Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The more effectually to express how worthy God is to be praised in his works, he calls upon all creatures from above and below to sing his praises. He begins with angels, but immediately proceeds to address the brute creation and dumb elements, intimating, that there is no part of the world in which the praises of God are not to be heard, inasmuch as he everywhere gives proof of his power, goodness, and wisdom. He then comes to speak of men, whom God has constituted the proper heralds of his praises in this world. But as the unbelieving portion of them is both blind to the consideration of God’s works, and dumb to his praises, the Psalmist at the close appeals to the children of Israel, who were privileged with a special discovery of God, as principal witnesses. 296
1. Praise ye Jehovah from the heavens, praise him in the heights. 2. Praise him, all ye his angels; praise him, all ye his armies. 3. Praise him, ye sun and moon; praise him, ye shining stars. 4. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters above the heavens. 5. Let them praise the name of Jehovah; for he commanded, and they were created. 6. And he established them for ever; he hath set for them a decree for ever, and it shall not pass beyond.
1. Praise Jehovah from the heavens He seems here to include the stars as well as the angels, and, therefore, heaven itself, the air, and all that is gendered in it; for afterwards a division is made when he first calls upon angels, then upon the stars, and the waters of the firmament. With regard to the angels, created as they were for this very end — that they might be instant in this religious service, we need not wonder that they should be placed first in order when the praises of God are spoken of. Accordingly, in that remarkable vision which Isaiah describes, (Isa 6:3,) the cherubim cry out — “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.” And in several other places of Scripture the angels are represented as praising God by such ascription’s. How, then, can zeal like theirs stand in need of exhortations? Or, if they require to be incited, what can be more unseemly than that we, who are so sluggish in the service, should assume the part of exhorting them to their duty? David, then, who did not equal the angels in zeal, but came far behind them, was not qualified to be an exhorter to them. But neither did this enter into his purpose; he would simply testify that it was the height of his happiness and desire to join in sacred concert with elect angels in praising God. And there is nothing unreasonable that, in order to stir himself up in the praises of God, he should call as companions upon the angels, although these run spontaneously in the service, and are fitter to lead the way. He calls them, in the second part of the verse — the armies of God; for they stand always ready to receive his orders. “Ten thousand times ten thousand surround his throne,” as Daniel says, (Da 7:10.) The same name is applied also to the stars, both because they are remarkable for the order which maintains among them, and because they execute with inconceivable quickness the orders of God. But the angels are here called armies, upon the same account as elsewhere principalities and powers, inasmuch as God exerts his power by their hands.
3. Praise him, ye sun and moon This passage gives no countenance to the dream of Plato, that the stars excel in sense and intelligence. Nor does the Psalmist give them the same place as he had just assigned to angels, but merely intimates that the glory of God is everywhere to be seen, as if they sang his praises with an audible voice. And here he tacitly reproves the ingratitude of man; for all would hear this symphony, were they at all attent upon considering the works of God. For doth not the sun by his light, and heat, and other marvelous effects, praise his Maker? The stars when they run their course, and at once adorn the heavens and give light to the earth, do they not sound the praises of God? but as we are deaf and insensible, the Psalmist calls upon them as witnesses to reprove our indolence. By the heavens of heavens he no doubt means the spheres. Eclipses, and other things which we observe, plainly show both that the fixed stars are above the planets, and that the planets themselves are placed in different orbits. 297 The excellency of this contrivance the Psalmist justly commends, speaking expressly of the heavens of heavens; not as if there were really more heavens than one, but to extol the matchless wisdom which God has shown in creating the heavens; for the sun, moon, and stars are not confusedly mixed together, but each has its own position and station assigned to it, and their manifold courses are all regulated. As under the name of the heavens he comprehends the air, or at least all the space from the middle region of the air upwards, he calls rains, the waters above the heavens There is no foundation for the conjecture which some have made, that there are waters deposited above the four elements; and when the Psalmist speaks of these waters as being above, he clearly points at the descent of the rain. It is adhering too strictly to the letter of the words employed, to conceive as if there were some sea up in the heavens, where the waters were permanently deposited; for we know that Moses and the Prophets ordinarily speak in a popular style, suited to the lowest apprehension. It would be absurd, then, to seek to reduce what they say to the rules of philosophy; as, for example, in the passage before us, the Psalmist notes the marvelous fact that God holds the waters suspended in the air, because it seems contrary to nature that they should mount aloft, and also, that though fluid they should hang in vacant space. Accordingly it is said elsewhere, that they are held there as enclosed in bottles. (Ps 33:7.) The Psalmist has borrowed the form of expression from Moses, who says — “that the waters were divided from the waters.” (Ge 1:6.)
5. Let them praise the name, etc. As he speaks of things wanting intelligence, he passes to the third person, from which we infer that his reason for having spoken in the second person hitherto, was to make a deeper impression upon men. And he asks no other praise than that which may teach us that the stars did not make themselves, nor the rains spring from chance; for notwithstanding the signal proofs we constantly have before our eyes of the divine power, we with shameful carelessness overlook the great author. He says emphatically — for He Himself created, intimating that the world is not eternal, as wicked men conjecture, nor made by a concourse of atoms, but that this fair order of things which we see, suddenly sprang forth upon the commandment of God. And, speaking of the creation, he adds what is even more worthy of observation, that he gave that law to them which remains inviolable. For many, while they grant that the world was made by God, lapse from this into the senseless notion that now the order of nature stands of itself, and that God sits idle in the heavens. The Psalmist very properly insists, therefore, that the works of God above us in the heavens were not only made by him, but even now move forward at his disposal; and that not only was a secret power communicated to them at first, but while they go through their assigned parts, their operation and ministry to their various ends is dependent upon God.
7. Praise Jehovah! ye creatures from the earth, 298 dragons, 299 and all deeps. 8. Fire and hail, snow and ice, breath of the storm doing his word. 9. Mountains, and all hills; fruitful tree, and all cedars. 10. Wild beasts, and all cattle; reptile, and winged fowl.
7. Praise Jehovah, etc. He now comes to the lower parts of the world; although deviating at the same time from the exact order, he mixes up such things as are produced in the air — lightning’s, snow, ice, and storms. These should rather have been placed among the former class, but he has respect to the common apprehension of men. The scope of the whole is, that wherever we turn our eyes we meet with evidences of the power of God. He speaks first of the whales; for, as he mentions the abysses or deeps immediately afterwards, I have no doubt that by תנינים, tanninim, he means fishes of the sea, such as whales. It is only reasonable to think that matter for praising God should be taken from the sea, which is fraught with so many wonders. He then ascends to hail, snows, and storms, which he says fulfill the word of God; for it is not by an effect of chance that the heavens are clouded, or that a single drop of rain falls from the clouds, or that the thunders rage, but one and all of these changes depend upon the secret will of God, whether he will show his goodness to the children of men in irrigating the earth, or punish their sins by tempest, hail, or other calamities. The passage contains instruction of various kinds, as, for example, that when dearth impends, however parched the earth may be by long continued heat, God can promptly send rain which will remove the drought at his pleasure. If from incessant rains, on the other hand, the seed rot in the ground, or the crops do not come to maturity, we should pray for fair weather. If we are alarmed by thunder, we are taught to pray to God, for as it is he who sends it in his anger, so he can still all the troubled elements. And we are not to take up the narrow view of this truth which irreligious men advocate, that things in nature merely move according to the laws impressed upon them from the beginning, while God stands by idle, but are to hold firmly that God watches over his creatures, and that nothing can take place without his present disposal, as we have seen, Ps 104:4 that
“he maketh the winds his messengers,
and his ministers a flaming fire.”
11. Kings of the earth, and all peoples; princes, and all judges of the earth. 12. Young men, and also virgins; old men, with children. 13. Let them praise the name of Jehovah: for exalted is his name only, his praise is above the earth and the heavens. 14. And he hath exalted the horn of his people: praise is to all his merciful ones, to the children of Israel, a people which is near to him. Hallelujah.
11. Kings of the earth, etc. He now turns his address to men, with a respect to whom it was that he called for a declaration of God’s praises from creatures, both above and from beneath. As kings and princes are blinded by the dazzling influence of their station, so as to think the world was made for them, and to despise God in the pride of their hearts, he particularly calls them to this duty; and, by mentioning them first, he reproves their ingratitude in withholding their tribute of praise when they are under greater obligations than others. As all men originally stand upon a level as to condition, the higher persons have risen, and the nearer they have been brought to God, the more sacredly are they bound to proclaim his goodness. The more intolerable is the wickedness of kings and princes who claim exemption from the common rule, when they ought rather to inculcate it upon others and lead the way. He could have addressed his exhortation at once summarily to all men, as indeed he mentions peoples in general terms; but by thrice specifying princes he suggests that they are slow to discharge the duty, and need to be urged do it. Then follows a division according to age and sex, to show that all without exception are created for this end, and should unitedly devote their energies to it. As to old men, the more God has lengthened out their lives the more should they be exercised in singing his praises; but he joins young men with them, for though they have less experience from continued habit, it will be inexcusable if they do not acknowledge the great mercy of God in the vigor of their lives. In speaking of girls or virgins, the particle גם, gam, also, is not merely expletive, but added to make the words more emphatical, conveying the truth that even the young women who are not so liberally educated as the male sex, being considered as born for domestic offices, will omit their duty if they do not join with the rest of the Church in praising God. It follows that all from the least to the greatest are bound by this common rule.
14. And hath exalted the horn, etc. As we saw in the former Psalm, that the perfections of God are to be seen more conspicuously in the Church than in the constitution of the world at large, the Psalmist has added this sentence, as to the Church being protected by the divine hand, and armed with a power against all enemies which secures its safety in every danger. By the horn, as is well known, is meant strength or dignity. Accordingly the Psalmist means that God’s blessing is apparent in his Church and among his chosen people, inasmuch as it only flourishes and is powerful through his strength. There is a tacit comparison implied between the Church of God and other hostile powers, for it needs divine guardianship as being exposed on all sides to attack. Hence the Psalmist infers that praise is to all the merciful ones of God, for they have ground given them in the singular goodness of his condescension both for self-congratulation and praise. In calling the children of Israel a people near unto God, he reminds them of the gracious covenant which God made with Abraham. For how came the nearness, except in the way of God’s preferring an unknown despised stranger to all nations? Nor are we to seek the cause of the distinction elsewhere than in the mere love of God. Though all the world equally belongs to God, he graciously discovered himself to the children of Israel, and brought them near to him, strangers as they were from God, even as are the whole race of Adam. Hence the words of Moses —
“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, and distributed the peoples, he stretched forth his line to Jacob.” (De 32:8.)
He is to be considered, therefore, as pointing out the cause why God hath extended such signal blessings to a single people, and a people poor and despised — his adoption of them to himself.
Milton, in his Paradise Lost, (Lib. 5. line 53, etc.,) has elegantly imitated this Psalm, and put it into the mouth of Adam and Eve as their morning hymn in a state of innocency.
“Que les estoilles sont plus haut que les planetes, et qu’icelles planetes sont situees en divers cercles ou spheres.” — Fr.
“Laudate Iehovam e terra.” — Lat. “Louez le Seigneur, vous creatures de la terre.” — Fr.
“Ou, balenes.” — Fr. marg. “Or, whales.”