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Verse 20

20.As it were a dream after a man is awakened. This similitude is often to be met with in the Sacred Writings. Thus, Isaiah, (Isaiah 29:7,) speaking of the enemies of the Church, says, “They shall be as a dream of a night vision.” To quote other texts of a similar kind would be tedious and unnecessary labor. In the passage before us the metaphor is very appropriate. How is it to be accounted for, that the prosperity of the wicked is regarded with so much wonder, but because our minds have been lulled into a deep sleep? and, in short, the pictures which we draw in our imaginations of the happiness of the wicked, and of the desirableness of their condition, are just like the imaginary kingdoms which we construct in our dreams when we are asleep. Those who, being illuminated by the Word of God, are awake, may indeed be in some degree impressed with the splendor with which the wicked are invested; but they are not so dazzled by it as thereby to have their wonder very much excited; for they are prevented from feeling in this manner by a light of an opposite kind far surpassing it in brilliancy and attraction. The prophet, therefore, commands us to awake, that we may perceive that all which we gaze at in this world is nothing else than pure vanity; even as he himself, now returning to his right mind, acknowledges that he had before been only dreaming and raving. The reason is added, because God will make their image to be despised, or render it contemptible. By the word image some understand the soul of man, because it was formed after the image of God. But in my opinion, this exposition is unsuitable; for the prophet simply derides the outward pomp or show (198) which dazzles the eyes of men, while yet it vanishes away in an instant. We have met with a similar form of expression in Psalms 39:6, “Surely every man passeth away in an image,” the import of which is, Surely every man flows away like water that has no solidity, or rather like the image reflected in the mirror which has no substance. The word image, then, in this passage means what we commonly term appearance, or outward show; and thus the prophet indirectly rebukes the error into which we fall, when we regard as real and substantial those things which are merely phantoms created out of nothing by our imaginations. The word בעיר, bair, properly signifies in the city. (199) But as this would be a rigid form of expression, it has been judiciously thought by many that the word is curtailed of a letter, and that it is the same as בהעיר, bahair; an opinion which is also supported from the point kamets being placed under ב, beth. According to this view it is to be translated in awakening, that is, after these dreams which deceive us shall have passed away. And that takes place not only when God restores to some measure of order matters which before were involved in confusion, but also when dispelling the darkness he gladdens our minds with a friendly light. We never, it is true, see things so well adjusted in the world as we would desire; for God, with the view of keeping us always in the exercise of hope, delays the perfection of our state to the final day of judgment. But whenever he stretches forth his hand against the wicked, he causes us to see as it were some rays of the break of day, that the darkness, thickening too much, may not lull us asleep, and affect us with dullness of understanding. (200) Some apply this expression, in awaking, to the last judgment, (201) as if David intended to say, In this world the wicked abound in riches and power, and this confusion, which is as it were a dark night, will continue until God shall raise the dead. I certainly admit that this is a profitable doctrine; but it is not taught us in this place, the scope of the passage not at all agreeing with such an interpretation. If any prefer reading in the city in the city thou wilt make their image to be despised, — the meaning will be, that when God is pleased to bring into contempt the transitory beauty and vain show of the wicked, it will not be a secret or hidden vengeance, but will be quite manifest and known to all, as if it were done in the public market place of a city. But the word awaking suits better, as it is put in opposition to dreaming.

“Like the dream of a man beginning to wake publicly,
O Lord! thou renderest their vain show contemptible.”

The latter: —

“Like to a dream after one awaketh,
So wilt thou, O Jehovah! when thou risest up,
Destroy their shadowy grandeur.”

The original word, צלם tselem, for image, means likeness, corporeal or incorporeal; and it agrees with צל, tsel, a shade, because an image is, as if the shade or shadow of the body. See Bythner on Psalms 39:6. “It seems to be taken here,” says Hammond, “for that which hath a fantastical only in opposition to a real substantial being.” “The Hebrew term,” says Walford, “means an unsubstantial appearance, splendid while it continues, but which in an instant disappears.” The prosperity which wicked men for a time enjoy, their greatness, riches, honor, and happiness, however dazzling and imposing, is thus nothing more than an image or shadow of prosperity, an empty phantom; and within a short period it ceases to be even so much as a shadow, it absolutely vanishes and comes to nothing, convincing the good but afflicted man, to whom it seemed to involve in doubt the rectitude of the Divine government, what is its real character, and that it should never occasion any perplexity to the student of Divine Providence.

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