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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 41

Complaint of a Sufferer of Being Surrounded by Hostile and Treacherous Persons

After a Psalm with אשׁרי follows one beginning with אשׁרי ; so that two Psalms with אשׁרי close the First Book of the Psalms, which begins with אשׁרי . Psalms 41:1-13 belongs to the time of the persecution by Absalom. Just as the Jahve- Psalms 39:1-13 forms with the Elohim- Psalms 62:1-12 a coherent pair belonging to this time, so does also the Jahve- Psalms 41:1-13 with the Elohim-Psalm 55. These two Psalms have this feature in common, viz., that the complaint concerning the Psalmist's foes dwells with especial sadness upon some faithless bosom-friend. In Psalms 41:1-13 David celebrates the blessing which accompanies sincere sympathy, and depicts the hostility and falseness which he himself experiences in his sickness, and more especially from a very near friend. It is the very same person of whom he complains in Ps 55, that he causes him the deepest sorrow - no ideal character, as Hengstenberg asserts; for these Psalms have the most distinctly impressed individual physiognomy of the writer's own times. In Ps 55 the poet wishes for the wings of a dove, in order that, far away from the city, he might seek for himself a safe spot in the wilderness; for in the city deceit, violence, and mischief prevail, and the storm of a wide-spread conspiracy is gathering, in which he himself sees his most deeply attached friend involved. We need only supplement what is narrated in the second Book of Samuel by a few features drawn from these two Psalms, and these Psalms immediately find a satisfactory explanation in our regarding the time of their composition as the period of Absalom's rebellion. The faithless friend is that Ahithophel whose counsels, according to 2 Samuel 16:23, had with David almost the appearance of being divine oracles. Absalom was to take advantage of a lingering sickness under which his father suffered, in order to play the part of the careful and impartial judge and to steal the heart of the men of Israel. Ahithophel supported him in this project, and in four years after Absalom's reconciliation with his father the end was gained. These four years were for David a time of increasing care and anxiety; for that which was planned cannot have remained altogether concealed from him, but he had neither the courage nor the strength to smother the evil undertaking in the germ. His love for Absalom held him back; the consciousness of his own deed of shame and bloodshed, which was now notorious, deprived him of the alacrity essential to energetic interference; and the consciousness of the divine judgments, which ought to follow his sin, must have determined him to leave the issue of the conspiracy that was maturing under his very eyes entirely to the compassion of his God, without taking any action in the matter himself. From the standpoint of such considerations, Psalms 41:1-13 and 55 lose every look of being alien to the history of David and his times. One confirmation of their Davidic origin is the kindred contents of Psalms 28:1-9.

Jesus explains (John 13:18) that in the act of Judas Iscariot Psalms 41:10 is fulfilled, ὁ τρώγων μετ ̓ ἐμοῦ τὸν ἄρτον, ἐπῆρεν ἐπ ̓ ἐμε ̓ τὴν πτέρναν αὐτοῦ (not following the lxx), and John 17:12; Acts 1:16 assume in a general way that the deed and fate of the traitor are foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures, viz., in the Davidic Psalms of the time of Absalom - the treachery and the end of Ahithophel belong to the most prominent typical features of David's affliction in this second stage of persecution (vid., Hofmann, Weissagung und Erfüllung, ii. 122).

Verses 1-3

(Heb.: 41:2-4) The Psalm opens by celebrating the lot, so rich in promises, of the sympathetic man. דּל is a general designation of the poor (e.g., Exodus 30:15), of the sick and weakly (Genesis 41:19), of the sick in mind ( 2 Samuel 13:4), and of that which outwardly or inwardly is tottering and consequently weak, frail. To show sympathising attention, thoughtful consideration towards such an one ( השׂכּיל אל as in Nehemiah 8:13, cf. על Proverbs 17:20) has many promises. The verb חיּה , which elsewhere even means to call to life again (Psalms 71:20), in this instance side by side with preserving, viz., from destruction, has the signification of preserving life or prolonging life (as in Psalms 30:4; Psalms 22:30). The Pual אשּׁר signifies to be made happy (Proverbs 3:18), but also declaratively: to be pronounced happy (Isaiah 9:15); here, on account of the בּארץ that stands with it, it is the latter. The Chethîb יעשּׁר sets forth as an independent promise that which the Kerî ואשּׁר joins on to what has gone before as a consequence. אל , Psalms 41:3 (cf. Psalms 34:6 and frequently), expresses a negative with full sympathy in the utterance. נתן בּנפשׁ as in Psalms 27:12. The supporting in Psalms 41:4 is a keeping erect, which stops or arrests the man who is sinking down into death and the grave. דּוי (= davj , similar form to &#שׁמי מעי , but wanting in the syllable before the tone) means sickness. If Psalms 41:4 is understood of the supporting of the head after the manner of one who waits upon the sick (cf. Song of Solomon 2:6), then Psalms 41:4 must, with Mendelssohn and others, be understood of the making of the couch or bed. But what then is neat by the word &#לך משׁכּב is a sick-bed in Exodus 21:18 in the sense of being bedridden; and הפכתּ (cf. Psalms 30:12) is a changing of it into convalescence. By כל־משׁכבו is not meant the constant lying down of such an one, but the affliction that casts him down, in all its extent. This Jahve turns or changes, so often as such an one is taken ill ( בחליו , at his falling sick, parallel with דוי על־ערשׂ דוי htiw ). He gives a complete turn to the “sick-bed” towards recovery, so that not a vestige of the sickness remains behind.

Verses 4-6

(Heb.: 41:5-7) He, the poet, is treated in his distress of soul in a manner totally different from the way just described which is so rich in promises of blessing. He is himself just such a דּל , towards whom one ought to manifest sympathising consideration and interest. But, whilst he is addressing God in the language of penitential prayer for mercy and help, his enemies speak evil to him, i.e., with respect to him, wishing that he might die and that his name might perish. רפאה .hs is as an exception Milra, inasmuch as א draws the tone to its own syllable; cf. on the other hand רגזה , Isaiah 32:11 (Hitzig). מתי (prop. extension, length of time) has only become a Semitic interrogative in the signification quando by the omission of the interrogative אי (common Arabic in its full form Arab. 'ymtâ , êmata ). ואבד is a continuation of the future. In Psalms 41:7 one is singled out and made prominent, and his hypocritically malicious conduct described. ראות of a visit to a sick person as in 2 Samuel 13:5., 2 Kings 8:29. אם is used both with the perf. (Psalms 50:18; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 78:34; Psalms 94:18; Genesis 38:9; Amos 7:2; Isaiah 24:13; Isaiah 28:25) and with the fut. (Psalms 68:14; Job 14:14), like quum, as a blending together of si and quando, Germ. wenn (if) and wann (when). In ידבר לבו two Rebias come together, the first of which has the greater value as a distinctive, according to the rule laid down in Baer's Psalterium, p. xiv. Consequently, following the accents, it must not be rendered: “falsehood doth his heart speak.” The lxx, Vulgate, and Targum have discerned the correct combination of the words. Besides, the accentuation, as is seen from the Targum and expositors, proceeds on the assumption that לבּו is equivalent to בּלבּו . But why may it not be the subject-notion: “His heart gathereth” is an expression of the activity of his mind and feelings, concealed beneath a feigned and friendly outward bearing. The asyndeton portrays the despatch with which he seeks to make the material for slander, which has been gathered together, public both in the city and in the country.

Verses 7-9

(Heb.: 41:8-10) Continuation of the description of the conduct of the enemies and of the false friend. התלחשׁ , as in 2 Samuel 12:19, to whisper to one another, or to whisper among themselves; the Hithpa. sometimes (cf. Genesis 42:1) has a reciprocal meaning like the Niphal. The intelligence brought out by hypocritical visitors of the invalid concerning his critical condition is spread from mouth to mouth by all who wish him ill as satisfactory news; and in fact in whispers, because at that time caution was still necessary. עלי stands twice in a prominent position in the sense of contra me. רעה לּי belong together: they maliciously invent what will be the very worst for him (going beyond what is actually told them concerning him). In this connection there is a feeling in favour of בּליּעל being intended of an evil fate, according to Psalms 18:5, and not according to Psalms 101:3 (cf. Deuteronomy 15:9) of pernicious or evil thought and conduct. And this view is also supported by the predicate יצוּק בּו : “a matter of destruction, an incurable evil (Hitzig) is poured out upon him,” i.e., firmly cast upon him after the manner of casting metal (Job 41:15.), so that he cannot get free from it, and he that has once had to lie down will not again rise up. Thus do we understand אשׁר in Psalms 41:9; there is no occasion to take it as an accusative by departing from the most natural sense, as Ewald does, or as a conjunction, as Hitzig does. Even the man of his peace, or literally of his harmonious relationship ( אישׁ שׁלום as in Obadiah 1:7, Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 38:22), on whom he has depended with fullest confidence, who did eat his bread, i.e., was his messmate (cf. Psalms 55:15), has made his heel great against him, lxx ἐμεγάλυνεν ἐπ ̓ ἐμὲ πτερνισμόν . The combination הגדּיל עקב is explained by the fact that עקב is taken in the sense of a thrust with the heel, a kick: to give a great kick, i.e., with a good swing of the foot.

Verses 10-12

(Heb.: 41:11-13) Having now described their behaviour towards him, sick in soul and body as he is, so devoid of affection, yea, so malignantly hostile and so totally contrary to the will and promise of God, David prays that God would raise him up, for he is now lying low, sick in soul and in body. The prayer is followed, as in Ps 39:14 and many other passages, by the future with ah: that I may be able to requite them, or: then will I requite them. What is meant is the requiting which it was David's duty as a duly constituted king to exercise, and which he did really execute by the power of God, when he subdued the rebellion of Absalom and maintained his ground in opposition to faithlessness and meanness. Instead of בּזאת אדע (Genesis 42:33, cf. Genesis 15:8, Exodus 7:17; Numbers 16:28; Joshua 3:10) the expression is בּזאת ידעתּי in the sense of ( ex hoc ) cognoverim . On חפצתּ בּי cf. Psalms 18:20; Psalms 22:9; Psalms 35:27. By the second כּי , the בּזאת , which points forwards, is explained. The adversatively accented subject ואני stands first in Psalms 41:13 as a nom. absol., just as in Psalms 35:13. Psalms 41:13 states, retrospectively from the standpoint of fulfilment, what will then be made manifest and assure him of the divine good pleasure, viz., Jahve upholds him ( תּמך as in Psalms 63:9), and firmly sets him as His chosen one before Him (cf. Psalms 39:6) in accordance with the Messianic promise in 2 Samuel 7:16, which speaks of an unlimited future.

Verse 13

(Heb.: 41:14) The closing doxology of the First Book, vid., Introduction. Concerning בּרוּך vid., Psalms 18:47. The expression “from aeon to aeon” is, according to Berachoth ix. 5, directed against those who deny the truth of the future world. אמן ואמן (a double aleethe's or aleethoo's ) seals it in a climactic form.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 41". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.