World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the High One. Some Hebrew interpreters read the three first verses as one continuous sentence, down to the words, he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler The whole would then run thus — “He who dwells in the covert of the Most High, and abides under his shadow, to him will I say of Jehovah, that he is his hope and defense, and the God in whom he may safely rest, for he shall deliver him from the snare,” etc. This is evidently a forced construction to put upon the verses, and the reason which has led some to adopt it is weak and insufficient. They consider that the first verse repeats the same thing twice, and therefore conveys no proper meaning. But this is a great mistake; for the inspired penman of the psalm, whoever he may have been, states two ideas quite distinct, That he who is hid under the Divine protection occupies a safe and secure position, where no hostile weapon can reach him. Or should the verse be read — He who has God to be the guardian of his safety shall rest under the shadow of God; still the second clause would retain an emphatic meaning, for the power of God would be contrasted with that weak defense which man is able to extend. Those, too, who dwell in the secret place of God are here said by the Psalmist to dwell under his shadow, in the sense that they experience to what a rich extent his protection reaches. Men generally seek out a great-variety of hiding-places, having recourse to one or another, according as the calamities are different which threaten to overtake them; but here we are taught that the only safe and impregnable fortress to which we can betake ourselves is the protection of God. He contrasts the security of those who trust in God with the vanity of all other confidences by which we are apt to delude ourselves.
In the second verse he repeats the truth which he had already inculcated, showing at the same time that he speaks from his personal feeling and experience as a believer. This is very necessary in one who would be a teacher; for we cannot communicate true knowledge unless we deliver it not merely with the lips, but as something which God has revealed to our own hearts. 576576 This psalm is allowed to be one of the finest in the whole collection. “Could the Latin or any modern language,” says Simon de Muis, “express thoroughly all the beauties and elegancies as well of the words as of the sentences, it would not be difficult to persuade the reader that we have no poem, either in Greek or Latin, comparable to this Hebrew ode.” It is supposed by some to have been composed by Moses on the same occasion as the preceding; but others think it was written by David on the occasion of the pestilence which was inflicted upon the people as a punishment of his sin in numbering them, (2 Samuel 24.) It is ascribed to David in the Septuagint, Chaldee, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions. Its subject-matter affords us no assistance in determining who was its inspired author, or on what occasion it was written. “There is, however, no reason,” says Walford, “to regret our unacquaintedness with these particulars, as the poem is so clear and intelligible, that nothing in it can be mistaken or misunderstood. The purpose of it is to illustrate the safety and happiness which result from the knowledge of God, and the exercise of a steadfast dependence upon his promise and grace. The sentiments are expressed with great force and beauty; and dead indeed must be the soul to every emotion of spiritual and heavenly delight that fails to be impressed by its truth, or to aim at the acquirement of such faith and reliance upon it as will alone render it productive of the peace and tranquillity of mind which it is intended to bestow. The learned Michaelis is of opinion that this psalm was to be recited in alternate parts by two choruses or sets of singers responding to each other, and that God himself is introduced in verse 14 as taking part of the performance.” It is supposed by the Jews to relate to the Messiah. See Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10, 11. The Psalmist accordingly gives evidence, that what he had taught in the preceding verse accorded with his own inward experience. Some read, I will say concerning the Lord, and the Hebrew prefix, ל, lamed, may be so rendered; but the other translation which I have given conveys the more forcible meaning. The believer does more than simply resolve to make God his fortress; he draws near in the trust of the Divine promises, and familiarly addresses God. This confidence in prayer affords an additional proof how securely the people of God can dwell under his shadow. This holy species of boasting constitutes the very highest triumph of faith, when we betake ourselves to God without fear under our worst trials, and are fully persuaded that he answers all our prayers, nay, that we have in him a sufficiency and a superabundance of help.
In verse third the Psalmist expresses his assurance that the trust of which he had spoken would not be vain and delusory, but that God would prove at all times the deliverer of his people. He is evidently to be considered as addressing himself, and in this way encouraging his own heart to hope in the Lord. Some think that by the snare of the fowler, spoken of here in connection with the pestilence, is to be understood hidden mischief as distinguished from open aggression, and that the Psalmist declares the Divine protection to be sufficient for him, whether Satan should attack him openly and violently or by more secret and subtle methods. I would not reject this interpretation; for though some may think that the words should be taken in their simpler acceptation, the Psalmist most probably intended under these terms to denote all different kinds of evil, and to teach us that God was willing and able to deliver us from any of them.
4 He shall protect thee with his wings. This figure, which is employed in other parts of Scripture, is one which beautifully expresses the singularly tender care with which God watches over our safety. When we consider the majesty of God, there is nothing which would suggest a likeness such as is here drawn between him and the hen or other birds, who spread their wings over their young ones to cherish and protect them. But, in accommodation to our infirmity, he does not scruple to descend, as it were, from the heavenly glory which belongs to him, and to encourage us to approach him under so humble a similitude. Since he condescends in such a gracious manner to our weakness, surely there is nothing to prevent us from coming to him with the greatest freedom. By the truth of God, which, the Psalmist says, would be his shield and buckler, we must understand God’s faithfulness, as never deserting his people in the time of their need; still we cannot doubt that he had in his eye the Divine promises, for it is only by looking to these that any can venture to cast themselves upon the protection of God. As, without the word, we cannot come to the enjoyment of that Divine mercy of which the Psalmist had already spoken, he now comes forward himself to bear witness in behalf of it. Formerly, under the comparison of a fortress, he had taught that by trusting in God we shall enjoy safety and security; now he compares God to a shield, intimating that he will come between us and all our enemies to preserve us from their attacks.
5 Thou shalt not fear for the terror of the night. The Psalmist continues to insist upon the truth which I have just adverted to, that, if we confide with implicit reliance upon the protection of God, we will be secure from every temptation and assault of Satan. It is of importance to remember, that those whom God has taken under his care are in a state of the most absolute safety. Even those who have reached the most advanced experience find nothing more difficult than to rely upon Divine deliverance; and more especially when, overtaken by some of the many forms in which danger and death await us in this world, doubts will insinuate themselves into our hearts, giving rise to fear and disquietude. There was reason, therefore, why the Psalmist should enter upon a specification of different evils, encouraging the Lord’s people to look for more than one mode of deliverance, and to bear up under various and accumulated calamities. Mention is made of the fear of the night, because men are naturally apprehensive in the dark, or because the night exposes us to dangers of different kinds, and our fears are apt at such a season to magnify any sound or disturbance. The arrow, rather than another weapon, is instanced as flying by day, for the reason apparently that it shoots to a greater distance, and with such swiftness, that we can with difficulty escape it. The verse which follows states, though in different words, the same truth, that there is no kind of calamity which the shield of the Almighty cannot ward off and repel.
7 A thousand shall fall at thy side. 579579 “Verses 5 and 6. Jos. Scaliger explains, in Epis. 9, these two verses thus: — Thou shalt not fear, מפהר, from consternation by night, מחף, from the arrow flying by day, מדבר, from pestilence walking at evening, מקטב, from devastation at noon Under these four he comprehends all the evils and dangers to which man is liable. And as the Hebrews divide the four and twenty hours of day and night into four parts, namely, evening, midnight, morning, and mid-day, so he understands the hours of danger to be divided accordingly: in a word, ‘that the man, who has made God his refuge,’ is always safe, day and night, at every hour, from every danger.” — Bythner He proceeds to show that, though the state of all men may to appearance be alike, the believer has the special privilege of being exempted from evils of an imminent and impending nature; for it might be objected that he was but man, and, as such, exposed with others to death in its thousand different forms. To correct this mistake, the Psalmist does not hesitate to assert that, when universal ruin prevails around, the Lord’s children are the objects of his distinguishing care, and are preserved amidst the general destruction. The lesson is one which is needed by us all, that, though naturally subject to the common evils which are spread around, we are privileged with a special exemption which secures our safety in the midst of dangers. In the verse succeeding more is meant than merely that the believer will have personal experience of the truth which the Psalmist had stated, actually feeling and seeing with his own eyes that God manages his defense; a new argument is brought forward in support of the truth, which is this, that God, as the righteous judge of the world, cannot but punish the wicked according to their sins, and extend protection to his own children. There is much that is dark in the aspect of things in this world, yet the Psalmist hints that, amidst all the confusion which reigns, we may collect from what we see of God’s judgments, that he does not disappoint the expectations of his believing people. He must be considered, however, as addressing those who have eyes to see, who are privileged with the true light of faith, who are fully awake to the consideration of the Divine judgments, and who wait patiently and quietly till the proper time arrive; for most men stagger and confuse their minds upon this subject, by starting to precipitate conclusions, and are prevented from discovering the providence of God by judging according to sense. It becomes us too to be satisfied with apprehending the judgments of God only in some imperfect measure while we remain upon earth, and leaving him to defer the fuller discovery of them to the day of complete revelation.
9 Because thou, Jehovah, art my protection. He dwells at this length in commendation of the providence of God, as knowing how slow men naturally are to resort to God in a right manner; and how much they need to be stimulated to this duty, and to be driven from those false and worldly refuges in which they confide. There is a change of person frequently throughout this psalm: thus, in the first verse, he addresses God, and afterwards addresses himself. God he styles his protection, — in this manner, by his own example, recommending others to have recourse to God as their help. So, afterwards, he addresses himself, that he may be the better persuaded of the sincerity of his inward affection. The true method of testing our faith is to turn our thoughts inward upon ourselves, and, when no human eye sees us, to search our own spirits. If, not content with having to do with God only, we turn our eyes to men, it is almost impossible to prevent pride from insinuating itself into the room of faith. He speaks of accounting God to be his house or refuge, because he defends us from every evil, as in Psalm 90:1. This verse may be considered as connected with that which follows, and as stating the cause or reason of what is there asserted; for it is added, There shall no evil befall thee. And how are coming evils averted, but just by our resting with confidence in the protection of God? Troubles, it is true, of various kinds assail the believer as well as others, but the Psalmist means that God stands between him and the violence of every assault, so as to preserve him from being overwhelmed. The Divine guardianship is represented as extending to the whole household of the righteous; and we know that God comprehends under his love the children of such as he has adopted into his fatherly favor. Or, perhaps, the term may be taken in its simpler sense, and nothing more be intended than that those who choose God for their refuge will dwell safely in their houses.
11 For he has given his angels charge concerning thee. This is added by the Psalmist expressly with the view of obviating any fears which might arise from our infirmity; so that we cannot fail to be struck with the benignant condescension of God in thus not only forgiving our diffidence, but proposing the means by which it may be best removed. Does he exhibit himself to us as a fortress and shield, proffer the shadow of his protection, make himself known to us as a habitation in which we may abide, and stretch out his wings for our defense — surely we are chargeable with the worst ingratitude if we are not satisfied with promises so abundantly full and satisfactory? If we tremble to think of his majesty, he presents himself to us under the lowly figure of the hen: if we are terrified at the power of our enemies, and the multitude of dangers by which we are beset, he reminds us of his own invincible power, which extinguishes every opposing force. When even all these attempts to encourage us have been tried, and he finds that we still linger and hesitate to approach him, or cast ourselves upon his sole and exclusive protection, he next makes mention of the angels, and proffers them as guardians of our safety. As an additional illustration of his indulgent mercy, and compassion for our weakness, he represents those whom he has ready for our defense as being a numerous host; he does not assign one solitary angel to each saint, but commissions the whole armies of heaven to keep watch over every individual believer. It is the individual believer whom the Psalmist addresses, as we read also Psalm 34:7 — that “angels encamp round about them that fear him.” We may learn from this that there is no truth in the idea that each saint has his own peculiar guardian angel; and it is of no little consequence to consider, that as our enemies are numerous, so also are the friends to whom our defense is intrusted. It were something, no doubt, to know that even one angel was set over us with this commission, but it adds weight to the promise when we are informed that the charge of our safety is committed to a numerous host, as Elisha was enabled, by a like consideration, to despise the great army of adversaries which was arrayed against him, (2 Kings 6:16.) Nor is this inconsistent with passages of Scripture, which seem to speak as if a distinct angel were assigned to each individual. It is evident that God employs his angels in different ways, setting one angel over several whole nations, and again several angels over one man. There is no necessity that we should be nice and scrupulous in inquiring into the exact manner in which they minister together for our safety; it is enough that, knowing from the authority of an apostle the fact of their being appointed ministers to us, we should rest satisfied of their being always intent upon their commission. We read elsewhere of their readiness to obey and execute the commands of God; and this must go to strengthen our faith, since their exertions are made use of by God for our defense.
The Psalmist, in the passage now before us, speaks of members of the Church generally; and yet the devil did not wrest the words when, in his temptation in the wilderness, he applied them particularly to Christ. It is true that he is constantly seeking to pervert and corrupt the truth of God; but, so far as general principles are concerned, he can put a specious gloss upon things, and is a sufficiently acute theologian. It is to be considered that when our whole human family were banished from the Divine favor, we ceased to have anything in common with the angels, and they to have any communication with us. It was Christ, and he only, who, by removing the ground of separation, reconciled the angels to us; this being his proper office, as the apostle observes, (Ephesians 1:10,) to gather together in one what had been dispersed both in heaven and on earth. This was represented to the holy patriarch Jacob under the figure of a ladder, (Genesis 28:12;) and, in allusion to our being united into one collective body with the angels, Christ said,
“Afterwards ye shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending,” (John 1:51.)
The Psalmist adds, all your ways in the plural number, to convey to us more distinctly that wherever we go we may expect that the angels shall always extend their guardianship to us. The course of our life is subject to many windings and changes, and who can tell all the storms by which we are liable to be tossed? It was necessary, therefore, to know that the angels preside over all our particular actions and purposes, and thus to be assured of their safe-conduct in whatever quarter we might be called to move. This expression, however, your ways, was, in all likelihood, intended to enjoin upon us a due consideration and modesty, to warn us against tempting God by any rash step, and admonish us to confine ourselves within the bounds of our proper calling. For should we commit ourselves recklessly, and attempt things which the promise of God does not warrant us to undertake, aspiring at what is presumptuous, and opposed to the Divine will, we are not to expect that the angels will become ministers and helps to our temerity. Satan would appear to have craftily omitted this clause when he tempted Christ rashly to throw himself down from the temple.
12 They shall bear thee upon their hands. He gives us a still higher idea of the guardianship of the angels, informing us, that they not only watch lest any evil should befall us, and are on the alert to extend assistance, but bear up our steps with their hands, so as to prevent us from stumbling in our course. Were we to judge indeed by mere appearances, the children of God are far from being thus borne up aloft in their career; often they labor and pant with exertion, occasionally they stagger and fall, and it is with a struggle that they advance in their course; but as in the midst of all this weakness it is only by the singular help of God that they are preserved every moment from falling and from being destroyed, we need not wonder that the Psalmist should speak in such exalted terms of the assistance which they receive through the ministrations of angels. Never, besides, could we surmount the serious obstacles which Satan opposes to our prayers, unless God should bear us up in the manner here described. Let any one combine together the two considerations which have been mentioned, — our own utter weakness on the one hand, and on the other the roughness, the difficulties, the thorns which beset our way, the stupidity besides which characterises our hearts, and the subtlety of the evil one in laying snares for our destruction, — and he will see that the language of the Psalmist is not that of hyperbole, that we could not proceed one step did not the angels bear us up in their hands in a manner beyond the ordinary course of nature. That we frequently stumble is owing to our own fault in departing from him who is our head and leader. And though God suffers us to stumble and fall in this manner that he may convince us how weak we are in ourselves, yet, inasmuch as he does not permit us to be crushed or altogether overwhelmed, it is virtually even then as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.
13. Thou shalt walk over the lion and asp. The same truth is here expressed in different words. He had already spoken of the obstacles which Satan throws in our course under the figure of a stone. Now he speaks of the formidable troubles to which we are exposed in the world under the figures of the asp, lion, young lion, and dragon So long as we are here we may be truly said to walk amongst wild beasts, and such
as threaten us with destruction. And in this case what would become of us did not God promise to make us victorious over the manifold evils which everywhere impend us? None who seriously considers the temptations to which he is liable will wonder that the Psalmist, with the view of removing apprehension from the minds of the Lord’s people, should have adopted the language of hyperbole; nor indeed
will he say that it is the language of hyperbole, but a true and exact representation of their case. We boast much of our courage so long as we remain at a distance from the scene of danger; but no sooner are we brought into action, than in the smallest matters we conjure up to ourselves lions, and dragons, and a host of frightful dangers. The Psalmist accommodates his language to this infirmity
of our carnal apprehension. The Hebrew word שחל, shachal, which in the Septuagint is rendered asp,
Calvin’s reading of this verse is different from that of our English Bible. According to it, thou, in the first clause, refers to the Psalmist; while, according to him, it is
to be understood of God. Hammond gives a similar version. “Because thou, O Lord! art my hope; thou hast made the Most High thy help or refuge.” All the ancient versions understand the first clause as spoken of God. In the Septuagint it is σὺ Κύριε ἡ ἔλπις μου, “thou, O Lord! art my hope.” Similar is the reading of the Chaldee, the Syriac, and Vulgate. But the last member of the verse, “thou hast made the Most High thy refuge,” is generally referred to the Psalmist, and regarded as a part of a soliloquy to which, when alone, his soul gave utterance.
signifies a lion, and such repetition in the second member of the sentence is usual in the Hebrew. There is therefore no occasion for seeking any nice distinction which may have been intended in specifying these four different kinds of animals; only by the lion and young lion we are evidently
to understand more open dangers, where we are assailed by force and violence, and by the serpent and dragon hidden mischiefs, where the enemy springs upon us insidiously and unexpectedly, as the serpent from its lurking place.
ἀσπιδα. The most ancient versions correspond in this respect with the Septuagint, as the Vulgate, St Jerome’s, Apollinaris’, the Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions, rendering שחל, shachal, not by the lion but by the asp, though they are not agreed as to the particular kind of asp which is intended. This opinion is adopted by the learned Bochart, (Hieroz. volume
3, lib. 3, cap. 3,) who thinks it probable that throughout the verse serpents only are spoken of, and other interpreters have concurred in the same view. He thinks שחל, shachal, rendered “the lion,” is the black serpent, or hoemorhous; and כפיר, kepher, rendered “young lion,” has been supposed to be the cenchris, which
Nicander (Theriac, 5, 463) calls λέων ἄιολος, the spotted lion, because he is speckled, and, like the lion, raises his tail when about to fight, and bites and gluts himself with blood. Bochart objects
to the lion and young lion being meant, on the ground of the incongruity of animals of so very different a nature as lions and serpents being joined together; and observes, that to walk upon the lion seems not a very proper expression, as men do not
in walking tread on lions as they do on serpents. But the lion and the young lion, the rendering of later interpreters, correspond to each other, and preserve the parallelism for which the Hebrew poetry is distinguished, and the reasons assigned by
Bochart for setting it aside seem insufficient. The lion and the serpent are formidable animals to contend with; and Satan, one of the enemies to be “put in subjection under the feet of Christ,” is, in the New Testament, compared both to the lion and the dragon, (1
Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9.) “Let it be added,” says Merrick, “that the Hebrew text says nothing of walking upon the lion, but has the word תדרך, which
strictly signifies calcabis, thou shalt tread; and as to trample on the nations, and to make his enemies his
footstool, are expressions used to signify the subduing and triumphing over them; to tread on the lion and the serpent may be understood in the same sense.”
Cresswell thinks it probable that the language of this verse is proverbial. “The course of human life,” he remarks, “is in Scripture compared to a journey; and the dangers described in this verse were common to the wayfaring man in the Psalmist’s time and country.”
14. Because he hath trusted in me, I will deliver him. It may prevent any feeling of disgust or weariness under the repetition and enlargement of the Psalmist upon his present subject, to remember, that, as I have already observed, he is influenced in this by a due consideration of our weakness, ever indisposed, as we are upon the approach of danger, to exercise a due reliance upon the providence of God. With this view he now introduces God himself as speaking, and confirming by his own voice what had already been asserted. And here it is noticeable that God, in declaring from heaven that we shall be safe under the wings of his protection, speaks of nothing as necessary on the part of his people but hope or trust. For the Hebrew verb חשק, chashak, which signifies to desire, or love, or, as we commonly express it, to find our delight in any object, means here to rest with a sweet confidence in God, and rejoice in his favor. He engages to extend us assistance, if we seek him in sincerity. The language implies that we must be continually surrounded by death and destruction in this world, unless his hand is stretched out for our preservation. Occasionally he assists even unbelievers, but it is only to his believing people that his help is vouchsafed, in the sense of his being their Savior to the true extent of that term, and their Savior to the end. Their knowing the name of God is spoken of in connection with their trust and expectation; and very properly, for why is it that men are found casting their eyes vainly round them to every quarter in the hour of danger, but because they are ignorant of the power of God? They cannot indeed be said to know God at all, but delude themselves with a vague apprehension of something which is not God, a mere dead idol substituted for him in their imaginations. As it is a true knowledge of God which begets confidence in him, and leads us to call upon him; and as none can seek him sincerely but those who have apprehended the promises, and put due honor upon his name, the Psalmist with great propriety and truth represents this knowledge as being the spring or fountain of trust. That the doctrine which he teaches was needful we may learn from the senseless and erroneous manner in which the Papists speak of faith. While they inculcate an implicit adherence to God, they bury the word which opens up the only access which men can have to him. The expression to exalt or lift up on high means no more than to keep in a state of safety or security; but the reason of this metaphor is, that God preserves his people in an extraordinary manner, raising them, as it were, to some high and impregnable fortress.
15. He shall call upon me. He now shows more clearly what was meant by trusting in God, or placing our love and delight in him. For that affection and desire which is produced by faith, prompts us to call upon his name. This is another proof in support of the truth, which I had occasion to touch upon formerly, that prayer is properly grounded upon the word of God. We are not at liberty in this matter, to follow the suggestions of our own mind or will, but must seek God only in so far as he has in the first place invited us to approach him. The context, too, may teach us, that faith is not idle or inoperative, and that one test, by which we ought to try those who look for Divine deliverances, is, whether they have recourse to God in a right manner. We are taught the additional lesson, that believers will never be exempt from troubles and embarrassments. God does not promise them a life of ease and luxury, but deliverance from their tribulations. Mention is made of his glorifying them, intimating that the deliverance which God extends, and which has been spoken of in this psalm, is not of a mere temporary nature, but will issue at last in their being advanced to perfect happiness. He puts much honor upon them in the world, and glorifies himself in them conspicuously, but it is not till the completion of their course that he affords them ground for triumph. It may seem strange that length of days should be mentioned in the last verse as promised to them, since many of the Lord’s people are soon taken out of the world. But I may repeat an observation which has been elsewhere made, that those Divine blessings which are promised in relation to the present perishing world, are not to be considered as made good in a universal and absolute sense, or fulfilled in all according to one set and equal rule. 583583 “Dei benedictiones quae ad hanc caducam vitam spectant, non esse perpetuas, neque aequali tenore fluere.” — Lat. “Ne sont pas perpetuelles, et ne descoulent pas d’un fil continuel.” — Fr. Wealth and other worldly comforts must be looked upon as affording some experience of the Divine favor or goodness, but it does not follow that the poor are objects of the Divine displeasure; soundness of body and good health are blessings from God, but we must not conceive on this account that he regards with disapprobation the weak and the infirm. Long life is to be classed among benefits of this kind, and would be bestowed by God upon all his children, were it not for their advantage that they should be taken early out of the world. 584584 “With long life, etc. This was a blessing often pledged to good men during the Mosaic dispensation; though we cannot understand it as being universally accomplished, because God at that, as at every subsequent period, has reserved to himself, and to his own wisdom, ‘the times and the seasons.’” — Walford. They are more satisfied with the short period during which they live than the wicked, though their life should be extended for thousands of years. The expression cannot apply to the wicked, that they are satisfied with length of days; for however long they live, the thirst of their desires continues to be unquenched. It is life, and nothing more, which they riot in with such eagerness; nor can they be said to have had one moment’s enjoyment of that Divine favor and goodness which alone can communicate true satisfaction. The Psalmist might therefore with propriety state it as a privilege peculiarly belonging to the Lord’s people, that they are satisfied with life. The brief appointed term is reckoned by them to be sufficient, abundantly sufficient. Besides, longevity is never to be compared with eternity. The salvation of God extends far beyond the narrow boundary of earthly existence; and it is to this, whether we live or come to die, that we should principally look. It is with such a view that the Psalmist, after stating all the other benefits which God bestows, adds this as a last clause, that when he has followed them with his fatherly goodness throughout their lives, he at last shows them his salvation.