Psalm 74:13-17

13. Thou hast divided the sea by thy1 power: thou hast broken the heads of the dragons2 upon the waters. 14. Thou hast broken the head3 of Leviathan4 in pieces, and hast given him for food to thy people in the wilderness. 15. Thou hast cleaved [or divided] the fountain and the torrent: thou hast dried up mighty rivers. 16. The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast ordained5 the light6 and the sun. 17. Thou hast set [or fixed] all the boundaries of the earth: thou hast made the summer and the winter.


13. Thou hast divided the sea by thy power. The prophet now collects together certain kinds of deliverances highly worthy of remembrance; all of them, however, belonging to the first deliverance by which God emancipated his people from the tyranny of Egypt. We will find him afterwards descending to the general commendation of the goodness of God which is diffused through the whole world. Thus from the special grace which God vouchsafes to his Church, he passes on to speak of the good-will which he displays towards all mankind. In the first place, he says, Thou hast divided, or cleaved, the sea. Some think that the following clause is subjoined as an effect of what is stated in the first clause, -- God, by drying up the sea, having caused the whales and other great fishes to die. I am, however, of opinion, that it is to be taken metaphorically for Pharaoh and his army; this mode of expression being very common among the prophets, especially when they speak of the Egyptians, whose country was washed by a sea abounding with fish, and divided by the Nile. Pharaoh is, therefore, not improperly termed Leviathan,7 on account of the advantages of the sea possessed by his country, and because, in reigning over that land with great splendor, he might be compared to a whale moving up and down at its ease in the midst of the waters of the mighty ocean.8 As God put forth his power at that time for the deliverance of the people, to assure the Church that he would always be her protector and the guardian of her welfare, the encouragement afforded by this example ought not to be limited exclusively to one age. It is, therefore, with good reason applied to the descendants of that ancient race, that they might improve it as a means of confirming and establishing their faith. The prophet does not here recount all the miracles which God had wrought at the departure of the people from the land of Egypt; but in adverting to some of them, he comprehends by the figure synecdoche, all that Moses has narrated concerning them at greater length. When he says that leviathan was given for food to the Israelites, and that even in the wilderness,9 there is a beautiful allusion to the destruction of Pharaoh and his host. It is as if he had said, that then a bountiful provision of victuals was laid up for the nourishment of the people; for when their enemies were destroyed, the quiet and security which the people in consequence enjoyed served, so to speak, as food to prolong their life. By the wilderness, is not meant the countries lying on the sea coast, though they are dry and barren, but the deserts at a great distance from the sea. The same subject is prosecuted in the following verse, where it is declared, that the fountain was cleaved or divided, that is, it was so when God caused a stream of water to gush from the rock to supply the wants of the people.10 Finally, it is added, that mighty rivers11 were dried up, an event which happened when God caused the waters of the Jordan to turn back to make a way for his people to pass over. Some would have the Hebrew word Ntya, ethan, which signifies mighty, to be a proper name, as if the correct translation were rivers of Ethan; but this interpretation is altogether without foundation.

16. The day is thine, the night also is thine. The prophet now descends to the consideration of the divine benefits which are extended in common to all mankind. Having commenced with the special blessings by which God manifested himself to be the Father of his chosen people, he now aptly declares that God exercises his beneficence towards the whole human family. He teaches us, that it is not by chance that the days and nights succeed each other in regular succession, but that this order was established by the appointment of God. The secondary cause of these phenomena is added, being that arrangement by which God has invested the sun with the power and office of illuminating the earth; for after having spoken of the light he adds the sun, as the principal means of communicating it, and, so to speak, the chariot in which it is brought when it comes to show itself to men.12 As then the incomparable goodness of God towards the human race clearly shines forth in this beautiful arrangement, the prophet justly derives from it an argument for strengthening and establishing his trust in God.

17. Thou hast fixed13 all the boundaries of the earth. What is here stated concerning the boundaries or limits assigned to the earth, and concerning the regular and successive recurrence of summer and winter every year, is to the same effect as the preceding verse. It is doubtful whether the prophet means the uttermost ends of the world, or whether he speaks of the particular boundaries by which countries are separate from each other. Although the latter are often disturbed by the violence of men, whose insatiable cupidity and ambition cannot be restrained by any of the lines of demarcation which exist in the world, but are always endeavoring to break through them;14 yet God manifests his singular goodness in assigning to each nation its own territory upon which to dwell. I am, however, rather of opinion, that the clause is to be understood of those bounds which cannot be confounded at the will of men, and consider the meaning to be, that God has allotted to men as much space of earth as he has seen to be sufficient for them to dwell upon. Farther, the well regulated successions of summer and winter clearly indicate with what care and benignity God has provided for the necessities of the human family. From this, the prophet justly concludes, that nothing is more improbable than that God should neglect to act the part of a father towards his own flock and household.

1 There is here a change of person, and a transition from the narrative form of speech to the apostrophe, which give animation to the composition, and enhances its poetical beauty.

2 The word Mynynt, thanninim, for dragons, is used by the sacred writers somewhat indeterminately, and translators render it variously, as by whales, serpents, dragons, crocodiles, and other sea-monsters. (See Genesis 1:21; Exodus 7:12; Deuteronomy 32:33; and Psalm 148:7.) We cannot now ascertain what particular animal is in each case denoted, and it may very probably be merely a general term equivalent to our word "monster," for any strange and prodigious creature. Mynynt, thanninim, is here explained by Williams as denoting "sea-monsters or large serpents." "What animal is meant by this name," says Mant, "is not well ascertained. But it seems to have been some aquatic or amphibious creature commonly known in the neighborhood of Egypt, but not the crocodile, as that is noticed under a different name in the following verse." By the dragons the Egyptian people may be intended.

3 In the Hebrew it is "the heads."

4 "C'est, le plus grand monstre marin qui soit." -- Fr. marg. "That is, the greatest sea-monster which exists."

5 "Ou, establi." -- Fr. marg. "Or, established."

6 rwam, maor, here rendered the light, from rwa, or, to shine, signifies in general any luminary or receptacle of light; the sun or the moon indiscriminately. See Genesis 1:16. But being here joined with and opposed to the sun, as the night is to the day in the preceding clause, it has been supposed to signify the moon, the luminary of the night, as the sun is that of the day. The Chaldee, the LXX., the Syriac, and Arabic, render it the moon. The Vulgate has "auroram," "the morning."

7 Calvin supposes that the whale is the animal here referred to, and this was the opinion for a long time universally held. But from a comparison of the description given by Job of the Leviathan (Job 41) with what is known of the natural history of the crocodile, there can be little doubt that the crocodile is the Leviathan of Scripture. This is now very generally agreed upon. "Almost all the oldest commentators," says Dr Good, "I may say unconditionally all of them concurred in regarding the whale as the animal" intended by the Leviathan. "Beza and Diodati were among the first to interpret it 'the crocodile.' And Bochart has since supported this last rendering with a train of argument, which has nearly overwhelmed all opposition, and has brought almost every commentator over to his opinion." -- Dr Good's New Translation of Job. "With respect to the Leviathan," says Fry, "all are now pretty well agreed that it can apply only to the crocodile, and probably it was nothing but a defective knowledge of the language of the book of Job, or of the natural history of this stupendous animal, which led former commentators to imagine the description applicable to any other." -- Fry's New Translation and Exposition of the Book of Job. This Egyptian animal, the crocodile of the Nile, as we have formerly observed, (p. 38, note,) was anciently employed as a symbol of the Egyptian power, or of their king. Parkhurst remarks that in Scheuchzer's Physica Sacra may be seen a medal with Julius Caesar's head on one side, and on the reverse a crocodile with this inscription, -- Ægypte Capta, Egypt Taken. This strengthens the conclusion that the crocodile is the animal intended by the name Leviathan. Both the etymology of the name Leviathan, and to what language it belongs, according to Simonis, are unknown. But according to Gesenius it signifies "properly the twisted animal." It is affirmed by the Arabic lexicographers quoted by Bochart, (Phaleg. Lib. 1, cap. 15,) that Pharaoh in the Egyptian language signified a crocodile; and if so, there may be some such allusion to his name in this passage, and in Ezekiel 29:3, and 32:2, where the king of Egypt is represented by the same animal, as was made to the name of Draco, when Herodicus (in a sarcasm recorded by Aristotle, Rhet. Lib. 2, cap. 23) said that his laws, -- which were very severe, -- were the laws oujk ajnqrw>pou ajlla< dra>kontov, non hominis sed draconis. -- Merrick's Annotations. "The heads of Leviathan" may denote the princes of Egypt, or the leaders of the Egyptian armies.

8 "Regnoit en grand triomphe, comme la balene se pourmene a sou aise au milieu de ce grande amas d'eaux." -- Fr.

9 Calvin reads, "thy people in the wilderness." But thy has nothing to represent it in the original, which literally is, "to a people, to those of the wilderness." Those who adopt this rendering are not agreed as to what is to be understood by the expression. Some think it means the birds and beasts of prey, who devoured the dead bodies of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, when cast upon the coast of the Red Sea by the tides. See Exodus 14:30. If such is the meaning, these birds and beasts of prey are called "the people of wilderness," as being its principal inhabitants. That Me, am, people, is sometimes to be thus interpreted in Scripture is evident from Proverbs 30:25, 26, where both the ants and the conies are styled a people. But as the desert on the coast of which the Egyptians were thrown up was inhabited by tribes of people who lived on fishes -- even on those of the largest kind, which they found cast upon the shore by the tides -- and were from thence called Icquofa>goi, or fish-eaters; some interpreters suppose that these are "the people of the wilderness" here mentioned; and that as Pharaoh and his host are represented under the figure of the Leviathan and other monsters of the deep, so these people, in allusion to their common way of living, are figuratively said to have preyed on their dead bodies, by which is understood their enriching themselves with their spoils.

10 "Quand Dieu feit que de la roche saillit un cours d'eau pour la necessite du peuple." -- Fr.

11 It is rivers in the plural, from which it would appear that the Jordan was not the only river which was dried up, to give an easy passage to the Israelites. The Chaldee specifies the Arnon, the Jabbok, and the Jordan, as the rivers here referred to. With respect to the Jordan, see Joshua 3:16. As to the miraculous drying up either of the Arnon or the Jabbok, we have no distinct account in Scripture. But in Numbers 21, after it is mentioned, verse 13, that the Israelites "pitched on the other side of Arnon," it follows, verses 14, 15, "Wherefore, it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord, What he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab." From this it would appear that God wrought at "the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar," miracles similar to that which was wrought at the Red Sea, when it was divided to open up a passage for the chosen tribes.

12 "Comme le principal instrument d'icelle, et par maniere de dire, le chariot auquel elle est apportee, quand elle se vient monstrer aux hommes." -- Fr.

13 The original word implies "to settle, to place steadily in a certain situation or place." See Parkhurst's Lexicon on buy.

14 "Entant que leur cupidite et ambition insatiable ne pent estre retenue par quelque separation qu'il y ait, mais tasche tousjours d'enjamber par dessus." -- Fr.


Back to

These files are public domain. This electronic edition was downloaded from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.