Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Taking Courage in God before a Decisive Combat
Praised be Jahve who teacheth me to fight and conquer (Psa 144:1, Psa 144:2), me the feeble mortal, who am strong only in Him, Psa 144:3-4. May Jahve then be pleased to grant a victory this time also over the boastful, lying enemies, Psa 144:5-8; so will I sing new songs of thanksgiving unto Him, the bestower of victory, Psa 144:9-10. May He be pleased to deliver me out of the hand of the barbarians who envy us our prosperity, which is the result of our having Jahve as our God, Psa 144:11-15. A glance at this course of the thought commends the additional inscription of the lxx (according to Origen only "in a few copies"), πρὸς τὸν Γολιάδ, and the Targumist's reference of the "evil sword" in Psa 144:10 to the sword of Goliath (after the example of the Midrash). Read Sa1 17:47. The Psalm has grown out of this utterance of David. In one of the old histories, just as several of these lie at the foundation of our Books of Samuel as sources of information that are still recognisable, it was intended to express the feelings with which David entered upon the single-handed combat with Goliath and decided the victory of Israel over the Philistines. At that time he had already been anointed by Samuel, as both the narratives which have been worked up together in the First Book of Samuel assume: see Sa1 16:13; Sa1 10:1. And this victory was for him a gigantic stride to the throne.
If אשׁר in Psa 144:12 is taken as eo quod, so that envy is brought under consideration as a motive for the causeless (שׁוא), lyingly treacherous rising (ימין שׁקר) of the neighbouring peoples, then the passage Psa 144:12-15 can at any rate be comprehended as a part of the form of the whole. But only thus, and not otherwise; for אשׁר cannot be intended as a statement of the aim or purpose: in order that they may be...(Jerome, De Wette, Hengstenberg, and others), since nothing but illustrative substantival clauses follow; nor do these clauses admit of an optative sense: We, whose sons, may they be...(Maurer); and אשׁר never has an assuring sense (Vaihinger). It is also evident that we cannot, with Saadia, go back to Psa 144:9 for the interpretation of the אשׁר (Arab. asbh 'lâ mâ). But that junction by means of eo quod is hazardous, since envy or ill-will (קנאה) is not previously mentioned, and וימינם ימין שׁקר expresses a fact, and not an action. If it is further considered that nothing is wanting in the way of finish to the Psalm if it closes with Psa 144:11, it becomes all the more doubtful whether Psa 144:12-15 belonged originally to the Psalm. And yet we cannot discover any Psalm in its immediate neighbourhood to which this piece might be attached. It might the most readily, as Hitzig correctly judges, be inserted between Psa 147:13 and Psa 147:14 of Ps 147. But the rhythm and style differ from this Psalm, and we must therefore rest satisfied with the fact that a fragment of another Psalm is here added to Psa 144:1-15, which of necessity may be accounted as an integral part of it; but in spite of the fact that the whole Psalm is built up on a gigantic scale, this was not its original corner-stone, just as one does not indeed look for anything further after the refrain, together with the mention of David in Psa 144:10., cf. Ps 18:51.
The whole of this first strophe is an imitation of David's great song of thanksgiving, Ps 18. Hence the calling of Jahve "my rock," Psa 18:3, Psa 18:47; hence the heaping up of other appellations in Psa 144:2, in which Psa 18:3 is echoed; but וּמפלּטי־לי (with Lamed deprived of the Dagesh) follows the model of Sa2 22:2. The naming of Jahve with חסדּי is a bold abbreviation of אלהי חסדּי in Psa 59:11, 18, as also in Jon 2:8 the God whom the idolatrous ones forsake is called הסדּם. Instead of מלחמה the Davidic Psalms also poetically say קרב, Psa 55:22, cf. Psa 78:9. The expression "who traineth my hands for the fight" we have already read in Psa 18:35. The last words of the strophe, too, are after Psa 18:48; but instead of ויּדבּר this poet says הרודד, from רדד = רדה (cf. Isa 45:1; Isa 41:2), perhaps under the influence of uwmoriyd in Sa2 22:48. In Psa 18:48 we however read עמּים, and the Masora has enumerated Psa 144:2, together with Sa2 22:44; Lam 3:14, as the three passages in which it is written עמי, whilst one expects עמים (ג דסבירין עמים), as the Targum, Syriac, and Jerome (yet not the lxx) in fact render it. But neither from the language of the books nor from the popular dialect can it be reasonably expected that they would say עמּי for עמּים in such an ambiguous connection. Either, therefore, we have to read עמים,
(Note: Rashi is acquainted with an otherwise unknown note of the Masora: תחתיו קרי; but this Ker is imaginary.)
or we must fall in with the strong expression, and this is possible: there is, indeed, no necessity for the subduing to be intended of the use of despotic power, it can also be intended to God-given power, and of subjugating authority. David, the anointed one, but not having as yet ascended the throne, here gives expression to the hope that Jahve will grant him deeds of victory which will compel Israel to submit to him, whether willingly or reluctantly.
It is evident that Psa 144:3 is a variation of Psa 8:5 with the use of other verbs. ידע in the sense of loving intimacy; חשּׁב, properly to count, compute, here rationem habere. Instead of כּי followed by the future there are consecutive futures here, and בּן־אדם is aramaizingly (בּר אנשׁ) metamorphosed into בּן־אנושׁ. Psa 144:4 is just such another imitation, like a miniature of Psa 39:6., Psa 39:11, cf. Psa 62:10. The figure of the shadow is the same as in Psa 102:12, cf. Psa 109:23. The connection of the third stanza with the second is still more disrupt than that of the second with the first.
The deeds of God which Ps 18 celebrates are here made an object of prayer. We see from Psa 18:10 that ותרד, Psa 144:5, has Jahve and not the heavens as its subject; and from Psa 18:15 that the suffix em in Psa 144:6 is meant in both instances to be referred to the enemies. The enemies are called sons of a foreign country, i.e., barbarians, as in Psa 18:45. The fact that Jahve stretches forth His hand out of the heavens and rescues David out of great waters, is taken verbatim from Psa 18:17; and the poet has added the interpretation to the figure here. On Psa 144:8 cf. Psa 12:3; Psa 41:7. The combination of words "right hand of falsehood" is the same as in Psa 109:2. But our poet, although so great an imitator, has, however, much also that is peculiar to himself. The verb בּרק, "to send forth lightning;" the verb פּצה in the Aramaeo-Arabic signification "to tear out of, rescue," which in David always only signifies "to tear open, open wide" (one's mouth), Psa 22:14; Psa 66:14; and the combination "the right hand of falsehood" (like "the tongue of falsehood" in Psa 109:2), i.e., the hand raised for a false oath, are only found here. The figure of Omnipotence, "He toucheth the mountains and they smoke," is, as in Psa 104:32, taken from the mountains that smoked at the giving of the Law, Exo 19:18; Exo 20:15. The mountains, as in Psa 68:17 (cf. Psa 76:5), point to the worldly powers. God only needs to touch these as with the tip of His finger, and the inward fire, which will consume them, at once makes itself known by the smoke, which ascends from them. The prayer for victory is followed by a vow of thanksgiving for that which is to be bestowed.
With the exception of Psa 108:1-13, which is composed of two Davidic Elohim-Psalms, the Elohim in Psa 144:9 of this strophe is the only one in the last two Books of the Psalter, and is therefore a feeble attempt also to reproduce the Davidic Elohimic style. The "new song" calls to mind Psa 33:3; Psa 40:4; and נבל עשׂור also recalls Psa 33:2 (which see). The fact that David mentions himself by name in his own song comes about in imitation of Ps 18:51. From the eminence of thanksgiving the song finally descends again to petition, Psa 144:7-8, being repeated as a refrain. The petition developes itself afresh out of the attributes of the Being invoked (Psa 144:10), and these are a pledge of its fulfilment. For how could the God to whom all victorious kings owe their victory (Psa 33:16, cf. Kg2 5:1; Sa1 17:47) possibly suffer His servant David to succumb to the sword of the enemy! חרב רעה is the sword that is engaged in the service of evil.
With reference to the relation of this passage to the preceding, vid., the introduction. אשׁר (it is uncertain whether this is a word belonging originally to this piece or one added by the person who appended it as a sort of clasp or rivet) signifies here quoniam, as in Jdg 9:17; Jer 16:13, and frequently. lxx ὢν οἱ υίοὶ (אשׁר בניהם); so that the temporal prosperity of the enemies is pictured here, and in Psa 144:15 the spiritual possession of Israel is contrasted with it. The union becomes satisfactorily close in connection with this reading, but the reference of the description, so designedly set forth, to the enemies is improbable. In Psa 144:12-14 we hear a language that is altogether peculiar, without any assignable earlier model. Instead of נטעים we read נטעים elsewhere; "in their youth" belongs to "our sons." מזוינוּ, our garners or treasuries, from a singular מזו or מזוּ (apparently from a verb מזה, but contracted out of מזוה), is a hapaxlegomenon; the older language has the words אסם, אוצר, ממּגוּרה instead of it. In like manner זן, genus (vid., Ewald, Lehrbuch, S. 380), is a later word (found besides only in Ch2 16:14, where וּזנים signifies et varia quidem, Syriac zenonoje, or directly spices from species); the older language has miyn for this word. Instead of אלּוּפים, kine, which signifies "princes" in the older language, the older language says אלפים in Psa 8:8. The plena scriptio צאוננוּ, in which the Waw is even inaccurate, corresponds to the later period; and to this corresponds שׁ = אשׁר in Psa 144:15, cf. on the other hand Psa 33:12. Also מסבּלים, laden = bearing, like the Latin forda from ferre (cf. מעבּר in Job 21:10), is not found elsewhere. צאן is (contrary to Gen 30:39) treated as a feminine collective, and אלּוּף (cf. שׁור in Job 21:10) as a nomen epicaenum. Contrary to the usage of the word, Maurer, Kצster, Von Lengerke, and Frst render it: our princes are set up (after Ezr 6:3); also, after the mention of animals of the fold upon the meadows out-of-doors, one does not expect the mention of princes, but of horned cattle that are to be found in the stalls.
זוית elsewhere signifies a corner, and here, according to the prevailing view, the corner-pillars; so that the elegant slender daughters are likened to tastefully sculptured Caryatides - not to sculptured projections (Luther). For (1) זוית does not signify a projection, but a corner, an angle, Arabic Arab. zâwyt, zâwia (in the terminology of the stone-mason the square-stone = אבן פּנּהּ, in the terminology of the carpenter the square), from Arab. zwâ, abdere (cf. e.g., the proverb: fı̂'l zawâjâ chabâjâ, in the corners are treasures). (2) The upstanding pillar is better adapted to the comparison than the overhanging projection. But that other prevailing interpretation is also doubtful. The architecture of Syria and Palestine - the ancient, so far as it can be known to us from its remains, and the new - exhibits nothing in connection with which one would be led to think of "corner-pillars." Nor is there any trace of that signification to be found in the Semitic זוית. On the other hand, the corners of large rooms in the houses of persons of position are ornamented with carved work even in the present day, and since this ornamentation is variegated, it may be asked whether מחתּבות does here signify "sculptured," and not rather "striped in colours, variegated," which we prefer, since חטב (cogn. חצב) signifies nothing more than to hew firewood;
(Note: In every instance where חטב (cogn. חצב) occurs, frequently side by side with שׁאב מים (to draw water), it signifies to hew wood for kindling; wherefore in Arabic, in which the verb has been lost, Arab. ḥaṭab signifies firewood (in distinction from Arab. chšb, wood for building, timber), and not merely this, but fuel in the widest sense, e.g., in villages where wood is scarce, cow-dung (vid., Job, at Job 20:6-11, note), and the hemp-stalk, or stalk of the maize, in the desert the Arab. b‛rt, i.e., camel-dung (which blazes up with a blue flame), and the perennial steppe-plant or its root. In relation to Arab. ḥaṭab, aḥṭb signifies lopped, pruned, robbed of its branches (of a tree), and Arab. ḥrb ḥâtb a pruning war, which devastates a country, just as the wood-gathering women of a settlement (styled Arab. 'l-ḥâťbât or 'l-ȟwâṭt) with their small hatchet (Arab. miḥṭab) lay a district covered with tall plants bare in a few days. In the villages of the Merg' the little girls who collect the dry cow-dung upon the pastures are called Arab. bnât ḥâṭbât, בּנות הטבות. - Wetzstein.)
and on the other side, the signification of the Arabic chaṭiba, to be striped, many-coloured (IV to become green-striped, of the coloquintida), is also secured to the verb חטב side by side with that signification by Pro 7:16. It is therefore to be rendered: our daughters are as corners adorned in varied colours after the architecture of palaces.
(Note: Corners with variegated carved work are found even in the present day in Damascus in every reception-room (the so-called Arab. qâ‛t) or respectable houses cf. Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Introduction). An architectural ornament composed with much good taste and laborious art out of wood carvings, and glittering with gold and brilliant colours, covers the upper part of the corners, of which a ḳâ‛a may have as many as sixteen, since three wings frequently abut upon the bêt el-baḥǎra, i.e., the square with its marble basin. This decoration, which has a most pleasing effect to the eye, is a great advantage to saloons from two to three storeys high, and is evidently designed to get rid of the darker corners above on the ceiling, comes down from the ceiling in the corners of the room for the length of six to nine feet, gradually becoming narrower as it descends. It is the broadest above, so that it there also covers the ends of the horizontal corners formed by the walls and the ceiling. If this crowning of the corners, the technical designation of which, if I remember rightly, is Arab. 'l-qrnyt, ḳornı̂a, might be said to go back into Biblical antiquity, the Psalmist would have used it as a simile to mark the beauty, gorgeous dress, and rich adornment of women. Perhaps, too, because they are not only modest and chaste (cf. Arabic mesturât, a veiled woman, in opposition to memshushât, one shone on by the sun), but also, like the children of respectable families, hidden from the eyes of strangers; for the Arabic proverb quoted above says, "treasures are hidden in the corners," and the superscription of a letter addressed to a lady of position runs: "May it kiss the hand of the protected lady and of the hidden jewel." - Wetzstein.)
The words האליף, to bring forth by thousands, and מרבּב (denominative from רבבה), which surpasses it, multiplied by tens of thousands, are freely formed. Concerning חוּצות, meadows, vid., on Job 18:17. פּרץ, in a martial sense a defeat, clades, e.g., in Jdg 21:15, is here any violent misfortune whatever, as murrain, which causes a breach, and יוצאת any head of cattle which goes off by a single misfortune. The lamentation in the streets is intended as in Jer 14:2. שׁכּכה is also found in Sol 5:9; nor does the poet, however, hesitate to blend this שׁ with the tetragrammaton into one word. The Jod is not dageshed (cf. Psa 123:2), because it is to be read שׁאדני, cf. מיהוה = מאדני in Gen 18:14. Luther takes Psa 144:15 and Psa 144:15 as contrasts: Blessed is the people that is in such a case, But blessed is the people whose God is the Lord. There is, however, no antithesis intended, but only an exceeding of the first declaration by the second. For to be allowed to call the God from whom every blessing comes his God, is still infinitely more than the richest abundance of material blessing. The pinnacle of Israel's good fortune consists in being, by the election of grace, the people of the Lord (Psa 33:12).