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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 140

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 140:0


Prayer for Protection Against the WickedMT IntroFor the choir director.A Psalm of David.Prayer for Deliverance from Evil MenPrayer for Deliverance from Personal Enemies(A Lament)A Prayer for ProtectionAgainst the Wicked
Psalms 140:1-3Psalms 140:1-3Psalms 140:1-3Psalms 140:1-3Psalms 140:1-3
Psalms 140:4-5Psalms 140:4-5Psalms 140:4-5Psalms 140:4-5Psalms 140:4-5
Psalms 140:6-8Psalms 140:6-8Psalms 140:6-8Psalms 140:6-8Psalms 140:6-8b
Psalms 140:8-11
Psalms 140:9-11Psalms 140:9-11Psalms 140:9-11Psalms 140:9-11
Psalms 140:12-13Psalms 140:12-13Psalms 140:12-13Psalms 140:12-13Psalms 140:12-13

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.


A. Several names for God are used in this Psalm.

1. YHWH, Psalms 140:1, Psalms 140:4, Psalms 140:6 (twice),7,8,12

2. God (i.e., El), Psalms 140:6

3. Adon, Psalms 140:7

B. Notice how different persons are characterized.

1. the unfaithful

a. evil men, Psalms 140:1; Psalms 140:1a

b. violent men, Psalms 140:1; Psalms 140:1b, Psalms 140:4b

c. devise evil things in their hearts, Psalms 140:2; Psalms 140:2a

d. stir up wars, Psalms 140:2; Psalms 140:2b

e. sharpen their tongues as a serpent, Psalms 140:3; Psalms 140:3a

f. poison of a viper is under their lips, Psalms 140:3; Psalms 140:3b

g. wicked men, Psalms 140:4; Psalms 140:4a

h. purposed to trip, Psalms 140:4; Psalms 140:4c

i. the proud have a hidden trap, Psalms 140:5; Psalms 140:5a

j. spread a net, Psalms 140:5; Psalms 140:5b

k. set snares, Psalms 140:5; Psalms 140:5c

2. Israel's Deity

a. rescues, Psalms 140:1; Psalms 140:1a

b. perseveres, Psalms 140:1; Psalms 140:1b, Psalms 140:4b

c. keep, Psalms 140:4; Psalms 140:4a

d. He is El, Psalms 140:6a

e. gives ear, Psalms 140:6; Psalms 140:6b

f. He is the strength of salvation, Psalms 140:7; Psalms 140:7a (only here in the OT)

g. protector in battle, Psalms 140:7; Psalms 140:7b

h. maintain the cause of the afflicted, Psalms 140:12; Psalms 140:12a

i. justice for the poor, Psalms 140:12; Psalms 140:12b

3. faithful followers

a. the afflicted, Psalms 140:12; Psalms 140:12a

b. the poor, Psalms 140:12; Psalms 140:12b

c. the righteous give thanks, Psalms 140:13; Psalms 140:13a

d. the upright dwell with God, Psalms 140:13; Psalms 140:13b

C. This Psalm clearly illustrates “the two ways” (cf. Deuteronomy 30:15, Deuteronomy 30:19; Psalms 1:0).

D. This Psalm, like Psalms 139:0, has a large number of hapax legomena and rare words.

E. The Masoretic scholars suggested three changes (Qere) to the MT, one in Psalms 140:10, Psalms 140:11, Psalms 140:13, which show confusion in the text.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 140:1-3 1Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men; Preserve me from violent men 2Who devise evil things in their hearts; They continually stir up wars. 3They sharpen their tongues as a serpent; Poison of a viper is under their lips. Selah.

Psalms 140:1-3, Psalms 140:4-5 These two strophes are parallel in several ways, especially Psalms 140:1 and 4 are prayers to God. The second line of both are imperfects used as jussives or even possibly an imperative of request. So the first verb of Psalms 140:1, “rescue” (BDB 322, KB 321, Piel imperative), is parallel to “keep” (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative) of Psalms 140:4.

The second lines of both Psalms 140:1 and 4 are the same.

The wicked are thus characterized in Psalms 140:2-3 and 4c-5.

Psalms 140:2 “devise evil things” This is characteristic of those who do not follow God (cf. Psalms 7:14; Psalms 36:4; Psalms 52:2; Proverbs 3:29; Proverbs 6:14; Isaiah 59:4; Hosea 7:15; Micah 2:1; Nahum 1:9). By their actions you know who their father is (cf. John 8:39-44)! By their fruit you will know them (cf. Matthew 7:15-23)!

The same verb, “devise” (BDB 362, KB 359, Qal perfect) is repeated in Psalms 140:4c.

“Hearts” This is a Hebrew idiom for the whole person. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART.

“continually stir up wars” In context this would refer to interpersonal strife, not armed conflict between nations (see NET Bible, #21, p. 1005). It is possible that as Psalms 139:0 may have been written against the judicial backdrop of the charge of idolatry, so too, Psalms 140:0 (esp. Psalms 140:12).

Psalms 140:3 Notice the number of words with שׁ in them (i.e., sound play).

1. verb, “make sharp” (BDB 1041)

2. noun, “tongues” (BDB 546)

3. noun, “serpent” (BDB 638)

4. noun, “vipers” (BDB 747)

5. their lips (BDB 973)

All are meant to play on the hissing sound of a snake. Paul quotes this verse in Romans 3:13 as one of many examples from the OT of mankind's sin (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:23). See note at Psalms 130:3-4.

“viper” This noun (BDB 747, עכשׁוב) is found only here in the OT. Most translations have “asp” or “viper” or “cobra” but some (REB) have “spider” (BDB 747, עכבישׁ).

Verses 4-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 140:4-5 4Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; Preserve me from violent men Who have purposed to trip up my feet. 5The proud have hidden a trap for me, and cords; They have spread a net by the wayside; They have set snares for me. Selah.

Psalms 140:4-5 Notice the string of hunting metaphors (cf. Psalms 9:15; Psalms 31:4; Psalms 35:7; Psalms 64:5; Psalms 119:110; Psalms 141:9-10; Psalms 142:3).

1. trip up my feet, Psalms 140:4c

2. set a hidden trap, Psalms 140:5a

3. set hidden cords, Psalms 140:5a

4. spread a net by the road, Psalms 140:5b

5. set snares

Psalms 140:5, Psalms 140:8 “Selah” See full note at Psalms 3:2.

Verses 6-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 140:6-8 6I said to the Lord, “You are my God; Give ear, O Lord, to the voice of my supplications. 7O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle. 8Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; Do not promote his evil device, that they not be exalted.” Selah.

Psalms 140:6-7 This is covenant language. The faithful follower calls on his faithful God for help and deliverance.

Notice the prayer requests.

1. rescue me, Psalms 140:1a

2. preserve me, Psalms 140:1b

3. keep me, Psalms 140:4a

4. preserve me, Psalms 140:4b

5. give ear, Psalms 140:6b

6. do not grant the desires of the wicked, Psalms 140:8a

7. do not promote their evil device, Psalms 140:8b

8. may the mischief of their lips cover them, Psalms 140:9b

9. may burning coals fall upon them, Psalms 140:10a

10. may they be cast into the fire, Psalms 140:10b

11. may they be cast into deep pits they cannot get out of, Psalms 140:10c

12. may the slander not be established, Psalms 140:11a

13. may evil hunt the violent man speedily, Psalms 140:11b

These are a combination of imperatives, imperfects used as imperatives, imperfects used as jussives, and jussives. This Psalm is a prayer for justice to be done to evil, violent, wicked, proud, lying people!

Psalms 140:8 “desires” This term (BDB 16) is found only here in the OT. The psalmist prays that the “desires” of the wicked go unfulfilled. God gives the “desires” of the heart of faithful followers because He places them there. Our “desires” (and our words) clearly reveal our hearts!

“device” This term (BDB 273) is found only here in the OT.

Verses 9-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 140:9-11 9”As for the head of those who surround me, May the mischief of their lips cover them. 10May burning coals fall upon them; May they be cast into the fire, Into deep pits from which they cannot rise. 11May a slanderer not be established in the earth; May evil hunt the violent man speedily.”

Psalms 140:9 “the head” This Hebrew word (BDB 910) refers to (1) the leader or organizer of the wicked, violent, lying, proud men who have plotted against the psalmist or (2) an idiom for being victorious. Number 2 fits the context best. There are several “collective singulars” in this Psalm.

Psalms 140:10 “fire” This is a symbol of judgment. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

NASB, NKJV“deep pits” NRSV, TEV, JPSOA“pits” NJB“mire” REB“miry depths”

This term (BDB 243) occurs only here. BDB has the meaning of “watery pit” or “flood.” For water as an ancient symbol of chaos, see Special Topic: Waters.

It is also possible that the imagery of this verse refers to a fiery Sheol (cf. Deuteronomy 32:22). See Special Topic: Sheol.

Psalms 140:11 “speedily” This term (BDB 191) occurs only here in the OT. It seems to mean “blow upon blow,” therefore, it denotes violence. The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 934, suggests that “speedily” implies that “the slanderer is to be destroyed before he can become established in the country” (i.e., Promised Land).

Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 140:12-13 12I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor. 13Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; The upright will dwell in Your presence.

Psalms 140:12 “the afflicted. . .the poor” These are often used in the Psalter for faithful followers (cf. Psalms 9:18; Psalms 34:6; Psalms 40:17; Psalms 70:5; Psalms 86:1; Psalms 109:22). This may be the origin of Jesus' imagery in Matthew 5:3-4.

Psalms 140:13 “Your name” See Special Topic: “The Name” of YHWH.

“will dwell in Your presence” This could refer to

1. worshiping in the temple

2. an afterlife with God

Only context can tell; see Psalms 11:7; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 31:20.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk n the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How is this Psalm possibly related to Psalms 139:0?

2. List the ways the wicked are described.

3. Why are Psalms 140:6 and 7 considered the psalmist's confession of faith?

4. To what group does the term “afflicted” and “poor” refer?

5. Does Psalms 140:13b refer to temple worship or eternity with God?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 140". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-140.html. 2021.
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