Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The general title to this psalm is the same as in the two preceding psalms. That it was written by David, as is affirmed in the title, there is every reason to believe. The "occasion" on which it is said to have been composed was "when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him." This incident is related in Sa1 19:11 : "Saul also sent messengers unto David's house to watch him, and to slay him in the morning." There is nothing in the psalm inconsistent with this statement in regard to the time and the occasion of its composition, unless it is in the word "heathen" - גוים gôyim - twice used Psa 59:5, Psa 59:8 - a term, which (DeWette maintains) belongs properly to people of a foreign nation, and a foreign religion. It is true, however, that while the word originally had this meaning, it came to be used to denote any people or persons who had the general character and spirit which was supposed to distinguish nations without the knowledge of the true God; those who were cruel, harsh, unfeeling, oppressive, savage. Psa 2:1, Psa 2:8; Psa 9:5, Psa 9:15, Psa 9:19-20; Psa 10:16; Psa 79:6, Psa 79:10; Psa 106:47, et al. In this sense it might be used here, without impropriety, as applicable to the enemies of David.
At what precise "time" the psalm was composed, it is, of course, impossible now to ascertain. All that is determined by the title is that it was on that occasion, or with reference to that event; but whether it was at the very time when those enemies were known to be watching the house, or whether it was in view of that scene as recollected afterward, recalling the feelings which then passed through his mind, cannot now be determined with certainty. That David was aware that his enemies were thus watching him is apparent from Sa1 19:11; that such thoughts as are recorded in the psalm passed through his mind in that time of danger is not improbable, but it can hardly be supposed that such an occasion would allow of the leisure necessary to express them in the form in which we now have them in the psalm. The probability, therefore, seems to be, that the psalm is a subsequent composition, recording the thoughts which then actually passed through his mind.
The psalm has no very regular order. The mind passes from one thing to another - now uttering fervent prayer; now describing the enemy - his character and plans; and now expressing the confident hope of deliverance, and the purpose to praise God. Indeed the very structure of the psalm seems to me to furnish evidence that it describes feelings which "would" pass through the mind on such an occasion. Thus we have in Psa 59:1-2, Psa 59:5,Psa 59:11-15, "prayer" for deliverance; in Psa 59:3-4, Psa 59:6,Psa 59:12, intermingled with these prayers, a description of the character and designs of these enemies; and in Psa 59:8-9, Psa 59:16-17, an expression of confident hope - a purpose to praise God, for deliverance and mercy. All this is indicative of such feelings as "might," and probably "would," pass through the mind in such a time of peril as that referred to in the title.
On the different phrases in the title, see Introductions to Psalms 4; 47; 16.
Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God - See the notes at Psa 18:48. This prayer was offered when the spies sent by Saul surrounded the house of David. They had come to apprehend him, and it is to be presumed that they had come in sufficient numbers, and with sufficient power, to effect their object. Their purpose was not to break in upon him in the night, but to watch their opportunity, when he went forth in the morning, to slay him Sa1 19:11, and there seemed no way for him to escape. Of their coming, and of their design, Michal, the daughter of Saul, and the wife of David, seems to have been apprised - perhaps by someone of her father's family. She informed David of the arrangement, and assured him that unless he should escape in the night, he would be put to death in the morning. She, therefore, let him down through a window, and he escaped, Sa1 19:12. It was in this way that he was in fact delivered; in this way that his prayer was answered. A faithful wife saved him.
Defend me from them that rise up against me - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Set me on high." The idea is that of placing him, as it were, on a tower, or on an eminence which would be inaccessible. These were common places of refuge or defense. See the notes at Psa 18:2.
Deliver me from the workers of iniquity - The workers of iniquity here referred to were Saul and those whom he employed to carry out his murderous purpose - the people that had been sent to slay him.
And save me from bloody men - Hebrew, "Men of bloods;" that is, men whose trade is blood; who seek to shed my blood, or who seek my life. See Psa 5:6, note; Psa 26:9, note; Psa 55:23, note.
For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul - They lie in wait as wild beasts do for their prey, ready to spring upon it. The word used here is often employed to denote the act of lying in ambush; of watching in secret places to spring upon a victim: Jdg 9:32; Jdg 21:20; Psa 10:9. The word "soul" here means "life." They lie in ambush that they may kill me.
The mighty are gathered against me - Strong men; hostile men; cruel men. Saul would employ on this occasion not the weak, the cowardly, the faint-hearted, but men of courage and strength; men who were unscrupulous in their character; men who would not be likely to be moved by entreaty, or turned from their purpose by compassion. It is not mere "strength" that is here referred to, but that kind of strength or courage which can be employed in a desperate enterprise, and which is suited to accomplish any scheme of wickedness, however daring or difficult.
Not for my transgression, nor for my sin - This is done not on account of my violating the laws of the land, nor because it is alleged that I am a sinner against God. David was conscious that he did not deserve this treatment from the hand of man. He bad been guilty of no wrong against Saul that exposed him to just punishment. He carried with him the consciousness of innocence as to any crime that could have made this treatment proper; and he felt that it was all the result of unjust suspicions. It was not improper for him to refer to this in his prayer; for, however he might feel that he was a sinner in the sight of God, yet he felt that a great and grievous wrong was done him by man; and he prayed, therefore, that a righteous God would interpose. See Psa 7:8, note; Psa 17:2, note; Psa 35:24, note; Psa 43:1, note.
They run and prepare themselves - That is, they "hasten" to accomplish this; they are quick to obey the command of Saul requiring them to slay me. The word "prepare" refers to whatever was deemed necessary to enable them to accomplish what they had been commanded to do - arming themselves, making provision for their journey, etc.
Without my fault - That is, without anything on my part to deserve this, or to justify Saul and those employed by him in what they attempt to do. David, in all this, was conscious of innocence. In his own feelings toward Saul, and in all his public acts, he knew that he had sought only the king's welfare, and that he had been obedient to the laws.
Awake to help me - That is, "arouse," as one does from sleep. See the notes at Psa 7:6. Compare Psa 35:23. The word rendered "to help me," is rendered in the margin, "to meet me." This is the meaning of the Hebrew. It is a prayer that God would meet him, or come to him, and aid him.
Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts - God of armies: commanding all the armies of heaven - the angels, and the stars and constellations drawn out in the form of armies; thou, thus endowed with all power, and able to subdue all people though arrayed and combined for purposes of evil - awake to my help. On the meaning of the phrase "God of hosts," see the notes at Isa 1:9.
The God of Israel - The God of the Hebrew people - the descendants of Jacob or Israel - the Protector of thy people - awake to help me, one of those who, being of that covenant people, come under the promise of protection.
Awake to visit all the heathen - On the word here rendered "heathen" - גוים gôyim - see the notes at Psa 2:1. It is from the use of this word in this verse and in Psa 59:8, as remarked in the Introduction to the psalm, that DeWette infers that the psalm could not have been composed on the occasion referred to in the title, and argues, that this term could not be applied by David to Saul and his followers. This objection, however, will lose its force if the word is understood as denoting people who had the usual character of pagans, who were fierce, bloody, savage, cruel. In this sense the word might be employed with reference to those who were engaged in seeking the life of David. David, using the common word "heathen" or "nations," as denoting those who are wicked, cruel, harsh, prays that God would awake to visit them; that is, to visit them for purposes of punishment, or so to visit them as to prevent their carrying out their designs.
Be not merciful to any tricked transgressors - That is, Arrest and punish them "as" transgressors, or "being" transgressors. This prayer is not inconsistent with a desire that such people might be converted, and "thus" obtain mercy; but it is a prayer that God would not suffer them, being wicked people, to go at large and accomplish the work of wickedness which they designed. See General Introduction Section 6. (5) (e).
Selah - A musical pause. See the notes at Psa 3:2.
They return at evening - Many have rendered this in the imperative, as in Psa 59:14, "Let them return at evening," etc. So Luther renders it, and so also DeWette. But the more natural and obvious interpretation is to render it in the indicative, as describing the manner in which his enemies came upon him - like dogs seeking their prey; fierce mastiffs, howling and ready to spring upon him. From the phrase "they return at evening," thus explained, it would seem probable that they watched their opportunity, or lay in wait, to secure their object; that having failed at first, they drew off again until evening, perhaps continuing thus for several days unable to accomplish their object.
They make a noise like a dog - So savages, after lurking stealthily all day, raise the war-whoop at night, and come upon their victims. It is possible that an assault of this kind "had" been attempted; or, more probably, it is a description of the manner in which they "would" make their assault, and of the spirit with which it would be done.
And go round about the city - The word "city" is used in a large sense in the Scriptures, and is often applied to places that we should now describe as "villages." Any town within the limits of which David was lodged, would answer to this term.
Behold, they belch out with their mouth - The word rendered "belch out" means properly to boil forth; to gush out, to flow; and then, to pour forth copiously, or in a running stream, as a fountain does. Hence, the word means also to pour out "words" - words that flow freely - words of folly, abuse, or reproach. Pro 15:2, "the mouth of fools poureth out (Margin, belcheth or babbleth) foolishness." Pro 15:28, "the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things;" that is, "gushes over" with wicked things - as a fountain overflows. In this place, the word means that the enemies of David who were in pursuit of his life, poured out reproaches and threatenings like a gushing fountain.
Swords are in their lips - Their words are as sharp swords. See the notes at Psa 57:4.
For who, say they, doth hear? - That is, no one hears who will be able to punish us. They dread no man; and they have no fear of God. Compare the notes at Psa 10:11. The words "say they" are, however, supplied here by the translators, and are not in the original; and the language "may" be understood as that of David himself, "as if" no one heard; that is, It is no wonder that they thus pour out words of reproach, for who "is" there to hear and to punish them? The former interpretation, however, is to be preferred. The language expresses the feelings of the enemies of David, who indulged freely in language of abuse and reproach "as if" there were none to hear.
But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them - That is, God will hear them, and will have all their efforts in derision, or will treat them with contempt. See Psa 2:4, note; Psa 37:13, note.
Thou shalt have all the heathen in derision - All those referred to in this psalm - the enemies of David - who have the character, and who manifest the spirit of the pagan; that is, of those who are not actuated by true religion. See the notes at Psa 59:5. This verse expresses the strong conviction of David, that all the efforts of his enemies would be vain; that God "would be" his Protector; and that he would save him from their evil designs.
Because of his strength will I wait upon thee - literally, "His strength - I will wait upon thee." The reference here is not to the strength or power of God, as if the fact that "He" was powerful was a reason why the psalmist should look to him - but it is to the strength or power of the enemy - of Saul and his followers. There is much abruptness in the expression. The psalmist looks at the power of his enemy. "'His strength,' he cries. It is great. It is beyond my power to resist it. It is so great that I have no other refuge but God; and because it is so great, I will fix my eyes on him alone." The word rendered "wait upon" means rather to look to; to observe; to fix the eyes upon.
For God is my defense - Margin, "My high place." That is, God was to him "as" a high place, or a place of refuge; a place where he would be safe. See the notes at Psa 18:2.
The God of my mercy shall prevent me - Or rather, "My God - his mercy shall prevent me." This is in accordance with the present reading of the Hebrew text, and is probably correct. The psalmist looks to God as his God, and then the feeling at once springs up that his mercy - favor - his loving-kindness - "would" "prevent" him. On the word "prevent" see the notes at Psa 21:3; compare Psa 17:13; Psa 18:5. The meaning here is, that God would "go before him," or would "anticipate" his necessities.
God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies - That is, He will let me see them discomfited, and disappointed in their plans. This is equivalent to saying that God would give him the victory, or would not suffer them to triumph over him. See the notes at Psa 54:7.
Slay them not, lest my people forget - The meaning of this seems to be, Do not destroy them at once, lest, being removed out of the way, the people should forget what was done, or should lose the impression which it is desirable should be produced by their punishment. Let them live, and let them wander about, as exiles under the divine displeasure, that they may be permanent and enduring proofs of the justice of God; of the evil of sin; of the danger of violating the divine law. So Cain wandered on the earth Gen 4:12-14, a living proof of that justice which avenges murder; and so the Jews still wander, a lasting illustration of the justice which followed their rejection of the Messiah. The prayer of the psalmist, therefore, is that the fullest expression might be given to the divine sense of the wrong which his enemies had done, that the salutary lesson might not be soon forgotten, but might be permanent and enduring.
Scatter them by thy, power - Break up their combinations, and let them go abroad as separate wanderers, proclaiming everywhere, by being thus vagabonds on the earth, the justice of God.
And bring them down - Humble them. Show them their weakness. Show them that they have not power to contend against God.
O Lord our shield - See Psa 5:12, note; Psa 33:20, note. The words "our" here, and "my" in the former part of the verse, are designed to show that the author of the psalm regarded God as "his" God, and the people of the land as "his," in the sense that he was identified with them, and felt that his cause was really that of the people.
For the sin of their mouth ... - That is, in belching out words of reproach and malice, Psa 59:7.
Let them even be taken in their pride - In the very midst of their schemes, or while confidently relying on the success of their plans. Even while their hearts are elated, and they are sure of success, let them be arrested, and let their plans be foiled.
And for cursing and lying which they speak - That is, on account of the false charges which they have brought against me, and of their bitter imprecations on me. The allusion is to the accusations brought against David, and which were believed by Saul, and which were the foundation of the efforts made by Saul to take his life.
Consume them in wrath - Or, in thy justice. The idea in the word "consume" here is to finish; to complete; to bring to an end. It does not mean to "burn" them as our word might seem to imply, nor is there any reference to the "mode" or "manner" in which their power was to be brought to an end. It is merely a prayer that all their plans might be frustrated; that there might be an entire completion of their attempts; or that they might be in no sense successful.
Consume them - The expression is repeated for the sake of emphasis, implying a desire that the work might be "complete."
That they may not be - That things might be as if they were not in the land of the living.
And let them know - Those who are now plotting my death.
That God ruleth in Jacob - That God rules among his people, protecting them and guarding them from the attacks of their enemies; that he is their friend, and that he is the enemy of all those who seek to injure and destroy them.
Unto the ends of the earth - Everywhere. All over the world. Let it be shown that the same principles of government prevail wherever man abides or wanders - that God manifests himself everywhere as the friend of right, and the enemy of wrong. The phrase "the ends of the earth," is in accordance with the prevailing conception that the earth was an extended plane, and that it had limits or boundaries. Compare the notes at Isa 40:22, notes at Isa 40:28.
And at evening let them return - See the notes at Psa 59:6. The original here is the same as in Psa 59:6, with the exception of the word "and" at the beginning. This qualifies the sentence, and makes the construction in our version proper. The language is that of confident triumph. They came around the city to take David; they shouted and shrieked as dogs bark and howl when they come upon their prey. David asked God to interpose and save him; and then, says he, let them come if they will, and howl around the city; they will find no prey; they will be like hungry dogs from whom their anticipated victim has escaped. Let them come, and howl and rage. They can do no harm. They will meet with disappointment; and such disappointment will be a proper punishment for their sins.
Let them wander up and down for meat - Let them be like dogs that wander about for food, and find none. The idea is, that they would not find him, and would be then as dogs that had sought in vain for food.
And grudge if they be not satisfied - Margin, If they be not satisfied, then they will stay all night. The marginal reading is most in accordance with the Hebrew. The sentence is obscure, but the idea seems to be that they would not be satisfied - that is, they would not obtain that which they had sought; and, like hungry and disappointed dogs, they would be compelled to pass the night in this miserable and wretched condition. The word which our translators have rendered "grudge" - from לוּן lûn - means properly to pass the night; then, to abide, to remain, to dwell; and then, in Hiphil, to show oneself obstinate and stubborn - from the idea of remaining or persisting in a bad cause; and hence, the word sometimes means to complain: Num 14:29; Exo 17:3. It has not, however, the signification of grudging, though it might mean here to murmur or complain because they were disappointed. But the most natural meaning is that which the word properly bears - that of passing the night, as referring to their wandering about, disappointed in their object, and yet still hoping that they might possibly obtain it. The anticipated feeling in the mind of the psalmist is that which he would have in the consciousness of his own safety, and in the pleasure of knowing that they must sooner or later find out that their victim had escaped.
But I will sing of thy power - That is, I will praise thee for the manifestation of thy power in rescuing me from danger.
Yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning - When the light dawns; when these troubles are over; when the night of calamity shall have passed by. There is an allusion here, probably, to the fact that they encompassed the place of his abode at night Psa 59:6, Psa 59:14; but there is also the implied idea that that night was emblematic of sorrow and distress. The morning would come; morning after such a night of sorrow and trouble; a morning of joy and gladness, when he would feel that he had complete deliverance. Then would he praise God aloud. Compare the notes at Isa 21:12.
For thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble - That is, he looked to the time when he would feel this; when looking back he could say this; when in view of it he would praise God.
Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing - The source of strength to me; the real strength by which I have obtained deliverance is in thee. See the notes at Psa 18:1.
For God is my defense - See the notes at Psa 59:9.
And the God of my mercy - The God who has showed mercy to me; he from whom all these favors have sprung. Whatever means might be used to secure his own safety (compare Sa1 19:12 ff) still he felt that his deliverance was to be traced wholly to God. He had interposed and had saved him; and it was proper, therefore, that praise should be ascribed to him. The experience of David in the case referred to in this psalm should be an inducement to all who are in danger to put their trust in God; his anticipated feelings of gratitude, and his purpose to praise God when he should be delivered, should awaken in us the resolution to ascribe to God all the praise when we are delivered from impending troubles, and when our lives are lengthened out where we have been in imminent danger. Whatever may have been the means of our rescue, it is to be traced to the interposition of God.