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Bible Commentaries

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

Psalms 41

Verses 1-13

Psalms 41:0

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

1          Blessed is he that considereth the poor:

The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.

2     The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive;

And he shall be blessed upon the earth:

And thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.

3     The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing:

Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.

4     I said, Lord, be merciful unto me:

Heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee,

5     Mine enemies speak evil of me,

When shall he die, and his name perish?

6     And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity:

His heart gathereth iniquity to itself;

When he goeth abroad, he telleth it.

7     All that hate me whisper together against me:

Against me do they devise my hurt.

8     An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him:

And now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.

9     Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,

Which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

10     But thou, O Lord, be merciful unto me, and raise me up,

That I may requite them.

11     By this I know that thou favourest me,

Because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.

12     And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity,

And settest me before thy face for ever.

13     Blessed be the Lord God of Israel

From everlasting, and to everlasting.
Amen, and Amen.


Its Contents and Composition.—The last verse does not belong to this Psalm, but forms the doxology which concludes the entire first book, comp. Introduct. Twelve verses remain, three of which form the introduction, three the conclusion, and between them the substance of the Psalm is contained in twice as many verses. The substance of this Psalm consists of a description how the Psalmist prayed for Divine grace and help in his sufferings, which he regarded as a punishment for his sins (Psalms 41:4), whilst his enemies reckoned upon his death (Psalms 41:5), and false friends, in visiting him, abused the opportunity in gathering and spreading wicked, false and exaggerated accounts of his hopeless and languishing condition (Psalms 41:6-8). One among them is conspicuous, who, as a previous friend and table-companion (Psalms 41:9), deceived the trust bestowed upon him in the grossest manner. From this description a new and double petition arises (Psalms 41:10) for grace and for help, because the Psalmist recognizes in the fact that his enemies do not triumph, the favor (Psalms 41:11) with which God holds fast to his person in the integrity of his heart, so that his person will remain a continual mark for the eyes of His providence (Psalms 41:12). Whence the Psalmist has derived this confidence of faith, which is finally expressed in prophetical perfects, is disclosed in the opening strophe, in which the man is pronounced blessed, who conducts himself properly towards the unfortunate (Psalms 41:1), because God will act in the same way towards him, as a recompense in his time of trouble (Psalms 41:2-3). Since there is expressly named here, protection against the rage of enemies, and assistance upon the bed of sickness; and the form of the prayer (Psalms 41:2 c) is already broken through by the statement of the prosperity of such a man, the particular groups unite closely with one another, and serve mutually to explain one another. Only we must not suppose that it is a didactic Psalm, in which there is first expressed a general clause of experience, and then an application of it to particular relations (Olsh.), or in which David speaks from the ideal person of the righteous and their sufferings under the figure of a sickness (Hengst.); or that it is a Psalm of lamentation, which speaks likewise figuratively of the sufferings of the better part of the people under the wickedness of domestic enemies (De Wette); or that it is properly a Psalm of thanksgiving (Ewald), in which all is to be referred to a deliverance from a dangerous sickness (Maurer, Hitzig) which has already transpired, and in which there is a report respecting what then took place in a narrative and commendatory form; but that it is a song of faith, in which a man lying upon a painful and dangerous bed of sickness, with open enemies lurking about him, and vexed by false and treacherous friends, prays and confesses himself a guilty sinner before God; but, since he stands in an internal relation of sincere piety to God, he feels that he is therein supported by God, and with so much the greater confidence of being heard, implores the grace and help of God, as his own behaviour towards the suffering gives him a claim for recompense on the part of God, since, on the one side, men, his friends as well as enemies, treat him badly, and, on the other side, his relation to God and the good pleasure of God in him could not be made known, should the hopes of his adversaries be fulfilled. These are the pure and genuine features of the heart, faith, and life of David, yet not merely in the time of the rebellion of Absalom and the treachery practiced by Ahithophel (Hofm. Weiss. und Erf. II. 122; Delitzsch). It is more in accordance with the advanced age of David, 1 Kings 1:1-4, the insurrection of Adonijah and the behaviour of Joab (Böhl). Since now David’s history has a typical meaning, we can thus understand the explanation of Jesus, John 13:18, that the action of Judas Iscariot was in fulfilment of Scripture, under which circumstances Psalms 41:9 of this Psalm is cited (yet not after the Sept., and even with an essential abbreviation of the Hebrew text), as then, John 17:12; Acts 1:16, likewise presuppose in general that the act and fate of the traitor were prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is well, however, to limit the typical meaning to this verse, or, at most, to the description of this relation stated here (according to the scantiness of the citation in John), and not extend it to the whole Psalm (Calvin, Stier), or, indeed, regard it as directly Messianic (most of the older interpreters, particularly Luther, more recently Böhl). But this is inconsistent with the confession of personal sin (Psalms 41:4) and with the reference to the fulfilment of the recompense (Psalms 41:10). For the reference is not to the desire of revenge (Hupf.), but yet not to the recompense with good and in love, as Christ suffers and prays on account of the sins of others (Cocc.), or in the sense in which Joseph acted towards his brethren (Burk, v. Meyer, Stier), but to that recompense to which David was obligated as the lawful king. This is more in accordance with 1 Kings 2:5 sq. (Böhl), than with his overcoming the rebellion of Absalom (Delitzsch). We cannot refer to the recompensing of Christ as the Judge of the world, because with the Messianic interpretation all else is referred only to the suffering Messiah in the state of humiliation, which, when extended farther, must explain likewise the sickness, the bed, and the rising of the recovered, with reference to the death, the grave, and the resurrection, as indeed some do with a false application of Typology. Psalms 41:4 is most decisive, as even Reinke admits. For it is exegetically entirely inadmissible to put the last words in the mouth of the Messiah as the representative of sinful humanity, as many do, particularly after Theodoret, who explains the historical reference to king David or Hezekiah as rash and fool-hardy. This Psalm is related in contents with Psalms 28:0, and as a Jehovah-psalm belongs closely together with the Elohim-Psalms 55:0. in like manner as Psalms 39:0. with Psalms 62:0. The style is lively and expressive.

Str. I. Psa 41:1. Attentive to an afflicted one.—This is either observing the needy with attention, in the sense of loving sympathy (Sept., Aquila, Theod., the Rabbins, Cocc., J. H. Mich., De Wette, et al.), as Nehemiah 8:13 with אֵל as here, with עלPro 16:20, with לְPro 21:11-12, with בְPsa 101:2; Daniel 9:13; or as a wise man considering that which is appropriate (Symm., Luther, Calvin, Ruding., Venema, Hengst.); perhaps the two may be combined (Geier, Stier). In connection with the Messianic interpretation of דַּל (tenuis; hence in a physical sense, lean, thin, in a civil sense, insignificant; as a general designation of the poor, Exodus 30:15, of the sick and weak Genesis 41:19; 2 Samuel 3:1, of sick in mind, 2 Samuel 13:4), reference is made to the believing consideration of his suffering, especially of his life in the state of humiliation, sometimes with the view of the summons to follow Him.—Since יוֹם is masculine, בְיּוֹם רָעָה can only mean; in the day of adversity, (Symmach.), not in the evil day (Sept.).

Psalms 41:2. He shall be blessed.יְאֻשַּׁר is to be taken as an echo of אַשְׁרֵי Psalms 41:1, as Proverbs 3:18; not declarative as Isaiah 9:15; at any rate not after another derivation Proverbs 9:6,=be conducted in the right, straight way, that is, in the way of salvation (J. H. Mich.).—[And do not give him up.—A sudden transition from the future to the optative (Hupfeld) in an appeal to God in prayer. This is to be explained from the personal interest of the poet in the person of the משׂכיל (Riehm).—C. A. B.]

Psalms 41:3. Support him on the sick bed.—This is not the supporting of the head,Song Song of Solomon 2:6, in accordance with which Psalms 41:3 b. is understood of changing the bed of the couch (Mendels.), but designates the contrast to the sinking down in death and the turning of a couch of sickness into one of health by virtue of his recovery.

[Str. II. Psa 41:4. I said—Perowne: “The pronoun is emphatic and marks both the transition from the previous eulogy of the compassionate man to the poet’s personal feelings and desires, and also the opposition to the ‘enemies’ in the next verse.”—For I have sinned,etc.—David constantly refers to sin as the inward cause of his sufferings. Vid.Psalms 31:10; Psalms 32:5; Psalms 38:3-4; Psalms 38:18; Psalms 40:12.—These words prevent an application of the whole Psalm to Christ.

Psalms 41:5. Speak evil for me—Hupfeld: לִי with אמר elsewhere=to me, as Psalms 3:2; Psalms 11:1, might here—since we are not to suppose an address to him and a consequent change to the third person as Psalms 3:2,—simply mean about me, of me (as Genesis 20:13), as all interpreters admit: but it is perhaps to be connected rather with רַע: evil for me (dat incommodi), or with ‘speak = devise, wish me,’ as Psalms 41:7.

Psalms 41:6. And if he come to see me.—This is not impersonal, but the Psalmist has a certain individual in mind, probably Joab, who visited him in his sickness, comp. 2 Samuel 13:5 sq.; 2 Kings 8:29, gathered all the evil of his condition and prospects, and went forth abroad and published it to the conspirators.

Psalms 41:7. Whisper together.—Comp. Ps. 12:19. It refers here to deceitful plotting, conspiracy as Psalms 2:2, and is parallel with devise evil.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 41:8. Some frightful thing is poured out upon him.דְּבַר־בְּלִיַעַל is properly a word or thing of worthlessness either in the moral sense as Psalms 101:3, comp. Deuteronomy 15:9, (the ancient versions and most ancient interpreters), or in the physical sense (Aben Ezra, Kimchi and most recent interpreters) as Psalms 18:4, of ruinous fate, frightful evil, at times as the curse of crime. The following expression is difficult. The literal translation “is poured upon him.” Ezekiel 24:3, seems to point to a kind of Divine, irresistible influence. This would force us to give up the reference to worthless disposition and act; for that such a worthless nature is poured upon him from on high, or that the devil has inspired him to evil as the Spirit of God elsewhere to good (comp. Isaiah 44:3), is itself in the mouth of enemies a charge which could be accepted only from convincing reasons. The context is likewise against this explanation, since the enemies can only have to do with the consequences, the curse of transgression and not with the source of it (Hupfeld). It is possible to explain it thus: ruin is poured out over him, namely, by the wrath of God (De Wette, Köster, Olsh.); but the usage of the language does not accord with it, still less does it accord with the explanation that he is poured full of it=entirely filled and pervaded by it (Rosenm., Gesenius). It is best to think of something which was poured upon him like metals on a mould holding him fast so that he cannot escape (Job 41:15). This is not to be understood of a hateful designation of the resolution of David to prefer the young Solomon for his successor instead of the older Adonijah (Böhl), nor the villany with which his enemies designed to give the final blow to the languishing man (Luther, Hengst.), but the miserable condition itself, which they regard as an evidence that he has been marked and judged by God. The prayer, Psalms 41:11, is the contrast to this.

Psalms 41:9. Even the man of my friendship,etc.—We are here to notice the sacredness of the rights of hospitality, the meaning of companionship at the table and the friendship of the guest among the ancients, especially in the Orient. It was a particular honor to eat at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9:10 sq.; 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 25:29). There is no occasion to give up the very natural historical references and explain the expression typically of intimate intercourse (De Wette) or indeed of maintenance (Hupf.) and benefits in general. The conjecture of Böttcher (Neue exeget. krit Æhrenlese Nr. 1102) is more appropriate: that עקב (=heel) is here a general, already exclusively figurative עֹקֶב = deceit, as the masculine of עָקְבָה2Ki 10:19.

[Str. III. Psa 41:10. But Thou Jehovah—cause me to arise.—The pronoun is emphatic distinguishing Jehovah from the enemies and false friends previously mentioned. He desires that Jehovah will enable him to rise up from his bed of sickness, and disappoint them of their hopes.—And I will requite them.—Wordsworth: “David as king of Israel, and God’s vicegerent, was bound to execute judgment on the wicked. This is the reason of his directions to Solomon concerning Shimei and Joab.”

Psalms 41:11. That mine enemy doth not shout over me.—Barnes: “He felt assured now that all the machinations of his foes would be defeated; that all the hopes which they cherished that he was soon to die would be disappointed; that he himself would be recovered from his sickness, contrary to their malicious anticipations and desires. This he regarded as an evidence that God was his friend.”

Psalms 41:12. And hast placed me before Thy face forever.—Alexander: “This seems here to mean making one the object of attention, keeping constantly in view. The reciprocal act of man towards God is spoken of in Psalms 16:8. As man sets God before him as an object of trust, so God sets man before Him as an object of protection.”—C. A. B.].


1. Sympathetic, compassionate regard for the situation, feelings and afflictions of a suffering and troubled man, which at the same time observes the leadings of God, does not secure us from personal injury, or protect us from rough and unjust treatment on the part of hostile and violent men, but it is well pleasing to God and will not remain unrewarded on the part of God. In this there is no more reference to external reward than the merit of good works, but to the blessed consequences corresponding with their relationship to the Divine way of thinking and acting. Accordingly the heart which has tender feelings and is observant will be the quickest to obtain the comfort of the nearness of God and the helping strength of communion with God. But those who do not renounce the image of God experience an especial gracious turning of God towards them. We may here recall the two promises Matthew 5:1 Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy, and Matthew 25:40 What you have done unto one among the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.

2. The experience of the gracious turning of God’s face towards us is accompanied even in the most miserable situation with the assurance of a change of fortune. Thus the severest cross is rendered lighter and the most bitter pain sweetened. The sick man begins to hope for recovery and the vexed man is filled with fresh courage. The arrows of hate and wicked slander lose their deadly bite, envy its poison, persecution its purpose. God changes the cross and heals in body and soul those, who are regarded by the world as lost and feel themselves stricken even unto death. But the necessary condition of such a gracious change of a severe lot in life into blessing and health is the turning of the heart to the living God in penitence and desire for salvation.

3. Even a sincerely pious man has to confess himself guilty of many sins before God, and to endure his sufferings, often very severe, as punishments which are well deserved. But this gives his enemies no right to suspect his piety, or doubt his gracious state, or calumniate his name. It only discloses their own wickedness and badness of heart when they treat the man, whom God’s hand has stricken, as a wicked villain, appointed to ruin, when they increase the sufferings of the afflicted by scorn, reproach and mortifications of all kinds, and think to trample entirely in the dust the man whom God has prostrated. And when those who in prosperity acted as friends and sat down with him at a well spread table, basely turn away from him when fallen, and instead of the expected comfort, advice and assistance bring new and shameful weapons of attack, then the sufferings of the afflicted are greatly increased in the experience of such treachery, but the sufferings likewise thereby approach their end, and from their greatest intensity there is afforded a prospect of a prosperous future of victorious recovery, just recompense and abiding health before God’s face and through God’s grace. For although perfection is not reached here below, and therefore the heart of the pious man in times of suffering is pervaded with a feeling of ill desert, yet the upright man feels in the purity of his piety that even in the time of trouble he is taken hold of and supported by God, and is delivered from total ruin by an indestructible bond of communion with God, and is secure from entire destruction by being placed and established before God’s face.

4. There is a desire and hope of requital which has nothing in common with a spirit of revenge, but is an evidence that one knows himself to be so closely united in person, cause and honor with the revelation of the righteous government of God, that every unrepented and unreconciled mortification, violation, oppression of the former would be likewise a clouding and restricting the latter. There are, therefore, not only official relations, but likewise positions in life, with respect to which the personal inclination to pardon must yield to the duty of judicial decision and action, yes, in the desire for personal relief may be changed into the execution of Divine judgments. This likewise belongs to the history of the life of the servant of God, and is not opposed to Psalms 7:4; Proverbs 20:22. But every one, who traces the inclination to such a desire in his heart should take care that he has the good pleasure of God, and not merely desire to assert his position in the world, but to strengthen his position before the face of God. Such a position cannot be shaken by anything that originates from the world, but forms a bridge between time and eternity.


We should not be vexed with human misery or he provoked with human vileness, but should learn from both, and overcome the one as well as the other by the grace of God.—Many learn only on the bed of sickness who their enemies are and who are their friends, but they likewise learn only then truly to know themselves and God.—There is a severe struggle, when torment of body and necessity of soul are associated with the reproach of enemies and the treachery of friends; but the severer the trial, the more brilliant the victory.—Many have been left in the lurch by their own strength and human faithfulness, but never yet has the Lord forsaken those who trust in him with sincerity of heart.—God does not leave good unrewarded or evil unpunished; but he uses for both purposes human instruments.—To be raised from our prostrations is an evidence of the good pleasure of God.—He who is not separated from God by the cross, but driven to God, needs not to doubt of his recovery, however severe the prostration may be.—We may have a bad situation in the world and yet a good place before God’s face.—There are many changes on earth, in good as well as in evil, but only one sure place, namely before God’s face through the hand of God; and this reaches from time into eternity.—We can fulfil the purpose of our life only when we in good as well as in evil times hold on to God.—It is well for him who not only ends his day’s work and crowns every labor with the praise of God, but likewise glorifies his time of suffering and finishes his course in life in this way.—He who would remain before God’s face eternally, must in time diligently place himself before God’s face, and be strengthened in this place by the hand and grace of God.

Starke: Since believers have good will towards all men, God causes them to experience His gracious and good will towards them as a reward, and prevents the will of their enemies.—The sick bed usually makes all refreshments and cordials bitter; well for those whose longing hearts can find comfort and strength in Jesus.—Our hurts are not incurable when we turn to the true physician and pray: Lord, heal me!—The race of Judas has not yet perished, his kiss is daily renewed. Well then! we must become accustomed to do good and receive evil for it.—The wickedness of men should not weaken our trust in Divine grace, but rather awaken it the more.—God gives with the cross sure tokens of His grace and good pleasure, He lets none perish therein.

Selnekker: God preserves His children and brings their enemies to shame.—Dauderstadt: God is the best physician in all sicknesses.—Pious men discern in all their sufferings a punishment of sin and seek therefore above all their forgiveness.—Renschel: God does not promise that we shall be entirely without the cross and trouble, but he promises, that he will redeem us from them.—Frisch: If your fellow-man fall into sin and misfortune, do not rejoice on account of this, do not press him closer to the earth; rather help him up again.—The poverty of Christ regard as thy noblest riches, His shame as thy highest honor, His cross and His death as pure glory.—Arndt: Seek and hunt for mercy and thou wilt find it; if thou sowest unmercifulness thou wilt surely reap it.—Tholuck.: Since God’s judgment of us is milder the stronger our judgment of ourselves, the suffering singer introduces his prayer with a confession of his guilt.—Guenther: Lord, Lord, we suffer, teach us Thy patience; we are hated, pour Thy love into our heart; we trust in Thee; let us not be put to shame.—Taube: Communion with the Lord does not exclude but includes the constant confession of sin.—First the prayer for grace then for help.—Thym: The disciple of the Lord on his sick-bed. 1) He knows that God sends the sufferings for his good; 2) therefore he feels refreshed under his woe, 3) and waits patiently for his everlasting deliverance.

[Matth. Henry: The good will of a God that loves us is sufficient to secure us from the ill will of all that hate us, men or devils.—The soul shall by His grace be made to dwell at ease, when the body lies in pain.—Sin is the sickness of the soul; pardoning mercy heals it, renewing grace heals it; and this spiritual healing we should be more earnest for than for bodily health. When we can discern the favor of God to us in any mercy personal or public, that doubles it and sweetens it.—Spurgeon: Much blessedness they miss who stint their alms. The joy of doing good, the sweet reaction of another’s happiness, the approving smile of heaven upon the heart, if not upon the estate; all these the niggardly soul knows nothing of.—Oh, it is blessed fainting when one falls upon the Lord’s own bosom, and is upborne thereby!—No physician like the Lord, no tonic like His promise, no wine like His love.—Out of the sweetest flowers chemists can distil poison, and from the purest words and deeds malice can gather groundwork for calumnious report.—To stand before an earthly monarch is considered to be a singular honor, but what must it be to be a perpetual courtier in the palace of the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible?—C. A. B.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 41". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.