Treasury of David
GENERAL REMARKS. Here we have one of the loftiest and longest sustained flights of the inspired muse. The psalm gives an interpretation to the many voices of nature, and sings sweetly both of creation and providence. The poem contains a complete cosmos sea and land, cloud and sunlight, plant and animal, light and darkness, life and death—are all proved to be expressive of the presence of the Lord.
Traces of the six days of creation are very evident, and though the creation of man, which was the crowning work of the sixth day, is not mentioned, this is accounted for from the fact that man is himself the singer.
Some have ever, discerned marks of the divine rest upon the seventh day in 31. It is a poet's version of Genesis. Nor is it alone the present condition of the earth which is here the subject of song; but a hint is given of those holier times when we shall see "a new earth wherein dwells righteousness," out of which the sinner shall be consumed, 35.
The spirit of ardent praise to God runs through the whole, and with it a distinct realization of the divine Being as a personal existence, loved and trusted as well as adored.
We have no information as to the author—but the Septuagint assigns it to David, and we see no reason for ascribing it to any one else. His spirit, style, and manner of writing are very manifest therein, and if the psalm must be ascribed to another, it must be to a mind remarkably similar, and we could only suggest the wise son of David—Solomon, the poet preacher, to whose notes upon natural history in the Proverbs some of the verses bear a striking likeness. Whoever the human penman may have been, the exceeding glory and perfection of the Holy Spirit's own divine authorship are plain to every spiritual mind.
DIVISION. After ascribing blessedness to the Lord the devout psalmist sings of the light and the firmament, which were the work of the first and second days 1-6.
By an easy transition he describes the separation of the waters from the dry land, the formation of rain, brooks and rivers, and the uprising of green herbs, which were the produce of the third day 7-18.
Then the appointment of the sun and moon to be the guardians of day and night commands the poet's admiration 19-23, and so he sings the work of the fourth day.
Having already alluded to many varieties of living creatures, the psalmist proceeds from 24-30 to sing of the life with which the Lord was pleased to fill the air, the sea, and the land; these forms of existence were the peculiar produce of the fifth and sixth days.
We may regard the closing verses 31-35 as a Sabbath meditation, hymn, and prayer. The whole lies before us as a panorama of the universe viewed by the eye of devotion. O for grace to render due praise unto the Lord while reading it.
Verse 1. Bless the LORD, O my soul.
This psalm begins and ends like the Hundred and Third, and it could not do better—when the model is perfect it deserves to exist in duplicate. True praise begins at home. It is idle to stir up others to praise if we are ungratefully silent ourselves. We should call upon our inmost hearts to awake and bestir themselves, for we are apt to be sluggish, and if we are so when called upon to bless God, we shall have great cause to be ashamed.
When we magnify the Lord, let us do it heartily—our best is far beneath his worthiness, let us not dishonor him by rendering to him half hearted worship.
O LORD my God, you are very great.
This ascription has in it a remarkable blending of the boldness of faith, and the awe of holy fear: for the psalmist calls the infinite Jehovah "my God," and at the same time, prostrate in amazement at the divine greatness, he cries out in utter astonishment, "You are very great."
God was great on Sinai—yet the opening words of his law were, "I am the Lord your God;" his greatness is no reason why faith should not put in her claim, and call him all her own. The declaration of Jehovah's greatness here given would have been very much in place at the end of the psalm, for it is a natural inference and deduction from a survey of the universe. Its position at the very commencement of the poem is an indication that the whole psalm was well considered and digested in the mind before it was actually put into words; only on this supposition can we account for the emotion preceding the contemplation.
Observe also, that the wonder expressed does not refer to the creation and its greatness—but to Jehovah himself. It is not "the universe is very great!" but "YOU are very great." Many stay at the creature, and so become idolatrous in spirit; to pass onward to the Creator himself is true wisdom.
You are clothed with honor and majesty.
You yourself are not to be seen—but your works, which may be called your garments, are full of beauties and marvels which redound to your honor. Garments both conceal and reveal a man, and so do the creatures of God. The Lord is seen in his works as worthy of honor for his skill, his goodness, and his power, and as claiming majesty, for he has fashioned all things in sovereignty, doing as he wills, and asking no man's permit. He must be blind indeed, who does not see that nature is the work of a king. These are solemn strokes of God's severer mind, terrible touches of his sterner attributes, broad lines of inscrutable mystery, and deep shadings of overwhelming power. And these make creation's picture a problem never to be solved, except by admitting that he who drew it gives no account of his matters—but rules all things according to the good pleasure of his will. His majesty is, however, always so displayed as to reflect honor upon his whole character; he does as lie wills—but he wills only that which is thrice holy, like himself. The very robes of the unseen Spirit teach us this, and it is ours to recognize it with humble adoration.
Verse 2. Who covers yourself with light as with a garment.
Wrapping the light about him as a monarch puts on his robe. The conception is sublime: but it makes us feel how altogether inconceivable the personal glory of the Lord must be; if light itself is but his garment and veil, what must be the blazing splendor of his own essential being! We are lost in astonishment, and dare not pry into the mystery lest we be blinded by its insufferable glory.
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain.
Within which he might dwell. Light was created on the first day and the firmament upon the second, so that they fitly follow each other in this verse. Oriental princes put on their glorious apparel and then sit in state within curtains, and the Lord is spoken of under that image. But how far above all comprehension the figure must be lifted, since the robe is essential light, to which suns and moons owe their brightness, and the curtain is the azure sky studded with stars for gems. This is a substantial argument for the truth with which the psalmist commenced his song, "O Lord my God, you are very great!"
Verse 3. Who lays the beams of his chambers in the waters.
His lofty halls are framed with the waters which are above the firmament. The upper rooms of God's great house, the secret stories far above our cognizance, the palatial chambers wherein he resides are based upon the floods which form the upper ocean. To the unsubstantial he lends stability—he needs no joists and rafters, for his palace is sustained by his own power.
We are not to interpret literally where the language is poetic, it would be simple absurdity to do so.
Who makes the clouds his chariot.
When he comes forth from his secret pavilion it is thus he makes his royal progress. "It is chariot of wrath deep thunder clouds form," and his chariot of mercy drops plenty as it traverses the celestial road.
Who walks or rather goes upon the wings of the wind.
With the clouds for a car, and the winds for winged steeds, the Great King hastens on his movements whether for mercy or for judgment. Thus we have the idea of a king still further elaborated—his lofty palace, his chariot, and his coursers are before us. But what a palace must we imagine, whose beams are of crystal, and whose base is consolidated vapor! What a stately car is that which is fashioned out of the flying clouds, whose gorgeous colors Solomon in all his glory could not rival. And what a Godlike progress is that in which spirit wings and breath of winds bear up the moving throne. "O Lord, my God, you are very great!"
Verse 4. Who makes his angels spirits.
Or winds, for the word means either. Angels are pure spirits, though they are permitted to assume a visible form when God desires us to see them. God is a spirit, and he is waited upon by spirits in his royal courts. Angels are like winds for mystery, force, and invisibility, and no doubt the winds themselves are often the angels or messengers of God. God who makes his angels to be as winds—can also make winds to be his angels, and they are constantly so in the economy of nature.
His ministers a flaming fire.
Here, too, we may choose which we will of two meanings: God's ministers or servants he makes to be as swift, potent, and terrible as fire. On the other hand he makes fire, that devouring element, to be his minister flaming forth upon his errands. That the passage refers to angels is clear from Hebrews 1:7; and it was most proper to mention them here in connection with light and the heavens, and immediately after the robes and palace of the Great King.
Should not the retinue of the Lord Almighty, be mentioned as well as his chariot? It would have been a flaw in the description of the universe had the angels not been alluded to, and this is the most appropriate place for their introduction. When we think of the extraordinary powers entrusted to angelic beings, and the mysterious glory of the seraphim and the four living creatures—we are led to reflect upon the glory of the Master whom they serve, and again we cry out with the psalmist, "O Lord, my God, you are very great!"
Verse 5. Who laid the foundations of the earth.
Thus the commencement of creation is described, in almost the very words employed by the Lord himself in Job 38:4. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened, and who laid the cornerstone thereof?" And the words are found in the same connection too, for the Lord proceeds to say, "When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy."
That it should not be removed forever.
The language is, of course, poetic—but the fact is none the less wonderful—the earth is so placed in space that it remains as stable as if it were a fixture. The several motions of our planet are carried on so noiselessly and evenly that, as far as we are concerned, all things are as permanent and peaceful as if the old notion of its resting upon pillars were literally true.
With what delicacy has the great Artificer poised our globe! What power and wisdom must there be in that hand which has caused so vast a body to know its orbit, and to move so smoothly in it! What engineer can save every part of his machinery from an occasional jar, jerk, or friction? Yet to our great world in its complicated motions no such thing has ever occurred. "O Lord, my God, you are very great!"
Verse 6. You covered it with the deep as with a garment.
The new born earth was wrapped in aqueous swaddling bands. In the first ages, before man appeared, the proud waters ruled the whole earth. The waters stood above the mountains, no dry land was visible, vapor as from a steaming cauldron covered all. Geologists inform us of this as a discovery—but the Holy Spirit had revealed the fact long before.
The passage before us shows us the Creator commencing his work, and laying the foundation for future order and beauty. To think of this reverently will fill us with adoration; to conceive of it grossly and carnally would be highly blasphemous.
Verse 7. At your rebuke they fled; at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
When the waters and vapors covered all, the Lord had but to speak and they disappeared at once. As though they had been intelligent agents the waves hurried to their appointed deeps and left the land to itself. Then the mountains lifted their heads, the highlands rose from the main, and at length continents and islands, slopes and plains were left to form the habitable earth.
The voice of the Lord effected this great marvel. Is not his word equal to every emergency? Is not his word potent enough to work the greatest miracle? By that same word shall the waterfloods of trouble be restrained, and the raging billows of sin be rebuked! The day comes when at the thunder of Jehovah's voice all the proud waters of evil shall utterly haste away. "O Lord, my God, you are very great!"
Verse 8. The vanquished waters are henceforth obedient. They go up by the mountains, climbing in the form of clouds even to the summits of the Alps. They go down by the valleys unto the place which you have founded for them: they are as willing to descend in rain, and brooks, and torrents as they were eager to ascend in mists.
The loyalty of the mighty waters to the laws of their God is most notable; the fierce flood, the boisterous rapid; the tremendous torrent—are only forms of that gentle dew which trembles on the tiny blade of grass, and in those ruder shapes they are equally obedient to the laws which their Maker has impressed upon them.
Not so much as a solitary particle of spray ever breaks rank, or violates the command of the Lord of sea and land. Neither do the awful cataracts and terrific floods revolt from his sway.
It is very beautiful among the mountains to see the divine system of water supply—the rising of the fleecy vapors, the distillation of the pure fluid, the glee with which the newborn element leaps down the crags to reach the rivers, and the strong eagerness with which the rivers seek the ocean, their appointed place.
Verse 9. You have set a bound that they may not pass over, that they turn not again to cover the earth.
That bound has once been passed—but it shall never be so again. The deluge was caused by the suspension of the divine mandate which held the floods in check: they knew their old supremacy, and hastened to reassert it—but now the covenant promise forever prevents a return of that carnival of waters, that revolt of the waves. Ought we not rather to call it that impetuous rush of the indignant floods to avenge the injured honor of their King, whom men had offended?
Jehovah's word bounds the ocean, using only a narrow belt of sand to confine it to its own limits: that apparently feeble restraint answers every purpose, for the sea is obedient as a little child to the bidding of its Maker. Destruction lies asleep in the bed of the ocean, and though our sins might well arouse it—yet are its bands made strong by covenant mercy, so that it cannot break loose again upon the guilty sons of men.
Verse 10. He sends the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
This is a beautiful part of the Lord's arrangement of the subject waters: they find vents through which they leap into liberty where their presence will be beneficial in the highest degree. Depressions exist in the sides of the mountains, and down these the water brooks are made to flow, often taking their rise at bubbling fountains which issue from the depths of the earth. It is God who sends these springs even as a gardener makes the water courses, and turns the current with his foot. When the waters are confined in the abyss, the Lord sets their bound; and when they sport at liberty he sends them forth.
Verse 11. They give drink to every beast of the field.
Who else would water them if the Lord did not? They are his cattle, and therefore he leads them forth to watering. Not one of them is forgotten of him.
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The good Lord gives them enough and to spare. They know their Master's crib. Though bit or bridle of man they will not brook, and man denounces them as unteachable, they learn of the Lord, and know better far than man where flows the cooling crystal of which they must drink or die. They are only donkeys, and wild—yet our heavenly Father cares for them. Will he not also care for us?
We see here, also, that nothing is made in vain; though no human lip is moistened by the brooklet in the lone valley—yet are there other creatures which need refreshment, and these slake their thirst at the stream. Is this nothing? Must everything exist for man, or else be wasted? What but our pride and selfishness could have suggested such a notion? It is not true that flowers which blush unseen by human eye are wasting their sweetness, for the bee finds them out, and other winged wanderers live on their luscious juices. Man is but one creature of the many whom the heavenly Father feeds and waters.
Verse 12. By them shall the birds of the Heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
How refreshing are these words! What happy memories they arouse of splashing waterfalls and entangled boughs, where the merry din of the falling and rushing water forms a sort of solid background of music, and the sweet tuneful notes of the birds are the brighter and more flashing lights in the harmony. Pretty birdies, sing on! What better can you do, and who can do it better?
When we too drink of the river of God, and eat of the fruit of the tree of fife, it well becomes us to "sing among the branches." Where you dwell you sing—and shall not we rejoice in the Lord, who has been our dwelling place in all generations. As you fly from bough to bough, you warble forth your notes, and so will we as we flit through time into eternity. It is not fit that birds of Paradise should be outdone by birds of earth.
Verse 13. He waters the hills from his chambers.
As the mountains are too high to be watered by rivers and brooks, the Lord himself refreshes them from those waters above the firmament which the poet had in a former verse described as the upper chambers of Heaven. Clouds are detained among the mountain crags, and deluge the hill sides with fertilizing rain. Where man cannot reach, the Lord can. Whom none else can water with grace, he can; and where all stores of refreshment fail, he can supply all that is needed from his own halls.
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of your works.
The result of the divine working is fullness everywhere, the soil is saturated with rain, the seed germinates, the beasts drink, and the birds sing—nothing is left without supplies.
So, too, is it in the new creation, he gives more grace, he fills his people with good, and makes them all confess, "of his fullness have all we received and grace for grace!"
Verse 14. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man.
Grass grows as well as herbs, for cattle must be fed as well as men. God appoints to the lowliest creature its portion and takes care that it has it. Divine power is as truly and as worthily put forth in the feeding of beasts as in the nurturing of man. Watch but a blade of grass with a devout eye and you may see God at work within it! The herb is for man, and he must until the soil, or it will not be produced—yet it is God that causes it to grow in the garden, even the same God who made the grass to grow in the unenclosed pastures of the wilderness. Man forgets this and talks of his produce—but in very truth, without God he would plough and sow in vain.
The Lord causes each green blade to spring and each ear to ripen—do but watch with opened eye and you shall see the Lord walking through the grainfields.
That he may bring forth food out of the earth.
Both grass for cattle, and grain for man, are food brought forth out of the earth and they are signs that it was God's design that the very dust beneath our feet, which seems better adapted to bury us than to sustain us, should actually be transformed into the staff of life! The more we think of this the more wonderful it will appear. How great is that God who from among the sepulchers finds the support of life, and out of the ground which was cursed, brings forth the blessings of grain and wine and oil.
Verse 15. And wine that makes glad the heart of man.
By the aid of congenial showers, the earth produces not merely necessities but luxuries; that which furnishes a feast, as well as that which makes a meal. O that man were wise enough to know how to use this gladdening product of the vine; but, alas, he full often turns it to ill account, and debases himself therewith. Of this he must himself bear the blame; he deserves to be miserable who turns even blessings into curses.
And oil to make his face to shine.
The easterns use oil more than we do, and probably are wiser in this respect than we are. They delight in anointing with perfumed oils, and regard the shining of the face as a choice emblem of joy. God is to be praised for all the products of the soil, not one of which could come to us were it not that he causes it to grow.
And bread which strengthens man's heart.
Men have more courage after they are fed: many a depressed spirit has been comforted by a good substantial meal. We ought to bless God for strength of heart as well as force of limb, since if we possess them they are both the bounties of his kindness.
Verse 16. The watering of the hills not only produces the grass and the cultivated herbs—but also the nobler species of vegetation, which come not within the range of human culture.
"Their veins with genial moisture fed,
Jehovah's forests lift the head:
Nor other than his fostering hand
Your cedars, Lebanon, demand."
The trees of the Lord.
The greatest, noblest, and most royal of trees; those too which are unowned of man, and untouched by his hand.
Are full of sap.
Or are full, well supplied, richly watered, so that they become, as the cedars, full of resin, flowing with life, and verdant all the year round.
The cedars of Lebanon, which he has planted.
They grow where none ever thought of planting them, where for ages they were unobserved, and where at this moment they are too gigantic for man to prune them. What would our psalmist have said to some of the trees in the Yosemite valley? Truly these are worthy to be called the trees of the Lord, for towering stature and enormous girth.
Thus is the care of God seen to be effectual and all sufficient. If trees uncared for by man are yet so full of sap—we may rest assured that the people of God who by faith live upon the Lord alone shall be equally well sustained. Planted by grace, and owing all to our heavenly Father's care—we may defy the hurricane, and laugh at the fear of drought, for none who trust in him shall ever be left unwatered.
Verse 17. Where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
So far from being in need, these trees of God afford shelter to others, birds small and great make their nests in the branches. Thus what they receive from the great Lord they endeavor to return to his weaker creatures.
Observe how one thing fits into another in this fair creation—each link drawing on its fellow: the rains water the fir trees, and the fir trees become the happy home of birds; thus do the thunder clouds build the sparrow's house, and the descending rain sustains the basis of the stork's nest.
Observe, also, how everything has its use—the boughs furnish a home for the birds; and every living thing has its accommodation.
The stork finds a house in the pines.
Her nest is called a house, because this bird exhibits domestic virtues and maternal love which make her young to be comparable to a family. No doubt this ancient writer had seen storks' nests in fir trees; they appear usually to build on houses and ruins—but there is also evidence that where there are forests, they are content with pine trees.
Has the reader ever walked through a forest of great trees and felt the awe which strikes the heart in nature's sublime cathedral? Then he will remember to have felt that each bird was holy, since it dwelt amid such sacred solitude. Those who cannot see or hear of God except in Gothic edifices, amid the swell of organs, and the voices of a surpliced choir, will not be able to enter into the feeling which makes the simple, unsophisticated soul hear "the voice of the Lord God walking among the trees."
Verse 18. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the coneys.
All places teem with life. We call our cities populous—but are not the forests and the high hills more densely peopled with life? We speak of uninhabitable places—but where are they? The chamois leaps from crag to crag, and the rabbit burrows beneath the soil. For one creature the loftiness of the hills, and for another the hollowness of the rocks—serves as a protection:
"Far over the crags the wild goats roam,
The rocks supply the coney's home."
Thus all the earth is full of happy life, every place has its appropriate in habitant, nothing is empty and void and waste. See how goats, and storks, and coneys, and sparrows, each contribute a verse to the psalm of nature; have we not also our canticles to sing unto the Lord? Little though we may be in the scale of importance—yet let us fill our sphere, and so honor the Lord who made us with a purpose.
Verse 19. The appointed rule of the great lights is now the theme for praise. The moon is mentioned first, because in the Jewish day the night leads the way.
He appointed the moon for seasons.
By the waxing and waning of the moon the year is divided into months, and weeks, and by this means the exact dates of the holy days were arranged. Thus the lamp of night is made to be of service to man, and in fixing the period of religious assemblies (as it did among the Jews) it enters into connection with his noblest being. Never let us regard the moon's motions as the inevitable result of inanimate impersonal law—but as the appointment of our God.
The sun knows his going down.
In finely poetic imagery the sun is represented as knowing when to retire from sight, and sink below the horizon. He never loiters on his way, or pauses as if undecided when to descend; his appointed hour for going down, although it is constantly varying, he always keeps to a second.
We need to be aroused in the morning—but he arises punctually, and though some require to watch the clock to know the hour of rest, he, without a time-piece to consult, hides himself in the western sky the instant the set time has come. For all this man should praise the Lord of the sun and moon, who has made these great lights to be our chronometers, and thus keeps our world in order, and allows no confusion to distract us.
Verse 20. You, make darkness, and it is night.
Drawing down the blinds for us, he prepares our bedchamber that we may sleep. Were there no darkness we should sigh for it, since we should find repose so much more difficult, if the weary day were never calmed into night. Let us see God's hand in the veiling of the sun, and never fear either natural or providential darkness, since both are of the Lord's own making.
Wherein all the beasts of the forest creep forth.
Then is the lion's day, his time to hunt his food. Why should not the wild beast have his hour as well as man? He has a service to perform, should he not also have his food?
Darkness is fitter for beasts than man; and those men are most brutish who love darkness rather than light. When the darkness of ignorance broods over a nation, then all sorts of superstitions, cruelties, and vices abound; the gospel, like the sun-rising, soon clears the world of the open ravages of these monsters, and they seek more congenial abodes.
We see here the value of true light, for we may depend upon it where there is night there will also be wild beasts to kill and to devour.
Verse 21. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God.
This is the poetic interpretation of a roar. To whom do the lions roar? Certainly not to their prey, for the terrible sound tends to alarm their victims, and drive them away. They after their own fashion express their desires for food, and the expression of desire is a kind of prayer. Out of this fact comes the devout thought of the wild beast's appealing to its Maker for food.
But neither with lions nor men will the seeking of prayer suffice, there must be practical seeking too, and the lions are well aware of it. What they have in their own language asked for they go forth to seek; being in this thing far wiser than many men who offer formal prayers not half so earnest as those of the young lions, and then neglect the means in the use of which the object of their petitions might be gained. The lions roar and seek; too many are liars before God, and roar but never seek.
How comforting is the thought that the Spirit translates the voice of a lion, and finds it to be a seeking of food from God! May we not hope that our poor broken cries and groans, which in our sorrow we have called "the voice of our roaring" Psalm 22:10, will be understood by him, and interpreted in our favor. Evidently he considers the meaning rather than the music of the utterance, and puts the best construction upon it.
Verse 22. The sun arises.
Every evening has its morning to make the day. Were it not that we have seen the sun rise so often, we should think it the greatest of miracles, and the most amazing of blessings.
They gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
Thus they are out of man's way, and he seldom encounters them unless he desires to do so. The forest's warriors retire to their quarters when the morning's drum is heard, finding in the recesses of their dens a darkness suitable for their slumbers; there they lay them down and digest their food, for God has allotted even to them their portion of rest and enjoyment.
There was one who in this respect was poorer than lions and foxes, for he had nowhere to lay his head: all were provided for except their incarnate Provider. Blessed Lord, you have stooped beneath the conditions of the brutes to lift up worse than brutish men!
It is very striking how the Lord controls the fiercest of animals far more readily than the shepherd manages his sheep. At nightfall they separate and go forth each one upon the merciful errand of ending the miseries of the sickly and decrepit among grass eating animals. The younger of these animals being swift of foot easily escape them and are benefitted by the exercise, and for the most part only those are overtaken and killed to whom life would have been protracted agony. So far lions are messengers of mercy, and are as much sent of God as the sporting dog is sent by man on his errands.
But these mighty hunters must not always be abroad, they must be sent back to their lairs when man comes upon the scene. Who shall gather these ferocious creatures and shut them in? Who shall chain them down and make them harmless? The sun suffices to do it. He is the true lion tamer. They gather themselves together as though they were so many sheep, and in their own retreats they keep themselves prisoners until returning darkness gives them another leave to range. By simply majestic means the divine purposes are accomplished.
In like manner even the devils are subject unto our Lord Jesus, and by the simple spread of the light of the gospel these roaring demons are chased out of the world. No need for miracles or displays of physical power, the Sun of Righteousness arises, and the devil and the false gods, and superstitions and errors of men, all seek their hiding places in the dark places of the earth among the moles and the bats.
Verse 23. Man goes forth.
It is his turn now, and the sunrise has made things ready for him. His warm couch he forsakes and the comforts of home, to find his daily food. This work is good for him, both keeping him out of mischief, and exercising his faculties.
Unto his work and to his labor until the evening.
He goes not forth to sport but to work, not to loiter but to labor; at least, this is the lot of the best part of mankind. We are made for work and ought to work, and should never grumble that so it is appointed.
The hours of labor, however, ought not to be too long. If labor lasts out the average daylight it is certainly all that any man ought to expect of another, and yet there are poor creatures so badly paid that in twelve hours they cannot earn bread enough to keep them from hunger. Shame on those who dare so impose upon helpless women and children. Night work should also be avoided as much as possible. There are twelve hours in which a man ought to work—the night is meant for rest and sleep.
Night, then as well as day has its voice of praise. It is more soft and hushed—but it is none the less true. The moon lights up a solemn silence of worship among the fir trees, through which the night wind softly breathes its "songs without words."
Every now and then a sound is heard, which, however simple by day, sounds among the shadows startling and weird like, as if the presence of the unknown had filled the heart with trembling, and made the influence of the Infinite to be realized. Imagination awakens herself; unbelief finds the silence and the solemnity uncongenial, faith looks up to the skies above her and sees heavenly things all the more clearly in the absence of the sunlight, and adoration bows itself before the Great Invisible!
God himself is abroad all night long, and the glory which conceals is often felt to be even greater than that which reveals. Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Verse 24. O Lord, how manifold are your works.
They are not only many for number but manifold for variety. Mineral, vegetable, animal—what a range of works is suggested by these three names! No two even of the same class are exactly alike, and the classes are more numerous than science can number. Works in the heavens above and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth; works which abide the ages; works which come to perfection and pass away in a year; works which with all their beauty do not outlive a day; works within works; and works within these—who can number one of a thousand!
God is the great worker, and ordainer of variety. It is ours to study his works, for they are great, and sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. The kingdom of grace contains as manifold and as great works as that of nature—but the chosen of the Lord alone discern them.
In wisdom have you made them all.
Or wrought them all. They are all his works, wrought by his own power, and they all display his wisdom. It was wise to make them—none could be spared; every link is essential to the chain of nature—wild beasts as much as men, poisons as truly as odoriferous herbs. They are wisely made—each one fits its place, fills it, and is happy in so doing. As a whole, the "all" of creation is a wise achievement, and however it may be chequered with mysteries, and clouded with terrors—it all works together for good, and as one complete harmonious piece of workmanship it answers the great Worker's end.
The earth is full of your riches.
It is not a poor house—but a palace. It is not a hungry ruin—but a well filled store house. The Creator has not set his creatures down in a dwelling place where the table is bare, and the cupboard empty, he has filled the earth with food; and not with bare necessities only—but with riches—dainties, luxuries, beauties, treasures. In the recesses of the earth are hidden mines of wealth, and on her surface are teeming harvests of plenty. All these riches are the Lord's; we ought to call them not "the wealth of nations," but "your riches" O Lord! Not in one climate alone are these riches of God to be found—but in all lands—even the Arctic ocean has its precious things which men endure much hardness to win, and the burning sun of the equator ripens a produce which flavors the food of all mankind. If his house below is so full of riches what must his house above be, where
"The very streets are paved with gold
Exceeding clear and fine!"
Verse 25. So is this great and wide sea.
He gives an instance of the immense number and variety of Jehovah's works by pointing to the sea. "Look," says he, "at yonder ocean, stretching itself on both hands and embracing so many lands, it too swarms with animal life, and in its deeps lie treasures beyond all counting. The heathen made the sea a different province from the land, and gave the command thereof to Neptune—but we know of a surety that Jehovah rules the waves!
Wherein, are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
Read moving things and animals small and great, and you have the true sense.
The number of minute forms of animal life is indeed beyond all reckoning. When a single phosphorescent wave may bear millions of infusoria, and around a fragment of rock armies of microscopic beings may gather, we renounce all idea of applying arithmetic to such a case. The sea in many regions appears to be all alive, as if every drop were a world. Nor are these tiny creatures the only tenants of the sea, for it contains gigantic mammals which exceed in bulk those which range the land, and a vast host of huge fish which wander among the waves, and hide in the caverns of the sea as the tiger lurks in the jungle, or the lion roams the plain. Truly, O Lord, you make the sea to be as rich in the works of your hands as the land itself.
Verse 26. There go the ships.
So that ocean is not altogether deserted by mankind. It is the highway of nations, and unites, rather than divides, distant lands.
There is that leviathan, whom you have made to play therein.
The huge whale turns the sea into his recreation ground, and disports himself as God designed that he should do. The thought of this amazing creature caused the psalmist to adore the mighty Creator who created him, formed him for his place and made him happy in it. Our ancient maps generally depict a ship and whale upon the sea, and so show that it is most natural, as well as poetic, to connect them both with the mention of the ocean.
Verse 27. These wait all upon you.
They come around you as chickens around the farmer's door at the time for feeding, and look up with expectation. Men or marmots, eagles or emmets, whales or minnows—they alike rely upon your care.
That you may give them food in due season.
That is to say, when they need it and when it is ready for them. God has a time for all things, and does not feed his creatures by fits and starts; he gives them daily bread, and a quantity proportioned to their needs. This is all that any of us should expect; if even the brute creatures are content with a sufficiency, then we ought not to be more greedy than they.
Verse 28. What you give them, they gather.
God gives it—but they must gather it, and they are glad that he does so, for otherwise their gathering would be in vain. We often forget that animals and birds in their free life have to work to obtain food even as we do; and yet it is true with them as with us—that our heavenly Father feeds all. When we see the chickens picking up the grain which the housewife scatters from her lap we have an apt illustration of the manner in which the Lord supplies the needs of all living things—he gives, and they gather.
You open your hand, and they are filled with good.
Here is divine liberality with its open hand filling needy creatures until they want no more; and here is divine omnipotence feeding a world by simply opening its hand. What would we do if that hand were closed? There would be no need to strike a blow, the mere closing of it would produce death by famine. Let us praise the open-handed Lord, whose providence and grace satisfy our mouths with good things.
Verse 29. You hide your face, and they are troubled.
So dependent are all living things upon God's smile, that a frown fills them with terror, as though convulsed with anguish. This is so in the natural world, and certainly not less so in the spiritual: saints when the Lord hides his face, are in terrible perplexity.
You take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
The breath appears to be a trifling matter, and the air an impalpable substance of but small importance, yet, once withdrawn, the body loses all vitality, and crumbles back to the earth from which it was originally taken. All animals come under this law, and even the dwellers in the sea are not exempt from it. Thus dependent is all nature upon the will of the Eternal.
Note here that death is caused by the act of God, "you take away their breath"; we are immortal until he bids us die, and so are even the little sparrows, who fall not to the ground without our Father.
Verse 30. You send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.
The loss of their breath destroys them, and by Jehovah's breath a new race is created. The works of the Lord are majestically simple, and are performed with royal ease—a breath creates, and its withdrawal destroys.
If we read the word spirit as we have it in our version, it is also instructive, for we see the Divine Spirit going forth to create life in nature even as we see him in the realms of grace.
At the flood the world was stripped of almost all life—yet how soon the power of God refilled the desolate places!
In winter the earth falls into a sleep which makes her appear worn and old—but how readily does the Lord awaken her with the voice of spring, and make her put on anew the beauty of her youth. You, Lord, do all things, and let glory be unto your name.
Verse 31. The glory of the LORD shall endure forever.
His works may pass away—but not his glory. Were it only for what he has already done, the Lord deserves to be praised without ceasing. His personal being and character ensure that he would be glorious even were all the creatures dead.
The LORD shall rejoice in his works.
He did so at the first, when he rested on the seventh day, and saw that everything was very good; he does so still in a measure where beauty and purity in nature still survive the Fall; and he will do so yet more fully when the earth is renovated, and the trail of the serpent is cleansed from the globe.
This verse is written in the most glowing manner. The poet finds his heart gladdened by beholding the works of the Lord, and he feels that the Creator himself must have felt unspeakable delight in exercising so much wisdom, goodness, and power.
Verse 32. He looks on the earth, and it trembles.
The Lord who has graciously displayed his power in acts and works of goodness might, if he had seen fit, have overwhelmed us with the terrors of destruction, for even at a glance of his eye, the solid earth rocks with fear.
He touches the hills, and they smoke.
Sinai was altogether on smoke when the Lord descended upon it. It was but a touch—but it sufficed to make the mountain dissolve in flame. Even our God is a consuming fire. Woe unto those who shall provoke him to frown upon them, they shall perish at the touch of his hand. If sinners were not altogether insensible, a glance of the Lord's eye would make them tremble, and the touches of his hand in affliction would set their hearts on fire with repentance. "Of reason all things show some sign," except man's unfeeling heart.
Verse 33. I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live.
Or, literally, in my lives. Here and hereafter the psalmist would continue to praise the Lord, for the theme is an endless one, and remains forever fresh and new.
The birds sang God's praises before men were created—but redeemed men will sing his glories when the birds are no more. Jehovah, who ever lives and makes us to live shall be forever exalted, and extolled in the songs of redeemed men.
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
A resolve both happy for himself and glorifying to the Lord. Note the sweet title—my God. We never sing so well as when we know that we have an interest in the good things of which we sing, and a relationship to the God whom we praise.
Verse 34. My meditation on him shall be sweet.
Sweet both to him and to me. I shall be delighted thus to survey his works and think of his person—and he will graciously accept my notes of praise.
Meditation is the soul of religion. It is the tree of life in the midst of the garden of piety, and very refreshing is its fruit to the soul which feeds thereon.
And as it is good towards man, so is it towards God. As the fat of the sacrifice was the Lord's portion, so are our best meditations due to the Most High and are most acceptable to him. We ought, therefore, both for our own good and for the Lord's honor to be much occupied with meditation—and that meditation should chiefly dwell upon the Lord himself: it should be "meditation on him." For want of it much communion is lost and much happiness is missed.
I will be glad in the Lord.
To the meditative mind every thought of God is full of joy. Each one of the divine attributes is a well-spring of delight now that in Christ Jesus we are reconciled unto God.
Verse 35. Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more.
They are the only blot upon creation.
"Every prospect pleases.
And only man is vile!"
In holy indignation the psalmist would gladly rid the world of beings so base as not to love their gracious Creator, so blind as to rebel against their Benefactor. He does but ask for that which just men look forward to as the end of history: for the day is eminently to be desired when in all God's kingdom there shall not remain a single traitor or rebel. The Christian way of putting it will be to ask that grace may turn sinners into saints, and win the wicked to the ways of truth.
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Here is the end of the matter—whatever sinners may do—my soul, stand to your colors, and be true to your calling. Their silence must not silence you—but rather provoke you to redoubled praise to make up for their failures. Nor can you alone accomplish the work; others must come to your help.
O you saints, Praise the LORD.
Let your hearts cry HALLELUJAH—for that is the word in the Hebrew. Heavenly word! Let it close the Psalm: for what more remains to be said or written? HALLELUJAH. Praise the Lord.