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64. Praise and Prayer

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, 2As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! 3When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. 4For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. 5Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. 6But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. 7And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. 8But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

9Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. 10Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. 12Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?

1. O that thou wouldest rend the heavens! The particle לוא (lu) appears to me, in this passage, to denote a wish; for, although it has many significations, yet the context shews that this signification is more appropriate to this passage than any other. Here believers burst forth into earnest prayer, as usually happens, when in sore adversity we do not find plain terms to be sufficiently forcible for our purpose.

God is said to “rend the heavens,” when he unexpectedly gives some uncommon and striking proof of his power; and the reason of this mode of expression is, not only that men, when they are hard pressed, commonly look up to heaven, from which they expect assistance, but that miracles, by interrupting the order of nature, open up for themselves an unusual path. Now, when God renders no assistance, he appears to be shut up in heaven, and to disregard what is taking place on earth. For this reason he is said to open and “rend the heavens,” when he holds out to us some testimony of his presence; because otherwise we think that he is at a great distance from us.

That thou wouldest come down. This expression, like the former, is adapted to the estimation of our flesh; for God does not need to move from one place to another, but accommodates himself to us, that we may understand those subjects better. 185185     “Afin que nous comprenions mieux ce qui nons est dit de luy.” “That we may understand better what is said to us about him.” (Genesis 11:5; 18:21.)

Let the mountains flow down. That is,

“Let thy majesty be openly displayed, and let the elements, struck by the perception of it, yield and obey.” (Psalm 18:11.)

This will appear more plainly from what immediately follows.

2. As by the burning of a melting fire, 186186     “Comme par feu ardent qui fait fondre.” “As by a burning fire that melteth.” the fire hath made the water to boil. All this might be read either in the future or in the subjunctive; as if he had said, “O Lord, if thou camest down, the nations would tremble at thy presence; thine enemies would instantly be melted away.” But I think that the translation which I have given is more simple; for it is very certain that the Prophet here alludes to Mount Sinai, where the Lord openly revealed himself to the people. Hence we see also the gross absurdity of the division of this chapter; 187187     Calvin alludes to the fact, that, in the Hebrew Bible, the last verse of chapter 63 corresponds to what usually is the first verse of chapter 64. For the convenience of the reader, I have exchanged the author’s arrangement for that which is followed in the English version. — Ed. since those events are related in support of that prayer which ought rather to have been placed at the beginning of the chapter. 188188     “I have followed our common version, the LXX., Vulgate, and Syriac, in departing from the Masoretic division of the chapters, according to which the words (‘O that thou wouldst,’ etc.) are very improperly made to conclude chapter 63.” — Henderson.

We have formerly seen that the prophets, when they relate that God assisted his people, bring forward an instance in the history of redemption. 189189     “En l’histoire de la deliverance d’Egypte.” “In the history of the deliverance from Egypt.” Whenever therefore the prophets mention this history, they include all the benefits that were ever bestowed by God on his people; not only when he delivered them from the tyranny of Pharaoh, when he appeared to them in Mount Sinai, but also when, during forty years, he supplied them with all that was necessary in the wilderness, when he drove out their enemies, and led them into the possession of the land of Canaan. In a word, they include all the testimonies by which he formerly proved himself to be gracious to his people and formidable to his enemies.

He says that “the melting fire made the waters boil,” because, contrary to custom, fire and lightning were mingled with violent showers; as if he had said that the fire of God melted the hardest bodies, and that the waters were consumed by its heat. To the same purpose is what he adds, that “the mountains flowed at his presence;” for he opened up a passage for his people through the most dreadful obstacles.

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