Psalm 18:12
At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) At the brightness.—This is obscure. Literally, From the brightness before him his clouds passed through (Heb., avar—LXX., διῆλθον; Vulg., transierunt) hail and fiery coals. In Samuel it is “From the brightness before him flamed fiery coals,” which is the description we should expect, and, doubtless, gives the sense we are to attach to our text. Through the dark curtain of clouds the lightnings dart like emanations from the Divine brightness which they hide. The difficulty arises from the position of avaiv, “his clouds,” which looks like a subject rather than an object to avrû. It has been conjectured, from comparison with Samuel, that the word has been inserted through error, from its likeness to the verb. If retained it must be rendered as object, “Out of the brightness of his presence there passed through his clouds hail and fiery coals.” And some obscurity of language is pardonable in a description of phenomena so overpowering and bewildering as “a tempest dropping fire.” A modern poet touches this feeling:—

“Then fire was sky, and sky fire,

And both one brief ecstasy,

Then ashes.”—R. BROWNING, Easter Day.

In the Authorised Version the thought is of a sudden clearing of the heavens, which is not true to nature, and the clause “hailstones and coals of fire” comes in as an exclamation, as in the next verse. But there it is probably an erroneous repetition, being wanting in Sam. and in the LXX. version of the psalm. Notice how the feeling of the terrible fury of the storm is heightened by the mention of “hail,” so rare in Palestine.

Psalm 18:12. At the brightness that was before him, &c. — Schultens, Waterland, and some others, translate this verse, At his lightning, his clouds swelled and burst out into hail-stones and balls of fire. The meaning is, that through the lightning his clouds fermented, that is, swelled, and, as it were, boiled over, being rarefied by the heat. In the former part of this description, the clouds are represented as condensed, heavy, and lowering, ready to burst out with all the fury of a tempest; and here, as beginning to disburden and discharge themselves, by the eruption of the lightning in fire, flames, and hail-stones mixed. The abrupt manner in which the burning coals and hail-stones are mentioned, points out the sudden and impetuous fall of them. 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. See Chandler and Dodd.18:1-19 The first words, I will love thee, O Lord, my strength, are the scope and contents of the psalm. Those that truly love God, may triumph in him as their Rock and Refuge, and may with confidence call upon him. It is good for us to observe all the circumstances of a mercy which magnify the power of God and his goodness to us in it. David was a praying man, and God was found a prayer-hearing God. If we pray as he did, we shall speed as he did. God's manifestation of his presence is very fully described, ver. 7-15. Little appeared of man, but much of God, in these deliverances. It is not possible to apply to the history of the son of Jesse those awful, majestic, and stupendous words which are used through this description of the Divine manifestation. Every part of so solemn a scene of terrors tells us, a greater than David is here. God will not only deliver his people out of their troubles in due time, but he will bear them up under their troubles in the mean time. Can we meditate on ver. 18, without directing one thought to Gethsemane and Calvary? Can we forget that it was in the hour of Christ's deepest calamity, when Judas betrayed, when his friends forsook, when the multitude derided him, and the smiles of his Father's love were withheld, that the powers of darkness prevented him? The sorrows of death surrounded him, in his distress he prayed, Heb 5:7. God made the earth to shake and tremble, and the rocks to cleave, and brought him out, in his resurrection, because he delighted in him and in his undertaking.At the brightness that was before him - From the flash - the play of the lightnings that seemed to go before him.

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 in a blaze, 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.

Hail-stones - That is, hailstones followed, or fell.

And coals of fire - 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 of the change cannot be assigned.

12. Out of this obscurity, which impresses the beholder with awe and dread, He reveals Himself by sudden light and the means of His terrible wrath (Jos 10:11; Ps 78:47). At his glorious and powerful appearance

his thick clouds passed away, i.e. vanished, (as this word is oft taken, as Psalm 90:5,6 Isa 29:5 Habakkuk 3:10) being dissolved into showers of hail-stones, &c. At the brightness that was before him, The lightning that came out of the thick clouds; which may denote, either the coming of Christ to take vengeance on the Jewish nation, which was swift and sudden, clear and manifest; 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; see Matthew 24:27; and both may be intended, as the effects following show;

his thick clouds passed; that is, passed away; the gross darkness, which had for so many years covered the Gentile world, was removed when God sent forth his light and truth; and multitudes, who were darkness itself, were made light in the Lord;

hail stones and coals of fire; the same Gospel that was enlightening to the Gentiles, and the savour of life unto life unto them, was grievous, like hail stones, and tormenting, scorching, irritating, and provoking, like coals of fire, and the savour of death unto death, to the Jews; when God provoked them, by sending the Gospel among the Gentiles, and calling them: or these may design the heavy, awful, and consuming judgments of God upon them, which are sometimes signified by hail storms; see Revelation 8:7. In 2 Samuel 22:13, it is only, "through the brightness before him were coals of fire kindled".

At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. The best rendering of this obscure verse seems to be:

From the brightness before him there passed through his thick clouds hailstones and coals of fire.

The flashes of lightning, accompanied by hail (Exodus 9:23-24), are as it were rays of the “unapproachable light” in which He dwells, piercing through the dense clouds which conceal Him. The text in 2 Sam. which has only, “at the brightness before him coals of fire were kindled,” is evidently mutilated.Verse 12. - At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed. The "brightness" intended is probably that of lightning. The "thick clouds" are riven and parted asunder for the lightning to burst forth. Then come, almost simultaneously, hail stones and coals of fire; i.e., hail like that which fell in Egypt before the Exodus (Exodus 9:22-34), when "there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail" (ver. 24) - a fire which "ran along upon the ground," or some very unusual electrical phenomenon (see the comment on Exodus in the ' Homiletic Commentary,' p. 208). (Heb.: 18:5-7) In these verses David gathers into one collective figure all the fearful dangers to which he had been exposed during his persecution by Saul, together with the marvellous answers and deliverances he experienced, that which is unseen, which stands in the relation to that which is visible of cause and effect, rendering itself visible to him. David here appears as passive throughout; the hand from out of the clouds seizes him and draws him out of mighty waters: while in the second part of the Psalm, in fellowship with God and under His blessing, he comes forward as a free actor.

The description begins in Psalm 18:5 with the danger and the cry for help which is not in vain. The verb אפף according to a tradition not to be doubted (cf. אופן a wheel) signifies to go round, surround, as a poetical synonym of סבב, הקּיף, כּתּר, and not, as one might after the Arabic have thought: to drive, urge. Instead of "the bands of death," the lxx (cf. Acts 2:24) renders it ὠδῖνες (constrictive pains) θανάτου; but Psalm 18:6 favours the meaning bands, cords, cf. Psalm 119:61 (where it is likewise חבלי instead of the הבלי, which one might have expected, Joshua 17:5; Job 36:8), death is therefore represented as a hunter with a cord and net, Psalm 91:3. בליּעל, compounded of בּלי and יעל (from יעל, ועל, root על), signifies unprofitableness, worthlessness, and in fact both deep-rooted moral corruption and also abysmal destruction (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15, Βελίαρ equals Βελίαλ as a name of Satan and his kingdom). Rivers of destruction are those, whose engulfing floods lead down to the abyss of destruction (Jonah 2:7). Death, Belı̂jáal, and Sheôl are the names of the weird powers, which make use of David's persecutors as their instruments. Futt. in the sense of imperfects alternate with praett. בּעת ( equals Arab. bgt) signifies to come suddenly upon any one (but compare also Arab. b‛ṯ, to startle, excitare, to alarm), and קדּם, to rush upon; the two words are distinguished from one another like ׬berfallen and anfallen. The היכל out of which Jahve hears is His heavenly dwelling-place, which is both palace and temple, inasmuch as He sits enthroned there, being worshipped by blessed spirits. לפניו belongs to ושׁועתי: my cry which is poured forth before Him (as e.g., in Psalm 102:1), for it is tautological if joined with תּבא beside ושׁועתי. Before Jahve's face he made supplication and his prayer urged its way into His ears.

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