After being delivered by God's help from great dangers, David, in this psalm, according to his custom, first records the vows that he had made in the midst of his difficulties, and then his thanksgivings and praises to God, to induce others to follow his example. It is probable that he speaks of his persecutions by Saul.
A Psalm of David.
1. Unto thee, O Jehovah! will I cry; O my strength! hold not thy peace from me; lest, shouldst thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down to the grave. 2. Hear the voice of my prayers when I cry to thee, when I lift up my hands to the sanctuary of thy holiness.
1. Unto thee, O Jehovah! will I cry. The Psalmist begins by declaring that he would betake himself to the help of God alone, which shows both his faith and his sincerity. Although men labor every where under a multitude of troubles, yet scarcely one in a hundred ever has recourse to God. Almost all having their consciences burdened with guilt, and having never experienced the power of divine grace which might lead them to betake themselves to it, either proudly gnaw the bit or fill the air with unavailing complaints, or, giving way to desperation, faint under their afflictions. By calling God his strength, David more fully shows that he confided in God's assistance, not only when he was in the shade and in peace, but also when he was exposed to the severest temptations. In comparing himself to the dead, too, he intimates how great his straits were, although his object was not merely to point out the magnitude of his danger, but also to show that when he needed succor, he looked not here and there for it, but relied on God alone, without whose favor there remained no hope for him. It is, therefore, as if he had said, I am nothing if thou leavest me; if thou succourest me not, I perish. It is not enough for one who is in such a state of affliction to be sensible of his misery, unless, convinced of his inability to help himself, and renouncing all help from the world, he betake himself to God alone. And as the Scriptures inform us that God answers true believers when he shows by his operations that he regards their supplications, so the word silent is set in opposition to the sensible and present experience of his aid, when he appears, as it were, not to hear their prayers.
2. Hear the voice of my prayers when I cry to thee. This repetition is a sign of a heart in anguish. David's ardor and vehemence in prayer are also intimated by the noun signifying voice, and the verb signifying to cry. He means that he was so stricken with anxiety and fear, that he prayed not coldly, but with burning, vehement desire, like those who, under the pressure of grief, vehemently cry out. In the second clause of the verse, by synecdoche, the thing signified is indicated by the sign. It has been a common practice in all ages for men to lift up their hands in prayer. Nature has extorted this gesture even from heathen idolaters, to show by a visible sign that their minds were directed to God alone. The greater part, it is true, contented with this ceremony, busy themselves to no effect with their own inventions; but the very lifting up of the hands, when there is no hypocrisy and deceit, is a help to devout and zealous prayer. David, however, does not say here that he lifted his hands to heaven, but to the sanctuary, that, aided by its help, he might ascend the more easily to heaven. He was not so gross, or so superstitiously tied to the outward sanctuary, as not to know that God must be sought spiritually, and that men then only approach to him when, leaving the world, they penetrate by faith to celestial glory. But remembering that he was a man, he would not neglect this aid afforded to his infirmity. As the sanctuary was the pledge or token of the covenant of God, David beheld the presence of God's promised grace there, as if it had been represented in a mirror; just as the faithful now, if they wish to have a sense of God's nearness to them, should immediately direct their faith to Christ, who came down to us in his incarnation, that he might lift us up to the Father. Let us understand, then, that David clung to the sanctuary with no other view than that by the help of God's promise he might rise above the elements of the world, which he used, however, according to the appointment of the Law. The Hebrew word rybd, debir, which we have rendered sanctuary,1 signifies the inner-room of the tabernacle or temple, or the most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was contained, and it is so called from the answers or oracles which God gave forth from thence, to testify to his people the presence of his favor among them.