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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 144

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-15

Psalms 144:1-15

THE force of compilation could no further go than in this psalm, which is, in the first eleven verses (Psalms 144:1-11)simply a rechauffe of known psalms, and in Psalms 144:12-15 is most probably an extract from an unknown one of later date. The junctions are not effected with much skill, and the last is tacked on very awkwardly (Psalms 144:12). It is completely unlike the former part, inasmuch as there the speaker is a warlike king praying for victory, while in the latter the nation sings of the tranquil blessings of peaceful expansion. The language of the later portion is full of late forms and obscurities. But the compiler’s course of thought is traceable. He begins by praising Jehovah, who has taught him warlike skill; then adoringly thinks of his own weakness, made strong by God’s condescending regard; next prays for complete victory, and vows fresh praises for new mercies; and closes with a picture of the prosperity which follows conquest, and is secured to Israel because Jehovah is its God.

Psalms 144:1-2 are echoes of Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:34; Psalms 18:46, with slight variations. The remarkable epithet "My lovingkindness" offends some critics, who emend so as to read "My stronghold"; but it has a parallel in Jonah 2:9, and is forcible as an emotional abbreviation of the fuller "God of my lovingkindness". {Psalms 59:10} The original passage reads "people," which is the only appropriate word in this connection, and should probably be read in Psalms 144:2 c.

Psalms 8:1-9 supplies the original of Psalms 144:3-4, with a reminiscence of Psalms 39:5, and of Psalms 102:11, from which comes the pathetic image of the fleeting shadow. The link between this and the former extract seems to be the recognition of God’s condescension in strengthening so weak and transient a creature for conflict and conquest.

The following prayer for further Divine help in further struggles is largely borrowed from the magnificent picture of a theophany in Psalms 18:9; Psalms 18:14-16. The energetic "Lighten lightning" is peculiar to this psalm, as is the use of the word for "Pluck out." The description of the enemies as "sons of the alien" is like Psalms 18:44-45. As in many other psalms, the treachery of the foe is signalised. They break their oaths. The right hand which they had lifted in swearing is a lying hand. The vow of new praise recalls Psalms 33:2-3; Psalms 96:1; Psalms 98:1. Psalms 144:10 is a reproduction of Psalms 18:50. The mention of David’s deliverance from the "evil sword" has apparently been the reason for the LXX referring the psalm to the victory over Goliath an impossible view. The new song is not here sung; but the psalm drops from the level of praise to renew the petition for deliverance, in the manner of a refrain caught up in Psalms 144:11 from Psalms 144:7. This might make a well-rounded close, and may have originally been the end of the psalm.

The appended fragment (Psalms 144:12-15) is attached to the preceding in a most embarrassing fashion. The first word of Psalms 144:12 is the sign of the relative. The LXX accordingly translates "Whose sons are," etc., and understands the whole as a description of the prosperity of the enemies, which view necessarily involves the alteration of "our" into "their" in the following clauses. Others supply an antecedent to the relative by inserting save us or the like expression at the beginning of the verse. Others, again-e.g., Ewald, followed by Perowne-connect the relative with Psalms 144:15: "We whose sons are," etc "Happy is the people," etc. Delitzsch takes the relative to signify here "because," and compares Judges 9:17; Jeremiah 16:13. The prosperity subsequently described would then be alleged as the occasion of the enemies’ envy. Others would slightly emend the text so as to read, "I pronounce happy," or "Happy are we." The latter, which makes all smooth, and corresponds with Psalms 144:15, is Graetz’s proposal. The rendering of the A.V. "that" or "in order that," has much in its favour. The word which is the sign of the relative is a component of the full expression usually so rendered, and stands alone as equivalent to it in Deuteronomy 4:40, Genesis 11:7. It is true, as Delitzsch objects to this rendering that the following verbs are usually finite, while here they are participles; but that is not a fatal objection. The whole that follows would then be dependent on the petition of Psalms 144:11, and would describe the purpose of the desired deliverance. "This is, in fact, the poet’s meaning. He prays for deliverance from enemies, in order that the happy condition pictured in Psalms 144:12 sqq. may come to pass" (Baethgen). On the whole, that rendering presents least difficulty, but in any case the seam is clumsy.

The substance of the description includes three things-a vigorous, growing population, agricultural prosperity, and freedom from invasion. The language is obscure, especially in Psalms 144:14, but the general drift is plain. The characteristic Jewish blessing of numerous offspring is first touched on in two figures, of which the former is forcible and obvious, and the latter obscure. The comparison of the virgin daughters of Israel to "corners" is best understood by taking the word to mean "corner pillars," not necessarily caryatides, as is usually supposed-an architectural decoration unknown in the East. The points of comparison would then be slender uprightness and firm grace. Delitzsch prefers to take the word as meaning cornices, such as, to the present day, are found in the angles of Eastern rooms, and are elaborately carved in mazy patterns and brightly coloured. He would also render "variegated" instead of "carved." But such a comparison puts too much stress on gay dresses, and too little on qualities corresponding to those of the "well-grown" youths in the former clause.

The description of a flourishing rural community is full of difficult words. "Granaries" is found only here, and "kind" is a late word. "Fields" is the same word as is usually rendered "streets"; it literally means "places outside," and here obviously must refer to the open pastures without the city, in contrast to the "open spaces" within it, mentioned in the next verse. In that verse almost every word is doubtful. That rendered "kine" is masculine in form, but is generally taken as being applicable to both sexes, and here used for the milky mothers of the herd. The word translated above "heavy with young" means laden, and if the accompanying noun is masculine, must mean laden with the harvest sheaves; but the parallel of the increasing flocks suggests the other rendering. The remainder of Psalms 144:14 would in form make a complete verse, and it is possible that something has fallen out between the first clause and the two latter. These paint tranquil city life when enemies are far away. "No breach"-i.e., in the defences by which besiegers could enter; "No going forth"-i.e., sally of the besieged, as seems most probable, though going forth as captured or surrendering has been suggested; "No cry"-i.e., of assailants who have forced an entrance, and of defenders who make their last stand in the open places of the city.

The last verse sums up all the preceding picture of growth, prosperity, and tranquillity, and traces it to the guardian care and blessing of Jehovah. The psalmist may seem to have been setting too much store by outward prosperity. His last word not only points to the one Source of it, but sets high above the material consequences of God’s favour, joyous as these are, that favour itself, as the climax of human blessedness.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 144". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-144.html.
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