Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This, also, is a psalm of David. The occasion on which it was composed is not indicated in the title, but the contents of the psalm leave no room to doubt that it was written at an early period of his life, in the time when he was subjected to persecution - most probably in the time of Saul. The psalm bears every mark of David's style and spirit; and there can be no doubt that he was the author of it. For the reasons why it may have had a place "here" in the Book of Psalms, see the Introduction to Psa 138:1-8. On the phrase, "To the chief Musician," see the Introduction to Psa 4:1-8.
Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man - That is, evidently from some particular man who was endeavoring to injure him; some personal enemy. All the circumstances mentioned agree well with the supposition that Saul is intended.
Preserve me from the violent man - Margin, as in Hebrew, "man of violences." That is, one who has committed violence so often, who has so frequently done wrong, that this may be considered a characteristic of the man. This would apply well to the repeated acts of Saul in persecuting David, and endeavoring to do him injury.
Which imagine mischiefs in their heart - Here the language is changed to the plural number in the Hebrew, implying that while there was one man who was eminent in his wickedness and his wrong-doing, there were many others associated with him, acting under his direction. The word "mischiefs" in the Hebrew means "evils; wickednesses." It was not a single purpose; the plan embraced many forms of evil - doing him wrong in every way possible.
Continually are they gathered together for war - They are organized for this purpose; they are constantly prepared for it. The word rendered "gathered together" properly means to sojourn, to dwell for a time; and it has been proposed by some to render this, "All the day they dwell with wars;" that is, they are constantly involved in them. But the word may mean also "to gather together," as in Psa 56:6.
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent - Compare the notes at Psa 64:3. The idea here is, that since the tongue of the serpent "seems" to be sharp, pointed, adapted to penetrate (and probably the original reference in the image was derived from that idea), the wound inflicted is by the serpent's tongue - "as if" with a hard, penetrating point. It is now known, however, that it is by a tooth - a single tooth, made flexible for the purpose - at the root of which a small bag containing the poison is located, which is injected through an orifice in the tooth into the wound. The meaning here is, that the words spoken by such persons - by their tongues - were like the poison produced by the bite of a serpent.
Adders' poison is under their lips - The asp or adder is among the most poisonous of serpents. Thus, Cleopatra of Egypt is said to have destroyed her own life by an asp, which she had concealed for that purpose. This passage is quoted in Rom 3:13, as a proof of human depravity. See the notes at that verse.
Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked ... - See the notes at Psa 71:4. This is a repetition of the prayer in Psa 140:1.
Who have purposed to overthrow my goings - To thrust me down as I go; to defeat my plans; to destroy me. They endeavor to prevent my accomplishing what I had designed to do.
The proud have hid a snare for me - Haughty; arrogant; oppressive men. See Psa 35:7, note; Psa 57:6, note.
And cords - Strings; twine; as those do who lay a net to catch birds, and who design to spring it upon them unawares.
They have spread a net by the wayside - Where I may be expected to walk, and where it may be suddenly sprung upon me.
They have set gins for me - Snares, toils - such as are set for wild beasts. The meaning is, that they had not only made open war upon him, but they had sought to bring him into an ambush - to rush upon him suddenly when he was not on his guard, and did not know that, danger was near.
I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God ... - In all these dangers from open war, in all these perils from a crafty enemy lying in ambush, my only refuge was God; my hope was in him alone. From all these dangers, seen and unseen, I knew that he could defend me, and I confidently believed that he would.
O God the Lord ... - literally, "Yahweh, Lord, the strength of my salvation" The word rendered "God," in the original, is יהוה Yahweh. The address is to Yahweh as the Lord; that is, as the supreme Ruler - who presides over all things. Him the psalmist acknowledged as "his" Lord and Ruler. The phrase "the strength of my salvation" means the strength or power on which my safety depends. I have no other hope of deliverance but in thee.
Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle - Thou hast been a shield unto me. Literally, "In the day of arms," or of armor, Kg1 10:25; Eze 39:9-10.
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked - That is, in the matter under consideration. Let them not accomplish their desire in my destruction. Let them not succeed in their designs against me. The prayer, however, "may" be used more generally. It is proper to pray that the desires of the wicked, as wicked people, may not be granted to them; that they may "not" be successful in their purposes. Success in such desires would be only an injury to themselves and to the world. It is proper to pray that the purposes of the wicked may be defeated, and that they may be led to abandon their designs and to seek better ends. For this, in fact, we always pray when we pray for their conversion.
Further not his wicked device - His purpose against me.
Lest they exalt themselves - Lest they attribute it to their own skill, wisdom, or valor, and lest they pride themselves on their success. To succeed in a righteous cause makes a man humble and grateful; in a bad cause, proud, and forgetful of God. The margin here is, "Let them not be exalted." The meaning is, that success would at the same time elate them in their own estimation, and increase their bad influence in the world. It is, on every account, a benevolent prayer that wicked people may "not" be successful in their plans of iniquity.
As for the head of those that compass me about - Luther renders this, "The calamity which my enemies design against me must fall upon their own heads." The passage stands in contrast with Psa 140:7 : "Thou hast covered my head," etc. As for his own head, it had been protected in the day of battle. In reference now to the heads of his enemies - of those that compassed him about - he prays that what they had designed for "his" head might come by a just retribution on their own. The phrase "compass me about" refers to his enemies as being numerous, and as surrounding him on every side. See Psa 40:12; Psa 88:17; Psa 109:3; Psa 118:10-12.
Let the mischief of their own lips cover them - Come upon them. The mischief which they have designed against me; that which they have conspired to bring on me. The reference is to a combination against him, or to some agreement which they had made to destroy him.
Let burning coals fall upon them - Let them be punished, "as if" burning coals were poured upon them. See Psa 11:6, note; Psa 18:12-13, notes; Psa 120:4, note.
Let them be cast into the fire - Punished as if they were cast into the fire and consumed.
Into deep pits, that they rise not up again - That they may utterly perish. This was one mode of punishing, by casting a man into a deep pit from which he could not escape, and leaving him to die, Gen 37:20, Gen 37:24; Psa 9:15; Psa 35:7; Jer 41:7.
Let not an evil speaker - literally, "A man of tongue." That is, a man whom the tongue rules; a man of an unbridled tongue; a man who does not control his tongue. See the notes at Jam 3:2-12.
Be established in the earth - Be successful or prosperous; let him not carry out his designs. It is not desirable that a man should prosper in such purposes; and therefore, this is not a prayer of malignity, but of benevolence.
Evil shall hunt the violent man ... - More literally, "A man of violence - a bad man - they shall hunt him down speedily;" or, "let him be hunted down speedily. Let him who forms a project of violence and wrong - a bad man - be hunted as the beasts of prey are, and let his destruction come quickly." Margin, "Let him be hunted to his overthrow." But the explanation now given suits the connection, and is a literal expression of the sense of the original.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted - See the notes at Psa 9:4. The psalmist here doubtless refers primarily to himself, as having a confident belief that the Lord would maintain "his" cause, or would defend "him." At the same time he makes the statement general, implying that what would be done to him would be done to all in similar circumstances. The idea is that God, in all his attributes, in all his providential arrangements, in all his interpositions on earth, would be found to be on the side of the oppressed, the afflicted, and the wronged. He has no attribute that can take part with an oppressor or a wrong doer. The wicked cannot come to him with the belief that he will be on their side: the righteous - the oppressed - the afflicted - can.
And the right of the poor - He will defend the right of the poor. Literally, "The judgment of the poor." That which will be just and right in their case.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name - Unto thee.
(1) they will have occasion to do it;
(2) they will be disposed to do it.
They will not be unmindful of the favors conferred upon them; it will be a characteristic of them that they "will" be thankful.
The upright shall dwell in thy presence - They shall be under thy protection; they shall be admitted to thy favor; they shall dwell in thy dwelling-place.
(1) On earth they shall enjoy his favor - "as if" they abode with God.
(2) in heaven they will be permitted to dwell with him forever.
The general idea of the psalm is, that the poor, the persecuted, the afflicted, if righteous, shall enjoy the favor and protection of God. God is on their side, and not on the side of the wicked who oppress them. But then, people "should be righteous" in order that they may find the favor of God and dwell with him. There is no reason why a "poor" wicked man should enjoy the favor of God anymore than why a "rich" wicked man should. It is not poverty or riches that commend us to God; it is faith, and holiness, and love, and obedience, in the condition of life in which we are placed, be it in a cottage or a palace.