World Wide Study Bible
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Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler,
and rise up to help me!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers;
say to my soul,
“I am your salvation.”
Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life.
Let them be turned back and confounded
who devise evil against me.
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them on.
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let ruin come on them unawares.
And let the net that they hid ensnare them;
let them fall in it—to their ruin.
Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his deliverance.
All my bones shall say,
“O Lord, who is like you?
You deliver the weak
from those too strong for them,
the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”
Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me about things I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
my soul is forlorn.
But as for me, when they were sick,
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting.
I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
as though I grieved for a friend or a brother;
I went about as one who laments for a mother,
bowed down and in mourning.
But at my stumbling they gathered in glee,
they gathered together against me;
ruffians whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
they impiously mocked more and more,
gnashing at me with their teeth.
How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my life from the lions!
Then I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me,
or those who hate me without cause wink the eye.
For they do not speak peace,
but they conceive deceitful words
against those who are quiet in the land.
They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha,
our eyes have seen it.”
You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent!
O Lord, do not be far from me!
Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and do not let them rejoice over me.
Do not let them say to themselves,
“Aha, we have our heart’s desire.”
Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.”
Let all those who rejoice at my calamity
be put to shame and confusion;
let those who exalt themselves against me
be clothed with shame and dishonor.
Let those who desire my vindication
shout for joy and be glad,
and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord,
who delights in the welfare of his servant.”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all day long.
1. Plead my cause, O Jehovah! As the enemies of David not only avowedly sought to take away his life, but also troubled him by calumny and misrepresentation, he pleads for the redress of both these grievances. In the first place, by appealing to God for his aid in defense of his cause, he intimates, that he has to do with wicked and maligning men. In the second place, by urging him to take up arms, he shows that he was grievously oppressed. It was a very dishonorable thing, that this holy man, alike eminent for his beneficence and inoffensiveness towards all men, and who by his courtesy and meekness had merited, both in public and private, the esteem and favor of all, was not permitted to escape the reproach and calumny of wicked men; but it is important for us to know this, and it sets before us a very profitable example. If even David did not escape the malice of wicked men, it ought not to seem wonderful or strange to us, if they blame and bite at us. The injuries they inflict upon us may be grievous and painful, but there is incomparable consolation presented to us in this consideration, that God himself interposes for our protection and defense against false accusations. Though calumniators, then, should arise, and tear us, as it were, to pieces, by falsely charging us with crimes, we need not be disturbed, so long as God undertakes to plead our cause against them. There can be no doubt, that in the second clause of the verse David implores God to resist the armed violence of his enemies. The amount of the whole is, that being falsely accused and cruelly persecuted, and finding no help at the hands of men, the Prophet commits the preservation of his life and his reputation to God.
2. Take the shield. These words certainly cannot be applied, in the strict and proper sense, to God, who has no need of the spear or buckler: for by the breath of his mouth alone, or merely with his nod, he is able to overthrow all his enemies. But although such figures at first sight appear rude, yet the Holy Ghost employs them in accommodation to the weakness of our understanding, for the purpose of impressing more effectually upon our minds the conviction that God is present to aid us. When troubles and dangers arise, when terrors assail us on every side, when even death presents itself to our view, it is difficult to realize the secret and invisible power of God, which is able to deliver us from all anxiety and fear; for our understandings, which are gross and earthly, tend downward to the earth. That our faith, therefore, may ascend by degrees to the heavenly power of God, he is here introduced armed, after the manner of men, with sword and shield. In the same way, also, when he is in another place termed “a man of war,” it is doubtless in adaptation to the imperfection of our present state, because our minds, from their limited capacity, could in no other way comprehend the extent of that infinite power, which contains in itself every form of help, and has no need of aid from any other quarter. This, therefore, is a prayer that God, by the exercise of his secret and intrinsic power, would show that he alone is able to encounter the whole strength and forces of the ungodly. Some suppose that the Hebrew word צנה, tsinnah, here used, means a dart, or some other kind of weapon; but as we have already seen, in the fifth psalm, that it properly signifies a buckler, I see no reason why it should be differently interpreted in this place. Nor is there any thing at all inconsistent in connecting here, as is often done in other places, the buckler and the shield. 702702 The word rendered shield is in the Hebrew text מגך, magen, which was a short buckler intended merely for defense. The word rendered buckler is צנה, tsinnah, for an account of which see note, p. 64. The tsinnah was double the weight of the magen, and was carried by the infantry; the magen, being lighter and more manageable, was used by the cavalry. The tsinnah answered to the scutum, and the magen to the clypeus, among the Romans. — See Paxton’s Illustrations of Scripture, vol. 3, pp. 866, 867. If the expression here employed had been designed to signify a dart, or a similar weapon, it would have been more natural to connect it with the spear, of which mention is made in the following verse. David, then, first makes mention of defensive armor, praying that God would sustain and repel the assaults of the enemy. The Hebrew word ריק, rik, which signifies to unsheath, or make bare, I take simply to mean, to draw out, or bring forth. The Hebrew word סגור, segor, which I have translated to oppose, literally signifies to shut or to close. But as David’s meaning is, that God, by setting himself as a wall or rampart, would prevent his enemies from approaching him, it appears to me that I have faithfully translated it. At the same time, if any should prefer the translation to shut, or close the way, or to impede it by some obstacle, the meaning; is substantially the same. The opinion of those who contend that it is a noun, 703703 Those who are of opinion that סגור, segor, is a noun, translate it “the scymitar,” and read, “Draw out the spear, and the scymitar, to oppose my persecutors.” According to Drusius, Vitringa, Michaelis, Dr Kennicott, and others, the word means σαγαρις, or scymitar, a sort of battle-axe, which was used by the Persians, Scythians, and other nations in ancient times. is not at all probable.
3. Say to my soul. Some expound these words thus: Declare to me by secret inspiration; and others, Make me to feel indeed that my salvation is in thy hand. In my opinion, David desires to have it thoroughly fixed in his mind, and to be fully persuaded that God is the author of his salvation. This he was unable, from the present aspect of things, to ascertain and determine; for such is the insensibility and dulness of our natures, that God often delivers us whilst we sleep and are ignorant of it. Accordingly, he makes use of a very forcible manner of expression, in praying that God would grant him a lively sense of his favor, so that being armed with this buckler, he might sustain every conflict, and surmount every opposing obstacle; as if he had said, Lord, whatever may arise to discourage me, confirm me in this persuasion, that my salvation is assuredly in thee; and although temptations drive me hither and thither, recall my thoughts to thee in such a manner, as that my hope of salvation may rise superior to all the dangers to which I shall be exposed; 704704 “Que l’esperance de mon salut surpasse tous les dangers qui me seront livrez.“ — Fr. nay, more, that I may become as infallibly certain as if thou hadst said it, that through thy favor I shall be saved.
4. Let those who seek my soul be confounded. David now calls upon God to take vengeance upon his enemies; and he asks not only that he would disappoint and destroy their designs, but also that he would recompense them according to their deserts. In the first place, he desires that they may be confounded and put to shame in seeing their expectation and desire fail; and then he proceeds farther, desiring that while they imagine themselves to be firmly established, and deeply rooted, they may be like chaff or stubble. As the chaff is driven with the wind, so also he desires, that, being disquieted by the secret impulse of the angel of the Lord, they may never have rest. The imprecation which follows is even more dreadful, and it is this: that wherever they go they may meet with darkness and slippery places; and that in their doubt and perplexity the angel of the Lord would pursue them. In fine, whatever they devise, and to whatever side they turn, he prays that all their counsels and enterprises may come to a disastrous termination. When he desires that they may be driven by the angel of the Lord, we learn from this that the reason why the ungodly are troubled, though no man pursues them, is, that God smites them with a spirit of amazement, and distracts them with such fears that they tremble and are troubled.
The same thing he expresses more clearly in the following verse, praying that the angel of the Lord would drive them through dark and slippery places, so that reason and understanding might fail them, and that they might not know whither to go, nor what to become, nor have even time given them to draw their breath. We need not be surprised that this work should be assigned to the angels, by whose instrumentality God executes his judgments. At the same time, this passage may be expounded of the devils as well as of the holy angels, who are ever ready to execute the divine behests. We know that the devil is permitted to exercise his dominion over the reprobate; and hence it is often said that “an evil spirit from God came upon Saul,” (1 Samuel 18:10.) But as the devils never execute the will of God, unless compelled to do it when God wishes to serve himself of them; the Sacred Scriptures declare that the holy and elect angels are in a much higher sense the servants of God. God, then, executes his judgments by the wicked and reprobate angels; but he gives the elect angels the pre-eminence over them. On this account, also, good angels only are called rightfully “principalities,” as in Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:16, and other similar passages. If it is objected that it is not meet that the angels, who are the ministers of grace and salvation, and the appointed guardians of the faithful, should be employed in executing judgment upon the reprobate, the explanation is simply this, that they cannot watch for the preservation of the godly without being prepared for fighting — that they cannot succor them by their aid without also opposing their enemies, and declaring themselves to be against them. The style of imprecation which the Psalmist here employs can be explained only by bearing in mind what I have elsewhere said, namely, that David pleads not simply his own cause, nor utters rashly the dictates of passion, nor with unadvised zeal desires the destruction of his enemies; but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he entertains and expresses against the reprobate such desires as were characterised by great moderation, and which were far removed from the spirit of those who are impelled either by desire of revenge or hatred, or some other inordinate emotion of the flesh.
7. For they have hid for me without a cause. He here declares that he did not take the name of God in vain, nor call upon him for protection without just cause, for he openly asserts his innocence, and complains that he was thus severely afflicted without having committed any crime, or given any occasion to his enemies. It becomes us carefully to mark this, so that no one may rush unadvisedly into God’s presence, nor call upon him for vengeance, without the assurance and testimony of a good conscience. When he says that he was assailed by stratagem, fraud, and wicked practices, there is implied in this a tacit commendation of his own integrity.
8. Let confusion of which he is not aware come upon him. David again prays that God would cause to return upon the head of his enemies the mischief which they had directed against a just and an inoffensive man. The change from the plural to the singular number, even when the same subject, is spoken of, is, we know, a thing very common among the Hebrews. Accordingly, what is here said of one man is applicable to all David’s enemies in general, unless, perhaps, we are rather inclined to suppose that allusion is here made to Saul or some one of his nobles. But as it is certain that the prayer which he here offers against Saul as the head extends to the whole body, in other words, to all his followers, 707707 “Qu’il fait yci contre Saul comme le chef, s’estend a tout le corps, c’est a dire, tous ses adherens.” — Fr. it matters little in which way we understand it. The Hebrew word שואה, shoah, sometimes signifies confusion, and sometimes destruction; and, therefore, many translate it, Let destruction, or desolation, or ruin, come upon him. The other rendering, however, seems more suitable, for he immediately adds, Let his own net which he hath hidden catch him, let him fall into it with confusion The way in which others render it, Let him fall into destruction itself, is certainly forced and unnatural. But the meaning of the clause will be brought out very suitable if it is viewed as a prayer of David, that as the wicked settle down like wine upon the lees, in present enjoyments, and fear nothing, as if they were placed beyond the reach of all danger, some calamity which they think not of may suddenly come upon them like a tempest, and overwhelm them. It never for a moment occurs to them as at all possible that their stratagems and craft, their wicked practices, and all the snares which they lay for the good and the simple, turn to the destruction of themselves who have devised them. David, therefore, very properly desires that they may fall with confusion into the nets which they have laid; in other words, that they may be filled with amazement and terror when they are suddenly and unexpectedly visited with calamity. The more unbounded and extravagant the exultation of men is, through their vainly and foolishly imagining that they shall escape unpunished, the more are they filled with amazement and fear when calamity suddenly overtakes them. I have, however, no doubt that David here refers to some strange and extraordinary calamity. Let confusion, then, of which he thinks not, come upon him; that is to say, when he shall have persuaded himself that all goes well with him, and promised himself peace in his deceitful fascinations, then let unwonted terror strike him to the heart, and let him feel by his tumultuous fear that he is caught in his own snares.
9. And my soul is joyful in Jehovah. Others read this in the optative mood, May my soul rejoice in Jehovah, and may it be glad in his salvation But instead of continuing to express his desires, David, in my opinion, rather promises in this verse that he will be grateful to God. This is still more evident from the following verse, in which extolling very highly the goodness of God, he says that he will celebrate the remembrance of it with every member of his body. While, therefore, some ascribe to fortune, and others to their own skill, the praise of their deliverance from danger, and few, if any, yield the whole praise of it to God, David here declares that he will not forget the favor which God had bestowed upon him. My soul, says he, shall rejoice, not in a deliverance of the author of which it is ignorant, but in the salvation of God. To place the matter in a still stronger light, he assigns to his very bones the office of declaring the divine glory. As if not content that his tongue should be employed in this, he applies all the members of his body to the work of setting forth the praises of God. The style of speaking which he employs is hyperbolical, but in this way he shows unfeignedly that his love to God was so strong that he desired to spend his sinews and bones in declaring the reality and truth of his devotion.
10. O Jehovah! who is like thee? Here he explains more fully the nature of his joy in the salvation of God of which he had spoken, showing that it consisted in his ascribing entirely to God the deliverance which he had obtained. Men, in general, praise God in such a manner that he scarcely obtains the tenth part of his due. But David, distinguishing him from all others, distinctly declares that the whole glory of his deliverance is due to him alone. And, certainly, we then only yield to God what belongs to him, when, investing him with his own power, we rest all our hopes on him. For what purpose does it serve, loudly to celebrate the name of God with our mouths, if we tear in pieces his power and goodness at our pleasure? David, therefore, in the true spirit of godliness, extols the greatness of God by this high encomium, that he is the guardian and defender of the poor, and rescues the needy and afflicted from the hand of those who oppress them; as if he had said, It is God’s peculiar duty to succor the miserable. By these words we are taught to cling to the hope of better things in adversity; for the power and resources of our enemies, however great they may be, is no reason why we should lose our confidence, since God declares to us from heaven that he reigns expressly for the purpose of resisting the strong and powerful. If the children of this world, who employ their power in injuring and oppressing the weak, had the least degree of sound understanding, it would certainly serve to restrain their audacity, and prevent them proceeding farther in provoking the wrath of God.
11. Violent witnesses 709709 “עדי חמס witnesses of wrong or violence; i.e., witnesses deponing to acts of violence, as committed by the person accused. See Psalm 27:12.” — Horsley. rise up. The Hebrew is, they shall rise up; but in using the future tense, the Psalmist intimates that he is speaking of what he had suffered for a long time. And he complains that he was so oppressed with calumny that he had no opportunity of defending himself; than which nothing more grievous and painful can ever happen to those of an ingenuous mind, and who are conscious of no blame. Besides, he not only says that he had been falsely accused, but he also condemns the audacity and insolence of those who violently rose up to bear witness against him. To this belongs what he adds, They charge me with things which I know not. David then was not only spoiled of his worldly goods, and basely driven into exile, but was also accused and loaded with infamy under color of justice. Being involved in such distress, he resorted directly to God, hoping that he would maintain his innocence. So ought the children of God to walk through good report and bad report, and patiently suffer reproach, until he assert and declare their innocence from on high. In old times, it was a common proverb among the heathen, “There is no theater more beautiful than a good conscience;” and in this they uttered a noble sentiment; but no man can be sustained and supported by the purity of his conscience unless he has recourse to God.
12. They render me evil for good. David again shows that the malice of his enemies was of a very aggravated character, because they not only oppressed him wrongfully, seeing he was innocent, and had given them no occasion of offense, but also because even those who had received much enjoyment and many favors from him, recompensed him in a very strange and ungrateful manner. Such disgraceful conduct wounds the feelings of good men very severely, and seems quite intolerable. But it is an inexpressibly great consolation when we can testify before God, that we have attempted by every means in our power to soothe the minds of our enemies, and to bow them to gentleness, although, notwithstanding, they are hurried on by insatiable cruelty in desiring our hurt; for God will not suffer this barbarous and brutal ingratitude to pass unpunished. Their cruelty is farther expressed when it is said that they endeavored to bereave (for so it is properly in the Hebrew 710710 “Ont tasch, de rendre orpheline car il y a ainsi proprement en Hebrieu.” — Fr. ) the soul of a meek and peaceable man; that is to say, to deprive it of comfort, and render it so desolate as to overwhelm it with despair and destroy it. David afterwards recounts certain acts of kindness which he had done them, and which, if they had had any sense of equity and humanity, ought to have been as so many sacred bonds of mutual love. He does not say that he aided them with money or with goods, or that he had by some other means exercised liberality towards them, for it may sometimes happen that when the hand is open the heart may be shut; but he mentions certain tokens of true and genuine love — that he lamented their misfortunes before God, and was troubled for them, as if he had mourned for the death of his mother; and, finally, that he felt for and took an interest in them as if they had been his own brothers. Since then he had thus laid them under high obligations to him, of what baser ingratitude could they be guilty than to vomit against him in his adversity the poison of their hatred? With respect to the meaning of the words, I take the term sickness, in this place, to signify metaphorically any kind of trouble or sorrow. David’s meaning is, that as often as any calamity had befallen them he was a partaker of their grief. A good evidence of this was the prayer which he says he poured out into his own bosom. The proper meaning of the expression is, that he did not ostentatiously utter his prayers aloud before men, like many who pretend much more affection than they really feel, but that by praying in secret, and without making the world privy to it, he showed that he was sincerely and from the heart distressed by reason of their affliction. As we say that a man rejoices in his own bosom, who is satisfied with the secret and inward feeling of his heart, without declaring it to others, so also one may be said to weep or pray in his own bosom, who pours not forth his tears and prayers before men to secure their favor, but, contented with having God alone for his witness, conceals his emotions in his own heart. I do not, however, deny that in this manner of speaking there is expressed the attitude of one who prays, as if the Psalmist had said, that he bowed down his body, and prayed with his head hanging down, and his arms folded, as men in heaviness are accustomed to do. 711711 “When the Orientals,” says Boothroyd, “pray seriously in grief, they hide their face in their bosom: and to this custom the Psalmist here alludes. Rabbi Levi, Dathe, and others, explain it in like manner.” But this especially we ought to regard as his meaning, that there was no dissimulation in his prayer. Some think that there is an imprecation in his words, and they explain them in this sense. Lord, if it is true that I have not desired all prosperity to them, let all mischief fall upon me: but this is a forced explanation. There is still another exposition, which has as little plausibility in it; and it is this: Because I profited nothing by praying for them, the fruit of my prayer returned to myself. The sense, which is more in unison with the purpose and also the words of the prophet, is, I prayed for them just as I pray for myself. But what I have already advanced concerning the secret affection of the Psalmist will, I hope, prove satisfactory to the judicious reader. With respect to sackcloth and fasting, he used them as helps to prayer. The faithful pray even after their meals, and do not observe fasting every day as necessary for prayer, nor consider it needful to put on sackcloth whenever they come into the presence of God. But we know that those who lived in ancient times resorted to these exercises when any urgent necessity pressed upon them. In the time of public calamity or danger they all put on sackcloth, and gave themselves to fasting, that by humbling themselves before God, and acknowledging their guilt, they might appease his wrath. In like manner, when any one in particular was afflicted, in order to excite himself to greater earnestness in prayer, he put on sackcloth and engaged in fasting, as being the tokens of grief. When David then, as he here tells us, put on sackcloth, it was the same as if he had taken upon himself the sins of his enemies, in order to implore from God mercy for them, while they were exerting all their power to accomplish his destruction. Although we may reckon the wearing of sackcloth and sitting in ashes among the number of the legal ceremonies, yet the exercise of fasting remains in force amongst us at this day as well as in the time of David. When God, therefore, calls us to repentance, by showing us signs of his displeasure, let us bear in mind that we ought not only to pray to him after the ordinary manner, but also to employ such means as are fitted to promote our humility. In conclusion, the Psalmist says that he behaved and acted towards them as if each of them had been his brother.
15. But they rejoiced at my halting. I see no reason why interpreters should trouble themselves as they do about the word halting. Some conjecture that David had his leg put out of joint, and others suppose that he halted from some disease. But when we consider carefully the whole passage, nothing is more evident than that he refers by this expression to the calamities which befell him; as if he had said, As soon as they saw me begin to stagger and ready to fall, they did as it were gather together against me, and endeavored entirely to overthrow me. There is, therefore, in this expression almost the same metaphor as we have already seen in the word sickness. Now, as men often relent at seeing the misfortunes of their enemies, so that they cease to hate or persecute those who are already miserably wretched, it was an evidence of the very cruel and fierce spirit by which David’s former friends were actuated against him, when, upon seeing him cast down and afflicted, they were rather by this incited furiously and insolently to assail him. At the commencement he speaks only of a few; but immediately after, in order to show still farther the indignity which had been done to him, he adds to them the base and ignoble of the common people; not that he blames all alike, but that he may the better show with what bitter hostility he was assailed on all sides. It is probable that those who were then in power were as it were firebrands, who endeavored to kindle every where the flame of hatred against David, that the people every where might rise up to destroy him, and strive with each other in this enterprise. And he repeats twice that they gathered themselves together, in order to show how resolute and determined they were in their opposition to him; unless, perhaps, some would prefer to explain the words thus: They gathered themselves together, not only those who had some pretext for doing so, but even the lowest of the people. The Hebrew word נכים, nekim, literally signifies the whipped, or beaten, 712712 The word is derived from נכה, nakah, to strike or to smite. The LXX. render it μαστιγες, scourges; and Jerome reads percutientes, smiters, in which he is followed by Ainsworth, who understands the word as meaning smiters with the tongue, or calumniators, and who thinks that the LXX., in translating it scourges, alluded to the scourge of the tongue, as in Job 5:21; and if smiters is the proper rendering, we may certainly conclude, that as this smiting is represented as done upon the person who was its object in his absence, it was a smiting by the tongue. At the same time, this critic observes, that the word may be read the smitten, that is, abjects, vile persons, as in Job 30:8 Dr Kennicott translates it by verbcrones, whipt slaves, vile scoundrels. Another meaning of the word, according to Buxtorff, is, the wry-legged, the lame. In this sense it is used in 2 Samuel 4:4, and 9:3; and hence the epithet of Necho was given to one of the Pharaohs, who halted in his gait. Thus it easily came to be employed as a term of contempt. Calvin and the translators of our English Bible agree in the meaning which they attach to this word. but it is here to be understood as denoting base and disreputable persons. Some interpreters, indeed, derive it from the word כאה, kaäh, which signifies to make sad, and expound it actively, Those who make me sad: but the previous interpretation agrees better with the design of the passage, namely, that David was shamefully treated by the lowest dregs of the people. The words, I knew not, may be referred to the cause as well as to the persons. I, however, explain it as referring to the persons in this sense: So far from having any cause to complain that I have offended them, or done them any harm, I did not even know them. At the same time, these words may be understood as implying a complaint on the part of David, that the people were enraged against him without any cause, since he is conscious of no crime, and can conceive of no ground for such fierce hatred towards him. As to the last clause of the verse, also, although interpreters entertain different opinions, it appears to me that I have given the true and natural meaning. Literally it is, they did cut, and ceased not; but there can be no doubt that the language is metaphorical, and that the word cut 713713 The verb קרע, kara, for cut, “is significant of tearing or rending, and by an easy metaphor, is applicable to wounds inflicted by evil speaking and slander.” — Walford. signifies that they opened their mouth; as if David had said, They have insolently poured forth with open mouth their scoffing and reproachful words against me. The additional clause in the sentence, and ceased not, is a repetition common in the Hebrew language, and is employed to express the vehemence with which David’s enemies proceeded against him. It implies that there was no end or measure to their evil-speaking, and that they continued to pour forth with distended throats whatever first occurred to them.
16. Among perfidious jesters. Others translate it, With hypocrites, but in my opinion David simply relates the combination of his enemies. And the meaning of the expression is to this effect, That among men of a crafty disposition, who had been addicted to deceit, and were consequently lost to all sense of shame, the only and the constant subject of their deliberations was, how they might destroy this afflicted man. David again reverts to the leaders of the people, and to those in power, as the source whence all the mischief took its rise; for this description could not apply to a great part of the common people, who acted rather by thoughtless impulse. He therefore speaks particularly of the rulers, and others of a similar character, and accuses them of cruelty, saying, that they gnash their teeth upon him like furious wild beasts. He first calls them perfidious or wicked, that he may the more easily obtain help and aid of God, as if calling upon him in the extremity of distress; and, secondly, he calls them jesters or mockers, by which he means that they have such effrontery, and are so far lost to all sense of shame, that there is nothing which they will not dare to do. As to the meaning of the word מעוג, maog, which follows, interpreters are not agreed. Properly, it signifies bread baked upon the hearth upon the embers. Some, however, because they could not elicit from it a meaning suitable to the passage, have thought that it should be taken for talkative jesting, or idle speech. Others, presuming to give a still wider range to their fancy, have supposed the meaning of the Psalmist to be, that the scoffing of such persons was as bread to them, because they take pleasure in scoffing and jesting. To me, it appears that we ought to retain the proper signification of the word, while, at the same time, it may be understood in a twofold sense. Some taking מעוג, maog, for a cake or tart, are of opinion that David here censures people of a delicate taste, who seek after fine and dainty fare, many of whom are always to be found in the courts of princes. Others rather suppose that he rebukes persons of a servile and sordid spirit, who, for the most trifling consideration, would employ their tongues in reviling others, just as in all ages there have been found men who, for a bit of bread, as we say, set their tongues to sale. When I carefully consider other passages in which David describes the nature and character of his enemies, I am disposed to think that those who indulged in jesting and scoffing at feasts, and who, in sitting over their cups, consulted about putting David to death, are here referred to. He therefore complains, that even in the midst of their feasting and banqueting, the ungodly, who had shaken off all shame, communed how they might take away his life.
17. O Lord! how long wilt thou look on? The meaning of the word which I have translated how long, is ambiguous in the Hebrew. In Latin it signifies, How long wilt thou see it, and suffer it without uttering a word? But the other interpretation is equally appropriate, namely, After having seemed to take no notice of the matter for a long time, when wilt thou at length begin to see it? The meaning, however, is substantially the same, for David complains of God’s long forbearance, declaring that while the wicked are running to every excess, God connives at them, and delays too much to take vengeance. And although God inculcates upon the faithful the duty of quietly and patiently waiting till the time arrive when he shall judge it proper to help them, yet he allows them to bewail in prayer the grief which they experience on account of his delay. At the same time, David shows, that in so speaking he is not carried headlong merely by the importunity of his desire, but that he is constrained to it by the extremity of his distress. For he says that they tumultuously rush upon him to take away his life, and he compares them to lions, and calls his soul solitary, or alone. Some think that the expression, only soul, means clear and precious, or well beloved; but such do not sufficiently consider the design of David, as has been stated in the 22nd Psalm at the twenty-first verse.
18. I will magnify thee in the great congregation. In this verse David again engages to give thanks to God for all his goodness, since the faithful can render him no other recompense than the sacrifice of praise, as we shall see in Psalm 116:17. Thus even whilst he was surrounded by the impetuous billows of fear and danger, he sets himself to the exercise of giving thanks, as if he had already obtained his desire; and by this he intended to encourage and confirm himself in the assurance of obtaining his requests. In this we may discern a striking and decided evidence of invincible fortitude, for though an outcast and a fugitive, destitute of all help, and, in short, in a state of great extremity and despair as to all his affairs, yet still he thinks of praising God’s grace, and makes vows of solemn sacrifice to him, as if, in the midst of the darkness of death, he saw deliverance clearly shining upon him. And he speaks not only of giving thanks in private, but of such thanksgiving as those who were delivered out of any great perils were wont to yield in the public assembly, by the appointment of the law. Some translate the latter clause of the verse a strong and powerful people, 718718 Horsley takes this view. He reads, “Among a mighty people;” and observes, that this is the rendering of the Chaldee, and that עצם, seems more properly to express strength or power than number. but I do not see the propriety of it. It is a mere subtilty to argue that the Church is endued with great strength, and therefore is called a strong people. But as David simply means the great crowd and multitude of people who were wont to go up to the sanctuary to hold their solemn assembly before God, I have no doubt that when he speaks of the great congregation, and afterwards of much people, he only repeats, according to his custom, the same thing twice, for the Hebrew word is used in both these senses.
19. Let not those who are my enemies wrongfully rejoice over me. Because David’s enemies already exulted in the hope of seeing his overthrow and destruction, he prays that God would not suffer them to realize a desire so wicked. In order to render God favorable to his cause, he again protests that they hated him without any fault or occasion on his part, and that it was their own malice which urged them to such cruelty against him; for in order to secure the help of God, it is necessary to come before him with the testimony of a good conscience.
The Hebrew word שקר, sheker, which we have rendered wrongfully, is by some translated deceitfully, as if David meant that his enemies lay in wait for him. But this is to reason with too much subtilty. Besides, the repetition which immediately follows shows that he complains of their wilful hatred, inasmuch as of their own accord, and from deliberate design, they persecuted a man who had given them no cause of offense, but was their friend and benefactor. The Hebrew word קרף, karats, here signifies to wink with the eyes askance in mockery, as in Psalm 22:8, it denotes, to wag the head, and to shoot out the lip.
In the following verse, that he may cherish still greater confidence in God, David again declares, that he has to do with enemies of an irreconcilable character, and who are fully bent upon cruelty. Of this we ought to be firmly persuaded, that the more grievously we are oppressed, so much the more certainly ought we to expect deliverance. He therefore says, that they speak of nothing but of tumults and slaughter. The meaning of the latter clause is somewhat obscure, arising from the ambiguous signification of the word רגע, rige. As the word from which it is derived sometimes signifies to cut, and sometimes to rest, or to be quiet and peaceable, there are some who translate it the meek and peaceable of the earth: others translate it, with the tranquil and easy of the earth; meaning by this, those who live in the midst of riches and abundance, in the enjoyment of undisturbed repose. Both these seem to me to be forced interpretations. Others, too, though not more correctly, expound the word in caves or secret places, in order that, as they say, the wicked and deceitful counsels of such persons may not come to light. But it may be very appropriately rendered, the clefts of the earth, and by this metaphor are meant the miserable and afflicted, who are, as it were, broken and maimed. David, therefore, declares that as soon as his enemies see any opening, that is to say, some calamity befall him, they instantly put forth all their efforts to accomplish his destruction. Those who, in the time of his prosperity and power, never dared even to utter a word against him, began now, when they saw that his influence was feeble, to plot his ruin, just as we know that the wicked are for the most part persons of a servile and cowardly disposition, and assume not the tone of insolence save when an advantageous opportunity presents itself, as when the good and simple are in adversity. To the same purpose he represents them in the next verse, as crying out with open mouth, Aha! aha! and clapping their hands for joy that they saw David overcome, and, as it were, laid prostrate in the dust, a spectacle in which they took great delight.
22. O Jehovah! thou hast also seen it. There is in these words an implied contrast between the view which God is here represented as taking, and the sight at which, as we are told in the preceding verse, the ungodly rejoiced. The import of David’s language is, You have rejoiced exceedingly at the sight of my miseries; but God also sees and takes notice of the cruelty and malice of those who feel a pleasure and gratification in seeing others afflicted and in trouble. David, however, in thus speaking, stays not to reason with his enemies, but rather addresses himself directly to God, and sets his providence as a rampart of defense in opposition to all the assaults of those who sought to shake his confidence, and who caused him much trouble. And certainly, if we would fortify ourselves against the scoffing and derision of our enemies, the best means which we can employ for this end is to overlook them, and to elevate our thoughts to God, and in the confidence of his fatherly care over us, to entreat him to show, in very deed, that our troubles are not unknown to him; yea, that the more he sees the wicked eagerly watching every opportunity to accomplish our ruin, he would the more speedily come to our aid. This David expresses by these various forms of expression — Keep not silence, be not far from me, stir up thyself, awake for my judgment He might justly make use of such expressions, seeing he was already fully persuaded that God regards the poor and afflicted, and marks all the wrongs which are done to them. If, therefore, we would frame our requests aright, a clear conviction and persuasion of the providence of God must first shine into our hearts; nor is it necessary only that this should precede, in point of order, all our desires; it must also restrain and govern them.
24. Judge me, O Jehovah my God! David here confirms the prayer of the preceding verse that God would be his defender, and would maintain his righteous cause. Having been for a time subjected to suffering as one who had been forsaken and forgotten, he sets before himself the righteousness of God, which forbids that he should altogether abandon the upright and the just. It is, therefore, not simply a prayer, but a solemn appeal to God, that as he is righteous, he would manifest his righteousness in defending his servant in a good cause. And certainly, when we seem to be forsaken and deprived of all help, there is no remedy which we can employ, more effectual to overcome temptation than this consideration, that the righteousness of God, on which our deliverance depends, can never fail. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul, in exhorting the faithful to patience, says in 2 Thessalonians 1:6,
“It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation
to them that trouble you.”
Now David again appeals to God in this place, and entreats him to manifest his righteousness in restraining the insolence of his enemies: for the more proudly they assail us, God is so much the more ready to help us. Besides, by again introducing them as speaking, he portrays in a graphic style the cruelty of their desires; and by this he means to show, that if things should happen according to their wishes, they would set no limit to their frowardness. But as the more they vaunt themselves, the more they provoke the wrath of God against them, David with good reason uses this as an argument to encourage his hope, and employs it for his support and confirmation in prayer.
26. Let those who rejoice at thy hurt be ashamed and confounded together. This imprecation has already been expounded; and it is only necessary to remark, that there is peculiar force in the expression, together, or at once. It shows that it was not only one or two, but a great multitude, who waged war against him, and that he yielded not to the influence of fear, but believed that as soon as God should lift up his hand, he could at one stroke easily overthrow them all. When it is said that they seek after and rejoice in David’s hurt, this shows that they were filled with cruel hatred against him. And when it is said, that they magnify themselves against him, this is a token of pride. David, therefore, in order to render them more hateful in the sight of God, represents them as filled with pride and cruelty. And as this form of prayer was dictated by the Holy Spirit to David, there can be no doubt that the end of all the proud shall be such as is here predicted, that they shall turn back overwhelmed with shame and disgrace.
27. Let those who favor my righteous cause rejoice and be glad. These two expressions, which are rendered in the optative mood, might have been translated with equal propriety in the future tense; but as this is a matter of little consequence, I leave it undecided. David here extols the deliverance which he asks of God, and exults in the results which should flow from it; namely, that it would be an occasion of general rejoicing and good hope to all the godly, while at the same time it would stir them up to celebrate the praises of God. He attributes to all the faithful the credit of desiring, that as an innocent man his righteous cause should be maintained. David, it is true, was the object of almost universal hatred among the simple and unsuspecting, who were imposed upon by false and unjust reports made concerning him; but it is certain that there were among the people some who formed a just and impartial estimate of things, and who were sorely grieved that a holy man, and one too whose benevolence was well known, should have been so unjustly and so wrongfully oppressed. And surely the common feelings of humanity require, that when we see men unjustly oppressed and afflicted, if we are not able to help them, we should at least pity them. When David uses the language, Jehovah be magnified, his design seems to be tacitly to set this in opposition to the pride of the wicked, of which he made mention above. As they presume in the pride, of their hearts, and by their insolent and overbearing conduct, to obscure, as far as in them lies, the divine glory, so may the faithful, on the other hand, with good reason present the prayer that God would shine forth in the majesty of his character, and demonstrate in very deed that he exercises a special care over all his servants, and takes a peculiar pleasure in their peace. Finally, the Psalmist again declares, in the conclusion of the psalm, his resolution to celebrate in appropriate praises the righteousness of God, by which he had been preserved and delivered.