Psalm 18 - Great Praise from a Place of Great Victory - Page 7 (series: Lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

12 At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.

At the brightness that was before him. From the corresponding verse in 2 Samuel 22, we read, “From the brightness before him flamed fiery coals,” which, no doubt gives the correct sense of our text; and the picture it conveys is of the dark curtain of clouds through which projectiles of lightning (hail and fiery coals) emanate from the Divine brightness in which they hide. Could any phenomena be more overpowering and bewildering than “a tempest dropping fire?” A modern poet captured the feeling of the verse when he penned these words:
“Then fire was sky, and sky fire,
And both one brief ecstasy,
Then ashes.”—R. BROWNING

Compare the following versions—
New International Version: Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
King James Bible: At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
Darby Bible Translation: From the brightness before him his thick clouds passed forth: hail and coals of fire.
World English Bible: At the brightness before him his thick clouds passed, hailstones and coals of fire.
Young's Literal Translation: From the brightness over-against Him His thick clouds have passed on, Hail and coals of fire.
Some others have translated this verse, “At his lightning, his clouds swelled and burst out into hail-stones and balls of fire.” The meaning is that because of the lightning his clouds became agitated, that is, swelled, and, in a manner of speaking, boiled over, being expanded by the heat. In the former part of this depiction, the clouds are represented as condensed, heavy, and lowering, ready to burst out with all the fury of a tempest; and here they are seen as beginning to unburden themselves, by the eruption of the lightning in the form of fire, flames, and hail-stones mixed together. The abrupt manner in which the burning coals and hail-stones are mentioned, points out their sudden and intense fall from the heavens.

The lightning that came out of the thick clouds may denote either the coming of Christ to take vengeance on the Jewish nation, which was swift and sudden, clear and apparent; or the spreading of the Gospel in the Gentile world, in which Christ, the brightness of his Father's glory, appeared to the illumination of many—“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27); and both may be intended, as the following verses show.

His thick clouds passed - or, vanished. They seemed to pass away. The light, the flash, the blaze, penetrated those clouds, and seemed to dispel, or to scatter them. The whole heavens were on fire, as if there were no clouds, or as if the clouds were all driven away. The reference here is to the appearance when the vivid flashes of lightning seem to penetrate and dispel the clouds, and the heavens seem to be lighted up with a universal flame. His thick clouds passed depicts the passing away of the gross darkness, which had for so many years covered the Gentile world, when God sent forth His light and truth in the person of Jesus Christ and multitudes, who were darkness itself, were made light in the Lord.

Hail-stones. The same Gospel that was enlightening to the Gentiles and brought life unto them, was dreadful, like hail stones, and tormenting, scorching, irritating, and provoking, like coals of fire, and the aroma of death unto death to the Jews when God provoked them by sending the Gospel to the Gentiles, and calling them. Or Hail-stones and coals of fire may symbolize the heavy, awful, and consuming judgments of God upon the Jews, which are sometimes represented by hail storms—“The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up” (Revelation 8:7). Hail stones and coals of fire seem to come almost simultaneously, i.e., hail like that which fell in Egypt before the Exodus (See Exodus 9:22-34), when "there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail" (Exodus 9:24{29])—a fire which "ran along upon the ground," or some very unusual electrical phenomenon. Notice how the feeling of the terrible fury of the storm is heightened by the mention of “hail,” so rare in Palestine.

And coals of fire. The words rendered coals of fire here signify living, burning coals. Where the lightning fell it devoured all before it, and turned whatever it touched into burning embers. There seemed to be coals of fire rolling along the ground, or falling from the sky. In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:13 the expression is, "Through the brightness before him were coals of fire kindled." That is, fires were kindled by the lightning. The expression in the psalm is more terse and compact, but the reason for the change cannot be determined.

{1] (Hebrews 2:13) And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.
{2] (Genesis 15.1) After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
{3] (Psalm 9:9) The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
{4] (Isaiah 33:16) He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure
{5] Theophany—a visible manifestation of a deity.
{6] (Psalms 116:2-3) Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. 3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
{7] (Matthew 26:38) Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
{8] (Psalm 22:14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
{9] Targum—(Hebrew tarˈɡum) an Aramaic translation, usually in the form of an expanded paraphrase, of various books or sections of the Old Testament.
{10] (2 Corinthians 6:15) And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
{11] (Job 6:15) My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away.
{12] (Mark 14:33) And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
{13] (Job 35:9) By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry: they cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty.
{14] (Psalm 11:4) The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
{15] (Matthew 27:50-51) Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
{16] (Acts 4:31) And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
{17] (2 Samuel 5:23-24) And when David enquired of the LORD, he said, Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. 24 And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.
{18] (Haggai 2:6) For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
{19] (Hebrews 12:26) Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
{20] (Genesis 3:24) After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
{21] (Exodus 25:18) And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.
{22] (Psalm 80:1) Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
{23] (Isaiah 37:16) "O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.
{24] (Zechariah 6:5) The angel answered me, "These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.
{25] (Revelation 4:7) The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
26 (Psalm 104:3) and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.
{27] (Job 22:13) Yet you say, 'What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness?
{28] (Job 38:37) Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
{29] (Exodus 9:24) hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.

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