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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 41

Verse 1



The title selected here is that assigned by Halley, who also agreed with the superscription, assigning the psalm to David, and identifying the occasion as an illness of David that gave the opportunity for the flowering of Absalom's rebellion.[1]

This psalm concludes Book I of the Psalter, according to the common classification. It is the Hebrew method that divides the Psalter into five books, thus making another Pentateuch out of it. Some scholars, however, make the division as three books, instead of five.

This psalm is remarkably balanced and regular with four stanzas, each having three lines, concluded by Psalms 41:13, which is actually the Doxology marking the end of Book I. It is not considered part of the psalm itself.

We appreciate the judgment of Leupold, who rejected the critical device of interpreting many of the psalms as `liturgical,' and thus eliminating the personal element. "We have serious misgivings about this approach,"[2] he wrote, pointing out that similar literature from Babylonian, Canaanite, Egyptian and Ugarit sources, usually considered as liturgical, "Does not warrant casting many Psalms into the same molds."[3] Dahood's commentary on the Anchor Bible is a type of the interpretations Leupold rejected.

Psalms 41:1-3

"Blessed is he that considereth the poor:

Jehovah will deliver him in the day of evil.

Jehovah will preserve him and keep him alive,

And he shall be blessed upon the earth;

And deliver not thou him unto the will of his enemies.

Jehovah will support him upon the couch of languishing:

Thou makest all his bed in his sickness."

"Blessed is he that considereth the poor" (Psalms 41:1). "This corresponds with `Blessed are the merciful' from the Sermon on the Mount. Such a person is preserved, blessed and strengthened by God. The psalmist here recognizes himself as an illustration of his case in point."[4]

"Deliver not ... to the will of his enemies" (Psalms 41:2). There is a confidence here, "That the wicked hopes of his enemies shall be confounded by actual events."[5]

"Upon the couch of languishing" (Psalms 41:3). This is an obvious reference to illness; and it is quite obvious that the Bible gives us no information whatever about any such serious illness that might have afflicted David.

"However, if we place this psalm in the times of the rebellion of Absalom, it fits exceptionally well. "The bosom friend" (Psalms 41:9) could well be Ahithophel; and David's illness would have led to David's omission of many duties as charged by Absalom (2 Samuel 15:2-6)."[6]

Verse 4

"I said, O Jehovah, have mercy upon me:

Heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.

Mine enemies speak evil against me, saying,

When will he die, and his name perish?

And if he come to see me, he speaketh falsehood;

His heart gathereth iniquity to itself:

When he goeth abroad he telleth it."

"O Jehovah, have mercy upon me" (Psalms 41:4). Kidner remarked that, "David got more mercy from God whom he had wronged than from the 'familiar friend' whom he had helped."[7]

"Heal my soul" (Psalms 41:4). Although this is the equivalent of "heal me," "The single pronoun does not convey the rich meaning of the Hebrew,"[8] which refers to both "soul and body." David was particularly in need of such a healing, for it was not long since his double sin of adultery and murder. The severe illness that probably came upon David may have been a divine punishment for his sins, an illness that doubtless hastened and might have caused the formation of Absalom's plot to unseat him.

"Mine enemies speak evil against me" (Psalms 41:5). As Jamieson noted, "We have here a graphic picture of the conduct of a malignant enemy,"[9] The following verse shows that this enemy visited David in his illness, spoke lying words of good will and hopes for his recovery; but he then went out and spread the false news that the king was on his death bed.

"And if he come to see me" (Psalms 41:6). This enemy that came to see David in his illness is thought by some to have been "Ahithophel,"[10] but there is no proof of this; and it is this writer's opinion that it was much more likely to have been David's rebellious son Absalom. Ahithophel was the High Priest and probably would not have had easy access to David's bedchamber; but Absalom, the king's son, would not have been restricted from seeing the king. It is easy enough to understand why David did not name Absalom in this psalm.

Verse 7

"All that hate me whisper together against me;

Against me do they devise my hurt.

An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him;

And now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.

Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,

Who did eat of my bread,

Hath lifted up his heel against me."

"All that hate me whisper together against me" (Psalms 41:7). From his sick-bed, David could see certain people gathered together in small groups whispering evil things against the king. A rebellion, led by Absalom, was under way; but David's illness evidently prevented his finding out much about it until it was almost too late.

"An evil disease, they say, cleaveth fast unto him" (Psalms 41:8). Of special interest is this expression "evil disease." It means, "Something dastardly has fastened upon him."[11] The very vagueness of the report was part of its effectiveness; and this is also a mark of many other slanders that can be very damaging to their victims.

"Mine own familiar friend ... lifted up his heel against me" (Psalms 41:9). This entire verse was quoted by Our Lord himself in John 13:18 in his comment upon the treachery of Judas Iscariot. This has led some scholars to label this as a Messianic Psalm; but there does not seem to be any justification for that. Leupold admitted that, "It is indirectly Messianic," and especially as it regards Psalms 41:9.

Our Lord, knowing that David was a type of himself, and remembering that David indeed had been betrayed by a very close friend, Ahithophel, Jesus at once applied these words to Judas. As far as we can see, there is no other reference to Jesus Christ in this psalm.

There are circumstances that seem to make Ahithophel a kind of type of Judas Iscariot. Both betrayed their Lord; both held positions of trust; but were accustomed to 'eat bread' with the one betrayed; both were friends of the one to whom they were disloyal; both were defeated in their purpose; and both committed suicide when the extent of their mistake became evident to them.

"Who did eat of my bread" (Psalms 41:9). "At Oriental courts, the king's counselors (of whom Ahithophel was numbered) habitually ate at the king's table";[12] and Judas was dipping his hand in the same dish with Jesus on the very night in which he betrayed him.

"Hath lifted up his heel against me" (Psalms 41:9). This appears to be a metaphor drawn from an example of a trusted animal that, on one occasion, viciously kicked his owner.

Verse 10

"But thou, O Jehovah, have mercy upon me, and raise me up,

That I may requite them.

By this I know that thou delightest in me,

Because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.

And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity,

And settest me before thy face forever."

"O Jehovah, have mercy upon me" (Psalms 41:10). This verse concludes the prayer that began in Psalms 41:4, both the beginning and the ending of it being a plea for mercy.

"That I may requite them" (Psalms 41:10). Some of the alleged `scholars' have a fit about this. What a hard-hearted old scoundrel David was that he would think of executing justice upon the traitors who had just engaged themselves in an effort to destroy the government and replace the king! Such seems to be the thoughts of some who bitterly criticize these words. "Kittel, for example, cites this as an example of `hot glorying vengeance' and labels it `carnal passion,' claiming that we can never sanction it."[13]

It is precisely this attitude on the part of men who should be teaching Christianity that has perverted the common understanding of it to be that nobody, but nobody, should be punished.

Our society today is in serious trouble because of this anti-Christian, foolish, and rebellious attitude on the part of alleged "teachers of the truth." The proof of this is simple enough. Our city of Houston, along with many other great American cities actually killed more people through violent crimes on their streets in each one of those cities during the brief period of the Persian Gulf War than were killed by waging the war.

It is a shame and a reproach that our society has forgotten that God said, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man" (Genesis 9:6). This is not "an option" that governments have in dealing with murderers; it is an order, a Divine and binding order; and the neglect of it by any society is absolutely suicidal.

Certainly, as the king, the head of the government, and the judge and ruler of Israel, it was David's duty to put to death the vicious criminals who almost toppled his kingship. We are disgusted with the opinions of people who really do not think any criminal should suffer the appropriate punishment for his deeds. Did not our Lord say:

"But these mine enemies, that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me."

- Luke 19:27"

"David not only prayed for health here so that he might carry out his duty of just requital as the royal Judge of Israel; but he included a three-fold testimony of the Lord, who (1) shows his good pleasure in vindicating his own (Psalms 41:11); (2) does not allow integrity to go unrewarded (Psalms 41:12a); and (3) and brings sinners into an intimate relationship with himself (Psalms 41:4,12b)."[14]

Verse 13

"Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel,

From everlasting and to everlasting.

Amen, and Amen."

This verse is supposed to have been added by a compiler as a doxology concluding the first of the Five Books of Psalms. One will find similar doxologies at the end of the other four, in Psalms 72:18,19; 89:52; 106:48; and the entire Psalms 150.

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 41". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.