Psalm 115 – The LORD Our Help and Shield
Psalm 115 is a continuation of the collection of the Egyptian Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118) sung by the Jews during their Passover celebrations. It therefore makes up part of the hymns which would have been sung by Jesus and His disciples on the night He was betrayed and arrested, the night before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26). It is especially meaningful to consider this psalm in the heart and on the lips of Jesus during those great moments.
Regarding the structure of this psalm, James Montgomery Boice observed: “The opinion of the majority of scholars is that the psalm is liturgical, intended to be sung by alternating groups of worshipers: the priests, the high priest, the people, and so on.”
A. The LORD exalted above all idols.
1. (1-2) Praise and a subtle prayer.
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
a. Not unto us, but to Your name give glory: The singer of this psalm understood that when God did wonderful things, the glory should be given to God – not to God’s people (not unto us), even if they are in some sense active in the work. The glory should go unto God and His holy name.
i. “This is the godly man’s motto, and his daily practice.” (Trapp)
ii. “Not first for the welfare of the people does [the psalmist] care, but for the vindication of his God. This is a deep note, and all too rare in our music. We are ever in danger of putting the welfare of man before the glory of God.” (Morgan)
iii. “The repetition of the words, ‘Not unto us,’ would seem to indicate a very serious desire to renounce any glory which they might at any time have proudly appropriated to themselves, and it also sets forth the vehemence of their wish that God would at any cost to them magnify his own name.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Adoniram Judson, full of ambition, seeking a great name, met with this text, and rebelled against it; but he says that all his bright visions for the future seemed to vanish as these words sounded in his soul, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.’” (Spurgeon)
v. These verses were likely in the mind and heart of Jesus on the night before His crucifixion. Singing these words must have moved Him in a way beyond our comprehension. “No soul – neither that of the composer of the song, nor that of anyone who employs it – ever entered so completely into all its deep spiritual significance, as did the soul of Jesus, as, before passing out to Olivet, to Gethsemane, to Calvary, He sang it with that little group of men.” (Morgan)
b. Because of Your mercy, because of Your truth: The mercy of God alone means that He is worthy of praise and glory – not His people who receive His mercy. We may add to that His truth, because truth is grounded in Him and not in His people.
i. Mercy translates the great Hebrew word hesed, which may be understood as Yahweh’s grace, His loyal love, His covenant love unto His people. When John later wrote grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), he wrote with the same idea of the psalmist and saw it perfectly fulfilled in Jesus.
ii. “Thy mercy gave thy promise, thy truth fulfilled it.” (Clarke)
c. Why should the Gentiles say, “So where is their God?” This is a skillfully formed prayer. The request is made subtly but powerfully. The psalmist asked God to deliver His people so that He would be glorified among the nations, and the Gentiles would have no reason to think God had forsaken them.
i. “It was very natural that the heathen should say, ‘Where is their God?’ because they had no outward emblem, no visible image, no tangible token; whereas the heathen had their gods many, such as they were, made of wood and stone; so that they asked, ‘Where is their God?’” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-8) Yahweh’s exaltation over the idols of the nations.
But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
a. But our God is in heaven: At best, nations worshipped imaginary beings and the projections of their own lusts and longing. At worst, the nations worshipped demonic spirits. Yet Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel is different. He lives and reigns in heaven, and sovereignly does whatever He pleases.
i. Our God is in heaven: “Where he should be; above the reach of mortal sneers, over-hearing all the vain janglings of men, but looking down with silent scorn upon the makers of the babel.” (Spurgeon)
b. They have mouths, but they do not speak: The psalmist exposed the folly of idolatry. Men worshipped statues of silver and gold that they themselves made (the work of men’s hands). The idols were fashioned with human body parts (mouths, eyes, ears, noses, hands, feet, and a throat). Yet they couldn’t do with those body parts what their makers could – speak, see, hear, smell, handle, walk, or even mutter. Men worship things so obviously below them!
i. “The tone of the description is like that of the manufacture of an image in Isaiah 44:9-20.” (Maclaren)
ii. “It is one of the places where Scripture, like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, takes a cool stare at what the world does not care to admit. What the psalm does to the gods, Ecclesiastes will do supremely to man and his ambitions.” (Kidner)
iii. Eyes they have, but they do not see: “Certain idols have had jewels in their eyes more precious than a king’s ransom, but they were as blind as the rest of the fraternity. A god who has eyes, and cannot see, is a blind deity; and blindness is a calamity, and not an attribute of godhead. He must be very blind who worships a blind god: we pity a blind man, it is strange to worship a blind image.” (Spurgeon)
iv. They do not smell: “In sacred scorn he mocks at those who burn sweet spices, and fill their temples with clouds of smoke, all offered to an image whose nose cannot perceive the perfume.” (Spurgeon)
v. They do not walk: John Trapp related how an ancient city, under siege, put a chain on their idol statue of Hercules, so he would not abandon them in their time of need. Hercules did not go anywhere, but they were still conquered. “The [smallest] insect has more power of [movement] than the greatest heathen god.” (Spurgeon)
vi. Nor do they mutter: “Mutter, or make a noise, as this word signifies, Isaiah 10:14. They are so far from speaking with their throat and other instruments of speech as men do, that they cannot make such an inarticulate and senseless sound with them as the beasts do.” (Poole)
vii. “A beautiful contrast is formed between the God of Israel and the heathen idols. He made everything, they themselves are made by men; he is in heaven, they are upon earth; he doeth whatsoever he pleaseth, they can do nothing; he seeth the distress, heareth and answereth the prayers, accepteth the offerings, cometh to the assistance, and effecteth the salvation of his servants; they are blind, deaf, and silent senseless, motionless, and impotent.” (Horne)
ix. Boice quoted Augustine’s sharp addition to the indictment of idols and their worshippers: “Even the dead surpass a deity who neither lives nor has lived.”
c. Those who make them are like them: The psalmist understood that when men worship things beneath them, it brings them lower. They begin to lose the strength of their own ability to perceive and interact with the world. All who make or all who trust in idols will have this as their destiny, and false gods draw men down, never up.
i. Those who make them are like them is virtually a spiritual law: we become like what we worship. When we worship the true God who reigns in righteousness, the God perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, we become like Him. When we worship false and vain idols, we become like them.
ii. “False worship is not innocent but demoralizing, and ultimately the worshipers will perish together with their perishable idols.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “Worship is sure to breed likeness. A lustful, cruel god will make his devotees so. Men make gods after their own image, and, when made, the gods make men after theirs. The same principle which degrades the idolater lifts the Christian to the likeness of Christ.” (Maclaren)
iv. F.B. Meyer observed how this principle worked among those who worship idols: “Men first impute to their deities their own vices, as the Greeks and Romans to the gods and goddesses of their Pantheon; and then endeavor to honor them by imitation.” He then noted how it worked in a positive sense among the disciples of Jesus: “This is the Divine method: look and live; trust and be transfigured; abide in Him, and He shall abide in you.”
B. Israel called to trust in the LORD and to receive His blessing.
1. (9-11) A call to trust in the LORD.
O Israel, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
a. O Israel, trust in the LORD: Knowing the folly of idolatry should renew our trust in the true God and compel us to look to Him as our help and shield. In this we have something of Peter’s heart when he said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
i. We see the singer’s exhortation was not merely to trust the LORD, but to trust in Him. This goes beyond regarding Him as trustworthy, and actually placing our trust, our confidence, our reliance in Him and not in self or any idol.
ii. Despite our many disappointments when we look to other places for a help and a shield, we often repeat the mistake. We need to hear the commonsense exhortation to look nowhere else for help and protection.
iii. “He is the succour, support, guardian, and defence of all who put their confidence in him.” (Clarke)
iv. We can imagine an idolater having to help and shield the idol he made or bought. It’s much better to have a God who can be your help and shield.
b. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD: If God’s people as a whole should trust God, then those who are His appointed servants should trust Him even more. It was right and good for all the priesthood, all the house of Aaron, to regard the God of Israel as their help and their shield.
i. “Ministers must be patterns to others of depending upon God, and living by faith.” (Trapp)
ii. “You who are nearest to him, trust him most; your very calling is connected with his truth and is meant to declare his glory, therefore never entertain a doubt concerning him, but lead the way in holy confidence.” (Spurgeon)
c. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: Those who truly respect and reverence Yahweh should take the logical step of putting their trust in the LORD. This third group (you who fear the LORD) may refer to Gentiles who loved and honored the God of Israel yet did not become Jews.
i. In the New Testament such people are known as God fearers (Acts 10:1-2, 13:16, 13:26), and the title may have come from such Old Testament passages as these. The Old Testament writers recognized Gentiles who honored the God of Israel (1 Kings 8:41, Isaiah 56:6).
ii. You who fear the LORD: “These are most naturally understood as proselytes, and, in the prominence given to them we see the increasing consciousness in Israel of its Divine destination to be God’s witness to the world.” (Maclaren)
iii. The thought of encouraging those who fear the LORD – God-fearers, Gentiles who honor the God of Israel – to trust in God must have sounded especially sweet to Jesus on the night of the last supper, knowing how great the harvest among the Gentiles would soon be.
2. (12-13) The confident assurance of those who make the LORD their help and shield.
The LORD has been mindful of us;
He will bless us;
He will bless the house of Israel;
He will bless the house of Aaron.
He will bless those who fear the LORD,
Both small and great.
a. The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us: The psalmist drew upon God’s past faithfulness and used it as confidence in God’s future blessing. He has not forgotten us in the past and He will not forget to bless us in the future.
i. “God hath, and therefore God will, is an ordinary Scripture argument.” (Trapp)
ii. He will bless us: “It is his nature to bless, it is his prerogative to bless, it is his glory to bless, it is his delight to bless; he has promised to bless, and therefore be sure of this, that he will bless and bless and bless without ceasing.” (Spurgeon)
b. He will bless the house of Israel: Blessings were pronounced upon all those who were called to trust in the Lord in verses 9-11. All who trust Him will be blessed, both small and great.
i. We take comfort that the small are mentioned first, meaning they will not be forgotten. “God’s blessing is for you, whoever you may be, if you will only stop trusting in yourself and your own devices and instead begin to trust God.” (Boice)
3. (14-15) A blessing pronounced.
May the LORD give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
May you be blessed by the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
a. May the LORD give you increase more and more: In the world of ancient Israel, many looked to the idols of the nations for fertility and the prosperity of their fields, their flocks, and their families. In giving this blessing to those of us who fear and trust the LORD, the psalmist recognized Yahweh as the true source of such blessing, extending even to our children.
b. May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth: Once again in this psalm, Yahweh is exalted above the idols of the nations. He alone has made heaven and earth.
i. “If he blesseth, poverty cannot starve thee, sickness cannot kill thee, toil cannot wear thee out, sorrow cannot consume thee, life cannot allure thee, death cannot slay thee, hell cannot enclose thee.” (Spurgeon)
4. (16-18) Heaven, earth, and praise forevermore.
The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s;
But the earth He has given to the children of men.
The dead do not praise the LORD,
Nor any who go down into silence.
But we will bless the LORD
From this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the LORD!
a. The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s: The psalmist recognized God’s authority as Creator over both heaven and earth (verse 15). Here he acknowledged God’s continuing dominion over the heavens, probably in all three senses (the blue sky, the starry sky, and the heaven where God dwells).
b. The earth He has given to the children of men: Though God has authority over earth as the Creator, He has given a significant dominion on the earth to the children of men. The psalmist must have had in mind God’s grant to Adam (and his descendants) of dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-30).
i. This dominion given by God means that men and women should use the earth and its resources for the good of humanity, as wise and thoughtful stewards. We can use, but we should not waste and destroy.
ii. “The earth is man’s, but by Jehovah’s gift. Therefore its inhabitants should remember the terms of their tenure, and thankfully recognise His giving love.” (Maclaren)
iii. “All is his, but we are his substantial heirs and trustees. There is generosity in the phrase, ‘the earth he has given’; there is responsibility as well, for we are not its makers, nor is it simply ‘there’ as meaningless matter to exploit. Behind the gift is the Giver.” (Kidner)
c. The dead do not praise the LORD: Their voice is no longer heard among the living. Whatever heavenly choir they may join, they are absent from an earthly choir, and their praise will no longer testify to those who resist and reject the true God.
i. When Jesus sang this with His disciples (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26), He sang knowing that He would not sing among His disciples on earth anymore. Consider the depth of feeling in Jesus that would bring!
d. From this time forth and forevermore: Given the perceived uncertainty of praise in the life to come, the greatness of God, and the astounding blessing He has given to humanity, He is worthy to be praised forevermore. This is something to which God’s people can say Hallelujah! (Praise the LORD!)
i. From this time forth and forevermore may have the sense, in this life and the life to come. There are only two times we should praise the LORD – now and forever.
ii. “We who are still living will take care that the praises of God shall not fail among the sons of men. Our afflictions and depressions of spirit shall not cause us to suspend our praises.” (Spurgeon)
iii. If the praise is to last forevermore, then it does extend into the world to come, even when the voice of praise is no longer heard on earth.
iv. “Though the dead cannot, and the wicked will not, and the careless do not praise God, yet we will shout ‘Hallelujah’ for ever and ever. Amen.” (Spurgeon)
v. “And again the thought reverts to the upper room, and the Singer Whose deepest passion was ever the will of God and the glory of His name; to the One Who was soon going into the silence where no note of praise would be heard; and yet to the One Who would turn the silence into song forevermore.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org