Psalm 48:7
You break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
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(7) Breakest.—It is natural at first sight to connect this verse immediately with the disaster which happened to the fleet of Jehoshaphat (1Kings 22:48-49; 2Chronicles 20:36). And that event may indeed have supplied the figure, but a figure for the dispersal of a land army. We may render:

With a blast from the east

Thou breakest (them as) Tarshish ships.


With a blast from the east

(Which) breaketh Tarshish ships (thou breakest them),

according as we take the verb, second person masculine, or third person feminine.

Shakespeare, in King John, compares the rout of an army to the dispersion of a fleet—

“So, by a roaring tempest on the flood,

A whole Armada of convicted sail

Is scattered and disjoined from fellowship.”

This is preferable to the suggestion that the seaboard tribes were in the alliance, whose break-up the psalm seems to commemorate, and that the sudden dispersion of their Armada ruined the enterprise. Tarshish ships, a common term for large merchantmen (comp. East Indiamen), from their use in the Tarshish trade, are here symbols of a powerful empire. Isaiah, in Isaiah 33, compares Assyria to a gallant ship. For the “east wind,” proverbially destructive and injurious, and so a ready weapon of chastisement in the Divine hand, see Job 27:21; Isaiah 27:8; and Ezekiel 27:26, where its harm to shipping is especially mentioned.

Psalm 48:7. Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish, &c. — Thou didst no less violently and suddenly destroy these raging enemies of Jerusalem, than sometimes thou destroyest the ships at sea with a fierce and vehement wind, such as the eastern winds were in those parts.48:1-7 Jerusalem is the city of our God: none on earth render him due honour except the citizens of the spiritual Jerusalem. Happy the kingdom, the city, the family, the heart, in which God is great, in which he is all. There God is known. The clearer discoveries are made to us of the Lord and his greatness, the more it is expected that we should abound in his praises. The earth is, by sin, covered with deformity, therefore justly might that spot of ground, which was beautified with holiness, be called the joy of the whole earth; that which the whole earth has reason to rejoice in, that God would thus in very deed dwell with man upon the earth. The kings of the earth were afraid of it. Nothing in nature can more fitly represent the overthrow of heathenism by the Spirit of the gospel, than the wreck of a fleet in a storm. Both are by the mighty power of the Lord.Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish - On the ships of Tarshish, see the notes on Isaiah 2:16. The allusion to these ships here may have been to illustrate the power of God; the ease with which he destroys that which man has made. The ships so strong - the ships made to navigate distant seas, and to encounter waves and storms - are broken to pieces with infinite ease when God causes the wind to sweep over the ocean. With so much ease God overthrows the most mighty armies, and scatters them. His power in the one case is strikingly illustrated by the other. It is not necessary, therefore, to suppose that there was any actual occurrence of this kind particularly in the eye of the psalmist; but it is an interesting fact that such a disaster did befall the navy of Jehoshaphat himself, 1 Kings 22:48 : "Jehoshaphat made "ships of Tarshish" to go to Ophir for gold; but they went not: "for the ships were broken" at Ezion-geber." Compare 2 Chronicles 20:36-37. This coincidence would seem to render it not improbable that the discomfiture of the enemies of Jehoshaphat was particularly referred to in this psalm, and that the overthrow of his enemies when Jerusalem was threatened called to remembrance an important event in his own history, when the power of God was illustrated in a manner not less unexpected and remarkable. If this was the allusion, may not the reference to the "breaking of the ships of Tarshish" have been designed to show to Jehoshaphat, and to the dwellers in Zion, that they should not be proud and self-confident, by reminding them of the ease with which God had scattered and broken their own mighty navy, and by showing them that what he had done to their enemies he could do to them also, notwithstanding the strength of their city, and that their "real" defense was not in walls and bulwarks reared by human hand, anymore than it could be in the natural strength of their position only, but in God. 7. ships of Tarshish—as engaged in a distant and lucrative trade, the most valuable. The phrase may illustrate God's control over all material agencies, whether their literal destruction be meant or not. This is not reported as a matter of fact, for we read of no ships in those expeditions to which this Psalm relates, nor did any ships come near Jerusalem, because that was at a great distance from the sea, and from any navigable river running into the sea; but only added by way of illustration or allusion. The sense is, Thou didst no less violently and suddenly destroy these proud and raging enemies of Jerusalem, than sometimes thou destroyest the ships at sea with a fierce and vehement wind, such as the eastern winds were in those parts, Exodus 14:21 Job 27:21 Jeremiah 18:17 Ezekiel 27:26. The words are and may be rendered thus, Thou didst break them as (such ellipses of the pronoun, and of the note of similitude, being very frequent; as I have again and again showed) the ships of the sea (for Tarshish, though properly the name of a maritime place in Cilicia, Ezekiel 27:25 Jonah 1:3, is usually put for the sea, as 1 Kings 10:22 2 Chronicles 9:21 Psalm 72:10 Isaiah 2:16 Jeremiah 10:9) are broken

with an east wind. Albeit the enemies of Jerusalem, which are compared to the raging waters of the sea in Psalm 46:2,3, may as fitly be compared to ships upon the sea. Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with east wind. This is either another simile, expressing the greatness of the dread and fear that shall now seize the kings of the earth; which will be, as Kimchi observes, as if they were smitten with a strong east wind, which breaks the ships of Tarshish; and to the same purpose is the note of Aben Ezra; who says, the psalmist compares the pain that shall take hold upon them to an east wind in the sea, which breaks the ships; for by Tarshish is meant, not Tartessus in Spain, nor Tarsus in Cilicia, or the port to which the Prophet Jonah went and took shipping; but the sea in general: or else this phrase denotes the manner in which the antichristian kings, and antichristian states, wilt be destroyed; just as ships upon the ocean are dashed to pieces with a strong east wind: or it may design the loss of all their riches and substance brought to them in ships; hence the lamentations of merchants, and sailors, and ship masters, Revelation 18:15. Thou breakest the ships {g} of Tarshish with an east wind.

(g) That is, of Cilicia or of the Mediterranean sea.

7. With an east wind

Thou shatterest ships of Tarshish.

As he gazes upon the wreck of the Assyrian enterprise, the poet apostrophises God with mingled awe and thankfulness. The language is plainly metaphorical. God’s might is irresistible. He shatters the stately ships of Tarshish with a sudden storm: with equal ease He annihilates the vast Assyrian army. Cp. Isaiah 14:24-27, noting the phrase, “I will break the Assyrian in my land.” For the metaphor comp. Ezekiel 27:26, where the fall of Tyre is described as a wreck; and Isaiah 33:23, where Jerusalem in her extremity (or, according to some commentators, the Assyrian power) is represented as a disabled ship.

The east wind, notorious for its destructiveness, is often employed as a symbol of judgement (Job 27:21; Isaiah 27:8; Jeremiah 18:17); and ships of Tarshish,—the largest vessels, such as were employed for the voyage to Tartessus in the S.W. of Spain (cp. ‘East Indiamen’)—were emblems of all that was strong and stately (Isaiah 2:16). The alternative rendering of R.V. marg., ‘As with the east wind that breaketh the ships of Tarshish,’ is grammatically possible, but less suitable.Verse 7. - Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. The literal exposition is wholly out of place, since history does not speak of any co-operation of a fleet with a land army in any attack upon Pales. fine. The expression must be used metaphorically of a great and violent destruction wrought by the arm of God upon Israel's foes. Still, the imagery would scarcely have been used, unless there had been something in the circumstances of the time to suggest it, as there certainly was in Jehoshaphat's time, whose fleet of "ships of Tamhish" was "broken" at Ezion-geber (1 Kings 22:48). The poet may have witnessed the catastrophe. (Heb.: 48:2-9) Viewed as to the nature of its subject-matter, the Psalm divides itself into three parts. We begin by considering the three strophes of the first part. The middle strophe presents an instance of the rising and falling caesural schema. Because Jahve has most marvellously delivered Jerusalem, the poet begins with the praise of the great King and of His Holy City. Great and praised according to His due (מהלּל as in Psalm 18:4) is He in her, is He upon His holy mountain, which there is His habitation. Next follow, in Psalm 48:3, two predicates of a threefold, or fundamentally only twofold, subject; for ירכּתי צפון, in whatever way it may be understood, is in apposition to הר־ציּון. The predicates consequently refer to Zion-Jerusalem; for קרית מלך רב is not a name for Zion, but, inasmuch as the transition is from the holy mountain to the Holy City (just as the reverse is the case in Psalm 48:2), Jerusalem; ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶ τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως, Matthew 5:35. Of Zion-Jerusalem it is therefore said, it is יפה נוף, beautiful in prominence or elevation (נוף from נוּף, Arabic nâfa, nauf, root נף, the stronger force of נב, Arab. nb, to raise one's self, to mount, to come sensibly forward; just as יפה also goes back to a root יף, Arab. yf, wf, which signifies "to rise, to be high," and is transferred in the Hebrew to eminence, perfection, beauty of form), a beautifully rising terrace-like height;

(Note: Luther with Jerome (departing from the lxx and Vulgate) renders it: "Mount Zion is like a beautiful branch," after the Mishna-Talmudic נוף, a branch, Maccoth 12a, which is compared also by Saadia and Dunash. The latter renders it "beautiful in branches," and refers it to the Mount of Olives.)

and, in the second place, it is the joy (משׂושׂ) of the whole earth. It is deserving of being such, as the people who dwell there are themselves convinced (Lamentations 2:15); and it is appointed to become such, it is indeed such even now in hope, - hope which is, as it were, being anticipatorily verified. but in what sense does the appositional ירכּתי צפון follow immediately upon הר־ציּון? Hitzig, Ewald, Hengstenberg, Caspari (Micha, p. 359), and others, are of opinion that the hill of Zion is called the extreme north with reference to the old Asiatic conception of the mountain of the gods - old Persic Ar-bur'g (Al-bur'g), and also called absolutely hara or haraiti,

(Note: Vid., Spiegel, Erân, S. 287f.)

old Indian Kailâsa and Mêru

(Note: Vide Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, ii.847.)

- forming the connecting link between heaven and earth, which lay in the inaccessible, holy distance and concealment of the extreme north. But the poet in no way betrays the idea that he applies this designation to Zion in an ideal sense only, as being not inferior to the extreme north (Bertheau, Lage des Paradieses, S. 50, and so also S. D. Luzzatto on Isaiah 14:13), or as having taken the place of it (Hitzig). That notion is found, it is true, in Isaiah 14:13, in the mouth of the king of the Chaldeans; but, with the exception of the passage before us, we have no trace of the Israelitish mind having blended this foreign mythological style of speech with its own. We therefore take the expression "sides of the north" to be a topographical designation, and intended literally. Mount Zion is thereby more definitely designated as the Temple-hill; for the Temple-hill, or Zion in the narrower sense, formed in reality the north-eastern angle or corner of ancient Jerusalem. It is not necessarily the extreme north (Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 39:2), which is called ירכתי צפון; for ירכּתים are the two sides, then the angle in which the two side lines meet, and just such a northern angle was Mount Moriah by its position in relation to the city of David and the lower city.

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