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This purports to be “A Psalm of David,” and there is no reason to think that the inscription is not correct. But the occasion on which it was composed is wholly unknown. There is no intimation of this in the title, and there are no historical marks in the psalm which would enable us to determine this. There were not a few occasions in the life of David when all that is expressed in the psalm might have been said by him - as there are many occasions, in the lives of all, to which the sentiments of the psalm would be appropriate. The Septuagint version has the title, “A Psalm of David before his anointing,”...πρὀ τοῦ χρισθῆναι pro tou christhēnai. Grotius supposes the occasion to have been the anointing in Hebron, when he was first inaugurated as king, 2 Samuel 2:4. Rosenmuller refers it to the last anointing, 2 Samuel 5:3. Many of the Jewish expositors refer the psalm to the last days of David, when he was delivered from death by the intervention of Abishai, 2 Samuel 21:16-17. But there is no internal evidence that the psalm was composed on either of these occasions, and it is now impossible to ascertain the time or the circumstances of its composition.
The general object of the psalm is to excite in others confidence in God from the experience which the psalmist had of His merciful interposition in times of trouble and danger, Psalms 27:14. The author of the psalm had had some marked evidence of the divine favor and protection in seasons of peril and sorrow Psalms 27:1; and he makes use of this as an argument running through the psalm to lead others to repose on God in similar circumstances. It may have been that at the time of composing the psalm he was still surrounded by enemies, and exposed to danger; but if so, he expresses the utmost confidence in God, and gratefully refers to His past interposition in similar circumstances as full proof that all his interests would be secure.
The contents of the psalm are:
I. An expression of confidence in God as derived from his own experience of His merciful interposition in times of danger, Psalms 27:1-3. He had been in peril at some time which is not specified, and had been rescued; and from this gracious interposition he argues that it would be safe always to trust in God.
II. The expression of a desire to dwell always where God is; to see his beauty there; to inquire further after him; to offer sacrifices; and to praise him, Psalms 27:4-6. The psalmist had seen so much of God that he desired to see yet more; he had had such experience of his favor that he wished always to be with Him; he had found so much happiness in God that he believed that all his happiness was to be found in His presence, and in His service.
III. An earnest prayer that God would hear him; that he would grant his requests; that he would save him from all his enemies; that he would lead him in a plain path, Psalms 27:7-12. This is founded partly on his own past experience, that when God had commanded him to seek His face he had obeyed Psalms 27:8, and it is connected with the fullest assurance that God would protect him, even if he would be forsaken by his father and mother Psalms 27:10.
IV. The conclusion - the exhortation to wait on the Lord, Psalms 27:13-14. This exhortation is derived from his own experience. He says that he himself would have fainted if he had not confided in God and hoped in His mercy, when there was no other hope Psalms 27:13; and, in view of that experience, he encourages all others to put their trust in Him Psalms 27:14.
The Lord is my light - He is to me the source of light. That is, He guides and leads me. Darkness is the emblem of distress, trouble, perplexity, and sorrow; light is the emblem of the opposite of these. God furnished him such light that these troubles disappeared, and his way was bright and happy.
And my salvation - That is, He saves or delivers me.
Whom shall I fear? - Compare Romans 8:31. If God is on our side, or is for us, we can have no apprehension of danger. He is abundantly able to protect us, and we may confidently trust in Him. No one needs any better security against the objects of fear or dread than the conviction that God is his friend.
The Lord is the strength of my life - The support of my life. Or, in other words, He keeps me alive. In itself life is feeble, and is easily crushed out by trouble and sorrow; but as long as God is its strength, there is nothing to fear.
Of whom shall I be afraid? - No one has power to take life away while He defends me. God is to those who put their trust in Him a stronghold or fortress, and they are safe.
When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me - This refers, doubtless, to some particular period of his past life when he was in very great danger, and when God interposed to save him. The margin here is, “approached against me.” The literal rendering would be, “in the drawing near against me of the wicked to eat up my flesh.” The reference is to some period when they purposed an attack upon him, and when he was in imminent danger from such a threatened attack.
To eat up my flesh - As if they would eat me up. That is, they came upon me like ravening wolves, or hungry lions. We are not to suppose that they literally purposed to eat up his flesh, or that they were cannibals; but the comparison is one that is drawn from the fierceness of wild beasts rushing on their prey. Compare Psalms 14:4.
They stumbled and fell - They were overthrown. They failed in their purpose. Either they were thrown into a panic by a false fear, or they were overthrown in battle. The language would be rather applicable to the former, as if by some alarm they were thrown into consternation. Either they differed among themselves and became confused, or God threw obstacles in their way and they were driven back. The general idea is, that God had interposed in some way to prevent the execution of their purposes.
Though an host - Though an “army;” that is, any army, or any number of men in battle array. The past interposition of God in similar times of trouble and danger was to him a sufficient security that he had nothing to fear.
Should encamp against me - In battle array, or prepared for battle.
My heart shall not fear - He would not tremble; he would not feel that there was anything of which to be afraid. God had shown Himself superior to the power of hostile armies, and the psalmist felt assured that he might confide in Him.
Though war should rise against me - Though it should be proclaimed, and though all preparation should be made for it, I will not be afraid.
In this will I be confident - In such a case, in such an extremity or emergency, I would calmly trust in God. He would apprehend no danger, for he had seen that the Lord could deliver him.
One thing have I desired of the Lord - One main object; one thing that I have especially desired; one thing which has been the object of my constant wish. This ruling desire of his heart the psalmist has more than once adverted to in the previous psalms (compare Psalms 23:6; Psalms 26:8); and he frequently refers to it in the subsequent psalms.
That will I seek after - As the leading object of my life; as the thing which I most earnestly desire.
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord - See the notes at Psalms 23:6.
All the days of my life - Constantly; to the end. Though engaged in other things, and though there were other objects of interest in the world, yet he felt that it would be supreme felicity on earth to dwell always in the temple of God, and to be employed in its sacred services, preparatory to an eternal residence in the temple above. To him the service of God upon earth was not burdensome, nor did he anticipate that he would ever become weary of praising his Maker. How can a man be prepared for an eternal heaven who finds the worship of God on earth irksome and tedious?
To behold the beauty of the Lord - Margin, “the delight.” The word rendered “beauty” here - נעם nô‛am - means properly “pleasantness;” then, “beauty, splendor;” then, “grace, favor.” The reference here is to the beauty or loveliness of the divine character as it was particularly manifested in the public worship of God, or by those symbols which in the ancient worship were designed to make that character known. In the tabernacle and in the temple there was a manifestation of the character of God not seen elsewhere. The whole worship was adapted to set forth his greatness, his glory, and his grace. Great truths were brought before the mind, fitted to elevate, to comfort, and to sanctify the soul; and it was in the contemplation of those truths that the psalmist sought to elevate and purify his own mind, and to sustain himself in the troubles and perplexities of life. Compare Psalms 73:15-17.
And to inquire in his temple - Or tabernacle. The word used here would be applicable to either, considered as the “palace” or the residence of Yahweh. As the temple was not, however, built at this time, the word must here be understood to refer to the tabernacle. See the notes at Psalms 5:7. The meaning of the passage is, that he would wish to seek instruction, or to obtain light on the great questions pertaining to God, and that he looked for this light in the place where God was worshipped, and by means of the views which that worship was adapted to convey to the mind. In a manner still more direct and full may we now hope to obtain just views of God by attendance on his worship. The Christian sanctuary - the place of public worship - is the place where, if anywhere on earth, we may hope to have our minds enlightened; our perplexities removed; our hearts comforted and sanctifed, by right views of God.
For in the time of trouble - When I am surrounded by dangers, or when affliction comes upon me.
He shall hide me - The word used here means to hide; to secrete; and then, to defend or protect. It would properly be applied to one who had fled from oppression, or from any impending evil, and who should be “secreted” in a house or cavern, and thus rendered safe from pursuers, or from the threatening evil.
In his pavilion - The word “pavilion” means “tent” or “tabernacle.” The Hebrew word - סכה sukâh - means properly a booth, hut, or cot formed of green branches interwoven: Jonah 4:5; Job 27:18; see the notes at Isaiah 4:6. Then it is applied to tents made of skins: Leviticus 23:43; 2 Samuel 11:11. It thus is used to denote the tabernacle, considered as the dwelling-place of God on earth, and the meaning here is, that God would hide him as it were in His own dwelling; He would admit him near to Himself; He would take care that he should be protected as if he were one of His own family; as a man protects those whom he admits to his own abode.
In the secret of his tabernacle - In the most retired and private part of His dwelling. He would not merely admit him to His premises; not only to the vestibule of His house; not only to the open court, or to the parts of His house frequented by the rest of His family; but he would admit him to the private apartments - the place to which He Himself withdrew to be alone, and where no stranger, and not even one of the family, would venture to intrude. Nothing could more certainly denote friendship; nothing could more certainly make protection sure, than thus to be taken into the private apartment where the master of a family was accustomed himself to withdraw, that he might be alone; and nothing, therefore, can more beautifully describe the protection which God will give to His friends than the idea of thus admitting them to the secret apartments of His own dwelling-place.
He shall set me up upon a rock - A place where I shall be secure; a place inaccessible to my enemies. Compare Psalms 18:1-2; Psalms 19:14 (margin); Psalms 61:2; Psalms 71:3. The meaning is, that he would be safe from all his enemies.
And now shall mine head - Now shall I be exalted. So we say that in affliction a person bows down his head; in prosperity he lifts it up. This verse expresses the confident expectation that he would be enabled to triumph over all his foes, and a firm purpose on his part, as the result of this, to offer sacrifices of praise to his great Deliverer.
Above mine enemies round about me - All my enemies, though they seem even to encompass me on every side.
Therefore will I offer in his tabernacle - In His tent, His dwelling-place: referring here, undoubtedly, to “the tabernacle” as a place where God was worshipped.
Sacrifices of joy - Margin, as in the Hebrew, of “shouting.” That is, he would offer sacrifices accompanied with loud sounds of praise and thanksgiving. There is nothing wrong in shouting for joy when a person is delivered from imminent danger, nothing wrong in doing so when he feels that he is rescued from the peril of eternal ruin.
I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord - This language is that which comes from a full heart. He is not contented with saying merely that he would “sing.” He repeats the idea; he dwells upon it. With a heart overflowing with gratitude he would go and give utterance to his joy. He would repeat, and dwell upon, the language of thanksgiving.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice - This earnest prayer seems to have been prompted by a returning sense of danger. He had had assurance of the divine favor. He had found God ready to help him. He did not doubt but that He would aid him; yet all this did not prevent his calling upon Him for the aid which he needed, but rather stimulated him to do it. With all the deep-felt conviction of his heart that God was ready and willing to assist him, he still felt that he had no reason to hope for His aid unless he called upon Him. The phrase “when I cry with my voice” refers to the fact that he prayed audibly or aloud. It was not mental prayer, but that which found expression in the language of earnest entreaty.
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face ... - Margin, “My heart said unto thee, Let my face seek thy face.” The literal translation would be: “To Thee hath said my heart, Seek ye my face; thy face, O Lord, will I seek.” DeWette thus expresses the idea, “Of thee my heart thinks (in regard to the command to seek thy face), thy face, Lord, I will seek.” Our translators have given the correct meaning, though the original is quite obscure. The passage is designed to denote the state of the mind, or the disposition, in regard to the commands of God. The command or precept was to seek God. The prompt purpose of the mind or heart of the psalmist was, that he would do it. He “immediately” complied with that command, as it was a principle of his life - one of the steady promptings of his heart - that he would do this. The heart asked no excuse; pleaded for no delay; desired no reason for not complying with the command, but at once assented to the propriety of the law, and resolved to obey. This related undoubtedly at first to prayer, but the “principle” is applicable to all the commands of God. It is the prompting of a pious heart immediately and always to obey the voice of God, no matter what his command is, and no matter what sacrifice may be required in obeying it.
Hide not thy face far from me - Compare the notes at Psalms 4:6. To “hide the face” is to turn it away with displeasure, as if we would not look on one who has offended us. The favor of God is often expressed by “lifting the light of his countenance” upon anyone - looking complacently or “pleasedly” upon him. The reverse of this is expressed by hiding the face, or by turning it away. The word “far” introduced by the translators does not aid the sense of the passage.
Put not thy servant away in anger - Do not turn me off, or put me away in displeasure. We turn one away, or do not admit him into our presence, with whom we are displeased. The psalmist prayed that he might have free access to God as a Friend.
Thou hast been my help - In days that are past. This he urges as a reason why God should still befriend him. The fact that He had shown mercy to him, that He had treated him as a friend, is urged as a reason why He should now hear his prayers, and show him mercy.
Leave me not - Do not abandon me. This is still a proper ground of pleading with God. We may refer to all His former mercies toward us; we may make mention of those mercies as a reason why He should now interpose and save us. We may, so to speak, “remind” him of His former favors and friendship, and may plead with Him that He will complete what He has begun, and that, having once admitted us to His favor, He will never leave or forsake us.
When my father and my mother forsake me - If they should do it. The psalmist supposes it possible that this might occur. It does occur, though very rarely; but the psalmist means to say that the love of God is stronger and more certain than even that of a father or mother, since he will never forsake his people. Though every other tie that binds heart to heart should dissolve, this will remain; though a case might occur in which we could not be sure of the love that naturally springs out of the most tender earthly relationships, yet we can always confide in His love. See the notes at Isaiah 49:15.
Then the Lord will take me up - Margin, “will gather me.” The margin expresses the usual meaning of the word. It is sometimes used as referring to the hospitable reception of strangers or wanderers into one’s house: Judges 19:15, Judges 19:18; Joshua 20:4. The meaning here is, that if he should be forsaken by his nearest earthly friends, and be an outcast and a wanderer, so that no one on earth would take him in, the Lord would then receive him.
Teach me thy way, O Lord - See the notes at Psalms 25:4-5.
And lead me in a plain path - Margin, “a way of plainness.” That is, a straight or smooth path. In other words, he prayed that he might be enabled to act wisely and right; he desired that God would teach him what he should do.
Because of mine enemies - Margin, “those which observe me.” The translation in the text expresses the true sense. The word which is used is derived from a verb that signifies “to twist; to twist together;” and then, to oppress; to treat as an enemy. Here it refers to those who would treat him harshly or cruelly; and he prays that God would show him how to act in view of the fact that he was surrounded by such foes. They were harsh and cruel; they sought to overcome him; they laid snares for him. He knew not how to act so as to escape from them, and he, therefore, pleads that God would instruct and guide him.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies - Let them not accomplish their desires in regard to me; let them not be able to carry out their purposes. The word here rendered “will” means properly “soul,” but it is used here evidently to denote “wish” or “desire.” Compare Psalms 35:25.
For false witnesses are risen up against me - People who would lay false charges against him, or who would wrongfully accuse him. They charged him with crimes which he never committed, and they persecuted him as if he were guilty of what they alleged against him.
And such as breathe out cruelty - That is, they meditate violence or cruel treatment. They are intent on this; they pant for it. Saul of Tarsus thus “breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” See the notes at Acts 9:1.
I had fainted, unless I had believed - The words “I had fainted” are supplied by the translators, but they undoubtedly express the true sense of the passage. The psalmist refers to the state of mind produced by the efforts of his enemies to destroy him, as mentioned in Psalms 27:12. So numerous, mighty, and formidable were they, that he says his only support was his faith in God; his belief that he would yet be permitted to see the goodness of God upon the earth. In this time of perplexity and trial he had confidence in God, and believed that He would uphold him, and would permit him to see the evidences of His goodness and mercy while yet on the earth. What was the ground of this confidence he does not say, but he had the fullest belief that this would be so. He may have had some special assurance of it, or he may have had a deep internal conviction of it, sufficient to calm his mind; but whatever was the source of this confidence it was that which sustained him. A similar state of feeling is indicated in the remarkable passage in Job, Job 19:25-27. See the notes at that passage.
To see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living - That is, that I should “live,” and yet see and enjoy the tokens of the divine favor here upon the earth.
Wait on the Lord - This is the sum of all the instruction in the psalm; the main lesson which the psalm is designed to convey. The object is to induce others, from the experience of the psalmist, to trust in the Lord; to rely upon Him; to come to Him in trouble and danger; to wait for His interposition when all other resources fail. Compare Psalms 25:3.
Be of good courage - The Hebrew word here means, “be strong.” That is, do not faint. Do not be dismayed. Still hope and trust in the Lord.
He shall strengthen thine heart - He will strengthen “thee.” He will enable you to perform your duties, and to triumph over your enemies. See the notes at Isaiah 40:31.
Wait, I say, on the Lord - Repeating an idea with which the heart was full; a lesson resulting from his own rich experience. He dwells upon it as a lesson which he would fix deeply in the mind, that in all times of danger and difficulty, instead of despondency, instead of sinking down in despair, instead of giving up all effort, we should go forward in the discharge of duty, putting our trust solely in the Lord.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 27". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26