Psalm 104:4
Who makes his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Who maketh . . .—Rather,

Who maketh winds His messenger

A flaming fire His ministers.

Or, keeping the order of the Hebrew,

Who maketh His messengers of winds,

And His ministers of flaming fire.

This is plainly the meaning required by the context, which deals with the use made by the Divine King of the various forms and forces of Nature. Just as He makes the clouds serve as a chariot and the sky as a tent, so he employs the winds as messengers and the lightnings as servants.

Taken quite alone, the construction and arrangement of the verse favours the interpretation of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:7, Note, New Testament Commentary). This was the traditional Jewish interpretation, and on it were founded various theories of angelic agency.

But not only do the exigencies of the context set aside this interpretation, but Hebrew literature offers enough instances to show that the order in which a poet arranged his words was comparatively immaterial. Indeed, Dean Perowne has adduced two instances (Isaiah 37:26; Isaiah 60:18) of precisely similar inversion of the natural order of immediate object and predicate. (See Expositor, December, 1878.) And no difficulty need be made about the change of number in flame of fire and ministers, since even if the former were not synonymous with lightnings, its predicate might be plural. (See Proverbs 16:14, “The wrath of a king is messengers of death.”)

Psalm 104:4. Who maketh his angels spirits — That is, of a spiritual or incorporeal nature, that they might be more fit for their employments; or who maketh them winds, as the word רוחות, ruchoth, commonly signifies; that is, who maketh them like the winds, powerful, active, and nimble in executing his pleasure. His ministers a flaming fire — So called for their irresistible force, agility, and fervency in the execution of his commands. But this verse is otherwise rendered by Jewish, and some Christian interpreters, and that very agreeably to the Hebrew text; namely, He maketh the winds his messengers, and flames of fire (that is, the lightning, and thunder, and fiery meteors in the air) his ministers: he maketh use of them no less than of the holy angels; and oftentimes for the same purposes; and they do as certainly and readily obey all his commands as the blessed angels themselves do. This interpretation seems most agreeable to the scope of the Psalm and of the context, wherein he is speaking of the visible works of God; and, perhaps, if properly considered, it will not be found to invalidate the argument of the apostle, (Hebrews 1:7,) who informs us that the words have a reference to immaterial angels: for, when the psalmist says that God maketh the winds, מלאכיו, malachaiv, his angels, or messengers, he plainly signifies that the angels are God’s ministers, or servants, no less than the winds. And that is sufficient to justify the apostle’s argument, and to prove the pre-eminence of Christ above the angels, which is the apostle’s design in that place: see on Hebrews 1:7.104:1-9 Every object we behold calls on us to bless and praise the Lord, who is great. His eternal power and Godhead are clearly shown by the things which he hath made. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. The Lord Jesus, the Son of his love, is the Light of the world.Who maketh his angels spirits - The meaning here literally would be, "Who makes the winds his messengers," or "his angels;" that is, who employs them to execute his purpose; who sends them out as messengers or angels to do his will.

His ministers a flaming fire - That is, Fire is employed by him - in lightnings - to accomplish his purpose as his ministers or his servants. They are entirely under his command. They are sent by him to do his will; to carry out his designs. This is intended to describe the majesty and the power of God - that he can employ wind and lightning - tempest and storm - to go on errands such as he commands; to fulfill his plans; to do his bidding. For the application of this to the angels, and as employed by the apostle Paul to prove the inferiority of the angels to the Messiah, see the notes at Hebrews 1:7.

4. This is quoted by Paul (Heb 1:7) to denote the subordinate position of angels; that is, they are only messengers as other and material agencies.

spirits—literally, "winds."

flaming fire—(Ps 105:32) being here so called.

Who maketh his angels spirits, i.e. of a spiritual or incorporeal nature, that they might be fitter for their employments. Or, who maketh his angels winds, as this last word most commonly signifies, i.e. who made them like the winds, powerful, and active, and nimble in executing God’s pleasure. Or, who useth and governeth those glorious creatures at his pleasure, even as he commands the senseless winds. A

flaming fire; or, like a flaming fire; the note of similitude being here understood, as it is Genesis 49:9 Deu 32:22 Psalm 11:1, and oft elsewhere; to which he compares the angels for their irresistible force, and great agility and fervency in the execution of God’s commands. Or the sense is, Who sometimes clotheth his angels with subtile bodies of wind, or air, or of fire, as he sees fit. And the angels may not unfitly be mentioned in this place amongst and in the close of those works of God which were done in the heavens, of which he hath hitherto spoken, Psalm 104:2,3 because they were made at the same time when the heavens were made, and for the same uses and purposes, and because they are commonly employed by God in managing the clouds, and winds, and meteors, to accomplish God’s designs by them. But this verse is otherwise rendered, both by Jewish and some Christian interpreters, and that very agreeably to the Hebrew text, He maketh the winds his angels, and the flame or flames of fire (i.e. the lightning and thunder, and other fiery meteors in the air)

his ministers; he maketh use of them no less than of the holy angels, and ofttimes for the same purposes, and they do as certainly and readily obey all his commands as the blessed angels themselves do. This interpretation may seem most agreeable to the scope of the Psalm, and to the context, wherein he is speaking of the evil works of God. The only difficulty is, that this seems to invalidate the allegation and argument of the apostle, who expounds it of the angels, Hebrews 1:7. But indeed it doth not; for (to say nothing of other solutions given by other men) when the psalmist saith that God maketh or useth the winds as his angels, &c., he plainly signifies that the angels are God’s ministers or servants, no less than the winds; and that is sufficient to justify the apostle’s argument, and to prove the pre-eminency of Christ above the angels; which is the apostle’s design in that place. Who maketh his angels spirits,.... The angels are spirits, or spiritual substances, yet created ones; and so differ from God, who is a spirit, and from the Holy Spirit of God, who are Creators and not creatures; angels are spirits without bodies, and so differ from the souls or spirits of men, and are immaterial, and so die not; these are made by Christ, by whom all things are made, Colossians 1:16 and so he must be greater and more excellent than they; for which purpose the passage is quoted in Hebrews 1:7. Some render it, "who maketh his angels as the winds"; to which they may be compared for their invisibility, they being not to be seen, no more than the wind, unless when they assume an external form; and for their penetration through bodies in a very surprising manner; see Acts 12:6, and for their great force and power, being mighty angels, and said to excel in strength, Psalm 103:20, and for their swiftness in obeying the divine commands; so the Targum,

"he maketh his messengers, or angels, swift as the wind.''

His ministers a flaming fire; angels are ministers to God, stand before him, behold his face, wait for and listen to his orders, and execute them; they are ministers to Christ, they were so at his incarnation, in his infancy, when in the wilderness and in the garden, at his resurrection and ascension, and will attend him at his second coming; and these are ministers to his people, take the care of them, encamp about them, do many good offices to them in life, and at death carry their souls to Abraham's bosom: these are made a flaming fire, or "as" flaming fire, for their force and power; so the Targum,

"his ministers strong as flaming fire;''

and for their swiftness as before; and because of their burning love to God, Christ, and his people, and their flaming zeal for his cause and interest; hence thought by some to be called "seraphim": and because they are sometimes the executioners of God's wrath; and have sometimes appeared in fiery forms, as in forms of horses of fire and chariots of fire, and will descend with Christ in flaming fire at the last day; see 2 Kings 2:11. Some invert the words, both reading and sense, thus, "who maketh the winds his angels, or messengers, and flaming fire his ministers"; so Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Kimchi; we read of stormy wind fulfilling his word, Psalm 148:8, he sends out his winds at his pleasure to do his errands; as to dry up the waters of the flood, to drive back the waters of the Red sea, and make dry land, to bring quails from thence, and scatter them about the camp of Israel, and in many other instances. So flaming fire was used as his ministers in burning Sodom and Gomorrah; and multitudes of the murmuring Israelites, and the captains with their fifties; but this sense is contrary to the order of the words, and the design of them, and to the apostle's sense of them, Hebrews 1:7 which is confirmed by the Targum, Septuagint, and all the Oriental versions.

Who {b} maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:

(b) As the prophet here shows that all visible powers are ready to serve God: so in He 1:7 the angels also, are obedient to his commandment.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. The A.V. follows the LXX, which is quoted in Hebrews 1:7, with the change of a flaming fire into a flame of fire. The Greek like the Hebrew is ambiguous, for the word for angels may mean simply messengers, and that for spirits may mean simply winds. But it is clear that the spiritual nature of angels is not in question here, and that the right rendering is winds. The construction of the whole verse has however been the subject of much discussion.

(1) If the construction of the A.V. and LXX is retained, and it is the most natural construction of the Heb. words, we may render,

Who maketh his angels winds,

His ministers a flaming fire,

and the meaning will be that as Jehovah reveals Himself in the works of creation, so He arrays the spiritual agents and ministers who surround Him (Psalm 103:20-21) with the form of physical phenomena, the wind and the lightning. “Where men at first see only material objects and forms of nature there God is present, fulfilling His will through His servants under the forms of elemental action” (Bp Westcott on Hebrews 1:7). The Targ., adopting the same construction, paraphrases, “Who makes his messengers swift as winds, his ministers strong as fire,” but this explanation misses the connexion with the preceding verses.

(2) Most commentators however think that the context demands the rendering,

Who maketh winds his messengers,

Flaming fire his ministers.

As the clouds are Jehovah’s chariot, so winds and lightnings are His messengers and servants. The great forces of Nature are His agents, employed by Him to do His bidding. Cp. Psalm 148:8. But this rendering is not free from objection on grammatical grounds. The order of the words is decidedly against it.

(3) A third possible rendering is,

Who maketh his messengers of winds,

His ministers of flaming fire.

Jehovah forms His messengers and ministers out of winds and lightnings; He uses these natural agents for the execution of His purposes. This rendering expresses the same sense as (2), though somewhat less directly, and is free from its grammatical difficulty.

The first rendering however deserves more consideration than it has generally received. It is the most natural rendering, and its connexion with the context, if less obvious than that of (2) and (3), is still real. The general purport of these verses is not to shew “how the various natural agents are appropriated to different uses by the Creator,” but how the Creator is revealed in and through the works of Creation. And as Jehovah is represented in Psalm 104:20-21 of Psalms 103, which is so closely related to this Ps., as environed by hosts of angels and ministers, it is suitable to shew here how these angels and ministers find expression in physical phenomena.

On the grammatical question see Driver’s Hebrew Tenses, § 195, Obs.Verse 4. - Who maketh his angels spirits. Professor Cheyne renders, "Who maketh his messengers of winds;" and so (in substance) Jarchi, Aben. Ezra, Rosenmuller, Professor Alexander, and even Hengstenberg. The difficulty in adopting this rendering is that furnished by the application of the passage in Hebrews 1:7; but the arguments of Hengstenberg go far to meet that difficulty. It is to be noted that our Revisers, while admitting either rendering, have preferred that of Professor Cheyne. And his ministers a flaming fire; or, "his ministers of flame and fire." He is able to show Himself thus gracious to His own, for He is the supra-mundane, all-ruling King. With this thought the poet draws on to the close of his song of praise. The heavens in opposition to the earth, as in Psalm 115:3; Ecclesiastes 5:12, is the unchangeable realm above the rise and fall of things here below. On Psalm 103:19 cf. 1 Chronicles 29:12. בּכּל refers to everything created without exception, the universe of created things. In connection with the heavens of glory the poet cannot but call to mind the angels. His call to these to join in the praise of Jahve has its parallel only in Psalm 29:1-11 and Psalm 148:1-14. It arises from the consciousness of the church on earth that it stands in living like-minded fellowship with the angels of God, and that it possesses a dignity which rises above all created things, even the angels which are appointed to serve it (Psalm 91:11). They are called גּבּרים as in Joel 3:11, and in fact גּבּרי כּח, as the strong to whom belongs strength unequalled. Their life endowed with heroic strength is spent entirely - an example for mortals - in an obedient execution of the word of God. לשׁמע is a definition not of the purpose, but of the manner: obediendo (as in Genesis 2:3 perficiendo). Hearing the call of His word, they also forthwith put it into execution. the hosts (צבאיו), as משׁרתיו shows, are the celestial spirits gathered around the angels of a higher rank (cf. Luke 2:13), the innumerable λειτουργικὰ πνεῦματα (Psalm 104:4, Daniel 7:10; Hebrews 1:14), for there is a hierarchia caelestis. From the archangels the poet comes to the myriads of the heavenly hosts, and from these to all creatures, that they, wheresoever they may be throughout Jahve's wide domain, may join in the song of praise that is to be struck up; and from this point he comes back to his own soul, which he modestly includes among the creatures mentioned in the third passage. A threefold בּרכי נפשׁי now corresponds to the threefold בּרכוּ; and inasmuch as the poet thus comes back to his own soul, his Psalm also turns back into itself and assumes the form of a converging circle.
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