Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Many interpreters have thought that this psalm refers to the conspiracy of Absalom, by which David was driven from the throne, and forced to take refuge under circumstances of great distress in the wilderness. But it seems rather to have been written at a period when he was reduced to extreme danger by the persecutions of Saul. It is a prayer, expressive of the deepest distress, and full of fervor, urging every consideration which could be supposed to solicit the compassion of God. After having disburdened his sorrows and given utterance to his requests, the Psalmist contemplates the prospect of deliverance, and offers thanksgivings to God as if he had already obtained it.
To the chief musician on Neginoth.
A Psalm of David for instruction.
1. Give ear to my prayer, O God! and hide not thyself from my supplication. 2. Attend unto me, and answer me. I will wail 293 in my address, 294 and make a noise. 295 3. By reason of the voice of the enemy, under the affliction of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they fight against me.
1. Give ear to my prayer, O God! From the language with which the psalm opens, we may conclude that David at this time was laboring under heavy distress. It could be no ordinary amount of it which produced such an overwhelming effect upon a saint of his distinguished courage. The translation which has been given of אריד, arid, I will prevail, does violence to the context, for, so far from boasting of the fortitude which would govern his address, he is anxious to convey an impression of his wretchedness, by intimating that he was constrained to cry out aloud. What is added in the third verse, By reason of the voice of the enemy, may be viewed as connected either with the first verse or that immediately preceding, or with both. By the voice some understand such a noise as is occasioned by a multitude of men; as if he had said, that the enemy was mustering many troops against him: but he rather alludes to the threatenings which we may suppose that Saul was in the habit of venting upon this innocent prophet. The interpretation, too, which has been given of the casting of iniquity upon him, as if it meant that his enemies loaded him with false accusations, is strained, and scarcely consistent with the context. The words are designed to correspond with the succeeding clause, where it is said that his enemies fought against him in wrath; and, therefore, to cast iniquity upon him means, in my opinion, no more than to discharge their unjust violence upon him for his destruction, or iniquitously to plot his ruin. If any distinction be intended between the two clauses, perhaps the fighting against him in wrath may refer to their open violence, and the casting of iniquity upon him 296 to their deceitful treachery. In this case, און, aven, which I have rendered iniquity, will signify hidden malice. The affliction of the wicked is here to be understood in the active sense of persecution. And in applying the term wicked to his enemies, he does not so much level an accusation against them as implicitly assert his own innocence. Our greatest comfort under persecution is conscious rectitude, the reflection that we have not deserved it; for there springs from this the hope that we will experience the help of the Lord, who is the shield and defense of the distressed.
4. My heart trembles within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. 6. And I said, Who will give me wings like a dove? I will fly away, and be at rest. 7. Lo! I will prolong the flight, 297 I will repose in the wilderness. Selah. 8. I will hasten a deliverance for me, 298 from the wind raised by the whirlwind.
4. My heart trembles within me 299 Here we have additional evidence of the extremity of David’s sufferings. He that uses these words was no soft or effeminate person, but one who had given indubitable proofs of constancy. Nor is it merely of the atrocious injuries inflicted upon him by his enemies that he complains. He exclaims that he is overwhelmed with terrors, and thus acknowledges that his heart was not insensible to his afflictions. We may learn from the passage, therefore, not only that the sufferings which David endured at this time were heavy, but that the fortitude of the greatest servants of God fails them in the hour of severe trial. We are all good soldiers so long as things go well with us, but when brought to close combat, our weakness is soon apparent. Satan avails himself of the advantage, suggests that God has withdrawn the supports of his Spirit, and instigates us to despair. Of this we have an example in David, who is here represented as struggling with inward fears, as well as a complication of outward calamities, and sustaining a sore conflict of spirit in his application to the throne of God. The expression, terrors of death, shows that he was on the very eve of sinking unless Divine grace interposed.
6 And I said, Who will give me wings like a dove? 300 These words mean more than merely that he could find no mode of escape. They are meant to express the deplorableness of his situation, which made exile a blessing to be coveted, and this not the common exile of mankind, but such as that of the dove when it flies far off to some deserted hiding-place. They imply that he could only escape by a miracle. They intimate that even the privilege of retreat by common banishment was denied him, so that it fared worse with him than with the poor bird of heaven, which can at least fly from its pursuer. Some think that the dove is singled out on account of its swiftness. The Jews held the ridiculous idea that the Hebrew reads wing in the singular number, because doves use but one wing in flying; whereas nothing is more common in Scripture than such a change of number. It seems most probable that David meant by this comparison, that he longed to escape from his cruel enemies, as the timid and defenseless dove flies from the hawk. Great, indeed, must have been the straits to which he was reduced, when he could so far forget the promise made to him of the kingdom as, in the agitation of his spirits, to contemplate a disgraceful flight, and speak of being content to hide himself far from his native country, and the haunts of human society, in some solitude of the wilderness. Nay, he adds, as if by way of concession to the fury of his adversaries, that he was willing (would they grant it) to wander far off, that he was not proposing terms of truce to them which he never meant to fulfill, merely to gain time, as those will do who entertain some secret and distant hope of deliverance. We may surely say that these are the words of a man driven to the borders of desperation. Such was the extremity in which he stood, that though prepared to abandon all, he could not obtain life even upon that condition. In such circumstances, in the anguish of this anxiety, we must not wonder that his heart was overwhelmed with the sorrows of death. The Hebrew word סועה, soah, which I have rendered raised, is by some translated tempestuous; and there can be no doubt that the Psalmist means a stormy wind raised by a whirlwind. When he says that this wind is raised by the whirlwind, 301 by this circumlocution he means a violent wind, such as compels the traveler to fly and seek shelter in the nearest dwelling or covert.
9. Destroy, O Lord! and divide their tongue: for I have seen persecution and strife in the city. 10. Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof labouring also, and sorrow, are in the midst of it. 11. Wickedness 302 is in the midst thereof; deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
9. Destroy, 303 O Lord; and divide their tongue Having now composed, as it were, his mind, he resumes the exercise of prayer. Had he indulged longer in the strain of complaint, he might have given his sanction to the folly of those who do themselves more harm than good by the excessive use of this barren species of comfort. There will occasionally escape from the lips of a saint, when he prays, some complaining exclamations which cannot be altogether justified, but he soon recalls himself to the exercise of believing supplication. In the expression, divide their tongue, there seems an allusion to the judgment which fell upon the builders of Babel, (Ge 31:7.) He means in general to pray that God would break their criminal confederacies, and distract their impious counsels, but evidently with an indirect reference to that memorable proof which God gave of his power to thwart the designs of the wicked by confounding their communication. It is thus that to this day he weakens the enemies of the Church, and splits them into factions, through the force of mutual animosities, rivalries, and disagreements in opinion. For his own encouragement in prayer, the Psalmist proceeds to insist upon the wickedness and malignity of his adversaries, this being a truth never to be lost sight of, that just in proportion as men grow rampant in sin, may it be anticipated that the divine judgments are about to descend upon them. From the unbridled license prevailing amongst them, he comforts himself with the reflection that the deliverance of God cannot be far distant; for he visits the proud, but gives more grace to the humble. Before proceeding to pray for divine judgments against them, he would intimate that he had full knowledge of their evil and injurious character. Interpreters have spent an unnecessary degree of labor in determining whether the city here spoken of was that of Jerusalem or of Keilah, for David by this term would appear merely to denote the open and public prevalence of crime in the country. The city stands opposed to places more hidden and obscure, and he insinuates that strife was practiced with unblushing publicity. Granting that the city meant was the metropolis of the kingdom, this is no reason why we should not suppose that the Psalmist had in his view the general state of the country; but the term is, in my opinion, evidently employed in an indefinite sense, to intimate that such wickedness as is generally committed in secret was at that time openly and publicly perpetrated. It is with the same view of marking the aggravated character of the wickedness then reigning in the nation, that he describes their crimes as going about the walls, keeping sentry or watch, so to speak, upon them. Walls are supposed to protect a city from rapine and incursion, but he complains that this order of things was inverted — that the city, instead of being surrounded with fortifications, was beset with strife and oppression, or that these had possession of the walls, and went about them. 304 I have already commented elsewhere upon the words און, aven, and עמל, amal. In announcing that wickedness was in the midst of the city, and deceit and guile in her streets, he points to the true source of the prevailing crimes; even as it was to be expected that those who were inwardly corrupt, and given to such mischievous devices, would indulge in violence, and in persecuting the poor and defenseless. In general, he is to be considered as adverting in this passage to the deplorable confusions which marked the government of Saul, when justice and order were in a manner banished from the realm. And whether his description were intended to apply to one city or to many, matters had surely reached a portentous crisis in a nation professing the true religion, when any of their cities had thus become a den of robbers. It may be observed, too, that David, in denouncing a curse, as he does in the psalm before us, upon cities of this description, was obviously borne out by what must have been the judgment of the Holy Spirit against them.
12. Of a truth, it was not an enemy that cast reproach upon me, for then I could have borne it: 305 it was not an adversary that did magnify himself against me, for then I would have hid 306 myself from him. 13. But it was thou, a man of mine own order, my leader, and mine acquaintance. 14. We sweetly exchanged our most secret thoughts; 307 we walked into the house of God in company. 15. Let death seize upon them, let them descend alive into the grave for wickedness is in their dwelling, and in the midst of them.
12 Of a truth, it was not an enemy that cast reproach upon me He informs us of one circumstance which added bitterness to the injuries under which he suffered, that they came from the hands not only of his professed enemies, but of such as pretended to be his friends. Those mistake the meaning of נשא, nasa, who interpret it as if David had said, that he could patiently have borne the reproach of an open enemy. What he says is, that had an open enemy reproached him, he could then have met it, as one meets and parries off a blow which is aimed at him. Against a known foe we are on our watch, but the unsuspected stroke of a friend takes us by surprise. By adopting this view of the word, we shall find that the repetition in the verse is more perfect; reading in the one member, I would have met it; and in the other, I would have hidden myself When he speaks of the enemy magnifying himself against him, he does not simply mean that he used insulting language, but in general, that he summoned all his violence to overthrow him. The sum of David’s complaint in this passage is, that he was assailed by treachery of that secret description which rendered self-defense impossible. With regard to the individual whom he had particularly in view, when he preferred this accusation, I do not imagine that it was Ahitophel, for the psalm itself would not appear to have been written upon the persecution of Absalom. Whether it may have been some notorious traitor in the city of Keilah, it is impossible to determine. Not the least probable conjecture is, that it may have been some great man at court, whose intimacy with David was generally known. Possibly he may have had more than one in his eye, courtiers who had sacrificed former friendship to a desire of rising in the royal favor, and lent their influence to destroy him. These, with some more eminent person at their head, may be the parties aimed at. At any rate, we are taught by the experience of David, as here represented to us, that we must expect in this world to meet with the secret treachery of friends, as well as with undisguised persecution. Satan has assaulted the Church with sword and open war, but he has also raised up domestic enemies to injure it with the more secret weapons of stratagem and fraud. This is a species of foe which, as Bernard expresses it, we can neither fly from nor put to flight. Whoever might be the individual referred to, David calls him a man of his own order, for so the term ערך, erach, should, in my opinion, be translated, and not as some, his equal in estimation, or as by others, a man esteemed by him to be his second self. 308 He complains of the violation of the common bond of fraternity, as none needs to be told that there are various bonds, whether of relationship, profession, or office, which ought to be respected and held sacred. He makes mention also of his having been his leader and commander, of their having enjoyed sweet interchange of secret counsel together, and of their having frequented the religious assemblies in company, — all of which he adverts to as circumstances which lent an additional aggravation to his treachery. The term רגש 309 , regesh, does not seem to signify here the stir attending the convention of an assembly, but rather company, intimating, that he was his close companion when they went to the house of God. Thus he would inform us, that he was betrayed by one who had been his intimate associate, and to whom he had looked up as a leader, in matters not only secular but religious. We are taught by the Spirit to reverence all the natural ties which bind us together in society. Besides the common and universal one of humanity, there are others of a more sacred kind, by which we should feel ourselves attached to men in proportion as they are more nearly connected with us than others by neighborhood, relationship, or professional calling, the more as we know that such connections are not the result of chance, but of providential design and arrangement. Need I say that the bond of religious fellowship is the most sacred of all?
15 Let death seize upon them. He now denounces the whole faction, not the nation generally, but those who had taken a prominent part in the persecution of him. In imprecating this curse he was not influenced by any bad feeling towards them, and must be understood as speaking not in his own cause but in that of God, and under the immediate guidance of his Spirit. This was no wish uttered in a moment of resentment or of reckless and ill-considered zeal, and which would justify us in launching maledictions against our enemies upon every trivial provocation. The spirit of revenge differs widely from the holy and regulated fervor with which David prays for the judgment of God against wicked men, who had already been doomed to everlasting destruction. The translation, Let death condemn them, is forced, and so also is another which has been suggested, Let him appoint death a creditor over them. 310 That which we have given is the most obvious and simple. In praying that his enemies may descend alive into the grave, it has been well observed, that he seems to allude to the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; though I conceive that in imprecating sudden and unexpected ruin upon them, he adverts to the proud persuasion which they cherished in their prosperity, that they would escape the stroke of death. “Lord,” as if he had said, “in the infatuation of their pride they consider themselves to be exempted from the ordinary lot of mortality, but let the earth swallow them up alive — let nothing prevent their being dragged down with all their pomp to the destruction which they deserve.” The cause which he assigns for his prayer in the latter part of the verse, is another proof that he was not influenced by any personal resentment against his enemies, but simply denounced the just judgments of God upon such as persecuted the Church. Wickedness, he adds, is in their dwelling By this he meant that it could not but dwell where they dwelt and this he expresses still more fully when he adds, in the midst of them; intimating, that they inwardly cherished their wickedness, so that it was their inseparable companion, and dwelt with them under the same roof.
16. I will call upon God, and Jehovah shall save me. 17. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and he shall hear my voice. 18. He hath redeemed my soul into peace from the battle which was against me: for they were in great numbers with me. 19. God shall hear, and afflict them, 311 even He who sitteth from ancient time. 312 Selah. Because they have no changes, and fear not God.
16 I will call upon God. In translating this verse I have retained the future tense of the verb, as the Psalmist does not refer to something already done, but rather excites himself to the duty of prayer, and to the exercise of hope and confidence. Though there was no apparent method of escape, and he stood on the brink of immediate destruction, he declares his resolution to continue in prayer, and expresses his assurance that it would be successful. In the verse which follows he engages more particularly to show perseverance in prayer. He does not content himself with saying that he will pray, for many do this in a perfunctory manner, and soon become wearied with the exercise; but he resolves to display both assiduity and vehemency. From the particular mention he makes of evening, morning, and noon, we are left to infer that these must have been the stated hours of prayer amongst the godly at that period. Sacrifices were offered daily in the temple morning and evening, and by this they were taught to engage privately in prayer within their own houses. At noon also it was the practice to offer additional sacrifices. As we are naturally indisposed for the duty of prayer, there is a danger that we may become remiss, and gradually omit it altogether, unless we restrict ourselves to a certain rule. In appointing particular fixed hours to be observed for his worship, there can be no doubt that God had respect to the infirmity of our nature, and the same principle should be applied to the secret as to the public services of devotion, as appears from the passage now before us, and from the example of Daniel, (Da 9:3.) Sacrifices are no longer to be observed in the Church, but as there remains the same indisposition on our part to the duty, and an equal need of incitements to overcome it, we should still prescribe certain hours to ourselves to be observed in prayer. He adds, that he would cry aloud, to denote vehemency of supplication, under the grief and anxiety of mind to which he was subjected. He intimates, that no extremity of present trouble would prevent him from directing his complaint to God, and cherishing a confident hope of deliverance.
18 He hath redeemed my soul into peace Those who read the two preceding verses in the perfect instead of the future tense, are apparently led to this by considering that David here proves his former prayers to have been answered, from the fact of deliverance having been granted. But there is no difficulty involved in adopting the other reading. We may suppose that either he was so confident of being delivered that he speaks as if he actually were so already, or that he inserts what was the substance of his meditations at different times; it being sufficiently common, when mention is made of prayers, to subjoin a statement of the event which followed from them. Having spoken, then, of his prayers, he adverts to the result of them, with the view of expressing his thankfulness for the mercy which he had received. He says that he had been redeemed into peace — a strong expression, signifying the danger to which he had been exposed, and the almost miraculous manner in which he had been delivered from it. What is added, they were in great numbers with me, admits of a double meaning. Some understand him as referring to enemies; with me being, according to them, equivalent to against me. He represents himself as having been beset, by a host of adversaries, and commends the goodness manifested by God in accomplishing his deliverance. Others think that he refers to the angels, whose hosts are encamped round about those that fear the Lord, (Ps 34:7.) The letter ב, beth, which I have rendered in, they consider to be here, as in many other places, merely expletive; 313 so that we may read the words, great numbers were with me. The last of these interpretations conveys a comfortable truth, as God, although he cannot stand in need of auxiliaries, has seen fit, in accommodation to our infirmity, to employ a multitude of them in the accomplishment of our salvation. But David would appear rather to speak of enemies, and to refer to the number of them, with the view of magnifying the deliverance which he had received. 314
19 God shall hear, and afflict them As the verb ענה, anah, which I have rendered afflict, signifies, occasionally, to testify, some understand David to say that God would rise up as a witness against them. The syntax of the language will scarcely, however, admit of this, as, in Hebrew, the letter ב, beth, is generally subjoined in such a case. There seems no doubt that the word signifies here to addict or punish, although this is rather its signification implicitly and by a species of irony; for, most commonly, ענה, anah, means to answer. Having said that God would hear him, he adds that he would answer him, in the way of avenging his cause, in the punishment of his enemies. The epithet, or descriptive title, which he applies to God, is one calculated to comfort the pious mind in times of trouble and confusion. Much of that impatience into which we are hurried arises from not elevating our thoughts to the eternity of God. Can anything be more unreasonable than that poor mortals, who pass away like a shadow, should measure God by their feeble apprehensions, which is to cast him down from his eternal throne, and subject him to the fluctuations of a changing world? As חלף, chalaph, may signify to cut off as well as to change, some have supposed that David here complains of the destruction of the wicked having been too long deferred; but this is not a probable interpretation. The term has been more properly rendered changes But even those who have adopted this rendering have varied in the sense of the passage. 315 Some understand it to mean that no change to the better was to be expected in their character; that they were so bent upon evil as to be inflexible to repentance; so entirely under the influence of a cruel disposition, as never once to incline to humanity or mercy. Others, with more reason, consider that he refers, in the language of complaint, to the uninterrupted flow of their prosperity, which was such that they seemed exempt from the common vicissitudes of life. He represents them as being corrupted by this indulgence, and casting off from their minds every principle of fear, as if they were privileged with immunity from mortal ills. The copulative particle will thus carry the force of a consequence — they have no changes, and therefore they fear not God 316 It is an undeniable truth, that the longer the wicked are left in the enjoyment of their pleasures, they are only hardened the more in their evil courses; and that where pride has the ascendancy in the heart, the effect of the Divine indulgence is to make us forget that we are men. In the connection between the two parts of the verse there is an implied censure of the infatuation of those who are led by their exemption from adversity to conclude that. they are a species of demigods; for, how insignificant is the course of human life when compared with the eternity of God? We have need to be upon our guard when under prosperity, lest we fall into the secure spirit which the Psalmist here alludes to, and even carry our exultation to the extent of a defiance of the Almighty.
20. He hath sent his hands against those that were at peace with him: 317 he hath broken his covenant. 21. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, and his heart war: his words were softer than oil, yet were they darts. 22. Cast thy giving 318 upon Jehovah, and he shall feed thee: he shall not suffer the righteous always to stagger. 319 23. Thou, O God! shalt cast them into the pit of corruption: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days: but I will hope in thee.
20. He hath sent his hands against those that were at peace with him He afterwards speaks in verse 23d in the plural number, but here it is probable that he begins by addressing the leader and head of the wicked conspiracy. He accuses him of waging war in the midst of peace, and being thus guilty of a breach of faith. He had neither suffered provocation, nor had he announced in an open manner his intention to give battle, but had commenced the attack unexpectedly and with treachery. The same charge is insisted upon still further, when it is added, that butter and oil were in his lips, while war was in his heart, and his words themselves were darts. To appearance they were soft and agreeable, but they covered a hidden virulence and cruelty which wounded like a sword or like darts, 320 according to the common proverb, that deceivers carry on their lips poison besmeared with honey. It is well known how many fair promises and flatteries Saul addressed to David with a view to entrap him, and we may conjecture that the same arts were practiced by his courtiers. It is one special trial of the Lord’s people, that they are exposed to such attempts on the part of crafty men to seduce them into destruction. Here the Holy Spirit puts a mark of reprobation upon all subtilty of this kind, and particularly upon treacherous flatteries, exhorting us to cultivate simplicity of intention.
22 Cast thy giving upon Jehovah. The Hebrew verb יהב, yahab, signifies to give, so that יהבע, yehobcha, according to the ordinary rules of grammar, should be rendered thy giving, or thy gift. 321 Most interpreters read thy burden, but they assign no reason for this rendering. The verb יהב, yahab, never denotes to burden, and there is no precedent which might justify us in supposing that the noun deduced from it can mean a burden. They have evidently felt themselves compelled to invent that meaning from the harshness and apparent absurdity of the stricter translation, Cast thy gift upon Jehovah. And I grant that the sentiment they would express is a pious one, that we ought to disburden ourselves before God of all the cares and troubles which oppress us. There is no other method of relieving our anxious souls, but by reposing ourselves upon the providence of the Lord. At the same time, I find no example of such a translation of the word, and adhere therefore to the other, which conveys sufficiently important instruction, provided we understand the expression gift or giving in a passive sense, as meaning all the benefits which we desire God to give us. The exhortation is to the effect that we should resign into the hands of God the care of those things which may concern our advantage. It is not enough that we make application to God for the supply of our wants. Our desires and petitions must be offered up with a due reliance upon his providence, for how many are there who pray in a clamorous spirit, and who, by the inordinate anxiety and restlessness which they evince, seem resolved to dictate terms to the Almighty. In opposition to this, David recommends it as a due part of modesty in our supplications, that we should transfer to God the care of those things which we ask, and there can be no question that the only means of checking an excessive impatience is an absolute submission to the Divine will, as to the blessings which should be bestowed. Some would explain the passage: Acknowledge the past goodness of the Lord to have been such, that you ought to hope in his kindness for the future. But this does not give the genuine meaning of the words. As to whether David must be considered as here exhorting himself or others, it is a question of little moment, though he seems evidently, in laying down a rule for his own conduct, to prescribe one at the same time to all the children of God. The words which he subjoins, And he shall feed thee, clearly confirm that view of the passage which I have given above. Subject as we are in this life to manifold wants, we too often yield ourselves up to disquietude and anxiety. But David assures us that God will sustain to us the part of a shepherd, assuming the entire care of our necessities, and supplying us with all that is really for our advantage. He adds, that he will not suffer the righteous to fall, or always to stagger If מוט, mot, be understood as meaning a fall, then the sense will run: God shall establish the righteous that he shall never fall. But the other rendering seems preferable. We see that the righteous for a time are left to stagger, and almost to sink under the storms by which they are beset. From this distressing state David here declares, that they shall be eventually freed, and blessed with a peaceful termination of all their harassing dangers and cares.
23 Thou, O God! shalt cast them into the pit of corruption. He returns to speak of his enemies, designing to show the very different end which awaits them, from that which may be expected by the righteous. The only reflection which comforts the latter, when cast down at the feet of their oppressors, is, that they can confidently look for a peaceful issue to the dangers which encompass them; while, on the other hand, they can discern by faith the certain destruction which impends the wicked. The Hebrew word שחת, shachath, signifies the grave, and as there seems an impropriety in saying that they are cast into the pit of the grave, some read in preference the pit of corruption, 322 the word being derived from שחת, shachath, to corrupt, or destroy. It is a matter of little consequence which signification be adopted; one thing is obvious, that David means to assert that they would be overtaken not only by a temporary, but everlasting destruction. And here he points at a distinction between them and the righteous. These may sink into many a deep pit of worldly calamity, but they arise again. The ruin which awaits their enemies is here declared to be deadly, as God will cast them into the grave, that they may rot there. In calling them bloody men, 323 he adverts to a reason which confirmed the assertion he had made. The vengeance of God is certain to overtake the cruel and the deceitful; and this being the character of his adversaries, he infers that their punishment would be inevitable. “But does it consist,” may some ask, “with what passes under our observation, that bloody men live not half their days? If the character apply to any, it must with peculiar force to tyrants, who consign their fellow-creatures to slaughter, for the mere gratification of their licentious passions. To such very evidently, and not to common murderers, does the Psalmist refer in this place; and yet will not tyrants, who have butchered their hundreds of thousands, reach frequently an advanced period of life?” They may; but notwithstanding instances of this description, where God has postponed the execution of judgment, the assertion of the Psalmist is borne out by many considerations. With regard to temporal judgments, it is enough that we see them executed upon the wicked, in the generality of cases, for a strict or perfect distribution in this matter is not to be expected, as I have shown at large upon the thirty-seventh psalm. Then the life of the wicked, however long it may be protracted, is agitated by so many fears and disquietudes, that it scarcely merits the name, and may be said to be death rather than life. Nay, that life is worse than death which is spent under the curse of God, and under the accusations of a conscience which torments its victim more than the most barbarous executioner. Indeed, if we take a right estimate of what the course of this life is, none can be said to have reached its goal, but such as have lived and died in the Lord, for to them, and them alone, death as well as life is gain. When assailed, therefore, by the violence or fraud of the wicked, it may comfort us to know that their career shall be short, — that they shall be driven away, as by a whirlwind, and their schemes, which seemed to meditate the destruction of the whole world, dissipated in a moment. The short clause which is subjoined, and which closes the psalm, suggests that this judgment of the wicked must be waked for in the exercise of faith and patience, for the Psalmist rests in hope for his deliverance. From this it appears that the wicked are not cut off so suddenly from the earth, as not to afford us hope for the exhibition of patience under the severity of long-continued injuries.
The verb אריד, arid, which Calvin renders, “I will wail,” is rendered by Boothroyd, “I am distressed, confused, distracted.” Mudge is of opinion that אריד, arid, is derived from ירד, yarad, to tincture, to drop, etc.; and hence he reads, “While I weep in my complaint.”
“Meditation or discoursing, talk, prayer, complaint. The Hebrew siach signifieth any large discourse or exercise of the mind or mouth, by busy musing, talking, praying, communing with one’s self or others.” — Ainsworth.
“Heb am in a violent tumultuous agitation, as the waves of the sea.” — Bishop Horne The original word הום, hum, according to Gesenius, signifies “to put in motion, throw into commotion, consternation, to agitate; and Hiph to make commotion, to make a noise, spoken of an unquiet mind, internal commotion, Ps 55:3.”
“Literally slide iniquity upon me; i.e., by oblique and artful insinuations they asperse my character. The sentiment of the whole line I take to be this, that the enemies of the Psalmist, by sly insinuations, brought him under the suspicion of the worst enemies, and then wreaked their malice upon him under the color of a just resentment.” — Horsley.
“C’est, m’enfuiray bien loin.” — Fr. marg. “That is, I will flee afar off.”
“C’est, hasteroye de m’eschapper.” — Fr. marg. “That is, I will hasten to escape.”
“My heart is in travail within me.” חול, “de tremore maxime parturientium.” — Fry Ainsworth reads, “My heart is pained within me, or trembleth with pain.” “The word,” says he, “usually meaneth such pains as a woman feeleth in her travail.”
This very beautiful image, derived from the flight of the dove, is continued in the two following verses. The defenselessness of the dove, the danger to which it is exposed from birds of prey, the surprising rapidity with which, when pursued by the hawk, it flees to deserts and rocks to hide itself, putting forth its utmost speed, and outstripping its deadly pursuer; all these characteristics of this bird were in the view of the Psalmist on the present occasion. We find an allusion to them in Jer 48:28: “O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth.” The poets of Greece and Rome make frequent allusions to the rapid flight of the dove: —
“So, when the falcon wings her way above,
To the cleft cavern speeds the gentle dove,
Not fated yet to die.” — Pope’s Homer.
Sophocles, in a passage somewhat similar to this of the Psalmist, says, “O that with the rapid whirlwind flight of a dove I could cleave the etherial clouds!” — (Œdip Colon 1136.) “Kimshi gives it as the reason why the Psalmist prefers the dove to other birds, that while they become weary with flying, and alight upon a rock or a tree to recruit their strength, and are taken; the dove, when she is fatigued, alternately rests one wing, and flies with the other, and, by this means, escapes from the swiftest pursuers.” — (Paxton’s Illustrations of Scripture, volume 2, p. 292.) It is worthy of observation, and it serves to heighten the effect of the Psalmist’s comparison, that יונה, yonah, the Hebrew name of the dove, is derived from ינה, yanah, he hath oppressed by force or fraud, and seems to have been applied to it from the circumstance of its being particularly defenseless, and exposed to rapine and violence. — Buxtorf’s Lexicon
Whirlwinds are not uncommon in Palestine, and the surrounding countries, and to them we often find allusions in the Sacred Writings. The description of that kind of whirlwind called the Sammiel, which sometimes happens between Egypt and Nubia, will serve to show the propriety with which David made this allusion in his present circumstances of distress and danger. “This wind, which the Arabs call poisonous, stifles on the spot those that are unfortunate enough to breathe in it: so that to guard against its pernicious effects, they are obliged to throw themselves speedily on the ground, with their face close to these burning sands, with which they are surrounded, and to cover their heads with some cloth or carpet, lest, in respiration, they should suck in that deadly quality which everywhere attends it. People ought even to think themselves very happy when this wind, which is always besides very violent, does not raise up large quantities of sand with a whirling motion, which, darkening the air, render the guides incapable of discerning their way. Sometimes whole caravans have been buried by this means under the sand, with which this wind is frequently charged.” — Maillet, quoted in Harmer’s Observations, volume1, p. 95.
“Malice.” — Fr.
Hare, Green, and others, conjecture that the first verb in the verse, “destroy,” had been originally “divide” — “divide, O Lord! divide their tongues.” In Scripture we sometimes meet with an elegant repetition of this kind, as in Ps 59:13, “Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be.”
“Violence and Strife” are here personified, as sentinels or patrol, who keep watch over the city; going their rounds upon the walls to guard “labor, sorrow, wickedness, deceit, and guile,” which reign in the midst of it, and to exclude happiness, righteousness, and truth. “It is, in fact,” says Bishop Mant, “a very fine specimen of that power of personification, or enduing general and abstract ideas with personal qualities; and thus introducing them acting and speaking upon the stage, for which the Hebrew poets are distinguished, equalling therein the most polished writers of other nations in elegance and beauty, and surpassing the most elevated in grandeur and sublimity.”
“C’est, receu et soustenu le coup.” — Fr. marg. “That is, received and sustained the blow.”
“C’est, donne garde.” — Fr. marg. “That is, been on my guard.”
“The phrase, נמתיק סור, will literally be read, ‘We made our secret sweet.’ And so it may be an elegance to signify the pleasure of his friendship, or of communicating secrets to him.” — Hammond
This is the sense put upon the Hebrew word ערך, erach, by the LXX., who read, “Σὺ δὲ ἄνθρωπε ἰσφ́ψυχε,” “But thou, a man whom I love and esteem as I do my own soul;” the word ἰσόψυχος signifying ἱσος ἐμὢψυχἦ, equal to my soul
“Properly, a noisy crowd; hence, genr. crowd, multitude.” — Gesenius It is from רגש, ragash, to rage, to make a noise, tumult; of nations, Psalms 2:1.
This is the sense in which Horsley understands the passage. He observes, that “the image here is not sufficiently expressed by the English word seize, though it is not impossible that our translators might intend to allude to the seizure of a debtor. But this is rather a kindred image than the same. The precise image in the original is the exaction of payment, not the seizure of the person.” His rendering is, “Let death exalt his claim upon them.”
“C’est, leur respondra.” — Fr. marg. “That is, will answer them.”
Ainsworth reads, “from antiquity;” Boothroyd, “from eternity.”
Rogers is of this opinion; and observes, that “in the Appendix to the first volume of Glassius, many instances are adduced of the redundancy of the prefix כ; as Ex 32:22; Ps 68:5; Ezr 3:3.”
Walford renders the sentence, “Though multitudes be in opposition to me.” “The sense,” says he, “which is here given, is evidently required, and is fairly deducible from the Hebrew text.” Bishop Horsley’s rendering is, “For they who stood on my side told for many;” — “they who stood on my side,” denoting the Divine assistance described under the image of numerous auxiliaries. See 2Ki 6:16; 1Jo 4:4. Bishop Mant is satisfied that this is the Psalmist’s meaning, and he accordingly turns the verse thus: —
“And he shall hear me, he shall shield,
And he with peace shall crown;
My guardian in the battle-field,
An host himself alone.”
The reason of this difference arises from the ambiguity of the meaning of the original word, which signifies change simply, without reference to the kind of change. Of the two senses which our Author proceeds to state, the first is that adopted by the Chaldee, which reads, “Wicked men, who change not their very evil course, and fear not the sight of God, shall perish.” Dathe, while he admits the ambiguity of the word, follows the Chaldee. Gesenius gives the same interpretation. “But,” says Walford, “this reduces the passage nearly to an identical proposition; so that the probable meaning is, vicissitudes of fortune. These men had enjoyed great prosperity, and been subjected to few trials; they were therefore enamoured of this world and its pleasures, and gave themselves little regard about the will and authority of God. See Ps. 73:5, 6.”
“That is,” says Williams, “they suppose they also shall live for ever; or, at least, that things will go on the same for ever. See 2Pe 3:4.
“Misit manus in paces suas.” — Lat. On the margin of the French version, “paces suas“ is thus explained: “C’est, ses alliez et gens qui vivoyent paisiblement avec luy.”
“Ou, ta charge.” Fr. marg. “Or, thy burden.”
“Ou, tombe.” — Fr. marg. “Or, fall.” Fry reads, “He will not permit for ever the displacing, moving, tossing, or slipping of the righteous.”
In the figurative language of the East, severe, unfeeling, and injurious words are often compared to swords, daggers, arrows, etc. Thus it is said in Ps 59:7, “Swords are in their lips; for who, say they, doth hear?” and in Pr 12:18, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword.” In our own language, a similar figure of speech is quite common, as when we speak of keen, cutting, and piercing words, and of the wounds which they inflict. “I will speak daggers to her.” — Hamlet.
“What thou desirest to have given thee,” according to the Chaldee, which renders the word thy hope; i e., that which thou hopest to receive. On the margin of our English Bibles it is, thy gift, which Williams explains by “allotment.” “Cast thy allotment upon the Lord,” says he, “on which we may remark, that whatever allotment we receive from God, whether of prosperity or adversity, it is our duty to refer it back to him: ‘He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him;’ or if our lot be adverse, ‘he will sustain’ under every burden, and ‘never suffer the righteous to be moved’ from his foundation.” In like manner Rogers understands the word. “Cast upon Jehovah what he allots you; i e., commit to Jehovah your destiny. Supply אשר before יהבך” — Book of Psalms in Hebrew, volume 2, p. 210. The Septuagint reads, μέριμνάν, thy care; in which it is followed by the apostle Peter, (1Pe 5:5.) The reading of the Vulgate, Syriac, Æthiopic, and Arabic versions is the same.
The Chaldee explains it, “the deep Gehenna.”
Heb. “men of blood and deceit.”