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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Psalms 141

 

 

Verses 1-10

EXPOSITION

ALMOST wholly a psalm of supplication. David is again in danger, and needs a prompt deliverance (Psalms 141:1). This time the danger seems to be that he may fall away, and be absorbed into the company of the wicked. He therefore prays:

1. That prayer may be with him a settled institution (Psalms 141:2).

2. That he may be saved from sins of the tongue (Psalms 141:3).

3. That he may be saved from sins of thought or act (Psalms 141:4).

4. That he may be given grace to welcome reproof (Psalms 141:5).

The circumstances of the time are then shortly touched. There has been a severe judgment on the rulers of the people (Psalms 141:6), and a great national calamity (Psalms 141:7), with the result that the people are touched in their hearts, while David's confidence in God is in no way diminished. This is followed by a renewal of prayer:

Psalms 141:1

Lord, I cry unto thee; make haste unto me. The need is pressing and urgent. God is therefore entreated to "hasten" (comp. Psalms 22:19; Psalms 31:2; Psalms 38:22; Psalms 40:17, etc.). Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee (comp. Psalms 102:2).

Psalms 141:2

Let my prayer be set forth (or, "established") before thee as incense; i.e. with the regularity of the incense, and with its acceptableness. And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. The hands were "lifted up" in prayer, which was reckoned a serf of sacrifice (Hosea 14:2).

Psalms 141:3

Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips (comp. Psalms 39:1). David's was a hasty, impetuous temper, which required sharp control. He strove to "keep his own mouth with a bridle"—to " be dumb with silence, and hold his peace"—but this was not always possible for him of his own unassisted strength. He therefore makes his prayer to God for the Divine help.

Psalms 141:4

Incline not my heart to any evil thing; i.e. let not my heart be inclined to any form of evil. To practice wicked works (rather, wicked practices) with men that work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties. Let me not be drawn in to their life of sinful luxury.

Psalms 141:5

Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness; rather, let the righteous smite me kindly, as in the margin. And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head; rather, which my head shall not refuse. The psalmist will prefer the reproof of the righteous to the dainty allurements of the wicked. He will regard their words as an oil of welcome, such as was poured upon the head of favored guests (Luke 7:36), and his head will not refuse it. For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities; rather, their wickednesses. This healing oil will strengthen him to continue to pray for his enemies, even though they still continue in their "wickednesses."

Psalms 141:6

When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words. Calamity opens the heart to receive instruction. The "judges"—i.e. the leaders—among David's enemies are visited with a grievous calamity, expressed metaphorically by their being dashed upon rocks. This disposes them to listen to David's words, which are well worth listening to, since they are sweet.

Psalms 141:7

Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth. The calamity is not confined to the "judges." The bones of the people generally lie scattered at hews mouth—unburied, i.e; but ready to go down to Hades. As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth; rather, as when one cleaves and breaks up the earth. "The bones of God's servants were strewn as thickly ever the ground as stones over a newly ploughed piece of soil, so that the Holy Land looked as if it had become an antechamber of Hades" (Kay).

Psalms 141:8

But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord. I, however, the psalmist says, do not despair—I look to thee, O Jehovah the Lord (comp. Psalms 40:7)—in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute. The last clause is, literally, pour not out my soul; i.e. destroy me not—do not spill my life on the ground (comp. Isaiah 53:12).

Psalms 141:9

Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity (comp. Psalms 40:4, Psalms 40:5).

Psalms 141:10

Let the wicked fall into their own nets (comp. Psalms 7:15; Psalms 35:8; Psalms 57:6; Proverbs 5:22). The moral sense is always satisfied when the wicked man falls into his own trap, or is "hoist with his own petard." Even a heathen poet could say—

"Nec lex justior ulla est,

Quam necis artifices arte perire sun."

Whilst that I withal escape; literally, until that I pass over; i.e. whilst I pass over the nets, or traps, in safety.

HOMILETICS

Psalms 141:1-10

Acceptable sacrifices.

The more distinctive teaching of this psalm respects—

I. THE SACRIFICE OF PRAYER. (Psalms 141:2, Psalms 141:8, Psalms 141:9.) When the sacrificial services of the tabernacle (or temple) could not be rendered, it was open to the devout Israelite to "lift up his hands" in reverent, believing prayer. And this, we are sure, was acceptable to "him that heareth prayer." The essence of all sacrifice was an appeal to God by the spirit of man, the going forth of the human spirit to the Divine Spirit; it was this that was symbolized by the incense or slain lamb. The presentation of the visible meant and expressed the offering of that which was invisible—the grateful, or the penitent or the dedicatory thought and feeling of the worshipper. Prayer, therefore, was of the essential nature of a true sacrifice. We cannot offer, at any altar, anything which is more well pleasing to God than the prayer which "goeth not forth from feigned lips," which rises from the heart—the morning sacrifice of supplication for guidance and protection throughout the duties and difficulties and temptations of the day; the evening sacrifice of thanksgiving for the blessings that have been bestowed, of prayer for the forgiveness of imperfect service, and of trustful surrender of body and spirit to the Divine keeping for the coming night.

II. THE SACRIFICE OF SPEECH AND SILENCE. (Psalms 141:3.) The psalmist prays God to "keep the door of his lips" (see Psalms 34:13; Psalms 39:1; James 3:3-12). It is well to ask God to do this, but it is also well to recognize that he requires of us that we should do this also. The use we make of our tongue, that member which is "our glory" (Psalms 30:12; Psalms 57:8), and too often is our shame, is a very serious and important feature of our Christian life.

1. By a determined silence when we are tempted to speak and to strike, we may save ourselves and others from a "fire" (James 3:6) which might desolate and destroy. He that "ruleth his spirit" and holdeth his tongue is a true conqueror (Proverbs 16:32).

2. And when we use our tongue to utter words of conciliation, to express regret for inadvertent error or omission, to excuse unintentional or pardonable faultiness, to pardon wrong, to encourage weakness, to enlighten ignorance, to impel to duty or devotion, to lead men in prayer to God, we are offering a very acceptable sacrifice—"the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2).

III. THE SACRIFICE OF SEPARATION AND ABSTINENCE. If we pray (see Psalms 141:4) to be delivered from an inclination to join the wicked in their evil courses and in their ungodly revelries, we must exercise in ourselves a strong restraint; we must resolve to "enter not into the path of the wicked," to "turn from it and pass away" (Proverbs 4:14, Proverbs 4:15). The duty of declining invitations from the unholy, of keeping away from the hearth and the table where nothing virtuous or valuable is to be gained, and where much that is most precious may be lost or injured, is a duty, a sacrifice, very needful to the young. Regard or disregard of it may make all the difference between life and death. A wise separateness from sin (2 Corinthians 6:17) will be a very acceptable sacrifice to him who is our thrice-holy Lord, will save us from a peril which has meant ruin to many who imagined themselves strong and safe, and will place us by the side of him who himself was "undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26).

IV. THE SACRIFICE OF DOCILITY. (Psalms 141:5.) "It is allowable to learn from an enemy." It is much more obviously right to learn from "the righteous;" and, though they speak reprovingly and reflect on what we have said or done, their words should be well received.

1. The correction of man may be, in truth, the guidance of God. He may be speaking to us through his servants; it has often been the case with others, and it may well be so with us. It may be a Samuel, or an Elijah, or a Nathan, or a Paul that is speaking in God's name.

2. We acknowledge ourselves to be in error, to be at fault, generally: why should we be unwilling to learn when we are so in particular instances!

3. The docile reception of rebuke may save us from much graver sorrow that we should otherwise suffer; it may result in an improvement of conduct and enlargement of usefulness for which we shall give God heartiest thanks.

HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY

Psalms 141:1-10

Keep me from the snares.

This difficult psalm seems to be the cry of a greatly tempted soul. And the temptation now did not arise so much from the persecutions of the ungodly as from their seducing favors—what he calls "their dainties" (Psalms 141:4). And he seems to have found this even harder to resist than their cruelty and harshness. Consider—

I. THE SPIRIT OF THIS PRAYER.

1. Note its impassioned earnestness. (Psalms 141:1.) "Lord, I cry unto thee." No mere formal, ordinary prayer, but a pleading cry.

2. He pleads for haste on the part of the Lord. He can bear no delay.

3. That his cry may find much acceptance. (Psalms 141:2.) The burning of incense was one chief part of the evening sacrifice, and the meaning of it was to set forth, by its fragrance and sweet odor, the acceptableness of sincere believing prayer. Hence the psalmist here seeks that his cry may be thus acceptable before God.

II. ITS SUBSTANCE. His enemies, by bribes, favors, and blandishments of one kind and another, are seeking to lead him astray from God. Hence he prays:

1. That he may not commit himself by rash and unguarded speech. (Psalms 141:3.) What a peril and a snare this is to many! How often have they found themselves entrapped and entangled by some hasty utterance, which should never have passed their lips! These doors open too quickly and too easily, and let out what should be kept in; they need a watchman to guard them and to determine when they shall or shall not be opened, and only the Lord can set that watch. Happy the man for whom he does this!

2. That his heart may be kept true. (Psalms 141:4.) It is a blessed thing when our external conduct is kept right, when our hands are tied by God's providence, and so held in from mischief; but it is better far when our hearts are made right, so that they will have no desire for evil things. And God will do this for us. "The blood of Jesus Christ … cleanseth from all sin."

3. That the dainties of the wicked may not seduce him. Thus do they persuade men of unstable mind to practice wicked works. The way is smoothed, made to seem so attractive and right, just as our first parents were tempted, for theirs was the pattern of all successful temptation. The devil has great store of these "dainties;" he knows how to suit all tastes and to please all palates.

4. That he may not lack a faithful reprover. (Psalms 141:5.) There are plentiful prophets who will prophesy smooth things for the sin-loving soul; but faithful Micaiahs (1 Kings 22:8) are few and far between. But the psalmist here prays that he may never want for such. Let us pray the little prayer. How many go wrong just for want of such faithful reproof! Those who should reprove often shrink from their duty, for it is the reverse of pleasant.

5. That his soul may not perish. (Psalms 141:8.) That its life may not be poured out,—such is the meaning of the word; emptied as a vessel. He was in sore peril; his enemies by "their dainties" were devising all manner of stratagem against him—snares, gins, nets.

6. That in spite of all, he may escape.

III. HIS CONFIDENT HOPE. (Psalms 141:6.) That when the leaders, the rulers and judges, who led the way in wickedness,—when they were hurled down the rock (cf. 2 Chronicles 25:12; 2 Kings 9:33), then their followers would hear his words and welcome them. Let the ringleaders be got out of the way; the rest would gladly listen to godly counsels. And these leaders in evil deserved such doom; for they had been cruel persecutors of the people of God (Psalms 141:7), whose bones were scattered along the borders of the grave in vast numbers, like so many furrows made by the plough. And for such turning of the hearts of the people and for his own escape from his present trial he would continually wait on God, for God was his trust (Psalms 141:8). Hence he confidently hoped to see the wicked leaders destroyed, their followers converted, and his own soul kept by the grace of God. Such prayers will ever inspire such hopes.—S.C.

Psalms 141:3

Keep the door of my lips.

How needed is a sentinel and guard at the door! For lack of it, what mischief has been wrought! Who can recount all the ills of unguarded speech?

I. LIP-SINS: THEIR CAUSE.

1. Impulsive temperament. Like as a stroke from the whip, which would only make the common cart-horse slowly shake his head, but would send the thorough-bred flying over the hedge in a very tornado of rage, so there are men who are never roused to hasty speech, they never get into trouble that way; whilst others, quick-witted, agile-minded, swift to see what can be said on any given subject,—they are apt to think that all that can be said must be said, and with sad unwisdom they haste to say it. These are the "good talkers;" unhappy ones, they should rather be called.

2. Vanity. A liking to show off, coupled with the consciousness that they can do so if they choose.

3. Want of self-control. There are times when even cautious, well-balanced men are driven out of their wonted self-restraint, so great is the provocation they have received; but there are others who never seem to put any check upon themselves, but yield to every impulse and follow at once every prompting of their uncontrolled thoughts; they need no great provocation, but will pour out their multitude of words on any and every occasion, whether wise or otherwise.

4. Evil temper and mere thoughtlessness are other causes of much of the unguarded and hasty speech with which the world is afflicted; and so is:

5. The lack of real religion, of the fear of God, and of the sense of the seriousness of life and conduct.

II. THEIR CONSEQUENCES.

1. To the speaker himself.

2. To the hearer of such unguarded speech. Great harm may be done. "You drop, in the thoughtlessness of conversation, or for the sake of argument or wit, some irreligious, skeptical expression; it lodges in the memory of a child or a servant; it takes root in a soil favorable to such seed; it gradually springs up and brings forth fruit in disregard of religious duty, neglect of the means of grace, and the various steps of a downward course, the end of which no one can tell. This is all too common a case. But there is a Being who knows where it began." We little know what great things from little ones may rise. And how often, in loose unrestrained speech, we inflict cruel and needless pain I We did not think to do harm, but it is done all the same. And what an ill example we set to those who hear us; and one so apt to be followed!

3. And to those spoken of. They are likely to be misrepresented. From careless good nature we may commend some who, if we do not censure and warn against them, we, at least, should be silent concerning them. Or, on the other hand, and a more likely case, those of whom we speak so carelessly are likely to be injured, and perhaps seriously, and a false impression given of them, which they by no means deserve. How repeatedly the Scriptures give warning on this subject (see Proverbs 18:21; Proverbs 15:2, Proverbs 15:7; Matthew 13:36, Matthew 13:37; James 1:26, etc.)!

III. ITS CURE.

1. Prayer. The text is a prayer. It will be God's special grace that alone can conquer this too common sin.

2. Cultivate the habit of thoughtfulness and self-recollection. Lift up your heart to God for his aid in this matter, when you go into company where temptation to this sin is likely to beset you.

3. Vows of silence for given periods. These will tend to strengthen the habit of self-control.

4. Seek and cherish love to your fellow-men—to do to them as you would they should do to you.

5. And because as the tree is so will be its fruits, therefore seek the grace of God, that you yourself may be possessed and sanctified and kept of the Holy Spirit. Then shall ways and works and words be alike good.—S.C.

Psalms 141:5

The excellent oil of reproof; or, kindness smiting.

Much may be learned from this verse concerning the very difficult and delicate task of reproving others. We learn—

I. THAT REPROOF MAY BE SO ADMINISTERED AS TO BE EVEN WELCOMED. "Let the righteous smite me," etc.; and further down in the verse, "Let not my head refuse it;" such is the truer rendering of the Revised Version in the clause which our Authorized Version reads, "which shall not break my head." It is evident, therefore, that the reproving told of here was not hated and resented, as reproof commonly is, but even gratefully accepted. Generally, as we know, reproof is amongst the most unpalatable of things (see an admirable sermon by C.H. Spurgeon on Job 6:6). And we know this, and therefore needed rebuke and admonition are not given as they should be. We too often see our brother go wrong, and out of craven fear we hold back the warning and the reproof.

II. AND THIS, NOTWITHSTANDING IT MAY BE SEVERE. The psalmist calls it a smiting: "Let the righteous smite me." And on the head also; for he says (Revised Version), "Let not my head refuse it." A blow on the body would be far less injurious, painful, and ignominious than one on the head, such as is contemplated here. But still it is welcomed. This is difficult when "the righteous one" is God, who, as some expositors affirm, is here meant (see 2 Samuel 7:14, 2 Samuel 7:15). To humble ourselves under even his mighty hand (Hebrews 12:5-11), to whom we should "much rather be in subjection," is often found far from easy by our rebellions hearts; but if "the righteous" spoken of be our fellow-men, then it is more difficult still. But here such smiting is not only submitted to, but welcomed. This is a very unusual thing indeed.

III. FURTHERMORE, IT SHALL BE DEEMED "KINDNESS," AND GRATEFUL AS "THE OIL OF JOY." For this is what is here referred to (cf. Psalms 23:5; Psalms 45:7; Matthew 6:17). His soul is glad because of it; he counts himself happy and fortunate to have received it. How is all this to be understood? Therefore note—

IV. THE EXPLANATION OF SUCH RARE RECEPTION OF REPROOF.

1. Certainly it is not because the man is mean-spirited and lies down like a slave or a stricken dog to be beaten. It is no "Uriah Heep" kind of humility. If we thought that such language as we have here would be nauseating, we should, as we ought, despise it.

2. But the evident explanation of it is that the man's whole soul longed after holiness and purity, and loathed sin with a great loathing. He so dreaded being betrayed into sin, that he welcomed with joy any rebuke, no matter how severe and shameful, that restrained him from it. Thus is this strong, strange speech explained.

3. And what a revelation of the grace of God in a man's soul it is! Oh to so hate sin that we shall be glad of any suffering, yea, death itself, rather than come under its power! Happy the heart that can say "Amen" to the psalmist's prayer!

V. THE REPROVER AND THE REPROOF.

1. The reprover. He must be righteous and felt to be so by him whom he reproves. It is not, "Let anybody reprove me," but "the righteous." Reproof from others would be of no avail. But the righteous reprover is one who knows that what he says is true, that reproof ought to be given, because a brother's soul is in peril. Also he is one who feels deeply the dread evil of sin; it is no trifle to him, whether in himself or others; the honor of God is dear to him, and so is his brother's soul. For he not only feels, but loves. That is the motive which urges him, apart from which he would have said nothing. Such are the characteristics of the righteous reprover.

2. And then, the reproof. The similitude here employed—the fragrant, refreshing, healthful anointing oil—suggests much. As to the gentleness of the reproof. Though the psalmist says he would welcome it though it were as a smiting on the head, it need not, should not, will not, be like that (see our Savior's reproofs of his disciples, Matthew 26:41). And as to its insinuating, penetrating power, not by its harshness, but the very reverse. And as to its being much mingled with love and evident kindness of heart. Reprove so; for such reproof will not repel, but rather bind yet more closely to you the heart of him whom you reprove. See what he says, "For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities." We prefer this rendering; it tells how the psalmist loved the righteous ones who had reproved him, and would still pray for them amid their sorrow: they might say anything to him, it would not sever his soul from theirs.—S.C.

Psalms 141:5

Praying for others.

The psalmist here says he will do this. We need not trouble about the right rendering of this difficult verse, but may take it as it stands. It says that the calamities of the righteous shall stir the psalmist's soul to pray for them. He loved them much, even though they severely rebuked him, indeed, because they did so.

I. IT IS A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE. We pray for ourselves, and it is right we should, for unless we ourselves are right with God we shall care but little for the highest good of others, and we shall be disqualified for interceding for them. How ungodly parents who, nevertheless, love their children very dearly, should remember this! They cannot render their children the highest service of all until they themselves are reconciled to God. But we ought not to pray only for ourselves. We can be selfish even in prayer; it is to be feared we very often are. But selfishness is as wrong there as elsewhere.

II. IT HAS THE HIGHEST SANCTION. Our Lord Jesus Christ now at the right hand of God "ever liveth to make intercession for us." Moreover, he has taught us to pray, "Our Father, which art," etc. It is not "my:" our Lord would have us be intercessors for others when we pray for ourselves.

III. THERE ARE INNUMERABLE REASONS FOR IT.

1. It is part of our obedience to Christ. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Surely this includes prayer for him.

2. It unites us with Christ. We cannot "redeem our brother or give to God a ransom for him;" but we can pray for him.

3. It does such good.

4. It is a work we can all engage in, though we may not be able to do much else. What do not the ministers of God owe to poor bed-ridden people who pray for them as they minister!—S.C.

Psalms 141:7, Psalms 141:8

The victory of faith.

In these verses two contrasted scenes are set before us. We are shown—

I. AN UTTERLY HOPELESS CONDITION.

1. The psalmist seems to be contemplating the mournful state of the people of God, of whom he rejoices to be one. He represents them as being not merely a defeated company, but large numbers of them destroyed, and their bodies in long furrow-like heaps left in dishonored and horrible neglect to be the prey of the vultures and the wolves. Overwhelming destruction has come upon them; they seem fallen, to rise no more. It is a piteous sight for the survivor to contemplate; for they are his own people, he identifies himself with them. "Our bones," he says, "are scattered," etc. He might well cast himself down in despair.

2. And how often in the history of the Church of God, and in the lives of individual men, such seemingly sad and hopeless conditions are met with! The Bible gives us instances not a few. See Abraham when called on to offer Isaac as a burnt offering; how dark the prospect seemed then! Moses, when sent to deliver Israel from Egypt. Gideon, when the Midianites were ravaging the land. David before Goliath. How reasonable it had been if despair had fastened upon them and upon many other such tried souls! And many a child of God is today brought into like circumstances, his soul smitten down to the gates of death, even as our Lord in Gethsemane.

II. A VIRTUOUS FAITH NOTWITHSTANDING. (Psalms 141:8.) True, there lay his hopes, scattered, overwhelmed, destroyed, like the bones of a defeated, destroyed, dead but unburied army. Nevertheless, the soul of the psalmist is up unto God. "Mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord." The more hopeless the state of things seemed, the more steadfastly was his gaze fixed on God, the more emphatically was his confession given. "In thee is my trust;" and the more confidently ascended his prayer. It is a beautiful spectacle, the soul holding on to God in spite of all the buffetings of disastrous circumstances, and all "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," in spite, too, of the apparent abandonment of his career by God. O glorious faith, what hast thou not done? what canst thou not and wilt thou not do?

III. SOME REASONS WHEREFORE THESE THINGS ARE SO.

1. As to the sad and seemingly hopeless conditions in which God's people often find themselves. They are terrible trials to a man's faith; often men have utterly broken down under them, and fallen into the depths of atheism and irreligion. Faith is not universally victorious, sometimes far otherwise. Wherefore, then, are such trials sent? Well, sometimes to give opportunity for bearing the most emphatic testimony for God that a human soul can give. One chief reason of the cross of Christ was that he might there, as, blessed be his Name! he did, give such mighty testimony to the all-sustaining power of the love of God. Those whom he came to save had fearful sorrows to bear, and on the cross he showed them that God was the great Burden-bearer, the never-failing Solace and Stay of the soul. And for like reason his people now are often called upon to bear burdens heavy indeed. Then another reason is that there is no other way whereby the innate and inveterate earthliness of the human heart can be overcome. God has to let men see that this world will not satisfy them, no, not even when its pleasures are of the fairest and most innocent kind. We are so apt, so certain, to think they will, that God has not seldom to "scatter our bones at the grave's mouth," ere we will see our mistake. The earthly cords that hold the soul down have to be cut. And also to compel men to take refuge in God, to drive them to the shelter and shadow of his wings. And God deals thus with individual souls, that others through them may learn that this is not our rest, but that God is.

2. Then as to the blessed victorious faith, its explanation is:

IV. WHAT ENSUES.

1. God is glorified by such faith. How could it be otherwise?

2. Our suffering brethren are greatly helped by the testimony we give.

3. The peace of God fills our own soul.S.C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Psalms 141:1

The plea of former prayer.

Associating this psalm with David, Spurgeon thinks we have here "David under suspicion, half afraid to speak lest he should speak unadvisedly while trying to clear himself; David slandered and beset by enemies; David censured even by saints, and taking it kindly; David deploring the condition of the godly party, of whom he was the acknowledged head; David waiting upon God with confident expectation." The point before us now is brought out by the Revised Version, which renders thus: "Lord I have called upon thee; make haste unto me: give ear unto my voice, when I call unto thee." The psalmist uses as a plea the fact that he had called upon God. But his precise thought seems to be, that the prayer he had offered still remained unanswered, and he must therefore offer it again, and even more earnestly. So there are two topics which may be unfolded and illustrated.

I. ANSWERED FORMER PRAYERS ARE AN EFFECTIVE PLEA. And a store of these every good man holds in loving memory. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard, and saved him out of all his troubles;" "Verily God hath heard me." Every true life, when looked back upon, is seen to be full of Jehovah-jireh pillars erected as memorials of answered prayer. These become a plea in fresh prayer, because they are

We trust God to heed us because he has heeded us; and his ways with us have revealed to us what he is, the "prayer-answering God."

II. UNANSWERED FORMER PRAYERS ARE AN EFFECTIVE PLEA. The psalmist has prayed about some particular need. The prayer is still unanswered. On some this might act depressingly, and they might pray no more. This psalmist watches unto prayer. Delay does its intended work, and excites importunity. Because the answer has not come, he must pray again, and even plead that he is anxiously awaiting the answer. Illustrated by the Syro-phoenician woman.—R.T.

Psalms 141:2

Prayer as incense.

From the mention of the evening sacrifice we may gather that the psalmist is actually praying in the evening. Incense was offered when the lamps were trimmed in the morning, and when the lamps were lighted "between the evenings," after the evening sacrifice. Incense, offered after sacrifice, is the symbol of the worship of the soul already reconciled to God. The evening sacrifice is the regular burnt offering of self-dedication. "As incense is carefully prepared, kindled with holy fire, and devoutly presented unto God, so let my prayer be." There are two things about incense which may be taken as suggestive—its steady ascending as smoke; and its pleasantness.

I. THE ASCENDING OF INCENSE AS A SUGGESTION OF PRAYER. The smoke, richly laden with perfume, rises steadily up, in a quiet and gentle, yet persistent way, until it is lost to sight in the high air. It should not be lost sight of that incense appeals to sight as well as to smell. And prayer is really the soul's ascending to God. It is as the smoke laden with the soul's perfume of dependence, desire, and trust. It is the man who is continually either looking on the level, or looking down, looking up, nay going up, getting soul-wings and rising to God. It implies getting, at least for the time, free from earthly entanglements. It is leaving the baser self, as the incense smoke leaves the wood of the spices; it is carrying up the sublimer self, as the incense smoke carries up the very essence of the spices. We do not apprehend prayer until we see it as the soul's going up to God.

II. THE PLEASANTNESS OF INCENSE AS A SUGGESTION OF PRAYER. Using the figure of a man, God is said to have "smelled a sweet savor" from the smoke of Noah's sacrifice. Smoke of incense is not pleasant to us, but Easterns love strong and unusual scents. We note that the smoke was full of perfume, and that God is well pleased with. Then there must be perfume in our prayer that ascends to him—perfume of trust, humility, love, fervent desire, and confident assurance. Can we think of God as enjoying our prayers?—R.T.

Psalms 141:3

Our lip-watchman.

Our lips are poetically presented as the door of our mouth. A man's heart is not to be trusted as an inspirer of speech. Every man needs to have the speech examined and tested before it is let pass the door of his lips. The psalmist feels that he cannot trust himself to examine, criticize, qualify his own speech, especially in times of excitement. And yet he must do this work himself. No one but himself can know what he is inwardly urged to say. In asking God to set a sentinel at the door of his lips, the psalmist does but, in a figure, ask God to give him quietness and self-control, so that he may be able to judge the wisdom of what he is moved to speak. For if any man asks God to "set a watch at the door of his lips," God will answer the prayer by making the man his own sentinel, and giving him that most valuable power, the power of self-criticism. Why do we need a watchman?

I. BECAUSE OF OUR NATURAL DISPOSITIONS. Many are nervously excitable; oversensitive; quick to reply; impulsive; ready to suspect evil; or passionate. And many have no keen sense of the befitting or the becoming. Some are talkative, and readily carried by excitement beyond the bounds of prudence. What all such persons really need is not to be put into bonds and limitations, but by Divine grace to be helped to gain control of themselves. Their life-work is in their own dispositions; and God's grace is ready for the strain and conflict of that life-work.

II. BECAUSE OF OUR PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES. The psalmist was suffering persecution; he was misunderstood and slandered, and was afraid of himself lest he should speak, under excitement, rash and bitter words. Our circumstances of peril are:

1. When anger rises within.

2. When those we address are angry.

3. When speaking of those against whom we are prejudiced.

4. When in the presence of those who may wrongly report us.

5. When we have reason to fear that the innocent may be injured.

6. When we have reason to doubt our own motives. In this matter of watching speech, God helps those who help themselves.—R.T.

Psalms 141:3

The power of human speech for good and evil.

There is, perhaps, no other power given us by God which more evidently distinguishes us from the beasts, than the power of intelligent speech. And perhaps we have no power that can do more to help and bless others. And yet this also is true—no other faculty is more degraded by sin. One is led even to exclaim, "What shall be done unto thee, O thou deceitful tongue, thou lovest all devouring words!"

I. THE POWER OF MAN'S SPEECH FOR GOOD. Describe the power of Demosthenes to sway an Athenian audience to patriotic enterprise; or Peter the Hermit calling for a Crusade; or Father Mathew pleading the temperance claims. Show what a gentle-voiced, sympathetic woman can do at the bedside of the sufferer.

"Words, sweet words;

A blessing comes softly from kindly lips."

II. THE POWER OF MAN'S SPEECH FOR INJURY. The few words of a king, a ruler a statesman, have often loosed the dogs of hateful war. The lecturer can persuade young souls to deny God and righteousness and truth. Men, and women too, can by the blandishments of speech, become tempters, drawing others into sin. The Bible has metaphors suggesting the good and evil of our speech. "The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters;" "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in framings of silver;" "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life;" "My speech shall drop as the rain, and distil as the dew;" "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword;" "Their tongue is an arrow shot out, it speaketh deceit; one speaketh peaceably to his neighbor, but in heart he layeth in wait." The Apostle St. James makes the bad tongue to be a "spark of hell, lighting upon earth the flames of perdition." Everything else may be tamed, but the "tongue can no man tame;" it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

III. THE PRACTICAL POWER OF CHRISTIANITY ON MAN'S SPEECH.

1. The foundation of the restraint of speech is a change and renewal of the heart.

2. Then there should be formed a very resolute and sincere purpose to win the rule of it. The matter should come forcibly before us. The habits we have formed must be considered; the indulgences of the tongue must be tested; our life in the light of our speech must be judged. And there must be constant watchfulness, with keen recognition of occasions of failure. Prayer may well be directed to winning power over our tongue.—R.T.

Psalms 141:4

God's preventions.

This prayer, "Incline not my heart to any evil thing," should be compared with the clause in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." In neither case can God be thought of as the direct cause of evil or temptation; but in both cases he may be thought of as the indirect occasion. God does place men in circumstances in connection with which temptation may come to them; and the circumstances may even induce an evil inclination to yield to the temptation. It belonged to the intense Hebrew conception of God, and of God's relations with men, that the distinction between God as cause and God as occasion was hopelessly confused. "Incline not my heart" can only mean, "Do not put me into such circumstances as must incline my heart to evil." Here is—

I. A DEEP SENSE OF THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CIRCUMSTANCES AND FEELINGS. "Oh that nothing may arise in thy providence which would excite our desires in a wrong direction!" We are creatures of circumstance. Inward moods answer responsively to outward conditions.

1. There are circumstances which excite evil feeling in us always.

2. There are circumstances which excite evil in us when we are in particular states of body or of mind. These, being the more subtle mischief, send us the more earnestly seeking the Divine defending and help.

II. A DEEP SENSE OF THE CONTROL WHICH GOD CAN HAVE OF OUR FEELING THROUGH THE MASTERY OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. "Our times are in his hand," and through our times he can effectually control us. It is often left as an impression on religious minds that something called "natural law" is ruling in the sphere of things; and that God's operations are confined to the sphere of hearts. That impression needs to be removed. God does work in hearts in a spiritual way, but it is also true that he is ever active in the sphere of events and circumstances, in order to use them for his higher work in feeling and in souls. So the good man asks God to be in the circumstances in order that he may have control in the feelings.—R.T.

Psalms 141:5

Reproof and kindness.

"Let the righteous man treat me with any amount of ignominious reproach for my sins, yet I will prefer him to the ungodly, however prosperous, my prayer being ever that I may be saved from the evil deeds of the latter." Read, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: let him reprove me; such oil for my head let not my head refuse." Roberts tells us that in the East "certain oils are said to have a most salutary effect on the head; hence, in fevers, or any other complaints which affect the head, Eastern medical men always recommend oil. I have known people who were deranged cured in a very short time by nothing more than the application of a peculiar oil to the head. Thus the reproofs of the righteous were compared to excellent oil, which produced a most salutary effect on the head." What seems plain, and what gives the best key to the allusions of this difficult psalm, is that the psalmist had done something which was very doubtfully right, perhaps even manifestly wrong. He was not, however, disposed to admit this to himself, though at times he felt painfully uncertain. Other people were in no doubt at all as to the impropriety of his action, and his enemies made it the occasion of bitter scorn, while his friends, in their grave anxiety for him, sought to reprove him, and liberate his conscience so that it might render its free testimony. The psalm may very well be illustrated by the moods of David when he had sinned in the matter of Uriah.

I. SCORN OF A MAN IN SIN DOES BUT HARDEN HIM. Many a man has gone into greater lengths of sin simply because he failed to get sympathy and help in his first stumbling.

II. REPROOF OF A MAN IN SIN MAY BRING HIM TO REPENTANCE. A man in sin must not be left alone. But reproof, to be effective, must have love, as well as righteousness, for inspiration. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."

III. RESPONSE TO THE REPROOF OF THE GOOD REVEALS A MAN. There is hope if he is receptive to the personal persuasions of those whom he can esteem, and counts reproof a kindness.—R.T.

Psalms 141:8

Soul-destitution.

"We have born so harrowed and torn that we are brought to the brink of the grave." "To be destitute in circumstances is bad, but to be destitute in soul is far worse; to be left of friends is a calamity, but to be left of God would be destruction. Destitute of God is destitution with a vengeance. The comfort is that God hath said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'" The margin is, "Make not my soul bare;" strip me not of every hope; leave me not completely naked; abandon me not to nature's beggary and misery; let me not go down to the pit with all my sins upon my head; leave not my soul destitute of pardon and peace. The mood is well indicated in David's sense of being left alone of God for long months after his sin in the matter of Uriah. A comparison may be made between this prayer, "Leave not my soul destitute," and the confident assurance, "None of them that trust in him shall be desolate."

I. THE SOUL IN RIGHTEOUSNESS FEELS BEFRIENDED. That is, the soul that is in right relations, and has right desires inspiring right endeavors. That man can always say, "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Refuge." And that befriending makes him superior to all surroundings of distress, and all consciousness of frailty.

II. THE SOUL IN SIN FEELS DESTITUTE. He is conscious that he has put himself out of the atmosphere in which alone the God of love and righteousness can reveal himself. The prodigal son felt destitute as soon as "he came to himself," and realized that no love wrapped him round. When a man sins, and persists in his sins, it is his soul that feels destitute. His surroundings may not immediately change, but his soul does. That loses what is its supreme treasure, the sense of God. "Man was made for God, and can find no rest till it gets rest in him." When man sins, and keeps his sin, he must lose his treasure. But soul-destitution may set man seeking after God's return with a passionate intensity.—R.T.

HOMILIES BY C. SHORT

Psalms 141:1-10

A comprehensive prayer.

The psalm has some peculiar difficulties, due to the extreme abruptness with which the thoughts follow one another, and the great obscurity which hangs over the allusions. Let us try and select the principal thoughts.

1. The psalmist was threatened with some immediate danger which could brook no delay. (Psalms 141:1.) Like the disciples in the storm on the lake. If relief comes at all, it must come at once.

2. He seeks that his prayer to this end may be as acceptable as the incense of sacrifice. (Psalms 141:2.) True prayer more effectual than sacrifice.

3. But, though danger is close at hand, he would be preserved from hasty words. (Psalms 141:3.) Religion should help us to be self-contained in the presence of danger.

4. Though wickedness may seem to prosper, we must not be tempted by its success. (Psalms 141:4.) If men become rich in evil doing, we must not be seduced by the prospects of similar gain.

5. The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. (Psalms 141:5.) It is good to welcome reproof from the righteous, even though it seems harsh.

6. Prayer is a better defense against persecutors than retaliation. (Psalms 141:5.) If we cannot conquer wickedness, we have still the resource and the comfort of prayer for our enemies.

7. When the leaders of insurrection are overthrown, then their followers should hear words of forgiveness. (Psalms 141:6.) A true sovereign will delight more in amnesty than in punishment. His words will be sweet to the guilty. So also in private relations.

8. The bones of those straitened in a righteous cause are as seed cast into soil that has been ploughed. (Psalms 141:7.) "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." The allusion here is obscure; but the above would make a good meaning.

9. But do not give up my life to destruction; but rescue me. (Psalms 141:8-10.) This the repetition of the prayer at the beginning of the psalm. How much all prayer is a repetition, because the some wants and desires are continually recurring!—S.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 141:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/psalms-141.html. 1897.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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