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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 64

Psalms 64

AFTER a prayer for protection against the wicked, the Psalmist takes occasion to paint their machinations for the destruction of the righteous, and then describes how, when they were just upon the very point of accomplishing their purpose, through means of all the power which cunning and wickedness could command, God himself interposes, and turns the destruction upon their own head, to the terror of their friends and admirers, to the edification of the whole world, and to the joy of all the righteous.

The Psalm consists of ten verses, which are divided into two fives. At first sight, the first strophe appears to consist of six, and the second of four verses. But the fut. with a vau conv. in Psalms 64:7, can scarcely begin a strophe; and it appears to be suitable (and we are saved from tearing asunder what is intimately and inseparably connected together,) that at the beginning of the second strophe at Psalms 64:6, it is intimated that the completion of the wickedness and cunning of the enemies is on the eve of dealing the deadly blow.

The fundamental thought of the Psalm is, that the completed wickedness and cunning of the enemies is no ground for despair, but rather for joyous hope:—the nearer they are to gaining their end, the nearer are they to destruction. To those who have to contend with such wickedness, the Psalmist calls, “lift up your hearts.”

Although the events of Saul’s time form, in the first instance, the basis of the Psalm, as is shown by the great prominence given throughout to slander, as a weapon of assault, employed by the wicked against the righteous, and although the Psalm is nearly allied to those other Psalms of an individual character which were composed by David at that time, especially to the Psalms 7 and the Psalms 52 Psalm, yet we cannot assign to it any individual occasion. We are prevented from so doing, first, because all the allusions are of a general character, and second, because the “I” is exchanged in Psalms 64:4 for the innocent man.

The authorship, which is asserted in the title to be David’s, is confirmed by the resemblance, as may be seen by the exposition, which the Psalm bears to others which were composed by him. The great prominence given to slandering shows that the Psalm does not refer to heathen enemies.

Verses 1-5

The first strophe is Psalms 64:1-5: May God help the righteous against the wickedness and cunning of men.

Ver. 1. Hear, O God, my voice in my grief, protect my life against the terror of the enemy. Ver. 2. Conceal me from the intimacy of the wicked, from the tumult of evil-doers. Ver. 3. Who sharpen their tongues like the sword, and stretch as their arrow a bitter word. Ver. 4. To shoot in a lurking place at the innocent, suddenly they shoot at him without fear. Ver. 5. They strengthen for themselves an evil plan, they tell how they will lay snares, they say, who shall look at them.

The expression, “in my sorrow,” properly, “in my thought,” (compare at Psalms 55:2), shows that the prayer for help was not a superficial one, but proceeded from the deep ground of a sorely grieved heart. The “terror of the enemy,” is the terror which goes forth from him, the terrible danger which he threatens. “Protect my life,” shows that the Psalmist (contrary to Tholuck’s view) was exposed to personal danger, to danger of life.

The סוד is to be taken in the sense of “intimacy,” not “secret assemblies,” and רגש , in that of “tumult,” and not “tumultuous crowds,” is evident from the parallel passage Psalms 55:3. The intimacy is found in the secret counsels for the destruction of the righteous, (see Psalms 83:3), and the tumult in the execution of these counsels, מרע is a standing word in Davidic Psalms. Calvin: “He recommends his case on the ground of the wickedness of the enemy; for the more unreasonably and cruelly they act towards us the more sure may we be that God will be gracious to us.”

The comparison of a slandering tongue to a sword, and of slander to an arrow, in Psalms 64:3, (comp. Psalms 57:4, and Psalms 59:7, and the passages quoted there), shows that it is not ordinary slanders that are referred to, but such as, in direct violation of the 6th commandment, aim at the destruction of a neighbour,—such slanders as David had to do with in the days, of Saul. “They stretch,” is “they lay stretched”: compare Psalms 58:7. “A bitter word,” i.e. a painful, destructive word, (compare Deuteronomy 32:24, 1 Samuel 15:32), is not in apposition: חצם is to be explained, “as their bow,” and corresponds to “like the sword.”

In Psalms 64:4, the slanderers, on account of their hidden cunning and dark efforts, are compared to robbers who commit murder, who waylay the defenceless traveller, in a secret place, in order to destroy him: compare Psalms 10:8-9. “Suddenly,” is, “while he is thinking there is no harm.” It is evident from, “who fear not God,” in Psalms 55:19, and “all men are afraid,” in Psalms 64:9, that “without fear” refers to the fear of God and of his punishment.—“They strengthen for themselves an evil word, or an evil plan,” in Psalms 64:5, by acute consideration and increased improvement, to which every one contributes his share. ספר stands, as in Psalms 59:12, in its usual sense, to “recount”; every one in their secret councils makes his speech, proposes his plan. As the ראה is never used with ל of the object, we cannot translate, “them,” meaning thereby, either the snares, or the wicked: למו signifies, as at the beginning of the verse, “to them,” i.e. to hurt them. Who?—will God?—he does not trouble himself about human affairs, and therefore no man need trouble himself about him: compare Psalms 59:7, Psalms 10:11-13.

Verses 6-10

The second strophe is from Psalms 64:6-10. Every thing is fully prepared, when God brings vengeance upon the wicked. Ver. 6. They examine thoroughly into wickedness “we are ready, a well matured plan,” and the inside of a man and his heart is deep. Ver. 7. There God shoots at them with a sudden arrow; there are THEIR wounds! Ver. 8. And they are confounded, their tongue comes upon themselves, all their admirers flee away. Ver. 9. And all men are afraid and make known the deed of God, and understand his work. Ver. 10. The righteous shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall trust in him, and all the upright shall glory.—”They examine thoroughly into iniquities,” in Psalms 64:6, (the plural עולות is used only here, and in Psalms 58:2), they allow no corner of these to be unexamined, that is, they make it their study to bring their wicked plans to as great perfection as possible. In the words, “ we are ready, a thoroughly matured plan,” (properly a thoroughly searched search), the Psalmist introduces the wicked telling that, as the result of their zealous studies in wickedness, they had brought their villanous plans to perfection, and expressing joy on that account. As the תמם is always intransitive, and in particular תמנו , instead of תמינו , is so, in all the three passages in which it elsewhere occurs, we cannot translate, “we have completed a thoroughly matured plan.” In the last words, “the inside,” &c. reference is made to the greatness of the danger to which the righteous man is exposed. Human wickedness is unfathomable, it is impossible to know it, and all its wicked plans, much less then to be on our guard against them. How then will it go with the poor righteous man. “Deep” is often used in the sense of what is difficult to be searched out or known. Thus, Ezekiel 3:5, Ezekiel 3:7 “deep of speech,” is, “difficult to be understood,” Job 11:8, Proverbs 25:3. Jeremiah 17:9, is exactly parallel, “The heart is steep before all and, diseased, who can know it,” where “steep” occupies the place of “deep.” Both are equally inaccessible. The “inside,” compare at Psalms 5:9, denotes the opposite of what may easily be seen on the outside, and therefore there is no room for the tautology at which Clauss stumbles.

The “There” in Psalms 64:7, is when they are in the midst of their joy over their completed plan, and when they are just on the eve of carrying it into execution. Such picturesque representations of vengeance suddenly breaking out are characteristic of David’s Psalms; compare for example, Psalms 7:11, Psalms 53:5, Psalms 57:6. The arrow of God here corresponds to the arrow of the wicked at Psalms 64:3 and Psalms 64:4; compare at Psalms 7:13. It is evident from Psalms 64:4 that פתאם , agreeably to the accusative, belongs to the first clause. The second clause gives in an abbreviated form the substance of what we have at length in Psalms 7:14-16. The emphasis is on the suffix: there are THEIR wounds! They were thinking of wounding the upright, but behold they are wounded themselves.

The beginning of the 8th ver. is literally, “and there they bring them to fall,” the plural being used as at Psalms 63:10. “Their tongue comes upon them,” inasmuch as it brings upon them the punishment and the judgment of God. From the second half of the verse to the end the Psalmist describes the salutary effects of this judgment, first upon the companions of the wicked; second, upon all men; and, finally, upon the righteous. The first, (ראה with ב , as in Psalms 59:10) flee, that they may not be involved in the punishment; compare Numbers 16:34, “And all Israel who were around them (the sons of Korah) fled, for they said, lest the earth swallow us up also.”

In the ( Psalms 64:9) 9th verse, men in general, occupy the middle position, between the two opposite extremes. On “they are afraid,” comp. Psalms 52:6. On the second and third clause, comp. Psalms 58:11, “and men shall say, verily there is a reward for the righteous, verily God judgeth on the earth.” השכיל is not “to give consideration,” but “to understand:” the great mass of people obtain insight into the works and government of God, when they see the destruction of the wicked with their own eyes. On Psalms 64:10, compare Psalms 63:11.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 64". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.