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59. Psalm 59

1Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God:

Set me on high from them that rise up against me.

2Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,

And save me from the bloodthirsty men.

3For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul;

The mighty gather themselves together against me:

Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Jehovah.

4They run and prepare themselves without my fault:

Awake thou to help me, and behold.

5Even thou, O Jehovah God of hosts, the God of Israel,

Arise to visit all the nations:

Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.

Selah

6They return at evening, they howl like a dog,

And go round about the city.

7Behold, they belch out with their mouth;

Swords are in their lips:

For who, say they, doth hear?

8But thou, O Jehovah, wilt laugh at them;

Thou wilt have all the nations in derision.

9Because of his strength I will give heed unto thee;

For God is my high tower.

10My God with his lovingkindness will meet me:

God will let me see my desire upon mine enemies.

11Slay them not, lest my people forget:

Scatter them by thy power, and bring them down,

O Lord our shield.

12For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips,

Let them even be taken in their pride,

And for cursing and lying which they speak.

13Consume them in wrath, consume them, so that they shall be no more:

And let them know that God ruleth in Jacob,

Unto the ends of the earth.

Selah

14And at evening let them return, let them howl like a dog,

And go round about the city.

15They shall wander up and down for food,

And tarry all night if they be not satisfied.

16But I will sing of thy strength;

Yea, I will sing aloud of thy lovingkindness in the morning:

For thou hast been my high tower,

And a refuge in the day of my distress.

17Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing praises:

For God is my high tower, the God of my mercy.

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1 Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God! He insists upon the strength and violence of his enemies, with the view of exciting his mind to greater fervor in the duty of prayer. These he describes as rising up against him, in which expression he alludes not simply to the audacity or fierceness of their assaults, but to the eminent superiority of power which they possessed; and yet he asks that he may be lifted up on high, as it were, above the reach of this over-swelling inundation. His language teaches us that we should believe in the ability of God to deliver us even upon occasions of emergency, when our enemies have an overwhelming advantage. In the verse which follows, while he expresses the extremity to which he was reduced, he adverts at the same time to the injustice and cruelty of his persecutors. Immediately afterwards, he connects the two grounds of his complaint together: on the one hand, his complete helplessness under the danger, and, on the other, the undeserved nature of the assaults from which he suffered. I have already repeatedly observed, that our confidence in our applications to a throne of grace will be proportional to the degree in which we are conscious of integrity; for we cannot fail to feel greater liberty in pleading a cause which, in such a case, is the cause of God himself. He is the vindicator of justice, the patron of the righteous cause everywhere, and those who oppress the innocent must necessarily rank themselves amongst his enemies. David accordingly founds his first plea upon his complete destitution of all earthly means of help, exposed as he was to plots on every side, and attacked by a formidable conspiracy. His second he rests upon a declaration of innocency. It may be true that afflictions are sent by God to his people as a chastisement for their sins, but, so far as Saul was concerned, David could justly exonerate himself from all blame, and takes this occasion of appealing to God on behalf of his integrity, which lay under suspicion from the base calumnies of men. They might pretend it, but he declares that they could charge him with no crime nor fault. Yet, groundless as their hostility was, he tells us that they ran, were unremitting in their activity, with no other view than to accomplish the ruin of their victim.

4. Awake to hasten for my help, and behold. In using this language, he glances at the eagerness with which his enemies, as he had already said, were pressing upon him, and states his desire that God would show the same haste in extending help as they did in seeking his destruction. With the view of conciliating the divine favor, he once more calls upon God to be the witness and judge of his cause, adding, and behold The expression is one which savours at once of faith and of the infirmity of the flesh. In speaking of God, as if his eyes had been hitherto shut to the wrongs which he had suffered, and needed now for the first time to be opened for the discovery of them, he expresses himself according to the weakness of our human apprehension. On the other hand, in calling upon God to behold his cause, he shows his faith by virtually acknowledging that nothing was hid from his providential cognisance. Though David may use language of this description, suited to the infirmity of sense, we must not suppose him to have doubted before this time that his afflictions, his innocence, and his wrongs, were known to God. Now, however, he lays the whole before God for examination and decision.

He prosecutes the same prayer with still greater vehemency in the verse which succeeds. He addresses God under new titles, calling him Jehovah, God of Hosts, and the God of Israel, the first of which appellations denotes the immensity of his power, and the second the special care which he exerts over the Church, and over all his people. The manner in which the pronoun is introduced, and Thou, etc., is emphatical, denoting that it was as impossible for God to lay aside the office of a judge as to deny himself, or divest himself of his being. He calls upon him to visit all the nations: for although the cause which he now submitted was of no such universal concernment, the wider exercise of judgment would necessarily include the lesser; and on the supposition of heathens and foreigners being subjected to the judgment of God, it followed that a still more certain and heavy doom would be awarded to enemies within the pale of the Church, who persecuted the saints under the guise of brethren, and overthrew those laws which were of divine appointment. The opposition which David encountered might not embrace all nations; but if these were judicially visited by God, it was absurd to imagine that those within the Church would be the only enemies who should escape with impunity. In using these words, it is probable also that he may have been struggling with a temptation with which he was severely assailed, connected with the number of his enemies, for these did not consist merely of three or four abandoned individuals. They formed a great multitude; and he rises above them all by reflecting that God claims it as his prerogative, not only to reduce a few refractory persons to submission, but to punish the wickedness of the whole world. If the judgments of God extended to the uttermost parts of the earth, there was no reason why he should be afraid of his enemies, who, however numerous, formed but a small section of the human race. We shall shortly see, however, that the expression admits of being applied without impropriety to the Israelites, divided, as they were, into so many tribes or peoples. In the words which follow, when he deprecates the extension of God’s mercy to wicked transgressors, we must understand him as referring to the reprobate, whose sin was of a desperate character. We must also remember, what has been already observed, that in such prayers he was not influenced by mere private feelings, and these of a rancorous, distempered, and inordinate description. Not only did he know well that those of whom he speaks with such severity were already doomed to destruction, but he is here pleading the common cause of the Church, and this under the influence of the pure and well-regulated zeal of the Spirit. He therefore affords no precedent to such as resent private injuries by vending curses on those who have inflicted them.

6. They will return at evening. He compares his enemies to famished and furious dogs which hunger impels to course with endless circuits in every direction, and under this figure accuses their insatiable fierceness, shown in the ceaseless activity to which they were instigated by the desire of mischief. He says that they return in the evening, to intimate, not that they rested at other times, but were indefatigable in pursuing their evil courses. If they came no speed through the day, yet the night would find them at their work. The barking of dogs aptly expressed as a figure the formidable nature of their assaults.

In the verse which follows, he describes their fierceness. The expression, prating, or belching out with their mouth, denotes that they proclaimed their infamous counsels openly, and without affecting concealment. The Hebrew word נבע, nabang, means, metaphorically, to speak, but properly, it signifies to gush out, 364364     Ainsworth reads, “to utter or well out, as from a fountain; belch or babble, as Proverbs 15:2, 28, ‘As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her malice.’” “Le mot Hebrieu signifie se repandre en paroles, etc.;” i.e., “The Hebrew word signifies to break out in words, and it here denotes the oft repeated and passionate expressions which proceed from the mouth of persons actuated by hatred and rage, as in Psalm 94:4. To it the word bark answers very well, which is borrowed from dogs, and expresses the noise made by these animals; and this word is here the more apposite, that David in the preceding verse compares his enemies to dogs which incessantly run about and do nothing but bark.” — Martin. and here denotes more than simply speaking. He would inform us, that not content with plotting the destruction of the innocent secretly amongst themselves, they published their intentions abroad, and boasted of them. Accordingly, when he adds, that swords were in their lips, he means that they breathed out slaughter, and that every word they spoke was a sword to slay the oppressed. He assigns as the cause of their rushing to such excess of wickedness, that they had no reason to apprehend disgrace. It may be sufficiently probable, that David adverts here, as in many other places, to the gross stupidity of the wicked, who, in order to banish fear from their minds, conceive of God as if he were asleep in heaven; but I am of opinion that he rather traces the security with which they prosecuted their counsels, and openly proclaimed them, to the fact, that they had long ere now been in possession of the uncontrolled power of inflicting injury. They had succeeded so completely in deceiving the people, and rendering David odious by their calumnies, that none had the courage to utter a word in his defense. Nay, the more atrociously that any man might choose to persecute this victim of distress, from no other motive than to secure the good graces of the king, the more did he rise in estimation as a true friend to the commonwealth.

8. But thou, O Jehovah! shalt laugh at them. In the face of all this opposition, David only rises to greater confidence. When he says that God would laugh at his enemies, he employs a figure which is well fitted to enhance the power of God, suggesting that, when the wicked have perfected their schemes to the uttermost, God can, without any effort, and, as it were, in sport, dissipate them all. No sooner does God connive at their proceedings, than their pride and insolence take occasion to manifest themselves: for they forget that even when he seems to have suspended operation, he needs but nod, and his judgments shall be executed. David, accordingly, in contempt of his adversaries, tells them that God was under no necessity to make extensive preparations, but, at the moment when he saw fit to make retribution, would, by a mere play of his power, annihilate them all. He in this manner conveys a severe rebuke to that blind infatuation which led them to boast so intemperately of their own powers, and to imagine that God was slumbering in the heavens. In the close of the verse, mention is made of all nations, to intimate that though they might equal the whole world in numbers, they would prove a mere mockery with all their influence and resources. Or the words may be read — Even As thou hast all the nations in derision. One thing is obvious, that David ridicules the vain boasting of his enemies, who thought no undertaking too great to be accomplished by their numbers.

9 I will intrust his strength to thee The obscurity of this passage has led to a variety of opinions amongst commentators. The most forced interpretation which has been proposed is that which supposes a change of person in the relative his, as if David, in speaking of himself, employed the third person instead of the first, I will intrust my strength to thee The Septuagint, and those who adopt this interpretation, have probably been led to it by the insufficient reason, that in the last verse of the psalm it is said, I will ascribe with praises my strength to thee, or, my strength is with thee, I will sing, etc. But on coming to that part of the psalm, we will have occasion to see that David there, with propriety, asserts of himself what he here in another sense asserts of Saul. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the relative is to be here understood of Saul. Some consider that the first words of the sentence should be read apart from the others — strength is his — meaning that Saul had the evident superiority in strength, so as at the present to be triumphant. Others join the two parts of the sentence, and give this explanation: Although thou art for the present moment his strength, in so far as thou dost sustain and preserve him on the throne, yet I will continue to hope, until thou hast raised me to the kingdom, according to thy promise. But those seem to come nearest the meaning of the Psalmist who construe the words as one continuous sentence — I will put in trust his strength with thee; meaning that, however intemperately Saul might boast of his strength, he would rest satisfied in the assurance that there was a secret divine providence restraining his actions. We must learn to view all men as subordinated in this manner, and to conceive of their strength and their enterprises as depending upon the sovereign will of God. In my opinion, the following version is the best — His strength is with thee, 365365     In the Latin edition, from which we now translate, it reads, “Fortitude mea ad re.” This is evidently a mistake of the printer for “fortitudo ejus,” and has misled the former English translators. This is the more wonderful, as they thus make the Author adopt the very transposition of person which he had immediately before rejected. Of course, the French version reads, “Sa forte est a toy: je garderay.” I will wait. The words are parallel with those in the end of the psalm, where there can be no doubt that the nominative case is employed, My strength is with thee; I will sing. So far as the sense of the passage is concerned, however, it does not signify which of the latter interpretations be followed. It is evident that David is here enabled, from the eminence of faith, to despise the violent opposition of his enemy, convinced that he could do nothing without the divine permission. But by taking the two parts of the sentence separately, in the way I have suggested, — His strength is with thee, I will wait, — the meaning is more distinctly brought out. First, David, in vindication of that power by which God governs the whole world, declares that his enemy was under a secret divine restraint, and so entirely dependent for any strength which he possessed upon God, that he could not move a finger without his consent. He then adds, that he would wait the event, whatsoever it might be, with composure and tranquillity. For the word which we have translated, I will intrust, may here be taken as signifying I will keep myself, or quietly wait the pleasure of the Lord. In this sense we find the word used in the conjugation Niphal, Isaiah 7:4. Here it is put in the conjugation Kal, but that is no reason why we may not render it, “I will silently wait the issue which God may send.” It has been well suggested, that David may allude to the guards which had been sent to besiege his house, and be considered as opposing to this a watch of a very different description, which he himself maintained, as he looked out for the divine issue with quietness and composure. 366366     Hammond translates, “His strength I will ward, or avoid, or beware, or take heed of at thee.” And the amount of his explanation is: Saul having sent a party to guard, that is, to besiege the house in which David was, in order to kill him, as is mentioned in the title of the psalm, David resolves to guard, or look to, or beware of the strength of his persecutor, by fleeing to God as his refuge.

10. The God of my mercy will prevent me In the Hebrew, there is the affix of the third person, but we have the point which denotes the first. 367367     “We have חסדו, his mercy, with the points חסדי, my mercy, the keri being for the one, and the kethib for the other. And, accordingly, of the interpreters, some read the one, some the other, both certainly meaning the same thing: the Chaldee, ‘the God of my grace, or goodness, or mercy;’ but the LXX. ‘Ο Θεός μοῦ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ,’ ‘My God his mercy,’ and so the Latin.” — Hammond Green translates, “My God shall prevent me with his loving-kindness.” The Septuagint has adopted the third person, and Augustine too ingeniously, though with a good design, has repeatedly quoted the passage against the Pelagians, in proof that the grace of God is antecedent to all human merit. In the same manner, he has again and again cited the preceding verse, to refute the arrogancy of those who boast of the power of free-will. “I will put in trust my strength with thee,” he says; “that is, men must subject themselves with all modesty and humility to God, as having no strength but that with which he supplies them.” Now, it may be said with great plausibility, that the man puts his strength in trust with God, who declares that he has no strength but what comes from him, and who depends entirely upon his help. The sentiment inculcated is also, without all doubt, a pious and instructive one; but we must be ever on our guard against wresting Scripture from its natural meaning. The Hebrew word קדמ, kidem, means no more than to come forward seasonably; and David simply intimates that the divine assistance would be promptly and opportunely extended. 368368     Horsley reads, “God shall give me ready help.” The scope of the words is, that God will interpose at the very moment when it is required, however much he may retard or defer his assistance. Were it not that we are hurried on by the excessive eagerness of our own wishes, we would sufficiently recognize the promptness with which God hastens to our help, but our own precipitance makes us imagine that he is dilatory. To confirm his faith, he calls him the God of his mercy, having often proved him to be merciful; and the experience of the past afforded him good hopes of what he might expect in the future. The idea of some, that David uses the word in an active sense, and praises his own mercy, is poor and unnatural. Its passive use is quite common.

11 Slay them not, lest my people forget David very properly suggests this to his own mind, as a consideration which should produce patience. We are apt to think, when God has not annihilated our enemies at once, that they have escaped out of his hands altogether; and we look upon it as properly no punishment, that they should be gradually and slowly destroyed. Such being the extravagant desire which almost all, without exception, have, to see their enemies at once exterminated, David checks himself, and dwells upon the judgment of God to be seen in the lesser calamities which overtake the wicked. It is true, that were not our eyes blinded, we would behold a more evident display of divine retribution in cases where the destruction of the ungodly is sudden; but these are so apt to fade away from our remembrance, that he had good reason to express his desire that the spectacle might be one constantly renewed, and thus our knowledge of the judgments of God be more deeply graven upon our hearts. He arms and fortifies himself against impatience under delays in the execution of divine judgment, by the consideration that God has an express design in them, as, were the wicked exterminated in a moment, the remembrance of the event might speedily be effaced. There is an indirect censure conveyed to the people of Israel for failing to improve the more striking judgments of God. But the sin is one too prevalent in the world even at this day. Those judgments which are so evident that none can miss to observe them without shutting his eyes, we sinfully allow to pass into oblivion; so that we need to be brought daily into that theater where we are compelled to perceive the divine hand. This we must never forget when we see God subjecting his enemies to a gradual process of destruction, instead of launching his thunders instantly upon their head. He prays that God would make them to wander, as men under poverty and misery, who seek in every direction, but in vain, for a remedy to their misfortunes. The idea is still more forcibly described in the word which follows, make them descend, or, cast them down. He wished that they might be dragged from that position of honor which they had hitherto occupied, and thrown to the ground, so as to present, in their wretchedness and degradation, a constant illustration of the wrath of God. The word בחילך, becheylcha, which we have translated, in thy power, some render, with thy army, understanding the people of God. But it is more probable that David calls to his assistance the power of God for the destruction of his enemies, and this because they deemed themselves invincible through those worldly resources in which they trusted. As a further argument for obtaining his request, he intimates in the close of the verse that he was now pleading the cause of the whole Church, for he uses the plural number, O God our shield Having been chosen king by divine appointment, the safety of the Church stood connected with his person. The assault made upon him by his enemies was not an assault upon himself merely as a private individual, but upon the whole people, whose common welfare God had consulted in making choice of him. And this suggested another reason why he should patiently submit to see the judgments of God measured out in the manner which might best engage their minds in assiduous meditation.

12 The sin of their mouth, the words of their lips Some interpreters read, for, or, on account of the sin of their mouth, 369369     This is the reading adopted by Jerome, and also by Horsley, who remarks, that in Jerome’s copies the words, “sin” and “discourse,” had certainly the preposition כ prefixed. supplying the causal particle, that the words may be the better connected with the preceding verse. And there can be no doubt that the reason is stated here why they deserved to be subjected to constant wanderings and disquietude. The words as they stand, however, although abrupt and elliptical, well express the meaning which David would convey; as if he had said, that no lengthened proof was necessary to convict them of sin, which plainly showed itself in the mischievous tendency of their discourse. Wickedness, he tells us, proceeded from their mouth., They vomited out their pride and cruelty. That this is the sense in which we are to understand the words, is confirmed by what immediately follows — Let them be taken in their pride. He here points to the source of that insolence which led them with such proud and contumelious language, and in such a shameless manner, to oppress the innocent. He then specifies the sin of their lips, adding, that they spoke words of cursing and falsehood By this he means that their mouth was continually filled with horrid imprecations, and that they were wholly addicted to deceit and to calumniating. 370370     The Syriac translation of the first part of the verse is, “The discourse of their mouth is the sin of their lips.” That is, whatever their lips speak is sin; so many words, so many sins. Those have mistaken the meaning of David who give a passive signification to the word which I have translated to speak, and understand him as saying that the wicked would be accounted examples of divine vengeance, the plain and notorious marks of which were written upon them.

13 Consume, consume them in wrath, that they may not be David may seem to contradict himself in praying for the utter destruction of his enemies, when immediately before he had expressed his desire that they might not be exterminated at once. 374374     Williams observes, that the Hebrew rendered consume “literally means to finish, bring to an end; namely, the banditti. The Psalmist, verse 11, prays, ‘Slay them not;’ i.e., take not away their lives as individuals, but put an end to the conspiracy.” What else could he mean when he asks that God would consume them in wrath, but that he would cut them off suddenly, and not by a gradual and slower process of punishment? But he evidently refers in what he says here to a different point of time, and this removes any apparent inconsistency, for he prays that when they had been set up for a sufficient period as an example, they might eventually be devoted to destruction. It was customary with the victorious Roman generals, first to lead the captives which had been kept for the day of triumph through the city, and afterwards, upon reaching the capital, to give them over to the lictors for execution. Now David prays that when God had, in a similar manner, reserved his enemies for an interval sufficient to illustrate his triumph, he would upon this consign them to summary punishment. The two things are not at all inconsistent; first, that the divine judgments should be lengthened out through a considerable period, to secure their being remembered better, and that then, upon sufficient evidence being given to the world of the certainty with which the wicked are subjected in the displeasure of God to the slower process of destruction, he should in due time bring them forth to final execution, the better to awake, by such a demonstration of his power, the minds of those who may be more secure than others, or less affected by witnessing moderate inflictions of punishment. He adds, accordingly, that they may know, even to the ends of the earth, that God ruleth in Jacob Some would insert the copulative particle, reading, that they may know that God rules in Jacob, and in all the nations of the world, an interpretation which I do not approve, and which does violence to the sense. The allusion is to the condign nature of the judgment, which would be such that the report of it would reach the remotest regions, and strike salutary terror into the minds even of their benighted and godless inhabitants. He was more especially anxious that God should be recognised as ruling in the Church, it being preposterous that the place where his throne was erected should present such an aspect of confusion as converted his temple into a den of thieves.

14 And at evening they shall return It is of no consequence whether we read the words in the future tense or in the subjunctive, understanding it to be a continuance of the preceding prayer. But it seems more probable that David, after having brought his requests to a close, anticipates the happy issue which he desired. And he makes an apt allusion to what he had already said of their insatiable hunger. The words which he had formerly used he repeats, but with a different application, ironically declaring that they would be ravenous in another sense, and that matters would issue otherwise than they had looked for. Above he had complained that they made a noise like dogs, adverting to the eagerness and fierceness with which they were bent upon mischief; now he derides their malicious efforts, and says, that after wearying themselves with their endless pursuit all day, they would go disappointed of their purpose. He uses no longer the language of complaint, but congratulates himself upon the abortive issue of their activity. The Hebrew word which I have translated, if not, in the close of the fifteenth verse, is by some considered to be the form of an oath. But this is an over-refined interpretation. Others would have the negation repeated, reading, if they shall not have been satisfied, neither shall they lodge for the night But this also is far-fetched. The simple and true meaning suggests itself at once, that, although they might not be satisfied, they would be forced to lay themselves down, and the misery of their hunger would be aggravated, by the circumstance that they had passed the whole day in fruitless application, and must lie down for the night empty, wearied, and unsatisfied. 375375     Street translates, “If they be not satisfied, they spend the night in howling;” and observes, that there seems to be a word lost after the original verb לון, lun, which he renders, they spend the night; and he supplies h; by the words, in howling The meaning of the verb לום, lun, is ambiguous. It signifies both to continue all night, and to growl, or murmur Either sense will be appropriate in this passage. The Chaldee and Syriac understand it in the former sense; and the Septuagint in the latter.

16 But I will sing of thy power By this he does not mean merely that he would have occasion to sing at some future period, but prepares himself presently for the exercise of thanksgiving; and he proceeds to acknowledge that his deliverance would be at once an illustrious effect of Divine power, and conferred of mere grace. It may be true, that David escaped at this time from the hands of his enemies without stir, and with secrecy, through the dexterity of his wife; still, by means of this artifice, God disappointed the preparations and forces of Saul, and may, therefore, with propriety be said to have exerted his power. We may suppose, however, that David takes occasion, from this particular instance, to look further back, and embrace, in his view, the various Divine interpositions which he had experienced.

17 My strength is with thee, I will sing psalms He expresses still more explicitly the truth, that he owed his safety entirely to God. Formerly he had said that the strength of his enemy was with God, and now he asserts the same thing of his own. The expression, however, which admits of two meanings, he elegantly applies to himself in a different sense. 376376     “Sed eleganter ambiguam locutionem diverso sensu ponit.” — Lat. In the French version, “Mais c’est une bonne rencontre et qui a grace, quand il met deux fois un propos ambigu, mais en divers sens.” God has the strength of the wicked in his hands, to curb and to restrain it, and to show that any power of which they boast is vain and fallacious. His own people, on the other hand, he supports and secures, against the possibility of falling, by supplies of strength from himself. In the preceding part of the psalm, David had congratulated himself upon his safety, by reflecting that Saul was so completely under the secret restraint of God’s providence as to be unable to move a finger without his permission. Now, weak as he was in himself, he maintains that he had strength sufficient in the Lord; and accordingly adds, that he had good reason to engage in praise, as James the inspired apostle exhorts those who are merry to sing psalms, (James 5:13.) As to the reading which some have adopted, I will ascribe my strength with praises unto thee, the reader cannot fail to see that it is forced. It is clear that the two clauses must be taken separately, as I have already observed.




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