39. He spread out a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light during the night. 40. He asked, 1 and he brought quails, and filled them with the bread of heaven. 41. He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. 42. For he remembered his holy promise, which he had spoken to Abraham his servant. 43. And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness.
39. He spread out a cloud for a covering. The Psalmist enumerates certain miracles by which God continued his grace towards his people in the wilderness. This order is worthy of notice; for it was no small confirmation which was added to that incomparable work of redemption, when God ceased not to show himself the guide of their journey. Accordingly, after they had passed through the Red Sea, he spread a cloud over them by day to protect them from the heat of the sun; and during the night, he gave them light by a pillar of fire, that even in the midst of the darkness they might have a bright token of his presence. This continued display of his goodness was surely an unquestionable proof of his perpetual love, an open demonstration that he had adopted the children of Abraham, to foster them under his protection even to the end. What follows concerning quails, is introduced for a different purpose than that for which reference is made to the same fact in Psalm 78:26. In that passage, God's bringing in an abundance of quails is ascribed rather to his wrath than to his beneficence, that the people might satiate the flesh; and we have seen in the exposition of that place, that this is mentioned as a matter of reproach to them. But in the text before us, passing over their ingratitude, the prophet celebrates the unremitting exercise of the divine loving-kindness towards them. Some, however, may be rather inclined to take the word ask in a bad sense, because the people besought not God with humility, 2 but through their impatience proceeded at once to murmuring, or rather arrogantly spake against him. Thus taken, the passage, by way of amplification, would mean that God, departing from his own right, humoured even their unhallowed lust. As, however, their fault is not here mentioned, let us rest in that meaning which is the most simple, namely, that the blessings by which God ratified the redemption which he had wrought are here clustered together. It next follows, that they were filled with the bread of heaven. This appellation, as we have seen elsewhere, is given to the manna by way of eminence. The natural way in which the food which we eat is obtained is from the ground; but God then opened his hand more widely to the Jews, and fed them even from heaven. As it was not enough for them to be refreshed with food when they were hungry, unless they were also supplied with drink, it is added, that the rock was opened, and that the waters flowed from it through the dry places, or the desert.
42. For he remembered his holy promise. The Psalmist again mentions the cause why God dealt so graciously with that people, and sustained them so tenderly, namely, that he might fulfill his promise; for he had entered into a covenant with Abraham, engaging to be the God of his seed. Nor did the prophets without cause teach so carefully as we find them doing, that the free covenant is the fountain whence the deliverance, and the continual welfare of the people flowed. Thereby the grace of God became better known, since what took place, so far from happening upon the sudden, and without anticipation, was only the fulfillment of what he had promised four hundred years before. God then, for ages previous to this, gave the light of his word of promise, that his grace and truth might be brought the more distinctly into view. For this reason the prophet again repeats, that God was not led from some new cause to deliver his people, but that his design in doing so was to prove the faithfulness of his covenant, and to give it effect; just as if a man should dig up from the ground a treasure which he had buried in it. Nor is it to be doubted, that the prophet aimed at leading the faith of his countrymen still farther, -- that his object was that their posterity might be persuaded beyond all doubt, that as God had then proved, in the experience of that generation, the sure and substantial truth of his promise delivered many hundred years before, so he would not be to them otherwise than their fathers had found him to be in times past. Accordingly, he signalises this promise by the epithet, holy, intimating, that after the death of Abraham it retained its virtue and efficacy unimpaired. God had spoken it to Abraham; but the force of the covenant died not with him. God continued to show himself faithful towards the posterity of the patriarch.
43. And he brought forth his people with joy. The prophet makes mention of joy and gladness, the more highly to magnify the greatness of God's grace. It was no small matter, that at the very time when the Egyptians were afflicted by a severe and dreadful plague, -- when the whole kingdom was full of weeping and howling, -- and when in almost every house there was a dead body, -- the people who a little before were groaning in great distress, or rather lay almost dead, went forth with joyful hearts. By the appellation the chosen of God, they are reminded, that his favor was not thus exercised towards them on account of their own merits, or on account of the worth of their race, but because he had adopted them, that men having nothing left them in which to vaunt themselves might learn to glory in God alone.