This is a piece of storm-music which the poetry of no country or age has surpassed, so vividly, or rather audibly, is the tempest—and an Oriental tempest—presented to us. To the Hebrew a storm, at once terrible and magnificent, was the direct manifestation of the grandeur of God, and here the poet gives the liveliest expression to that feeling by representing all the phenomena as the immediate result of the Divine utterance—consequent on, if not produced by, the thunder, the Divine voice. The very form—in the monotone of its short, incisive, strictly parallel clauses—has been rightly supposed to be intended as an echo of successive peals of thunder, always equal, and always terrible. Some commentator has suggested that this hymn was composed by David to be sung during a thunderstorm. But it wants no such inept conjecture to discern the fitness of the psalm to take its place in a religious service. The poet himself has prepared for such an adaptation by his conception. Two scenes are presented—one on earth, where we see the storm sweeping majestically along from the north to the south over the length of Palestine; the other in heaven, where the “sons of God”—i.e., all the angelic intelligences and powers—stand as spectators of the grand drama below, and at the invocation of the poet raise the cry, “Glory,” in praise of the Divine greatness and power. The versification is perfectly regular, but presents instances of that step-like progression which characterises Deborah’s song, and the psalms of Degrees. The two concluding lines are evidently a liturgic addition, and did not form part of the original ode. (See Note.)
“Then broke the thunder
Like a whole sea overhead.”
BROWNING: Pippa Passes.
The Hebrew kôl (“voice”), used also of any loud sound (2 Samuel 15:10, of the trumpet; Ezekiel 1:24, of water), is sometimes used (Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 52:8) to call attention, like our “Hark !” So Ewald here. Others refer it to the thunder, as in Psalm 77:18; but it seems better to take it for the combined noise of the storm, thunder, wind, and rain, as in Shakespeare—
“The gods who keep this pudder o’er our heads.”
“And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack Nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once.
That make ingrateful man!”—King Lear, Acts 3, sc. 2.
Unicorn.—See Psalm 22:21, Note.
There is some ambiguity about the suffix, them. It may relate to the mountains instead of the cedars, and some commentators divide the clauses thus: “He maketh them skip; like a calf Lebanon, and Sirion like a young buffalo.” It is not, however, necessary to suppose, with some, that an earthquake accompanies the storm; the apparent movement of the hills beingintroduced to heighten the effect of the violence of the tempest.
“And ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burnt through the pine-tree roof, here burnt and there,
As if God’s messenger through the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me.”
But this, though the usual ancient translation, is now generally rejected in favour of the allusion to “forked lightning,” as we call it, the ignes trisulci of Ovid, a natural metaphor by which to try to represent the “nimble stroke of quick cross-lightnings.” For the apparent physical mistake in making thunder the agent in producing the lightning, see Note on Psalm 29:5.
Discovereth the forests.—The word “discovereth” comes from the LXX. and Vulgate. Literally, peels or strips—the effects both of wind and lightning. Passing over the sands of the Arabah, the storm has reached the “acacias and palms and vegetation which clothe the rocks of granite and porphyry in the neighbourhood of Petra.” Forests may seem rather a large word for such vegetation, but Stanley remarks of the Arabah that “the shrubs at times give it almost the appearance of a jungle.” Similar effects of a storm upon a forest are described by Tennyson in Vivien:
“Scarce had she ceased when out of heaven a bolt
(For now the storm was close above them) struck,
Furrowing a giant oak, and javelining
With darted spikes and splinters of the wood
The dark earth round. He raised his eyes and saw
The tree that shone white-listed thro’ the gloom.”
In his temple.—Better, in his palace—i.e., the heavenly palace, as in Psalm 11:4; Psalm 18:6. (See Psalm 29:1.) The angelic spectators of the magnificent drama enacted below them cry (not merely speak of, as Authorised Version, but utter the word) each one, “Glory,” obeying the poet’s invocation in the prelude.
Notice that the effect of the storm on men is supposed to be all summed up in the poet’s own attitude of listening awe. There is no actual mention of this part of creation; but one feels from the poem that while inanimate nature trembles and suffers, and the godlike intelligences of heaven are engaged in praise, man listens and is mute.