Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This also is a psalm of David. It is entitled, like not a few others of the Psalms, "Maschil;" margin, "giving instruction:" a didactic hymn. See the word explained in the Introduction to Psa 32:1-11. It is said, in the title, to be "A prayer when he was in the cave;" that is, either a prayer which he composed while there, or which he composed afterward, putting into a poetic form the substance of the prayer which he breathed forth there, or expressive of the feelings which he had when there. The reference may be either to the cave of Adullam Sa1 22:1, or to that in Engedi Sa1 24:3. In both cases the circumstances were substantially the same, for David had fled to the cave to escape from Saul. The prayer is such as would be appropriate to a condition of danger such as was that in which David then was. It is a cry of distress when there was no refuge - no hope - but in God; when there seemed to be no way of escape from his enemies; and when, forsaken by his friends, and pursued by an enemy who sought his life, he seemed now to be in the power of his foe. It may also be "used" to express the feelings of one now in danger - as of a sinner under condemnation, seeing no way of escape, exposed to ruin, and shut up entirely to the mercy of God. Such a one feels, as David did on this occasion, that there can be no escape but through the interposition of God.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice - See the notes at Psa 3:4, where the language is the same. He uttered a loud and audible prayer, though he was alone. It was not a mental ejaculation, but he gave expression to his desires.
With my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication - See Psa 30:8. The Hebrew word rendered "did make my supplication," means to implore favor or mercy. It denotes the language of petition and entreaty, not the language of claim.
I poured out my complaint before him - literally, my meditation; that is, What so much occupied my thoughts at the time I expressed aloud. The word "complaint" does not express the idea. The meaning is, not that he "complained" of God or of man; but that his mind "meditated" on his condition. He was full of care and of anxiety; and he went and poured this out freely before God. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "my prayer." See Psa 55:2, where the same Hebrew word is used.
I showed before him my trouble - I made mention of it. I spoke of it.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me - Luther renders this, "When my spirit was in distress." The Hebrew word rendered "overwhelmed" means, in Kal, to cover as with a garment; then, to be covered as with darkness, trouble, sorrow; and then, to languish, to faint, to be feeble: Psa 77:3; Psa 107:5. The idea here is, that, in his troubles, he had no vigor, no life, no spirit. He did not see how he could escape from his troubles, and he had no heart to make an effort.
Then thou knewest my path - Thou didst see all. Thou didst see the way that I was treading, and all its darkness and dangers, implying here that God had made it an object to mark his course; to see what egress there might be - what way to escape from the danger. It was in no sense concealed from God, and no danger of the way was hidden from him. It is much for us to feel when we are in danger or difficulty that God knows it all, and that nothing can be hidden from him.
In the way wherein I walked - In my path; the path that I was treading.
Have they privily laid a snare for me - They treated me as a man would treat his neighbor, who should spread a snare, or set a trap, for him in the path which he knew he must take. The word rendered "have privily laid" means to hide, to conceal. It was so concealed that I could not perceive it. They did it unknown to me. I neither knew that it was laid, nor where it was laid. They meant to spring it upon me at a moment when I was not aware, and when I should be taken by surprise. It was not open and manly warfare; it was stealth, cunning, trick, art.
I looked on my right hand, and beheld - Margin, "Look on the right hand and see The words translated "looked" and "beheld" are in the imperative mood in the Hebrew. They are not, however, improperly rendered as to the sense. They refer to David's state of mind at the time, and give vividness to the description. The psalmist seems to be in the presence of others. He calls upon them to look around; to see how he was encompassed with danger. Look, says he, in every direction; see who there is on whom I may rely; what there is to which I may trust as a refuge. I can find none; I see none; there is none. The "right hand" is referred to here as the direction where he might look for a protector: Psa 109:6, Psa 109:31.
But there was no man that would know me - No man to be seen who would recognize me as his friend; who would stand up for me; on whom I could rely.
Refuge failed me - Margin, as in Hebrew, "perished from me." If there had been any hope of refuge, it has failed altogether. There is none now.
No man cared for my soul - Margin, "No man sought after my soul." Hebrew, after my "life." That is, No one sought to save my life; no one regarded it as of sufficient importance to attempt to preserve me.
I cried unto thee, O Lord - When there was no help; when I saw myself encompassed with dangers; when I looked on every hand and there was no "man" that would undertake for me.
I said, Thou art my refuge -
(a) My "only" refuge. I can go nowhere else.
(b) Thou art "in fact" my refuge. I can and do put my trust in thee. See the notes at Psa 46:1.
And my portion - See the notes at Psa 16:5.
In the land of the living - Among all those that live - all living beings. There is no one else among the living to whom I can come but to thee, the living God. My hope is not in human beings, for they are against me; not in angels, for they have not the power to rescue me. It is God only, the living God, whom I make my confidence and the ground of my hope.
Attend unto my cry - Give ear to me when I cry to thee. Do not turn away and refuse to hear me.
For I am brought very low - I am reduced greatly; I am made very poor. The language would be applicable to one who had been in better circumstances, and who had been brought down to a condition of danger, of poverty, of want. It is language which is commonly applied to poverty.
Deliver me from my persecutors - Saul and his followers.
For they are stronger than I - More in number; better armed; better suited for battle.
Bring my soul out of prison - Bring me out of my present condition which is like a prison. I am as it were shut up; I am encompassed with foes; I do not know how to escape. Compare Psa 25:17.
That I may praise thy name - Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus "thou" mayest be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare - even than our salvation.
The righteous shall compass me about - They shall come to me with congratulations and with expressions of rejoicing. They will desire my society, my friendship, my influence, and will regard it as a privilege and an honor to be associated with me. David looked to this as an object to be desired. He wished to be associated with the righteous; to enjoy their friendship; to have their good opinion; to be reckoned as one of them here and forever. Compare the notes at Psa 26:9. It "is" an honor - a felicity to be desired - to be associated with good people, to possess their esteem; to have their sympathy, their prayers, and their affections; to share their joys here, and their triumphs in the world to come.
For thou shalt deal bountifully with me - Or, when thou shalt deal bountifully with me. When thou dost show me this favor, then the righteous will come around me in this manner. They will see that I am a friend of God, and they will desire to be associated with me as his friend.