Verse 39. He spread a cloud for a covering. Never people were so favoured. What would not travellers in the desert now give for such a canopy? The sun could not scorch them with its burning ray; their whole camp was screened like a king in his pavilion. Nothing seemed to be too good for God to give his chosen nation, their comfort was studied in every way.
And fire to give light in the night. While cities were swathed in darkness, their town of tents enjoyed a light which modern art with all its appliances cannot equal. God himself was their sun and shield, their glory and their defence. Could they be unbelieving while so graciously shaded, or rebellious while they walked at midnight in such a light? Alas, the tale of their sin is as extraordinary as this story of His love; but this Psalm selects the happier theme and dwells only upon covenant love and faithfulness. O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good. We, too, have found the Lord all this to us, for he has been our sun and shield, and has preserved us alike from the perils of joys and the evils of grief;
"He hath been my joy in woe,
Cheered my heart when it was low;
And with warnings softly sad
Calmed my heart when it was glad."
So has the promise been fulfilled to us, "the sun shall not hurt thee by day, nor the moon by night."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 39. -- In the army of Alexander the Great, the march was begun by a great beacon being set upon a pole as a signal from head quarters, so that "the fire was seen at night, the smoke in the daytime;" and the plan is still found in use amongst the caravans of Arabia. It is probable enough, in that unchanging land, that such may have been the custom at the time of the Exodus, and that God taught the people by parable in this wise, as well as by fact, that he was their true leader, and heaven the general pavilion, whence the order of march was enjoined. --Neale and Littledale.
Verse 39. --
When Israel, of the Lord beloved,
Out of the land of bondage came,
Her father's God before her moved,
An awful guide in smoke and flame.
By day, along the astonished lands,
The cloudy pillar glided slow;
By night, Arabia's crimson sands
Returned the fiery column's glow.
There rose the choral hymn of praise,
And trump and timbrel answered keen,
And Zion's daughters poured their lays,
With priest's and warrior's voice between.
But present still, though now unseen,
When brightly shines the prosperous day,
Be thoughts of Thee a cloudy screen,
To temper the deceitful ray!
And oh, when stoops on Judah's path,
In shade and storm, the frequent night,
Be Thou -- long suffering, slow to wrath --
A burning and a shining light. --Sir Walter Scott, 1771- 1832.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 39. --
- A dark cloud of providence is the guide of the people of God by day.
- A bright cloud of promises is their guide by night. --G.R.
Verse 39. -- The Lord's goodness exemplified in our varying conditions.
- For prosperity -- a cloud.
- For adversity -- a light. A good text would be found in "light in the night."