Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm also is entitled "A Psalm of David." There is, however, no intimation in the title as to the time or the occasion on which it was composed. In the Septuagint version, and the Latin Vulgate, it is said to have been written "when Absalom his son persecuted him." There is nothing in the psalm inconsistent with this supposition, nor is there anything which necessarily restricts the application to that period of life. It would seem most natural that it should refer to the same trials as the previous psalm; and the sentiments in it are as applicable to the persecutions under Saul as to the rebellion of Absalom. There can be no doubt that it was composed when he was in danger and in trouble on account of malignant and powerful enemies; and it is of the same general character as many in the collection that were composed on those occasions. It is a psalm written in trouble; and, in a world like this, there will be always many hearts that can fully sympathize with the sentiments which are expressed in it.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear ... - See Psa 4:1, note; Psa 5:1, note.
In thy faithfulness answer me - That is, Show thy faithfulness to thy promises. God had made gracious promises to David (compare Ps. 89:19-37), and he now pleads that he would remember those promises, and accomplish in his behalf what he had said he would. God has also made gracious promises to his people, and they may always plead those promises as a reason why they should be heard, and why their prayers should be answered.
And in thy righteousness - Compare Psa 31:1. In thy disposition to do right; to vindicate a righteous cause; to interpose when wrong is done. We, though sinners before God, may feel that our cause is a just one as toward our fellowmen, and, when wronged, we may ask God to interpose, as a righteous God, in our behalf. We cannot, however, ask him to save us on the ground of our righteousness toward him, for we have no such righteousness. See Psa 143:2.
And enter not into judgment with thy servant - Do not deal with me on the ground of justice as toward "thee;" do not mark my own offences against thee, when I plead that justice may be done as between me and my fellow-men. While I plead that thou wouldst judge righteously between me and them, I am conscious that I could not claim thy needed interposition on the ground of any righteousness toward thee. There I must confess that I am a sinner; there I can rely only on mercy; there I could not hope to be justified.
For in thy sight - As before thee; in thy presence; by thee.
Shall no man living - No one of the race, no matter what his rank, his outward conduct, his gentleness, his amiableness, his kindness; no matter how just and upright he may be toward his fellow-men.
Be justified - Be regarded as righteous; be acquitted from blame; be held to be innocent. The meaning is, "I do not come before thee and plead for thy favor on the ground of any claim on thee, for I am conscious that I am a sinner, and that my only hope is in thy mercy." See the notes at Rom 3:20. Compare Job 4:17; Job 9:2, Job 9:20; Job 15:14-16; Job 25:4-6. This is a great and momentous truth in regard to man; it is the foundation of the necessity for a plan of salvation through an atonement - for some way in which man "may" properly be regarded and treated as righteous. Assuredly every man, conscious of what he is in himself, may and should fervently pray that God "would" not enter into judgment with him; that he would not mark his offences; that he would not judge him as strict justice would demand. Our hope is in the "mercy," not in the "justice" of God.
For the enemy hath persecuted my soul - Has persecuted me; has sought my life.
He hath smitten my life down to the ground - He has, as it were, trampled me down to the earth. The word rendered "smitten" means to break in pieces, to beat small, to crush. See Psa 72:4; Psa 89:10; Job 6:9. His very life seemed to be crushed out as one that is trodden down to the ground.
He hath made me to dwell in darkness - He has made my life like that of one who dwells in darkness; he has made it a life of sorrow, so that I have no comfort - no light.
As those that have been long dead - A similar expression occurs in Lam 3:6 : "He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old." The same Hebrew words are used. The word rendered "long" means, age, duration, eternity: Psa 139:24. The idea here is, that his condition was like that of those who had been long in their graves; who had long since ceased to see any light; whose abode was utter and absolute gloom.
Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me - See the notes at Psa 77:3. Compare Psa 42:5-7. His spirit was broken and crushed. He was in a state of despair as to any human help.
My heart within me is desolate - I have no comfort; no cheerfulness; no hope. My soul is like the waste desert where there is no water; where nothing grows; where there are only rocks and sands.
I remember the days of old - Former times.
(1) as contrasted with my present condition.
(2) as times when I called upon thee, and thou didst interpose.
(3) as encouraging me now to come to thee, and spread out my case before thee. See Psa 77:5-11, note; Psa 42:4, note.
I meditate on all thy works ... - On what thou hast done; on thy gracious interpositions in the time of trial; on the manifestations of thy power in my behalf, and in behalf of thy people. I call all this to mind, remembering that thou art an unchangeable God; that thou hast the same power still; that thou canst interpose now as thou didst then; and that, as an unchangeable God, thou wilt do it in the same circumstances. I, therefore, come to thee, and pray that thou wilt interpose in my behalf.
I stretch forth my hands unto thee - In prayer. I have nowhere else to go. See Psa 88:9.
My soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land - As land in a time of drought "seems" to thirst for rain. See the notes at Psa 63:1. Compare Psa 42:1. The word rendered "thirsty" here means properly "weary." The idea is that of a land which seems to be weary; which has no vigor of growth; and where everything seems to be exhausted. The same word occurs in Isa 32:2 : "As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
"Hear me speedily, O Lord." Hasten to hear me; do not delay. Literally, "Hasten; answer me." I am in imminent danger. Do not delay to come to my relief.
My spirit faileth - My strength is declining. I can hold out no longer. I am ready to give up and die.
Hide not thy face from me - Do not refuse or delay to look favorably upon me; to lift up the light of thy countenance upon me.
Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit - Margin, "For I am become like." The idea is, Unless thou shalt lift up the light of thy countenance - unless thou shalt interpose and help me, I shall die. The "pit" here refers to the grave. See the notes at Psa 28:1.
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness - The voice of thy lovingkindness, or thy mercy and favor. Permit me to hear thee addressing me in the language of kindness, and with the assurances of mercy.
In the morning - Early; speedily; with the first rays of the morning. Let it be, as it were, the first thing in the day; the first thing that is done. The idea is not that he would wait for another day, but that he would interpose as the very first act - as when one enters on a day. See the notes at Psa 46:5, where the margin is, when the morning appeareth; Hebrew, In the faces of the morning.
For in thee do I trust - I have no other confidence or ground of reliance; but I have confidence in thee.
Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk ... - The safe way; the way in which I may find safety. See the notes at Psa 5:8.
Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies - See the notes at Psa 69:14.
I flee unto thee to hide me - Margin, "Hide me with thee." The Hebrew is, I hide myself with thee; that is, I take refuge with thee; I put myself under thy protection; I make myself thus secure, as thou art secure. See the notes at Psa 17:8. Compare Psa 27:5; Psa 31:20.
Teach me to do thy will ... - To do that which will be agreeable or pleasing to thee; which will meet with thy approbation. That is, Teach me in the present emergency to do that which thou wilt approve; which will be wise; which will be best adapted to secure my deliverance and my safety.
Thy spirit is good - The spirit which guides those who trust in thee; the spirit with which "thou" dost guide people. That spirit is wise, prudent, judicious, reliable. It will not lead astray. Grant me "that" spirit, and I shall be certain that I am going in the right path. There is no certain evidence that the psalmist here refers distinctively to the Holy Spirit, considered as the Third Person of the Trinity; but the prayer is one for guidance from on high in the day of darkness and trouble. It is an acknowledgment of dependence on God for direction, and the expression of confidence that under the divine guidance he would not go astray.
Lead me into the land of uprightness - Or rather here, "land of evenness;" level ground; ground where I may walk without the dangers to which I am exposed where I am now, in a place of ambuscades, caverns, rocks, where I may be assailed at any moment without the power of seeing my enemy, or of defending myself. See this use of the word in the following places where it is rendered "plain," meaning a level country, Deu 3:10; Deu 4:43; Jos 13:9, Jos 13:16-17, Jos 13:21; Kg1 20:23, Kg1 20:25; Psa 27:11; Jer 21:13; Jer 48:8, Jer 48:21; Zac 4:7. He desired to be led, as it were, into a "level" country where he might be safe. It is not a prayer, as would seem from our translation, to be so guided that he might lead an upright life. Such a prayer is proper, but it is not the prayer offered here.
Quicken me, O Lord - Give me life. Compare the notes at Eph 2:1. Make me equal to my circumstances, for I am ready to sink and to yield.
For thy name's sake - For thine honor. Compare the notes at Dan 9:17-18. It is in thy cause. Thou wilt thus show thy power, thy faithfulness, thy goodness. Thou wilt thus get honor to thyself. This is the highest motive which can influence us - that God may be glorified.
For thy righteousness' sake - Thy justice; thy truth; thy faithfulness in performing thy promises and pledges.
Bring my soul out of trouble - Out of this trouble and distress. See the notes at Psa 25:17.
And of thy mercy ... - Thy mercy to me; thy mercy to the world. The destruction of the wicked is a favor to the universe; just as the arrest and punishment of a robber or a pirate is a mercy to society, to mankind; just as every prison is a display of "mercy" as well as of "justice" - mercy to society at large; justice to the offenders.
And destroy all them that afflict my soul - Cut them off; render them powerless to do mischief.
For I am thy servant - Not as a matter of private feeling - not for personal revenge - but because I am in thy service, and it is only by being delivered from these dangers that I can honor thee as I would. It is thine own cause, and I ask that they may be cut off "in order" that the service which I might render thee may be unembarrassed.