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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 3


psa 3:0

(In the Hebrew, v.1 is the designation 'A Psalm of David, when he fled before Absolom, his son.'; from then on v.1-8 in English translation corresponds to v.2-9 in the Hebrew)

Morning Hymn of One in Distress, but Confident in God

The two Psalms forming the prologue, which treat of cognate themes, the one ethical, from the standpoint of the חכמה, and the other related to the history of redemption from the standpoint of the נבואה, are now followed by a morning prayer; for morning and evening prayers are surely the first that one expects to find in a prayer-and hymn-book. The morning hymn, Psa 3:1-8, which has the mention of the "holy hill" in common with Psa 2:1-12, naturally precedes the evening hymn Psa 4:1-8; for that Psa 3:1-8 is an evening hymn as some are of opinion, rests on grammatical misconception.

With Psa 3:1-8, begin, as already stated, the hymns arranged for music. By מזמור לדוד, a Psalm of David, the hymn which follows is marked as one designed for musical accompaniment. Since מזמור occurs exclusively in the inscriptions of the Psalms, it is no doubt a technical expression coined by David. זמר (root זם) is an onomatopoetic word, which in Kal signifies to cut off, and in fact to prune or lop (the vine) (cf. Arabic zbr, to write, from the buzzing noise of the style or reed on the writing material). The signification of singing and playing proper to the Piel are not connected with the signification "to nip." For neither the rhythmical division (Schultens) nor the articulated speaking (Hitz.) furnish a probable explanation, since the caesura and syllable are not natural but artificial notions, nor also the nipping of the strings (Bttch., Ges.), for which the language has coined the word נגּן (of like root with נגע). Moreover, the earliest passages in which זמרה and זמּר occur (Gen 43:11; Exo 15:2; Jdg 5:3), speak rather of song than music and both words frequently denote song in distinction from music, e.g., Psa 98:5; Psa 81:3, cf. Sol 2:12. Also, if זמּר originally means, like ψάλλειν, carpere (pulsare) fides, such names of instruments as Arab. zemr the hautboy and zummâra the pipe would not be formed. But זמּר means, as Hupfeld has shown, as indirect an onomatope as canere, "to make music" in the widest sense; the more accurate usage of the language, however, distinguishes זמּר and שׁיר as to play and to sing. With בּ of the instrument זמּר denotes song with musical accompaniment (like the Aethiopic זמר instrumento canere) and זמרה (Aram. זמר) is sometimes, as in Amo 5:23, absolutely: music. Accordingly מזמור signifies technically the music and שׁיר the words. And therefore we translate the former by "Psalm," for ὁ ψαλμός ἐστιν - says Gregory of Nyssa - ἡ διὰ τοῦ ὀργάνου τοῦ μουσικοῦ μελωδία ᾠδὴ δὲ ἡ διὰ στόματος γενομένου τοῦ μέλους μετὰ ῥημάτων ἐκφώνησις.

That Psa 3:1-8 is a hymn arranged for music is also manifest from the סלה which occurs here 3 times. It is found in the Psalter, as Bruno has correctly calculated, 71 times (17 times in the 1st book, 30 in the 2nd, 20 in the 3rd, 4 in the 4th) and, with the exception of the anonymous Ps 66, Psa 67:1-7, always in those that are inscribed by the name of David and of the psalmists famed from the time of David. That it is a marginal note referring to the Davidic Temple-music is clearly seen from the fact, that all the Psalms with סלה have the למנצּח which relates to the musical execution, with the exception of eight (Psa 32:1-11, Psa 48:1-14, 50, Psa 82:1-8, 83, Psa 87:1-7, 89, Psa 143:1-12) which, however, from the designation מזמור are at least manifestly designed for music. The Tephilla of Habbakuk, Hab 3, the only portion of Scripture in which סלה occurs out of the Psalter, as an exception has the למנצח at the end. Including the three סלה of this tephilla, the word does not occur less than 74 times in the Old Testament.

Now as to the meaning of this musical nota bene, 1st, every explanation as an abbreviation, - the best of which is = סב למעלה השּׁר (turn thyself towards above i.e., towards the front, O Singer! therefore: da capo) - is to be rejected, because such abbreviations fail of any further support in the Old Testament. Also 2ndly, the derivation from שׁלה = סלה silere, according to which it denotes a pause, or orders the singers to be silent while the music strikes up, is inadmissible, because סלה in this sense is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic and moreover in Hebrew itself the interchange of שׁ with ס (שׁריון, סריון) is extremely rare. There is but one verbal stem with which סלה can be combined, viz., סלל or סלה (סלא). The primary notion of this verbal stem is that of lifting up, from which, with reference to the derivatives סלּם a ladder and מסלּה in the signification an ascent, or steps, Ch2 9:11, comes the general meaning for סלה, of a musical rise. When the tradition of the Mishna explains the word as a synonym of נצח and the Targum, the Quinta, and the Sexta (and although variously Aquila and sometimes the Syriac version) render it in accordance therewith "for ever (always)," - in favour of which Jerome also at last decides, Ep. ad Marcellam "quid sit Sela", - the original musical signification is converted into a corresponding logical or lexical one. But it is apparent from the διάψαλμα of the lxx (adopted by Symm., Theod., and the Syr.), that the musical meaning amounts to a strengthening of some kind or other; for διάψαλμα signifies, according to its formation (-μα = -μενον), not the pause as Gregory of Nyssa defines it: ἡ μεταξὺ τῆς ψαλμῳδιάς γενμένη κατὰ τὸ ἀθρόον ἐπηρέμησις πρὸς ὑποδοχὴν τοῦ θεόθεν ἐπικρινομένου νοήματος, but either the interlude, especially of the stringed instruments, (like διαύλιον [διαύλειον], according to Hesychius the interlude of the flutes between the choruses), or an intensified playing (as διαψάλλειν τριγώνοις is found in a fragment of the comedian Eupolis in Athenaeus of the strong play of triangular harps).

(Note: On the explanations of διάψαλμα in the Fathers and the old lexicographers. Vid., Suicer's Thes. Eccl. and Augusti's Christl. Archologie, Th. ii.)

According to the pointing of the word as we now have it, it ought apparently to be regarded as a noun סל with the ah of direction (synonymous with גּוה, up! Job 22:29); for the omission of the Dagesh beside the ah of direction is not without example (cf. Kg1 2:40 גּתה which is the proper reading, instead of גּתּה, and referred to by Ewald) and the -, with Dag. forte implicitum, is usual before liquids instead of -, as, פּדּנהּ Gen 28:2, הרה Gen 14:10 instead of paddannah, harrah, as also כּרמלה Sa1 25:5 instead of כּרמלּה. But the present pointing of this word, which is uniformly included in the accentuation of the Masoretic verse, is scarcely the genuine pointing: it looks like an imitation of נצח. The word may originally have been pronounced סלּה (elevatio after the form בּתּה, דּלּה). The combination סלה הגּיון Psa 9:17, in which הגיון refers to the playing of the stringed instruments (Psa 92:4) leads one to infer that סלה is a note which refers not to the singing but to the instrumental accompaniment. But to understand by this a heaping up of weighty expressive accords and powerful harmonies in general, would be to confound ancient with modern music. What is meant is the joining in of the orchestra, or a reinforcement of the instruments, or even a transition from piano to forte.

Three times in this Psalm we meet with this Hebrew forte. In sixteen Psalms (7, 10, 21, 44, 47, 48, 50, 54, 60, 61, 75, 81, 82, 83, 85, 143) we find it only once; in fifteen Psalms (4, 9, 24, 39, 49, 52, 55, 57, 59, 62, 67, 76, 84, 87, 88), twice; in but seven Psalms (3, 32, 46, 56, 68, 77, 140 and also Hab), three times; and only in one (Ps 89), four times. It never stands at the beginning of a Psalm, for the ancient music was not as yet so fully developed, that סלה should absolutely correspond to the ritornello. Moreover, it does not always stand at the close of a strophe so as to be the sign of a regular interlude, but it is always placed where the instruments are to join in simultaneously and take up the melody - a thing which frequently happens in the midst of the strophe. In the Psalm before us it stands at the close of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th strophes. The reason of its omission after the third is evident.

Not a few of the Psalms bear the date of the time of the persecution under Saul, but only this and probably Psa 63:1-11 have that of Absolom. The Psalter however contains other Psalms which reflect this second time of persecution. It is therefore all the more easy to accept as tradition the inscription: when he fled before Absolom, his son. And what is there in the contents of the Psalm against this statement? All the leading features of the Psalm accord with it, viz., the mockery of one who is rejected of God Sa2 16:7., the danger by night Sa2 17:1, the multitudes of the people Sa2 15:13; Sa2 17:11, and the high position of honour held by the psalmist. Hitzig prefers to refer this and the following Psalm to the surprize by the Amalekites during David's settlement in Ziklag. But since at that time Zion and Jerusalem were not free some different interpretation of Psa 3:5 becomes necessary. And the fact that the Psalm does not contain any reference to Absalom does not militate against the inscription. It is explained by the tone of Sa2 19:1 [Sa2 18:33 Engl.]. And if Psalms belonging to the time of Absalom's rebellion required any such reference to make them known, then we should have none at all.

Psalms 3:1

psa 3:1

(Heb.: 3:2-3) The first strophe contains the lament concerning the existing distress. From its combination with the exclamative מה, רבּוּ is accented on the ultima (and also in Psa 104:24); the accentuation of the perf. of verbs עע very frequently (even without the Waw consec.) follows the example of the strong verb, Ges. ֗67 rem. 12. A declaration then takes the place of the summons and the רבּים implied in the predicate רבּוּ now becomes the subject of participial predicates, which more minutely describe the continuing condition of affairs. The ל of לנפשׁי signifies "in the direction of," followed by an address in Psa 11:1 (= "to"), or, as here and frequently (e.g., Gen 21:7) followed by narration (= "of," concerning). לנפשׁי instead of לי implies that the words of the adversaries pronounce a judgment upon his inmost life, or upon his personal relationship to God. ישׁוּעתה is an intensive form for ישׁוּעה, whether it be with a double feminine termination (Ges., Ew., Olsh.), or, with an original (accusative) ah of the direction: we regard this latter view, with Hupfeld, as more in accordance with the usage and analogy of the language (comp. Ps 44:27 with Psa 80:3, and לילה prop. νύκτα, then as common Greek ἡ νύκτα νύχθα). God is the ground of help; to have no more help in Him is equivalent to being rooted out of favour with God. Open enemies as well as disconcerted friends look upon him as one henceforth cast away. David had plunged himself into the deepest abyss of wretchedness by his adultery with Bathsheba, at the beginning of the very year in which, by the renewal of the Syro-Ammonitish war, he had reached the pinnacle of worldly power. The rebellion of Absolom belonged to the series of dire calamities which began to come upon him from that time. Plausible reasons were not wanting for such words as these which give up his cause as lost.

Psalms 3:3

psa 3:3

(Heb.: 3:4-5) But cleansed by penitence he stands in a totally different relationship to God and God to him from that which men suppose. Every hour he has reason to fear some overwhelming attack but Jahve is the shield which covers him behind and before (בּעד constr. of בּעד = Arab. ba‛da, prop. pone, post). His kingdom is taken from him, but Jahve is his glory. With covered head and dejected countenance he ascended the Mount of Olives (Sa2 15:30), but Jahve is the "lifter up of his head," inasmuch as He comforts and helps him. The primary passage of this believing utterance "God is a shield" is Gen 15:1 (cf. Deu 33:29). Very far from praying in vain, he is assured, that when he prays his prayer will be heard and answered. The rendering "I cried and He answered me" is erroneous here where אקרא does not stand in an historical connection. The future of sequence does not require it, as is evident from Psa 55:17. (comp. on Psa 120:1); it is only an expression of confidence in the answer on God's part, which will follow his prayer. In constructions like קולי אקרא, Hitzig and Hupfeld regard קולי as the narrower subject-notion beside the more general one (as Psa 44:3; Psa 69:11; 83:19): my voice - I cried; but the position of the words is not favourable to this in the passage before us and in Psa 17:10; Psa 27:7; Psa 57:5; Psa 66:17; Psa 142:2, Isa 36:9, though it may be in Psa 69:11; Psa 108:2. According to Ew. 281, c, קולי is an accusative of more precise definition, as without doubt in Isa 10:30 cf. Psa 60:7; Psa 17:13.; the cry is thereby described as a loud cry.

(Note: Bttcher, Collectanea pp. 166f., also adopts the view, that נפשׁי, פּי, קולי are each appositum vicarium subjecti and therefore nomin. in such passages. But 1) the fact that את never stands beside them is explained by the consideration that it is not suited to an adverbial collateral definition. And 2) that elsewhere the same notions appear as direct subjects, just as 3) that elsewhere they alternate with the verbal subject-notion in the parallel member of the verse (Psa 130:5; Pro 8:4) - these last two admit of no inference. The controverted question of the syntax is, moreover, an old one and has been treated of at length by Kimchi in his Book of Roots s. r. אוה.)

To this cry, as ויּענני as being a pure mood of sequence implies, succeeds the answer, or, which better corresponds to the original meaning of ענה (comp. Arab. ‛nn, to meet, stand opposite) reply;

(Note: Vid., Redslob in his treatise: Die Integritat der Stelle Hos. vii. 4-10 in Frage gestellt S. 7.)

and it comes from the place whither it was directed: מהר קדשוּ. He had removed the ark from Kirjath Jeraim to Zion. He had not taken it with him when he left Jerusalem and fled before Absolom, Sa2 15:25. He was therefore separated by a hostile power from the resting-place of the divine presence. But his prayer urged its way on to the cherubim-throne; and to the answer of Him who is enthroned there, there is no separating barrier of space or created things.

Psalms 3:5

psa 3:5

(Heb.: 3:6-7) That this God will protect him, His protection during the past night is now a pledge to him in the early morning. It is a violation of the rules of grammar to translate ואישׁנה: I shall go to sleep, or: I am going to sleep. The 1 pers. fut. consec. which is indicated by the ו, is fond of taking an ah of direction, which gives subjective intensity to the idea of sequence: "and thus I then fell asleep," cf. Psa 7:5; Psa 119:55, and frequently, Gen 32:6, and more especially so in the later style, Ezr 9:3; Neh 13:21, vid., Ges. 49, 2, Bttcher, Neue Aehrenlese, No. 412. It is a retrospective glance at the past night. Awaking in health and safety, he feels grateful to Him to whom he owes it: יהוה יסמכני. It is the result of the fact that Jahve supports him, and that God's hand is his pillow.

(Note: Referred to the other David, Psa 3:6 has become an Easter-morning call, vid., Val. Herberger's Paradies-Blmlein aus dem Lustgarten der Psalmen (Neue Ausg. 1857) S. 25.)

Because this loving, almighty hand is beneath his head (Sol 2:6) he is inaccessible and therefore also devoid of fear. שׁית (שׁוּת) carries its object in itself: to take up one's position, as in Isa 22:7, synon. חנה Psa 28:3 and שׂים Kg1 20:12, cf. ἐπιτιθέναι τινί. David does not put a merely possible case. All Israel, that is to say ten thousands, myriads, were gone over to Absolom. Here, at the close of the third strophe, סלה is wanting because the לא אירא (I will not fear) is not uttered in a tone of triumph, but is only a quiet, meek expression of believing confidence. If the instruments struck up boldly and suddenly here, then a cry for help, urged forth by the difficulties that still continually surrounded him, would not be able to follow.

Psalms 3:7

psa 3:7

(Heb.: 3:8-9) The bold קוּמה is taken from the mouth of Moses, Num 10:35. God is said to arise when He takes a decisive part in what takes place in this world. Instead of kûmah it is accented kumáh as Milra, in order (since the reading קומה אדני is assumed) that the final ah may be sharply cut off from the guttural initial of the next word, and thus render a clear, exact pronunciation of the latter possible (Hitz., Ew. 228, b).

(Note: This is the traditional reason of the accentuation shub h, kûm h, shith h before יהוה: it is intended to prevent the one or other of the two gutturals being swallowed up (יבולעו שׁלא) by too rapid speaking. Hence it is that the same thing takes place even when another word, not the name of God, follows, if it begins with א or the like, and is closely connected with it by meaning and accentuation: e.g., Jdg 4:18 סוּרה twice Milra before ;א Psa 57:9 עוּרה, Milra before ;ה למּה, Milra before ;ה Exo 5:22; נחה Isa 11:2, and חבאת Gen 26:10, Milra before ;ע and the following fact favours it, viz., that for a similar reason Pasek is placed where two י owt would come together, e.g., Gen 21:14 Adonaj jir'eh with the stroke of separation between the two words, cf. Exo 15:18; Pro 8:21. The fact that in Jer 40:5, ישׁבה remains Milel, is accounted for by its being separated from the following אל־גּליה by Pazer; a real exception, however (Michlol 112 b), - and not as Norzi from misapprehension observes, a controverted one, - is שׁבה, Milel before העיר Sa2 15:27, but it is by no means sufficient to oppose the purely orthophonic (not rhythmical) ground of this ultima-accentuation. Even the semi-guttural ר sometimes has a like influence over the tone: rı̂báh rı̂bı̂ Psa 43:1; Psa 119:154.)

Beside יהוה we have אלהי evah, with the suff. of appropriating faith. The cry for help is then substantiated by כּי and the retrospective perf. They are not such perff. of prophetically certain hope as in Psa 6:9; Psa 7:7; Psa 9:5., for the logical connection requires an appeal to previous experience in the present passage: they express facts of experience, which are taken from many single events (hence כל) down to the present time. The verb הכּה is construed with a double accusative, as e.g., Iliad xvi. 597 τὸν μὲν ἄρα Γλαῦκος στῆθος μέσον οὔτασε δουρί. The idea of contempt (Job 16:10) is combined with that of rendering harmless in this "smiting upon the cheek." What is meant is a striking in of the jaw-bone and therewith a breaking of the teeth in pieces (שׁבּר). David means, an ignominious end has always come upon the ungodly who rose up against him and against God's order in general, as their punishment. The enemies are conceived of as monsters given to biting, and the picture of their fate is fashioned according to this conception. Jahve has the power and the will to defend His Anointed against their hostility: הישׁוּעה לה penes Jovam est salus. ישׁוּעה (from ישׁע, Arab. wasi‛a, amplum esse) signifies breadth as applied to perfect freedom of motion, removal of all straitness and oppression, prosperity without exposure to danger and unbeclouded. In the ל of possession lies the idea of the exclusiveness of the possession and of perfect freedom of disposal. At Jahve's free disposal stands הישׁוּעה, salvation, in all its fulness (just so in Jon 2:10, Rev 7:10). In connection therewith David first of all thinks of his own need of deliverance. But as a true king he cannot before God think of himself, without connecting himself with his people. Therefore he closes with the intercessory inference: ברכתך על־עמּך Upon Thy people by Thy blessing! We may supply תּהי or תּבא. Instead of cursing his faithless people he implores a blessing upon those who have been piteously led astray and deceived. This "upon Thy people be Thy blessing!" has its counterpart in the "Father forgive them" of the other David, whom His people crucified. The one concluding word of the Psalm - observes Ewald - casts a bright light into the very depths of his noble soul.

Next: Psalms Chapter 4