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This psalm, ascribed to David, has, in its general design and spirit, a strong resemblance to Psalms 38:0. The occasion on which it was composed is not certainly known; but, like that, it seems to have been when the author was suffering under bodily sickness, not improbably brought on him by mental sorrows caused by the ingratitude of his friends, or by those nearly related to him in life. it is certain that his bodily sufferings were either caused or aggravated by the neglect of his friends; by their cold treatment of him; by their ingratitude toward him; by the reports which they circulated in regard to him. See Psalms 38:11-12; compare Psalms 41:5-9. It was this unkindness certainly which greatly increased his suffering, and which probably gave occasion to the psalm. Who the persons were that thus treated him with neglect and coldness cannot now be ascertained; nor is it necessary to know who they were in order to appreciate the meaning and the beauty of the psalm. Their conduct is so accurately and so feelingly described, that it would be no particular advantage to be made acquainted with their names.
The case, therefore, in the psalm is that of one who is sick; who is forsaken by his friends; who is subjected to unkind remarks alike when they are with him and when absent from him; of one, therefore, whose only refuge is God, and who looks to him for sympathy.
According to this view, the psalm may be conveniently divided into four parts:
I. The psalmist dwells on the blessed character of one who does show compassion or kindness to the poor and the suffering; the blessedness of the man who is merciful, Psalms 41:1-3. This is evidently a reflection forced upon him by the opposite conduct of those whom he supposed he might have regarded as his friends, and to whom he had a right to look for sympathy and kindness. In his own mind, therefore, he contrasts their actual conduct with the character of the truly kind and merciful man, and is led, in few words, to describe the happiness which would follow if proper kindness were shown to the poor and the afflicted. He says that the effect of such conduct would be:
(a) that the Lord would deliver such an one in the time of trouble, Psalms 41:1;
(b) that the Lord would preserve him alive, Psalms 41:2;
(c) that he would be blessed upon the earth, Psalms 41:2;
(d) that the Lord would not deliver him to the will of his enemies, Psalms 41:2;
(e) that he would strengthen him on the bed of languishing, and would make his bed in his sickness, Psalms 41:3.
II. An appeal to God for mercy, and for restoration to health, with an humble confession that it was for his own sin that he was suffering; and with a purpose not to attempt to justify himself, or to say that he had not deserved this at the hand of God, Psalms 41:4. He makes no complaint of God, much as he had occasion to complain of his friends.
III. A statement in regard to the manner in which he had been treated in his sickness, Psalms 41:5-9.
(a) His enemies took occasion to speak evil of him, and to utter the wish, in a manner which would be most painful to a sufferer, that he might die, and that his name might perish, Psalms 41:5.
(b) If they came to see him in his sickness, instead of speaking words of kindness and comfort, they spoke only “vain” and unmeaning words; they sought occasion to gratify their own malignity by finding something in his manner, or in his language, which they could repeat to his disadvantage, Psalms 41:6.
(c) All that hated him took occasion now to conspire against him, to lay together all that they individually knew or could say that would be injurious to him, and to urge their individual causes of complaint against him in a general statement in regard to his character, Psalms 41:7.
(d) They especially sought to injure him by reporting that a disease clave to him which was the result of sin, perhaps of an irregular life, and that there was no prospect that he would be again restored to health; that the hand of God was upon him, and that he must sink to the grave, Psalms 41:8.
(e) All this was aggravated by the fact that his own familiar friend, some one who had enjoyed his confidence, and had partaken of the hospitality of his table, had abused his friendship, and was found among his detractors and calumniators, Psalms 41:9.
IV. An earnest invocation of the mercy of God, and an expression of the confident assurance of his favor, closes the psalm, Psalms 41:10-13.
This psalm, like Psalms 38:0, which it so much resembles, is one that will be always eminently useful to those who are visited with sickness, and who, at the same time, are deprived of the sympathy in their sufferings which the afflicted so much need and desire, and who, instead of sympathy, are subjected to detraction and calumny - their enemies taking advantage of their condition to circulate unfavorable reports in regard to them, and their heretofore professed friends withdrawing from them, and uniting with their calumniators and detractors. Such cases may not be very common in the world, but they occur with sufficient frequency to make it proper that, in a book claiming to be inspired, and designed to be adapted to all times and all classes of people, they should be referred to, and that we should be told what is the true source of consolation in such troubles. Indeed, a book professing to come from God would be defective in the highest degree if such a case were not provided for, and if suitable instructions for such an occasion had not been furnished by precept, or example, or both. On the phrase in the title, “To the chief Musician,” see the notes on the title to Psalms 4:1-8.
Blessed is he - See the notes at Psalms 1:1. Literally, “Oh the blessings of him that considers the poor.” The object is to describe the advantages of doing what is here said; or the excellence of the spirit which would be manifested in such a case, and the effect which this would have on his own happiness. These happy effects are described in the remainder of this verse, and in the two following verses.
That considereth - The word used here - from שׂכל śâkal - means properly to look at, to behold; then, to be prudent or circumspect; then, to attend to; and then in general to act prudently, wisely, intelligently, in any case. Here it means to attend to; to show an interest in; to care for. The idea is that of not neglecting; not passing by; not being indifferent to; not being hard-hearted and uncharitable toward.
The poor - Margin, “the weak,” or “the sick.” The word used in the Hebrew - דל dal - means properly something hanging or swinging, as of pendulous boughs or branches; and then, that which is weak, feeble, powerless. Thus it comes to denote those who are feeble and helpless either by poverty or by disease, and is used with a general reference to those who are in slow or humble condition, and who need the aid of others. The statement here is of a general nature - that he is blessed who shows proper sympathy for all of that class: for those who need the sympathy of others from any cause - poverty, sickness, a low condition, or trouble. The particular thing here referred to was a case of sickness; where one was borne down by disease, perhaps brought on by mental sorrow, and when he particularly needed the sympathy of his friends. See Psalms 41:5-8.
The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble - Margin, as in Hebrew: “in the day of evil.” This is the first happy effect or result of showing proper sympathy with others in their troubles. It is a statement of the general principle that the Lord will deal with us as we do with others. See this principle stated and illustrated in Psalms 18:24-26.
The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive - This is a farther statement of the same principle, and it refers to a general, not a universal rule in the divine administration, that acts of piety will be partially rewarded on the earth; or that the divine favor will be shown to those who deal kindly with others. This principle is often referred to in the Scriptures. See Psalms 1:3, note; Psalms 37:3-4, note; Psalms 37:11, note; Psalms 37:23-26, note; Psalms 37:37, note; compare Mat 5:5; 1 Timothy 4:8. The par ticular application here is, that if any one showed kindness to him that was sick or enfeebled by disease, he might expect that God would interpose in his case under similar circumstances, and would “preserve” him, or “keep him alive.” Of course this is to be regarded as a statement made under the general principle. It is not to be interpreted as teaching that this would be universally true, or that he who did this would never die, but the meaning is, that he might look for special divine aid and favor, when he in turn should be sick.
And he shall be blessed upon the earth - This is in accordance with the doctrine noticed above, and so often referred to in the Psalms and elsewhere, that the effect of religion will be to promote happiness and prosperity in this life.
And thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies - Margin: “Do not thou deliver.” The margin, perhaps, expresses most correctly the sense of the original, but still it is an expression of the confident belief of the psalmist that this will not occur; a belief expressed here rather in the form of a prayer than of a direct assertion. The idea is, that he would find God to be a defender and a helper when he was attacked by his foes.
The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing - The word rendered strengthen here means to support; to uphold; to sustain. The idea here is, that God would enable him to bear his sickness, or would impart strength - inward strength - when his body failed, or when but for this aid he must sink under his disease and die. The word rendered languishing means properly languor or sickness; and more generally something sickening; that is, something unclean, unwholesome, nauseating, Job 6:6. The idea here, in accordance with what is stated above, is, that acts of religion will tend to promote our welfare and hap piness in this life; and more particularly that the man who shows favor Psalms 41:1 to those who are weak, sick, helpless, will find in turn that God will support him when he is sick. Thus, Psalms 18:25, “With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful.”
Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness - Margin, as in Hebrew: “turn.” So the Septuagint, ἔστρεψας estrepsas. Luther renders it, “Thou dost help him.” The idea is, that God will turn his bed or his couch; that is, that he will render favor like turning his couch, or making his bed when he is sick; or, in other words, he will relieve his suffering, and make him comfortable on his bed. It does not mean that he will turn his sickness to health, but that he will relieve and comfort him, as one is relieved and soothed on a sick bed by having his bed made up. This, too, is in accordance with the general sentiment that God will show himself merciful to those who are merciful; kind to those who are kind. On the bed of languishing it will be much to be able to remember that we, in our health, have contributed to the comfort of the sick and the dying.
(a) The recollection itself will do much to impart inward satisfaction then, for we shall then appreciate better than we did when we performed the act the value of this trait of character, and have a deeper sense of gratitude that we have been able to relieve the sufferings of others;
(b) we may believe and trust that God will remember what we have done, and that he will manifest himself to us then as our gracious supporter and our comforter.
It will not be because by our own acts we have merited his favor, but because this is his gracious purpose, and because it is in accordance with his nature thus to bestow kindness on those who have been kind to others.
I said, Lord - I said in my sickness, or in the trial referred to in the psalm. I called on God to be merciful to me when others had no mercy; to be near to me when others turned away; to save me when pressed down with disease on account of my sins. All that follows relates, like this passage, to what occurred when he was sick; to the thoughts that passed through his mind, and to the treatment which he then experienced from others.
Be merciful unto me - In forgiving my sins, and restoring me to health.
Heal my soul - In restoring my soul to spiritual health by forgiving the sin which is the cause of my sickness; or it may mean, Restore my life - regardng his life as (as it were) diseased and in danger of extinction. The probability, however, is that he had particular reference to the soul as the word is commonly understood, or as designating himself; heal, or restore me.
For I have sinned against thee - Regarding his sin as the cause of his sickness. See the notes at Psalms 38:3-5.
Mine enemies speak evil of me - They take occasion to speak evil of me in my weak and feeble state, thus adding to my sorrows. The word “evil” here refers to their calumnies or reproaches. They spoke of him as a bad man; as if it were desirable that he should die; that his influence in the world should come to an end, and that his name should be forgotten.
When shall he die - “He is sick; sick on account of his sins; it seems certain that he will die; and it is desirable that such a man should die. But he seems to linger on, as if there were no hope of his dying.” Nothing can be imagined more unkind, cutting, severe than this - the desire that a man who is sick shall die, and be out of the way. Nothing could add more to the sorrows of sickness itself than such a wish; than to have it talked about among men - whispered from one to another - that such a man was a nuisance; that he was a bad man; that he was suffering on account of his sins; that it was desirable that his death should occur as soon as possible, and that all remembrance of him on earth should cease.
And his name perish - That he should be forgotten altogether; that his name should be no more mentioned; that all the influence of his life should cease forever. Of a truly bad man - a corrupter of the faith and the virtue of others - this is desirable, for the sooner such men are forgotten the better. Forgotten they will be Proverbs 10:7, but there is no more malignant feeling in regard to a good man, and especially when such a man is suffering under a severe disease, than the wish that he should die, and that his name should wholly fade away from recollection.
And if he come to see me - If he condescends to visit me in my sickness. The word me is not in the original; and perhaps the idea is not that he came to see the sufferer, but that he came to see “for himself,” though under pretence of paying a visit of kindness. His real motive was to make observation, that he might find something in the expressions or manner of the sufferer that would enable him to make a report unfavorable to him, and to confirm him in his impression that it was desirable such a man should die. He would come under the mask of sympathy and friendship, but really to find something that would confirm him in the opinion that he was a bad man, and that would enable him to state to others that it was desirable he should die.
He speaketh vanity - He utters no expressions of sincerity and truth; he suggests nothing that would console and comfort me; his words are all foreign to the purpose for which a man should visit another in such circumstances, and are, therefore, vain words. What he says is mere pretence and hypocrisy, and is designed to deceive me, as if he had sympathy with me, while his real purpose is to do me mischief.
His heart gathereth iniquity to itself - Or, in his heart he is gathering mischief. That is, in his heart, or in his secret purpose, under the pretence of sympathy and friendship, he is really aiming to gather the materials for doing me wrong. He is endeavoring to find something in my words or manner; in my expressions of impatience and complaining; in the utterances of my unguarded moments, when I am scarcely conscious - something that may be uttered in the honesty of feeling when a man thinks that he is about to die - some reflections of my own on my past life - some confession of sin, which he may turn to my disadvantage, or which may justify his slanderous report that I am a bad man, and that it is desirable that such a man should live no longer. Can anything be imagined more malicious than this?
When he goeth abroad, he telleth it - literally, he tells it to the street, or to those who are without. Perhaps his friends, as malicious as himself, are anxiously waiting without for his report, and, like him, are desirous of finding something that may confirm them in their opinion of him. Or perhaps he designs to tell this to the friends of the sufferer, to show them now that they were deceived in the man; that although in the days of his health, and in his prosperity, he seemed to be a good man, yet that now, when the trial has come, and a real test has been applied, all his religion has been found false and hollow; his impatience, his complaining, his murmuring, and his unwillingness to die, all showing that he was a hypocrite, and was at heart a bad man. Compare the notes at Job 1:9-11.
All that hate me whisper together against me - They talk the matter over where they suppose that no one can hear; they endeavonr to collect and arrange all that can be said against me; they place all that they can say or think as individuals, all that they have separately known or suspected, into “common stock,” and make use of it against me. There is a conspiracy against me - a purpose to do me all the evil that they can. This shows that, in the apprehension of the sufferer, the one who came to see for himself Psalms 41:6 came as one of a company - as one deputed or delegated to find some new occasion for a charge against him, and that he had not to suffer under the single malignity of one, but under the combined malignity of many.
Against me do they devise my hurt - Margin, as in Hebrew: “evil to me.” That is, they devise some report, the truth of which they endeavor to confirm by something that they may observe in my sickness which will be injurious to me, and which will prove to the world that I am a bad man - a man by whose death the world would be benefited. The slanderous report on which they seemed to agree is mentioned in the following verse - that he was suffering under a disease which was directly and manifestly the result of a sinful life, and that it must be fatal.
An evil disease - Margin, “a thing of Belial.” The Hebrew is literally “a word of Belial.” This has been very variously understood and interpreted. The Septuagint renders it: λόγον παράνομον logon paranomon - wicked word; “a wicked determination” (Thompson); that is, they formed a wicked purpose against him, to wit, by saying that he was now confined to his bed, and could not rise again. The Latin Vulgate renders it in a similar manner: Verbum iniquitum constituerunt adversum me. Luther: “They have formed a wicked device (Bubenstuck) against me;” they behave in a knavish or wicked manner. DeWette, “Destruction (Verderben) or punishnnent (Strafe) is poured upon him.” The term rendered “disease” means properly “word” or “thing;” and Prof. Alexander renders it, “A word of Belial is poured upon him.” The word rendered “evil, Belial,” means literally “without use” - בליעל belı̂ya‛al - from בלי belı̂y, “not or without,” and יעל ya‛al, “use or profit.”
Then it means worthlessness, wickedness, destruction; and hence, in connection with man, denotes one who is wicked, worthless, abandoned. It is difficult to determine its meaning here. The connection Psalms 41:3 would seem to suggest the idea adopted by our translators; the words themselves would seem rather to convey the idea of some reproach, or harsh saying - some vain, wicked, malicious words that were uttered against him. That there was disease in the case, and that the psalm was composed in view of it, and of the treatment which the author experienced from those who had been his professed friends when suffering under it, seems to me to be manifest from Psalms 41:1, Psalms 41:3-4, Psalms 41:8; but it is probable that the reference in this expression is not to the disease, but to the words or the conduct of his calumniators. It is evident from the pronoun him - the third person - that this refers, as our translators have indicated by the words they say to something that they said in regard to him; something which they affirmed as the result of their observations on his condition, Psalms 41:6-7. The true idea, therefore, I think is this: “They say - that is, those who came to see me said - A ‘word of evil’ - “a sentence of evil or destruction” - is poured upon him. He is suffering under such a ‘word of destruction;’ or, such a word (that is, sentence) as will involve his destruction, by way of punishment for his sins; therefore all is over with him, and he must die. He can hope to rise no more.” This would express the idea that they regarded his death as certain, for he seemed to be under a sentence which made that sure.
Cleaveth fast unto him - Or rather, “is poured upon him.” The word used here - צוּק tsûq - means:
(1) to be narrow, straitened, compressed; and then
(2) to pour out - as metal is poured out Job 28:2, or as words are poured out in prayer Isaiah 26:16.
Here it would seem to mean that such a sentence was poured upon him, or that he had become submerged or swallowed up under it. It was like the pouring out of a torrent on him, overwhelming him with floods of water, so that he could not hope to escape, or to rise again.
And now that he lieth, he shall rise up no more - There is no hope for him; no prospect that he will ever get up again. They felt that they might indulge their remarks, therefore, freely, as he would not be able to take revenge on them, and their expectations and hopes were about to be accomplished by his death. Compare Psalms 41:5. As a part of his sufferings, all this was aggravated by the fact that they regarded those sufferings as full proof of his guilt; that he could not reply to their accusations; and that be was about to die under that imputation.
Yea, mine own familiar friend - Margin, as in Hebrew: “the man of my peace.” The man with whom I was at peace; who had no cause of alienation from me; with whom I was associated in the most peaceful and friendly relations.
In whom I trusted - He whom I made my confidential friend, and on whom I supposed I could rely in the time of trouble.
Which did eat of my bread - This may either denote one who was supported by him as one of his family, or else one who partook of his hospitality. In the former case, if that is the meaning, he bad a right to expect that, as a matter of gratitude, such an one would stand by him, and not be found among his enemies. In the latter case, if that is the meaning, he had a right to expect that one who had shared his hospitality would not be found among his foes.
Hath lifted up his heel against me - Margin, as in Hebrew: “magnified.” So the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. Lather renders this, “hath trodden me under his feet.” The figure here is taken from a horse that turns and kicks him that had fed him. This passage is applied John 13:18 to Judas, with the statement, in regard to him, that what he had done was done “that the Scripture might be fulfilled:” see the notes at that passage. It is not necessary to suppose that the Saviour meant to say that the passage in the psalm had original and exclusive reference to Judas; the phrase employed by the Saviour, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” may have been used by him in that large sense in which these words are often used as denoting, either:
(a) that the language found in the Scriptures, and applicable originally to another case, “would properly express the idea,” or describe the fact; or
(b) that the case referred to was one of a class; or that, as it was accomplished in the case of David, so in a similar sense it was accomplished in the case of the Saviour.
In other words, Judas was regarded as belonging to the same class as the individual to whom the psalm refers. He was one to whom the language of the psalm was applicable; and the Saviour endured the same kind of suffering which the person did who is referred to in the psalm. Thus the language of the Scriptures, applicable to all such cases, received a complete fulfillment in Him. It is remarkable that, in the reference to Judas, the Saviour quotes only a part of the verse: “He that eateth bread with me.” He omits, apparently from design, the former part of the verse in the psalm, “mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,” as if he would not even seem to convey the idea that he ever regarded Judas as his intimate friend, or as if he had ever really “trusted” him. He conveys the idea that Judas had partaken largely of his favors, but not that He himself was ever really a stranger to the baseness of his heart, John 6:64, John 6:70.
But thou, O Lord, be merciful unto me - That is, give me strength; restore me from my sickness and weakness.
And raise me up - From my bed of languishing.
That I may requite them - That I may repay them; or may recompense them. The word used here - שׁלם shālam - means properly, to be whole, sound, safe; then, in Piel, to make secure, or preserve in safety; and then, to complete, to make whole, to make good, to restore; and then, to make whole or to complete in the sense of recompensing or requiting: to make the matter equal. It would be well expressed here by the familiar language, “giving them what they deserve.” But it is not necessary to understand this as indicating an unforgiving spirit. The writer may have meant to say that the persons who demeaned themselves in this manner ought to be punished; that the public good required it; and being a magistrate, he spoke as one appointed to administer the laws, and prayed for a restoration to strength, that he might administer justice in this and in all similar cases. It is possible also that he meant to say he would repay them by “heaping coals of fire on their heads” - by acts of kindness in place of the wrongs that they had done him (see Proverbs 25:21-22; compare Romans 12:20-21); though I admit, that this is not the obvious interpretation. But in order to show that this was uttered with a bad spirit, and under the promptings of revenge, it would be necessary to show that neither of these supposable interpretations could be the true one. It may be added here that we may not be required to vindicate all the expressions of personal feeling found in the Psalms in order to any just view of inspiration. See General Introduction, 6 (6).
By this I know - Compare the notes at Psalms 20:6. This indicates a confident assurance that his prayer would be answered, and that he would be restored to health. How he had this assurance we are not informed, but it seems most probable that it was by an intimation conveyed to his mind by God himself. Compare, for a similar case, Philippians 1:25. See the notes at that passage.
That thou favorest me - That thou dost delight in me; that thou art my friend.
Because mine enemy doth not triumph over me - The word here rendered triumph properly means to shout, or to make a noise. As a sign of exultation, more especially in war: 1 Samuel 17:20. Here it means that his enemy would not secure a victory over him; or would not shout as if such a victory were obtained. That is, he felt assured now that all the machinations of his goes would be defeated; that all the hopes which they cherished that he was soon to die would be disappointed; that he himself would be recovered from Iris sickness, contrary to their malicious anticipations and desires. This he regarded as an evidence that God was his friend.
And as for me - literally, “and I;” as if there were some verb understood. The reference is turned on himself; on all that was suggested by this train of remark as bearing on himself. The result of the whole was a firm assurance that God would sustain him, and that he would be established before God forever. The train of thought is this: “And I... thou upholdest me.” Perhaps the course of expression, if it had not been suddenly changed, would have been, “And I am sustained or held up.” The thought, however, turns rather on God than on himself, and instead of carrying out the reference to himself so prominently, he turns to God as the source from where all this was derived.
Thou upholdest me - Not merely in strengthening me in my sickness, but, what is more important, in vindicating my character against the aspersions which are cast upon it. Thou dost show that I am upright.
In mine integrity - literally, “in my perfection.” See the notes at Job 1:1. The word here means uprightness, sincerity, probity. He had been calumniated by his foes. His sickness had been regarded by them as a proof that he was a hypocrite or a stranger to God. If he had died, they would have urged that fact as evidence that he was the object of the divine displeasure. His restored health was clear proof that their suggestions were false, and that he was not suffering for the cause which they alleged. God thus showed that he regarded him as upright and sincere. The claim is not that of “absolute perfections,” but only of a character of piety or integrity in opposition to the slanderous charges of his enemies. Compare Psalms 7:8; Psalms 25:21; Psalms 26:1, Psalms 26:11.
And settest me before thy face for ever - That is, Thou wilt do it. God would always have him in his presence, permit him always to dwell with him - the highest proof of his friendship.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel - That is, Let the Lord God of Israel be praised, honored, adored. The language is an expression of desire that all honor, all happiness, might be His. It is a recognition of God as the source of the mercies referred to, and an expression of the feeling that he is entitled to universal praise. The word Israel here refers to the people of God as descended from Jacob or Israel.
From everlasting, and to everlasting - Through eternity, or eternal ages, - from all past duration to all future duration. The expression “from everlasting to everlasting,” would embrace eternity; and the idea is that God is deserving of eternal praise.
Amen, and amen - The word “amen” means properly surely, certainly, truly, and is a word expressive of solemn affirmation, or of the desire of the mind that this should be so. Its repetition is emphatic, expressing strong assent to what is said as certainly true, or as eminently the wish of the mind. This benediction marks the close of one of the five books into which the Psalms are commonly divided. See the General Introduction, Section 3.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 41". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16