Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm expresses the language of complaint and prayer. David, in order that he may incline God to compassionate his case, dwells upon the injustice and cruelty, the intrigues and deceitfulness of his enemies. At the close, his eyes are directed to God, in the anticipation of a joyful deliverance from their hands.
To the chief musician. A Psalm of David.
1. Hear my voice, O God: in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy. 2. Hide me from the counsel of the wicked; from the assembly of the workers of iniquity. 3. For they have whetted their tongue like a sword; they have directed [or aimed 439 ] for their arrow a bitter word, [or report.] 4. To shoot in secret at the perfect; suddenly will they shoot, and not fear. 5. They assure themselves in an evil work, they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? 6. They have searched out iniquities, they have accomplished a diligent search, [lit. a search searched out,] both the inward part of each of them, and the heart, is deep.
1. Hear my voice, O God! He begins by saying that he prayed earnestly, and with vehemence, stating, at the same time, what rendered this necessary. The voice is heard in prayer, proportionally to the earnestness and ardor which we feel. He condescends upon the circumstances of distress in which he was presently placed, and takes notice of the dangers to which his life was exposed from enemies, with other points fitted to excite the favorable consideration of God. His praying that God would protect his life, proves that it must have been in danger at this time. In the second verse, he intimates that his enemies were numerous; and that, without divine assistance, he would be unable to sustain their attacks. Some difficulty attaches to the words, from their being susceptible of two meanings. The Hebrew term סוד, sod, which signifies a secret, is understood by some to refer here to the secret plots of the wicked, and by others, to denote their meeting together for consultation. In translating it, I have employed a word which admits of either interpretation. The term רגשת, rigshath, used in the second part of the verse, may also be rendered in two ways, as meaning either an assembly of men, or noise and uproar. It comes from רגש, ragash, a root signifying to make a tumult. This would suggest that the word סוד, sod, in the former clause, might refer to the clandestine plots of the wicked, and רגשת, rigshath, in the latter, to their open violence; and that David prayed to be protected, on the one hand, from the malicious purposes of his enemies, and, on the other, from the forcible measures by which they proceeded to put them into execution. But the meaning first given, and which I have adopted, seems the most simple and natural, That he solicits the compassion of God, by complaining of the number that were banded against him. Still his language implies that he looked upon the protection of heaven as amply sufficient against the greatest combination of adversaries. I may add, that there is an implied plea for strengthening his cause in prayer, in what he says of the malice and wickedness of those who were opposed to him; for the more cruel and unjust the conduct of our enemies may be, we have proportionally the better ground to believe that God will interpose in our behalf.
3 For they have whetted their tongue like a sword His enemies, in their rage, aimed at nothing less than his life, and yet what he complains of, more than all beside, is the poison with which their words were imbued. It is probable that he refers to the calumnious reports which he knew to be falsely spread to his discredit, and with a view of damaging his reputation with the people. Their tongues he likens to swords; their bitter and venomous words to arrows. 440 And when he adds, that, they shoot against the upright and innocent, he is to be considered as contrasting his integrity with their unprincipled conduct. It inspired him with confidence in his religious addresses, to know that he could exonerate his own conscience from guilt, and that he was the object of undeserved attack by worthless and abandoned men. In mentioning that they shoot secretly and suddenly, he refers to the craft which characterised them. They were not only eagerly bent upon mischief, and intent in watching their opportunities, but so expert and quick in their movements, as to smite their victim before he could suspect danger. When we hear that David, who was a man in every respect so much more holy and upright in his conduct than ourselves, suffered from groundless aspersions upon his character, we have no reason to be surprised that we should be exposed to a similar trial. This comfort, at least, we always have, that we can betake ourselves to God, and obtain his defense of the upright cause. He takes particular notice of another circumstance, that they shot their empoisoned arrows from their lips without fear, or shame. This self-secure spirit argued a degree of abandoned presumption, in so far as they could persist in obstinately pursuing the conduct in which they had been repeatedly detected, and renew their desperate attempts, to the disregard of all fear of God or worldly shame.
5 They assure themselves in an evil work. He proceeds to complain of the perverse determination with which they pursued their wickedness, and of their combinations amongst themselves; remarking, at the same time, upon the confidence with which they stirred one another up to the most daring acts of iniquity. In this there can be little doubt that they were encouraged by the present state of weakness to which David was reduced in his circumstances, taking occasion, when they found him in poverty and exile, and without means of resistance, to persecute him with the greater freedom. Having adverted to them as being beyond hope of amendment, and incapable of any impressions of humanity, he speaks of their meeting together to plot his destruction; and, in connection with this, of the unbounded confidence which they were led to display, from a belief that their designs were not seen. It is well known that one circumstance which strengthens the false security of the wicked, and encourages them to triumph in their crafty policy towards the simple and upright in heart, is their thinking that they can cover their crimes by such pretexts as they have always at hand. They say, Who shall see them? The word למו, lamo, them, may refer either to the workers of iniquity themselves, or to the snares spoken of in the preceding clause. The first seems the preferable meaning. They run recklessly, and without restraint, in the ways of sin, blinded by their pride, and influenced neither by the fear of God nor a sense of shame.
In the verse which follows, he animadverts severely upon the deceit which they practiced. He speaks of their having exhausted all the arts of mischief, so as to have left nothing in this department to be discovered. The search referred to has relation to the secret methods of doing evil. He adds, that their malice was deep. By the inward part and the heart, which was deep, he means the hidden devices to which the wicked have recourse for concealment. Some, instead of translating the words, the inward part of each, etc., give a more indefinite sense to איש, ish, and read, the inward part, and deep heart, of every one, is found in them; that is, his enemies contrived to comprise in themselves all that men have ever displayed in the shape of craft and subtilty. Either rendering may be adopted; for it is evidently David’s meaning that his enemies practiced secret stratagem as well as open violence, to compass his ruin, and showed themselves to be possessed of the deepest penetration in discovering dark and unimagined methods of doing mischief.
7. And God shall shoot an arrow at them; suddenly shall they be wounded. 8. And they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: and all that see them shall flee away. 441 9. And all men shall see, and shall declare the work of God, and shall understand 442 what he hath done. 10. The righteous shall be glad in Jehovah, and shall hope in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.
7 And God shall shoot an arrow at them The Psalmist now congratulates himself in the confident persuasion that his prayers have not been without effect, but already answered. Though there was no appearance of God’s approaching judgment, he declares that it would suddenly be executed; and in this he affords a remarkable proof of his faith. He saw the wicked hardening themselves in their prosperity, and presuming upon impunity from the divine connivance and forbearance; but instead of yielding to discouragement, he was borne up by the belief that God, according to his usual mode of procedure with the wicked, would visit them at an unexpected moment, when they were flattering themselves with having escaped, and indulging in extravagant confidence. It is a consideration which should comfort us, when subjected to long-continued trial, that God, in delaying to punish the ungodly, does so with the express design of afterwards inflicting judgments of a more condign description upon them, and when they shall say, “Peace and safety,” overwhelming them with sudden destruction, (Jer 8:11 443 )
8 And they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves Pursuing the same subject, he remarks, that the poison concocted in their secret counsels, and which they revealed with their tongues, would prove to have a deadly effect upon themselves. The sentiment is the same with that expressed elsewhere by another figure, when they are said to be caught in their own snares, and to fall into the pit which they have digged themselves, (Ps 57:6.) It is just that Heaven should make the mischiefs which they had devised against innocent and upright men to recoil upon their own heads. The judgment is one which we see repeatedly and daily exemplified before our eyes, and yet we find much difficulty in believing that it can take place. We should feel ourselves bound the more to impress the truth upon our hearts, that God is ever watching, as it were, his opportunity of converting the stratagems of the wicked into means just as completely effective of their destruction, as if they had intentionally employed them for that end. In the close of the verse, to point out the striking severity of their punishment, it is said that all who saw them should flee away The judgments of God are lifted above out of the sight of an ignorant world, and ere it can be roused to fear and dismay, these must be such as to bear signal marks indeed of a divine hand.
9 And all men shall see, and shall declare the work of God. He insists more fully upon the good effects which would result from the judgment executed in leading such as had formerly overlooked a Divine Providence altogether, to catch a spirit of inquiry from the singularity of the spectacle; and acquaint themselves with, and speak one to another of a subject hitherto entirely new to them. He intimates, that the knowledge of what God had so signally wrought would extend far and wide — for he says, all men, etc. The Hebrew verb שכל, shachal, employed, admits either of the neuter signification, they shall understand, or of the active, they shall cause others to understand. But as it is usual with David to repeat the same thing twice, perhaps the latter or transitive sense is preferable. Another desirable consequence which would flow from the deliverance granted is mentioned in the last verse, that it would afford matter of joy, hope, and holy triumph to the saints, who would be confirmed in expecting the same help from God which he had extended to his servant David. Those formerly called the righteous are now styled the upright in heart, to teach us, that the only righteousness which proves acceptable is that which proceeds from inward sincerity. This truth I have insisted upon at large elsewhere.
The original word דרך, darach, signifies to go, to send out, direct, and is used in different senses, according to the objects to which it is applied. “But most especially it is used of a bow or arrows. If of קשת, a bow, then it is to bend it; if of חצים, arrows, then it is not so properly to shoot as to prepare, or direct them. So Ps 58:7, ‘He directeth or prepareth his arrows;’ so here, ‘they direct, or aim, or make ready their arrows.’ Parallel to which is that of Jer 9:3, where being applied to the tongue, as to a bow that shoots out lying words, as arrows, it must be rendered bend; but here applied to words as arrows, direct, and not bend.” — Hammond
They have directed for their arrow a bitter word There may be, in these words, an allusion to the practice of fixing letters on arrows, and shooting or directing them where it was designed they should fall and be taken up. Thus the Jews say, Shebna and Joab sent letters to Sennacherib, acquainting him that all Israel were willing to make peace with him; but Hezekiah would not suffer them. Timoxenus and Artabazus sent letters to one another in this way at the siege of Potidaea. See Gill, in loco The word which they are said to direct as their arrow is called מר, mar, bitter, and this probably contains an allusion to poisoned arrows. The Chaldee paraphrast has “bending the bow and anointing the arrows,” plainly intimating a conviction that such an allusion is implied. Poisoned arrows appear, from Job 6:4, to have been of very ancient use in Arabia. They were also used by many other nations in different parts of the world. Homer says of Ulysses, that he went to Ephyre, a city of Thessaly, in order to procure deadly poison for smearing his deadly-pointed arrows, Odyssey, Lib. 1, 50, 335-345. Virgil describes one of his heroes as eminently skillful in anointing the dart, and arming its steel with poison, Aen. Lib. 9, 50, 771. And Horace mentions the venenatoe sagittoe, the poisoned arrows of the ancient Moors in Africa, Lib. 1, Ode 22, 50, 3. Wherever this practice has prevailed, the poison employed has been of the most deadly kind, the slightest wound being followed by certain and almost instant death. This makes the language here strikingly expressive. David compares the calumnies his enemies launched against him to poisoned arrows.
“Ou, trembleront.” — Fr. marg. “Or, shall tremble.”
“Ou, feront entendre.” — Fr. marg. “Or, shall cause to understand.”
In the French version the reference is changed to 1Th 5:3.