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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 29

 

 

Verse 1

1.Give unto Jehovah, ye sons of the mighty. It was no doubt David’s design to lead all men to worship and reverence God; but as it is more difficult to reduce great men, who excel in rank, to order, he expressly addresses himself to them. It is obvious, that the LXX, in giving the translation, sons of rams, (605) were led into a mistake by the affinity of the Hebrew words. (606) About the signification of the word, indeed, the Jewish commentators are all agreed; but when they proceed to speak of its meaning, they pervert and obscure it by the most chilling comments. Some expound it of the angels, (607) some of the stars; and others will have it, that by the great men who are referred to are meant the holy fathers. But David only intended to humble the princes of this world, who, being intoxicated with pride, lift up their horns against God. This, accordingly, is the reason why he introduces God, with a terrific voice, subduing by thunders, hail-storms, tempests, and lightnings, these stubborn and stiff-necked giants, who, if they are not struck with fear, refuse to stand in awe of any power in heaven. We see, therefore, why, passing by others, he directs his discourse particularly to the sons of the mighty. The reason is, because there is nothing more common with them than to abuse their lofty station by impious deeds, while they madly arrogate to themselves every divine prerogative. At least that they may modestly submit themselves to God, and, mindful of their frailty, place their dependence upon his grace, it is necessary, as it were, to compel them by force. David, therefore, commands them to give strength unto Jehovah, because, deluded by their treacherous imaginations, they think that the power which they possess is supplied to them from some other quarter than from heaven. In short, he exhorts them to lay aside their haughtiness, and their false opinion about their own strength, and to glorify God as he deserves. By the glory of God’s name, (ver. 2,) he means that which is worthy of his majesty, of which the great men of this world are wont to deprive him. The repetition, also, shows that they must be vehemently urged ere a proper acknowledgement be extorted from them. By the brightness of God’s sanctuary (608) is to be understood, not heaven as some think, but the tabernacle of the covenant, adorned with the symbols of the divine glory, as is evident from the context. And the prophet designedly makes mention of this place, in which the true God had manifested himself, that all men, bidding adieu to superstition, should betake themselves to the pure worship of God. It would not be sufficient to worship any heavenly power, but the one and unchangeable God alone must be worshipped, which cannot come to pass until the world be reclaimed from all foolish inventions and services forged in the brains of men.


Verse 3

3.The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters. David now rehearses the wonders of nature which I have previously referred to; and well indeed does he celebrate the power of God as well as his goodness, in his works. As there is nothing in the ordinary course of nature, throughout the whole frame of heaven and earth, which does not invite us to the contemplation of God, he might have brought forward, as in Psalms 19:1, the sun and the stars, and the whole host of heaven, and the earth with its riches; but he selects only those works of God which prove not only that the world was at first created by him, and is governed by his power, but which also awaken the torpid, and drag them, as it were, in spite of themselves, humbly to adore him; as even Horace was compelled, though he was not only a heathen poet, but an Epicurean, and a vile contemner of Deity, to say of himself in one of his Odes, — (Lib. I. Ode 34.)

“A fugitive from heaven and prayer,
I mocked at all religious fear,
Deep scienced in the mazy lore
Of mad philosophy; but now
Hoist sail, and back my voyage plough
To that blest harbour which I left before.

“For, lo! that awful heavenly Sire,
Who frequent cleaves the clouds with fire,
Parent of day, immortal Jove;
Late through the floating fields of air,
The face of heaven serene and fair,
His thund’ring steeds, and winged chariot drove,” etc.
(609)

Experience, too, tells us that those who are most daring in their contempt of God are most afraid of thunderings, storms, and such like violent commotions. With great propriety, therefore, does the prophet invite our attention to these instances which strike the rude and insensible with some sense of the existence of a God, (610) and rouse them to action, however sluggish and regardless they are. He says not that the sun rises from day to day, and sheds abroad his life-giving beams, nor that the rain gently descends to fertilise the earth with its moisture; but he brings forward thunders, violent tempests, and such things as smite the hearts of men with dread by their violence. God, it is true, speaks in all his creatures, but here the prophet mentions those sounds which rouse us from our drowsiness, or rather our lethargy, by the loudness of their noise. We have said, that this language is chiefly directed to those who with stubborn recklessness, cast from them, as far as they can, all thought of God. The very figures which he uses sufficiently declare, that David’s design was to subdue by fear the obstinacy which yields not willingly otherwise. Thrice he repeats that God’s voice is heard in great and violent tempests, and in the subsequent verse he adds, that it is full of power and majesty.


Verse 5

5.The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars. We see how the prophet, in order to subdue the stubbornness of men, shows, by every word, that God is terrible. He also seems to rebuke, in passing, the madness of the proud, and of those who swell with vain presumption, because they hearken not to the voice of God in his thunders, rending the air with his lightnings, shaking the lofty mountains, prostrating and overthrowing the loftiest trees. What a monstrous thing is it, that while all the irrational portion of the creation tremble before God, men alone, who are endued with sense and reason, are not moved! Moreover, though they possess genius and learning, they employ enchantments to shut their ears against God’s voice, however powerful, lest it should reach their hearts. Philosophers think not that they have reasoned skilfully enough about inferior causes, unless they separate God very far from his works. It is a diabolical science, however, which fixes our contemplations on the works of nature, and turns them away from God. If any one who wished to know a man should take no notice of his face, but should fix his eyes only on the points of his nails, his folly might justly be derided. But far greater is the folly of those philosophers, who, out of mediate and proximate causes, weave themselves vails, lest they should be compelled to acknowledge the hand of God, which manifestly displays itself in his works. The Psalmist particularly mentions the cedars of Lebanon, because lofty and beautiful cedars were to be found there. He also refers to Lebanon and Mount Hermon, and to the wilderness of Kadesh, (611) because these places were best known to the Jews. He uses, indeed, a highly poetical figure accompanied with a hyperbole, when he says, that Lebanon skips like a calf at God’s voice, and Sirion (which is also called Mount Hermon (612)) like a unicorn, which, we know, is one of the swiftest animals. He also alludes to the terrific noise of thunder, which seems almost to shake the mountains to their foundations. Similar is the figure, when he says, the Lord striketh out flames of fire, which is done when the vapours, being struck, as it were, with his hammer, burst forth into lightnings and thunderbolts. Aristotle, in his book on Meteors, reasons very shrewdly about these things, in so far as relates to proximate causes, only that he omits the chief point. The investigation of these would, indeed, be both a profitable and pleasant exercise, were we led by it, as we ought, to the Author of Nature himself. But nothing is more preposterous than, when we meet with mediate causes, however many, to be stopped and retarded by them, as by so many obstacles, from approaching God; (613) for this is the same as if a man were to remain at the very rudiments of things during his whole life, without going farther. In short, this is to learn in such a manner that you can never know any thing. That shrewdness alone, therefore, is worthy of praise, which elevates us by these means even to heaven, in order that not a confused noise only may strike our ears, but that the voice of the Lord may penetrate our hearts, and teach us to pray and serve God. Some expound the Hebrew word יחיל,yachil, which we have translated to tremble, in another way, namely, that God maketh the wilderness of Kadesh to travail in birth; (614) because of the manifold wonders which were wrought in it as the Israelites passed through it. But this sense I object to, as far too subtle and strained. David appears rather to refer to the common feelings of men; for as wildernesses are dreadful of themselves, they are much more so when they are filled with thunders, hail, and storms. I do not, however, object that the wilderness may be understood, by synecdoche, to mean the wild beasts which lodge in it; and thus the next verse, where hinds are mentioned, may be considered as added by way of exposition.


Verse 9

9.The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to bring forth (615) A tacit comparison, as I have said, is here made. It is worse than irrational, it is monstrous, that men are not moved at God’s voice, when it has such power and influence on wild beasts. It is base ingratitude, indeed, in men not to perceive his providence and government in the whole course of nature; but it is a detestable insensibility that at least his unusual and extraordinary works, which compel even wild beasts to obey him, will not teach them wisdom. Some interpreters think that hinds are mentioned, rather than other beasts, on account of their difficulty in bringing forth their young; which I disapprove not. The voice of the Lord is also said to discover or make bare the forests, either because there is no covering which can prevent it from penetrating into the most secret recesses and caverns; or, because lightnings, rains, and stormy winds, beat off the leaves and make the trees bare. Either sense is appropriate.

In his temple. God’s voice fills the whole world, and spreads itself to its farthest limits; but the prophet declares that his glory is celebrated only in his church, because God not only speaks intelligibly and distinctly there, but also there gently allures the faithful to himself. His terrible voice, which thunders in various ways in the air, strikes upon the ears, and causes the hearts of men to beat in such a manner, as to make them shrink from rather than approach him not to mention that a considerable portion turn a deaf ear to its sound in storms, rains, thunder, and lightnings. As men, therefore, profit not so much in this common school as to submit themselves to God, David wisely says especially that the faithful sing the praises of God in his temple, because, being familiarly instructed there by his fatherly voice, they devote and consecrate themselves wholly to his service. No man proclaims the glory of God aright but he who worships him willingly. This may be understood likewise as a complaint, in which David reproves the whole world of being silent in so far as the glory of God is concerned, (616) and laments that although his voice resounds through all regions, yet his praises are no where sung but in his temple alone. He appears, however, after the example of all the godly, to exhort the whole of mankind to praise God’s name, and designedly to erect a temple as a receptacle for his glory, for the purpose of teaching us, that in order truly to know God, and praise him as is his due, we need another voice than that which is heard in thunders, showers, and storms in the air, in the mountains, and in the forests; for if he teach us not in plain words, and also kindly allure us to himself, by giving us a taste of his fatherly love, we will continue dumb. It is the doctrine of salvation alone, therefore, which cheers our hearts and opens our mouths in his praises, by clearly revealing to us his grace, and the whole of his will. It is from thence that we must learn how we ought to praise him. We may also unquestionably see that at that time there was nothing of the light of godliness in the whole world, except in Judea. Even philosophers, who appeared to approach nearest to the knowledge of God, contributed nothing whatever that might truly glorify him. All that they say concerning religion is not only frigid, but for the most part insipid. It is therefore in his word alone that there shines forth the truth which may lead us to true piety, and to fear and serve God aright. (617)


Verse 10

10.Jehovah sitteth upon the flood. Some think that David here alludes to that memorable instance of God’s vengeance, when he drowned the world at once by the flood, (618) and thus testified to all ages that he is the judge of mankind. I agree to this in part, but extend his meaning still farther. In my opinion, he prosecutes the former subject, putting us in mind that those floods, which still threaten destruction to the earth, are controlled by the providence of God in such a way, as to make it evident that it is he alone who governs all things at all times. (619) David, therefore, mentions this among other proofs of God’s power, that even when the elements appear to be mingled and confounded together by the utmost fury of the weather, God controls and moderates these commotions from his throne in heaven. He accordingly adds, for the sake of explanation, God sits King for ever.


Verse 11

11.Jehovah will give strength to his people. He returns to his former doctrine, namely, that although God exhibits his visible power to the view of the whole world indiscriminately, yet he exerts it in a peculiar manner in behalf of his elect people. Moreover, he here describes him in a very different manner from what he did formerly; that is to say, not as one who overwhelms with fear and dread those to whom he speaks, but as one who upholds, cherishes, and strengthens them. By the word strength is to be understood the whole condition of man. And thus he intimates that every thing necessary to the preservation of the life of the godly depends entirely upon the grace of God. He amplifies this by the word bless; for God is said to bless with peace those whom he treats liberally and kindly, so that nothing is awanting to the prosperous course of their life, and to their complete happiness. From this we may learn, that we ought to stand in awe of the majesty of God, in such a manner as, notwithstanding, to hope from him all that is necessary to our prosperity; and let us be assuredly persuaded, that since his power is infinite, we are defended by an invincible fortress.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 29:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/psalms-29.html. 1840-57.

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