Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is described as a "psalm of David," and it bears internal evidence that it was composed by him, as it contains first, a prayer for deliverance from enemies Psa 64:1-6; and second, a confident expectation of deliverance, Psa 64:7-10; a form of structure found in many of the psalms written by David. It is addressed, or dedicated, as many others are, "To the chief Musician." This fact shows that it was not designed as an expression of mere private feeling, but was intended to be employed in the worship of God. See the notes at the Introduction to Psa 4:1-8.
The occasion on which this psalm was composed is unknown. In its general structure and character, it bears a strong resemblance to Psa 58:1-11. Indeed, many of the expressions in the two psalms are the same, and it would seem probable that it was composed with reference to the same occasion, or that the circumstances in the two cases were so similar as to make the same expressions in the main appropriate. The occasion may have been, either the times of persecution under Saul, or the rebellion of Absalom. Perhaps we may suppose, without impropriety, that the former psalm Psa 58:1-11 was composed in the time of Saul, and this in the time of Absalom, and that the circumstances in the two eases were so similar, that the author found the same phraseology which he had used on the former occasion to be appropriate to his present position, or that his feelings were so identical now with what they were then, that he naturally expressed himself in substantially the same language.
The psalm, as observed above, is composed of two parts:
I. A prayer for deliverance from his enemies, with a description of their character, Psa 64:1-6.
II. An expression of confident expectation that his prayer would be answered, and that God would interpose in his behalf, Psa 64:7-10.
Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer - The use of the word voice here would seem to imply that this was audible prayer, or that, though alone, he gave utterance to his petitions aloud. We have this same use of the word often in the Psalms, making it probable that even private prayers were uttered in an audible manner. In most cases, when there is no danger of being overheard, or of its being construed as ostentation or Pharisaism, this is favorable to the spirit of secret devotion. Compare the notes at Dan 6:10. The word here rendered prayer means properly speech, discourse; then, complaint; then, meditation. It is most commonly rendered complaint. See Job 7:13; Job 9:27; Job 10:1; Job 21:4; Psa 55:2 (notes); Ps. 102 (Title); Psa 142:2. It refers here to a state of mind caused by trouble and danger, when the deep meditation on his troubles and dangers found expression in audible words - whether those words were complaint or petition. As there are no indications in the psalm that David was disposed to complain in the sense of blaming God, the proper interpretation here is that his deep meditations took the form of prayer.
Preserve my life from fear of the enemy - Either Saul or Absalom. He prayed that his life might be made so secure that he would not have occasion to be afraid of his enemy.
Hide me - Or, more literally, thou wilt hide me. There is both an implied prayer that this might be done, and a confident belief that it would be done. The idea is, Protect me; guard me; make me safe - as one is who is hidden or concealed so that his enemies cannot find him.
From the secret counsel - The word used here - סוד sôd - means properly couch, cushion; and then, a divan, a circle of friends sitting together on couches for familiar conversation, or for counsel. See Psa 25:14, note; Psa 55:14, note; compare Job 15:8; Job 29:4. Here the reference is to the consultations of his enemies for the purpose of doing him wrong. Of course, as they took this counsel together, he could not know it, and the word secret is not improperly applied to it. The idea here is, that although he did not know what that counsel or purpose was, or what was the result of their consultations, yet God knew, and he could guard him against it.
Of the wicked - Not the wicked in general, but his particular foes who were endeavoring to destroy him. Luther renders this, "from the assembling of the wicked."
From the insurrection - The word used here - רגשׁה rigshâh - means properly a "noisy crowd, a multitude." The allusion is to such a crowd, such a disorderly and violent rabble, as constituted a mob. He was in danger not only from the secret purposes of the more calm and thoughtful of his enemies who were plotting against him, but from the excited passions of the multitude, and thus his life was in double danger. If he escaped the one, he had no security that he would escape the other. So the Redeemer was exposed to a double danger. There was the danger arising from the secret plottings of the Scribes and Pharisees assembled in council, and there was also the danger arising from the infuriated passions of the multitude. The former calmly laid the plan for putting him to death by a judicial trial; the others took up stones to stone him, or cried, "Crucify him, crucify him!" The word insurrection here does not well express the idea. The word tumult would better represent the meaning of the original.
Of the workers of iniquity - That is, of those who were arrayed against him.
Who whet their tongue like a sword - Who sharpen their tongue; that is, they utter words that will cut deep, or penetrate the soul. The idea is that of slander or reproach - the same idea which we have in Shakespeare (Cymbeline):
Whose edge is sharper than the sword."
This comparison is a favorite one with David. Compare Psa 52:2; Psa 57:4; Psa 59:7.
And bend their bows ... - That is, they prepare for this - as they make ready to shoot who bend their bows, and fix their arrows on the string. The idea here is, that this was deliberate, or was the result of counsel and purpose. It was not an outbreak of mere passion and excitement; it was by fixed design and careful preparation. See Psa 11:2, note; Psa 58:7, note.
Even bitter words - We apply the same term bitter now to words of malice and reproach.
That they may shoot in secret - From an unobserved quarter; from a place where they are so concealed that it cannot be known where the arrows come from. There was a purpose to ruin him, and at the same time to conceal themselves, or not to let him know from what source the ruin came. It was not an open and manly fight, where he could see his enemy, but it was a warfare with a concealed foe.
At the perfect - At the upright; at one who is perfect so far as his treatment of them is concerned. Compare Psa 18:20, note; Psa 18:23, note.
Suddenly do they shoot at him - At an unexpected time, and from an unlooked-for quarter. They accomplish what they intended; they carry out their design.
And fear not - They feel confident that they are not known, and that they will not be detected. They have no fear of God or man. Compare Psa 55:19.
They encourage themselves - literally, they strengthen themselves, or make themselves strong. That is, they take counsel; they encourage each other; they urge one another forward; they suggest to each other methods by which what they purpose may be done, and by which difficulties may be overcome. This was a part of their "secret counsel" or their consultation, Psa 64:2.
In an evil matter - Margin, as in Hebrew, speech. The reference is to their purpose or plan. They strengthen themselves for doing what they know to be a wrong or wicked thing.
They commune - literally, they tell or speak. That is, they tell each other how it may be done, or suggest different methods by which it may be successfully accomplishled. They compare views, that they may select that which will be most likely to be successful. All this indicates plan, consultation, design.
Of laying snares privily - Margin, as in Hebrew, to hide snares. This is a figure derived from the method of taking wild beasts. See Psa 7:15, note; Psa 38:12, note. The reference here is to some secret plan by which they intended that the author of the psalm should be entrapped and ruined. It was not a plan of open and manly warfare, but a purpose to destroy him when he would have no opportunity of defense.
They say, Who shall see them? - That is, who will see the snares or pit-falls? Who will be aware of their existence? They sought to make the plan so secret that no one could discover it, or even suspect it; to keep it so concealed that he for whom it was intended could not be put on his guard. Compare Psa 10:8-9.
They search out iniquities - They search deep; they examine plans; they rack their invention to accomplish it. The original word - חפשׂ châphaś - is a word which is used to denote the act of exploring - as when one searches for treasure, or for anything that is hidden or lost - implying a deep and close attention of the mind to the subject. So here they examined every plan, or every way which was suggested to them, by which they could hope to accomplish their purpose.
They accomplish - This would be better translated by rendering it, "We have perfected it!" That is, We have found it out; it is complete; meaning that they had found a plan to their liking. It is the language of self-congratulatlon.
A diligent search - Or rather, "The search is a deep search." In other words, "The plan is a consummate plan; it is just to our mind; it is exactly what we have sought to find." This, too, is language of self-congratulation and satisfaction at the plan which they had thought of, and which was so exactly to their mind.
Both the inward thought - literally, the inside; that is, the hidden design.
And the heart - The plan formed in the heart; the secret purpose.
Is deep - A deep-laid scheme; a plan that indicates profound thought; a purpose that is the result of consummate sagacity. This is the language of the author of the psalm. He admitted that there had been great talent and skill in the formation of the plan. Hence, it was that he cried so earnestly to God.
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow - That is, Instead of their being able to carry out their purposes of shooting the arrows which they had prepared against others, God will shoot his arrows against them. The tables will be turned. They themselves will experience what they had intended to inflict on others. God will deal with them as they intended to deal with others. The sentiment here is substantially the same as in Psa 7:15; see the notes at that passage. It is also in accordance with what we often find in the writings of David, when in the close of a psalm he expresses a confident expectation that the prayer which he had offered in the beginning would be heard, or rejoices in the assurance that he had been heard. The idea, also, is involved in this part of the psalm that God will deal with men as they purpose to deal with others; that is, according to their true character. Compare the notes at Psa 18:25-26.
Suddenly shall they be wounded - Margin, their wound shall be. The Hebrew is, "Suddenly shall be their wounds." The idea is, that the wounds in the case would be theirs; and would be inflicted suddenly. The blows which they thought to give to others would come on themselves, and this would occur at an unexpected moment.
So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves - In Psa 64:3, their tongue is represented as a sword; and here, keeping up the figure, the tongue, as a sword, is represented as falling on them, or as inflicting the wound on themselves which they had intended to inflict on others. This might be rendered, "And they have cast him down; upon them is their own tongue;" or, "Upon them their own tongue has come." That is, someone would cast them down, and they would fall as if smitten by their own tongue like a sword. It is not said who would do this, but the most natural interpretation is that it would be done by God. The idea is, that the instrument which they had employed to injure others would be the means of their own ruin.
All that see them shall flee away - Compare Psa 31:11. That is, they shall flee in consternation from those who are so fearfully overthrown. They shall see that God is just, and that He will punish the wicked; and they will desire to escape from a ruin so dreadful as that which comes upon the ungodly. The idea is, that when God punishes sinners, the effect on others is, and should be, to lead them to wish not to be associated with such people, but to escape from a doom so fearful.
And all men shall fear - That is, a deep impression would be made, not only on the associates and companions of the wicked, but on all that should hear of what was done. People, in view of the just punishment of the wicked, would learn to reverence God, and to stand in awe of One so powerful and so just. Judgments, punishment, wrath, are adapted and designed to make a deep impression on mankind. On this principle, the final punishment of the wicked will make a deep and salutary impression on the universe forever.
And shall declare the work of God - Shall make it known to others. It will become a subject of conversation, or they will talk about it, as illustrating the divine perfections and character. Such should always be the effect of the judgments of God, for they illustrate his true character; they make known his attributes; they convey to the world lessons of the utmost importance. Nothing is more proper than to talk about the judgments of God, and to endeavor to derive from them the instructions which they are adapted to convey about the divine nature, and the principles of the administration under which the universe is placed. Wars, pestilences, famines, earthquakes, conflagrations, inundations, diseases, all teach important lessons about God; and each one bears its own special message to mankind.
For they shall wisely consider of his doing - They shall attentively and carefully consider it; they shall endeavor to derive such lessons from his dealings as they are suited to convey. In other words, an attentive consideration of his doings will contribute to maintain a just knowledge of world in subjection to him. God is thus always speaking to human beings; and nothing is more proper for human beings than to give their minds to a careful consideration of what is really intended to be taught us by the events which are occurring in his providential dealings.
The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him - That is, As the result of his gracious intervention, or as the effect of his judgments on the wicked, the righteous will rejoice on account of their own security, and put their trust in One who has thus shown himself to be the friend of holiness, and the enemy of sin. Whatever tends to reveal the divine character, or to make a proper exhibition of that character, will also lead good people to confide in God, and to feel that they are safe.
And all the upright in heart shall glory - Shall rejoice; shall feel that they have cause for trust and triumph. The good - the pure - the righteous - the godly - will always rejoice in everything which tends to show that God is just, and true, and holy; - for all their own hope of security and salvation rests upon the fact that the God in whom they trust is a righteous God.