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Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 140

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-13


MAINLY a psalm of supplication. David is in great straits, threatened by violent and malignant enemies (Psalms 140:1-5), against whom he prays to God for aid (Psalms 140:1, Psalms 140:4, Psalms 140:6, Psalms 140:8). At the same time, he praises God for his protection in past dangers (Psalms 140:7), and expresses his confidence that judgment will overtake the wicked (Psalms 140:9-11), and the cause of the righteous be vindicated (Psalms 140:12, Psalms 140:13). The ascription to David is borne out by the contents.

Psalms 140:1

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man. The prayer is not directed against an individual, but against David's enemies generally. They are "evil" or "wicked" men, and especially "men of violence" (see the next clause, and comp. Psalms 140:4). Preserve me from the violent man; literally, from the man of violences.

Psalms 140:2

Which imagine mischiefs in their heart (comp. Psalms 28:3; Psalms 36:4; Psalms 62:3). Continually are they gathered together for war; rather, continually do they stir up wars (comp. Psalms 68:30; Psalms 120:7).

Psalms 140:3

They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent (comp. Psalms 52:2; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 64:3). Adders' poison is under their lips (comp. Psalms 58:4; Romans 3:15). The meaning is that their tongues inflict wounds which are as painful as poisoned wounds. The pause-sign, "selah," marks off the first stanza.

Psalms 140:4

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man. A repetition of Psalms 140:1 in a modified form. The fact of iteration indicates the extremity of the psalmist's need. Who have purposed to overthrow my goings; i.e. to bring me to destruction (comp. Psalms 17:5).

Psalms 140:5

The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords. An instance of the figure hendiadys. What is meant is a snare composed of cords. Such snares, when laid for animals, were "hidden" in long grass, or low shrubs, or rough ground. They have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me (comp. Psalms 31:4; Psalms 35:7; Psalms 57:6; Psalms 119:10; Psalms 141:9; Psalms 142:3). A second pause-sign marks off a second stanza.

Psalms 140:6

I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord (comp. Psalms 31:14; Psalms 143:1). The expressions used are markedly Davidical.

Psalms 140:7

O God the Lord. In the Hebrew, "Jehovah Adonai"—a comparatively rare address. The strength of my salvation. The solid strength upon which I ground all my hopes of salvation (comp. Psalms 89:26). Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle. In past combats thou hast protected me, as with a shield (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 33:20), wherefore I put the greater trust in thee for the future. The "head" is mentioned as one of the chief vital parts.

Psalms 140:8

Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked. The "desires of the wicked" are hurtful both to themselves and others. It is in his mercy that God does not grant them. Further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves. So the LXX; μήποτε ὑψωθῶσιν. Others translate, "Or how they will exalt themselves!" The third stanza here terminates.

Psalms 140:9

As for the head of those that compass me about. The "head" of David's enemies is put in contrast with his own "head" (see Psalms 140:7). While God shields and protects his head, theirs has no protection, but the mischief of their own lips which covers them, but with confusion, rather than with defense or safety.

Psalms 140:10

Let burning coals fall upon them, or, "burning coals shall be thrown upon them." Let them be cast (or, "they shall be cast") into the fire, into deep pits, that they rise not up again. The clauses are declaratory rather than optative. The psalmist sees the wrath of God poured out upon his enemies, who are at the same time God's enemies—they are cast into the fire prepared to receive the wicked—and plunged into deep pits whence they find it impossible to extricate themselves.

Psalms 140:11

Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth; literally, a man of tongue shall not be established is the land—a man, i.e; of pretence and seeming, who talks grandly, but effects nothing. Such a one shall not obtain permanent establishment as a power in the land. Evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him; literally, to destructions—a plural of completeness.

Psalms 140:12

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted. The psalmist is confident, not only that the wicked will be punished, but also that the righteous, whatever sufferings may come upon them, will ultimately be delivered out of their afflictions (comp. Psalms 9:4, Psalms 9:9, Psalms 9:12, Psalms 9:18, etc.). And the right of the poor. It is not to be supposed that "the right" is always with "the poor;" but, when it is, God will assuredly be their champion.

Psalms 140:13

Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy Name; the upright shall dwell in thy presence. The result of God's punishment of the wicked, and deliverance of the righteous is naturally that the righteous give him thanks, frequent his courts, and "dwell," as it were, "in his presence."


Psalms 140:1-13

In danger.

The position of the psalmist is that of a man in danger. His enemies are strong and cunning; they are bent on his destruction, and spare no pains to accomplish his ruin. At such a time the godly man has one resource which never fails him. The psalm speaks to us of—


1. That of violence. (Psalms 140:4, Psalms 140:11.) Not the violence of the sword and the spear, but that of fierce, forcible temptation, coming down upon us suddenly, and likely to overthrow us in one fateful and fatal hour; that which attacks and overwhelms the soul "between the morning and the evening."

2. That of deceit. (Psalms 140:5.) We think we are secure, we are not aware that any evil awaits us, we are like the man in whose path the secret pit is digged; but in truth we are going on in the direction of some serious sin—selfishness, worldliness, pride, vanity, intemperance, impurity, unbelief, or some other moral or spiritual calamity—and if we are not arrested in our way, we shall fall in and be destroyed. It is the unseen and unsuspected peril which is most to be dreaded in the path of life.

II. A SENSE OF LAST DELIVERANCE. (Psalms 140:7.) As we look back we see that our strong Deliverer, "the strength of our salvation," has put forth his power on our behalf, has "covered our head in the day of battle." There were times when our virtue or our piety was energetically assaulted; but, in the strength of God, we stood firm and were unmoved. There have been more ways than one in which our moral and spiritual integrity has been in danger of being undermined, but the peril is past; we are true, we are free, we are pure; we have "kept the faith;" the Lord has been on our side; the aim of the enemy has been turned aside.

III. OUR REFUGE IN GOD. David makes his appeal to God (Psalms 140:1, Psalms 140:4, Psalms 140:6, Psalms 140:8-11). He prays God to preserve him while he brings his enemies to destruction. In his position as aspirant to, or occupant of, a throne, assailed by unscrupulous and sanguinary enemies, and in his day when war was regarded as a natural, if not necessary, element in a nation's life, it is perfectly comprehensible that David would desire, and would ask God to accomplish, the ruin of his foes. To him with his measure of enlightenment, not to have done this would have been positively irreligious, for he would then have failed to bring to God what he regarded as his first duty as well as his pressing need. It is otherwise with us. In the light which shines on our path, it becomes us:

1. To ask daily and earnestly for God's help against our spiritual adversaries, that we may defy and defeat them.

2. To pray for our individual opponents, that they may be won to all that is wise and good. The "burning coals" we, as Christian men, desire should fall on the heads of our enemy, are those of Romans 12:20—the complete triumph of magnanimity, in which hatred is converted to love, and cruelty to kindness.

IV. OUR ASSURANCE OF VICTORY. (Romans 12:12, Romans 12:13.) Our confidence is in the God of righteousness. He will not regard with indifference either the arrogance and assumption of the proud and strong, or the suffering of the poor and weak. Divine Providence is not "on the side of the strongest battalions;" it was for the small band under Gideon, and against the mighty host of the Midianites; it was for the hundreds under Judas Maccabaeus, and against the thousands under Antiochus of Syria; it was for the small vessels of England, and against the great galleons of Spain. God is "for the right," and that very often means for the poor and the despised; and they who fear him and do his will and live his life will not seek his help in vain. The night of adversity may be long, but "the morning cometh," and" joy cometh in the morning." "Surely the righteous shall give thanks" unto him. The upright will dwell before him now, conscious of his favor and his blessing; they will dwell in his nearer presence soon, partakers of his glory and his joy.


Psalms 140:1-13

Our adversary and our Defense.

Some there are who unhesitatingly and strongly condemn this psalm: they say it moves only on the low plane of bodily needs; it never mounts up to holy, spiritual desire at all. Further, it is wholly personal, not to say selfish; it is all for "me," no one else, throughout the psalm; also, it is aflame with the "burning coals" of fierce revenge, and is, at the same time, saturated with self-righteousness. Such are the charges brought against this psalm, and a protest is entered against its being used in Christian worship, or regarded as Christian at all. But, to take a present and pressing matter: how do we Christians feel in regard to the unspeakable Turk, now inflicting such awful cruelties on the Armenian? Is there a sentence in this psalm that we would hesitate to apply to that detestable oppressor? If in an Armenian church this psalm was sung just now, as probably it often is, would we unchristianize them for it? Surely not. Then let us, ere we condemn its writer, try and place ourselves in his oppressed and persecuted condition, then we shall be able to judge more fairly and to speak less rashly. But the psalm has its use and application for ourselves; for we have, if not earthly, yet assuredly, spiritual enemies, above all, our "adversary the devil," and of him and of his agents all may be said that is here said, and all prayed that is here prayed. Therefore consider—


1. Is he not evil? Do not the manifold manifestations of evil around us and within us prove the existence of a prince of evil, as do the like manifestations of goodness prove the existence of One whom we call God our Father?

2. And violent. With what cruel might does he often assault our souls!

3. And even aiming at our hurt. "Going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Are not the declarations of Psalms 140:2-5 absolutely true—so incessant, so subtle, so malignant, so venomous, so hidden and unexpected, are his snares? Let those who have been his victims tell, and the many who still are perpetually oppressed by him.

II. OUR ONLY BUT SURE DEFENSE. It is God the Lord. No power of our own, or of our fellow-man, or of any religious rite, but all and only in God. So do his delivered ones with unanimous voice declare.

III. THIS DEFENSE MADE OUR OWN. HOW may we avail ourselves of the deliverance which God assures us of? Well:

1. Our peril must be clearly seen. See how in this whole psalm, especially Psalms 140:1-5, the writer, whoever he was, is vividly conscious of the formidableness of his foe. And so must we be, as, unhappily, too many are not. Many see no peril, feel no anxiety, are wrapped in profound indifference. Such fall an easy prey to the tempter's power. True, the world is not the devil's world—it was one of his lies when he told our Lord that all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory were given to him; it is not so; but still he is here in the world, and we ever need to be on our guard.

2. We must betake ourselves to prayer. Prayer brings the unseen and the eternal near to us, so that they become visible and tangible to our spirits, and as living realities exercise their mighty influence upon us. As the earth gets out of the darkness by swinging itself round to the light, so by prayer we turn to where God and all the power of his blessed Spirit are, and so deliverance comes.

3. Evil must be intensely hated. (Psalms 140:9-11.) No matter whether it be that embodiment of evil external to us, which is called the devil, or whether it be that inward corruption and wicked disposition which we find still lurking in our souls. We cannot curse it too bitterly or hate it too intensely. "Ye that fear the Lord hate evil"—so are we commanded, and any less intense feeling towards it is incompatible with the true love of God.

4. Personal appropriation of God. We must be able to say unto the Lord, "Thou art my God." A mere abstract creed will not help us; we must each one know God as "the Strength of my salvation."

5. Remembrance of former mercies will greatly help us. "Thou hast covered," etc. (Psalms 140:7).

6. Let there be confident faith. (Psalms 140:12, Psalms 140:13.) The faith of Israel was shown by their believing shout as they compassed the city of Jericho. The walls had not yet fallen, but they knew they would, and so they shouted. So the psalmist says, "I know" (Psalms 140:12), and "surely" (Psalms 140:13). We must come to God, expecting that he will answer our prayers (James 1:6). Such are some of the suggestions of this psalm as to God's way of deliverance. May we be able to avail ourselves of them!—S.C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 140". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/psalms-140.html. 1897.
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