Psalm 104:9

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 9. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth. That bound has once been passed, but it shall never be so again. The deluge was caused by the suspension of the divine mandate which held the floods in check: they knew their old supremacy, and hastened to reassert it, but now the covenant promise for ever prevents a return of that carnival of waters, that revolt of the waves: ought we not rather to call it that impetuous rush of the indignant floods to avenge the injured honour of their King, whom men had offended? Jehovah's word bounds the ocean, using only a narrow belt of sand to confine it to its own limits: that apparently feeble restraint answers every purpose, for the sea is obedient as a little child to the bidding of its Maker. Destruction lies asleep in the bed of the ocean, and though our sins might well arouse it, yet are its bands made strong by covenant mercy, so that it cannot break loose again upon the guilty sons of men.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 9. -- Thou hast set a bound, etc. The Baltic Sea, in our own time, inundated large tracts of land, and did great damage to the Flemish people and other neighbouring nations. By an instance of this kind we are warned what would be the consequence, were the restraint imposed upon the sea, by the hand of God, removed. How is it that we have not thereby been swallowed up together, but because God has held in that outrageous element by his word? In short, although the natural tendency of the waters is to cover the earth, yet this will not happen, because God has established, by his word, a counteracting law, and as his truth is eternal, this law must remain stedfast. --John Calvin.

Verse 9. -- Thou hast set a bound, etc. In these words the psalmist gives us three things clearly concerning the waters. First, that once (he means it not of the deluge, but of the chaos), the waters did cover the whole earth, till God by a word of command sent them into their proper channels, that the dry land might appear. Secondly, that the waters have a natural propensity to return back and cover the earth again. Thirdly, that the only reason why they do not return back and cover the whole earth is, because God hath "set a bound, that they cannot pass." They would be boundless and know no limits, did not God bound and limit them. Wisdom giveth us the like eulogium of the power of God in this, Proverbs 8:29 "He gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment." What cannot he command, who sendeth his commandment to the sea and is obeyed? Some great princes, heated with rage and drunken with pride, have cast shackles into the sea, as threatening it with imprisonment and bondage if it would not be quiet; but the sea would not be bound by them; they have also awarded so many strokes to be given the sea as a punishment of its contumacy and rebellion against either their commands or their designs. How ridiculously ambitious have they been, who would needs pretend to such a dominion! Many princes have had great power at and upon the sea, but there was never any prince had any power over the sea; that's a flower belonging to no crown but the crown of heaven. --Joseph Caryl.

Verse 9. -- Thou hast set a bound, etc. A few feet of increase in the ocean wave that pursues its tidal circuit round the globe, would desolate cities and provinces innumerable... But with what immutable and safe control God has marked its limits! You shall observe a shrub or a flower on a bank of verdure that covers a sea cliff, or hangs down in some hollow; nay, you shall mark a pebble on the beach, you shall lay a shred of gossamer upon it; and this vast, ungovernable, unwieldy, tempestuous element shall know how to draw a line of moisture by its beating spray at the very edge, or on the very point of your demarcation, and then draw off its forces, not having passed one inch or hand's breadth across the appointed margin. And all this exact restraint and measurement in the motion of the sea, by that mysterious power shot beyond unfathomable depths of space, from orbs rolling in ether! a power itself how prodigious, how irresistible, yet how invisible, how gentle, how with minutest exactness measured and exerted. -- George B. Cheever, in "Voices of Nature to her Foster Child, the soul of Man," 1852.

Verse 9. -- A bound that they may not pass over.

Now stretch your eye off shore, over waters made To cleanse the air, and bear the world's great trade, To rise and wet the mountains near the sun, Then back into themselves in rivers run, Fulfilling mighty uses, far and wide, Through earth, in air, or here, as ocean tide. Ho! how the giant heaves himself, and strains And flings to break his strong and viewless chains; Foams in his wrath; and at his prison doors, Hark! hear him! how he beats, and tugs, and roars, As if he would break forth again, and sweep Each living thing within his lowest deep. --Richard Henry Dana (1787).

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 9. --

  1. All things have their appointed bounds.
  2. To pass those bounds without special permission by God is transgression. "Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass."
  3. Extraordinary cases should be followed by a return to ordinary duties. "That they turn not again," etc. --G.R.
Read Psalm 104:9