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To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
The psalmist is in sore distress and peril from enemies violent and treacherous, among whom one “the evil man,” “the violent man” stands forth in unenviable prominence. The punishment of their falsehood and cruelty, Psalms 140:10, reminds us of Psalms 120:4. It probably belongs to the same occasion as Psalms 52, 109, and 1 Samuel 22:9-9.22.23. The impressions of horror at the slaughter of the good Ahimelech, and the priests and citizens of Nob, found expression in various dirge-ful and execrative songs. Of the four strophes of the psalm, the first three close with the selah. The psalm opens with prayer against his enemies, and closes with profession of confidence in the vindicatory providence of God. Though it appears late in the compilation known in the Psalter as the fifth book, there is no reason for setting aside the title which ascribes it to David.
1. Deliver me… preserve me The first verb is in the imperative, the second in the indicative future, thus: Deliver me… thou wilt preserve me. The first is a prayer, the second an expression of confidence in the answer of prayer. “The insensible transition from direct prayer to confident anticipation is characteristic of the psalms of David.” Alexander.
Evil man… violent man The former is a worthless man, without conscience or principle; the latter is one whose internal badness has developed into overt acts of outrage. The danger from the former is false faith, betrayal; from the latter, destruction. From the former he would be delivered, literally, drawn away; from the latter, preserved, literally, defended, by the direct exercise of power. The parallelism is very regular and forcible. The evil man here deprecated was not an ideal person, but one who had already signalized himself for falsehood, treachery, and deeds of blood. This was not Saul, of whom David never spoke with disrespect, but Doeg, the fit type of Judas Iscariot. See introductory note, and Psalms 109:8
2. Mischiefs in their heart Here is the seat and fountain of all deeds of wrong and violence. Matthew 15:18-40.15.19. Satan’s workshop and council chamber are in the hearts “of the children of disobedience.” Ephesians 2:2.
Continually are they gathered together for war Literally, Every day they gather war, or, All the day they are assembled to excite war. The latter is the probable sense, judging from the use of the word gather, in Psalms 56:6; Psalms 59:4; Isaiah 54:15. This also forms a fit parallel to their devising “mischiefs in their heart,” in the previous member. The Septuagint reads, “All the day they prepared war.” The version of the “Common Prayer Book” reads, “They stir up strife all the day long.”
3. Sharpened their tongues like a serpent The description is that of a serpent darting out his tongue before inflicting the wound. Roberts: “See him: his head is erect, and his piercing eye is wildly and fiercely fixed on the object; the tongue rapidly appears and disappears, as if by that process it would be sharpened for the contest.” The Hebrew word here rendered adder, would seem to be used in a general way to signify a serpent of some kind, but not determinate as to species. As a compound word the two parts together would signify, according to Gesenius, to coil up and to lie in wait, which might apply to various species, but specially to the cerastes, or horned adder, a dangerous wayside serpent, alluded to Genesis 49:17. Others apply it to the toxicoa, so well known in northern Africa, also in Palestine and Syria.
Poison… under their lips The secreted poison at the root of the serpent’s fang, which is injected, by a peculiar muscular apparatus, into the wound caused by the bite. A fit emblem of a malignant slanderer.
4. Keep me A repetition of the prayer of Psalms 140:1.
Goings The word may mean either feet, or the steps of his feet.
5. Have hid a snare Four different words are used to set forth the deceitful artifices of the psalmist’s enemies: “a snare,” trap; “cords,”- nooses; “net” and “gins,” toils. The number and variety indicate the prolific inventions of his enemies to decoy, deceive, and take him.
By the way-side Whatever path he took, close to his steps was prepared a trap. See Psalms 141:9; Psalms 142:3
6. Thou art my God His refuge is alone in God. No human sagacity could elude the malignant cunning and vigilance of his enemies. The quality and policy of his enemies, as here given, cause humanity to recoil with indignation and horror.
7. O God the Lord The frequent use of the divine names is not tautological, but indicates the psalmist’s soul agony, and the earnestness of his appeal to the covenant faithfulness of God, bringing his piety imposingly into the foreground.
Covered my head As a helmet.
Compare Psalms 6:7; Ephesians 6:17.
In the day of battle Hebrew, In the day of armour. The word neshek occurs ten times in the Old Testament, and never means battle, but always armour, armory, weapon. The reference is not to a battle, but to a preparation for a battle, and means, God had been his real shield or helmet (the cover of his head) when he armed himself for battle; or, more probably, it is an allusion to 1 Samuel 17:38-9.17.39, when Saul armed David to meet Goliath, and “put a helmet of brass upon his head,” which David declined, trusting alone in God. This coincides with the date we have given the psalm, and fully sustains the high import of the prayer.
8. Grant not… the desires of the wicked For God to grant their desires would contradict his own holiness, and lead to the abandonment of the righteous, for the desires of the wicked and the righteous cannot both be granted. The one precludes the other. See Proverbs 21:10; Isaiah 26:8-23.26.9
9. As for the head Not figuratively the chiefs or leaders, but literally, as Psalms 7:16. There seems an antithetic reference to Psalms 140:7, thus: Thou hast covered my head in the day of armour… but the head of my besiegers, or those who surround me, mischief shall cover them.”
10. Let burning coals fall upon them The verb is declarative: “He shall cause coals of fire to fall,” etc., “coals” being taken figuratively, for great distress, as Proverbs 25:22, “Thou shalt heap coals of fire,” etc., meaning, “Thou wilt overwhelm him with shame and remorse for his enmity toward thee.” Gesenius. Whether human instruments were employed, or only direct divine judgments, as Psalms 11:6, (comp. Genesis 19:24,) the result would be the same.
Deep pits Many interpreters, ancient and modern, Jewish and Christian, understand water pits. R. Parchi, as quoted by Gesenius, understands “rivers flowing with strength and impetuosity.” The word indicates whirlpools or rapids swift and noisy waters. The Septuagint and Vulgate have, “calamities.” The figurative sense of sudden and overwhelming calamities, such as they had plotted for the psalmist, must be admitted.
That they rise not up again That they may never recover their stations of power and wealth, to outrage justice and derange society.
11. An evil speaker Hebrew, A man of tongue. An idle tattler, a slanderer. In Ecclesiastes 10:11, “babbler,” is lord of the tongue one who subjects his tongue to no restraint. Later in life David enacted, in regard to his house and court, “He that telleth lies shall not be established in my sight,” Psalms 101:7. The sharp Athnach, after “evil,” terminating the line at that word, connects it with violence as an adjective, and makes the sentence parallel to the preceding. The whole verse would then read: “The man of tongue shall not be established in the earth; nor the man of evil violence; he [God] shall hunt him,” etc. But ancient and modern authority generally sets aside the present pointing, ending the line at the preceding word, and makes “evil” the subject of the verb, as in the English version.
Hunt… to overthrow Chase to headlong ruin. The idea of the word rendered “overthrow” is that of precipitate ruin.
Evil The consequences of their evil doing shall pursue them to speedy, down-rushing destruction. Bythner: To precipices. Hengstenberg: Pursue him, thrust upon thrust.
12, 13. A more calm and confident tone marks the closing of this psalm.
Maintain the cause of the afflicted The language is forensic. A suffering Church appeals to God against the wrongs and persecutions of the world, and faith assures that God will maintain the right. Afflicted…
poor These terms, often rendered “poor and needy” in the psalms and the prophets, denote not merely the temporally destitute and suffering, but commonly take the implied adsignification of humble, “poor in spirit,” as Matthew 5:3, such as despair of self-help, and put their trust in God only. Such only are dear to God, and he will vindicate them.
Surely Answering to the New Testament verily.
The righteous shall give thanks Both for the results reached and the methods of Providence to secure them.
Dwell in thy presence Literally, Dwell before thy face. To abide “before the face of God” to “behold his face” to “be glad in his countenance” are phrases always denoting the conscious enjoyment of the favour of God, here and hereafter. See on Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 21:6; and compare Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2. A Psalm of David.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 140". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent