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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 101

Psalms 101

The Psalmist expresses the determination to sing praise to the Lord, and to extol his mercy and righteousness, Psalms 101:1. He utters next, in a strophe of seven verses, which is divided by the three and the four, his resolution as King of Israel, partly in his own conduct to be blameless, Psalms 101:2-4, partly in his choice of his servants to be careful, and to take zealous care, by rigid observance of righteousness, to root out the wicked from the city of God, Psalms 101:5-8.

According to the ordinary view taken of the Psalm, which represents it as a whole complete within itself, there meets us a twofold difficulty of a very important character. 1. The Psalmist announces in Psalms 101:1 a song of praise to the Lord, extolling his mercy and the justice obtained through him. But of this there is not in Psalms 101:2-8 one single trace. The Psalmist there does not say one single word of what the Lord has done for him, but only of what he himself is determined to do. That this difficulty has been felt by translators, is evident from the fact that a manifest perversion of the sense of Psalms 101:1, which serves to remove this difficulty, has been so generally adopted. 2. The words, “when wilt thou come to me,” interpolated as it were in the middle of a representation of pious resolutions, stand so abruptly, that those interpreters whose view does not extend beyond our Psalm, have felt themselves put to extreme difficulty without having been able to come to rest and to a satisfactory result. The distress of the Psalmist hinted at in such a passing manner in these words, requires in what follows a more full description,—the short and stolen prayer, a more full development; neither of which is to be found within the compass of our Psalm.

The explanation of the difficulty is this, that we have before us in Psalms 101-103, a trilogy of Psalms; that the praise announced here in Psalms 101:1 of the mercy which the Lord has shown the Psalmist, and of the justice which he has done for him, follows in Psalms 103, which begins with the words, “praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me his holy name” (comp. especially Psalms 103:6, Psalms 103:8, Psalms 103:11, Psalms 103:17); and that Psalms 102, “the prayer of the miserable when he is afflicted and pours out his complaint before the Lord,” is the full expansion of the cry, “when wilt thou come to me.”

The plan and connection of the three divided whole, in a few words, is this: if my children only remain in the ways of the Lord, Psalms 101:2-8, they may confidently call upon him in all trouble, Psalms 102; and the end of the song shall always be: praise the Lord, O my soul, Psalms 103.

The passage which contains the whole substance of our Psalm, is expressly indicated in Psalms 103:17-18, “the mercy of the Lord endureth from eternity to eternity upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to child’s child, to those who keep his covenant, and remember his commandments to do them.” The paragraph in Psalms 18, Psalms 18:20-27, corresponds to this, where David shews that his salvation is the fruit of his righteousness. David, who everywhere had a deep knowledge of the truth, that salvation rises only on the basis of righteousness, does not speak herein his own person, but extends his consciousness to that of his seed, as in Psalms 18, (comp. vol. i., p. 311, ss.), Psalms 21, and expresses in their name pious resolutions, before giving utterance to the prayer for salvation: it is only the man who can with inward truth utter after him the words of our Psalm, that is entitled to appropriate as his own “the prayer of the miserable, &c.” and that shall have occasion given him to say, “praise the Lord, O my soul.” Our Psalm is hence an indirect exhortation to the successors of David on the throne, and to the church of God represented by them, and whose weal and wo were dependant on them: behind “I will walk blamelessly in a perfect way,” there is concealed a “walk blamelessly.”

The discovery of this close, hidden connection among Psalms 101-103, is at the same time a discovery of the nakedness of rationalistic criticism. The Davidic origin of the Psalms has been acknowledged by its most distinguished representatives, with the single exception of Hitzig, who, with his idea of Maccabean Psalms, has so exposed himself to attack, that nothing in the world can stop him. D. Wette thus expresses himself: “There is nothing whatever against the title which announces this Psalm to have been composed by David: the Psalm is rather by its massiveness altogether worthy of such an author.” And Ewald: “It is easy to discover in the poet a powerful reigning prince, indeed David himself, for David’s lofty thought is expressed throughout.” On the other hand, the two following Psalms cannot be allowed to belong to David; they contain manifest traces of the era of the captivity. If the connection be seen, one or other of the two assertions, both of which are maintained with equal confidence, must be false. The originality of the title, however, according to which Psalms 101, and therefore the whole series, is attributed to David, can all the less be called in question, as this Psalm cannot be considered as standing without a title.

In regard to the time of composition, the idea that David could have composed the Psalm only at the time of his ascending the throne or near the commencement of his reign depends upon the false reference to David himself of what belongs to his successors, and upon a misconception in regard to the hortatory import of the Psalm. A twofold consideration meets us here. 1. Jerusalem is simply designated in Psalms 101:8 as the city of the Lord. This presupposes that at the time of the composition of the Psalm, the ark of the covenant was already in Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem had already become decidedly the religious metropolis of the nation. At all events, therefore, the Psalm must belong to a period later than that referred to at 2 Samuel 6:2. The Psalm has for its basis the promise made to David by Nathan, 2 Samuel 7. It was by this promise that David first got the assurance, that unlike Samuel he would continue to reign in the person of his descendants, and the earnest impulse to interest himself in their future welfare.

There are several undoubted allusions to our Psalm in the book of Proverbs (comp. the exposition), a circumstance which admits of explanation by the fact that it must have made a great impression on the mind of Solomon, for whom in the first instance it was intended, and that in regard to its sententious character it is nearly allied to the Proverbs.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. By David, a Psalm. Mercy and judgment will I sing, to thee, O Lord, will I sing praise.

Many expositors give: I will, as well-pleasing to thee, O Lord, sing of the mercy and righteousness, which I will manifest in my government. But against this we have the parallel and derived passage, Psalms 89:1, which may be considered as the Old Testament commentary on our Psalm, “The mercies of the Lord will I sing for ever,” where the mercies of the Lord are the manifestations of his love towards the family of David; and also the fact that wherever in David’s Psalms the resolution, or the exhortation, to sing to the Lord, and to play to him, זמר ליהוה is expressed on the basis of Judges 5:3, “I will sing to the Lord, I will sing praise to the God of Israel,” it always refers to the thankful praise of the Lord for his deeds of goodness, comp. Psalms 13:6, Psalms 18:49, Psalms 9:11, Psalms 30:4, Psalms 30:12, Psalms 33:2, Psalms 68:4 (where, in a peculiar manner, the expression in Judges 5:3 stands forward as the fundamental passage,) Psalms 71:22-23; still further, that in the following part of the Psalm there are no traces whatever of the mercy which the king intends to show, for that Psalms 101:6 contains no such is clear as day, the choice of trustworthy persons as servants of the king appears there only as the expression of the conscientiousness which is to distinguish his reign; and, finally, the concluding clause of the preceding Psalm, “Good is the Lord, eternal is his mercy, and from generation to generation his faithfulness” (of which judgment is the product), which shows that, at least according to the view of the collector, the mercy and the judgment here proceed from the Lord. We can, therefore, only explain: I will praise the Lord for the mercy and the judgment which he has promised to me. If so, we cannot restrict our view to the Psalm before us, but must look forward to Psalms 103. For everywhere, where a similar expression occurs, and, in particular, previous to this, in the fundamental passage, and, in like manner, in Psalms 89, it stands either as the introduction or the conclusion to a lengthened song of praise for the Lord’s deeds of goodness.

Verses 2-4

In Psalms 101:2-4, how the king intends to conduct himself in private life, in order to become partaker of the mercy and judgment. Ver. 2. I will walk wisely in a blameless way.

When wilt thou come to me?

I will walk in the blamelessness of my heart in the midst of my house. Ver. 3. I will place no wicked action before my eyes, to do wickedness I hate, it shall not cleave to me. Ver. 4. A perverted heart shall depart from me, what is wicked 1 will not know.

On השכיל , to act wisely, prudently, in opposition to the stupid conduct of the heathen, comp. at Psalms 14:2. השכיל never signifies, to think upon a thing. The means by which this wise conduct is reached and maintained are to be found in meditating upon the commandments of God, Psalms 119:99. David had himself practised what he enjoins his posterity, and recommends as the sure means of salvation. We read in 1 Samuel 18:14-15, where the words, in all probability, are taken from the lips of David, “And David walked wisely in all his ways, and the Lord was with him. And Saul saw that he acted very wisely, and he was afraid of him.” It is with design that, at the very beginning, the future stands with the ה of effort. It regulates the following futures, and shows that they too are to be taken in the sense of resolutions and purposes. The תמים as a predicate of the way, occurs in Psalms 18:30, Psalms 18:32; there is, therefore, no reason for translating: in the way of a blameless man. The word is one for which David had a peculiar predilection (comp. Psalms 18:23, Psalms 18:25, Psalms 15:2), a fact to be accounted for by the deep impression which the words addressed by God to Abraham seem to have made upon his heart: Walk before me, and be thou perfect (blameless). This expression he had here also before his eyes: in the first clause, he takes from it the blamelessness, in the second, “ I will walk,” and in the middle clause he refers to the promise of the blessing, which is there connected with blamelessness of conduct. The affecting and yearning question, “ When wilt thou come to me,” blessing and helping me in my trouble? which follows immediately after the first words of the description of the pious resolutions, in order to render prominent the object of these resolutions, and to exhibit them as introductory to Psalms 102 depends upon Exodus 20:21, “In every place where I erect a memorial for my name, I shall come to thee, and bless thee,” and is equivalent to: When wilt thou, faithful to thy promises, come to me, and bless me, thou who hast erected in Sion, “the city of the Lord,” Psalms 101:8, a memorial of thy name, and hast chosen it as the place of thy sanctuary. The reference is all the more suitable, as David speaks here in name of his posterity, and these represent the people to whom, in the fundamental passage, the promise had been given. Other interpretations have arisen merely from failing to observe the reference to this fundamental passage, from which the indefinite coming is defined to be a coming fraught with blessing and help, and also from failing to observe the reference to Psalms 102, which makes itself known as the expansion of the cry, “When wilt thou come to me?” by the clauses at the very beginning, “Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before thee,” according to which the coming of the Lord here can only be such a coming as goes hand in hand with the coming of the cry of the miserable to him. A host of different interpretations, like Luther’s entirely arbitrary one, “with those who belong to me,” are set aside by the simple remark, that מתי is never anything else than an interrogative “when;” it is so even in Proverbs 23:35; comp. Michaelis on the passage. The ( Psalms 101:8) 8th verse renders it impossible to think of the coming of the ark of the covenant. On the “in the blamelessness of my heart,” comp. the three dependant passages, Psalms 78:72, 1 Kings 3:14, where the Lord says to Solomon, “And thou, if thou shalt walk before me as David thy father walked,” “in the blamelessness of his heart,” Proverbs 20:7, “The righteous walks in his blamelessness, blessed are his sons after him.” The expression, “within my house,” i.e., within my four walls, denotes here, as in Psalms 101:7, the opposite of “the city of the Lord,” in Psalms 101:8;—here his private life, there his public conduct. The last clause rests upon the basis of the first.

On דבר בליעל , the wicked action, in Psalms 101:3, comp. at Psalms 41:8. The סטים is not an adjective, but a subst., [Note: Mich.: The name after such an infinitive is usually taken not subjectively but objectively.] comp. Proverbs 21:3, “to execute righteousness and judgment is more pleasant to the Lord than sacrifices.” The שטים occurs in Hosea 5:2, undoubtedly in the sense of departures [Note: Mich.: Superstitious victims fighting against the divine institution.] from God and from his commandments, comp: the שוט = שטה , Psalms 40:4, and the latter word, Numbers 5:12; Numbers 5:19. “It shall not cleave to me,” is from Deuteronomy 13:17, “And there shall cleave nought of the curse to thine hand, that the Lord turn from the fierceness of his anger, and show thee mercy.” This fundamental passage has given occasion to the expression.

On the first clause of Psalms 101:4, comp. Psalms 18:26. Proverbs 11:20 is made up of this clause, and of Psalms 101:2: “An abomination to the Lord are those of a perverted heart, but such as are blameless in their way are his delight,” comp. also Proverbs 17:20, “He who is of a perverted heart finds no good.” In the second clause, we cannot translate the wicked man, but only the wicked thing ( Psalms 34:16, Psalms 52:3), will I not know. For in the preceding context, the discourse had been only about sin, not about sinners; and in the other view, we pass over to the territory of the second strophe.

Verses 5-8

Ver. 5-8. How the king will act in his government: he will not endure slander and pride in his presence, will surround himself with upright servants, will banish deceit and lying from his presence (the care for good servants in the middle, the removal of the bad ones on both sides), he will practise discipline with strictness among the people of the Lord. Or: the picture of a pious house, Psalms 101:5-7, zeal in extirpating wickedness, Psalms 101:8.

Ver. 5. Him who slandereth his neighbour in secret I extirpate, him who has proud eyes, and is haughty, I endure not. Ver. 6. Mine eyes look after the faithful in the land, so that they dwell by me, he who walks in a blameless way shall serve me. Ver. 7. The man shall not dwell within my house who practises deceit, he who speaks lies shall not continue beside me. Ver. 8. Every morning I will extirpate all the wicked of the land, so that I root out from the city of the Lord all evil-doers.

On the first clause of Psalms 101:5, comp. Psalms 15:3. David had himself, in Saul’s time, experienced the ruinous consequences of slander prevailing in the court. The reading in the text is מְ?לוֹ?שׁ?ְ?נִ?י , the part. in Po. with the paragogic Jod; the reading in the margin מְ?לָ?שׁ?ְ?נִ?י , the part, in Pi. instead of מְ?לַ?שׁ?ּ?ְ?נִ?י , like תְ?רָ?צְ?חוּ? , Psalms 62:3. This peculiar expression was, in all probability, formed by David himself as a denom. from לשון . The verb occurs elsewhere only in Proverbs 30:10, in an exactly similar and apparently derived connection: “Thou shalt not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.” David makes use of an equally peculiar expression, in reference to slander, in Psalms 15:3. The very determined expression, “I will extirpate,” suits very well in David’s mouth. High eyes and a proud heart are also joined together in Proverbs 21:4. The latter of these terms is expressive of high-minded self-conceit, and not of desire (Ew.), as is manifest from Proverbs 28:25, where to the wide-hearted we find opposed the man who trusts in the Lord, and love of strife appears as the outward expression of wide-heartedness; comp. ch. Proverbs 15:18, where instead of the wide-hearted man we have the man of wrath. Pride is here very appropriately connected with slandering, because the latter springs from the desire to depreciate others. On the לא אוכל , I cannot, I am not a match for him, he is intolerable to me, comp. Isaiah 1:13. Berleb: “This does not only apply to rulers; but the church and every individual who would have part in Christ must be thus minded, and say with David: if anything had risen up in me against my neighbour, I will extirpate it, and I will not suffer in me anything proud or high-minded.”

That they dwell by me, Psalms 101:6, as my servants and counsellors. The expression, “he who walks in a blameless way,” alludes designedly to Psalms 101:2. The house of a king is then, for the first time, well ordered, when he not only walks blamelessly himself, but has servants who devote themselves to a similar line of conduct.

In like manner, “within my house,” in Psalms 101:2, alludes to Psalms 101:2, and forms along with it the proper opposite to “the city of the Lord,” in Psalms 101:8: virtuous conduct within the house on the part of the king and his servants, and in outward matter the strict administration of justice. On “he shall not be established,” comp. Proverbs 12:3, where sliding stands opposed to being established. Should liars succeed in stealing into the king’s house, they shall not, at least, obtain there a lasting abode.

On לבקרים , every morning, in Psalms 101:8, comp. Psalms 73:14. It points to the unwearied zeal of the king, renewed every morning in rooting out the wicked. The words have, in the first instance, the sense of an impressive exhortation to the strict practice of righteousness, a warning against that effeminate cruelty which, by sparing the wicked, destroys the good, and brings the whole commonwealth to ruin; [Note: Calvin: “By this expression the sloth of rulers is condemned, who, though they see the wicked rushing on boldly to sin, put off from day to day, either through fear or indulgence. Let kings and magistrates, therefore; remember, that they are armed with the sword, in order that they may execute the judgments of God vigorously, and in due season. . . . . We hence learn how pleasing to God is moderate severity, and, on the other hand, how obnoxious to him is that cruel kindness which lets the wicked act without restraint, as there is no greater inducement to sin than impunity.”] comp. the repetition of this warning in Jeremiah 21:12: “O house of David, thus saith the Lord, execute judgment in the morning.” And as the house of David reached its apex in Christ, the words have also the force of a prophecy. The second clause points to the basis on which the zeal displayed in recompensing the wicked rests: a king who has been placed over the people of the Lord has been laid under obligations of a peculiarly binding nature. The city of the Lord is Sion or Jerusalem, comp. Psalms 102:13, Psalms 46:4, Psalms 48:1, Psalms 48:8, Psalms 87:3. This was from the time the sanctuary was settled there, in a spiritual sense the abode of the whole of Israel (comp. at Psalms 28:4, Psalms 84:3), who, in reality, assembled there at the great festivals. Berleb.: “Do thou this even now, and make this promise to God,

Everything that is ungodly I will root out of my heart, as out of thy sanctuary, where I wish to worship thee alone.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 101". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-101.html.