Psalm 107:23
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
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(23-32) Storm-tossed mariners.

(23) They that go down to the sea.—An expression so exactly opposite to the ancient equivalent for embarking that we feel we have the very Hebrew feeling. From the high lands of Judæa it was a literal descent to the shores of the Mediterranean. So Jonah went down to Joppa (Jonah 1:3). (Comp. Isaiah 42:10.)

Do business.—Probably with allusion to commercial enterprise.

Psalm 107:23-27. They that go down to the sea in ships — He says go down, because the sea is lower than the earth, as appears by the rivers which run down into it; that do business in great waters — Whose occupation lies there as mariners, merchants, or fisher-men; or, who go to take ship as passengers. These see the works of the Lord — His wonderful works, either, 1st, Of creation, such as fishes of various kinds and shapes, and some of a prodigious size; which are not seen by other men. Or, 2d, His works of providence in bringing them into extraordinary dangers through storms, and working out for them extraordinary deliverances; they witness scenes, and experience interpositions of divine providence, such as others can scarcely form a conception of. For he raiseth the stormy wind — The winds and storms, which come not by chance, but by the order of Divine Providence. They mount up to heaven, &c. — The ships are sometimes raised so high, that it appears as if they would touch the clouds; and then sink down as low as if they would be buried in the bottom of the sea, to the great astonishment and dread of the passengers, whose soul is melted because of trouble — Who are ready to die with fear and dismay. They reel to and fro, &c. — They are so tossed and whirled about, that, as they are not able to stand upon the decks, so the most skilful mariners are at their wit’s end, and do not know which way to steer, or what course to take to save themselves from perishing; all their skill fails them, as some translate the words. “There cannot,” says Dr. Dodd, “be conceived any thing more poetical or sublime than this description of a storm at sea; a subject on which the most celebrated poets have employed their pens. It would be a pleasing task, if the nature or limits of our work allowed it, to compare this description of the psalmist with those of ancient and modern writers. But we are denied this agreeable task; and shall only add, that those who will make the comparison, will find how much superior are the ideas and expressions of the sacred poet to those of uninspired writers.” But, as Dr. Horne observes, “Experience alone can illustrate its beauty, evince its truth, and point out the propriety of the circumstances which are selected to furnish us with a full and complete idea of the whole. Few of us, indeed,” adds he, “are ever likely to be in that terrible situation. But then,” (for this is a fourth similitude portraying the danger of our present state, and the goodness of God displayed in our salvation,) “we cannot help reflecting, that there is a ship in which we are all embarked; there is a troubled sea on which we all sail; there are storms by which we are all frequently overtaken; and there is a haven which we all desire to behold and to enter. For the church is a ship; the world is a sea; temptations, persecutions, and afflictions are the waves of it; the prince of the power of the air is the stormy wind which raises them; and heaven is the only port of rest and security. Often during the voyage, for our punishment or our trial, God permits us to be thus assaulted. The succession and the violence of our troubles, the elevations and depressions of our minds, the uncertainty of our counsels, and our utter inability to help ourselves, are finely represented by the multitude and impetuosity of the waves, the tossings and agitations of the vessel, the confusion, terror, and distress among the sailors. In both cases prayer is the proper effect, and the only remedy left. We should cry unto the Lord Jesus in our trouble; we should, as it were, awake him, like the disciples, with the repetitions of, Lord, save us, we perish! Then will he arise and rebuke the authors of our tribulation, saying unto them, Peace, be still, and they shall hear and obey his voice. He will make the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof shall be still; and, at length, he will bring us in peace, joy, and gladness, to our desired haven, there to exalt him in the congregation of his chosen, and praise him in the great assembly of saints and angels.”

107:23-32 Let those who go to sea, consider and adore the Lord. Mariners have their business upon the tempestuous ocean, and there witness deliverances of which others cannot form an idea. How seasonable it is at such a time to pray! This may remind us of the terrors and distress of conscience many experience, and of those deep scenes of trouble which many pass through, in their Christian course. Yet, in answer to their cries, the Lord turns their storm into a calm, and causes their trials to end in gladness.They that go down to the sea in ships - The scene here changes again. From those that wander in the desert - from those who are in prison - from those who are sick - the eye of the psalmist turns to those who encounter the perils of the ocean, and he finds there occasion for praise to God. The phrase "go down" or "descend" is employed here because the sea is lower than the land, and because we "descend" when we embark on board of a vessel.

That do business ... - Whose business or employment is on the ocean.

23-32. Here are set forth the perils of seafaring, futility of man's, and efficiency of God's, help.

go … sea—alluding to the elevation of the land at the coast.

23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up waves thereof.

26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; soul is melted because of trouble.

27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.

28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them of their distresses.

29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonder-works to the children of men!

32 Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise in the assembly of the elders.

Psalm 107:23

"They that go, down to the sea in ships." Navigation was so little practised among the Israelites that mariners were invested with a high degree of mystery, their craft was looked upon as one of singular daring and peril. Tales of the thrilled all hearts with awe, and he who had been to Ophir or to Tarshish and 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 s, "going down to the sea in ships;" whereas now our bolder and more accused 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, ye 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.

Psalm 107:24

"These see the works of the Lord." Beyond the dwellers on the land they see the Lord's greatest works or at least such as stayers at home judge to be so when they hear the report thereof. Instead of the ocean proving to be a watery wilderness, it is full of God's creatures, and if we were to attempt to escape from his presence by flying to the uttermost parts of it, we should only rush into Jehovah's arms, and ourselves in the very centre of his workshop. "And his wonders in the deep." They see wonders in it and on it. It is in itself a wonder and it swarms with wonders. Seamen because they have fewer objects around them, are more observant of those have than landsmen are, and hence they are said to see the wonders in the deep. At the same time, the ocean really does contain many of the more striking of God's creatures, and it is the scene of many of the more tremendous of the physical phenomena by which the power and majesty of the Lord are revealed among men. The chief wonders alluded to by the Psalmist are a sudden storm and the calm which as it follows it.


Go down to the sea; he saith go down, either because the sea or the shore of it is commonly lower than their habitations from whence they come, or than the natural or artificial banks which are raised to prevent the inundation of the waters; or because the sea is lower than the earth, as may be gathered from the rivers which run down into it.

Do business; whose occupation lies there, either as merchants or as mariners.

They that go down to the sea in ships,.... This is the fourth instance of persons in distress crying to the Lord for help, and, having it, are laid under obligation to praise him; the case of seafaring men: so the Targum introduces it,

"mariners that go down to the sea in ships;''

the same form of expression as here is used in Isaiah 42:10. Some affirm the sea to be higher than the earth, but by this it should be lower; besides the earth is said to be founded on the seas, which suggests superiority; and all the rivers run into the sea, which supposes a declivity; but, be it so that it is higher than the earth, yet this phrase is to be justified by the shores being higher than the sea, from whence men go down to take shipping, as Kimchi observes; though Kimchi's father is of opinion that it respects persons going down into the ship, which is deep, as Jonah is said to do, Jonah 1:3.

That do business in great waters: which refers either to the steering and working of the ship, and everything relating to the management of the ropes and sails, and other affairs; and in a storm much business is done, all hands are employed: or else to the business they go to sea about, as catching fish, curing them, and carrying them to market; or else to traffic and merchandise of goods, they convey from place to place. The phrase is much like that, "as many as trade by sea", Revelation 18:17.

They that go down to the {l} sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

(l) He shows by the sea what care God has over man, for when he delivers them from the great danger of the sea, he delivers them as it were from a thousand deaths.

23. They that go down to the sea] Or, go down on the sea; the sea being apparently below the land. Cp. Isaiah 42:10, and the somewhat different use of ‘go down’ in Jonah 1:3.

that do business in great waters] As merchants and traders, traversing the open sea, and not merely making coasting voyages.

23–32. A fourth example of Jehovah’s goodness, in the deliverance of sailors caught in a storm. The Targ.[62] refers it to the voyage of Jonah, and some expressions suggest that Jonah 1, 2 may have been in the poet’s mind; but the reference is quite general. Addison (Spectator, No. 489) comments on the sublimity of the Psalmist’s description of the storm.

[62] Ed. Lagarde. The text in Walton’s Polyglott does not contain the gloss.

Verses 23-32. - Finally, there are cases among those whose business requires them to traverse the sea, where the danger is great, and death seems imminent. Let such persons cast themselves upon God, and "cry to him in their trouble," and they too will be heard and delivered. Must it not be their duty also to give thanks? Verse 23. - They that go down to the sea in ships. That many of the Israelites engaged in maritime pursuits appears from 1 Kings 9:26-28; 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36; as also from Judges 5:17; Psalm 48:7; Proverbs 23:34; Proverbs 30:19; and from many passages of the Apocrypha. Joppa was at all times an Israelite port, from which trade was carried on by the residents (2 Chronicles 2:16; Ezra 3:7; Jonah 1:3). That do business in great waters; i.e. the sea of Galilee and Lake Merom. Psalm 107:23Others have returned to tell of the perils of the sea. Without any allegory (Hengstenberg) it speaks of those who by reason of their calling traverse (which is expressed by ירד because the surface of the sea lies below the dry land which slopes off towards the coast) the sea in ships (read boŏnijoth without the article), and that not as fishermen, but (as Luther has correctly understood the choice of the word) in commercial enterprises. These have seen the works and wonders of God in the eddying deep, i.e., they have seen with their own eyes what God can do when in His anger He calls up the powers of nature, and on the other hand when He compassionately orders them back into their bounds. God's mandate (ויּאמר as in Psalm 105:31, Psalm 105:34) brought it to pass that a stormy wind arose (cf. עמד, Psalm 33:9), and it drove its (the sea's) waves on high, so that the seafarers at one time were tossed up to the sky and then hurled down again into deep abysses, and their soul melted בּרעה, in an evil, anxious mood, i.e., lost all its firmness. They turned about in a circle (יחוגּוּ( elc from חגג equals חוּג) and reeled after the manner of a drunken man; all their wisdom swallowed itself up, i.e., consumed itself within itself, came of itself to nought, just as Ovid, Trist. i. 1, says in connection with a similar description of a storm at sea: ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis. The poet here writes under the influence of Isaiah 19:3, Isaiah 19:14. But at their importunate supplication God led them forth out of their distresses (Psalm 25:17). He turned the raging storm into a gentle blowing ( equals דּממה דּקּה, 1 Kings 19:12). הקים construed with ל here has the sense of transporting (carrying over) into another condition or state, as Apollinaris renders: αὐτίκα δ ̓ εἰς αὔρην προτέρην μετέθηκε θύελλαν. The suffix of גּלּיהם cannot refer to the מים רבּים in Psalm 107:23, which is so far removed; "their waves" are those with which they had to battle. These to their joy became calm (חשׁה) and were still (שׁתק as in Jonah 1:11), and God guided them ἐπὶ λιμένα θελήματος αὐτῶν (lxx). מחוז, a hapax-legomenon, from Arab. ḥâz (ḥwz), to shut in on all sides and to draw to one's self (root Arab. ḥw, gyravit, in gyrum egit), signifies a place enclosed round, therefore a haven, and first of all perhaps a creek, to use a northern word, a fiord. The verb שׁתק in relation to חשׁה is the stronger word, like יבשׁ in relation to חרם in the history of the Flood. Those who have been thus marvellously rescued are then called upon thankfully to praise God their Deliverer in the place where the national church assembles, and where the chiefs of the nation sit in council; therefore, as it seems, in the Temple and in the Forum.

(Note: In exact editions like Norzi, Heidenheim, and Baer's, before Psalm 107:23, Psalm 107:24, Psalm 107:25, Psalm 107:26, Psalm 107:27, Psalm 107:28, and Psalm 107:40 there stand reversed Nuns (נונין הפוכין, in the language of the Masora נונין מנזרות), as before Numbers 10:35 and between Numbers 10:36 and Numbers 11:1 (nine in all). Their signification is unknown.)

Now follow two more groups without the two beautiful and impressive refrains with which the four preceding groups are interspersed. The structure is less artistic, and the transitions here and there abrupt and awkward. One might say that these two groups are inferior to the rest, much as the speeches of Elihu are inferior to the rest of the Book of Job. That they are, however, nevertheless from the hand of the very same poet is at once seen from the continued dependence upon the Book of Job and Isaiah. Hengstenberg sees in Psalm 107:33-42 "the song with which they exalt the Lord in the assembly of the people and upon the seat of the elders." but the materia laudis is altogether different from that which is to be expected according to the preceding calls to praise. Nor is it any the more clear to us that Psalm 107:33. refer to the overthrow of Babylon, and Psalm 107:35. to the happy turn of affairs that took place simultaneously for Israel; Psalm 107:35 does not suit Canaan, and the expressions in Psalm 107:36. would be understood in too low a sense. No, the poet goes on further to illustrate the helpful government of God the just and gracious One, inasmuch as he has experiences in his mind in connection therewith, of which the dispersion of Israel in all places can sing and speak.

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