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This psalm likewise purports to be “A Psalm of David,” and there is no cause to doubt the correctness of the superscription which ascribes it to him. There is, however, no certain intimation at what time of his life, or on what occasion, it was composed, and it is impossible to determine these points.
The most probable supposition in regard to its composition seems to me to be, that it is a song of thanksgiving for the victory secured in answer to the prayer of himself and the people in the previous psalm. Nothing can be argued, indeed, on this point, from the mere fact that it stands in close connection with the previous psalm; but there are, it seems to me, internal marks that this was its design, and that it is the expression of a heart overflowing with gratitude, and, therefore, recalling not merely the immediate blessings of a recent victory, but also the other blessings with which God had crowned his life, Psalms 21:3-4.
Thus understood in regard to its origin, the psalm may be regarded as divided into the following parts:
I. Thanksgiving for success, or for granting the object which had been so earnestly sought, Psalms 21:1-7. In this thanksgiving the psalmist says that God had not only granted what had been asked Psalms 21:1-3, but that he had greatly “exceeded” this: he had granted far more than had been the literal request. He had added blessings which had not been specifically sought; he had made those blessings permanent and eternal, Psalms 21:4-7.
II. The general truth that “all” the foes of God would thus be overcome, and that the cause of truth would be finally triumphant, Psalms 21:8-12. This was “suggested” by the victory which had been achieved. As God had granted that victory, as he had so easily subdued the enemies of himself and of his people - as he had gone so far beyond the expectations and the hopes of those who had gone forth to the conflict, the idea is naturally suggested that it would be thus with all his foes, and that there would be ultimately a complete victory over them.
III. The expression of an earnest “desire” that God might be thus exalted, and might thus achieve a complete and final victory, Psalms 21:13,
For the meaning of the phrase, “To the chief Musician,” in the title to the psalm, see the notes at Psalms 4:1-8.
The king shall joy in thy strength - King David, who had achieved the victory which he had desired and prayed for, Psalms 20:1-9. This is in the third person, but the reference is doubtless to David himself, and is to be understood as his own language. If it be understood, however, as the language of “the people,” it is still an ascription of praise to God for his favor to their king. It seems better, however, to regard it as the language of David himself. The word ““strength”” here implies that all the success referred to was to be traced to God. It was not by the prowess of a human arm; it was not by the valor or skill of the king himself; it was by the power of God alone.
And in thy salvation - In the salvation or deliverance from foes which thou hast granted, and in all that thou doest to save. The language would embrace all that God does to save his people.
How greatly shall he rejoice! - Not only does he rejoice now, but he ever will rejoice. It will be to him a constant joy. Salvation, now to us a source of comfort, will always be such; and when we once have evidence that God has interposed to save us, it is accompanied with the confident anticipation that this will continue to be the source of our highest joy forever.
Thou hast given him his heart’s desire - See the notes at Psalms 20:4. This had been the prayer of the people that God would “grant him according to his own heart, and fulfil all his counsel,” and this desire had now been granted. All that had been wished; all that had been prayed for by himself or by the people, had been granted.
And hast not withholden - Hast not denied or refused.
The request of his lips - The request, or the desire which his lips had uttered. The meaning is, that his petitions had been filly granted.
Selah - See the notes at Psalms 3:2.
For thou preventest him - Thou goest before him; thou dost anticipate him. See Psalms 17:13, margin. Our word “prevent” is now most commonly used in the sense of “hinder, stop, or intercept.” This is not the original meaning of the English word; and the word is never used in this sense in the Bible. The English word, when our translation was made, meant to “go before,” to “anticipate,” and this is the uniform meaning of it in our English version, as it is the meaning of the original. See the notes at Job 3:12. Compare Psalms 59:10; Psalms 79:8; Psalms 88:13; Psalms 95:2; Psalms 119:147-148; Amos 9:10; see the notes at 1 Thessalonians 4:15. The meaning here is, that God had “anticipated” him, or his desires. He had gone before him. He had designed the blessing even before it was asked.
With the blessings of goodness - Blessings “indicating” goodness on his part; blessings adapted to promote the “good” or the welfare of him on whom they were bestowed. Perhaps the meaning here is, not only that they were “good,” but they “seemed” to be good; they were not “blessings in disguise,” or blessings as the result of previous calamity and trial, but blessings where there was no trial - no shadow - no appearance of disappointment.
Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head - This does not refer to the time of his coronation, or the period when he was crowned a king, but it refers to the victory which he had achieved, and by which he had been made truly a king. He was crowned with triumph; he was shown to be a king; the victory was like making him a king, or setting a crown of pure gold upon his head. He was now a conqueror, and was indeed a king.
He asked life of thee - An expression similar to this occurs in Psalms 61:5-6, “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows;...Thou wilt prolong the king’s life, and his years to many generations.” The expression in both cases implies that there had been a prayer for “life,” as if life were in danger. The expression itself would be applicable to a time of sickness, or to danger of any kind, and here it is used doubtless in reference to the exposure of life in going into battle, or in going forth to war. In this apprehended peril he prayed that God would defend him. He earnestly sought protection as he went forth to the perils of war.
And thou gavest it him - Thou didst hear and answer his prayer. He was saved from danger.
Even length of days forever and ever - Thou didst grant him more than he asked. He sought life for himself; thou bast not only granted that, but hast granted to him the assurance that he should live in his posterity to all generations. The idea is, that there would be an indefinite contination of his race. His posterity would occupy his throne, and there would be no end to his reign thus prolonged. Beyond all his petitions and his hopes, God bad given the assurance that his reign would be permanent and enduring. We cannot suppose that he understood this as if it were a promise made to him personally, that “he” would live and would occupy the throne forever; but the natural interpretation is that which would refer it to his posterity, and to the perpetuity of the reign of his family or descendants. A similar promise occurs elsewhere: 2 Samuel 7:13, 2 Samuel 7:16; compare the notes at Psalms 18:50. It is by no means an uncommon thing that God gives us more than we asked in our prayers. The offering of prayer is not only the means of securing the blessing which we asked, but also often of securing much more important blessings which we did not ask. If the expression were allowable it might be said that the prayer “suggested” to the divine mind the conferring of all needed blessings, or it indicates such a state of mind on the part of him who prays that God “takes occasion” to confer blessings which were not asked; as a request made by a child to a parent for a specific favor is followed not only by granting “that” favor, but by bestowing others of which the child did not think. The state of mind on the part of the child was such as to “dispose” the parent to grant much larger blessings.
His glory is great in thy salvation - Not in himself; not in anything that he has done, but in what thou hast done. The fact that thou hast saved him, and the manner in which it has been done, has put upon him great honor. He felt indeed that his condition as king, and as to the prospects before him, was one of great “glory” or honor; but he felt at the same time that it was not in “himself,” or for anything that he had done: it was only in the ““salvation”” which “God” had conferred upon him. Every child of God, in like manner, has great “glory” conferred upon him, and his “glory” will be great forever; but it is not in himself, or in virtue of anything that he has done. It is “great” in the “salvation” of God:
(a) in the “fact” that God has interposed to save him; and
(b) in the “manner” in which it has been done.
The highest honor that can be put upon man is in the fact that God will save him.
Honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him -
(a) In making him a king;
(b) in the victories and triumphs which thou hast now given him, placing on his head, as it were, a brighter crown;
(c) in the promised perpetuity of his reign.
So we may say of the ransomed sinner - the child of God - now. Honour and majesty have been laid on him:
(a) in the fact that God has redeemed him;
(b) in the manner in which this has been accomplished;
(c) in his adoption into the family of God;
(d) in the rank and dignity which he occupies as a child of God;
(e) in the hope of immortal blessedness beyond the grave.
For thou hast made him most blessed for ever - Margin, as in Hebrew, “set him” to be “blessings.” The expression in our translation, as it is now commonly understood, would mean that God had made him “happy” or “prosperous.” This does not seem to be the sense of the original. The idea is, that he had made him a blessing to mankind or to the world; or, that he had made him to be a source of blessing to others. Blessings would descend through him; and though in the consciousness of this fact he would be “happy,” and in that sense be “blessed,” yet the idea is rather that blessings would be imparted or scattered through him. Blessings would abound to others through his own reign; blessings through the reigns of those who should succeed him in the throne; blessings would be imparted to men as far as the import of the promise extended, that is, forever, Psalms 21:4. The word “forever” here undoubtedly, as it was used by the Spirit of inspiration, was designed to refer to the eternal blessings which would descend on mankind through the Messiah, the illustrious descendant of David. How far David himself understood this, is not material inquiry. He was undoubtedly directed by the Spirit of inspiration to use such language as would fairly and properly express this. It is right, therefore, for us so to regard it, and so to interpret and apply it.
Thou hast made him exceeding glad - Margin, as in Hebrew, “gladded him with joy.” The Hebrew phrase means, as it is expressed in our translation, that he had been made very glad, or very happy. The favors of God to him, alike in his protection and in the promises which had been made in reference to the future, were such as to make him happy in the highest degree.
With thy countenance - With thy favor. By lifting the light of thy countenance upon him; or, as we should express it, by “smiling” upon him. See the notes at Psalms 4:6.
For the king - David, the author of the psalm.
Trusteth in the Lord - All these blessings have resulted from his confiding in God, and looking to him for his favor and protection.
And through the mercy of the Most High - The favor of Him who is exalted above all; the most exalted Being in the universe. The word “mercy” here is equivalent to “favor.” He had already experienced God’s favor; he looked for a continuance of it; and through that favor he was confident that he would never be shaken in his purposes, and that he would never be disappointed.
He shall not be moved - He shall be firmly established. That is, his throne would be firm; he himself would live a life of integrity, purity, and prosperity; and the promises which had been so graciously made to him, and which extended so far into the future, would all be acomplished. The truth taught here is, that however firm or prosperous our way seems to be, the continuance of our prosperity, and the completion of our hopes and our designs, depend wholly on the “mercy” or the favor of the Most High. Confiding in that, we may feel assured that whatever changes and reverses we may experience in our temporal matters, our ultimate welfare will be secure. Nothing can shake a hope of heaven that is founded on his gracious promises as made through a Saviour.
Thine hand shall find out - That is, Thou wilt find out - the hand being that by which we execute our purposes. This verse commences a new division of the psalm (see the introduction) - in which the psalmist looks forward to the complete and final triumph of God over “all” his enemies. He looks to this in connection with what God had done for him. He infers that he who had enabled him to achieve such signal conquests over his own foes and the foes of God would not withdraw his interposition until he had secured a complete victory for the cause of truth and holiness. In connection with the promise made to him respecting his permanent reign and the reign of his successors on the throne Psalms 21:4, he infers that God would ultimately subdue the enemies of truth, and would set up his kingdom over all.
All thine enemies - However they may attempt to conceal themselves - however they may evade the efforts to subdue them - yet they shall “all” be found out and overcome. As this was intended by the Spirit of inspiration, it undoubtedly refers to the final triumph of truth on the earth, or to the fact that the kingdom of God will be set up over all the world. All that are properly ranked among the enemies of God - all that are in any way opposed to him and to his reign - will be found out and conquered. All the worshippers of idols - all the enemies of truth - all the rejecters of revelation - all the workers of iniquity, - all that are infidels or scoffers - shall be found out and subdued. Either by being made to yield to the claims of truth, and thus becoming the friends of God, or by being cut off and punished for their sins - they will be all so overcome that God shall reign over all the earth. An important truth is further taught here, to wit, that no enemy of God can escape him. There is no place to which he can flee where God will not find him. “There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves,” Job 34:22.
Thy right hand - See the notes at Psalms 17:7.
Those that hate thee - All thine enemies.
Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger - Thou shalt consume or destroy them, “as if” they “were” burned in a heated oven. Or, they shall burn, as if they were a flaming oven; that is, they would be wholly consumed. The word rendered “oven” - תנור tannûr - means either an “oven” or a “furnace.” It is rendered “furnace and furnaces” in Genesis 15:17; Nehemiah 3:11; Nehemiah 12:38; Isaiah 31:9; and, as here, “oven” or “ovens,” in Exodus 8:3; Leviticus 2:4; Leviticus 7:9; Leviticus 11:35; Leviticus 26:26; Lamentations 5:10; Hosea 7:4, Hosea 7:6-7; Malachi 4:1. It does not occur elsewhere. The oven among the Hebrews was in the form of a large “pot,” and was heated from within by placing the wood inside of it. Of course, while being heated, it had the appearance of a furnace. The meaning here is that the wicked would be consumed or destroyed “as if” they were such a burning oven; as if they were set on fire, and burned up.
The Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath - The same idea of the utter destruction of the wicked is here presented under another form - that they would be destroyed as if the earth should open and swallow them up. Perhaps the allusion in the language is to the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Numbers 16:32; compare Psalms 106:17.
And the fire shall devour them - The same idea under another form. The wrath of God would utterly destroy them. That wrath is often represented under the image of “fire.” See Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 18:8; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:44; 2 Thessalonians 1:8. Fire is the emblem by which the future punishment of the wicked is most frequently denoted.
Their fruit - Their offspring; their children; their posterity, for so the parallelism demands. The “fruit” is that which the tree produces; and hence, the word comes to be applied to children as the production of the parent. See this use of the word in Genesis 30:2; Exodus 21:22; Deuteronomy 28:4, Deuteronomy 28:11, Deuteronomy 28:18; Psalms 127:3; Hosea 9:16; Micah 6:7.
Shalt thou destroy from the earth - Thou shalt utterly destroy them. This is in accordance with the statement so often made in the Scriptures, and with what so often occurs in fact, that the consequences of the sins of parents pass over to their posterity, and that they suffer in consequence of those sins. Compare Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 20:5; Leviticus 26:39; compare the notes at Romans 5:12-21.
And their seed - Their posterity.
From among the children of men - From among men, or the human family. That is, they would be entirely cut off from the earth. The truth taught here is, that the wicked will ultimately be destroyed, and that God will obtain a complete triumph over them, or that the kingdom of righteousness shall be at length completely established. A time will come when truth and justice shall be triumphant, when all the wicked shall be removed out of the way; when all that oppose God and his cause shall be destroyed, and when God shall show, by thus removing and punishing the wicked, that he is the Friend of all that is true, and good, and right. The “idea” of the psalmist probably was that this would yet occur on the earth; the “language” is such, also, as may be applied to that ultimate state, in the future world, when all the wicked shall be destroyed, and the righteous shall be no more troubled with them.
For they intended evil against thee - literally, “They stretched out evil.” The idea seems to be derived from “stretching out” or laying snares, nets, or gins, for the purpose of taking wild beasts. That is, they formed a plan or purpose to bring evil upon God and his cause: as the hunter or fowler forms a purpose or plan to take wild beasts or fowls. It is not merely a purpose in the head, as our word “intended” would seem to imply; it supposes that arrangements had been entered into, or that a scheme had been formed to injure the cause of God - that is, through the person referred to in the psalm. The purposes of wicked men against religion are usually much more than a mere “intention.” The intention is accompanied with a scheme or plan in their own mind by which the act may be accomplished. The evil here referred to was that of resisting or overpowering him who was engaged in the cause of God, or whom God had appointed to administer his laws.
They imagined a mischievous device - They thought, or they purposed. The word rendered “mischievous device” מזמה mezimmâh - means properly “counsel, purpose; then prudence, sagacity;” then, in a bad sense, “machination, device, trick.” Gesenius, Lexicon. Proverbs 12:2; Proverbs 14:17; Proverbs 24:8.
Which they are not able to perform - literally, “they could not;” that is, they had not the power to accomplish it, or to carry out their purpose. Their purpose was plain; their guilt was therefore clear; but they were prevented from executing their design. Many such designs are kept from being carried into execution for the want of power. If all the devices and the desires of the wicked were accomplished, righteousness would soon cease in the earth, religion and virtue would come to an end, and even God would cease to occupy the throne.
Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back - Margin, “Thou shalt set them as a butt.” The word back also is rendered in the margin “shoulder.” The word translated “therefore” means in this placer or, and the rendering “therefore” obscures the sense. The statement in this verse in connection with the previous verse, is, that they would not be able to “perform” or carry out their well-laid schemes, “for” or “because” God would make them turn the back; that is, he had vanquished them. They were going forward in the execution of their purposes, but God would interpose and turn them back, or compel them to “retreat.” The word rendered “back” in this place - שׁכם shekem - means properly “shoulder,” or, more strictly, the “shoulder-blades,” that is, the part where these approach each other behind; and then the upper part of the back. It is not, therefore, incorrectly rendered by the phrase “thou shalt make them turn “the back.”” The expression is equivalent to saying that they would be defeated or foiled in their plans and purposes.
When thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings - Compare the notes at Psalms 11:2. That is, when God should go forth against them, armed as a warrior.
Against the face of them - Against them; or, in their very front. He would meet them as they seemed to be marching on to certain conquest, and would defeat them. It would not be by a side-blow, or by skillful maneuver, or by turning their flank and attacking them in the rear. Truth meets error boldly, face to face, and is not afraid of a fair fight. In every such conflict error will ultimately yield; and whenever the wicked come openly into conflict with God, they must be compelled to turn and flee.
Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength - This is the concluding part of the psalm (see the introduction), expressing a desire that God “might” be exalted over all his foes; or that his own strength might he so manifestly put forth that he would be exalted as he ought to be. This is the ultimate and chief desire of all holy created beings, that God might be exalted in the estimation of the universe above all other beings - or that he might so triumph over all his enemies as to reign supreme.
So will we sing and praise thy power - That is, as the result of thy being thus exalted to proper honor, we will unite in celebrating thy glory and thy power. Compare Revelation 7:10-12; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 19:1-3. This will be the result of all the triumphs which God will achieve in the world, that the holy beings of all worlds will gather around his throne and “sing and praise his power.” The “thought” in the psalm is that God will ultimately triumph over all his foes, and that this triumph will be followed by universal rejoicing and praise. Come that blessed day!
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29