We are here taught, in praising God, to look a great way back, and to give him the glory of what he did for his church in former ages, especially when it was in the founding and forming, which those in its latter ages enjoy the benefit of and therefore should give thanks for. Doubtless we may fetch as proper matter for praise from the histories of the gospels, and the acts of the apostles, which relate the birth of the Christian church, as the psalmist here does from the histories of Genesis and Exodus, which relate the birth of the Jewish church; and our histories greatly outshine theirs. Two things are here made the subject of praise:—
I. God’s promise to the patriarchs, that great promise that he would give to their seed the land of Canaan for an inheritance, which was a type of the promise of eternal life made in Christ to all believers. In all the marvellous works which God did for Israel he remembered his covenant (Ps. 105:8) and he will remember it for ever; it is the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. See here the power of the promise; it is the word which he commanded and which will take effect. See the perpetuity of the promise; it is commanded to a thousand generations, and the entail of it shall not be cut off. In the parallel place it is expressed as our duty (1 Chron. 16:15), Be you mindful always of his covenant. God will not forget it and therefore we must not. The promise is here called a covenant, because there was something required on man’s part as the condition of the promise. Observe, 1. The persons with whom this covenant was made—with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, grandfather, father, and son, all eminent believers, Heb. 11:8, 9. 2. The ratifications of the covenant; it was made sure by all that is sacred. Isa. that sure which is sworn to? It is his oath to Isaac and to Abraham. See to whom God swore by himself, Heb. 6:13, 14. Isa. that sure which has passed into a law? He confirmed the same for a law, a law never to be repealed. Isa. that sure which is reduced to a mutual contract and stipulation? This is confirmed for an everlasting covenant, inviolable. 3. The covenant itself: Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, Ps. 105:11. The patriarchs had a right to it, not by providence, but by promise; and their seed should be put in possession of it, not by the common ways of settling nations, but by miracles; God will give it to them himself, as it were with his own hand; it shall be given to them as their lot which God assigns them and measures out to them, as the lot of their inheritance, a sure title, by virtue of their birth; it shall come to them by descent, not by purchase, by the favour of God, and not any merit of their own. Heaven is the inheritance we have obtained, Eph. 1:11. And this is the promise which God has promised us (as Canaan was the promise he promised them), even eternal life, 1 John 2:25; Titus 1:2.
II. His providences concerning the patriarchs while they were waiting for the accomplishment of this promise, which represent to us the care God takes of his people in this world, while they are yet on this side the heavenly Canaan; for these things happened unto them for examples and encouragements to all the heirs of promise, that life by faith as they did.
1. They were wonderfully protected and sheltered, and (as the Jewish masters express it) gathered under the wings of the divine Majesty. This is accounted for, Ps. 105:12-15. Here we may observe,
(1.) How they were exposed to injuries from men. To the three renowned patriarchs, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, God’s promises were very rich; again and again he told them he would be their God; but his performances in this world were so little proportionable that, if he had not prepared for them a city in the other world, he would have been ashamed to be called their God (see Heb. 11:16), because he was always generous; and yet even in this world he was not wanting to them, but that he might appear, to do uncommon things for them, he exercised them with uncommon trials. [1.] They were few, very few. Abraham was called alone (Isa. 51:2); he had but two sons, and one of them he cast out; Isaac had but two, and one of them was forced for many years to flee from his country; Jacob had more, but some of them, instead of being a defence to him, exposed him, when (as he himself pleads, Gen. 34:30) he was but few in number, and therefore might easily be destroyed by the natives, he and his house. God’s chosen are but a little flock, few, very few, and yet upheld. [2.] They were strangers, and therefore were the most likely to be abused and to meet with strange usage, and the less able to help themselves. Their religion made them to be looked upon as strangers (1 Pet. 4:4) and to be hooted at as speckled birds, Jer. 12:9. Though the whole land was theirs by promise, yet they were so far from producing and pleading their grant that they confessed themselves strangers in it, Heb. 11:13. [3.] They were unsettled (Ps. 105:13): They went from one nation to another, from one part of that land to another (for it was then in the holding and occupation of divers nations, Gen. 12:8; 13:3, 18); nay, from one kingdom to another people, from Canaan to Egypt, from Egypt to the land of the Philistines, which could not but weaken and expose them; yet they were forced to it by famine. Note, Though frequent removals are neither desirable nor commendable, yet sometimes there is a just and necessary occasion for them, and they may be the lot of some of the best men.
(2.) How they were guarded by the special providence of God, the wisdom and power of which were the more magnified by their being so many ways exposed, Ps. 105:14, 15. They were not able to help themselves and yet, [1.] No men were suffered to wrong them, but even those that hated them, and would gladly have done them a mischief, had their hands tied, and could not do what they would. This may refer to Gen. 35:5; where we find that the terror of God (an unaccountable restraint) was upon the cities that were round about them, so that, though provoked, they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. [2.] Even crowned heads, that did offer to wrong them, were not only checked and chidden for it, but controlled and baffled: He reproved kings for their sakes in dreams and visions, saying, “Touch not my anointed; it is at your peril if you do, nay, it shall not be in your power to do it; do my prophets no harm.” Pharaoh king of Egypt was plagued (Gen. 12:17) and Abimelech king of Gerar was sharply rebuked (Gen. 20:6) for doing wrong to Abraham. Note, First, Even kings themselves are liable to God’s rebukes if they do wrong. Secondly, God’s prophets are his anointed, for they have the unction of the Spirit, that oil of gladness, 1 John 2:27. Thirdly, Those that offer to touch God’s prophets, with design to harm them, may expect to hear of it one way or other. God is jealous for his prophets; whoso touches them touches the apple of his eye. Fourthly, Even those that touch the prophets, nay that kill the prophets (as many did), cannot do them any harm, any real harm. Lastly, God’s anointed prophets are dearer to him than anointed kings themselves. Jeroboam’s hand was withered when it was stretched out against a prophet.
2. They were wonderfully provided for and supplied. And here also, (1.) They were reduced to great extremity. Even in Canaan, the land of promise, he called for a famine, Ps. 105:16. Note, All judgments are at God’s call, and no place is exempt from their visitation and jurisdiction when God sends them forth with commission. To try the faith of the patriarchs, God broke the whole staff of bread, even in that good land, that they might plainly see God designed them a better country than that was. (2.) God graciously took care for their relief. It was in obedience to his precept, and in dependence upon his promise, that they were now sojourners in Canaan, and therefore he could not in honour suffer any evil to befal them or any good thing to be wanting to them. As he restrained one Pharaoh from doing them wrong, so he raised up another to do them a kindness, by preferring and entrusting Joseph, of whose story we have here an abstract. He was to be the shepherd and stone of Israel and to save that holy seed alive, Gen. 49:24; 50:20. In order to this, [1.] He was humbled, greatly humbled (Ps. 105:17, 18): God sent a man before them, even Joseph. Many years before the famine began, he was sent before them, to nourish them in the famine; so vast are the foresights and forecasts of Providence, and so long its reaches. But in what character did he go to Egypt who was to provide for the reception of the church there? He went not in quality of an ambassador, no, nor so much as a factor or commissary; but he was sold thither for a servant, a slave for term of life, without any prospect of being ever set at liberty. This was low enough, and, one would think, set him far enough from any probability of being great. And yet he was brought lower; he was made a prisoner (Ps. 105:18): His feet they hurt with fetters. Being unjustly charged with a crime no less heinous than a rape upon his mistress, the iron entered into his soul, that is, was very painful to him; and the false accusation which was the cause of his imprisonment did in a special manner grieve him, and went to his heart; yet all this was the way to his preferment. [2.] He was exalted, highly exalted. He continued a prisoner, neither tried nor bailed, until the time appointed of God for his release (Ps. 105:19), when his word came, that is, his interpretations of the dreams came to pass, and the report thereof came to Pharaoh’s ears by the chief butler. And then the word of the Lord cleared him; that is, the power God gave him to foretel things to come rolled away the reproach his mistress had loaded him with; for it could not be thought that God would give such a power to so bad a man as he was represented to be. God’s word tried him, tried his faith and patience, and then it came in power to give command for his release. There is a time set when God’s word will come for the comfort of all that trust in it, Hab. 2:3. At the end it shall speak, and not lie. God gave the word, and then the king sent and loosed him; for the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. Pharaoh, finding him to be a favourite of Heaven, First, Discharged him from his imprisonment (Ps. 105:20): He let him go free. God has often, by wonderful turns of providence, pleaded the cause of oppressed innocency. Secondly, He advanced him to the highest posts of honour, Ps. 105:21, 22. He made him lord high chamberlain of his household (he made him lord of his house); nay, he put him into the office of lord-treasurer, the ruler of all his substance. He made him prime-minister of state, lord-president of his council, to command his princes at his pleasure and teach them wisdom, and general of his forces. According to thy word shall all my people be ruled, Gen. 41:40, 43, 44. He made him lord chief justice, to judge even his senators and punish those that were disobedient. In all this Joseph was designed to be, 1. A father to the church that then was, to save the house of Israel from perishing by the famine. He was made great, that he might do good, especially in the household of faith. 2. A figure of Christ that was to come, who, because he humbled himself and took upon him the form of a servant, was highly exalted, and has all judgment committed to him. Joseph being thus sent before, and put into a capacity of maintaining all his father’s house, Israel also came into Egypt (Ps. 105:23), where he and all his were very honourably and comfortably provided for many years. Thus the New-Testament church has a place provided for her even in the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, times, and half a time, Rev. 12:14. Verily she shall be fed.
3. They were wonderfully multiplied, according to the promise made to Abraham that his seed should be as the sand of the sea for multitude, Ps. 105:24. In Egypt he increased his people greatly; they multiplied like fishes, so that in a little time they became stronger than their enemies and formidable to them. Pharaoh took notice of it. Exod. 1:9; The children of Israel are more and mightier than we. When God pleases a little one shall become a thousand; and God’s promises, though they work slowly, work surely.