He made darkness his secret place - God is represented as dwelling in the thick darkness, Deuteronomy 4:11; Psalm 97:2. This representation in the place before us is peculiarly proper; as thick heavy clouds deeply charged, and with lowering aspects, are always the forerunners and attendants of a tempest, and greatly heighten the horrors of the appearance: and the representation of them, spread about the Almighty as a tent, is truly grand and poetic.
Dark waters - The vapors strongly condensed into clouds; which, by the stroke of the lightning, are about to be precipitated in torrents of rain. See the next verse.
He made darkness his secret place - Herder has beautifully rendered this verse,
“Now he wrapped himself in darkness;
Clouds on clouds enclosed him round.”
The word rendered “secret place” - סתר sêther - means properly a hiding; then something hidden, private, secret. Hence, it means a covering, a veil. Compare Job 22:14; Job 24:15. In Psalm 81:7 it is applied to thunder: “I answered thee in the secret place of thunder;” that is, in the secret place or retreat - the deep, dark cloud, from where the thunder seems to come. Here the meaning seems to be, that God was encompassed with darkness. He had, as it were, wrapped himself in night, and made his abode in the gloom of the storm.
Round about him - Perhaps a more literal translation would be, “the things round about him - his tent (shelter, or cover) - were the darkness of waters, the clouds of the skies.” The idea is that he seemed to be encompassed with watery clouds.
Dark waters - Hebrew, darkness of waters. The allusion is to clouds filled with water; charged with rain.
Thick clouds of the skies - The word rendered skies in this place - שׁחקים shachaqiym - means, in the singular, dust, as being fine; then a cloud, as a cloud of dust; then, in the plural, it is used to denote clouds, Job 38:37; and hence, it is used to denote the region of the clouds; the firmament; the sky; Job 37:18. Perhaps a not-inaccurate rendering here would be, “clouds of clouds;” that is, clouds rolled in with clouds; clouds of one kind rapidly succeeding those of another kind - inrolling and piled on each other. There are four different kinds of clouds; and though we cannot suppose that the distinction was accurately marked in the time of the psalmist, yet to the slightest observation there is a distinction in the clouds, and it is possible that by the use of two terms here, both denoting clouds - one thick and dense, and the other clouds as resembling dust - the psalmist meant to intimate that clouds of all kinds rolled over the firmament, and that these constituted the “pavilion” of God.