Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This is another psalm which purports to be a psalm of David. The propriety of ascribing it to him cannot be called in question. It is addressed to "the chief Musician" (see the notes to Introduction of Psa 4:1-8). Though relating to an individual case, and to the particular trials of an individual, yet it had much in it that would be appropriate to the condition of others in similar circumstances, and it contained, moreover, such general sentiments on the subject of religion, that it would be useful to the people of God in all ages. The expression in the title, "Al-taschith," rendered in the margin, "Destroy not," and by the Septuagint, μή διαφθείρης mē diaphtheirēs (destroy not), and in the same manner in the Latin Vulgate, occurs also in the titles of the two following psalms, and of the seventy-fifth. It is regarded by some as a musical expression - and by others as the first words of some well-known poem or hymn, in order to show that this psalm was to be set to the music which was employed in using that poem; or, as we should say, that the "tune" appropriate to that was also appropriate to this, so that the words would at once suggest the tune, in the same manner as the Latin designations De Profundis, Miserere, Non Nobis Domine, Te Deum, etc., indicate well-known tunes as pieces of music - the tunes to which the hymns beginning with those words are always sung.
The author of the Chaldee Paraphrase regards this psalm as belonging to that period of David's history when he was under a constant necessity of using language of this nature, or of saying "Destroy not," and as therefore suited to all similar emergencies. The language seems to be derived from the prayer of Moses, Deu 9:26; "I prayed therefore unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, destroy not thy people," etc. This very expression is found in Sa1 26:9, in a command which David addressed to his followers, and it "may" have been a common expression with him. On the meaning of the word "Michtam" in the title, see the notes at the Introduction to Psa 16:1-11. It is found in the three following psalms - in the two former of them, in connection with the phrase "Al-taschith, showing that probably those psalms had reference to the same period of David's life.
When he fled from Saul in the cave - Possibly the cave of Adullam Sa1 22:1, or that of En-gedi Sa1 24:1-3. Or, the word may be used in a "general" sense as referring not to any "particular" cave, but to that period of his life when he was compelled to flee from one place to another for safety, and when his home was "often" in caves.
The psalm consists of the following parts:
I. An earnest prayer of the suffering and persecuted man, with a full expression of confidence that God would hear him, Psa 57:1-3.
II. A description of his enemies, as people that resembled lions; people, whose souls were inflamed and infuriated; people, whose teeth were like spears and arrows, Psa 57:4.
III. The expression of a desire that God might be exalted and honored, or that all these events might result in his honor and glory, Psa 57:5.
IV. A further description of the purposes of his enemies, as people who had prepared a net to take him, or had digged a pit into which he might fall, but which he felt assured was a pit into which they themselves would fall, Psa 57:6.
V. A joyful and exulting expression of confidence in God; an assurance that he would interpose for him; a determination to praise and honor him; a desire that God might be exalted above the heaven, and that his glory might fill all the earth - forgetting his own particular troubles, and pouring out the desire of his heart that "God" might be honored whatever might occur to "him."
Be merciful unto me, O God - The same beginning as the former psalm - a cry for mercy; an overwhelming sense of trouble and danger leading him to come at once to the throne of God for help. See the notes at Psa 56:1.
For my soul trusteth in thee - See the notes at Psa 56:3. He had nowhere else to go; there was no one on whom he could rely but God.
Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge - Under the protection or covering of his wings - as young birds seek protection under the wings of the parent bird. See the notes at Psa 17:8. Compare Psa 36:7.
Until these calamities be overpast - Compare Job 14:13, note; Psa 27:13, note; also at Isa 26:20, note. He believed that these calamities "would" pass away, or would cease; that a time would come when he would not thus be driven from place to place. At present he knew that he was in danger, and he desired the divine protection, for under "that" protection he would be safe.
I will cry unto God most high - The idea is - God is exalted above all creatures; all events are "under" him, and he can control them. The appeal was not to man, however exalted; not to an angel, however far he may be above man; it was an appeal made at once to the Supreme Being, the God to whom all worlds and all creatures are subject, and under whose protection, therefore, he must be safe.
Unto God that performeth all things for me - The word used here, and rendered "performeth" - גמר gâmar - means properly to bring to an end; to complete; to perfect. The idea here is, that it is the character of God, that he "completes" or "perfects," or brings to a happy issue all his plans. The psalmist had had experience of that in the past. God had done this in former trials; he felt assured that God would do it in this; and he, therefore, came to God with a confident belief that all would be safe in his hands.
He shall send from heaven - That is, from himself; or, he will interpose to save me. The psalmist does not say "how" he expected this interposition - whether by an angel, by a miracle, by tempest or storm, but he felt that help was to come from God alone, and he was sure that it would come.
And save me from the reproach ... - This would be more correctly rendered, "He shall save me; he shall reproach him that would swallow me up." So it is rendered in the margin. On the word rendered "would swallow me up," see the notes at Psa 56:1. The idea here is, that God would "rebuke" or "reproach," to wit, by overthrowing him that sought to devour or destroy him. God had interposed formerly in his behalf Psa 57:2, and he felt assured that he would do it again.
Selah - This seems here to be a mere musical pause. It has no connection with the sense. See the notes at Psa 3:2.
God shall send forth his mercy - In saving me. He will "manifest" his mercy.
And his truth - His fidelity to his promise; his faithfulness to those who put their trust in him. He will show himself "true" to all the promises which he has made. Compare Psa 40:11.
My soul is among lions - That is, among people who resemble lions; men, fierce, savage, ferocious.
And I lie even among them that are set on fire - We have a term of similar import in common use now, when we say that one is "inflamed" with passion, referring to one who is infuriated and enraged. So we speak of "burning" with rage or wrath - an expression derived, perhaps, from the inflamed "appearance" of a man in anger. The idea here is not that he "would" lie down calmly among those persons, as Prof. Alexander suggests, but that he actually "did" thus lie down. When he laid himself down at night, when he sought repose in sleep, he was surrounded by such persons, and seemed to be sleeping in the midst of them.
Even the sons of men - Yet they are not wild beasts, but "men" who seem to have the ferocious nature of wild beasts. The phrase, "sons of men," is often used to denote men themselves.
Whose teeth are spears and arrows - Spears and arrows in their hands are what the teeth of wild beasts are.
And their tongue a sharp sword - The mention of the tongue here has reference, probably, to the abuse and slander to which he was exposed, and which was like a sharp sword that pierced even to the seat of life. See the notes at Psa 55:21.
Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens - Compare Psa 8:1. The language here is that of a man who in trouble lifts his thoughts to God; who feels that God reigns; who is assured in his own soul that all things are under his hand; and who is desirous that God should be magnified whatever may become of himself. His prime and leading wish is not for himself, for his own safety, for his own deliverance from danger; it is that "God" may be honored - that the name of God may be glorified - that God may be regarded as supreme over all things - that God may be exalted in the highest possible degree - an idea expressed in the prayer that he may be exalted "above the heavens."
Let thy glory be above all the earth - The honor of thy name; thy praise. Let it be regarded, and be in fact, "above" all that pertains to this lower world; let everything on earth, or that pertains to earth, be subordinate to thee, or be surrendered for thee. This was the comfort which David found in trouble. And this "is" the only true source of consolation. The welfare of the universe depends on God; and that God should be true, and just, and good, and worthy of confidence and love - that he should reign, - that his law should be obeyed - that his plans should be accomplished, - is of more importance to the universe than anything that merely pertains to us; than the success of any of our own plans; than our health, our prosperity, or our life.
They have prepared a net for my steps - A net for my goings; or, into which I may fall. See the notes at Psa 9:15.
My soul is bowed down - The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Luther render this in the plural, and in the active form: "They have bowed down my soul;" that is, they have caused my soul to be bowed down. The Hebrew may be correctly rendered, "he pressed down my soul," - referring to his enemies, and speaking of them in the singular number.
They have digged a pit before me ... - See Psa 7:15-16, notes; Psa 9:15, note; Job 5:13, note.
My heart is fixed, O God - Margin, as in Hebrew, "prepared." Compare the notes at Psa 51:10. The word "suited" or "prepared" accurately expresses the sense of the Hebrew, and it is so rendered in the Septuagint, (ἑτοίμη hetoimē); in the Vulgate, "paratum;" and by Luther, "bereit." The word is used, however, in the sense of "standing erect," Psa 9:7; to "establish" or "strengthen," Psa 89:4; Psa 10:17; and hence, to be erect; to be firm, steady, constant, fixed. This seems to be the meaning here, as it is expressed in our common version. His heart was firm and decided. He did not waver in his purpose, or lean now to one side and then to the other; he was not "swayed" or "moved" by the events that had occurred. He felt conscious of standing firm in the midst of all his troubles. He confided in God. He did not doubt his justice, his goodness, his mercy; and, even in his trials, he was ready to praise him, and was "resolved" to praise him. The repetition of the word "fixed" gives emphasis and intensity to the expression, and is designed to show in the strongest manner that his heart, his purpose, his confidence in God, did not waver in the slightest degree.
I will sing and give praise - My heart shall confide in thee; my lips shall utter the language of praise. In all his troubles God was his refuge; in all, he found occasion for praise. So it should be the fixed and settled purpose of our hearts that we will at all times confide in God, and that in every situation in life we will render him praise.
Awake up, my glory - By the word "glory" here some understand the tongue; others understand the soul itself, as the glory of man. The "word" properly refers to that which is weighty, or important; then, anything valuable, splendid, magnificent. Here it seems to refer to all that David regarded as glorious and honorable in himself - his noblest powers of soul - all in him that "could" be employed in the praise of God. The occasion was one on which it was proper to call all his powers into exercise; all that was noble in him as a man. The words "awake up" are equivalent to "arouse;" a solemn appeal to put forth all the powers of the soul.
Awake, psaltery and harp - In regard to these instruments, see the notes at Isa 5:12. The instrument denoted by the word "psaltery" - נבל nebel - was a stringed instrument, usually with twelve strings, and played with the fingers. See the notes at Psa 33:2. The "harp" or "lyre" - כנור kinnôr - was also a stringed instrument, usually consisting of ten strings. Josephus says that it was struck or played with a key. From Sa1 16:23; Sa1 18:10; Sa1 19:9, it appears, however, that it was sometimes played with the fingers.
I myself will awake early - That is, I will awake early in the morning to praise God; I will arouse myself from slumber to do this; I will devote the first moments - the early morning - to his worship. These words do not imply that this was an evening psalm, and that he would awake on the morrow - the next day - to praise God; but they refer to what he intended should be his general habit - that he would devote the early morning (arousing himself for that purpose) to the praise of God. No time in the day is more appropriate for worship than the early morning; no object is more worthy to rouse us from our slumbers than a desire to praise God; in no way can the day be more appropriately begun than by prayer and praise; and nothing will conduce more to keep up the flame of piety - the life of religion in the soul - than the habit of devoting the early morning to the worship of God; to prayer; to meditation; to praise.
I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people - So great a deliverance as he here hoped for, would make it proper that he should celebrate the praise of God in the most public manner; that he should make his goodness known as far as possible among the nations. See the notes at Psa 18:49.
For thy mercy is great unto the heavens ... - See this explained in the notes at Psa 36:5.
Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens - See the notes at Psa 57:5. The sentiment here is repeated as being that on which the mind of the psalmist was intensely fixed; that which he most earnestly desired; that which was the crowning aim and desire of his life.