Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is also ascribed to David. It is almost entirely a compilation of passages from other psalms - particularly Ps. 18 - newly arranged. Compare Psa 18:34, with Psa 144:1; Psa 18:2, Psa 18:46, with Psa 144:2; Psa 18:9, with Psa 144:5; Psa 18:14, with Psa 144:6; Psa 18:16, with Psa 144:7. Compare also Psa 8:4, with Psa 144:3; Psa 104:32, with Psa 144:5; Psa 33:2-3, with Psa 144:9; Psa 33:12, with Psa 144:15; Psa 128:3, with Psa 144:12. In itself considered there is nothing improbable in the supposition that David himself should have made such a selection, or should have employed language which he had used before, adapting it now to a new purpose, and making such additions as would fit it for the new occasion for which it was intended. It would not be possible now, however, to ascertain the occasion on which this arrangement was made, or its specific design. There is, evidently, a remembrance of former mercies; there was impending danger; there is an earnest prayer that God would interpose as he had done in former times; there is a promise of new songs of praise if God would interpose; there is a looking forward to the prosperity - the joy - which would result if God did thus interpose and save the nation.
In regard to the occasion on which the psalm was written, perhaps the conjecture of Kimchi is the most probable, that it is a prayer against the attempts of foreign nations to overthrow the Hebrew people, in some of the numerous wars in which David was engaged after he had come to the possession of the crown. The different parts of the psalm can be better explained on this supposition than perhaps on any other. This would make proper all the expressions in regard to the past Psa 144:1-2; the uncertainty and instability of earthly things and the weakness of man Psa 144:3-4; the necessity of the divine interposition as in former times Psa 144:5-8; the reference to foreigners Psa 144:7-8, Psa 144:11; the purpose to praise God Psa 144:9-10; the allusion to the happiness of a people whose God is the Lord, and to the prosperity which would follow his interposition Psa 144:12-15.
Blessed be the Lord my strength - Margin, as in Hebrew, "my rock." See the notes at Psa 18:46, where the same expression occurs in the Hebrew.
Which teacheth my hands to war - Hebrew, "To the war." See the notes at Psa 18:34. The Hebrew is not precisely alike, but the sense is the same.
And my fingers to fight - Hebrew, my fingers to the fight. That is, he teaches my fingers so that I can skillfully use them in battle. Probably the immediate reference here is to the use of the bow - placing the arrow, and drawing the string.
My goodness - Margin, "my mercy." That is, He shows me mercy or favor. All the favors that I receive come from him.
And my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer - See the notes at Psa 18:2, where the same words occur.
My shield - The same word which in Psa 18:2 is rendered "buckler." See the notes at that passage.
And he in whom I trust - The same idea as in Psa 18:2. The tense of the verb only is varied.
Who subdueth my people under me - See the notes at Psa 18:47. The language is slightly different, but the idea is the same. It is to be remarked that David "here" refers to his people - "who subdueth my people," meaning that those over whom God had placed him had been made submissive by the divine power.
Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? - The sentiment here is the same as in Psa 8:4, though the language is not precisely the same. See the notes at that passage. The word rendered "that thou takest knowledge of him," means here to take notice of; to regard. The idea is, It is amazing that a being so insignificant as man should be an object of interest to God, or that One so great should pay any attention to him and to his affairs. In Psa 8:4, the language is "that thou art mindful of him," that is, that thou dost remember him - that thou dost not altogether pass him over. In Psa 8:1-9 the remark is made in view of the heavens as being so exalted in comparison with man, and the wonder is, that in view of worlds so vast occupying the divine attention, and needing the divine care, "man," so insignificant, does not pass out of his view altogether. Here the remark seems to be made in illustration of the idea that there is no strength in man; that he has no power to accomplish anything of himself; that he is entirely dependent on God.
Or the son of man - Man - any of the race. See the notes at Psa 8:4.
That thou makest account of him! - Psa 8:4, "that thou visitest him." See the notes at that passage. The word here means "that thou shouldest "think" of him," that he should ever come into thy thought at all.
Man is like to vanity - See the notes at Psa 39:5-6; Psa 62:9. The idea here is, that man can be compared only with that which is utterly vain - which is emptiness - which is nothing.
His days are as a shadow that passeth away - See the notes at Psa 102:11 : "My days are like a shadow that declineth." The idea is essentially the same. It is, that as a shadow has no substance, and that as it moves along constantly as the sun declines, until it vanishes altogether, so man has nothing substantial or permanent, and so he is constantly moving off and will soon wholly disappear.
Bow thy heavens, O Lord ... - Come to my aid "as if" the heavens were bent down; come down with all thy majesty and glory. See the notes at Psa 18:9 : "He bowed down the heavens also, and came down." What it is there declared that the Lord "had" done, he is here implored to do again.
Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke - See the notes at Psa 104:32 : "He toucheth the hills, and they smoke." It is there affirmed as a characteristic of God that he "does" this; here the psalmist prays that, as this belonged to God, or was in his power, he "would" do it in his behalf. The prayer is, that God would come to his relief "as if" in smoke and tempest - in the fury of the storm.
Cast forth lightnings, and scatter them - See the notes at Psa 18:14 : "He sent out his arrows, and scattered them." The allusion there is to lightning. The psalmist prays that; God would do now again what he had then done. The Hebrew here is, "Lighten lightning;" that is, Send forth lightning. The word is used as a verb nowhere else.
Shoot out thine arrows ... - So in Psa 18:14 : "He shot out lightnings." The words are the same here as in that psalm, only that they are arranged differently. See the notes at that place.
Send thine hand from above - Margin, as in Hebrew, "hands." See the notes at Psa 18:16 : "He sent from above."
Rid me, and deliver me out of great waters - Thus Psa 18:16 : "He took me, he drew me out of many waters." As God had done it once, there was ground for the prayer that he would do it yet again.
From the hand of strange children - Strangers: strangers to thee; strangers to thy people, foreigners. See Psa 54:3 : "For strangers are risen up against me." The language would properly imply that at the time referred to in the psalm he was engaged in a warfare with foreign enemies. Who they were, we have no means now of ascertaining.
Those mouth speaketh vanity - Vain things; things not real and true; falsehood; lies. See the notes at Psa 24:4. The idea is, that what they said had no foundation in truth - no reality. Truth is solid and reliable; falsehood is unreliable and vain.
And their right hand is a right hand of falsehood - The meaning here seems to be that even under the solemnities of an oath, when they lifted up their hands to swear, when they solemnly appealed to God, there was no reliance to be placed on what they affirmed or promised. Oaths were taken by lifting up the right hand as toward God. See Gen 14:22; Exo 6:8 (Margin, and Hebrew); Deu 32:40.
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God - There will be occasion in such a deliverance, or manifestation of mercy, for a new expression of praise. On the phrase, "a new song," see the notes at Psa 33:3.
Upon a psaltery, and an instrument of ten strings - The word "and" should not have been inserted here. The idea is, "Upon a lyre or harp (Nebel) of ten strings, will I sing praise." See the notes at Isa 5:12; and notes at Psa 33:2.
It is he that giveth salvation unto kings - Margin, "Victory." The Hebrew word means "salvation," but it is used here in the sense of deliverance or rescue. Even "kings," with all their armies, have no hope but in God. They seem to be the most powerful of men, but they are, like all other people, wholly dependent on him for deliverance from danger. David thus recognizes his own entire dependence. Though a king in the divine purpose and in fact, yet he had no power but as derived from God; he had no hope of deliverance but in him. It is implied further that God might as readily be supposed to be willing to interpose in behalf of kings as of other people when their cause was right, and when they looked to him for aid. See the notes at Psa 33:16 : "there is no king saved by the multitude of an host." Compare Psa 44:5-6.
Who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword - Who has done it; who can do it again; on whom alone David is dependent as all other men are. David speaks of himself by name elsewhere. See Psa 18:50; Sa2 7:26. He refers to himself also under the name of "the king," Psa 61:6; Psa 63:11. Caesar, in his writings, often speaks of himself in the same way.
Rid me, and deliver me ... - See the notes at Psa 144:7-8. The language is here repeated. The prayer had been interrupted by the thought that the answer to it would lay the foundation for praise, and by an acknowledgment of entire dependence on God. The psalmist now, after repeating the prayer, suggests what would result from the answer to it, and dwells on the happy consequences which must follow; the bright scenes in his own reign, in the prosperity of the people, in the happiness of the nation, in domestic comforts, and in the abundance which the land would produce when these dangers should pass away, when people now engaged in the conflict of arms might return to the peaceful pursuits of life, when families would be safe in their dwellings, and when the earth cultivated in time of peace would again produce abundance, Psa 144:12-14.
That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth - That our sons - not called forth to the hardships of the tent and the field, the perils and the exposures of war - may grow up under the culture of home, of the family, in quiet scenes, as plants carefully cultivated and flourishing. Compare Psa 128:3. The Hebrew here is, "grown large in their youth;" not "grown up," which has a paradoxical appearance. The meaning is, that they may be stout, strong, vigorous, well-formed, even in early life; that they may not be stunted in their growth, but be of full and manly proportions.
That our daughters may be as cornerstones - The word used here - זויות zâvı̂yôth - occurs only in the plural form, and means properly "corners" - from a verb meaning to hide away, to conceal. The word is used respecting the corners of an altar, Zac 9:15; and seems here to refer to the corner columns of a palace or temple: perhaps, as Gesenius (Lexicon) supposes, in allusion to the columns representing female figures so common in Egyptian architecture.
Polished - Margin, "cut." The idea is not that of "polishing" or "smoothing," but of cutting or sculpturing. It is the stone carefully cut as an ornament.
After the similitude of a palace - A more literal translation would be, "The likeness or model of a temple;" or, for the building of a temple. That is, that they may be such as may be properly compared with the ornamental columns of a temple or palace. The comparison is a very beautiful one, having the idea of grace, symmetry, fair proportions: that on which the skill of the sculptor is most abundantly lavished.
That our garners may be full - That our fields may yield abundance, so that our granaries may be always filled.
Affording all manner of store - Margin, "From kind to kind." Hebrew, "From sort to sort;" that is, every sort or kind of produce or grain; all, in variety, that is needful for the supply of man and beast.
That our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets - A great part of the wealth of Palestine always consisted in flocks of sheep; and, from the earliest periods, not a few of the inhabitants were shepherds. This language, therefore, is used to denote national prosperity.
In our streets - The Hebrew word used here means properly whatever is outside; what is out of doors or abroad, as opposed to what is within, as the inside of a house; and then, what is outside of a town, as opposed to what is within. It may, therefore, mean a street Jer 37:21; Job 18:17; Isa 5:25; and then the country, the fields, pastures, etc.: Job 5:10; Pro 8:26. Here it refers to the pastures; the fields; the commons.
That our oxen may be strong to labour - Margin, "able to bear burdens;" or, "laden with flesh." The Hebrew is simply loaded or laden: that is, with a burden; or, with flesh; or, as Gesenius renders it, with young. The latter idea would best suit the connection - that of cattle producing abundantly or multiplying.
That there be no breaking in, nor going out - No breaking in of other cattle into enclosed grounds, and no escape of those which are shut up for pasture. That property may be safe everywhere. The image is that of security, peace, order, prosperity.
That there be no complaining in our streets - literally, "outcry; clamor." That the land may be at peace; that order and law may be observed; that the rights of all may be respected; that among neighbors there may be no strifes and contentions.
Happy is that people that is in such a case - In such a condition; or, where these things prevail.
Yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord - Whose God is Yahweh; who worship and serve Him as their God. The worship of Yahweh - the religion of Yahweh - is "adapted" to make a people happy; peaceful; quiet; blessed. Prosperity and peace, such as are referred to in the previous verses, are, and must be, the result of pure religion. Peace, order, abundance, attend it everywhere, and the best security for a nation's prosperity is the worship of God; that which is most certain to make a nation happy and blessed, is to acknowledge God and to keep his laws.