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a Bible passage
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
3. There is no language nor speech [where] their voice is not heard. This verse receives two almost contrary interpretations, each of which, however, has the appearance of probability. As the words, when rendered literally, read thus — No language, and no words, their voice is not heard — some connect the third and fourth verses together, as if this sentence were incomplete without the clause which follows in the beginning of the fourth verse, Their writing has gone forth through all the earth, etc. According to them, the meaning is this:— The heavens, it is true, are mute and are not endued with the faculty of speech; but still they proclaim the glory of God with a voice sufficiently loud and distinct. But if this was David’s meaning, what need was there to repeat three times that they have not articulate speech? It would certainly be spiritless and superfluous to insist so much upon a thing so universally known. The other exposition, therefore, as it is more generally received, seems also to be more suitable. In the Hebrew tongue, which is concise, it is often necessary to supply some word; and it is particularly a common thing in that language for the relatives to be omitted, that is to say, the words which, in which, etc., as here, There is no language, there is no speech, [where 445445 Both Calvin and the translators of our English version appear to have followed the Septuagint and Vulgate versions in inserting the word where, which is not in the Hebrew text. ] their voice is not heard. 446446 “C’est as avoir ces mots, Lequel, Laquelle, etc., comme yci Il n’y a langage, il n’y a paroles esquelles la voix de ceux ne soit ouye.” — Fr. Besides, the third negation, בלי, beli, 447447 בלי, beli, commonly signifies not; but it is also often used for all sort of exclusive particles, without, besides, unless. Hence Grotius renders it here without. As, בל bal, means in Arabic but, and as the Arabic is just a dialect of the Hebrew, Hammond concludes that this may have been its meaning among the Jews; and therefore proposes to render the verse thus:— “Not speech, nor words, but, or notwithstanding, [בלי, beli,] their voice is, or has been heard.” rather denotes an exception to what is stated in the preceding members of the sentence, as if it had been said, The difference and variety of languages does not prevent the preaching of the heavens and their language from being heard and understood in every quarter of the world. The difference of languages is a barrier which prevents different nations from maintaining mutual intercourse, and it makes him who in his own country is distinguished for his eloquence, when he comes into a foreign country either dumb or, if he attempt to speak, barbarous. And even although a man could speak all languages, he could not speak to a Grecian and a Roman at the same time; for as soon as he began to direct his discourse to the one, the other would cease to understand him. David, therefore, by making a tacit comparison, enhances the efficacy of the testimony which the heavens bear to their Creator. The import of his language is, Different nations differ from each other as to language; but the heavens have a common language to teach all men without distinction, nor is there any thing but their own carelessness to hinder even those who are most strange to each other, and who live in the most distant parts of the world, from profiting, as it were, at the mouth of the same teacher.
4. Their writing has gone forth, etc. Here the inspired writer declares how the heavens preach to all nations indiscriminately, namely, because men, in all countries and in all parts of the earth, may understand that the heavens are set before their eyes as witnesses to bear testimony to the glory of God. As the Hebrew word קו, kav signifies sometimes a line, and sometimes a building, some deduce from it this meaning, that the fabric of the heavens being framed in a regular manner, and as it were by line, proclaims the glory of God in all parts of the world. But as David here metaphorically introduces the splendor and magnificence of the heavenly bodies, as preaching the glory of God like a teacher in a seminary of learning, it would be a meagre and unsuitable manner of speaking to say, that the line of the heavens goes forth to the uttermost ends of the earth. Besides, he immediately adds, in the following clause, that their words are every where heard; but what relation is there between words and the beauty of a building? If, however, we render קו, kav, writing, these two things will very well agree, first, that the glory of God is written and imprinted in the heavens, as in an open volume which all men may read; and, secondly, that, at the same time, they give forth a loud and distinct voice, which reaches the ears of all men, and causes itself to be heard in all places. 448448 “Et se fait ouir en totals endroits.” — Fr. Thus we are taught, that the language of which mention has been made before is, as I may term it, a visible language, in other words, language which addresses itself to the sight; for it is to the eyes of men that the heavens speak, not to their ears; and thus David justly compares the beautiful order and arrangement, by which the heavenly bodies are distinguished, to a writing. That the Hebrew word קו, kav, signifies a line in writing, 449449 The reading in the English Geneva Bible is, “Their line is gone forth through all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” The marginal note in explanation of this is, “The heavens are as a line of great capital letters to show unto us God’s glory.” is sufficiently evident from Isaiah 28:10, where God, comparing the Jews to children who are not yet of sufficient age to make great proficiency, speaks thus:
“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”
In my judgment, therefore, the meaning is, that the glory of God is not written in small obscure letters, but richly engraven in large and bright characters, which all men may read, and read with the greatest ease. Hitherto I have explained the true and proper meaning of the inspired writer. Some have wrested this part of the psalm by putting upon it an allegorical interpretation; but my readers will easily perceive that this has been done without reason. I have shown in the commencement, and it is also evident from the scope of the whole discourse, that David, before coming to the law, sets before us the fabric of the world, that in it we might behold the glory of God. Now, if we understand the heavens as meaning the apostles, and the sun Christ, there will be no longer place for the division of which we have spoken; and, besides, it would be an improper arrangement to place the gospel first and then the law. It is very evident that the inspired poet here treats of the knowledge of God, which is naturally presented to all men in this world as in a mirror; and, therefore, I forbear discoursing longer on that point. As, however, these allegorical interpreters have supported their views from the words of Paul, this difficulty must be removed. Paul, in discoursing upon the calling of the Gentiles, lays down this as an established principle, that, “Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved;” and then he adds, that it is impossible for any to call upon him until they know him by the teaching of the gospel. But as it seemed to the Jews to be a kind of sacrilege that Paul published the promise of salvation to the Gentiles, he asks whether the Gentiles themselves had not heard? And he answers, by quoting this passage, that there was a school open and accessible to them, in which they might learn to fear God, and serve him, inasmuch as “the writing 450450 Paul reads, “their sound,” quoting from the Septuagint, the version of the Old Testament then chiefly used, and it employs here the word φθόγγος. of the heavens has gone forth through all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,” (Romans 10:18.) But Paul could not at that time have said with truth, that the voice of the gospel had been heard through the whole world from the mouth of the apostles, since it had scarcely as yet reached even a few countries. The preaching of the other apostles certainly had not then extended to far distant parts of the world, but was confined within the boundaries of Judea. The design of the apostle it is not difficult to comprehend. He intended to say that God, from ancient times, had manifested his glory to the Gentiles, and that this was a prelude to the more ample instruction which was one day to be published to them. And although God’s chosen people for a time had been in a condition distinct and separate from that of the Gentiles, it ought not to be thought strange that God at length made himself known indiscriminately to both, seeing he had hitherto united them to himself by certain means which addressed themselves in common to both; as Paul says in another passage, that when God,
“in times past, suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, he nevertheless left not himself without a witness,”
(Acts 14:16, 17.)
Whence we conclude, that those who have imagined that Paul departed from the genuine and proper sense of David’s words are grossly mistaken. The reader will understand this still more clearly by reading my commentaries on the above passage of St. Paul.
He hath set in them a tabernacle [or pavilion] for the sun. As David, out of the whole fabric of the world, has especially chosen the heavens, in which he might exhibit to our view an image of God, because there it is more distinctly to be seen, even as a man is better seen when set on an elevated stage; so now he shows us the sun as placed in the highest rank, because in his wonderful brightness the majesty of God displays itself more magnificently than in all the rest. The other planets, it is true, have also their motions, and as it were the appointed places within which they run their race, 451451 “Quasi stadia.” — Lat. “Comme des lieues ordonnees dedans les quelles elles font leurs courses.” — Fr. and the firmament, by its own revolution, draws with it all the fixed stars, but it would have been lost time for David to have attempted to teach the secrets of astronomy to the rude and unlearned; and therefore he reckoned it sufficient to speak in a homely style, that he might reprove the whole world of ingratitude, if, in beholding the sun, they are not taught the fear and the knowledge of God. This, then, is the reason why he says that a tent or pavilion has been erected for the sun, and also why he says, that he goes forth from one end of the heaven, and quickly passes to the other and opposite end. He does not here discourse scientifically (as he might have done, had he spoken among philosophers) concerning the entire revolution which the sun performs, but, accommodating himself to the rudest and dullest, he confines himself to the ordinary appearances presented to the eye, and, for this reason, he does not speak of the other half of the sun’s course, which does not appear in our hemisphere. He proposes to us three things to be considered in the sun, — the splendor and excellency of his forms — the swiftness with which he runs his course, — and the astonishing power of his heat. The more forcibly to express and magnify his surpassing beauty and, as it were, magnificent attire, he employs the similitude of a bridegroom. He then adds another similitude, that of a valiant man who enters the lists as a racer to carry off the prize of the course. The swiftness of those who in ancient times contended in the stadium, whether on chariots or on foot, was wonderful; and although it was nothing when compared with the velocity with which the sun moves in his orbit, yet David, among all that he saw coming under the ordinary notice of men, could find nothing which approached nearer to it. Some think that the third clause, where he speaks of the heat of the sun, is to be understood of his vegetative heat, as it is called; in other words, that by which the vegetating bodies which are in the earth have their vigor, support, and growth. 452452 “Aucuns l’entendent de sa chaleur vegetative, qu’on appelle, c’est dire par laquelle ces choses basses ont vigueur, sont maintenues, et prenent accrossement.” — Fr. But I do not think that this sense suits the passage. It is, indeed, a wonderful work of God, and a signal evidence of his goodness, that the powerful influence of the sun penetrating the earth renders it fruitful. But as the Psalmist says, that no man or nothing is hidden from his heat, I am rather inclined to understand it of the violent heat which scorches men and other living creatures as well as plants and trees. With respect to the enlivening heat of the sun, by which we feel ourselves to be invigorated, no man desires to avoid it.