6. Lo! We heard of it at Ephratha; we found it in the fields of the wood.7. We will go into his habitations, we will worship at his footstool.8. Arise, O Jehova! Into thy rest, thou, and the Ark of thy strength.9. Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy meek ones rejoice.
6. Lo! we heard of it at Ephratha. This verse is obscure, and we need not wonder at the difficulty which interpreters have felt in ascertaining its meaning. First, the relative pronoun being of the feminine gender has no antecedent, and we are forced to suppose that it must refer to the word habitation in the foregoing sentence, although there it reads habitations, in the plural number. But the principal difficulty lies in the word Ephratha, because the Ark of the Covenant was never placed there. If the reference be to past time, Shiloh should have been the place mentioned; but as it is plain the Psalmist speaks of its new residence, the question returns, why Ephratha and not Zion is specified? Some would get rid of the difficulty by resorting to a frivolous conceit, That the place had two names, and that the plat of ground which was shown to David (2 Samuel 24:18; 1 Chronicles 21:18) was called Ephratha, because it was fertile, on which account Jerome styles it karpophorian, and yet is not very consistent with himself, for in another place, when he gets into his allegories, he most absurdly interprets it to mean frenzy. I have no doubt whatever that the word comes from phrhparah, which means to bear fruit; just as Bethlehem, which is situated in the same quarter, was called for its fruitfulness |the house of bread.| But any conjecture founded upon the mere name of the place is necessarily unsatisfactory, and we must seek some more probable explanation. I might begin by mentioning one which is not without force. A rumor had spread that the Ark of the Covenant was to be deposited in Ephratha, which was the place of David's nativity , and we may suppose at least that his native soil would seem to many the most appropriate locality for the Ark and Sanctuary. We can easily understand how such an opinion should get abroad. In that case the hearing referred to by the Psalmist alludes to the report which had been circulated. Should this be taken as the meaning, the verb would be in the pluperfect tense, we HAD heard that it was in Ephratha, but we found it in the woods, that is, in a place by no means so attractive or well cultivated. Jerusalem might be said to be woody, because we know that it was surrounded by mountains, and that it was by no means in a part of the country which was noted for fruitfulness. There is another meaning which I would submit to the judgment of the reader. Let us suppose that the faithful here say that they had heard of its being in Ephratha, because God had spoken still greater things of Ephratha than of Zion. It is true that the memorable prediction (Micah 5:2) had not yet been given, yet it may have been that God had already issued some very great and signal prophecy regarding Bethlehem. We have heard, as if they had said, of Bethlehem, but it is only as yet a dim expectation which we have in reference to that place, and in the meantime we must worship God in this place of the woods, looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise regarding Ephratha. This interpretation, however, is far fetched, nor would I venture to adopt it, or at least recommend it to others as the right one. The simpler way seems to be to understand the word Ephratha as applying to David personally, and not so much to the place of that name, the declaration of the Psalmist being to this effect that now when God had chosen a king from Ephratha, the place would necessarily at the same time be marked out for the Ark of the Covenant. It is said, have heard, for the fixing of the place of the Sanctuary depended upon the will of God; nor until this was declared could men determine it according to their own fancy. The fact that now upon David's mounting the throne this illustrious oracle concerning the permanent settlement of the Temple was to take effect, afforded good ground of thanksgiving. We have proof here that the people of God did not deposit the Ark at random in any place, but had express directions from God himself as to the place where he would be worshipped all proper worship proceeding from faith, while faith cometh by hearing. (Romans 10:17.) Mount Zion had no peculiar excellencies almost to recommend it; but having once heard that it was the object of God's choice, they show that they consider it wrong to call the matter in question.
7. We will go into his habitations. Here he dictates to all the Lord's people a common form of mutual exhortation to the duty of going up to the place which had been pointed out by the Angel. The clearer the intimation God may have given of his will, the more alacrity should we show in obeying it. Accordingly, the Psalmist intimates that now when the people had ascertained beyond all doubt the place of God's choice, they should admit of no procrastination, and show all the more alacrity as God was calling them more closely, and with a more privileged familiarity, to himself, now that he had selected a certain place of rest amongst them. He thus passes a virtual condemnation upon the lukewarmness of those whose zeal does not increase in proportion to the measure of revelation which they enjoy. Habitations are spoken of in the plural number, and this it may be (though we may doubt whether the Psalmist had such minute distinctions in his eye) because there was in the temple an inner sanctuary, a middle apartment, and then the court. It is of more importance to attend to the epithet which follows, where the Psalmist calls the Ark of the Covenant God's footstool, to intimate that the sanctuary could never contain the immensity of God's essence, as men were apt absurdly to imagine. The mere outward temple with all its majesty being no more than his footstool, his people were called upon to look upwards to the heavens and fix their contemplations with due reverence upon God himself. We know that they were prohibited from forming any low and carnal view of him. Elsewhere, it is true, we find it called |God's face,| (Psalm 28:8,) to confirm the faith of the people in looking to this divine symbol which was set before them. Both ideas are brought out very distinctly in the passage before us, that, on the one hand, it is mere superstition to suppose God confined to the temple, and that, on the other hand, the external symbols are not without their use in the Church that, in short, we should improve these as helps to our faith, but not rest in them. While God dwells in heaven, and is above all heavens, we must avail ourselves of helps in rising to the knowledge of him; and in giving us symbols of his presence, he sets, as it were, his feet upon the earth, and suffers us to touch them. It is thus that the Holy Spirit condescends for our profit, and in accommodation to our infirmity, raising our thoughts to heavenly and divine things by these worldly elements. In reference to this passage, we are called to notice the amazing ignorance of the Second Council of Nice, in which these worthy weak Fathers of ours wrested it into a proof of idolatry, as if David or Solomon commanded the people to erect statues to God and worship them. Now, that the Mosiac ceremonies are abolished we worship at the footstool of God, when we yield a reverential submission to his word, and rise from the sacraments to a true spiritual service of him. Knowing that God has not descended from heaven directly or in his absolute character, but that his feet, are withdrawn from us, being placed on a footstool, we should be careful to rise to him by the intermediate steps. Christ is he not only on whom the feet of God rest, but in whom the whole fullness of God's essence and glory resides, and in him, therefore, we should seek the Father. With this view he descended, that we might rise heavenward.
8. Arise, O Jehovah? Such language as this, inviting the great God who fills heaven and earth to come into a new place of residence, might seem strange and harsh, but the external symbols of religion which God had appointed are spoken of in these exalted terms to put honor upon them, and the better to ensure to them the regard of God's people. Should God institute no medium of intercourse, and call us to a direct communication with heaven, the great distance at which we stand from him would strike us with dismay, and paralyze invocation. Although, therefore, he does not thereby change place himself, he is felt by us to draw sensibly nearer. It was thus that he descended amongst his ancient people by the Ark of the Covenant, which he designed to be a visible emblem of his power and grace being present amongst them. Accordingly, the second clause of the verse is of an exegetical character, informing the Church that God was to be understood as having come in the sense of making a conspicuous display of his power in connection with the Ark. Hence it is called the Ark of his strength, not a mere dead idle shadow to look upon, but what certainly declared God's nearness to his Church. By the rest spoken of we are to understand Mount Zion, because, as we shall see afterwards, God was ever afterwards to be worshiped only in that place.
9. Let thy priests, etc. He now prays in general for the prosperity of the Church, as what stood intimately connected with the previous statement, the promotion of our best interests being the great end for which God dwells amongst us. Some construe the words into a wish that the worship of God might be maintained in its purity, and think that the Psalmist prays that the priests might be clothed with holiness in allusion to their sacred garments. Upon a closer view of the words and the whole context, I am rather inclined to be of another opinion, and to consider this a prayer that the righteousness of God might be displayed amongst the people, being as an ornament upon the priests, and communicating joy to all the people. Thus I take righteousness to mean the fruit or effects of righteousness, and this the righteousness of God, not of men. The priests are of course mentioned first, as holding a higher place in the appointed order of the Church; while they have their due place assigned to them, it is still the Church collectively to which the prayer refers as though the Psalmist requested that the glory of this righteousness should be reflected from the priests upon the people generally. God is said to clothe us with his righteousness when he appears as our Savior and help, defends us by his power, and shows in his government of us that we are the objects of his care. The rejoicing which is spoken of must have reference to a life of happiness. And these two things being joined together may convince us that by righteousness nothing else is meant than God's guardianship and government. Consistently with this we find it said afterwards |Thy priests shall be clothed with salvation;| and I may add, that Solomon, in the solemn prayer already referred to, (2 Chronicles 6:41,) makes no mention of righteousness, but of salvation. I have repeatedly given the reason why the saints of God are called chsydymchasidim, or merciful ones, because mercy or beneficence is that grace which assimilates us most to God.