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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 141

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-10

Psalms 141:0

A Psalm of David

          Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me;

Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.

2     Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense;

And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

3     Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth;

Keep the door of my lips.

4     Incline not my heart to any evil thing,

To practise wicked works
With men that work iniquity:
And let me not eat of their dainties.

5     Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness:

And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil,

Which shall not break my head:

For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

6     When their judges are overthrown in stony places,

They shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

7     Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth,

As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

8     But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord:

In thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.

9     Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me,

And the gins of the workers of iniquity.

10     Let the wicked fall into their own nets,

Whilst that I withal escape.


Contents and Composition.—This Psalm was used by the ancient Church (Constit. Apost. II. 59) as the Evening-psalm, as Psalms 63:0. was the Morning-psalm. It is in the middle part so obscure, and its disjointed words and sentences, which are either mutilated or very slightly connected, are capable of explanations so different, that no certain conclusion can be made as to the circumstances or date of the author. The beginning and end are perspicuous in themselves, but their allusions are quite dissimilar. They are indeed capable of being accommodated to one another, but the obscurity and doubtfulness of the intermediate passages render uncertain all attempts to secure this end.

In the first portion the Psalmist prays in general terms for Divine help and an answer to his petitions (Psalms 141:1-2), then specially, that his mouth and heart may be kept so that he may not incline to fellowship with the wicked, who are in possession of means to do violence, and of the good things of this life (Psalms 141:3-4). At the end (Psalms 141:8-10) he prays that his life may be delivered, by being defended against the snares of the wicked, and wishes that they may be destroyed in their own nets. These are perhaps the same transgressors who in the beginning are described as seeking to tempt the Psalmist into fellowship with themselves, but who, when he by God’s help, overcame the temptation, did not rebuke him in a friendly manner, as the righteous would have done, with his cheerful acquiescence (Psalms 141:5), but sought to destroy him with the same malice against which he had already directed his prayer. They, however, shall be destroyed, while the words of the Psalmist shall be received by many as delightful; for, from the very mouth of the grave, a blooming life shall spring forth for him and for those who are with him (Psalms 141:6-7).

This connection may, at all events, be made out from the fragments of sentences which are like stones in a brook leading from one bank to the other. There is also much that may be brought into connection with circumstances in David’s life, his peculiar feelings and spiritual characteristics, and his manner of expression. And yet these cannot be identified with such certainty as that with which Hengstenberg, following the ancients, regards the Psalm as arising out of David’s relations to Saul, and as connected specially with 1 Samuel 24:0. Many expressions, moreover, are less Davidic than after the Davidic manner. It is, however, pure hypothesis to assume (Del.) that imitative poems of this class have been taken out of books of history, in which they had been connected with events in the life of David. The same remark applies to the attempts to connect the Psalm with the period of the reign of Manasseh, as also with that of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes (Ewald), and with John Hyrcanus (Hitzig).

[With reference to the first opinion cited above, that of Hengstenberg, Perowne remarks: “Psalms 141:5 has generally been supposed to allude to David’s generous conduct in sparing the life of his foe when he was in his power,. … but it is quite impossible on this supposition to give any plausible interpretation to Psalms 141:7.” But to those who adopt the figurative explanation of Psalms 141:7 (see below), and this view is at least as well supported as the other, no difficulty will arise from this source. Still, though this opinion has more in its favor than any other, the question cannot be regarded as settled, and it is best to remain content with the general statement of the title, and the other evidence of the Davidic authorship. Perowne also calls attention to the curious fact that De Wette considered this Psalm to be one of the latest, on account of its being “a very original, and therefore a difficult Psalm,” and that Maurer, on almost the same grounds, assigns it to a comparatively late period.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 141:1-2. Make haste unto me.—The additional words: to help, are here wanting, though occurring in other Davidic Psalms (Psalms 22:30; Psa 38:23; Psalms 40:14). In distress the anguish-stricken soul frets as though God were far from him, and therefore calls him near (Psalms 57:3).—Instead of: be placed [Psalms 141:2, E. V.: come] in the sense of being prepared, Amos 4:12 (Hupfeld), we may also translate: be established, Psalms 101:7, i.e., find acceptance and acknowledgment, (Del.) There is no indication that the speaker was a priest. It is rather highly improbable that such was the case; and the allusion is not necessarily to the offering of incense while presented on the morning and evening of each day by the Priest upon the golden altar of the Holy Place (Exodus 30:7 f.), but probably to the consecrated incense which accompanied the Azkara [the part of the meat-offering burnt with frankincense “for a memorial,” J. F. M.] of the meat offering (Isaiah 1:13) which the priest consumed entirely upon the altar (Isaiah 66:3). The morning meat-offering is mentioned but seldom, but that of the evening more frequently, as concluding the daily service in connection with the burnt-offering or whole sacrifice at that time, according to Exodus 29:38 f.; Numbers 28:3. Therefore later, after the example of Ezra 9:4 f.; Daniel 9:21, מנחה means directly: the afternoon or evening (Del.) The prayers of the individual members of the Church became gradually more and more regulated according to the time of the Temple offerings (comp. Ewald, Alterthümer, 2 ed., p. 132). But here the emphasis is laid upon the prayers. For the lifting up of the hands is not an expression for offering a sacrificial gift, the heaving of the hands (Syr.), here intended to take the place of the meat-offering, the supposed symbol of the good works of the believer (Hengstenb.). It is the accompanying sign of prayer, (Psalms 28:2), standing parallel to the breath of the sacred incense ascending to heaven, which sets forth the fact that the offering was directed to God (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3 f.) Perowne: “The same would hold also of the meat-offering of which it is said that the priest was to burn a part, as a memorial, ‘a sweet savor unto Jehovah.’ ” Alexander: “He prays not only for acceptance, but for constant or perpetual acceptance, as the offerings referred to were the stated daily services of the Mosaic ritual.” Translate Psalms 141:2, more literally: Let my prayer be set as an incense-offering before Thee, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening meat-offering.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 141:3-4. The dainties do not allude to idolatrous sacrifices (Rosenm., De Wette), but denote sensual enjoyments and ease, especially of those who had gained their possessions unjustly, Proverbs 4:17; Proverbs 9:5, (Kimchi, Calvin, Geier). Such pleasures have something alluring, Psalms 73:10, (Hengst.), notwithstanding the evil consequences, which should act as a warning, Job 20:12 f.; Proverbs 23:1 f., Proverbs 23:6 f. (Hupfeld). [Psalms 141:4 b is, literally: to work works in wickedness. Hengstenberg: “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 forms a commentary on Psalms 141:3. The reference is not, as Calvin and others suppose, to hard speeches against his enemies, but to impatient, irreverent expressions against God.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 141:5. Let a righteous person smite me.—The righteous one here mentioned is certainly not God (Amyrald, Maurer, Tholuck, Hengst.), but any man, contrasted with the wicked, whose reproofs contrasted with the allurements of the wicked, are not destructive but salutary; not, indeed, pleasant outwardly, like their dainties, but yet reviving, rejoicing, and strengthening, like oil upon the head. And if at first they wound and smart like blows, yet they neither proceed from an evil heart, nor inflict harm, but are most closely connected with kindness and deliverance, and are therefore cheerfully received by all who would escape ruin in this world and gain, instead, the salvation which the reprover himself possesses. This connection is rightly found in this passage by most since Kimchi, Calvin, and Geier, and gives expression to a thought similar to that in Ecclesiastes 7:5; Proverbs 3:11, and frequent elsewhere. According to the accents we must translate: Let a righteous man smite me in kindness and reprove me, my head shall not refuse head-oil, i.e., not: precious oil, or balm, but: oil for the head (Delitzsch). But most expositors prefer the translation given by us in the text [Let a righteous man smite me—a kindness (is it); and let him reprove me—oil (is it) to the head, let not my head refuse it,—J. F. M.]; for the accents are not absolutely binding, and by thus departing from them we gain a clearer expression of a like thought, and only thus a real parallelism in the structure of the sentence. The translation: let the head-oil not soften my head (Ewald) proceeds from an uncertain derivation, and gives an obscure sense. If it is intended to mean that even when the righteous rebuke him for lukewarmness and the like offences, the joys offered to him by the wicked shall not change his feelings, the Sept. and Vulg. have expressed this much more clearly: The oil of the wicked shall not anoint my head. But they, evidently, have read רֶשָׁע for רֹאשׁ. They, as also the Syr. and Jerome, have interpreted the verb according to a word in Arabic, which, however, is entirely unknown to the Aramaic, meaning: to he fat. But יָנִי is a defective form for יָנִיא, meaning: to deny, frustrate, prevent, Psalms 33:10.

For yet,etc.—Here begins a mutilation of the Text which is continued through verses 6, 7, and which has occasioned interpretations quite opposite, and in some parts quite strange. Their enumeration may be here properly passed over. There is no doubt that something must be supplied after “yet,” for it is not admissible to drop the וּ as most prefer to do. There is very little gained, moreover, by the attempt made by some expositors to connect כִי־עוֹד with the preceding line against the accents. To complete the thought there might then be supplied: let me contend. But many other insertions are equally tenable. [Dr. Moll gives merely the literal rendering of the words as they stand in the original: For still—and my prayer—against their malice. Delitzsch translates: For still I meet their malice only with prayer. With this, compare the rendering of Mendelssohn: I still keep praying while they practice their shameful deeds, as furnishing perhaps the best explanation of this disputed member of the verse. The וּ must introduce the apodosis; for (so it is) still, that my prayer, etc. (Perowne). Comp. Zechariah 8:20; Proverbs 24:27, for similar instances (Del.)—J. F. M.]

Psalms 141:6. The obscure words of the Text furnish a good sense most readily, if the judges be understood to mean the rulers, chief men, leaders of these people, against whose malice the Psalmist employs the weapons of prayer and nothing else, whose destruction he yet foresees, and in this Psalm, which is in fact a prayer, foretells. For the “hands” of the rock [E. V., stony places] are probably its sides or walls. To be cast down from one of them was a punishment not unexampled (2 Chronicles 25:12). No subject is named in the following member. It cannot be the judges, for the words of the Psalmist would not be heard with pleasure by them, and it is not their conversion that is dwelt upon, but their destruction. The plural of the verb is therefore to be taken impersonally. [Render therefore: Their judges are cast down by the sides of the rock; and my words are heard that they are sweet.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 141:7-8. It remains here unexplained directly, whence the sudden deadly peril to the Psalmist, and his companions arises. For this reason the change of reading which gives: their, instead of: our (Sept. Cod. Al., Syr., Arab., Ethiop., Theodoret), and which Jerome also notices, is favored by Böttcher. Referring to the bones of those who have been hurled down, he translates: broken into fragments. A suitable parallel to the image in Psalms 141:7 would then be afforded. But this explanation is no more certain than that of Ewald, who thinks that the extreme emaciation of the afflicted righteous is here figuratively, or rather, plainly described by the words: our bones protrude themselves. This he connects with Psalms 141:5 d, in which he supposes that the Psalmist keeps directing his prayer to God on account of the misery of the righteous. If now we remain by the usual and most natural translation, it becomes again doubtful whether the bones are thrown to the abyss of the underworld (Isaiah 5:14; Proverbs 1:12) to be swallowed up, and a complaint is uttered on account of slaughter and overthrow (Hupfeld and most); or whether we are to suppose that victory in spite of prostration (Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:0.), is represented by the figure of the ploughing of the soil and the confirmatory declarations of Psalms 141:8, and that the passage is an expression of hope for the future (Hengstenberg, Delitzsch).—The expression in Psalms 141:8 : pour not out, that is, unto death, since the life is in the blood, occurs also in Isaiah 53:12. [The members of Psalms 141:7 are inverted in E. V. The literal translation of the first clause is: as one furroweth and cleaveth in the earth. There is no need of supplying a subject as E. V. does. According to the last explanation given above, the bones are compared to the seed which is scattered in the upturned earth, and which should yet spring up into a rich harvest. This is the point of the reference to the passages in Is. and Ezek. where the resurrection is hinted at. Translate in Psalms 141:8 b: Pour not out my soul, and see the explanation above.—J. F. M.]


It is a necessary and a saving act to place ourselves under God’s protection, not merely against outward enemies, but also against our own nature.—Men sin with the tongue more frequently than they think. This may be done by complaining and self-praise, no less than by false accusations, unjust reproaches, and baseless excuses.—Even confirmed Christians need continually to watch and pray, lest they yield to temptation.—Good resolves are not sufficient; paternal reproof and loving rebuke can do much; but God’s grace must crown the work.

Starke: A believing prayer is a pleasing and acceptable incense-offering to God. By it His punishment and anger may be averted.—The mouth and the heart are man’s two fairest jewels; but if they are to be well guarded they must be committed to God.—Much frivolous speaking hinders prayer perceptibly, and often stings our hearts so that we are ashamed before God of our words.—Men in positions of influence may, by their evil example, obstruct in others the course of godliness. How necessary is then the prayer for Divine leading to God for the sake of others.—If men would become sincerely and actively religious they must begin by reforming the heart.—In hereditary sin man has an alluring dainty; if he follows it and becomes like the world, he loses his taste for the heavenly manna, the true food of the soul.—Let none consider themselves so blameless that they do not need any admonition.—The disciplinary power of the Holy Spirit must not be restrained, nor the law be abolished in the Church. For the teaching inspired by God is profitable also for correction, (2 Timothy 3:13). Fraternal reproof has, alas! become almost obsolete in the Christianity of today. Flattery and false politeness have gained the upper hand.—It is always better to do a thing in meekness than in anger.—Wicked leaders in all departments of life cause much sorrow and ruin, but their judgment and condemnation do not slumber.—Unity and steadfastness in faith, in prayer, and in patience, are most necessary to pious Christians in their afflictions. They will at last be redeemed from all evil.

Frisch: There are none in the world more odious than those who are most forward in resisting evil and implanting good.—Rieger: The tongue is never harder to be tamed than under suffering at the hands of others. It is therefore the more necessary that God should guard it then.—Many things are wounds to the old nature, which are balm to the new.—Guenther: How will I learn to say “my God,” if I do not earn the right of possession by daily experiences of His gracious assistance?—Diedrich: He who will have faithfully confessed the Truth in his daily duties, will find in this Psalm the groans of his heart repeated.—Taube: The prayer of faith is the victory which overcomes the world within and without, for it forces its way into God’s light, and brings us to His strength.

[Matt. Henry: They that cry in prayer may hope to be heard in prayer, not for their loudness, but for their lowliness.—Prayer is of a sweet-smelling savor to God, as incense, which yet had no savor without fire; nor has prayer without the fire of holy love and fervor.—We must be as earnest for God’s grace in us, as for His favor towards us.—Nature having made my lips to be a door to my mouth, let grace keep that door, that nothing may be suffered to go out which may any way tend to the dishonor of God or the hurt of others.—Good men will pray against even the sweets of sin.—When the world is bitter the word is sweet.—All that are bound over to God’s justice are held in the cords of their own iniquity. But let me at the same time obtain a discharge.—J. F. M.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 141". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-141.html. 1857-84.
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