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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 4
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Psalm 104:1-4

1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! O Jehovah my God! thou art exceeding great; thou hast clothed thyself with praise and glory. 2. Being arrayed 177177     “It is a singular circumstance,” says Horsley, “in the composition of this psalm, that each of the parts of the First Semichorus after the first, [that is, verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 13, 14, 19,] begins with a participle. And these participles are accusatives, agreeing with יהוה, the object of the verb ברכי, at the beginning of the whole psalm. Bless Jehovah — putting on — extending — laying — constituting — travelling — making — setting — sending — watering — making — making. Thus, this transitive verb, in the opening of the psalm, extending its government through the successive parts of the same semichorus, except the last, unites them all in one long period. As this singular artifice of composition seems to be the characteristic of a particular species of ode, in this psalm, I have scrupulously conformed to it in my translation, at the expense of the elegance of my English style.” Calvin, for the most part, translates these words as participles, but in the nominative case. with light as with a garment; and spreading out the heavens as a curtain: 3. Laying the beams of his upper rooms 178178     “The original word, which comes from עלה, ascendit, signifies any upper room to which persons ascend. So 2 Samuel 18:32, ‘he went up to עלית השער, the chamber over the gate.’ Accordingly, the LXX. Here render it, ὑπερῶον, ‘an upper room’, and the Latin, ‘superiora ejus’, ‘his upper stories.’ By עליותיו, therefore, must be meant, though not the supreme, yet the superior or middle region of the air, which is here described as an upper story in a house laid firm with beams, (accounting the earth and the region of air about that as the lower room,) and this floor is here said poetically to be ‘laid in the waters,’ those waters which (Genesis 1) are above the expansion or lower region of the air, which divides the waters from the waters. This is most evident by verse 13, where God is said to ‘water the mountains מעליותיו, from these his upper rooms, these clouds whence the rain descends.’ In them, saith the Psalmist, ‘the beams of these upper rooms were laid,’ i.e., whereas in the building of an upper story, there must be some walls or pillars to support the weight of it, and in that the beams are laid, God here by his own miraculous immediate power laid, and ever since supported these upper rooms, there being nothing there but waters to support them, and those we know the most fluid tottering body, not able to support itself; and therefore that is another work of his divine power, that the waters which are so fluid, and unable to contain themselves within their own bounds, should yet hang in the middle of the air, and be as walls or pillars to support that region of air, which is itself another fluid body ” — Hammond. Fry, after quoting Dr Geddes’ version, — “Flooring his chambers with waters,” and Bishop Horsley’s “Laying the floors of his chambers upon the waters,” goes on to say: — “After referring, however, to the different places where the word occurs, and considering the structure of ancient buildings, I conceive the allusion to be to the roof, or contignated frame of the house. Genesis 19:8, seems decisive. We seem to lose somewhat of the beauty of the original by translating עליות too literally. It signifies certainly, upper rooms, or stories; but the allusion is not to these on account of their situation, but as the part of the house principally inhabited by its owner, the lower parts of eastern houses being used for offices. — See Parkhurst and authors there quoted: compare Psalm 18, ‘He set darkness his veil around him, — his canopy the waters and thick mists of the clouds.’” Fry’s translation is, “And framing his habitation with waters.” in the waters; making the clouds his chariot; and walking upon the wings of the wind; 4. Making the winds his messengers; and his ministers a flaming fire.

 

1 Bless Jehovah, O my soul! After having exhorted himself to praise God, the Psalmist adds, that there is abundant matter for such an exercise; thus indirectly condemning himself and others of ingratitude, if the praises of God, than which nothing ought to be better known, or more celebrated, are buried by silence. In comparing the light with which he represents God as arrayed to a garment, he intimates, that although God is invisible, yet his glory is conspicuous enough. In respect of his essence, God undoubtedly dwells in light that is inaccessible; but as he irradiates the whole world by his splendor, this is the garment in which He, who is hidden in himself, appears in a manner visible to us. The knowledge of this truth is of the greatest importance. If men attempt to reach the infinite height to which God is exalted, although they fly above the clouds, they must fail in the midst of their course. Those who seek to see him in his naked majesty are certainly very foolish. That we may enjoy the light of him, he must come forth to view with his clothing; that is to say, we must cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which he wishes to be seen by us, and not be too curious and rash in searching into his secret essence. Now, since God presents himself to us clothed with light, those who are seeking pretexts for their living without the knowledge of him, cannot allege in excuse of their slothfulness, that he is hidden in profound darkness. When it is said that the heavens are a curtain, it is not meant that under them God hides himself, but that by them his majesty and glory are displayed; being, as it were, his royal pavilion.

3. Laying the beams of his chambers in the waters David now proceeds to explain at greater length what he had briefly stated under the figure of God’s raiment. The scope of the passage is shortly this, that we need not pierce our way above the clouds for the purpose of finding God, since he meets us in the fabric of the world, and is everywhere exhibiting to our view scenes of the most vivid description. That we may not imagine that there is any thing in Him derived, as if, by the creation of the world, he received any addition to his essential perfection and glory, we must remember that he clothes himself with this robe for our sake. The metaphorical representation of God, as laying the beams of his chambers in the waters, seems somewhat difficult to understand; but it was the design of the prophet, from a thing incomprehensible to us, to ravish us with the greater admiration. Unless beams be substantial and strong, they will not be able to sustain even the weight of an ordinary house. When, therefore, God makes the waters the foundation of his heavenly palace, who can fail to be astonished at a miracle so wonderful? When we take into account our slowness of apprehension, such hyperbolical expressions are by no means superfluous; for it is with difficulty that they awaken and enable us to attain even a slight knowledge of God.

What is meant by his walking upon the wings of the wind, is rendered more obvious from the following verse, where it is said, that the winds are his messengers God rides on the clouds, and is carried upon the wings of the wind, inasmuch as he drives about the winds and clouds at his pleasure, and by sending them hither and thither as swiftly as he pleases, shows thereby the signs of his presence. By these words we are taught that the winds do not blow by chance, nor the lightnings flash by a fortuitous impulse, but that God, in the exercise of his sovereign power, rules and controls all the agitations and disturbances of the atmosphere. From this doctrine a twofold advantage may be reaped. In the first place, if at any time noxious winds arise, if the south wind corrupt the air, or if the north wind scorch the corn, and not only tear up trees by the root, but overthrow houses, and if other winds destroy the fruits of the earth, we ought to tremble under these scourges of Providence. In the second place, if, on the other hand, God moderate the excessive heat by a gentle cooling breeze, if he purify the polluted atmosphere by the north wind, or if he moisten the parched ground by south winds; in this we ought to contemplate his goodness.

As the apostle, who writes to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 1:7) quotes this passage, and applies it to the angels, both the Greek and Latin expositors have almost unanimously considered David as here speaking allegorically. In like manner, because Paul, in quoting Psalm 19:4, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 10:18) seems to apply to the apostles what is there stated concerning the heavens, the whole psalm has been injudiciously expounded as if it were an allegory. 179179     See volume 1, page 314. The design of the apostle, in that part of the Epistle to the Hebrews referred to, was not simply to explain the mind of the prophet in this place; but since God is exhibited to us, as it were, visibly in a mirror, the apostle very properly lays down the analogy between the obedience which the winds manifestly and perceptibly yield to God, and that obedience which he receives from the angels. In short, the meaning is, that as God makes use of the winds as his messengers, turns them hither and thither, calms and raises them whenever he pleases, that by their ministry he may declare his power, so the angels were created to execute his commands. And certainly we profit little in the contemplation of universal nature, if we do not behold with the eyes of faith that spiritual glory of which an image is presented to us in the world.


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