Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
"Author and occasion of the psalm." This psalm, like Psa 1:1-6; Psa 2:1-12, and many others, has no title to indicate its authorship; nor is there anything in the psalm itself which can enable us to determine this with any certainty. From the place which it occupies among the acknowledged Psalms of David, it is morally certain that it was regarded by those who arranged the Book of Psalms, as having been composed by him. There is nothing in the psalm to forbid this supposition.
Of course nothing is known as to the occasion on which it was composed. In the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, Ps. 9 and Ps. 10 are united, and reckoned as Ps. 9; and thenceforward the reckoning proceeds according to this arrangement, the eleventh in the Hebrew being numbered in those versions as the tenth, etc. This arrangement continues to Psa 113:1-9 (inclusive). In those versions, Psa 114:1-8 and Ps. 115 of the Hebrew form but one psalm, and the reckoning coincides. But Ps. 116 in Hebrew is, in those versions, (divided into two, and Ps. 147 in Hebrew is, in those versions, divided into two, thus completing the number of 150 psalms - making the number in the Hebrew, and the Latin Vulgate, and the Septuagint, the same. It is not now known by whom these divisions were made, or on what pretence they were made. There is no known reason for making the divisions of the Psalms that occur in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate.
There is no evidence, therefore, that this psalm was composed at the same time, and on the same occasion, as Ps. 9, and there is nothing in the psalm itself that would necessarily lead to this supposition. It is as independent of that in its structure, as one psalm usually is of another.
So far as appears from the psalm itself, it was composed like the former, and like many others, when the writer was in the midst of trouble; and when, for the time, he seemed to be forsaken by God, Psa 10:1. The nature of that trouble is so far indicated as to show that it arose from the conduct of some formidable enemy, some one who was wicked, someone who was pursuing a secret and underhanded, a clandestine and treacherous course, to destroy the reputation or the life of the author of the psalm. In these circumstances the writer calls upon God to interpose for him. Nothing is indicated, however, by which we can ascertain who this enemy was, or on what occasion, in the life of David, the psalm was composed. It is only necessary to add, that there were several occasions in the life of David which corresponded with what is stated in the psalm, and that it is not necessary to understand the particular occasion more clearly in order to see the meaning of the psalm.
"Contents of the psalm." The psalm is properly divided into two parts.
The first contains an account of the character of the enemy to whom the writer refers, Psa 10:1-11; the second is an appeal to God to interpose and deliver him from the machinations of this foe, Psa 10:12-18.
I. The characteristics of the enemy, Psa 10:1-11. Those characteristics were the following:
(a) He was proud, and on that account persecuted the poor, Psa 10:2.
(b) He was a boaster, and especially, it would seem, was one who was disposed to boast of his wealth, Psa 10:3.
(c) He was a practical atheist; one too proud to seek after God, or to acknowledge his dependence on him, Psa 10:4.
(d) His ways were always grievous, or adapted to produce evil, and the reason was that he had no just views on mortal subjects - that the great principles of truth and right were "far above out of his sight," Psa 10:5.
(e) He was a man who had no apprehensions about the future; one who felt that his course would be one of continued prosperity, and that adversity would never come upon him, Psa 10:6.
(f) He was profane and openly fraudulent, Psa 10:7
(g) He was insidious, artful, and underhanded in his doings; a man who would stoop to any act of duplicity and treachery to accomplish his purposes, Psa 10:8-10.
(h) And he acted as if God had "forgotten," that is, as if God would pass over offences; as though He did not see or regard them, Psa 10:11.
II. An appeal to God to deliver him from the machinations of this foe, Psa 10:12-18. This appeal consists of the following parts:
(a) A solemn address to God, beseeching him to remember the cry of the humble or the afflicted, Psa 10:12.
(b) Arguments to enforce this appeal, or reasons why God should interpose, Psa 10:13-15. These arguments are:
(1) That he had seen all this; that the effort of the wrong-doer to conceal what he had done was vain; and
(2) that the poor and afflicted had committed himself to God with a firm confidence that he would protect those who relied on him.
(c) The expression of a solemn and full conviction on the part of the writer of the psalm that God would thus interfere, and save those who put their trust in Him, Psa 10:16-18.
Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? - That is, What is the reason why thou doest this? The thought upon which this is based is that God might be expected to interpose in a time of trouble, and that His aid might then be looked for. Yet, in this case, He seemed to be an indifferent spectator of the sorrows and afflictions of the wronged and oppressed. This filled the mind of the writer with surprise, and he could not account for it, especially in view of the character of the person or persons who had wronged the author of the psalm. "To stand afar off" in such circumstances, is an attitude of indifference and unconcern - as when others do not come near us if we are sick, or are bereaved, or are in circumstances of poverty and want. That man should do this would have produced no surprise in the mind of the writer; that God should do it was something that filled him with wonder.
Why hidest thou thyself? - As if God concealed himself or kept away. He did not manifest himself, but seemed to let the afflicted man suffer alone.
In times of trouble - Affliction, sorrow, persecution. The particular trouble referred to here was that which was produced by the machinations of the enemy or enemies whose character is described in the following verses. The question, however, is put in a general form, as if it; were strange and unaccountable that God should ever fail to interpose in time of trouble. How often has there been occasion to ask this question in our world!
The wicked in his pride - Margin: "In the pride of the wicked he doth." The margin is a literal translation of the Hebrew; but the sense is the same. The meaning is, that the fact that the wicked persecuted the poor, in the case referred to, was to be traced to his pride, haughtiness, ambition; that is, in pursuing his own selfish and ambitious purposes, he became utterly regardless of the rights and comforts of others. He esteemed their interest and happiness as unworthy of regard in comparison with his own aims and purposes, and trampled down all their rights in prosecuting his own ends. The term "wicked" here - in the original in the singular number, רשׁע rāshâ‛, though perhaps used collectively - means properly the wicked one, or the wicked man, and doubtless refers to some enemy that David had in his eye, and from whom he was at that time suffering wrong. It is not possible now to ascertain with certainty who this was; but as the whole description proceeds in the singular number Psa 10:3-11, it is most natural to suppose that this refers to one individual.
Doth persecute the poor - עני ידלק yidelaq ‛ânı̂y. Prof. Alexander renders this, "burns the sufferer." Luther, muss der Elende leiden - "must the afflicted suffer." DeWette: angstigen sich die Elenden. The Latin Vulgate: "When the impious (man) is proud, the poor (man) is burned:" incenditur pauper. So the Septuagint. Gesenius (Lexicon) supposes it means, to burn with anguish. Horsley renders it, "In the exaltation of the impious one the helpless is consumed." But it seems to me that our common version has expressed the true sense. The word rendered persecuteth - דלק dâlaq - means properly to burn, to flame; then to burn with love, with anger; then to burn after anyone, to persecute. See it; explained in the notes at Psa 7:13. According to the most natural application of the word here, it would seem to mean, "In the pride of the wicked, he persecutes the poor or the afflicted;" that is, he burns after him; he is inflamed against him; he hotly pursues him. The word poor in this place - עני ‛ânı̂y - means the afflicted; the crushed; the downtrodden; those in circumstances of humiliation and poverty. The psalmist doubtless refers to himself as a poor and persecuted man; and the time in his life would seem to be when he was without a protector or friend, probably before he came to the throne.
Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined - The artifice, plan, or scheme, which they have formed. That is, they have formed a scheme to take advantage of, or to destroy others; and the psalmist prays that, as a just retribution, this very calamity may come upon them. No man could have a right to complain if the mischief and wrong which he had devised for others should be brought upon himself; and if it were certain that this in all eases would occur, there could be nothing that would so effectually deter men from wrongdoing. The psalmist, then, simply prays that justice might be done. Compare Psa 5:10, note; Psa 7:15-16, notes. The plural form of the verb is used here, but it is not certain that the psalmist had more than one enemy in view, for on expressing his feelings toward that one enemy he may have designed to use language which would be applicable to all in similar circumstances.
For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire - Margin, as in Hebrew, soul's. The main idea in this verse seems to be that he is a boaster - a man who makes some proclamation about himself as being superior to others, and who, in that proportion, looks with disdain or contempt on others. He vaunts himself, or makes an ostentatious display of something on which he prides himself, as wealth, strength, beauty, talent, prowess, etc. The particular thing here, it would seem, of which he boasted was his natural inclinations; the propensities and passions of his soul; that is, he took pride in himself, in his own passions, desires, lusts, tastes, and made a boastful display of them, as if he regarded them as something honorable, or as something fitted to excite admiration in others. This is not a very uncommon characteristic of wicked men; at least it is found in a certain class of wicked men. They pride themselves in whatever they have in their character that is special, or that is their own, for the very reason that it is theirs; and they become so shameless that they do not hesitate publicly to boast of that which should be regarded as a disgrace. A certain class of younq men are very apt to "boast" of passions and practices which should cover their faces with the burning blush of shame.
And blesseth the covetous - Margin, "the covetous blesseth himself, he abhorreth the Lord." Prof. Alexander renders this, "And winning (that is, when he wins) blesses, despises Jehovah." In other words, he hypocritically thanks God for his success, but despises him in his heart. This probably expresses the correct idea. The word rendered "the covetous" - בצע botsē‛ - is a participle, from the verb - בצע bâtsa‛, to cut in pieces; then, to plunder, to spoil; and then, to be greedy after gain. Here, the natural construction would seem to be to refer it not to another, as one who was covetous, but to himself, as greedy, or as succeeding in the object of his desire; as referring to the fact that he obtained his heart's desire, and as showing what his feelings were then. He was filled with evil desires, and was so shameless of them that he openly avowed them; and when he obtained the object of his wishes, he did what is here denoted by the word bless - as will be explained directly.
The idea in the mind of the writer seems to be that he cherished the desire, and made no secret of it, and obtained the object of his wishes. The natural explanation of the manner in which he did this is, that it was by plunder, rapine, or spoil, for this would be most literally expressed by the word used. Compare Pro 1:19; Pro 15:27; Jer 6:13; Jer 8:10; Eze 22:12. It might be, however, by unjust gains, or dishonest dealing, Sa1 8:3; Isa 33:15; Isa 57:17. The word bless here may mean, as in the margin, blesses himself; or, as Prof. Alexander supposes, may mean that he blesses the Lord, that is, renders hypocritical thanks for his success, and professes to acknowledge that all is the gift of God, while at the same time he expresses contempt for him, and despises him in his heart. If the usual meaning of the word bless is to be retained, however, it would seem to be most in accordance with the spirit of the passage that he should bless himself, that is, his own talents, skill, power; in other words, that he should attribute all his success to himself.
The idea does not seem to be that he was even professedly a religious man, but that he was a proud and vain boaster who attributed all success to himself, and despised God and his claims. It has been supposed by some, however, and with plausibility (DeWette, and others), that the word rendered "bless" here - ברך bērēk - as in Job 1:5, Job 1:11; Job 2:9, means, not to bless, but to curse. See the notes at Job 1:5. DeWette renders it, Der Rauber lastert schmahend Jehovah. This seems to me to be the true idea - that this braggart or braggadocio did not make any pretensions to religion, but was a profane man, and one who despised God and abhorred His cause.
Whom the Load abhorreth - Or, more correctly, despises, or abhors the Lord. That is, he makes shameless boast of his own corrupt and base passions; when he is successful he makes no acknowledgment to God, but Curses him and despises or contemns him in his heart. A correct rendering then of the whole would be, "And having obtained, he curses - he despises Jehovah." Coverdale renders this, "The covetous blesseth himself, and blasphemeth the Lord." We have thus an example of lost finished and shameless depravity - but alas! One that was not found in the time of David only.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance - In consequence of his pride; or, his pride is the reason of what is here stated. The "pride of his countenance" is a phrase that is used because pride shows itself mainly in the countenance, or in a lofty air and manner. The design is to state the influence of pride in producing the effect here specified.
Will not seek after God - The phrase "after God," is supplied by our translators. Something clearly is to be supplied, and it is plainly something relating to God - either that the wicked man will not seek after God in prayer, or that he will not inquire after the proofs of his existence and attributes; or that he will not seek after his favor, or that he will not endeavor to know the divine will. All this would be implied in seeking after God, and this is undoubtedly the state of mind that is referred to here. The sinner is unwilling, in any appropriate way, to acknowledge God.
God is not in all his thoughts - Margin, "Or, all his thoughts are, There is no God," Psa 14:1. The literal translation is: "No God (are) all his thoughts." The margin has undoubtedly expressed the meaning better than the translation in the text, since the spirit of the passage is not that the sinner had no thought of God, but that he thought wrong. The fact that he would not seek God, and that he had said that God had forgotten Psa 10:11, shows that he had some thoughts of God. The language here is properly expressive of belief or desire; either that all his thoughts were that there is no God, i. e, that such was the result of all his meditations and reasonings on the subject; or that he wished that it might be found to be so. The language will admit of either construction, and in either sense it would express the thoughts of the wicked. Its both a matter of practical belief, and as a matter of desire, the language of the wicked is, "No God." The wicked wish that there were none; he practically believes that there is none. The entire verse, then, expresses the prevailing feelings of a sinner about God:
(a) That he wishes there were none, and practically believes that there is none; and
(b) that the reason or ground of these feelings is pride. Pride will prevent him from seeking God in the following ways:
(1) It makes him unwilling to recognize his dependence upon any being;
(2) it makes him unwilling to confess that he is a sinner;
(3) it makes him unwilling to pray;
(4) it makes him unwilling to seek aid of anyone, even God, in the business of life, in the prosecution of his plans, or in sickness and affliction;
(5) it makes him unwilling to accede to the terms of reconciliation and salvation proposed by God, unwilling to repent, to believe, to submit to His sovereignty, to acknowledge his indebtedness to mere grace for the hope of eternal life.
Pride is at the root of all the atheism, theoretical or practical, on the earth; at the root of all the reluctance which there is to seek the favor of God; at the root, therefore, of the misery and wretchedness of the world.
His ways are always grievous - His paths; his manner of life; his conduct toward God; his dealings with men. The word rendered "are grievious," יחילוּ yāchiylû - has been variously rendered. The Latin Vulgate renders it, "His ways are defiled." So the Septuagint. Coverdale renders it, "His ways are always filthy." Prof. Alexander, "His ways are firm." So DeWette, "Es gelingen seine Wege." Horsley, "His ways are confident." This variety in the interpretation arises from the ambiguity of the original word - חול chûl. The meaning of this word, as given by Genesius, is to turn round, to twist, to whirl; and hence:
(1) to dance;
(2) to be whirled, or twisted upon anything;
(3) to twist oneself with pain, or to be in pain;
(4) to bear or bring forth;
(5) to tremble, to quake;
(6) to be strong or stable, as things twisted are.
Hence, he translates this passage, "his ways are firm, or stable, that is, all his affairs prosper." But it seems to me plain that this is not the idea in the mind of the psalmist. He is not dwelling on the prosperity of the wicked, or on the result of his conduct, but on his character. In the previous verses he had stated some of the traits in his character, and the subsequent verses continue the description; hence, it is natural that we should expect to find some special feature of his character referred to here, and not that there should be an allusion to the stability of his affairs. It seems to me, therefore, that the exact idea here is, that his ways, or his modes of feelling and conduct were always perverse and forced, and hard; that there was always something tortuous and unnatural about him; that he was not straightforward and honest; that he did not see things as they are, and did not act in a plain and upright manner.
Thy judgments - Thy laws; or, the principles of thy govermnent.
Are far above out of his sight - They are out of the range of his vision. He does not see them. His thoughts grovel on the earth, and he is never elevated in his views so as to see the great principles of truth.
As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them - He treats them with contempt and scorn, as if he had no fear of them, or as if he were entirely confident of his own ability to overcome them. This is an illustration of his pride and self-confidence, for it is the characteristic of the proud and self-confident to boast in this manner. The word rendered "puffeth" means to breathe, to blow; and the idea here is, that he acted as though he could sweep them away with a breath.
He hath said in his heart - The phrase, "he hath said," means that this was his deliberate and settled character. What is here described was no sudden thing. It was not the freak of passion; it was a deliberately-formed purpose. The phrase, "in his heart," means that he had purposed this; he had said this to himself in a spirit of self-gratulation and confidence.
I shall not be moved - That is, he was confident in his present condition, and he apprehended no changes. He had formed his plans so wisely, that he believed he had nothing to apprehend; he feared neither sickness nor adversity; he dreaded not the power of his enemies; he feared nothing even from the providence of God; he supposed that he had laid the foundation for permanent prosperity. This feeling of self-confidence and of security is sometimes found, to an extent that cannot be justified, in the hearts of even good people (compare the note at Job 29:18); and it is common among the wicked. See Psa 49:11; Job 21:9.
For I shall never be in adversity - Margin, "unto generation and generation." The margin expresses the correct sense. The idea of the wicked, as expressed here, is that they and their families would continue to be prosperous; that a permanent foundation was laid for honor and success, and for transmitting accumulated wealth and honors down to far distant times. It is a common feeling among wicked men that they can make permanent their titles, and possessions, and rank, and that nothing will occur to reduce them to the humble condition of others. Nothing more cleverly shows the pride and atheism of the heart than this; and in nothing are the anticipations and plans of human beings more signally disappointed. Compare the case of Shebna; see the note at Isa 22:15 ff.
His mouth is full of cursing - Profaneness; blasphemy against God. In the former verse the writer had described the feelings of the "heart;" he now proceeds to specify the open acts of the wicked. The meaning is, that the wicked man, as here described, was one who was full of imprecation, swearing, execration; a "profane" man; a man who, whatever was his belief about God, would constantly call upon his name, and imprecate his wrath on himself or others. An atheist, strange as it may seem, is as likely to make a frequent use of the name of God, and to call upon Him, as other people; just as profane people, who have no belief in the Saviour, swear by Jesus Christ. This passage seems to be referred to by the apostle Paul in Rom 3:14, not as a direct quotation, as if the psalmist referred to the point which he was arguing, but as language which expressed the idea that the apostle wished to convey. See the note at that passage.
And deceit - Margin, as in Hebrew, "deceits." The meaning is, that he was false and treacherous; and perhaps also that his treachery and fraud were accompanied with the solemn sanction of an oath, or an appeal to God, as is likely to be the case among fraudulent and dishonest people.
And fraud - The word used here - תך tôk - is now commonly supposed to mean rather "oppression or violence." See Gesenius' Lexicon. When this is attributed to his mouth, it means that what he says - what he requires - what he commands, is unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive.
Under his tongue - Perhaps alluding to the serpent, whose poison is concealed at the root of the fang or tooth, and therefore under the tongue. The meaning is, that beneath what the wicked say, though it seems to be harmless, as the tongue of the serpent does, yet there lies mischief and iniquity, as the poison is hidden beneath the serpent's tongue.
Is mischief - The word used here means properly labor, toil; then trouble, vexation, sorrow. The meaning here seems to be that there lies under the tongue that which gives or causes distress; to wit, wrong-doing; injustice to others.
And vanity - Margin, iniquity. This expresses the idea in the original word. Whatever he says is evil, and is fitted to produce trouble and sorrow, as the concealed poison in the mouth of the serpent causes pain and death.
He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages - As robbers do, who hide themselves in the vicinity of villages, that they make a sudden descent upon them in the silence of the night, or that they may seize and rob the inhabitants as they go forth in the morning to attend their flocks to the pastures, or to labor in the fields. The word rendered "villages" means properly an enclosure, as a court before a building; and then a village or hamlet, farm-buildings, or farm hamlets, usually erected around an open space; and it is then used to denote the encampment of nomadic tribes, who usually pitch their tents in a circle so as to form an enclosure, Gen 25:16; Isa 42:11. In the neighborhood of such places - in the thickets, bushes, or ravines, that might be near such encampments or enclosures - robbers would naturally secrete themselves, that they might fall upon them suddenly, or that they might seize anyone who left the village or encampment for ally purpose. So Frazer remarks in his Travels in Chorasan, i. 437: "When the Turkomans design to fall upon a village, they take a position near it in the rear, until in the morning the unsuspecting inhabitants drive out their herds, or leave the villages for some other purpose, and then they suddenly fall upon them." DeWette, in loc.
In the secret places doth he murder the innocent - From these retreats he suddenly falls upon those who are unsuspicious, and who have done him no wrong. The word "innocent" here does not mean sinless in the absolute sense, but it means that they were innocent so far as the robber was concerned. They had done him no wrong; they had given him no occasion to make war upon them.
His eyes are privily set - Margin, "hide themselves." The Hebrew word means to hide, to conceal; to lay up in private; to hoard; to keep back; to hold back, etc. Here it means to conceal, to lurk in ambush; and the idea is that his eyes will secretly watch, or keep a lookout for them; that is, that his eyes, or that he himself will be concealed, that he may observe the goings of those whom he intends to make his prey.
Against the poor - Or, the wretched, the afflicted, the defenseless. The meaning is, that instead of being a helper of the poor and wretched, he is disposed to take every advantage of them, and deprive them of all their rights and comforts.
He lieth in wait secretly - Margin, in the secret places. See the note at Psa 10:8. The object here is merely to illustrate the thought in the previous verse, by an allusion to a lion and a hunter.
As a lion in his den - As a lion crouches down in his den, ready to spring upon his prey. That is, the lion is concealed, but is on the look out, and when his prey passes near his den, he suddenly springs upon it and secures it. So it is with the wicked man. He carefully lays his plans. He conceals his purposes. He is himself hidden, or his plans are all hidden. Suddenly he springs upon his victim, who is taken by surprise and has no power of defense or escape. The purpose here is not so much to describe the wicked man as a literal robber, as to compare the conduct of the wicked with that of a robber - one who, like a lion or a hunter, lies concealed until his victim is seen. This will describe the conduct of a large class of people - men who secretly lay plans of seduction, villany, and fraud, and who spring suddenly upon their victims when there is no hope of escape.
He lieth in wait to catch the poor - The helpless and defenseless.
He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net - As a hunter does the wild beast. Here the same thought is presented under a new image - that of a hunter. He lays his snare, gin, or pit-fall, and when the animal is allured into it, he springs the net suddenly on him, or the animal sinks into the pit, and is secured. See the note at Psa 7:15; the note at Psa 9:15.
He croucheth - Margin, "breaketh himself." Coverdale, "Then smiteth he, then oppresseth he." Prof. Alexander, "And bruised he will sink." Horsley, "And the overpowered man submits." Luther, "He slays, and thrusts down, and presses to the earth the poor with power." This variety of interpretation arises from some ambiguity in regard to the meaning of the original. The word rendered "croucheth" - ודכה, in the Kethib (the text) - is in the Qeri' (margin), ידכה, "and crushed, he sinks down." There is some uncertainty about the form in which the word is used, but it is certain that it does not mean, as in our translation, "he croucheth." The word דכה dâkâh, properly means to be broken in pieces, to be crushed; and this idea runs through all the forms in which the word occurs. The true idea, it seems to me, is that this does not refer to the wicked man, but to his victim or victims, represented here by a word in the collective singular; and the meaning is that such a victim, crushed and broken down, sinks under the power of the persecutor and oppressor. "And the crushed one sinks down."
And humbleth himself - The word used here - ישׁח yāśoch - from שׁוּח śûch - means to sink down; to settle down. Here it means to sink down as one does who is overcome or oppressed, or who is smitten to the earth. The idea is, that he is crushed or smitten by the wicked, and sinks to the ground.
That the poor may fall - Rather, as in the original, "and the poor fall;" that is, they do fall. The idea is, that they do in fact fall by the arm of the persecutor and oppressor who treads them down.
By his strong ones - Margin, "Or, into his strong parts." The text here best expresses the sense. The reference is to the strong ones - the followers and abettors of the "wicked" here referred to - his train of followers. The allusion seems to be to this wicked man represented as the head or leader of a band of robbers or outlaws - strong, athletic men engaged under him in committing robbery on the unprotected. See Psa 10:8-9. Under these strong men the poor and the unprotected fall, and are crushed to the earth. The meaning of the whole verse, therefore, may be thus expressed: "And the crushed one sinks down, and the poor fall under his mighty ones." The word rendered "poor" is in the plural, while the verb "fall" is in the singular; but this construction is not uncommon when the verb precedes. Nordheimer, Hebrew Grammar, Section 759, i., a. The word rendered "poor" means the wretched or the afflicted, and refers here to those who were unprotected - the victims of oppression and robbery.
The following account of the condition of Palestine at the present time will illustrate the passage here, and show how true the statements of the psalmist are to nature. It occurs in "The land and the Book," by W. M. Thomson, D. D., Missionary in Syria. He is speaking of the sandy beach, or the sand hills, in the neighborhood of Mount Carmel, and says, respecting these "sandy downs, with feathery reeds, running far inland, the chosen retreat of wild boars and wild Arabs," "The Arab robber larks like a wolf among these sand heaps, and often springs out suddenly upon the solitary traveler, robs him in a trice, and then plunges again into the wilderness of sand hills and reedy downs, where pursuit is fruitless. Our friends are careful not to allow us to straggle about or lag behind, and yet it seems absurd to fear a surprise here - Khaifa before, and Acre in the rear, and travelers in sight on both sides. Robberies, however, do often occur, just where we now are. Strange country! and it has always been so." And then quoting the passage before us Psa 10:8-10, he adds, "A thousand rascals, the living originals of this picture, are this day crouching and lying in wait all over the country to catch poor helpless travelers. You observe that all these people we meet or pass are armed; nor would they venture to go from Acre to Khaifa without their musket, although the cannon of the castles seem to command every foot of the way." Vol. i., pp. 487, 488.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten - That is, this is his practical, habitual feeling. He acts as if God had forgotten, or as if God takes no knowledge of what is occurring in the earth. Compare Psa 10:6.
He hideth his face - God has hidden his face; that is, he does not look on what is occurring.
He will never see it - That is, he will never see what is done. It cannot be supposed that any man would deliberately say either that the memory of God has failed, or that he will not see what is done upon the earth, but the meaning is, that this is the practical feeling of the wicked man; he acts as if this were so. He is no more restrained in his conduct than he would be if this were his deliberate conviction, or than if he had settled it in his mind that God is regardless of human actions. It is hardly necessary to say that this is a correct description of the conduct of wicked men. If they deliberately believed that God was regardless of human conduct, if they were certain that he would not behold what is done, their conduct would not be different from what it is now. They do not act as if his eye were upon them; they are not restrained by any sense of his presence.
Arise, O Lord - See the note at Psa 3:7. This commences the second part of the psalm, in which the author calls on God to remember those who were oppressed and wronged by the wicked. By suffering the wicked thus to carry on their plans, God seemed to be indifferent to human affairs, and the psalmist, therefore, invokes him to interpose, and to rescue the afflicted from their grasp.
O God, lift up thine hand - As one does when he is about to strike, or to exert his power. The prayer is, that God would interfere to put down the wicked.
Forget not the humble - Margin, "afflicted." The margin expresses the true sense. The idea is not that God would remember "humble" persons in the sense in which that word is now commonly used, but that he would remember those who were down-trodden, crushed, and afflicted. This is in accordance with the marginal reading in the Hebrew Bibles, which is now usually regarded as the more correct reading.
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? - That is, despise him; or treat him with contempt and disregard. On what ground is this done? How is it to be accounted for? What is the proper explanation of so strange a fact? It is to be observed here:
(a) that the psalmist assumes this to be a fact, that the wicked do thus contemn or despise God. Of this he had no doubt; of this there can be no doubt now. They act as if this were so; they often speak of Him as if this were so. They pay no respect to his commands, to his presence, or to his character; they violate all His laws as if they were not worth regarding; they spurn all His counsels and entreaties; they go forward to meet Him as if His wrath were not to be apprehended or dreaded.
(b) So strange a fact, the psalmist says, ought to be accounted for. There must be some reason why it occurs; and what that reason is, is worth an earnest inquiry. It could not be possible to believe that man - the creature of God, and a creature so weak and feeble - could do it, unless the fact were so plain that it could not be denied. It is, then, worth inquiry to learn how so strange a fact can be accounted for; and the solution - the thing which will explain this, and which must be assumed to be true in order to explain it - is stated in the concluding part of the verse.
He hath said in his heart - This expression is here repeated for the third time in the psalm. See Psa 10:6, Psa 10:11. The idea is, that all this is the work "of the heart," and indicates the state of the heart. It cannot be regarded as the dictate of the reason or the judgment; but it is to be traced to the wishes, the feelings, the desires, and is to be regarded as indicating the real condition of the human heart. A man habitually desires this; he practically persuades himself that this is so; he acts as if it were so.
Thou wilt not require it - Thou wilt not require an account of it; thou wilt not inquire into it. The Hebrew is simply: "Thou wilt not seek;" and the idea is, that God would not make an investigation of the matter. This fact, the psalmist says, would account for the conduct of the wicked. This is the actual feeling of wicked men, that they are not to give account of their conduct, or that God will not be strict to mark their deeds. People act as if they were not responsible to their Maker, and as if it were a settled point that he would never call them to account.
Thou hast seen it - Thou seest all. Though people act as if their conduct was not observed, yet thou art intimately acquainted with all that they do. The workers of iniquity cannot hide themselves. The idea here is, that although God seemed not to notice the conduct of the wicked, and though the wicked acted as if he did not, yet that all this was seen by God, and that he would deal with men according to justice and to truth.
For thou beholdest mischief - All that is done on the earth, though perhaps in this case referring particularly to that which gave the psalmist trouble.
And spite - The word spite with us, though it originally denoted rancour, malice, ill-will, now denotes usually a less deliberate and fixed malice than is indicated by those words, but is used to denote a sudden fit of ill-will excited by temporary vexation. It relates to small subjects, and is accompanied with a desire of petty revenge, and implies that one would be gratified with the disappointment or misfortune of another. The word here, however, in the original, means anger, wrath, malice; and the idea is, that God had seen all the anger of the enemies of the psalmist.
To requite it with thy hand - By thine own interposition or agency - the hand being the instrument by which we accomplish anything. The idea is, that the psalmist felt assured that God would not pass this over. Though the wicked acted as if he did not see or regard their conduct, yet the psalmist felt assured that God would not be unmindful of it, but would, in due time, visit them with deserved punishment.
The poor committeth himself unto thee - Margin, "leaveth." The word rendered poor is the same as that which occurs in Psa 10:10. It means here those who are helpless and defenseless; the oppressed and the downtrodden. The word committeth or leaveth means that he leaves his cause with God; he trusts in his protection and interposition; he gives himself no anxiety as to the result. He knows that God can deliver him if he sees that it is best; and he is assured that God will do that which it is best should be done.
Thou art the helper of the fatherless - That is, this is the general character of God - the character in which he has revealed himself to man. Compare Exo 22:22; Deu 10:18; Isa 1:17; Psa 68:5; Psa 82:3; Jer 49:11; Hos 14:3; Mal 3:5; Jam 1:27. The psalmist here refers to the "general character" of God as that in which all the oppressed, the crushed, the helpless may trust; and he mentions this particular case as one that best illustrated that character.
Break thou the arm of the wicked - The arm is the instrument by which we effect a purpose, and especially in wielding a sword or a spear, as in battle; and if the arm is broken, we are powerless. The psalmist, therefore, prays that God would render the wicked, in this respect, powerless.
And the evil man - Of all the evil, or the wicked. In regard to the prayer here, see the note at Psa 5:10.
Seek out his wickedness until thou find none - Until it is all punished; until there has been a full recompense. This is a wish that no wicked act of his should be forgotten; that exact justice should be rendered. If it is right to punish the wicked at all, it is right to deal with them just as they deserve; if any wickedness may properly be punished, all may be; and, whatever may occur, the sinner may be assured that he will not be punished merely for a part of his sins. If God punishes the wicked at all, there will be nothing left unpunished.
The Lord is King forever and ever - That is, he reigns, and he will reign forever. This is one of the instances which frequently occur in the Psalms, where, though there is a desponding spirit, or an apprehension of danger expressed in the beginning of the poem, it ends with the language of exultation and triumph. The psalmist speaks here as if what he had desired was actually accomplished, and as if the enemies that had encompassed him, and all the enemies of the Lord, were actually overthrown, and God now reigned supreme. He was so confident that this would be so, that he speaks of it as if it were already done. Compare Rom 4:17; see also Psa 6:8-9; Psa 7:17; Psa 9:18.
The heathen are perished out of his land - That is, this would so certainly occur that he might speak of it as if it were actually done. The word "heathen" here refers to the enemies of God and of his cause, who are the principal subjects of the psalm. Compare Psa 9:5. The "land," here, refers to the land of Palestine, or the holy land, regarded as a land sacred to God, or in the midst of which he himself dwelt.
Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble - Their desire or their prayer that thou wouldst interpose in their behalf in the time of danger, and rescue them. Compare Psa 6:8-9. The word "humble" here refers to those who were poor, downtrodden, oppressed; and the original reference is, doubtless, to the psalmist himself, and to his friends. He was so certain that God would interpose, he had such assurance that his prayer would he answered, that his mind was perfectly calm.
Thou will prepare their heart - Margin, "or, establish." The margin seems most accurately to express the meaning of the original word - תכין tākiyn. The idea is, that he would settle or confirm their heart; that is, that he would dispel their fears and allay their apprehensions by the assurances of his favor, and by his gracious interposition. They had been full of apprehension and alarm, but the assurances of the divine favor would establish their hearts and give them peace.
Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear - Another form of expressing assurance of the same thing. The idea is, that he would incline his ear, or make it attentive to the cry of his afflicted people.
To judge the fatherless - That is, to vindicate the orphan; to rescue him from the hand of those who would oppress and wrong him. In other words, the psalmist prays that God would manifest himself in his real and proper character as the vindicator of the fatherless (see the note at Psa 10:14), or of those who are represented by the fatherless - the feeble and the helpless.
And the oppressed - Those who are downtrodden, crushed, and wronged. See the note at Psa 9:9.
That the man of the earth - literally, "the man from the earth;" that is, that man springing from the earth, or created of the dust Gen 2:7 - man frail, short-lived, feeble - should no more set up an unjust authority, trample on the rights of his fellow-worms, or suppose that he is superior to his fellow-creatures.
May no more oppress - Margin, "terrify." The original word means properly to terrify, to make afraid; that is, in this place, to terrify by his harsh and oppressive conduct. It is to be observed here that the original word - ערץ ‛ârats - has a very close resemblance in sound to the word rendered earth - ארץ 'erets - and that this is commonly supposed to be an instance of the figure of speech called paronomasia, when the words have the same sound, but are of different significations. It is not certain, however, that there is in this case any designed resemblance, but it is rather to be supposed that it was accidental. In regard to the prayer in this verse, it may be proper to observe that there is always occasion to utter it, and will be until the Gospel shall pervade the hearts of all men. One of the most common forms of wickedness in our world is oppression - the oppression of the fatherless, of the poor, of the dependent - the oppression of the subjects of government, and the oppression of the slave. One of the most affecting things in regard to this is, that it is done by a man made "from the earth," - a child of dust - a creature composed of clay - of no better mould than others, and soon to return "to" the dust from which he was taken. Yet frail and weak man strives to feel that he is better than those clothed with a skin not colored like his own, or those born in a more bumble condition of life; and, in defiance of all the laws of God, and all the rights of his fellow-men, he crushes and grinds them to the earth. For such sins God will interpose, and he will yet show himself to be the helper of the fatherless and the oppressed. May He hasten the day when oppression and wrong shall cease in the world!