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The psalmist is certainly in straits, beset with physical dangers. Psalms 141:1; Psalms 141:7. At the same time his social life is exposed to temptations of hasty and unadvised speech, and to the contagion of voluptuous and careless living, (Psalms 141:3-4,) to the indulgence of which he prefers the severe, though kindly, rebukes of the righteous. Psalms 141:5. His pacific counsels to his enemies had not been accepted, and he now seeks for help against these complicated evils. Psalms 141:6. The indications of historic occasion point more probably to David’s second sojourn in the Philistine country (1 Samuel 27:1-2) than to any other part of his history, where, with his six hundred men, he for a time remained at Gath, and afterward was assigned the village of Ziklag in the south, on the borders of the desert. We accept the title, there being no satisfactory reason to reject it.
1. Lord, I cry unto thee Hebrew, Jehovah, I have called thee, hasten to me. The impassioned cry supposes great want and imminent danger. This might apply to various points of the psalmist’s history. The time we have assumed in the introductory note is one of them. His second visit to Gath was a final and hazardous resort, exposed, as the history shows, to the jealousy of the Philistine nobility on the one hand and the robber tribes of the desert on the other. He had only to pass a few miles eastward to come within Saul’s dominions, and meet a stronger and a deadlier foe, to escape whom he had accepted this desperate alternative.
2. Let my prayer be set forth before thee כון , koon, rendered “set forth,” here takes the sense of prepare, make ready, and, in Niphal future, “My prayers shall be prepared as incense.” The word is used in the Levitical technology, and refers to the careful preparation of the spices for holy incense, forbidden in common use. Exodus 30:34-38, where see note.
Before thee Better, Before thy face, in thy immediate presence, as in the holy place in the tabernacle.
As the evening sacrifice Hebrew, As the minchah of evening. The “minchah” was a bloodless offering, made in conjunction with bloody sacrifices, and always with the daily morning and evening lamb. The law respecting the minchah is given in Leviticus 2:0, and of the daily minchah, Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 4:16, where see notes; in all which places, as also throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, the word is rendered “meat-offering” in our English Bible. It was accounted “a sweet savour unto the Lord,” “most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.” Leviticus 2:2-3. Its import was that of an azkarah, or memorial, and, from Exodus 29:42-46, a standing memorial throughout the generations of the perpetual presence of God with his people, and of the acceptance of their offerings. The psalmist, now in exile among heathen tribes, desires his worship may be as acceptable to God as the most holy services of the tabernacle.
3. Keep the door of my lips The “lips” are but the “door” of the heart, through which, from within, escape words. Here he would have a sentinel placed. He had need of a guarded speech in view of his relations to Saul and the Hebrew public, of his enemies among whom he lived, and of his sacred character as the anointed and beloved of God, against whose providences he might be tempted to complain.
4. Incline not my heart As in Psalms 141:3 he would have the “door” of his “lips” guarded, so now he would have his “heart” rightly inclined. The prayer is against being abandoned to the pressure and tendency of external circumstances. If left to himself he would fall into sin.
Practise wicked works Literally, To practise practices in wickedness. The habit of evil doing, into which he was in danger of insensibly gliding by the contagion of surrounding example, he here deprecates.
Not eat of their dainties Neither at their idol feasts nor as a guest at their social entertainments; thus tacitly condemning their practices.
5. Let the righteous smite me This is preferred to the “dainties” of the wicked, Psalms 141:4. Smiting, here, literally means beating as with a hammer, as Judges 5:26, Psalms 74:6; sharp reproof, as it is called in the next line.
Kindness Or, taking the word adverbially, Let the righteous smite me kindly. See the maxim Proverbs 27:6.
Excellent oil Literally, Oil of the head, and hence refined of excellent quality.
Not break my head Better, My head shall not refuse it. In Hebrew idiom equal to, “it shall cheer and refresh my head” diffuse joy and gladness, which answers to the figurative idea of anointing the head with oil. Psalms 23:5; Psalms 45:7; Luke 7:46. Or, taking נוא ( noh) in the sense of discourage, depress, as Numbers 32:7; Numbers 32:9, we may render: “It [the smiting reproof] shall not depress my head” not bow it down as if in sorrow or shame.
For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities An ambiguous sentence. The word translated “calamities” may signify either affliction or wickedness. It is best to understand the psalmist as referring to his enemies, and render: “For yet my prayer also shall be against their wickedness;” that is, I return only prayer for their malice.
6. When their judges are overthrown in stony places Literally, Their judges [princes] have been cast down by the sides of the rock. The verb is in Niphal (passive) perfect, and applies to David’s enemies, whom he beholds as already condemned and punished by being thrown from a cliff, a mode of punishment not unknown to the ancients, (2 Chronicles 25:12,) and probably the mode advised against David should he be arrested. French and Skinner translate:
“Their rulers shall be hurled over the sides of the rock,
And men shall hearken to my words, for they are sweet.”
But more probably shamat (rendered “overthrown”) should here be taken in the sense of release, dismiss, which it repeatedly bears, and read, “Their princes, or judges, were dismissed by the sides of the cliff, or rock,” referring to the hill or cliff of Hachilah, which David hastily descended on one side while Saul approached and encamped on the other. 1 Samuel 23:19-25; 1 Samuel 26:3. And this is the more probable, as it was from the sides of this rocky cliff that Saul finally abandoned all further pursuit of David, and returned home, while David departed the second time to Gath.
They shall hear my words; for they are sweet Literally, And they heard my words, for they were pleasant. Both at Hachilah and Engedi David spared Saul’s life, and his mild and pacific addresses to Saul from a distant cliff awakened in that fickle king tears of gratitude and relenting. 1 Samuel 24, 26
7. Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth Hebrew, At the mouth of sheol. A figure denoting wanton and indiscriminate destruction: See Psalms 53:5; Ezekiel 6:5
8, 9. In these verses David declares his sole trust in God. He admits that human resources had utterly failed. His prayer is plaintive.
Leave not my soul destitute Do not make my soul empty, or naked.
10. Let the wicked fall, etc. The verb is in the declarative future the wicked shall fall into their own nets.
Whilst that I withal escape The Hebrew pointing seems at fault here. Yahad, “together,” (English version “withal,”) belongs to the previous hemistich, and the whole should read:
The wicked together shall fall into their own nets;
Meanwhile I shall pass over [safely.]
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 141". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany