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This psalm is found, with some unimportant variations, in 2 Samuel 22:0. In that history, as in the inscription of the psalm here, it is said to have been composed by David on the occasion when the Lord “delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” There can, therefore, be no doubt that David was the author, nor can there be any as to the occasion on which it was composed. It is a song of victory, and is beyond doubt the most sublime ode that was ever composed on such an occasion. David, long pursued and harassed by foes who sought his life, at length felt that a complete triumph was obtained, and that he and his kingdom were safe, and he pours forth the utterances of a grateful heart for God’s merciful and mighty interposition, in language of the highest sublimity, and with the utmost grandeur of poetic imagery. Nowhere else, even in the sacred Scriptures, are there to be found images more beautiful, or expressions more sublime, than those which occur in this psalm.
From the place which this psalm occupies in the history of the life of David (2 Samuel 22:0), it is probable that it was composed in the latter years of his life, though it occupies this early place in the Book of Psalms. We have no reason to believe that the principle adopted in the arrangement of the Psalms was to place them in chronological order; and we cannot determine why in that arrangement this psalm has the place which has been assigned to it; but we cannot well be mistaken in supposing that it was composed at a somewhat advanced period of the life of David, and that it was in fact among the last of his compositions. Thus, in the Book of Samuel, it is placed (1 Samuel 22:0) immediately preceding a chapter (1 Samuel 23:0) which professes (1 Samuel 23:1) to record “the last words of David.” And thus in the title it is said to have been composed when “the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies,” an event which occurred only at a comparatively late period of his life.
The circumstance which is mentioned in the title - “and out of the hand of Saul” - does not necessarily conflict with this view, or make it necessary for us to suppose that it was composed immediately after his deliverance from the hand of Saul. To David, recording and recounting the great events of his life, that deliverance would occur as one of the most momentous and worthy of a grateful remembrance, for it was a deliverance which was the foundation of all his subsequent successes, and in which the divine interposition had been most remarkable. At any time of his life it would be proper to refer to this as demanding special acknowledgment. Saul had been among the most formidable of all his enemies. The most distressing and harassing events of his life had occurred in the time of his conflicts with him. God’s interpositions in his behalf had occurred in the most remarkable manner, in delivering him from the dangers of that period of his history.
It was natural and proper, therefore, in a general song of praise, composed in view of all God’s interpositions in his behalf, that he should refer particularly to those dangers and deliverances. This opinion, that the psalm was composed when David was aged, which seems so obvious, is the opinion of Jarchi and Kimchi, of Rosenmuller and DeWette. The strong imagery, therefore, in the psalm, describing mighty convulsions of nature Psalms 18:6-16, is to be understood, not as a literal description, but as narrating God’s gracious interposition in the time of danger, “as if” the Lord had spoken to him out of the temple; “as if” the earth had trembled; “as if” its foundations had been shaken; “as if” a smoke had gone out of his nostrils; “as if” he had bowed the heavens and come down; “as if” he had thundered in the heavens, and had sent out hailstones and coals of fire, etc.
From the fact that there are variations, though not of an essential character, in the two copies of the psalm, it would seem not improbable that it had been revised by David himself, or by some other person, after it was first composed, and that one copy was used by the author of the Book of Samuel, and the other by the collector and arranger of the Book of Psalms. These variations are not important, and by no means change the essential character of the psalm. It is not very easy to see why they were made, if they were made designedly, or to account for them if they were not so made. They are such as the following: The introduction, or the title of it, is adapted, in the psalm before us, to the purposes for which it was designed, when it was admitted into the collection. “To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spake unto the Lord the words,” etc. The first verse of Psalms 18:0, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength,” is not found in the psalm as it is in the Book of Samuel. The second verse of the psalm is, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”
In Samuel, the corresponding passage is, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; the God of my rock, in him will I trust; he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence.” In Psalms 18:4, the reading is, “The sorrows of death compassed me” etc.; in Samuel, “The waves of death compassed me.” Similar variations, affecting the words, without materially affecting the sense, occur in Psalms 18:2-4, Psalms 18:6-8, Psalms 18:11-16, Psalms 18:19-21, Psalms 18:23-27, also in Psalms 18:28-30, Psalms 18:32-45, and Ps. 18:47-51. See these passages arranged in Rosenmuller’s Scholia, vol. i., pp. 451-458. In no instance is the sense very materially affected, though the variations are so numerous.
It is impossible now to account for these variations. Hammond, Kennicott, and others, suppose that they occurred from the errors of transcribers. But to this opinion Schultens opposes unanswerable objections. He refers particularly
(a) to the multitude and variety of the changes;
(b) to the condition or state of the codices;
(c) to the nature of the variations, or to the fact that changes are made in words, and not merely in letters of similar forms which might be mistaken for each other.
See his arguments in Rosenmuller, Schol., vol. i., pp. 441-443. It seems most probable, therefore, that these changes were made by design, and that it was done either by David, who revised the original composition. and issued two forms of the poem, one of which was inserted in the history in Samuel, and the other in the collection of the Psalms; or that the changes were made by the collector of the Psalms, when they were arranged for public worship. The former supposition is a possible one; though, as the psalm was composed near the close of the life of David, it would seem not to be very probable. The most natural supposition, therefore, is, that the changes were made by the collector of the Psalms, whoever he might be, or by the person who presided over this part of public worship in the temple, and that the changes were made for some reason which we cannot now understand, as better adapting the psalm to musical purposes.
Doederlein supposes that the recension was made by some later poet, for the purpose of “polishing” the language; of giving it a more finished poetic form; and of adapting it better to public use; and he regards both forms as “genuine, elegant, sublime; the one more ancient, the other more polished and refined.” It seems most probable that the changes were made with a view to some rhythmical or musical effect, or for the purpose of adapting the psalm to the music of the temple service. Such changes would depend on causes which could be now little understood, as we are not sufficiently acquainted with the music employed in public worship by the Hebrews, nor are we now competent to understand the effect which, in this respect, would be produced by a slight change of phraseology. Variations of a similar nature now exist in psalms and hymns which could not be well explained or understood by one who was not familiar with our language and with our music, and which, after as long an interval as that between the time when the Psalms were arranged for musical purposes and the present time, would be wholly unintelligible.
The psalm embraces the following subjects:
I. A general acknowledgment of God, and thanks to him, as the Deliverer in the time of troubles, and as worthy to be praised, Psalms 18:1-3.
II. A brief description of the troubles and dangers from which the psalmist had been rescued, Psalms 18:4-5.
III. A description, conceived in the highest forms of poetic language, of the divine interposition in times of danger, Psalms 18:6-19,
IV. A statement of the psalmist that this interposition was of such a nature as to vindicate his own character, or to show that his cause was a righteous cause; that he was right, and that his enemies had been in the wrong; that God approved his course, and disapproved the course of his enemies: or, in other words, that these interpositions were such as to prove that God was just, and would deal with men according to their character, Psalms 18:20-30.
V. A recapitulation of what God had done for him, in enabling him to subdue his enemies, and a statement of the effect which he supposed would be produced on others by the report of what God had done in his behalf, Psalms 18:31-45.
VI. A general expression of thanksgiving to God as the author of all these blessings, and as worthy of universal confidence and praise, Psalms 18:46-50.
“To the chief Musician.” See the notes to the title of Psalms 4:1-8.
A Psalm of David - The words “A Psalm” are not here in the original, and may convey a slightly erroneous impression, as if the psalm had been composed for the express purpose of being used publicly in the worship of God. In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:0, it is described as a “Song” of David: “And David spake unto the Lord the words of this song.” It was originally an expression of his private gratitude for God’s distinguishing mercies, and was afterward, as we have seen, probably adapted to purposes of public worship by some one of a later age.
The servant of the Lord - This expression also is wanting in 2 Samuel 22:0. It is undoubtedly an addition by a later hand, as indicating the general character which David had acquired, or as denoting the national estimate in regard to his character. The same expression occurs in the title to Psalms 36:1-12. The Aramaic Paraphrase translates this title: “To be sung over the wonderful things which abundantly happened to the servant of the Lord, to David, who sang,” etc. The use of the phrase here - “the servant of the Lord” - by him who made the collection of the Psalms, would seem to imply that he regarded the psalm as having a sufficiently public character to make it proper to introduce it into a collection designed for general worship. In other words, David was not, in the view of the author of the collection, a private man, but was eminently a public servant of Yahweh; and a song of grateful remembrance of God’s mercies to him was entitled to be regarded as expressing the appropriate feelings of God’s people in similar circumstances in all times.
Who spake unto the Lord - Composed it as giving utterance to his feelings toward the Lord.
The words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him - When the Lord “had” delivered him; when he felt that he was completely rescued from “all” his foes. This does not mean that the psalm was composed on a particular day when God had by some one signal act rescued him from impending danger, but it refers to a calm period of his life. when he could review the past, and see that God had rescued him from “all” the enemies that had ever threatened his peace. This would probably, as has been suggested above, occur near the close of his life.
From the hand of all his enemies - Out of the hand, or the power. There is here a “general” view of the mercy of God in rescuing him from all his foes.
And from the hand of Saul - Saul had been one of his most formidable enemies, and the wars with him had been among the most eventful periods of the life of David. In a general review of his life, near its close, he would naturally recur to the dangers of that period, and to God’s gracious interpositions in his behalf, and it would seem to him that what God had done for him in those times deserved a special record. The original word here - כף kaph - is not the same as in the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:0 - יד yâd - though the idea is substantially the same. The word used here means properly the “palm” or “hollow” of the hand; the word used in Samuel means the hand itself. Why the change was made we have not the means of ascertaining.
And he said - So 2 Samuel 22:2. What follows is what he said.
I will love thee, O Lord - This verse is not found in the song in 2 Samuel 22:0. It appears to have been added after the first composition of the psalm, either by David as expressive of his ardent love for the Lord in view of his merciful interpositions in his behalf, and on the most careful and most mature review of those mercies, or by the collector of the Psalms when they were adapted to purposes of public worship, as a proper commencement of the psalm - expressive of the feeling which the general tenor of the psalm was fitted to inspire. It is impossible now to determine by whom it was added; but no one can doubt that it is a proper commencement of a psalm that is designed to recount so many mercies. It is the feeling which all should have when they recall the goodness of God to them in their past lives.
My strength - The source of my strength, or from whom all my strength is derived. So Psalms 27:1, “The Lord is the strength of my life.” Psalms 28:8, “he is the saving strength of his anointed.” Compare Psalms 29:11; Psalms 46:1; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 81:1; Psalms 140:7.
The Lord is my rock - The idea in this expression, and in the subsequent parts of the description, is that he owed his safety entirely to God. He had been unto him as a rock, a tower, a buckler, etc. - that is, he had derived from God the protection which a rock, a tower, a citadel, a buckler furnished to those who depended on them, or which they were designed to secure. The word “rock” here has reference to the fact that in times of danger a lofty rock would be sought as a place of safety, or that men would fly to it to escape from their enemies. Such rocks abound in Palestine; and by the fact that they are elevated and difficult of access, or by the fact that those who fled to them could find shelter behind their projecting crags, or by the fact that they could find security in their deep and dark caverns, they became places of refuge in times of danger; and protection was often found there when it could not be found in the plains below. Compare Judges 6:2; Psalms 27:5; Psalms 61:2. Also, Josephus, Ant., b. xiv., ch. xv.
And my fortress - He has been to me as a fortress. The word fortress means a place of defense, a place so strengthened that an enemy could not approach it, or where one would be safe. Such fortresses were often constructed on the rocks or on hills, where those who fled there would be doubly safe. Compare Job 39:28. See also the notes at Isaiah 33:16.
And my deliverer - Delivering or rescuing me from my enemies.
My God - Who hast been to me a God; that is, in whom I have found all that is implied in the idea of “God” - a Protector, Helper, Friend, Father, Saviour. The notion or idea of a “God” is different from all other ideas, and David had found, as the Christian now does, all that is implied in that idea, in Yahweh, the living God.
My strength - Margin, “My rock” So the Hebrew, although the Hebrew word is different from that which is used in the former part of the verse. Both words denote that God was a refuge or protection, as a rock or crag is to one in danger (compare Deuteronomy 32:37), though the exact difference between the words may not be obvious.
In whom I will trust - That is, I have found him to be such a refuge that I could trust in him, and in view of the past I will confide in him always.
My buckler - The word used here is the same which occurs in Psalms 3:3, where it is translated “shield.” See the notes at that verse.
And the horn of my salvation - The “horn” is to animals the means of their defense. Their strength lies in the horn. Hence, the word is used here, as elsewhere, to represent that to which we owe our protection and defense in danger; and the idea here is, that God was to the psalmist what the horn is to animals, the means of his defense. Compare Psalms 22:21; Psalms 75:4-5, Psalms 75:10; Psalms 92:10; Psalms 132:17; Psalms 148:14.
And my high tower - He is to me what a high tower is to one who is in danger. Compare Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” The word used here occurs in Psalms 9:9, where it is rendered “refuge.” (Margin, “A high place.”) See the notes at that verse. Such towers were erected on mountains, on rocks, or on the walls of a city, and were regarded as safe places mainly because they were inaccessible. So the old castles in Europe - as that at Heidelberg, and generally those along the Rhine - were built on lofty places, and in such positions as not to be easily accessible.
I will call upon the Lord - The idea here is, that he would constantly call upon the Lord. In all times of trouble and danger he would go to him, and invoke his aid. The experience of the past had been such as to lead him to put confidence in him in all time to come. He had learned to flee to him in danger, and he had never put his trust in him in vain. The idea is, that a proper view of God’s dealings with us in the past should lead us to feel that we may put confidence in him in the future.
Who is worthy to be praised - More literally, “Him who is to be praised I will call upon, Jehovah.” The prominent - the leading thought is, that God is a being every way worthy of praise.
So shall I be saved from my enemies - Ever onward, and at all times. He had had such ample experience of his protection that he could confide in him as one who would deliver him from all his foes.
The sorrows of death compassed me - Surrounded me. That is, he was in imminent danger of death, or in the midst of such pangs and sorrows as are supposed commonly to attend on death. He refers probably to some period in his past life - perhaps in the persecutions of Saul - when he was so beset with troubles and difficulties that it seemed to him that he must die. The word rendered “sorrows” - חבל chebel - means, according to Gesenius, “a cord, a rope,” and hence, “a snare, gin, noose;” and the idea here is, according to Gesenius, that he was taken as it were in the snares of death, or in the bands of death. So Psalms 116:3. Our translators, however, and it seems to me more correctly, regarded the word as derived from the same noun differently pointed - הבל chēbel - meaning “writhings, pangs, pains,” as in Isaiah 66:7; Jeremiah 13:21; Jeremiah 22:23; Hosea 13:13; Job 39:3. So the Aramaic Paraphrase, “Pangs as of a woman in childbirth came around me.” So the Vulgate, “dolores.” So the Septuagint, ὠδῖνες ōdines. The corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:0 is: “The waves of death.” The word which is used there - משׁבר mishbâr - means properly waves which break upon the shore - “breakers.” See Psalms 42:7; Psalms 88:7; Jonah 2:3. Why the change was made in the psalm it is not possible to determine. Either word denotes a condition of great danger and alarm, as if death was inevitable.
And the floods of ungodly men - Margin, as in Hebrew, “Belial.” The word “Belial” means properly “without use or profit;” and then worthless, abandoned, wicked. It is applied to wicked men as being “worthless” to society, and to all the proper ends of life. Though the term here undoubtedly refers to “wicked” men, yet it refers to them as being worthless or abandoned - low, common, useless to mankind. The word rendered floods - נחל nachal - means in the singular, properly, a stream, brook, rivulet; and then, a torrent, as formed by rain and snow-water in the mountains, Job 6:15. The word used here refers to such men as if they were poured forth in streams and torrents - in such multitudes that the psalmist was likely to be overwhelmed by them, as one would be by floods of water. “Made me afraid.” Made me apprehensive of losing my life. To what particular period of his life he here refers it is impossible now to determine.
The sorrows of hell - Margin, “cords.” The word used here is the same which occurs in the previous verse, and which is there rendered “sorrows.” It is correctly translated here, as in that verse, “sorrows,” though the parallelism would seem to favor the interpretation in the margin - cords. If it means “sorrows,” the idea is, that such sufferings encompassed him, or seized upon him, as we associate in idea with the descent to the under-world, or the going down to the dead. If it means “cords, or bands,” then the idea is, that he was seized with pain as if with cords thrown around him, and that were dragging him down to the abodes of the dead. Luther, DeWette, Prof. Alexander, Hengstenberg, and others render the word, in each of these places, “bands.” On the word here rendered “hell,” שׁאול she'ôl, see the notes at Isaiah 14:9. It means here the “under-world, the regions of the dead.” It is a description of one who was overcome with the dread of death.
The snares of death - The word “snares” refers to the gins, toils, nets, which are used in taking wild beasts, by suddenly throwing cords around them, and binding them fast. The idea here is, that “Death” had thus thrown around him its toils or snares, and had bound him fast.
Prevented me - The word used here in Hebrew, as our word “prevent” did originally, means to “anticipate, to go before.” The idea here is that those snares had, as it were, suddenly rushed upon him, or seized him. They came before him in his goings, and bound him fast.
In my distress - This refers, most probably, not to any particular case, but rather indicates his general habit of mind, that when he was in deep distress and danger he had uniformly called upon the Lord, and had found him ready to help.
I called upon the Lord - I prayed. That is, he invoked God to help him in his trouble. He relied not on his own strength; he looked not for human aid; he looked to God alone.
And cried unto my God - The word used here denotes an earnest cry for help. Compare Job 35:9; Job 36:13.
He heard my voice out of his temple - That is, he, being in his temple, heard my voice. The word rendered temple (compare the notes at Psalms 5:7) cannot refer here to the temple at Jerusalem, for that was built after the death of David, but it refers either to heaven, considered as the temple, or dwelling-place of God, or to the tabernacle, considered as his abode on earth. The sense is not materially varied, whichever interpretation is adopted. Compare Psalms 11:4.
And my cry came before him - He heard my cry. It was not intercepted on the way, but came up to him.
Even into his ears - Indicating that he certainly heard it. Compare Genesis 23:10; Genesis 44:18; Genesis 50:4; Exodus 10:2 : Psalms 34:15.
Then the earth shook and trembled - The description which follows here is one of the most sublime that is to be found in any language. It is taken from the fury of the storm and tempest, when all the elements are in commotion; when God seems to go forth in the greatness of his majesty and the terror of his power, to prostrate everything before him. We are not to regard this as descriptive of anything which literally occurred, but rather as expressive of the fact of the divine interposition, as if he thus came forth in the greatness of his power. There is no improbability indeed in supposing that in some of the dangerous periods of David’s life, when surrounded by enemies, or even when in the midst of a battle, a furious tempest may have occurred that seemed to be a special divine interposition in his behalf, but we have no distinct record of such an event, and it is not necessary to suppose that such an event occurred in order to a correct understanding of the passage. All that is needful is to regard this as a representation of the mighty interposition of God; to suppose that his intervention was as direct, as manifest, and as sublime, as if he had thus interposed. There are frequent references in the Scriptures to such storms and tempests as illustrative of the majesty, the power, and the glory of God, and of the manner in which he interposes on behalf of his people. See Psalms 144:5-7; Psalms 46:6-8; Psalms 29:1-11; Job 37:21-24; Job 38:1; Nahum 1:3; and particularly Habakkuk 3:3-16. The description in Habakkuk strongly resembles the passage before us, and both were drawn doubtless from an actual observation of the fury of a tempest.
The foundations also of the hills moved - The mountains seemed to rock on their foundations. In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:8 the expression is, “The foundations of heaven moved and shook;” that is, that on which the heavens seem to rest was agitated. Many suppose that the expression refers to the mountains as if they bore up the heavens; but DeWette more properly supposes that the reference is to the heavens as a building or an edifice resting on foundations. Why the change was made in revising the psalm from the “foundations of the heavens” to the “foundations of the hills,” it is impossible now to determine.
Because he was wroth - literally,” Because it was inflamed (or enkindled) to him;” that is, because he was angry. Anger is often compared to a raging flame, because it seems to consume everything before it. Hence, we speak of it as “heated,” as “burning.” So we say of one that he is “inflamed by passion.” The expression here is sublime in the highest degree. God seemed to be angry, and hence, he came forth in this awful manner, and the very earth trembled before him.
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils - Margin, “by his;” that is, as it is understood in the margin, the smoke seemed to be produced “by” his nostrils, or to be caused by his breathing. The comparison, according to Rosenmuller and DeWette, is derived from wild beasts when excited with anger, and when their rage is indicated by their violent breathing. Compare Psalms 74:1; Deuteronomy 29:20; Isaiah 65:5.
And fire out of his mouth devoured - That is, the clouds seemed to be poured forth from his nostrils, and the lightning from his mouth. So in Habakkuk 3:5 : “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.”
Coals were kindled by it - Everything seemed to glow and burn. The lightning, that appeared to flash from his mouth, set everything on fire. The heavens and the earth were in a blaze.
He bowed the heavens also - He seemed to bend down the heavens - to bring them nearer to the earth. “He inclines the canopy of the heavens, as it were, toward the earth; wraps himself in the darkness of night, and shoots forth his arrows; hurls abroad his lightnings, and wings them with speed.” Herder, Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (Marsh), ii. 157. The allusion is still to the tempest, when the clouds ran low; when they seem to sweep along the ground; when it appears as if the heavens were brought nearer to the earth - as if, to use a common expression, “the heavens and earth were coming together.”
And came down - God himself seemed to descend in the fury of the storm.
And darkness was under his feet - A dark cloud; or, the darkness caused by thick clouds. Compare Nahum 1:3, “The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” Deuteronomy 4:11, “the mountain burned ... with thick darkness.” Deuteronomy 5:22, “these words the Lord spake out of the thick darkness.” Psalms 97:2, “clouds and darkness are round about him.” The idea here is that of awful majesty and power, as we are nowhere more forcibly impressed with the idea of majesty and power than in the fury of a storm.
And he rode upon a cherub - Compare Isaiah 14:13, note; Isaiah 37:16, note. The cherub in the theology of the Hebrews was a figurative representation of power and majesty, under the image of a being of a high and celestial nature, “whose form is represented as composed from the figures of a man, ox, lion, and eagle,” Ezekiel 1:0; Ezekiel 10:0. Cherubs are first mentioned as guarding the gates of Paradise, Genesis 3:24; then as bearing the throne of God upon their wings through the clouds, Ezekiel 1:0; Ezekiel 10:0; and also as statues or images made of wood and overlaid with gold, over the cover of the ark, in the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle, and of the temple, Exodus 25:18 ff; 1 Kings 6:23-28. Between the two cherubim in the temple, the Shechinah, or visible symbol of the presence of God, rested; and hence, God is represented as “dwelling between the cherubim,” Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1. The cherubim are not to be regarded as real existences, or as an order of angels like the seraphim Isaiah 6:2-3, but as an imaginary representation of majesty, as emblematic of the power and glory of God. Here God is represented as “riding on a cherub;” that is, as coming forth on the clouds regarded as a cherub (compare Ezekiel 1:0), as if, seated on his throne, he was borne along in majesty and power amidst the storm and tempest.
And did fly - He seemed to move rapidly on the flying clouds.
Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind - Rapidly as the clouds driven along by the wind. The “wings of the wind” are designed to represent the rapidity with which the wind sweeps along. Rapid motion is represented by the flight of birds; hence, the term wings is applied to winds to denote the rapidity of their movement. The whole figure here is designed to represent; the majesty with which God seemed to be borne along on the tempest. Herder renders it, “He flew on the wings of the storm.”
He made darkness his secret place - Herder has beautifully rendered this verse,
“Now he wrapped himself in darkness;
Clouds on clouds enclosed him round.”
The word rendered “secret place” - סתר sêther - means properly a hiding; then something hidden, private, secret. Hence, it means a covering, a veil. Compare Job 22:14; Job 24:15. In Psalms 81:7 it is applied to thunder: “I answered thee in the secret place of thunder;” that is, in the secret place or retreat - the deep, dark cloud, from where the thunder seems to come. Here the meaning seems to be, that God was encompassed with darkness. He had, as it were, wrapped himself in night, and made his abode in the gloom of the storm.
His pavilion - His tent, for so the word means. Compare Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20. His abode was in the midst of clouds and waters, or watery clouds.
Round about him - Perhaps a more literal translation would be, “the things round about him - his tent (shelter, or cover) - were the darkness of waters, the clouds of the skies.” The idea is that he seemed to be encompassed with watery clouds.
Dark waters - Hebrew, darkness of waters. The allusion is to clouds filled with water; charged with rain.
Thick clouds of the skies - The word rendered skies in this place - שׁחקים shachaqiym - means, in the singular, dust, as being fine; then a cloud, as a cloud of dust; then, in the plural, it is used to denote clouds, Job 38:37; and hence, it is used to denote the region of the clouds; the firmament; the sky; Job 37:18. Perhaps a not-inaccurate rendering here would be, “clouds of clouds;” that is, clouds rolled in with clouds; clouds of one kind rapidly succeeding those of another kind - inrolling and piled on each other. There are four different kinds of clouds; and though we cannot suppose that the distinction was accurately marked in the time of the psalmist, yet to the slightest observation there is a distinction in the clouds, and it is possible that by the use of two terms here, both denoting clouds - one thick and dense, and the other clouds as resembling dust - the psalmist meant to intimate that clouds of all kinds rolled over the firmament, and that these constituted the “pavilion” of God.
At the brightness that was before him - From the flash - the play of the lightnings that seemed to go before him.
His thick clouds passed - or, vanished. They seemed to pass away. The light, the flash, the blaze, penetrated those clouds, and seemed to dispel, or to scatter them. The whole heavens were in a blaze, as if there were no clouds, or as if the clouds were all driven away. The reference here is to the appearance when the vivid flashes of lightning seem to penetrate and dispel the clouds, and the heavens seem to be lighted up with a universal flame.
Hail-stones - That is, hailstones followed, or fell.
And coals of fire - There seemed to be coals of fire rolling along the ground, or falling from the sky. In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:13 the expression is, “Through the brightness before him were coals of fire kindled.” That is, fires were kindled by the lightning. The expression in the psalm is more terse and compact, but the reason of the change cannot be assigned.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens - Thunder is often in the Scriptures described as the voice of God. See the magnificent description in Psalms 29:1-11; compare Job 40:9, “Canst thou thunder with a voice like him?” So 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 12:18; Psalms 77:18; Job 37:4.
And the Highest gave his voice - God, the most exalted Being in the universe, uttered his voice in the thunder; or, the thunder was his voice.
Hail-stones, and coals of fire - Accompanying the thunder. The repetition seems to be because these were such striking and constant accompaniments of the storm.
Yea, he sent out his arrows - The word arrows here probably refers to the lightnings mentioned in the other clause of the verse. Those lightnings scattered around, and accomplishing such destruction, seemed to be arrows sent forth from the hand of God.
And scattered them - Herder refers this to the lightnings; DeWette, to the enemies of the psalmist. The latter seems to be the more correct interpretation, though the enemies of the psalmist are not here particularly specified. They seem, however, to have been in his eye throughout the psalm, for it was the victory achieved over them by the divine interposition that he was celebrating throughout the poem.
And he shot out lightnings - As arrows; or, as from a bow.
And discomfited them - literally, to impel, to drive; then, to put in commotion or consternation. The allusion is to an army whose order is disturbed, or which is thrown into confusion, and which is, therefore, easily conquered. The idea is that David achieved a victory over all his enemies, as if God had scattered them by a storm and tempest.
Then the channels of waters were seen - In 2 Samuel 22:16 this is, “And the channels of the sea appeared.” The idea is that, by the driving of the storm and tempest, the waters were driven on heaps, leaving the bottom bare. In the place before us the word used, “waters” - מים mayim - would denote waters of any kind - seas, lakes, rivers; in the corresponding place in 2 Samuel, the word used - ים yâm - denotes, properly, the sea or the ocean. The word rendered channels means a pipe or tube; then a channel, or bed of a brook or stream, Isaiah 8:7; Ezekiel 32:6; and then the bottom of the sea or of a river. The allusion is to the effect of a violent wind, driving the waters on heaps, and seeming to leave the bed or channel bare.
The foundations of the world were discovered - Were laid open; were manifested or revealed. People seemed to be able to look down into the depths, and to see the very foundations on which the earth rests. The world is often represented as resting on a foundation, Psalms 102:25; Isaiah 48:13; Zechariah 12:1; Proverbs 8:29; see the note at Job 38:4.
At thy rebuke - At the expression of his anger or displeasure; as if God, in the fury of the tempest, was expressing his indignation and wrath.
At the blast of the breath of thy nostrils - At the breathing forth of anger, as it were, from his nostrils. See the note at Psalms 18:8.
He sent from above - He interposed to save me. All these manifestations of the divine interposition were from above, or from heaven; all came from God.
He took me - He took hold on me; he rescued me.
He drew me out of many waters - Margin, great waters. Waters are often expressive of calamity and trouble, Psalms 46:3; Psalms 69:1; Psalms 73:10; Psalms 124:4-5. The meaning here is, that God had rescued him out of the many troubles and dangers that encompassed him, as if he had fallen into the sea and was in danger of perishing.
He delivered me from my strong enemy - The enemy that had more power than I had, and that was likely to overcome me. It is probable that the allusion here in the mind of the psalmist would be particularly to Saul.
And from them which hated me - From all who hated and persecuted me, in the time of Saul, and ever onward during my life.
For they were too strong for me - I had no power to resist them, and when I was about to sink under their opposition and malice, God interposed and rescued me. David, valiant and bold as he was as a warrior, was not ashamed, in the review of his life, to admit that he owed his preservation not to his own courage and skill in war, but to God; that his enemies were superior to himself in power; and that if God had not interposed he would have been crushed and destroyed. No man dishonors himself by acknowledging that he owes his success in the world to the divine interposition.
They prevented me - They anticipated me, or went before me. See the note at Psalms 18:5. The idea here is that his enemies came before him, or intercepted his way. They were in his path, ready to destroy him.
In the day of my calamity - In the day to which I now look back as the time of my special trial.
But the Lord was my stay - My support, or prop. That is, the Lord upheld me, and kept me from falling.
He brought me forth also into a large place - Instead of being hemmed in by enemies, and straitened in my troubles, so that I seemed to have no room to move, he brought me into a place where I had ample room, and where I could act freely. Compare the note at Psalms 4:1.
He delivered me - He rescued me from my enemies and my troubles.
Because he delighted in me - He saw that my cause was just, and he had favor toward me.
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness - That is, he saw that I did not deserve the treatment which I received from my enemies, and therefore he interposed to save me. Compare the note at Psalms 17:3.
According to the cleanness of my hands - So far as my fellow-men are concerned. I have done them no wrong.
Hath he recompensed me - By rescuing me from the power of my enemies. It is not inconsistent with proper views of piety - with true humility before God - to feel and to say, that so far as our fellow-men are concerned, we have not deserved ill-treatment at their hands; and, when we are delivered from their power, it is not improper to say and to feel that the interposition in the case has been according to justice and to truth.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord - I have obeyed his laws. I have not so violated the laws which God has given to regulate my conduct with my fellow-men as to deserve to be treated by them as a guilty man.
And have not wickedly departed from my God - “I have not been a sinner from my God;” an apostate; an open violator of his law. The treatment which I have received, though it would be justly rendered to an open violator of law, is not that which I have merited from the hand of man.
For all his judgments - All his statutes, ordinances, laws. The word judgment is commonly used in this sense in the Scriptures, as referring to that which God has judged or determined to be right.
Were before me - That is, I acted in view of them, or as having them to guide me. They were constantly before my eyes, and I regulated my conduct in accordance with their requirements.
And I did not put away his statutes from me - I did not reject them as the guide of my conduct.
I was also upright before him - Margin, with. The meaning is that he was upright in his sight. The word rendered upright is the same which in Job 1:1 is rendered perfect. See the note at that passage.
And I kept myself from mine iniquity - From the iniquity to which I was prone or inclined. This is an acknowledgment that he was prone to sin, or that if he had acted out his natural character he would have indulged in sin - perhaps such sins as had been charged upon him. But he here says that, with this natural proneness to sin, he had restrained himself, and had not been deserving of the treatment which he had received. This is one of those incidental remarks which often occur in the Scriptures which recognize the doctrine of depravity, or the fact that the heart, even when most restrained, is by nature inclined to sin. If this psalm was composed in the latter part of the life of David (see the introduction), then this must mean either
(a) that in the review of his life he felt it had been his general and habitual aim to check his natural inclination to sin; or
(b) that at the particular periods referred to in the psalm, when God had so wonderfully interposed in his behalf, he felt that this had been his aim, and that he might now regard that as a reason why God had interposed in his behalf.
It is, however, painfully certain that at some periods of his life - as in the matter of Uriah - he did give indulgence to some of the most corrupt inclinations of the human heart, and that, in acting out these corrupt propensities, he was guilty of crimes which have forever dimmed the luster of his name and stained his memory. These painful facts, however, are not inconsistent with the statement that in his general character he did restrain these corrupt propensities, and did “keep himself from his iniquity” So, in the review of our own lives, if we are truly the friends of God, while we may be painfully conscious that we have often given indulgence to the corrupt propensities of our natures - over which, if we are truly the children of God, we shall have repented - we may still find evidence that, as the great and habitual rule of life, we have restrained those passions, and have “kept ourselves” from the particular forms of sin to which our hearts were prone.
Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me - By delivering me from my enemies. The divine interpositions in his behalf had been of the nature of a reward or recompense.
According to my righteousness - As if I were righteous; or, his acts of intervention have been such as are appropriate to a righteous life. The psalmist does not say that it was on account of his righteousness as if he had merited the favor of God, but that the interpositions in his behalf had been such as to show that God regarded him as righteous.
According to the cleanness of my hands - See the note at Psalms 18:20.
In his eyesight - Margin, as in Hebrew, before his eyes. The idea is that God saw that he was upright.
With the merciful - From the particular statement respecting the divine dealings with himself the psalmist now passes to a general statement (suggested by what God had done for him) in regard to the general principles of the divine administration. That general statement is, that God deals with men according to their character; or, that he will adapt his providential dealings to the conduct of men. They will find him to be such toward them as they have shown themselves to be toward him. The word merciful refers to one who is disposed to show kindness or compassion to those who are guilty, or to those who injure or wrong us.
Thou wilt show thyself merciful - Thou wilt evince toward him the same character which he shows to others. It is in accordance with this that the Saviour teaches us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” Matthew 6:12. And in accordance also with this he said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” Matthew 6:14-15.
With an upright man - literally, a perfect man. See Job 1:1, where the same word is used in the original, and rendered perfect. The idea is that of a man who is consistent, or whose character is complete in all its parts. See the note at Job 1:1.
Thou wilt show thyself upright - Thou wilt deal with him according to his character. As he is faithful and just, so will he find that he has to do with a God who is faithful and just.
With the pure - Those who are pure in their thoughts, their motives, their conduct.
Thou wilt show thyself pure - They will find that they have to deal with a God who is himself pure; who loves purity, and who will accompany it with appropriate rewards wherever it is found.
And with the froward - The word used here - עקשׁ ‛iqqêsh - means properly perverse; a man of a perverse and wicked mind. It is derived from a verb - עקשׁ ‛âqash - which means, to turn the wrong way, to wrest, to pervert. It would be applicable to a man who perverts or wrests the words of others from their true meaning; who prevaricates or is deceitful in his own conduct; who is not straightforward in his dealings; who takes advantage of circumstances to impose on others, and to promote his own ends; who is sour, harsh, crabbed, unaccommodating, unyielding, unkind. It is rendered perverse in Deuteronomy 32:5; Proverbs 8:8; Proverbs 19:1; Proverbs 28:6; froward here, and in 2 Samuel 22:27; Psalms 101:4; Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 17:20; Proverbs 22:5; and crooked in Proverbs 2:15. The word does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Thou wilt show thyself froward - Margin, wrestle. In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:27 it is rendered, “Thou wilt show thyself unsavory;” though the same word is used in the original. In the margin in that place, as here, the word is wrestle. The original word in each place - פתל pâthal - means to twist, to twine, to spin; and then, to be twisted; to be crooked, crafty, deceitful. In the form of the word which occurs here (Hithpael), it means, to show oneself crooked, crafty, perverse. (Gesenius, Lexicon). It cannot mean here that God would assume such a character, or that he would be crooked, crafty, perverse in his dealings with men, for no one can suppose that the psalmist meant to ascribe such a character to God; but the meaning plainly is, that God would deal with the man referred to according to his real character: instead of finding that God would deal with them as if they were pure, and righteous, and merciful, such men would find that he deals with them as they are - as perverse, crooked, wicked.
For thou wilt save the afflicted people - From the particular tokens of divine favor toward himself in affliction and trouble, the psalmist now draws the general inference that this was the character of God, and that others in affliction might hope for his interposition as he had done.
But wilt bring down high looks - Another general inference probably derived from the dealings of God with the proud and haughty foes of the psalmist. As God had humbled them, so he infers that he would deal with others in the same way. “High looks” are indicative of pride and haughtiness. Compare Psalms 101:5; Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 21:4; Isaiah 2:11 (notes); Isaiah 10:12; Daniel 7:20.
For thou wilt light my candle - Margin, lamp. The word lamp best expresses the idea. In the Scriptures light is an image of prosperity, success, happiness, holiness, as darkness is the image of the opposite. See the notes at Job 29:2-3; compare also Job 18:6; Job 21:17; Proverbs 20:27; Proverbs 24:20; Psalms 119:105; Psalms 132:17; Isaiah 62:1. The meaning here is, that the psalmist felt assured that God would give him prosperity, as if his lamp were kept constantly burning in his dwelling.
The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness - Will shed light on my path, which would otherwise be dark: will impart light to my understanding; will put peace and joy in my heart; will crown me with his favor. Compare the note at Psalms 4:6.
For by thee I have run through a troop - Margin, broken. The word troop here refers to bands of soldiers, or hosts of enemies. The word rendered run through means properly to run; and then, as here, to run or rush upon in a hostile sense; to rush with violence upon one. The idea here is that he had been enabled to rush with violence upon his armed opposers; that is, to overcome them, and to secure a victory. The allusion is to the wars in which he had been engaged. Compare Psalms 115:1.
And by my God - By the help derived from God.
Have I leaped over a wall - Have I been delivered, as if I had leaped over a wall when I was besieged; or, I have been able to scale the walls of an enemy, and to secure a victory. The probability is that the latter is the true idea, and that he refers to his successful attacks on the fortified towns of his enemies. The general idea is, that all his victories were to be traced to God.
As for God - The declaration in this verse is suggested by the facts narrated in the previous verses. The contemplation of those facts leads the thoughts of the author of the psalm up to the Great Source of all these blessings, and to these general reflections on his character. “As for God,” that is, in respect to that Great Being, who has delivered me, his ways are all perfect; his word is tried; he is a shield to all those who trust in him.
His way is perfect - That is, his doings are perfect; his methods of administration are perfect; his government is perfect. There is nothing wanting, nothing defective, nothing redundant, in what he does. On the word perfect, see the note at Job 1:1.
The word of the Lord is tried - Margin, refined. The idea is, that his word had been tested as silver or any other metal is in the fire. The psalmist had confided in him, and had found him faithful to all his promises. Compare the note at Psalms 12:6. In a larger sense, using the phrase the “word of the Lord” as denoting the revelation which God has made to mankind in the volume of revealed truth, it has been abundantly tested or tried, and it still stands. It has been tested by the friends of God, and has been found to be all that it promised to be for support and consolation in trial; it has been tested by the changes which have occurred in the progress of human affairs, and has been found fitted to meet all those changes; it has been tested by the advances which have been made in science, in literature, in civilization, and in the arts, and it has shown itself to be fitted to every stage of advance in society; it has been tested by the efforts which men have made to destroy it, and has survived all those efforts.
It is settled that it will survive all the revolutions of kingdoms and all the changes of dynasties; that it will be able to meet all the attacks which shall be made upon it by its enemies; and that it will be an unfailing source of light and comfort to all future ages. If persecution could crush it, it would have been crushed long ago; if ridicule could drive it from the world, it would have been driven away long ago; if argument, as urged by powerful intellect, and by learning, combined with intense hatred, could destroy it, it would have been destroyed long ago; and if it is not fitted to impart consolation to the afflicted, to wipe away the tears of mourners, and to uphold the soul in death, that would have been demonstrated long ago. In all these methods it has been “tried,” and as the result of all, it has been proved as the only certain fact, in regard to a book as connected with the future - that the Bible will go down accredited as a revelation from God to the end of the world.
He is a buckler - Or, a shield, for so the original word means. See the note at Psalms 3:3.
For who is God save the Lord? - Who is God except Yahweh? The idea is, that no other being has evinced the power, the wisdom, and the goodness which properly belong to the true God; or, that the things which are implied in the true nature of God are found in no other being.
Or who is a rock save our God? - See Psalms 18:2. There is no one who can furnish such safety or defense; no one under whose protection we can be secure in danger. Compare Deuteronomy 32:31.
It is God that girdeth me with strength - Who gives me strength. The word girdeth contains an allusion to the mode of dress among the orientals, the long flowing robe, which was girded up when they ran or labored, that it might not impede them; and, probably, with the additional idea that girding the loins contributed to strength. It is a common custom now for men who run a race, or leap, or engage in a strife of pugilism, to gird or bind up their loins. See Job 40:7, note; and Matthew 5:38-41, notes.
And maketh my way perfect - Gives me complete success in my undertakings; or, enables me so to carry them out that none of them fail.
He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet - So Habakkuk 3:19, “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” The hind is the female deer, remarkable for fleetness or swiftness. The meaning here is, that God had made him alert or active, enabling him to pursue a flying enemy, or to escape from a swift-running foe.
And setteth me upon my high places - places of safety or refuge. The idea is, that God had given him security, or had rendered him safe from danger. Compare Deuteronomy 32:13. Swiftness of foot, or ability to escape from, or to pursue an enemy, was regarded as of great value in ancient warfare. Achilles, according to the descriptions of Homer, was remarkable for it. Compare 2 Samuel 2:18; 1 Chronicles 12:8.
He teacheth my hands to war - Compare Psalms 144:1. The skill which David had in the use of the bow, the sword, or the spear - all of which depends on the hands - he ascribes entirely to God.
So that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms - This is mentioned as an instance of extraordinary strength, as if he were able to break a bow made of metal. The original word rendered steel means properly brass. Wood was doubtless first used in constructing the bow, but metals came afterward to be employed, and brass would naturally be used before the manufacture of steel was discovered. Rosenmuller in loc.
Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvations - Thou hast saved me as with a shield; thou hast thrown thy shield before me in times of danger. See the note at Psalms 5:12.
And thy right hand hath holden me up - Thou hast sustained me when in danger of failing, as if thou hadst upheld me with thine own hand.
And thy gentleness hath made me great - Margin, “or, with thy meekness thou hast multiplied me.” The word here rendered gentleness, evidently means here favor, goodness, kindness. It commonly means humility, modesty, as applied to men; as applied to God, it means mildness, clemency, favor. The idea is, that God had dealt with him in gentleness, kindness, clemency, and that to this fact alone he owed all his prosperity and success in life. It was not by any claim which he had on God; it was by no worth of his own; it was by no native strength or valor that he had been thus exalted, but it was wholly because God had dealt kindly with him, or had showed him favor. So all our success in life is to be traced to the favor - the kindness - of God.
Thou hast enlarged my steps under me - The idea here is, “Thou hast made room for my feet, so that I have been enabled to walk without hindrance or obstruction. So in Psalms 31:8, “Thou hast set my feet in a large room.” The idea is, that he was before straitened, compressed, hindered in his goings, but that now all obstacles had been taken out of the way, and he could walk freely.
That my feet did not slip - Margin, mine ancles. The Hebrew word here rendered in the text feet, and in the margin ancles, means properly a joint; small joint; especially the ancle. The reference here is to the ancle, the joint that is so useful in walking, and that is so liable to be sprained or dislocated. The meaning is that he had been enabled to walk firmly; that he did not limp. Before, he had been like one whose ancles are weak or sprained; now he was able to tread firmly. The divine favor given to him was as if God had given strength to a lame man to walk firmly.
I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them - He had not only routed them, but had had strength to pursue them; he had not only pursued them, but he had been enabled to come up to them. The idea is that of complete success and absolute triumph.
Neither did I turn again - I was not driven back, nor was I weary and exhausted, and compelled to give over the pursuit.
Till they were consumed - Until they were all either slain or made captive, so that the hostile forces vanished. None of my enemies were left.
I have wounded them ... - I have so weakened them - so entirely prostrated them - that they were not able to rally again. This does not refer so much to wounds inflicted on individuals in the hostile ranks as to the entire host or army. It was so weakened that it could not again be put in battle array. The idea is that of successful pursuit and conquest.
They are fallen under my feet - I have completely trodden them down - a common mode of denoting entire victory, Psalms 119:118; Isaiah 25:10; Lamentations 1:15; Daniel 8:13; Luke 21:24.
For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle - See the note at Psalms 18:32. Compare Job 12:18; Proverbs 31:17.
Thou hast subdued under me - Margin, as in Hebrew, caused to bow. That is, God had caused them to submit to him; he had enabled him to overcome them; still acknowledging that all this was from God, and that the praise was due to Him, and not to the power of his own arm.
Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies - Their necks to tread upon, as the result of victory; or their necks to be subject to me, as the neck of the ox is to his owner. The phrase is sometimes used in this latter sense to denote subjection (compare Jeremiah 27:12); but it is more commonly, when applied to war, used in the former sense, as denoting complete triumph or conquest. It was not uncommon to trample on the necks of those who were overcome in battle. See Joshua 10:24; Ezekiel 21:2; Genesis 49:8. The word used here - ערף ‛ôreph - means properly neck, nape, the back of the neck; and hence, to give the neck means sometimes to turn the back, as in flight; and the phrase would admit of that meaning here. So Gesenius (Lexicon) understands it. So also DeWette: “Thou turnest my enemies to flight.” It seems to me, however, that the more probable interpretation is that of complete subjection - as when the conqueror places his foot on the necks of his foes. This is confirmed by the next member of the sentence, where the psalmist speaks of the complete destruction of those who hated him.
That I might destroy them that hate me - That have pursued and persecuted me in this manner. The idea is that of utterly overcoming them; of putting an end to their power, and to their ability to injure him.
They cried - They cried out for help, for mercy, for life. In modern language, “they begged for quarter.” They acknowledged that they were vanquished, and entreated that their lives might be spared.
But there was none to save them - To preserve their lives. No help appeared from their own countrymen; they found no mercy in me or my followers; and God did not interpose to deliver them.
Even unto the Lord - As a last resort. People appeal to everything else for help before they will appeal to God; often when they come to Him it is by constraint, and not willingly; if the danger should leave them, they would cease to call upon Him. Hence, since there is no real sincerity in their calling upon God - no real regard for his honor or his commands - their cries are not heard, and they perish. The course of things with a sinner, however, is often such that, despairing of salvation in any other way, and seeing that this is the only true way, he comes with a heart broken, contrite, penitent, and then God never turns away from the cry. No sinner, though as a last resort, who comes to God in real sincerity, will ever be rejected.
But he answered them not - He did not put forth his power to save them from my sword; to keep them alive when they were thus vanquished. Had they cried unto him to save their souls, he would undoubtedly have done it; but their cry was for life - for the divine help to save them from the sword of the conqueror. There might have been many reasons why God should not interpose to save them from the regular consequences of valor when they had been in the wrong and had begun the war; but there would have been no reason why he should not interpose if they had called upon him to save them from their sins. There may be many reasons why God should not save sinners from the temporal judgments due to their sins - the intemperate from the diseases, the poverty, and the wretchedness consequent on that vice - or the licentious from the woes and sorrows caused by such a course of life; but there is no reason, in any case, why God should not save from the eternal consequences of sin, if the sinner cries sincerely and earnestly for mercy.
Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind - As the fine dust is driven by the wind, so they fled before me. There could be no more striking illustration of a defeated army flying before a conqueror. DeWette says correctly that the idea is, “I beat them small, and scattered them as dust before the wind.”
I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets - In the corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22:43, this is, “I did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad.” The idea in the place before us is, that he poured them out, for so the Hebrew word means, as the dirt or mire in the streets. As that is trodden on, or trampled down, so they, instead of being marshalled for battle, were wholly disorganized, scattered, and left to be trodden down, as the most worthless object is. A similar image occurs in Isaiah 10:6, where God is speaking of Sennacherib: “I will send him against an hypocritical nation ... to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”
Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people - From the contentions of the people; or, from the efforts which they have made to overcome and subdue me. The allusion is to the efforts made by the people, under the guidance of their leaders. It is not “strivings” among his own followers, but the efforts, the strivings, the contentions of his enemies, who endeavored to obtain the mastery over him, and to subdue him.
Thou hast made me the head of the heathen - The head of the nations; that is, the nations round about. In other words, he had, by the divine aid, brought them into subjection to him, or so subdued them that they became tributary to him. The word “heathen” with us expresses an idea which is not necessarily connected with the original word. That word is simply nations - גוים gôyim. It is true that those nations were pagans in the present sense of the term, but that idea is not necessarily connected with the word. The meaning is, that surrounding nations had been made subject to him; or that he had been made to rule over them. David, in fact, thus brought the surrounding people under subjection to him, and made them tributary. In 2 Samuel 8:0 he is said to have subdued Philistia, and Moab, and Syria, and Edom, in all of which countries he put “garrisons,” and all of which he made tributary to himself.
A people whom I have not known shall serve me - People that I had not before heard of. This is the language of confident faith that his kingdom would be still further extended, so as to embrace nations before unknown to him. His past victories, and the fact that his kingdom had been so established and was already so extended, justified the expectation that it would still be further enlarged; that the fame of his conquests would reach other nations, and that they would willingly yield themselves to him. After the victories which he had achieved, as celebrated in this psalm, that might be expected to follow as a matter of course. It is the triumphant exultation of a conqueror, and it seems to have been his expectation, not that his successors would extend the empire, but, that other nations would become voluntarily subject to him.
As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me - Margin, as in Hebrew, At the hearing of the ear. That is, their submission will be prompt and immediate. The fame of my victories will be such as to render resistance hopeless; my fame, as at the head of a mighty empire, will be such as to lead them to desire my friendship and protection.
The strangers - Margin, as in Hebrew, The sons of the stranger. The word refers to foreigners, to those of other nations. His name and deeds would inspire such respect, or create such a dread of his power, that they would be glad to seek his friendship, and would readily submit to his dominion.
Shall submit themselves unto me - Margin, yield feigned obedience. The Hebrew word used here - כחשׁ kâchash - means properly to lie, to speak lies; then, to deceive, or disappoint; then, to feign, to flatter, to play the hypocrite. It is manifestly used in this sense here, as referring to those who, awed by the terror of his name and power, would come and profess subjection to him as a conqueror. Yet the use of the word here implies that he was aware that, in many cases, this would be only a feigned submission, or that the homage would be hypocritical; homage inspired by terror, not by love. Undoubtedly, much of the professed subjection of conquered nations is of this kind, and it would be well if all conquerors understood this as David did. He accepted, indeed, the acquiescence and the submission, but he understood the cause; and this knowledge would only tend to make his throne more secure, as it would save him from putting confidence or trust where there was no certainty that it would be well placed.
Toward David as a sovereign there was much real loyalty, but there was also much professed allegiance that was false and hollow; allegiance which would endure only while his power lasted, and which would only wait for an opportunity to throw off the yoke. In respect to God, also, there are not a few who “feignedly submit” to him, or who yield feigned obedience. They, too, are awed by his power. They know that he is able to destroy. They see the tokens of his greatness and majesty, and they come and profess submission to him - a submission founded on terror, not on love; a submission which would cease at once could they be assured of safety if they should renounce their allegiance to him. And as David was not ignorant of the fact that not a little of the professed submission to him was false and feigned - so, in a much higher sense - in a much more accurate manner - God is aware of the fact that many who profess to be subject to him are subject in profession only; that if they could do it with safety, they would throw off the very appearance of loyalty, and carry out in reality what exists in their hearts. It must have been sad for David to reflect how greatly the number of his professed subjects might have been diminished, if none had been retained but those who truly loved his reign, and respected him as a sovereign; it is sad to reflect how greatly the number of the professed friends of God would be diminished, if all those should withdraw who have yielded only reigned obedience to him! Yet the Church would be the better and the stronger for it.
The strangers shall fade away - Hebrew, “The sons of the stranger.” That is, foreigners. The word rendered fade away - נבל nâbêl - means properly to wilt, wither, fall away, as applicable to flowers, leaves, or plants, Psalms 1:3; Psalms 37:2; Isaiah 1:30; Isaiah 28:1. Here it means that those foreign nations would diminish in numbers and in power, until they should wholly disappear. The idea is, that all his foes would vanish, and that he and his kingdom would be left in peace.
And be afraid out of their close places - The word rendered be afraid means to tremble - as those do who are in fear. The word rendered close places means places that are shut up or enclosed, as fortified cities or fortresses. The reference is to their places of retreat, towns, castles, fortresses. The meaning is, that they would find such places to be no security, and would tremble out of them; that is, they would flee out of them in consternation and alarm. The general thought is that of ultimate complete security for himself and his kingdom, or entire deliverance from all his enemies.
The Lord liveth - Yahweh - the name used here - is often described as the living God in contradistinction to idols, who are represented as without life, Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 2 Kings 19:4; Psalms 42:2; Matthew 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9. Compare Psalms 115:5; Psalms 135:16. It is probably in allusion to this idea that the phrase “The Lord liveth” is used here. It is a joyful exclamation in view of all that God had done; of all the deliverances which he had performed for the author of the psalm. In the remembrance of all this the psalmist says that God had shown himself to be the living, that is, the true God. These interpositions furnished abundant demonstration that Yahweh existed, and that he was worthy of adoration and praise as the true God. So, in view of mercy and salvation, the heart of the redeemed exultingly exclaims, “The Lord lives - there is a living God.”
And blessed be my Rock - God, who has shown himself to be a refuge and a protector. See the note at Psalms 18:2.
And let the God of my salvation be exalted - The God who has saved me from my enemies. Let him be exalted, be praised, be honored, be adored. Let his name be exalted above all idol gods; above all the creatures that he has made. The wish is, that His name might be made prominent; that all creatures might praise and honor Him.
It is God that avengeth me - Margin, giveth avengements for me. The marginal reading is a literal translation of the Hebrew. The meaning is, that God had punished the enemies of the author of the psalm for all the wrongs which they had done to him. Compare Romans 12:19.
And subdueth the people under me - Margin, destroyeth. The idea is that he had subdued the nations so that they became obedient to him. The primary notion of the word used here - from דבר dâbar - is to set in a row; to range in order; to connect; to lead; to guide; - then, to reduce to order; to subdue. This God had done in respect to the nations. Instead of being rebellious and tumultuous, God had reduced them to obedience, and had thus set him over a kingdom where all were subject to order and to law.
He delivereth me from mine enemies - From all my foes.
Yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me - So that I triumph over them. Instead of being subdued by them, and trampled under their feet, I am exalted, and they are humbled.
Thou hast delivered me from the violent man - Margin, as in Hebrew, man of violence; the man characterized by injustice and wrong; the man who endeavored to overcome and subdue me by force and arms. There is probably a special allusion here by the psalmist to Saul as his great enemy, but perhaps he had also in his eye others of the same kind, and the meaning may be that he had been delivered from all of that class of people.
Therefore will I give thanks unto thee - Margin, confess. The Hebrew word - ידה yâdâh - in the form used here, means properly to profess, to confess, to acknowledge; then especially to acknowledge or recognize blessings and favors; in other words, to give thanks, to praise. The idea here is that he would make a public acknowledgment of those blessings which he had received; or that he would cause the remembrance of them to be celebrated among the nations.
Among the heathen - Among the nations. See the note at Psalms 18:43. The meaning here is, that he would cause these blessings to be remembered by making a record of them in this song of praise; a song that would be used not only in his own age and in his own country, but also among other nations, and in other times. He would do all in his power to make the knowledge of these favors, and these proofs of the existence of the true God, known abroad and transmitted to other times. The apostle Paul uses this language Romans 15:9 as expressing properly the fact that the knowledge of God was to be communicated to the “Gentiles:” “As it is written, For this cause will I confess to thee among the Gentiles.” The word “heathen” or nations, in the passage before us, corresponds precisely with the meaning of the word Gentiles; and Paul has used the language of the psalm legitimately and properly as showing that it was a doctrine of the Old Testament that the truths of religion were not to be confined to the Jews, but were to be made known to other nations.
And sing praises unto thy name - Unto thee; the name often being used to denote the person. The meaning is, that he would cause the praises of God to be celebrated among foreign or pagan nations, as the result of what God had done for him. Far, probably, very far beyond what David anticipated when he penned this psalm, this has been done. The psalm itself has been chanted by million who were not in existence, and in lands of which the psalmist had no knowledge; and, connected as it has been with the other psalms in Christian worship, it has contributed in an eminent degree to extend the praises of God far in the earth, and to transmit the knowledge of him to generations as they succeeded one another. What David anticipated is, moreover, as yet only in the progress of fulfillment. Millions not yet born will make use of the psalm, as million have done before, as the medium of praise to God; and down to the most distant times this sacred song, in connection with the others in the Book of Psalms, will contribute to make God known in the earth, and to secure for him the praises of mankind.
Great deliverance giveth he to his king - To David, as king. The word in the original, which is rendered “deliverance,” means properly salvations, and is here in the plural number. It refers not to one act of divine interposition, but to the many acts (referred to in the psalm) in which God had interposed to save him from danger and from death. The phrase “to his king” refers to the fact that God had appointed him to reign, and to administer the government for him. He did not reign on his own account, but he reigned for God, and with a view to do his will.
And showeth mercy to his anointed - To him who had been set apart to the kingly office by a solemn act of anointing. Compare 1 Samuel 16:13; 2Sa 2:4-7; 2 Samuel 5:3, 2Sa 5:17; 2 Samuel 12:7; compare 2Ki 9:3, 2 Kings 9:6,2 Kings 9:12. It is in allusion to this custom that the Messiah is called the Anointed, or the Christ. See the note at Matthew 1:1.
To David, and to his seed - To his descendants, or posterity. There is an undoubted reference here to the promises made to David in regard to his successors on the throne. See 2 Samuel 7:12-16, 2 Samuel 7:25-26, and Psalms 89:19-37.
Forevermore - This expresses the confident expectation of David that the government would remain in his family to the latest times. This expectation was founded on such promises as that in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 : “I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom; he shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Also 2 Samuel 7:16 : “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee; thy throne shall be established forever.” See also Psalms 89:36 : “His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me.” The perpetuity of this kingdom is found, in fact, in the reign of the Messiah, a descendant of David, in whose eternal reign these promises will receive an ample fulfillment. See Isaiah 9:7. Compare Luke 1:32-33. The temporal reign passed wholly away in the process of time from the descendants of David; the spiritual reign is perpetual in the Messiah. How far David understood this it is not important to inquire, and it would be impossible to determine. It is sufficient for the proper understanding of the place to remember
(a) that there will have been a strict fulfillment of the promise, according to the full import of the language, in the Messiah, the Son of David; and
(b) that, however this may have been understood by David who recorded the promise, the real author of the promise was the Holy Spirit, and that the real meaning of the promise, as thus recorded, was that it should be fulfilled as it has been.
In this, as in all other cases, the inquiry to be made in interpreting the language is not how the sacred penman understood it, but what was meant by the real author, the Spirit of God - and whether the prediction, according to that meaning, has been fulfilled. When a man employs an amanuensis, the inquiry in regard to what is written is not how the amanuensis understood it, but how he who dictated what was written intended it should be understood. Applying this principle, the prediction here and elsewhere, in regard to the perpetuity of the reign of David and his posterity, has been, and is, fulfilled in the most ample manner. “Great David’s greater Son” shall reign forever and ever.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20