Verse 20. Bess the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength. Finding his work of praise growing upon his hands, he calls upon "the firstborn sons of light" to speak the praises of the Lord, as well they may, for as Milton says, they best can tell. Dwelling nearer to that prepared throne than we as yet have leave to climb, they see in nearer vision the glory which we would adore. To them is given an exceeding might of intellect, and voice, and force which they delight to use in sacred services for him; let them now turn all their strength into that solemn song which we would send up to the third heaven. To him who gave angelic strength let all angelic strength be given. They are his angels, and therefore they are not loath to ring out his praises.
That do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. We are bidden to do these commandntents, and alas we fail; let those unfallen spirits, whose bliss it is never to have transgressed, give to the Lord the glory of their holiness. They hearken for yet more commands, obeying as much by reverent listening as by energetic action, and in this they teach us how the heavenly will should evermore be done; yet even for this surpassing excellence let them take no praise, but render all to him who has made and kept them what they are. O that we could hear them chant the high praises of God, as did the shepherds on that greatest of all birth nights --
"When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet
As never was by mortal finger struck;
Answering the stringed noise,
As well their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close."
Our glad heart anticipates the hour when we shall hear them "harping in loud and solemn guise," and all to the sole praise of God.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 20. Bless the Lord, ye his angels, etc. The weight of offering praise unto God is too heavy for men to lift; and as for angels, it will take up all their strength and their best abilities to go about it. David Dickson.
Verse 20. Angels, that excel it, strength, that do his commandments. The chief excellence of the angels, the main cause of their strength and power, and of their immense superiority to mankind, is that which is set forth in the following words of the text. After the Psalmist has described the angels as excelling in strength, he adds that they do God's commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word. For this is the only living source of lasting strength and power. They who do the will of God faithfully and obediently, have God for them; and then what can be against them? Then work itself strengthens them, and is like a tide bearing them onward; because it is his work. They on the other hand who run counter to the will of God, have God against them; and then what can be for them? Can a man push back the sea? can he lay hold on the sun, and drag him out of his course? Then may he hope to be strong, when he is fighting against the will of God...
Hence we see the falsehood of that maxim, so common on the lips of those who plume themselves upon their mastery in the wisdom of this world -- that Might is Right, -- a maxim which exactly inverts the truth, and whereby the Prince of darkness is ever setting himself up against the Lord of heaven. The true principle, which is inverted and perverted in this falsehood, -- the principle which ought to be written up in the councilchambers of princes and on the walls of senate-houses, -- the principle which explains the secret of the strength of the angels, and indeed of all true strength, that is in accordance with the will of God, -- may be stated in the selfsame words, if we only invert their order, Right is Might. Julius Charles Hare, 1849.
Verse 20. His angels that do his commandments, etc. They hearken to the voice of his word, they look upon God as the great General, and if he give out the word, they give out their strength, and go about the work willingly. They are very attentive to his commands; if he says, Go smite Herod for his pride, Balaam for his covetousness, David for his vainglory, Sennacherib for his blasphemy, and Sodom for its uncleanness, presently they go. William Greenhill.
Verse 20. Commandments. Davar (rkd), to speak, is rendered, "command" twenty times... direct personal communion between the Lord and his messengers seems to be implied. R. B. Girdlestone.
Verse 20. Hearkenling into the voice of his word. Not only, mightily executing the word when heard; but, ever intently listening, ready to catch the intimation of his will. William Kay.
Verse 20. Hearkening unto the voice of his word. Angels are vigilant creatures, and wait for opportunities, and when they come they will not lose them. They neither slumber nor sleep, but hearken constantly what the Lord will say, what opportunity there will be for action; so, in Ezekiel 1:11 , they are described with their wings stretched upward, manifesting their watchfulness and readiness for service. When Christ was born, a multitude of them appeared and celebrated his nativity, Luke 2:13 : when Christ was taken by Judas and his train, Peter drew his sword in his Master's defence; but what saith Christ? "Put up thy sword, it is not a time now to fight, but to suffer: thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? It is not a time now to pray for help, I must die, and the Scripture must be fulfilled; but if I would, my Father would bid the angels to aid me, and they presently would come, whole legions of them, yea, all the angels in heaven." Let us learn of angels to watch for opportunities, and take them. There are nicks of time wherein to do the work of Christ. William Greenhill.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 20. The angels' service instructive to us.
- Their personal strength is excellent. As servants of God we also should see to our own spiritual health and rigour.
- They are practical in their obedience, not theorists.
- They are attentive while at work, ready to learn more, and holding fellowship with God, who speaks personally to them.
- They do all in the spirit of joyful praise, blessing the Lord.
- The centre of praise: "Bless the Lord." All praise centres in him.
- The concert of praise.
- The hosts of the redeemed.
- Ministers in particular.
- The surrounding creation.
- The climax of praise: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." This has the highest claim upon me for gratitude and praise. Vast as the chorus may be, it will not be perfect without my note of praise. This is the culminating note: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." G.R.