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Bible Commentaries

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

Psalms 59

Verses 1-17

Psalms 59:0

To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, Michtam of David; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him

1          Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God:

Defend me from them that rise up against me.

2     Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,

And save me from bloody men.

3     For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul:

The mighty are gathered against me;
Not for my transgressions, nor for my sin, O Lord.

4     They run and prepare themselves without my fault:

Awake to help me, and behold.

5     Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel,

Awake to visit all the heathen:
Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah.

6     They return at evening: they make a noise like a dog,

And go round about the city.

7     Behold they belch out with their mouth:

Swords are in their lips:

For who, say they, doth hear?

8     But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them;

Thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.

9     Because of his strength will I wait upon thee:

For God is my defence.

10     The God of my mercy shall prevent me:

God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies.

11     Slay them not, lest my people forget:

Scatter them by thy power; and bring them down,
O Lord our shield.

12     For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips,

Let them even be taken in their pride:
And for cursing and lying which they speak.

13     Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be:

And let them know that God ruleth in Jacob
Unto the ends of the earth. Selah.

14     And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog,

And go round about the city.

15     Let them wander up and down for meat.

And grudge if they be not satisfied.

16     But I will sing of thy power:

Yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning:
For thou hast been my defence
And refuge in the day of my trouble.

17     Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing:

For God is my defence, and the God of my mercy.


Its Contents and Composition.—The Psalm is artistically arranged, in two parts consisting of two strophes each. In each part the same expressions and thoughts are rhythmically entwined with one another, and repeated with but slight differences. The Title in its first half has the same elements as those of the preceding Psalms. The other portion of the Title refers to the period of the pursuit of Saul, an episode of which is described in 1 Samuel 19:11 sq. For the contents and form of this Psalm do not lead as to limit that dangerous situation in Gibeah to the one night before the flight which was rendered possible by Michal. It is particularly the recurring verses, Psalms 59:6; Psalms 59:14, which describe repeated hostile waylaying, which began with the evening. Over against them the singer puts in Psalms 59:5; Psalms 59:8 the activity of Jehovah, and Psalms 59:9; Psalms 59:17 his personal relation and behaviour towards God in the assurance of victory in faith, with words which evidently refer to one another, and yet are not entirely of the same tenor. At the same time the form of expressions excludes the supposition of a change of place. It is more appropriate therefore to think of this Psalm as an evening song, originating from the experience of those dangerous times at Gibeah, (Delitzsch), than to refer it to the wearisome and dangerous flight of David after his deliverance by Michal, and to find the occasion for the Psalm in this circumstance, and put its composition in the time after this danger was overcome (Hengst.). The universal historical conception of the Divine judgment over all the heathen (Psalms 59:5; Psalms 59:8; comp. Psalms 59:13) shows that it is not necessary to think of foreign enemies; rather this view is decidedly against their description as hungry men (Psalms 59:11; Psalms 59:15), roaming about the city in which the threatened man was then situated with them, (Psalms 59:6; Psalms 59:14), using slanders as weapons (Psalms 59:7; Psalms 59:12). Hupfeld concedes this, and likewise that the enemies appear throughout as personal, and that we have therefore no more to think of a lamentation of the people in the time of the exile, when the poet was in the same city with the heathen (De Wette),than of a siege, whether of Jerusalem by the neighboring nations confederate with the Chaldeans, under the last king of Judah (Ewald), or of some fortress in the time of the Maccabees (Hitzig), or of an attempt by the Samaritans to disturb the rebuilding of the holy city begun under Nehemiah (Köster, Maurer).—The course of thought is in general the following: The prayer of the Psalmist for deliverance from bloodthirsty enemies (Psalms 59:1-2) is founded upon the mention of their waylayings and his innocence (Psalms 59:3-4), and then takes the form of a prayer for the Divine punishment in a universal historical character (Psalms 59:5). This characteristic again appears in the expressions of the assurance of victory, which follow the description of the disgraceful conduct of the enemies (Psalms 59:6-7). This assurance lies in the position and actions of God as well as of His threatened servant, (Psalms 59:8-9). This characteristic becomes still more definite in the prayer which results from this confidence in the gracious operations of God, which prayer is that a moral effect may be produced upon his people through their perception of the Divine judgment upon lying enemies (Psalms 59:10-13), whose disgraceful conduct is again brought forward (Psalms 59:14-15), which is then connected with the very different behaviour of the poet, who is assured of his deliverance by the grace of God, and testifies his thankfulness for it.

Str. I. [Psalms 59:4. Run and set themselves.—Perowne: “The words are military terms: for the first, see Psalms 18:29, (according to one interpretation), Job 15:26; Job 16:14; the other denotes the marshaling in order, the array of troops, with a view to the execution of a determined plan. Or as Hengst. explains, a metaphor borrowed from an attacking host, which, getting a firm footing on the walls of a beleaguered city, is ready to rush in over them, or through them, as already broken, into the city.”—Awake, to meet me, and see.—Delitzsch: David is beset by such a band of assassins, as one besieged, sighs for relief, and calls upon Jehovah, who, as if asleep, seems as if He would abandon him. He calls upon Him with that bold appeal, to awake to meet him, that is to say, to push on to him with His help as an army of relief, and convince Himself in person of the extreme danger in which. His protege was involved.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 59:5. And Thou, Jehovah, Elohim, Sabaoth, God of Israel.—Instead of Jehovah, Sabaoth, God of Israel (2 Samuel 7:27), Elohim is inserted here in addition, which cannot be connected with the Jehovah which precedes even here, as Genesis 2:5 sq.; Exodus 9:30; Jonah 4:6, and as we then would have to supply Elohe=God of hosts. But still less as Jehovah=God, that is to say, God Jehovah, are we to translate here: God Sabaoth (Luther), as if Sabaoth had already become a proper name (Gesenius, Olshausen), as after the Sept., the New Testament and the Church; but Elohim is used here as Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:14; Psalms 84:8, in the same connection as Jehovah Sabaoth, Psalms 24:10; Psalms 84:3, and instead of this because Jehovah had already been mentioned, and Elohim in this Psalm is treated as a proper name. Thus there is no improper use of the term (Hupfeld), but a characteristic heaping up of names of God, the use of which in the Holy Scriptures is no more to be regarded as usual formulas and a drawling use of titles, than we are to suppose a poetical figure in connection with the judgment of the world.—To visit all the heathen.—Since גּויִם is not to be changed into גּוִים=proud (Paul.), or to be referred to the final judgment (Kimchi, Rosenm.), so no more is the expression which is taken out of all limitations by the “all,” to be referred to those heathen among whom the threatened Psalmist is said to have been (De Wette, Ewald, Olshausen, Hitzig), or to be explained improperly of those Israelites which resembled them in disposition (Isaki, Ruding., Venema, et al.), but as these enemies are described directly as faithless with respect to iniquity, it is to be understood as comprehensive of all enemies of the kingdom of God, domestic and foreign (Chald., Aben Ezra, Geier, J. H. Mich., Delitzsch). 1

Str. II. [Psalms 59:6. They return at evening, howl like the dog and go about the city.—This is the refrain of the Psalm (vide Psalms 59:14). Ho compares his enemies to those half-wild dogs which are the scavengers of the cities of the East. They prowl about the streets at night, hunting for offal, and hesitate not to prey upon the dead and even the feeble and helpless, comp. Psalms 22:16; 1 Kings 14:11; 2Ki 9:36.2

Psalms 59:7. They pour out, etc.—Alexander: “The first verb is expressive of a constant flow or gush. See above on Psalms 19:2. What it is that they thus pour out, although not expressed, may be readily gathered from the context, namely, slanders and reproaches. The swords in their lips, are significant of sharp and cutting speeches, see Psalms 55:21, and comp. Psalms 52:3.”—C. A. B.]—Who hears it?—This question may either be regarded as the complaint of the singer (Rosenm., Hengstenberg, [Alexander]), or the fancy of the wicked (Syriac, Chald., Symm., Jerome, Isaki, et al.).

[Psalms 59:8. But Thou, Jehovah, dost laugh at them.—Whilst they think to fall upon their victim unexpectedly, there being no one to know of their purposes and to warn the singer of them—yet Jehovah knows—Jehovah sees them prowling in the night, and Jehovah laughs at their folly, and holds all the heathen in derision who revolt and plot against His anointed, comp. Psalms 2:4.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 59:9. My strength, Thee will I regard.—Instead of the here unmeaning עֻזִּוֹ, we are to read with the ancient versions and some codd.: עֻזִּי, as a vocative. For the manifold attempts to explain the suffix of the third person have all been grammatical and syntactical vexations. Yet it is unnecessary to make any further changes in the reading in order to make this verse entirely like Psalms 59:17 (Venema, Olshausen, Baur, et al.).

Str. III. Psa 59:10. My God will come to meet me with His grace.—This reading is attested by the ancient versions, and Augustine uses it in proof of his doctrine of prevenient grace. It cannot be pushed aside in favor of the reading preferred by most interpreters after the Chald. and the Rabbins (which gives the sense: God of my grace=my God of grace, that is to say: my gracious God), although that reading is undoubted in Psa 59:17.3

[Psalms 59:11. Make them wander, that is, lead them astray, so that they will fail of their object. This verb is used of Cain, Genesis 4:12, and of Israel in the wilderness, Numbers 32:13; vide Psalms 59:15, where their disappointment is expressed. Thus they would afford a better evidence that Jehovah was his protector than if they should die a sudden death.—Our shield.—Comp. Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:6.

Psalms 59:12. The word of their lips (is) the sin of their mouth (Hupfeld, Delitzsch, Moll, et al.), that is to say, every word they speak is a sin. Ewald, in order to avoid this tautology, makes the clauses parallel, thus: the sin of their mouth, the word of their lips—O let them be taken, etc. But the above rendering is more appropriate.

Psalms 59:13. Consume them.—Perowne: “This does not contradict the previous imprecation. He would have his enemies destroyed at last, but only after they had been, by a protracted, miserable existence, a warning to men of God’s righteous severity.”—Unto the ends of the earth.—Perowne: “This may mean that God, sitting in Jacob, having there His throne, exercises thence a universal dominion. But, according to the accent, these words should rather be connected with the words: ‘that men may know.’ So Calvin: ‘David indicates a singular kind of punishment, one the fame of which would reach even the most distant nations.’ And so Hengstenberg, who refers to David’s words to Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:46 : ‘And all the earth shall know that there is a God in Israel.’ ”—C. A. B.]

Str. IV. Psalms 59:15. They wander about in order to devour, if they are not satisfied, they pass the night.—It is possible, by a slight change of the vowel points, to translate: if they are not satisfied they growl (Septuagint, Vulgate, Jerome, Luther, Geier, et al.). The present reading=they pass the night, is manifestly not to be explained of continued wandering about in search of food during the night (Isaki, Rosenm.), but of a night without the fruits of the day’s labor (Hupfeld), full of disquiet and pain from unsatisfied hunger, in contrast to the promise given to the pious, Proverbs 19:23 (Calvin, J. H. Mich., Hengstenberg, et al.), or to a remaining at the place and watching greedily for their food. It is true אִם לֹא may be a particle of affirmation=truly (Ewald, Hitzig, Köster, Maurer); but the further explanation: they will satisfy themselves and remain (dead in the place) (Ewald), or: they will fight long enough and rest (Hitzig), is objectionable.

[Psalms 59:16. In the morning.—This is in evident contrast to the evening, in Psalms 59:14. The enemies remain like hungry dogs unsatisfied in the streets, the Psalmist is delivered from their hands and praises God, his shield and defence, in the morning.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 59:17. To thee will I harp.—Here there is a play upon words, אֲזַמֵּרָה with אֶשְׁמֹרָה, Psalms 59:9. To God is to be directed both things that the Psalmist has vowed, his playing upon the harp and his waiting (Psalms 130:6), or better: his attention (2 Samuel 11:16) regarding, 1 Sam. 26:75.


1. God exalts His refugees in the midst of their enemies to such a position and condition of spirit, that they can lie down to sleep quietly by night in the feeling of security under Divine protection, whilst their adversaries, like a pack of hungry dogs, howl about without attaining their ends. But as this security does not arise from a proud satisfaction with themselves, but, whilst they protest their own innocence against the slanders of wicked opponents, originates only from faith in God’s grace, it does not produce any idle expectation and self-indulgence, but a comforted and joyous giving over of themselves to God in constant observance of His providence and renewed thankfulness for His help.

2. Although God, in accordance with His nature and actions, needs not to be summoned or aroused, in order to behold what transpires on earth, and to interfere for the deliverance of the pious and the punishment of the ungodly, to make an end of the no less shameful than dangerous conduct of the faithless, yet this is a strong support to the oppressed and persecuted, as well as a natural expression of their needs, and an involuntary testimony of their faith in the righteous government of the Almighty, and the condescending goodness of the faithful God of the covenant.

3. The closer the history of a man’s life is entwined in the history of the kingdom of God, the stronger is the impression made upon him, that his troubles as well as his deliverance have a universal significance transcending any personal references. In accordance with this on the one side is the pressure for a corresponding declaration of the judicial activity of God, that it may be experienced in the whole earth that the God of Israel is the only true God (1 Samuel 17:46); on the other side, the expression of satisfaction in the execution of the Divine judgments even to the extent of the annihilation of the enemies, which in the Old Testament not unfrequently advances to a personal desire of revenge.


It is well for those who not only look at their need, but at the same time behold and trust in the true helper in need.—All the mighty ones of earth cannot cast you down, if God the Almighty will remain your strength and exalt you.—If thou canst oppose thine innocence to the wickedness of thine enemies, thou mayst confidently rely upon God’s strength against their superiority over you.—God sees very well how it fares with you, and knows likewise what He will do; but He would likewise be prayed to for His assistance.—When the enemies’ word has wounded your heart like swords, let God’s word be your balsam.—You may trust the power of the Almighty Lord of Hosts, the willingness of the faithful and gracious God of Israel to deliver and to judge.—The punishments of God are not only for the ruin of the faithless, but likewise for the warning of believers.

Calvin: It is the peculiar function of God not only to tame the few, but to draw the whole world to punishment for their shameful deeds.

Starke: When the ungodly suppose that they have the righteous already in their hands, God knows how to open a way of deliverance.—There is a visitation of grace and a visitation of wrath; he who would escape the latter, must humble himself in order to be capable of the former.—Were it not for the almighty protection of God, Satan and the world would long since have devoured the Church.

Frisch: There are two kinds of innocence, one before God, the other before men.—Tholuck: Although heaven is high, yet God’s ear reaches down to the earth.—God will come a thousand miles with His grace to meet him who takes but a single step towards God.—Taube: Power and grace are the two pillars of our help. The power of God without His grace is fearful, as the judgment over the enemies testifies; His grace without power would afford no comfort or help to the miserable.

[Matt. Henry: Let not those expect to find mercy who never showed mercy, for such are wicked transgressors.—When we think God’s judgments come slowly upon sinners, we must conclude that God has wise and holy ends in the gradual proceedings of His wrath.—As we must direct our prayers to God, so to Him we must direct our praises and must look up, making melody to the Lord.—Barnes: Whatever may have been the means of our rescue, it is to be traced to the interposition of God.—Spurgeon: To a brave man the danger causes little distress of mind, compared with the injustice to which he is subjected.—It is the mark of thoughtful prayer, that the titles which are in it applied to God are appropriate, and are, as it were, congruous to the matter, and fitted to add force to the argument.—How wrong is that state of mind which hates to hear of the punishment of the wicked!—How frequently have we met with preventing mercy—the supply prepared before the need occurred—the refuge built before the foreseeing grace of heaven has projected itself, and forestalled every difficulty.—Sweet is the music of experience, but it is all for God; there is not even a stray note for man, for self, or for human helpers.—C. A. B.]


[1][Perowne: “The nations, to an Israelite, would be the embodiment of all that opposed itself to God; and in appealing to God to punish them, he would, in fact, be appealing to Him to punish all evil wherever manifested. The special judgment would follow from the universal, and be an instance of it. Even for the vindication of his personal innocence, we find our Psalmist (Psalms 7:6-8) calling upon God to assemble all nations to His judgment-seat. Such expressions seem to us exaggerated, partly because of the comparative coldness of the western mind, and partly because it is very difficult for us to conceive of the feelings of the true Israelite; to whom the whole outer heathen world was a world lying under the heavy wrath of God, and to whom the greater part of Israel itself seemed corrupt and apostate.”—C. A. B.]

[2][Wordsworth: This description of the malicious vigilance of Saul’s messengers, thirsting for David’s blood (see 1Sa 19:11; 1 Samuel 19:15; 1 Samuel 19:20-21), is very applicable to the conduct of the enemies of Christ, who are compared in the Paschal Psalm to dogs thirsting for blood (see Psalms 22:16; Psalms 22:20), especially on the eve of His crucifixion. Then they went about the city of Jerusalem, like the howling and prowling dogs of the evening, in some Eastern cities. The Jews compared the Gentiles to dogs (see Matthew 15:27); but they themselves were dogs, in their blood-thirsty cruelty and foul uncleanness, comp. Philippians 3:2.”—C. A. B.]

[3][The A. V. prevent is used here in the antiquated sense of going before, anticipating.—C. A. B.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 59". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.