Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Prayer of an innocent Man Whom Men Are Trying to Take
This Michtam, after the melody Al-tashcheth, coinciding with Psa 57:5 and Psa 58:7 in the figure used in Psa 59:8, is the earliest among the Davidic Psalms which are dated from the time of Saul's persecution. When Saul sent and they (those who were sent by him) watched the house in order to slay him (David); it therefore belongs to the time spoken of in Sa1 19:11. This inscription is no more intended to imply that the Psalm was composed on that night before the flight, which was rendered possible by the artifice of Michal, than the inscription of Ps 51 is meant to imply that the origin of the Psalm was coincident with the arrival of Nathan. The בּ of such inscriptions only sets forth in a general way the historical groundwork of the song. If we consider the contents of the Psalm from this point of view, we shall obtain a tolerably distinct picture of the situation. We must imagine that Saul, even before he issued that command to watch David's house the night through and to slay him in the morning, i.e., to assassinate him behind Michal's back (Sa1 19:11), sought to get rid of him in some more secret way; that the venal men of his court, themselves not less ill-disposed towards David, had offered him their hand for the deed; and that in consequence of this, great activity, which was probably seen through by him whose life was threatened, was observable in Gibea, and that more especially every evening, when the bandits strolled through the city in order to meet with the dreaded rival and give him his deathblow. The Psalms and the Prophets are often the medium through which we gain a deeper insight into events which are only sketched in the historical books after their most prominent outward features.
In consideration of the fact that the description of the nightly proceedings of the enemies is repeated after the manner of a refrain, and that the poet in Psa 59:17 contrasts his believingly joyous prospects for the coming morning with the ineffectual ardour with which they pass the night patrolling the streets, Psalms 59 seems to be an evening song belonging to those perilous days spent in Gibea.
First part. As far as Psa 59:4 we recognise strains familiar in the Psalms. The enemies are called מתקוממי as in Job 27:7, cf. Psa 17:7; עזּים as shameless, עזּי פנים or עזּי נפשׁ; as in Isa 56:11, on account of their bold shameless greediness, dogs. On לא in a subordinate clause, vid., Ewald, ֗286, g: without there being transgression or sin on my side, which might have caused it. The suffix (transgression on my part) is similar to Psa 18:24. בּליּ־עון (cf. Job 34:6) is a similar adverbial collateral definition: without there existing any sin, which ought to be punished. The energetic future jeruzûn depicts those who servilely give effect to the king's evil caprice; they run hither and thither as if attacking and put themselves in position. הכונן = התכונן, like the Hithpa. הכּסּה, Pro 26:26, the Hothpa. הכּבּס, Lev 13:55., and the Hithpa. נכּפּר, Deu 21:8. Surrounded by such a band of assassins, David is like one besieged, who sighs for succour; and he calls upon Jahve, who seems to be sleeping and inclined to abandon him, with that bold עוּרה לקראתי וּראה, to awake to meet him, i.e., to join him with His help like a relieving army, and to convince Himself from personal observation of the extreme danger in which His charge finds himself. The continuation was obliged to be expressed by ואתּה, because a special appeal to God interposes between עוּרה and הקיצה. In the emphatic "Thou," however, after it has been once expressed, is implied the conditional character of the deliverance by the absolute One. And each of the divine names made use of in this lengthy invocation, which corresponds to the deep anxiety of the poet, is a challenge, so to speak, to the ability and willingness, the power and promise of God. The juxtaposition Jahve Elohim Tsebaoth (occurring, besides this instance, in Psa 80:5, 20; Psa 84:9), which is peculiar to the Elohimic Psalms, is to be explained by the consideration that Elohim had become a proper name like Jahve, and that the designation Jahve Tsebaoth, by the insertion of Elohim in accordance with the style of the Elohimic Psalms, is made still more imposing and solemn; and now צבאות is a genitive dependent not merely upon יהוה but upon יהוה אלהים (similar to Psa 56:1, Isa 28:1; Symbolae, p. 15). אלהי ישׂראל is in apposition to this threefold name of God. The poet evidently reckons himself as belonging to an Israel from which he excludes his enemies, viz., the true Israel which is in reality the people of God. Among the heathen, against whom the poet invokes God's interposition, are included the heathen-minded in Israel; this at least is the view which brings about this extension of the prayer. Also in connection with the words און כּל־בּגדי the poet, in fact, has chiefly before his mind those who are immediately round about him and thus disposed. It is those who act treacherously from extreme moral nothingness and worthlessness (און genit. epexeg.). The music, as Sela directs, here becomes more boisterous; it gives intensity to the strong cry for the judgment of God; and the first unfolding of thought of this Michtam is here brought to a close.
The second begins by again taking up the description of the movements of the enemy which was begun in Psa 59:4, Psa 59:5. We see at a glance how here Psa 59:7 coincides with Psa 59:5, and Psa 59:8 with Psa 59:4, and Psa 59:9 with Psa 59:6. Hence the imprecatory rendering of the futures of Psa 59:7 is not for a moment to be entertained. By day the emissaries of Saul do not venture to carry out their plot, and David naturally does not run into their hands. They therefore come back in the evening, and that evening after evening (cf. Job 24:14); they snarl or howl like dogs (המה, used elsewhere of the growling of the bear and the cooing of the dove; it is distinct from נבח, Arab. nbb, nbḥ, to bark, and כלב, to yelp), because they do not want to betray themselves by loud barking, and still cannot altogether conceal their vexation and rage; and they go their rounds in the city (like סובב בּעיר, Sol 3:2, cf. supra Psa 55:11), in order to cut off their victim from flight, and perhaps, what would be very welcome to them, to run against him in the darkness. The further description in Psa 59:8 follows them on this patrol. What they belch out or foam out is to be inferred from the fact that swords are in their lips, which they, as it were, draw so soon as they merely move their lips. Their mouth overflows with murderous thoughts and with slanders concerning David, by which they justify their murderous greed to themselves as if there were no one, viz., no God, who heard it. But Jahve, from whom nothing, as with men, can be kept secret, laughs at them, just as He makes a mockery of all heathen, to whom this murderous band, which fears the light and in unworthy of the Israelitish name, is compared. This is the primary passage to Psa 37:13; Psa 2:4; for Ps 59 is perhaps the oldest of the Davidic Psalms that have come down to us, and therefore also the earliest monument of Israelitish poetry in which the divine name Jahve Tsebaoth occurs; and the chronicler, knowing that it was the time of Samuel and David that brought it into use, uses this name only in the life of David. Just as this strophe opened in Psa 59:7 with a distich that recurs in Psa 59:15, so it also closes now in Psa 59:10 with a distich that recurs below in v. 18, and that is to be amended according to the text of that passage. For all attempts to understand עזּי as being genuine prove its inaccuracy. With the old versions it has to be read עזּי; but as for the rest, אשׁמרה must be retained in accordance with the usual variation found in such refrains: my strength, Thee will I regard (Sa1 26:15; observe, Sa2 11:16), or upon Thee will I wait (cf. ל, Psa 130:6); i.e., in the consciousness of my own feebleness, tranquil and resigned, I will look for Thine interposition on my behalf.
In this second half of the Psalm the cry of fear is hushed. Hope reigns, and anger burns more fiercely. The Ker says that Psa 59:11 is to be read: אלהי חסדּי יקדּמני, my gracious God will anticipate me, - but with what? This question altogether disappears if we retain the Chethb and point אלהי הסדּו: my God will anticipate me with His mercy (cf. Psa 21:4), i.e., will meet me bringing His mercy without any effort of mine. Even the old translators have felt that chcdw must belong to the verb as a second object. The lxx is perfectly correct in its rendering, ὁ Θεὸς μου τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ προφθάσει με. The Ker has come into existence in looking to v. 18, according to which it seems as though אלהי הסדּי ought to be added to the refrain, Psa 59:10 (cf. a similar instance in Psa 42:6-7). But Psa 59:11 would be stunted by doing this, and it accords with Biblical poetic usage that the refrain in v. 18 should be climactic in comparison with Psa 59:10 (just as it also does not altogether harmonize in its first half); so that Olshausen's proposal to close Psa 59:10 with אלהי חסדי and to begin Psa 59:11 with חסדו (cf. Psa 79:8) is only just to be put on record. The prayer "slay them not" does not contradict the prayer that follows for their destruction. The poet wishes that those who lie in wait for him, before they are totally swept away, may remain for a season before the eyes of this people as an example of punishment. In accordance with this, הניעמו, by a comparison of the Hiph. in Num 32:13, and of the Kal in Psa 59:16, Psa 109:10, is to be rendered: cause them to wander about (Targum, cf. Genesis Rabba, ch. 38 init., טלטלמו); and in connection with בחילך one is involuntarily reminded of Psa 10:10, Psa 10:14, and is tempted to read בחלך or בחלך: cause them to wander about in adversity or wretchedness, = Arab. ‛umr ḥâlik, vita caliginosa h. e. misera), and more especially since בחילך occurs nowhere else instead of בּזרעך or בּימינך. But the Jod in בחילך is unfavourable to this supposition; and since the martial apostrophe of God by "our shield" follows, the choice of the word is explained by the consideration that the poet conceives of the power of God as an army (Joe 2:25), and perhaps thinks directly of the heavenly host (Joe 3:11), over which the Lord of Hosts holds command (Hitzig). By means of this He is first of all to cause them to go astray (נע ונד, Gen 4:12), then utterly to cast them down (Psa 56:8). The Lord (אדני) is to do this, as truly as He is Israel's shield against all the heathen and all pseudo-Israelites who have become as heathen. The first member of Psa 59:13 is undoubtedly meant descriptively: "the sin of their mouth (the sin of the tongue) is the word of their lips" (with the dull-toned suffix mo, in the use of which Ps 59 associates itself with the Psalms of the time of Saul, Psa 56:1-13, Psa 11:1-7, Psa 17:1-15, 22, 35, Psa 64:1-10). The combination ולילּכדוּ בגאונם, however, more readily suggests parallel passages like Pro 11:6 than Pro 6:2; and moreover the מן of the expression וּמאלה וּמכּחשׁ, which is without example in connection with ספּר, and, taken as expressing the motive (Hupfeld), ought to be joined with some designations of the disposition of mind, is best explained as an appended statement of the reason for which they are to be ensnared, so that consequently יספּרוּ (cf. Psa 69:27; Psa 64:6) is an attributive clause; nor is this contrary to the accentuation, if one admits the Munach to be a transformation of Mugrash. It is therefore to be rendered: "let them, then, be taken in their pride, and on account of the curse and deceit which they wilfully utter." If, by virtue of the righteousness of the Ruler of the world, their sin has thus become their fall, then, after they have been as it were a warning example to Israel, God is utterly to remove them out of the way, in order that they (it is unnecessary to suppose any change of subject), while perishing, may perceive that Elohim is Ruler in Jacob (בּ, used elsewhere of the object, e.g., Mic 5:1, is here used of the place of dominion), and as in Jacob, so from thence unto the ends of the earth (ל like על, Psa 48:11) wields the sceptre. Just like the first group of the first part, this first group of the second part also closes with Sela.
The second group opens like the second group in the first part, but with this exception, that here we read וישׁבוּ, which loosely connects it with what precedes, whereas there it is ישׁוּבוּ. The poet's gaze is again turned towards his present straitened condition, and again the pack of dogs by which Saul is hunting him present themselves to his mind. המּה points towards an antithesis that follows, and which finds its expression in ואני. ויּלינוּ and לבּקר stand in direct contrast to one another, and in addition to this לערב has preceded. The reading of the lxx (Vulgate, Luther, [and authorized version]), καὶ γογγύσουσιν = ויּלּינוּ or ויּלּנוּ, is thereby proved to be erroneous. But if ויּלינוּ is the correct reading, then it follows that we have to take Psa 59:16 not as foretelling what will take place, but as describing that which is present; so that consequently the fut. consec. (as is frequently the case apart from any historical connection) is only a consecutive continuation of ינוּעוּן (for which the Ker has יניעוּן; the form that was required in Psa 59:12, but is inadmissible here): they wander up and down (נוּע as in Psa 109:10, cf. נוּד, Job 15:23) to eat (that is to say, seeking after food); and if they are not satisfied, they pass the night, i.e., remain, eager for food and expecting it, over night on the spot. This interpretation is the most natural, the simplest, and the one that harmonizes best not only with the text before us (the punctuation ישׂבּעוּ, not ישׂבּעוּ, gives the member of the clause the impress of being a protasis), but also with the situation. The poet describes the activity of his enemies, and that by completing or retouching the picture of their comparison to dogs: he himself is the food or prey for which they are so eager, and which they would not willingly allow to escape them, and which they nevertheless cannot get within their grasp. Their morbid desire remains unsatisfied: he, however, in the morning, is able to sing of the power of God, which protects him, and exultantly to praise God's loving-kindness, which satiates and satisfies him (Psa 90:14); for in the day of fear, which to him is now past, God was his inaccessible stronghold, his unapproachable asylum. To this God, then, even further the play of his harp shall be directed (אזמּרה), just as was his waiting or hoping (אשׁמרה, Psa 59:10).