Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm consists of two parts. In the first, David gives expression to the anxiety which he felt, imploring Divine assistance against Saul and his other enemies. In the second, he proceeds upon the confident expectation of deliverance, and stirs up his soul to the exercise of praise.
To the chief musician, Al-tascheth, 335
Michtam of David,
when he fled from the face of Saul in the cave.
We are left entirely to conjecture as to the meaning of the word Michtam; and equal uncertainty prevails among interpreters regarding the reason of the inscription given to the psalm, Al-tascheth, i.e., destroy not. Some are of opinion that this formed the commencement of a song well known at the time; others take it to be an expression uttered by David in the desperate exigency to which he was reduced, O God! destroy me not Others conceive that the word is inscribed upon the psalm in praise of the high principle shown by David when he prevented Abishai from slaying Saul, and are confirmed in their opinion by the fact, that this is the very expression which the inspired historian represents him as having used, (1Sa 26:9.) But as the prayers which follow must have been offered up before he gave any such injunction to Abishai, this explanation is not satisfactory; and we are left to adopt one or other of the two former suppositions, either that the psalm was composed to the air of some song generally known at the time, or that the word expresses a brief prayer, which David notes down as having been uttered in memorable circumstances, and in circumstances of great danger.
1. Be merciful unto me, O God! be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in thee; and in the shadow of thy wings will I hope, 336 until wickedness 337 pass over. 2. I will cry unto God most High, to God that performeth all things for me. 3. He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. 338 God shall send forth his mercy and his truth.
1. Be merciful unto me, O God! The repetition of the prayer proves that the grief, the anxiety, and the apprehension, with which David was filled at this time, must have been of no common description. It is noticeable, that his plea for mercy is, his having hoped in God. His soul trusted in him; and this is a form of expression the force of which is not to be overlooked: for it implies that the trust which he exercised proceeded from his very innermost affections, — that it was of no volatile character, but deeply and strongly rooted. He declares the same truth in figurative terms, when he adds his persuasion that God would cover him with the shadow of his wings. The Hebrew word חסה, chasah, which I have translated to hope, signifies occasionally to lodge, or obtain shelter, and in this sense it may be understood with great propriety in the passage before us, where allusion is made to the shadow of wings. David had committed himself, in short, entirely to the guardianship of God; and now experienced that blessed consciousness of dwelling in a place of safety, which he expresses in the beginning of the ninetieth psalm. The divine protection is compared to the shadow of wings, because God, as I have elsewhere observed, the more familiarly to invite us to himself, is represented as stretching out his wings like the hen, or other birds, for the shelter of their young. The greater our ingratitude and perversity, in being so slow to comply with such an endearing and gentle invitation! He does not merely say, in general, that he would hope in God, and rest under the shadow of his wings, but, particularly, that he would do so at the time when wickedness should pass over him, like a storm or whirlwind. The Hebrew word הוה, hovah, which I have rendered wickedness, some translate power. Be that as it may, it is evident he declares that God would prove his refuge, and the wings of God his shelter, under every tempest of affliction which blew over him. There are seasons when we are privileged to enjoy the calm sunshine of prosperity; but there is not a day of our lives in which we may not suddenly be overtaken by storms of affliction, and it is necessary we should be persuaded that God will cover us with his wings. To hope he adds prayer. Those, indeed, who have placed their trust in God, will always direct their prayers to him; and David gives here a practical proof of his hope, by showing that he applied to God in his emergencies. In addressing God, he applies to him an honorable title, commending him as the God who performed whatsoever he had promised, or (as we may understand the expression) who carries forward to perfection the work which he has begun. 339 The Hebrew word גמר, gomer, here employed, would seem to be used in the same sense as in Ps 138:8, the scope of both passages being the same. It materially confirms and sustains our hope to reflect that God will never forsake the workmanship of his own hands, — that he will perfect the salvation of his people, and continue his divine guidance until he have brought them to the termination of their course. Some read, to God, who rewards me; but this fails to bring out the force of the expression. It would be more to the purpose, in my judgment, to read, God, who fails me; in which case the sentence would, of course, require to be understood adversatively: That though God failed him, and stretched not out his hand for his deliverance, he would still persist in crying to him. The other meaning, which some have suggested, I will cry to God, who performs, or exerts to the utmost, his severity against me, is evidently forced, and the context would lead us to understand the word as referring to the goodness of God, the constancy of which in perfecting his work when once begun, should ever be present to our remembrance,
3 He shall send from heaven, and save me. David, as I have repeatedly had occasion to observe, interlaces his prayers with holy meditations for the comfort of his own soul, in which he contemplates his hopes as already realised in the event. In the words before us, he glories in the divine help with as much assurance as if he had already seen the hand of God interposed in his behalf. When it is said, he shall send from heaven, some consider the expression as elliptical, meaning that he would send his angels; but it seems rather to be an indefinite form of speech, signifying that the deliverance which David expected was one not of a common, but a signal and miraculous description. The expression denotes the greatness of the interposition which he looked for, and heaven is opposed to earthly or natural means of deliverance. What follows admits of being rendered in two different ways. We may supply the Hebrew preposition מ, mem, and read, He shall save me from the reproach; or it might be better to understand the words appositively, He shall save me, to the reproach of him who swallows me up. 340 The latter expression might be rendered, from him who waits for me. His enemies gaped upon him in their eagerness to accomplish his destruction, and insidiously watched their opportunity; but God would deliver him, to their disgrace. He is said to strike his enemies with shame and reproach, when he disappoints their expectations. The deliverance which David anticipated was signal and miraculous; and he adds, that he looked for it entirely from the mercy and truth of God, which he represents here as the hands, so to speak, by which his assistance is extended to his people.
4. My soul is among lions; 341 and I lie even among them that are set on fire, 342 even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. 5. Exalt thyself, O God: above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth. 6. They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves.
4. My soul is among lions. He again insists upon the cruelty of his enemies as a plea to prevail with God for his speedier interposition. He compares them to lions, speaks of them as inflamed with fury or implacable hatred, and likens their teeth to spears and arrows. In what he says of their tongue, he alludes to the virulent calumnies which are vended by the wicked, and which inflict a deeper wound than any sword upon the innocent party who suffers from them. David, as is well known, encountered no heavier trial than the false and calumnious charges which were levelled against him by his enemies. When we hear of the cruel persecution of different kinds which this saint was called upon to endure, we should account it no hardship to be involved in the same conflict, but be satisfied so long as we may bring our complaints to the Lord, who can bridle the false tongue, and put an arrest upon the hand of violence.
To him we find David appealing in the words that follow, Exalt thyself, O God! above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth. To perceive the appropriateness of this prayer, it is necessary that we reflect upon the height of audacity and pride to which the wicked proceed, when unrestrained by the providence of God, and upon the formidable nature of that conspiracy which was directed against David by Saul, and the nation in general, all which demanded a signal manifestation of divine power on his behalf. Nor is it a small comfort to consider that God, in appearing for the help of his people, at the same time advances his own glory. Against it, as well as against them, is the opposition of the wicked directed, and he will never suffer his glory to be obscured, or his holy name to be polluted with their blasphemies. The Psalmist reverts to the language of complaint. He had spoken of the cruel persecution to which he was subjected, and now bewails the treachery and deceit which were practiced against him. His soul he describes as being bowed down, in allusion to the crouching of the body when one is under the influence of fear, or to birds when terrified by the fowler and his nets, which dare not move a feather, but lie flat upon the ground. Some read, He has bowed down my soul But the other is the most obvious rendering, and the verb כפף, caphaph, is one which is frequently taken with the neuter signification. Although the Hebrew word נפש, nephesh, rendered soul, is feminine, this is not the only place where we find it with a masculine adjunct.
7. My heart is prepared, O God! my heart is prepared: I will sing, and give praise. 8. Awake up, my tongue: awake, psaltery and harp: I myself shall be awaked 343 at dawn of day. 9. I will praise thee, O Lord! among the peoples: I will sing unto thee among the nations. 10. For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. 11. Be thou exalted, O God! above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth.
7. My heart is prepared, O God! 344 Some read fixed, or confirmed, and the Hebrew word נכון, nacon, bears that signification as well as the other. If we adopt it, we must understand David as saying that he had well and duly meditated upon the praises which he was about to offer; that he did not rush into a hurried and perfunctory discharge of this service, as too many are apt to do, but addressed himself to it with steadfast purpose of heart. I prefer, however, the other translation, which bears that he was ready to enter upon the service with all cheerfulness and cordiality. And although, wherever this spirit is really felt, it will lead to steadfastness of religious exercise, it is not without importance that the reader should be apprised of the force of the word which is here employed in the Hebrew. The ready heart is here opposed by David to the mere lip-service of the hypocrite, on the one hand, and to dead or sluggish service, on the other. He addressed himself to this voluntary sacrifice with a sincere fervor of spirit, casting aside sloth, and whatever might prove a hinderance in the duty.
8. Awake up, my tongue David here expresses, in poetical terms, the ardor with which his soul was inspired. He calls upon tongue, psaltery, and harp, to prepare for the celebration of the name of God. The word כבוד, cabod, which I have translated tongue, some have rendered glory; but although this is its more common signification, it bears the other in the sixteenth psalm, and in numerous places of Scripture. The context proves this to be its signification here, David intimating that he would celebrate the praises of God both with the voice and with instrumental music. He assigns the first place to the heart, the second to declaration with the mouth, the third to such accompaniments as stimulate to greater ardor in the service. It matters little whether we render the verb אעירה, airah, I will be awaked, or transitively, I will awake myself by dawn of day. 345 But one who is really awaked to the exercise of praising God, we are here taught will be unremitting in every part of the duty.
9. I will praise thee, O Lord! among the peoples. As the nations and peoples are here said to be auditors of the praise which he offered, we must infer that David, in the sufferings spoken of throughout the psalm, represented Christ. This it is important to observe, as it proves that our own state and character are set before us in this psalm as in a glass. That the words have reference to Christ’s kingdom, we have the authority of Paul for concluding, (Ro 15:9,) and, indeed, might sufficiently infer in the exercise of an enlightened judgment upon the passage. To proclaim the praises of God to such as are deaf, would be an absurdity much greater than singing them to the rocks and stones; it is therefore evident that the Gentiles are supposed to be brought to the knowledge of God when this declaration of his name is addressed to them. He touches briefly upon what he designed as the sum of his song of praise, when he adds, that the whole world is full of the goodness and truth of God. I have already had occasion to observe, that the order in which these divine perfections are generally mentioned is worthy of attention. It is of his mere goodness that God is induced to promise so readily and so liberally. On the other hand, his faithfulness is commended to our notice, to convince us that he is as constant in fulfilling his promises as he is ready and willing to make them. The Psalmist concludes with a prayer that God would arise, and not suffer his glory to be obscured, or the audacity of the wicked to become intolerable by conniving longer at their impiety. The words, however, may be understood in another sense, as a prayer that God would hasten the calling of the Gentiles, of which he had already spoken in the language of prediction, and illustrate his power by executing not only an occasional judgment in Judea for the deliverance of distressed innocence, but his mighty judgments over the whole world for the subjection of the nations.
The words, אל-תשחת, al-tascheth, are found in the titles of three other psalms, the 58th, 59th, and 75th.
“Ou, hebergeray.” — Fr. marg “Or, will lodge.”
The original word, הוות, ha-uoth, for wickedness, the Septuagint here renders sin — “Until sin pass away.” Symmachus explains it in Ps 55:12, by επηρεια, insulting injury “Simon, from Schultens, has, I think, given the true meaning. הוה, barathrum — est desiderium, idque pravum v. c. cupiditas devorandi — cupiditas dicitur profundum quod, barathrum, quod expleri non potest.” — Fry French and Skinner read, “until their mischief pass away;” “the mischief,” they observe, “now directed against me by my enemies.”
“Ou, a la confusion de celuy qui m’a guette.” — Fr. marg. “Or, to the confusion of him who hath laid wait for me.” See note on Psalm 56:1, where the same original word is used.
Horsley reads the last clause of the verse, “Upon God, who will bring things to a conclusion for me.”
In this all the ancient versions agree: They make חרף, chereph, a verb, and not a noun, regarding it as applicable to God, and conveying the idea that He would deliver David, having put to shame, or to reproach, his enemies. Thus, in the Septuagint, it is “ἔδωκεν εἰς ὄνειδος” and in the Vulgate, “dedit in opprobrium,” “he gave to reproach;” and in like manner in the Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions.
“Mudge translates literally, ‘I lie with my soul amidst lionesses.’” — Arch. Secker. This agrees with the opinion of Bochart, who thinks that the animals here intended are lionesses, properly when giving suck to their young, a time when they are peculiarly fierce and dangerous. “Nor need we wonder,” he observes, “that the lioness is reckoned among the fiercest lions; for the lioness equals, or even exceeds, the lion in strength and fierceness;” and this he proves from the testimonies of ancient writers.
Fry reads, “I lay down among children of men, who are flaming fire, or breathing flames.” Ainsworth reads, “I lie among inflamers;” “meaning,” says he, “fiery, fierce, and raging persons, that flamed with wrath and envy, and inflamed others. Of such David did complain to Saul, 1 Samuel. 24:40 [sic].” French and Skinner read, “men of fiery spirit; and observe, that the Hebrew is flaming sons of men, i.e., violent men urging on my destruction.” Mant observes, that it may either be “persons set on fire, that is, with rage and malice; or, perhaps, setters on fire, kindlers of mischief, incendiaries.”
“Ou, me resueilleray.” — Fr. marg. “Or, I will awake.”
This psalm consists of two parts. The preceding verses, which contain the first part, express deep distress and extreme danger, and are of a plaintive and imploring strain. But here, where the second part commences, there is an elegant transition suddenly made to the language of exultation and triumph, which continues to the close of the psalm.
Hammond reads, “I will awaken the morning.” Dr Geddes, Archbishop Secker, Street, and Fry, give a similar version. “The verb אעירח,” says Street, “is in the Hiphil conjugation; and therefore transitive; and the word השחר is the objective case after it.” As to translating שחר, early, Archbishop Secker says, “שחר is not elsewhere used adverbially, nor, I believe, with an ellipsis of כ;” and he observes, that “‘I will awaken the morning’ is more grammatical and poetical.” A similar thought frequently occurs in poetry. Thus Ovid says, “Non vigil ales ibi cristati cantibus oris evocat auroram.” “The cock by crowing calls not up the morning there.” And in Milton’s Allegro we meet with the following couplet: —
“Oft listening how the hound and horn
Cheerly rouse the slumbering morn.”