to them only that are of the circumcision, but to them also who follow the steps of the faith that our father Abraham had, being as yet uncircumcised;” and again, chap. 9, “For all are not Israelites that are of Israel, neither are all they who are the seed of Abraham children, but in Isaac shall thy seed be called; that is to say, not they who are the children of the flesh are the children of God; but they that are the children of the promise are counted for the seed;” and again, in Galatians 3, “Know ye, therefore, that they who are of faith are the children of Abraham, and the Scripture, foreseeing that God justifies the gentiles by faith, told Abraham before: In thee shall all nations be blessed; therefore they who are of the faith shall be blessed with the faithful Abraham;” and he concludes the chapter thus, “And if you be of Christ, then you are the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.”
Psa 105:7 He is the Lord our God: his judgments are in all the earth.
Psa 105:8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever: the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.
He now begins to narrate the wonderful works of God, beginning with the fact of God, the ruler of the universe, having chosen Abraham, and having entered into an everlasting compact with him of giving the land of promise forever to his seed, which promise was fulfilled in Christ, whose kingdom will have no end, while the children of Abraham have lost the possession of Palestine. “He is the Lord our God, his judgments are in all the earth;” God, whose judgments are all over the world, and who, as supreme King and Monarch, judges all; he, that very same great God, “hath remembered his covenant forever;” remembered the covenant he made, and which he intended should last forever, “the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;” that is, forever.
Psa 105:9 Which he made to Abraham; and his oath to Isaac:
Psa 105:10 And he appointed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting testament:
Psa 105:11 Saying: To thee will I give the land of Chanaan, the lot of your inheritance.
Psa 105:12 When they were but a small number: yea very few, and sojourners therein:
In order to confirm the truth of his assertion, he repeats it, and explains it at greater length, saying, “Which he made to Abraham;” he remembered the promise he made to Abraham, and confirmed the same promise “by his oath to Isaac.” And he appointed “the same” sworn promise “to Jacob for a law;” a decree, a statute, and as “an everlasting testament;” a treaty to hold forever. The words of promise contained in that treaty were, “I will give thee the land of Chanaan;” the land of promise, then inhabited by the Chanaanites; “the lot of your inheritance;” to be held by your children as their inheritance, usually distributed by lot, which promise was made to Abraham, in Gen. 26, to Isaac, in Gen. 28, and to Jacob, in Gen. 28. These promises were made to the Jews, “when they were but a small number;” very few, indeed; “and sojourners;” birds of passage, mere strangers in the same land, which leads us the more to admire the counsel, power, and wisdom of God, and his great regard for the patriarchs, in choosing out of the whole world one family, and that a poor one, and promising them, and afterwards fulfilling his promise of giving them a most extensive country, the seat of many kings. Much more wonderful is it that the same God should have chosen the little flock of the elect from out of the whole human race, to give them the kingdom of heaven, of which the land of promise was but a figure, as an eternal inheritance.
Psa 105:13 And they passed from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people.
Psa 105:14 He suffered no man to hurt them: and he reproved kings for their sakes.
Psa 105:15 Touch ye not my anointed: and do no evil to my prophets.
The prophet now records another of God’s favors, in having guarded and protected the patriarchs by a singular providence. He alludes to Abraham, who was twice in danger by reason of the beauty of his wife; to Isaac, who also was near suffering in that way; and to Jacob, who was all but ruined, first by Laban, then by Esau, and they all escaped through God’s singular care of them. “And they passed,” the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with their families, “from nation to nation;” from one province to another, “and from one kingdom to another people;” from the kingdom to the people of the kingdom of Egypt. “He suffered no man to hurt them;” nay more, “he reproved kings for their sake;” for instance, Pharao, the king of Egypt, and Abimelech, king of Gerara, for he said to those kings, “Touch ye not my anointed,” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; “and do no evil to my prophets;” to the three aforesaid, who are also my prophets, and by virtue thereof, anointed and consecrated to me. Do not molest them, trouble them, or do them any manner of harm. There can be no doubt of the three above named holy patriarchs having been prophets also, for Abraham foresaw the captivity of the people of Israel in Egypt, its duration, and its termination; as we read in Gen. 15. Isaac, shortly before his death, predicted to his son Esau, that he would be subservient to his younger brother Jacob, and that at one time he would shake off his yoke, all which regarded their posterity and not themselves; see Gen. 27. Jacob uttered several prophecies concerning each of his sons, especially Juda, from whose tribe he prophesied the Messias would come. Thus those patriarchs are very properly called prophets, and they are said to be “anointed,” not that they were visibly anointed with oil, as were the priests, kings, and sometimes the prophets in after times; but, because they had the internal and spiritual unction of the spirit poured upon them, of which Isaias says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon one, because the Lord hath anointed me.”
Psa 105:16 And he called a famine upon the land: and he broke in pieces all the support of bread.
Psa 105:17 He sent a man before them: Joseph, who was sold for a slave.
Psa 105:18 They humbled his feet in fetters: the iron pierced his soul,
Psa 105:19 Until his word came. The word of the Lord inflamed him.
Psa 105:20 The king sent, and he released him: the ruler of the people, and he set him at liberty.
Psa 105:21 He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession.
Psa 105:22 That he might instruct his princes as himself, and teach his ancients wisdom.
Psa 105:23 And Israel went into Egypt: and Jacob was a sojourner in the land of Cham.
This is the third favor conferred by God on his people, in which we find a great field for praising the wonderful wisdom of God, who, from such a mass of evil, could bring such an amount of good. He gives an account of the great famine that overshadowed the earth in the time of Jacob, when he and all his family migrated into Egypt; see Gen. 37, etc. “And he called a famine upon the land.” God, in his providence, caused a dreadful famine, by reason of a dearth of corn, to overspread the earth. He speaks figuratively when he says, “called a famine,” as if it were an army he would call from one place to another, to let us see how obedient all things are to God, and how they answered at his nod and bidding; as also to let us see that things we suppose to happen by chance, are so ordained by God, for his own wise purposes. He repeats the same at greater length when he says, “And he broke in pieces all the support of bread.” That famine was caused by God’s having destroyed the bread they had to support them, for during a period of seven years not a grain of corn ripened in the country; as we read in Genesis: “He sent a man before them, Joseph;” on the occasion of the approaching famine, God sent into Egypt before the children of Israel, “a man,” a great man, “Joseph,” for the purpose of delivering Israel and all his family from the famine. History tells us that Joseph, through the envy of his brethren, was sold as a slave to some merchants on their way to Egypt; but David says he was sent there by God, who in his providence suffered him to be sold and transported into Egypt, for the purpose of afterwards introducing Jacob and his sons there in a most wonderful manner. He tells us how Joseph was sent there when he says, “he was sold for a slave,” by his brethren, to merchants on their way to Egypt. “They humbled his feet in fetters.” No sooner had Joseph got into Egypt than he was accused of criminality with his master’s wife, was thrown into prison for it, and had his feet bound with fetters of iron. “The iron pierced his soul until his word came.” His chains being heavy on him, afflicted and weighed him down, until “his word, that is, his prophecy of the butler’s, his fellow captive, being released in a few days, “came,” was accomplished, and that led to his own liberation; see Genesis. “The word of the Lord inflamed him.” That word or prophecy of Joseph was not his own; it was the word of the Lord, inspired and suggested by him. “The king sent and he released him: the ruler of the people and he set him at liberty.” King Pharao having heard from his butler of Joseph’s wisdom, sent to the prison, knocked off his manacles, and let him out free. “He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession.” He not only set him free, but he placed him over his own family and over the entire kingdom, to administer it, “that he might instruct his princes as himself, and teach his ancients wisdom.” King Pharao placed Joseph over his kingdom, not only for the purpose of administering to the bodily wants of his subjects during the famine, but also for the purpose of instructing his ministers and counselors in that science of government in which he seemed to be such an adept. “And Israel went into Egypt.” It was on this occasion that the patriarch Jacob came into Egypt; “and Jacob was a sojourner in the land of Cham;” and thus, Jacob, or rather those descended from him, began to dwell in Egypt, called the land of Cham, by reason of Mizraim, the son of Cham, the son of Noe, having been the first to dwell therein.
Psa 105:24 And he increased his people exceedingly: and strengthened them over their enemies.
Psa 105:25 He turned their heart to hate his people: and to deal deceitfully with his servants.
Psa 105:26 He sent Moses his servant: Aaron the man whom he had chosen.
Psa 105:27 He gave them power to shew them signs, and his wonders in the land of Cham.
Next comes the fourth favor, conferred by God on his people, in causing them, through his divine providence, so to increase and multiply in Egypt; and, when they were grievously oppressed by Pharao, in sending Moses and Aaron, with great power, to work signs and prodigies, the consequence of which was the glorious departure of God’s people from out of Egypt. He, therefore, says, “And he increased his people exceedingly; and strengthened them over their enemies.” The meaning of this may be learned from that passage in Exodus, where it is read, “The children of Israel increased and sprung up into multitudes, and growing exceedingly strong, they filled the land. In the meantime, there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph, and he said to his people: Behold, the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we.” “He turned their heart,” of the Egyptians, “to hate his people; and to deal deceitfully with his servants;” to oppress them by fraud and cunning. Now, God is said to have “turned the hearts” of the Egyptians; not that he implanted any evil designs therein, (for God is not the author of sin) but by pouring down favors on his people, and causing them to multiply in so extraordinary a degree, he more or less gave occasion to the perverted hearts of the Egyptians to envy their neighbors’ prosperity, and plot their ruin. And God, when he did so favor his people, fully knew and foresaw the envy and the hatred it would beget among the Egyptians; because he had a right, and he wished it, to turn their perverse thoughts, which he had not created, to good account, in punishing themselves, and delivering his people from captivity. “He sent Moses his servant, Aaron, the man whom he hath chosen;” when the people began to be so punished, he sent Moses and Aaron to Pharao. “He gave them power to show signs, and his wonders in the land of Cham.” When he sent Moses and Aaron to deliver his people, he gave them power to perform miracles in the land of Egypt, that the children of Israel, as well as the Egyptians, might believe that they were sent by him, and that they should obey them as the messengers of the true and Almighty God.
Psa 105:28 He sent darkness, and made it obscure: and grieved not his words.
He describes, in this and the eight following verses, the prodigies in detail that were performed in Egypt, through which God scourged Pharao and the Egyptians. He does not enumerate all the plagues, nor does he observe the order they are related in Exodus; because he is not writing a history, but chanting a hymn, as we already observed in Psalm 79. He begins, then, with the miraculous darkness that overspread all Egypt for three entire days, it being one of the last recorded in Exodus. “He sent darkness, and made it obscure.” Covered the whole of Egypt with such darkness that the people did not know each other, and were afraid to move. “And grieved not his words.” Moses and Aaron did boldly what God desired them, and gave him no reason for being grieved at their noncompliance with his commands.
Psa 105:29 He turned their waters into blood, and destroyed their fish.
Psa 105:30 Their land brought forth frogs, in the inner chambers of their kings.
Psa 105:31 He spoke, and there came divers sorts of flies and sciniphs in all their coasts.
Psa 105:32 He gave them hail for rain, a burning fire in the land.
Psa 105:33 And he destroyed their vineyards and their fig trees: and he broke in pieces the trees of their coasts.
Psa 105:34 He spoke, and the locust came, and the bruchus, of which there was no number.
Psa 105:35 And they devoured all the grass in their land, and consumed all the fruit of their ground.
Psa 105:36 And he slew all the firstborn in their land: the firstfruits of all their labour.
All this relating to the plagues of Egypt has been explained in the notes on Psalm 78, which see.
Psa 105:37 And he brought them out with silver and gold: and there was not among their tribes one that was feeble.
Favor the fifth, conferred by God on his people; for he not only delivered them from the captivity of Pharao, but he loaded them with riches on their departure; for he ordered the men among the Jews to borrow from the men among the Egyptians, and the Jewish women to borrow of the Egyptian women their gold and silver vessels, their jewels, precious stones, and robes; and he so lulled the Egyptians asleep that they lent them without any difficulty; and to this the prophet alludes when he says, “And he brought them out with silver and gold;” with an immense quantity of gold and silver vessels, and other valuables they had borrowed of the Egyptians. Did they not, then, violate the precept, “Thou shalt not steal?” It would have been theft, had not God, the absolute master and owner of all things, transferred the dominion of these valuables from the Egyptians to the Hebrews; and with that, these valuables hardly requited the Jews for the years of toil and labor they had been forced, in their bondage, to yield to the Egyptians; to which Wisdom seems to allude, in chap. 10, when he says, “And she rendered to the just the wages of their labors, and conducted them in a wonderful way.” Another additional favor was, that while the Egyptians were afflicted with various diseases, and ultimately all their first born were slain, the children of Israel remained unhurt and unharmed by the plague; to which the prophet alludes when he sings, “And there was not among their tribes one that was feeble.”
Psa 105:38 Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them lay upon them.
In addition to the favor just mentioned, there was this, that the Egyptians did not seek to stop the Jews in their departure, nor did they endeavor to get the gold and silver, and other valuables they had lent, back from them; they rather hurried them away, and rejoiced at their departure, fearing some greater misfortune would come upon them, perhaps the destruction of the whole community, as well as of their first born, were the Jews to remain with them any longer; for thus we read in Exodus, “And the Egyptians pressed the people to go forth out of the land speedily, saying: We shall all die.”
Psa 105:39 He spread a cloud for their protection, and fire to give them light in the night.
The sixth favor was the pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, that God, through the agency of his Angels, set up to guide them when they were going out of the land of Egypt. That cloud was not for their protection from the sun, as the words would seem to imply, but as a guide before them; for we read in Exodus, “And the Lord went before them to show the way by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that he might be the guide of their journey at both times.” There never failed the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, before the people. What, then, is the meaning of, “He spread a cloud for their protection?” This is explained in Exodus 14. When Pharao and his army pursued the Hebrews, the Angel of the Lord put a cloud between them, so that they could not see each other, nor come near each other, and in that manner the cloud protected them.
Psa 105:40 They asked, and the quail came: and he filled them with the bread of heaven.
This is the seventh favor conferred by God on them, the feeding them with bread from heaven, the manna, that daily fell from heaven, and the quails that God supplied them with. It should be remarked that God sent quails to them on two occasions, and that they were severely punished for having asked for them on one occasion, as recorded in Num. 11. That was not the occasion alluded to here, it was the one in Exod. 16, and recorded by the prophet here as one of God’s favors.
Psa 105:41 He opened the rock, and waters flowed: rivers ran down in the dry land.
See Exod. 17, and Num. 20.
Psa 105:42 Because he remembered his holy word, which he had spoken to his servant Abraham.
All past and future favors, such as the aforesaid, are justly ascribed to the promise God made to his servant Abraham, for though they were not specifically mentioned in detail, they are all contained in the words he said to Abraham, Gen. 15, “Know thou beforehand that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not their own, and they shall bring them under bondage, and afflict them four hundred years. But I will judge the nation which they shall serve; and after this they shall come out with great substance.”
Psa 105:43 And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness.
Favor the ninth, when, after the destruction of Pharao and his host in the Red Sea, God brought forth his people from bondage, singing with great joy and exaltation, “Let us sing to the Lord; for he is gloriously magnified,”
Psa 105:44 And he gave them the lands of the Gentiles: and they possessed the labours of the people:
The last favor was the introduction of the Jews under Josue, into the lands that belonged to the gentiles, whom they expelled, and got possession of the cities built by, and fields reclaimed by, the labor of those people. We read, in Acts 13, that they were seven in number.
Psa 105:45 That they might observe his justifications, and seek after his law.
All that God requires, in return for so many favors, is the observance of his law; which obedience will prove to be of the greatest value to themselves, for it always leads to fresh favors, of far greater value than the land of promise. By “justifications” are meant the ceremonial and judicial law, and by “law” is meant the moral law, which is reduced to one precept, charity.