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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 7

Psalms 7

The Psalmist prays the Lord for help against his cruel and blood-thirsty enemies, Psalms 7:1-2. He protests that he had given no occasion to their hatred, Psalms 7:3-5. In the confidence of this blamelessness, he calls upon the Lord for assistance, and for judgment between him and his enemies, Psalms 7:6-9. God’s righteousness affords him hope that this decision and the overthrow of his enemies is near, Psalms 7:10-13; of the fulfilment of which he has an inward assurance, so that he is able to conclude with gratitude for granted deliverance, Psalms 7:14-17.

Psalms 7:1-5 constitute as it were the porch, and the entrance into three parts of equal compass, three strophes, each of four verses. First is the strophe of prayer. The prayer here has a much fuller swell, and is far more earnest and important in character, than the one uttered in the introduction, for the reason that, according to the basis laid down in Psalms 7:3-5, it is upheld by God’s righteousness, which never leaves those to supplicate in vain, who are justified in appealing to it. Then comes the strophe of hope, which, as the prayer was grounded upon God’s righteousness, in its turn grows out of a lively conviction of the same. Finally, the strophe of confidence, resting on the inwardly received assurance of being heard, and celebrating the deliverance as one already obtained. It is distinguished from the second strophe by the Behold with which it begins, and also by the preterites in Psalms 7:14 and Psalms 7:17. The internal character of the two first strophes, as those which contain only what is preliminary, is expressed in the proportion of their length to the length of those which form the proper building of the Psalm. They are as it were the steps by which one ascends to it. This becomes still more evident, if we bring the superscription into the body of the Psalm, which we should be justified in doing by its peculiar character—its obviously poetical construction. Reckoning that as Psalms 7:1, the scheme would be, 1. 2. 3. 4. 4. 4. Like the building itself, the porch then falls into three parts—the occasion and subject, a preliminary prayer, the removal of the hindrance to its fulfilment. The proper building (twelve verses) measures double the compass of the porch (six verses).

For understanding more exactly the position in which David was then placed, we must examine the superscription. In this על דברי is commonly taken in the sense of, on account of, in reference to. But this exposition is manifestly false; the correct one being, on account of the words, occasioned by the calumnies. This is clear for a philological reason alone. The phrase is always על־דבר , and never, על־דברי , when it means simply on account of. The passages adduced by Gesenius in support of the signification, on account of, are, besides this, Deuteronomy 4:21; Jeremiah 14:1, Jeremiah 7:22; but they do not bear examination; they rather imply that the דברים in them all signifies speeches or words. In Deuteronomy 4:21, “The Lord was angry with me,” על דברִ כם , “for your words,” is to be compared with Numbers 20:3-5, where the talk of the people is recorded, by which the faith of Moses was overcome. Jeremiah 14:1 is to be rendered, “The word of the Lord came to Jeremias, on account of the words of the dearth.” The words of the dearth, the prayer which Jeremias sent forth on account of the dearth, and to which the word of the Lord refers, follow in Jeremiah 14:2-9; the word of the Lord does not come till Jeremiah 14:10. If we expound, “on account of (or concerning) the dearth,” then the superscription—which, 1. announces words of the dearth, and, 2. the answer of the Lord to these words— does not seem appropriate. Hence Hitzig, in his hasty manner, has pronounced it spurious. In Jeremiah 7:22, we are, finally, to expound, “I have not commanded them upon words of burnt-offering or sacrifice.” Words of, sacrifice are words which respect sacrifice, as much as: “I have laid upon them no commands,” resting upon, or consisting in words regarding sacrifice. The correctness of this exposition is rendered clear by the contrast in Jeremiah 7:23, “But this word did I command them;” for the דבר must necessarily be taken in the preceding verse in the same sense that it bears here. The LXX. also translate the words before us, ὑ?πὲτῶλόγων Χουσί?. But what especially decides in favour of our rendering is, that David, Psalms 7:3-5, defends himself, with the strongest protestations, against calumnies. From this defence we see also wherein the accusation consisted. He had been charged with having sought the life of Saul, and, in general, recompensed good with evil.

It is important now to determine who Cush the Benjamite is, whose calumnious charges against David gave occasion to the inditing of this Psalm. According to the supposition now generally current, there was an individual Benjamite of the name of Cush, who, by his calumnies, stirred up afresh Saul’s hatred against David, and with such effect that David found himself exposed to constant danger of death. Now, that such calumniators and go-betweens were busy in the matter of Saul and David, we learn from 1 Samuel 24:9, where David says to Saul, “Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” and in 1 Samuel 26:19, “But if the children of men stirred thee up against me,” etc. It cannot but appear remarkable, however, that no Cush is mentioned in the comparatively full historical details of this period, if the part which he played was of such importance as to have led David to compose this Psalm, and immortalize his name in the superscription of it,—which must have proceeded from David himself, from its appearing to form a necessary member of the Psalm, from its internal character, and from the undeniable fact that Habakkuk refers to it, in a way which implies that it was even then reckoned an integral part of the Psalm. It must further appear extraordinary that the words of Cush, according to Psalms 7:3-5, do not refer to any peculiar fiction, to any new calumny by which he sought to rekindle the fire of Saul’s anger (the words of Cush appear as the efficient cause of the persecutions); but rather allege, quite in a general way, that David was laying wait for Saul,—an allegation which, from the very first, was in the mouth of Saul; 1 Samuel 22:7; 1 Samuel 22:13. One does not rightly understand how an individual of the name of Cush could put David into such a commotion, by merely adding his own to the many slanderous tongues which uttered this calumny, with the view of ingratiating themselves into the favour of their master—why he should have selected him in particular from the mass of such persons—why he should not rather have kept to the words of Saul himself. Others, again, consider the name Cush as symbolical, and suppose David to have applied the epithet to his enemy on account of his dark malice, which was too inveterate to admit, of a change for the better. So almost all the Jewish expositors, with the exception of Abenezra, who adopted the opinion now generally received; so also Luther, who translates, “on account of the words of the Moor,” and remarks, “He calls him Moor, because of his shameless manners, as one incapable of anything, good or righteous. Just as we commonly call a lying and wicked fellow black. Hence the language of the poet: He is black, O Roman, be thou ware of him. As we also call him fair, who deals with people in an honest and upright manner,—who has a heart that is free of envy. Therefore it is said, David has willingly left out his proper name, and given him a new name in accordance with his perverse heart and ways.” This rendering derives support from two passages in the prophets: Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard, his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” And Amos 9:7, “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord;” Chr. Ben. Michaelis: “Who change not the skin, as ye change not your ways.” Besides, this view is exceedingly favoured by the character of the Psalms of David, in which a great predilection for the enigmatical may be discerned; comp.. for example, Psalms 9, Psalms 22, Psalms 40, where precisely similar enigmatical designations of the subject-matter are to be found, and of such a nature as to show that one can only ascribe to a predilection for the enigmatical, David’s here not calling his adversary by his proper name, and that the superscriptions, as well as the body of the Psalms, are poetical: a fact which has been too often overlooked. Now, those who follow this mode of explanation are again divided in regard to the person whom David had in view. The Jewish expositors all agree upon Saul; but Luther and others upon Shimei, whose slanders are given in 2 Samuel 16:11. The latter supposition is, for various reasons, to be rejected, of which we shall adduce only this one as sufficient, that David could not pray during the rebellion of Absalom, “Save me from all my persecutors,” as he does in Psalms 7:1. He had then to do, not with persecutors, but with revolters. A special reason may be assigned in support of the reference to Saul, which probably led the Psalmist to the choice of a symbolical designation for his enemy. Saul was the son of Kish, and David plays upon this, name of his father. Since it is a mere play on words, it is no objection that Kish is written with a koph; and the less so, as the two letters, so like in sound, are not rarely interchanged. See Gesen. on כ .

From the preceding investigation, we have gathered the result, that this Psalm belongs to the period of Saul’s persecution. The more exact time within this period may be in some measure learned from Psalms 7:4. There, allusion is made to the fact of David’s not having employed the opportunity presented for killing his persecutor. According to the history, such an opportunity was presented to David twice; 1 Samuel 24, 1 Samuel 26. Here it can only be the earlier occasion that is meant. For, after the second, David immediately passed into the land of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 27:4: “And it was told Saul, that David was fled to Gath; and he sought no more again for him.” On the present occasion, however, David is still involved in the most pressing danger. The fact, gathered from our Psalm, that David had Saul once already in his power before the close of his persecutions, is of importance in estimating the relation of 1 Samuel 24 to 1 Samuel 26. Hitzig’s view, which maintains that only one circumstance of the kind existed as the foundation of the two narratives, and throws away the one in (1 Samuel 24) ch. 24 as too marvellous, is thereby proved to be unfounded.

Luther remarks: “Although he composed this Psalm after the assault, that it might be seen how he now, taught by the end and issue of the assault, holds out a consolation to those who are involved in tribulation, and God’s anger to those who vex and persecute pious men, furnishing instruction to others by his own and his enemies’ danger and hurt; yet it is still to be believed that, in the midst of this transaction, he had the very thoughts which he afterwards expressed in this Psalm. For he never despaired regarding God; and he therefore knew well that it would turn out so, that such misfortune would befall his adversaries and opponents.” This view will be admitted, when it is seen that, as in all the Psalms which, whilst in the first instance originating in a subjective experience, yet have at the same time a general reference, so this Psalm did not, at some later period, acquire this general reference, but from the first was designed to possess it. Luther, however, goes into the other extreme, by altogether doing away with the significance of the Psalm, for, the Psalmist himself. No reason exists for the supposition that David composed the Psalm only after the close of Saul’s persecutions, and transferred himself to that period in thought simply to benefit the Church; and yet that supposition, as the more remote one, would require clear grounds to legitimize it.

De Wette is inclined to deny the Davidic authorship of this Psalm, and its personal character, and to put it amongst the large class of plaintive Psalms. But against this argues, 1. The superscription, the originality of which is supported by the reasons already adduced. 2. The unquestionably very distinct reference to David’s connection with Saul, in Psalms 7:4, not to speak of the by no means unimportant general agreement in the position,—in both cases alike, a malicious persecutor hunting after the life of a blameless man, under the pretext that he was brooding ill against him. 3. The correspondence of many expressions here, with those of David as reported in the historical accounts of the period—comp., for example, Psalms 7:1, “Save me from all my persecutors,” with 1 Samuel 24:14, “After whom is the king of Israel come out? After whom dost thou pursue? 1 Samuel 26:20, “As when one doth hunt a partridge upon the mountains.” Psalms 7:3: “O Lord, my God, if I have done this, if there be iniquity in my hands,” with 1 Samuel 24:11, where David protests that there was “neither evil nor transgression in his hand.” Psalms 7:8 Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity;” and Psalms 7:11, “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry every day,” with 1 Samuel 24:12, “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee,” and Psalms 7:15, “The Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and judge me out of thine hand.” Psalms 7:16: “His mischief shall return upon his own head,” with 1 Samuel 25:39, where David, on hearing the report of Nabal’s death, said, “The Lord hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head.” All these corresponding expressions of David belong exactly to the point of time to which the composition of this Psalm must be referred.

A twofold didactic element particularly discovers itself in the Psalm. It teaches, 1. That to be able to stretch forth pure hands to God, is an indispensable condition of Divine help under the oppression of enemies; and, 2. That where this condition exists, the Divine righteousness affords undoubted certainty of deliverance.

Superscrip. Erring, of David, which he sung to the Lord, because of the words of the Moor, of Benjamin. It only remains for us here to explain the meaning of שגיון . So much is certain that we are not warranted, when the root שגה is of such common occurrence in Hebrew, to derive our explanation from a doubtful comparison with the cognate dialects. At the outset, therefore, are to be rejected the current renderings from the Syriac by carmen, and from the Arabic by mourning song. The latter reference accords with the subject neither of our Psalm, nor of Habakkuk 3, where the same word is found in the superscription, but nowhere else. For lamentation and pain are in both places not the predominating ideas. The general signification, poem, is not at all admissible in Habakkuk. Neither can we with propriety take the word, with the greater part of those who rightly go back to Hebrew usage, as a musical designation. For it would then be very difficult to explain how it should occur only in the superscription of this one Psalm. שגה always signifies to err, in a physical or moral sense; but never of itself has the meaning, which Clauss improperly supposes to be the radical one, to be drunk. Derived from this, then (comp. on the form, Ewald, p. 246), it would signify erring, error. In accordance with the concise style of the superscriptions, one might very well designate a Psalm thus, which had respect to the errors and transgressions Of the wicked; the more so, as it is further defined by the following שר , under which lies שיר , “erring which sang,” q. d. “a song upon the erring, which sang.” An explanation of the concise expression is to be found in that of Habakkuk, which alludes to the one before us. He describes his song as one upon Shiggionot h,—a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet “ on the errings, or transgressions.” The whole of that chapter is occupied with the transgressions of the enemy. Against these the people of God seek help, and express their confidence of receiving it. Thus the gist of the whole Psalm is indicated by these words. It is also worthy of remark, that the verb שגה occurs in the address of Saul to David, in 1 Samuel 26:21, “Behold, I have played the fool and erred exceedingly,” מאיד ואשגה הרבה—a passage which, at the same time, confutes those who would maintain that שגיון is too mild a word for designating such transgressions as those of Saul against David; comp. also Psalms 119:21, Psalms 118. So that we are here also confirmed in supposing that the dark and difficult words of the superscriptions refer generally to the subject, and that we obtain the key for understanding them whenever we have become acquainted with this. Luther understood the word as referring to the subject, but erred in giving it the sense of “innocence:”

Verse 1

Ver. 1. O Lord, my God, in Thee do I put my trust; save me from all my persecutors, and deliver me. Calvin: “This is the true proof of our faith, that we cease not, even in our greatest distress, to trust in God. From this also we conclude, that the door is shut against our prayers, if we cannot open it with the key of confidence. Nor is it a superfluous thing for him to name the Lord his God; but he sets this up as a bank against the waves of temptation, that they might not overflow his faith.” Berleb. Bible: “If we honour God, and seek no support besides Him to which we would commit ourselves, He shows us, and gives us to experience, that we also need no other, but that He will be to us quite sufficient.” The words, from all mine enemies, show the greatness of the distress and danger, the necessity of God’s agency to deliver.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Lest he tear my soul, like a lion, rending in pieces, while there is none to deliver. In the preceding verse mention was made of many persecutors, while in this David speaks only of one. Expositors have, for the most part, united the two, by understanding under the many, those who calumniated David to Saul, and whom the latter made use of for the purpose of persecuting David; but under the one enemy, Saul, who was the originator of the whole persecution, and who was, properly, the one enemy of David, because all the others only acted under his commission. As we find the same thing, however, where such an explanation cannot be adopted, it is much better to explain the singular on the principle of personification. The multitude of his enemies David represents as one person, as that of the ungodly and evil-doer. This person, though primarily ideal, was indeed represented here by Saul. He speaks of his soul, because it concerned his life. The similitude of the lion, who cruelly rends in pieces a helpless sheep, is intended to make God, the only and ever present deliverer, the more inclined to, help. פרק stands here in its common signification, to tear pieces.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. Since God cannot be called on, without exciting His anger, to vindicate an unrighteous cause, David therefore protests his innocence before he proceeds with his prayer. The apodosis follows in Psalms 7:5. O Lord, my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands. Most expositors interpret the word this, “that which my enemies reproach me with, and on account of which I am persecuted by Saul.” Ven.: “hoc quod mihi impingitur, et in vulgus notum est.” Others understand by it the crime, the mention of which immediately follows. Substantially, both are the same; for the publicly proclaimed accusation against David, is that which is spoken of in the following verse. But the first mode of explanation is the more natural one. The crime is attributed to the hands, because they serve as instruments for its execution, and are consequently polluted. So also purity of hands is not rarely taken for innocence.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. If I have rendered evil to him that was at peace with me, or spoiled him that without cause was mine enemy. שלמי , is rendered by most expositors, him that is at peace with me, that is my friend. Luther: “Him who lived with me so, peacefully.” Psalms 41:10. According to this exposition, David first clears himself of the crime of neglected gratitude and friendship, as Saul’s retainers characterized the attempt slanderously attributed to him; then of revenge toward one who had causelessly become his enemy, which Saul in reality had. Or, perhaps David divides the wrong which he might have done, and which would have rendered him unworthy of Divine help, into two parts: 1. “Wrong toward Saul, during the time that David was in good understanding with him,—to which the reproaches of Saul particularly referred: he grounded his persecution on the belief that David laid snares for him. 2. A revengeful behaviour toward him during the time of his unrighteous persecution. It is otherwise understood, however, by the older translators,—in particular, by the LXX., Vulg., Syr., which take the word as equivalent to משלמי , “one who recompenses me;” comp. Psalms 38:21, Psalms 35:12. The clause is then perfectly parallel to the following one: If I have requited him who has done evil to me, and spoiled him who without cause was mine enemy. Against this explanation may be urged that שלם never has the signification of recompensing in Kal, but always in Piel,—a consideration which is certainly somewhat obviated by the fact, that the verb also, in the sense of being at peace, in friendship with, which appears to be borrowed from שלום , does not elsewhere occur. Besides, in the case of David, with respect to Saul, it cannot be appropriate to speak of recompense. But there is a decisive reason against the interpretation, in the circumstance, that the sense of retaliating, which it ascribes to גמל , does not belong to this verb. If we can only expound it by render, then the רע must of necessity belong to גמלתי , and the interpretation in question falls to the ground of itself. Hitzig does indeed translate: “If I have done evil to him, who requites me for it.” But it is obviously harsh to suppose that the suff. is to be supplied. [Note: גמל signifies in Arab., Pulcher tam corpore, quam moribus, elegans, decorus fuit; in the 2d conj., bonum pulchrumque et bene atque eleganter fecit; in the 8d, pulchre, benigneque et humaniter egit, therefore, to be beautiful, to make and act beautifully, and do beautifully. The many derivatives are easily traced back in the Arab. to the original meaning. In Heb. also, the verb first signified to be good, beautiful; in which sense it occurs Isaiah 18:5: בסר גמל omphases maturescentes, ripening clusters; and from it is גָ מָ ל , camel, derived, as the Arabic shows, camelus, sc., pleniore adultus robore. Then to make good, beautiful; so Numbers 17:8, “And it yielded (made good) almonds,” brought them to ripeness. Hither also belongs גמל as used of the weaning of children, which is considered as a transplanting of them into a more perfect state; and on this account, even in patriarchal times, the weaning day was spent festively. Genesis 21:8: “And Abraham made a great feast the day that Isaac was weaned,”—a consideration which readily explains how, on that particular day, the mockery of the envious Ishmael should have broken out so wantonly. Finally, to show one’s self good or beautiful, to act so, to give or bestow. This last signification is to be retained, even where the word is used of evil; for in such cases, there is always an unexpressed contrast to some good which should have been given. Particularly deserving of notice on this score is 1 Samuel 24:17, where Saul says to David, “Thou hast rewarded (done) me good, and I have done thee evil,” for, I, who should likewise have done thee good, have, instead, extended to thee evil. Comp. also Genesis 1:15; Genesis 1:17; 2 Chronicles 20:11; Isaiah 9. Gousset was on the right track, when he remarked; “I confess, that when used in a bad sense, a noun such as רעה , etc., is often added, whence I gather that, in its radical meaning, the word was not of ambiguous import, but rather referred to what was good. With על it is used only of good, not of evil, excepting in 2 Chronicles 20:11, but applied ironically, and so is reduced to a good, since it is only in a figure that the evil is done. Also, in Joel 4:4, there is the same sort of irony, as appears from the subjoined antithesis.” He has not, however, pursued his line of thought to its proper issue, and it has wholly escaped modern lexicographers.] חלץ “to strip,” specially of the spoiling of a dead enemy, 2 Samuel 2:21; Judges 14:19. David alludes here to his conduct toward Saul, as the best refutation of the calumnies circulated against him. As a proof that it was in his power to have killed him and carried off his armour, he cut off the skirt of his garment. Otherwise, David makes asseveration of his innocence in quite a general manner, although he has in view his behaviour toward Saul, intending specially to refute the calumny uttered in regard to him. He thus shows that his conduct towards Saul was not something peculiar, but was rooted in his whole disposition and mode of action. “If I ever have requited evil with evil, as you reproach me with doing, in reference to Saul; and that the more wrongfully, inasmuch as towards him in particular, I showed quite a different spirit,” etc. In reference to the spirit here displayed, Calvin says: “If any one not merely does not repay the injury that has been received, but also strives to overcome the evil with good, he gives a solid proof of Divine goodness, and shows himself to be one of God’s children; for it is only from the spirit of sonship that such a gentleness proceeds.” Luther: “Let this also be marked, that David here manifests an evangelical degree of righteousness. For, to recompense evil with evil, the flesh and old Adam think to be right and proper. But it was forbidden even in the law of Moses, except as inflicted by the magistrate; consequently, not of one’s own malice and authority.” This evangelical degree of righteousness De Wette will not accord to the Old Testament. It appears to him inconceivable that it should be here marked as a serious crime, to recompense evil with evil. He would therefore take the sense to be “Did I wrong him, who now deals toward me as an enemy? No, he is an enemy without cause.” But what purpose is served by banishing from the Psalm “the evangelical degree of righteousness,” since it cannot be banished from the history? Saul himself accords to the Psalmist what De Wette would withhold from him! In 1 Samuel 24:19, he says to him, “For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? Wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.” But that rendering of De Wette proceeds upon an ungrammatical explanation of חלץ by doing wrong. If it can only signify to strip, the subject in hand cannot be a wrong which preceded the persecution. To strip, to spoil, can only be used of a vanquished enemy; and when he is vanquished, the persecution ceases as a matter of course.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Apodosis: If I have done this, then let the enemy persecute my soul and take it, and tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. In Psalms 7:1 and Psalms 7:2 the Psalmist had prayed for the deliverance of his life from all his persecutors. Here he solemnly offers his life to destruction, nay, expressly invokes it, and renounces all claim to Divine deliverance, if the soul, which the enemy sought to take from him, were one laden with guilt. The most inward consciousness of innocence, and the deepest horror of guilt, are here at the same time manifested. The declaration has a high paraenetic meaning. It teaches the oppressed more forcibly than any direct exhortation, that they can only share in the help of God so far as they keep themselves free from guilt; it demands of them, first of all, to commune with themselves, to investigate their walk before God, inasmuch as the righteous God can undertake nothing but a righteous cause. The form יִ רַ דּ ֹ ף has been very differently explained. The most probable view is the following: In the text stood originally the Fut. in Piel, יְ רַ דּ ֵ ף . The Masorites wished to read for this the Fut. in Kal, יִ רַ דּ ף , because the Kal, in the sense of persecuting, is much more common than the Piel; which, however, as being the intensive-form (Ewald, p. 1.95), is the most suitable here, where the most violent, repeated, and continued persecution, are intended. The difference being merely in the vowels, no Kri could be placed in the margin. They called attention to this by uniting both punctuations. The one standing in the text is therefore no form at all; but we must read either יְ רַ דּ ֵ ף , which is the correct one, or יִ רַ דּ ף , which latter form is found in many MSS., whose transcribers were bolder than the Masorites. It is customary also with the Arabians, when the punctuation is doubtful, to write the points in two or more ways; comp. Ewald, p. 489. The notion still found in Ewald, p. (302, that ל sprung from אל , is still often of like import with it, and, in particular, is used of direction to a place, turns out, on a closer examination of the examples collected by Winer, Lex. p. 510, to be incorrect. The ל always marks, quite differently from אל , the relation of belonging to. Accordingly, here רמס לארץ is to “tread down so, that it belongs to the earth;” and the honour also is made to dwell so, that it henceforth is a property of the dust. The dwelling signifies that it is lasting—an overthrow from which there is no recovery. According to De Wette, the expressions, my soul, my life, and mine honour,” are a mere circumlocution for the pers. pron. But this is manifestly false. “My soul,” as the parallel; “my life,” shows, which is never a substitute for the pron., is used here, as in Psalms 7:1, because it was a question of life to David. That “my honour” does not stand for the pron. is obvious even from the contrast in which it stands to the dust. According to many expositors, David offers here, in case he should be found guilty, to suffer the loss of the two earthly possessions which were most highly prized, and were claimed by Saul,— life and glory. So already Calvin: “The sense is,—not only let the enemy destroy me, but let him also add all manner of insult to the dead, so that my name may abide in filth and dirt:” in this case, however, the loss of honour is too strictly referred to the disgrace of his memory after death, instead of to dishonour before, in and after, death. Others, however, take the honour as a designation of the soul, corresponding to “my soul and my life,” and as implying that David was ready to sacrifice his noblest part. For this latter exposition there are two conclusive reasons: 1. The putting of “mine honour” for “my soul,” in so far as this constitutes the glory of man, and is that which elevates him above the whole animal creation, to which, as to his body, he is related—he alone being in respect of his soul a breath of God, Genesis 2:7—is, according to the precedent in Genesis 49:6, of such frequent use in the Psalms of David (comp. Psalms 16:9, Psalms 57:8, Psalms 108:2), that it is very natural to take the honour in this sense, when we find it connected with the soul and the life. 2. The reference of our verse to ver. 2 is also in favour of this sense. The Psalmist here manifestly consents that the enemy, in case of hid guilt, should attain the end there said to be aimed at by him. There, however, only the soul is spoken of: “lest he tear my soul like a lion.” The enemy seeks after David’s soul, and his soul he will readily give him, if it be laden with guilt; but, since the accusations of the enemy are only lying inventions, God must needs deliver his soul. To make to dwell in the dust, denotes a shameful and humiliating destruction. In accordance with the relation of “mine honour” to “my life,” it is a stronger expression than “treading upon the earth.” The honour of the Psalmist, his glory, must lie covered with dust upon the ground.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Conscious of his innocence, the Psalmist summons the Lord to execute judgment against his enemies. The Berleb. Bible points out well the relation to the preceding context, “But, because my conscience acquits me of such things, and testifies that I am innocent therein, therefore I seek Thy protection, and call upon Thy righteousness, which is wont to defend the guiltless.” Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger, lift up Thyself at the raging of mine, enemies; and awake for me, Thou who hast ordained judgment. The “lift up” is stronger than “arise,” and is q. d.: “Show Thyself mighty;” comp. Isaiah 33:10, where the “rising” is connected with “exalting one’s self.” עברה prop. an overstepping, then especially of a violent rage, breaking through all bounds of order. The stat. constr. in plural has עֶ ברוֹ ת , in Job 40:11. But the variation is explicable from the general inclination of the gutturals to the A sound, Ewald, p. 110; which was the more easily to be satisfied here, as the vowel is merely an assumed one, formed from two shevas. Expositors generally translate: “Against the rage of mine enemies.” But this rendering weakens the sense, by confounding the obvious contrast between the anger of God and the anger of the enemies. בעברות stands in close relation to the preceding באפֳ? , and the ב must therefore be similarly rendered here. This was already seen by Calvin: “To the rage of his enemies he opposes the anger of God. Whilst the ungodly burn, and belch out the flames of their rage, he begs God that He also would wax hot.” “Awake for me,” is for, “turn Thyself wakingly toward me.” Thou hast ordained judgment. As regards the matter, the clause is a relative one: Thou, who hast ordained judgment; and that this is not externally indicated, is to be explained from the circumstance, that poetry loves the abrupt and concise. David begins here to ground his prayer for help on God’s being the righteous judge of the world. This thought is further expanded in what follows. We must not translate with De Wette: “Order judgment, command that a day of judgment be appointed,” for then the ו relat. could not be absent. Moreover, the sense of the first explanation is more suitable. David says here, the Lord has ordained judgment, inasmuch as to exercise judgment is a necessary outflow of His nature, of His holiness and righteousness, with a reference, perhaps, to the numerous declarations of the law concerning this exercise of judgment—which, however, only are so far considered, as they testify to the fact of God’s having appointed judgment. We are not to understand, “Thou hast ordained judgment in, but according to Thy word;” for in the law, judgment is not ordained, but announced. In what follows, then, he calls upon God actually to hold this judgment: “Help me, for Thou hast ordained judgment; Thou hast ordained judgment, therefore judge the people first, and then, in particular, me.”

Verse 7

Ver. 7. And let time congregation of time peoples compass Thee about; and over it return Thou on high. The main idea of the verse is, Show Thyself, O Lord, as the judge of the world. Every special act of God’s judgment is a consequence of His being judge of the whole world. If this were not the case, the expectation of such a thing would be groundless, a mere act of arbitrary procedure. Hence, the Psalmists and Prophets not unfrequently point to an universal judgment, before announcing a special judgment, or a prayer for one—comp. Micah 1:2 ss., Isaiah 2:9 ss. The proper wish of the Psalmist is contained in Psalms 7:8, “Judge me.” But because a special judgment is only a result of the general and comprehensive judgment, the Psalmist first of all prays that the latter might begin: “Thou hast arranged judgment; come then to the judgment of the world; come also to the judgment between me and my enemies.” The clothing of this idea is taken from the manner of pronouncing judgment, which still prevails in the East, where the king, surrounded by the crowd of contending parties, ascends the throne, and then gives forth the judgment. The Lord comes down from His lofty seat in the heavens;—(this is what is to be understood by המרום , “the height,” as appears from the quite similar representation in Psalms 68; see especially Psalms 68:18, “Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, Thou hast received gifts for men”)—around Him are gathered all nations of the earth; after the judgment has been held, He returns back to heaven. This representation is in perfect accordance with the common figurative, description of every manifestation of God, as a coming down from heaven to earth. The true God is at once above and in the world; whilst the self-made god is either wholly shut out from it, after the manner of the naturalists, or wholly depressed to the world, and amalgamated with it, after the manner of the pantheists. Neither לאמימ nor עמים ever designates the family of Israel, of whom various expositors, incapable of apprehending the true sense, here think. (In Deuteronomy 33:3, Deuteronomy 33:19, the word עמים signifies, not nations, but peoples or persons.) Nor are the nations to be considered merely in the light of witnesses of the judgment, but rather as those on whom the judgment is to be exercised. This is undeniably clear from the words in next verse, “The Lord shall judge the people;” comp. also Micah 1:3. עליה , over or above it, raising Thyself above it, refers to the assemblage of the nations. שוב־למרוט , to return back, that one may belong to the height; as to the sense, but not grammatically, equivalent to “return to the height.” Venema: Universo coetu inspectante coelum, unde descendisti, repete. In disproof of De Wette’s forced interpretation: “Over it turn to the height, i.e. to Thy elevated seat upon Mount Zion,” “This His seat, Jehovah had in a manner left, as He was not exercising righteousness among the people, and permitting the good to be oppressed,” it is enough to remark, that המרום is never used of Mount Zion, but always of God’s lofty dwelling-place in the heavens. Besides, at the time of this Psalm’s composition, Mount Zion was not yet the seat of the Lord; and the words, “over it,” are not suitable, etc. Luther has also quite failed in giving the right meaning: “That the people again assemble before Thee, and for their sakes rise up again.”

Verse 8

Ver. 8. The Lord judges the people; judge me also, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and integrity in me. Many explain plain עלי , “over me,” from David’s representing his integrity as a cover and shield, protecting him against hostile assaults, and insuring him of Divine assistance. We may, however, simply explain, “in me,” “which is peculiar to me.” The qualities of the man are, as it were, over, or cover him in whom they inhere. That the Psalmist here prays God to judge him according to his righteousness and innocence, agrees quite well with that in Psalms 143, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” The discourse here, as may be seen by comparing Psalms 7:3-5, is properly of righteousness in reference to a determinate matter, which certainly can only be conceived as an outflow of righteousness generally; yet still only presupposes such a righteousness as does not exclude the exercise of Divine mercy in pardoning, but only fits us for becoming partakers thereof.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, and establish the just; and the trier of the heart and reins art Thou, O righteous God. David’s conflict with Saul was not a conflict between individuals, but between parties; Saul’s cause was espoused by the wicked as theirs, and David’s by the right Rous. Comp. the often misunderstood passage, 1 Samuel 22:2. Therefore, the Psalmist prays, that in Saul the wicked might be judged, in him the righteous delivered. Many render: “May He, the Lord, bring to an end.” But as there is an address to the Lord both in the preceding and following verse, we should scarcely expect Him to be here spoken of in the third person. גמר occurs also elsewhere in the Psalms in an intrans. sense; Psalms 12:1, Psalms 77:8. The words: “The trier art Thou,” etc., point to the Divine righteousness, which does not permit God to be indifferent toward the righteous and the wicked, but constantly makes use of His omniscience to penetrate into the inmost regions of the heart, in order to discern the one and the other, and to visit them with blessing or punishment accordingly. “The proving of the heart and the reins” is mentioned, as is evident from the expression, “O righteous God,” not as pledging the mere possibility, but the reality of the Divine judgment, not as an outflow of the Divine omniscience, but of the Divine righteousness. Comp. Jeremiah 17:10, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings;” Jeremiah 20:12, “And, O Lord of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, I shall see my revenge on them.” The and also is better explained on this view than on the other, which would rather lead us to expect a “for,” insomuch that some of its supporters, for example Ewald, are disposed to throw it out of the text entirely. If the trying of the heart and reins is a spontaneous activity of God, then there is involved in the words before us, which, primarily, simply ascribe this activity to God, when viewed in connection with the preceding entreaties, an indirect solicitation to exercise such activity—“Thou art a trier,” etc., so try then—and the second clause of the verse comes into parallelism with the first. If God does try the heart and the reins, He cannot but bring to an end the wickedness of the wicked, and establish the righteous. Many translate: And the righteous God tries the heart and the reins; but it is better to regard this as a direct address to God, in accordance with the preceding one.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. In the room of the prayer, appears now the hope grounded upon the righteousness of God, which manifests itself in defence of the righteous, and for the destruction of the wicked. My shield is with God, who delivers the upright in heart. The על cannot mean precisely with here. Wherever this appears to be the sense, the connection with the radical meaning upon must still be able to be pointed out. Here the use of the preposition may be explained thus, that the shield stands figuratively for defence either it devolves on God to protect me, to hold His shield over me (comp. Judges 19:20, “All thy wants are upon me,” it lies upon me to relieve them; Psalms 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me, O God”), or my defence rests upon God, has Him for its foundation. This latter supposition is favoured by Psalms 62:7, “Upon God is my salvation and my glory.” In that David expects deliverance only on the ground of God’s saving the upright, he supplies a new evidence of his having a good conscience.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. God judges the righteous, and the Almighty is angry every day. This is David’s double ground of hope. For he is a righteous man, and his enemies are the ungodly. Many take שופט as a subst., and צדיק as the adjective belonging to it: God is a righteous judge. But the parallelism with זעם requires that שופט also should be taken as a participle standing for the verb finite. This is confirmed by a comparison with Psalms 7:8. To the “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness,” there, corresponds here, the “God judges the righteous;” there the prayer, here the positive principle, which guarantees the fulfilment of the prayer. The every day, continually, points to the fact, that the Divine judgment on ungodliness is one always realizing itself in the course of history, so that they who practise it can never be secure, but are always in danger of a sudden overthrow.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. If he turn not, He will whet His sword, bend His bow, and make it ready. The subject of the verb turn, the ungodly, is to be borrowed from the second half of the preceding verse, where it occurs by implication. It is erroneous to suppose with many that a particular enemy, Saul, is here described as such. That the Psalmist delineates here only in a general way the punishment of the ungodly, is clear even from the preceding context. This and the next verse are merely a further expansion of the words, “God is angry every day,” which, on account of the “every day,” must not be restricted to the enemies of David. The punishment of the enemies of David follows from this, with the same necessity as, from the general principle, “God judges the righteous,” does the deliverance of David. The “turning back” is wider than the “turning back to the Lord.” It denotes merely in general the ceasing from former doings and strivings, while the latter, at the same time, indicates the aim toward which the changed course is directed. Koester justly remarks, that it perfectly accords with the placable spirit of the Psalm, comp. Psalms 7:4, that David should first wish the conversion of the enemy. He will whet His sword. The Lord is represented under the image of a warrior who prepares himself for the attack; comp. Deuteronomy 32:41, “I whet My glittering sword, and My hand lays hold on judgment.” This passage, which, the mention of arrows immediately after the sword, as here, proves more certainly to have been in the eye of the Psalmist, is of itself sufficient to confute those who suppose that the ungodly are the subject of the whole verse. And make it ready

He places the arrows upon it. Falsely, De Wette: “And directs it.” This signification does not accord with the parallel passage, Psalms 11:2, nor does it occur in the Pilel of the verb כון . In all the passages adduced by Gesenius in favour of the sense “to direct,” that of preparing, making ready, charging, should rather be admitted, The “directing” is first introduced in Psalms 7:13. It is a remarkable instance of that play of Divine Providence which so often occurs in history, that in the death of Saul, the bow and the sword both actually had their share. Saul was hit by the hostile archers, and sore pressed, so that he despaired of his life. “Then said he to his armour-bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me: but his armour-bearer would not, for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell upon it.” 1 Samuel 31:3-4. The apparently coarse manner of expression in our text, representing God as a warrior, equipped with sword and bow, has, besides, for its foundation, the coarseness of sinners, and the weakness of faith on the part of believers, which does not find the simple thought, that God judges, a sufficient support in face of visible danger, but demands that the thought take to itself flesh and blood, and that the judge should stand over against the sinner, man against man, sword against sword. But this kind of representation shows, at the same time, a very lively faith, which alone was able, in order to satisfy this need of the weakness of faith, to clothe the judge and avenger with flesh and blood. The idea of God’s righteousness must have possessed great vigour to render such a representation possible. There are some excellent remarks upon the ground of it in Luther, who, however, too much overlooks the fact, that the Psalmist presents before his eyes this form of an angry and avenging God, primarily with the view of strengthening, by its consideration, his own hope; and pays too little regard to the distinction between the Psalmist, who only indirectly teaches, that is, presents what he himself has inwardly experienced, and the Prophet: “The Prophet employs a coarse human similitude, in order that he might inspire terror into the ungodly. For he speaks against stupid and hardened people, who would not apprehend the reality of a Divine judgment, of which he had just spoken, unless it should be shown them by the use of serious human images.

Now the Prophet is not satisfied with mentioning the sword, but he adds thereto the bow; even this does not satisfy him, but he describes how it is already stretched, and aim is taken, and the arrows are applied to it, as here follows. So hard, stiffnecked, and unabashed are the ungodly, that however many threatenings may be urged against them, they will still remain unmoved. But in these words he forcibly describes how God’s anger presses hard upon the ungodly, though they will never understand this until they actually experience it. It is also to be remarked here, that we have had so frightful a threatening and indignation against the ungodly in no Psalm before this; neither has the Spirit of God attacked them with so many words. Then, in the following verses, he also recounts their plans and purposes; shows how these will not only be in vain, but will return again upon their own head. So that it clearly and manifestly appears to all those who suffer wrong and reproach, as a matter of consolation, that God hates such revilers and slanderers above all other characters.”

Verse 13

Ver. 13. And He has prepared for him the instruments of death, He makes His arrows burning. The ל with the verb הכין denotes the object toward which something is directed; which is aimed here, therefore, at the ungodly. The object stands here with peculiar emphasis in the foreground. The Psalmist draws attention to the danger of being the target at which God levels His attack. דלק to burn. In sieges it is customary to wrap round the arrows burning matter, and to shoot them after being kindled.

Verse 14

Ver. 14. Behold, he travails with mischief, but is big with misery, and brings forth falsehood. In place of the hope which springs out of the consideration of God’s righteousness—which leads Him to help the righteous, but to prepare for the wicked a fearful destruction—confidence now enters. The Psalmist sees with his eyes how the malicious plots of the wicked, for the ruin of the righteous, are brought to nought, and turn out to their own destruction. The “behold,” and the prophetic pret., are a wonderful proof of the strength of faith, which can overlook what violently presses upon the sense, and see what is still invisible. Luther: “He first says, ‘behold,’ as if he himself wondered, and called upon all to come, as it were to a rare spectacle. For it appears far otherwise to our senses.” Luther translates: Behold, he has evil in his heart, with misfortune he is pregnant, but he will bring forth a failure; and he is followed by De Wette, Hitzig, etc. But we must rather refer the words, “he is big with misery,” to the issue as full of wretchedness for the wicked. This is supported, 1. By the accents, which connect the words, not with what precedes, but with what follows, comp. Psalms 7:15; Psalms 2. and, besides, the being in labour, ought in the other case to follow upon the being pregnant.

Verse 15

Ver. 15. The same thought, under another image. He has digged a pit, and hollowed it out; but he falls into the ditch which he makes. Luther: “All this is written for the consolation of those who are oppressed, to the end that they may be sure and certain, that the evil, which is directed against them, shall fall upon their revilers and persecutors. At the same time, it is also written for a terror to the ungodly, persecutors, and slanderers, whose excessive rashness and security needs to be alarmed, as the weakness of the other to be strengthened.” It is customary to dig pits, and cover them with foliage, in order to catch lions and other wild beasts in them. From such custom the image is here taken:

And hollowed it out. This addition marks the depth of the pit dug by him, the anxiety of the wicked to have it made as deep as possible. Luther: “See how admirably he expresses the hot burning fury of the ungodly; not simply declaring: he has dug a pit, but adding to this: and hollowed it out. So active and diligent are they to have the pit dug and the hole prepared. They try everything, they explore everything; and not satisfied that they have dug a pit, but clear it out and make it deep, as deep as they possibly can, that they may destroy and subvert the innocent. In this way the Jews acted: although they were eager to have Christ put to death, and their whole efforts were directed thereto, still they were not satisfied that He should die a painful death, but took care that His death should be of the most shameful kind, just as if they had dug a very deep pit for Him, and cleared it out. So are all godless persecutors and revilers disposed, not to be satisfied with merely destroying their neighbour, but strive as much as in them lies to bring them to the most shameful end.” Before יפעל , the pron. relat. is to be supplied; or, more correctly, there is here an usage of very frequent occurrence, especially in poetry, of placing the relative clause after the substantive without any particular word. Comp. Ewald, p. 646. The pron. suff. also is awanting, because the sense is clear from the substantive immediately preceding: poetry, too, is fond of expressive brevity. Therefore: he falls into the pit he makes. We must not expound: into the pit which he has made. The wicked man is still occupied with the pit, still working at it, when he falls into it. The punishment overtakes him in the midst of his guilty career. Kaiser supposes, without ground, that an external deliverance already past is here celebrated. But that by no means necessarily follows from the Fut. with vau conv. ויפל . For this form only marks that an action follows out of the preceding. If this is all, it may stand also for the present and the future, although certainly it is most commonly used of the past. Therefore not he fell; but, he falls. Ewald, p. 541.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his iniquity shall come down upon his own pate, like a stone or an arrow, which, having been thrown aloft, returns upon the head of him who threw it. The ב in בראשו , is the ב which is used with verbs of motion, when the object moved remains in its place. Upon his head, is not grammatically correct. The head is considered as the seat of the mischief. The mischief not merely falls upon it, but presses into it. עמל always denotes the evil one suffers, not that which one inflicts. The evil here characterized by the suffix, which refers to the ungodly, belonging to him, as wrought by him. This verse, like the two preceding ones, points to “the elastic nature of right, according to which every infliction calls forth a counter infliction:” as is indeed a necessary consequence of the existence of a living God. God, indeed, cannot be conceived of without the idea of recompense. Luther “For this is the incomprehensible nature of the Divine judgment, that God catches the wicked with their own plots and counsels, and leads them into the destruction which they had themselves devised.”

Verse 17

Ver. 17. In what precedes, the Psalmist had attained to a living acquaintance with the Divine righteousness, and described its manifestations. Here he concludes with giving praise to God on account of this His righteousness, and generally on account of His glorious nature, or with the declaration, that he will praise Him on account thereof. I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. According to His righteousness, in proportion thereto, so that the righteousness and the praise shall correspond. The verse forms a suitable conclusion to the strophe of vision. For the manifestations of Divine righteousness are taken for granted in it as having been already given.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 7". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-7.html.