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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 59

Verses 1-17


Superscription.—To the Chief Musician, Al-taschith.” See Introduction to Psalms 57:0. “Michtam of David.” See Introduction to Psalms 56:0. “When Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him.” The history here referred to is contained in 1 Samuel 19:11-18. Moll: “The contents and form of this Psalm do not lead us 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.”

Both the nature of the contents and the style of the composition of the Psalm confirm the statement of the superscription as to its authorship and occasion.


(Psalms 59:1-10.)

In this, as in several preceding Psalms, complaint, prayer, and confidence are the chief feelings which find expression. Notice—

I. The character and conduct of the persecutors.

1. They were wicked. “Workers of iniquity.” The expression denotes great activity in wickedness, and is justly applied to Saul and his base agents.

2. They were cruel. “Bloody men.” They sought the life of the Psalmist though he had done them no wrong. “They make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city.” “He 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.” So fierce and cruel were they. No figure is too strong to represent the fierce cruelty of Saul towards David.

3. They were secret. “They lie in wait for my soul.” They were subtle and politic in their designs, and, as it were, lay in ambush that they might destroy his life (1 Samuel 19:11).

4. They were strong. “The mighty are gathered against me.” “It is not mere strength,” says Barnes, “that is here referred to, but that kind of strength or courage which can be employed in a desperate enterprise, and which is fitted to accomplish any scheme of wickedness, however daring or difficult.” Unscrupulous, bold, and strong were the men whom Saul employed against David at this time.

5. They were resolute and impetuous. “They run and prepare themselves.” Hengstenberg translates: “They run and plant themselves firmly.” The terms and the metaphor are military. David compares his enemies to an attacking host, which, having obtained a firm footing on the walls of a beleaguered city, is ready to rush over them, or through the breaches made in them, into the city. They were settled in purpose, and were eager to execute that purpose. “Their feet were swift to shed blood.”

6. They were slanderous. “Behold, they belch out with their mouth, swords are in their lips.” Alexander: “The first verb is expressive of a constant flow or gush. 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 52:2). Arndt: “Just as a naked sword inflicts wounds, so do lies and calumnies cut in pieces innocent hearts.”

7. They were practically atheistic. “For who, say they, doth hear?” They were wholly destitute of the fear of God. They acted as though there were no God. (Comp. Psalms 10:11.)

Such were the foes by which the poet was assailed on this occasion. They were calculated to strike terror into a brave heart.

II. The Prayer of the persecuted. “Deliver me from mine enemies,” &c. Notice—

1. The requests presented. David entreats God—

(1) For defence. “Defend me from them that rise up against me.” Margin: “Set me on high,” &c. He seeks to be raised far above the reach of his enemies, and above all fear of them. The man who trusts in God “shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks.”

(2) For deliverance. “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity” &c. The foes were many, the danger was great; but the Psalmist knew that God could thwart their designs, and deliver him from their hands.

(3) For judgment on his enemies. “Thou, therefore, O Lord God of hosts,” &c. (Psalms 59:5). On “all the heathen.” Perowne says, “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.… To the true Israelite, the whole outer heathen world was a world lying under the heavy wrath of God, and to him the greater part of Israel itself seemed corrupt and apostate.” The Psalmist entreats God to visit them in judgment. The persecutors of the servants of God and the enemies of His cause will certainly meet with the punishment which they deserve, unless they penitently turn from their evil ways. When He arises for the help of His people He will smite their foes in His anger.

2. The pleas by which these requests are urged. He pleads—

(1) The might and malice of his foes. In this he found a powerful reason why God should help him. The greatness of our danger and our need are strong arguments with Him.

(2) His own innocence. “Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord. Without my fault,” &c. David had not in any way injured Saul, or any of his enemies. So clear was he in this respect, that he could appeal to the great Searcher of hearts that he had, neither in heart nor in action, wronged Saul, or merited this treatment from him. “There are two kinds of innocence, one before God, the other before men.” David was quite conscious of the latter kind of innocence. However great a sinner he was against God, he knew he had not injured Saul even in thought. When seeking deliverance from God from such dangers this is a powerful plea.

(3). The might and majesty of God. “Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts,” &c. These names are not empty formulas or poetical figures. As “Lord God of hosts” all forces bow to His command. He cannot be overmatched. The names and titles add force to the argument.

(4). His personal relation to God. “Oh, my God … the God of Israel.” Blessed are they who, in their trials and perils, can plead their personal relation to Him, &c.

III. The confidence of the persecuted. The Psalmist was not dismayed by reason of his enemies, but confident in the all-sufficiency of his God.

1. In God as infinitely superior to his enemies. “Thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them,” &c. It is for God a light matter to confound their designs, &c. (Comp. Psalms 2:4).

2. In God as his sure defence. “Because of His strength will I wait upon Thee; for God is my defence.” Conant: “My strength, I will wait on Thee; for God is my defence.” God is our high place. In Him we are inviolably secure—far above the reach of the utmost effort of our enemies.

3. In God as a gracious and timely Deliverer. “The God of my mercy shall prevent me,” &c. Conant: “God with His loving-kindness will anticipate me.” Moll: “My God will come to meet me with His grace.” Spurgeon: “How frequently have we met with preventing mercy—the supply prepared before the need occurred—the refuge built before the danger arose. Far ahead into the future the foreseeing grace of heaven has projected itself, and forestalled every difficulty.” So David rose triumphant over his trials and fears, &c.

CONCLUSION.—What message has this chapter from the history of the pious Psalmist for us in our life to-day?

1. The godly are still subject to sore trials, sometimes to bitter persecutions, &c.

2. Happy are they who, in their trials, are conscious of their innocence. Suffering is far more severe and intolerable when it is the direct result of sin, and is accompanied with a sense of guilt, than when we are sustained by the consciousness of our integrity.

3. More happy are they who, in their trials and perils, can look to God for defence and deliverance as a God in covenant relations with themselves. “Oh, my God … The God of Israel.” In Him they have all-sufficiency. “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?”


(Psalms 59:11-17.)

The Psalmist here prays for, or, as some say, predicts, the infliction of the judgment of God upon the wicked who were persecuting him, and announces his determination to celebrate the praise of his protecting and delivering God.

I. The destiny of the enemies of the good. Their destiny is here set forth in two aspects.

1. Life protracted in misery. “Slay them not,” &c. Here are three elements of misery.

(1). Fruitless wanderings. “Scatter them by Thy power.” Hengstenberg: “Make them wander up and down through Thy power.” It is a prayer that God would lead them astray, so that they might fail of their object. This verb is used of Cain (Genesis 4:12), and of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 32:13). The wicked do miss the mark in life. They achieve no great purposes. And, even when they are able to carry their plans to a successful issue, they find no satisfaction in the result.

(2). Heavy afflictions. “Bring them down, O Lord our shield.” God will certainly humble and abase the enemies of His people. Calvin: “He wills that they should be thrown down from their honourable position, be cast, as it were, before one’s feet, so that they may afford in their misery and disgrace a standing spectacle of the Divine indignation.”

(3). Want of satisfaction. “And at evening let them return,” &c., Psalms 59:14-15.Psalms 59:14; Psalms 59:14 is a repetition of Psalms 59:6. The idea is, Let them come, and prowl and howl in vain, and meet with the mortifying disappointment which they deserve. The marginal rendering of Psalms 59:15 is correct. “As for them, they shall wander up and down for food, if they be not satisfied, then they will stay all night.” They shall wander in search of food and find none, and shall pass the night full of disgust and pain from unsatisfied cravings. “It is the image of a wretched existence in hunger and pain.” Wickedness does not satisfy its agents. The evil heart is not restful. It is a stranger to satisfaction and peace. “The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest,” &c. The Psalmist prays that this disappointment and wretchedness may befall his enemies, that they may thus become monuments of the righteousness of the Divine rule.

2. Life ending in ruin. “Consume them in wrath,” &c. 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.” The idea and desire of the Poet was, that God would visit them with one judgment after another, and ultimately bring them to utter ruin. Wickedness, if persisted in, must terminate in destruction. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

Let it be distinctly noted that the destiny of the wicked is directly connected with their sin. “For the sin of their mouth,” &c. On the sin of their mouth we have remarked on Psalms 59:7. The destruction of the wicked is viewed as the just consequence of their sin. The slander, pride, and cruelty of the enemies of David drew down upon them the righteous judgments of heaven. Men meeten themselves by wickedness for ruin before God dooms them to it. A man’s hell grows out of his own character and conduct.

II. The destiny of the suffering good. In the midst of his persecutions and trials the Psalmist confidently anticipates a life of devout and hearty praise. Notice—

1. The object of his praise. “Unto Thee, O my strength, will I sing.” God was the source of the strength of the Psalmist. In Him he found all that he needed, and to Him his praise was offered.

2. The reason of his praise. “For Thou hast been my defence and refuse in the day of my trouble. For God is my defence, the God of my mercy.” The rich grace of God toward us, and His sure protection of us, are a most sufficient reason for heartiest and grate-fullest praise.

3. The theme of his praise. “I will sing of Thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy.” M. Henry: “Power, without mercy, is to be dreaded: mercy, without power, is not what a man can expect much benefit from; but God’s power by which He is able to help us, and His mercy by which He is inclined to help us, will justly be the everlasting praise of all the saints.”

4. The manner of his praise.

(1) He would “sing.” Devout song is a natural and becoming expression of gratitude and joy.

(2.) He would “sing aloud.” In this way he would make his boast in the Lord, and seek to enkindle the spirit of worship in others.

(3.) He would “sing aloud in the morning.” The morning is the emblem of deliverance from trial, of prosperity and of joy. Morning is the beautiful symbol of the destiny of the righteous. God will turn the darkness of their night of suffering into the beautiful light of the morning of gladness. (Comp. 2 Samuel 23:4; Job 11:17; Psalms 90:14; Psalms 92:2). The wicked are advancing to the thick darkness of a dread night: the righteous to the unwaning light of a joyous day.

III. The reign of God manifested in these diverse destinies. The dark destiny of the wicked, and the joyous one of the good, are regarded by the Psalmist as supplying evidence of the righteous government of God. “Let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth.” David desired that it might be known among the nations that God ruled over His people—not the cruel and wicked Saul, but the holy God. His feeling was similar to that to which he gave expression as he encountered Goliath, “That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” The design of God’s judgments is to convince men that the Lord reigneth. They aim not merely at the punishment of the impenitent, but at the warning of the wicked, the confirmation of the faith of believers, and the instruction of all men.


1. If there be revenge found in the desire of the Psalmist concerning his enemies, in that he is not an example to us. In him revenge cannot be commendable. In us, in this Christian dispensation, it would be exceedingly sinful.

2. Yet wickedness brings misery and leads to ruin. It is well that it does. It would be evil and unspeakably calamitous were it otherwise. Every right-minded and true-hearted man must approve this,—rejoice in this.

3. So righteousness tendeth to life and peace and joy. He who by faith is interested in the Divine power and mercy may triumph even in the midst of his enemies. “Light is sown for the righteous,” &c.

4. Though appearances sometimes seem inconsistent with the supremacy of the righteous government of God, yet he ever ruleth, and in the end His government shall be universally acknowledged.


(Psalms 59:16-17.)


I. The subject of the Psalmist’s meditation.

1. He meditated upon the Divine mercy. All the perfections of the Divine nature are glorious and furnish matter for delightful meditation. But it is from His mercy that we draw our chief consolation, encouragement, and hope. Every good man has an experimental knowledge of the mercy of God. In every age God has exercised his mercy to men; but the gift of Christ is its grandest expression. To seek an interest in the mercy of God is of the first importance.

2. He contemplated God as his refuge in trouble. “Thou hast been my defence and refuge,” &c. To have a refuge in time of trouble is desirable. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” We have every encouragement to put our trust in God. He is represented as a “rock,” a “fortress,” a “high tower,” a “shield,” and a “buckler.” God as a refuge—

(1.) Is near,—always at hand.
(2.) Affords the greatest security.
(3.) Is suitable. Our troubles differ, but He is a suitable refuge in every trouble.
(4.) David proved God as his refuge. Saul had laid plots to destroy him, but the Lord had delivered him. We also have obtained support and relief by trusting in God.
3. He contemplated God as his strength and confided in His power. “I will sing of thy power. Unto Thee, O my strength, will I sing.” In what respects are we to consider God as the strength of His people?

(1.) He defends them from danger by His power.
(2.) He assists and strengthens them for duty by His grace.

II. The influence of the Psalmist’s meditation. It led him to praise God. “I will sing,” &c.

1. Praising God is most reasonable.

2. Is a pleasant and delightful exercise.

3. Should be a part of every day’s employment. Divine goodness is daily manifested and should be daily acknowledged.

4. Will tend to prepare us to meet the trials which may yet be before us.

5. Will tend to meeten us for the enjoyment of heaven.

6. Requires a suitable frame of mind. True praise springs from gratitude; and is promoted by a consideration of what God is, what He has done for us, and what he has promised to do for us.


1. How great are the privileges of the people of God!

2. How important seriously to consider whether we are interested in these privileges.

3. Learn the importance of continuing to make God our refuge in trouble.—Abridged from an unpublished M.S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 59". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.