Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 28

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-9

Psalms 28:1-9

THE unquestionable resemblances to Psalms 26:1-12 scarcely require that this should be considered its companion. The differences are as obvious as the likenesses. While the prayer "Draw me not away with the wicked" and the characterisation of these are alike in both, the further emphatic prayer for retribution here and the closing half of this psalm have nothing corresponding to them in the other. This psalm is built on the familiar plan of groups of two verses each, with the exception that the prayer, which is its centre, runs over into three. The course of thought is as familiar as the structure. Invocation is followed by petition, and that by exultant anticipation of the answer as already given; and all closes with wider petitions for the whole people.

Psalms 28:1-2 are a prelude to the prayer proper, bespeaking the Divine acceptance of it, on the double ground of the psalmist’s helplessness apart from God’s help and of his outstretched hands appealing to God enthroned above the mercy seat. He is in such straits that, unless his prayer brings an answer in act, he must sink into the pit of Sheol, and be made like those that lie huddled there in its darkness. On the edge of the slippery slope, he stretches out his hands toward the innermost sanctuary (for so the word rendered, by a mistaken etymology, "oracle" means). He beseeches God to hear, and blends the two figures of deafness and silence as both meaning the withholding of help. Jehovah seems deaf when prayer is unanswered, and is silent when He does not speak in deliverance. This prelude of invocation throbs with earnestness, and sets the pattern for suppliants, teaching them bow to quicken their own desires as well as how to appeal to God by breathing to Him their consciousness that only His hand can keep them from sliding down into death.

The prayer itself (Psalms 28:3-5) touches lightly on the petition that the psalmist may be delivered from the fate of the wicked, and then launches out into indignant description of their practices and solemn invocation of retribution upon them. "Drag away" is parallel with, but stronger than, "Gather not" in Psalms 26:9. Commentators quote Job 24:22, where the word is used of God’s dragging the mighty out of life by His power, as a struggling criminal is haled to the scaffold. The shuddering recoil from the fate of the wicked is accompanied with vehement loathing of their practices. A man who keeps his heart in touch with God cannot but shrink, as from a pestilence, from complicity with evil. and the depth of his hearty hatred of it is the measure of his right to ask that he may not share in the ruin it must bring, since God is righteous. One type of evildoers is the object of the psalmist’s special abhorrence: false friends with smooth tongues and daggers in their sleeves, the "dissemblers" of Psalms 26:1-12; but he passes to the more general characterisation of the class, in his terrible prayer for retribution, in Psalms 28:4-5. The sin of sins, from which all specific acts of evil flow, is blindness to God’s "deeds" and to "the work of His hands," His acts both of mercy and of judgment. Practical atheism, the indifference which looks upon nature, history, and self, and sees no signs of a mighty hand tender, pure, and strong, ever active in them all, will surely lead the purblind "Agnostics" to do "works of their hands" which, for lack of reference to Him, fail to conform to the highest ideal and draw down righteous judgment. But the blindness to God’s work here meant is that of an averted will rather than that of mistaken understanding, and from the stem of such a thorn the grapes of holy living cannot be gathered. Therefore the psalmist is but putting into words the necessary result of such lives when from suppliant he becomes prophet, and declares that "He shall cast them down, and not build them up." The stern tone of this prayer marks it as belonging to the older type of religion, and its dissimilarity to the New Testament teaching is not to be slurred over. No doubt the element of personal enmity is all but absent, but it is not the prayer which those who have heard "Father, forgive them," are to copy. Yet, on the other hand, the wholesome abhorrence of evil, the solemn certitude that sin is death, the desire that it may cease from the world, and the lowly petition that it may not drag us into fatal associations are all to be preserved in Christian feeling, while softened by the light that falls from Calvary.

As in many psalms, the faith which prays passes at once into the faith which possesses. This man, when he "stood praying, believed that he had what he asked," and, so believing, had it. There was no change in circumstances, but he was changed. There is no fear of going down into the pit now, and the rabble of evil-doers have disappeared. This is the blessing which every true suppliant may bear away from the throne, the peace which passeth understanding, the sure pledge of the Divine act which answers prayer. It is the first gentle ripple of the incoming tide; high water is sure to come at the due hour. So the psalmist is exuberant and happily tautological in telling how his trusting heart has become a leaping heart, and help has been flashed back from heaven as swiftly as his prayer had travelled thither.

The closing strophe (Psalms 28:8-9) is but loosely connected with the body of the psalm except on one supposition. What if the singer were king over Israel, and if the dangers threatening him were public perils? That would explain the else singular attachment of intercession for Israel to so intensely personal a supplication. It is most natural that God’s "anointed" who has been asking deliverance for himself, should widen his petitions to take in that flock of which he was but the under-shepherd, and should devolve the shepherding and carrying of it on the Divine Shepherd King, of whom he was the shadowy representative. The addition of one letter changes "their" in Psalms 28:8 into "to His people" a reading which has the support of the LXX and of some manuscripts and versions and is recommended by its congruity with the context. Cheyne’s suggestion that "His anointed" is the high priest is only conjecture. The reference of the expression to the king who is also the psalmist preserves the unity of the psalm. The Christian reader cannot but think of the true King and Intercessor, whose great prayer before His passion began, like our psalm, with petitions for Himself, but passed into supplication for His little flock and for all the unnumbered millions "who should believe on" Him "through their word."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 28". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-28.html.
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