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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Psalms 141

 

 

Verse 1

Psalms 141.

David prayeth that his suit may be acceptable, his conscience sincere, and his life safe from snares.

A Psalm of David.

Title. לדוד מזמור mizmor ledavid. It is probable that David composed this psalm just before his flight to Achish, king of Gath, when he had a second time spared Saul's life (1 Samuel 26.), but could trust him no longer: upon which he takes the resolution mentioned 1 Samuel 26:1-2. As his determination was to fly speedily, there is no question but he did so, either the same night after his parting with Saul, or by the first morning's light: and it was in the evening of that day, when he was now upon the wing, as it were; his late dutiful behaviour towards Saul, and the other's implacable cruelty towards him and his followers, still fresh in his thoughts; and moreover reflecting upon the dangers and temptations to which his religion would expose him in a heathen country, that he pours out to God the following prayer, or soliloquy; for, that it was composed in the evening, appears from his desiring, Psalms 141:2 that it might be accepted as an evening oblation. Peters on Job, p. 336 from whom the following notes are principally taken.

Psalms 141:1. Lord, I cry unto thee, &c.— This verse is an invocation of the true God, by his incommunicable name Jehovah; as the one eternal, self-existent, and unchangeable being; creator and governor of all things: and the earnest and repeated call here used by the Psalmist, make haste unto me, sufficiently declares him to have been in a situation of the utmost distress.


Verse 2

Psalms 141:2. Let my prayer, &c.— This shews the writer at a distance from the tabernacle; where all their solemn prayers, together with their daily sacrifices, were offered up; and therefore, with his face probably directed thither, he begs that God would accept of all that was in his power to perform: namely, the devotion of his heart, and the elevation of his hands in prayer: as if he had said, "Though this address of mine must necessarily want all those solemnities of preparation required in the service of thy holy tabernacle; yet let the purity and fervour of my heart, and the innocency of my hands now lifted up to thee, in this sad hour of my distress, be accepted instead of these, and prevail for deliverance and a safe retreat to me and my companions."


Verse 3-4

Psalms 141:3-4. Set a watch, O Lord, &c.— Mr. Peters paraphrases these two verses thus: "I am now going to seek a retreat from the persecutions of my master Saul, amidst a race of idolaters, who will be curious to observe all my words and actions, and will attempt to draw me in to be a partaker with them in their idol worship, or suspect me as a spy or enemy, if I refuse to comply with them. But do thou, O Lord, set a watch before my mouth, a guard over the door of my lips; that I may neither endanger my own safety by my imprudent carriage, nor violate my religion by any weak compliances. Preserve me from that greatest of all evils, the renouncing thee to follow vain and strange gods. Let me not be guilty of this heinous and presumptuous sin, nor not so much as in thought. Let me abhor to play the hypocrite, by joining in the abominations of the heathen, though but in shew and appearance only: nor let me ever be allured by their luscious rites, or their luxurious meats, to mix in their religious festivals." We refer to the learned writer's laborious and ingenious criticism in vindication of this paraphrase.


Verse 5

Psalms 141:5. Let the righteous, &c.— I. Mr. Peters is of opinion, that David in this verse manifestly alludes to his anointment and designation to the throne. He translates and explains it thus: Let the just man be still upbraiding me with my goodness, and let the ointment of my head be urged against me, it shall not break my head: for hitherto my prayer has been against their wickedness. "As for my part behaviour towards Saul, I can never repent of it, whilst I am conscious I have done my duty. Though my friends and followers, those advocates for strict justice, are still upbraiding me with my excessive piety and goodness; and though the ointment of my head, thy designation of me to the throne, be urged against me, either as a reason why I might justly take the life of Saul, or as the cause that he will never cease to persecute me; yet I trust in thy mercy; it shall not break my head, or bring me to destruction. For hitherto it has not done it; I am safe under thy protection; and yet my prayers are all that I have opposed against the wicked attempts of my enemies." This writer supposes the last clause of the verse to be elliptical, and that it should be supplied, according to his paraphrase: and he thinks that the verse thus understood very naturally introduces the two next verses, where the mild and dutiful behaviour of David towards Saul, and Saul's cruelty towards him and his friends, are set together by way of contrast, in the strongest light. See the following notes. II. Mr. Mann and Houbigant nearly agree in the following translation: Let the righteous instruct me in mercy, and reprove me; but let not the oil of the wicked anoint my head: yea, my prayers shall be a witness against their depravity.—Ver. 6. Let their judges be overthrown, &c. III. Another writer observes, that breaking the head, in scripture language, means destroying, or utterly subduing. See Genesis 3:15. And we may easily suppose David to mean by the expression of excellent oil, the plausible and enticing, but withal treacherous and ensnaring speeches of his idolatrous enemies. He has the same thought, Psalms 55:21. His words were softer than oil, yet be they very swords:—so the LXX, The oil of the sinner:—Ethiopic, The oil of sinners:—Syriac, The oil of the ungodly—shall not anoint my head:—And the Arabic, I will not anoint my head with the oil of sinners: i.e. "I will not be enticed with their flattering and ensnaring speeches." The following translation by Mr. Green seems as reasonable as any: Let the righteous man, out of kindness, correct me and reprove me: but let not the fragrant oil of the wicked anoint my head; for my prayer shall ever be against their wicked practices.


Verse 6-7

Psalms 141:6-7. When their judges This first verse contains an account of David's humanity towards Saul, in giving him his life at two several times, when he had it in his power to destroy him as he pleased, says Mr. Peters, who translates it thus: Their judges have been dismissed in the rocky places, and have heard my words that they were sweet. That is, "their princes have been dismissed in safety, when I had them at an advantage in those rocky desarts, and they only heard me expostulate with them in the gentlest words." The next verse contains Saul's barbarity and cruelty towards David or his friends, in the horrid massacre of Abimelech and the priests, by the hand of Doeg; done in such a savage manner, that he compares it to the chopping and cleaving of wood. Like as when one cutteth and cleaveth, so have our bones been scattered on the earth, at the command of Saul; for so I read the Hebrew words, שׂאול לפי lepi Saul. As much as to say, "How unlike, how barbarous has their treatment been of me! my best friends slaughtered in great numbers at the command of Saul, and hewn to pieces in his presence, as one would cut or chop a piece of wood!" We may observe an elegant opposition between the words of David, which he calls sweet or pleasant, and שׂאול לפי lepi Saul, the command of Saul, or the cruel sentence pronounced by him. It may be proper just to remark, that the word

שׁפטיהם Shophteihem, rendered judges, in the plural, may refer not only to Saul, but to his chief captain, and other military officers; for they were fast asleep about him when David and his companions surprised them; though it may be understood of Saul alone, and that by no very uncommon figure of speech. See particularly 1 Samuel 24:4 in the original. As to his using the word judge rather than king or prince, there seems to be a peculiar elegancy in it; as he was just about to mention that inhuman sentence of Saul's executed upon the priests of Nob. So that it is as if he had said, "Even those cruel judges, who have sentenced my friends and favourers without mercy, have been dismissed by me in safety."


Verse 8

Psalms 141:8. But mine eyes, &c.— When we reflect upon the surprising generosity of David towards Saul, it naturally excites one's curiosity to know the principle upon which he acted. A conduct so extraordinary must needs have some extraordinary basis for its support; I mean some fixed religious principle, which could enable him to surmount all difficulties. This is discovered to us in the present verse; and it is the noblest and simplest that can be imagined, namely, a firm trust in God, as the great Lord and Ruler of the world, and a steady resolution to obey him in all his commands: For mine eyes are unto thee, Jehovah, my Lord; in thee have I trusted. Among the sayings of Pythagoras this was one, απλωσον σεαυτον, simplify thyself, i.e. "Reduce thy conduct, if possible, to one single aim, and pursue it without weariness or distraction." If this single aim be, to approve ourselves to God by such a course of life as he prescribes; to adhere strictly to our duty, with an eye to him who has commanded it, and patiently submit the issue of things to his all-wise and gracious providence; we have then hit upon that principle which here appears to have animated David, and may with confidence address our prayers, through the blood of the Covenant, to the great Lord and Sovereign of all the world, in all our straits and difficulties, as he does in the following part of the psalm. In thee have I trusted; make not my soul naked: i.e. "Suffer it not to become naked and exposed to the assaults and machinations of my enemies:" for, in the language of the holy scripture, God is often said to do, what he permits or suffers to be done. But whether David here prays to have his life preserved from danger, or his soul from sin, may admit of a question. The words will suit either explanation, and probably he might intend both; but chiefly the latter. We have seen from Psalms 141:4 how earnestly he begs that God would protect him by his grace from complying with the idolatrous practices of the heathen, to whom he was about to fly for refuge; and it is remarkable, that in his last speech to Saul, he particularly dwells upon the danger to which his religion was exposed, 1 Samuel 26:19. They have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods. As if he had said, "They have done what lies in their power to drive me to idolatry, by forcing me into a country where I shall have the strongest temptations to it." This was a thing he seems to have dreaded more than death; and therefore he prays against it in the next verse. Peters.


Verse 9-10

Psalms 141:9-10. Keep me from the snare, &c.— If Saul and his evil counsellors be meant in the first clause of the 9th verse, there is no doubt but the heathen to whom David was now driven for refuge, must be understood in the latter. They are here characterised, as in Psalms 141:4 by the appellation, workers of iniquity, or idolatry; and the idols of the heathen were always snares to the Israelites, as their history informs us, and as they are forewarned by God himself, Judges 2:3. Their gods will be a snare unto you; the same word with that translated gins, in this verse. The last verse may be considered either as a petition, or rather as an expression of his hope and assurance: The wicked shall fall into their own nets together, and shall still escape; and this sense is to be preferred, because we find from the sequel of the history, that his prayer was answered to the full.

The prayers of a good man give us the most just and lively impression of his character. If ever he discloses his most secret thoughts, or the real frame and temper of his heart, it is in his devout retirements, where he opens and unbosoms himself before his Maker. And what an assemblage of the most substantial virtues discover themselves to us in this short prayer or soliloquy of David's! His faith and trust in God; his duty to his prince; his abhorrence of idolatry; his strict adherence to what was right and just, against all the persuasions of his friends, and all the provocations of his enemies; a magnanimity, that shewed itself in the moment of danger and distress; attended with a hope, the offspring of religion, and not the less heroic for being inspired. Horace has given us a very celebrated description of "A resolutely good man, whom neither the clamours of the people demanding what was wrong; nor the frowns of a tyrant threatening death, could shake from his solid purpose."

Justum, et tenacem propositi, virum, Non civium ardor prava jubentium, Non vultus instantis tyranni Mente quatit solida, neque Auster Dux inquieti turbidus Adriae, Nec fulminantis magna rnanus Jovis: Si fractus illabatur orbis, Impavidum ferient ruinae. Lib. 3: od. 3.

The man, in conscious virtue bold, Who dares his secret purpose hold,

Unshaken hears the crowd's tumultuous cries, And the impetuous tyrant's angry brow defies. Let the loud winds, that rule the seas, Their wild tempestuous horrors raise;

Let Jove's dread arm with thunders rend the spheres, Beneath the crush of worlds undaunted he appears. FRANCIS.

The image, to be sure, is beautiful; but nevertheless it is an image without life, compared with that which rises to our view in this psalm; for in the description given us by the Latin poet, though we take the whole of it together, we see nothing of that vital principle which should animate a conduct so heroic, and which shines out so distinguishably in that of the Psalmist: I mean that sublime regard to him, whose will alone it is that gives the sanction to what is right and just; and under whose supreme direction all rational creatures ought to square their resolutions and behaviour. Peters.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, David was a man of sorrows, and a man of prayer. We have him here very importunate with God,

1. For speedy help. Make haste unto me, as one ready to be overwhelmed, unless God appeared for his salvation. Note; They who have a lively sense of their wants and danger, will be importunate in their supplications.

2. For gracious acceptance. Give ear unto my voice, as willing to grant my petitions; let my prayer be set before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice, which being offered on God's altar were accepted before him. The incense of prayer must thus be offered on Christ our altar; and when, with our hands lifted up, our heart ascends in a flame of holy love, then is it a sacrifice of a sweet smell, acceptable and well-pleasing to God.

3. For direction what and how to speak. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth in prayer, that I may not rashly, unadvisedly, or negligently, utter what my heart doth not feel: in trials, that I may not drop a word of murmuring, complaint, or impatience; among men, that I may neither speak falsely, foolishly, nor passionately. Keep the door of my lips, which need continually a divine restraint, and without it can never be effectually bridled.

4. For preservation from all evil. Incline not my heart to any evil thing: not that God ever tempts men to sin, or inclines them to evil; but only leaves obdurate sinners to their own corrupted hearts, naturally inclined to evil; therefore we have need of his preventing and restraining grace to keep us, that we practise not wicked works with men that work iniquity, who make it their business and delight to sin, and draw in others; and unless the Lord preserve us, we are in danger of falling into their snares.

5. For a restraint from their luxuries. Let me not eat of their dainties; feasting as an epicure at their tables, or partaking with them in their sins; which, however to the corrupt appetite pleasing and sweet in the mouth, in the belly are bitter as gall, and poisonous as the viper's sting. Keep me, Lord, from these deadly dainties!

2nd, Though David heartily prays against the malignity of his enemies, yet,

1. He earnestly desires the rebukes of the faithful. Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; I shall esteem it the best proof of real friendship: and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head, but through grace and the atoning blood serve to heal the wounds of sin; and, far from resenting the correction, it would engage his affections and prayers in their behalf: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities: that God, in return for their kindness to him, may deliver them from their troubles. Note; (1.) Reproof is the most needful and kindest office of real friendship. (2.) To love reproof, and to be thankful for it, is among the surest symptoms of a gracious spirit. (3.) That reproof will be most effectual, which comes from those whose unsuspected piety gives weight to their words, and whose tender manner of applying it, soft as oil, makes it more penetrating. (4.) They who pray to be right, and yet are displeased to be rebuked for what is wrong, prove their hypocrisy.

2. He hopes, when his wicked enemies are destroyed, the people will receive him, and hear him with pleasure. When their judges are overthrown in stony places; as when Saul fell on the mountains of Gilboa, which he might foresee; or when all his other foes were destroyed, who would be punished, as men cast down by the sides of a rock, as was sometimes done with criminals; then they shall hear my words, for they are sweet; either the words of his pathetic song, 2 Samuel 1:17-27 or those divine compositions which would be published on his return from his exile, and which contained in them such a sweet savour of Christ.

3. He complains of his present wretched state. Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth: either literally so, such of David's friends as fell into Saul's hand might be slain and left unburied, or their bones dug up as the bones of traitors; or, figuratively they seemed as at the brink of the grave, and their condition hopeless as that of dry bones. As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth, like chips that fly off from the blow of the axe, so were they driven to and fro, and persecuted by their enemies, and many of them put to death.

4. He in prayer commits his soul to God. But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord, the mighty saviour and hope of my soul; in thee is my trust, in thee alone; leave not my soul destitute; forsaken of thee I must needs perish: but keep me from the snare which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity; though never so craftily concealed, preserve me from the danger. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, the righteous retaliation for their iniquity; whilst that I withal escape, unhurt by their mischievous designs. Note; (1.) Whilst our eye is to God, our feet shall not slip. (2.) The destruction of the wicked is determined, and their devices to hurt others shall only hasten their own destruction.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 141:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/psalms-141.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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