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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 4
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Psalm 104:10-15

10. Sending out springs by the valleys, which shall run between 182182     In our English version it is among; but between is the more proper rendering. “בין,” says Hammond, “must be rendered, not among but between, ἀναμέσον, say the LXX., to denote the hollow receptacles for waters betwixt the hills, or risings of the ground on both sides.” the hills. 11. All the beasts of the field shall drink thereof: the wild asses 183183     The wild ass differs from the tame only by being stronger and nimbler, more courageous and lively. Wild asses are still found in considerable numbers in the deserts of Great Tartary, in Persia, Syria, the islands of the Archipelago, and throughout Mauritania. They are gregarious, and have been known to assemble by hundreds and thousands. It has been observed of these animals that, though dull and stupid, they are remarkable for their instinct in discovering in the arid desert the way to rivers, brooks, or fountains of water, so that the thirsty traveler has only to observe and follow their steps, in order to his being led to the cooling stream. shall quench 184184     The literal rendering of the Hebrew word ישברו, yeshberu, is shall break, being derived from שבר, shabar, to break. As applied to hunger, it must signify to allay, or, as here, to thirst, it must mean to quench. The phrase is communicated to other languages, and is usual among us, who, by breaking of fasting, understand eating. their thirst. 12. Nigh them the fowls of the air shall dwell, from the midst of the branches they shall send out their voice. 185185     “‘From between these boughs or leaves the fowls of the air send out their voice’; not by singing only, (for that is peculiar to few,) but by making any noise that is proper to them ” — Hammond. On the 10th, 11th, and 12th verses, Dimock observes, — “The murmuring brooks, the great number of beasts and cattle, with the melodious birds, afford a most picturesque scene of rural delight.” 13. Watering the mountains from his chambers: the earth shall be satisfied from the fruit of thy 186186     In the preceding clause God is spoken of in the third person, and here in the second. The change of persons from the second to the third, and from the third to the second, is very observable throughout this psalm. — See page 143, note. works. 14. Making grass to grow for cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may produce bread out of the earth. 15. And wine cheereth the heart of man, to make his face to shine with oil, and bread sustaineth man’s heart. 187187     In the French version it is, “Et le vin qui resjouit le coeur de l’homme, et l’huile pour faire reluire sa face, et le pain qui soustient le coeur de l’homme.” — “And wine that cheereth the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread that sustains the heart of man ”

 

10. Sending out springs by the valleys The Psalmist here describes another instance both of the power and goodness of God, which is, that he makes fountains to gush out in the mountains, and to run down through the midst of the valleys. Although it is necessary for the earth to be dry, to render it a fit habitation for us, yet, unless we had water to drink, and unless the earth opened her veins, all kinds of living creatures would perish. The prophet, therefore, speaks in commendation of that arrangement by which the earth, though dry, yet supplies us with water by its moisture. The word נחלים, nechalim, which I have rendered springs, is by some translated, torrents or rivers; but springs is more appropriate. In the same sense it is added immediately after, that they run among the hills; and yet, it is scarcely credible that fountains could spring forth from rocks and stony places. But here it may be asked, why the prophet says that the beasts of the field quench their thirst, rather than men, for whose sake the world was created? I would observe, in reply, that he obviously spake in this manner, for the purpose of enhancing the goodness of God, who vouchsafes to extend his care to the brute creation, yea, even to the wild asses, under which species are included all other kinds of wild beasts. And he purposely refers to desert places, that each of us may compare with them the more pleasant, and the cultivated parts of the earth, afterwards mentioned. Rivers run even through great and desolate wildernesses, where the wild beasts enjoy some blessing of God; and no country is so barren as not to have trees growing here and there, on which birds make the air to resound with the melody of their singing. Since even those regions where all lies waste and uncultivated, furnish manifest tokens of the Divine goodness and power, with what admiration ought we to regard that most abundant supply of all good things, which is to be seen in cultivated and favorable regions? Surely in countries where not only one river flows, or where not only grass grows for the feeding of wild beasts, or where the singing of birds is heard not only from a few trees, but where a manifold and varied abundance of good things everywhere presents itself to our view, our stupidity is more than brutish, if our minds, by such manifestations of the goodness of God, are not fixed in devout meditation on his glory.

The same subject is prosecuted in the 13th verse, where it is said that God watereth the mountains from his chambers It is no ordinary miracle that the mountains, which seem to be condemned to perpetual drought, and which, in a manner, are suspended in the air, nevertheless abound in pastures. The prophet, therefore, justly concludes that this fruitfulness proceeds from nothing else but the agency of God, who is their secret cultivator. Labour cannot indeed, in the proper sense, be attributed to God, but still it is not without reason applied to him, for, by merely blessing the earth from the place of his repose, he works more efficaciously than if all the men in the world were to waste themselves by incessant labor.

14. Making grass to grow for cattle The Psalmist now comes to men, of whom God vouchsafes to take a special care as his children. After having spoken of the brute creation, he declares, that corn is produced, and bread made of it, for the nourishment of the human race; and he mentions in addition to this, wine and oil, two things which not only supply the need of mankind, but also contribute to their cheerful enjoyment of life. Some understand the Hebrew word לעבדת, laäbodath, which I have rendered for the service, to denote the labor which men bestow in husbandry; for while grass grows on the mountains of itself, and without human labor, corn and herbs, which are sown, can only be produced, as is well known, by the labor and sweat of men. According to them the meaning is, that God blesses the toil of men in the cultivation of the fields. But this being too strained an interpretation, it is better to understand the word service, in the ordinary sense of the term. With respect to the word bread, I do not object to the view of those who understand it in a restricted sense, although it probably includes all kinds of food; only I dislike the opinion of those who exclude bread. There is no force in the reason which they allege for taking this view, namely, that in the following verse another use of bread is added, when it is said, that it strengthens the heart of man; for there the same thing is expressed in different words. The prophet, in stating that God causeth the earth to bring forth herbs for the support of men, intends to say that the earth supplies them not only with food in corn, but also with other herbs and fruits; for the means of our sustenance is not limited exclusively to one kind of food.

15. And wine that cheereth the heart of man In these words we are taught, that God not only provides for men’s necessity, and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality. The expression, and oil to make his face to shine, has been explained in different ways. As sadness spreads a gloom over the countenance, some give this exposition, That when men enjoy the commodities of wine and oil, their faces shine with gladness. Some with more refinement of interpretation, but without foundation, refer this to lamps. Others, considering the letter מ, mem to be the sign of the comparative degree, take the meaning to be, that wine makes men’s faces shine more than if they were anointed with oil. But the prophet, I have no doubt, speaks of unguents, intimating that God not only bestows upon men what is sufficient for their moderate use, but that he goes beyond this, giving them even their delicacies.

The words in the last clause, and bread that sustains man’s heart, I interpret thus: Bread would be sufficient to support the life of man, but God over and above, to use a common expression, bestows upon them wine and oil. The repetition then of the purpose which bread serves is not superfluous: it is employed to commend to us the goodness of God in his tenderly and abundantly nourishing men as a kind-hearted father does his children. For this reason, it is here stated again, that as God shows himself a foster-father sufficiently bountiful in providing bread, his liberality appears still more conspicuous in giving us dainties.

But as there is nothing to which we are more prone, than to abuse God’s benefits by giving way to excess, the more bountiful he is towards men, the more ought they to take care not to pollute, by their intemperance, the abundance which is presented before them. Paul had therefore good reason for giving that prohibition, (Romans 13:14)

“Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof;”

for if we give full scope to the desires of the flesh, there will be no bounds. As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits; and in lavishing upon us a more abundant supply of good things than our necessities require, he puts our moderation to the test. The proper rule with respect to the use of bodily sustenance, is to partake of it that it may sustain, but not oppress us. The mutual communication of the things needful for the support of the body, which God has enjoined upon us, is a very good check to intemperance; for the condition upon which the rich are favored with their abundance is, that they should relieve the wants of their brethren. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God, according to the injunction of Moses, (Leviticus 23:40;) and, secondly, that they may exhilarate their minds under a sense of gratitude, so as to be rendered more active in the service of God. He who rejoices in this way will also be always prepared to endure sadness, whenever God is pleased to send it. That rule of Paul ought to be kept in mind, (Philippians 4:12,)

“I have learned to abound, — I have learned to suffer want.”

If some token of the divine anger is manifest, even he who has an overflowing abundance of all kinds of dainty food, will restrict himself in his diet knowing that he is called to put on sackcloth, and to sit among ashes. Much more ought he whom poverty compels to be temperate and sober, to abstain from such delicacies. In short, if one man is constrained to abstain from wine by sickness, if another has only vapid wine, and a third nothing but water, let each be content with his own lot, and willingly and submissively wean himself from those gratifications which God denies him.

The same remarks apply to oil. We see from this passage that ointments were much in use among the Jews, as well as among the other eastern nations. At the present day, it is different with us, who rather keep ointments for medicinal purposes, than use them as articles of luxury. The prophet, however, says, that oil also is given to men, that they may anoint themselves therewith. But as men are too prone to pleasure, it is to be observed, that the law of temperance ought not to be separated from the beneficence of God, lest they abuse their liberty by indulging in luxurious excess. This exception must always be added, that no person may take encouragement from this doctrine to licentiousness.

Moreover, when men have been carefully taught to bridle their lust, it is important for them to know, that God permits them to enjoy pleasures in moderation, where there is the ability to provide them; else they will never partake even of bread and wine with a tranquil conscience; yea, they will begin to scruple about the tasting of water, at least they will never come to the table but in fearfulness. Meanwhile, the greater part of the world will wallow in pleasures without discrimination, because they do not consider what God permits them; for his fatherly kindness should be to us the best mistress to teach us moderation.


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