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1.Give ear to my prayer, O God! From the language with which the psalm opens, we may conclude that David at this time was laboring under heavy distress. It could be no ordinary amount of it which produced such an overwhelming effect upon a saint of his distinguished courage. The translation which has been given of
(296) “Literally slide iniquity upon me; i. e. , by oblique and artful insinuations they asperse my character. The sentiment of the whole line I take to be this, that the enemies of the Psalmist, by sly insinuations, brought him under the suspicion of the worst enemies, and then wreaked their malice upon him under the color of a just resentment.” —Horsley.
4.My heart trembles within me (299) Here we have additional evidence of the extremity of David’s sufferings. He that uses these words was no soft or effeminate person, but one who had given indubitable proofs of constancy. Nor is it merely of the atrocious injuries inflicted upon him by his enemies that he complains. He exclaims that he is overwhelmed with terrors, and thus acknowledges that his heart was not insensible to his afflictions. We may learn from the passage, therefore, not only that the sufferings which David endured at this time were heavy, but that the fortitude of the greatest servants of God fails them in the hour of severe trial. We are all good soldiers so long as things go well with us, but when brought to close combat, our weakness is soon apparent. Satan avails himself of the advantage, suggests that God has withdrawn the supports of his Spirit, and instigates us to despair. Of this we have an example in David, who is here represented as struggling with inward fears, as well as a complication of outward calamities, and sustaining a sore conflict of spirit in his application to the throne of God. The expression, terrors of death, shows that he was on the very eve of sinking unless Divine grace interposed.
(299) “My heart is in travail within me.”
6And I said, Who will give me wings like a dove? (300) These words mean more than merely that he could find no mode of escape. They are meant to express the deplorableness of his situation, which made exile a blessing to be coveted, and this not the common exile of mankind, but such as that of the dove when it flies far off to some deserted hiding-place. They imply that he could only escape by a miracle. They intimate that even the privilege of retreat by common banishment was denied him, so that it fared worse with him than with the poor bird of heaven, which can at least fly from its pursuer. Some think that the dove is singled out on account of its swiftness. The Jews held the ridiculous idea that the Hebrew reads wing in the singular number, because doves use but one wing in flying; whereas nothing is more common in Scripture than such a change of number. It seems most probable that David meant by this comparison, that he longed to escape from his cruel enemies, as the timid and defenseless dove flies from the hawk. Great, indeed, must have been the straits to which he was reduced, when he could so far forget the promise made to him of the kingdom as, in the agitation of his spirits, to contemplate a disgraceful flight, and speak of being content to hide himself far from his native country, and the haunts of human society, in some solitude of the wilderness. Nay, he adds, as if by way of concession to the fury of his adversaries, that he was willing (would they grant it) to wander far off, that he was not proposing terms of truce to them which he never meant to fulfill, merely to gain time, as those will do who entertain some secret and distant hope of deliverance. We may surely say that these are the words of a man driven to the borders of desperation. Such was the extremity in which he stood, that though prepared to abandon all, he could not obtain life even upon that condition. In such circumstances, in the anguish of this anxiety, we must not wonder that his heart was overwhelmed with the sorrows of death. The Hebrew word
(300) This very beautiful image, derived from the flight of the dove, is continued in the two following verses. The defenselessness of the dove, the danger to which it is exposed from birds of prey, the surprising rapidity with which, when pursued by the hawk, it flees to deserts and rocks to hide itself, putting forth its utmost speed, and outstripping its deadly pursuer; all these characteristics of this bird were in the view of the Psalmist on the present occasion. We find an allusion to them in Jeremiah 48:28: “O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth.” The poets of Greece and Rome make frequent allusions to the rapid flight of the dove: —
“So, when the falcon wings her way above,
To the cleft cavern speeds the gentle dove,
Not fated yet to die.” — Pope’ s Homer.
Sophocles, in a passage somewhat similar to this of the Psalmist, says, “O that with the rapid whirlwind flight of a dove I could cleave the etherial clouds!” — (Œdip Colon 1136.) “Kimshi gives it as the reason why the Psalmist prefers the dove to other birds, that while they become weary with flying, and alight upon a rock or a tree to recruit their strength, and are taken; the dove, when she is fatigued, alternately rests one wing, and flies with the other, and, by this means, escapes from the swiftest pursuers.” — (Paxton ’s Illustrations of Scripture, volume 2, p. 292.) It is worthy of observation, and it serves to heighten the effect of the Psalmist’s comparison, that
(301) Whirlwinds are not uncommon in Palestine, and the surrounding countries, and to them we often find allusions in the Sacred Writings. The description of that kind of whirlwind called the Sammiel, which sometimes happens between Egypt and Nubia, will serve to show the propriety with which David made this allusion in his present circumstances of distress and danger. “This wind, which the Arabs call poisonous, stifles on the spot those that are unfortunate enough to breathe in it: so that to guard against its pernicious effects, they are obliged to throw themselves speedily on the ground, with their face close to these burning sands, with which they are surrounded, and to cover their heads with some cloth or carpet, lest, in respiration, they should suck in that deadly quality which everywhere attends it. People ought even to think themselves very happy when this wind, which is always besides very violent, does not raise up large quantities of sand with a whirling motion, which, darkening the air, render the guides incapable of discerning their way. Sometimes whole caravans have been buried by this means under the sand, with which this wind is frequently charged.” — Maillet, quoted in Harmer ’s Observations, volume1, p. 95.
9.Destroy, (303) O Lord; and divide their tongue Having now composed, as it were, his mind, he resumes the exercise of prayer. Had he indulged longer in the strain of complaint, he might have given his sanction to the folly of those who do themselves more harm than good by the excessive use of this barren species of comfort. There will occasionally escape from the lips of a saint, when he prays, some complaining exclamations which cannot be altogether justified, but he soon recalls himself to the exercise of believing supplication. In the expression, divide their tongue, there seems an allusion to the judgment which fell upon the builders of Babel, (Genesis 31:7.) He means in general to pray that God would break their criminal confederacies, and distract their impious counsels, but evidently with an indirect reference to that memorable proof which God gave of his power to thwart the designs of the wicked by confounding their communication. It is thus that to this day he weakens the enemies of the Church, and splits them into factions, through the force of mutual animosities, rivalries, and disagreements in opinion. For his own encouragement in prayer, the Psalmist proceeds to insist upon the wickedness and malignity of his adversaries, this being a truth never to be lost sight of, that just in proportion as men grow rampant in sin, may it be anticipated that the divine judgments are about to descend upon them. From the unbridled license prevailing amongst them, he comforts himself with the reflection that the deliverance of God cannot be far distant; for he visits the proud, but gives more grace to the humble. Before proceeding to pray for divine judgments against them, he would intimate that he had full knowledge of their evil and injurious character. Interpreters have spent an unnecessary degree of labor in determining whether the city here spoken of was that of Jerusalem or of Keilah, for David by this term would appear merely to denote the open and public prevalence of crime in the country. The city stands opposed to places more hidden and obscure, and he insinuates that strife was practiced with unblushing publicity. Granting that the city meant was the metropolis of the kingdom, this is no reason why we should not suppose that the Psalmist had in his view the general state of the country; but the term is, in my opinion, evidently employed in an indefinite sense, to intimate that such wickedness as is generally committed in secret was at that time openly and publicly perpetrated. It is with the same view of marking the aggravated character of the wickedness then reigning in the nation, that he describes their crimes as going about the walls, keeping sentry or watch, so to speak, upon them. Walls are supposed to protect a city from rapine and incursion, but he complains that this order of things was inverted — that the city, instead of being surrounded with fortifications, was beset with strife and oppression, or that these had possession of the walls, and went about them. (304) I have already commented elsewhere upon the words
(303) Hare, Green, and others, conjecture that the first verb in the verse, “destroy,” had been originally “divide” — “divide, O Lord! divide their tongues.” In Scripture we sometimes meet with an elegant repetition of this kind, as in Psalms 59:13, “Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be.”
(304) “Violence and Strife” are here personified, as sentinels or patrol, who keep watch over the city; going their rounds upon the walls to guard “labor, sorrow, wickedness, deceit, and guile,” which reign in the midst of it, and to exclude happiness, righteousness, and truth. “It is, in fact,” says Bishop Mant, “a very fine specimen of that power of personification, or enduing general and abstract ideas with personal qualities; and thus introducing them acting and speaking upon the stage, for which the Hebrew poets are distinguished, equalling therein the most polished writers of other nations in elegance and beauty, and surpassing the most elevated in grandeur and sublimity.”
12Of a truth, it was not an enemy that cast reproach upon me He informs us of one circumstance which added bitterness to the injuries under which he suffered, that they came from the hands not only of his professed enemies, but of such as pretended to be his friends. Those mistake the meaning of
(308) This is the sense put upon the Hebrew word
(309) “Properly, a noisy crowd; hence, genr. crowd, multitude. ” — Gesenius It is from
15Let death seize upon them. He now denounces the whole faction, not the nation generally, but those who had taken a prominent part in the persecution of him. In imprecating this curse he was not influenced by any bad feeling towards them, and must be understood as speaking not in his own cause but in that of God, and under the immediate guidance of his Spirit. This was no wish uttered in a moment of resentment or of reckless and ill-considered zeal, and which would justify us in launching maledictions against our enemies upon every trivial provocation. The spirit of revenge differs widely from the holy and regulated fervor with which David prays for the judgment of God against wicked men, who had already been doomed to everlasting destruction. The translation, Let death condemn them, is forced, and so also is another which has been suggested, Let him appoint death a creditor over them. (310) That which we have given is the most obvious and simple. In praying that his enemies may descend alive into the grave, it has been well observed, that he seems to allude to the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; though I conceive that in imprecating sudden and unexpected ruin upon them, he adverts to the proud persuasion which they cherished in their prosperity, that they would escape the stroke of death. “Lord,” as if he had said, “in the infatuation of their pride they consider themselves to be exempted from the ordinary lot of mortality, but let the earth swallow them up alive — let nothing prevent their being dragged down with all their pomp to the destruction which they deserve.” The cause which he assigns for his prayer in the latter part of the verse, is another proof that he was not influenced by any personal resentment against his enemies, but simply denounced the just judgments of God upon such as persecuted the Church. Wickedness, he adds, is in their dwelling By this he meant that it could not but dwell where they dwelt and this he expresses still more fully when he adds, in the midst of them; intimating, that they inwardly cherished their wickedness, so that it was their inseparable companion, and dwelt with them under the same roof.
(310) This is the sense in which Horsley understands the passage. He observes, that “the image here is not sufficiently expressed by the English word seize, though it is not impossible that our translators might intend to allude to the seizure of a debtor. But this is rather a kindred image than the same. The precise image in the original is the exaction of payment, not the seizure of the person.” His rendering is, “Let death exalt his claim upon them.”
16I will call upon God. In translating this verse I have retained the future tense of the verb, as the Psalmist does not refer to something already done, but rather excites himself to the duty of prayer, and to the exercise of hope and confidence. Though there was no apparent method of escape, and he stood on the brink of immediate destruction, he declares his resolution to continue in prayer, and expresses his assurance that it would be successful. In the verse which follows he engages more particularly to show perseverance in prayer. He does not content himself with saying that he will pray, for many do this in a perfunctory manner, and soon become wearied with the exercise; but he resolves to display both assiduity and vehemency. From the particular mention he makes of evening, morning, and noon, we are left to infer that these must have been the stated hours of prayer amongst the godly at that period. Sacrifices were offered daily in the temple morning and evening, and by this they were taught to engage privately in prayer within their own houses. At noon also it was the practice to offer additional sacrifices. As we are naturally indisposed for the duty of prayer, there is a danger that we may become remiss, and gradually omit it altogether, unless we restrict ourselves to a certain rule. In appointing particular fixed hours to be observed for his worship, there can be no doubt that God had respect to the infirmity of our nature, and the same principle should be applied to the secret as to the public services of devotion, as appears from the passage now before us, and from the example of Daniel, (Daniel 9:3.) Sacrifices are no longer to be observed in the Church, but as there remains the same indisposition on our part to the duty, and an equal need of incitements to overcome it, we should still prescribe certain hours to ourselves to be observed in prayer. He adds, that he would cry aloud, to denote vehemency of supplication, under the grief and anxiety of mind to which he was subjected. He intimates, that no extremity of present trouble would prevent him from directing his complaint to God, and cherishing a confident hope of deliverance.
18He hath redeemed my soul into peace Those who read the two preceding verses in the perfect instead of the future tense, are apparently led to this by considering that David here proves his former prayers to have been answered, from the fact of deliverance having been granted. But there is no difficulty involved in adopting the other reading. We may suppose that either he was so confident of being delivered that he speaks as if he actually were so already, or that he inserts what was the substance of his meditations at different times; it being sufficiently common, when mention is made of prayers, to subjoin a statement of the event which followed from them. Having spoken, then, of his prayers, he adverts to the result of them, with the view of expressing his thankfulness for the mercy which he had received. He says that he had been redeemed into peace — a strong expression, signifying the danger to which he had been exposed, and the almost miraculous manner in which he had been delivered from it. What is added, they were in great numbers with me, admits of a double meaning. Some understand him as referring to enemies; with me being, according to them, equivalent to against me. He represents himself as having been beset, by a host of adversaries, and commends the goodness manifested by God in accomplishing his deliverance. Others think that he refers to the angels, whose hosts are encamped round about those that fear the Lord, (Psalms 34:7.) The letter
(313) Rogers is of this opinion; and observes, that “in the Appendix to the first volume of Glassius, many instances are adduced of the redundancy of the prefix
(314) Walford renders the sentence, “Though multitudes be in opposition to me.” “The sense,” says he, “which is here given, is evidently required, and is fairly deducible from the Hebrew text.” Bishop Horsley’s rendering is, “For they who stood on my side told for many;” — “they who stood on my side,” denoting the Divine assistance described under the image of numerous auxiliaries. See 2 Kings 6:16; 1 John 4:4. Bishop Mant is satisfied that this is the Psalmist’s meaning, and he accordingly turns the verse thus: —
“And he shall hear me, he shall shield,
And he with peace shall crown;
My guardian in the battle-field,
An host himself alone.”
19God shall hear, and afflict them As the verb
(315) The reason of this difference arises from the ambiguity of the meaning of the original word, which signifies change simply, without reference to the kind of change. Of the two senses which our Author proceeds to state, the first is that adopted by the Chaldee, which reads, “Wicked men, who change not their very evil course, and fear not the sight of God, shall perish.” Dathe, while he admits the ambiguity of the word, follows the Chaldee. Gesenius gives the same interpretation. “But,” says Walford, “this reduces the passage nearly to an identical proposition; so that the probable meaning is, vicissitudes of fortune. These men had enjoyed great prosperity, and been subjected to few trials; they were therefore enamoured of this world and its pleasures, and gave themselves little regard about the will and authority of God. See Psalms 73:5.”
(316) “That is,” says Williams, “they suppose they also shall live for ever; or, at least, that things will go on the same for ever. See 2 Peter 3:4.
20.He hath sent his hands against those that were at peace with him He afterwards speaks in verse 23d in the plural number, but here it is probable that he begins by addressing the leader and head of the wicked conspiracy. He accuses him of waging war in the midst of peace, and being thus guilty of a breach of faith. He had neither suffered provocation, nor had he announced in an open manner his intention to give battle, but had commenced the attack unexpectedly and with treachery. The same charge is insisted upon still further, when it is added, that butter and oil were in his lips, while war was in his heart, and his words themselves were darts. To appearance they were soft and agreeable, but they covered a hidden virulence and cruelty which wounded like a sword or like darts, (320) according to the common proverb, that deceivers carry on their lips poison besmeared with honey. It is well known how many fair promises and flatteries Saul addressed to David with a view to entrap him, and we may conjecture that the same arts were practiced by his courtiers. It is one special trial of the Lord’s people, that they are exposed to such attempts on the part of crafty men to seduce them into destruction. Here the Holy Spirit puts a mark of reprobation upon all subtilty of this kind, and particularly upon treacherous flatteries, exhorting us to cultivate simplicity of intention.
(320) In the figurative language of the East, severe, unfeeling, and injurious words are often compared to swords, daggers, arrows, etc. Thus it is said in Psalms 59:7, “Swords are in their lips; for who, say they, doth hear?” and in Proverbs 12:18, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword.” In our own language, a similar figure of speech is quite common, as when we speak of keen, cutting, and piercing words, and of the wounds which they inflict. “I will speak daggers to her.” —Hamlet.
22Cast thy giving upon Jehovah. The Hebrew verb
(321) “What thou desirest to have given thee,” according to the Chaldee, which renders the word thy hope; i e. , that which thou hopest to receive. On the margin of our English Bibles it is, thy gift, which Williams explains by “allotment.” “Cast thy allotment upon the Lord, ” says he, “on which we may remark, that whatever allotment we receive from God, whether of prosperity or adversity, it is our duty to refer it back to him: ‘He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him;’ or if our lot be adverse, ‘he will sustain’ under every burden, and ‘never suffer the righteous to be moved’ from his foundation.” In like manner Rogers understands the word. “Cast upon Jehovah what he allots you; i e. , commit to Jehovah your destiny. Supply
23Thou, O God! shalt cast them into the pit of corruption. He returns to speak of his enemies, designing to show the very different end which awaits them, from that which may be expected by the righteous. The only reflection which comforts the latter, when cast down at the feet of their oppressors, is, that they can confidently look for a peaceful issue to the dangers which encompass them; while, on the other hand, they can discern by faith the certain destruction which impends the wicked. The Hebrew word
(322) The Chaldee explains it, “the deep Gehenna.”
(323) Heb. “men of blood and deceit.”
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 55". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany