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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 9

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Psalms 9:0 is a song of hope and victory, looking forward to the coming of the everlasting kingdom. The first two verses exalt YHWH, and this is followed by a description of what He has done for the writer and for Israel in defeating all unrighteous opposition, and rendering them powerless. It would well fit David’s chain of victories by which he established his extensive rule. But that was only temporary. Here the idea is more of the certainty that God’s people will finally triumph over all their enemies, that all enemies of God will be defeated, and that finally God’s righteous kingdom will come in.

So in contrast with the opposing enemies is the vision of YHWH as sovereign over all, as the righteous Judge, ruling righteously (through His chosen king), and as a fortress for those in need.

It then goes on to declare God’s interest in the needy and oppressed which results in the writer’s prayer that God will consider his own needs and concerns, which are also the people’s, so that he may then praise God for His deliverance. And it finishes with a declaration of the certainty that one day all the sinful of the nations will be called into judgment while the needy and helpless will be remembered, and a final cry to God to make the true position known by bringing it about.

Like many psalms this one is written as a kind of acrostic. Each of the four lines in Psalms 9:1-2 commence with aleph (A), the second stanza begins with beth (B), and so on, but it is not carried through consistently. The poem was more important than the gimmick.

Verse 1

‘For the Chief Musician; set to (‘al) Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.

The psalm is offered for worship to or by the Choirmaster, and set to the tune ‘al Muth-labben (possibly ‘on the death of a son’, but it has been suggested that by repointing it could mean ‘trebles (or ‘young women’) for clarity’ - ‘alamoth labin). It is of the Davidic collection, and may well be by David himself.

Verses 1-2

‘I will give thanks to YHWH with my whole heart;

I will show forth all your marvellous works.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O you who are Most High.’

The psalmist begins with a cry of worship and praise to YHWH. He declares his gratitude for what God has done for him, for His marvellous works on His people’s behalf, and especially (as is revealed later) because that in itself is a reflection of what YHWH will finally do for all the righteous. He declares further that he will therefore be glad and exult in YHWH, and sing praise to His name as the Most High.

‘‘I will give thanks to YHWH with my whole heart.’ This was what the psalmist was determined to do whatever the circumstances, for he could look back on past blessings and knew that however dark it might sometimes seem, the future was safe in God’s hands. Whatever our situation this must also be our first concern, a whole-hearted giving of thanks to YHWH our God. However bad our situation there is always something to give thanks for. So let us determine to do so. ‘With my whole heart.’ It is good for us too to examine ourselves to ask whether our praise also is from our whole heart, or just perfunctory.

‘Your marvellous works.’ This signifies the outstanding works of God both in nature (Job 5:9), in His dealings with His people in history (Exodus 3:20), and especially at the times of their great crises (Psalms 78:4; Psalms 78:11; Psalms 78:32). It no doubt includes the situation described in Psalms 9:3-6. He is determined to show them forth and confident that those marvellous works will continue until the end. The Bible is full from beginning to end with His marvellous works. That in the end is what it is all about, and none more wonderful than the coming of Jesus and its consequences.

‘Your name.’ That is, the character and being of God as revealed through His name. That He is the Most High is the guarantee that what He desires, the total vindication of the righteous, will be accomplished. None can circumvent His will.

‘I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O you who are Most High.’ The psalmist had learned the truth that when things appear blackest (see Psalms 9:13) is the time to sing and give praise. We too need to learn that lesson. If sometimes things seem dark then make yourself sing your favourite hymns. You will be surprised how quickly things will appear brighter. For then we will realise that the Most High is still on our side.

Verses 3-6

‘When my enemies turn back,

They stumble and perish at your presence (face).

For you have maintained my right and my cause;

You sit in the throne judging righteously.

You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the unrighteous,

You have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The enemy are come to an end,

They are desolate for ever;

And the cities which you have overthrown,

The very remembrance of them is perished.’

This could be speaking of David or it could have in mind the current king, but in the end it is the greater David Who is in mind for He achieves the final victory. In each case the king rejoices in the great victories that YHWH has accomplished. He knows that he himself has been victorious because YHWH has been with him. That is why his enemies turned back, fled in panic, and stumbled and perished. They were in the presence of YHWH (‘before the face of YHWH’) and could not face Him, and therefore could not stand against God’s anointed. For similar descriptions of the effect of God’s presence compare ‘you shall make them (your enemies) as a fiery furnace in the time of your presence’ (Psalms 21:9), for ‘the face (presence) of YHWH is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth’ (Psalms 34:16). See also Exodus 14:24.

And, as the Psalm goes on to point out, this is not only what He is like for the king, or even for the people as a whole, but an example of what He will be to each of His people, even to the very lowest (Psalms 9:12; Psalms 9:18). All their unrighteous enemies will be similarly dealt with. The face of God will be with them and in the end all will flee before Him.

‘For you have maintained my right and my cause, you sit in the throne judging righteously.’ It is important to recognise that God only acts thus in a righteous cause. It was only because the king was living and judging righteously that he could expect help from YHWH. But because of that, and because God had chosen him, he can then expect help from the Righteous One. God has delivered in this case because the one delivered was accounted worthy. All who walk worthily in a way that is acceptable to God can also be sure that their enemies will finally be defeated, because for them too He is on His throne judging righteously. And this all finally points forward to the triumph of the greater David Who will one day come and triumph in YHWH’s name in the day of permanent triumph.

‘You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the unrighteous.’ This explains why God has given His righteous king, the one accepted as righteous in His sight, the victory. It is because his enemies were unrighteous in God’s sight. Thus their final fate was sealed in a way that was to be the inevitable fate for the unrighteous. For the unrighteous there is no future hope, unless they turn from their sins and respond to His mercy.

‘You have blotted out their name for ever and ever. The enemy are come to an end, they are desolate for ever; And the cities which you have overthrown, the very remembrance of them is perished.’ The king looks with gratitude at the way that God has dealt with his enemies, and sees in it a guarantee that in the end all the unrighteous must be destroyed. The temporary victory will be followed by the final victory. The finality of it is revealed. Their name will be blotted out (compare Exodus 17:14), they will come to an end and be desolate for ever, and the remembrance of their overthrown cities will perish. This is the only end possible for the unrighteous, unless they return to God.

Verses 7-8

‘But YHWH sits enthroned for ever:

He has established his throne for judgment;

And he will judge the world in righteousness,

He will minister judgment to the peoples in uprightness.’

In contrast to the brevity of the nations is the eternity of YHWH. And in contrast to the unrighteousness of the nations, is the righteousness of YHWH. He sits enthroned for ever (compare Psalms 29:10), and His throne is established for judgment. And that judgment will be in righteousness and will be on all peoples and will always be upright. Thus we are assured that YHWH judges the whole world in righteousness without fear and without favour. Every knee will have to bow to Him, every tongue will have to confess to God (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10). Notice that the ‘He’ in ‘He will judge’ is emphatic. None other is fit to judge apart from ‘He’, and the teaching of Jesus made clear that this ‘He’ is none other than Jesus Himself Who has been appointed to be the Judge of all (John 5:22; John 5:27).

Verses 9-10

‘YHWH also will be a high tower for the oppressed,

A high tower in times of trouble;

And those who know your name will put their trust in you;

For you, YHWH, have not forsaken those who seek you.’

But it is not only the Davidic king who enjoys God’s protection, it is he and all God’s true people. God protects all who, because they are righteous and trust in Him, are oppressed by the unrighteous, and He will be a fortress tower on their behalf, into which they can enter and be safe. While they may be laid siege to, or may be bombarded, they will be totally secure. Those who know Him for what He is will put their trust in Him, knowing that He will never forsake those who seek Him. They know by faith that he is totally reliable, and that they can shelter securely in His hands.

‘A high tower.’ A regular description of YHWH’s protecting hand (e.g. Psalms 18:2; Psalms 144:2; see also Proverbs 18:10)

‘In times of trouble.’ That is, in the extremity of trouble when all hope of deliverance seems to be cut off.

Verses 11-12

‘Sing praises to YHWH, who dwells in Zion:

Declare among the peoples his doings.

For he who makes official enquiry for blood remembers them;

He does not forget the cry of the poor.’

Indeed all the peoples, and not only Israel, are to know the praises of the One Who dwells in Zion, where His earthly Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) has been set up. For His doings are to be declared to them, that they may do so. And these doings encompass His enquiries into all crimes committed against them, especially crimes of blood (Genesis 9:5-6). For he does not forget the cry of the poor. So they learn that God is personally concerned about their welfare, sufficiently to act on their behalf. In Israel the oppressed and the poor were regularly associated with the righteous. It was mainly they who in the trials of life kept close to YHWH. And we are assured that He remembers them, and keeps an eye on their affairs.

‘Who dwells in Zion.’ From the beginning they were well aware that this Dwellingplace (the Tabernacle/Temple) was but an earthly shadow of His greater Dwellingplace in Heaven (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Kings 8:29-30 etc.). But the latter was seen as their point of contact with Him, as Solomon makes clear.

‘For he who makes official enquiry (or ‘requisition’) for blood remembers them.’ YHWH is hear seen as acting either as judicial examiner on behalf of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35:24-25) where an innocent killer could escape from the avengers of blood, revealing Him as enquiring into whether a killing was deliberate or accidental, looking into every case of violent death. Or it could signify that He will in fact be the avenger of blood Himself for those who suffer deliberate violent death. Either way He is acting as protector of His true people.

In those days it was the responsibility of the family of the dead man to pursue a case of homicide, and they had the right to a life for a life. They were to be the ‘avengers of blood’. In a time when there were no police and no local prisons it was an attempt to ensure justice, and to ensure that murder was punished. But an innocent man could flee to a city of refuge, and while there he could not be touched. However, if the family claimed that he was guilty of deliberate murder the case would be examined and if proven the man would be rejected by the city to face the avengers.

‘He does not forget the cry of the poor.’ God hears those whom no one else listens to, those who have little influence, who are downtrodden and forgotten. The poor are often synonymous with the righteous, for they have nowhere else to turn but God. They are the humble seekers of God who bow down before Him.

(This is one of those few cases where the Massoretic Text offer two alternatives, the kethib being the textual reading, ‘what is written’, the qere being a correction, ‘that which is to be read’. This arose because so sacred was the text seen to be that once written it could not be altered. Thus where the experts considered that rarely the text had been corrupted by error (for they knew the text by heart and knew what it should be) they would append the correction without changing the text back to what they considered it should be. It was not done lightly. The kethib here is ‘anniyim and the qere ‘anavim (a yod for a waw - they were very similar in written Hebrew, often almost indistinguishable). Both are derived from the root ‘bend or bow down’, denoting either those who are bowed down (the poor), or those who bow down (the humble)).

Verses 13-14

‘Have mercy upon me, O YHWH;

Behold my affliction from those who hate me,

You who lift me up from the gates of death;

That I may show forth all your praise.

In the gates of the daughter of Zion,

I will rejoice in your salvation.’

Having declared the general position the psalmist now applies it to himself. He is going through great trouble, suffering at the hands of those who hate him, the unrighteous. He asks YHWH to behold his suffering and affliction. In view of Psalms 9:3-4 it may be that we are to see these troubles as internal, enemies in the midst, for there are always enemies within as well as enemies without. But the following verses suggest a further outbreak of trouble from the surrounding nations.

However he is confident that these enemies too will be defeated. For it is YHWH Who shows mercy, it is YHWH Who raises him up when he feels that he is about to die. And he seeks that YHWH will do so now in order that he might show forth all the praises of YHWH, and rejoice in His deliverance. Let the gates of Zion be triumphant that he might rejoice there in His deliverance.

Note the contrast between the gates of death and the gates of the daughter of Zion. He wants to live in public triumph and joy in Jerusalem, with the unrighteous defeated, he does not want to die and go into the gloom of the grave. ‘The gates’ were the place where public affairs were carried on, where celebrations took place and where the representatives of the city were regularly to be found. And there in the gates of Jerusalem he will rejoice in God’s deliverance, and show forth all His praise. All will know of God’s goodness.

Others see these verses as looking back to Psalms 9:3-4 and as indicating his cry to God then, which brought about the deliverance that he speaks of there, and that interpretation would also gain some support from Psalms 9:15-16 which reiterate the defeat of the nations. But the psalm appears to be ongoing and this may rather be a reminder that once one crisis is past another may appear on the horizon, with God being triumphant over all, until at last in the end righteousness triumphs for ever.

‘Daughter of Zion.’ An expression only found here in the Psalms but taken up by the prophets later. Zion was the mountain, and her daughter the city built on the mountain, especially important because it was on the mountain which God had chosen. But as always a city also signifies its people.

Verses 15-16

‘The nations are sunk down in the pit that they have made,

In the net which they concealed is their own foot taken.

YHWH has made himself known, he has executed judgment:

The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah

The consequence is that, thanks to God, those who have raised themselves against him have been defeated. They have set their traps for him and now they have fallen into their own traps. They have laid their hidden nets and now they have been caught in them themselves. Note how these descriptions stress their unrighteousness, because in the end the whole message of the Psalm is about the battle between righteousness and unrighteousness, with righteousness finally being the victor through the power of the Righteous One. Israel, the chosen of YHWH, is to be blessed because in as far as she is righteous. The nations are to be judged because they are unrighteous. On the one hand YHWH has made Himself known on behalf of the righteous, executed judgment and gained the victory, and on the other the unrighteous have been caught in their own snares. (Once Israel proved herself consistently unrighteous she lost the protection and the blessing).

So these words can still be applied to the true people of God, the new Israel, (Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22; Romans 11:17-24) today. They live as righteous ones in an unrighteous world, and can be sure of God’s genuine concern and action on their behalf.

‘Higgaion. Selah.’ Higgaion is a call for musical instruments to play (compare Psalms 92:3 where it refers to the sound of a stringed instrument) in order to emphasise the triumphant conclusion. Selah may indicate a moment of pause, possibly while only music is played, signifying ‘think of what you have heard’ or ‘rejoice in what you have heard’.

Verses 17-18

‘The wicked shall be turned back to Sheol,

Even all the nations who forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,

Nor the expectation of the poor perish for ever.’

After the pause and the music the final triumphant conclusion is reached. It deals with final principles. The unrighteous, and those who forget God (compare Psalms 50:22; Job 8:13; Psalms 10:4), revealing it by their behaviour, will depart for the world of the grave, into gloom and darkness. They will return to the dust from which they came (Genesis 3:19). That is their inevitable end. On the other hand the needy and the poor will survive and come into God’s everlasting blessing, which is their destiny, because He has not forgotten them. They may be forgotten now, but they will not always be forgotten. They may see their cherished expectations dying now, but it will not always be so. In the end the righteous will prevail. For the righteous there will be life, for the unrighteous, judgment and destruction.

Note the change in this verse from YHWH to ‘God’. These are those who have rejected YHWH’s offer of mercy, and must therefore face Him as ‘God’ over all, the Judge, and not as YHWH the covenant deliverer.

They could have come to YHWH. For we must remember that there was always a way into the covenant for any among the nations who would submit to YHWH, for ‘strangers’ were always welcomed if they would but submit to God’s Instruction (Torah - Law), and worship Him in the way that He required (Exodus 13:48-49). Thus by refusing this opportunity and choosing to remain as part of ‘the nations’ as opposed to ‘God’s people’ they were rejecting God. That is why ‘the nations’ were the unrighteous. They were ‘the world’, deliberately turning away from God and His ways, in direct contrast with believers.

Verse 19

‘ Arise, O YHWH; Do not let man prevail:

Let the nations be judged in your sight.

Put them in fear, O YHWH:

Let the nations know themselves to be but men. Selah.

The Psalm finishes with a cry to YHWH to bring about these purposes, and deal with the unrighteous nations. Let YHWH arise and prevent man from prevailing, for he is unrighteous and will behave unrighteously. Let Him judge them in accordance with their deserving, as known by the all-seeing eye. Indeed let Him put them in fear and make them recognise that they are but men. Let see themselves in a proper perspective. For then there would be a hope that some would hear the declaration among them of His doings (Psalms 9:11) and recognise their need, and hear and respond to YHWH.

This is not a vindictive cry. It is a prayer for the deliverance of the righteous. He wants the nations to recognise that they are dealing with the anointed of YHWH and cannot therefore prevail. They may boast about their greatness but they are but men. And thus when their belligerence results in judgment they will be made to recognise the fact. The people of God will win in the end.

For the truth is that it is only when men are finally brought to a true judgment concerning themselves that the everlasting kingdom of righteousness can be established. It was a feature of the Davidic kingship that in the end not only Israel but the whole world that had not been judged and condemned was to be blessed through it once the unrighteous had been dealt with (Psalms 2:8-12).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-9.html. 2013.
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