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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 140

Introduction

Psalms 140

The Psalm is composed of five verses as the beginning, and five as the conclusion. It is twice divided by three and two. In the middle a strophe of three verses, the proper heart of the Psalm, distinguished by the use of the name Jehovah four times, which, with the occurrence of it thrice in the beginning and the conclusion, make altogether seven times.

Psalms 140:2-6 represents in two onsets after a short prayer the wickedness of the enemies; and the danger which threatened the Psalmist from them. The middle strophe, Psalms 140:7-9, presents the distress to God. The conclusion declares in two applications the firm hope of the Psalmist regarding the overthrow of the enemies, and the deliverance of the oppressed. The beginning and the conclusion, the distress and the deliverance, together make up the number ten.

The authorship of David is attested, not only by the superscription, but also by the dependance manifested throughout on the Psalms of David, and only on these, in connection with a vigorous originality, which does not admit of deriving this dependance from mere imitation; it rather arises from the striving of David to direct and bring all earlier brooks of consolation and support into one bed. That the Psalm stands in close connection with those around it, that it also refers to the future destinies of David’s seed, is clear from this, that it has in common with them the strong compression of speech, the predilection for rare words, and generally a more elevated tone, as also several peculiarities; and, besides, from the mention of war in Psalms 140:2, and time martial preparation in Psalms 140:7, which excludes a reference to merely private circumstances.

After having placed before the eyes of his struggling posterity the great promise, and therein presented them with the true anchor for the storm, Psalms 138, David had further in Psalms 139 conducted them, both for their admonition and their comfort, into the presence of the all-seeing and ever-present God. Now, he brings them into nearer contact with the prospective circumstances, sets before their eyes the frightful danger, which threatened from their enemies, and teaches them to view these as in the light of God.

Just as here David triumphs also in 2 Samuel 23:6-7, over the future enemies of his seed and kingdom foreseen in the Spirit, and besides this Psalm the following also rest upon the presupposition of heavy trials and dangers awaiting the kingly house and kingdom, viz., Psalms 18, and the two trilogies, Psalms 101-103 (comp. Introd. Psalms 102) and Psalms 108-110. Whoever is exercised with the cross as David was, and has had such experiences of the malice of men, he can never abandon himself, in regard to the future prospects of his race, to fantastical illusions of a perpetually untroubled prosperity, it will be a matter of satisfaction to him if only the Lord will bring all to a glorious issue at last.

The old opinion, that the Psalm refers to the relation between David and Saul, has a certain measure of truth for its foundation. David has here, as also in Psalms 109, borrowed the colours from this relation: in Saul, the most powerful and malignant enemy of the past, he beholds the type of the future enemies of his seed. We find, in particular also here a strong emphasis upon calumny and false accusations, which is characteristic of the Sauline Psalms. Besides, it is precisely from these Psalms that this Psalm more especially borrows.

Verses 1-5

To the Chief Musician, a Psalm of David.

Ver. 1. Redeem me, Lord, from wicked men, from the man of violent deeds defend me, Ver. 2. Who meditate evil in their heart, every day they gather themselves for wars. Ver. 3. They sharpen their tongues like serpents, the poison of adders is under their lips. Selah. Ver. 4. Preserve me, Lord, from the hands of the wicked, from the man of violent deeds defend me, who purpose to overthrow my goings. Ver. 5. The lofty conceal gins and cords for me, they spread out the net on the way, they lay traps for me.

The man of violent deeds, in Psalms 140:1, is an ideal person, as also in Psalms 18:48 “from the man of violent deed (in 2 Samuel 22:49, as here, the stronger plural, חמסים deliver thou me.” Still, the Psalmist there, and probably also here, has Saul especially in his eye, who was the type of all the future enemies of David, as he was also the most formidable and malignant of the past. In Psalms 52, for example, the character of Saul is drawn in a quite similar manner, to the character of the man of violent deeds here. On תנצרני , compare Psalms 12:8. גור in Psalms 140:2, in the sig. to gather themselves, as in Psalms 56:6, Psalms 59:3. The other explanations are to be rejected on the ground alone of these two parallel passages, which, in a Psalm like the present, are of special weight. The rendering: raise themselves up = גרה is, besides, not grammatically certain; and the explanation: they inhabit war, for they are constantly in it, is not natural, and also without analogies. מלחמות , accus., for wars, is used only of wars in the proper sense, not of altercations.

In the first member of Psalms 140:3, the parallel passage, Psalms 64:3: “who sharpen their tongue like a sword,” shows that we must not explain: as the serpent sharpens its tongue; but only: with like venom as the serpent, as, indeed, this point of comparison is expressly mentioned in the second member. Comp. regarding it Psalms 58:4. Peculiar here is only the עכשוב , which does not occur elsewhere. On the expression: under their lips, comp.: under his tongue, in Psalms 10:7.

The beginning of the second onset, in Psalms 140:4, is marked, not only by the preceding Selah, but also by its repeating the beginning of the first, with only some small deviations. On the last member, comp. Psalms 56:13.

The lofty, in Psalms 140:5, points back to Psalms 138:6. The image of the net and of the pit is particularly dear to David, comp. Psalms 31:4, Psalms 57:6, Psalms 64:5, Psalms 142:4. The heaping up of so many names here serves to bring together all that had formerly been said and complained of regarding hostile plots. David sees the past, with its horrors, reviving again in the future. But the past has also taught him, where the help is to be found.

Verses 6-8

Ver. 6. I said to the Lord: thou art my God; hear, Lord, the voice of my crying. Ver. 7. The Lord God is my salvation-strength; thou coverest my head in the day of armour. Ver. 8. Grant not, Lord, what the wicked desires; yield not to him his will, they will lift up themselves. Selah.

The first member of Psalms 140:6 is taken verbatim from Psalms 31:14. In the first member there, literally: I trust upon the Lord. On the second member comp. Psalms 5:1, Psalms 28:2, Psalms 28:6.

On the first member of Psalms 140:7, comp. Psalms 62:1, Psalms 62:11. My salvation-strength, upon which I, in myself impotent, ground all my hope of salvation. On the expression: thou coverest—the preterite marks the past stretching into the future—comp. Psalms 5:11, Ps 113:13. The head, because there the stroke is deadly, comp. 1 Samuel 28:2, and Psalms 60:7. The day of armour is the day of battle.

On the first member of Psalms 140:8, comp. Psalms 27:12: “Give me not over to the will of mine enemies.” On זממר comp. Psalms 31:14, Psalms 37:12. On the expression: they shall lift or elevate themselves, comp. Psalms 66:7, and, as regards the matter, Deuteronomy 32:27.

Verses 9-13

Ver. 9. The head of those that compass me about —the injury of their lips will cover them. Ver. 10. Burning coals will be thrown upon them, into the fire will he precipitate them, into water-floods, that they rise not up again. Ver. 11. The man of the tongue, will not prosper in the land, the man of wicked violence, he will pursue him, thrust upon thrust. Ver. 12. I know, the Lord maintains the right of the poor, the judgment of the needy. Ver. 13. Surely the righteous will praise thy name, the upright shall dwell before thy face.

In ver. 9, the head of the enemies, with its destructive covering, forms the contrast to the head of the Psalmist, with its covering of loving-kindness, in Psalms 140:7. To bring prominently out this contrast, the ראש is placed first in the nomin. absol. מסבי is plural of מֵ סַ ב , surrounding, which is determined here by the connection to be a hostile one, comp. 2 Kings 23:5; it is not the partic. in Hiph.; for this has a transitive meaning, comp. Jeremiah 21:4. The injury of their lips is the injury which they sought to inflict by their calumnious malice. Psalms 7:16 is exactly parallel. In the last word the reading of the text is יְ כַ סּ ֵ מוֹ? without iod. The van only serves the purpose of drawing attention to the marginal note, which gives the regular form, according to the rule of Hiller: Joth medianum in altera lectione quiescens post chirec aut tzere, in altera defectum, in symbolo vel in vau convertitur vel trausponitur, comp. on Psalms 74:11.—ימיטו , in Psalms 140:10, they bend, for, one bends, or throws down, comp. Psalms 55:3, occupies, as very often happens, the place of the passive, which is substituted on the margin. Coals, comp. Psalms 18:12-13. While, in the first member only, the punishment itself is represented, in the second the author of it, the Lord, is distinctly mentioned. Deep waters are suitably placed beside the fire, comp. Psalms 66:12, Isaiah 43:2. מהמרות , which occurs only here, is to be explained, by comp. with the Arabic, of such, and not of deep pits in the earth, with Luther and others.

The counterpart to the man of the tongue, in Psalms 140:11, is formed by the man of wicked violence, and by means of this counterpart, the tongue is more nearly characterized as malignant. On this account alone רע must not, in respect to the accents, be separated from חמס . On the expression: he will not prosper, comp, Psalms 101:7, Psalms 102:28. The subject in יצודנו is the Lord, as also יפלם in Psalms 140:10, comp. Psalms 35:6.

On Psalms 140:12 comp. Psalms 9:4. Calvin: “All now think me miserable, because, while exposed to the pleasure of wicked men, I am not immediately rescued by the hand of God. I do not, however, abandon myself to despair; because I know it to be the part of God to undertake the cause of the poor.”

On the expression: with thy face, in Psalms 140:13, comp. Psalms 16:11. Psalms 61:7.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 140". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-140.html.