16. The heavens, the heavens are Jehovah's: but the earth he hath given to the children of men. 17. O God! the dead shall not praise thee, nor those who go down to silence. 18. But we will bless God from this time, and for ever. Praise ye Jehovah.
16. The heavens, the heavens are Jehovah's. In this passage the prophet extols the bounty of God, and his paternal regard for the human race, in that, though he stood in need of nothing himself, he yet created the world, with all its fullness, for their use. How comes it to pass that the earth is every where covered with such a great variety of good things, meeting our eye in all directions, unless that God, as a provident father of a family, had designed to make provision for our wants? In proportion, therefore, to the comforts which we here enjoy, are the tokens of his fatherly care. This is the prophet's meaning, which I am astonished is so little attended to by the most of interpreters. The amount is, that God, satisfied with his own glory, has enriched the earth with abundance of good things, that mankind may not lack any thing. At the same time he demonstrates, that, as God has his dwelling-place in the heavens, he must be independent of all worldly riches; for, assuredly, neither wine, nor corn, nor any thing requisite for the support of the present life is produced there. Consequently, God has every resource in himself. To this circumstance the repetition of the, term heavens refers, The heavens, the heavens are enough for God; and as he is superior to all aid, he is to himself instead of a hundred worlds. It remains, therefore, as another consequence from this, that all the riches with which the world abounds proclaim aloud what a beneficent father God is to mankind. It is indeed surprising that there should be no relish for this doctrine, considering that the Holy Spirit spoke of the inestimable goodness of God. Under the papacy, they chanted this psalm in their churches, and they continue the practice still; but is there one among a hundred of them who reflects that God, in bestowing all good things upon us, reserves nothing for himself, except a grateful acknowledgment of them? And not only in this matter does the ingratitude of the world appear, but the wicked wretches have conducted themselves most vilely, in open and infamous blasphemy; perverting this verse, and making a jest of it, saying that God remains unconcerned in heaven, and pays no regard to the affairs of men. The prophet here expressly declares that the world is employed by God, for the sole purpose of testifying his paternal solicitude towards mankind; and yet these swine and dogs have made these words a laughing-stock, as if God, by reason of his vast distance from men, totally disregarded them. And here I am induced to relate a memorable story. While we were supping in a certain inn, and speaking of the hope of the heavenly life, a profane despiser of God happening to be present, treated our discourse with derision, and now and then mockingly exclaimed, "The heaven of heavens is the Lord's." Instantly afterwards he was seized with dreadful pain, and began to vociferate, "O God! O God!" and, having a powerful voice, he filled the whole apartment with his cries. Then I, who had felt indignant at his conduct, proceeded, in my own way, to tell him warmly, that now at least he perceived that they who mocked God were not permitted to escape with impunity. One of the guests, an honest and pious man, yet alive, but withal facetious, employed the occasion thus, "Do you invoke God? Have you forgotten your philosophy? Why do you not permit him to remain at ease in his own heaven?" And as often as the one bawled out, "O God!" the other, mocking him, retorted, "Where is now thy Coelum coeli Domino?" At that time his pain indeed was mitigated; nevertheless, the remainder of his life was spent in impunity.
17. O God! the dead shall not praise thee. In these words the prophet goes on to beseech God to show himself propitious towards his Church, were there no other object to be gained than the preventing mankind from being utterly cut off, and the preserving a people, not only to enjoy his kindness, but also to invoke and praise his name. After celebrating God's peculiar favor towards the Israelites, and the beneficence which he displayed towards mankind at large, he has recourse to the mercy of God for the pardoning of the sins of his people. And he proceeds on this footing, that though the heathen nations revel amidst the profuseness of God's bounty, yet the seed of Abraham alone are set apart to celebrate his praises. "Lord, if thou shouldst allow us to perish, what would be the result, but that thy name would become extinct, and would be entombed with us?" From his appearing to deprive the dead of all sensibility, a question occurs: If souls, after they have departed from their corporeal prison, still survive? It is certain that they are then more vigorous and active, and; therefore, it must inevitably follow that God is also praised by the dead. Moreover, in appointing mankind their abode upon earth, he so disconnects them with God, that he leaves them a life such as they enjoy in common with the brutal tribes. For the earth was not given exclusively to men, but also to oxen, swine, dogs, lions, and bears, and what is more, to every sort of reptile and insect. For there is not a fly, nor a creeping thing, however mean, which the earth does not supply with an abode. 1 The solution of the first question is easy. Men were so situated on the earth that they might, as it were, with one voice celebrate the praises of God. And it was to this concord that the prophet in this place referred, as does also the Scripture in many other passages.
"I shall not die, but live, and declare the words of the Lord,"
(Psalm 118: 17).
The good king Hezekiah also, said,
"The living, the living, he shall praise thee," (Isaiah 38:19).
Jonah, too, when cast out of the belly of the fish, said,
"I will offer sacrifices, and I will pay my vows unto the Lord," (Jonah 2:10.) 2
In short, the prophet very justly excludes the dead from taking any part in the celebration of God's praises; for among them there is no communion and fellowship qualifying them for mutually sounding forth his praises: the proclaiming of his glory on the earth being the very end of our existence. The reply to the second inquiry is this: The prophet says that the earth was given to mankind, that they might employ themselves in God's service, until they be put in possession of everlasting felicity. True, indeed, the abundance of the earth belongs also to the brutal tribes; but the Holy Spirit declares that all things were created principally for the use of men, that they might thereby recognize God as their father. In fine, the prophet concludes that the whole course of nature would be subverted, unless God saved his Church. The creation of the world would serve no good purpose, if there were no people to call upon God. Hence he infers that there will always be some left alive upon the earth. And he not only promises that the Church shall be preserved, but also calls upon all who are thus preserved to offer a tribute of gratitude to their deliverer; and, moreover, he engages in their name to set forth the praises of God. He does not speak merely of the persons who belong to one age, but of the whole body of the Church which God upholds from one generation after another, that he may never leave himself without some to testify and declare his justice, goodness, and mercy.