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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Psalms 17




Flight of an innocent and Persecuted Man for Refuge in the Lord, Who Knoweth Them That Are His

Psalms 17:1-15 is placed after Psalms 16:1-11, because just like the latter (cf. Psalms 11:7) it closes with the hope of a blessed and satisfying vision of God. In other respects also the two Psalms have many prominent features in common: as, for instance, the petition שׁמרני , Psalms 16:1; Psalms 17:8; the retrospect on nightly fellowship with God, Psalms 16:7; Psalms 17:3; the form of address in prayer אל , Psalms 16:1; Psalms 17:6; the verb תּמך , Psalms 16:5; Psalms 17:5, etc. (vid., Symbolae p. 49), notwithstanding a great dissimilarity in their tone. For Psalms 16:1-11 is the first of those which we call Psalms written in the indignant style, in the series of the Davidic Psalms. The language of the Psalms of David, which is in other instances so flowing and clear, becomes more harsh and, in accordance with the subject and mood, as it were, full of unresolved dissonances (Psalms 17:1; Psalms 140:1; Psalms 58:1; Psalms 36:2, cf. Psalms 10:2-11) when describing the dissolute conduct of his enemies, and of the ungodly in general. The language is then more rough and unmanageable, and wanting in the clearness and transparency we find elsewhere. The tone of the language also becomes more dull and, as it were, a dull murmur. It rolls on like the rumble of distant thunder, by piling up the suffixes mo , āmo , ēmo , as in Psalms 17:10; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 64:6, Psalms 64:9, where David speaks of his enemies and describes them in a tone suggested by the indignation, which is working with his breast; or in Psalms 59:12-14; Psalms 56:8; Psalms 21:10-13; Psalms 140:10; Psalms 58:7, where, as in prophetic language, he announces to them of the judgment of God. The more vehement and less orderly flow of the language which we find here, is the result of the inward tumult of his feelings.

There are so many parallels in the thought and expression of thought of this Psalm in other Davidic Psalms (among those we have already commented on we may instance more especially Psalms 7:1 and Psalms 11:1, and also Psalms 4:1 and Psalms 10:1), that even Hitzig admits the לדוד . The author of the Psalm is persecuted, and others with him; foes, among whom one, their leader, stands prominently forward, plot against his life, and have encompassed him about in the most threatening manner, eager for his death. All this corresponds, line for line, with the situation of David in the wilderness of Maon (about three hours and three quarters S.S.E. of Hebron), as narrated in 1 Samuel 23:25., when Saul and his men were so close upon the heels of David and his men, that he only escaped capture by a most fortunate incident.

The only name inscribed on this Psalm is תּפּלּה (a prayer), the most comprehensive name for the Psalms, and the oldest (Psalms 72:20); for שׁיר and מזמור were only given to them when they were sung in the liturgy and with musical accompaniment. As the title of a Psalm it is found five times (Psalms 17:1, Psalms 86:1, Psalms 90:1, Psalms 92:1, Psalms 142:1) in the Psalter, and besides that once, in Hab. Habakkuk's תפלה is a hymn composed for music. But in the Psalter we do not find any indication of the Psalms thus inscribed being arranged for music. The strophe schema is 4. 7; 4. 4. 6. 7.

Verse 1-2

צדק is the accusative of the object: the righteousness, intended by the suppliant, is his own ( Psalms 17:15 ). He knows that he is not merely righteous in his relation to man, but also in his relation to God. In all such assertions of pious self-consciousness, that which is intended is a righteousness of life which has its ground in the righteousness of faith. True, Hupfeld is of opinion, that under the Old Testament nothing was known either of righteousness which is by faith or of a righteousness belonging to another and imputed. But if this were true, then Paul was in gross error and Christianity is built upon the sand. But the truth, that faith is the ultimate ground of righteousness, is expressed in Genesis 15:6, and at other turning-points in the course of the history of redemption; and the truth, that the righteousness which avails before God is a gift of grace is, for instance, a thought distinctly marked out in the expression of Jeremiah צדקנוּ ה , “the Lord our righteousness.” The Old Testament conception, it is true, looks more to the phenomena than to the root of the matter ( ist mehr phänomenell als wurzelhaft ), is (so to speak) more Jacobic than Pauline; but the righteousness of life of the Old Testament and that of the New have one and the same basis, viz., in the grace of God, the Redeemer, towards sinful man, who in himself is altogether wanting in righteousness before God (Psalms 143:2). Thus there is no self-righteousness, in David's praying that the righteousness, which in him is persecuted and cries for help, may be heard. For, on the one hand, in his personal relation to Saul, he knows himself to be free from any ungrateful thoughts of usurpation, and on the other, in his personal relation to God free from מרמה , i.e., self-delusion and hypocrisy. The shrill cry for help, רנּה , which he raises, is such as may be heard and answered, because they are not lips of deceit with which he prays. The actual fact is manifest לפני יהוה , therefore may his right go forth מלּפניו , - just what does happen, by its being publicly proclaimed and openly maintained - from Him, for His eyes, the eyes of Him who knoweth the hearts (Psalms 11:4), behold מישׁרים (as in Psalms 58:2; Psalms 75:3 = בּמישׁרים , Psalms 9:9, and many other passages), in uprightness, i.e., in accordance with the facts of the case and without partiality. מישׁרים might also be an accusative of the object (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:17), but the usage of the language much more strongly favours the adverbial rendering, which is made still more natural by the confirmatory relation in which Psalms 17:2 stands to Psalms 17:2 .

Verses 3-5

David refers to the divine testing and illumination of the inward parts, which he has experienced in himself, in support of his sincerity. The preterites in Psalms 17:3 express the divine acts that preceded the result בּל־תּמצא , viz., the testing He has instituted, which is referred to in צרפתּני and also בּחנתּ as a trying of gold by fire, and in פּקד as an investigation (Job 7:18). The result of the close scrutiny to which God has subjected him in the night, when the bottom of a man's heart is at once made manifest, whether it be in his thoughts when awake or in the dream and fancies of the sleeper, was and is this, that He does not find, viz., anything whatever to punish in him, anything that is separated as dross from the gold. To the mind of the New Testament believer with his deep, and as it were microscopically penetrating, insight into the depth of sin, such a confession concerning himself would be more difficult than to the mind of an Old Testament saint. For a separation and disunion of flesh and spirit, which was unknown in the same degree to the Old Testament, has been accomplished in the New Testament consciousness by the facts and operations of redemption revealed in the New Testament; although at the same time it must be remembered that in such confessions the Old Testament consciousness does not claim to be clear from sins, but only from a conscious love of sin, and from a self-love that is hostile to God.

With זמּותי David begins his confession of how Jahve found him to be, instead of finding anything punishable in him. This word is either an infinitive like חנּות (Psalms 77:10) with the regular ultima accentuation, formed after the manner of the ה ל verbs, - in accordance with which Hitzig renders it: my thinking does not overstep my mouth, - or even 1 pers. praet ., which is properly Milel , but does also occur as Milra , e.g., Deuteronomy 32:41; Isaiah 44:16 (vid., on Job 19:17), - according to which Böttcher translates: should I think anything evil, it dare not pass beyond my mouth, - or (since זמם may denote the determination that precedes the act, e.g., Jeremiah 4:28; Lamentations 2:17): I have determined my mouth shall not transgress. This last rendering is opposed by the fact, that עבר by itself in the ethical signification “to transgress” (cf. post-biblical עברה παράβασις ) is not the usage of the biblical Hebrew, and that when יעבר־פּי stand close together, פי is presumptively the object. We therefore give the preference to Böttcher's explanation, which renders זמותי as a hypothetical perfect and is favoured by Proverbs 30:32 (which is to be translated: and if thou thinkest evil, (lay) thy hand on thy mouth!). Nevertheless בל יעבר־פי is not the expression of a fact, but of a purpose, as the combination of בל with the future requires it to be taken. The psalmist is able to testify of himself that he so keeps evil thoughts in subjection within him, even when they may arise, that they do not pass beyond his mouth, much less that he should put them into action. But perhaps the psalmist wrote פּיך originally, “my reflecting does not go beyond Thy commandment” (according to Numbers 22:18; 1 Samuel 15:24; Proverbs 8:29), - a meaning better suited, as a result of the search, to the nightly investigation. The ל of לפעלּות fo ל need not be the ל of reference (as to); it is that of the state or condition, as in Psalms 32:6; Psalms 69:22. אדם , as perhaps also in Job 31:33; Hosea 6:7 (if אדם is not there the name of the first man), means, men as they are by nature and habit. בּדבר שׂפתיך does not admit of being connected with לפעלּות : at the doings of the world contrary to Thy revealed will (Hofmann and others); for פּעל בּ cannot mean: to act contrary to any one, but only: to work upon any one, Job 35:6. These words must therefore be regarded as a closer definition, placed first, of the שׁמרתּי which follows: in connection with the doings of men, by virtue of the divine commandment, he has taken care of the paths of the oppressor, viz., not to go in them; 1 Samuel 25:21 is an instance in support of this rendering, where שׁמרתי , as in Job 2:6, means: I have kept (Nabal's possession), not seizing upon it myself. Jerome correctly translates vias latronis ; for פּריץ signifies one who breaks in, i.e., one who does damage intentionally and by violence. The confession concerning himself is still continued in Psalms 17:5, for the inf. absol. תּמך , if taken as imperative would express a prayer for constancy, that is alien to the circumstances described. The perfect after בּל is also against such a rendering. It must therefore be taken as inf. historicus , and explained according to Job 23:11, cf. Psalms 41:13. The noun following the inf. absol. , which is usually the object, is the subject in this instance, as, e.g., in Job 40:2; Proverbs 17:12; Ecclesiastes 4:2, and frequently. It is אשׁוּרי , and not אשּׁוּרי , אשׁור (a step) never having the שׁ dageshed, except in Psalms 17:11 and Job 31:7.

Verse 6-7

It is only now, after his inward parts and his walk have been laid open to Jahve, that he resumes his petition, which is so well justified and so soundly based, and enters into detail. The אני

(Note: The word is pointed אני , in correct texts, as אני always is when it has Munach and Dechî follows, e.g., also Psalms 116:16. This Gaja demands an emphatic intonation of the secondary word in its relation to the principal word (which here is קראתיך ).)

found beside קראתיך (the perfect referring to that which has just now been put into execution) is meant to imply: such an one as he has described himself to be according to the testimony of his conscience, may call upon God, for God hears such and will therefore also hear him. הט אזנך exactly corresponds to the Latin au-di ( aus-cul-ta ). The Hiph . הפלה ( הפליא , Psalms 31:22, cf. Psalms 4:4) signifies here to work in an extraordinary and marvellous manner. The danger of him who thus prays is great, but the mercies of God, who is ready and able to help, are still greater. Oh that He may, then, exhibit all its fulness on his behalf. The form of the address resembles the Greek, which is so fond of participles. If it is translated as Luther translates it: “Show Thy marvellous lovingkindness, Thou Saviour of those who trust in Thee, Against those who so set themselves against Thy right hand,” then חוסים is used just as absolutely as in Proverbs 14:32, and the right hand of God is conceived of as that which arranges and makes firm. But “to rebel against God's right (not statuta , but desteram )” is a strange expression. There are still two other constructions from which to choose, viz., “Thou Deliverer of those seeking protection from adversaries, with Thy right hand” (Hitz.), or: “Thou Helper of those seeking protection from adversaries, at Thy right hand” (Aben-Ezra, Tremell.). This last rendering is to be preferred to the two others. Since, on the one hand, one says מחסה מן , refuge from..., and on the other, חסה בּ to hide one's self in any one, or in any place, this determining of the verbal notion by the preposition (on this, see above on Psalms 2:12) must be possible in both directions. ממּתקוממים is equivalent to ממתקוממיהם Job 27:7; and חוסים בימינך , those seeking protection at the strong hand of Jahve. The force of the ב is just the same as in connection with הסתּתּר , 1 Samuel 23:19. In Damascus and throughout Syria - Wetzstein observes on this passage - the weak make use of these words when they surrender themselves to the strong: Arab. anâ b - qabḍt ydk , “I am in the grasp of thy hand (in thy closed hand) i.e., I give myself up entirely to thee.”

(Note: Cognate in meaning to חסה ב are Arab. 'sttr b and tadarrâ b , e.g., Arab. tḏrrâ b - 'l - ḥâ'ṭ mn 'l - rı̂ḥ he shelters (hides) himself by the wall from the wind, or Arab. bâl‛ḍât mn 'l - brd , by a fire against the cold, and Arab. ‛âḏ , which is often applied in like manner to God's protection. Thus, e.g., (according to Bochâri's Sunna ) a woman, whom Muhammed wanted to seize, cried out: Arab. a‛ûḏu b - 'llh mnk , I place myself under God's protection against thee, and he replied: Arab. ‛uḏti bi - ma‛âḏin , thou hast taken refuge in an (inaccessible) asylum (cf. Job , i. 310 n. and ii. 22 n. 2).)

Verse 8-9

The covenant relationship towards Himself in which Jahve has placed David, and the relationship of love in which David stands to Jahve, fully justified the oppressed one in his extreme request. The apple of the eye, which is surrounded by the iris, is called אישׁון , the man (Arabic insân ), or in the diminutive and endearing sense of the termination on : the little man of the eye, because a picture in miniature of one's self is seen, as in a glass, when looking into another person's eye. בּת־עין either because it is as if born out of the eye and the eye has, as it were, concentrated itself in it, or rather because the little image which is mirrored in it is, as it were, the little daughter of the eye (here and Lamentations 2:18). To the Latin pupilla ( pupula ), Greek κόρη , corresponds most closely בּבת עין , Zechariah 2:12, which does not signify the gate, aperture, sight, but, as בּת shows, the little boy, or more strictly, the little girl of the eye. It is singular that אישׁון here has the feminine בּת־עין as the expression in apposition to it. The construction might be genitival: “as the little man of the apple of the eye,” inasmuch as the saint knows himself to be so near to God, that, as it were, his image in miniature is mirrored in the great eye of God. But (1) the more ozdinary name for the pupil of the eye is not בּת עין , but אישׁון ; and (2) with that construction the proper point of the comparison, that the apple of the eye is an object of the most careful self-preservation, is missed. There is, consequently, a combination of two names of the pupil or apple of the eye, the usual one and one more select, without reference to the gender of the former, in order to give greater definition and emphasis to the figure. The primary passage for this bold figure, which is the utterance of loving entreaty, is Deuteronomy 32:10, where the dazzling anthropomorphism is effaced by the lxx and other ancient versions;

(Note: Vid., Geiger, Urschrift und Ueberstezungen der Bibel , S. 324.)

cf. also Sir. 17:22. Then follows another figure, taken from the eagle, which hides its young under its wings, likewise from Deut 32, viz., Psalms 17:11, for the figure of the hen (Matthew 23:37) is alien to the Old Testament. In that passage, Moses, in his great song, speaks of the wings of God; but the double figure of the shadow of God's wings (here and in Psalms 36:8; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 63:8) is coined by David. “God's wings” are the spreadings out, i.e., the manifestations of His love, taking the creature under the protection of its intimate fellowship, and the “shadow” of these wings is the refreshing rest and security which the fellowship of this love affords to those, who hide themselves beneath it, from the heat of outward or inward conflict.

From Psalms 17:9 we learn more definitely the position in which the psalmist is placed. שׁדד signifies to use violence, to destroy the life, continuance, or possession of any one. According to the accentuation בּנפשׁ is to be connected with איבי , not with יקּפוּ , and to be understood according to Ezekiel 25:6 : “enemies with the soul” are those whose enmity is not merely superficial, but most deep-seated (cf. ἐκ ψυχῆς , Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:23). The soul (viz., the hating and eagerly longing soul, Psalms 27:12; Psalms 41:3) is just the same as if בנפשׁ is combined with the verb, viz., the soul of the enemies; and איבי נפשׁי would therefore not be more correct, as Hitzig thinks, than בנפשׁ איבי , but would have a different meaning. They are eager to destroy him ( perf. conatus ), and form a circle round about him, as ravenous ones, in order to swallow him up.

Verses 10-12

Psalms 17:10 tell what sort of people these persecutors are. Their heart is called fat, adeps , not as though חלב could in itself be equivalent to לב , more especially as both words are radically distinct ( חלב from the root לב , λιπ ; לב from the root לב , לף to envelope: that which is enveloped, the kernel, the inside), but (without any need for von Ortenberg's conjecture חלב לבּמו סגרוּ “they close their heart with fat”) because it is, as it were, entirely fat (Psalms 119:70, cf. Psalms 73:7), and because it is inaccessible to any feeling of compassion, and in general incapable of the nobler emotions. To shut up the fat = the heart (cf. κλείειν τὰ σπλάγχνα 1 John 3:17), is equivalent to: to fortify one's self wilfully in indifference to sympathy, tender feeling, and all noble feelings (cf. השׁמין לב = to harden, Isaiah 6:10). The construction of פּימו (which agrees in sound with פּימה , Job 15:27) is just the same as that of קולי , Psalms 3:5. On the other hand, אשּׁוּרנוּ (after the form עמּוּד and written plene ) is neither such an accusative of the means or instrument, nor the second accusative, beside the accusative of the object, of that by which the object is surrounded, that is usually found with verbs of surrounding (e.g., Ps 5:13; Psalms 32:7); for “they have surrounded me (us) with our step” is unintelligible. But אשׁורנו can be the accusative of the member, as in Psalms 3:8, cf. Psalms 22:17, Genesis 3:15, for “it is true the step is not a member” (Hitz.), but since “step” and “foot” are interchangeable notions, Psalms 73:2, the σχῆμα καθ ̓ ὅλον καὶ μέρος is applicable to the former, and as, e.g., Homer says, Iliad vii. 355: σὲ μάλιστα πόνος φρένας ἀμφιβέβηκεν , the Hebrew poet can also say: they have encompassed us (and in fact) our steps, each of our steps (so that we cannot go forwards or backwards with our feet). The Kerî סבבוּנוּ gets rid of the change in number which we have with the Chethîb סבבוני ; the latter, however, is admissible according to parallels like Psalms 62:5, and corresponds to David's position, who is hunted by Saul and at the present time driven into a strait at the head of a small company of faithful followers. Their eyes - he goes on to say in Psalms 17:11 - have they set to fell, viz., us, who are encompassed, to the earth, i.e., so that we shall be cast to the ground. נטה is transitive, as in Psalms 18:10; Psalms 62:4, in the transitively applied sense of Psalms 73:2 (cf. Psalms 37:31): to incline to fall (whereas in Psalms 44:19, Job 31:7, it means to turn away from); and בּארץ (without any need fore the conjecture בּארח ) expresses the final issue, instead of לארץ , Psalms 7:6. By the expression דּמינו one is prominently singled out from the host of the enemy, viz., its chief, the words being: his likeness is as a lion, according to the peculiarity of the poetical style, of changing verbal into substantival clauses, instead of דּמה כּאריה . Since in Old Testament Hebrew, as also in Syriac and Arabic, כ is only a preposition, not a connective conjunction, it cannot be rendered: as a lion longs to prey, but: as a lion that is greedy or hungry (cf. Arab. ksf , used of sinking away, decline, obscuring or eclipsing, growing pale, and Arab. chsf , more especially of enfeebling, hunger, distinct from חשׂף = Arab. ks̆f , to peel off, make bare) to ravin. In the parallel member of the verse the participle alternates with the attributive clause. כּפיר is (according to Meier) the young lion as being covered with thicker hair.

Verse 13-14

The phrase קדּם פּני , antevertere faciem alicujus , means both to appear before any one with reverence, Psalms 95:2 (post-biblical: to pay one's respects to any one) and to meet any one as an enemy, rush on him. The foe springs like a lion upon David, may Jahve - so he prays - as his defence cross the path of the lion and intercept him, and cast him down so that he, being rendered harmless, shall lie there with bowed knees ( כּרע , of the lion, Genesis 49:9; Numbers 24:9). He is to rescue his soul from the ungodly חרבּך . This חרבך , and also the ידך which follows, can be regarded as a permutative of the subject (Böttcher, Hupfeld, and Hitzig), an explanation which is commended by Psalms 44:3 and other passages. But it is much more probable that more exact definitions of this kind are treated as accusatives, vid., on Psalms 3:5. At any rate “sword” and “hand” are meant as the instruments by which the פּלּט , rescuing, is effected. The force of פּלּטה extends into Psalms 17:14, and mimatiym (with a Chateph under the letter that is freed from reduplication, like ממכון , Psalms 33:14) corresponds to מרשׁע , as ידך to חרבּך . The word ממתים (plural of מת , men, Deuteronomy 2:34, whence מתם , each and every one), which of itself gives no complete sense, is repeated and made complete after the interruption cause by the insertion of ידך ה , - a remarkable manner of obstructing and then resuming the thought, which Hofmann ( Schriftbeweis ii. 2. 495) seeks to get over by a change in the division of the verse and in the interpunction. חלד , either from חלד Syriac to creep, glide, slip away (whence חלדּה a weasel, a mole) or from חלד Talmudic to cover, hide, signifies: this temporal life which glides by unnoticed (distinct from the Arabic chald, chuld , an abiding stay, endless duration); and consequently חדל , limited existence, from חדל to have an end, alternates with חלד as a play upon the letters, comp. Psalms 49:2 with Isaiah 38:11. The combination מחלד מתים resembles Psalms 10:18; Psalms 16:4. What is meant, is: men who have no other home but the world, which passeth away with the lust thereof, men ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου , or υίοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου . The meaning of the further description חלקם בּחיּים (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:9) becomes clear from the converse in Psalms 16:5. Jahve is the חלק of the godly man; and the sphere within which the worldling claims his חלק is החיּים , this temporal, visible, and material life. This is everything to him; whereas the godly man says: טּוב חסדּך מחיּים , Psalms 63:4. The contrast is not so much between this life and the life to come, as between the world (life) and God. Here we see into the inmost nature of the Old Testament faith. To the Old Testament believer, all the blessedness and glory of the future life, which the New Testament unfolds, is shut up in Jahve. Jahve is his highest good, and possessing Him he is raised above heaven and earth, above life and death. To yield implicitly to Him, without any explicit knowledge of a blessed future life, to be satisfied with Him, to rest in Him, to hide in Him in the face of death, is the characteristic of the Old Testament faith. חלקם בחיים expresses both the state of mind and the lot of the men of the world. Material things which are their highest good, fall also in abundance to their share. The words “whose belly Thou fillest with Thy treasure” ( Chethîb : וּצפינך the usual participial form, but as a participle an Aramaising form) do not sound as though the poet meant to say that God leads them to repentance by the riches of His goodness, but on the contrary that God, by satisfying their desires which are confined to the outward and sensuous only, absolutely deprives them of all claim to possessions that extend beyond the world and this present temporal life. Thus, then, צפוּן in this passage is used exactly as צפוּנים is used in Job 20:26 (from צפן to hold anything close to one, to hold back, to keep by one). Moreover, there is not the slightest alloy of murmur or envy in the words. The godly man who lacks these good things out of the treasury of God, has higher delights; he can exclaim, Psalms 31:20 : “how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up ( צפנתּ ) for those who fear Thee!” Among the good things with which God fills the belly and house of the ungodly (Job 22:17.) are also children in abundance; these are elsewhere a blessing upon piety (Psalms 127:3., Psalms 128:3.), but to those who do not acknowledge the Giver they are a snare to self-glorifying, Job 21:11 (cf. Wisdom Job 4:1). בּנים is not the subject, but an accusative, and has been so understood by all the old translators from the original text, just as in the phrase שׁבע ימים to be satisfied with, or weary of, life. On עוללים vid., on Psalms 8:3. יתר (from יתר to stretch out in length, then to be overhanging, towering above, projecting, superfluous, redundant) signifies here, as in Job 22:20, riches and the abundance of things possessed.

Verse 15

With אני he contrasts his incomparably greater prosperity with that of his enemies. He, the despised and persecuted of men, will behold God's face בּצדק , in righteousness, which will then find its reward (Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 12:14), and will, when this hope is realised by him, thoroughly refresh himself with the form of God. It is not sufficient to explain the vision of the divine countenance here as meaning the experience of the gracious influences which proceed from the divine countenance again unveiled and turned towards him. The parallel of the next clause requires an actual vision, as in Numbers 12:8, according to which Jahve appeared to Moses in the true form of His being, without the intervention of any self-manifestation of an accommodative and visionary kind; but at the same time, as in Exodus 33:20, where the vision of the divine countenance is denied to Moses, according to which, consequently, the self-manifestation of Jahve in His intercourse with Moses is not to be thought of without some veiling of Himself which might render the vision tolerable to him. Here, however, where David gives expression to a hope which is the final goal and the very climax of all his hopes, one has no right in any way to limit the vision of God, who in love permits him to behold Him (vid., on Psalms 11:7), and to limit the being satisfied with His תּמוּנה (lxx τὴν δόξαν σου , vid., Psychol . S. 49; transl. p. 61). If this is correct, then בּהקיץ cannot mean “when I wake up from this night's sleep” as Ewald, Hupfeld and others explain it; for supposing the Psalm were composed just before falling asleep what would be the meaning of the postponement of so transcendent a hope to the end of his natural sleep? Nor can the meaning be to “awake to a new life of blessedness and peace through the sunlight of divine favour which again arises after the night of darkness and distress in which the poet is now to be found” (Kurtz); for to awake from a night of affliction is an unsuitable idea and for this very reason cannot be supported. The only remaining explanation, therefore, is the waking up from the sleep of death (cf. Böttcher, De inferis §365-367). The fact that all who are now in their graves shall one day hear the voice of Him that wakes the dead, as it is taught in the age after the Exile (Daniel 12:2), was surely not known to David, for it was not yet revealed to him. But why may not this truth of revelation, towards which prophecy advances with such giant strides (Isaiah 26:19. Ezekiel 37:1-14), be already heard even in the Psalms of David as a bold demand of faith and as a hope that has struggled forth to freedom out of the comfortless conception of Sheôl possessed in that age, just as it is heard a few decades later in the master-work of a contemporary of Solomon, the Book of Job? The morning in Psalms 49:15 is also not any morning whatever following upon the night, but that final morning which brings deliverance to the upright and inaugurates their dominion. A sure knowledge of the fact of the resurrection such as, according to Hofmann ( Schriftbeweis ii. 2, 490), has existed in the Old Testament from the beginning, is not expressed in such passages. For laments like Psalms 6:6; Psalms 30:10; Psalms 88:11-13, show that no such certain knowledge as then in existence; and when the Old Testament literature which we now possess allows us elsewhere an insight into the history of the perception of redemption, it does not warrant us in concluding anything more than that the perception of the future resurrection of the dead did not pass from the prophetic word into the believing mind of Israel until about the time of the Exile, and that up to that period faith made bold to hope for a redemption from death, but only by means of an inference drawn from that which was conceived and existed within itself , without having an express word of promise in its favour.

(Note: To this Hofmann, loc. cit. S. 496, replies as follows: “We do not find that faith indulges in such boldness elsewhere, or that the believing ones cherish hopes which are based on such insecure grounds.” But the word of God is surely no insecure ground, and to draw bold conclusions from that which is intimated only from afar, was indeed, even in many other respects (for instance, respecting the incarnation, and respecting the abrogation of the ceremonial law), the province of the Old Testament faith.)

Thus it is here also. David certainly gives full expression to the hope of a vision of God, which, as righteous before God, will be vouchsafed to him; and vouchsafed to him, even though he should fall asleep in death in the present extremity (Psalms 13:4), as one again awakened from the sleep of death, and, therefore (although this idea does not directly coincide with the former), as one raised from the dead. But this hope is not a believing appropriation of a “certain knowledge,” but a view that, by reason of the already existing revelation of God, lights up out of his consciousness of fellowship with Him.


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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