Psalm 107:23-32

23. They 1 that go down to the sea in ships, trading in the great waters, 24. See the works of Jehovah, his wonders in the deep. 25. He speaks, and raiseth the stormy wind, and causeth the billows thereof to mount on high. 26. They mount up to the heavens, they descend into the deeps; their soul breaketh because of trouble. 27. They are tossed and totter like a drunken man, and all their senses are overwhelmed. 2 And they cry to Jehovah in their straits, 3 and he rescues them from their troubles. 29. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. 30. And they rejoice because they are calmed; and he brings them to the coast which they desired. 31. Let them celebrate the mercy of Jehovah in his presence, and his wonders among the sons of men; 32. And let them exalt him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. 4


23. They that go down to the sea in ships. Here we have another instance of God's superintending care towards mankind pointed out to us by the prophet, exemplified in the bringing of those who are shipwrecked to the harbour, and this, too, as if he had raised them from the depth and darkness of the tomb, and brought them to live in the light of day. I do not understand what is here said about those who are accustomed to navigate the ocean seeing the wonders of God, as referring generally to the many wonderful things with which it abounds. Such persons are well fitted to bear testimony regarding the works of God, because they there behold more vast and various wonders than are to be seen upon earth. But it appears to me preferable to connect this with the subsequent context, where the prophet is his own interpreter, and where he shows how suddenly God raises and calms the tempest.

The sum of the matter is, that the scope of the passage is to point out that the lives of those who navigate the seas are often in great jeopardy by the storms which they encounter; because, as often as the ocean heaves and is agitated, and the billows rise and rage, so often does death stare them in the face. But he furnishes us with a still more vivid picture of the providence of God; for in telling us, that the sea does not of its own accord rise into a tempest, he makes use of the verb, he speaks, intimating that the word and providence of God make the winds blow, to agitate the sea. True, indeed, the mariners imagine from certain phenomena, that a storm is approaching, but sudden changes proceed only from the secret appointment of God. Therefore, he gives not merely a historical narrative of the manner in which squalls and storms arise, but, assuming the character of a teacher, begins with the cause itself, and then directs to the imminent danger with which the tempest is fraught; or rather, portrays, as in a picture, the image of death, in order that the goodness of God may appear the more conspicuous when the tempest happily ceases without any loss of life. They mount up, says he, to the heavens, they descend into the deeps; as if he should say, they mount up into the air, so that their life may be destroyed, and then they tumble down towards the caverns of the ocean, where they may be drowned. 5 Next, he mentions the fears which torment them, or rather which may deprive them of understanding; intimating by these words, that however skilfully mariners may steer their vessels, they may happen to be deprived of their senses; and being thus paralysed, they could not avail themselves of aid, were it even at hand. For though they collect all their tackling, cast their sounding line into the deep, and unfurl their sails to all points, yet after making every attempt, and all human skill is baffled, they give themselves up to the mercy of wind and wave. All hope of safety being cut off, no farther means are employed by them. And now that all human aid fails, they cry unto God for deliverance, which is a convincing evidence that they had been as it were dead. 6

29. He maketh the storm a calm. A profane author, in narrating the history of such an event, would have said, that the winds were hushed, and the raging billows were calmed; but the Spirit of God, by this change of the storm into a calm, places the providence of God as presiding over all; thereby meaning, that it was not by human agency that this violent commotion of the sea and wind, which threatened to subvert the frame of the world, was so suddenly stilled. When, therefore, the sea is agitated, and boils up in terrific fury, as if wave were contending with wave, whence is it that instantly it is calm and peaceful, but that God restrains the raging of the billows, the contention of which was so awful, and makes the bosom of the deep as smooth as a mirror? 7 Having spoken of their great terror, he proceeds next to mention their joy, so that their ingratitude may appear the more striking, if they forget their remarkable deliverance. For they are not in want of a monitor, having been abundantly instructed by the storm itself, and by the calm which ensued, that their lives were in the hand and under the protection of God. Moreover, he informs them that this is a species of gratitude which deserves not only to be acknowledged privately, or to be mentioned in the family, but that it should be praised and magnified in all places, even in the great assemblies. He makes specific mention of the elders, intimating that the more wisdom and experience a person has, the more capable is he of listening to, and being a witness of, these praises.

1 This psalm is distinguished for beautiful and inimitable description. In the preceding part of it, the weary and bewildered traveler, -- the forlorn and wretched captive, shut up in the dungeon and bound in fetters, -- the sick and dying man, -- are painted in the most striking and affecting manner. In this verse there is a transition to ships, and the dangers of mariners foundering in a storm, which is continued to the close of the 30th verse. This has often been admired as one of the sublimest descriptions of a sea-storm anywhere to be found, either in the Sacred Writings, or in profane authors.

2 Horsley reads, "And all their skill is drowned;" "that is," says he, "their skill in the art of navigation is drowned; a metaphor taken from the particular danger which threatens them." Phillips reads, And all their wisdom is absorbed or swallowed up; which, in like manner, he explains as denoting that "their alarm is so great, that their knowledge deserts them; they lose all self-possession, and become entirely unfit for managing the ship."

3 Instead of in their straits, Phillips reads, from their prison-houses, places of confinement. "By their prison-houses," says he, "we understand the ship in which they were confined; to be liberated from which, and consequently from the risk of a watery grave, they cried unto the Lord."

4 "Me, the people, is here evidently opposed to Mynqz, elders, and both signify the whole assembly or congregation. For, among the Jews, the doctors, rulers of the synagogue, and elders, had a distinct apartment from the people, and the service being much in antiphona, or response, part was spoken by them that officiated in the seat of the elders, and the rest by the multitude of common men, the ijdiw~tai, that answered Amen at least, at their giving of thanks." -- Hammond.

5 "The men of the ship go up to heaven, i.e., rise high in the air when the wave lifteth up the ship, and afterwards, because of the wave they descend to the deep; and from thus ascending and descending, the soul of the men of the ship melteth within them on account of the danger in which they are placed." -- Kimchi.

6 The consternation into which those at sea are thrown in a dangerous storm, and their deliverance by God in answer to prayer, is so beautifully described in the well known and admirable hymn of Addison, that we shall take the liberty to quote a part of it:

"Think, O my soul! devoutly think,
How with affrighted eyes,
Thou saw'st the wide-extended deep,
In all its horrors rise.

"Confusion dwelt on every face,
And fear in every heart;
When waves on waves, and gulfs on gulfs,
O'ercame the pilot's art.

"Yet then, from all my griefs, O Lord,
Thy mercy set me free;
Whilst in the confidence of prayer,
My soul took hold on Thee.

"For though in dreadful whirls we hung
High in the broken wave,
I knew Thou wert not slow to hear,
Nor impotent to save.

"The storm was laid, the winds retir'd,
Obedient to thy will;
The sea that roar'd at thy command,
At thy command was still!"

7 Among the circumstances selected by the prophet in this striking description of a storm at sea, God's agency, both in raising and calming it, is not to be overlooked. He is introduced as first causing, by His omnipotent command, the tempest to sweep over the ocean, whose billows are thus made to rise in furious agitation mountains high: and, again, as hushing the winds into a calm, and allaying the agitation of the waves. The description would be utterly mutilated were the special reference to the Divine power in such phenomena omitted. "How much more comfortable, as well as rational, is the system of the Psalmist, than the Pagan scheme in Virgil, and other poets, where one deity is represented as raising a storm, and another as laying it. Were we only to consider the sublime in this piece of poetry, what can be nobler than the idea it gives us of the Supreme Being, thus raising a tumult among the elements, and recovering them out of their confusion, thus troubling and becalming nature?" -- Spectator, Number 485.


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