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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 28

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 28

The Psalmist first sends forth the petition that he may be heard in his prayer, remarking, that unless this be done, he is given over to irremediable destruction. This forms the introduction ( Psalms 28:1). After repeating this petition at the beginning of the first division, he unfolds his request, viz. that God would not entangle him in that destruction which is the portion of the wicked, and would inflict upon these, specially his enemies, the punishment which they deserve, Psalms 28:2-5. He obtains assurance of being heard, and praises the Lord as the Saviour of His anointed one and of His people, Psalms 28:6-8. The conclusion, Psalms 28:9, contains the prayer that the Lord would reveal Himself in all future time, as He had done on the present occasion, as the Saviour of His people.

That Psalms 28:1 is to be considered as the introduction, and Psalms 28:9, which corresponds to it, as the conclusion, is obvious, not only from the contents, but also from the circumstance that the assurance of being heard ( Psalms 28:6), which verbally is appended to the prayer, does not belong to the first but to the second verse. The main division of the Psalm thus consists of seven verses. This number is again divided, as it frequently is, into a four and a three. The strophe of confidence points to the Mosaic blessing, not only by the three verses, but also by the threefold repetition of the word Jehovah. Any further remarks on the formal arrangement we shall make in the introduction to Psalms 29, which, along with the one now before us, makes up one pair. We shall there find the arrangement, 1. 7. 1., proposed here, confirmed; and, at the same time, we shall see why Jehovah occurs here, in all, five times.

The situation is that of one who is in great danger, and is utterly lost unless the Lord help ( Psalms 28:1); who prays earnestly for deliverance ( Psalms 28:2-6); and is threatened with destruction ( Psalms 28:3).

The person who speaks is a righteous man ( Psalms 28:3), the Lord’s anointed ( Psalms 28:8); and whose cause also is identical with that of the people ( Psalms 28:8-9). It is here that lies the difference between this Psalm and Psalms 26. The situation and the fundamental thought in both are—that God cannot bind up together in similarity of outward fate those who inwardly are different, and that the lot of the. wicked cannot be the same as that of the righteous. There, it is the oppressed righteous man in general that speaks: here, it is specially the oppressed righteous King.

The contents of the Psalm throughout apply very well to David during the time of Absalom’s rebellion, when, to all appearance, the design of God was that the lots of the righteous and the wicked should be exchanged; the people were brought into danger on account of the king; and the enemies especially were those who “spoke peace to their neighbours, while mischief was in their hearts.” But, in the absence of all special historical circumstances, it is in the highest degree probable, that the design of David, in composing the Psalm, was to draw out a form of prayer, grounded on his own experience at this time, for the use of his successors who should walk in the footsteps of his righteousness: compare Psalms 18:50. If this be the case, it is manifest, at the same time, that the Psalm in reality possesses a didactic and hortatory character:—the righteous king, in a time of severe trouble, desires to set before his eyes the righteous judgment of God, which will not permit the righteous to be involved in the lot of the wicked, nor the wicked to go unpunished; to be calm and composed in dependence on this; and to wait with confident expectation for the help of God. This didactic tendency is particularly obvious in the ( Psalms 28:5) 5th verse, where the form of address to God is abandoned.

The assertion of Ewald and Hitzig, that the portion from the ( Psalms 28:6) 6th to the ( Psalms 28:9) 9th verse was first written after the danger had gone past, is based on the false idea, that the Psalm has an individual character; proceeds from mistaking the nature of the transitions in the Psalm; and overlooks the truth, that faith is the substance—the ὑ?πό?στασις—of things hoped for, Hebrews 11:1.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Unto thee, O Lord, do I cry, my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like those who go down to hell. The expression, “my rock,” points to the immutability, the certainty, and the inviolable faithfulness of God: compare Psalms 18:1, Psalms 18:3, Psalms 19:14, p. 342. This address contains in it the ground of the prayer, “be not silent.” The faithful God, who chastises His people, but does not give them over to death, cannot be silent when circumstances are such, that it may with truth be said, that to be silent is the same as to bring destruction. The “be not silent from me” needs nothing to be supplied. The idea of “removing to a distance from” is clearly involved in that of “silence;” and, on the other hand, every answer implies the idea of an approach and a nearness of God. “Lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like,” etc.; literally, “lest Thou be silent from me, and I become like,” etc., equivalent to, “lest, in the great danger to which I am now exposed, I utterly perish.” Calvin: nullus sum, si a me discesseris; nisi tu unus succurras, perii. בור , a pit, is used in the sense of the grave, Isaiah 14:19; of Sheol, Isaiah 14:15 and Psalms 30:3. We are manifestly to take it always in this sense in the common phrase יורדי בור . For this phrase designates everywhere “the dead.” But as we must here translate, “those who go down to the pit,” not, “those who have gone down,” we must think of the long journey to Sheol, and not of the short journey to the grave.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Hear the voice of my supplication when I cry to Thee, when I lift my hands to Thy holy oracle. The lifting of the hands was the usual attitude of prayer, not only among the Israelites,—comp. Exodus 9:29, Exodus 17:11-12; 1 Kings 8:54; Psalms 63:4; Lamentations 3:41; 1 Timothy 2:8,—but also among the heathen: comp., the passages in Iken, Dissert. i. p. 220. The lifting up of the hands symbolized the lifting up of the heart. That the Psalmist lifted up his hands,—not to heaven, but to the most holy place, where was the ark of the covenant (comp. 1 Kings 6:19), is to be understood in the same sense in which we call upon God in Christ. God had, in loving condescension to the weakness of His people, who were unable to rise to that which is unseen, except through the medium of something visible, taken, as it were, a form in the midst of them, in anticipation of the incarnation of His Son, by which this want, which lies deep in the nature of man, was satisfied in a manner infinitely more real: compare the Beitr. P. iii. p. 629, and at Psalms 26:8. That by דביר is meant the most holy place in the tabernacle and temple, admits of no doubt. The derivation, however, and the import of the word, may be disputed. According to the ancient expositors, the most holy place was so termed, because it was from it that God returned answers to those who consulted Him: Aquila and Symmachus, χπρματιστή?ριον ; Jerome, λαλητή?ριον . Modern expositors again, after the example of Simon and Iken, Diss. i. p. 214, give the word the sense of “the back part:” compare particularly Gesenius’s Thes. It appears, however, that this exposition owes its introduction merely to the ground which has been assigned for considering the primary sense of כפרת to be “a covering,”—viz. awe for what is deep. Etymologically, there can be no objection to the old exposition. דביר is, properly, “what is said,” and secondarily, “the place where it is said;” just as אסיף is, properly, “what is gathered,” and then, “the season when the fruits are gathered.” The appellation given to this part—the place where God speaks to His people, or converses with them—stands in most beautiful harmony with the appellation given to the whole, אחל מועד , the tabernacle of meeting, where God meets with His people. The most holy place is, as it were, the audience-chamber. But the proper basis of this exposition, which its opponents pass over altogether in silence, is given in the passages, Numbers 7:89, “And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with Him, then he heard the voice of one speaking with him from off the mercy-seat, that was upon the ark of testimony,” and Exodus 25:22. Finally, the signification given by the old expositors answers remarkably well to the passage before us:—this passage alone is sufficient to refute the objection of Iken, that דביר is never used in a connection in which there is any reference to a speaking on the part of God. The Psalmist had prayed that God would not be silent to him—that He would hear his supplication. What, in these circumstances, could be more natural, than that he should stretch out his hands to the place whence God speaks with His people, and that he should, with full confidence, look for an answer from thence to his cry for help?

Verse 3

Ver. 3. Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace to their neighbours, and have mischief in their hearts. There are marks of quotation to be supplied at the beginning of this verse. There are here given the contents of the prayer which God has been called upon in the preceding verses to hear: “that God would not deliver the Psalmist His servant over to destruction, inasmuch as, according to His own word, that is the portion only of the wicked.” משךְ? is, “to draw,” “to draw away,” “to carry off:” comp. Job 24:22; Ezekiel 32:20. In the parallel passage, Psalms 26:9, the expression used is אל תאסף . The description of the character of the wicked, with whom the Psalmist desires that he might not be united in community of lot, is borrowed from that of his enemies. “David,” says Venema, “tacitly transfers these crimes to his enemies, whose real character was what is here described.” The description corresponds rather to domestic villains, who endeavour by the arts of dissimulation to gain their object, such as Absalom and his party, than to public enemies, whose weapons are those of open violence. The wicked are described as men who conduct themselves as they ought to do only as to their lips, but are hostile in their intentions and their deeds towards him, who, both by the special appointment of God and by the laws of nature, is their neighbour, united to them by that common bond by which all the members of the Church of God are united to each other, or even, in addition to this, by the ties of tenderest affection. Between רע and רעה there is a significant paronomasia.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Give them according to their conduct, and according to the wickedness of their actions: give them according to the work of their hands; make good to them their portion. This is the second petition of the Psalmist. The first was, “that the Lord would not punish him with the wicked;” the second, which is here, is, “that He would not let the wicked go unpunished.” Them, that is, the wicked and evil-doers, particularly my enemies. The objection which has been taken against this prayer of the Psalmist, and so many others of a similar kind, is most assuredly an ungrounded one, inasmuch as the Psalmist prays that God would do nothing more than what He necessarily must do according to His own nature. “He practises the jus talionis according to His own righteousness. Justice reverberates: the unrighteous blow which I aim at another recoils, according to the moral government of the world, back upon myself.” Compare Matthew 7:2. On גמול compare at Psalms 7:4.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Because they regard not the operation of the Lord, nor the work of His hand, therefore shall He destroy them and not build them. The Psalmist recalls to his recollection the objective ground of his petitions, on which his confidence of being heard depends: “It is not without thought that I have directed this prayer to God; for, inasmuch as they regard not, etc., the Lord will destroy them and not build them up. I pray thus for that only, which the Lord will do and must do.” The operation of the Lord, and the work of His hands, is the exercise of His righteous judgments against the ungodly. Compare Psalms 92:5; Isaiah 5:12. Not to regard these, is the sure way to become ourselves involved in these judgments. For he who does not fear the judgment of God, gives himself over to iniquity. That the not regarding the operation of the Lord comes here into notice, in so far as it produces wickedness, is obvious from the manifest reference to the preceding verse: “The operation of the Lord, and the work of His hands,” corresponds to “ their conduct, and the work of their hands.” The idea conveyed consequently is, “because they do not regard the judgment of the Lord, and therefore give themselves over, without fear, to wickedness.” Several interpreters give, “may He destroy them.” But with the optative form, we can see no reason why the address to God should have been given up. We cannot substitute for “not to build,” “not to build up again.” Nothing is more common than to find what had been expressed positively, repeated, for the sake of strengthening the impression, in a negative form.

Prayer, according to the will of God, is followed now in natural order by confidence. The Psalmist obtains from the holy place the answer for which he had prayed, and makes this known in joyful expressions.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Blessed be the Lord, because He hath, heard the voice of my supplications. The words of the second verse are here designedly repeated, only the imperative is changed into the Preterite. The Lord be thanked, exclaims the Psalmist joyfully, I now possess what I have prayed for.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I have been helped: therefore my heart rejoices; and with my song I will praise Him. The sense is: “The Lord is my Saviour: He has manifested Himself as such by the help which He has granted me: therefore,” etc. משירי is properly, “out of my song;” in so far as the song is the fountain of the praise that goes out from it. אחודנו is the full poetic form, with the characteristic He of the Hiphil retained.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. The Lord is their strength, and He is the saving stronghold of His anointed one. There follows here the song spoken of in the preceding verse, so that we are to read this verse as if with marks of quotation. The reason why we have “their,” without any noun going before to which it might refer, obviously is, that the king in the preceding verses had prayed for himself, not so much as an individual, but as a king, and as thus one with his people. Compare Psalms 28:9. The Psalmist so sunk his personality in his official position, and so identified himself with his people, that he wrote simpliciter למו instead of לי . When the Psalmist, in the second clause, applies to himself the title of “the anointed of the Lord” (compare Psalms 50), he must thereby be understood as expressly asserting, that the help which had been vouchsafed to him as king was therefore imparted in him to the people of God. On the plu. ישועות , compare at Psalms 18:50.

In the conclusion, the Psalmist prays that the Lord would do eternally that which He had now done.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. Help Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, and feed them, and lift them up for ever. On the first clause, compare the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 9:29: “They are Thy people and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest out by Thy mighty power and Thine outstretched arm.” On “feed them,” compare Psalms 23:1. On “lift them up,” 2 Samuel 5:12. Several expositors render “carry them,” and refer to Isaiah 40:11. But נשא never signifies in Pi. “to carry,” not even in Isaiah 63:9, but always “to lift up,” “to lift on high,” “to prop up.”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 28". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-28.html.
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