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“This Psalm is a prayer for protection against enemies who were at once violent and crafty, and unscrupulous in the use of their tongues. The general strain of the Psalm is like that of many which occur in the earlier books, and like them it is ascribed to David. In tone and language it resembles Psalms 58, 64. The chief peculiarity of the Psalm is, that it has several words which occur nowhere else.”—Perowne.
In ascribing the Psalm to David, the superscription is confirmed by the Davidic style and spirit of the Psalm. The Psalm is addressed “To the chief musician,” which shows that it was intended to be set to music for use in the public services. The occasion on which it was composed is not known.
TROUBLE IN LIFE, PRAYER IN TROUBLE, AND CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER
I. Trouble in life. It is quite clear that the occasion on which the Psalm was written was one of trouble, and that this trouble arose from the enemies of the Psalmist. From what he says of them in the first part of the Psalm we have a clear idea of the character of his enemies. They were—
1. Malignant. “The evil man; … which imagine mischiefs in their heart; … the wicked.” Their hostility arose not from any misapprehension, but from malice; not from the suggestions or force of circumstances, but from their depraved souls. Many of the troubles of life spring from the mischievous devices of wicked hearts.
2. Confederate. “Continually are they gathered together for war.” They had banded themselves into an organisation for the accomplishment of their wicked designs. The archleader of the forces of evil aims at unity of design and effort in the great struggle against the right and true.
3. Slanderous. “They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips.” They invented and published malicious lies against the poet to ruin his reputation. The words of the slanderer are like the poison of the bite of the adder, which is among the most poisonous of serpents. The slanderous tongue is the virulent weapon of the malignant heart.
4. Violent. “Preserve me from the violent man.” They used not only the slanderous tongue, but the strong arm against the Psalmist. The tongue, the pen, and the sword have all been used at times against the people of God. The reviler, the controversialist, and the persecutor have set themselves against the Church of God.
5. Determined. “Who have purposed to overthrow my goings.” Their evil thoughts and feelings had led to the formation of an evil design. Their attempted injuries to the poet were the expression of their firm determination to effect his ruin. Men sin not only through weakness, but by settled purpose. There are men who “do evil with both hands earnestly.”
6. Proud. “The proud have hid a snare for me.” They were haughty and arrogant, “conceited of themselves and confident of their success; and herein they resemble Satan, whose reigning ruining sin was pride. The pride of persecutors, though at present it be the terror, yet may be the encouragement of the persecuted, for the more haughty they are the faster are they ripening for ruin. ‘Pride goes before destruction.’ ”
7. Cunning. “The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me.” They employed fraud against him as well as force. They not only made open war against him, but they plotted and schemed to overthrow him suddenly and unawares. “Great persecutors have often been great politicians, which has indeed made them the more formidable.” Such is the description which David here gives of his foes. We cannot wonder that they troubled his life. The good man is still troubled in his life upon earth by outward enemies and inward fears, by bodily sufferings and mental distresses, by social trials and spiritual conflicts. “In the world ye have tribulation.”
II. Prayer in trouble. The Psalmist prays for—
1. Preservation from his enemies. “Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man; preserve me from the violent man; keep me from the hands of the wicked.” His enemies were endeavouring to blast his reputation, to rob him of his throne, and to take away his life; he knew their malice and cunning and power, and his own peril, and he entreated the Lord for deliverance and looked to Him for protection.
Prayer is the great resource of the righteous in the troubles and perils of life. When every other refuge fails, there is safety at the throne of grace. He whom God protects is inviolably secure. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee,” &c. “God is our refuge and strength,” &c. The Psalmist prays for—
2. The overthrow of his enemies. He asks that this may be accomplished by
(1.) The recoil of their evil designs. “As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.” His wish is that the mischief which they had designed against him might fall upon their own heads. The cruel and cowardly calumniator, the violent persecutor, and the crafty plotter of the overthrow of his fellow-men, will each find the injury which he has inflicted upon others falling with fury upon himself. There are many Hamans who to-day are building gallows for many Mordecais upon which they will be hung themselves.
(2.) By the infliction of Divine judgments. “Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire, into deep pits, that they rise not up again. Let not an evil-speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.” Instead of, “into deep pits,” Hengstenberg translates, “into water-floods,” and Perowne, “into floods of water.” We are by no means certain that a retaliative and sinful spirit did not give rise to the tenth verse. But it is inspiring to know that an evil-speaker shall not be established in the earth or anywhere else. A lie cannot live always. The slanderer builds on the sand, and his building shall fall into ruin upon the builder. “ ‘Evil shall hunt the violent man,’ as the blood-hound hunts the murderer to discover him, as the lion hunts his prey to tear it to pieces. Mischievous men will be brought to light, and brought to ruin; the destruction appointed shall run them down and overthrow them. ‘Evil pursues sinners.’ ”—M. Henry.
III. Confidence in prayer. The prayer of David was neither the cry of despair nor the entreaty of doubt or fear, but a confident appeal to the Lord God. The confidence of the Psalmist was based upon—
1. His relation to God. “I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God.” In the time of trouble, when we approach God in prayer, it is most inspiring to be able to claim personal relationship to Him, and to cling to Him by faith. If He is “my God,” He will not leave me to the might and malice of my foes.
2. His ideas of God. “O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation.” His appeal is to Jehovah Adonai. Jehovah is the Self-Existent One; Adonai is the Supreme Ruler, the Governor of all things and all beings. The possession of an interest in such a Being may well inspire confidence. So the Psalmist looks to Him as the strength of his salvation. “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength,” &c.
3. His experience of the protection of God. “Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” As the helmet shields the head (that vital part) amid the perils of the battle-field, so God had guarded him from the assaults of his enemies. The experience we have had of God’s protecting care in the past should inspire us with confidence in the present, and with hope for the future. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy that it cannot hear.” He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
4. His faith in the righteous rule of God. “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, the right of the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name; the upright shall dwell in Thy presence.” The Psalmist was convinced that the government of God was opposed to wicked oppressors. God is the Champion of His oppressed people. He will vindicate their cause, and give them abundant reason to offer unto Him grateful praise. The wicked shall shrink in dismay from His frown; but the upright shall dwell in His presence, and rejoice in His favour. (Comp. Psalms 11:7; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 61:7.) A faith like this in the government of God is one of the truest and greatest supports of man amid the trials and difficulties of life.
1. That the true and good are sometimes exposed to severe trials and extreme perils.
2. That the true and good have no adequate reason for fear at any time.
3. That the resources of the true and good are more than adequate to every trial and peril. Their security is guaranteed by ONE who is infinite in wisdom, almighty in power, and unchangeable in truth.
THE DAY OF BATTLE AND THE PROTECTION OF GOD
I. The period spoken of.
“The day of battle.” Heb. lit. “armour,” as in 1 Kings 10:25; 2 Kings 10:2; Ezekiel 39:9-26.39.10. “ ‘The day of armour’ is not the day of preparation for battle, but the day on which the armour is carried for the battle, consequently the day of battle.”—Moll.
David had been in many battles; he was well acquainted with their toils and dangers, their excitements and horrors. But let us notice—
1. What the battle implies.
(1.) Enemies. The Psalmist had many foes; and they were bitter and violent, crafty and combined, in their hostility to him. The godly soul has to contend against “the world, the flesh, and the devil”—against evil in society (John 15:18-43.15.21; 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:4-62.4.5; 1 John 5:4-62.5.5), in our own nature (Romans 7:21-45.7.23; Galatians 5:7), and in malignant spirits (Ephesians 6:10-49.6.18; 1 Peter 5:8). Our enemies are many, subtle, and strong.
(2.) Peril. The field of battle is a scene of danger. The day of moral battle has its perils. The godly soul may be injured. There is danger that we may yield to the subtle suggestions, or be overpowered by the vigorous onslaughts of our foes. Good men have received injury in this battle; e.g., Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:12); David (2 Samuel 11:0; 2 Samuel 12:7-10.12.12; Peter (Matthew 26:69-40.26.75). Few, if indeed any, come out of this battle without some wounds or scars.
(3.) Effort. There is no battle without strenuous exertion. The godly soul has to resist the attacks of his enemies; to watch and ward that he be not surprised by his foes, and to endeavour to overcome them. We have to act not only on the defensive, but on the offensive; not only to guard ourselves, but to conquer the world for Jesus Christ. The maintenance and growth of the Christian life cannot be attained by merely wearing the uniform and carrying the weapons of a soldier, or by appearing in the army on review days only. We must fight if we would conquer; we must fight if we would not sustain defeat.
2. How long the battle lasts. “The day of battle.” The conflict is only for a brief season. It is severe, but short.
“The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor’s song.”
The battle is but for a day; the triumph is eternal. Therefore, Christian soldier, fear not, faint not. “Fight the good fight of faith,” &c.
II. The protection acknowledged.
“O Jehovah Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” God had defended David in many battles, kept him in safety amidst many perils. Gratefully and hopefully he calls this protection to mind in his present dangers.
1. Protection of a vital part. “Thou hast covered my head,” i.e., as with a helmet. (Comp. Psalms 60:7.) In the battle of life we may suffer in many things, but our vital interests are safe: we may be wounded, but we shall not be slain: we may suffer loss, but we shall not fall a prey to our adversaries.
2. Protection by an all-sufficient Being. “Jehovah, the Lord, the strength of my salvation.” Here is a Being of—
(1.) Independent existence. “Jehovah,” the Self-Existing, the Permanent, the Everlasting. He ever lives to guard and save His people.
(2.) Sovereign authority. “The Lord,” the Supreme Governor. “His kingdom ruleth over all.”
(3.) Saving power. “The strength of my salvation.” He is “mighty to save.”
III. The encouragement to be deduced.
1. To trust in Him for protection. What He has done is an earnest of what He will yet do. David was accustomed to argue from the past to the future. “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion,” &c. (1 Samuel 17:37). “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” He who has protected us in the past still lives, still He is sovereign in authority, and still He is strong to save, therefore let us trust Him.
2. To pray to Him for protection. The Lord will “be inquired of by the house of Israel to do for them.” Sincere and believing prayer is a Divinely-appointed condition of blessing. Let His protection in past times inspire our petitions in the present. “Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live.” Let our own experience stimulate and strengthen our confidence in Him and our prayers to Him as the God of our salvation.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 140". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany