Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 3

Psalms 3

The Psalmist complains of the multitude of his enemies, who mocked at his confidence in the Lord, Psalms 3:2-3. He comforts himself by calling to remembrance the support which the Lord had hitherto afforded him, the dignity to which He had raised him, and the manifold deliverances and answers to prayer which he had experienced, Psalms 3:4-5. He closes with an expression of his elevated joy of faith, Psalms 3:6-7; and with a supplication to the Lord to help him, as He had been wont to do in times past, and to bless His people, Psalms 3:8-8. The Psalm consequently falls quite naturally into four strophes, each consisting of two verses, the first of which describes the distress, the second the ground of hope, the third expresses the hope itself, and the fourth contains the prayer prompted by the hope. With this division of strophes corresponds also the position of the Selah, which in each case is placed at the end of a strophe.

The superscription of the Psalm—“An excellent song of David, when he fled before Absalom his son”—declares it to have been composed when David fled from his son Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:16. It is alleged by De Wette against the correctness of this supposition, that the Psalm itself contains nothing in support of it. Would not the tender heart of David, says he, have manifested in the presence of Jehovah, to whom he made his complaint, the deep wound it received from the conduct of his son? In a similar way, De Wette very commonly argues against the Davidic authorship of the Psalms, and the correctness of the superscriptions, from the absence of any definite historical allusions. Now, it is here first of all to be remarked, that a prolix and detailed description of personal circumstances is a thing impossible for a living faith, which, convinced that our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him, is satisfied with mere allusions and general outlines. It is otherwise where the prayer is only in form a meditation of the heart before God, but is in reality a conversation of the supplicant with himself. Then we are very prone to dive into the particulars of suffering, and run on in sentimental descriptions of our circumstances. But still more is it to be considered that the sacred authors of the Psalms, and most of all David, had not themselves primarily in view in their Psalms, and only afterwards devoted that to general use, which in its origin was throughout individual as is commonly thought; but rather from the first their design in exhibiting their own feelings, was to build up the Church at large. The Psalms which arose out of personal transactions, are distinguished from the didactic Psalms, properly so called, by a fluctuating boundary. The former also possess, in a general way, the character of didactic Psalms. If we could imagine the sacred authors of them cast upon a desert island, with no prospect of again coming into contact with men, they would certainly, in that case, have lost both the desire and the impulse to utter their complaints and their hopes in the form of Psalms. For lyric poetry is not in such a sense subjective, that all reference to those placed in like situations, and agitated by like feelings, can be considered as shut out. David, in particular, was so closely connected with the Church, and recognised so thoroughly his Divine mission, to give it a treasure of sacred poetry for instruction, edification, and comfort, that he distinctly regarded all the events of his own course, from the first, as a type of similar ones in that of his brethren the righteous;—he considered himself to be their mouth and representative, and the consolation primarily administered to him, to be equally destined for them. Herewith was necessarily connected a tendency to subordinate the particular to the general, and to give only slight hints of the one upon the ground of the other. But such hints as confirm the truth of the superscription, are found in this Psalm. That there is a general resemblance between the position of the Psalmist and David’s, there can be no doubt. As, according to 2 Samuel 15:13, the report was brought to David that the hearts of all Israel were after Absalom, and as, according to 2 Samuel 16:18, Hushai said to Absalom, “Whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of Israel choose, his will I be, and with him will abide;” so the Psalmist complains, “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me; many that say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.” In both cases alike the distress is connected with a state of war. And as in 2 Samuel 17:1-2, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “I will arise and pursue after David this night, and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed, and will make him afraid; and all the people that are with him shall flee, and I will smite the king only;” so David says here, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about.”

That a high dignity belonged to the Psalmist, appears from Psalms 3:3, where he calls the Lord “his glory,” and speaks of Him as having “lifted up his head.” He is not afraid of myriads of people; the Lord has often already vanquished all his enemies,—both which indicate greatness of character in the oppressed. The mention of the people also, in his prayer, Ps 3:9, agrees well with his being a king, as their destiny might be represented as intimately connected with his own. But if the writer is a king, of whom can we think, but David, since, excepting him and Solomon, who is here out of the question, his government having been quite peaceful, history makes mention of no other crowned bard; while the dignified simplicity and freshness of the composition bespeak his hand, and its place, also, among the Psalms of David, confirms the supposition? Then, if David is the author of it, we have only to choose between the troubles occasioned by Saul, and those occasioned by Absalom. Hitzig decides in favour of the former. For the refutation of this view, we have no need even to call to our aid the superscription. During the persecutions he sustained from the hand of Saul, David was not yet king. And a still stronger proof is afforded by Psalms 3:4, where David says that the Lord had often before heard him from His holy mountain. This implies, that the seat of the sanctuary had some time previously been fixed in Jerusalem. But it was not removed there till David had ascended the throne, after Saul’s death. Hitzig’s attempt to escape from this ground by understanding the mountain to be Horeb, scarcely deserves a serious consideration. The whole phraseology of the Psalms repels this supposition, for these know no other holy mountain but Mount Zion. There is not a single passage in all the Old Testament where an Israelite is found looking for help from Mount Horeb, which was only hallowed by ancient reminiscences, and not ennobled by the presence of the Lord in later times. In fine, the past deliverances, on which the Psalmist, in Psalms 3:3-4, Psalms 3:7, and Psalms 3:8, based his hopes of escape from present trouble, are, manifestly, chiefly those which occurred in the reign of Saul. Indeed, David had experienced no such continued series of deliverances in this latter. So that we are led by internal grounds to the very same result, which the superscription had from the first announced. And from this we deduce, at the same time, a favourable conclusion for the superscriptions generally. The internal grounds lie here, as the aberrations of recent expositors show, so concealed, that the superscription could not possibly have been derived from a subtle combination of them,—a thing foreign to antiquity. Ewald maintains very decidedly, both that David was the author of the Psalm, and specially that it was composed at the time of Absalom. In regard to the former, he says, David’s elevation, colouring, and style, are unmistakeable; in regard to the latter, he says, the author had already stood long upon the pinnacle of human power, had long experienced the highest favour from God, and often already poured forth the feelings of his heart in song. In Psalms 3:8, we plainly recognise the noble spirit of David in that flight, by which he sought to allay the threatening storm, and avert from the people the burden of a new civil war. But we can still more nearly determine the situation of the bard, though only, it may be, with the highest degree of probability. The Psalm was, according to Psalms 3:5 and Psalms 3:6, an evening hymn. He there expresses his confidence, that, though surrounded by the greatest dangers, he could quietly sleep, and be certain of beholding the light of the following day. Now, this circumstance accords only with the first night of David’s flight, which he spent in the desert, after he had gone weeping, barefooted, and with his head covered, over the Mount of Olives, 2 Samuel 16:14. Comp. 2 Samuel 16:20. This first night was the most dangerous one for David; nay, it was the only night during the whole period of the insurrection, in which the danger was so very urgent, as Psalms 3:6 states it to have been. David’s life hung then by a single hair: had God not heard his prayer, “Lord, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness,” he had actually perished. Consequently, when the counsel of Ahithophel, to fall upon the king that very night, was rejected by Absalom, the strength of the rebellion was completely broken, and the danger in a manner past, as is manifest from this one. circumstance, that Ahithophel, in consequence of that rejection, went and hanged himself.

Two objections have been raised against this conclusion. First, David was then still quite uncertain whether the Lord would again grant him the victory, and restore to him the kingdom; whereas he speaks here at the close with the greatest confidence. The passages referred to in support of this are 2 Samuel 15:25-26: “The king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation. But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do what seemeth good to Him.” And 2 Samuel 16:12: “It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” But these passages by no means indicate a complete uncertainty, and are mainly to be regarded as a simple expression of the humility which scarcely ventures to declare, with perfect confidence, the still never extinguished hope of deliverance, because feeling itself to be utterly unworthy of it; indeed, to give utterance to this latter feeling is their more special object. That David, in the midst of his deepest grief, did not abandon his trust in the Lord, appears from his confiding prayer, “Lord, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness,” and from his conferring on Ziba the goods of Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 16:4. And then it is not to be forgotten, that those expressions and our Psalm, according to the situation we are defending, were still separated from each other by a certain interval, great enough to admit of the relatively not great change of mood, which often takes place in a moment. It is expressly said, that David refreshed himself that first night in the wilderness; which is certainly to be understood, not in a mere bodily sense, but also spiritually, since, in troubles of that nature, a mere bodily refreshment is inconceivable. But it is again objected, that, in such a state and condition, men do not write poetry. We might, however, appeal to the poems of the Arabians, which have been composed amid the very turmoil of action; to the fact, that the poet Lebid was writing verses in the very article of death, etc.; but we would rather admit, that there is a certain degree of truth in the objection. The artificial construction of this Psalm, and others composed in similar situations (it is far from correct to regard the Psalms in general as the simple poetry of nature); the circumstance that a number of Psalms not unfrequently refer to one and the same situation, as this, for example, and the fourth,—these and other things render it very probable, that in such cases, the conception and the birth of the Psalm were separated from each other; that David did not immediately express in manifold forms what he had felt in moments of pressing danger; that he only afterwards, and by degrees, coined for the Church the gold of consolation bestowed upon himself in such moments. This opinion was long ago held by Luther in regard to the present Psalm; but he, on insufficient grounds—“for it is against all experience, that, in the midst of the cross, no decided joy should be able to be felt”—adjudges the matter of the Psalm also to a later period: “It is not probable that he should have composed it at the time of his flight and distress. For the Holy Spirit will have a calm, happy, cheerful, select instrument, to preach and sing of Him. In the conflict, moreover, man has no understanding, but becomes capable of this only after the conflict is over—reflects then aright upon what has occurred to him under it. Therefore, it is more credible that David composed this Psalm long after, when he came to quiet reflection, and understood the secrets of his life and history, which had variously happened to him.”

As in the first and second Psalms, so here again, in this and the fourth, we have a pair of Psalms inseparably united by the inspired writer himself. The situation in each is exactly the same; comp. Psalms 3:5 with Psalms 4:8. The thoughts which agitated his heart in that remarkable night, the Psalmist has represented to us in a whole with two parts. In Psalms 3 his earlier experiences of Divine aid form the chief point, while in Psalms 4 he looks to his Divine appointment as to the rock upon which the waves of revolt must dash themselves to pieces.

It is certainly not to be regarded as an accident, that Psalms (Psalms 3) third and (Psalms 4) fourth immediately follow the (Psalms 1) first and (Psalms 2) second. They are occupied, as well as Psalm(Psalms 2) second, with a revolt against the Lord’s Anointed; and Psalm (Psalms 4) fourth especially shows a remarkable agreement with it, first in thought, and then also in expression—comp. “imagine a vain thing” in Psalms 2:1 with “love vanity” in Psalms 4:2. In this (Psalms 3) third Psalm the personal experiences and feeling of David are most prominent, and they formed the basis on which he reared the expectation of the events which were to befall his successor, the Anointed One absolutely.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. O Lord, how are mine enemies so many! Many are they that rise up against me. The קום with על used of enemies generally in Deuteronomy 28:7, and does not specially indicate revolt as such.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Many say to my soul, There is no help for hint in God. The greater part of expositors consider לנפשי as a mere periphrasis for the pronoun. The words “my soul,” indeed, occur in that sense among the Arabians, with whom many words have been clipt and pared so as to lose their original impress; but not so among the Hebrews, with whom the words still always express the thoughts and feelings. There is always a reason why the נפשי rather than the pronoun is used. Here the discourse of the enemies is described as one which wounds the heart and soul—comp. Psalms 69:20, “Reproach hath broken my heart;” also Isaiah 51:23. If we explain, “ of my soul,” or “ to my soul,” the word “soul” is used because David’s very life was in question, because his enemies thought they had it already in their power. No support for that rendering is to be drawn from the following words: “no help to him in God.” What the enemies say of David is so painful to him, that he considers it as spoken personally to himself. It is his soul that is affected by the discourse. It is further to be objected to that rendering, that אמר with ל for the most part signifies, “to speak to some one,”—comp. also the opposite declaration in Psalms 35:3, “Say to my soul, I am thy salvation.” In the form ישועתה the ה is added, as the poets not unfrequently did with nouns, which already had the feminine termination, to give the word a fuller and better sound; Ewald, p. 323. Before this ה the preceding ה fem. becomes hardened into ת ; Ewald, p. 37.

אין is always negation of being, always signifies, “it is not.” By the expression, “in God,” God is described as the ground and source of salvation. The enemies denied that God would help him, either because, in utter ungodliness, they excluded God altogether from earthly affairs, or at all events thought that matters had gone too far with David, even for God’s power to help him, Psalms 10:11; or because they considered David as one cast off by Him, unworthy of His protection, Psalms 42:3, Psalms 42:10, Psalms 71:11, Psalms 22:7-8; Matthew 27:43; and this pained him most deeply. The last mentioned view of David’s case was that taken by Shimei, 2 Samuel 16:8. He sought to rob David of his last, his dearest treasure: “The Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.” This kind of attack was the most painfully affecting. The denial, that God is our God, finds an ally in the believer’s own consciousness of guilt, however strongly he may be convinced of his innocence in regard to particular charges, and it requires no small measure of faith to gain here the victory. Luther: “As if he would say, They not only say that I am abandoned and trodden upon by all creatures, but also that God will not help me, who assists all things, sustains all, cares for all; that for me alone of all things He has no care, and will minister to me no support. Though every possible assault, the assaults of a whole world, and of all hell to boot, were combined, it were still nothing to the assault of God, when He thrusts at a man. It made Jeremiah tremblingly beg and pray, 2 Samuel 17:17, ‘Be not a terror unto me, O Thou my Hope in the day of evil.’”

But while the words, as is evident from the analogous ones used by Shimei, and also from 2 Samuel 16:18, principally refer to the will of God to help the Psalmist, a reference to His power also is not entirely to be excluded. This is clear from the closing words, “Salvation belongeth to the Lord,” which plainly refer to the taunt, “no help for him in God,” and which vindicate to the Lord, not the will, but the power to help. The general name of God, Elohim, is used on account of the contrast that is silently implied to human means of help: everything is against him on earth, and in heaven too there is no longer any resource for him. The speakers are not, as De Wette supposes, the Psalmist’s despairing friends, but his enemies. Only then could it justly be said, that there were so many of them. De Wette’s allegation, that the speech is not godless and spiteful enough for enemies, rests on a misapprehension of its real meaning. For to the man, who with his whole being throws himself upon God, it is even as “death in his bones” to hear his enemies saying, “Where is thy God?” This is the most envenomed arrow which they could shoot into his heart.

The selah occurs here for the first time. It is found seventyone times in the Psalms, and thrice in Habakkuk. It is best derived from שׁ לה , to rest, of frequent use in Hebrew, as well as Syriac. The change of the harder w to the softer s is very common; see Ewald, p. 29. It can either be taken as a noun, rest, pause, or, with Gesenius in his Thes., as the imperative with He parag. and in the pause. Primarily, indeed, it is a music-mark. But as the pause in music always occurs where the feelings require a resting-place, it is of no little importance as regards the sense, and the translators who leave it out, certainly do wrong. This view acquires great probability, by a particular consideration of the places where the selah occurs. It generally stands where a pause is quite suitable. Others suppose that the word is an abbreviation of several words. But there is no proof that the practice of such abbreviations prevailed among the Israelites. Koester is inclined to regard the selah as marking the division of strophes. But that it should in many places coincide with such a division, is easily explained by the circumstance that the resting-place for the music must generally coincide with a break in the sense. And that selah is not strictly the mark of the strophe-divisions, is evident from its frequently not coinciding with the end of a strophe; for example, Psalms 55:19, Psalms 57:3; Habakkuk 3:3, Habakkuk 3:9, in which places it is found in the middle of a verse. Besides, if the selah had indicated a poetical, rather than a musical division, the prophets, in whose writings there are traces of the beginnings of a division into strophes, would have employed it. Habakkuk forms only an apparent exception. For the third chapter of this prophet, in which alone the selah occurs, embodies the feelings which were stirred in the Church by the announcements of God, those, namely, of judgment in (Habakkuk 1) ch. 1, and of deliverance in (Habakkuk 2) ch. 2, so that it is really of the nature of Psalmodic poetry, and is adapted for singing and playing as a Psalm; as, indeed, both its superscription and conclusion are borrowed from the Psalms. Our view of the matter is confirmed also by Psalms 9:16, where the סלה stands along with הגיון , “reflection” (see our remarks there). This juxtaposition decides against Ewald’s notion, that selah was a summons to particularly loud playing, deriving the word from a substantive סל , and that from סלל , professedly signifying to mount; properly, “to the heights,” “up,” which in matters of sound, must be synonymous with loud, clear. In a philological point of view, also, this opinion is open to many objections. For remarks against this and other divergent explanations, see Genesius’ Thes. The right view was substantially given by Luther. The selah, says he, tells us “to pause and carefully reflect on the words of the Psalm, for they require a peaceful and meditative soul, which can apprehend and receive what the Holy Spirit there cogitates and propounds. Which we see, indeed, in this verse, where the Psalmist is deeply and earnestly moved to feel and understand this heavy trial of the spirit, wherein also God seems to take part, as well as the creature.”

Verse 3

Ver. 3. While, according to Psalms 3:1 and Psalms 3:2, the earth presented to the Psalmist nothing but trouble and danger, an helper in the heavens appears to his eye of faith. He comforts himself in God, to whom he looks as his Saviour in all troubles and dangers, to whom he owed his high elevation, and who always hears his prayers. Man may deny him His help, but yet he sees in what God had already done for him a sure pledge of what he might still expect. Luther: “Here he sets, in opposition to the foregoing points, three others. Against the many enemies of whom he had spoken, he places this, that God is his shield. Then, as they had set themselves against him, thinking to put him to shame before the world, he opposes the fact, that God had given him honour. Finally, he complains of the slanderers and scoffers, and against these he boasts, that it is the Lord who lifts up his head.

To the people, and to his own mind, he may seem forsaken and alone; but before God, and in his spirit, he is encompassed with a great host, neither forsaken, nor alone, as Christ said to His disciples, John 16:32, ‘Lo the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.’

However impotent and oppressed he might seem in the eyes of men, before God, and in the spirit, he is the strongest and the mightiest; insomuch that he boasts of God’s power with the utmost confidence and security, like St Paul, who could say, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’

Whoever understands, or has experienced such assaults, will, at the same time, understand how foolishly and wickedly they speak, who say that man by nature can love God above all things. Thou shalt find no one who will bear such displeasure from God; and yet, if the love of God does not overcome that, He is not loved above all things. Therefore the words of this verse are not words of nature, but words of grace,—not of man’s free will, but of the Spirit of God,—of a very strong faith, which can see God through the darkness of death and hell, and can still recognise Him as a shield, though He seems to have forsaken,—can see God as a persecutor, and yet recognise Him as an helper,—can see God apparently condemning, and at the same time recognise Him as blessing. For he who has such faith judges not by what he sees and feels, like the horse and mule, which have no understanding, Psalms 32:9, but clings fast to the word, which speaks of things that man sees not.”

And Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me; my glory, and He who lifts up my head. God is Abraham’s shield, according to Genesis 15:1, and Israel’s shield, according to the closing words of the law, Deuteronomy 33:29. David has an especial predilection for this designation: Psalms 7:10; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:7. The בעד , corresponds entirely to the German um (Anglice, about), and to the Gr. ἀ?μφί? Ew. p. 613, around me, giving me protection.

My glory. Because David’s glory, viz. the high dignity which he possessed, was derived from the Lord; he names Him his glory—comp. Psalms 62:7, “In God is my salvation and my glory.” Many expositors falsely render: the vindicator of my glory, by metonomy of the effect for the cause. The parallel passages to which reference is made, such as Psalms 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” are brought in support only by a wrong exposition. The vindication of glory is a consequence of the Psalmist’s having his glory from God and in God. What has its ground in God, that he will not suffer to be taken away. The lifting up of the head marks the deliverance of a man from a position of humiliation, from great dangers, from the state in which he goes mournful and dispirited with drooping head. The discourse here, however, is not of the deliverance to be hoped for in this danger nor of any particular transaction whatever, but of all the events in the life of David, in which he had found that the Lord was his deliverer. Upon the circumstance that the Lord had generally been the lifter up of his head, he grounds the hope that in this distress also He would be the same; and from God’s having been the source of his glory, he derived the hope that God would not suffer the impious attempts of those now to go unpunished, who sought to rob him of it.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. I cry unto the Lord with my voice, and He hears me out of His holy hill. The verbs in this verse mark a habit, not a single action, just as in Psalms 18:3, “When I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and am saved from mine enemies.” Because the Lord is, in respect to David, the one who hears prayer, the surest mark of a gracious condition, He cannot leave him now, without also hearing him. Luther “He speaks here chiefly of the voice of the heart; still I conceive that the corporeal voice is not excluded, and hence, that the voice of the heart and feeling, when it is vehement, cannot be restrained, but must break forth into the literal voice. For Christ Himself upon the cross cried with an audible voice, teaching us to cry in straits and necessities, and that with all our power, inward and outward, we should call upon the Lord.’ The answer follows in a sermo realis. The Fut. with vau conv. simply denotes the consequence from the preceding; hence, if we render אקרא I call, it is to be translated, not He answered, but He answers. The holy hill is Mount Zion; from thence the servant of the Lord derives his help. This faith is very often expressed in the Psalms. It had its ground in the promise, that the Lord would dwell among His people, and would sit on a throne in the sanctuary above the ark of the covenant. This promise was given to help the weakness of the Israelites, which made them desire a praesens numen, an incorporation of the idea that God is, in a peculiar sense, their God. When the faithful seek help from the sanctuary, they declare that they expect it, not from Elohim, but from Jehovah—that they hope for that power of the covenant with Israel, upon which alone they could rest with proper confidence. For the Christian, Christ has come into the place of Jehovah, and the holy bill. In regard to the Selah here, Luther remarks: “The word means, that we should here pause, and not lightly pass over these words, but reflect further upon them. For it is an exceedingly great thing to be heard, and to expect help from the holy hill of God.”

Verse 5

Ver. 5. I lay me down and sleep; I awake, for the Lord sustaineth me; i.e. the assistance of the Lord, which is assured to me, by what He has formerly done, makes me soon fall to sleep, and brings me a pleasant awakening. In this part also, many expositors think the Psalmist speaks of what is still going forward: Often already have I laid myself quietly down in the midst of danger, and found sleep. I have not, like those who live in the world without God, tossed about with uneasy cares upon my bed, and the issue has always corresponded with my hopes. I have constantly awoke without any evil having befallen me, for the Lord is my stay and help. By this construction, however, according to which this verse would be closely united to Psalms 3:3-4, the strophe-division is entirely destroyed, and the Selah at the end of the preceding verse appears then unsuitable. The expression of confidence in regard to present distress, limited in such a case to Psalms 3:6, is too short, and the setting forth of the Psalmist’s hope ceases to bear a due proportion to the setting forth of the ground of his hope. But if, with Venema and others, we refer Psalms 3:6 also to the past, we put out the eye of the Psalm. It is therefore better to refer the words to his present danger, and regard them as the expression of a joyful confidence, which enabled him, even in such circumstances, to lay himself down and sleep, and to expect also to awake in security and peace. The הקיצותי is consequently to be taken as the praet. proph. Faith sees what is not as if it were, the awaking just as surely as the lying down. The verse shows that the Psalm was an evening hymn, as was also the following one, the eighth verse of which remarkably agrees with that now under consideration; and the praet. שכבתי implies that the Psalmist had already betaken himself to rest. It happened to David according to his faith. Ahithophel made no way with his counsel to attack by night, and David withdrew before break of day beyond Jordan. “Quod non Omnibus aeque feliciter accidit,” remarks J. H. Michaelis, adducing 1 Samuel 26:7-15, where David surprised and could have slain Saul while sleeping in his tent. It is only to the righteous that the promise is given in Proverbs 3. “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid; yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be Sweet.” The אני is emphatical, in opposition to the vain expectation of the enemy: I, the very person, whom ye imagine to be beyond the reach of deliverance.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people, which they set against me round about. The רבבות has reference to רבו and רבים in Psalms 3:2 and Psalms 3:3. There is as little reason here, as in Isaiah 22:7 (where it may with propriety be rendered, “The Horsemen, place they, towards the gate”), for taking שות intransitively, set themselves, in which sense it never occurs.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. The Psalmist prays the Lord to justify the confidence which he had expressed in the preceding strophe, and to fulfil the promise substantially given in the earlier deliverances he had experienced, and on which he grounded his expectation of present aid. Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God. For Thou didst smite all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone; thou didst break the teeth of the ungodly. That is, I cannot but expect this from Thee, as Thou hast hitherto so uniformly stood by me. The words “save (or deliver) me,” have reference to those in Psalms 3:2, “There is no help for him in God.” לחי is in the accusative. By the smiting on the cheek, as a piece of insulting treatment, the power and energy is broken; comp. 1 Kings 22:24; Micah 4:14; Lamentations 3:30. We must not, because of the following clause, limit the design of the smiting on the cheek-merely to the knocking out of the teeth, with which the wicked, like so many wild beasts, were ready to eat the flesh of David, Psalms 27:2. That clause only specifies a particular result of the smiting in question. The ungodly are parallel to the enemies in the preceding clause. This is explained by the fact, that David’s adversaries were, at the same time, the ungodly, and that their hatred was directed against him as the representative of the principle of good. This is confirmed also by history. In particular, and there is no question, that, in the wearisome persecutions he endured at the hands of Saul, to which he specially refers, individual was not opposed to individual, but principle to principle. The ungodly principle, thrown down in Saul, sought afterwards to regain the ascendant in Absalom, who is only to be considered as an instrument and centre of the unrighteous party. The more, therefore, did the earlier deliverance experienced by the Psalmist, form a ground for his present supplication.

That הכית and שברת are not to be regarded as praeterita prophetica, as some think—that David rather grounds, according to custom, his prayer to the Lord for deliverance upon his earlier deliverances, which arose from his general relation to the Lord, as his present deliverance was to be a result thereof, is manifest from the causative particle כי , which the expositors referred to seek in vain to render by yea; also from the parallel passage, Psalms 4:1; and most of all, from a comparison of Psalms 4:2-4, the substance of which is only concisely repeated here. As in Psalms 4:5-6, he rested his hope upon the general relation, so here also his prayer. That relation also of David to the Lord which warranted him to seek help from Him, is alluded to in the expression, “my God.” But it is not absolutely necessary to translate, “Thou smotest,” “Thou didst break:” we may also correctly translate with Luther, “Thou smitest,” “Thou breakest in pieces;” and this rendering is confirmed by vers. 3, 4, where, not so much what the Lord had already done is represented as a ground of hope, as what He is constantly doing. The preterite not unfrequently denotes a past, reaching forward into the present: see Ewald’s Small Gr. § 262. In perfect accordance with the spirit of the Psalms, which always treat a particular danger, threatening the righteous, as representative of the entire class, Luther remarks: “This Psalm is profitable also to us for comforting weak and straitened consciences, if we understand in a spiritual sense by the enemies, and by the teeth of the ungodly, the temptations of sin, and the conscience of an ill-spent life. For there indeed is the heart of the sinner vexed, there alone is it weak and forsaken; and when men are not accustomed to lift their eyes above themselves, and to cry to God against the raging of sin, and against an evil conscience, there is great danger; and it is to be feared lest the evil spirits, who, in such a case, are ready to seize upon poor souls, may at last swallow them up, and lead them through distress into despair.”

Verse 8

Ver. 8. Salvation is the Lord’s. He is the possessor and sole dispenser thereof

He can give it to whom He pleases, even to the most helpless, whom the whole world considers to be in a desperate case. “Though all misfortune, all tribulation and evil, should come at once, still there is a God who can deliver, in His hand is help and blessing.” This thought must have been peculiarly comforting to David when deserted by human helpers and means of deliverance. Since salvation belonged wholly to the Lord, he might rest secure, for the Lord was his God. Thy blessing upon Thy people! The royal Psalmist shows by these words that his own person lay less upon his heart, than the people committed to him by the Lord—that he claims deliverance for himself only in so far as it could do good to his people. The declaration in the first clause forms the necessary foundation for the prayer uttered in the second. To be able truly to pray from the heart, we must firmly believe that God is really in possession of the treasure, from which He is to communicate to us. In the preceding verse the order is reversed.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 3". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.