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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 141

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 141

The Psalmist entreats from the Lord power to withstand the internal dangers with which he was threatened from the assaults of a hostile world, the temptation which pressed upon him to murmur against God and his providential dealings, and to pass over into the path of prosperous sinners, Psalms 141:1-4. In Psalms 141:5-7 he brings to his recollection the reasons which might fortify him against such a temptation: what he had hitherto suffered was the gracious and gentle chastisement of a righteous God, and in his time the wheel will turn, the enemies be appointed to destruction, the death of the Psalmist change into life. Finally, in Psalms 141:8-10, he prays that the Lord would bring such hopes into fulfilment, by giving deliverance to him, and overthrowing the enemies.

The whole is completed in the number ten, which falls into seven, divided by four and three, and three. The name Jehovah is thrice used.

The superscription, which ascribes the Psalm to David, is confirmed by the close affinity it bears to the Psalms of David in connection with undoubted originality. The pregnant brevity of the language extorts, even from De Wette, the confession: “I consider it, with Psalms 10, to be one of the oldest.” That the Psalm, like the whole cycle to which it belongs, refers to greater relations than those of a private individual, is evident from the expressions, “their judges,” and “our bones,” in Psalms 141:6-7. It is also fitly assigned to this cycle on the ground, that Psalms 141:9-10 connect themselves with the preceding Psalm, while Psalms 141:6 refers to Psalms 138:4; and, lastly, on account of the predilection peculiar to this cycle for rare words and unusual forms.

The centre of the Psalm is formed by Psalms 141:3-4, especially the latter, to which also indicated by its disproportionate length. David would fortify his successors upon the throne, and their people, against the strong inward temptations which the coming cross was sure to bring with it, temptations which had pressed hard upon himself during the troubled past, and the danger of which he well knew from his own experience.

Verses 1-4

Ver. 1. A Psalm of David. Lord, I cry to thee, make haste to me, give ear to my voice when I cry to thee. Ver. 2. Let my prayer prosper before thee as the incense, the heaving of my hands as the evening meat-offering. Ver. 3. Set, Lord, a guard to my mouth, keep the door of my lips. Ver. 4. Incline not my heart to an evil thing, to commit deeds in wickedness with evil doers, and let me not eat of their dainties.

Psalms 141:1-2 form the introduction, not to the whole Psalm, but to Psalms 141:3-4. For only there are purposes concealed behind the prayer, of which the second member of Psalms 141:2 speaks. To the same result conducts also the formal division of the Psalm, according to which, Psalms 141:1-2 are closely united to Psalms 141:3-4, while they would form a strophe by themselves as an introduction to the whole Psalm. On the expression; I cry to thee, Psalms 141:1, comp. Psalms 17:6. On the expression: make haste to me, which shows that the temptation against which the Psalmist prays for support in Psalms 141:3-4, which lay heavy upon him, and even in idea was ready to overwhelm him, comp. Psalms 22:19, Psalms 70:2, Psalms 71:12. On the words: give ear to my voice, Psalms 140:6; and on: for. I cry to thee, Psalms 4:1.—תכון , in Psalms 141:2, is to be taken, after Psalms 140:11, in the sense of: let it prosper. We must not explain as an incense-offering, but as (spiritual) incense, spiritual frankincense. The smoking, sweet smelling incense is in scripture the standing symbol of the prayer of believers, which is precious before God—comp. Revelation 5:8, Revelation 8:3-4, Luke 1:10. The Psalmist comes forth here as an expositor of the Mosaic law, in which the offering of incense every morning and evening ( Exodus 30:7 ss.) symbolized prayer, and reminded the faithful of their obligation to present it, and the blessing which arises from it. He who prayed brought to the Lord the substance of this incense-offering. With the presentation of the true incense he connects that of the true meat-offering. The meat-offering, the nourishment presented to the Lord by his people, is in the law the symbolical representation of good works, which were thus exhibited as objects of desire, and commendation for God’s people, comp. Psalms 40:7. A heart, disposed to good works, the Psalmist presents to the Lord in Psalms 141:3-4, where he prays for power to perform such, for preservation from the deceitfulness of sin. משאת כפי is now commonly understood, after the example of Luther, of the lifting up of the hands as a gesture in prayer, but we must, rather explain: the heaving or the offering, the gift of my hands. The signification of present or offering, for משאת is perfectly certain; and is the rather to be retained here, as מנחה has also originally the same signification, and as משאת is specially used of the gift of food, which one man presented to another, Genesis 43:34, 2 Samuel 11:8. The mincha was such a gift of food. The signification: the lifting up, never elsewhere occurs, and from the form alone the word could scarcely have that meaning. Finally, it is a decisive matter-of-fact ground, that the lifting up of the hands, prayer, has nothing to do with the meat-offering. The question is asked, why the meat-offering of the evening should here in particular be named. This question is often quite falsely answered, in particular by those, who with Kimchi suppose, that the Psalm was intended to be sung in the evening, in opposition to the character of this whole Psalm-cycle, which excludes the idea of such specialties. We are guided into the right track by the fact, that whenever, excepting in the Pentateuch, the meat-offering is more exactly determined, it is only the evening one that is named—comp. 1 Kings 18:29, 1 Kings 18:36, where it is carefully to be remarked, the evening meat-offering is simply named the meat-offering. Daniel 9:21, Ezra 9:4-5. A farther light is afforded by 2 Kings 16:15: “And the king Ahaz commanded Urijah, the priest, and said, Upon the great altar present the burnt-offering of the morning, and the meat-offering of the evening.” Hence, it would seem, that the burnt-offering was regarded as having the most prominent part in the morning sacrifice, with the meat-offering only as an appendage, so that the whole was named from the burnt-offering, while, on the other hand, in the evening sacrifice the meat-offering was regarded as having the chief-place—good works had rightly their first-place assigned them at the end of the day—and the whole named from it. Accordingly, the meat-offering of the evening here does not form a contrast to the meat-offering of the morning, but it occupies the place of the meat-offering generally.

In Psalms 141:3 the Psalmist prays for preservation from the danger of sinning in word, which the temptation brought with it; and in Psalms 141:4 from that of sinning in deed. Psalms 39:1, and what was said there, form a commentary on Psalms 141:3. The subject is not, as Calvin and others suppose, respecting hard speeches against the enemies, but of impatient, irreverent complaints against God, a quarrel with him, an expression of doubt respecting his power, righteousness, and grace. The reasons, which ought to have prevented him from making such complaints against God, to which the human heart is much inclined the conviction that the sufferings were a deserved and fatherly chastisement, the prospect that the wicked would at the proper time come to a frightful end, while his sufferings would bear a rich harvest of joy, these things are brought to remembrance by the Psalmist in Psalms 141:5-7. שמרה , only here, guard. נצרה , the imperat. in Kal with He parag., and Dagesh euphon., as in Proverbs 4:13. דל is only here used for דלת , gate, (comp. Micah 7:5: keep the doors of thy mouth.) Frequently in poetry the masculine form is employed in place of the otherwise common feminine, and reversely, as presently in Psalms 141:9 מקשות . We must not conclude from the poetical employment of such forms, that they were in current use. The same freedom is also taken by the poets with verbs in forming conjugations not found elsewhere; for example, the Hithpo. in Psalms 141:4, comp. on Psalms 18:26. On the expression: incline not, in Psalms 141:4, comp. on Psalms 119:36. Weakening and evacuating the import, many render it: do not permit it to be inclined, suffer it not to be prone. With the obstinately wicked, God actually inclines the heart to evil things, though the guilt always remains with themselves and their perverse wills. The heart is named as the source of actions. The subject is the heart here, as in the preceding verse it is the words. Under the “evil thing,” and “deeds in wickedness,” we must not think specially of revenge against his enemies. The comparison of numerous parallel passages in the Psalms, for example Psalms 37, Psalms 49, Psalms 73, and the consideration of the last words of this Psalm itself, show that the discourse is rather of an apostacy to wickedness in general. Whoever has lost his way respecting God, because not perceiving his righteous retribution, to him the temptation lies very near of seeking to make good his salvation by himself, without troubling himself farther with the heavy and irksome restraints of the divine law. The dainties of the wicked (מנעמים only here) are not “their treacherous speeches,” also not “their temporal enjoyments and delicacies,” as such, but the prosperity and fulness, which they acquire through their misdeeds, and a regard to which might so easily lead others to participate in the same—compare the graphic delineation of these dainties of the wicked in Psalms 73. As here under the image of delicate food, so there in Psalms 141:10, this prosperity is represented under the image of a copious drink, which is sipped up by the thirsty.

Verses 5-7

Ver. 5-7 contains the grounds on which the purposes and vows of the Psalmist, concealed under the prayers of the first strophe, rests. Ver. 5. The righteous smites me in kindness and chastises me, oil for the head my head refuses not. If still, then, I shall pray against their wickednesses. Ver. 6. Their judges shall be thrown down in the force of the rock, for they hear my words that they are sweet. Ver. 7. As when one with the plough cleaves the earth, so are our bones scattered on the brink of hell. צדיק in Psalms 141:5, properly the righteous one, God (to whom already Amyrald rightly referred the word) in his property as righteous, or according to his righteousness. This he manifests towards his own, in that he tempers zeal with mercy, and does not surrender them to such overwhelming destruction, as is appointed to the wicked, but only to fatherly chastisement—comp. the expression in Psalms 143:1: Hear me after thy righteousness. חסד , which belongs to both verbs, is acc., which describes more minutely the way and manner of the striking and reproving—comp. Jeremiah 31:3, where the word is used precisely in the same way, Ew. § 279, c. Chastisement, indeed, always proceeds from the principle of anger; but behind the anger there is concealed for the righteous mercy, which causes the manifestation of anger itself, and watches regarding it, that it should not overstep the boundary which separate the righteous and the wicked from each other—compare the full elucidation of what is here only briefly indicated in the speech of Elihu, Job 36:5 ss. and in the New Testament, Hebrews 12:6. The whole of this first member rests upon 2 Samuel 7:14-15: “I will be to him a father, and he will be to me a son. If he fails, I will chastise him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my loving-kindness shall not depart from him, as I caused it to depart from Saul, whom I removed from before thee,” (compare on the meaning of the passage Psalms 89:33-34, where in like manner a reference is made to it.) It is also from this original passage, as to the substance, that the word הלם , to beat, strike, peculiar to the passage before us, is derived. For it rests on this, that there the chastisement appears under the image of a beating. The reference borne to that original passage is so far of importance, that it furnishes a testimony for the correctness of the import we attach to this Psalm, and to the whole cycle it belongs to, as bearing upon the destinies of David’s offspring. The oil of the head is always the oil, with which on festive occasions persons were wont to anoint themselves before sitting down to meat, the oil of joy, comp. Psalms 23:5, Psalms 45:7, Psalms 104:15, Matthew 6:17. יני is Fut. Hiph. of נוא , for יניא , compare Ew. § 224, b. נוא has everywhere but one signification, that of keeping off, hindering, which it preserves also in Psalms 33:10: “The Lord holds off the thoughts of the people,” viz., from gaining their end, q. d., he brings them to nothing. Every exposition is, therefore, to be rejected as arbitrary, which does not take the word here in this signification. The sense of the words: oil of the head refuses not my head, is this: because I discern through the clouds of the divine anger the sun of the divine mercy, I will not abandon myself to sorrow and despair, after the manner of the world, when the hand of the Almighty rests upon it, but I will, and can, and must be joyful in the midst of tribulation—this is my precious privilege, of which I shall never bereave myself. Such an utterance of joy in the midst of suffering is thoroughly Davidic, comp. Psalms 4:7, “thou givest joy in my heart more than in the time when their corn and their wine abound,” Psalms 63:3, Psalms 42:8. The words refer to the eating of dainties, or fine morsels on the part of the wicked, at the end of Psalms 141:4. The Psalmist has still his joy even in suffering, his festive entertainment, so that he does not need to hanker after their sinful enjoyments, can give up to them their ill-gotten goods, comp. Psalms 4:7. In the last member the רעות are not sufferings, but acts of wickedness, comp. Psalms 140:2, “who imagine mischiefs in the heart.” The words: if still, are not to be supplied from the preceding: if still he chastises me; but from the following: if still their wicked actions proceed, if they overstep the due measure of paternal chastisement. So, or then my prayer (comp. on the ו Ew. § 335), then have I a mighty weapon for prayer to my God against them, since he, indeed, uses the wicked as a rod of chastisement for his people, but constantly says to them in his own time: hitherto shalt thou come but no farther; comp. Psalms 69:13, Psalms 109:4. The verse before us has had the misfortune of being generally misunderstood. Quite erroneous is the translation of Luther: Let the righteous smite me in a friendly manner, and chastise me, this will be as good to me as a balsam on my head, for I pray continually, that they may not do me hurt. So also the translation of De Wette and others: Let the righteous smite me, it is love, let him punish me, an ointment of my head, declines not my head; he repeats: still my prayer is against their wickedness, q. d., from friends I can indeed suffer what is not pleasant for my improvement, but the malice of enemies I cannot bear. Against the connection, into which the thought would be, as it were, cut in, against the accents and the natural connection of the words: oil of the head refuses not my head, against the signification of הלם , which is never used of “striking with words, blaming,” against the radical passage in 2 Samuel 7; instead of the ו in ותפלתי there would then be required a stronger particle bringing prominently out the contrast. We pass over other arbitrary interpretations, as their refutation has already been given in the positive grounds advanced for our exposition.

With the last words of Psalms 141:5: then is my prayer against their wickedness, Psalms 141:6-7 connect themselves, and describe the consequence of this prayer, the overthrow of the wicked, and the deliverance of the righteous, and thereby furnish a temptation to the second rod. The שמט , in Psalms 141:6, signifies to let loose, then to let fall down, to throw down; comp. 2 Kings 9:33, where it is used of Jezebel. בידי signifies as certainly in the power, as מידו in Psalms 141:9 out of the power. The judges are, therefore, thrown from the rock (which is not expressly said) upon the rock or against the rock—אל הסלע , Psalms 137:9; so that the rock receives and crushes them; comp. 2 Chronicles 25:12, where in a war against Edom, as it appears, a premature practical application was made of this passage. The judges are the possessors of the world’s power, who rebel against the kingdom of David; comp. Psalms 2:2, Psalms 2:10, where also in Psalms 141:9, as here, a dashing in pieces is threatened to the enemies of David’s kingdom. The second half alludes to Psalms 138:4: “All the kings of the earth will praise thee, O Lord, when they hear the words of thy mouth.” My words, by which I invite them to submit themselves to the Lord’s anointed, comp. Psalms 2:10-12. Brought to discretion by the injuries they had received, they would find precious to them these hitherto despised words. The enemies of the kingdom of David are the subject in שמעו , to which the suffix refers in: their judges. That they precious, for, as precious.

In Psalms 141:7: like one who ploughs and cleaves, is q. d., as when one by ploughing cleaves the earth. פזר occurs in Psalms 53:5, in the sense of scattering, and that, too, in connection with bones. לפי at the mouth, or opening, Joshua 10:18, Joshua 10:22, Proverbs 8:3. The bones are scattered, as it were, at the mouth of Sheol, into which the souls have descended. Several understand by the mouth of Sheol its devouring rapacity; comp. Isaiah 5:14; Michaelis: ad us osque mortis devoraturae. Sheol, however, may well be regarded as devouring souls, but not bones. The sense of the passage is this: as in ploughing the tearing up of the earth is not the ultimate design, but only the means to a fruitful result, only serves the purpose of making the earth yield its produce; therefore, with an equally beneficent design, or in order that, through the present injury, new life may arise, our bones also are scattered about. While the enemies are conducted from life to death, Psalms 141:6, we are conducted from death to life. We have here the first germ of Isaiah 26:19, Ezekiel 37. How untenable the views of this verse are, which deviate from the one now given, and find in it only an expression of sorrowful lamentation, is clear already from remarks such as those of De Wette “After the preceding wish this thought follows inconveniently,” and from the manifold arbitrary explanations of כי , at the beginning of Psalms 141:8, which those different views have given rise to. (Hitzig: indeed, Ewald: however, Tholuck: but, Stier: nevertheless; Maurer leaves it its common signification, for, but refers it to Psalms 141:4-5!) That the substance of the verse must be of a joyful and consolatory kind, is rendered necessary by its connection with the preceding verse, and equally so with the following one. The prayer, which, in Psalms 141:8, is grounded upon the declarations contained in this verse, is directed to the preservation of the being, and of this, therefore, must the discourse also be in the declaration before us. As the prayer in Psalms 141:8-10 has a double object, self-preservation and the destruction of the enemies, so has also the declaration according to the view we have given of it.

Verses 8-10

Ver. 8. For to thee, Lord God, are our eyes, upon thee do I trust, pour not out my soul. Ver. 9. Preserve me from the power of the snare, which they have laid for me, and from the pits of the evil-doers. Ver. 10. Let the wicked fall into their nets altogether, till I pass ove r.

On the first member of Psalms 141:8 comp. Psalms 25:15; on the expression: upon thee I trust, Psalms 31:2. ערה in Hiph. to be poured out, Isaiah 32:15, in Pi. to pour out, Genesis 24:20; and so also in Hiph., and indeed precisely as here of the soul, in Isaiah 53:12: “Because he has poured out his soul to the death.” The expression passed over to the soul from the blood, in which the soul is. The soul or the life is here not that of the individual, but of the family, and consequently also of the people, whose existence was rooted in that of the anointed house—comp. Lamentations 4:20. Luther falsely: expel not. That the fut. in Psalms 141:10 is to be taken as a wish, and not as a prophetical announcement, is clear from the connection with the preceding context. The suff. in מכמריו refers to the ideal person of the wicked: in their own net, comp. Psalms 140:10, Psalms 7:15. To יחד the enemies altogether, comp. Psalms 40:15, we must supply from the first member: let them fall in. Luther, without injury as to the sense, has drawn this much tortured יחד , to the first member. Till I pass over, Vulg. donec transiero, viz. unhurt by the nets. The destruction of the enemies brought about by their own machinations must proceed till they have been completely annihilated, and David has become entirely free.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 141". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-141.html.
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