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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 9

Verse 1




The title here is from Halley.[1] However, there is some uncertainty about the exact meaning of this Psalm of David. The problem derives from two different translations of Psalms 9:3. Some have translated that verse as, "Because my enemies withdrew, etc."[2] This makes the Psalm a hymn of praise for many great victories already given by God to David, or Israel. Our version, along with the KJV, renders Psalms 9:3 thus: "When mine enemies turn back, etc." This, of course, makes the opening verse, "Become a promise to thank Yahweh on condition that he put the Psalmist's enemies to flight."[3]

Still a third view of what is meant is that once God has indeed already condemned David's enemies (Psalms 9:4), their ultimate complete overthrow and destruction are considered as already done, such being the certainty of anything that God promises. We believe this is the correct understanding. Both the Speaker's Commentary and the Pulpit Commentary, however, pursue the thought that the victories here celebrated with thanksgiving are actual triumphs of Israel over their enemies.

Rawlinson, for example, suggested a specific victory as the historical setting of this Psalm.

David's victory over Ammon and Syria (2 Samuel 10:6-14), which was followed by a renewed invasion by the same nations at a later time, (2 Samuel 10:16), is more likely to have drawn forth this composition.[4]

There is also sharply divided opinion on the issue of whether or not Psalms 9 and Psalms 10 are actually one Psalm or two. The Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate make one Psalm out of the two. The Catholic Church follows that numbering; but Protestants continue to number the Psalms separately as in the Hebrew Bible.[5]

Addis accepted the one-psalm idea stating that it was "proved" by these facts: (1) It was one psalm in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Vulgate. (2) There is no title for Psalms 10, and (3) together the psalms form an imperfect acrostic.[6] Kidner also cited the fact that, "A very unusual word, rendered `times of trouble,' found only in Psalms 9:9 and Psalms 10:1, strengthens the link between the two psalms."[7]

There is one insurmountable obstacle, however, to the acceptance of the notion that the two passages are a single psalm. This is the simple truth that they do not have the same subject matter! Furthermore, this objection is in no way solved by Addis' allegation that the text is very corrupt here.

We have mentioned the fact of this psalm's being built around an acrostic, that is, certain lines, or strophes, begin with letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in such a manner as to present the whole alphabet. That pattern is partially followed here, but very poorly; and we discount its importance altogether. There are eight of the Psalms which follow this acrostic pattern, namely, the passages here, including Psalms 10, and Numbers 25,34, 37,111,112,119,145.[8]

We may consider the word `Muth-labben' in the superscription as totally unknown. As Rawlinson said, "No explanation hitherto given is satisfactory."[9]

Psalms 9:1-2

"I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart;

I will show forth all thy marvelous works.

I will be glad and exult in thee;

I will sing praise in thy Name, O thou Most High."

The reason for the exultation and joyful thanksgiving and praise of these verses is, "God's mighty acts of salvation on behalf of Israel."[10] Furthermore, this is true regardless of whether or not the victories had already been given or merely prophesied. What God's prophets prophesied was as certain of fulfillment as if it had already happened; and that is why the Hebrew writers used the present or the past tense regarding the promise of future events. Such verbs are called prophetic past, or prophetic present.

This is the reason why it really makes little difference just how the text of Psalms 9:3 here reads. Our margin gives the option of reading "when my enemies turn back" (which is future) as "because mine enemies have turned back."[11] (which is past). The events, whether future or past, are equally certain.

"O thou Most High." See comment on this expression under Psalms 7:17.

Verse 3

"When mine enemies turn back,

They stumble and perish at thy presence.

For thou hast maintained my right and my cause;

Thou sittest in the throne judging righteously."

See alternate reading for Psalms 9:3 under Psalms 9:2.

"Thou hast maintained my right." These words indicate that God had already revealed to David the triumph over enemies which, although yet future, was what prompted this outpouring of thanksgiving and praise on David's part. "God has already passed judgment so that there is no doubt about the outcome."[12]

The meaning of Psalms 9:4 is that, "God has vindicated David's kingship, revealing that truth and righteousness are with David's cause."[13]

Verse 5

"Thou hast rebuked the nations, thou hast destroyed the wicked;

Thou hast blotted out their name forever and ever.

The enemy are come to an end, they are desolate forever;

And the cities which thou hast overthrown,

The very remembrance of them is perished."

This teaches the ultimate annihilation of the wicked element in the human race, an event that must be associated with the Judgment Day itself, upon which occasion God will make an end of his Operation Adam. Yates agreed that we have here, "An eschatalogical picture of the final judgment, visualized as present."[14]

Verse 7

"But Jehovah sitteth as king forever:

He has prepared his throne for judgment;

And he will judge the world in righteousness,

He will minister judgment to the peoples in uprightness."

These words supply additional comment regarding the Final Judgment. As Rhodes said, "The final judgment, which will include the complete destruction of the wicked and of their memory, is so certain that it is spoken of here as if it were already past."[15]

Verse 9

"Jehovah also will be a high tower for the oppressed,

A high tower in times of trouble;

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee;

For thou, Jehovah, hath not forsaken them that seek thee."

Knowing God's name, as mentioned here, implies something far beyond merely being able to pronounce it. For one truly to know God's name when this psalm was written meant loving and serving him; and in our times, it means to confess his Son Jesus Christ, obey the Gospel, and walk righteously before him. See Luke 6:46.

The blessed promise of these verses is that God never forsakes his children. They may indeed be sorely tried and tempted as was Job, hunted like a wild beast by vicious enemies as was David himself, or even, at times, feel forsaken, as did the Christ himself on Calvary; but nevertheless they are never forsaken. As stated in Psalms 37:28, "Jehovah forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved forever."

Verse 11

"Sing praises to Jehovah, who dwelleth in Zion:

Declare among the people his doings.

For he that maketh inquisitions for blood remembereth them;

He forgetteth not the cry of the poor."

"Jehovah ... dwelleth in Zion." This is a reference to God's personal presence in Jerusalem, as manifested in the tabernacle and in the temple.

"He that maketh inquisitions for blood." This refers to the fact that God inquires and demands an explanation regarding every instance of a murderer's slaying his victim, as God did in the case of Abel (Genesis 4:9).

"He remembereth them" is a promise that God knows of every crime against the defenseless and that he will require an account of it at the hands of the wicked.

"He forgetteth not the cry of the poor." Just as God never forsakes his saints, as mentioned in the previous two verses, these verses stress God's equal care and concern for the victims of crime and for the poor. These are among the wonderful actions of God that are commanded to be declared unto the peoples.

Verse 13

"Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah;

Behold my affliction which I suffer of them that hate me,

Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death;

That I may show forth all thy praise.

In the gates of the daughter of Zion

I will rejoice in thy salvation."

This is an intensely personal petition from David, who in spite of great victories which God had given him, was nevertheless still a sufferer from the afflictions brought upon him by enemies who hated him. It is ever thus for the child of God. Whatever victories are won, there are always situations that call for the special blessing of heaven if the faithful are actually to receive the final and ultimate triumph of entering heaven itself.

"The gates of death." Our Lord mentioned these in Matthew 16:18. See our comment on that passage for opinions regarding what these gates are. Here they are contrasted with the gates of the daughter of Zion; and what a difference there is!

"The gates of death open for all men;

the gates of Zion open only for the saved.

The gates of death open regardless of our will;

the gates of Zion open only by our choice.

The gates of death are dark with terror;

the gates of Zion are bright with hope and joy."[16]

Of course, the gates of the daughter of Zion here are a symbolical representation of the Lord's Church as in Hebrews 12:22.

Verse 15

"The nations are sunk down in the pit that they made:

In the net which they hid is their own foot taken.

Jehovah hath made himself known, he hath executed judgment:

The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. (Higgaion, Selah)"

As many have pointed out, "The writer picks up the theme of the end-time again."[17] Also the message of Psalms 7:15-16 is brought in again here. That the wicked do indeed destroy themselves by their own wicked devices is an eternally true principle. As Watkinson expressed it, "The pit of human misery and ruin is digged by man, not by God."[18]

Verse 17

"The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol,

Even all the nations that forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten.

Nor the expectation of the poor perish forever."

"Wicked be turned back unto Sheol." Kidner pointed out the true meaning here as, "The wicked shall return to Sheol, not merely depart there. Death is their native element";[19] and that surely corresponds with a statement of the Apostle Paul that, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." (1 Timothy 5:6).

"The nations that forget God." Four times the Word of God thunders the message, "Beware lest thou forget the Lord thy God," nevertheless, whole nations transgress against that commandment continually.

(For an elaboration of the theme "Forgetting God" see pp. 211-213 in Vol. 2 of my minor prophets series of commentaries.)

The necessity for help on the part of the needy and for remembrance upon behalf of the poor and oppressed are cited here as reasons why God will eventually judge the nations. The righteousness of God Himself requires ultimately that the wicked oppression of the poor and needy shall be summarily terminated.

Verse 19

"Arise, O Jehovah; let not man prevail:

Let the nations be judged in thy sight.

Put them in fear, O Jehovah:

Let the nations know themselves to be but men. (Selah)"

As Kidner noted, "These verses are a plea for God to put man in his place."[20] Man in his own strength alone is, as one infidel expressed it, an infant crying in the night with no language but a cry." His strength but emphasizes frailty and lasts for only a moment at best. His very life is only a breath in his nostrils, subject to cease at any time. "He struts and frets his brief hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more." On his own, man is a mere speck of dust, just a fleeting breath; and, along with that insignificance, his moral condition is enough to challenge God himself to put the hook of judgment into his upturned nose, not in worship, but in conceit, and drag him into the punishment which he so richly deserves. In this light, we cannot be surprised that Psalms 10 exposes man for just what he is, apart from God.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.