Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm purports, by its title, to have been written by David, and there is no reason to call in question the correctness of the inscription. It is not probable that the title was given to the psalm by the author himself; but, like the other inscriptions which have occurred in many of the previous psalms, it is in the Hebrew, and was doubtless prefixed by him who made a collection of the Psalms, and expresses the current belief of the time in regard to its author. There is nothing in the psalm that is inconsistent with the supposition that David was the author, or that is incompatible with the circumstances of the occasion on which it is said to have been composed.
That occasion is said to have been when David, "changed his behavior before Abimelech." The circumstance here referred to is, undoubtedly, that which is described in Sa1 21:10-15. David, for fear of Saul, fled to Gath, and put himself under the protection of Achish (or Abimelech), the king of Gath. It soon became known who the stranger was. The fame of David had reached Gath, and a public reference was made to him by the "servants of Achish," and to the manner in which his deeds had been celebrated among the Hebrews: "Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" Sa1 21:11. David was apprehensive that he might be betrayed, and be delivered up by Achish to Saul, and he resorted to the device of feigning himself mad, supposing that this would be a protection; that either from pity Achish would shelter him; or, that as he would thus be considered harmless, Saul would regard it needless to secure him. He, therefore, acted like a madman, or like an idiot. He "scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard." The device, though it may have saved him from being delivered up to Saul, had no other effect. Achish was unwilling to harbor a madman; and David left him, and sought a refuge in the cave of Adullam. Sa1 21:15; Sa1 22:1. It is not necessary, in order to a proper understanding of the psalm, to attempt to vindicate the conduct of David in this. Perfect honesty would doubtless, in this case, as in all others, have been better in regard to the result as it is certainly better in respect to a good conscience. The question of adopting "disguises," however, when in danger, is not one which it is always easy to determine.
It is by no means necessary to suppose that the psalm was written "at that time," or "when" he thus "changed his behavior." All that the language of the inscription properly expresses is, that it was with reference to that occasion, or to the danger in which he then was, or in remembrance of his feelings at the time, as he recalled them afterward; and that it was in view of his own experience in going through that trial, and of his deliverance from that danger. In the psalm itself there is no allusion to his "change of behavior;" and the design of David was not to celebrate that, or to vindicate that, but to celebrate the goodness of God in his deliverance as it was effected at that time. In the psalm David expresses no opinion about the measure which he adopted to secure his safety; but his heart and his lips are full of praise in view of the fact that he "was" delivered. It is, moreover, fairly implied in the inscription itself, that the psalm was composed, not at that time, but subsequently: "A Psalm of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed." The obvious construction of this would be that the psalm was composed after Abimelech had driven him away.
The "name" of the king of Gath at the time is said, in the text of the inscription or title, to have been Abimelech; in the margin, it is Achish. In Sa1 21:1-15 it is "Achish" in the text, and "Abimelech" in the margin. It is not at all improbable that he was known by both these names. His personal name was doubtless "Achish;" the hereditary name - the name by which the line of kings of Gath was known - was probably Abimelech. Thus the general, the hereditary, the family name of the kings of Egypt in early times was Pharaoh; in later times Ptolemy. In like manner the kings of Pontus had the general name of Mithridates; the Roman emperors, after the time of Julius Caesar, were "the Caesars;" and so, not improbably, the general name of the kings of Jerusalem may have been Adonizedek, or Melchizedek; and the name of the kings of the Amalekites, Agag. We have evidence that the general name Abimelech was given to the kings of the Philistines Gen. 20; 26 as early as the time of Abraham; and it is certainly not impossible or improbable that it became a hereditary name, like the names Pharaoh, Ptolemy, Mithridates, and Caesar. A slight confirmation of this supposition may be derived from the signification of the name itself. It properly means "father of the king," or "father-king;" and it might thus become a common title of the kings in Philistia. Thus, also, the term "Padisha" (Pater, Rex) is given to the kings of Persia, and the title "Atalik" (father) to the khans of Bucharia. (Gesenius, Lexicon)
This psalm is the second of the alphabetical psalms, or the psalms in which the successive verses begin with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. See the introduction to Ps. 25. The arrangement is regular in this psalm, except that the Hebrew letter ו (v) is omitted, and that, to make the number of the verses equal to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, an additional verse is appended to the end, commencing, as in the last verse of Ps. 25, with the Hebrew letter פ (p).
The psalm consists essentially of four parts, which, though sufficiently connected to be appropriate to the one occasion on which it was composed, are so distinct as to suggest different trains of thought.
I. An expression of thanksgiving for deliverance Psa 34:1-6; concluding with the language, "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." From this it has been supposed, as suggested above, that the psalm was composed after David had left the court of Abimelech, and not "at the time" when he was feigning madness.
II. A general statement about the privilege of confiding in God, as derived from his own experience; and an exhortation to others, founded on that experience, Psa 34:7-10.
III. A special exhortation to the "young" to trust in the Lord, and to pursue a life of uprightness, Psa 34:11-14. The psalmist professes himself able to instruct them, and he shows them that the way to attain to prosperity and to length of days is to lead a life of virtue and religion. What he had himself passed through - his deliverance in the time of trial - the recollections of his former life - all suggested this as an invaluable lesson to the young. From this it would seem not to be improbable that the psalm was written at a considerable period after what occurred to him at the court of the king of Gath, and perhaps when he was himself growing old - yet still in view of the events at that period of his life.
IV. A general statement that God will protect the righteous; that their interests are safe in His hands; that they may confidently rely upon Him; that though they may be afflicted, yet God will deliver them from their afflictions, and that He will ultimately redeem them from all their troubles, Psa 34:15-22.
The general purport and bearing of the psalm, therefore, is to furnish an argument for trusting in God in the time of trouble, and for leading such a life that we may confidently trust him as our Protector and Friend.
In the title, the words "a psalm" are not in the original. The original is simply of "David," לדוד ledâvid, or "by David," without denoting the character of the production, whether it was to be regarded as a "psalm," or some other species of composition. "When he changed his behavior." The word "behavior" does not quite express the meaning of the original word, nor describe the fact as it is related Sa1 21:1-15. The Hebrew word - טעם ṭa‛am - means properly, "taste, flavor of food;" then intellectual taste, judgment, discernment, understanding; and in this place it would literally mean, "he changed his understanding;" that is, he feigned himself mad. This corresponds precisely with the statement of his conduct in Sa1 21:13.
Before Abimelech - Margin, "Achish." As remarked above, this latter is the proper or personal name of the king.
Who drove him away - See Sa1 21:15.
I will bless the Lord - I will praise him; I will be thankful for his mercies, and will always express my sense of his goodness.
At all times - In every situation of life; in every event that occurs. The idea is, that he would do it publicly and privately; in prosperity and in adversity; in safety and in danger; in joy and in sorrow. It would be a great principle of his life, expressive of the deep feeling of his soul, that God was always to be regarded as an object of adoration and praise.
His praise shall continually be in my mouth - I will be constantly uttering his praises; or, my thanks shall be unceasing. This expresses the "purpose" of the psalmist; and this is an indication of the nature of true piety. With a truly pious man the praise of God is constant; and it is an indication of true religion when a man is "disposed" always to bless God, whatever may occur. Irreligion, unbelief, scepticism, worldliness, false philosophy, murmur and complain under the trials and amidst the dark things of life; true religion, faith, love, spirituality of mind, Christian philosophy, see in God always an object of praise. People who have no real piety, but who make pretensions to it, are disposed to praise and bless God in times of sunshine and prosperity; true piety always regards him as worthy of praise - in the storm as well as in the sunshine; in the dark night of calamity, as well as in the bright days of prosperity. Compare Job 13:15.
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord - I myself will rejoice and exult in him. The word "boast" here refers to that on which a man would value himself; that which would be most prominent in his mind when he endeavored to call to remembrance what he could reflect on with most pleasure. The psalmist here says that when He did this, it would not be wealth or strength to which he would refer; it would not be his rank or position in society; it would not be what he had done, nor what he had gained, as pertaining to this life. His joy would spring from the fact that there was a God; that he was such a God, and that he could regard him as His God. This would be his chief distinction - that on which he would value himself most. Of all the things that we can possess in this world, the crowning distinction is, that we have a God, and that he is such a being as he is.
The humble shall hear thereof - The poor; the afflicted; those who are in the lower walks of life. They should hear that he put his trust in God, and they should find joy in being thus directed to God as their portion and their hope. The psalmist seems to have referred here to that class particularly, because:
(a) they would be more likely to appreciate this than those of more elevated rank, or than those who had never known affliction; and
(b) because this would be specially fitted to impart to them support and consolation, as derived from his own experience.
He had been in trouble. He had been encompassed with dangers. He had been mercifully protected and delivered. He was about to state how it had been done. He was sure that they who were in the circumstances in which he had been would welcome the truths which he was about to state, and would rejoice that there might be deliverance for them also, and that they too might find God a protector and a friend. Calamity, danger, poverty, trial, are often of eminent advantage in preparing the mind to appreciate the nature, and to prize the lessons of religion.
And be glad - Rejoice in the story of my deliverance, since it will lead them to see that they also may find deliverance in the day of trial.
O magnify the Lord with me - This seems to be addressed primarily to the "humble," those referred to in the previous verse. As they could appreciate what he would say, as they could understand the nature of his feelings in view of his deliverance, he calls upon them especially to exult with him in the goodness of God. As he and they had common calamities and trials, so might they have common joys; as they were united in danger and sorrow, so it was proper that they should be united in joy and in praise. The word "magnify' means literally "to make great," and then, to make great in the view of the mind, or to regard and treat as great. The idea is, that he wished all, in circumstances similar to those in which he had been placed, to have a just sense of the greatness of God, and of his claims to love and praise. Compare Psa 35:27; Psa 40:17; Psa 69:30; Psa 70:4; Luk 1:46.
And let us exalt his name together - Let us unite in "lifting up" his name; that is, in raising it above all other things in our own estimation, and in the view of our fellow-men; in so making it known that it shall rise above every other object, that all may see and adore.
I sought the Lord, and he heard me - That is, on the occasion referred to in the psalm, when he was exposed to the persecutions of Saul, and when he sought refuge in the country of Abimelech or Achish: Sa1 21:1-15. The idea is, that at that time he did not confide in his own wisdom, or trust to any devices of his own, but that he sought the protection and guidance of God, alike when he fled to Gath, and when he fled from Gath.
And delivered me from all my fears - From all that he apprehended from Saul, and again from all that he dreaded when he found that Abimelech would not harbor him, but drove him from him.
They looked unto him - That is, they who were with the psalmist. He was not alone when he fled to Abimelech; and the meaning here is, that each one of those who were with him looked to God, and found light and comfort in Him. The psalmist seems to have had his thoughts here suddenly turned from himself to those who were with him, and to have called to his remembrance how they "all" looked to God in their troubles, and how they all found relief.
And were lightened - Or, "enlightened." They found light. Their faces, as we should say, "brightened up," or they became cheerful. Their minds were made calm, for they felt assured that God would protect them. Nothing could better express what often occurs in the time of trouble, when the heart is sad, and when the countenance is sorrowful - a dark cloud apparently having come over all things - if one thus looks to God. The burden is removed from the heart, and the countenance becomes radiant with hope and joy. The margin here, however, is, "They flowed unto him." The Hebrew word, נהר nâhar, means sometimes "to flow, to flow together," Isa 2:2; Jer 31:12; Jer 51:44; but it also means "to shine, to be bright;" and thence, "to be cheered, to rejoice," Isa 60:5. This is probably the idea here, for this interpretation is better suited to the connection in which the word occurs.
And their faces were not ashamed - That is, they were not ashamed of having put their trust in God, or they were not disappointed. They had not occasion to confess that it was a vain reliance, or that they had been foolish in thus trusting him. Compare Job 6:20, note; Psa 22:5, note; Rom 9:33, note; Jo1 2:28, note. The idea here is, that they found God to be all that they expected or hoped that he would be. They had no cause to repent of what they had done. What was true of them will be true of all who put their trust in God.
This poor man cried - The psalmist here returns to his own particular experience. The emphasis here is on the word "this:" "This poor, afflicted, persecuted man cried." There is something much more touching in this than if he had merely said "I," or "I myself" cried. The language brings before us at once his afflicted and miserable condition. The word "poor" here - עני ‛ânı̂y - does not mean "poor" in the sense of a want of wealth, but "poor" in the sense of being afflicted, crushed, forsaken, desolate. The word "miserable" would better express the idea than the word "poor."
And the Lord heard him - That is, heard in the sense of "answered." He regarded his cry, and saved him.
The angel of the Lord - The angel whom the Lord sends, or who comes, at his command, for the purpose of protecting the people of God. This does not refer to any particular angel as one who was specifically called "the angel of the Lord," but it, may refer to any one of the angels whom the Lord may commission for this purpose; and the phrase is equivalent to saying that "angels" encompass and protect the friends of God. The word "angel" properly means a "messenger," and then is applied to those holy beings around the throne of God who are sent forth as his "messengers" to mankind; who are appointed to communicate his will, to execute his commands; or to protect his people. Compare Mat 24:31, note; Job 4:18, note; Heb 1:6, note; Joh 5:4, note. Since the word has a general signification, and would denote in itself merely a messenger, the qualification is added here that it is an "angel of the Lord" that is referred to, and that becomes a protector of the people of God.
Encampeth - literally, "pitches his tent." Gen 26:17; Exo 13:20; Exo 17:1. Then the word comes to mean "to defend;" to "protect:" Zac 9:8. The idea here is, that the angel of the Lord protects the people of God as an army defends a country, or as such an army would be a protection. He "pitches his tent" near the people of God, and is there to guard them from danger.
About them that fear him - His true friends, friendship for God being often denoted by the word fear or reverence. See the notes at Job 1:1.
And delivereth them - Rescues them from danger. The psalmist evidently has his own case in view, and the general remark here is founded on his own experience. He attributes his safety from danger at the time to which he is referring, not to his own art or skill; not to the valor of his own arm, or to the prowess of his followers, but, to the goodness of God in sending an angel, or a company of angels, to rescue him; and hence, he infers that what was true of himself would be true of others, and that the general statement might be made which is presented in this verse. The doctrine is one that is frequently affirmed in the Scriptures. Nothing is more clearly or constantly asserted than that the angels are employed in defending the people of God; in leading and guiding them; in comforting them under trial, and sustaining them in death; as it is also affirmed, on the other hand, that wicked angels are constantly employed in leading men to ruin. Compare Dan 6:22, note; Heb 1:14, note. See also Gen 32:1-2; Kg2 6:17; Psa 91:11; Luk 16:22; Luk 22:43; Joh 20:12. It may be added that no one can prove that what is here stated by the psalmist may not be literally true at the present time; and to believe that we are under the protection of angels may be as philosophical as it is pious. The most lonely, the most humble, the most obscure, and the poorest child of God, may have near him and around him a retinue and a defense which kings never have when their armies pitch their tents around their palaces, and when a thousand swords would at once be drawn to defend them.
O taste and see - This is an address to others, founded on the experience of the psalmist. He had found protection from the Lord; he had had evidence of His goodness; and he asks now of others that they would make the same trial which he had made. It is the language of piety in view of personal experience; and it is such language as a young convert, whose heart is filled with joy as hope first dawns on his soul, would address to his companions and friends, and to all the world around; such language as one who has had any special comfort, or who has experienced any special deliverance from temptation or from trouble, would address to others. Lessons, derived from our own experience, we may properly recommend to others; the evidence which has been furnished us that God is good, we may properly employ in persuading others to come and taste his love. The word "taste" here - טעם ṭâ‛am - means properly to try the flavor of anything, Job 12:11; to eat a little so as to ascertain what a thing is, Sa1 14:24, Sa1 14:29, Sa1 14:43; Jon 3:7; and then to perceive by the mind, to try, to experience, Pro 31:18.
It is used here in the sense of making a trial of, or testing by experience. The idea is, that by putting trust in God - by testing the comforts of religion - one would so thoroughly see or perceive the blessings of it - would have so much happiness in it - that he would be led to seek his happiness there altogether. In other words, if we could but get men to make a trial of religion; to enter upon it so as really to understand and experience it, we may be certain that they would have the same appreciation of it which we have, and that they would engage truly in the service of God. If those who are in danger would look to him; if sinners would believe in him; if the afflicted would seek him; if the wretched would cast their cares on him; if they who have sought in vain for happiness in the world, would seek happiness in him - they would, one and all, so surely find what they need that they would renounce all else, and put their trust alone in God. Of this the psalmist was certain; of this all are sure who have sought for happiness in religion and in God.
"Oh make but trial of His love;
Experience will decide
How bless'd are they - and only they -
Who in His truth confide."
Blessed is the man that trusteth in him - Compare the notes at Psa 2:12.
O fear the Lord - Reverence him; honor him; confide in him. Compare Psa 31:23.
Ye his saints - His holy ones. All who profess to be his friends. This exhortation is addressed especially to the saints, or to the pious, because the speaker professed to be a friend of God, and had had personal experience of the truth of what he is here saying. It is the testimony of one child of God addressed to others, to encourage them by the result of his own experience.
For there is no want to them that fear him - All their needs will be abundantly supplied. Sooner or later all their real necessities will be met, and God will bestow upon them every needed blessing. The statement here cannot be regarded as absolutely and universally true - that is, it cannot mean that they who fear the Lord will never, in any instance, be hungry or thirsty, or destitute of raiment or of a comfortable home; but it is evidently intended to be a general affirmation, and is in accordance with the other statements which occur in the Bible about the advantages of true religion in securing temporal as well as spiritual blessings from God. Thus, in Ti1 4:8, it is said, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Thus, in Isa 33:16, it is said of the righteous man, "Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure."
And so, in Psa 37:25, David records the result of his own observation at the end of a long life, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." But while these statements should not be interpreted as affirming absolutely that no child of God will ever be in need of food, or drink, or raiment, or home, or friends, yet it is generally true that the needs of the righteous are supplied, often in an unexpected manner, and from an unexpected source. It is true that virtue and religion conduce to temporal prosperity; and it is almost universally true that the inmates of charity-houses and prisons are neither the pious, nor the children of the pious. These houses are the refuge, to a great extent, of the intemperate, the godless, and the profligate - or of the families of the intemperate, the godless, and the profligate; and if all such persons were to be discharged from those abodes, our almshouses and prisons would soon become tenantless. A community could most easily provide for all those who have been trained in the ways of religion, but who are reduced to poverty by fire, or by flood, or by ill health; and they would most cheerfully do it. Nothing can be more true than that if a man wished to do all that could be done in the general uncertainty of human affairs to secure prosperity, it would be an advantage to him to be a virtuous and religious man. God never blesses or prospers a sinner as such, though he often does it notwithstanding the fact that he is a sinner; but he does and will bless and prosper a righteous man as such, and because he is righteous. Compare the notes at Ti1 4:8.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger - That is, they often do it, as compared with the friends of God. The allusion is especially to the "young" lions who are not able to go forth themselves in search of food. Perhaps the idea is, that they are dependent on the older lions - their parents - for the supply of their needs, as the pious are dependent on God; but that the result shows their reliance to be often vain, while that of the pious never is. The old lions may be unable to procure food for their young; God is never unable to provide for the wants of his children. If their needs are in any case unsupplied, it is for some other reason than because God is unable to meet their necessities. The word "lack" here - רושׁ rûsh - means to be poor; to suffer want; to be needy: Pro 14:20; Pro 18:23.
But they that seek the Lord - That seek Him as their Friend; that seek His favor; that seek what they need from Him. "To seek God" is a phrase which is often used to denote true piety. It means that we wish to know Him; that we desire His friendship; and that we seek all our blessings from Him.
Shall not want any good thing - Any real good. God is able to supply every need; and if anything is withheld, it is always certain that it is not because God could not confer it, but because He sees some good reasons why it should not be conferred. The real good; what we need most; what will most benefit us - will be bestowed on us; and universally it may be said of all the children of God that everything in this world and the next will be granted that is really for their good. They themselves are often not the best judges of what will be for their good; but God is an infallible Judge in this matter, and He will certainly bestow what is best for them.
Come, ye children - From persons in general Psa 34:8 - from the saints and the pious Psa 34:9 - the psalmist now turns to children - to the young - that he may state to them the result of his own experience, and teach them from that experience how they may find happiness and prosperity. The original word here rendered "children" properly means "sons;" but there can be no doubt that the psalmist meant to address the young in general. There is no evidence that he especially designed what is here said for his own sons. The counsel seems to have been designed for all the young. I see no reason for supposing, as Rosenmuller, DeWette, and Prof. Alexander do, that the word is here used in the sense of "disciples, scholars, learners." That the word may have such a meaning, there can be no doubt; but it is much more in accordance with the scope of the psalm to regard the word as employed in its usual sense as denoting the young. It is thus a most interesting address from an aged and experienced man of God to those who are in the morning of life - suggesting to them the way by which they may make life prosperous and happy.
Hearken unto me - Attend to what I have to say, as the fruit of my experience and observation.
I will teach you the fear of the Lord - I will show you what constitutes the true fear of the Lord, or what is the nature of true religion. I will teach you how you may so fear and serve God as to enjoy his favor and obtain length of days upon the earth.
What man is he that desireth life? - That desires to live long. All people naturally love life; and all naturally desire to live long; and this desire, being founded in our nature, is not wrong. Life is, in itself, a good - a blessing to be desired; death is in itself an evil, and a thing to be dreaded, and there is nothing wrong, in itself, in such a dread. Equally proper is it to wish not to be cut down in early life; for where one has before him an eternity for which to prepare, he feels it undesirable that he should be cut off in the beginning of his way. The psalmist, therefore, does not put this question because he supposes that there were any who did not desire life, or did not wish to see many days, but in order to fix the attention on the inquiry, and to prepare the mind for the answer which was to follow. By thus putting the question, also, he has implicitly expressed the opinion that it is lawful to desire life, and to wish to see many days.
And loveth many days - literally, "loving days." That is, who so loves days, considered as a part of life, that he wishes they may be prolonged and multiplied.
That he may see good - That he may enjoy prosperity, or find happiness. In other words, who is he that would desire to understand the way by which life may be lengthened out to old age, and by which it may be made happy and prosperous? The psalmist proposes to answer this question - as he does in the following verses, by stating the results of what he had experienced and observed.
Keep thy tongue from evil - From speaking wrong things. Always give utterance to truth, and truth alone. The meaning is, that this is one of the methods of lengthening out life. To love the truth; to speak the truth; to avoid all falsehood, slander, and deceit, will contribute to this, or will be a means which will tend to prolong life, and to make it happy.
And thy lips from speaking guile - Deceit. Do not "deceive" others by your words. Do not make any statements which are not true, or any promises which you cannot and will not keep. Do not flatter others; and do not give utterance to slander. Be a man characterized by the love of truth: and let all your words convey truth, and truth only. It cannot be doubted that this, like all other virtues, would tend to lengthen life, and to make it prosperous and peaceful. There is no vice which does not tend to abridge human life, as there is no virtue which does not tend to lengthen it. But probably the specific idea here is, that the way to avoid the hostility of other people, and to secure their favor and friendship, is to deal with them truly, and thus to live in peace with them. It is true, also, that God will bless a life of virtue and uprightness, and though there is no absolute certainty that anyone, however virtuous he may be, may not be cut off in early life, yet it is also true that, other things being equal, a man of truth and integrity will be more likely to live long - (as he will be more certain to make the most of life) - than one who is false and corrupt.
Depart from evil - From all evil; from vice and crime in every form.
And do good - Do good to all people, and in all the relations of life.
Seek peace - Strive to live in peace with all the world. Compare the notes at Rom 12:18.
And pursue it - Follow after it. Make it an object of desire, and put forth constant efforts to live in peace with all human beings. There can be no doubt that this is appropriate advice to one who wishes to lengthen out his days. We have only to remember how many are cut down by indulging in a quarrelsome, litigious, and contentious spirit - by seeking revenge - by quarrels, duels, wars, and strife - to see the wisdom of this counsel.
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous - This is another of the ways in which the psalmist says that life will be lengthened out, or that those who desire life may find it. The Lord will be the protector of the righteous; he will watch over and defend them. See the notes at Job 36:7.
And his ears are open unto their cry - That is, when in trouble and in danger. He will hear them, and will deliver them. All this seems to be stated as the result of the experience of the psalmist himself; He had found that the eyes of God had been upon him in his dangers, and that His ears had been open when he called upon Him Psa 34:6; and now, from his own experience, he assures others that the way to secure life and to find prosperity is to pursue such a course as will ensure the favor and protection of God. The general thought is, that virtue and religion - the love of truth, and the love of peace - the favor and friendship of God, will tend to lengthen out life, and to make it prosperous and happy. All the statements in the Bible concur in this, and all the experience of man goes to confirm it.
The face of the Lord - This phrase is synonymous with that in the previous verse: "The eyes of the Lord." The meaning is, that the righteous and the wicked are alike under the eye of God; the one for protection, the other for punishment. Neither of them can escape His notice; but at all times, and in all circumstances, they are equally seen by Him.
Is against them that do evil - The wicked; all that do wrong. In the former verse the statement is, that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, that is, for their protection; in this case, by a change of the preposition in the original, the statement is, that His face is "against" them that do evil, that is, He observes them to bring judgment upon them.
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth - To cut off themselves, - their families - and all memorials of them, so that they shall utterly be forgotten among people. Compare Psa 109:13-15. So, in Pro 10:7, it is said, "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot." Two things are implied here:
(1) That it is "desirable" to be remembered after we are dead. There is in us a deep-rooted principle, of great value to the cause of virtue, which prompts us to "desire" that we may be held in grateful recollection by mankind after we have passed away; that is, which prompts us to do something in our lives, the remembrance of which the world will not "willingly let die." - Milton.
(2) The other idea is, that there is a state of things on earth which has a tendency to cause the remembrance of the wicked to die out, or to make people forget them. There is nothing to make men desire to retain their recollection, or to rear monuments to them. People are indeed remembered who are of bad eminence in crime; but the world will forget a wicked man just as soon as it can. This is stated here as a reason particularly addressed to the young Psa 34:11 why they should seek God, and pursue the ways of righteousness. The motive is, that men will "gladly" retain the remembrance of those who are good; of those who have done anything worthy to be remembered, but that a life of sin will make men desire to forget as soon as possible all those who practice it. This is not a low and base motive to be addressed to the young. That is a high and honorable principle which makes us wish that our names should be cherished by those who are to live after us, and is one of the original principles by which God keeps up virtue in the world - one of those arrangements, those safeguards of virtue, by which we are prompted to do right, and to abstain from that which is wrong. It is greatly perverted, indeed, to purposes of ambition, but, in itself, the desire not to be forgotten when we are dead contributes much to the industry, the enterprise, and the benevolence of the world, and is one of the most efficacious means for preserving us from sin.
The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth - That is, one of the advantages or benefits of being righteous is the privilege of crying unto God, or of calling on his name, with the assurance that he will hear and deliver us. No one has ever yet fully appreciated the "privilege" of being permitted to call upon God; the privilege of prayer. There is no blessing conferred upon man in his present state superior to this; and no one can fully understand the force of the argument derived from this in favor of the service of God. What a world would this be - how sad, how helpless, how wretched - if there were no God to whom the guilty, the suffering, and the sorrowful might come; if God were a Being who never heard prayer at all; if he were a capricious Being who might or might not hear prayer; if He were a Being governed by fitful emotions, who would now hear the righteous, and then the wicked, and then neither, and who dispensed His favors in answer to prayer by no certain rule!
And delivereth them out of all their troubles -
(1) He often delivers them from trouble in this life in answer to prayer.
(2) he will deliver them literally from all trouble in the life to come.
The promise is not indeed, that they shall be delivered from all trouble on earth, but the idea is that God is able to rescue them from trouble here; that He often does it in answer to prayer; and that there will be, in the case of every righteous person, a sure and complete deliverance from all trouble hereafter. Compare the notes at Psa 34:6 : see Psa 34:19.
The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart - Margin, as in Hebrew: "to the broken of heart." The phrase, "the Lord is nigh," means that he is ready to hear and to help. The language is, of course, figurative. As an Omnipresent Being, God is equally near to all persons at all times; but the language is adapted to our conceptions, as we feel that one who is near us can help us, or that one who is distant from us cannot give us aid. Compare the notes at Psa 22:11. The phrase, "them that are of a broken heart," occurs often in the Bible. It refers to a condition when a burden "seems" to be on the heart, and when the heart "seems" to be crushed by sin or sorrow; and it is designed to describe a consciousness of deep guilt, or the heaviest kind of affliction and trouble. Compare Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15; Isa 61:1; Isa 66:2.
And sayeth such as be of a contrite spirit - Margin, as in Hebrew: "contrite of spirit." The phrase here means the spirit as "crushed" or "broken down;" that is, as in the other phrase, a spirit that is oppressed by sin or trouble. The world abounds with instances of those who can fully understand this language.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous - This is not intended to affirm that the afflictions of the righteous are more numerous or more severe than the afflictions of other men, but that they are subjected to much suffering, and to many trials. Religion does not exempt them from suffering, but it sustains them in it; it does not deliver them from all trials in this life, but it supports them in their trials, which it teaches them to consider as a preparation for the life to come. There are, indeed, sorrows which are special to the righteous, or which come upon them in virtue of their religion, as the trials of persecution; but there are sorrows, also, that are special to the wicked - such as are the effects of intemperance, dishonesty, crime. The latter are more numerous by far than the former; so that it is still true that the wicked suffer more than the righteous in this life.
But the Lord delivereth him out of them all - See the notes at Psa 34:17.
He keepeth all his bones - That is, he preserves or guards the righteous.
Not one of them is broken - Perhaps there is a direct and immediate allusion here to what the psalmist had himself experienced. In His dangers God had preserved him, so that he had escaped without a broken bone. But the statement is more general, and is designed to convey a truth in respect to the usual and proper effect of religion, or to denote the advantage, in reference to personal safety in the dangers of this life, derived from religion. The language is of a general character, such as often occurs in the Scriptures, and it should, in all fairness, be so construed. It cannot mean that the bones of a righteous man are never broken, or that the fact that a man has a broken bone proves that he is not righteous; but it means that, as a general principle, religion conduces to safety, or that the righteous are under the protection of God. Compare Mat 10:30-31. Nothing more can be demanded in the fair interpretation of the language than this.
Evil shall slay the wicked - That is, his own wicked conduct will be the cause of his destruction. His ruin is not arbitrary, or the mere result of a divine appointment; it is caused by sin, and is the regular and natural consequence of guilt. In the destruction of the sinner, there will not be any one thing which cannot be explained by the supposition that it is the regular effect of sin, or what sin is, in its own nature, suited to produce. The one will measure the other; guilt will be the measure of all that there is in the punishment.
And they that hate the righteous - Another term for the wicked, or a term designating the character of the wicked in one aspect or view. It is true of all the wicked that they must hate the righteous in their hearts, or that they are so opposed to the character of the righteous that it is proper to designate this feeling as "hatred."
Shall be desolate - Margin, "shall be guilty." Prof. Alexander and Hengstenberg render this, as in the margin, "shall be guilty." DeWette, "shall repent." Rosenmuller, "shall be condemned." The original word - אשׁם 'âsham - means properly to fail in duty, to transgress, to be guilty. The primary idea, says Gesenius (Lexicon), is that of "negligence," especially in going, or in gait, as of a camel that is slow or faltering. Then the word means to be held or treated as faulty or guilty; and then, to bear the consequences of guilt, or to be punished. This seems to be the idea here. The word is sometimes synonymous with another Hebrew word - ישׁם yâsham - meaning to be desolate; to be destroyed; to be laid waste: Eze 6:6; Joe 1:18; Psa 5:10. But the usual meaning of the word is undoubtedly retained here, as signifying that, in the dealings of Providence, or in the administering of divine government, such men will be held to be guilty, and will be treated accordingly; that is, that they will be punished.
The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants - The literal meaning of this is, that the Lord rescues the lives of his servants, or that he saves them from death. The word "redeem" in its primary sense means to let go or loose; to "buy" loose, or to ransom; and hence, to redeem with a price, or to rescue in any way. Here the idea is not that of delivering or rescuing by a "price," or by an offering, but of rescuing from danger and death by the interposition of the power and providence of God. The word "soul" here is used to denote the entire man, and the idea is, that God will "rescue" or "save" those who serve and obey him. They will be kept from destruction. They will not be held and regarded as guilty, and will not be treated as if they were wicked. As the word "redeem" is used by David here it means God will save His people; without specifying the "means" by which it will be done. As the word "redeem" is used by Christians now, employing the ideas of the New Testament on the subject, it means that God will redeem His people by that great sacrifice which was made for them on the cross.
And none of them that trust in him shall be desolate - Shall be held and treated as "guilty." See Psa 34:21, where the same word occurs in the original. They shall not be held to be guilty; they shall not be punished. This is designed to be in contrast with the statement respecting the wicked in Psa 34:21. The psalm, therefore, closes appropriately with the idea that they who trust the Lord will be ultimately safe; that God will make a distinction between them and the wicked; that they will be ultimately rescued from death, and be regarded and treated forever as the friends of God.