Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
1. "Author of the psalm." This psalm, according to the title, was composed by David; and there is nothing in it that is contrary to this supposition. Indeed, there were many circumstances in the life of David which would suggest the thoughts in this psalm; and the sentiments expressed are such as are frequently found in his other compositions.
2. "Occasion on which the psalm was composed." The psalm is said in the title to have been composed as "a song to the Lord, concerning the words (Margin, 'or business, ') of Cush the Benjamite." There is no reason to call the correctness of this title in question, but there have been very various opinions as to who this Cush was. It is manifest from the psalm that it was composed in view of some "words" of reviling, or reproach, or slander; something that was done to wound the feelings, or to injure the reputation, or destroy the peace of David.
There have been three opinions in regard to the "Cush" here referred to:
(1) According to the first, "Saul" is the person intended; and it has been supposed that the name "Cush" is given to him as a reproach, and to denote the blackness of his character, as the word "Cush" would denote an Ethiopian, or black man. So it was understood by the author of the Targum or Aramaic Paraphrase, in which it is rendered "an ode which David sang before the Lord on the death of Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin." But this opinion has no probability. It is not certain that this term "Cush" would, in the time of David, denote one of black complexion; nor is there any probability that it would be used as a term of reproach at all; and as little probability is there that it would be applied by David to Saul if it had been. If the psalm referred to Saul, it is probable, from all that we know of the feelings of David toward the reigning prince, that he would not designate him, in the title of a psalm, in enigmatical and reproachful language. Besides, the injurious treatment of Saul toward Davd was rather manifested in deeds than in words.
(2) a second opinion is, that it refers to Shimei, who was of the house of Saul, and who reproached and cursed David as he was flying from Jerusalem on occasion of the rebellion of Absalom, Sa2 16:5 ff. It is supposed by those who maintain this opinion that the name was given to him because he was a calumniator and reviler - or, as we would say, a "blackhearted" man. But the same objection exists to this opinion as to that before-mentioned; and besides this, there are several things in the psalm which do not agree with such a supposition. In fact there is no reason for such a supposition, except that Shimei was a calumniator, and that the psalm refers to some such person.
(3) a third opinion is, that it refers to some one of the name Cush, of the tribe of Benjamin, who reproached David on some occasion that is now unknown. This opinion has every degree of probability, and is undoutbtedly the correct opinion. David was often reproached and calumniated in his life, and it would seem that, on some occasion now to us unknown, when he was violently reproached in this manner, he gave vent to his feelings in this impassioned ode. No other record was made of the transaction, and the occasion on which it occurred is not known. At the time when it occurred it would be easily understood who was referred to, and the design of the composition was accomplished by the record of the feelings of the author on all occasion that greatly tried his spirit. It is thus of permanent value to the church and the world, for there are few persons that are not on some occasions bitterly reproached, and few who are not disposed to vent their feelings in expressions similar to those in this psalm. One great design of the collection of poems in the Psalms was to show the workings of human nature in a great variety of situations; and hence, such a psalm as this has a permanent and general value; and so far as this general use is concerned, it matters little on what occasion, or in reference to what individual, the psalm was composed.
3. "Contents of the psalm." The psalm embraces the following points:
I. A prayer of the psalmist for deliverance from his enemies, and especially from this particular foe that threatened his destruction, Psa 7:1-2. This is the general subject of the psalm.
II. He offers this prayer on the ground that he is innocent of the charges that are brought against him; relying thus on the fact that his was a righteous cause, and appealing to God on this ground, and declaring his willingness to suffer all that his enemy attempted to bring upon him if he was guilty, Psa 7:3-5.
III. He prays for the interposition of divine justice on his enemies, on the ground of the general justice of God, and as a part of his general administration over men, Psa 7:6-9.
IV. In his own hopes, he trusts in the divine discrimination between innocence and guilt, assured that God would interpose on behalf of the righteous, and that the principles of the divine administration were opposed to the wicked, Psa 7:10-11.
V. He speaks confidently of the ultimate destruction of the ungodly and of the manner in which it would be brought about, Psa 7:12-16. If they did not turn, they must be certainly destroyed, for God was preparing the instruments of their destruction; and the means which he would use would be the very plans of the wicked themselves.
VI. The psalmist says that, as for himself, he would praise the Lord according to his righteousness; that is, would adore and praise him as a righteous God, Psa 7:17.
The general subject of the psalm, therefore, pertains to the feelings which are to be entertained toward revilers and calumniators - toward those who reproach us when we are conscious of innocence of the charges that are alleged against us; and as all good men are liable to be placed in these circumstances, the psalm has a practical and general value.
4. "The title to the psalm." The psalm is entitled "Shiggaion of David." The word "Shiggaion" - שׁגיון shiggâyôn - occurs only in this place in the singular number, and in Hab 3:1 in the plural. "A prayer of Habakkuk upon Shigionoth." It properly means a "song, psalm, hymn" (Gesenius). Prof. Alexander renders it "wandering, error," as if the word were derived from שׁגה shâgâh, to walk, to go astray; and he supposes that it refers to the fact that David was "wandering" or unsettled at the time when the psalm was composed. This reason, however, will not apply to the use of the word in Habakkuk. Solomon Van Til. (Ugolin, Thesau. Sac. Ant., vol. xxxii. pp. 294, 295), supposes that it refers to "a certain inadvertence or oblivion of himself on the part of the author, or powerful seizure of the mind," "animi abreptio." He says that it is commonly supposed to indicate a poem, in which the poet is impelled by his feelings, and drawn along with little regard to the regularity of the numbers or the meter, but in which he pours out his emotions in an erratic or irregular manner from the overflowing of his soul.
This seems to me to have been the probable origin of this title, and to have denoted the kind of poetry to which it was applicable. Julius Bartoloccius (Ugolin, xxxii. 484) supposes that it refers to a certain "tone" (the "fifth tone") as especially "sweet" and "soft," and that this kind of poetry was thus applicable to hymns of joy; and that the term is used here because this psalm is especially sweet and pleasant. There is nothing in the psalm, however, which would indicate that this is the origin of the title; and the former supposition better meets the case than either this or the opinion of Prof. Alexander. I would regard it, therefore, as applicable to a psalm where there was an overflow of feeling or emotion that poured itself out without much regard to regular rhythm, or the laws of meter. It is a psalm of a "wandering" or "irregular meter." It may not be easy, however, to determine why it is particularly applied to this psalm; it is more easy to see why it should be applied to the hymn in Habakkuk. The Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint render it simply "A psalm."
O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust - The psalm opens with an expression of strong confidence in God. The psalmist addresses Yahweh as his God, and says that in him he trusts or confides. The word rendered trust - חסה châsâh - means "to flee;" to flee to a place; to take shelter; and is applied to taking shelter under the shadow or protection of one Jdg 9:15; Isa 30:2; Psa 57:1; Psa 61:4. The idea here is, that in his troubles he fled to God as a refuge, and felt safe under his protection.
Save me from all them that persecute me - That is, protect my life; rescue me from their power. The word "persecute" here refers to those who sought his life, who endeavored to deprive him of his rights. The language would apply to many occasions in the life of David - to the persecutions which he endured by Saul, by Absalom, etc. In this case the language was suggested by the opposition of Cush the Benjamite; and it was this that David had particularly in view. It is probable, however, that, whoever Cush was, he was not alone, but that others were associated with him in his opposition to David; and it was natural also that, in circumstances like these, David should remember his other persecutors, and pray that he might be delivered from them all. The prayer, therefore, has a general form, and the desire expressed is that which we all naturally have, that we may be delivered from all that troubles us.
And deliver me - Rescue me. It would seem from this expression, and from the following verse, that there was more to be apprehended in the case than mere reproachful words, and that his life was actually in danger.
Lest he - Lest "Cush" should do this. See the title, and the introduction to the psalm, Section 2.
Tear my soul like a lion - Tear or rend my "life" - that is, "me" - like a lion. The word rendered "soul" here - נפשׁ nephesh - refers, as it properly does elsewhere, to the "life," and not to the soul, as we use the term, denoting the thinking, immortal part. The simple idea is, that David was apprehensive of his "life," and, in order to indicate his great peril, he uses language derived from the fierceness of the lion. Such imagery would be well understood in a country where lions abounded, and nothing could more strikingly denote the danger in which David was, or the fierceness of the wrath of the enemy that he dreaded.
Rending it in pieces - Rending me in pieces. Or rather, perhaps, breaking or crushing the bones, for the word used - פרק pâraq (from our English word "break") - means "to break, to crush," and would apply to the act of the lion crushing or breaking the bones of his victim as he devoured it.
While there is none to deliver - Denoting the complete destruction which he feared would come upon him. The figure is that of a solitary man seized by a powerful lion, with no one at hand to rescue him. So David felt that if God did not interfere, he would fall into the hands of this fierce and wrathful enemy.
O Lord my God - A solemn appeal to God as to the sincerity and truth of what he was about to say.
If I have done this - This thing charged upon me, for it is evident that "Cush," whoever he was, had accused him of some wrong thing - some wicked action. What that was can only be learned from what follows, and even this is not very specific. So far as appears, however, it would seem to be that he accused David of bringing evil, in some way, upon one who was at peace with him; that is, of wantonly and without provocation doing him wrong, and of so doing wrong that he had the avails of it in his own possession - some spoil, or plunder, or property, that he had taken from him. The charge would seem to be, that he had made a wanton and unprovoked attack on one who had not injured him, and that he had taken, and had still in his possession, something of value that properly belonged to another. Whether the accuser (Cush) in this referred to himself or to some other person, does not appear clear from the psalm; but as he was filled with rage, and as the life of David was endangered by him, it would seem most probable that the reference was to himself, and that he felt he had been personally wronged. The design of David, in the passage now before us, is to deny this charge altogether. This he does in the most explicit manner, by saying that this was so far from being true, that he had, on the contrary, delivered the life of him that was his enemy, and by adding that, if this were so, he would be willing that the injured man should persecute and oppose him, and even trample his life down to the earth.
If there be iniquity in my hands - That is, if there is the iniquity referred to; or, in other words, if he had in his possession what had been wrongfully taken from another, to wit, as appears, from this "Cush" who now accused him. The word "iniquity" here denotes an "unjust possession" - a property that had been unjustly taken from another; and, as remarked above, the slanderous charge would seem to have been, that he had taken that property from some one who was at peace with him, and that he retained it contrary to justice. This charge David means peremptorily to deny.
If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me - If I have done evil; or if I have requited him that was friendly by some unjust and evil conduct. If I have come upon him wantonly and unprovoked, and have done him wrong. This seems to have been the substance of the accusation; and, as remarked above, it is most probable that the accuser (Cush) referred to himself.
Yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy - So far is this from being true, that the very reverse is true. So far from taking advantage of another that was at peace with me, and depriving him of his just rights by fraud or force, it is a fact that I have rescued from impending danger the man that was at war with me, and that was an avowed enemy. It would seem probable that in this he refers to this very Cush, and means to say that there had been some occasion in which he, who was long hostile to him, was wholly in his power, and when he had not only declined to take advantage of him, but had actually interposed to rescue him from danger. An instance of this kind actually occurred in the life of David, in his treatment of Saul Sa1 24:10-11; and it is "possible" that David referred to that case, and meant to say that that was an indication of his character, and of his manner of treating others. Those who suppose that the whole psalm refers to Saul (see the introduction, Section 2), of course regard this as the specific case referred to. There may have been other instances of the same kind in the life of David, and there is no improbability in supposing that on some occasion he had treated this very man, "Cush," in this way, and that he refers here to that fact.
Let the enemy persecute my soul - Persecute my "life," for so the word rendered "soul," נפשׁ nephesh, is evidently used here. He was willing, if he had been guilty of the thing charged upon him, that the enemy here referred to should "pursue" or persecute him until he should destroy his life. Compare with this the expression of Paul in Act 25:11. The meaning here is simply that if he were a guilty man, in the manner charged on him, he would be willing to be treated accordingly. He did not wish to screen himself from any just treatment; and if he had been guilty he would not complain even if he were cut off from the land of the living.
And take it - Take my life; put me to death.
Yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth - The allusion here is to the manner in which the vanquished were often treated in battle, when they were rode over by horses, or trampled by men into the dust. The idea of David is, that if he was guilty he would be willing that his enemy should triumph over him, should subdue him, should treat him with the utmost indignity and scorn.
And lay mine honor in the dust - All the tokens or marks of my honor or distinction in life. That is, I am willing to be utterly degraded and humbled, if I have been guilty of this conduct toward him who is my enemy. The idea in all this is, that David did not wish to screen himself from the treatment which he deserved if he had done wrong. His own principles were such that he would have felt that the treatment here referred to would have been right and proper as a recompense for such base conduct; and he would not have had a word to say against it. His desire for the interposition of God, therefore, arose solely from the fact of his feeling that, in these respects, he was entirely innocent, and that the conduct of his enemy was unjust and cruel.
Selah - A musical pause, not affecting the sense, but introduced here, perhaps, because the sense of the psalm now demanded a change in the style of the music. See the notes at Psa 3:2.
Arise, O Lord, in thine anger - That is, to punish him who thus unjustly persecutes me. See the notes at Psa 3:7.
Lift up thyself - As if he had been lying in repose and inaction. The idea is derived from a warrior who is called on to go forth and meet an enemy.
Because of the rage of mine enemies - Not only of this particular enemy, but of those who were associated with him, and perhaps of all his foes. David felt, on this occasion, that he was surrounded by enemies; and he calls on God to interfere and save him.
And awake for me - Or, in my behalf. The word "awake" is a still stronger expression than those which he had before used. It implies that one had been asleep, and insensible to what had occurred, and he addresses God "as if" He had thus been insensible to the dangers which surrounded him.
To the judgment that thou hast commanded - To execute the judgment which thou hast appointed or ordered. That is, God had, in his law, commanded that justice should be done, and had proclaimed himself a God of justice - requiring that right should be done on the earth, and declaring himself in all cases the friend of right. David now appeals to him, and calls on him to manifest himself in that character, as executing in this case the justice which he required under the great principles of his administration. He had commanded justice to be done in all cases. He had required that the wicked should be punished. He had ordered magistrates to execute justice. In accordance with these great principles, David now calls on God to manifest "himself" as the friend of justice, and to show, in this case, the same principles, and the same regard to justice which he required in others. It is an earnest petition that he would vindicate his own principles of administration.
So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about - That is, as the result of thy gracious interposition in defending the righteous, and in bringing just judgment on the wicked. The meaning is, that such an act would inspire confidence in him as a just and holy God, and that, as the result, his people would gather round him to express their gratitude, and to render him praise. In other words, every act of justice on the part of God - all hls interpositions to defend his people, and to maintain the principles of righteousness and truth - tend to inspire confidence in him, and to increase the number of his friends. The phrase "the congregation of the people," here, does not necessarily refer to any "congregation," or assembly as such, then existing; but it means that a great congregation - a great multitude - would thus encompass him, or that great numbers would worship him the result of his interposition. This the psalmist urges as a motive, or as a reason why God should interpose, that in this way the number of his worshippers would be greatly increased.
For their sakes - On their account; or to secure this result in regard to them.
Return thou on high - The most probable meaning of this is "ascend thy throne of justice, or thy judgment-seat;" spoken here either as a king ascending his elevated throne (compare Isa 6:1), or as ascending to heaven, the place where he dispensed justice. The "language" is as if he had come down from his throne - as if he had not been engaged in dispensing justice; and David now calls on him to reascend the throne, and to execute righteous judgment among men. The effect of this, he says, would be to secure the confidence of his people, and to increase the number of those who would worship him. Of course, this is not to be understood literally, but in a manner appropriate to the divine majesty. It is language, in this respect, similar to that which is elsewhere used, when the psalmist calls on God "to awake, to arise, to lift up himself." See Psa 7:6. Such language is easily understood; and language drawn from the common modes of speaking among men must be used when we speak of God. The whole idea in this passage is that God seemed to delay in the execution of his judgment, and the psalmist entreats him to hasten it.
The Lord shall judge the people - Expressing his confident belief that God would interpose, and that his judgment would not much longer be delayed. The proposition is a general one - that God would see that justice would be done to all people; and on this ground the psalmist pleads that He would now interpose and defend him from his enemies.
Judge me, O Lord - That is, in my present circumstances. Interpose to do justice to my cause, and to vindicate me from these false accusations.
According to my righteousness - In this particular case, for to that the proper laws of interpretation require us to confine this. He does not say that he wished his own righteousness to be made the basis of judgment in determining his eternal welfare, or that he depended on his own righteousness for salvation - for that is not the point in question; but he felt that his was, in this case, a righteous cause; that he was not guilty of the charge alleged against him; that he was an injured, wronged, and calumniated man; and he prayed that God would "vindicate" him from these charges, and defend him from those who were unjustly persecuting him. With all our sense of personal unworthiness in the matter of salvation, it is not improper, when we are wronged, to pray that God would interpose and vindicate us in that particular case, according to our innocence of the charges alleged against us.
And according to mine integrity that is in me - Hebrew, "my perfection." That is, his perfection in "this" case; his entire freedom from the charges brought against him; his absolute innocence in respect to the points under consideration. A man may be conscious of "perfect" innocence in respect to a particular matter, and yet have a deep sense of his "general" unworthiness, and of the fact that he is a sinner against God. That I am innocent of a particular act charged on me does not prove that I am guiltless altogether; that I should allege that, and insist on that, and pray to God to vindicate me in that, does not prove that I depend on that for the salvation of my soul, or that I claim absolute perfection before him.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to and end - Of all the wicked; wickedness not in this particular case only, but wickedness of all forms, and in all lands. The prayer here is a natural one; when a man becomes impressed with a sense of the evil of sin in one form, he wishes that the world may be delivered from it in all forms and altogether.
But establish the just - The righteous. This stands in contrast with his desire in regard to the wicked. He prays that the righteous may be confirmed in their integrity, and that their plans may succeed. This prayer is as universal as the former, and is, in fact, a prayer that the world may come under the dominion of the principles of truth and holiness.
For the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins - That is, the hearts and reins of all people. He understands the character of all people; he is intimately acquainted with all their thoughts, and purposes, and feelings. To search or try "the heart and the reins" is an expression frequently used in the Bible to denote that God is intimately acquainted with all the thoughts and feelings of people; that is, that he thoroughly understands the character of all people. The word "heart" in the Scriptures is often used to denote the seat of the "thoughts;" and the word "reins" seems to be used to denote the most secret feelings, purposes, and devices of the soul - as if lodged deep in our nature, or covered in the most hidden and concealed portions of the man. The word "reins," with us, denotes the kidneys. In the Scriptures the word seems to be used, in a general sense, to denote the inward parts, as the seat of the affections and passions.
The Hebrew word כליה kilyâh, means the same as the word "reins" with us - the kidneys, Exo 29:13, Exo 29:22; Job 16:13; Isa 34:6; Deu 32:14. From some cause, the Hebrews seem to have regarded the "reins" as the seat of the affections and passions, though perhaps only in the sense that they thus spoke of the "inward" parts, and meant to denote the deepest purposes of the soul - as if utterly concealed from the eye. These deep thoughts and feelings, so unknown to other people, are all known intimately to God, and thus the character of every man is clearly understood by him, and he can judge every man aright. The phrase used here - of trying the hearts and reins - is one that is often employed to describe the Omniscience of God. Compare Jer 11:20; Jer 17:10; Jer 20:12; Psa 26:2; Psa 139:13; Rev 2:23. The particular idea here is, that as God searches the hearts of all people, and understands the secret purposes of the soul, he is able to judge aright, and to determine correctly in regard to their character, or to administer his government on the principles of exact justice. Such is the ground of the prayer in this case, that God, who knew the character of all people, would confirm those who are truly righteous, and would bring the wickedness of the ungodly to an end.
My defense is of God - The meaning here is, that God was his protector, and that in his troubles he confided in him. The original word here, as in Psa 3:3, note; Psa 5:12, note; is "shield." See the notes at thoses verses.
Which saveth the upright in heart - whom he that searches the heart Psa 7:9 sees to be upright; or to be sincere, truthful, just. The writer says that it is a characteristic of God that he saves or protects all such; and, conscious of his innocence of the charges against himself, he here appeals to him on that ground, and confides in his protection because he sees that in this respect he was blameless.
God judgeth the righteous - That is, he pronounces a just judgment on their behalf; he vindicates their character. It is true, in a general sense, that God judges all according to their character; but the particular idea here is, that God will do justice to the righteous; he will interpose to vindicate them, and he will treat them as they ought to be treated when assailed by their enemies, and when reproached and calumniated. The original phrase here is susceptible of two translations; either, "God is a righteous judge" or, "God is judging," that is judges, "the righteous." The sense is not materially varied, whichever translation is adopted. Our common version has probably expressed the true idea; and there the design of the writer is to contrast the manner in which God regards and treats the righteous, with the manner in which he regards and treats the wicked. The one he judges, that is, he does him justice; with the other he is angry every day.
And God is angry with the wicked - The phrase "with the wicked" is supplied by our translators, but not improperly, since the writer evidently intends to speak of these in contrast with the righteous. The words "God is angry" must, of course, be understood in a manner in accordance with the divine nature; and we are not to suppose that precisely the same passions, or the same feelings, are referred to when this language is used of God which is implied when it is used of people. It means that his nature, his laws, his government, his feelings, are all arrayed against the wicked; that he cannot regard the conduct of the wicked with favor; that he will punish them. While his judgment in regard to the righteous must be in their favor, it must just as certainly be against the wicked; while he will vindicate the one, he will cut off and punish the other. Of the truth of this in respect to the divine character there can be no doubt. Indeed, we could not honor a God - as we could honor no other being - who would deal with the righteous and the wicked alike, or who would have no respect to character in the treatment of others, and in his feelings toward them.
Every day - Continually; constantly; always. This is designed to quality the previous expression. It is not excitement. It is not temporary passion, such as we see in men. It is not sudden emotion, soon to be succeeded by a different feeling when the passion passes off. It is the steady and uniform attribute of his unchanging nature to be always opposed to the wicked - to all forms of sin; and in him, in this respect, there will be no change. The wicked will find him no more favorable to their character and course of life tomorrow than he is today; no more beyond the grave, than this side the tomb. What he is today he will be tomorrow and every day. Time will make no change in this respect, and the wicked can have no hope on the ground that the feeling of God toward sin and the sinner (as such) will ever be in any way different from what it is at the present moment. This is a fearful truth in regard to the sinner; and both aspects of the truth here stated should make the sinner tremble;
(a) that God is angry with him - that all His character, and all the principles of His govermnent and law, are and must be arrayed against him; and
(b) that in this respect there is to be no change; that if he continues to be wicked, as he is now, he will every day and always - this side the grave and beyond - find all the attributes of God engaged against him, and pledged to punish him.
God has no attribute that can take part with sin or the sinner.
If he turn not - If the wicked person does not repent. in the previous verse the psalmist had said that God is angry with the wicked every day; he here states what must be the consequence to the wicked if they persevere in the course which they are pursuing; that is, if they do not repent. God, he says, cannot be indifferent to the course which they pursue, but he is preparing for them the instruments of punishment, and he will certainly bring destruction upon them. It is implied here that if they would repent and turn they would avoid this, and would be saved: a doctrine which is everywhere stated in the Scriptures.
He will whet his sword - He will sharpen his sword preparatory to inflicting punishment. That is, God will do this. Some, however, have supposed that this refers to the wicked person - the enemy of David - meaning that if he did not turn; if he was not arrested; if he was suffered to go on as he intended, he would whet his sword, and bend his bow, etc.; that is, that he would go on to execute his purposes against the righteous. See Rosenmuller in loc. But the most natural construction is to refer it to God, as meaning that if the sinner did not repent, He would inflict on him deserved punishment. The "sword" is an instrument of punishment (compare Rom 13:4); and to "whet" or sharpen it, is merely a phrase denoting that he would prepare to execute punishment. See Deu 32:41.
He hath bent his bow - The bow, like the sword, was used in battle as a means of destroying an enemy. It is used here of God, who is represented as going forth to destroy or punish his foes. The language is derived from the customs of war. Compare Exo 15:3; Isa 63:1-4. The Hebrew here is," his bow he has trodden," alluding to the ancient mode of bending the large and heavy bows used in war, by treading on them in order to bend them.
And made it ready - Made it ready to shoot the arrow. That is, He is ready to execute punishment on the wicked; or, all the preparations are made for it.
He hath also prepared for him - The instruments of punishment are already prepared, and God can use them when he pleases. They are not to be made ready, and, therefore, there is no necessity for delay when he shall have occasion to use them. The idea is, that arrangements are made for the destruction of the wicked, and that the destruction must come upon them. The world is full of these arrangements, and it is impossible that the sinner should escape.
The instruments of death - The means of putting them to death; that is, of punishing them. The particular means referred to here are arrows, as being what God has prepared for the wicked. "Death" here is designed simply to denote punishment, as death would be inflicted by arrows.
He ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors - Or rather, as the Hebrew is, "He makes his arrows for burning," that is, "for burning arrows." Horsley renders it, "He putteth his arrows in action against those who are ready for burning." Prof. Alexander, "His arrows to (be) burning he will make." DeWette, "His arrows he makes burning." The Latin Vulgate and Septuagint, His arrows he has made for the burning: "that is, probably for those who are burning with rage, for persecutors. This seems to have been the idea of our translators. The Hebrew word - דלק dâlaq - means to burn, to flame; and hence, also, to burn with love, with anxiety, or with zeal or wrath - as persecutors do. But here the word seems properly to be connected with "arrows;" and the sense is, as rendered by Gesenius, "he maketh his arrows flaming;" that is, burning - alluding to the ancient custom of shooting ignited darts or arrows into besieged towns or camps, for the purpose of setting them on fire, as well as for the purpose of inflicting greater personal injury. The sense is, that God had prepared the means of certain destruction for the wicked. The reference here is not necessarily to persecutors, but what is said here pertains to all the wicked unless they repent.
Behold, he travaileth with iniquity - The wicked man does. The allusion here is to the pains and throes of child-birth; and the idea is, that the wicked man labors or struggles, even with great pain, to accomplish his purposes of iniquity. All his efforts, purposes, plans, are for the promotion of evil.
And hath conceived mischief - That is, he hath formed a scheme of mischief. The allusion here is common when speaking of forming a plan of evil.
And brought forth falsehood - The birth is falsehood; that is, self-deception, or disappointment. It does not mean that falsehood was his aim or purpose, or that he had merely accomplished a lie; but the idea is, that after all his efforts and pains, after having formed his scheme, and labored hard (as if in the pangs of child-birth) to bring it forth, it was abortive. He would be disappointed, and would fail at last. This idea is expressed more distinctly in the following verse, and the design of the whole is to say that any plan or purpose of wickedness must be in the end a failure, since God is a righteous Judge, and will vindicate His own cause.
He made a pit - The allusion here is undoubtedly to a method of hunting wild beasts which was common in ancient times. It consists in digging a pit-fall, and covering it over with brush and grass so as to deceive the animals, and then enclosing them and driving them into it. See the notes at Isa 24:17.
And digged it - And hollowed it out so as to be large enough to contain his prey, and so deep that he could not escape if he fell into it. The idea is, that the enemy here referred to had laid a secret and artful plan to destroy others. He meant that they should not be aware of his plan until the mischief came suddenly upon them. He was preparing to ruin them, and supposed that he was certain of his prey.
And is fallen into the ditch which he made - Into the pit-fall which he had constructed for others; as if a man who had made a pit-fall for wild beasts had himself fallen into it, and could not extricate himself. That is, he had been snared in his own devices; his cunning had recoiled on himself, and instead of bringing ruin on others he had only managed to bring it on himself. See this sentiment illustrated in the notes at Job 5:13. A remarkable instance of the kind may be found in Esther (Est. 5-7), in the case of Haman. Indeed, such things are not uncommon in the world, where the cunning and the crafty are involved in the consequences of their own plans, and are taken in meshes from which they cannot free themselves. A straightforward course is easy, and men are safe in it; but it requires more skill than most men are endowed with to manage a crooked and crafty policy safely, or so as to be safe themselves in pursuing such a course. A spider will weave a web for flies with no danger to himself, for he is made for that, and acts as if he understood all the intricacies of his own web, and may move safely over it in every direction; but man was made to accomplish his purposes in an open and upright way, not by fraud and deceit; hence, when he undertakes a tortuous and crooked course - a plan of secret and scheming policy - in order to ruin others, it often becomes unmanageable by his own skill, or is suddenly sprung upon himself. No one can overvalue a straightforward course in its influence on our ultimate happiness; no one can overestimate the guilt and danger of a crooked and secret policy in devising plans of evil.
His mischief - The mischief which he had designed for others.
Shall return upon his own head - Shall come upon himself. The blow which he aimed at others shall recoil on himself. This is but stating in another form the sentiment which had been expressed in the two previous verses. The language used here has something of a proverbial cast, and perhaps was common in the time of the writer to express this idea.
And his violent dealing - Which he shows to others. The word rendered violent dealing means violence, injustice, oppression, wrong.
Shall all come down upon his own pate - The word here rendered "pate" means properly vertex, top, or crown - as of the head. The idea is that it would come upon himself. He would be treated as he had designed to treat others. The sentiment here expressed is found also in Psa 9:15; Psa 35:8; Psa 37:15. Compare Eurip. Med. 409, and Lucretius v. 1151.
I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness - That is, particularly as manifested in the treatment of the righteous and the wicked, protecting the one, and bringing deeserved punishment upon the other. The purpose of the psalm is to show this. In the course of the psalm the author had declared his full conviction that this was the character of God, and now, in view of this, he says that he will render to him the praise and glory which such a character deserves. He will acknowledge him by public acts of praise as such a God; and will at all times ascribe these attributes to him.
And will sing praise to the name of the Lord - To the name of Jehovah; that is, to Yahweh himself, the "name" being often used to designate a person, or that by which he is known; and also, in many cases, as in this, being significant, or designating the essential nature of him to whom it is applied.
Most high - Exalted above all other beings; exalted above all worlds. The purpose here declared of praising God may refer either to the act which he was then performing in the composition of the psalm, or it may be a purpose in respect to the future, declaring his intention to be to retain in future life the memory of those characteristics of the divine nature now disclosed to him, and to celebrate them in all time to come. The great truth taught is, that God is to be adored for what he is, and that his holy character, manifested alike in the treatment of the righteous and the wicked, lays the foundation for exalted praise.