Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Psalms 27



The opening of this ode reads like the expression of a warrior’s faith. On the other hand, Psalms 27:4 and G point to a Levitical origin. Probably a priest or Levite speaks here for the nation at large, deprived for the present, by foreign persecution, of the regular Temple services. The tone is confident and even triumphant till we come to Psalms 27:7, when an abrupt change occurs both in feeling and rhythm. The situation which inspired these latter verses was plainly sad—quite changed from the confidence of the earlier part. Nor is it only that the attitude of praise is changed for that of prayer, but the religious experience of this writer is plainly of a different kind from that of the author of the earlier part. He has had “fears within” as well as “fightings without.” He shrinks from the anger of God, and dreads that the Divine favour may be withdrawn (Psalms 27:9). Many therefore regard the psalm as composite, the work of two different minds. The opening rhythm resembles that of Psalms 11:7, and this part of the psalm may be arranged in six verses of four lines each, resembling English common metre verse (see General Introduction, V.). The latter part is irregular. The Codex Vat. of the LXX. and the Vulg. add to the title the words “before he was anointed,” which only serve to make the question of date of composition still more perplexing.

Verse 1

(1) The Lord is my light.—This noble thought appears nowhere else so grandly, though we may compare Isaiah 60:1. The Latin of the Vulgate, “Dominus illuminatio mea,” is the motto of the University of Oxford, and expands in a new but true direction the thought of the ancient bard. To him, Jehovah was the guiding and cheering beacon-fire, proclaiming his victory and pointing him the happy homeward way. From this to the belief in God as the source both of moral and intellectual light, is a long but glorious stage, along which the world has been guided by such words as Isaiah 60:1, still more by the recognition of the incarnate Son as the Light of men (John 1:5; John 3:19; John 12:46, &c).

Strength.—Better, defence or bulwark; Heb., maôz, rendered “rock,” Judges 6:26 (margin, strong place); used in Isaiah 17:9 of fortified cities; as here, Psalms 37:39; Psalms 43:2; LXX., “shields;” Vulg., “protector.”

Verse 2

(2) When . . .—Literally, In the coming against me (of) the wicked to devour my fleshmy enemies and my foes to methemselves stumbled and fell. Job 19:22 would allow us to understand those who eat up flesh, as a figure for calumniators and detractors; but the context marks out the situation so clearly as that of a warrior, that we rather take it as a general metaphor for savage and violent attacks. To me, is an emphatic repetition—my enemies, mine.

Verse 3

(3) Though an host.—Literally, Though a camp should encamp.

In this.—Either in this circumstance or in spite of this. (Comp. Psalms 78:32.) The LXX. ἐν ταύτῃ, followed by μίαν in the next clause, seems to refer it to the hope about to be expressed. The Rabbinical commentators (e.g., Aben Ezra and Rashi) refer back to the beginning of the psalm. “In this”—viz., that Jehovah is my light—“do I trust.” Rosenmiiller refers it to “the battle” just mentioned, in ipsa pugna.

Verse 4

(4) To behold the beauty.—Literally, to see into the favouri.e., to meditate on the graciousness of God.

To enquire . . .—Literally, to look into, either judicially or critically; here, “to ponder or meditate” Ewald, however, and others add with notion of pleasure, “refresh myself,” but on doubtful authority. Some Rabbis, connecting bâkar with boker, the morning, render, “to attend in the morning,” while some commentators would entirely spiritualise the wish, as if the actual attendance on the House of God were not in the poet’s thoughts. But the words breathe—only in even a higher key—the feeling of Milton’s well-known

“But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister’s pale,” &c

A mere transposition of letters would give an easy sense, “to offer in thy Temple.”

Verse 5

(5) Pavilion.—A booth or hut; also of the lair of wild beasts (Psalms 10:9; Jeremiah 25:38). (Comp. Job 38:40.)

Secret of his tabernacle.—Better, hiding place of his tent (ôhel), the regular word for the tent of the congregation, but also used generally of a habitation of any kind—not necessarily of the tent set up for the ark by David at Zion (2 Samuel 6:17). The clause, “He shall set me up upon a rock”—i.e., for safety—shows that the tent is also used figuratively for shelter; but there may also be a thought of the sure asylum to be found in the tabernacle of the congregation.

Verse 6

(6) Sacrifices of joy.—Literally, of shouting; so LXX. and Vulg., hostiam vociferationis. The custom of blowing trumpets (Numbers 10:10; comp. Sir. 1:16-18) at the time of the burnt offering illustrates this expression even if there is no direct allusion to it.

I will sing, yea.—Better, I will sing and play.

Verse 7

(7) The change of tone so marked here, from the warlike to the plaintive, leads to the supposition that Psalms 27:7-12 are interpolated from another song of quite another kind in contents, art, and period.

I cry with my voicei.e., aloud.

Verse 8

(8) When thou saidst.—The margin rightly rejects these words, and restores the order of the Hebrew; but the text of the Authorised Version really gives its meaning.

The thought seems borrowed from seeking admission to a royal personage to ask a favour.

Verse 9

(9) Far.—This is unnecessary and misleading.

Verse 11

(11) Enemies.—Comp. Psalms 56:2; Psalms 54:7; Psalms 59:10-11. Ewald, “malignant liers in wait”; so Aquila.

Verse 12

(12) By slightly changing a letter, we avoid the awkward ellipse in Psalms 27:13, and get

“Such as breathe out cruelty against me,

So that I did not believe to see,” &c

Verse 14

(14) He shall strengthen.—Better, let thy heart be strong.

Wait . . .—Heb., wait for Jehovah, and wait for Jehovah.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 27". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.