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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 1
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Psalm 18:12-19

12. At the brightness which was before him, his clouds passed away; there was hail-storm and coals of fire. 13. Jehovah thundered in the heavens, and the Highest sent forth his voice; there was hail-storm and coals of fire. 14. He sent out his arrows, and scattered them, [or put them to flight;] he multiplied lightnings, 403403     In our English version it is, He shot out lightnings. The Hebrew word רבב, rabab, signifies both to multiply and to shoot. As the shooting of arrows is mentioned in the first clause of the verse, it may be presumed that it is the shooting of lightnings which is meant in the second clause, arrows and lightnings being contrasted. The reading of the Septuagint, Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, however, is the same as that of Calvin, — He multiplied lightnings. and put them into confusion. 15. The sources of the waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were disclosed at thy rebuke, O Jehovah! at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils. 404404     “Ou de ton ire.” — Fr. marg. “Or at thy wrath.” 16. He sent from on high, he took me, and drew me out of great waters. 17. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from my adversary; for they were too strong for me. 18. They had prevented me in the day of my calamity; but Jehovah was my support. 19. He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he had a good will to me, [or because he loved me.]

 

12. At the brightness, etc. The Psalmist again returns to the lightnings which, by dividing and as it were cleaving the clouds, lay open the heaven; and, therefore, he says, that the clouds of God (that is to say, those which he had set before him, in token of his anger, for the purpose of depriving men of the enjoyment of the light of his countenance) passed away at the brightness which was before him These sudden changes affect us with a much more lively sense of the power and agency of God than natural phenomena which move on in one uniform course. He adds, that there followed hail-storm and coals of fire; for when the thunder separates and rends asunder the clouds, it either breaks out in lightnings, or the clouds resolve themselves into hail.

13. Jehovah thundered. David here repeats the same thing in different words, declaring that God thundered from heaven; and he calls the thunder the yoke of God, that we may not suppose it is produced merely by chance or by natural causes, independent of the appointment and will of God. Philosophers, it is true, are well acquainted with the intermediate or secondary causes, from which the thunder proceeds, namely, that when the cold and humid vapours obstruct the dry and hot exhalations in their course upwards, a collision takes place, and by this, together with the noise of the clouds rushing against each other, is produced the rumbling thunder-peal. 405405     “De ce combat et aussi du bruit des nuees allans l’une contre l’autre, se fait un son.” — Fr. But David, in describing the phenomena of the atmosphere, rises, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, above the mere phenomena themselves, and represents God to us as the supreme governor of the whole, who, at his will, penetrates into the hidden veins of the earth, and thence draws forth exhalations; who then, dividing them into different sorts, disperses them through the air; who again collects the vapours together, and sets them in conflict with the subtile and dry heats, so that the thunder which follows seems to be a loud pealing voice proceeding from his own mouth. The song in 2nd Samuel also contains the repetition to which we have referred in the commencement of our remarks on this verse; but the sense of this and the preceding verse, and of the corresponding verses in Samuel, are entirely similar. We should remember what I have said before, that David, under these figures, describes to us the dreadful power of God, the better to exalt and magnify the divine grace, which was manifested in his deliverance. He declares a little after, that this was his intention; for, when speaking of his enemies, he says, (verse 14,) that they were scattered, or put to flight, by the arrows of God; as if he had said, They have been overthrown, not by the hands or swords of men, but by God, who openly launched his thunderbolts against them. Not that he means to affirm that this happened literally, but he speaks in this metaphorical language, because those who were uninstructed and slow to acknowledge the power of God, 406406     “Et tardifs a reconnaistre la vertu de Dieu.” — Fr. could not otherwise be brought to perceive that God was the author of his deliverance. The import of his words is, Whoever does not acknowledge that I have been preserved by the hand of God, may as well deny that it is God who thunders from heaven, and abolish his power which is manifested in the whole order of nature, and especially in those wonderful changes which we see taking place in the atmosphere. As God shoots lightnings as if they were arrows, the Psalmist has, in the first place, employed this metaphor; and then he has expressed the thing simply by its proper name.

15. And the sources of the waters were seen. In this verse, David doubtless alludes to the miracle which was wrought when the chosen tribes passed through the Red Sea. I have before declared the purpose for which he does this. As all the special benefits which God in old time conferred upon any of the children of Abraham as individuals, were so many testimonies by which he recalled to their remembrance the covenant which he had once entered into with the whole people, to assure them that he would always continue his grace towards them, and that one deliverance might be to them a token or pledge of their perpetual safety, and of the protection of God, David fitly conjoins with that ancient deliverance of the Church the assistance which God had sent from heaven to him in particular. As the grace which he declares God had shown towards him was not to be separated from that first deliverance, since it was, so to speak, a part and an appendage of it, he beholds, as it were at a glance, or in an instant, both the ancient miracle of the drying up of the Red Sea, and the assistance which God granted to himself. In short, God, who once opened up for his people a way through the Red Sea, and then showed himself to be their protector upon this condition, that they should assure themselves of being always maintained and preserved under his keeping, now again displayed his wonderful power in the defense and preservation of one man, to renew the remembrance of that ancient history. From this it appears the more evidently, that David, in using these apparently strange and exaggerated hyperboles, does not recite to us the mere creations of romance to please the fancy, after the manner of the heathen poets, 407407     “En usant de ces hyperboles et similitudes qui semblent estranges et excessives ne nous recite pas des fables et contes faits a plaisir a la fakon des Poietes profanes.” — Fr. but observes the style and manner which God had, as it were, prescribed to his people. At the same time, we ought carefully to mark the reason already adverted to, which constrained him to magnify the grace of God in a style of such splendid imagery, namely, because the greater part of the people never made the grace of God the subject of serious consideration, but, either through wickedness or stupidity, passed over it with shut eyes. The Hebrew word אפיקים, aphikim, which I have rendered sources, properly signifies the channels of rivers; but David, in this passage, evidently means that the very springs or sources of the waters were laid open, and that thus it could be discerned whence proceeds the great and inexhaustible abundance of waters which supply the rivers, and by which they always continue to flow on in their course.

16. He sent down from above. Here there is briefly shown the drift of the sublime and magnificent narrative which has now passed under our review, namely, to teach us that David at length emerged from the profound abyss of his troubles, neither by his own skill, nor by the aid of men, but that he was drawn out of them by the hand of God. When God defends and preserves us wonderfully and by extraordinary means, he is said in Scripture language to send down succor from above; and this sending is set in opposition to human and earthly aids, on which we usually place a mistaken and an undue confidence. I do not disapprove of the opinion of those who consider this as referring to the angels, but I understand it in a more general sense; for by whatever means we are preserved, it is God who having his creatures ready at his nod to do his will, appoints them to take charge of us, and girds or prepares them for succouring us. But, although every kind of aid comes from heaven, David, with good reason, affirms that God had stretched out his hand from on high to deliver him. In speaking thus, he meant to place the astonishing benefit referred to, by way of eminence, above others of a more common kind; and besides, there is in this expression a tacit comparison between the unusual exercise of the power of God here celebrated, and the common and ordinary means by which he succours his people. When he says, that God drew him out of great waters, it is a metaphorical form of expression. By comparing the cruelty of his enemies to impetuous torrents, by which he might have been swallowed up a hundred times, he expresses more clearly the greatness of the danger; as if he had said, I have, contrary to the expectation of men, escaped, and been delivered from a deep abyss in which I was ready to be overwhelmed. In the following verse he expresses the thing simply and without a figure, declaring that he had been delivered from a strong enemy, 408408     Bishop Patrick paraphrases the verse thus:— “He delivered me first from that mighty giant, Goliath, and then from Saul, whose power I was not able to withstand; and afterwards from the Philistines and Syrians, and many other nations, whose forces were far superior unto mine, and whose hatred instigated them to do all they could to destroy me.” who mortally hated and persecuted him. The more to exalt and magnify the power of God, he directs our attention to this circumstance, that no strength or power of men had been able to prevent God from saving him, even when he was reduced to the greatest extremity of distress. As in the end of the verse there is the Hebrew particle כי, ki, which generally denotes the cause of what is predicated, almost all interpreters agree in explaining the verse thus: God has succoured me from above, because my enemies were so numerous and so strong that no relief was to be expected by the mere aid of men. From this we deduce a very profitable doctrine, namely, that the most seasonable time for God to aid his people is when they are unable to sustain the assaults of their enemies, or rather, when, broken and afflicted, they sink under their violence, like the wretched man who having in a shipwreck lost all hope of being able to swim to the shore, sinks with great rapidity to the bottom of the deep. The particle יכ, ki, however, might also be explained by the adversative particle although, in this way: Although the enemies of David were superior to him in number and power, he nevertheless was saved.

18. They had prevented me in the day of my calamity. 409409     “They set their faces against me in the day of my calamity,” — Walford. The Psalmist here confirms in different words the preceding sentence, namely, that he had been sustained by the aid of God, when there was no way of escaping by the power of man. He tells us how he had been besieged on all sides, and that not by an ordinary siege, inasmuch as his enemies, in persecuting him, always molested him most in the time of his calamity. From this circumstance it is the more evident that he had obtained enlargement by no other means than by the hand of God. Whence proceeded so sudden a restoration from death to life, but because God intended to show that he has in his hand, and under his absolute control, the issues of death? In short, the Psalmist ascribes his deliverance to no other cause than the mere good pleasure of God, that all the praise might redound to him alone: He delivered me, because he loved me, or had a good will to me. In mentioning the good pleasure of God, he has a special respect to his own calling to be king. The point on which he principally insisted is, that the assaults which were made upon him, and the conflicts which he had to sustain, were stirred up against him for no other reason but because he had obeyed the call of God, and followed with humble obedience the revelation of his oracle. Ambitious and turbulent men, who are carried headlong by their unruly lusts, inconsiderately to attempt any thing, and who, by their rashness, involve themselves in dangers, may often accomplish their undertakings by vigorous and resolute efforts, but at length a reverse takes place, and they are stopt short in their career of success, for they are unworthy of being sustained and prospered by God, since, without having any warrant or foundation for what they do in his call, they would raise their insane structures even to heaven, and disturb all around them. In short, David testifies, by this expression, that the assistance of God had never failed him, because he had not thrust himself into the office of king of his own accord, but that when he was contented with his humble condition, and would willingly have lived in obscurity, in the sheep-cotes, or in his father’s hut, he had been anointed by the hand of Samuel, which was the symbol of his free election by God to fill the throne.


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