Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Whoever was the penman of this psalm, the Holy Spirit seems, by his mouth, to have dictated a common form of prayer for the Church in her afflictions, that even under the most cruel persecutions the faithful might not fail to address their prayers to heaven. It is not the private grief of some particular individual which is here expressed, but the lamentations and groanings of the chosen people. The faithful celebrate the deliverance which had been once wrought for them, and which was a testimony of God’s everlasting grace, to animate and strengthen themselves to engage in the exercise of prayer with the greater earnestness.
To the chief musician upon Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph.
1. My voice came to God, and I cried: my voice came to God, and he heard me. 2. I sought the: Lord in the day of my trouble: my hand was stretched out in the night, and remitted not my soul refused to be comforted. 3. I will remember God, and will be troubled: I will meditate, and my spirit will be oppressed [or overwhelmed] with sorrow. Selah. 4. Thou hast held the watches of my eyes: I am troubled, and will not speak. 5. I have recounted the days of old, the years of ancient times. 6. I will call to remembrance my song in the night: I will commune with my heart, and my spirit will search diligently.
1. My voice came to God, and I cried. This is not a mere complaint, as some interpreters explain it, denoting the surprise which the people of God felt in finding that he who hitherto had been accustomed to grant their requests shut his ears to them, and was called upon in vain. It appears more probable that the prophet either speaks of the present feeling of his mind, or else calls to remembrance how he had experienced that God was inclined and ready to hear his prayers. There can be no doubt that he describes the greatness of the sorrow with which he was afflicted; and, in nay opinion, he denotes a continued act both by the past and the future tenses of the verbs. In the first place, he declares that he did not foolishly rend the air with his cries, like many who pour forth bitter cries without measure and at random under their sorrows; but that he addressed his speech to God when necessity constrained him to cry. The copula and, which is joined to the verb cried, should be resolved into the adverb of time when, in this way, When I cried my voice came to God At the same time, he also shows, that although he had been constrained often to reiterate his cries, he had not given over persevering in prayer. What is added immediately after is intended for the confirmation of his faith: And he heard me. The copula and, as in many other places, is here put instead of the causal adverb for. The meaning is, that he encouraged himself to cry to God, from the consideration that it was God’s usual manner to show his favor and mercy towards him.
2. I sought the Lord in the day of my trouble. In this verse he expresses more distinctly the grievous and hard oppression to which the Church was at that time subjected. There is, however, some ambiguity in the words. The Hebrew word יד, yad, which I have translated hand, is sometimes taken metaphorically for a wound; and, therefore, many interpreters elicit this sense, My wound ran in the night, and ceased not, 286 that is to say, My wound was not so purified from ulcerous matter as that the running from it was made to stop. But; I rather take the word in its ordinary signification, which is hand, because the verb נגרה, niggera, which he uses, signifies not only to run as a sore does, but also to be stretched forth or extended. 287 Now, when he affirms that he sought the Lord in the day of his trouble, and that his hands were stretched out to him in the night season, this denotes that prayer was his continual exercise, — that his heart was so earnestly and unweariedly engaged in that exercise, that he could not desist from it. In the concluding sentence of the verse the adversative particle although is to be supplied; and thus the meaning will be, that although the prophet found no solace and no alleviation of the bitterness of his grief, he still continued to stretch forth his hands to God. In this manner it becomes us to wrestle against despair, in order that our sorrow, although it may seem to be incurable, may not shut our mouths, and keep us from pouring out our prayers before God.
3. I will remember God, and will be troubled. The Psalmist here employs a variety of expressions to set forth the vehemence of his grief, and, at the same time, the greatness of his affliction. He complains that what constituted the only remedy for allaying his sorrow became to him a source of disquietude. It may, indeed, seem strange that the minds of true believers should be troubled by remembering God. But the meaning of the inspired writer simply is, that although he thought upon God his distress of mind was not removed. It no doubt often happens that the remembrance of God in the time of adversity aggravates the anguish and trouble of the godly, as, for example, when they entertain the thought that he is angry with them. The prophet, however, does not mean that his heart was thrown into new distress and disquietude whenever God was brought to his recollection: he only laments that no consolation proceeded from God to afford him relief; and this is a trial which it is very hard to bear. It is not surprising to see the wicked racked with dreadful mental agony; for, since their great object and endeavor is to depart from God, they must suffer the punishment which they deserve, on account of their rebellion against him. But when the remembrance of God, from which we seek to draw consolation for mitigating our calamities, does not afford repose or tranquillity to our minds, we are ready to think that he is sporting with us. We are nevertheless taught from this passage, that however much we may experience of fretting, sorrow, and disquietude, we must persevere in calling upon God even in the midst of all these impediments.
4. Thou hast held the watches of my eyes. 288 This verse is to the same effect with the preceding. The Psalmist affirms that he spent whole nights in watching, because God granted him no relief. The night in ancient times was usually divided into many watches; and, accordingly, he describes his continued grief, which pre. vented him from sleeping, by the metaphorical term watches. When he stated a little before that he prayed to God with a loud voice, and when he now affirms that he will remain silent, there seems to be some appearance of discrepancy. This difficulty has already been solved in our exposition of Ps 32:3, where we have shown that true believers, when overwhelmed with sorrow, do not continue in a state of unvarying uniformity, but sometimes give vent to sighs and complaints, while, at other times, they are silent as if their mouths were stopped. It is, therefore, not wonderful to find the prophet frankly confessing that he was so overwhelmed, and, as it were, choked, with calamities, as to be unable to open his mouth to utter even a single word.
5. I have recounted the days of old. There is no doubt that he endeavored to assuage his grief by the remembrance of his former joy; but he informs us that relief was not so easily nor so speedily obtained. By the days of old, and the years of ancient times, he seems not only to refer to the brief course of his own life, but to comprehend many ages. The people of God, in their afflictions, ought, undoubtedly, to set before their eyes, and to call to their remembrance, not only the Divine blessings which they have individually experienced, but also all the blessings which God in every age has bestowed upon his Church It may, however, be easily gathered from the text, that when the prophet reckoned up in his own mind the mercies which God had bestowed in time past, he began with his own experience.
6. I will call to remembrance my song in the night. By his song he denotes the exercise of thanksgiving in which he had engaged during the time of his prosperity. 289 There is no remedy better adapted for healing our sorrows, as I have just now observed, than this; but Satan often craftily suggests to our thoughts the benefits of God, that the very feeling of the want of them may inflict upon our minds a deeper wound. It is, therefore, highly probable, that the prophet was pierced with bitter pangs when he compared the joy experienced by him in time past with the calamities which he was presently suffering. He expressly mentions the night; because, when we are then alone by ourselves, and withdrawn from the society and presence of men, it engenders in the mind more cares and thoughts than are experienced during the day. What is added immediately after with respect to communing with his own heart, is to the same effect. Solitude has an influence in leading men to retire within their own minds, to examine themselves thoroughly, and to speak to themselves freely and in good earnest, when no created being is with them to impose a restraint by his presence.
The last clause of the verse, And my spirit will search diligently, admits of a twofold exposition. The word חפש, chaphas, for search diligently, 290 being in the masculine gender, and the word רוה, ruach, for spirit, being sometimes feminine, some commentators suppose that the name of God is to be understood, and explain the sentence as if the Psalmist had said, There is nothing, O Lord! so hidden in my heart into which thou hast not penetrated. And God is with the highest propriety said to search the spirit of the man whom he awakens from his indolence or torpor, and whom he examines by acute afflictions. Then all hiding — places and retreats, however obscure, are explored, and affections before unknown are brought into the light. As, however, the gender of the noun in the Hebrew language is ambiguous, others more freely translate, MY spirit hath searched diligently. This being the sense which is most generally embraced, and being, at the same time, the most natural, I readily adopt it. In that debate, of which the inspired writer makes mention, he searched for the causes on account of which he was so severely afflicted, and also into what. his calamities would ultimately issue. It is surely highly profitable to meditate on these subjects, and it is the design of God to stir us up to do this when any adversity presses upon us. There is nothing more perverse than the stupidity 291 of those who harden themselves under the scourges of God. Only we must keep within due bounds, in order that we may not be swallowed up of over much sorrow, and that the unfathomable depth of the Divine judgments may not overwhelm us by our attempting to search them out thoroughly. The prophet’s meaning is, that when he sought for comfort in all directions, he could find none to assuage the bitterness of his grief.
7. Will the Lord cast off 292 for ever? and will he be favorable no more? 8. Is his mercy quite gone for ever? Doth his oracle fail from generation to generation? 9. Hath God forgotten, to be merciful? Hath he shut up his compassions in anger? Selah. 10. And said, My death, 293 the years 294 of the right hand of the Most High.
7. and 8. Will the Lord cast off for ever? The statements here made undoubtedly form a part of the searchings which engaged the Psalmist’s mind. He intimates that he was almost overwhelmed by a long succession of calamities; for he did not break forth into this language until he had endured affliction for so long a period as hardly to venture to entertain the hope that God would in future be favorable to him. He might well argue with himself whether God would continue to be gracious; for when God embraces us with his favor, it is on the principle that he will continue to extend it towards us even to the end. He does not properly complain or find fault with God, but rather reasoning with himself, concludes, from the nature of God, that it is impossible for him not to continue his free favor towards his people, to whom he has once shown himself to be a father. As he has traced all the blessings which the faithful receive from the Divine hand to the mere good pleasure of God, as to a fountain; so a little after he adds the Divine goodness, as if he had said, How can we suppose it possible for God to break off the course of his fatherly layout, when it is considered that he cannot divest himself of his own nature? We see, then, how by an argument drawn from the goodness of God, he repels the assaults of temptation. When he puts the question, Doth his word or oracle fail? he intimates that he was destitute of all consolation, since he met with no promise to support and strengthen his faith. We are indeed thrown into a gulf of despair when God takes away from us his promises in which our happiness and salvation are included. If it is objected, that such as had the ]Law among their hands could not be without the word of God, I answer, that on account of the imperfection of the former dispensation, when Christ was not yet manifested, 295 special promises were then necessary. Accordingly, in Ps 74:9, we find the faithful complaining that they saw not any longer their wonted signs, and that there was no longer a prophet who had knowledge of the time among them. If David was the penman of this psalm, we know that in matters of doubt and perplexity it was usual with him to ask counsel from God, and that God was accustomed to grant him answers. If he was deprived of this source of alleviation in the midst of his calamities, he had reason to bewail that he found no oracle or word to sustain and strengthen his faith. But if the psalm was composed by some other inspired prophet, this complaint will suit the period which intervened between the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity and the coming of Christ; for, during that time, the course of prophecy was in a manner broken off, and there was none endued with any peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit to raise up the hearts of those who were cast down, or to support and keep them from falling. In addition to this, it sometimes happens that although the word of God is offered to us, it yet does not enter into our minds, in consequence of our being involved in such deep distress, as to prevent us from receiving or admitting the smallest degree of comfort. But I embrace the former sense, which is, that the Church was now without those special announcements of prophecy with which she had formerly been favored, and that as she still depended upon the mere sight of the shadows of that economy, she stood constantly in need of fresh supports. From this we may gather the profitable lesson, that we ought not to be unduly disquieted, if God should at any time withdraw his word from us. It should be borne in mind, that he tries his own people by such wonderful methods, that they imagine the whole of Scripture to be turned from its proper end, and that although they are desirous to hear God speaking, they yet cannot be brought to apply his words to their own particular case. This, as I have said, is a distressing and painful thing; but it ought not to hinder us from engaging in the exercise of prayer.
9. Hath God forgotten to be merciful? The prophet still continues debating with himself the same subject. His object, however, is not to overthrow his faith, but rather to raise it up. He does not put this question, as if the point to which it refers were a doubtful matter. It is as if he had said, Hath God forgotten himself? or, hath he changed his nature? for he cannot be God unless he is merciful. I indeed admit that he did not remain unshaken as if he had had a heart of steel. But the more violently he was assailed, the more firmly did he lean upon the truth, That the goodness of God is so inseparably connected with his essence as to render it impossible for him not to be merciful. Whenever, therefore, doubts enter into our minds upon our being harassed with cares, and oppressed with sorrows, let us learn always to endeavor to arrive at a satisfactory answer to this question, Has God changed his nature so as to be no longer merciful? The last clause, Hath he shut up or restrained his compassions in his anger? is to the same effect. It was a very common and notable observation among the holy patriarchs, That God is long — suffering, slow to wrath, ready to forgive, and easy to be entreated. It was from them that Habakkuk derived the statement which he makes in his song,
“Even in his anger he will be mindful of his mercy.” (Hab 3:2)
The prophet, then, here comes to the conclusion, that the chastisement which he felt would not prevent God from being again reconciled to him, and returning to his wonted manner of bestowing blessings upon him, since his anger towards his own people endures only for a moment. Yea, although God manifests the tokens of his anger, he does not cease most tenderly to love those whom he chastises. His wrath, it its true, rests continually upon the reprobate; but the prophet, accounting himself among the number of God’s children, and speaking of other genuine believers, justly argues from the impossibility of the thing, that the temporary displeasure of God cannot break off the course of his goodness and mercy.
10. And I said, My death, the years of the right hand, etc. This passage has been explained in various ways. Some deriving the word חלותי, challothi, from חלה, chalah, which signifies to kill, consider the prophet as meaning, that being overwhelmed with an accumulation of calamities, the only conclusion to which he could come was, that God had appointed him to utter destruction; and that his language is a confession of his having fallen into despair. Others translate it to be sick, to be infirm or enfeebled, which is much more agreeable to the scope of the passage. 296 But they differ with respect to the meaning. According to some interpreters, the prophet accuses and reproves himself for his effeminacy of mind, and for not setting himself more manfully to resist temptation. 297 This exposition may be admitted; for the people of God ordinarily gather courage after having for a time wavered under the shock of temptation. I, however, prefer a different interpretation, namely, that this was a disease merely temporary, and on this account, he compares it indirectly to death; even as it is said in Ps 118:18,
“The Lord hath chastised me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.” Also, “I shall not die, but live.” (Ps 118:18)
He, therefore, I have no doubt, unburdens himself by cherishing the confident persuasion, that although he was at present cast down, it was only for a season, and that therefore it behoved him patiently to endure this sickness or disease, since it was not mortal. Nor are commentators agreed in the explanation of the second clause. Those who connect this verse with the preceding verses, think that the prophet was reduced to such a state of despondency at first, that he looked upon himself as utterly undone; and that afterwards he lifted up his head at times, even as those who are thrown into the deep in a shipwreck repeatedly rise above the water. Besides, they would have this to be understood as a word of encouragement addressed by some one to the prophet, desiring him to call to remembrance the years in which he had experienced that God was merciful to him. But it will be more appropriate to understand it thus:, Thou hast no reason to think that thou art now doomed to death, since thou art not laboring under an incurable disease, and the hand of God is wont to make whole those whom it has stricken. I do not reject the opinion of those who translate שנות, shenoth, by changes; 298 for as the Hebrew verb שנה, shanah, signifies to change, or to do a thing again and again, the Hebrews have taken from it the word שנות, shenoth, which they employ to denote years, from their revolving character, from their turning round, as it were, in the same orbit. But in whatever way we may understand it, the comfort of which I have spoken will remain firm, which is, that the prophet, assuring himself of a favorable change in his condition, does not look upon himself as doomed to death. Others give a somewhat different interpretation, arriving at it in another way: 299 as if the prophet had said, Why shouldst thou not patiently endure the severity of God at this time, when hitherto he has cherished thee by his beneficence? even as Job said,
“Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not
also receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
But it is more probable that the prophet directs his view to the future, and means that it became him to await the years or revolutions of the right hand of the Most High, until lie should afford clear and undisputed evidence of the return of his favor towards him.
11. I will remember the works of God: surely I will remember thy wonderful works from the beginning. 12. I will also meditate on all thy works, and I will muse on thy doings. 13. Thy ways, O God! are in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? 14. Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast made known thy strength among the peoples.
11. I will remember the works of God. The prophet now, inspired with new courage, vigorously resists the temptations, which had so far prevailed against him as well nigh to overwhelm his faith. This remembering of the works of God differs from the remembering of which he had previously spoken. Then he contemplated from a distance the divine benefits, and he found the contemplation of them inadequate to assuage or mitigate his grief. Here he takes hold of them, so to speak, as assured testimonies of God’s everlasting grace. To express the greater earnestness, he repeats the same sentence, interjecting an affirmation; for the word כי, ki, is here used simply to confirm or enhance the statement. Having then, as it were, obtained the victory, he triumphs in the remembrance of the works of God, being assuredly persuaded that God would continue the same as he had shown himself to be from the beginning. In the second clause, he highly extols the power which God had displayed in preserving his servants: I will remember thy wonderful works from the beginning. He employs the singular number, thy secret, or thy wonderful work; but I have not hesitated to correct the obscurity by changing the number. We will find him soon after employing the singular number to denote many miracles. What he means in short is, that the wonderful power of God which he has always put forth for the preservation and salvation of his servants, provided we duly reflect upon it, is sufficient to enable us to overcome all sorrows. Let us learn from this, that, although sometimes the remembrance of the works of God may bring us less comfort than we would desire, and our circumstances would require, we must nevertheless strive, that the weariness produced by grief may not break our courage. This is deserving of our most careful attention. In the time of sorrow, we are always desirous of finding some remedy to mitigate its bitterness; but the only way by which this can be done is, to cast our cares upon God. It, however, often happens, that the nearer he approaches us, the more, to outward appearance, does he aggravate our sorrows. Many, therefore, when they derive no advantage from this course, imagine that they cannot do better than forget him. Thus they loathe his word, by the hearing of which their sorrow is rather embittered than mitigated, and what is worse, they desire that God, who thus aggravates and inflames their grief, would withdraw to a distance. Others, to bury the remembrance of him, devote themselves wholly to worldly business. It was far otherwise with the prophet. Although he did not immediately experience the benefit which he could have desired, yet he still continued to set God. before his view, wisely supporting his faith by the reflection, that as God changes neither his love nor his nature, he cannot but show himself at length merciful to his servants. Let us also learn to open our eyes to behold the works of God; the excellence of which is of little account in our estimation, by reason of the dimness of our eyes, and our inadequate perception of them; but which, if examined attentively, will ravish us with admiration. The Psalmist repeats in the 12th verse, that he will meditate continually upon these works, until, in due time, he receive the full advantage which this meditation is calculated to afford. The reason why so many examples of the grace of God contribute nothing to our profit, and fail in edifying our faith, is, that as soon as we have begun to make them the subjects of our consideration, our inconstancy draws us away to something else, and thus, at the very commencement, our minds soon lose sight of them.
13. Thy ways, O God! are in the sanctuary. Some translate in holiness, and they are led to do this, because it seems to them a cold and meagre form of expression to say, that God’s ways are in his sanctuary But as the rules of grammar will not easily admit of this, we must inquire whether a profitable truth may not be drawn from the term sanctuary, which is the proper signification of the original word בקדש, bakkodesh. Some are of opinion that this is an abrupt exclamation, as if it had been said, O God, who art in the sanctuary! O thy ways! but of this I do not approve; for they do violence to the words of the prophet. The clause should be read in one connected sentence, and the word sanctuary is to be taken either for heaven or for the temple. I am rather inclined to refer it to heaven, conceiving the meaning to be, that the ways of God rise high above the world, so that if we are truly desirous to know them, we must ascend above all heavens. Although the works of God are in part manifest to us, yet all our knowledge of them comes far short of their immeasurable height. Besides, it is to be observed, that none enjoy the least taste of his works but those who by faith rise up to heaven. And yet, the utmost point to which we can ever attain is, to contemplate with admiration and reverence the hidden wisdom and power of God, which, while they shine forth in his works, yet far surpass the limited powers of our understanding. If it is objected, that it is wrong to attempt to confine to heaven the ways of God, which are extended through the whole world, the answer is easy; for although there is not a single corner of the globe in which God does not exhibit some proof of his power and operation, yet the wonderful character of his works escapes the eyes of men. If any would rather understand sanctuary as meaning the temple, it may be noticed, that we have met with an almost similar sentence in Ps. 73:16, 17,
“When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me,
until I went into the sanctuary of God.”
The temple, indeed, in which God manifested himself was, as it were, a heaven on earth. 300 It is now obvious that the meaning of the inspired writer is, that as at the commencement he had uttered distressing complaints, so now, having attained to a calm and settled state of mind, he admires and adores the high ways of God, and conscious of his own weakness, quietly and modestly keeps himself within the bounds prescribed to him, not permitting himself to judge or pass sentence upon the secret judgments of God according to the dictates of his carnal understanding. He therefore immediately after exclaims, Who is so great a God as our God? By this comparison, he does not mean that there are many gods, but he indirectly rebukes the deep infatuation of the world who, not contented with the only true God whose glory is so conspicuous, invent for themselves many gods. If men would look upon the works of God with pure eyes, they would be led without much difficulty to rest with satisfaction in him alone.
14. Thou art the God that doest wonders. The Psalmist confirms the preceding sentence, proving the greatness of God from the wonderful character of his works. He does not speak of the hidden and mysterious essence of God which fills heaven and earth, but of the manifestations of his power, wisdom, goodness, and righteousness, which are clearly exhibited, although they are too vast for our limited understandings to comprehend. Literally, the words are, Thou art the God that doest a Wonder; but the singular number is here evidently put for the plural, an instance of which we have seen before. From this we learn that the glory of God is so near us, and that he has so openly and clearly unfolded himself, that we cannot justly pretend any excuse for ignorance. He, indeed, works so wonderfully, that even the heathen nations are inexcusable for their blindness. For this reason it is added, Thou hast made known thy strength among the peoples. This has an immediate reference to the deliverance of the Church; but, at the same time, it shows that the glory of God, which he had clearly and mightily displayed among the nations, could not be despised without the guilt of grievous impiety having been incurred.
15. Thou hast redeemed thy people by thy arm, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. 16. The waters saw thee, O God! the waters saw thee; they were afraid, yea even the deeps trembled. 17. The clouds poured out waters, the heavens [or skies] sent forth a sound: thy arrows also went abroad. 18. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven; the lightnings illumined the world: the earth trembled and shook. 19. Thy ways are in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters: and thy footsteps are not known. 20. Thou didst lead thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
15. Thou hast redeemed thy people by thy arm. The Psalmist here celebrates, above all the other wonderful works of God, the redemption of the chosen people, to which the Holy Spirit everywhere throughout the Scriptures invites the attention of true believers, in order to encourage them to cherish the hope of their salvation. It is well known that the power of God was at that time manifested to the Gentiles. The truth of history, indeed, through the artifice of Satan, was corrupted and falsified by many fables; but this is to be imputed to the wickedness of those in whose sight those wonderful works were wrought, who, although they saw them, chose rather to blind their eyes and disguise the truth of their existence, than to preserve the true knowledge of them. 301 How can we explain the fact that they made Moses to be I know not what kind of a magician or enchanter, and invented so many strange and monstrous stories, which Josephus has collected together in his work against Apion, but upon the principle that it was their deliberate purpose to bury in forgetfulness the power of God? It is not, however, so much the design of the prophet to condemn the Gentiles of the sin of ingratitude, as to furnish himself and others of the children of God matter of hope as to their own circumstances; for at the time referred to, God openly exhibited for the benefit of all future ages a proof of his love towards his chosen people. The word arm is here put metaphorically for power of an extraordinary character, and which is worthy of remembrance. God did not deliver his ancient people secretly and in an ordinary way, but openly, and, as it were, with his arm stretched forth. The prophet, by calling the chosen tribes the sons of Jacob and Joseph, assigns the reason why God accounted them as his people. The reason is, because of the covenant into which he entered with their godly ancestors. The two tribes which descended from the two sons of Joseph derived their origin from Jacob as well as the rest; but the name of Joseph is expressed to put honor upon him, by whose instrumentality the whole race of Abraham were preserved in safety. 302
16. The waters saw thee, O God! Some of the miracles in which God had displayed the power of his arm are here briefly adverted to. When it is said that the waters saw God, the language is figurative, implying that they were moved, as it were, by a secret instinct and impulse to obey the divine command in opening up a passage for the chosen people. Neither the sea nor the Jordan would have altered their nature, and by giving place have spontaneously afforded a passage to them, had they not both felt upon them the power of God. 303 It is not meant that they retired backward because of any judgment and understanding which they possessed, but that in receding as they did, God showed that even the inanimate elements are ready to yield obedience to him. There is here an indirect contrast, it being intended to rebuke the stupidity of men if they do not acknowledge in the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt the presence and hand of God, which were seen even by the waters. What is added concerning the deeps intimates, that not only the surface of the waters were agitated at the sight of God, but that his power penetrated even to the deepest gulfs.
17. The clouds poured out waters. As the noun מים, mayim, cannot be taken in the construct state, the verb, I have no doubt, is put transitively; but it makes little difference as to the sense, whether we take this view, or read as if מים, mayim, were in the construct state and the verb passive; that is, whether we read, The clouds poured out waters, or, The waters of the clouds were poured out. The meaning obviously is, that not only the sea and the river Jordan, but also the waters which were suspended in the clouds, yielded to God the honor to which he is entitled, the air, by the concussion of the thunder, having poured forth copious showers. The object is to show, that, to whatever quarter men turn their eyes, the glory of God is illustriously manifested, that it is so in every part of creation, above and beneath, from the height of heaven to the depths of the sea. What history is here referred to is involved in some degree of uncertainty. 304 Perhaps it is that which is recorded in Ex 9:23; where we are informed, that hail mingled with thunder and lightning was one of the dreadful plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians. The arrows which went abroad are, no doubt, to be taken metaphorically for lightnings. With this verse we are to connect the following, in which it is said, that the voice of the thunder was heard in the air, and that the lightnings illumined the world, so that the earth trembled The amount is, that at the departure of the people from Egypt, ample testimony was borne to the power of God, both to the eyes and the ears of men; peals of thunder having been heard in every quarter of the heavens, and the whole sky having shone with flashes of lightning, while at the same time the earth was made to tremble.
19. Thy ways are in the sea. The miracle which was wrought in drying up the Red Sea is here again described in different phraseology. What, properly speaking, refers to the Israelites is applied to God, under whose protection and guidance they passed dry-shod through the midst of the Red Sea. It is declared that a path had been opened up for them in a very strange and unusual manner; for the sea was not drained by the skill of man, nor was the river Jordan turned aside from its ordinary course into a different channel, but the people walked through the midst of the waters in which Pharaoh and his whole army were soon after drowned. On this account, it is said, that the footsteps of God were not known, for no sooner had God made the people to pass over than he caused the waters to return to their accustomed course. 305
The purpose for which this was effected is added in the 20th verse, — the deliverance of the Church: Thou didst lead thy people like a flock. 306 And this deliverance should be regarded by all the godly as affording them the best encouragement to cherish the hope of safety and salvation. The comparison of the people to sheep, tacitly intimates that they were in themselves entirely destitute of wisdom, power, and courage, and that God, in his great goodness, condescended to perform the office of a shepherd in leading through the sea, and the wilderness, and all other impediments, his poor flock, which were destitute of all things, that he might put them in possession of the promised inheritance. This statement is confirmed, when we are told that Moses and Aaron were the persons employed in conducting the people. Their service was no doubt illustrious and worthy of being remembered; but God displayed in no small degree the greatness of his power in opposing two obscure and despised individuals to the fury and to the great and powerful army of one of the proudest kings who ever sat on a throne. What could the rod of an outlaw and a fugitive, and the voice of a poor slave, have done of themselves, against a formidable tyrant and a warlike nation? The power of God then was the more manifest when it wrought in such earthen vessels. At the same time, I do not deny that it is here intended to commend these servants of God, to whom he had committed such an honorable trust.
This is the rendering in our English Bible, which Dr Adam Clarke pronounces to be “a most unaccountable translation.” The reading of the margin, however, “my hand,” favours the sense given by our Author.
This is the translation adopted by many critics, and it appears to be the true signification of the passage. Thus Symmachus’ version is, ἡ χειρ μου νυκτοςἐκτετατο διηνεκως, “my hand was stretched out by night continually;” and, in like manner, Jerome, “Manus mea nocte extenditur, et non quiescit.” Parkhurst renders the verse thus: “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out by night and ceased not,” or, “without interruption.” With this agree the versions of Horsley, Mant, Fry, Adam Clarke, Walford, and others. The stretching out of the hand was an usual gesture in prayer. Instead of ידי, the Chaldee reads עיני, “mine eye trickled down,” which Archbishop Secker and Green think likely to be the true reading.
Some of the Jewish commentators interpret this clause thus: “Thou holdest the brows of my eyes.” The eyebrows which protect the eyes were held, so that he could not shut them and obtain sleep. Sleep to a person in trouble has the effect of interrupting his sorrow for a time, and of weakening it by refreshing the body. It is, therefore, in such circumstances, a great blessing, and is earnestly desired. But to have this denied, and for the sufferer to have sleepless and wearisome nights appointed to him, is a great aggravation of his distress.
“The times were indeed greatly altered; formerly his sleep had been prevented by the joyfulness of his feelings, which prompted the voice of thanksgiving during even the shades of night; now his sleep is taken away by the severity of his disease, and the anguish of his soul, which was augmented by the contrast with his past happiness.” — Walford.
“The verb חפש, chaphas, signifies such an investigation as a man makes who is obliged to strip himself in order to do it. Or, to lift up coverings, to search fold by fold; or, in our phrase, to leave no stone unturned The Vulgate translates, et scopebam spiritum meum As scopebam is no pure Latin word, it may probably be taken from the Greek, σκοπεω, scopeo, ‘to look about, to consider attentively.’ It is, however, used by no author but St Jerome, and by him only here, and in Isa 14:23, ‘And I will sweep it with the besom of destruction;’ ‘scopabo eam in scopa terens.’ Hence we see that he has formed a verb from the noun scopae; a sweeping brush or besom.” — Dr Adam Clarke
“La stupidite brutale.” — Fr. “The brutish stupidity.”
“Ou, sera-il eslongne.” — Fr. marg. “Or, will he be at a distance.”
“C’est, ma maladie.” — Fr. marg. “That is, my disease or sickness.”
“Ou, changemens.” — Fr. marg. “Or, changes.”
“Qu’a cause de l’infirmite du temps, (ascavoir avant la manifestation de Christ).” — Fr.
Walford translates, “Then I said, My disease is this. “Such,” he observes, “is the exact rendering of the text. Some painful disease had befallen him, which was heightened by the depression of his spirits, which deprived him of mental vigor and energy, and clothed every object in the blackest colours. ... ‘I said, This is my disease.’ My mind is oppressed by the mortified feelings of my corporeal frame, and on this account, the changes by which the hand of God has affected me appear in the darkest colours, and I am ready to give up every hope that he will ever display his goodness to me as he formerly did.”
According to this view, he refers to what he had said in the 7th, 8th, and 9th verses, in which he seemed to arrive at the conclusion, that there would never be an end to his present afflictions, as if the decree had gone forth, and God had pronounced a final and irreversible sentence. But here he checks and corrects himself for having given utterance to such language, and recalls his thoughts to more just and encouraging sentiments respecting God. He acknowledges his sin in questioning or yielding to a feeling of suspicion in reference to the divine love, and the truth of the divine promises; and confesses that this flowed from the corruption of his nature, and the weakness of his faith; that he had spoken rashly and in haste; and that taking shame and confusion of face to himself, he would now desist and proceed no farther.
Walford translates the verse thus: —
“Then I said, My disease is this,
The change of the right hand of the High God.”
“There is no authority,” he observes, “for the version, ‘I will remember the years;’ his meaning is, the power of God has changed and altered my condition; from a state of health and peace, he has brought me into disease, and pain, and sorrow. This, he says, he will remember, so as to inspire some hope that the power which had brought low would again raise him up.”
Our Author seems to refer to those interpreters who, as in our English version, make the supplement, But I will remember, before the words, “the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
“Thy way, O God! is in the sanctuary; the temple, the Church of God, where he takes his walks and manifests himself, and where the reasons of his providence and dealings with his people are opened and made known unto them.” — Dr Gill.
“Neantmoins il faut imputer cela a la malice de ceux qui ayans veu la chose eux-mesmes de leurs yeux, ont mieux aime s’esblouir la veue et desguiser le faict, que d’en entretenir la pure cognoissance.” — Fr.
“The reason of Joseph’s being coupled with Jacob is, that as the Israelites derived their birth from Jacob, so they were sustained by Joseph in Egypt, who became to them a second parent.” — Walford.
“‘The waters of the Red Sea,’ says Bishop Horne, ‘are here beautifully represented as endued with sensibility; as seeing, feeling, and being confounded, even to the lowest depths, at the presence and power of their great Creator, when he commanded them to open a way, and to form a wall on each side of it, until his people were passed over.’ This, in fact, is true poetry; and in this attributing of life, spirit, feeling, action, and suffering, to inanimate objects, there are no poets who can vie with those of the Hebrew nation.” — Mant.
As in the three preceding verses the deliverance of the chosen people from Egypt, and the drying up of the Red Sea, to make a way for them to pass through, are the subjects celebrated, it is very natural to suppose that the 17th and 18th verses refer to the tempestuous rain, the thunder, lightning, and earthquake, by which God testified his wrath against the Egyptians, and by which that ruthless host were filled with dismay, when they went into the midst of the Red Sea after the Israelites. Of these particular circumstances, we have indeed no distinct information in the narrative of Moses; but from a comparison of what is here stated, with what is said in Ex 14:24, “And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,” it seems highly probable that they took place on that occasion. With this corresponds the representation given by Josephus of this part of Jewish History. “As soon as ever the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place, and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind, and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunder-bolts also were darted upon them; nor was there any thing which used to be sent by God upon men, as indications of his wrath, which did not happen at that time; for a dark and dismal night oppressed them.” — Antiquities of the Jews, Book II. chapter 16, section 3.
“Thy footsteps are not known; not by the Egyptians, who essayed to follow after the people of Israel, with the Lord at the head of them, nor by any since; for the waters returned and covered the place on which the Israelites went as on dry ground; so that no footsteps or traces were to be seen at all ever since; and such are the ways of God, many of them in providence as well as in grace, Ro 11:33.” — Dr Gill.
“After the sublime and awful imagery of the four preceding verses, in which thunders and lightnings, storms and tempests, rain, hail, and earthquakes, the ministers of the Almighty’s displeasure, are brought together and exhibited in the most impressive colours; nothing can be, more exquisite than the calmness and tranquillity of this concluding verse, on which the mind reposes with sensations of refreshment and delight.” — Mant.