George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 115

1. Structure

Glory to God
The futility of idols
Trust in the Lord
He will bless
God in heaven appoints the earth for man

2. Repetitious phrasing

There are few psalms where this characteristic is so strongly marked. It suggests comparison with certain of the Songs of Degrees — e.g., 121, 124, and 126. Here note especially:

The scornful description of idols (cp. 135:15-18).
“Trust in the Lord”, a help and a shield for: (a) Israel, (b) Aaron, and (c) ye that fear Him.
“He will bless”... (a) Israel, (b) Aaron, and (c) them that fear Him.
God in heaven.

And the briefer repetitions:

“Not unto us... not unto us” (v. 1).
“They speak not... neither speak they” (vv. 5,7).

3. Historical setting

Most of the psalm lacks specific detail which might be of a historical character; but vv. 4-8, with their scornful ABC tirade against idol-worship, make a strong case for identifying Isaiah as the author. The Assyrian campaign against Jerusalem was essentially a campaign against Jerusalem’s God: see vv. 2,4,8; 2 Chronicles 32:17,19; Isaiah 36:14, 16,18; Psalms 42:10; 74:10,18,22,23; 79:10,12. Hence such passages as Isaiah’s attacks on idols in 44:9-20 and 46:1-10 — passages dripping with irony and sarcasm.

If it be argued that Jeremiah 10:1-16 also has the same features as these Isaiah scriptures, the explanation is this: it can be shown that here and in other places Jeremiah leans heavily on Isaiah (H.A. Whittaker, Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, pp. 191,192). Certainly, for any who believe in the unity of Isaiah, it could not have been the other way round!

4. Details

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory. The LXX combines 114 and 115 into one psalm. If this is correct, the point of v. 1 here is this: ‘Those great achievements (described in 114) are for your glory, Lord, not for ours.’

Because Herod Agrippa did not give glory to God, he was smitten of the Lord and eaten of worms (Acts 12:21-23)! And thus he descended into silence (dumah, v. 17 here — a Hebrew word which even suggests “Edom”!).

For thy mercy and thy truth’s sake. This is virtually a technical term for God’s great promises (Mic. 7:20; Gen. 24:27; 32:9,10; Psa. 40:10; 85:10; etc.). Here, as in most occurrences in the Psalms, the reference is to God’s great promise to David (2 Samuel 7). The Assyrian threat (Par. 3) seemed ready to cut off the Davidic line with dramatic suddenness.
Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? The idiocy, from the pagan point of view, in worshiping a God no one can see! Well, where was He? — they asked. To their consternation and eternal sorrow, they were soon to discover that — though the God of Israel dwelt in heaven (v. 3) — His might and power and glory were centered in Jerusalem.
But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Compare the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-11; Luke 11:2-4): “Which art in heaven... Thy will be done”; and v. 1: “Hallowed by Thy Name”.

He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased, even if man is mystified to understand His ways. There is even a hint of mystery about the outworking of God’s purposes, in the apparent contradiction between His prospering of the Assyrian mission up to a point, only to destroy them summarily with a mighty theophany.
Their idols are silver and gold. And so today many men worship silver and gold in a slightly different form! Are they any less “idolatrous” (see Col. 3:5)?

The work of men’s hands: “Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries. And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them” (Isa. 37:18,19).

“And they spake against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth, which were the work of the hands of man” (2 Chron. 32:19).
Mouths... eyes... ears... noses... hands... feet. So these idols should at least have the senses which a man has. But not they! Not one characteristic of life or intelligence. Thus they are called “vanities” and “nothing” (i.e., “no-gods”) by Paul (Acts 14:15-17; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; see G. Booker, Waiting for His Son, pp. 38,39). Yet such “nothings” are worshiped by the most powerful nation on earth. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Neither speak they through their throat is an especially derisive allusion to the “mumbo-jumbo” of the priest manipulating the “oracle”, and deceiving only those who want to be deceived. Hence...
They that make them are like unto them. Like the idols, they who manufacture and then worship them will one day be silent (v. 17) — in their graves! Even now, they are “deaf”, “dumb”, “blind”, and totally insensible to the Glory of God all around them. (Compare Christ’s rebuke of the “blind” Pharisees: John 3:19,20; 9:39-41; 12:40.) That man grows more and more like what he admires or worships is a principle well-attested in Deut. 7:26 — and just as true today as in Moses’ time:

“Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.”

So is every one that trusteth in them. “Trusteth” leads on to vv. 9-11. What a contrast! Note Isa. 37:10. It may be that “Israel”, in v. 9 here, means Hezekiah himself. This usage is common in Isaiah (e.g., 41:8,9; 43:1,5; 44:1,2,21).
O Israel, trust thou in the Lord: 2 Chron. 32:6-8.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord. The high priest Urijah, whom Hezekiah inherited from his worthless father Ahaz, was a feeble flatterer and parasite (2 Kings 16:10-16), soon to be replaced by the worthy Eliakim (Isa. 22:20-22; 37:2).
Ye that fear the Lord. That is, those out of the estranged northern tribes who rallied to Hezekiah’s reformation and Passover (2 Chron. 30:1-12).

Their help and shield (Psa. 33:20). A chanted refrain (vv. 9-11)!

Their... shield: “For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (Isa. 37:35).
The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron. The high priest may pronounce the blessing (Num. 6:23-27), but the blessing itself comes only from the Lord. Even the house of Aaron requires a blessing from the Lord. (Why was not this Biblical argument for the helplessness and dependence of the Aaronic priesthood used in the letter to the Hebrews?)
He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great. This is quoted twice in the Apocalypse (Rev. 11:18; 19:5), in a Messianic context. This is important. And the small come before the great (cp. Jer. 31:34: “from the least unto the greatest”)!
The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children. The emphasis here, as in so many of the Hezekiah psalms, on children, reflects the king’s great anxiety that he might die childless, and the Davidic Covenant be suddenly cut off (see Psa. 112:2; 113:9). Yet what sort of a Davidic king did his son Manasseh prove to be? How was Hezekiah to know that the Covenant was to be made sure through the collateral line of David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31) instead of Solomon? — and through an Heir who — like Hezekiah almost was — was indeed cut off without family (Isa. 53:8,12)?
Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth (Isa. 37:16; Psa. 121:2; 124:8; 134:3). Here, even more pointedly than in v. 14, is the Messianic hope, for this is the blessing of a Melchizedek King-Priest (Gen. 14:19).
The earth hath he given to the children of men, either as an eternal inheritance in His Messianic Kingdom (v. 18), or as an eternal sleeping place (v. 17)! Heaven and earth are eventually combined in a lasting redemption through the Messiah (v. 18).

For the earth as the eternal reward of the righteous, see (a small sampling of proof-texts!) Gen. 13:15; Num. 14:21; Psa. 37:11,29; Prov. 10:30; 11:31; Isa. 11:9; 45:18; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Zech. 14:16; Matt. 5:5; Luke 13:28; Rom. 4:13; Rev. 2:26,27; 5:10.

Are there ramifications here regarding man’s insatiable quest to explore outer space? Do more disasters await those who refuse to be content with the terrestrial home provided mankind by God?
The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence. Not up into heaven to play a harp for ever!? Compare Hezekiah’s psalm:

“For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth” (Isa. 38:18,19).

Even a righteous man like Hezekiah knew he would not go to heaven at death (cp. John 3:13; Acts 2:29,34).

For death as an unconscious state, see Psa. 6:5; 88:10-12; 104:33; 146:3,4; Eccl. 9:5,6,10.

This verse is particularly fitting to describe the Egyptian army overwhelmed under the waves of the Red Sea.
But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. The everlasting blessedness of Christ’s Kingdom.

Praise ye the Lord. With such a theme and such a climax, this psalm deserves to end thus; yet it is virtually certain that this Hallelujah really belongs to 116 (Psalms Studies, Intro., Part 6).

5. “Eyes have they — but they see not”

Half dazzled peering through the lens,
        Self-blinded by the test-tube’s reek,
They gauge the wave length of the tones,
        But hear not the Creator speak.

O fools and blind! O fools and blind!
        The blinder since you think you see;
Tracing the veining of the leaf,
        You miss the glory of the tree.

The feather of the painted wing
        You view with microscopic eye,
Laying each nerve and tendon bare,
        Yet never see the butterfly.

You seek the reptiles in the slime
        Of oozy cave and cavern dim,
And see not circling overhead
        The chariots of the Cherubim.

C.A. Ladson
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