Psalm 107:27
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(27) Reel to and fro.—Or more exactly, spin round and round.

Are at their wit’s end.—An admirable paraphrase of the Hebrew, “all their wisdom swalloweth itself up.” The poet, from the expressions employed, is possibly writing under the influence of Psalm 22:14; but he has evidently himself been to sea and experienced the dangers and discomforts he so graphically describes. Ovid (Trist. i. 2) has been quoted in illustration:

“Me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum

Jamjam tacturos sidera summa putes.

Quantæ diducto subsidunt æquore valles:

Jamjam tacturas Tartura nigra putes

Rector in incerto est, nec quid fugiatve petatve

Invenit: ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis.”

See on this passage Addison in Spectator, No. 489.

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 reel to and fro - The word used here - חגג châgag - means to dance as in a circle; then, to reel, or be giddy as drunkards are.

And stagger ... - This word means to move to and fro; to waver; to vacillate; and it is then applied to a man who cannot walk steadily - a drunkard. So the vessel, with the mariners on board, seems to stagger and reel in the storm.

And are at their wit's end - Margin, as in Hebrew, "All their wisdom is swallowed up." That is, They have no skill to guide the vessel. All that has been done by the wisdom of naval architecture in constructing it, and all that has been derived from experience in navigating the ocean, seems now to be useless. They are at the mercy of the winds and waves; they are dependent wholly on God; they can now only cry to him to save them. Often this occurs in a storm at sea, when the most skillful and experienced seaman feels that he can do no more.

27. are … end—literally, "all their wisdom swallows up itself," destroys itself by vain and contradictory devices, such as despair induces. Stagger like a drunken man; not so much from the giddiness of their heads, which is not usual in persons accustomed to the sea, as through the violent and various motions of the sea and the ship.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,.... Through the agitation of the water, and motion of the ship, not being able to stand upon deck.

And are at their wit's end; or, "all their wisdom is swallowed up" (n); their wisdom in naval affairs, their art of navigation, their skill in managing ships, all nonplussed and baffled; they know not what method to take to save the vessel and themselves; their knowledge fails them, they are quite confounded and almost distracted. So Apollinarius paraphrases it,

"they forget navigation, and their wise art does not appear;''

so Ovid, describing a storm, uses the same phrase, "deficit ars",

"art fails.''

(n) "omnis sapientia eorum absorpta est", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus; so Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and {n} are at their wits' end.

(n) When their art and means fail them, they are compelled to confess that only God's providence preserves them.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
27. and are at their wit’s end] Lit. all their wisdom is swallowed up, or perhaps as in Psalm 55:9, is confounded. Their skill in navigation entirely fails them. Cp. Isaiah 19:3. A striking parallel to the whole passage is to be found in Ovid, Tristia, l. 2. 19 ff.

Me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum!

Iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes.

Quantae diducto subsidunt aequore valles!

Iam iam tacturas Tartara nigra putes.

Rector in incerto est, nec quid fugiatve petatve

Invenit. Ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis.

Verse 27. - They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man. The oldest sailor "loses his sea-legs," and staggers about the deck like a landsman, or like one drunk. And are at their wit's end; literally, as in the margin, and all their wisdom is swallowed. But the English idiom of the Authorized Version is a very happy, one, and exactly expresses the writer's meaning. All the seaman's intelligence is at fault, and can suggest nothing. Psalm 107:27Others 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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