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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 27

Verse 1

PSALM 27

SUNSHINE AND SHADOW

It is remarkable, really, how little men actually know about some of these wonderful psalms. No two writers whom we have consulted agree on the title for this psalm, but we like the one appended by Dr. George DeHoff.[1]

Speaking of titles, Adam Clarke wrote:

"In the Hebrew and Chaldee versions, the title is simply, `To or For David.' The Syriac has, `For David on Account of an Infirmity that Befell him'; the Vulgate, the LXX, the Arabic and Ethiopic entitle it, `A Psalm of David Before He was Anointed.'"[2]

The contrast between the first six verses and the last six is so pronounced that some writers have supposed that they were, perhaps, originally two separate psalms, later combined into one. Ash's analysis of the problem is as follows:

"Those who argue for two independent compositions, here joined, point to differences in tone, to the fact that trust usually follows rather than precedes lament, and to the fact that both parts are complete in themselves. Also, Psalms 27:1-6 address God in the third person, and Psalms 27:7-17 address God in the second person."

Those arguing for unity point to a concern for enemies in both sections (Psalms 27:2,3,6,11,12), and to affirmations of faith in Psalms 27:7-14 ... Some think the author rises to faith (in the first section) and then succumbs (temporarily) to despair in the second section, as humans usually do.[3]

As far as we are concerned, the resolution of the problem is beyond our reach; and the correct answer is not a prerequisite for understanding and appreciating the psalm.

The last sentence in the quotation from Ash, above, is perhaps the key to a decision in favor of the psalm's unity. Every Christian has experienced that swift transition from jubilation to fearful apprehension, and it is not unreasonable to suppose such a swift change on the part of the author here.

Besides that, as Maclaren asked, "Why may not the key change to a minor, and the voice remain the same? We find the same thing in Psalms 9 and Psalms 25; and we can understand the original author's passing in swift transition from one mood to another much better than we can understand some late editor's deliberately combining such contrasting passages."[4] Can we suppose that such "editors" never read God's prohibition that, "Thou shalt not yoke the ox with the ass?"

In harmony with this view we are aided in the acceptance of it by our distrust of all "editors" who are projected and called in by critics every time they want something changed.

Also, as our fellow-Houstonian, Kyle Yates, stated it, "The two elements that tie the two sections together are: (1) similar enemies; and (2) identical trust in God."[5] These similarities strongly indicate the unity of the psalm.

As for the occasion when it was written, no certain word is possible; but the time most frequently mentioned by the commentators is that of the rebellion of Absalom.

Psalms 27:1

"Jehovah is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear?

Jehovah is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?"

For the word "strength" the ASV margin has stronghold; thus God is here recognized as the Light, the Salvation, and the Stronghold (or fortress) of the believer. Martin Luther's great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God," is founded upon this passage. In Romans 8:31, we have the New Testament elaboration of what is taught here. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

"Jehovah is my light" (Psalms 27:1). Yes, indeed, before there could be life of any kind, there had to be light, which God not only created; but God himself is Light. Thus, when Jesus Christ said, "I am the Light of the world," it was equivalent in every way to an announcement of his Godhead.

One wonderful thing about light is that it automatically bears witness of itself. The Light of God shines in the faces of all mankind; and only, "The fool has said in his heart, `there is no God'" (Psalms 14:1).

"Jehovah is my salvation" (Psalms 27:1). Without God there is no salvation of any kind whatever. In his Son Jesus Christ, God's salvation is potentially available to all men, provided only that they shall consent to seek it upon the terms God himself has commanded. The apostle John summed up the whole business of salvation in a few words, "God gave unto us eternal life; and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11).

Verse 2

"When evil-doers came upon me to eat my flesh,

Even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.

Though a host should encamp against me,

My heart shall not fear:

Though war should rise against me,

Even then will I be confident."

"Came upon me to eat my flesh." The RSV has greatly weakened these words by changing them to, "uttering slanders against me." As Kidner said, "They needlessly relegated to the margin this powerful metaphor of the enemy as a pack of vicious animals."[6]

Of course, as Barnes pointed out, "We are not to suppose that the enemies here were cannibals, intent, literally, on eating David's flesh; the metaphor is drawn from the fierceness of wild beasts rushing upon the prey."[7]

The mention of "slanders" in the RSV is explained by some as the charges David's enemies made against him alleging his mistreatment of the members of the house of Saul; and, of course, Absalom slandered David in his vicious charges of incompetence in his kingship.

Verse 4

"One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after:

That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of Jehovah,

And to inquire in his temple."

"That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life" (Psalms 27:4). The psalmist's great desire was to "Dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life." This of course is like the last line of the Shepherd Psalm, a strong indication of Davidic authorship. Significantly, Dahood's comment sheds additional light upon the meaning, not only here, but in the Shepherd Psalm also. "This verse is a prayer for eternal life in heaven with Yahweh."[8]

"And to inquire in his temple." Kidner warned that, "These words do not imply that Solomon's Temple had been built."[9] Also, Rawlinson wrote that, "It has already appeared from Psalms 5:7 that the word `Temple' in David's time was applied to the tabernacle."[10] Furthermore, as the ASV margin shows, another allowable reading here is "Consider his temple," which indeed might be the better rendition, because, as the one who conceived the very idea of the Temple that Solomon later built, it may very well have been that David often `considered it.'

Verse 5

"For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion:

In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me;

He will lift me up upon a rock.

And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me;

And I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy;

I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah."

"He will keep me secretly in his pavilion" (Psalms 27:5). "This should not be understood literally, as some Jewish commentators suppose, claiming that David even hid himself in the tabernacle; but David means that his spirit shall find a refuge with God in the times of trouble."[11]

"Now shall my head be lifted up" (Psalms 27:6). There is no safety or security on earth that can be compared with the confident stability of the soul that is truly anchored `in the Lord.' If a government forbids Christians, they may reply with Peter, "We must obey God rather than men." If obstacles are multiplied, we may say with Paul, "None of these things move me." If our lives are threatened, we may remember the words of the Christ who said, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

Every man can testify of "mountains" and "valleys" in his spiritual life; and in this psalm, we now, quite suddenly, find ourselves in a valley of distress and depression.

Verse 7

"Hear, O Jehovah, when I cry with my voice:

Have mercy upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidest Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee,

Thy face, Jehovah, will I seek."

"I cry with my voice" (Psalms 27:7). Prayer is not merely a silent, or a mental thing; it is an audible petition. From the Cross itself Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." We worship God with "the fruit of our lips" (Hebrews 13:15). So-called "silent prayer" indulged upon many occasions is in no sense equal to one that is vocalized. It reminds one of the way the Quakers once observed the Lord's Supper, with no words, no emblems, no prayers, and no edification!

The king of Nineveh ordered his subjects, "To cry mightily unto God," if perhaps they might be heard of the heavenly Father (Jonah 3:8).

Psalms 27:8 is admittedly a difficult passage in the Hebrew text; but the ASV has here achieved a very understandable rendition of it. What is emphasized is the spontaneous and unwavering trust of the worshipper. As Yates noted, this implicit trust in God is one of the strong elements that bespeaks the unity of the whole psalm. This is the very same attitude encountered in the first six verses.

Verse 9

"Hide not thy face from me;

Put not thy servant away in anger:

Thou hast been my help;

Cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me,

Then Jehovah will take me up."

"Put not thy servant away in anger" (Psalms 27:9). "David here views himself as God's servant, feeling that he could not live without the sunshine of God's love. The putting away of a servant in wrath would be an expression of the utmost disapproval."[12]

"When my father and my mother forsake me" (Psalms 27:10). The RSV falsely renders this, "For my father and my mother have forsaken me," perhaps with a view of supporting the denial of some that David wrote this psalm. Certainly there is no biblical record of any such thing ever having befallen David; and we do not think it ever happened. Can it be imagined that any parents would desert a son who became King?

Gaebelein affirmed that, "The Hebrews allows the translation of these words:

"For had my father and my mother forsaken me,

Then had Jehovah taken me up."[13]

Rawlinson also agreed with this. He wrote:

"We are not to gather from this that David's father and mother had forsaken him. They were probably dead at the time of the rebellion of Absalom. What David means is that even if forsaken by his nearest and dearest, he would not be forsaken by God. The expression is proverbial."[14]

Verse 11

"Teach me thy way, O Jehovah;

And lead me in a plain path,

Because of mine enemies,

Deliver me not over to the will of my adversaries;

For false witnesses are risen up against me,

And such as breathe out cruelty."

"Because of mine enemies" (Psalms 27:11). These do not appear to be enemies of the nation, but David's personal enemies, hence the conclusion of many that some internal disorder such as the rebellion of Absalom was the situation that precipitated this impassioned plea of David for help.

"Lead me in a plain path" (Psalms 27:11). "David is very much in the world and the prayer for a level path (or plain path) is not for comfort, but for sure progress. As a moral term, `a plain path' implies what is right, or straight."[15]

"False witnesses are risen up against me" (Psalms 27:12). In the times of Absalom, David did indeed come very near to losing his kingdom. Even Abiathar, David's skilled counselor, had sided with Absalom; and all kinds of untruthful tales were circulated against David by those trying to unseat him as King.

Verse 13

"I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of Jehovah

In the land of the living.

Wait for Jehovah:

Be strong and let thy heart take courage;

Yea, wait thou for Jehovah."

McCaw's summary of these two verses is helpful.

"These words are a testimony and strong exhortation to steadfast endurance. This conclusion of the anthem emphasizes human frailty, but stresses the fact of Divine intervention, the utter certainty of the Lord's sufficiency, and the patience of faith which waits with confidence."[16]

"Both parts of this Psalm bear testimony to a vital faith."[17] And as Ash stated, "The psalm ends, as it began, with trust, trust tried by difficult times."[18]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 27". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.