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“This Psalm presents,” says Perowne, “some peculiar difficulties of Interpretation, which, however, are due neither to the words employed nor to the grammatical construction, but to the extreme abruptness with which in Psalms 141:6-7 the thoughts follow one another, and the extreme obscurity which hangs over the allusions. To translate each sentence by itself is no difficult matter, but it is almost hopeless either to link the sentences plausibly together, or to discover in them any tangible clue to the circumstances in which the Psalmist was placed. As all the ancient versions must have had substantially the same text, the deviations in any of them being very slight, it is hardly probable that, as Olshausen and Hupfield maintain, the text is corrupt: it is more likely that our entire ignorance of the circumstances under which the Psalm was written prevents our piercing the obscurity of the writer’s words.
“It has been usual to accept the inscription which assigns the Psalm to David, and to assign it to the time of his persecution by Saul. Psalms 141:5 has generally been supposed to allude to David’s generous conduct in sparing the life of his foe when he was in his power (see 1 Samuel 24:0); but it is quite impossible on this supposition to give any plausible interpretation to Psalms 141:7.
“Delitzsch, with more probability, refers the Psalm to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. He sees an allusion to David’s distance from the sanctuary and the worship of the sanctuary in Psalms 141:2, and he explains Psalms 141:6 of the punishment which shall overtake the rebel leaders, and the return of the people to their allegiance.”
It is unmistakably clear from Psalms 141:7-10 that the Psalm was written at a time of trial and peril. And it brings before our notice—
THE CONDUCT OF A GOOD MAN IN A TIME OF TRIAL
We can trace in this Psalm with considerable clearness the spiritual mood and exercises of the Psalmist in this time of trouble and danger. We have here—
I. Earnest prayer. In his distress David lifted up his voice and his heart to God in prayer. He asks—
1. For Divine audience. “Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto Thee.” Not even the whisper of sincere prayer escapes the ear of God; yet it is becoming in us humbly to entreat Him to hear favourably our prayers. Our asking tends to strengthen our faith in His hearing.
2. For Divine acceptance. “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” “The sacrifice here meant,” says Perowne, “is strictly the offering consisting of fine flour with oil and frankincense, or of unleavened cakes mingled with oil, which was burnt upon the altar (Heb. minchah, E. V. ‘meat-offering:’ see Leviticus 2:1-11). This, however, like the ‘incense,’ was only added to the burnt-offering, the lamb which was offered every morning and evening (Exodus 29:34-42; Numbers 28:3-8). It would seem, therefore, that these two, ‘the incense’ and ‘the offering of fine flour,’ &c., stand for the morning and evening sacrifice; and the sense is, ‘Let my daily prayer be acceptable to Thee as are the daily sacrifices of Thine own appointment.’ “The incense which ascended in a fragrant cloud was a symbol of acceptable prayer. And the lifting up of the hands was a symbol of the lifting up of the heart. The poet offered his heart to God in prayer. And he asks that his prayer may find acceptance with God.
3. For speedy Divine assistance. “Lord, I cry unto Thee, make haste unto me.” The burden of his trouble was heavy, and his peril was imminent and his need urgent; therefore he entreats God to appear quickly for his help.
4. For preservation from sinful speech. “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” He asks to be kept from the utterance of foolish or bitter words in his time of trial. (See the Hom. Com. on Psalms 39:1.)
5. For preservation from sinful conduct. “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties.” Not for one moment can we entertain the idea that God ever exerts any positive influence to induce men to sin. His holy nature, His revealed will, and all His arrangements are utterly opposed to such an idea. The prayer of the Psalmist is in effect that God would not leave him to himself to go astray, or to any evil influence that would lead him astray. He seeks preservation from
(1) sinful practices, that God would keep him from the wicked doings of the workers of iniquity. And from
(2) sinful pleasures, that God would keep him from the easy, luxurious, sensual life of the wicked who have their portion in this world, that he may “not eat of their dainties.” Two points are worthy of notice here—
First: This sense of dependence on God, which the Psalmist manifested, would ensure his safety. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.”
Second: In thus taking his trouble to God by prayer the Psalmist would find relief. The mere utterance of our anxieties or griefs to a Being of perfect love and faithfulness affords us relief. The exercise of prayer to God is itself a helpful and blessed thing.
II. Noble resolutions. David expresses his resolution—
1. To welcome the rebukes of the righteous. “Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” Perowne more correctly translates thus: “It shall be as oil upon (my) head, let not my head refuse (it).” The rebuke of the righteous may be painful, but it promotes our well-being. The pain which it causes is, like that which is inflicted by the knife in the hand of the skilful surgeon, for the good of the sufferer. The true friend who, because of his regard for us, faithfully reproves us when we are in fault, is a great blessing. And the man who, like David, is wise and good will welcome his reproofs with joy, though they are painful. He will not only not refuse them, but will receive them as the oil which was poured on the head on festive occasions, “the oil of gladness.” “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.”
2. To defend himself by prayer against his adversaries. It appears to us that our translation of the last line of Psalms 141:5 does not give the true meaning. Hengstenberg renders it:” If still, then, I shall pray against their wickedness.” And Perowne: “For yet is my prayer against their wickedness.” The idea seems to be that he would have recourse to prayer as the best defence against the wickedness of his persecutors. He would not seek to retaliate upon them, or meet their wickedness towards him with wickedness towards them, but he would commit his cause unto the Lord in prayer. Surely these resolutions indicate a true and great soul.
III. Confident expectation. The Psalmist expresses his assured hope of deliverance from peril and of the triumph of his cause. His statement of his expectation presents three points:—
1. That the chief men among his enemies would be overthrown, and that their overthrow would promote his triumph. “When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.” Perowne: “This verse, difficult in itself, is still more difficult, because it has no very obvious connection either with what precedes or with what follows. The allusions are so obscure that it is impossible to do more than guess at their meaning.” The interpretation which he proceeds to suggest seems to us the most probable. “(When) their judges have been hurled down the sides of the rock, then they shall hear my words that they are sweet.” Their judges must be the rulers or princes of the wicked adversaries of the poet. The verb hurled down is the same which is used of the throwing down of Jezebel from the window (2 Kings 9:33); and it indicates a punishment which David anticipates will be inflicted upon these rebel rulers (see 2 Chronicles 25:12). The words they shall hear refer not to the judges, but to their followers who have been led astray by them. If the Psalm refers to the rebellion of Absalom or any similar occasion, the sense will be, “when the leaders in the insurrection meet with the fate they deserve, then the subjects of the king will return to their allegiance.” And the expression, “they shall hear my words that they are sweet,” would be a thoroughly oriental mode of describing the satisfaction with which they would welcome the gracious amnesty pronounced by their offended sovereign.
2. That his present sufferings would promote his triumph. “Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.” The explanation of this verse also is difficult. It seems quite clear that the supplying of the word “wood” as the object of the verb, as in the A. V., is both unnecessary and misleading. Perowne translates: “As when one furroweth the earth (with the plough), our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.” The interpretation of Delitzsch and Hengstenberg seems to us correct. It is thus stated by the latter: “As in ploughing the tearing up of the earth is not the ultimate design, but only the means of a fruitful result, only serves the purpose of making the earth yield its produce; therefore, with an equally beneficent design, or in order that, through the present injury, new life may arise, our bones also are scattered about. While the enemies are conducted from life to death (Psalms 141:6), we are conducted from death to life.” The sufferings of the present were as the seed from which would grow a plenteous harvest of prosperity and joy. This truth is taught frequently and clearly in the New Testament (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-3).
3. That his confidence was reposed in God. “But mine eyes are unto Thee, O God the Lord; in Thee is my trust.” His expectation of deliverance and triumph was fixed in God,—not in the skill of his strategy, or the strength of his forces, but in Jehovah the Lord.
The poet closes the Psalm as he began it, with—
IV. Earnest prayer. He prays—
1. That he may be protected from his enemies. “Leave not my soul destitute. Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.” Here are three points:—
(1.) His enemies had cunningly devised his overthrow.
(2.) God was able to protect him against their deepest designs.
(3.) For this protection he prays, in it he trusts. The all-wise and Almighty One will baffle the most subtle plots that are formed against His people.
2. That the designs of his enemies may be turned against themselves. “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.” The sinner digs the pit for his own destruction, builds the prison for his own incarceration, collects the fuel for his own hell-fire. The blow which he aims against others recoils upon himself. “No law can be more just than that the architects of destruction should perish by their own contrivances.” (See the Hom. Com. on Psalms 140:9.) When the wicked are overthrown, like Pharaoh and his host, by the waters of that sea into which they have presumptuously and wickedly adventured, the righteous shall pass in safety and triumph unto the other side.
THE SUFFERINGS OF GOD’S SERVANTS, AND THE RELIEF WHICH THE GOSPEL AFFORDS
I. That God’s most favoured servants have often been exposed to the utmost extremity and danger.
“Our bones are scattered,” &c. It is an expression denoting the extreme of suffering—hopeless calamity. When the prophet Ezekiel would express the overwhelming ruin under which Israel was sunk, he compares their case to a valley of dry bones, many, and exceeding dry; and explains the allegory thus—“Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost” (Ezekiel 37:11).
A similar destitution of hope and happiness has often characterised God’s people. David was hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, whilst Saul was on the throne. Moses was a fugitive and outlaw from Egypt. Paul was in bonds, whilst Festus was on the bench. Job was on the dunghill. Those “of whom the world was not worthy were “destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Christ was a prisoner at the bar, whilst Herod, in royal apparel, sat on the judgment-seat. More remarkable still,—they who possessed miraculous powers could not employ them for the relief of their own wants. Peter’s shadow could heal the diseases of others; but he could not release himself from prison.
But why is all this suffered? Certainly not from indifference to their interests; for He calls them His jewels, His children, His flock. Not from inability to help or save; for He hag all power in heaven and earth,—and He who conducts them to thrones of glory in the next world could equally enrich them with the treasures of this.
1. To lead the soul to God, in the immediate exercise of faith and dependence, for better treasure than the world can give. This was the immediate effect here: “Our bones are scattered; … but mine eyes are unto Thee.” God reveals Himself as the Refuge: He loves to be known and trusted under that character. He is never more present with His people than when the world forsakes. Nothing is more delightful than the view afforded by the Cross of Christ of the revealed character of God.
Every creature has its refuge—some place of defence to which it can betake itself in the hour of threatening danger. The lion has its den; the hunted deer betakes itself to the running stream; the dove flies to the clefts of the rock, &c.; the good man turns to God.
2. To prove principle and purify character. These trials are necessary to prove grace and to improve it. “That the trial of your faith being much more precious,” &c. (1 Peter 1:7). God often chooses His people in the furnace of affliction, but always refines them in it. Whilst you are under affliction you are under a process of cure. The true thought is, that sin introduced suffering, but God, superior at all points to evil, employs suffering as an instrument by which sin may be destroyed in His own people.
It is one means of fulfilling the prayer: “Keep me from the snares they have laid for me” (Psalms 141:9).
3. To prepare for greater usefulness here, and for endless happiness hereafter.
II. That in the most hopeless circumstances the Gospel affords relief.
1. From the fact of Divine appointment. HE causes grief; not an enemy. They come not from the enemy of souls, but the Friend of sinners. The same hand that opens the fountain of our joys opens that of our sorrows too. God administers them. They are the signs of His lore. They shall not exceed the measure of your strength, nor be continued a moment longer than needful.
2. From the sympathy and compassion of Christ.
3. From the promises of the Gospel.
4. From the bright prospects of future glory.
III. That in proportion to the happiness and safety of God’s children must be the misery and wretchedness of His enemies.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 141". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34