Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David. The title affords us no information beyond the fact that David is the author of this sublime song.
SUBJECT. It seems to be the general opinion of modern annotators, that this Psalm is meant to express the glory of God as heard in the pealing thunder, and seen in the powerful tornado. Just as the eighth Psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright; as the nineteenth needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty; so this Psalm can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of the elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts.
God is everywhere conspicuous, and all the earth is hushed by the majesty of his presence. The word of God in the law, and the gospel is here also depicted in its majesty of power. True ministers are sons of thunder, and the voice of God in Christ Jesus is full of majesty. Thus we have God's works and God's word joined together—let no man put them asunder by a false idea that theology and science can by any possibility oppose each other. We may, perhaps, by a prophetic glance, behold in this Psalm the dread tempests of the latter days, and the security of the elect people.
DIVISION. The first two verses are a call to adoration.
From Verses 3-10 the path of the tempest is traced, the attributes of God's word are rehearsed, and God is magnified in all the terrible grandeur of his power.
The last verse sweetly closes the scene with the
assurance that the omnipotent Jehovah will give both strength and peace to
his people. Let Heaven and earth pass away, the Lord will surely bless his
Verse 1. Give. That is, ascribe. Neither men nor angels can confer anything upon Jehovah, but they should recognize his glory and might, and ascribe it to him in their songs and in their hearts.
Unto the Lord, and unto him alone, must honor be given. Natural causes, as men call them, are God in action, and we must not ascribe power to them, but to the infinite Invisible who is the true source of all.
O mighty ones. You great ones of earth and of Heaven, kings and angels, join in rendering worship to the blessed and only Potentate. You lords among men need thus to be reminded, for you often fail where humbler men are ardent. But fail no longer, bow your heads at once, and loyally do homage to the King of kings.
How frequently do grandees and potentates think it beneath them to fear the Lord. But, when they have been led to extol Jehovah, their piety has been the greatest jewel in their crowns.
Give (ascribe) unto the Lord glory and strength. Both of which men are too apt to claim for themselves, although they are the exclusive prerogatives of the self-existent God. Let crowns and swords acknowledge their dependence upon God. Not to your arms, O kings, give you the glory, nor look for strength to your hosts of warriors—for all your pomp is but as a fading flower, and your might is as a shadow which declines. When shall the day arrive when kings and princes shall count it their delight to glorify their God? "All worship be to God only!" Let this be emblazoned on every coat of arms.
Verse 2. Give (ascribe) unto the Lord the glory due unto his name. A third time the admonition is given, for men are backward in glorifying God, and especially great men, who are often too much swollen with their own glory to spare time to give God his rightful praise, although nothing more is asked of them than is most just and right. Surely men should not need so much pressing to give what is due, especially when the payment is so pleasant.
Unbelief and distrust, complaining and murmuring, rob God of his honor. In this respect, even the saints fail to give due glory to their King.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Bow before him with devout homage and sacred awe, and let your worship be such as he appoints. Of old, worship was cumbered with ceremonial, and men gathered around one dedicated building, whose solemn pomp was emblematic of the beauty of holiness.
Now our worship is spiritual, and the architecture of the house and the garments of the worshipers are matters of no importance. The spiritual beauty of inward purity and outward holiness being far more precious in the eyes of our thrice holy God. O for grace ever to worship with holy motives and in a holy manner, as befits saints!
The call to worship in these two verses chimes in with the loud pealing thunder, which is the church bell of the universe ringing kings and angels, and all the sons of earth to their devotions.
Verse 3. The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. The thunder is not only poetically but instructively called "the voice of God," since it peals from on high. It surpasses all other sounds, it inspires awe, it is entirely independent of man, and has been used on some occasions as the grand accompaniment of God's speech to Adam's sons.
There is a peculiar terror in a tempest at sea, when deep calls unto deep, and the raging sea echoes to the angry sky. No sight is more alarming than the flash of lightning around the mast of the ship. No sound is more calculated to inspire reverent awe than the roar of the storm. The children of Heaven have often enjoyed the tumult with humble joy peculiar to the saints, and even those who know not God have been forced into unwilling reverence while the storm has lasted.
The glory of God thunders. Thunder is in truth no mere electric phenomenon, but is caused by the interposition of God himself. Our modern wise men will have us believe in laws and forces—anything or nothing, just so they may be rid of God. Electricity of itself can do nothing, it must be called and sent upon its errand. Until the almighty Lord commissions it, its bolt of fire is inert and powerless. As well might a rock of granite, or a bar of iron fly in the midst of Heaven—as the lightning go without being sent by the great First Cause.
The Lord is upon many waters. Still the Psalmist's ear hears no voice but that of Jehovah, resounding from the multitudinous and dark waters of the upper ocean of clouds, and echoing from the innumerable billows of the storm-tossed sea below.
The waters above and beneath the firmament are astonished at the eternal voice. When the Holy Spirit makes the divine promise to be heard above the many waters of our soul's trouble—then is God as glorious in the spiritual world as in the universe of matter. Above us and beneath us all, is the peace of God when he gives us quiet.
Verse 4. The voice of the Lord is powerful. An irresistible power attends the lightning of which the thunder is the report. In an instant, when the Lord wills it, the force of electricity produces amazing results.
A writer upon this subject, speaks of these results as including a light of the intensity of the sun in his strength, a heat capable of fusing the most compact metals, a force in a moment paralyzing the muscles of the most powerful animals; a power suspending the all pervading gravity of the earth, and an energy capable of decomposing and recomposing the closest affinities of the most intimate combinations.
Well does Thompson speak of "the unconquerable lightning," for it is the chief of the ways of God in physical forces, and none can measure its power.
As the voice of God in nature is so powerful, so is it in grace. The reader will do well to draw a parallel, and he will find much in the gospel which may be illustrated by the thunder of the Lord in the tempest. His voice, whether in nature or revelation, shakes both earth and Heaven; see that you refuse not him that speaks. If his voice be thus mighty, what must his hand be! beware lest you provoke a blow.
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The King of kings speaks like a king. As when a lion roars, all the beasts of the forest are still, so is the earth hushed and mute while Jehovah thunders marvelously. "It is listening fear and silent amazement all."
As for the written word of God, its majesty is apparent both in its style, its matter, and its power over the human mind. Blessed be God, it is the majesty of mercy wielding a silver scepter; of such majesty the word of our salvation is full to overflowing.
Verse 5. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.
"Black from the stroke above, the smoldering pine
Stands a sad shattered trunk."
Noble trees fall prostrate beneath the mysterious bolt, or stand in desolation as mementos of its power. Lebanon itself is not secure, high as it stands, and ancient as are its venerable woods.
Yes, the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. The greatest and most venerable of trees or men, may not reckon upon immunity when the Lord is abroad in his wrath.
The gospel of Jesus has a like dominion over the most inaccessible of mortals; and when the Lord sends the word, it breaks hearts far stouter than the cedars!
Verse 6. He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox. Not only the trees, but the mountains themselves move as though they frisked and leaped like young bulls or antelopes. As our own poets would mention hills and valleys known to them, so the Psalmist hears the crash and roar among the ranges of Lebanon, and depicts the tumult in graphic terms.
The glorious gospel of the blessed God has more than equal power over the rocky obduracy and mountainous pride of man. The voice of our dying Lord rent the rocks and opened the graves. His living voice still works the like wonders. Glory be to his name, the hills of our sins leap into his grave, and are buried in the red sea of his blood, when the voice of his intercession is heard.
Verse 7. The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire. As when sparks fly from the anvil by blows of a ponderous hammer, so the lightning attends the thundering strokes of Jehovah.
The thunder seems to divide one flash from another, interposing its deepening roar between the flash which precedes it and the next. That the flashes are truly flames of fire is witnessed by their frequently falling upon houses, churches, etc., and wrapping them in a blaze.
How easily could the Lord destroy his rebellious creatures with his hot thunderbolts! How gracious is the hand which spares such great offenders, when to crush them would be so easy!
Flames of fire attend the voice of God in the gospel, illuminating and melting the hearts of men! By those he consumes our lusts and kindles in us a holy flame of ever aspiring love and holiness. Pentecost is a suggestive commentary upon this verse.
Verse 8. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness. The LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh. As the storm traveled, it burst over the desert. God courts not the applause of men—his grandest deeds are wrought where man's inquisitive glance is all unknown. Where no sound of man was heard, the voice of God was terribly distinct. The vast and silent plains trembled with affright. Silence did homage to the Almighty voice. Low lying plains must hear the voice of God as well as lofty mountains.
The poor as well as the mighty, must acknowledge the glory of the Lord. Solitary and barren places are to be gladdened by the gospel's heavenly sound. What a shaking and overturning power there is in the word of God! Even the conservative desert quivers into progress when God decrees it.
Verse 9. The voice of the Lord makes the hinds to calve. Those timid creatures, in deadly fear of the tempest, drop their burdens in an untimely manner. Perhaps a better reading is, "the oaks to tremble," especially as this agrees with the next phrase, and strips the forest bare. The dense shades of the forest are lit up with the lurid glare of the lightning, and even the darkest recesses are for a moment laid bare.
Our first parents sought a refuge among the trees, but the voice of the Lord soon found them out, and made their hearts to tremble.
There is no concealment from the fiery glance of the Almighty—one flash of his angry eye turns midnight into noon.
The gospel has a like revealing power in dark hearts, in a moment it lights up every dark recess of the heart's ungodliness, and bids the soul tremble before the Lord.
In his temple does everyone speak of his glory. Those who were worshiping in the temple, were led to speak of the greatness of Jehovah as they heard the repeated thunder-claps.
The whole world is also a temple for God, and when he rides abroad upon the wings of the wind, all things are vocal in his praise.
We too, the redeemed of the Lord, who are living temples for his Spirit, as we see the wonders of his power in creation, and feel them in grace—unite to magnify his name. No tongue may be silent in God's temple when his glory is the theme.
The original appears to have the force of "every one cries Glory!" as though all things were moved by a sense of God's majesty to shout in ecstasy, "Glory, glory!" Here is a good precedent for our Methodist friends and for the zealous Welsh.
Verse 10. The Lord sits upon the flood. Flood follows tempest, but Jehovah is ready for the emergency. No deluge can undermine the foundation of his throne. He is calm and unmoved, however much the deep may roar and be troubled. His government rules the most unstable and boisterous of created things. Far out on the wild waste of waters, Jehovah "plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm!" Yes, the Lord sits as King forever. Jesus has the government upon his shoulders eternally! Our interests in the most stormy times are safe in his hands. Satan is not a king, but Jehovah Jesus is—therefore let us worship him, and rejoice evermore.
Verse 11. The LORD will give strength to His people; The LORD will bless His people with peace. Power was displayed in the hurricane whose course this Psalm so grandly pictures. Now, in the cool calm after the storm, that power is promised to be the strength of the chosen. He who wings the unerring thunderbolt, will give to his redeemed the wings of eagles. He who shakes the earth with his voice, will terrify the enemies of his saints, and give his children peace.
Why are we weak when we have divine strength to flee to? Why are we troubled when the Lord's own peace is ours? Jesus the mighty God, is our peace—what a blessing is this today! What a blessing it will be to us in that day of the Lord which will be in darkness and not light to the ungodly!
Dear reader, is not this a noble Psalm to be sung in stormy weather? Can you sing amid the thunder? Will you be able to sing when the last thunders are let loose, and Jesus judges the living and dead? If you are a believer, the last verse is your heritage, and surely that will set you singing.