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you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
The Divine Majesty.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. 2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: 3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: 4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire: 5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. 6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. 7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. 8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. 9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
When we are addressing ourselves to any religious service we must stir up ourselves to take hold on God in it (Isa. lxiv. 7); so David does here. "Come, my soul, where art thou? What art thou thinking of? Here is work to be done, good work, angels' work; set about it in good earnest; let all the powers and faculties be engaged and employed in it: Bless the Lord, O my soul!" In these verses,
I. The psalmist looks up to the divine glory shining in the upper world, of which, though it is one of the things not seen, faith is the evidence. With what reverence and holy awe does he begin his meditation with that acknowledgment: O Lord my God! thou art very great! It is the joy of the saints that he who is their God is a great God. The grandeur of the prince is the pride and pleasure of all his good subjects. The majesty of God is here set forth by various instances, alluding to the figure which great princes in their public appearances covet to make. Their equipage, compared with his (even of the eastern kings, who most affected pomp), is but as the light of a glow-worm compared with that of the sun, when he goes forth in his strength. Princes appear great, 1. In their robes; and what are God's robes? Thou art clothed with honour and majesty, v. 1. God is seen in his works, and these proclaim him infinitely wise and good, and all that is great. Thou coverest thyself with light as with a garment, v. 2. God is light (1 John i. 5), the Father of lights (Jam. i. 17); he dwells in light (1 Tim. vi. 16); he clothes himself with it. The residence of his glory is in the highest heaven, that light which was created the first day, Gen. i. 3. Of all visible beings light comes nearest to the nature of a spirit, and therefore with that God is pleased to cover himself, that is, to reveal himself under that similitude, as men are seen in the clothes with which they cover themselves; and so only, for his face cannot be seen. 2. In their palaces or pavilions, when they take the field; and what is God's palace and his pavilion? He stretches out the heavens like a curtain, v. 2. So he did at first, when he made the firmament, which in the Hebrew has its name from its being expanded, or stretched out, Gen. i. 7. He made it to divide the waters as a curtain divides between two apartments. So he does still: he now stretches out the heavens like a curtain, keeps them upon the stretch, and they continue to this day according to his ordinance. The regions of the air are stretched out about the earth, like a curtain about a bed, to keep it warm, and drawn between us and the upper world, to break its dazzling light; for, though God covers himself with light, yet, in compassion to us, he makes darkness his pavilion. Thick clouds are a covering to him. The vastness of this pavilion may lead us to consider how great, how very great, he is that fills heaven and earth. He has his chambers, his upper rooms (so the word signifies), the beams whereof he lays in the waters, the waters that are above the firmament (v. 3), as he has founded the earth upon the seas and floods, the waters beneath the firmament. Though air and water are fluid bodies, yet, by the divine power, they are kept as tight and as firm in the place assigned them as a chamber is with beams and rafters. How great a God is he whose presence-chamber is thus reared, thus fixed! 3. In their coaches of state, with their stately horses, which add much to the magnificence of their entries; but God makes the clouds his chariots, in which he rides strongly, swiftly, and far above out of the reach of opposition, when at any time he will act by uncommon providences in the government of this world. He descended in a cloud, as in a chariot, to Mount Sinai, to give the law, and to Mount Tabor, to proclaim the gospel (Matt. xvii. 5), and he walks (a gentle pace indeed, yet stately) upon the wings of the wind. See Ps. xviii. 10, 11. He commands the winds, directs them as he pleases, and serves his own purposes by them. 4. In their retinue or train of attendants; and here also God is very great, for (v. 4) he makes his angels spirits. This is quoted by the apostle (Heb. i. 7) to prove the pre-eminence of Christ above the angels. The angels are here said to be his angels and his ministers, for they are under his dominion and at his disposal; they are winds, and a flame of fire, that is, they appeared in wind and fire (so some), or they are as swift as winds, and pure as flames; or he makes them spirits, so the apostle quotes it. They are spiritual beings; and, whatever vehicles they may have proper to their nature, it is certain they have not bodies as we have. Being spirits, they are so much the further removed from the encumbrances of the human nature and so much the nearer allied to the glories of the divine nature. And they are bright, and quick, and ascending, as fire, as a flame of fire. In Ezekiel's vision they ran and returned like a flash of lightning, Ezek. i. 14. Thence they are called seraphim—burners. Whatever they are, they are what God made them, what he still makes them; they derive their being from him, having the being he gave them, are held in being by him, and he makes what use he pleases of them.
II. He looks down, and looks about, to the power of God shining in this lower world. He is not so taken up with the glories of his court as to neglect even the remotest of his territories; no, not the sea and dry land.
1. He has founded the earth, v. 5. Though he has hung it upon nothing (Job xxvi. 2), ponderibus librata suis—balanced by its own weight, yet it is as immovable as if it had been laid upon the surest foundations. He has built the earth upon her basis, so that though it has received a dangerous shock by the sin of man, and the malice of hell strikes at it, yet it shall not be removed for ever, that is, not till the end of time, when it must give way to the new earth. Dr. Hammond's paraphrase of this is worth noting: "God has fixed so strange a place for the earth, that, being a heavy body, one would think it should fall every minute; and yet, which way soever we would imagine it to stir, it must, contrary to the nature of such a body, fall upwards, and so can have no possible ruin but by tumbling into heaven."
2. He has set bounds to the sea; for that also is his. (1.) He brought it within bounds in the creation. At first the earth, which, being the more ponderous body, would subside of course, was covered with the deep (v. 6): The waters were above the mountains; and so it was unfit to be, as it was designed, a habitation for man; and therefore, on the third day, God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered to one place, and let the dry land appear, Gen. i. 9. This command of God is here called his rebuke, as if he gave it because he was displeased that the earth was thus covered with water and not fit for man to dwell on. Power went along with this word, and therefore it is also called here the voice of his thunder, which is a mighty voice and produces strange effects, v. 7. At thy rebuke, as if they were made sensible that they were out of their place, they fled; they hasted away (they called, and not in vain, to the rocks and mountains to cover them), as it is said on another occasion (Ps. lxxii. 16), The waters saw thee, O God! the waters saw thee; they were afraid. Even those fluid bodies received the impression of God's terror. But was the Lord displeased against the rivers? No; it was for the salvation of his people, Hab. iii. 8, 13. So here; God rebuked the waters for man's sake, to prepare room for him; for men must not be made as the fishes of the sea (Hab. i. 14); they must have air to breathe in. Immediately therefore, with all speed, the waters retired, v. 8. They go over hill and dale (as we say), go up by the mountains and down by the valleys; they will neither stop at the former nor lodge in the latter, but make the best of their way to the place which thou hast founded for them, and there they make their bed. Let the obsequiousness even of the unstable waters teach us obedience to the word and will of God; for shall man alone of all the creatures be obstinate? Let their retiring to and resting in the place assigned them teach us to acquiesce in the disposals of that wise providence which appoints us the bounds of our habitation. (2.) He keeps it within bounds, v. 9. The waters are forbidden to pass over the limits set them; they may not, and therefore they do not, turn again to cover the earth. Once they did, in Noah's flood, because God bade them, but never since, because he forbids them, having promised not to drown the world again. God himself glorifies in this instance of his power (Job xxxviii. 8, &c.) and uses it as an argument with us to fear him, Jer. v. 22. This, if duly considered, would keep the world in awe of the Lord and his goodness, That the waters of the sea would soon cover the earth if God did not restrain them.