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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 57

Psalms 57

THE Psalmist puts forth the prayer, that God would be gracious to him, and is thence in good expectation, that he would hear him, and would complete the begun good work in him, in spite of the greatness of the necessity and the danger, which surround him, Psalms 57:1-4. Thus prepared, the Psalmist receives the internal assurance of being heard, views himself as already free from the danger, and his enemies as overtaken thereby, and declares his purpose of giving thanks to the Lord for his great grace, Psalms 57:5-11.

We have two strophes, the one of four and the other of seven verses. The seven verses of the second are again divided into 4, the praise of God for the assurance of being heard, Psalms 57:5 and Psalms 57:6, the promise of thanks, Psalms 57:7 and Psalms 57:8, and Psalms 57:9-10, the return to the praise of the Lord, Psalms 57:11,—thus 2. 2. 2. 1.

The expression of hope and confidence meets us here at the very commencement, and it does not here, as elsewhere, cost the Psalmist a severe conflict, before he attains to it. There is only needed a, “be gracious to me, God be gracious to me,” and the cloud, which prevents him from seeing God, vanishes.

The superscription runs: To the chief musician, destroy not, of David a secret, when he fled from Saul in the cave, q. d. when he stayed himself in his flight from Saul in the cave. The expression: destroy not, which is found besides here in the superscriptions of Psalms 58 and Psalms 75 has been differently explained. According to many, it must denote either the melody, after the manner of the song: destroy not, or the key. According to others it must be a maxim, which David at that time continually revolved in his heart, and must indicate the quintessence of the Psalm. So already the Chaldee, which paraphrases de angustia, quando dixit David: ne destruas; Cocceius: “These words David, no doubt, in his great distress, constantly repeated, and afterwards, when he composed this Psalm, committed them to the church and to believers of all ages, that they might make use of them in times of opposition and persecution.” A prepossession in favour of the latter view, is already awakened by the circumstance, that similar dark words in the superscriptions are usually found to refer, on nearer investigation, not to the musical execution, but to the subject, and especially that no single undoubted case of the commencing words of another song being quoted is to be found. But there are also the following particular reasons for it. 1. If the words had indicated the melody or the key, we would have expected the preposition על to have preceded them. Ewald, Poet. B. p. 173, attempts to account for the want of it, because it could not so readily stand before a verbal, as before a nominal term. But it must still be matter of wonder, that the על regularly, and without exception, fails, and nothing short of the extremest necessity would warrant an exposition, which everywhere finds itself obliged to supply the omission. 2. The expression: destroy not, viewed as a watchword of David, has its foundation in Deuteronomy 9:26, where Moses says: “and I prayed the Lord and said, O Lord destroy not, אל תשחת thy people and thy inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth from Egypt with a strong hand.” The pre-existence of such an old foundation explains at the same time the fact, that the expression: destroy not, occurs not only in three of the Psalms of David, but also in one of Asaph, which otherwise might have been pressed as an objection against the view, which refers it to the matter. 3. All the Psalms, in which the expression occurs, rise up to God, amid the vexation which the oppression of the world prepares for the children of the kingdom, Psalms 75 indeed, in the form of praise, behind which, however, the prayer is concealed. 4. The fact also, that the three successive Psalms, in which the: destroy not, occurs, refers to the times of Saul. What can be more natural than the supposition, that it was the maxim, which David revolved in his heart during precisely that period? If viewed as a musical term, one does not see, why it should not have been prefixed to those Psalms of David, which originated on other occasions. We might, perhaps, consider as an echo of this, “destroy not,” which was spoken to God, what David, according to 1 Samuel 26:9, (comp. 1Sam. 5:15, 2 Samuel 1:14,) said to Abishai, when he was going to kill Saul: destroy him not, תשחיתהו אל . David understood, that he could with success say to God: destroy not, only so long as he restrained himself from taking the matter of relief into his own hand, and destroying the anointed of the Lord.

The designation of the Psalm as a secret (comp. on Psalms 16) is especially justified by the wonderful fact, which impelled the Psalmist to break forth at once into the praise of God, a fact in reference to which it might be said, that “flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but his father in heaven.”

The Psalm was composed when David found himself in the cave, while he fled from Saul. As David during that period not once merely betook himself to a cave, as the history expressly makes mention of his sojourn in two different caves, 1 Samuel 22:1, and 1 Samuel 24:1, the article here and in Psalms 142:1, cannot point to a definite cave, well known to the reader; it must rather be taken generically, the cave, as opposed to any other place; so that: in the cave, is substantially much the same as: in a cave. It has reference to this, that the Psalm contains thoughts appropriate to a cave. In the cave all is darkness, no sun nor moon shines in it; to abide in such a place is for a poor, persecuted man the symbol of his whole condition, comp. Hebrews 11:38, where among the sufferings of the prophets, it is brought out with special reference to David, that they were compelled to dwell in caves; but amidst the cave-darkness there appears for the righteous a light from the Lord, which conducts them to the hope of salvation.

In unison with the description of the occasion, which is of a general kind, is the circumstance, that the Psalm does not anywhere refer to some particular danger, by which David was encompassed in the cave, but the relations are rather to be regarded as common to the whole Sauline period. If we would more closely determine what the superscription has left indeterminate, there is at least one important reason for the cave Adullam in 1 Samuel 22. Into this cave David withdrew immediately on his escaping the danger with Achish, the king of the Philistines. To that danger the Psalm immediately preceding refers, and this one must the rather be contemporaneous with it, as it stands in close relation to it. The circumstances of both Psalms are in the general the same, the prayer, the confidence, the exultation at the assurance of being heard, the promise of thanks. Both Psalms begin with the words, “Be gracious to me,” and in both is the enemy marked out by the peculiar designation of one snuffing after.

There are, besides the superscription, other positive grounds for ascribing the Psalm to David, and in the situation indicated. The close contact into which it comes with Psalms 56 suits admirably to the twofold superscriptions. Then there is an entire series of remarkably agreeing parallel passages in other Psalms of David, especially those belonging to the times of Saul, such as Psalms 7, comp. the exposition. So also the fact, that the conclusion of this Psalm recurs as the commencement of Psalms 108 which bears on it the name of David. The stress laid on reproaches in Psalms 57:3 and Psalms 57:4 accords with the history, as David had to suffer much in that way during the time of Saul, and is generally to be met with in the Psalms of that period. The lively and spirited nature of the matter Koester regards as also accrediting the superscription.

The reasons which have been alleged against this are of no weight. The assertion, that in such situations one does not write poetry, is easily disposed of, as David continued a long time in the cave of Adullam, and even if he had not, still the objection would be of no moment, comp. on Psalms 56. The argument derived from Psalms 57:4 against the superscription rests upon the gross literal interpretation of the verse. Hitzig’s allegation, that the intermingling of the root גמר and גמל , points, to an author later than Jeremiah, as also the use of the fut. parag. in Psalms 57:4, without the optative sense, is a conclusion from facts arbitrarily made.

That the Psalm is a song for the night, has been improperly inferred from Psalms 57:8.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for on thee my soul trusts, and under the shadow of thy wings I confide, until the mischief is past. The repetition of חנני shows the fervour of the prayer, and consequently the greatness of the danger. The prayer is grounded upon this, that the Psalmist, partly assailed and partly abandoned by all the world, places his confidence on God as his only Saviour. God, “who has compassion upon all that fear him, that hope in his name,” cannot possibly leave such an one without help. Psalms 1 is to be compared, where that, which impelled the Psalmist to throw himself into the arms of God as his only remaining hope, is expressly named the hatred and persecution of the world. The contrast there implied between אלהים and אנוש at the same time shows why the Psalmist here makes use of the name Elohim: from the earth he turns to the heaven, against man he seeks protection in God. Wherever such a contrast occurs, the general name of God is in its right place. The soul is mentioned, because it is endangered by the enemies, comp. 1 Samuel 24:12, “Thou huntest my soul to take it,” Psalms 54:4, Psalms 56:6, and here, Psalms 57:4. On the expression: to trust under the shadow of the wings of God, see on Psalms 36:7. The shadow which provides shelter against the heat of a burning sun, comp. Psalms 121:5-6, is generally taken in the Bible in the sense of protection or shelter. הוות is better taken, according to Psalms 52:2 and Psalms 52:7, in the sense of mischief, than that of misfortune. The plural points to the fulness of malicious action. The verb in the masc. sing. is to be explained in this way, that the mischief presents itself to the Psalmist as a ravenous wild beast, before which he flees for shelter under the protecting wings of God.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. I call to God, to the Most High, to the God, who accomplishes for me. The calling corresponds to the trusting in the preceding verse. Calvin: “He makes the calling upon to follow the confiding, for it cannot fail, but that those, who trust in God, should direct their prayer to him.” The calling upon God rests on a double foundation, or it is a double consideration, which invites the Psalmist to it. First, that God is the Most High,=because he is the Most High, against whom even the greatest multitude of enemies upon earth, however vast their might, and high their position, can prevail nothing. Now that he takes in view the Most High, the giants of the earth become changed into pitiful dwarfs, comp. in Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:11, “In God I trust, I am not afraid for what flesh can do to me,” and the address of David to Saul, after he had gone out of the cave, in 1 Samuel 24:13, 1 Samuel 24:16. Then, again, turning from the power to the will, he sees that God, the true and faithful, who had already given him so many proofs of his grace, had imparted to him such glorious promises, could not fail to complete his begun work in him. With God the beginning always delivers a pledge for the finishing, the word for the deed. גמר , in the sense of completing, (elsewhere: of being completed,) also in Psalms 138:8, and in the proper name גמריה . The על marks the substratum of the divine action. The expression in Psalms 57:4: God sends his truth, is to be compared, and in Psalms 56:4: God I praise, his word. On the principle, that the beginning is a pledge for the completion, the word for the deed, proceeds what Saul said to David in 1 Samuel 24:21, “And now, behold, I know that thou shalt reign, and the house of Israel comes into thy hand,” comp. 1 Samuel 23:17, 1 Samuel 26:21. That God did not finish the work begun in him, is the perpetual complaint of Job, see for ex. Job 10:8. In Psalms 22:11, arises out of what the Lord had already done for the Psalmist, ( Psalms 22:9 and Psalms 22:10,) the prayer: Be not far from me. But the most exact parallel is the already quoted passage, Psalms 138:8: “The Lord will accomplish for me, O Lord, thy grace is everlasting, the work of thy hands do not forsake,” comp. besides, Php_1:6 . Through these parallel pass. we reject Luther’s exposition: who makes an end of my complaint. The sig. of גמל to do good, must be the less assigned with many to גמר , which never elsewhere interchanges with it, as גמל properly has not that meaning, but only that of giving, and the other is entirely a derived one, comp. on Psalms 7:4.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. He sends from heaven and delivers me, reproaches he that snuffs after me; Selah. Send will God his mercy and his truth. In the expression: he sends from heaven, the object is wanting. We are not to supply it from the second half of the verse, so that the second: he sends, would be a mere repetition; the word: he delivers me, standing between, is against that. There is no necessity, perhaps, for supplying another definite word, his hand, as in Psalms 144:7, or his help, as in Psalms 20:2. The that is sufficient for a beginning to the Psalmist. If it (the sending) really exists, it will soon find way for the what. From heaven, which here is opposed to the earth, that on all hands presents only despair, the Psalmist can expect nothing but good. The expression: my snuffer reproaches, for, since or when my snuffer reproaches, (comp. in Ezekiel 3:6: “I send thee,” for, “when I send thee,” Ew. § 626,) points to the necessity and the danger, against which the Psalmist expects help from heaven. Reproach and calumnies were the most frightful weapons, which Saul and his party plied against David. Many expound: he (God) reproaches. But that the reproaching belongs to the enemy, to whom points already the change in the mode, appears from the parallel passages, Psalms 55:12, Psalms 55:21; Psalms 56:5; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 42:10; Psalms 44:16. Of the reproaches of the enemy more is said in Psalms 57:4. חרף is never used of God, always only of men, who revile God or their brethren. The exposition of De Wette and others: he, whom my persecutor reproaches, gives an unnatural sense, and is against the passages referred to. Finally, to connect the words with the following: he who snuffs after me mocks, so, etc., does not suit on account of the accus. The Selah shows how much the reproaches of the enemy went to the heart of the Psalmist. On the last member, comp. on Psalms 43:2, “Send thy light and thy truth,” where the light corresponds to the mercy.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. My soul is among lions, I will lie upon those that are on fire, children of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and whose tongue a drawn sword. The verse is an enlargement of what had just been said of the reproaching. On this account already we must not take it as a mere complaint and representation of danger, which would also suit ill in this connection, after the Psalmist had raised himself to confidence, and the confidence and assurance, which must immediately bound one another, would be improperly separated from each other. These observations accord well with the fut. and the ה of striving, אשכבה , which we are not warranted to take in the sense of the common one. The Psalmist, full of faith, makes offer to lie upon those in flames, and hence the words: my soul is among lions, must be taken as substantially meaning; although my soul is among lions. In reference to the figurative designation of the enemies as lions, (not lionesses), which Ewald in vain attempts to set aside, comp. Psalms 17:12; Psalms 22 etc. שכב with the accus. of the couch, on which the Psalmist was to lie. An abbreviated comparison is made, q. d. my intercourse with my raged-inflamed enemies is as deeply felt by me, as if I were laid down upon fire-brands. The image of the flaming, of the spiritual fire-brands, suits excellently to that of lions; for the point of comparison in both is the dreadful fury. On the expression: whose teeth spears and arrows, comp. Proverbs 30:14, “There is a generation whose teeth are swords, and their jawteeth knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.” On: and whose tongues a drawn sword, comp. Psalms 55:21; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 64:3; it points to this, that the enemies by their horrible deeds and by their malicious words, seek to destroy the innocent, as indeed with Saul and his company both constantly go hand in hand.

Verses 5-6

In Psalms 57:5 and Psalms 57:6, the Psalmist receives the assurance of being heard. Ver. 5. Praise to thee in heaven, O God, upon the whole earth let there be honour to thee! Ver. 6. A net prepared they for my steps, bowed down my soul, dug before me a pit—they themselves fell in. Psalms 57:5. The deliverance, of which the Psalmist has just been internally assured, is so glorious, that God must be praised on account of it in heaven and on earth. Upon רומה , be exalted, comp. on Psalms 21:13. The על in both members marks the place, where the Lord is to be praised in consequence of the manifestation of his glory. On the expression: in the heaven, comp. the exclamation of the Seraphim in Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, all lands are full of his glory;” also in Psalms 103:20-21: “Praise the Lord, ye his angels, ye mighty heroes, ye who fulfil his word; praise the Lord, all his hosts, ye his ministers, who do his will;” and especially Psalms 29:1, “Give to the Lord, ye sons of God, give to the Lord. glory and power,” where David, by calling upon the angels to praise God’s glory and power, indicates how illustrious the manifestations of these are as represented in what follows; also Psalms 29:9, “and in his temple every one says: Glory!” where the angels, after the manifestations of the divine glory have been given, do that to which the Psalmist had previously called them, and in consideration of what he had pointed to. According to the customary view, the verse must not be a call to the praise of God on account of the hearing obtained, but must contain a prayer: high above all heavens must God display his majesty, and far above the whole earth his glory. But in this way the רומה is taken, against the usage in the sense of: shew thyself exalted; the על must be understood alike in both members, and hence cannot signify in the first: above; that God should shew himself exalted above the heavens, sounds strange, and has no parallel for itself; in Psalms 57:11, where the same words return, the call upon God is quite unsuitable: the Psalmist has already received the help in spirit, and no more thinks on any thing else, than praising and extolling God; the exposition for the first half is given by the Psalm itself in Psalms 57:9: I will praise thee among the peoples, O Lord, that for the first half in Psalms 57:10: for great to the heavens is thy goodness, and to the clouds thy truth: because in its glorious manifestation it rises far above the earth into heaven; it must be praised in the heavens.

In Psalms 57:6, we have the great fact, upon the ground of which the Psalmist calls for the recognition of the glory of God in the whole world, the holy, holy, holy of angels and men. The real cue is in this: they are fallen in, the rest is only preparation. Parallel is Psalms 7:15. We must not expound: my soul is bowed down; for כפף is always transitive, and throughout the whole verse the enemies are the subject. The interchange of the singular and the plural is very common, especially in respect to the enemies; the wicked are the subject. The image is derived from wild beasts, who, entangled in the net, sink down helpless. The expression: my soul, is not all one with me, but the endangered life appears under the image of an overwhelmed wild beast.

Verses 7-8

There follows in the two strophes, Psalms 57:7-8, and Psalms 57:9-10, the promise of thanks. Ver. 7. Fixed is my heart, O God, fixed is my heart, I will sing and give praise. Ver. 8. Wake up my honour, wake up harp and psaltery, I will stir up the morning-dawn. A fixed heart is such an one as in confidence on the Lord is fearless, comp. on Psalms 56:11. On the expression: my honour, as an emphatical designation of the soul, comp. on Psalms 7:5; Psalms 16:8, and especially Ps. 30:13. נבל and כנור give together the idea of music, and are hence to be regarded as a kind of compound noun; the article belongs to both in common. Psaltery and harp have in a manner slept, keeping silence till the Psalmist received the promise of divine aid. On the words: will stir up the morning dawn, the Berleb. Bible: “that is, anticipate it with praise; it shall not awake me to this, but shall find me already occupied with it.” In like manner with Ovid does the cock wake up at the break of day: non vigil ales ibi cristati cantibus oris evocat auroram. Metam. xi. 597. Many expositors, who could not enter into the bold, poetical expression, have expounded: I will be up at the time of the morning-dawn. But the Hiphil cannot fitly be taken intransitively immediately beside the Kal; the word: awake, and: I will stir up, stand in manifest connection; שחר is never found with the omission of the preposition or adverb in the sig. of early morning. Without foundation Ewald concludes from this verse, that the Psalm was an evening song. It is not on some one occasion merely, but always, that the Psalmist will awaken himself up with his thanksgiving and praise. The thought is that of great zeal in the praise of God. Arnd: “The little word early is not to be understood merely of the morning season, but of great diligence, activity, desire and love in the praising of God.”

Verses 9-10

Ver. 9. I will praise thee among the peoples, O Lord, sing praise to thee among the nations. Ver. 10. For great to the heavens is thy goodness, and to the clouds thy truth. The proof here exhibited of the glory of the Lord is so great, that only the peoples of the whole earth are a sufficient auditory for its praise. Michaelis: “But that has even been done by this Psalm, preserved for all nations and the latest posterity.” On Psalms 57:9 comp. Psalms 18:49. On Psalms 57:10 Psalms 35:5.

Verse 11

The sum of the whole is given in Psalms 57:11: Praise to thee, O God, in heaven, upon the whole earth, glory to thee! to be given, because for his acting God was to be praised throughout the whole world. The conclusion of the joy for deliverance reverts to its commencement, Psalms 57:5.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 57". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.