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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 140

 

 

Verses 1-13

Psalm 140

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

2 Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man:

Preserve me from the violent man;

3 Which imagine mischiefs in theirheart;

Continually are they gathered together for war.

4 They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent;

Adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah.

5 Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;

Preserve me from the violent man;

Who have purposed to overthrow my goings.

6 The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords;

They have spread a net by the way side;

They have set gins for me. Selah.

7 I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God:

Hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord.

8 O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation,

Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.

9 Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked:

Further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves. Selah.

10 As for the head of those that compass me about,

Let the mischief of their own lips cover them.

11 Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire;

Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.

12 Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth:

Evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.

13 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,

And the right of the poor.

14 Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name:

The upright shall dwell in thy presence.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—A prayer for divine help against violent and slanderous enemies, who were daily exciting warlike attempts and disturbances ( Psalm 140:2-4), and had closely surrounded the Psalmist with the plans which they had contrived, as with snares and nets ( Psalm 140:5-6). He entreats, upon the ground of former experiences of mercy, with confidence and full expectation of being heard, that these plots may prove futile ( Psalm 140:7-9), that his foes, especially their leaders, may be punished ( Psalm 140:10-12). For this he looks to the judicial control of Jehovah, which has been known by experience to deliver the afflicted righteous, and for which he will give the thanks that are due ( Psalm 140:13, 14).

The expressions are, in some parts, of an unusual character. Yet the mode in which the thoughts are presented, marked sometimes by an abrupt manner of expression and a bold structure of the sentences, is quite characteristic of David. In the thoughts, also, and in the circumstances in which the Psalmist stood, so far as indicated, there is nothing which ought to compel us to assume a mere imitation of Davidic Psalm, or which can be better explained from the period and history of John Hyrcanus (Hitzig), or of Manasseh (Ewald), or of the people of Israel after the return from exile (Rosenm.), than from those of David, whether we prefer a reference to his relation to Saul (Hengstenberg with the ancients), or to Absalom (Delitzsch). The Syriac Version has an addition to the superscription: when Saul threw the spear after him.

[Delitzsch thinks the title is justified because the Psalm abounds with Davidic ideas and images, and may be explained from the rebellion of Absalom and the succeeding revolt of Sheba. He also calls attention to the striking resemblances between it and Psalm 58; Psalm 64, in the ending of each, the occurrence of rare words, and the “dreadful obscurity” of those expressions that are directed against the enemies. The English expositors accept the correctness of the title, with the exception of Perowne, who says that we have no means of testing its accuracy, but acknowledges that it is our only guide in this investigation.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 140:3. Stir up [E. V.: are gathered together]. גוּר means usually: gather themselves together. Most assume the same sense here also. But it is then necessary to supply a preposition, which is not allowable. Still less admissible is the explanation: they dwell (Köster, Maurer), i.e, are occupied altogether with war. If the verb be viewed as transitive: to assemble (Kimchi), it does not suit the object. It is best therefore to regard it as גרה = to excite (Syr, Chald, Clericus, Rosenm, Hupfeld, Delitzsch, Hitzig). [Translate: who devise evil in their heart: they stir up war every day.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 140:8. The day of armour is not the day of preparation for battle, but the day on which the armor is carried for the battle, consequently: the day of battle (Septuagint, Chald, Jerome). [All the recent German expositors take the first member of this verse as declarative: Jehovah, my Lord Isaiah, etc. But the whole strophe is the rehearsal of an address to God, and it seems more suitable to preserve the corresponding form here, as is done in E. V.]

Psalm 140:9.[FN2] The last word of this verse, יָרוּמוּ, cannot mean: lest they exalt themselves (Sept, Symm.), for the negative cannot be arbitrarily supplied. If the sense were: they would or might exalt themselves in consequence of success (Isaaki, Kimchi, and most), the conjunction פֶּן could scarcely have been absent. But from this we are not to conclude that the word is a meaningless appendage (Hupfeld), which must necessarily be attached to the following sentence, which is then supposed to be mutilated, giving the sense: those who encompass me lift up the head. This connection with the following is only a possible one (Venema, Olshausen); and if it be assumed, the new member of the verse thus formed can be taken as a protasis. But in the Psalm of David’s composition, an elevation of feeling appears quite frequently expressed in abrupt sentences, and in brief, striking expressions, representing in a disjointed, ejaculatory manner the progress of the feelings, conceptions and thoughts. [Dr. Moll therefore translates simply: they exalt themselves.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 140:10-11. רֹאשׁ ( Psalm 140:10) may be very well referred collectively to the leaders [E. V.: head] of the enemies (Kimchi, Calvin, et al.) The interpretations: poison (Grotius, Geier, Ewald), and: misfortune (Luther) are less to be recommended. The translation: the head of my revilers (Hitzig) is possible according to the Arabic usage, but unknown to the Hebrew, for the Hiphil of סבב, followed by an accusative, means: to go round about an object, like enemies in spying out a city (Delitzsch). The trouble (Del.) [E. V.: mischief] or the misfortune (Hupfeld), or suffering (Hengstenberg), which they cause by means of their lips, shall recoil as a retribution upon themselves. The coals ( Psalm 140:11) do not mean flashes (Luther) pf lightning, for it is not until the words immediately following that God appears as the agent. Here those who throw, cast them, are represented as an indefinite number by the 3 d per. plur.=men [German man. Transl.: Let burning coals be cast upon them, etc.—J. F. M.] There is not the least necessity of changing the reading in order to gain the idea: He will cause to rain upon them (Hupfeld). [Hupfeld proposes: יַמְטִיר.—J. F. M.] There is no allusion to fire from on high, lightning with torrents of rain (Aben Ezra, et al.). But the reference is to perils and situations of an appalling character, into which the wicked are to be thrust for their destruction. The abysses or pits (Chald, Symm, Jerome, Kimchi), are pits of water, named along with the fire as an image of inevitable dangers, Psalm 66:12 (Delitzsch).

Psalm 140:12. The punishment is denoted by the word: רָע, as that which is harmful to the person in question, and resulting from his wickedness, or as an evil, showing how that punishment bears the character of destruction inflicted by Divine retribution. The man of tongue [E. V.: evil speaker] is not a boaster or chatterer, but a man with an evil tongue of slander ( Sirach 8:4). This is manifest from the context. There is then the less necessity for regarding רָע as an adjective describing the violence of the man more particularly, and abiding by the accents, which indicate such a connection (Hengstenberg, Sachs, Hitzig). It agrees best with the idea of the passage, to follow the ancient versions, the Rabbins, and almost all expositors, in rejecting the accents and regarding רָע as the subject, which would otherwise be wanting. A subject may, it is true, be supplied (Hitzig), but this would break up the sentence. For the whole Psalm shows that the evil speaker and the violent man are not two distinct persons, and that for this reason the view (J. H. Mich, Hengstenberg) is false which assumes that “the man of wicked violence” is opposed to the evil speaker and will pursue him. [This view is wrongly assigned to Hengstenberg. His opinion is that the former is the counterpart of the latter, and that it is God who is the pursuer.—J. F. M.] It is doubtful whether we should translate: to a head-long fall (Ewald), or: to destruction (Sept, Syr, Kimchi, Rosenm.), namely, by repeated shocks, or: by pushes (Köster), or: in haste, i.e, precipitately (Del, Hitzig).

Psalm 140:14. Dwelling in God’s presence ( Psalm 16:11) is the portion of the righteous, to whom the wicked give no place on earth, and whose life they embittered if they could not rob them of it. [אַךְ in this last verse is by Dr. Moll translated: only. But it is generally taken, as in E. V, to mean: surely. Delitzsch compares the expression of assurance: “I know,” in the preceding verse.—J. F. M.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Daily conflict, severe struggles, enemies round about, and yet not dismayed or forsaken or lost; that is the situation, the character, the lot of God’s servants upon earth.—Distress and danger may cause us perplexity, if only faith drives us to God, and He remains as our strong Help; He will pursue the enemy and deliver us from his nets and snares; and we must thank Him in time and eternity.

Starke: If thou art not strong enough to escape from the hand of the ungodly, make, by faith, God thy refuge; He knows how to provide means and ways to help His own against all craft and devices.—The undying enmity which subsists between the seed of the serpent and the true children of God, results from a radical difference in heart and disposition.—Slanderers do more harm than serpents, for there is no antidote that can prevail against the poisonous wounds of wicked and calumniating tongues.—The supposed wisdom of the ungodly is really nothing but wickedness and folly, by which they are not only put to shame, but perish in the end.—The simplicity of doves and the sagacity of serpents, but above all, God’s preserving care are necessary to the children of God, that they may escape from the countless snares of their enemies.—Firm trust in God is the reason why a believer does not cease to look to Him even in the greatest troubles.—Behold how faith acts! it takes all that God is and has as best for it, and is thus sustained.—Our enemies can as little prevent our salvation or capture us, as they can storm the bulwarks of heaven.—As nothing evil can come from God, so He strengthens none in evil. Yet for holy and righteous purposes He suffers many things.—He who sows a malediction with an evil mouth, will also reap it again.—In a good cause God is the best Patron; he who trusts Him cannot lose it, for God is also the Supreme Judge.—We attain to the assurance of faith by laying hold firmly upon the Divine promise, and remembering the help which others before us have received from God.—All that befalls the children of God in the world, ends finally with their praise to the Lord for His goodness and for the wondrous things which He does to the children of men.

Arndt: It is indeed a wonderful judgment, in the way of like-for-like retribution, that God usually rewards men as they act towards others, and that they bring upon themselves the very misfortune which they intended to bring upon others.—Frisch: Be not dismayed if others act towards thee as by foes. If it does not lie in thy power to fathom their evil thoughts, it does lie in the power of God.—Rieger: The wicked man is like a storm which passes by. Although it may leave many traces of devastation behind it, it is yet insignificant when compared with God’s goodness, of which the earth is full, and over which the righteous should ever rejoice.—Guenther: Stupid and unskilful transgressors are rare, almost as rare as wise children of God.—Diedrich: If we have committed to God our revenge and our protection, we may go calmly in our way, and not heed the arrows of the enemy.—My hope is in the privilege which is granted to the poor, whose defence God has reserved to Himself as His highest concern.—In the morning pray God that thou mayst be able to thank Him at evening, and pray daily that at the close of thy earthly life, thou mayst give Him thy highest thanksgiving. Then thou wilt have labor before thee; but thou wilt soon have finished it with joy and laid it aside for ever. Taube: The nearer danger comes, the more vigorously does David’s life of prayer and faith unfold itself.

[Matt. Henry: A malignant tongue makes men like the old serpent; and poison in the lips is a certain sign of poison in the heart.—They that agree in nothing else can agree to persecute a good man. Herod and Pilate will unite in this, and in this they resemble Satan, who is not divided against himself, all the devils agreeing in Beelzebub.—Proud men when they prosper are much prouder, grow more impudent against God, and insolent against His people, and therefore, Lord, do not prosper them!—Bishop Horne: We cannot put off our Christian armor for a moment in this world; nor enter into peace and rest, but by a happy death and joyful resurrection. Barnes: It is not poverty or riches that commend us to God; it is faith and holiness and love and obedience, in the condition of life in which we are placed, be it in a cottage or in a palace.—J. F. M.]

Footnotes:

FN#2 - The formation of the anomalous word: מַאֲוַיֵּי, which occurs in this verse, is discussed in Green’s Heb. Gr. § 207, 2 a, Ewald, § 189. There seems to be no good reason for departing with Hupfeld from the ending: ־ָי, as the probable termination of the sing. which is assumed by these authors as well as by Gesenius. Hupfeld would make it terminate in ־ֶה, the correctness of which he attempts to prove in his note on this passage. On the significance of the plural form in this word, see Böttcher, § 705.—J. F. M.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 140:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-140.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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