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141. Psalm 141

Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.

2Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

3Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

4Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.

5Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

6When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

7Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

8But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.

9Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.

10Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.

5. Let the righteous smite me, etc. While Satan tempts the wicked by his allurements, they, at the same time, deceive one another by flattery, which leads David to declare, that he would much rather be awakened to his duty by the severe rod of reproof, than be seduced through pleasing falsehoods. Among those who hold religion in contempt no reproof is administered to one who has contracted any sin, and, therefore, if we have any concern for our spiritual safety we will connect ourselves with good men, who restore such as have fallen by upright admonition, and bring back those who have erred to the right way. It is not agreeable to corrupt nature to be reproved when we sin, but, David had brought himself to that degree of docility and self-denial which led him to consider no reproof distasteful which he knew to proceed from the spirit of kindness. As there is some ambiguity in the words, we may see to ascertain the proper meaning of them. The noun חסד, chesed, can very well be resolved into the adverb — the righteous shall smite me mercifully, or in mercy, supplying the preposition. And this is the meaning adopted by most interpreters, that David reckoned as the best ointment such reproofs as breathed charity and kindness, or proceeded from a kind and dispassionate spirit. Should this reading be preferred it is to be remembered, that David refers, not so much to the outward manner in which the reproof is to be administered, as to the frame of the heart. However how good men may be, and whatever severity of language they may employ in admonishing those who have erred, they are still actuated by the force of brotherly affection. My, the very severity is, in fact, occasioned by their holy anxiety and fear of their brother’s safety. The righteous act mercifully under all this apparent sharpness and severity — as the wicked, on the other hand, act cruelly who censure only in a very gentle manner. By noticing this feature in reproof, David besides would distinguish that kind of it which takes its rise in sincere affection, from invectives which proceed from hatred or private animosity, as Solomon says. (Proverbs 10:12.) The other rendering of the words, however, which I have adopted, is equally suitable —

Let the righteous censure me, it shall be mercy, or, I will reckon it a benefit, let him reprove me, this shall be precious ointment that will not hurt my head.

The last clause some interpret in another way — the oil of the head let it not break my head, that is, let not the wicked seduce me to destruction by their pleasing flatteries. 239239     “Que l’huile de la teste ne rompe point ma teste, c’est a dire, que les meschans ne m’amadouent point par leurs flatteries a ma perdition et ruine.” — Fr. By the oil they understand the pernicious adulations by which the wicked would ruin us, and plunge us deeper and deeper in destruction, while they seem to administer pleasure. This would make the passage convey a fuller meaning, That while David was pliable and yielding in the matter of reproof, he fled from flattery as from the fatal songs of the Sirens. However sweet praise may be to the taste at first, every one who lends an ear to flattery, drinks in a poison which will presently diffuse itself through the whole heart. Let us learn by David’s example to reject all flatteries, prone as we are naturally to receive them, and to renounce waywardness and obstinacy, lest we should put away from us those corrections which are wholesome remedies for our vices. For such is the infatuated love men have to their own destruction, that even when forced to condemn themselves they wish to have the approbation of the world. And why? that by superinducing torpor of conscience, they may, by their own spontaneous act, devote themselves to ruin.

For yet my prayer, etc. Three explanations of this clause have been suggested. According to some the meaning of it is, that, as we are ever ready to be corrupted by bad example, David here prays, that he might not decline to their evils, or the evils which they practiced. The second sense assigned is, that David, recognizing their mischievous devices, prays that he may be kept by the Lord from their wickedness. The third sense, that recognizing them as reduced to desperate calamities, he prays that the just vengeance of God might be executed upon them according to their deserts. The very opposite meaning might seem the more suitable, that David was not prevented by their obstinacy in wickedness from praying for their welfare. For there is the adverb yet emphatically inserted. Or, what if David is to be considered as predicting their unfortunate end, intimating, that though the ungodly now riot in excess, they shall shortly be arrested, and that before long his compassion would be exercised towards them? The way in which the words stand connected favors this view; for he does not say — yet my prayer shall be in their calamities, but rather separately, “yet, or, yet a little while, and then my power shall be in their calamities.” As David was in danger of being tempted to yield to similarly vain courses with them, he very properly suggests a sustaining motive to his soul, why he should retain his integrity, that erelong they would be overtaken with so awful a destruction as to entreat compassion from him and others of the people of God.


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