Verse 23. They that go down to the sea in ships. Navigation was so little practised among the Israelites that mariners were invested with a high mystery, and their craft was looked upon as one of singular daring degree of and peril. Tales of the sea thrilled all hearts with awe, and he who had been to Ophir or to Tarshish and had returned alive was looked upon as a man of renown, an ancient mariner to be listened to with reverent attention. Voyages were looked on as descending to an abyss, "going down to the sea in ships"; whereas now our bolder and more accustomed sailors talk of the "high seas."
That do business in great waters. If they had not had business to do, they would never have ventured on the ocean, for we never read in the Scriptures of any man taking his pleasure on the sea: so averse was the Israelitish mind to seafaring, that we do not hear of even Solomon himself keeping a pleasure boat. The Mediterranean was "the great sea" to David and his countrymen, and they viewed those who had business upon it with no small degree of admiration.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
As a specimen of medieval spiritualizing we give the following from the Hermit of Hampole: --
Verse 23. They that go down to the sea in ships, etc. They that (are true prelates and preachers,) go down from the sublimity of contemplation, to the sea, that is, suiting themselves to the lowly, that they also may be saved, in ships, that is, in the faith, hope and charity of the church, without which they would be drowned in the waters of pleasure, that do business, that is, continue preaching, in great waters, that is, among many people in order that they may become fishers of men. --Richardus Hampolitanus.
While thus our keels still onward boldly strayed --
Now tossed by tempest, now by calms delayed;
To tell the terrors of the deep untried,
What toils we suffered, and what storms defied;
What rattling deluges the black clouds poured,
What dreary weeks of solid darkness lowered;
What mountain surges mountain surges lashed,
What sudden hurricanes the canvas dashed;
What bursting lightnings, with incessant flare,
Kindled in one wide flame the burning air;
What roaring thunders bellowed over our head,
And seemed to shake the reeling ocean's bed:
To tell each horror in the deep revealed,
Would ask an iron throat with tenfold vigour steeled.
Those dreadful wonders of the deep I saw,
Which fill the sailor's breast with sacred awe;
And what the sages, of their learning vain,
Esteem the phantoms of a dreamful brain.
--Luiz de Camoens (1524-1579), in "the Lusiad."
Verse 23-31. No language can be more sublime than the description of a storm at sea in this Psalm. It is the very soul of poetry. The utmost simplicity of diction is employed to convey the grandest thoughts. The picture is not crowded; none but the most striking circumstances are selected; and everything is natural, simple, and beyond measure interesting. The whole is an august representation of the Providence of God, ruling in what appears the most ungovernable province of nature. It is God who raises the storm; it is God who stilleth it. The wise men of this world may look no farther than the physical laws by which God acts; but the Holy Spirit, by the Psalmist, views the awful conflict of the elements as the work of God. --Alexander Carson.
Verse 23-32. This last picture springs naturally from the mention in Psalms 107:3 of the sea; and here the psalmist may have directed his imagination to the usual tempestuousness of the season at which the psalm was sung. --Joseph Francis Thrupp.