Psalm 18 - Great Praise from a Place of Great Victory - Page 5 (series: Lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Because he was wroth, that is, because he was angry. Anger is often compared to a raging flame, because it seems to consume everything before it. Hence, we speak of it as "heated," as "burning." Hence, we say of one enraged that he is "inflamed by passion." The expression here is awe-inspiring: God seemed to be angry, and for this reason, He came forth in this awful manner, and the very earth trembled before Him. If He were a mere man, we would say that he had good reason to be angry with the Jewish people for disbelieving and rejecting the Messiah, for hardening themselves, and taking counsel together against Him, and putting Him to death. But He was much greater than any man, so, for these things God was angry with them, and His wrath flamed against them so that their nation, city, and temple were destroyed: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1). Likewise, in the last days, His wrath will fall upon the Pagan empire and antichristian powers: “And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).

God's anger against the psalmist's enemies produced the entire disturbance which he is describing.

8 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.

There went up a smoke out of his nostrils: This, along with what follows, describes a very severe thunder storm; the "smoke" represents thick black clouds, gathered together; "fire" symbolizes lightning; and "coals of fire" stands for hot thunderbolts; and the whole verse may have been borrowed from, and perhaps is an allusion to what took place at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai—“And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16). The majesty of God is on display here, and the language is reminiscent of the description of leviathan in Job 41:19: “Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.” The "smoke of his nostrils" seems to indicate the indignation of God against the enemies of David, of Christ, and of His people, and the punishment He will inflict upon them—“who say, 'Keep away; don't come near me, for I am too sacred for you!' Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day” (Isaiah 65:5). The Targum{9] takes it to mean the pride and insolence of Pharaoh; some Bible scholars believe the expression is derived from wild beasts when excited with anger, and when their rage is indicated by their violent breathing (See Psalm 74:1; Deuteronomy 29:20; Isaiah 65:5). This is, of course, figurative language, denoting the immensity of His anger, and how horrible God's judgments will be to the wicked. Emissions of smoke are a common feature of volcanic disturbances, with which earthquakes are closely connected.

The ancient people placed the seat of anger in the nose, or nostrils; because when the tempers flare the breath becomes heated. Psychologists consider open wide nostrils as a sign of an angry, fiery disposition.

And fire out of his mouth devoured, means that consuming fire came out of His mouth. Thus, we render the next clause, Coals were kindled by it; but the words do not mean that fire proceeding from God kindled coals, but that burning coals came out of His mouth and burned and consumed everything around Him. God is a wall of fire surrounding His people, and a consuming fire to His, and to His people’s enemies. One opinion says that this clause expresses the wrath of God upon the Jewish nation, and His sending the Roman armies to burn their city—“The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7).

Coals were kindled by it. Everything seemed to glow and burn. The lightning, that appeared to flash from His mouth, set everything on fire. The Jews were like dry trees, therefore they were suitable fuel for the fire of divine wrath, and soon became like coals of fire. This image may remind one of the words of Revelation 16:8: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. The antichristian party, upon whom the forth vial of God’s wrath will be poured, will be scorched with heat, and blaspheme the name of God.

So far as the language of this verse is concerned, it may be applied either to the destruction of Jerusalem, to any mighty overthrow of His enemies, or to the Day of Judgment. The great truth expressed here is that all of God’s enemies would be destroyed if Yahweh should come amidst flames of fire. That truth should be sufficient to fill a wicked world with alarm. Compare the following verses.
• The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:6).
• The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. (Isaiah 30:30).

9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.

He bowed the heavens also. He made the heavens bend under Him when He descended to take vengeance on His enemies. This illustration by the psalmist seems to express the appearance of the Divine majesty in a glorious cloud, descending from heaven, which underneath was substantially dark, but above, bright, and shining with boundless luster; and which, by its gradual approach to the earth, would appear as though the heavens themselves were bending down and approaching towards us. In a storm the clouds do actually descend, and the whole heaven seems to be bowed down to earth. This clause is another allusion to the tempest, when the clouds sink low; when they seem to sweep along the ground; when it appears as if the heavens were brought nearer to the earth; and to use a common expression, "the heavens and earth were coming together." The Lord comes in the clouds to execute wrath and vengeance on wicked men—“Send forth lightning and scatter the enemies; shoot your arrows and rout them” (Psalm 144:6). The Targum{9] here is, "he bowed the heavens, and his glory appeared"; that is, the glory of His power, and of His mighty hand of vengeance; for it is not His grace and mercy that he brings, but his indignation and wrath. Jehovah is represented here as a mighty warrior going forth to fight the battles of David, When He descended to the engagement, the very heavens bowed to make his descent appear even more awful: His military tent was substantial darkness; the voice of His thunder was the warlike alarm which sounded the beginning of the battle; the chariot in which He rode was the thick clouds of heaven, conducted by cherubs, and carried on by the irresistible force and rapid wings of an impetuous tempest; and the darts and weapons He employed were thunder-bolts, lightning, fiery hail, deluging rains, and stormy winds! No wonder that when God arose all His enemies were scattered, and those that hated Him fled before Him.

And came down - God himself seemed to descend in the fury of the storm. God is said to "come down" to earth whenever he delivers the oppressed, and takes vengeance on their oppressors (see Exodus 3:8; 2 Samuel 22:10; Psalm 144:5).

And darkness was under his feet. - A dark cloud; or, the darkness caused by thick clouds. Darkness signifies the wrath of God as the clear light signifies God's favour. Compare these verses:
• "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." (Nahum 1:3).
• "The mountain burned ... with thick darkness." (Deuteronomy 4:11).
• "These words the Lord spake out of the thick darkness." (Deuteronomy 5:22).
• "Clouds and darkness are round about him." (Psalm 97:2).
The idea here is that of shocking majesty and power, for we are nowhere more impressed with the idea of majesty and power than in the fury of a storm. A deep darkness commonly accompanies both earthquake and storm. When God actually descended on Mount Sinai, it was amid thunder and lightning, and "a thick cloud" (Exodus 19:16), elsewhere called "thick darkness" (Deuteronomy 5:22). Darkness is expressive of the awfulness of the Judgment to wicked men who must go down to the place of eternal sorrow; who are not allowed to see the face of God, are barred from is presence, and denied communion with Him, and to whom everything appears awful and terrible.

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