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
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,
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."
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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