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Psalm 55:9-11

9. Destroy, O Lord! and divide their tongue: for I have seen persecution and strife in the city. 10. Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof labouring also, and sorrow, are in the midst of it. 11. Wickedness 302302     “Malice.” — Fr. is in the midst thereof; deceit and guile depart not from her streets.

 

9. Destroy, 303303     Hare, Green, and others, conjecture that the first verb in the verse, “destroy,” had been originally “divide” — “divide, O Lord! divide their tongues.” In Scripture we sometimes meet with an elegant repetition of this kind, as in Psalm 59:13, “Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be.” O Lord; and divide their tongue Having now composed, as it were, his mind, he resumes the exercise of prayer. Had he indulged longer in the strain of complaint, he might have given his sanction to the folly of those who do themselves more harm than good by the excessive use of this barren species of comfort. There will occasionally escape from the lips of a saint, when he prays, some complaining exclamations which cannot be altogether justified, but he soon recalls himself to the exercise of believing supplication. In the expression, divide their tongue, there seems an allusion to the judgment which fell upon the builders of Babel, (Genesis 31:7.) He means in general to pray that God would break their criminal confederacies, and distract their impious counsels, but evidently with an indirect reference to that memorable proof which God gave of his power to thwart the designs of the wicked by confounding their communication. It is thus that to this day he weakens the enemies of the Church, and splits them into factions, through the force of mutual animosities, rivalries, and disagreements in opinion. For his own encouragement in prayer, the Psalmist proceeds to insist upon the wickedness and malignity of his adversaries, this being a truth never to be lost sight of, that just in proportion as men grow rampant in sin, may it be anticipated that the divine judgments are about to descend upon them. From the unbridled license prevailing amongst them, he comforts himself with the reflection that the deliverance of God cannot be far distant; for he visits the proud, but gives more grace to the humble. Before proceeding to pray for divine judgments against them, he would intimate that he had full knowledge of their evil and injurious character. Interpreters have spent an unnecessary degree of labor in determining whether the city here spoken of was that of Jerusalem or of Keilah, for David by this term would appear merely to denote the open and public prevalence of crime in the country. The city stands opposed to places more hidden and obscure, and he insinuates that strife was practiced with unblushing publicity. Granting that the city meant was the metropolis of the kingdom, this is no reason why we should not suppose that the Psalmist had in his view the general state of the country; but the term is, in my opinion, evidently employed in an indefinite sense, to intimate that such wickedness as is generally committed in secret was at that time openly and publicly perpetrated. It is with the same view of marking the aggravated character of the wickedness then reigning in the nation, that he describes their crimes as going about the walls, keeping sentry or watch, so to speak, upon them. Walls are supposed to protect a city from rapine and incursion, but he complains that this order of things was inverted — that the city, instead of being surrounded with fortifications, was beset with strife and oppression, or that these had possession of the walls, and went about them. 304304     “Violence and Strife” are here personified, as sentinels or patrol, who keep watch over the city; going their rounds upon the walls to guard “labor, sorrow, wickedness, deceit, and guile,” which reign in the midst of it, and to exclude happiness, righteousness, and truth. “It is, in fact,” says Bishop Mant, “a very fine specimen of that power of personification, or enduing general and abstract ideas with personal qualities; and thus introducing them acting and speaking upon the stage, for which the Hebrew poets are distinguished, equalling therein the most polished writers of other nations in elegance and beauty, and surpassing the most elevated in grandeur and sublimity.” I have already commented elsewhere upon the words און, aven, and עמל, amal. In announcing that wickedness was in the midst of the city, and deceit and guile in her streets, he points to the true source of the prevailing crimes; even as it was to be expected that those who were inwardly corrupt, and given to such mischievous devices, would indulge in violence, and in persecuting the poor and defenseless. In general, he is to be considered as adverting in this passage to the deplorable confusions which marked the government of Saul, when justice and order were in a manner banished from the realm. And whether his description were intended to apply to one city or to many, matters had surely reached a portentous crisis in a nation professing the true religion, when any of their cities had thus become a den of robbers. It may be observed, too, that David, in denouncing a curse, as he does in the psalm before us, upon cities of this description, was obviously borne out by what must have been the judgment of the Holy Spirit against them.


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