PSALMS commentaries, Vol. I, presented by ArchBishop Uwe AE. Rosenkranz



By Rev. G. Rawlinson, M.A.

Canon of Canterbury


By Rev. E. R. Conder, D.D.

Homilies by various Authors:







London and New York


Pulpit Commentary



Dean of Gloucester

And By The




§ 1. Titles of the Work, and General Character

The usual Hebrew title of the work is Tehillim (תהלּים), or Sepher Tehillim (סכּר תהלּים); literally, “Praises,” or “Book of Praises”—a title which expresses well the general character of the pieces whereof the book is composed, but which cannot be said to be universally applicable to them. Another Hebrew title, and one which has crept into the text itself, is Tephilloth (תפלּות), “Prayers,” which is given at the close of the second section of the work (Ps. 72:20), as a general designation of the pieces contained in the first and second sections. The same word appears, in the singular, as the special heading of the seventeenth, eighty-sixth, ninetieth, hundred and second, and hundred and forty-second psalms. But, like Tehillim, this term is only applicable, in strictness, to a certain number of the compositions which the work contains. Conjointly, however, the two terms, which come to us with the greatest amount of authority, are fairly descriptive of the general character of the work, which is at once highly devotional and specially intended to set forth the praises of God.

It is manifest, on the face of it, that the work is a collection. A number of separate poems, the production of different persons, and belonging to different periods, have been brought together, either by a single editor, or perhaps by several distinct editors, and have been united into a volume, which has been accepted by the Jewish, and, later on, by the Christian, Church, as one of the “books” of Holy Scripture. The poems seem originally to have been, for the most part, quite separate and distinct; each is a whole in itself; and most of them appear to have been composed for a special object, and on a special occasion. Occasionally, but very seldom, one psalm seems linked on to another; and in a few instances there are groups of psalms intentionally attached together, as the group from Ps. 73 to 83, ascribed to Asaph, and, again, the “Hallelujah” group—from Ps. 146 to 150. But generally no connection is apparent, and the sequence seems, so to speak, accidental.

Our own title of the work—”Psalms,” “The Psalms,” “The Book of Psalms”—has come to us, through the Vulgate, from the Septuagint. Ψαλμὸς meant, in the Alexandrian Greek, “a poem to be sung to a stringed instrument;” and as the poems of the Psalter were thus sung in the Jewish worship, the name Ψαλμοί appeared appropriate. It is not, however, a translation of either Tehillim or Tephilloth, and it has the disadvantage of dropping altogether the spiritual character of the compositions. As, however, it was applied to them, certainly by St. Luke (20:42; Acts 1:20) and St. Paul (Acts 13:33), and possibly by our Lord (Luke 24:44), we may rest content with the appellation. It is, at any rate, one which is equally applicable to all the pieces whereof the “book” is composed.

§ 2. Divisions of the Work, and Probable Gradual Formation of the Collection

A Hebrew tradition divided the Psalter into five books. The Midrash or comment on the first verse of Ps. 1 says, “Moses gave to the Israelites the five books of the Law, and as a counterpart to these, David gave them the Psalms, which consist of five books.” Hippolytus, a Christian Father of the third century, confirms the statement in these words, which are quoted and accepted by Epiphanius, Τοῦτό σε μὴ παρέλθοι, ὦ φιλόλογε, ὅτι καὶ τὸ Ψαλτήριον εἰς πέντε διεῖλον βιβλία οἱ Ἑβραῖοι, ὥστε εἶναι καὶ αὐτὸ ἄλλον πεντάτευχον: i.e. “Be sure, too, that this does not escape you, O studious one, that the Hebrews divided the Psalter also into five books, so that that likewise was another Pentateuch.” A modern writer, accepting this view, observes, “The Psalter is also a Pentateuch, the echo of the Mosaic Pentateuch from the heart of Israel; it is the fivefold book of the congregation to Jehovah, as the Law is the fivefold book of Jehovah to the congregation.”

The “books” are severally terminated by a doxology, not exactly the same in every instance, but of a similar character, which in no case forms any part of the psalm whereto it is attached, but is simply a mark of division (see Pss. 41:13; 72:18, 19; 89:52; 106:48). The books are of irregular length. The first book contains forty-one psalms; the second, thirty-one; the third and fourth, seventeen respectively; and the fifth, forty-four. The first and second books are mainly Davidical; the third is Asaphian; the fourth, chiefly anonymous; the fifth, about three-fifths anonymous and two-fifths Davidical. It is difficult to assign to the several books any special characteristics. The psalms of the first and second books are on the whole more mournful, and those of the fifth more jubilant, than the remainder. The historical element is especially pronounced in the third and fourth books. Books I., IV., and V. are strongly Jehovistic; Books II. and III. are, on the contrary, predominantly Elohistic.

It is generally allowed that the collection was formed gradually. A strong note of division—”The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended”—separates the first two books from the others, and seems to have been intended to mark the completion either of the original edition or of a recension. A recension is perhaps the more probable, since the note of division at the close of Ps. 41, and the sudden transition from Davidical to Korahite psalms, raises the suspicion that at this point a new hand has intervened. Probably the “first book” was, speaking generally, collected together soon after the death of David, perhaps (as Bishop Perowne thinks) by Solomon, his son. Then, not very long afterwards, the Korahite Levites attached Book II., consisting of a collection of their own (Pss. 42–49), a single psalm of Asaph (Ps. 50), and a group of psalms (Pss. 51–72) which they believed to have been composed by David, though omitted from Book I. At the same time, they may have prefixed Pss. 1 and 2 to Book I. as an introduction, and appended the last verse of Ps. 72 to Book II. as an epilogue. The third book—the Asaphian collection—is thought, with some reason, to have been added in a recension made by the order of Hezekiah, to which there is an allusion in 2 Chron. 29:30. It is a reasonable conjecture that the last two books were collected and added to the previously existing Psalter by Ezra and Nehemiah, who made the division at the close of Ps. 106 on grounds of convenience and harmony.

§ 3. Authors

That the principal contributor to the collection, the main author of the Book of Psalms, is David, though denied by some moderns, is the general conclusion in which criticism has rested, and is likely to rest. The historical books of the Old Testament assign to David more than one of the psalms contained in the collection (2 Sam. 22:2–51; 1 Chron. 16:8–36). Seventy-three of them are assigned to him by their titles. The psalmody of the temple generally is said to be his (1 Chron. 25:1–6; 2 Chron. 23:18). The Book of Psalms was known in Maccabean times as “the Book of David (τὰ τοῦ Δαβίδ)” (2 Macc. 2:13). David is cited as the author of the sixteenth and the hundred and tenth psalms by the writer of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:25, 34). Internal evidence points to him strongly as the writer of several others. The extravagant opinion that he wrote the whole book could never have been broached if he had not written a considerable portion of it. With respect to what psalms are to be regarded as his, there is naturally considerable doubt. Whatever value may be assigned to the “titles,” they cannot be regarded as absolutely settling the question.13 Still, where their authority is backed up by internal evidence, it seems well worthy of acceptance. On this ground, the sober and moderate school of critics, including such writers as Ewald, Delitzsch, Perowne, and even Cheyne, agree in admitting a considerable portion of the Psalter to be Davidic. The psalms claiming to be Davidical are found chiefly in the first, second, and fifth books—thirty-seven in the first, eighteen in the second, and fifteen in the fifth. In the third and fourth books there are only three psalms (Pss. 88, 101 and 103) which claim to be his.

The next most important contributor would seem to be Asaph. Asaph was one of the heads of David’s choir at Jerusalem (1 Chron. 6:39; 15:17, 19; 16:5), and is coupled in one place with David (2 Chron. 29:30) as having furnished the words which were sung in the temple service in Hezekiah’s time. Twelve psalms are assigned to him by their titles—one in Book II. (Ps. 50), and eleven in Book III. (Pss. 73–83). It is doubted, however, whether the real personal Asaph can have been the author of all these, and suggested that in some instances the sept or family of Asaph is intended.

A considerable number of psalms—no fewer than eleven—are distinctly ascribed to the sept or family of Korahite Levites (Pss. 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, and 88); and one other (Ps. 43) may be probably assigned to them. These psalms vary in character, and manifestly belong to different dates; but all seem to have been written in the times preceding the Captivity. Some are of great beauty, especially Pss. 42, 43, and Pss. 87. The Korahite Levites held a position of high honour under David (1 Chron. 9:19; 12:6), and continued among the chief of the temple servants, at any rate to the time of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 20:19; 31:14). Heman, the son of Joel, one of David’s principal singers, was a Korahite (1 Chron. 6:33, 37), and the probable author of Ps. 88.

In the Septuagint Version, Pss. 138, 146, 147, and 148 are ascribed to Haggai and Zechariah. In the Hebrew, Ps. 138 is entitled “a Psalm of David,” while the remaining three are anonymous. It would appear, from internal evidence, that the tradition respecting these three, embodied in the Septuagint, deserves acceptance.

Two psalms (Pss. 72 and 127) are in the Hebrew assigned to Solomon. A large number of critics accept the Solomonic authorship of the former; but by most that of the latter is rejected. Solomon, however, is regarded by some as the author of the first psalm.

A single psalm (Ps. 90) is ascribed to Moses; another single psalm (Ps. 89) to Ethan; and another (Ps. 88), as already mentioned, to Heman. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint attribute Ps. 137 to Jeremiah.

Fifty psalms—one-third of the number—remain, in the Hebrew original, anonymous; or forty-eight, if we regard Ps. 10 as the second part of Ps. 9, and Ps. 43 as an extension of Ps. 42. In the Septuagint, however, a considerable number of these have authors assigned to them. Pss. 138, 146, 147, and 148 (as already observed) are attributed to Zechariah, or to Zechariah conjointly with Haggai. So is Ps. 149 in some manuscripts. David is made the author of Pss. 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 67, 71, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, and 137 in several copies; and in a few David is made joint author of two psalms (Pss. 42 and 43) with the sons of Korah. On the whole, the collection may be said to have proceeded from at least six individuals—David, Asaph, Solomon, Moses, Heman, and Ethan—while three others—Jeremiah, Haggai, and Zechariah—may not improbably have had a hand in it. How many Korahite Levites are included under the title, “sons of Korah,” it is impossible to say; and the number of the anonymous authors is also uncertain.

§ 4. Date and Value of the “Titles,” or Superscriptions to Particular Psalms

On a comparison of the “titles” in the Hebrew with those in the Septuagint, it is at once apparent (1) that those in the Hebrew are the originals; and (2) that those in the Septuagint were taken from them. The antiquity of the titles is thus thrown back to at least as early as the second century b.c. Nor is this the whole. The Septuagint translator or translators clearly write considerably later than the original authors of the titles, since a largish portion of their contents is left untranslated, being unintelligible to them. This fact is reasonably regarded as throwing back their antiquity still further—say, to the fourth, or perhaps to the fifth century b.c.—the time of Ezra.

Ezra, it is generally allowed, made a recension of the Scriptures of the Old Testament as existing in his day. It is a tenable theory that he affixed the titles. But, on the other hand, it is a theory quite as tenable that he found the titles, or at any rate a large number of them, already affixed. Lyrical compositions among the Hebrews from the earliest times had superscriptions attached to them, generally indicating the name of the writer (see Gen. 4:23; 49:1, 2; Exod. 15:1; Deut. 31:30; 33:1; Judg. 5:1; 1 Sam. 2:1; 2 Sam. 1:17; 22:1; 23:1; Isa. 2:1; 13:1; 38:9; Jonah 2:1; Hab. 3:1). If the collection of the psalms was made gradually, it is perhaps most probable that each collector gave titles where he could, to the psalms which he collected. In that case the titles of Book I. would probably date from early in the reign of Solomon;15 those of Book II. from late in that reign; those of Book III. from the time of Hezekiah; and those of Books IV. and V. from the age of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The earlier titles would, of course, be the more valuable, and the more to be depended on; the later ones, especially those in Books IV. and V., could claim but little confidence. They would embody merely the traditions of the Captivity period, or might be mere guesses of Ezra. Still, in every case, the “title” deserves consideration. It is primâ facie evidence, and, though it may be very weak evidence, is worth something. It is not to be set aside as wholly worthless, unless the contents of the psalm, or its linguistic characteristics, are distinctly opposed to the titular statement.

The contents of the titles are of five kinds: 1. Ascriptions to an author. 2. Musical directions. 3. Historical statements as to the circumstances under which the psalm was composed. 4. Notices indicative of the character of the psalm or its object. 5. Liturgical notices.

Of the original (Hebrew) titles, one hundred contain ascriptions to an author, while fifty psalms are left anonymous. Fifty-five contain musical directions, or what appear to be such. Fourteen have notices, generally of great interest, as to the historical circumstances under which they were composed. Above a hundred contain some indication of the character of the psalm or of its subject. The indication is generally given by a single word. The composition is called mizmôr (מִזְמוֹר), “a psalm to be sung with musical accompaniment;” or shir (שִׁיר), “a song;” or maskil (מַשְׂכִיל), “an instruction;” or miktam (מִכְתָּם), “a poem of gold;” or tephillah (תְּפִלָּה), “a prayer;” or tehillah (תְּהִלָּה), “a praise;” or shiggaion (שִׁגָּיוֹן), “an irregular ode”—a dithyramb. Or its object is declared to be either “teaching” (לְלַמֵּד), or “thanksgiving” (לְתוֹדָה), or “to call to remembrance” (לְהָזְכִּיר). Liturgical notices are such as שִׁיר לְיֹום הַשַּׁבָּה, “a song for the sabbath day” (Ps. 92), שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת, “a song of the goings up” (Pss. 120–134), and the like.

§ 5. Chief Groups of Psalms

The chief groups of psalms are, first and foremost, the Davidical; secondly, the Asaphian; thirdly, that of “the sons of Korah;” fourthly, the Solomonic; and fifthly, the anonymous.

The Davidical group is at once the most numerous and the most important. It consists of seventy-three psalms or hymns, which are thus distributed among the “books;” viz.: thirty-seven in the first, eighteen in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, and fifteen in the fifth. The compositions appear to cover the greater portion of David’s life. Fourteen are assigned with much reason to the years before his accession to the throne; nineteen to the earlier part of his reign, before the commission of his great sin; ten to the time between that fall and his flight from Jerusalem; ten to the period of his exile; and three or four to the time after his return, the closing period of his long reign. The remainder contain no indications of date. These results of a very careful analysis may be thus tabulated—

Psalms of David’s early life.

Psalms of the earlier part of his reign.

Psalms from the time of his great sin to his flight from Jerusalem.

Psalms of the exile.

Psalms of the last period of his reign.


8, 9, 10

5, 6

3, 4


11, 12, 13

15, 16, 18,





19, 20, 21




22, 23

24, 26


27, 28







34, 35


32, 38,





39, 40,








52, 54, 56,


51, 55

61, 63


57, 59






60, 68


69, 70



101, 108, 110



103, 139

The Asaphian group is made up of a cluster of eleven psalms in Book III. (Pss. 73–83), and a single psalm (Ps. 50) in Book II. Pss. 50, 73, 75, 78, 81, 82, 83, are not improbably the work of the specified author; but the remainder (Pss. 74, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, and 82) seem improperly assigned to him. They may, however, have been written by a member or members of the same sept, and so may have crept into a small collection to which the name of Asaph was attached. “The history of hymnology,” as Bishop Perowne observes, “shows us how easily this may have happened.”

The Korahite group of eleven or twelve psalms belongs, in part to the second, and in part to the third book. It is best regarded as comprising the first eight psalms of Book II. (Pss. 42–49) and four psalms (Pss. 84, 85, 87, and 88) in Book III. These psalms are predominantly Elohistic, though the name Jehovah occurs in them occasionally (Pss. 42:8; 44:23; 46:7, 11; 47:2, 5, etc.). They set forth the Almighty especially as King (Pss. 44:4; 45:6; 47:2, 7, 8; 48:2; 84:3). They speak of him by names not used elsewhere, e.g. “the living God” (אֶל חַי), and “Jehovah of hosts” (יְחֹוָה צְבָאוֹת). Their predominant ideas are, “delight in the worship and service of Jehovah, and the thankful acknowledgment of God’s protection vouchsafed to Jerusalem as the city of his choice.”29 Three of them (Pss. 42, 45, and 84) are psalms of special beauty.

The Solomonic psalms are two only, if we confine ourselves to the indications given by the titles, viz. Pss. 72 and 127; but the first psalm is also thought by many to be Solomonic. These psalms have not many marked characteristics; but we may, perhaps, note a sobriety of tone in them, and a sententiousness that recalls the author of Proverbs.

The anonymous psalms, forty-eight in number, are found chiefly in the last two books—thirteen of them in Book IV., and twenty-seven in Book V. They include several of the most important psalms; the first and second in Book I.; the sixty-seventh and seventy-first in Book II.; the ninety-first, hundred and fourth, hundred and fifth, and hundred and sixth in Book IV.; and in Book V. the hundred and seventh, hundred and eighteenth, hundred and nineteenth, and hundred and thirty-seventh. The Alexandrian school assigned several of them, as already mentioned, to authors, as the sixty-seventh, the seventy-first, the ninety-first, the hundred and thirty-seventh, and the entire group from Ps. 93 to Ps. 99; but their attributions are not often very happy ones. Still, the suggestion that Pss. 146, 147, 148, and 149 were the work of Haggai and Zechariah is not altogether to be rejected. “Evidently they constitute a group of themselves;” and, as Dean Stanley says, “sum up the joy of the return from Babylon.”33

A very marked group is formed by the “Songs of Degrees”—שִׁירוֹת הָמַּעֲלוֹת—which extend continuously from Ps. 120 to Ps. 134. These are most probably hymns composed for the purpose of being sung by the provincial or foreign Israelites on their yearly “ascents” to keep the great festivals of Jerusalem (see especially Ps. 122:1, 2). They comprise the De Profundis (Ps. 130) and the blessing on unity (Ps. 133).

Other “groups” are the Hallelujah Psalms, the Alphabetic Psalms, and the Penitential Psalms. The title “Hallelujah Psalms” has been given to those which commence with the two Hebrew words, הַלְלוּ יָהּ, “Praise ye the Lord.” They comprise the following ten: Pss. 106, 111, 112, 113, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150. Thus all but one (Ps. 106) belong to the last book. Seven of them—all but Pss. 106, 111, and 112—end with the same phrase. Some critics add Ps. 117 to the number of “Hallelujah Psalms,” but this commences with the elongated form, הַלְלוּ אֶת־יְהֹוָה.

The “Alphabetic Psalms” are either eight or nine in number, viz. Pss. 9, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145, and, to a small extent, Ps. 10. The most elaborate is Ps. 119, where the number of stanzas is determined by the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the eight lines of every stanza begins with its own proper letter—all the lines of the first stanza with aleph, all those of the second with beth, and so on. Other psalms equally regular, but less elaborate, are Pss. 111 and 112, where the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet furnish, in regular sequence, the initial letters of the twenty-two lines. The other “Alphabetic Psalms” are all of them more or less irregular. Ps. 145 consists of twenty-one verses only, instead of twenty-two, omitting the verse which should have commenced with the letter nun. No reason can be assigned for this. Ps. 37 contains two irregularities—one in ver. 28, where the stanza that should have begun with ain begins actually with lamed; and the other in ver. 39, where vau takes the place of tau as the initial letter. Ps. 34 omits vau altogether, and adds pe as an initial letter at the end. Ps. 25 omits beth, vau, and kaph, adding pe at the end, like Ps. 34. Ps. 9 omits daleth and yod, and jumps from kaph to koph, and from koph to shin, also omitting tau. Ps. 10, sometimes called alphabetic, is so only in its latter portion, where stanzas of four lines each commence respectively with koph, resh, shin, and tau. The object of the alphabetic arrangement was, no doubt, in every case, to assist the memory; but only Pss. 111, Pss. 112, and Pss. 119 can have been of very much service in this respect.

The “Penitential Psalms” are generally said to be seven; but a far larger number of the Psalms have a predominantly penitential character There is no authoritative limitation of the number to seven; but Origen first, and after him other Fathers, have given a certain sanction to the view, which has on the whole prevailed in the Church. The psalms especially singled out are the following: Pss. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. It will be observed that five out of the seven are, by their titles, assigned to David.

One other group of psalms seems to require special notice, viz. “the Imprecatory or Comminatory Psalms.” These psalms have been called “vindictive,” and said to breathe a most unchristian spirit of revenge and hatred. To some truly pious persons they seem shocking; and to a much larger number they are more or less a matter of difficulty. Pss. 35, 69, and 109 are especially objected to; but the spirit which animates these compositions is one which constantly recurs; e.g. in Pss. 5:10; 28:4; 40:14, 15; 55:16; 58:6, 9; 79:6–12; 83:9–18, etc. Now, it is not, perhaps, a sufficient answer, but it is some answer, to note that these imprecatory psalms are, for the most part, national songs; and that the utterers of them are calling for vengeance, not so much on their own personal enemies, as on the enemies of their nation, whom they look upon also as God’s enemies, since Israel is his people. The expressions objected to are thus in some sort parallel to those which find a place in our National Anthem—

“O Lord our God, arise,

Scatter her enemies …

Confound their politics;

Frustrate their knavish tricks.”

Further, the “imprecations,” if we must so term them, are evidently “the outpourings of hearts animated by the highest love of truth and righteousness and goodness,” jealous of God’s honour, and haters of iniquity. They are the outcome of a righteous indignation, provoked by the wickedness and cruelty of the oppressors, and by pity for the sufferings of their victims. Again, they spring, in part, out of the narrowness of view which characterized the time—a time when men’s thoughts were almost wholly confined to this present life, and a future life was only dimly and darkly apprehended. We are content to see the ungodly man in prosperity, and “flourishing like a green bay tree,” because we know that it is but for a while, and that retributive justice will in the end overtake him. But they had no such assured conviction. Finally, it is to be borne in mind that one of the objects of the psalmists, in praying for the punishment of the wicked, is the benefit of the wicked themselves. Bishop Alexander has noticed that “each of the psalms in which the strongest imprecatory passages are found contains also gentle undertones, breathings of beneficent love.” The writers’ desire is that the wicked may be recovered, while their conviction is that God’s chastisements alone can recover them. They would have the arm of the wicked and evil man broken, that when God makes search into his wickedness, he may “find none” (Ps. 10:15).

§ 6. Value of the Book of Psalms

The Psalms have always been regarded by the Church, Jewish as well as Christian, with a special affection. The “Psalms of Ascents” were probably used from the actual time of David by the worshippers who thronged to Jerusalem on the occasions of the three great festivals. Other psalms were either originally written for the service of the sanctuary, or were introduced into that service at an early date, and thus made their way into the heart of the nation. David early acquired the title of “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1) from a grateful people who delighted in his utterances. It was probably a feeling of special affection for the Psalms that produced the division into five books, by which it was made into a second Pentateuch.

In the Christian Church the Psalms won for themselves a place even above that which for centuries they had held in the Jewish. Morning and Evening Service each commenced with a psalm. In Passion Week, Ps. 22 was recited every day. Seven psalms, selected on account of their solemn and mournful character, were set apart for the special additional services appointed for the season of Lent, and became known as “the seven penitential psalms.” Tertullian, in the second century, tells us that the Christians of his day were wont to sing many of the psalms in their agapæ. St. Jerome says40 that “the psalms were continually to be heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The ploughman, as he held his plough, chanted the Hallelujah; and the reaper, the vine-dresser, and the shepherd sang something from the Songs of David. Where the meadows were coloured with flowers, and the singing birds made their complaints, the psalms sounded even more sweetly.” Sidonius Apollinaris represents boatmen, while they worked their heavy barges up the waters, as singing psalms till the banks echoed with “Hallelujah,” and applies the representation to the voyage of the Christian life—

“Here the choir of them that drag the boat,

While the banks give back responsive note,

‘Alleluia!’ full and calm,

Lifts and lets the friendly bidding float—

Lift the psalm.

Christian pilgrim! Christian boatman! each beside his rolling river,

Sing, O pilgrim! sing, O boatman! lift the psalm in music ever.”

The primitive Church, according to Bishop Jeremy Taylor, “would admit no man to the superior orders of the clergy unless, among other pre-required dispositions, he could say all David’s Psalter by heart.” The Fathers generally delighted in the Psalms. Almost all the more eminent of them—Origen, Eusebius, Hilary, Basil, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Ambrose, Theodoret, Augustine, Jerome—wrote commentaries on them, or expositions of them. “Although all Divine Scripture,” said St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, “breathes the grace of God, yet sweet beyond all others is the Book of Psalms. History instructs, the Law teaches, prophecy announces, rebuke chastens, morality persuades; in the Book of Psalms we have the fruit of all these, and a kind of medicine for the salvation of man.” “To me it seems,” says Athanasius,44 “that the Psalms are to him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he may see himself and the motions of his soul, and with like feelings utter them. So also one who hears a psalm read, takes it as if it were spoken concerning himself, and either, convicted by his own conscience, will be pricked at heart and repent, or else, hearing of that hope which is to Godwards, and the succour which is vouchsafed to them that believe, leaps for joy, as though such grace were specially made over to him, and begins to utter his thanksgivings to God.” And again, “In the other books of Scripture are discourses which dissuade us from those things which are evil, but in this has been sketched out for us how we should abstain from things evil. For instance, we are commanded to repent, and to repent is to cease from sin; but here has been sketched out for us how we are to repent, and what we must say when we repent.… Again there is a command in everything to give thanks; but the Psalms teach us also what to say when we give thanks.… We are enjoined to bless the Lord, and to confess to him. But in the Psalms we have a pattern given us, both as to how we should praise the Lord, and with what words we can suitably confess to him. And, in every instance, we shall find these Divine songs suited to us, to our feelings, and our circumstances.” Abundant other testimonies might be added with respect to the value of the Book of Psalms; but perhaps it is more important to consider briefly in what its value consists.

In the first place, then, its great value seems to be that it furnishes for our feelings and emotions the same sort of guidance and regulation, which the rest of Scripture furnishes for our faith and our actions. “This book,” says Calvin, “I am wont to style an anatomy of all parts of the soul, for no one will discover in himself a single feeling whereof the image is not reflected in this mirror. Nay, all griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties—in short, all those tumultuous agitations wherewith the minds of men are wont to be tossed—the Holy Ghost hath here represented to the life. The rest of Scripture contains the commands which God gave to his servants to be delivered to us; but here the prophets themselves, holding converse with God, inasmuch as they lay bare all their inmost feelings, invite or impel every one of us to self-examination, that of all the infirmities to which we are liable, and all the sins of which we are so full, none may remain hidden.” The portraiture of the emotions is accompanied by sufficient indications of which of them are pleasing and which displeasing to God, so that by the help of the Psalms we may not only express, but also regulate, our feelings as God would have us regulate them.

Further, the energy and warmth of devotion exhibited in the Psalms is suited to stir up and inflame our hearts to a greater affection and zeal than they could otherwise readily attain to, and thus to raise us to spiritual heights beyond those natural to us. As flame enkindles flame, so the fervour of the psalmists in their prayers and praises passes on from them to us, and warms us to a glow of love and thankfulness which is something more than a pale reflex of their own. Without the Psalms, without the constant use of them, Christian life tends to become dead and dull, like the ashes of an extinguished fire.

Other uses of the Psalms, which add to their value, are intellectual. The historical psalms help us to picture to ourselves vividly the life of the nation, and often add touches to the narrative of the historical books which are of the highest interest. Those rightly ascribed to David fill out the portrait faintly sketched in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, turning into a living and breathing figure what, apart from them, were little more than a skeleton. The Messianic psalms address themselves in great part to our reason, and furnish an argument, second to few others, for the truth of Christianity. The whole Psalter is instinct with those truths which are felt on all sides to be of the essence of the Christian religion—its “theistic ideas are those which we find in our Creeds;” its Christology “unlocks many [obscure] passages;” its “view of the mystery of man’s conception, birth, and destiny is precisely that which has commended itself to Christian thought” as most reasonable. As St. Basil says, “The Psalms contain a perfect theology.”47 In reading them, studying them, saturating with them our hearts and minds, we indoctrinate ourselves with the purest religious ideas expressed in language of the most perfect beauty.

§ 7. Literature of the Psalms

“No book has been so fully commented on as the Psalms,” says Canon Cook, in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary;’ “the literature of the Psalms makes up a library.” Among the Fathers, as already observed,49 commentaries on the Psalms, or expositions of them, or of some of them, were written by Origen, Eusebius, Basil, Chrysostom, Hilary, Ambrose, Athanasius, Theodoret, Augustine, and Jerome; that of Theodoret being, perhaps, the best, but that of Jerome having also a high value. Among Jewish commentators of distinction may be mentioned Saadiah, who wrote in Arabic, Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Kimchi, and Rashi. At the era of the Reformation the Psalms attracted great attention, Luther, Mercer, Zwingle, and Calvin writing commentaries, while other expository works were contributed by Rudinger, Agellius, Genebrard, Bellarmine, Lorinus, Geier, and De Muis. During the last century or so, the modern German school of criticism has laboured with great diligence at the elucidation of the Psalter, and has done something for the historical exegesis, and still more for the grammatical and philological exposition of the Psalms. The example was set by Knapp, who in 1789 published at Halle his work entitled, ‘Die Psalmen übersetz‘—a work of considerable merit. He was followed by Rosenmüller not long afterwards, whose ‘Scholia in Psalmos,’ which made its appearance in 1798, gave at once “a full and judicious presentation of the most important results of previous labours,” including the Rabbinical, and also threw fresh light on several subjects of much interest. Ewald succeeded to Rosenmüller, and in the early portion of the present century, gave to the world, in his ‘Dichter des alt. Bundes,’ those clever, but somewhat overbold, speculations, which elevated him into the leader of German thought on these and kindred subjects for above fifty years. Maurer lent his support to the views of Ewald, and helped greatly to the advance of Hebrew scholarship by his grammatical and critical researches, while Hengstenberg and Delitzsch,52 in their able and judicious Comments, toned down the extravagances of the Berlin professor, and encouraged the formation of a more subdued and reverent school of criticism. More recently Köster and Grätz have written in a similar spirit, and have helped to vindicate German theology from the charge of rashness and recklessness.

In England, not much was done to elucidate the Psalms, or facilitate the study of them, till about eighty years ago, when Bishop Horsley’s son published his father’s work, entitled, ‘The Book of Psalms, translated from the Hebrew, with Notes explanatory and critical’ (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1815), with a dedication to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This publication gave a stimulus to Hebrew studies, and especially to that of the Psalter, which led in a short time to an issue from the press of several works possessing considerable value, and not even yet wholly superseded by the productions of later scholars. One of these was a ‘Key to the Book of Psalms’ (London, Seeley), published by a Rev. Mr. Boys, in 1825; and another, still more useful, was “ספר תהלים, The Book of Psalms in Hebrew, metrically arranged,” by the Rev. John Rogers, Canon of Exeter Cathedral, published at Oxford by J. H. Parker, in 1833. This book contained a selection from the various readings of Kennicott and De Rossi, and from the ancient versions, and also an “Appendix of Critical Notes,” which excited a good deal of interest. About the same time appeared the ‘Translation of the Psalms’ by Dr. French and Mr. Skinner, which was issued from the Clarendon Press in 1830. A metrical version of the Psalms, by Mr. Eden, of Bristol, was published in 1841; and “An Historical Outline of the Book of Psalms,’ by Dr. Mason Good, was edited and published by his grandson, the Rev. J. Mason Neale, in 1842. This was succeeded in a few years by ‘A New Version of the Psalms, with Notes, Critical, Historical, and Explanatory,’ from the pen of the same author. Of these last two works it has been said that they were “distinguished by taste and originality rather than by sound judgment and accurate scholarship;” nor can it be denied that they did but little to advance the critical study of Hebrew among us. Dr. Jebb’s ‘Literal Translation and Dissertations,’ published in 1846, was more important; and Mr. Thrupp’s ‘Introduction to the Psalms,’ given to the world in 1860, together with his article on the Psalms in Smith’s ‘Dictionary of the Bible’ (published in 1863), raised the character of our psalmodic literature to a higher level. In the year 1859, Professor Alexander, of Princeton University in America, furnished to English and Anglo-American students an even more valuable treatise.

But a still more advanced period now set in. In the year 1864 Canon (now Bishop) Perowne published the first edition of his elaborate work in two volumes, entitled, ‘The Book of Psalms, a New Translation, with Introductions and Notes Explanatory and Critical’ (London: Bell and Sons). This excellent and standard production has gone on from edition to edition ever since that date, receiving improvements at every step, until it is now decidedly one of the best, if not absolutely the very best, comment upon the Psalter. It is the work of a first-rate Hebraist, of a man of superior judgment and discretion, and of one whose erudition has been surpassed by few. English scholarship may well be proud of it, and may challenge a comparison of it with any foreign exposition. It was not left long, however, to occupy the field without a rival. In the year 1871 appeared the smaller and less pretentious work of Dr. Kay, once Principal of Bishop’s College, Calcutta, entitled, ‘The Psalms translated from the Hebrew, with Notes chiefly exegetical’ (London: Rivingtons), a scholarly production, characterized by much vigour of thought, and an unusual acquaintance with Oriental manners and customs. Almost simultaneously, in 1872, a work in two volumes, by Dr. George Phillips, President of Queen’s College, Cambridge, made its appearance under the title of ‘A Commentary on the Psalms, designed chiefly for the use of Hebrew Students and of Clergymen’ (London: Williams and Norgate), which deserved more attention than was accorded to it, since it is a storehouse of Rabbinical and outer learning. A year later, in 1873, a fresh step in advance was made by the publication of the very excellent ‘Commentary and Critical Notes on the Psalms’ (London: Murray), contributed to the ‘Speaker’s Commentary on the Old Testament,’ by the Rev. F. C. Cook, Canon of Exeter, assisted by Dr. Johnson, Dean of Wells, and the Rev. C. J. Elliott. This work, though written above twenty years ago, maintains a high place among English critical efforts, and is worthy of being put upon a par with the comments of Hengstenberg and Delitzsch. Meanwhile, however, a demonstration had been made on the other side by the more advanced school of English critics, in the production of a work edited by “Four Friends,” and entitled, ‘The Psalms chronologically arranged, an Amended Version, with Historical Introductions and Explanatory Notes’ (London: Macmillan, 1867), wherein Ewald was followed almost slavishly, and the genuine “Psalms of David” were limited to some fifteen or sixteen. Efforts on the opposite, or traditional, side, however, were not wanting; and the Bampton Lectures of Bishop Alexander, and the sober and learned comments of Bishop Wordsworth and Canon Hawkins, may be especially noticed. The slighter work of the Rev. A. S. Aglen, contributed to Bishop Ellicott’s ‘Old Testament Commentary for English Readers’ (London: Cassell, 1882), is of less value, and yields too much to the German sceptical writers. The same must be said of Professor Cheyne’s more elaborate contribution to the literature of the Psalms, published in 1888, and entitled, ‘The Book of Psalms, or the Praises of Israel, a new Translation, with Commentary,’ which, however, no student of the Psalter can afford to neglect, since the acuteness and learning displayed in it are undeniable. Excellent service has also been rendered to English students, comparatively recently, by the publication of the ‘Revised Version,’ issued at the instance of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury (Oxford and Cambridge, 1885), which has corrected many errors, and given, in the main, a most faithful representation of the Hebrew original.





It is remarkable that neither the first nor the second psalm has any title. Titles are so much the rule in the first and second books of the Psalter, that, when they are absent, their absence requires to be accounted for. As thirty-eight out of the forty-one psalms in this section are distinctly assigned to David, we must suppose that the compiler did not view this psalm as his. Perhaps he did not know the author. Perhaps, if he was himself the author, he shrank from giving himself the prominence which could not but have attached to him if his name had, in a certain sense, headed the collection. Reticence would have specially become Solomon, if he was the author.

Commentators have generally recognized that this psalm is introductory and prefatory. Jerome says that many called it “the Preface of the Holy Ghost.” Some of the Fathers did not even regard it as a psalm at all, but as a mere preface, and so reckoned the second psalm as the first (in many manuscripts of the New Testament, the reading is “first psalm” instead of “second psalm” in Acts 13:33). The composition is, as Hengstenberg observes, “a short compendium of the main subject of the Psalms, viz. that God has appointed salvation to the righteous, perdition to the wicked; this is the great truth with which the sacred bards grapple amid all the painful experiences of life which apparently indicate the reverse.”

The psalm divides naturally into two nearly equal portions. In vers. 1–3 the character and condition of the righteous are described, and their reward is promised them. In vers. 4–6 the condition of the wicked is considered, and their ultimate destruction predicted.

Ver. 1.—Blessed is the man; literally, blessings are to the man. But the Authorized Version exactly gives the sense (comp. Ps. 2:12). That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly. The margin gives, “or wicked,” and this is probably the best rendering of the word used (רשׁעים). The righteous man is first described negatively, under three heads. (1) He “does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly;” i.e. he does not throw in his lot with the wicked, does not participate in their projects or designs; (2) he standeth not in the way of sinners; i.e. he does not take part in their actions, does not follow the same moral paths; and (3) he sitteth not in the seat of the scornful; i.e. has no fellowship with them in the “scorn” which they cast upon religion. The word used for scornful (לֵץ) is Solomonian (Prov. 1:22; 3:34; 13:1), but in the Psalter occurs only in this place.

Ver. 2.—But his delight is in the Law of the Lord. The righteous man is now described positively, under two heads. (1) He delights in the Law (comp. Ps. 119:16, 47, 77; Rom. 7:22). (2) He constantly meditates in it. The “Law” intended—תוֹרה, not התּוֹרה—is probably not the mere Law of Moses, but God’s law, as made known to man in any way. Still, the resemblance of the passage to Josh. 1:8 shows the Law of Moses to have been very specially in the writer’s thoughts. In his Law doth he meditate day and night; compare, besides Josh. 1:8, the following: Pss. 63:6; 119:15, 48, 78, 97. Constant meditation in God’s Law has characterized all saints.

Ver. 3.—And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. The comparison of a man to a tree is frequent in the Book of Job (8:16, 17; 14:7–10; 15:32, 33, etc.), and occurs once in the Pentateuch (Numb. 24:6). We find it again in Ps. 92:12–14, and frequently in the prophets. The “rivers of water” spoken of (פַּלְגַי־מָיִם) are undoubtedly the “streams” (Revised Version) or “canals of irrigation” so common both in Egypt and in Babylonia, by which fruit trees were planted, as especially date-palms, which need the vicinity of water. That such planting of trees by the waterside was known to the Israelites is evident, both from this passage and from several others, as Numb. 24:6; Eccles. 2:5; Jer. 17:8; Ezek. 17:5, 8, etc. It is misplaced ingenuity to attempt to decide what particular tree the writer had in his mind, whether the palm, or the oleander, or any other, since he may not have been thinking of any particular tree. That bringeth forth his fruit in his season. Therefore not the oleander, which has no fruit, and is never planted in the East, but grows naturally along the courses of streams. His leaf also shall not wither. Compare the contrary threat of Isaiah against the wicked of his time, “Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water” (Isa. 1:30). And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper; rather, perhaps, in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper.

Ver. 4.—The ungodly are not so; or, the wicked (see the comment on ver. 1). But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. “Chaff” is used throughout Scripture as an emblem of what is weak and worthless (see Job 21:18; Ps. 35:5; Isa. 5:24; 17:13; 29:5; 33:11; 41:15; Jer. 23:28; Dan. 2:35; Hos. 13:3; Zeph. 2:2; Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17). In ancient times it was considered of no value at all, and when corn was winnowed, it was thrown up in the air until the wind had blown all the chaff away (see the representation in the author’s ‘History of Ancient Egypt,’ vol. i. p. 163).

Ver. 5.—Therefore the ungodly (or, the wicked) shall not stand in the judgment. “Therefore,” as being chaff, i.e. “destitute of spiritual vitality” (Kay), “the wicked shall not stand,” or shall not rise up, “in the judgment,” i.e. in the judgment of the last day. So the Targum, Rashi, Dr. Kay, Canon Cook, and others. It is certainly not conceivable that any human judgment is intended by “the judgment” (הַמִּשְׁפָּט), and though possibly “all manifestations of God’s punitive righteousness are comprehended” (Hengstenberg), yet the main idea must be that the wicked shall not be able to “stand,” or “rise up,” i.e. “hold up their heads” (Aglen), in the last day. Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. Here the human judgment comes in. Sinners will be cast out, not only from heaven, but also from the Church, or “congregation of the righteous,” if not before, at any rate when the “congregation” is finally made up.

Ver. 6.—For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous. God is said to “know” those of whom he approves, and on whom he “lifts up the light of his countenance.” The wicked he does not “know;” he “casts them out of the sight of his eyes”—”casts them behind his back;” refuses to acknowledge them. God “knows the way of the righteous,” and therefore they live and prosper; he does not know the way of the wicked, and therefore the way of the (wicked, or) ungodly shall perish (compare the beginning and end of Ps. 112).


Vers. 1, 2.—The godly man. This psalm nobly fills the place of prologue to the whole Book of Psalms. It reminds us of our Saviour’s words when Nathanael drew near: “Behold an Israelite indeed!” With that marvellous, condensed fulness and graphic force which peculiarly mark the Scriptures, it draws the portrait of the godly man. If we compare the Old Testament picture of “an Israelite indeed” with the New Testament picture of the true believer—”a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith,” we find no discord, only a fulness, richness, tenderness, power, in the latter, impossible before the Light of the world shone on human hearts and lives. The one is like a clear, perfect outline; the other, like the painting which adds to the outline colour, light, and shadow.

I. The godly man is described negatively, in sharp contrast with the ungodly. They are as little to his mind as he to theirs. The Revised Version here gives a stricter rendering—”wicked.” But our English word “ungodly” expresses the real essence of all wickedness, the secret spring of sin (comp. Pss. 54:3; 36:1; Jer. 2:13). 1. He is not guided by this world’s maxims, walks not “in the counsel”—by the rule, of those who leave God out of their reckoning. N.B.—The chief thing in life is the counsel—plan, ruling principles, and maxims—by which it is guided. E.g. one man’s aim in life is “to die rich;” another’s motto, “Short life and merry;” another’s, “To me to live is Christ.” 2. His conduct, therefore, openly contrasts. “Nor standeth,” etc. Closely associated, it may be, in business, society, public affairs; for else he “must needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10); yet, as his aim is not theirs, so their means are not his means, nor their path his path (Prov. 4:14, 15). Business life has temptations from which recluse life is free, but also opportunities for witnessing for truth and Christ. 3. His chosen company corresponds with counsel and conduct. “Nor sitteth,” etc. Not frequenting their haunts, sharing their revels, making them his bosom friends (Prov. 1:15; 13:20). N.B.—A steady progress in sin is indicated—walking, standing, sitting. First, stepping aside from the right path into crooked ways in compliance with evil counsel; secondly, continuing a line of conduct conscience condemns; at last, sitting down at the banquet of sinful pleasure, conscience dragged or seared, God openly despised. A picture of how many lives once bright with hope!

II. Positively, by one unmistakable, distinguishing mark: delight in God’s Law. 1. The written Word is dear to him. The primary reference is, of course, to the Law of Moses, of which every letter was dear and sacred to the devout Israelite. How much dearer should the completed Scriptures be to the Christian (1 John 1:1–7)! 2. The deep spiritual truth of God’s Word engages his profound study, is “the rejoicing of his heart” (Jer. 15:16; Col. 3:16). Take Ps. 119 as the consummate expression of the value of God’s Law to a mind taught by God’s Spirit. Note the great principles embodied—that God rules by law; that each of us stands in direct relation to God, as subject to his Law; that this Law is plainly revealed. N.B.—No Israelite, however ungodly, could call in question the fact that God spake to and by Moses, without pouring contempt on the law and constitution of his country; this was the cornerstone. 3. He loves God’s Law as the practical guide of his life (comp. John 8:12, 31, 32).

Conclusion. This picture is realized in ideal perfection in our Lord Jesus. All the severity of vers. 4–6 is found in his denunciations of the impenitent cities, of guilty Jerusalem, of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, of wilful unbelievers (John 12:48). But joined to this is the tender, sympathizing compassion, gracious humility, Divine love and forgiveness which made him “who knew no sin” the “Friend of sinners”—”able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” as well as “able to save to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25, 26; 4:15; Matt. 9:10–13).

Ver. 3.—”He shall be like a tree,” etc. Among the costly works in which King Solomon exercised his wisdom and displayed his magnificence were gardens rich in fruit trees and watered by channels and reservoirs (Eccles. 2:5, 6). Among these would be citrons and oranges, with their lustrous evergreen leaves and golden fruit; palms also, which love water and soil free from all foul decay and refuse. Some have fancied the similitude taken from the oleanders abounding by the streams of Canaan; but its fruit is poison; no one cares to plant it. An evergreen, fruit-bearing tree is here the bright image of the prosperous soul. (Solomon very possibly the author.)

I. The secret of a godly life. Source and sustenance. “Planted,” not self-sown, not dropped into its place by chance—planted by God’s own hand (Jas. 1:18). “By the waters,” drawing life and freshness from an unfailing source (Isa. 4:1–4; 8:6–9; 15:4). Some lives that make a fair show are like trees whose roots run near the surface—the storm uproots them. The soul “rooted” in Christ (Col. 2:7) is as the pine, sending down so strong a tap-root that the avalanche may break the trunk, but cannot uproot it.

II. Its fruitfulness. “Bringeth forth,” etc. (comp. 2 Pet. 1:8; contrast Jude 12; see Gal. 5:22; Isa. 15:6–8). Good deeds are fruitful deeds. “The season” may tarry, but it will come (Jas. 5:7; Gal. 6:9, 10). But if we “abide in Christ,” our fruit will be always in season, like the orange, covered with fragrant flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit all at once—full of beauty and hope, as well as food.

III. Its security and vigour. “Its leaf shall not wither.” Evergreen. The primary reference may be to outward prosperity, like Joseph’s (Gen. 39:2–5, 23; see 1 Tim. 4:8). Sickness, accident, hard times, losses through the failure or dishonesty of others, may befall the child of God as well as the child of the world; but the natural tendency of thorough integrity, of the diligence of one who does everything with his might as unto the Lord, and of the wisdom, courage, and good temper which are among the fruits of the Spirit, and the guidance of God’s providence in answer to prayer, is to bring prosperity (Ps. 37:4–7; Phil. 4:4–7). Yet observe, the Old Testament, as fully as the New, teaches the need and benefit of adversity (Prov. 3:11, 12; Ps. 34:17–19). But there is prosperity that fears no change, glory that fades not, labour that cannot be lost (3 John 2; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4; 1 Cor. 15:58).


Vers. 1–6.—The title: The Book of Psalms: the Psalms—their variety and value. In the Book of Psalms, or, strictly speaking, in the five Books of Psalms, we have illustrations of most of the varied kinds of documents of which the entire Bible is made up. In their entirety the collection forms the Hebrews’ ‘Book of Praise,’ or, as Professor Cheyne puts it, ‘The Praises of Israel.’ It is probable, however, that very few, in their private devotions, read all the Psalms with equal frequency or delight. There are some “favourites,” such as Pss. 23, 46, 145, etc. The fact is that spiritual instincts are often far in advance of technical definitions, and the heart finds out that which is of permanent value over and above its historic interest, far more quickly than the intellect defines the reason thereof. Ere we pursue the study of the Psalms one by one, it may be helpful to note the main classes into which they may be grouped, as such classification will enable us the better to set in order the relation which each one bears to “the whole counsel of God.” In the last of the Homiletics on Deuteronomy by the present writer, there is a threefold result indicated of communion between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. When such fellowship is in the devotional sphere, it subserves the life of religion; when the Spirit of God impels to the going forth on a mission or the writing of a record, that is inspiration; when the Spirit of God discloses new truth or forecasts the future, that is revelation. These three divisions indicate three main groups under which the Psalms may be classified. For the most part, each one speaks for itself, and with sufficient clearness indicates to which of the three groups it belongs; and according to the group in which it is found will be the value and bearing of the psalm on the believer’s experience, faith, and life.

I. Many of the psalms are the outcome of private or public devotion. It is in these that we get a priceless glimpse into the heartwork of Old Testament saints, and see how constant was their habit of pouring out their souls to God. Pss. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, et alii, are illustrations of this. Whether the soul was elated by joy or oppressed with care, whether bowed down with fear or rejoicing over a great deliverance, whether the presence of God was enjoyed or whether his face was hidden, whether the spirit was soaring in rapture or sinking in dismay,—amid all changes, from the overhanging of the blackest thundercloud to the beaming of the brightest sunshine, all is told to God in song, or plea, or moan, or plaint, or wail, as if the ancient believers had such confidence in God that they could tell him anything! Many of these private prayers bear marks of limited knowledge and imperfect conception, and are by no means to be taken as models for us. But no saint ever did or could in prayer rise above the level of his own knowledge. Still, they knew that God heard and answered, not according to their thoughts, but according to his loving-kindness; hence they poured out their whole souls to God, whether in gladness or sadness. And so may we; and God will do exceeding abundantly for us above all that we ask or think.

II. Another group of psalms consists of those which are the products of another form of Divine inspiration. These are not necessarily addresses to God; they are, for the most part, an inspired and inspiriting rehearsal of the mighty acts of the Lord, and a call to the people of God to join in the song of praise. Pss. 33, 46, 48, 78, 81, 89, and many others, are illustrations of this. At the back of them all there is a revelation of God known, accepted, and enjoyed. And according to this great and glorious redemption are the people exhorted to join in songs of praise. There is, moreover, this distinction, for the most part, between the first group and the second—the first group reflects the passing moods of man; the second reflects the revealed character and ways of God. The first group is mostly for private use, as the moods of the soul may respond thereto; the second group is also for sanctuary song, and indicates the permanent theme of the believer’s faith and hope, even “the salvation of God.” With regard to the first group we may say, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” As to the second, the motto might be, “The Lord hath made known his salvation: therefore with our songs we will praise him.” Under this head may also be set those calmly and sweetly meditative psalms, such as Pss. 23, 32, in which God’s revelation of his works and ways gives its own hue to the musings of the saint. These are now the delight of believers, in public and in private worship, as the expression of an experience which is renewed in regenerate hearts age after age. None of them could possibly be accounted for by the psychology of the natural man; they accord only with the pneumatology of the spiritual man.

III. The third group of psalms consists of those in which there is a direct or indirect Messianic reference and forecast. Of these there are three kinds. 1. There are those directly and exclusively Messianic, such as Pss. 2, 45, 47, 72, 110. Of all these, the second psalm is, perhaps, throughout, as much as any of the psalms, clearly and distinctly applicable to the Coming One, and to him only. For the purpose of seeing and showing this, it may well be carefully studied. Every verse, every phrase, every word, tells; in fact, even the glorious fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is scarcely more clearly Messianic than the second psalm. Even Professor Cheyne is compelled to admit its Messianic reference, and he tells us that Ibn Ezra does so likewise. And that some of the psalms apply to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord himself assures us (Luke 24:44). And in an age like this, when destructive criticism is so popular, it is needful for the believing student to be the more accurate, clear, and firm. 2. Some psalms point to the era rather than to the Person of the Messiah. Such are the fiftieth and the eighty-seventh psalms. They are prophetic expositions of truths which pertain to the Messianic times, and receive their full elucidation from the developed expositions of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament; they cover the ground of the Messianic age. 3. Other psalms refer immediately to the writer himself, and have come to be regarded as Messianic because some of the words therein were quoted by the Lord Jesus Christ and adopted as his own. Such a one is the twenty-second psalm, in which the writer bemoans his own sufferings and (according to the LXX.) his own transgressions. But it is not possible to apply every verse of this psalm to the Lord Jesus. He, however, being in all things made like unto his brethren, was “in all points tempted like as we are;” hence the very groans of his brethren fitted his own lips. He came to have fellowship with us in our sufferings that we might have fellowship with him in his! Thus there is established a marvellously close sympathy between Jesus and his saints, since his temptations, sorrows, and groans resembled theirs. To this discriminating and believing study of the first fifty psalms, the writer ventures to invite the Christian student and expositor. We must avoid the extreme of those who, with Horne, would regard most, if not all, the psalms as Messianic; and also the extreme of those who would regard none as such. Because our Lord said that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the Psalms concerning him, we may not infer that words which were written concerning him filled up all the Psalms; nor, with the unbeliever, may we regard the claim of prophecy as invalid through any repugnance to the supernatural. Intelligent discernment and loving faith are twin sisters, may they both be our attendants during our survey of these priceless productions of Hebrew pens! And may the Spirit of God be himself our Light and our Guide!—C.

Vers. 1–6.—The happy man. The word “blessed” means “happy.” The phrase used might, indeed, be rendered, “Hail to the man,” etc.! The psalm itself may be called “a psalm of congratulations,” for the psalmist regards the man whom he here describes as one who has great reason for gladness, and who therefore may be fittingly congratulated. Ages ago the heathen said, “Call no man happy till he is dead.” But we have before us the picture of one who is certainly happy even now; who has a joy, of which neither crosses nor losses can deprive him; who will be happy as long as he lives; and who has still more happiness in store for him when death is past. It may be asked whether it is the highest kind of virtue to aim at being happy, or whether it is the noblest inducement to it to assure us that to be virtuous is to be happy? Perhaps not. But such a question could scarcely be asked unless the point of the psalm is altogether missed; for the psalmist is not speaking of the good man as happy because he is aiming at happiness, but as being so because he follows the Law of God, and finds joy therein, without seeking for joy for its own sake. And, anyway, if it be so that God has annexed joy to a life of loyalty to him, it cannot make such loyalty less desirable if it is crowned with gladness of heart. But, as we hope to point out shortly, the personal happiness is but a very small part of the “blessedness” which the good man possesses. Let us consider—

I. The life here described. Several marks are furnished to us here of “the blessed man.” 1. Negative. He is wisely careful not to have evil companionship. He knows that “he that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Hence he shuns (1) the ungodly—those who have no fear of God before their eyes, and are perpetually restless in their self-will; (2) the sinners—those who indulge in open sin; (3) the scornful—those who ridicule religion and laugh at such as fear the Lord. His separation from such is complete. He will neither (1) follow their counsel; nor (2) sit in their seat; nor even (3) stand in their way. Note: If ever a man is to become wise, he must not mix promiscuously with others. We know well, in penning these words, that we are liable to the remark from some readers, “How commonplace!” We admit it. But it is just by non-attention to commonplace truth that millions are undone. We cannot reiterate too frequently, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.” 2. Positive. In avoiding evil, he does not throw himself upon a blank. But it is remarkable that, as the antitheses of “ungodly,” “sinners,” “scornful,” we do not get “godly,” “pure,” “reverent.” The fact is, the man whom this psalm describes will not be supremely anxious to have any companions. If he cannot have the right ones, he will do without them. And yet he will not be lonely. For the Law of Jehovah, the revealed covenant of God, will be before his eyes and in his heart. And herein he will have a safe guide for the pathway he should follow. In thus following God’s Law, he will have: (1) Ample material for thought. “In his Law doth he meditate day and night” (ver. 2). “The Hebrew word tôrāh has a much wider range of meaning than “law,” by which it is always rendered in the Authorised Version. It denotes (a) teaching, instruction, whether human (Prov. 1:8) or Divine; (b) a precept or law; (c) a body of laws, and in particular the Mosaic Law, and so, finally, the Pentateuch. It should be taken to include all Divine revelation as the guide of life.” We do not understand the psalmist as meaning that such a man will always be thinking of one topic. But that (a) by day he will use the Law of God as a direction-post to point the way; (b) by night he will use it as a pillow on which to rest his head. For in the Law there are revealed to him mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, intercession, grace, strength. He will enthrone the Word of God in the place of honour, above all other books in the world. Some may raise a difficulty here, saying, “Yes; in the psalmist’s time that might have been so. Then the sacred books of the Hebrews comprised their national history and their religious literature. There was not so much to call off men’s thoughts from the Bible as there is now.” That is so. But, nevertheless, the following facts remain: That in the Bible is the only authoritative revelation of the mind and will of God; that our Scriptures are to us a far richer treasure than the Scriptures of the psalmist’s time; that therein we have the only guide through life to immortality. Other books may inform the mind. The Bible still retains its supremacy as the book to regulate the life. Hence in the Bible the believer has: (2) Rich nutriment for character. Hence he is described as “a tree planted by the rivers of water” (see also Jer. 17:8). Psalmist and prophet agree. The Scriptures reveal God. In God the believer puts his trust. So that the study of the book makes him like a fruitful tree, because it leads up to God. Thus there will be (a) unfailing supplies; (b) fruit in season; (c) a fadeless leaf; (d) entire success. “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

II. Such a life has its own outlook and destiny. As the man is now, so is his uplook and outlook here and hereafter. 1. There is now Divine approval. “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.” 2. His work and way will be influential for good long after he has ceased to live below. (Ver. 6.) 3. He will be approved at the judgment-day. (Ver. 5.) He will be found “in the congregation of the righteous.” And all this is set forth even more strikingly by the hints here given of the destiny of those with whom he would not be associated. As the Vulgate most touchingly has it, “Non sic impii, non sic.” As he would not mingle with them here, he shall not be thrown with them hereafter. They will be as “chaff which the wind driveth away.” Their quality, as chaff. Their destiny, as chaff. Terrible! How blessed to have a different destiny separately assigned, as the result of a course separately chosen!

III. The blessedness of such a life is here declared and defined. If we put the question, “By whom is this blessedness pronounced?” the answer is: 1. They are intrinsically blessed,
ipso facto, in being what they are. They are right, good, glad, strong, full of living hope. 2. In the judgment of all good men they are blessed, and even men who are not godly know that a life spent in accordance with the will of God is the truly right one. 3. The Lord Jesus Christ declares them to be so now. (Matt. 5:1–11.) 4. At the last judgment the King will confirm the blessing. Note: The purposes to be served by such a psalm as this are manifold. They are independent of its author, age, or land. 1. To parents this psalm is a treasure of infinite value, as giving them in outline (1) what they may well desire their children to be; and (2) the place of honour the Bible should occupy in their children’s hearts. 2. To teachers. It discloses to them the life to be urged on their scholars, and tells them whence alone the nutriment for such a life can be drawn. 3. To children. It shows them that true happiness, in the highest sense, is attained only through true goodness; that true goodness can only be attained by feeding on the truth of God; and that to such a God-like character there is ensured everlasting life, an ever-during home. “Light is sown for the righteous.”—C.

Vers. 1–6.—The blessedness of the true. “God is Love.” He must, therefore, seek the happiness of his creatures. Man is the highest of his earthly creatures, and his happiness must be of the highest kind, not only fit for him to receive, but worthy of God to bestow. Such is the happiness here depicted. It does not come anyhow, but in accordance with law. It does not depend upon what a man has, but upon what he is. It is inward, not outward. It is of the spirit, not of the flesh. Happiness is blessedness—the blessedness of the true in character.

I. Mark the foundation. Sin is self-will. This implies separation from God; and this separation must be final, unless God himself prevent. But the godly man has been brought back into a right relation to God. God’s will is his will. To know and to love and to obey God is his delight. His life is centred in God. Thus he is able to receive the blessing in its fulness, which God is ready freely to bestow. His character is founded upon the rock of the eternal, and not upon the shifting sands of time.

II. Mark next the harmonious development. This is shown under the figure of a tree, fair and flourishing. 1. The situation is choice. It stands, not in the desert, but in a fit place. “Planted.” The hand of God is seen in the godly man’s life. This is his security. Where God has put him, God can keep him. 2. The environment is favourable. From the heavens above and the earth beneath nourishment is provided. The supply is rich and sure. Though worldly supplies may cease, and the waters of earth fail (Isa. 19:5), the river of God will still run free (1 Kings 18:5; Isa. 55:1–3). 3. The progress is appropriate. There is the power of assimilating (Mark 4:27, 28). Life develops according to its own order. What the plant does unconsciously, subject to the law of its being, the godly man does freely and consciously, under the benign rule of Christ.

III. Lastly, mark the consummation. God’s work always tends to completeness. Every advance is an approach. Every fulfilment is a prophecy of the perfect end. In the life of the godly there is the truest pleasure, the noblest usefulness, the heavenliest beauty. And the charm of all is permanence. There is not only moral freshness, as where there is real soundness of health, but there is enduringness. This is brought out vividly by contrast. “The ungodly are not so.” With them there is no reality. Separated from the true life, everything is unstable and uncertain. There may be a kind of prosperity, but it is false and delusive. The pleasures of sin are but for a season; but the love of God is for ever. In the day of trial the just shall stand, accepted and blessed; but the wicked shall be winnowed out of the society of the true Israel, and swept away, as the worthless chaff, by the swift and resistless judgment of God.—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—Character. This psalm supplies us with—

I. Test of character. A man is known by the company he keeps. What doest thou, O my soul? With whom dost thou “walk” and “sit” (Ps. 119:63)?

II. Rule of life. What should we do? Surely the right thing is to ask counsel of God, and to submit ourselves to his holy and blessed rule. Let us do this, and we shall not only have life (Ps. 40:8), but food (John 4:44); and not only food, but society (Matt. 12:50); and not only society, but education (Ps. 143:10); and not only education, but joy unspeakable and full of glory (Ps. 119:65; 1 Pet. 1:8). “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16, 17).

III. Foreshadowing of destiny. Acts fix habits, habits settle character, and character determines destiny. “The wind” may represent the various trials which meet us, and which so far show what we are and whither we are going. By conscience, by public opinion, by experience of the results of conduct, we are premonished of the coming end and the perfect judgment of God. Thus, not in an arbitrary way, but by our own deeds and life, our destiny for weal or woe is being settled. Eternity is the harvest of time. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—Greatness, happiness, prosperity. We learn here the true idea of—

I. Greatness. It is not mere intellectual power, but moral worth. Greatness is goodness—the being like God.

II. Happiness. It is living together with God, doing his will, in the light and joy of his love.

III. Prosperity. It is of the soul—the true health of the soul (3 John 2). Its measure is personal activity. Deeds carry social influence. The weak and the unfortunate are too often despised, but let a man be true, let him stand up for the right, let him honestly serve God in his day and generation, and he will not only have peace within, but he will be “blessed in his deed.” His influence will work for good, and will live and move others to noble ends when he himself is gone.

“Our many thoughts and deeds, our life and love,

Our happiness, and all that we have been:—

Immortally must live, and burn, and move,

When we shall be no more.”

W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—Blessedness. The word “blessed” might be rendered “blessings” God’s people are blessed (Numb. 6:24; Matt. 5:1–10).

I. There is the blessing of peace. The fruit of righteousness is peace. The heart is right with God.

II. The blessing of a true purpose. Not gain, nor pleasure, nor merely to save the soul, but to do God’s will. This is the supreme thing. This gives strength to the heart and unity to the life.

III. The blessing of the noblest society. Into what a goodly fellowship do we enter as we join the company of God’s people! The saints are our brethren; holy angels are our ministers; Christ is our abiding Friend.

IV. The blessing of moral advancement. Our path is onward. The more good a man does the nobler he becomes. By every act of self-denial and virtue he rises in dignity and strength.

V. The blessing of spiritual usefulness. Only the good can do good. To augment the happiness of others is the sweetest pleasure.

VI. The blessing of a bright future. Life’s interests are secured. The outlook, though at times clouded, ends in light.

VII. The blessing of God’s eternal love. (Ver. 6, “knoweth.”) “There is nothing in the world worth living for, but doing good and finishing God’s work—doing the work Christ did” (Brainerd).—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—A contrast. This psalm is introductory to all the rest, perhaps written after the finding of the “book of the Law” in Josiah’s time, in an age of revival, when men were roused to consider the conflict between good and evil, and who were the truly blessed, and on what their blessedness was grounded. There is a contrast drawn in it between the righteous and the wicked.

I. The character and privileges of the righteous. 1. They have no sympathetic relations with the wicked. (Ver. 1.) They cannot help having some associations with them; but they do not walk with them, nor stand with them, nor sit with them, as they do with congenial friends. This description suggests the progress of the wicked. Walking only with a man we may soon part from him; but if we stand with him we linger in his company, and at last come to sit with him, scorning all goodness. 2. Irresistibly attracted to the Divine Law. (Ver. 2.) He is “in” it with all his affection and with his unceasing thought, rather than the Law is “in” him. Though both are true, i.e., it solicits, commands, and absorbs him, and rules the world of thought, affection, and imagination. 3. They are fruitful according to the time and circumstances of their lives. (Ver. 3.) In youth, mature manhood, and ripe age. Patient in affliction, constant in trial, grateful in prosperity, and zealous when opportunity of work offers itself. 4. Unfading freshness of heart and experience. (Ver. 3.) His life is progressive, his faith grows deeper, and his power of achievement increases, and his hope becomes brighter, and his affections purer, and he blossoms with a green freshness for ever. 5. He prospers in his undertakings. (Ver. 3.) As a general rule, because he deserves it; for he aims at only right and lawful things, and employs only right and lawful means.

II. Character and destiny of the wicked. 1. Intrinsic worthlessness. (Ver. 4.) “Dead, unserviceable, without substance, and easily carried away”—dispersed by the wind. This is only a negative description, as a contrast with the living tree and its fruit. It says nothing of such a man’s poisonous influence. 2. Unable to endure the scrutiny of the great Lawgiver. (Ver. 5.) One inquiring glance of God shatters the whole structure of his life. God does not “know” his way. “I never knew you.” 3. Their relation to the Church only an outward one. (Ver. 5.) Though they mingle with the congregation, they do not really “stand with them.” 4. Their habits of life are destructive. (Ver. 6.) Their “way” is not the way everlasting, but leads to perdition, if it be not forsaken.—S.

Vers. 1–3.—True blessedness. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful,” etc.

I. The nature of true blessedness. 1. Vigorous life of the soul. “Like a tree planted,” etc. The blessedness of the body is vigorous health. 2. Productiveness. Bringeth forth his fruit in his season. It must grow before it becomes fruitful. 3. Perpetuity of life. “His leaf also shall not wither.” 4. Success in his undertakings. “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Success in the greatest undertaking, the true blessedness.

II. The means of blessedness. 1. To shun the company and the counsels of the ungodly. Standing in their way, partaking in their designs. 2. Delight in Divine truth. 3. Persevering study of it. Converting it into juice and blood.—S.



Here we have again a psalm without a title, and, so far, we are left to conjecture its age and author. The Jews, however, have always regarded it as Davidical; and there is evidence in Scripture itself (Acts 4:25) that the early Christians were of the same opinion. Modern critics, for the most part, agree, although there are some (Ewald, Paulus, Bleek) who ascribe it to Solomon, and others (Maurer, Delitzch) who suppose it written by Hezekiah or Isaiah.

The psalm is certainly Messianic. It is assumed to be so in Acts 4:25; 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5. However it may, to a certain extent, apply to David, David cannot exhaust its allusions. Vers. 7, 8, and 12 are inapplicable to David, and must refer to the Messiah. The Jews admitted the Messianic character of the psalm, until driven into denial by the controversy with Christians. Most modern critics allow it.

There is a certain correspondency between Pss. 1 and 2, which may account for their being placed together. In both the main idea is the antagonism between the righteous and the wicked. Ps. 1 sets forth this antagonism by a contrast between two typical individuals. Ps. 2 shows the two kingdoms of light and darkness engaged in their internecine conflict.

Ver. 1.—Why do the heathen rage? The psalmist writes with a vision before his eyes. He “sees Jehovah upon his throne, and Messiah entering upon his universal dominion. The enemies of both on earth rise up against them with frantic tumult, and vainly strive to cast off the fetters of their rule.” Hence his sudden outburst. “What ails the heathen (goim),” he says, “that they rage?” or “make an uproar” (Kay), or “assemble tumultuously” (margin of Authorized Version and Revised Version)? What are they about? What do they design? And why do the people—rather, the peoples, or “the masses” (Kay)—imagine (or, meditate) a vain thing? It must be “a vain thing;” i.e. a purpose which will come to naught, if it is something opposed to the will of Jehovah and Messiah. The vision shows the psalmist Jew and Gentile banded together against the gospel of Christ. Its scope is not exhausted by the exposition of Acts 4:26, but extends to the whole struggle between Christianity on the one hand, and Judaism and paganism on the other. “The peoples” still to this day “imagine a vain thing”—imagine that Christianity will succumb to the assaults made upon it—will fade, die away, and disappear.

Ver. 2.—The kings of the earth set themselves; or, draw themselves up in array (comp. Jer. 46:4). Such kings as Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Nero, Galerius, Diocletian, Julian the Apostate, etc. There is always a warfare between the world and the Church, in which kings are apt to take a part, most often on the worldly side. And the rulers take counsel together. “Rulers” are persons having authority, but below the rank of kings. Such were the ethnarchs and tetrarchs of the first century, the governors of provinces under the Roman emperor, the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the like. These last frequently “took counsel against the Lord” (see Matt. 26:3–5; 27:1; Acts 4:5, 6; 5:21–41). Against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying. In David’s time the recognized “anointed of the Lord” was the divinely appointed King of Israel (1 Sam. 2:10; 12:3, 5; 16:6; 24:6, 10; 26:7, 16; 2 Sam. 1:14, 16; 19:21; 22:51; Pss. 18:50; 20:6; 28:8)—first Saul, and then David; but David here seems to designate by the term a Greater than himself—the true theocratic King, whom he typified.

Vers. 3.—Let us break their bands asunder. Wicked men always feel God’s rule and his Law to be restraints. They chafe at them, fret against them, and, in the last resort—so far as their will goes—wholly throw them off. And cast away their cords from us. “Bands” and “cords” are the fetters that restrain prisoners. The rebels determine to burst them, and assert their absolute freedom.

Ver. 4.—He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. God “laughs” at the vain and futile efforts of man to escape from the control of his laws and throw off his dominion (comp. Pss. 37:13; 59:8). It is impossible that these efforts should succeed. Men must obey God willingly, or else unwillingly. The Lord (Adonay in the ordinary Hebrew text, but a large number of manuscripts have Jehovah) shall have them in derision. “Laughter” and “derision” are, of course, anthropomorphisms. It is meant that God views with contempt and scorn man’s weak attempts at rebellion.

Ver. 5.—Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath. “Then” (אָז) means “after a time”—”presently” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), when the fitting period has arrived. “He shall speak”—not in articulate words, not by a voice from heaven, not even by a commissioned messenger, but by accomplished facts. Christ does rule; Christ does reign; he sits a King in heaven, and is acknowledged as a King upon earth. In vain was all the opposition of the Jews, in vain persecution after persecution by the Gentiles. God has established his Church, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And vex them. “Strike terror and dismay into them” (Kay). In his sore displeasure; or, “in the heat of his anger” (Trench and Skinner).

Ver. 6.—Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion; literally, and as for me, I have set my King upon Zion, the mount of my holiness. The words are uttered by Jehovah, and must refer to the Anointed One of ver. 2. This Anointed One God has set up as King upon Zion, his holy mountain. Without denying some reference to David, the type, we must regard the Antitype, Christ, as mainly pointed at. Christ is set up for ever as King in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2–7; 22:1–5). There is no need to substitute “anointed” for “set” or “set up,” as is done by Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Ewald, Zunz, Umbreit, and others, since נסךְ has both meanings (comp. Prov. 8:23).

Ver. 7.—I will declare the decree. It is best to suppose that Messiah here takes the word, and maintains it to the end of ver. 9, when the psalmist resumes in his own person. Messiah “declares,” or publishes, a “decree,” made by God the Father in the beginning of all things, and communicated by him to the Son, whereby he made known the relationship between them, and invested the Son with sovereign power over the universe. The Lord hath said unto me; rather, said unto me (see the Revised Version). It was said, once for all, at a distant date. Thou art my Son. Not “one of my sons,” but “my Son;” i.e. my one Son, my only one—”my Son” κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν (comp. Ps. 89:27; Heb. 1:5). This day have I begotten thee. If it be asked, “Which day?” the answer would seem to be, the day when Christ commenced his redemptive work: then the Father “committed all judgment”—all dominion over creation—”to the Son” (John 5:22), gave him, as it were, a new existence, a new sphere, the throne of the world, and of all that is or that ever will be, in it (see ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ ad loc.).

Ver. 8.—Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance. A very small part of the heathen were the inheritance of David, and therefore the Messiah only can be spoken of in this verse. Before Messiah “all kings” were to “fall down; all nations to do him service” (Ps. 72:11; comp. Isa. 49:22; 60:3, 4; Matt. 28:19, etc.). And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (comp. Isa. 52:10; Jer. 16:19; Micah 5:4; Zech. 9:10; Acts 13:47).

Ver. 9.—Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron. It is said that these words, and those of the next clause, “cannot describe the mild rule of Christ” (Rosenmüller, De Wette, Hupfeld, etc.). But the objectors forget that there is a severe, as well as a mild, side to the dealings of God with his human creatures. St. Paul notes in the same verse both the “severity” and the “goodness” of God (Rom. 11:22). Christ, though “the Prince of Peace,” “came to send a sword upon the earth” (Matt. 10:34). As the appointed Judge of men, he takes vengeance on the wicked, while he rewards the righteous (Luke 3:17; Matt. 25:46). Nay, St. John, in the Apocalypse, declares that “out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15; comp. 2:27; 12:5). So, with respect to the other clause of the verse—Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel—it is to be noted that there is a similar threat made by the Lord of hosts against Jerusalem in the Book of Jeremiah (19:11), and that under the new covenant the same is threatened in the Revelation (2:27). In truth, both covenants are alike in denouncing the extreme of God’s wrath on impenitent sinners, such as those here spoken of.

Ver. 10.—Be wise now therefore, O ye kings. The remainder of the psalm contains the advice of the psalmist to the rebels of vers. 1–3, and to all who may be inclined to imitate them. “Be wise,” he says, “be prudent. For your own sakes desist from attempts at rebellion. Jehovah and Messiah are irresistible. Ye will find it ‘hard to kick against the pricks.’ ” Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. “Be taught,” i.e., “by experience, if ye are not wise enough to know beforehand, that opposition to God is futile.” Compare the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38, 39).

Ver. 11.—Serve the Lord with fear. “If ye will not serve him (i.e. honour and obey him) from love, do it from fear;” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10). And rejoice. Do not be content with fear. Go on from fear to love, and so to joy. Good men “rejoice in God alway” (Phil. 4:4). But such rejoicing must be with trembling; or, with reverence (Prayer-book Version), since no service is acceptable to God but such as is rendered “with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).

Ver. 12.—Kiss the Son. It is certainly remarkable that we have here a different word for “Son” from that employed in ver. 7, and ordinarily in the Hebrew Bible. Still, there is other evidence that the word here used, bar, existed in the Hebrew no less than in the Aramaic, viz. Prov. 31:2, where it is repeated thrice. It was probably an archaic and poetic word, like our “sire” for “father,” rarely used, but, when used, intended to mark some special dignity. Hengstenberg suggests that the writer’s motive in prefering bar to ben in this place was to avoid the cacophony which would have arisen from the juxtaposition of ben and pen (פּן); and this is quite possible, but as a secondary rather than as the main reason. By “kiss the Son” we must understand “pay him homage,” salute him as King in the customary way (see 1 Sam. 10:1). Lest he be angry. The omission of a customary token of respect is an insult which naturally angers the object of it (Esth. 3:5). And ye perish from the way; or, “as to the way.” To anger the Son is to bring destruction on our “way,” or course in life. When his wrath is kindled but a little; rather, for soon his wrath may be kindled (see the Revised Version). Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. The writer ends with words of blessing, to relieve the general severity of the psalm (comp. Pss. 3:8; 5:12; 28:9; 41:13, etc.). (On the blessedness of trusting in God, see Pss. 34:8; 40:4; 84:12, etc.)


Ver. 8.—The kingdom and glory of Christ. “Ask,” etc. We have the highest authority for regarding this psalm as a prophecy of the kingdom and glory of Christ. Interpreters labour in vain to fix on some occasion in Israel’s history to account for its composition. No adequate explanation can be imagined of its scope and language but that given in Acts 4:25 (comp. 13:33; Heb. 1:5). Vers. 10–12 would be blasphemous arrogance if spoken by and of a mere earthly king. Here is a declaration and a condition.

I. The declaration. 1. The voice of supreme authority. A grant of absolute dominion over the whole human race. This must be a Divine promise; else it were meaningless, impious (Ps. 22:28). Subordination is implied, as in 1 Cor. 15:27; and in our Saviour’s own declarations (John 6:38; 15:1). But not inferior nature. If it were—if Jesus were human only—then the gospel would have immeasurably lowered our position towards God; put us further away, instead of bringing us nigh. For under the old covenant, Jehovah himself was King and Shepherd of Israel. On the other hand, the real Manhood of Christ is as indispensable to this Kingship as his Deity (see John 5:27). 2. Of almighty power. What God promises, he is able to perform. How? How is human freedom reconciled with Divine control of all things, from the counsels of kings (Prov. 21:1) to the sparrow’s fall (Matt. 10:29)? A problem this that utterly defies human reason. But practically it is solved by faith and prayer (Phil. 2:13; Dan. 4:35). 3. Of Divine faithfulness. God’s word is pledged and cannot be broken (Isa. 11:9, 10). As matter of right, the kingdom is Christ’s (Matt. 28:18). It shall be so in fact (1 Cor. 15:25) one day.

II. The condition. “Ask of me.” 1. Our Lord Jesus personally fulfilled this condition, claimed the fulfilment of the promise, when he said, “I have finished,” etc. (John 17:4; comp. Phil. 2:9–11). 2. But Christ is one with “the Church, which is his body.” As he by his intercession makes our prayers his own, so we are to make this great request ours. He has taught us to set it foremost in our prayers: “Thy kingdom come” (comp. Ps. 72:15; and note the commencing fulfilment, Acts 1:14).

Conclusion. 1. The scope of Christian hope and effort is as wide as God’s presence—it embraces the whole world (Matt. 28:19; Gal. 3:8). 2. God’s promises await our prayers (John 16:23).

Ver. 12.—The kiss of homage. “Kiss the Son,” etc. That is, the Son of God, spoken of in ver. 7. Our Saviour loved to call himself “Son of man,” but he did not shrink from using also this name for which the Jews accused him of blasphemy (Matt. 11:27; John 9:35; 10:36; 19:7). The kiss of friendly greeting, still the ordinary custom in many countries, is referred to in innumerable passages of Scripture. Else the traitor Judas had not dared so to crown his treachery. Jesus noted the neglect of the kiss of hospitality (Luke 7:45); did not disdain the kisses showered on his feet by the weeping penitent. But the text speaks, not of any of these, but of the kiss of homage or worship.

I. The summons. “Kiss the Son.” Kings and judges of the earth (cf. Ps. 148:11) are summoned to do homage to “the Son” as “Head over all” (Luke 5:6). “Serve the Lord” (ver. 11) implies this homage. Why rulers? As representing the nations (vers. 1, 2). Civil power is God’s ordinance (Rom. 13:1, etc.). Otherwise neither despots nor democracies could have any right to make and execute laws (though they may have power). Christ’s kingdom is not a kingdom of this world; but he is the Ruler of nations as well as individuals (Ps. 22:28). Till this is practically acknowledged—the whole of human life, public and private, rendered obedient to Christ’s law—the nations cannot be “blessed in him” (Gal. 3:8; Rev. 11:15).

II. The warning. “Lest he be angry.” The compassion, gentleness, tenderness of Jesus, are sometimes dwelt on to the exclusion of his majesty and righteousness (but see Matt. 24:44, 50, 51; 25:31, etc.; Luke 19:27). There is no more tremendous phrase in Scripture than “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16).

III. The doom of the disobedient. “Perish from the way.” What way? The way of salvation—of God; of truth; of holiness; of peace; of life (Acts 16:17; Matt. 22:16; 2 Pet. 2:2, 21; Isa. 35:8; Luke 1:79; Matt. 7:14; Prov. 15:24). The most fearful punishment of sin is incapacity for holiness—spiritual death (Rev. 22:11). “Lest” is the awful shadow over the future, if you are rejecting Christ. “Now” is the sunshine on the path of faith and repentance (2 Cor. 6:2; 5:20).


Vers. 1–12.—The King in Zion: a Messianic psalm. A close examination of this psalm will show it to be at once prophetic and Messianic. Its date and author are not certainly known. The style rather points to David as the probable writer. To him especially the promise of a King who should reign in righteousness formed part of that “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” By faith in that covenant he foresaw him, who, being emphatically the Just One, should rule in the fear of God (see 2 Sam. 23:2–5, where, as well as in this psalm, we have a remarkable illustration of what the Apostle Paul speaks of as the foresight evinced in the Old Testament Scriptures; see also Gal. 3:8). In fact, we regard this psalm, though much briefer than Isa. 53, yet as being as distinctly and clearly, yea, as wonderfully, Messianic as even that celebrated chapter of the evangelical prophet. Hence we regard it as affording as clear a proof of the guidance of a foreseeing Spirit, and of the facts of inspiration and of revelation, as are the starry heavens of the glory of God. For we know, as matters of fact, (1) that this psalm finds its fulfilment in Christ; (2) that it has been fulfilled in no one else; (3) that hundreds of years intervened between prophecy and event; and (4) that there are here not merely general statements, but numerous minute details which no human eye could possibly have discerned beforehand; so that we are shut up, by a severely intellectual process, to the conclusion that the author of this psalm is none other than he who sees the end from the beginning. This will, we trust, appear as we proceed to examine and expound it.

I. Here is an Anointed One foreseen. (Ver. 2.) “His Anointed.” Who is this Anointed One? Let us see. Anointing was chiefly for purposes of consecration and inauguration. It signified the setting apart of the anointed one for God’s service, and symbolized those heavenly gifts which were needed in its discharge. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed (cf. Lev. 4:3, 5, 16; 7:35; 1 Kings 19:16; 1 Sam. 16:12, 13; 1 Kings 1:39). There is in this psalm One referred to as the Anointed One. The Hebrew word for the Anointed is “Messiah.” The Greek word, in its Anglicized form is “Christ.” This Anointed One is the Son of God (see ver. 7). He is King (ver. 6). He has the nations for his possession (ver. 8). He is One before whom kings are to bow (vers 10–12). This cannot possibly be any other than the King of kings. To no one can the words of the psalm possibly apply but to him who is Lord of the whole earth, i.e. to the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Ps. 132:17; Dan. 9:25, 26; Acts 17:3).

II. Resistance to God, and to his Anointed One, foretold. This resistance comes (1) from the nations, and also from (2) kings and rulers. Five forms of resistance are indicated. 1. Raging. Tumultuous agitation, as when waves of ocean are lashed to fury. 2. Imagining. Meditating (same word as in Ps. 1:2). Turning over and over in the mind some plan of opposition. 3. Setting themselves. The result of the meditation in a resolution. 4. Taking counsel together. For combined action. 5. Saying, etc. Meditation, resolution, and concerted action taking effect in a verbal utterance: “Let us break their bands asunder,” etc. (For the fulfilment of all this, see Matt. 21:33–44; 23:31–35; John 5:16–18; 7:1, 30, 45; 8:40–59; 10:39; 11:53, 57; 12:10; 18:3; 19:15, 16, 30; Acts 4:24, 27.)

III. Resistance to the Anointed One is folly. (Ver. 1.) Why do the nations rage? Vers. 4–6 foretell the utter discomfiture of the opponents, in four respects. 1. The utter impotence of the assault would be matter for infinite ridicule and scorn. (Ver. 4.) It were as easy for a spider to remove Mont Blanc from its base as for puny man to injure the Lord’s Anointed One. 2. The displeasure of God should trouble the opposers. (Ver. 5; cf. Matt. 23:37, 38.) Note how fearfully the imprecation in Matt. 27:25 was fulfilled. Read the account in Josephus of the miseries that came on the Jews at the destruction of their city (cf. Acts 12:1, 2, 23). 3. The power of God would effect a mighty restraint, and even a complete destruction. (Ver. 9.) See Spurgeon’s ‘Treasury of David,’ vol. i. p. 29, for some admirable remarks on ver. 9; Dr. Geikie, in his ‘Holy Land and the Bible,’ vol. ii. p. 50, et seq., for some strikingly instructive remarks on the pottery of the East; and also Dr. Plummer’s extraordinary collection of historic facts on the miseries which have befallen the persecutors of the Church (in Spurgeon’s ‘Treasury of David,’ vol. i. pp. 17, 18). 4. The Anointed One would be enthroned in spite of all. (Vers. 6, 7.) The seat of Christ’s throne is called “my holy hill of Zion,” in allusion to Zion as the city of David. Christ is the Son and Lord of David, and hence David’s throne is the type of Christ’s. Christ is now reigning in heaven. He is at once our Prophet, Priest, and King (see Acts 2:22–36; 3:13–15; 4:10–12; Heb. 10:12, 13; 1 Cor. 15:25).

IV. Whatever may be the decrees of earth, there is a decree in heaven, which the Anointed one declares. (Vers. 7–9.) “I will declare the decree.” The decree of the kings and rulers, which they resolve to carry out, is given in ver. 3; but I will tell of a decree from a higher throne. It has four parts. 1. The Anointed One is to be the begotten Son of God. (Ver. 7.) 2. He is to have the sway over the whole world. (Ver. 8.) 3. He is to have this as the result of his intercession. “Ask of me” (ver. 8.) 4. His sway and conquest are to be entire and complete. (Ver. 9.) If men will not bend, they must break.

V. The Holy Ghost calls for submission to the Anointed Son of God. This is set forth in five ways. 1. Be wise. Kings and judges are reminded that the only true wisdom is found in yielding to the Anointed One. There is no reason why he should be resisted. Resistance can end only in defeat. 2. Be instructed. Learn the Divine purpose and plan concerning the King in Zion. 3. Serve the Lord with fear. Not in servile terror, but in loyal reverence. 4. Rejoice with trembling. Be glad that the sceptre is in such hands. 5. Kiss the Son. Do homage, acknowledging his supremacy. This course is urged on them by two powerful pleas. (1) If they refuse, they perish from the way; i.e. they wander; they miss the way so seriously as to be lost; they perish as the result of being lost. Professor Cheyne’s rendering is, “Ye go to ruin.” (2) If they yield the Anointed One allegiance and trust, they will be happy indeed (ver. 12).

Note: 1. It is very foolish to fret and chafe against the government of God. 2. All mankind are under Christ’s sway, whether in this state of being or in any other. 3. Christ has a heart of love as well as a sceptre of power; and he rules to save. 4. Those who will not submit to the sceptre of Christ’s grace must feel the weight of his iron rod. 5. True blessedness is found in submission to Christ; this blessedness is greater than tongue can express or heart conceive.—C.

Vers. 1–12.—The heathen in three aspects. I. As slaves of sin. The condition of peoples varies. Civilization was more advanced in Greece and Rome than in other parts of the world. But though there may be superiority in some respects, with regard to the highest things there is no difference (Rom. 3:9). What a terrible picture have we in this psalm of the crimes and violence and miseries that desolate the world, where “the lust of the eye, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” prevail, and not the Law of God!

II. As objects of Divine interest. The Jews were in covenant with God as his peculiar people. But this did not imply that other peoples were unloved and uncared for. God has his purposes with regard to all the tribes and kindreds of the earth. Though they have forsaken him, he has not forsaken them. In their conscience they feel his presence. In the results of their actions they are subject to his Law. In their fears and darkness they are groping after him, and in their cruel rites and superstitions, consciously or unconsciously, they are declaring that without God they are without hope, and that the desire of their hearts is for his light and blessing. Things are dark and gruesome, but yet, in ways unknown to us, God is ruling over all, and working for the accomplishment of his own will and holy ends. The heathen are in God’s hand. He promises to give them to Christ. All prayer and evangelistic effort should be founded on this: “Ask of me.” Prayer is good; but prayer without work is vain. Have we the mind of Christ? Do our hearts yearn in love and pity over the multitudes who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death? Then let us plead God’s word, and labour to carry out Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19, 20).

III. As the subjects of Messiah’s kingdom. “Thine inheritance.” 1. This inheritance is moral, not material. It is the people that God is concerned about. “All souls are mine.” 2. This inheritance is obtained by right, and not by might. God “gives,” not in an arbitrary way, but in accordance with law. There will be no forcing. The heathen must be won by truth and conviction if they are to be won at all. Hence there is scope for all reasonable motive and argument. 3. This inheritance is for spiritual good, not for personal aggrandizement. Empire has been often sought for selfish ends. If the heathen are given to Christ, it is not that they may remain in their heathenism, but that they may be renewed in the spirit of their minds and receive the blessings of the gospel. The more that we ourselves, who have so many representatives among the heathen, recognize that the power we have as a nation is given us of God, and should be used as a sacred trust for God’s glory and the good of the people with whom we have to do, the better for us all. Woe to us if we seek our own and not also the things of others, if we are eager to make gain and to advance our own selfish ends and forget the claims of our brethren, who as surely belong to Christ as we do, and for whom he died!—W. F.

Vers. 2–6.—The false and the true in kingship. There is a silent contrast throughout this psalm between the “kings of earth” (ver. 2) and “my King” (ver. 6).

I. The false is characterized by self-seeking; the true by self-sacrifice. The false begin and end with self. They act from and for “themselves” (ver. 2). The true have regard to others, and are always ready to subordinate and sacrifice themselves for the good of others. In the one case it is the many for the one, the people for the king; in the other, it is the one for the many, the king for the people.

II. The false rule by force; the true by righteousness. “Bands” and “cords” mark the restraints of law, but the false care for none of these things. Might, not right, is their rule. Whatever stands in the way must give place to their ambitions. On the other hand, the true are animated by the spirit of justice. Instead of grasping violently what does not belong to them, they accept their place and use their powers as from God. They hold that the “decree” must be righteous to be respected—that the law must be just and good to commend itself to reason, and to command the obedience of the heart. Power that a man gains for himself he will use for himself, but power that is held as a trust from God will be wisely and rightly employed.

III. The false is marked by corruption and misery; the true is productive of the highest good. Great are the perils of power. Well did the Preacher say, “Oppression [i.e. the power of oppressing] maketh a wise man mad” (Eccles. 7:7). If this be so with the wise, how much worse will it be with the unwise! The Books of Chronicles and Kings in the Old Testament, and the history of heathen and Christian nations, are full of proofs as to the evils of power wrongly and wickedly used. Crimes, revolts, revolutions, wars upon wars, with manifold and terrible woes, mark the course of the Pharaohs and the Nebuchadnezzars, the Herods and Napoleons of this world. On the other hand, the rule of the true is conducive to the highest interests of men. Their aim is to do justly and to love mercy. Their motto is, “Death to evil, life to good.” “The work of righteousness is peace” (Isa. 32:17).

IV. The false are doomed to failure; the true to victory and immortal honour. The rule of the false inevitably leads to ruin. Sin is weakness. Evil can only breed evil. Where obedience is given from fear, and not from love, it cannot last. Where homage is rendered for reasons of prudence, and not from conviction, it cannot be depended upon. Where there is not desert on the one hand, there cannot be devotion on the other. Empire founded on the wrong is rotten through and through. But the true reign after another fashion. Their character commands respect. Their government, being founded in righteousness, secures confidence and support. Their rule, being exercised for the benign and holy ends of love, contributes to the general good.

Two things follow. 1. God’s ideal of kingship is found in Jesus Christ, and the nearer earthly kings resemble him, and the more perfectly they conform their lives and rule to his mind, the better for them and their subjects. 2. On the other hand, our first duty is to accept Christ as our King, and in love and loyalty to serve him. Thus we shall best fulfil our duty in all other relationships. The best Christian is the best subject.—W. F.

Vers. 1–12.—The Divine King. This psalm is supposed by some to have been written about the time of the coronation of Solomon. The heathen might then be the subject nations outside of Palestine, which threatened rebellion at this time. The seventh verse is applied to Christ in Heb. 1. Let us use the psalm in this higher application of it to Christ.

I. The rebellion of the world against Christ. 1. Is an unrighteous rebellion. Rebellion against evil powers is a righteous thing. But Christ’s rule is infinitely just and good and merciful. 2. Is an unsuccessful rebellion. “The people imagine a vain thing” if they think they can overthrow the rule of Christ. That belongs to the eternal order. The sea can shatter granite cliffs, but the throne of Christ is for ever and ever. 3. Such rebellion recoils upon the heads of the rebels. Every blow we strike against justice, love, and goodness rebounds upon ourselves; but we cannot injure God, however we may grieve his Fatherly heart.

II. Christ is King of men. 1. By Divine appointment. (Ver. 6.) And therefore God is said to laugh at, deride, and utter his wrath in sore displeasure against those who oppose him (vers. 4–6). 2. By Divine nature and character. “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (ver. 7). The Divinest Being of all history, and, therefore, a King by the highest of all rights. 3. A King by the actual and possible extent of his empire. “I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance,” etc. (ver. 8). He who has conquered a world is its rightful ruler. Christ is now worthy; but one day he will actually conquer the world.

III. The unavoidable inference. That we should be reconciled to God, and be at one with Christ. The wrath of God is unendurable, but “blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”—S.



This psalm is entitled, “a Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son;” literally, “in his flight from Absalom his son.” The historical correctness of the title has been questioned (Hitzig, De Wette), but without any sufficient reason. The Davidical composition is almost universally allowed. If it be asked at what time during the flight the psalm may be supposed to have been written, the best answer would seem to be that of Paulus, “on the eve of the battle which is described in 2 Sam. 18:1–8.”

The composition is made up of three parts—a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode, each terminated by the word selah. Some critics, however, make out four parts, by dividing the epode. But the absence of the word selah at the close of ver. 7 is against this.

Ver. 1.—Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! rather, Lord, how numerous are they that trouble me! We are told, in the Book of Samuel, that “the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:12), and again, “Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him” (2 Sam. 16:15). Ahithophel proposed to attack David with twelve thousand men only (2 Sam. 17:1), but the actual number which went against him must have been far larger, for some twenty thousand men, chiefly, no doubt, Absalom’s partisans, fell in the battle (2 Sam. 18:7). Many are they that rise up against me; i.e. “that rebel against me, and rise up in arms to make war upon me” (comp. Pss. 18:48; 44:5; 59:1, etc.).

Ver. 2.—Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. When Absalom first raised the standard of revolt, there were no doubt many who looked to see some signal Divine interposition on behalf of the anointed king and against the rebel; but when David fled, and with so few followers (2 Sam. 15:18), and in his flight spoke so doubtfully of his prospects (2 Sam. 15:26), and when no help seemed to arise from any quarter, then we can well understand that men’s opinions changed, and they came to think that David was God-forsaken, and would succumb to his unnatural foe (comp. Ps. 71:10, 11). Partisans of Absalom would see in David’s expulsion from his capital a Divine Nemesis (2 Sam. 16:8), and regard it as quite natural that God should not help him. Selah. There is no traditional explanation of this word. The LXX. rendered it by διάψαλμα, which is said to mean “a change of the musical tone;” but it is against this explanation that selah occurs sometimes, as here, at the end of a psalm, where no change was possible. Other explanations rest wholly on conjecture, and are valueless.

Ver. 3.—But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; or, about me (see the Revised Version). (For the sentiment, comp. Gen. 15:1; Deut. 33:29; 2 Sam. 22:3; Pss. 28:7; 33:20; 84:9, etc.) The expression has peculiar force in David’s mouth, who, as a “man of war,” fully appreciated the saving power of a shield. My glory (comp. Ps. 62:7). And the lifter up of mine head. As God had raised up David to the throne (2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3), and prospered him in his wars (2 Sam. 8:1–14), and exalted him above all the other kings of the period, so he was well able now, if he so willed, to restore him to his place and re-establish him in the monarchy (comp. 2 Sam. 15:25; Ps. 43:3).

Ver. 4.—I cried unto the Lord with my voice; rather, I cry unto the Lord with my voice; i.e. earnestly and constantly (comp. Pss. 77:1; 142:1). And he heard (rather, hears) me out of his holy hill; or, “the hill of his holiness” (comp. Ps. 2:6). Though David is in exile at Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17:24), his thoughts revert to Jerusalem, to the holy hill of Zion, and the ark of God, which he has there “set in its place” (2 Sam. 6:17); and he knows that God, who “dwelleth between the cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4), will hear him, though so far off. Selah (see the comment on ver. 2).

Ver. 5.—I laid me down and slept; literally, as for me, I laid me down, etc. A contrast seems intended between the king and some of his companions. “I, for my part,” he says, “confident in God, calmly laid me down and slept; I did not allow the danger which I was in to interfere with my repose at night.” Others, probably, were less trustful. I awaked. When morning came, i.e., I awoke, as usual, from quiet and refreshing slumbers. For the Lord sustained me; rather, sustaineth me. Now and always I am sustained by the Almighty.

Ver. 6.—I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people. (On the vast multitude of people that had collected to attack the fugitive king, see the comment on ver. 1.) David, however, did not fear them. Like Asa (2 Chron. 14:11) and Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc. 3:18), he knew that there was no real might in “the multitude of an host” (Ps. 33:16). God could save equally with many or with few, and against many or against few (comp. 2 Kings 6:15–17). That have set themselves against me round about; or, ranged themselves against me (Kay)—a military term (comp. Isa. 22:7).

Ver. 7.—Arise, O Lord (comp. Numb. 10:35; Pss. 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; 68:1). This call is generally made when God’s forbearance towards his enemies is thought to have been excessive, and his tolerance of sinners too great. Save me, O my God. David was in imminent danger. “All Israel” had come against him (2 Sam. 16:15). He was short of supplies (2 Sam. 17:29). He was doubtful how God was disposed towards him (2 Sam. 15:25, 26). It was a time when, unless God would save, there could be no hope. Hence the intense earnestness of his prayer. For thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone. Heretofore, i.e., thou hast always taken my part—thou hast smitten mine enemies, and given me victory over them, and by breaking their jaw-bones thou hast taken away from them all power to hurt (see Ps. 58:6). The reference is, of course, to David’s long series of victories, as those over the Philistines (2 Sam. 5:17–25; 8:1), over Moab (2 Sam. 8:2), over Hadadezer, King of Zobah (2 Sam. 8:3, 4), over the Syrians of Damascus (2 Sam. 8:6), over the Edomites (2 Sam. 8:13, 14), over the Ammonites (2 Sam. 10:7–14), and over the “Syrians beyond the river” (2 Sam. 10:16–19). Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly (comp. Job 4:10; Ps. 58:6). The ungodly, enemies alike of David and of God, are represented as wild beasts whose weapons are their jaws and teeth. Let God break these, and they are harmless.

Ver. 8.—Salvation belongeth unto the Lord; or, salvation is the Lord’s (Kay). “To him alone it belongs to save or to destroy. Therefore is my prayer addressed to him, and him only” (see ver. 7). Thy blessing is upon thy people; rather, let thy blessing be upon thy people. “Whatever becomes of me,” i.e., “let thy people be blest” (Kay). David is not deterred, by the revolt of almost the whole people against him, from commending them to God, entreating God’s blessing upon them, and desiring their welfare. He echoes Moses (Exod. 32:31, 32); he anticipates Christ (Luke 23:34).


Ver. 3.—God the believer’s Glory. “My Glory.” When Joseph said to his brothers, “Ye shall tell my father of all my glory,” he meant the dignity and power to which God’s wonder-working providence had raised him from the dungeon. In an hour it had suddenly become his; and any hour death might as suddenly bereave him of it. When God says, “My glory will I not give to another,” he speaks of that which is eternally, essentially, unchangeably his own. But in the text, faith boldly blends these two in one. It claims as portion no perishable glory, but the everlasting Creator himself. He permits his creature, servant, child, to say, “Thou, O Lord, art … my Glory!” How may we Christians make these words our own? How may we make God our “Glory”?

I. By the knowledge of God. Knowledge is the key of power over nature. Man’s pre-eminence over all lower creatures is in his intellect. The world pays homage to great thinkers and discoverers, who widen the sphere of human knowledge. But “thus saith the Lord” (Jer. 9:23, 24; John 17:3; 2 Cor. 4:6).

II. By our belonging to God. What honour attends even the infant children of a king! But the humblest Christian is a child of God (1 John 3:1). What reverence is paid to relics, even of little value, that belonged to some great poet, statesman, warrior, etc.! But the poorest Christian is among God’s jewels (Mal. 3:17, where the Authorized Version is more nearly literal than the Revised Version).

III. By claiming his promise. His pledged word is ours. Men glory in wealth that lays the world at their disposal; in a fortress no foe can seize; a victorious army; a matchless navy. What are these compared with the wealth, security, triumph, of trust in God (Ps. 27:1; Prov. 18:10; 1 Cor. 3:22, 23)?

IV. By likeness to God. (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2.) This will be the glory of the Church for ever (Isa. 60:19).


Vers. 1–8.—A morning song in perilous times. In this case, as in others, the words which in our version form the title of the psalm are in the Hebrew its first verse. And they enable us, with less than the usual uncertainty, to fix on the historic occasion on which it was written. This is one of those psalms which come under those in the first division of the introductory homily. It is an historical psalm, and as such it must be studied and estimated. As an illustration of the way in which excellent men have turned aside from the obvious intent of a psalm to put fancied dogmatic meanings of their own into it, Luther’s interpretation of this psalm is a choice specimen.66 By such a process, men not only proceed on insecure bases, but they lose very much of the instruction which the historical psalms are calculated to afford. The evangelical truth which they think they find here is abundantly taught elsewhere; hence nothing is gained; while very much is lost by their failing to note the fine shades of personal experience, emotion, and character with which these psalms are marked. We have here one of the many priceless specimens of an Old Testament saint’s experience—struggle, prayer, victory, song. “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” And it has brought comfort to many a struggling soul in the hard conflicts of life, to find how believers in bygone times have gone through trials even sharper than their own. We note in this psalm five stages of personal experience.

I. Peril. (Vers. 1, 2.) (In order to introduce this psalm vividly to the people, a preacher should study closely the historic incidents to which it refers.) The writer was (1) compassed with foes; (2) surrounded with plots and snares; (3) scoffed at for his piety. “There is no help for him in God.” Those who were plotting against him thought they had laid their plans securely, and that none could upset them. So it was with Daniel and with St. Peter. Note: If the people of God have to struggle hard with opposers and revilers, let them remember that they have had and shall have “companions in tribulation;” and that the experience of the saints of old, and of the course they adopted, is here recorded as a help for them.

II. Prayer. (Ver. 4.) “I cried unto the Lord with my voice.” The name of God used by the psalmist is the revealed name of Israel’s redeeming God, Jehovah. Of the vast meaning of this name the scoffing heathen knew nothing. And now, when the world scornfully asks, “Where is their God?” they do so in entire ignorance of the blessed throne of grace to which the believer can repair. “With my voice”—while their voice defies God, my voice shall address God. The blessed reality of intercommunion with the infinite and eternal God, through his own appointed way of sacrifice and mediation, is one of which the carnal mind knows absolutely nothing. None laugh at prayer who understand what it is. Those who know God know well that he is a Refuge and a Hiding-place in any time of trouble.

III. Rescue. In God he has a Deliverer. In three forms is this expressed, each one full of suggestiveness. 1. A Shield. The word means more than this, even a protection which compasses one around. 2. My Glory. The believer can make his boast in God, even when men are scoffing at the great Name. 3. The Lifter-up of my head. One who enables me to rise superior to my troubles, and to smile upon them. All these expressions show not only what God was to David, but what he is to the saints still. Note: Whether we sink in trouble or rise above it will depend on our faith and prayer. We may fetch such help from God as will enable us to “smile at the storm.”

IV. Fearlessness. 1. In spite of all his foes, he could lie down and sleep. How many a wakeful night would have become one of sweet repose if the troubled ones did but thus hide in God! As the little child sleeps away his griefs on his mother’s breast, so we can have sweetest repose when we make God our Hiding-place. The prophecy is, “A man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind,” etc. 2. As he sleeps in holy calm, so he awakes in holy courage. (Ver. 6.) “I will not be afraid,” etc. (cf. Pss. 26, 27). The courage of David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc., may well be repeated in us. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” 3. The answers to prayer already received strengthen his confidence for the future. (Vers. 4, 7.) “He heard me,” etc.; “Thou hast smitten all mine enemies,” etc.; and because this has been so, his faith in future deliverances is confirmed.

V. Testimony. The psalmist had prayed to Jehovah; he now testifies for him, as the result of his experience. 1. Experience furnishes the best answer to the scorner. In ver. 2 David quotes the words of the heathen, “There is no help for him in God;” but he knows better. He has tried what prayer will do. He has asked for help, and help has come. So that in direct opposition to wicked men, and as the result of positive knowledge, he can affirm, “Salvation belongeth unto the Lord,” i.e. (same Hebrew word as in ver. 2) “help” or deliverance. This, of course, would be true of salvation from sin, etc.; but that is not its reference here. It means deliverance or help in any time of trouble. 2. Experience warrants a confident statement of the truth. “Thy blessing is upon thy people.” How rich this blessing (or favour) of God is cannot be told in words. Not even the Old Testament saints knew its fulness of wealth and glory. Not till such teachings as Rom. 8:31–39 were known to believers was it possible that they should. Of this blessing it was then true, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love him.” And in Rev. 7 the double form of that blessing is given (see the present writer’s homily thereon), viz. safe keeping now, while in the tribulation; and safe leadership out of the great tribulation, to the glory yet to be revealed!—C.

Ver. 3.—Bright morning after a dark night. I. The sorrows of the night. The darkness without images the darkness within. 1. There is the consciousness of danger. Enemies are numerous. Thrice are they called “many.” They are also strong and merciless—wild beasts that make the night hideous with their roaring. 2. Worse still, there is the feeling of helplessness. Friends are gone. Solitary and forsaken, all seems lost. There is no star of hope to break the gloom. The piteous cry of onlookers is echoed by our own hearts, “No help!” 3. But worst of all is the sense of sin. If conscience were clear, if we could say that trouble had come upon us without fault of our own, this might help us to be brave and patient. If all were right within, we might dare the rage of our enemies, and defy the babble of an idle world; but alas! it is otherwise. We have been foolish and disobedient. We have obstinately persisted in our own way, and have not set the Lord before us. Hence the heart sinks. At such a time the peril is great. We are on the brink of the gulf. Well for us if in our misery we turn to God.

II. The joys of the morning. As the true light shines, we see things more clearly. We gain more self-control, and better thoughts arise. As from a troubled dream awaking, we look back with shame at our weakness and our fears. If the “many” are against us, “God is for us.” This is enough. Therefore we put on the armour of light, and gird ourselves with invigorated strength and hope for the work of a new day. 1. Refreshment. “Slept.” Body and soul have been benefited. We feel that virtue has come to us. It is of God. He giveth sleep. 2. Renewed hope. Another night is gone, and we are not only spared, but saved. If there is work to do, we have now the will to take it in hand. If there are difficulties before us, we have now the heart to face them with resolution. Our enemies may shoot at us, but God is our Shield. 3. Anticipated victory. (Vers. 7, 8.) We rise to a better conception of God. So far as we are in sympathy with him, we are in the right. So far as we are on the side of God, and fighting for him, we are strong and must prevail. His honour is concerned for our defence. What he has promised, he will surely perform. Alleluia! But let us take a word of caution. While we seek the destruction of evil, let us work for the salvation of our enemies. Also a word of encouragement. Relief does not always come, or does not come in the way we wish. The grief that saps the mind may be ours, the burden of care and trouble may lie heavy on our souls. The morning, which brings joy to others, may leave us still in gloom. Our very trials may be enhanced by contrast. The light once sweet to the eyes may now be bitter. The music and the flowers and the beautiful things of earth, that once brought us delight, may only aggravate our woe. Our interest in others may falter, and our capability for the duties of life may fail. But still let us hope in God. The morning cometh, and also the night; but for God’s people there is the sure hope of the morning that will usher in eternal day.—W. F.

Ver. 6.—The truth about numbers. We have heard of the vox regis, and in these last days we are threatened with the equally dangerous and delusive vox populi. Let us consider—

I. Numbers do not determine the question of right. There is a tendency with many to shirk responsibility. They look to others. Surely what the many say must be right. But this is folly. God has given us reason and freedom. We must judge for ourselves. Only what we know to be true can be truth to us; only what we feel in our consciences to be right can be binding upon us as duty. Besides, we see how often in the past the few have been in the right, not the many. Noah by his faith condemned the world. Elijah stood alone against the priests of Baal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dared the fiery furnace rather than bow with the multitude before the golden idol. Only when the people are all righteous can they be all right.

II. Numbers do not determine the question of success. No doubt there are times when numbers prevail. The few are crushed by the mere weight and force of the multitude. It has been said that “God is on the side of the biggest battalions;” but this is true in only a limited sense. Suppose the battalions are undisciplined or badly commanded, defeat may come instead of victory. But in the nobler fields—in the strife of truth and falsehood—how often has the victory been with the few, instead of the many! Besides, the question, in the deepest sense, is not—What will succeed? but—What is right?

“He is a slave, who will not be

In the right, with two or three.”

Further, we must not measure success by the poor standards of this world. What seems failure to us may be victory in the sight of the holy angels and of God.

III. Numbers do not determine the question of happiness. It is hard to stand alone. It costs a struggle to dare to be singularly good. But better far have peace within than sacrifice conscience to convenience, and freedom to popularity. St. Peter was happier shut up in prison than when, in fear of men, he denied his Lord. St. Paul was infinitely more calm and joyous when he stood before Nero than when, with all the authority of the Sanhedrin, he set out on his fierce crusade against the Christians. Better be true than false; better be free than the slave of opinion; better, with St. Stephen and the martyrs, press heavenwards through “peril, toil, and pain,” than follow a multitude to do evil.—W. F.

Vers. 1–8.—David’s dependence on God. This psalm written by David at the time of Absalom’s revolt, reminds one of the poet’s lines—

“Most wretched men

Are cradled into poetry by wrong;

They learn in suffering what they teach in song.

I. A course of aggravated trouble and danger. 1. Caused by a tenderly beloved son. And yet David never mentions him; a sign how deeply he was wounded. The silence tells more than speech would do. 2. Not only his throne, but his life, was in danger. See the account of David’s flight in 2 Sam. 15 3. His enemies charge him with being abandoned of God. As well as deserted by the people. His late sin with Bathsheba would make the charge plausible, and tend to shake his faith in God.

II. David’s resolute faith in God. 1. Inspired by his past experience. (Vers. 3, 4.) God had been his Defence, Inspiration, and Help in times past, in answer to his constant cries. “Shield” (Gen. 15:1). “Lifter up of my head.” The head hangs down in trouble. “Holy hill:” Zion, where was the ark of the covenant. 2. Inspiring a present sense of peace and security. (Vers. 5, 6.) The Divine arm was his pillow, and he slept; the Divine hand raised him up, and he woke with such a sense of security that he was not afraid of the thousands that were encamped against him.

III. A passionate cry for help and victory in his present straits. Urged again by an appeal to the past. “Thou that didst save me from the teeth of the lion and the bear, and didst destroy mine enemies on every side, rise up now for me against them that rise up against me.” “Help me, O God!” This is his courageous answer to the mocking exultation of his enemies when they say, “There is no help for him in God.” He replies, “To Jehovah belongeth help,” or “the victory;” help, not in this strait only, but help for the needy in all times and in all places.

IV. A noble prayer for his misguided, rebellious subjects. He thought of the horrors of a civil war, and he forgot himself in his anxiety for the welfare of his people. This is royal and generous—when we in our utmost danger can cherish a deep concern for the safety of others. David reminds us of St. Stephen, who, with the spirit as well as the face of an angel, cried, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;” and pre-eminently of him who said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—S.



Again the psalm has a title, “To the chief Musician on Neginoth. A Psalm of David;” literally, “to the superintendent or foreman,” which, in this instance, would be the choir-leader, or “precentor” (Kay). “On Neginoth” is supposed to mean “for stringed instruments” (Hengstenberg, Kay, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ Revised Version, etc.); comp. Isa. 38:20. The authorship of David is generally allowed; but there is nothing to mark the exact circumstances under which the psalm was written. In its metrical structure it very much resembles Ps. 3, being composed, like that, of a short strophe (vers. 1, 2), a short antistrophe (vers. 3, 4), and a longer epode (vers. 5–8). The divisions are marked, as in Ps. 3, by the introduction of the word selah, perhaps meaning “pause,” or “rest.”

Ver. 1.—Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. Not “the God who imputes to me righteousness,” as some render, but “the God who sees that I and my cause are righteous,” and who will therefore certainly lend me aid. Thou hast enlarged me; or, made room for me—”set me at ease.” In the language of the Old Testament, “straits” and “narrowness” mean trouble and affliction; “room,” “space,” “enlargement,” mean prosperity. David has experienced God’s mercies in the past, and therefore looks for them in the future (comp. Ps. 3:7). When I was in distress; literally, in [my] distress. Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. This is David’s usual cry, repeated in a hundred varied forms throughout the Psalms (see Pss. 5:2; 6:2; 9:13; 27:7; 30:10, etc.).

Ver. 2.—O ye sons of men. “Sons of men”—beney ish—is not a mere periphrasis for “men.” It is a title of some honour and dignity. Kay translates, “sons of the brave;” but that is scarcely the meaning. The phrase is rather equivalent to our “sirs” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). How long will ye turn my glory into shame? By your misconduct. See the clause which follows. The appeal is, perhaps, to Joab, Abishai, and others of David’s own party, whose proceedings were a disgrace to his reign, and tended to bring their master to shame rather than to honour. How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?
i.e. after lying. Joab’s treachery and falsehood were notorious (2 Sam. 3:27; 20:8–10).

Ver. 3.—But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself. The best order of the words would be, “Know that the Lord hath set apart for himself the man that is godly.” The godly man is not contaminated by the evil doings of those who associate with him, and profess to act in his interest, if he neither authorizes nor condones their conduct. David had protested against Joab’s proceedings on one occasion (2 Sam. 3:28), and never at any time pardoned them (1 Kings 2:5, 6). The Lord will hear when I call unto him. Although I am disgraced (ver. 2), resisted, in many ways brought to shame, by you, yet still I am God’s servant set apart to his service, and therefore I shall be heard by him. He will hearken to and grant my prayer.

Ver. 4.—Stand in awe, and sin not. The LXX. render, Ὀργίζεσθε, καὶ μὴ ἀμαρτάνετε, “Be ye angry, and sin not;” and this meaning is preferred by Dr. Kay, Hengstenberg, and others. It may also seem to have the sanction of St. Paul in Eph. 4:26. If we adopt it, we must suppose the exhortation to be addressed mainly to David’s own followers, who are warned against excessive anger and its natural result, undue violence (comp. 2 Sam. 16:9; 18:11, 14; 19:21, etc.). Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still (compare St. Paul’s injunction, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath”). Anger cools if a little time be suffered to pass—if a night be allowed for reflection, and no action be taken till the morrow. Παύει γὰρ ὀργὴν ο ̔χρόνος (Aristotle). Selah. The second strophe being ended, another “pause” is to take place, during which the psalmist’s exhortation may be made the subject of consideration.

Ver. 5.—Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Sacrifices of victims are searcely meant; certainly not, if the time of the composition is that of David’s exile, since victims could be offered nowhere but at Jerusalem. We may suppose a reference to those sacrifices which are most truly “sacrifices of righteousness,” viz. “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart,” which God “will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). And put your trust in the Lord. Sacrifice without faith is vain. Even “sacrifices of righteousness,” to be of any service, must be accompanied by trust in the Lord.

Ver. 6.—There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Pessimists are numerous in all ages. Among David’s adherents in his times of distress (ver. 1) would be many who doubted and desponded, anticipating nothing but continued suffering and misfortune. They would ask the question of the text. Or the scope may be wider. Men are always seeking for good, but not knowing what their true good is, David points it out to them. It is to have the light of God’s countenance shining on them. Lord, lift thou up, etc.; compare the form of Levitical benediction (Numb. 6:24–26), and see also Pss. 31:16; 80:3, 7, 19. If we bask in the sunshine of God’s favour, there is nothing more needed for happiness.

Ver. 7.—Thou hast put gladness in my heart. David is an example to the desponding ones. Notwithstanding his sufferings and calamities, God has looked on him, and so “put gladness in his heart”—a gladness which far exceeds that of his adversaries. Though they are in prosperity, and have their corn and wine increased, and enjoy all the “outward material blessings promised to Israel—the wheat and the grape—for a supply of which he is indebted to the generosity of friends” (Kay), yet he would not change places with them. The spiritual joy which fills his own heart is preferable to any amount of material comforts and pleasures.

Ver. 8.—I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep (comp. Ps. 3:5). His confidence in God enables David to lay himself down calmly and tranquilly to sleep, whatever dangers threaten him. He seeks his couch and at once (יחדּו) slumber visits him. No anxious thoughts keep him tossing on his bed for hours. For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. David has a satisfaction in thinking that it is God only who watches over him. All other help would be vain, superfluous. God alone brought Israel through the wilderness (Deut. 32:12); God alone established Israel in Canaan (Ps. 44:2, 3). David feels that he needs no second helper and protector.


Ver. 3.—God’s care for the righteous. “But know … for himself.” A tone of solemn calm, like summer twilight, pervades this evening psalm, which naturally follows Ps. 3, a morning psalm. But here is no sound of war or peril from foes. The psalmist speaks, not as king to rebels, but as prophet to the “sons of men”—the unbelieving world. “My glory” (ver. 2) may be taken as in Ps. 3:3. Idolatry turns worship from man’s most glorious to his most debasing act (Ps. 106:20; Rom. 1:23). Israel was a little isle of light amid heathen darkness. The psalmist warns his fellowmen—especially Israelites tempted by the gorgeous impure heathen rites—that idolatry is “emptiness” and “lies” (ver. 2). In contrast, he affirms two glorious certainties: (1) the righteous is God’s special care; (2) God does hear prayer.

I. The righteous is God’s special care. “The Lord hath set apart,” etc. This is just the most offensive view in which salvation can be presented to a great many. They have no objection to a religion that deals in generalities, involves no personal distinctions, consists in doctrines which all can assent to, rites all can join in. But a sharp separation “between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not” (Mal. 3:18) is intolerable to them. They resent it, as narrow, Pharisaical. Yet, on the reality and certainty of such severance, here and hereafter, the whole religious teaching of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament alike, turns. You and I stand each in personal relation to God, for good or for ill. 1. “Set apart” by forgiveness of sin. Pardon is universally proclaimed (Luke 24:47), but can be bestowed and received only personally (Matt. 9:2). “He pardoneth and absolveth,” etc. (English Liturgy). True repentance and unfeigned faith are personal; so, therefore, is forgiveness. As it cannot be collective, so neither can it be partial. You are forgiven or not forgiven; reconciled or not reconciled (John 3:36; 2 Cor. 5:20). 2. By the illumination, guidance, strength, quickening and sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 8:9.) 3. Hence, by practical discipleship; personal obedience. (John 8:12; 14:21–24.) “For himself.” No higher glory and happiness are conceivable than that promised (Mal. 3:17). There is nothing narrow or arbitrary in this. God says, “All souls are mine.” But we have the fearful power of ignoring this claim, refusing God’s offers, disobeying his commands, despising his promises and warnings; practically denying our relation to him; and, if so, must take the consequences (1 John 5:12).

II. God does hear prayer. “The Lord will hear,” etc. This follows as an inference. 1. Such personal relationship to God would be impossible unless we can speak to him and be sure of an answer. Prayer is the natural language of faith; the obvious condition of pardon; the appointed means of obtaining the Holy Spirit (Luke 9:9, 13). 2. Prayer is the expression and exercise of our personal relation to God (Ps. 119:73, 94). That God should invite and bring us into this personal relation, and then refuse to hold converse with us, is utterly incredible. It would be to deny himself. This is the testimony of experience. Reason says it must be so. Experience says it is so.

Ver. 4.—Fear of sin. “Stand in awe, and sin not.” There is no cowardice in being afraid of sin; no true courage in daring to break God’s Law and defy God’s anger. Joseph was no coward, but a brave man, when he said, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” “Perfect love,” St. John tells us, “casteth out fear, because fear hath torment.” Here slavish fear is meant—the fear that drives men from God, makes them hypocrites, hating God all the more because they make believe to love him. But there is a fear which has no torment, but is akin to love, not love’s foe; a fear that does not drive us from God, but makes us flee from ourselves to take refuge in him; a fear that has nothing base or weak in it, but ennobles and strengthens the soul.

“Fear him, ye saints, and you will then

Have nothing else to fear.”

To such fear our Saviour gives a place of honour and power among evangelical motives (Luke 12:4, 5). Proposition: To point out some chief reasons for cherishing the fear of sin.

I. Because of what sin is in regard to God. 1. It insults the majesty of God. Sin practically denies the existence or else the authority of God; and puts scorn on his warnings, as though he means not what he says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Scripture represents sin as atheism (Ps. 14:1; Titus 1:16). Yet Plato was not correct when he thought all sin ignorance. Sin is often wilful, against light (Rom. 1:32; Luke 12:47). There is a way of talking of the love of God which tends to rob love itself of all moral character. People talk almost as if they thought of the eternal Creator as the almighty servant-of-all-work of the universe, whose business is to minister to his creatures and make them happy, whether they obey him or not. Take away the authority of God, and you take away worship. How could we worship a Being who made laws to be kept or broken at pleasure, and uttered threats he never meant to fulfil; affixed nominal penalties, only to make his justice the jest of the universe? This is what sin would do, if allowed to run to its full length—what every wilful sin tends to. Imagine an insult publicly offered to the sovereign of this great nation. What indignation! Why? Because, in the person of the sovereign, the whole nation would be insulted and injured. But the Divine majesty does not represent the universe—is not derived from it. God is the sole Fountain of all that is glorious, noble, right, good, happy. 2. Sin grieves God. How can we think otherwise? He is “the Father of spirits.” Does not he desire to see in every spirit the filial likeness, the image of himself? Scripture uses very bold language; but its strongest figures do not exaggerate, but fall below the truth (Gen. 6:6; Amos 2:13; Isa. 43:24). It was no light burden, no imaginary load, when the Son of God “bare our sins.” We might go on to speak of how sin robs God by destroying all that is precious. But this leads to another reason for fearing sin.

II. Because of what sin is to the sinner. 1. Sin breaks the inward law of man’s nature; defaces God’s image; destroys man’s power to know God. People complain that the Bible is over-severe regarding sin; too hard on human nature in representing it as fallen, corrupt, dead. They forget the reason—the noble and lofty view the Bible takes of man. “A little lower than the angels;” “The offspring of the Godhead;” “Made in the image of God.” A ruined hut is no great matter, but a palace in ruins is a woeful spectacle. We need not go back to Paradise. We see what human nature ought to be, and, but for sin, would be, in Jesus (Rom. 8:3). 2. Sin is the bitter fountain of human misery; it is spiritual death. Sin must die, or we must die in our sins (John 8:24; Rom. 6:12, 21).

III. Because of what sin is to others. Oh, the harvest of broken hearts, ruined lives, blasted hopes, wasted powers, desolate homes; of disease, agony, despair, death; which sin sows and reaps every day! “One sinner destroyeth much good.” He perishes not alone (Josh. 22:20). This is a false proverb, “Nobody’s enemy but his own.” His own enemy is everybody’s enemy. People gloss sin over with light words. One of the sweetest words in our tongue, “gay,” is used as a perfume to drown the stench of the vilest sins. “He is only sowing his wild oats.” His? Where did he get them? From what happy home did he steal them? Who gave him leave to steal them? What will be the harvest? and who will reap it? You say, “He will come all right by-and-by.” Suppose he does; will those come right whom he has helped to mislead and ruin? “No man dieth to himself.”

IV. Lastly, because of what sin has cost. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin” (1 John 1:7). What must sin be, if that is what was needed for its cleansing? Everywhere in the New Testament, side by side with the freest invitations of the gospel, stands the awful truth that he who knew no sin has been “made sin for us.” “By his stripes we are healed.” The cross is the mightiest persuasive to “stand in awe, and sin not.”

Vers. 6, 7.—The supreme quest of life. “There be many,” etc. Both the Church and the world were very different in David’s day from what they were in our Lord’s day; and in that from what they are to-day. But the contrast was as real, the opposition as strong. The cleavage between the party of God’s will and the party of self-will went right through the heart of human life then, and does now. Consciously or not, we all rank on one side or the other. These words bring out the contrast very strongly as regards the supreme aim and quest of life.

I. The worldling’s mistake. David looked out on the rush and bustle of life, and listened to the voices of the crowd. One cry came from all sides, “Who will show us any good?” Where can we find happiness? On all sides there is the same illusion and blunder—the notion that happiness means something outside us instead of within. It is the same to-day. Happiness, people think, can be purchased with gold, packed in bales and boxes, poured out of bottles, caught in crowds, assured by parchments duly signed. Everywhere are the broken empty cisterns, crying out against the folly of those who hewed them out; yet everywhere is the same din of hammer and chisel hewing out new ones, the same neglect of “the Fountain of living waters.”

II. The believer’s choice. “Lift thou,” etc. From the world, the psalmist turns to God. “Light” sometimes means knowledge (John 17:3; 2 Cor. 4:6); but here rather the favour and manifested love of God. Smiles are the sunshine of the face, lighting up the inmost chambers of the heart (comp. Numb. 6:25; Prov. 16:15).

III. The saints’ experience. (Ver. 7.) The psalmist’s prayer (ver. 6) was not for a new blessing—not a sudden aspiration. It was the outcome of experience. He contrasts the golden harvests and “rivers of oil” of him who has “much goods laid up for many years,” but “is not rich toward God,” with his own portion—joy in the heart; and feels that this is “the true riches.” If he has not what the world calls “happiness,” he has something infinitely richer—blessedness. The worldling’s quest is like chasing a will-o’-the-wisp; the Christian’s, like steering by the north star. If we have received God’s greatest gifts, we may well trust him for the rest (Rom. 8:32).


Vers. 1–8.—An evening song in perilous times, showing us the secret of happiness. It is not difficult to be cheerful when we have everything we desire. But when life seems to be a series of catastrophes, disappointments, and vexations, buoyancy of spirit is not so easily attained. If our lives were in peril every moment through rebellion at home and plots and snares around, few of us would be found capable, under such circumstances, of writing morning and evening hymns. Yet such were the circumstances under which David wrote this psalm and the one which precedes it. Both of them belong, in all probability, to the time of Ahithophel’s conspiracy, of Absalom’s rebellion, when the king was a fugitive, camping out with a few of his followers. Such reverses, moreover, were none the easier to bear, when he had the reflection that because of his own sin the sword was in his house, and was piercing his own soul. Yet even thus, as he had “a heart at leisure from itself” to write his song of morning praise, so does he also pen his evening prayer. We picture him thus: Any moment a fatal stroke may fall on him. His adversaries prowl around. They have rich stores of provisions and of gold, while he himself has to depend for the means of subsistence on supplies brought to his camp from without. Unscrupulous rebels were in power, while David and his host were like a band of men who are dependent on begging or on plunder. But it was precisely this combination of ills that brought out some of the finest traits in his character. Even then he can take up his pen and write, “Thou hast put gladness,” etc.; “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” Here, then, we have one of God’s people, who has seen calmer days, writing in his tent and telling of a secret of peace and joy which nothing can disturb. It is a secret worth knowing. Let us ascertain what it is.

I. Here is an inquiry put. “Who will show us good?” By which is meant, not so much—What is good in itself? as—What will make us happy, and bring us a sense of satisfaction? Over and above our intellectual, we have emotional faculties. The emotions are to the spiritual part of us what the sensations are to the bodily part. Among the various fallacies of some wise men of this world, one of the wildest is that emotion has no place in the search after, and in the ascertainment of, truth. It would be quite safe to reverse that, and to say that unless the emotions have their rightful play, few truths can be rightly sought or found. An equilibrium of absolute indifference concerning truth or error would be a guilty carelessness. Our craving after happiness is God’s lesson to us through the emotions, that we are dependent for satisfaction on something outside us; and when such satisfaction is actually reached, it is so far the sign that the higher life is being healthfully sustained. Our nature is too complex to be satisfied with supply in any one department. Our intellectual nature craves the true. Our moral nature craves the right. Our sympathetic nature calls for love. Our conscious weakness and dependence call for strength from another. Our powers of action demand a sphere of service which shall neither corrupt nor exhaust. Our spiritual nature cries out for God, life, and immortality. Who can show us “good” that will meet all these wants? Such is the inquiry.

II. There are those who know how to answer the inquiry. (Ver. 7, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart,” etc.) The psalmist shows us: 1. The source of his joy. God—God himself. How often do the psalmists luxuriate in telling what God was to them—Rock, Shield, Sun, High Tower, Fortress, Refuge, Strength, Salvation, their Exceeding Joy! Much more is this the case now we know God in Christ. In him we have revealed to us through the Spirit nobler heights, deeper depths, larger embraces, and mightier triumphs of divinely revealed love than Old Testament saints could possibly conceive. 2. One excellent feature of this joy is the sense of security it brings with it in the most perilous surroundings (see last verse). (Let the Hebrew student closely examine this verse. He will gain thereby precious glimpses of a meaning deeper than any bare translation can give.) The psalmist discloses and suggests further: 3. The quality and degree of the joy. “More than … when their corn and their wine increaseth.” (1) The gladness is of a far higher quality. A filial son’s joy in the best of fathers is vastly superior to the delight a child has in his toys. So joy in God himself for what he is, is infinitely higher than delight in what he gives. (2) It is a gladness of greater zest. No joy in worldly things that a carnal man ever reached can approximate to the believer’s joy in God. It is a joy “unspeakable, and full of glory.” (3) It is a gladness remarkable for its persistency. The worldling’s joy is for the bright days of life. Joy in God is for every day, and comes out most strikingly in the darkest ones—David, Daniel; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Peter, John, Stephen, Paul and Silas, etc. We never know all that God is to us until he takes away all our earthly props, and makes us lean with all our weight on him. (4) The believer’s joy in God surpasses the worldling’s gladness in the effects of it. It not only satisfies, but sanctifies the mind. (5) This joy never palls upon the taste. “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

III. The psalmist shows us how this joy in God was attained. After his delights the worldling has many a weary chase. To ensure his, the psalmist sends up a prayer, “Lord, lift thou up,” etc. This prayer had been taught him of old. It was a part of the priestly benediction (Numb. 6:22, ad fin.). Its meaning is. “Give us the sign and seal of thy favour, and it is enough.” Truly in this all else is ensured. Forgiveness from God and peace with him prepare the way for the fulness of joy. Nothing is right with a sinful man till there is peace between him and God. If our view of the chronology of the Psalms be correct, Pss. 51. and 32. preceded this. If it be true that the believer attains the highest heights of joy, it is also true that he has first gone down into the deep vale of penitential sorrow. As in Christian toil, so in personal religion, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Let the sinner “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” and then his hope, his joy, will begin.—C.

Vers. 1–8.—Quieting thoughts for a time of trouble. It is a mark of man’s greatness that he can go out of himself. Some commune with nature, some with the great minds of the past, some with prophets and teachers of their own time. But the grandest thing is to commune with God. The evening is a fit time. Then we have rest; then we can retire from the stress and turmoil of the world, and in the secrecy of our hearts hold converse with God. Here we have some quieting thoughts for a time of trouble.

I. That God rules over all. God is love. His Law is holy and just and good. Then it must be well with all those who do his will. There may be clouds and darkness, there may be grievous trouble; but God reigneth, and his truth and mercy are spread out as wings, under which we can always find refuge.

II. That in former straits God has brought deliverance. (Ver. 1.) We can look back. It is sweet to remember God’s loving-kindness. What he has done for us is not only a cause of thankfulness, but a ground of hope. His acts bind God as well as his promises. He does not change. Nothing can elude his eye; nothing can surprise his wisdom or baffle his power. He will bring enlargement in distress, room, breathing space, ampler freedom, and a diviner air.

III. That God is as entreatable as ever by his people. (Vers. 3, 4.) God does not tie his presence to place or ordinance. He regards character. There are times when he seems not to hear; but this is our infirmity. The throne of grace stands ever accessible. If we ask, we shall receive. We may be cast off and dishonoured by men; but God will never forsake those who trust in him.

IV. That trust in God will surely bring peace. (Vers. 5, 6.) Things may grow worse. Afflictions may come, not as single spies, but in battalions. For a time the machinations of the wicked may seem to prevail. But we know what the end must be. What can come from opposition to God but ruin? Reflection not only confirms our faith, but strengthens our attachment to God. The future of the wicked is dark; but the future of the righteous is bright as the heavens shining with countless stars. Whatever happens, therefore, let us hold fast to God. The priestly benediction (Numb. 6:20) finds an echo in the trusting heart. “Peace.”

V. That in the end God’s people shall surely have joy in God. (Vers. 6–8.) He is the supreme good, true, satisfying, inalienable, the everlasting Portion of the soul.

“O thou bounteous Giver of all good,

Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the crown!

Give what thou canst, without thee we are poor,

And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away.”

This psalm, as many others, ends with praise. Like the last strain of a cradle-song, its accents fall gently, lulling the child of God to rest. Luther, it is said, often sang himself to sleep with this psalm.—W. F.

Vers. 6–8.—Three great things. I. The question of questions. The feeling indicated is common. Amid disappointments and cares, evermore the cry is heard, “Who will show us any good?”

II. The prayer of prayers. Somewhere there must be help. Gain, pleasure, worldly honours, and such-like, give no satisfaction. But when we turn to God we find all we need. He is gracious and merciful. Light and joy and peace beam from his countenance. Here we have the gospel preached beforehand.

III. The joy of joys. The “joy of harvest” is proverbial. Here we have more, infinitely more. Not only rest from fear, and recompense for labour, and provision for the future; but this in the highest sense, spiritually and eternally—the Giver as well as the gift.—W. F.

Vers. 1–5.—A cry for deliverance. This psalm refers (according to some) to the same event as the previous psalm—that composed probably in the morning, and this in the evening, of the same day. We have in it—

I. A cry for deliverance from the unrighteous plots of his enemies. The appeal is based upon two facts. 1. His relation and fellowship with the righteous God. Thou art my God, and the God of my righteous cause, and therefore thou wilt not leave me to the wicked designs of my enemies. 2. His experience in former straits and troubles. “Thou didst set me at liberty when I was in trouble.” What thou hast done once thou wilt do again, because thou art unchangeable.

II. The sin of his enemies. 1. They attempt to injure his personal and kingly honour (his glory). By false and evil reports, so as to promote his overthrow and downfall. Character and office are the two most precious things that a man has to lose. 2. They had set their hearts upon an enterprise destined to fail. In love with vanity, they were in love with a vain, hollow appearance, such as this rebellious world turns out to be. Such is the nature of all unjust and sinful undertakings. 3. It was an attempt to overthrow one of God’s appointments. (Ver. 3.) An attempt to set aside one of the Divine decrees; therefore—like trying to upset a Divine law—utterly vain and futile.

III. An admonition to repentance. Not a cry for vengeance. The way of repentance is here pointed out. 1. The thought of God was to fill them with an awe of their sin. If they blasphemed God’s anointed, they were to stand in awe of God. 2. They were to examine the thoughts of their hearts in solitude. On their bed, in the darkness of the night, and in the privacy of their chamber. “Shut to thy door,” etc. 3. They were to offer sincere and truthful “sacrifice,” or service to God. Like Zacchæus, “The half of my goods,” etc. Good works are the best evidence of repentance. 4. They were to trust in the righteous God, and not in their unrighteous aims and objects. We become like the persons or things we trust in.—S.

Vers. 6–8.—The believer’s ground of confidence. David now turns from admonishing his enemies to the case of his companions in trouble, who saw no ground of hope in the visible aspect of things.

I. The despair of unbelief. “Who will show us any good?” No one can. 1. The grandest revelations are made to the mind, and not to the senses. The question, therefore, is beside the mark. God, Christ, immortality, justice, love, holiness, cannot be shown in visible material form. Christ showed them for a season. 2. The good that can be shown can work no cure of life’s greatest evils. It is the inward deliverances, not the outward, that we most need. Talent, money, position, health, cannot work these.

II. The highest good coveted by the believer in God. “Lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” As the sun lights the world. 1. Then we become intensely conscious of God. The thought of him fills every faculty and solves every problem. “In his light we see light.” 2. Then we know that he is our Helper and Saviour. For what is the light of the Divine face?—the light of Fatherhood and love? The light of the warrior’s face is that of courage; of the poet’s and prophet’s, inspiration; of the judge’s, that of absolute justice; but the light of God’s face is that of an infinite abundance of love for all his children.

III. The superiority of this good over the richest material plenty. (Ver. 7.) 1. It creates a Divine joy and gladness. The excitement of the senses wears out the body and corrupts the mind; but the joys of the heart and mind impart the highest strength and the noblest impulses. Therefore “be not drunk with wine, … but be filled with the Spirit.” 2. It gives a deep inward peace. (Ver. 8, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep.”) An intense consciousness of God and his favour has power to tranquillize the mind that is most disturbed by inward or outward trouble. It can calm the greatest storm, because we know the centre of rest, and are reposing upon it. 3. It gives a sense of security. (Ver. 8, “For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.”) He needed no guards to ensure his safety during sleep, because God was nigh. “Who is he that can harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” But “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” If we perish by shipwreck, or in battle, or railway accident, we are still in God’s hands, and ought to trust in him. This is faith in God—to trust him in the darkness as well as in the light.—S.



This psalm is assigned by some to the time of Manasseh, but contains nothing that is really opposed to the superscription—”A Psalm of David”—since, before the temple was built, the tabernacle was called “the temple” (Josh. 6:24; 1 Sam. 1:9; 3:3; 2 Sam. 12:20). It is thoroughly “Davidic in style, concise, vigorous; with rapid transitions of thought and feeling” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). With respect to the time in David’s life whereto it should be assigned, there are no very distinct indications. It was not while he was in exile, for he had ready access to the house of God (ver. 7); nor was it in the later years of his life, when he had no open adversaries. Perhaps “a short time before the revolt of Absalom, when David was aware of the machinations of conspirators against him under a bloodthirsty and treacherous chief” is the most probable date. The psalm is not marked by any notes of division, but seems to consist of five parts: (1) a morning prayer (vers. 1–3); (2) a warning to the wicked (vers. 4–6); (3) a renewed prayer (vers. 7, 8); (4) a denunciation of woe on the wicked (vers. 9, 10); and (5) an anticipation of blessings and favour for the righteous (vers. 11, 12). The superscription, “To the Chief Musician upon Nehiloth,” is thought to mean, either, continuously, “To the Chief Musician, for an accompaniment of wind instruments;” or, discontinuously, “To the Chief Musician: a Psalm upon inheritances.” In the latter case, the respective “inheritances” of the wicked (ver. 6) and the righteous (vers. 11, 12) are supposed to be meant.

Ver. 1.—Give ear to my words, O Lord (comp. Pss. 66:1; 86:6). Cries of this kind are common with the psalmists, even when they do not express the purport of their prayer. Consider my meditation; or, my silent musing (Kay); comp. Ps. 39:3, where the same word is used.

Ver. 2.—Hearken unto the voice of my cry (comp. Pss. 27:7; 28:2; 64:1; 119:149; 130:2; 140:6). The Oriental habit of making requests in loud and shrill tones is the origin of these forms of speech. My King. David was “king” over Israel; but Jehovah was “King” over David (comp. Pss. 10:16; 29:10; 44:4; 47:6, etc.). And my God (see Ps. 84:3). For unto thee will I pray. To thee, i.e., and to no other.

Ver. 3.—My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord (compare “At evening, and at morning, and at noonday will I pray, and he shall hear my voice,” Ps. 55:17; and see also Pss. 59:16; 88:13; 119:147). The appointment of daily morning and evening sacrifice (Numb. 28:4) pointed out morn and eve as times especially appropriate for prayer. A natural instinct suggested the same idea (Job 1:5). In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee. The repetition adds force to the implied injunction (comp. Ps. 130:6). The word translated “direct my prayer” means “arrange” or “set in order,” as the priests did the altar before a sacrifice (Lev. 1:7, 8, 12; 6:5; Numb. 28:4). Prayer is viewed as a sort of sacrificial act. And will look up; or, look out—keep on the watch—in expectation of my prayer being granted (see the Revised Version).

Ver. 4.—For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness. Thou wilt listen to the prayer of a righteous man (Ps. 4:1), since thou dost not delight in wickedness, but in goodness. Neither shall evil dwell with thee. Light has no fellowship with darkness. Evil men can obtain no support from thee, who art All-holy. They will scarcely venture to ask thy aid.

Ver. 5.—The foolish (or, the arrogant—”the boasters”) shall not stand in thy sight. Rather shall they be cast down and dismayed (Ps. 73:3, 18). Thou hatest all workers of iniquity. David has in mind the wicked and presumptuous men who have banded themselves together against him, and “take his contrary part” (Ps. 109:3, Prayer-book Version). These he is sure that God hates.

Ver. 6.—Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing (comp. Ps. 4:2). David’s adversaries were cunning, treacherous, and quite regardless of truth (see 2 Sam. 3:27; 13:28; 15:7–9; 20:10, etc.). God’s vengeance was sure to fall upon them, either in this world or in the next. The Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man. An individual seems to be pointed at, who is probably Ahithophel.

Ver. 7.—But … I will come into thy house; rather, unto thy house. David, as a layman, would not be entitled to enter within the tabernacle. He would draw near to it, probably bring his offering, and then worship toward it (see the following clause). In the multitude of thy mercy; or, through the abundance of thy mercy (comp. Ps. 69:13, 16). It was by God’s mercy that David lived, that he was maintained in health and strength, that he had a desire to go to God’s house, and was permitted to worship there. Of all these mercies he is deeply sensible. And in thy fear will I worship. David’s worship is never without fear—a reverent sense of God’s greatness, power, and perfect holiness. Toward thy holy temple. “David would, according to the custom of the worship then established, turn himself in the time of prayer to the place where the gracious presence of the Lord had its seat” (Hengstenberg; comp. Pss. 28:2; 138:7; 1 Kings 8:30, 33, 38, 42, 44, 48; Dan. 6:10; Jonah 2:4).

Ver. 8.—Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness. Here at last we find what David prayed for. Previously, we have only heard him entreat that his prayer may be heard (vers. 1, 2), declare that he will pray early (ver. 3), and before the tabernacle (ver. 7); now we learn what his prayer is. It is that God will lead him in the path of his righteousness—that righteousness of which he is the pattern, and whereof he approves; and will “make his way plain for him,” i.e. show it him clearly, so that he cannot mistake it. God is asked to do this, especially because of David’s enemies, or of “those that lie in wait for him” (Revised Version margin), lest, if he were to make a false step, they should triumph over him, and so he should bring discredit upon the cause of God and of his saints. Make thy way straight (plain, Revised Version) before my face. Not so much “smooth my way,” or “make it level” or “easy,” as “put it plainly before me” (comp. Ps. 25:5; and Ps. 27:11, “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies”).

Ver. 9.—For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; or, no steadfastness—”no sincerity” (Kay, Cheyne); see the comment on ver. 6. Their inward part is very wickedness; literally, wickednesses; i.e. nothing but wickedness. Their throat is an open sepulchre. “Emitting the noisome exhalations of a putrid heart” (Bishop Horne). They flatter with their tongue; literally, they make smooth their tongues, which may, perhaps, include flattery, but points rather to smooth arguments, specious reasonings, and the habit of making the worse appear the better cause (see the comment of Bishop Horsley, ‘Book of Psalms,’ vol. i. pp. 154, 155). The last two clauses of this verse are quoted by St. Paul (Rom. 3:13), and applied generally to the character of the ungodly.

Ver. 10.—Destroy thou them, O God; rather, condemn them, or declare them guilty (Kay); κρῖνον αὐτούς (LXX.). Let them fall by their own counsels. No condemnation naturally follows punishment. David assumes that God will make his enemies fall; he prays that they may fall from the effect of their own counsels. The fate of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23) perhaps fulfilled this imprecation. Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; Thrust them out (Revised Version); “Thrust them down” (Kay). Punish them at once, in the midst of their many transgressions. For they have rebelled against thee. They have sinned, not against me only, but equally—nay, far more—against thee.

Ver. 11.—But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice. David is fond of contrasts. Here he sets the lot of the righteous over against that of the wicked. While the wicked “fall,” and are “cast out,” or “thrust down” to hell, the righteous “rejoice”—nay, ever shout for joy, displaying their feelings in the true Oriental manner. Because thou defendest them. There is no “because” in the original. The passage runs on without any change of construction, “Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice; let them ever shout for joy, and do thou defend them; and let them that love thy Name be joyful in thee.

Ver. 12.—For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous. All the joy of the righteous springs from the fact that God’s blessing is upon them. The sense of his favour fills their hearts with rejoicing. With favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield. Tsinnah (צִנָּה) is the large, long shield that protected the whole body (see ‘Ancient Monarchies,’ vol. i. p. 445). God’s favour, thus encompassing a man, effectually secured him against all dangers.


Vers. 1–3.—Prayer. “Give ear,” etc. There are prayers, some of the most fervent and spiritual, which refuse words, and need not language (Rom. 8:26). But God, who hath given speech as the glory of our nature and the principal instrument of human progress, will have us consecrate it to this highest use—converse with our Maker, the Father of our spirits.

I. Prayer is personal converse with God. “My voice shalt thou hear” (ver. 3). On this turns the whole reality, efficacy, spiritual benefit, of prayer. 1. Reality. We are not speaking into the air; or to an Infinite Impersonal Power that takes no heed; but to the living God. “He that planted the ear,” etc. (Ps. 94:9). To the Father of spirits (Luke 11:13). 2. By efficacy of prayer we mean, not that prayer has a virtue or power of its own, not that God needs instructing what to give, or persuading to give. The very power to pray comes from him. But the earnest desire and pleading request of his children have real value in his sight; as they must have, if “God is love.” True, God knows what we need, better than we do; but fervour of desire, perseverance and patient faith in asking, accompanied with childlike resignation to his will, are often the very conditions of its being wise and right (and therefore possible) for God to grant what we ask. 3. The spiritual benefit of prayer is no doubt its chief blessing. Nothing else could bring the soul so near to God. But this benefit turns on its reality and efficacy. God might have given promises without inviting or permitting us to pray; but faith claims and pleads his promises in prayer.

II. Prayer should have its set seasons, though it should not be confined to any. “In the morning,” i.e. every morning. Our day should begin with God (comp. Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10).

III. The habit of prayer must be maintained by holy purpose, steadfast resolve. “Will I direct,” etc.; order and arrange it, gathering up all my powers to this great employment, this glorious privilege, as happy as holy. God’s ear is not chained to a careless prayer, of which the offerer himself makes no account.

Vers. 4, 5.—God’s hatred of sin. “Thou are not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness,” etc. It needs courage to preach the severe side of Bible truth. Time was when preaching could not be too severe. Men loved to hear the thunder and see the fire of Sinai. Now it cannot be too flattering and soothing. A view of Divine love is current, not to say fashionable, which tends to reduce it to an easy-going apathetic tolerance, taking little account of the difference between moral good and evil. We need reminding that in God’s judgment the opposition is irreconcilable, infinite, eternal. These verses strongly set forth God’s hatred of sin.

I. God’s hatred of sin is inseparable from his holiness. Having no “pleasure in wickedness” stands here for abhorrence, unchangeable opposition. Were it possible to conceive “a God that hath pleasure in wickedness,” this would be the most terrible, hateful, and hideous of all imaginations—an Omnipotent Fiend! Even a wicked man must see that such a thought is monstrous. But if all sympathy with evil is thus abhorrent to the Divine character, the very thought revolting, it follows that sin must be infinitely hateful to God. Not to hate sin is characteristic of a bad man (Ps. 36:4); he finds in himself no standard by which to test and hate it. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil!” (Ps. 97:10).

II. God’s hatred of sin does not contradict his love, but is inseparable from it. Because “God is love,” he must desire the happiness of his creatures. But men are created to be happy through holiness. Sin poisons the very source of human happiness; fills the world with strife, injustice, cruelty, vice, disease, want, pain, tears, death. Where would Divine love be if our Maker calmly looked upon the destruction of all that is best in his creatures, and the wholesale wreck of human happiness? Again, because “God is love,” he must desire the love of his children. Love asks love. Sin robs God of his children’s love; robs them of the very power of loving him, and of all the joy that can spring only from his love. Because “God is love,” he must desire men to know him and converse with him; and in this communion grow up to their true spiritual stature (Eph. 4:13) Sin tends to banish the knowledge of God from earth; to dry and choke the channel of communion with God (John 17:3; Rom. 1:20, 21, 28; Eph. 4:18).

III. How can hatred of evil be reconciled with love to the wrong-doer? How separate sin from sinners—the sinner from his sins? The gospel is the answer. By the atonement of the Son of God, and by the renewing power of the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:8; Titus 3:5, 6; 1 Cor. 6:11). The Old Testament Scriptures contain abundant promises of pardon to the penitent; and one wonderful example in King Manasseh (Exod. 34:6, 7; Ps. 32; 2 Chron. 33:12, 13). But Law, and fear of punishment, were necessarily predominant till “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” On the other hand, never forget that if the sinner will not and cannot be separated from his sin, the New Testament is fully as severe as the Old (Matt. 7:23; 13:49, 50; Rom. 2:8, 9). The cross, which reveals God’s love to sinners, is at the same time the most tremendous of all witnesses against sin (Rom. 8:3, 4).

Ver. 11.—The joy of faith. “Let all those … rejoice,” etc. People who look on Bible religion as gloomy and joyless would do well to study the Book of Psalms. It is worth note that in this one book of Scripture the words “joy,” “joyful,” “glad,” “gladness,” “rejoice,” occur more than ninety times. Truly the “river that maketh glad the city of God” is a full, pure, deep-flowing stream. Idle mirth, empty-headed and hollow-hearted gaiety (Eccles. 7:6), you do not, indeed, find characterizing the psalmists or prophets. But for full-hearted, clear-voiced joy—the joy that sings on its pilgrim-way because it sees the rainbow in the cloud, and hears the Saviour’s voice in the storm—there is no joy like that which the text speaks of—the joy of faith.

I. It is a great joy to trust god. Trust is an indispensable element of a happy life. A suspicious, distrustful soul is like one walking in a fog, chilling, perplexing, distorting. One of a trustful nature who has no one to trust is like a lonely traveller, hungry and homeless. Mutual confidence is essential to love or friendship worthy the name. But the most faithful, loving friend may disappoint trust through weakness, ignorance, calamity, forgetfulness. Only the all-wise, all-loving, almighty, unchangeably faithful God is worthy of absolute trust—the perfect rest of the soul (Isa. 26:3).

II. Trust in God is full of joyful expectation. It lights up the future (else dim and dark) with the sunshine of certain hope. “We know,” etc. (Rom. 8:28). Care is the heaviest burden of life; to-morrow weighs heavier to most men than to-day; and this burden faith rolls off on to God (1 Pet. 5:7; Isa. 43:2).

III. Trust in God is full of joyful experience. If it is joy to trust God, it is double joy to find by experience that he accepts the trust he invites; rewards the faith that lays hold on his promise. Joshua’s experience is the experience of faith in all ages (Josh. 24:14). St. Paul could say at the end of his course, “I know whom I have believed,” etc. (2 Tim. 1:12; 4:7, 8).

IV. The gospel has opened a new and fuller fountain of joy, by supplying a firmer foundation of faith, and clearer knowledge of God, in the Person of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:8).

Conclusion. If you have no joy in God, it must be because you do not know him; and this is because you do not believe him as speaking to you in his Son. Yet let no Christian despond if his joy in God be not what he desires, what he hears or reads of, what it reasonably should he. If we have not sunshine, let us be thankful for daylight. If even daylight, for a while, fail, let us remember Isa. 50:10, and “watch for the morning” (Ps. 130:6).


Vers. 1–12.—A morning prayer: for sanctuary service: in evil times. This psalm seems to have been written for, or handed to the leader of a special choir, that he might adapt music for its use in sanctuary worship; not necessarily that of the temple—for its composition was probably anterior to the erection of that building—but for use in the services of that temporary structure which preceded it, and which, though but temporary, and even fragile in a material sense, was nevertheless in a high and holy sense the dwelling-place of God, yea, “the palace of the great King.” Note: No material splendours of gold, silver, and precious stones can make a temple without the Real Presence; but however humble the structure, the Real Presence therein will make it a temple of God. Whether David was actually the penman of this psalm or no, matters not. It is evidently the composition of a true saint of God, and reflects in its several verses the spirit of the time and circumstances under which it was written. And not only so. But it shows us that the saints of olden time were wont to regard the house of God as a house of prayer, and to let their prayers be an unburdening of the heart to God on every matter of immediate and pressing concern. Note: In our prayers in God’s house we have no need to include everything in one service. Nor are we bound to use the words of another’s prayers, except as far as they suit our case at the time. Still less need we rack and tear such a psalm as this to find in it the whole gospel. That would not only be a strange anachronism,71 but we should even lose very much by missing the historic setting and aim of the psalm. Who cannot find comfort in the obvious fact that the Old Testament saints, in their prayers, used to tell God everything, just as it seemed to them, and as they felt about it? There is no greater boon in life than to have a friend who will never misunderstand us, and to whom we can tell anything, knowing that he will hide all our folly in his loving forgetfulness, and sympathize with all our cares. Such perfection of friendship is found in God alone. And we have in this psalm a beautiful illustration of the use which the psalmist made thereof.

I. The psalmist lays the entire situation before God. (Vers. 8, 9, “mine enemies,” equivalent to “those that lie in wait for me.”) The whole of the ninth verse shows the treachery and hollowness that mark the hostile bands, and the consequent peril in which the people of God were on that account. (This verse is one of those quoted by the Apostle Paul in proof of human depravity. Nor is there any contrariety to reason in his so doing. For while the psalm speaks of all this wickedness in its relation to society, St. Paul speaks of similar wickedness in its relation to the Law of God and to the God of law. And it is because the psalmist knows how foreign to the nature of God all this iniquity is, that he brings it before God in prayer, and asks him to put it to shame.) Note: Let us learn to pray minutely, and not to lose ourselves in generalities.

II. In doing this he recognizes an endearing relation. (Ver. 2.) “My King,” “my God.” God was not a far-distant Being, only remotely related. The name “Jehovah” brought him near as Israel’s redeeming God; and that very name, which removes us infinitely from anthropomorphism, was the one in which the saints of old found their joy and glory. They could call God their God. Under the New Testament our thoughts of God may be more sweet and endearing still.

III. He observes a devout and wise method in his prayer. “In the morning I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” The meaning is—I will order it accurately, and then look out to see whether it has sped, and when the answer will come. (Many of the old divines are very felicitous in their treatment of these two words.) Sometimes, indeed, the yearning Godward is too deep for outward expression (see ver. 1, “consider my meditation,” i.e. understand my murmuring). “Lord, read the desires of my heart by thine all-piercing eye—and interpret my petitions in thine own loving-kindness before they rise to my lips.” Happy they who know that they have a God with whom they can thus plead, and who have learned the blessed art of thus pleading with God!

IV. He sets his application on substantial grounds. (Vers. 4–6.) The psalmist knows the character of God, and the righteousness of his administration; and in these verses he shows us how real was the revelation on these great themes which God had given in his Law (see Ps. 103:6, 7). All these glorious disclosures of the holiness of God are reiterated and confirmed in the teaching and redemption of the Son of God. (For the specific phrases, see the Exposition; also Perowne and Cheyne.) It is because we know what God is, and the principles of his government, that we can under all circumstances commend ourselves, the Church, and the world to him.

V. On such grounds the psalmist offers varied petitions. 1. For himself (Ver. 8.) Beautiful! He wants (1) to go along God’s way, not his own; (2) to be shown clearly what that way is; and then (3) to be led along that way. He who thus puts himself into God’s hand, wanting only to be led aright, shall never be put to shame. 2. For the people of God. (Ver. 11.) He prays that in the midst of the whirl and tumult which surround them, the righteous may ever ring out a peal of joy because of God’s protecting care and love. 3. For evil ones. (Ver.10.) He prays that they may be (1) held guilty and condemned for their transgressions. Yea (2), rejected by God, even as they had themselves rejected God. We are not bound to imitate the psalmist in such petitions. Jesus Christ tells us that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of Old Testament prophets. They could not rise above the level of their inspiration, nor advance in prayer beyond the point their understanding had reached in those days. For us it would be far more appropriate to pray for the conversion of God’s enemies by the power of his love and grace.

VI. There is here a confident assurance expressed. (Ver. 12, “Thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous … as with a shield.”) The word means, not a small shield which may be held out to ward off a dart, but a large buckler which can cover one around as with armour. So effective are the Divine protection and care with which he guards his own. May such protection ever be ours!

VII. It is worthy of note at what hour of the day this prayer is offered. We are twice told in the third verse, “in the morning.” The early morn, when the frame is freshest and the spirit freest, is the best time for devotion. The early hours, when sanctified by prayer, will help us to sanctify the whole day for God. Before ever we look upon the face of man, let us catch a morning smile from our Father in heaven; and we shall find how true it is that—

“His morning smiles bless all the day.”


Vers. 1–12.—A morning prayer. Every new day the priests began anew the service of God in the temple. The altar was set in order, the lamb was made ready, and as soon as the sign of day was given the morning sacrifice was offered (Lev. 6:5; Numb. 28:4). In this there was a lesson for all times. Every new day calls for a fresh consecration of ourselves to God. “When first thine eyes unveil, give thy soul leave to do the like” (Vaughan). In this morning prayer we find—

I. Faith in God’s Fatherly character. The cry, “Give ear,” is that of a child to its father. The priests stood for others. They offered sacrifices not only for themselves, but for the people. But for us there is but one Priest and one Sacrifice. Through Christ we have access to God as our Father, and can cry to him for help in every time of need (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 4:16).

II. Confidence in God’s holy rule. (Vers. 3–7.) The psalmist speaks of what he knows. God is just and holy. The more we think, the more will our confidence grow. We rise from the faith that God is our Father, to the grand belief that he is “King,” and that he will defend the right. But let us keep in mind what sin is. Some in these days make light of sin. It is an inherited weakness, a necessary evil for which circumstances are to be blamed more than the sinner. These and such-like excuses are made, and, if this is not enough, it is said, “Somehow things will come right. If not here, yet in the future world all will be well.” To such the “wrath” of God is but a figure of speech, and “hell” the invention of our slavish fears. Against all such dangerous teaching, let us place the wholesome doctrine of the psalmist and of our Lord.

III. Expectation of God’s gracious interposition. (Vers. 8–10.) Help is needed, and earnestly implored. The cry is not for mere personal ease or comfort, but for such deliverance as shall be for God’s glory. The soul is in sympathy with God, and can not only pray, but “look up” with the patience of hope. 1. Guidance. (Ver. 9.) We confess our weakness; but we cast ourselves on God for help. He is our Shepherd. We trust his love, and surrender ourselves to his leading. It is for him to go before; it is for us as his sheep to hear his voice and follow him. 2. Defence. (Ver. 11.) When Luther was asked at Augsburg where he should find shelter if his patron, the Elector of Saxony, deserted him, his answer was, “Under the shield of Heaven.” This shield is for all. Other defences may fail; but here we are safe from all the assaults of the enemy. 3. Blessedness. (Ver. 12.) God is pledged to his people by his character as well as by his covenant. Trust in him awakens joy—pure ardent, comforting, not like the joy of the fool (Eccles. 7:6), but real and abiding, as God’s Name. Trust also calls forth praise. What Jeremiah said in the pit, God’s people say in the sunshine, “O Lord, there is none like unto thee.” They are as Naphtali, “satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord” (Deut. 33:23). Therefore they sing, “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy Refuge” (Deut. 33:26, 27).—W. F.

Vers. 1–7.—Prayer for deliverance from wicked men. The psalmist prays to be delivered from, not open persecution, but the scoff and scourge of the tongue at all goodness and service to God. When irreligion prevails, it is difficult to resist it and stand firm in our allegiance to God.

I. The cry for help against the prevailing impiety. 1. He prays God as the Highest to hearken to his meditations, his words, and his cry. All true prayer begins in thought or meditation, goes on to express itself in uttered words, and rises at last into an earnest cry. Not till we muse on our own needs and difficulties does the fire of devotion burn; then do we break into earnest pleading, and deep, if not loud, cries. 2. The urgency and eagerness of his suit. In the morning, at the earliest opportunity, at the time of the morning sacrifice in the temple, do I wait upon thee with my prayer. Urgent matters take precedence of all others, and we cannot rest till we set about them. 3. He waited expectant for the answer to his prayer. (Ver. 3.) “Watched”—or looked out, not “up”—to see what came of it, and how it would be answered. This is both natural and reasonable; for God has promised to answer true prayer.

II. The ground of his prayer. God is the righteous God, and as such: 1. He has no sympathy with the ways of the wicked. (Ver. 4.) Not when they seem to prosper—in trade, politics, or open irreligion. And they seem to prosper only for a time. 2. God has no fellowship with the irreligious. (Ver. 5.) “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight,” or before thee, as favoured courtiers stand in the presence of a king. God has no gracious intercourse or communion with wicked men. Therefore I can ask for his help with confidence; for he is gracious to the righteous. 3. The false and the cruel are doomed to perish. (Ver. 6.) Their own devices destroy them; that is God’s appointment. God’s action is commonly by law, and not by personal interference; he abhors and destroys men by the opposition of his laws to all deceit and cruelty.

III. The freedom and awe of the psalmist in drawing nigh to God. (Ver. 7, “I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy loving-kindness.”) The wicked cannot stand in thy sight; but I can. Note: 1. The freedom and confidence of true worship. He feels the infinite mercy and privilege of enjoying access to God. 2. The arm of God felt in all true worship. “In thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.” When freedom and reverence are blended, then is our worship the truest and most acceptable.—S.

Vers. 8–12.—The righteousness of God. This second strophe of the psalm is very much like the first in substance, the matter running parallel with vers. 3–7. The fundamental thought on which all is based is that of the righteousness of God. The whole prayer is framed on that conception.

I. A prayer for righteous deliverance and guidance. 1. For righteous guidance. “Lead me in thy righteousness; make thy way [the right way] plain to me.” 2. For righteous deliverance. The unrighteous lay in wait for him—threatened his safety. There was “no faithfulness in their mouth;” they used slander and treachery when they dared not use open violence. Their inward part, their souls, were full of evil designs and purposes. “Their throat is like an open sepulchre,” which yawns for his destruction. Their speech, fair and smooth, to flatter and put him off his guard and lure him on. With them, mouth, heart, throat, and tongue are all instruments of evil; and their malice was such that he needed the care and guidance of the righteous power above.

II. A prayer for righteous retribution. (Ver. 10.) Punish. “The word properly signifies such a decision and judgment as would show and manifest what sort of neighbours they are when their ungodly dispositions are disclosed and every one is made known.” Show them guilty. Let them fall through or because of their own counsels. Their counsels are of such an evil nature that they must in the end ensure their destruction. By means of their transgressions thrust them away—the same thought in substance as the last. But the great argument for retribution is—they have rebelled against thee. The enemies of the psalmist are the enemies of God. God’s cause and that of his people are the same. “Whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye;” “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”

III. Prayer for the realization of a righteous joy. (Vers. 11, 12.) This joy proceeds: 1. From the sense of refuge and defence we have in God. 2. From the love we have to God, for his goodness and righteousness. 3. From the knowledge we have that God does assuredly bless the righteous.—S.



This is the first of what have been called “the Penitential Psalms.” It has been said that “there is much of grief in it, but nothing of penitence.” The grief, however—such grief (see ver. 6)—can scarcely be supposed to have arisen from any other source than consciousness of sin. And grief of this kind is a main element in penitence. The title ascribes the psalm to David, and declares it to be addressed, like Ps. 4, “to the Chief Musician on Neginoth,” by which we are probably to understand that it is intended to be set to an accompaniment of stringed instruments (see introductory paragraph to Ps. 4). The further statement, that it is to be “upon Sheminith,” is very obscure, but perhaps refers to some form of musical time (see Hengstenberg). The psalm seems to divide into four stanzas—the first and last of three, the intermediate ones of two verses each.

Ver. 1.—O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger. The psalmist begins by deprecating God’s wrath and displeasure. He is conscious of some grievous sin, deserving rebuke and chastisement, and he does not ask to be spared his chastisement; but he would fain be chastised in love, not in anger (comp. Jer. 10:24, “O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.”). Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure; or, in thy wrath. In its primary sense, hamah (חמה) is no doubt “heat,” “glow;” but the secondary sense of “anger,” “wrath,” is quite as common.

Ver. 2.—Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; rather, I am faint, or languid—withered away, like a faded plant or flower. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. Bodily ailment seems certainly to be implied; but it is that sort of bodily ailment which is often produced by mental distress—a general languor, weariness, and distaste for exertion (comp. Ps. 22:14; 31:10; 38:3; 102:3.)

Ver. 3.—My soul is also sore vexed. It is not, however, the body alone which suffers; the soul also is vexed, and vexed greatly (מְאֹד). Clearly the main emphasis is intended to be laid on the mental suffering. But thou, O Lord, how long? We may fill up the ellipse in various ways: “How long wilt thou look on?” “How long wilt thou hide thyself?” “How long wilt thou be angry?” (see Pss. 35:17; 79:5; 89:46). Or again, “How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). The cry is that of one wearied out with long suffering (comp. Ps. 90:13).

Ver. 4.—Return, O Lord. God seemed to have withdrawn himself, to have forsaken the mourner, and gone far away (comp. Ps. 22:1). Hence the cry, “Return” (comp. Pss. 80:14; 90:13). Nothing is so hard to endure as the feeling of being deserted by God. Deliver my soul. “The psalmist feels himself so wretched in soul and body, that he believes himself to be near death” (Hengstenberg). His prayer here is, primarily, for deliverance from this impending danger, as appears clearly from the following verse. Save me for thy mercies’ sake. Either a repetition of the preceding prayer in other words, or an enlargement of it so as to include salvation of every kind.

Ver. 5.—For in death there is no remembrance of thee (comp. Pss. 30:9; 88:11; 115:17; 118:17; Isa. 38:18). The general view of the psalmists seems to have been that death was a cessation of the active service of God—whether for a time or permanently, they do not make clear to us. So even Hezekiah, in the passage of Isaiah† above quoted. Death is represented as a sleep (Ps. 13:3), but whether there is an awakening from it does not appear. No doubt, as has been said (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. iv. p. 182), “the cessation of active service, even of remembrance or devotion, does not affect the question of a future restoration,” and the metaphor of sleep certainly suggests the idea of an awakening. But such a veil hung over the other world, under the old dispensation, and over the condition of the departed in it, that thought was scarcely exercised upon the subject. Men’s duties in this life were what occupied them, and they did not realize that in another they would have employments—much less form any notion of what those employments would be. The grave seemed a place of silence, inaction, tranquillity. In the grave (Hebrew, in
Sheol) who shall give thee thanks? (comp. Ps. 115:17, 18).

Ver. 6.—I am weary—or, worn out (Kay)—with my groaning. The Oriental habit of giving vent to grief in loud lamentations must be remembered. Herodotus says that at the funeral of Masistius, the Persians present “vented their grief in such loud cries that all Bœotia resounded with the clamour” (Herod., ix. 24). All the night make I my bed to swim (comp. Homer, ‘Od.,’ xvii. 102, 103). The Revised Version has, “every night,” which is a possible meaning. Dr. Kay translates, “I drench my bed.” I water my couch with my tears. One of the usual pleonastic second clauses.

Ver. 7.—Mine eye is consumed because of grief; or, mine eye is wasted away because of provocation. The eye falls in, becomes dull, and, as it were, “wastes away” through long-continued grief (comp. Ps. 31:9). The kind of grief expressed by the word ka’as (כַעַס) is “that which arises from provocation or spiteful treatment” (Kay). It waxeth old because of all mine enemies. It becomes dull and heavy and sunken, like the eye of an old man. How often has it not been noted that nothing so much ages a man as grief!

Ver. 8.—Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity! Note the sudden change of tone, very characteristic of the Davidical psalms. The psalmist, having offered his prayer, is so certain of its acceptance that he at once turns upon his adversaries with words of reproach, and almost of menace. “Depart from me!” he exclaims; “get ye gone! do not dare any more to persecute me or plot against me! Your efforts are in vain.” For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. David speaks from an inward conviction. He knows that he has prayed sincerely and fervently. He is certain, therefore, that his prayer is heard and accepted.

Ver. 9.—The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive—rather, hath received; προσεδέξατο (LXX.)—my prayer. The threefold repetition marks the absoluteness of the psalmist’s conviction.

Ver. 10.—Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed; rather, all mine enemies shall be ashamed and sore vexed (Rosenmüller, Kay, and others). Shame will fall upon David’s enemies when their plots have failed, and deep vexation when they find him restored to health (ver. 4) and in the full enjoyment of the Divine favour. Let them return; rather, they shall return; i.e. “retire,” “turn their backs,” “take to flight.” As Hengstenberg says, “David sees his enemies, who are gathered around him for the attack, all at once in alarm give way.” And be ashamed suddenly. It is doubly shameful to have to fly when one has been the assailant.


Ver. 9.—The school of adversity. “The Lord hath heard,” etc. This outburst of triumphant gratitude is like a sunbeam out of a dark, stormy sky. A wail of profound sadness echoes through the earlier portion of the psalm. In his deep affliction the psalmist seems to lose sight of the light beyond; he sees but the dark silence of the grave (ver. 5). Suddenly the clouds part; faith revives; the conviction that God is the Hearer of prayer fills his soul with joy, and with the certain hope that God will answer.

I. Trouble is the school of prayer. In trouble even prayerless souls are often taught to pray (Pss. 78:34; 107:6).

“Eyes that the preacher could not school

By wayside graves are raised:

And lips say, ‘God be merciful!’

That ne’er said, ‘God be praised!’ ”

(Mrs. Browning.)

But even prayerful Christians have to own that there is no prayer like that we offer in trouble. In prosperity prayer is apt to be vague, like an arrow shot skyward from a slack string. Prayer in trouble is like an arrow shot from a full-bent bow—straight at the mark. David’s prayer was intensely personal, “my supplication;” urgent, “the voice of my weeping;” persistent, “all the night” (ver. 6); seizing hold on God’s mercy as its plea (ver. 4). Even our blessed Lord learned this lesson (Heb. 5:7).

II. Therefore, One principal blessing of affliction and strong consolation under it is this—that thus our Father is teaching his child to pray. Our Lord teaches this lesson (Luke 11:5, etc.; 18:1, etc.). Never lose hold of this truth in darkest trouble, for without this it will be dark indeed—meaningless, hopeless, comfortless. The Lord has heard your prayer in the way of taking note of it—knows more about it than you do yourself. Therefore he will hear in the way of sending an answer: if not the exact answer you wish and expect, then something better. So St. Paul’s thrice earnestly repeated prayer was answered with a refusal richer in grace and love than if his petition had been granted (2 Cor. 12:7–9).

Observe: If we lived nearer to God, more in the spirit and habit of prayer, in peaceful prosperous days, we might perhaps the less need to be taught in this sharp school.


Vers. 1–10.—The moan of a saint, and the mercy of his God. For the significance of the title of this psalm, see the Exposition. An expositor well remarks that the confessed uncertainty on the part of the best Hebrew scholars as to the meaning of many of the titles is a striking proof of their antiquity, since it shows that the clue thereto is lost in oblivion. This psalm belongs to those specified under the first head of our introductory homily, as one of those in which we have the strugglings and wrestlings of a saint in devotional exercises; not the words of God to man, but the words of man to God, and as such they must be studied. We must not fall into the anachronism to which in our last homily we referred, of interpreting a psalm like this as if it had been written in full New Testament light; for we shall see as we proceed abundant indication of the contrary. Yet there is here a priceless record of an early believer’s experience, from which troubled souls through all time may draw an abundance of comfort. Here are—a moan, a prayer, a plea, an issue.

I. The moan. It is not that of an impenitent man; at the same time, it bears no very clear indication of being a penitential wail over sin. It is the plaint of one who is overwhelmed with sorrow—with sorrow that has come upon him through his enemies. So intense is his anguish that it haunts him by night and by day; it exhausts his frame, consumes his spirit. Note the various expressions: “withered away,” “bones vexed,” “sore vexed,” “weary with groaning,” “make my bed to swim,” “water my couch with my tears,” “eyes dim,” “eyesight wasting away,” etc. What caused such overwhelming sorrow, we cannot tell. But this is of no consequence. The point to be noted is this—there are not unfrequently times in the experience of God’s people when some care, or trouble, or perplexity is felt, and that so severe that they are haunted by it night and day; they cannot shake it off; and they cannot, even when at prayer forget it. What are they to do? Let them not try to forget it; let them turn their prayers in that direction, so that the perplexity and the prayer are concurrent and not contrary forces. This is what the psalmist did. This is what we should do.

“Give others the sunshine; tell Jesus the rest.”

II. The prayer. It is twofold. 1. Deprecatory. (Ver. 1, “Rebuke me not,” etc.; “nor chasten me in thine hot displeasure.”) Here is one of the traces of the Old Testament saints’ thinking about God: they regarded their afflictions as indications of God’s anger. We are now taught rather to regard them as a part of the gracious training which our Father sees that we need. The sharpest trials often force out the most fervid prayers; yet, at the same time, we are permitted to cry to our Father to ask him to deal gently with us, and to “throw away his rod,” since “love will do the work.” 2. Supplicatory. “Mercy,” “healing,” “deliverance,” “salvation,”—for these he pleads. Probably his yearning is mainly for temporal relief and deliverance from his foes. But we, under similar circumstances, as we know more than the psalmist did, should rise higher than he could. We should regard temporal deliverances as entirely subordinate to the higher spiritual improvement, which ought to be earnestly prayed for as the result of every trial. We should always be more anxious to have our trials sanctified than to have them removed.

III. The plea. This also is twofold. 1. The psalmist feels that his burden is so great, it will soon bring him to the grave, if not removed. Hence he says, “In death there is no remembrance of thee; and in Sheol who shall give thee thanks?” Here is another proof that, in dealing with this specimen of the devotion of an Old Testament saint, we have to do with one to whom, as yet, life and immortality had not been brought to light; to whom death was but the passage to a dim and gloomy state of being; although, as we shall see in dealing with Pss. 16, 17, there was the hope of an awakening. Still, “Sheol,” the all-demanding realm, was not as yet lit up with gospel light. The Greek word “Hades” and the Hebrew word “Sheol” both refer to the state after death, though under different symbolic expressions. Historically, there are three conceptions of Hades, or Sheol. (1) The pagan: all gloom and no hope. (2) The Hebrew: gloom, with hope of a blest awaking in the morning. (3) The Christian: no gloom at all, so far as the godly are concerned. “Absent from the body; at home with the Lord.” Hence we cannot now adopt ver. 5 of this prayer, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him; that hence our death is the gateway to rest, and that the time of our departure may be peacefully left in wiser hands than ours. 2. The psalmist grounds a second plea on the loving-kindness of God. This is better, surer ground (ver. 4). Very often is this plea used. It cannot be used too often. It takes hold of God’s strength.

IV. The issue. 1. The psalmist receives an answer to his prayer. (See Ps. 34:6.) Thousands can say the same. “The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.” 2. Consequently, there is: (1) New confidence Godward (ver. 9). “The Lord will receive my prayer.” As he has done in the past, so he will continue to do. New courage manward (ver. 10, Revised Version). Yea, by prayer the spirit is calmed. Trouble is turned to rest, fear to bravery, and despair to hope. Note: How much care and worry good people would save themselves if they did but take all their troubles to God at once, without waiting till they obtained such hold upon them! (2) It is infinitely better to tell God everything, than to go about moaning and groaning to our fellows! God knows all. He never misunderstands us. He knows exactly how to help us. He will help us, at the right moment, in the best way, and to the full extent of our need; yea, he will do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”—C.

Vers. 1–10.—A cry to God, and its response. I. The cry of the fainting soul. Circumstances are adverse. There is gloom without and within. Conscience accuses. God seems full of wrath. Death is regarded, not as a release, but as the minister of judgment; and the grave, not as a quiet resting-place, but as a “pit,” loathsome and terrible. Amidst the darkness, and with fears on every side: 1. God’s indignation is deprecated. Affliction is hard to bear; but with God’s wrath it would be overwhelming. 2. God’s pity is appealed to. Weakness is pleaded, and the hope expressed that in deserved wrath God will remember mercy. His smile will turn the darkness to light. 3. God’s deliverance is entreated. It is craved on the ground of God’s mercies (ver. 4). It is urged on account of the brevity of life, and because death will put an end to the power of serving God in this world (ver. 5). It is claimed as the only relief for the helpless and miserable (ver. 7).

II. The response of a gracious God. It is said the darkest hour is that before the dawn. So here the psalmist, in his utter weakness and woe, turning from sin unto God, finds help. A light surprises him like sunrise breaking in suddenly on a dark night (vers. 8, 9). The answer from God is not only quick and timely, but effectual. Thrice the glad heart says, “God has heard,” thus confirming to itself the news which seems almost too good to be true.—W. F.

Vers. 1–10.—Night and morning in the soul. I. Night. There is darkness. God hides himself. There is dreariness. The soul is left alone with sad and distressing thoughts. There is depression. The ghosts of past misdeeds rise up. There are nameless terrors. But though perplexed, there need not be despair. God is near. He can help. He can even give songs in the night.

II. Morning. Light comes, bringing hope and peace. God has heard the cry of his child. Such deliverances are comforting. They not only show God’s mercy and truth, but they prophesy of complete redemption. If there be night, let us wait for the morning. The weary traveller, the tempest-tossed mariner, the city watchman dreading the assault of the foe, comfort themselves with the thought that the morning cometh. So let us look up, for our redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).—W. F.

Vers. 1–10.—Great afflictions, greater consolation. The language in this psalm may seem exaggerated and unreal. But it is not so. Want of imagination and sympathy in some, and want of experience in others, make them unfit judges. We neither know our strength nor our weakness till we are tried. The man who may have stood up to help others in their troubles may be cast down and disconsolate when visited with trouble himself (Job 4:3–5). Learn—

I. That there are worse afflictions than we know of. We must not make our life the limit, nor our experience the standard. Besides what we see, there is what we only hear of, and besides all these, there are miseries beyond our wildest imaginings. Even as to ourselves, let our case be ever so bad, we can conceive of its becoming worse. What a glimpse have we of the dread possibilities of the future in that solemn word of our Lord to the man who had for thirty and eight years been a helpless cripple, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14)!

II. That there are adequate consolations for the severest trials. Come what will, God is our Refuge and our Strength. Let us therefore be patient and trust. Let us also be thankful. Things might be far worse than they are. Let us also bear ourselves gently and kindly to others who suffer. It is those who have themselves been sorely tried who can best sympathize, as it is those who have themselves been comforted who can best comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–5).—W. F.

Vers. 1–10.—Deliverance from sore trouble. “In the malice of his enemies David sees the rod of God’s chastisement, and therefore makes his prayer to God for deliverance. The struggle has lasted so long, the grief is so bitter, that his health has given way, and he has been brought to the gates of the grave. But ere long light and peace visit him, and he breaks forth into the joy of thanksgiving.”

I. A picture of complicated distress. 1. Danger from outward foes. Producing constant fear and anxiety, and perhaps threatening his life. 2. A sense of being under the chastising hand of God. The malice of his enemies was regarded as the rod by which God in his anger was punishing him—an Old Testament view. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten”—the New Testament view. 3. These two things caused the prostration of both body and soul. Mental troubles are the causes of our severest afflictions and sufferings. Threatened by man, frowned upon by God, laid low by disease,—that is the picture here given.

II. Arguments used in support of the cry for deliverance. “Let thine anger cease;” “Forgive my sins.” 1. Because of the extremity of my sufferings. He “languished” (ver. 2). His “bones were terrified” (ver. 2). His “soul sore vexed” (ver. 3). His bed swam with his tears (ver. 6). His eye wasted and grew dim with his grief (ver. 7). It is an appeal to the Divine pity. “He will not keep his anger for ever.” 2. His power of endurance was exhausted. “O Jehovah, how long?” I cannot endure the severity of thy judgments. “How long?” was all Calvin said in his most intense grief. Here it means, “Do not quite destroy me, for I am well-nigh spent.” Still a cry for mercy. 3. Because his death would put an end to his power to praise God. “There is here the childlike confidence which fears not to advance the plea that God’s glory is concerned in granting his request.” And that is the ground of all true prayer—the granting will honour thee. Those in Sheol lived a spectral, shadowy life, apart from the light of God’s presence, and could not praise him. “The living, the living, he shall praise thee.” The meaning here is—it is pleasing to God to be praised, and pleasing to himself to praise.

III. The triumph of believing, penitential prayer. Salvation from his enemies had become a patent fact. God had forgiven, and he was safe, and could now rejoice. The psalm epitomizes his experience, and that accounts for the sudden change in the eighth verse. Our sins are our greatest foes, and when God, through Christ, forgives them, that is the hour of our greatest triumph.—S.



The composition of this psalm by David, asserted in the title, is generally allowed. Internal evidence seems to indicate for its date the earlier portion of David’s public life—that during which he suffered persecution at the hands of Saul. There are two considerable difficulties connected with the title: (1) the meaning of “Shiggaion of David;” and (2) the determination of the identity of “Cush the Benjamite.” “Shiggaion” is connected by some with the “Shigioneth” of Hab. 3:1, which is commonly explained to be a particular kind of tune or tunes. But the identity of the two words is uncertain, and the identity of their meaning, at an interval of nearly six centuries, is still more open to question. The meaning of “Shiggaion” has really to be guessed from the context; and the most probable of the conjectures made would seem to be, either simply, “a poem of David,” or “a lyrical composition of David”—a meaning which obtains a certain amount of support from the Arabic. With respect to “Cush the Benjamite,” it has been argued (1) that he was a person, otherwise unknown, who held a high position among the courtiers of Saul (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. iv. p. 183); (2) that he was Saul himself (Hengstenberg); (3) that he was Shimei (2 Sam. 16:5–13), represented under a feigned name (Kay). This last conjecture brings the psalm down to too late a date; the two others are equally possible, and almost equally plausible. If a preference is to be given to either of them over the other, we should incline to the view of Hengstenberg, that Saul is meant, and that he is called “Cush,” with allusion to his father’s name being Kish. Such plays upon words have always found much favour in the East.

The psalm has but one marked division, that between vers. 1–5 and vers. 6–17, where the term selah occurs. The remainder runs on continuously, without any marked break.

Ver. 1.—O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust (compare the openings of Pss. 11, 31, and 71). When David is most sorely pressed by persecution and danger, then is his faith and trust in God most plainly apparent. Save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me. The Revised Version has, “from all them that pursue me;” but “persecute” is better. Hengstenberg and Kay have, “from all my persecutors.” So also French and Skinner. The persecutors are such men as the Ziphites and others, who encouraged Saul in his attempts to take David’s life (1 Sam 26:1, 19).

Ver. 2.—Lest he tear my soul like a lion (comp. Ps. 5:6, where there is a similar abrupt transition from the plural to the singular number). On both occasions David fears one special enemy—then probably Ahithophel, now Saul. The simile of the lion is one frequent in the Psalms (see Pss. 10:9; 17:12; 22:13, 21; 35:17; 54:4, etc.). Rending it in pieces. As the lion does a sheep. While there is none to deliver. No human helper, at once willing and able to give deliverance.

Ver. 3.—O Lord my God, if I have done this;
i.e.this which is laid to my charge.” The general charge against David in Saul’s lifetime was that he “sought the king’s hurt” (1 Sam. 24:9). Afterwards he was accused of being “a bloody man” (2 Sam. 16:8)—the death of Ishbosheth, and perhaps of others, being regarded as his work. If there be iniquity in my hands. If, i.e., I have committed any criminal act, if any definite offence can be charged against me. Human weakness and imperfection David does not mean to deny, but, like Job, he maintains in a certain qualified sense his righteousness.

Ver. 4.—If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me. This is probably the true meaning. David denies that he has wantonly attacked and injured any one with whom he was on friendly and peaceable terms. No doubt he was accused of having estranged Saul by plotting to take the crown from him. (Yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy.) This translation, which is retained by our Revisers, has the support also of Ewald, Hupfeld, Mr. Aglen, and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary.’ If accepted, it must be considered as a reference to 1 Sam. 24:7, or else to 1 Sam. 26:9, or both, and as a sort of parenthetic protest, “Nay, not only have I not injured a friend, but I have gone so far as to let my enemy escape me.” A different meaning is, however, given to the passage by many critics, as Rosenmüller, Hengsteneberg, Bishop Horsley, Cheyne, etc., who regard the sense as running on without any parenthesis, and translate, “If I have oppressed him who without cause is mine enemy.” David, according to this view, denies that he has either injured a friend or requited evil to a foe.

Ver. 5.—Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it. “If I have been guilty of any of these acts, then let my enemy not only persecute my soul, as he is doing (vers. 1, 2), but take it—make it his prey—obtain full power over it.” Yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth; i.e. “utterly destroy me and bring me to ruin.” And not only so, but also lay mine honour in the dust; i.e. “bring me down to the grave with shame.” Compare the imprecations of Job upon himself (Job 31:8, 10, 22, 40).

Ver. 6.—Arise, O Lord, in thine anger. To call on God to “arise” is to ask him to take action, to lay aside the neutral attitude in which he most commonly shows himself to man, and to interfere openly in the concerns of earth. To call on him to “arise in his anger” is to entreat him to vindicate our cause against those opposed to us, and to visit them with some open manifestation of his displeasure (comp. Pss. 3:7; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; 44:26; 68:1). Lift up thyself. This is even a stronger expression than “arise” (Isa. 33:10). It is a call on God to appear in his full strength. Because of the rage of mine enemies; or, against the rage of mine enemies (Kay, Revised Version). Force must be met by force. David justifies his appeal for aid by alleging the violence and fury of those whose attacks he has to meet. And awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. The two clauses are not connected in the original, which runs, “Awake for me: thou hast commanded judgment.” The meaning seems to be, “Arouse thyself on my behalf—judgment is a thing which thou hast ordained—surely now is the time for it.”

Ver. 7.—So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about. Then, if thou wilt show thyself in judgment, the congregation of the peoples—not, apparently, Israel only—will crowd around thee, in acknowledgment of thy majesty, and recognize in thee the righteous Judge of all the earth. For their sakes therefore return thou on high; rather, and above it (or, above them; i.e. above the congregation of the peoples) return thou on high. After coming down to earth, and executing judgment, then go back to thy throne in heaven.

Ver. 8.—The Lord shall judge the people. Hitherto judgment has been prayed for, now it is announced, “The Lord shall judge”—shall decide between David and his enemies—shall judge them in his anger, and at the same time judge David, i.e. vindicate his cause. David has no desire to escape this judgment. Judge me, he says, O Lord, according to my righteousness. Judge me, i.e., and, if thou findest me righteous, acquit me and vindicate me. And according to mine integrity that is in me; literally, which is on me (comp. Job 29:24, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my judgment was as a robe and a diadem”).

Ver. 9.—Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end. It is not the removal of the wicked, but the removal of their wickedness, that David desires (comp. Ps. 10:15). But establish the just;
i.e. protect, strengthen, and sustain him. For the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins (comp. Jer. 11:20; 17:10; 20:12). “The heart, as the seat of the understanding and the will, the reins of natural impulses and affections” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’).

Ver. 10.—My defence is of God; literally, my shield is on God; i.e. “rests on him” (Kay)—is upheld by him. Which saveth the upright in heart (comp. Ps. 125:4).

Ver. 11.—God judgeth the righteous; rather, God is a righteous Judge. So Rosenmüller, Bishop Horsley, Dr. Kay, the ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ and the Revised Version. And God is angry with the wicked every day. There is no need of inserting the words, “with the wicked,” since, of course, it is with the wicked that God is angry. What the psalmist means to assert especially is that God’s anger continues against the wicked as long as their wickedness continues.

Ver. 12.—If he turn not, he (i.e. God) will whet his sword (comp. Deut. 32:41; Isa. 27:1; 34:5). “Every new transgression,” says Bishop Horne, “sets a fresh edge to God’s sword.” He hath bent his bow, and made it ready; rather, he hath bent his bow, and fixed it; i.e. held it in the position for taking aim.

Ver. 13.—He hath prepared for him the instruments of death. These are probably not the sword and the bow, but the “arrows” of the next clause. They are prepared “for him,” i.e. for the wicked man. He ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors; rather, he maketh his arrows to be fiery ones. Hengstenberg notes that “in sieges it was customary to wrap inflammable matter round arrows, and to shoot them after it had been kindled” (compare the “fiery darts” of St. Paul, Eph. 6:16).

Ver. 14.—Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood (comp. Job 15:35; Isa. 59:4). The “falsehood” intended is probably the bringing of false charges against David (see vers. 3–5).

Ver. 15.—He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made (comp. Pss. 9:15, 16; 35:8; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10, etc.). There are several illustrations of this law of God’s providence in Scripture, the most striking being that of Haman. Its existence as a law was noticed by some of the classical writers, as Ovid, who says—

“Nec lex justior ulla est,

Quam necis artifices arte perire sua.”

Ver. 16.—His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing upon his own pate. Some critics see in this a continuation of the metaphor, and suppose that, while the sinner is in the pit, the heap which his own hands have thrown out falls in upon him and crushes him. But it is perhaps better to understand the words in a more general way.

Ver. 17.—I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness. Another abrupt transition—a song of thankfulness to Jehovah for giving the deliverance which the psalmist foresees, and considers as good as accomplished. And will sing praise to the Name of the Lord most high (comp. Ps. 8:1, 9, “How excellent is thy Name in all the earth!”). God is identified with his Name very commonly in Scripture, or, perhaps we should say, the Name of God is used as a periphrasis for God himself. Where God puts his special presence, he is said to “put his Name” (Deut. 12:5, 21; 1 Kings 14:21; 2 Chron. 12:13). His Name is “holy and reverend” (Ps. 111:1–9); “incense is offered unto it” (Mal. 1:11); it is “magnified for ever” (1 Chron. 17:24); for it the temple is built (1 Kings 8:44); through it the godly “tread down their enemies” (Ps. 44:5); the “desire of men’s souls is to it” (Isa. 26:8). (See also Pss. 92:1; 96:8; 99:3; 103:1; 105:1; 113:1; 115:1; 119:55; 145:1, 2, 21; 148:13; 149:3).


Ver. 11.—God’s righteous displeasure against sin is an abiding reality. “God is a righteous Judge,” etc. (Revised Version). Confidence in Divine justice is one of the deepest roots of religion. On this faith Abraham based his daring but humble intercession for the cities (Gen. 18:25). To this justice the psalmist, deeply wronged and falsely accused, makes impassioned appeal. This (and many other passages of) Scripture is grievously misjudged if read as the outpouring of personal revenge. David is perfectly willing to suffer, if he deserves it (vers. 4, 5). The enemies against whom (here and elsewhere) he appeals are not merely his private foes, but God’s enemies public rebels against law and truth, “workers of iniquity.” “God is angry … every day.” Q.d.: God’s righteous displeasure against sin is an abiding reality.

I. Conscience proves this. Conscience is the echo within the soul of God’s voice, “accusing or else excusing” (Rom. 2:15), praising or blaming, saying always, “Thou shalt do right; thou shalt not do wrong.” This voice may be dulled and silenced by the practice of sin (“conscience seared,” 1 Tim. 4:2), or perverted by false philosophy or false religious belief. But it is God’s witness, for all that. Note that praise and blame imply one another. If God had no holy wrath against wrong, he could have no delight in and approval of goodness.

II. God’s character proves this. The more benevolent any one is, the more odious cruelty is to him; the more truthful, the more he hates and despises lying lips; the more generous, the more he scorns meanness; the more just, the more indignant he is at injustice. So, summing up every morally good quality under “holiness,” every immoral quality under “sin,” the more we think of God as perfectly holy, the more we must infer his hatred of sin. It is “that abominable thing” (Jer. 44:4).

III. God’s love proves it. (See on Ps. 5:4, 5.) Suppose a mother sees her child ill used, tortured, murdered; a son hears his parents foully slandered; a loyal soldier sees insult offered to his sovereign; a true patriot finds his country unjustly assailed;—just proportionate to the warmth of love is the flame of righteous indignation. We do but maim and caricature Divine love if we deny God’s righteous anger against sin.

IV. God’s dealings prove it. In point of fact, every day brings new examples—new proof is needless—that “it is a righteous thing with God” (2 Thess. 1:6) to punish sin. In some cases the connection is obvious (e.g. disease from intemperance, gluttony, licentiousness), the road to ruin short and open; in others, it is slow and hidden (as the destruction of trust and respect by lying, of all that is noble and joyful in life by covetousness). We are all so bound up that the pure and innocent suffer through the vicious and unprincipled. But the main lessons of providence are plain. “Righteousness exalteth a nation;” “The wages of sin is death.”

V. The gospel of salvation from sin proves it. The transcendent sufferings of the Son of God admit no rational explanation but that given in Scripture: “He bare our sins;” gave “his life a ransom” (1 Pet. 2:24; Matt. 20:28; comp. Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21). Apart from this reason, the death of Jesus would be the darkest enigma in God’s providence; the most inexplicable, discouraging, and melancholy event in human history. Never forget that in not sparing his Son (Rom. 8:32) the Father was, in truth, taking the burden of our sin on himself.

Conclusion. To treat sin lightly is to set our judgment up against God’s; to show ourselves out of sympathy with him and unlike him, and therefore incapable of communion with him here or of happiness in his presence hereafter.


Vers. 1–17.—The slandered saint appealing to his God. There is nothing like the trials of life to constrain to prayer; and no prayers are so full of deep meaning as those forced out by such trials. There is no reason for doubting the Davidic authorship of this psalm. It well accords with some known episodes in his experience, and is just such an appeal to the great Judge of all the earth as he might be expected to make when unjustly accused; specially when accused of evil in the very direction in which he had most strikingly restrained himself therefrom. But what a mercy that the true believer has such a God to whom he can flee, and that he can feel assured that, however unjust man may be, there is ever one tribunal high above all the people, at which absolute justice will be done! No believer can possibly find out all that God is to him till he has thus to flee to his throne for refuge from the storm. Let wronged and slandered Christians study the method and words of an Old Testament psalmist under circumstances to which their own are somewhat analogous.

I. The circumstances under which this psalm was written are clearly indicated. Four features mark them. 1. A fierce enemy is raging against the writer. One fierce as the wild beasts against which, as a shepherd, he had had to defend his flock (ver. 2). 2. Charges of evil-doing are made against him. The tone of the third verse indicates this, although we have no means of knowing who the “Cush” might be that brought forward these charges. It is no uncommon thing for good men to find themselves the victims of false accusations. Such accusations, however false, will do injury, since (1) some one or other will be sure to believe them, even in the absence of proof; and (2) no man can prove a negative, i.e.
he cannot show what he has not done. This rule, that no one is expected to prove a negative, holds good in logic, and it ought to be regarded in other departments also; but, unfortunately, people are not as careful as they should be about screening another’s reputation. Unspeakable distress may thereby be occasioned to innocent men. 3. The psalmist knows these charges are false; and therefore, though appeal to man is vain, he can and does appeal to God (vers. 3, 4). 4. Notwithstanding this, his enemy’s rage is actually threatening his life. (See ver. 2.) It is bad to plot against life; it is equally bad to poison a man’s reputation; yea, worse. Let those who are slandered read such psalms as this over and over again, that they may see how the saints of old were tried in like manner, and what was the course they pursued.

II. Under such circumstances, the believer makes God his Refuge. (See ver. 1, Revised Version margin, “In thee do I take refuge.”) While the storm is raging without, the believer is hiding in his God. “Thou wilt hide me in thy presence from the pride of man; thou wilt keep me secretly in thy pavilion from the strife of tongues.” The attributes of God, which are a terror to the wicked, are the shelter of the righteous. 1. God’s righteousness. (Ver. 11.) 2. His searching the reins and hearts. (Ver. 9.) 3. His commanding judgment, either in the way of precept, by laws which may not be slighted, or in the way of administration, by chastisements which cannot be evaded. Even so these features of the Divine character and administration are the joy of injured innocence (ver. 10, “My shield is with God,” Revised Version). And in a case like this, the saint can say, in faith, hope, and love, “O Lord my God.” To know this—that God is ours—and that sooner or later he will set us right, is of incalculable value in such sore distresses.

III. It is well if in such cases the pleading one can assert before God his own integrity. The third, fourth, and fifth verses ought not to be regarded either as assertion of perfect righteousness, nor yet as the utterances of conceit; nor should we be warranted in regarding even the eighth verse as an indication of self-righteousness. Not by any means. Let us take the psalm for what it manifestly is, and all is clear. It is the appeal of a slandered man to God; it is the appeal of one who knows that, so far as the charges of his enemy are concerned, he is innocent (cf. 1 Sam. 24, 26), and that therefore he may with confidence refer his case to the tribunal which is infinitely above those of earth (Ps. 18:18–24). Note: There is a very wide difference between the self-righteousness which regards itself as blameless before God, and the conscious integrity which can look any man in the face without flinching. Of the former the psalmist had none (cf. Pss. 25:7, 11; 143:2). It would be wicked to pretend innocence before God; but, in a case like the psalmist’s, it would be unmanly not to assert it before men. Cromwell said, “I know that God is above all ill reports, and that he will in his own time vindicate me.”

IV. Under such pressure from without the prayer is direct, pointed, and clear. The psalmist does not deem it needful to cover the whole ground of possible prayer on each occasion. He lays the burden of the moment before God, and leaves it there. His petitions are fivefold. 1. Arise, O Lord! (Ver. 6.) 2. Save me! (Ver. 1.) 3. Vindicate me! (Ver. 8.) 4. Bring wickedness to an end! (Ver. 9.) 5. Establish the just! (Ver. 9.) Note: When the heart is overweighted with sorrow and anxiety, let us always tell our God exactly the state of the case. We need not go over all points of religion or theology in every prayer; let us just tell God the matter of immediate pressure (cf. Pss. 142:2; 34:4, 6; Phil. 4:6, 7). Such petitions as are forced out by sorrow may be sent up in all loving confidence to our Father in heaven. He will excuse all their mistakes, and answer them in the fulness of love.

V. There is indicated a full assurance of God’s appearing for judgment. We do not now refer to “the last judgment,” but to those judgments which are often manifest in the providence of God (cf. Isa. 26:9, latter part). And he who studies history, and observes the times with a view to watching the movements of God in the world, will find abundant illustration of the two features of a perpetual judgment which has long been, still is, and yet will be, going forward in the world; and that in two directions. 1. As regards the wicked. (1) God is angry every day; his holy indignation ever goes forth against sin. There is no feature of human life more striking than the sorrow and misery which follow on sin. (2) God sends forth his arrows, yea, fiery arrows (ver. 13). (3) The evil which bad men devise against others often comes back on their own head (vers. 15, 16). Many a Haman hangs on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. 2. As regards the righteous. “Who saveth them that are upright of heart” (ver. 10). Even so. The whole of the thirty-seventh psalm is an exposition of this fact, and the seventy-third psalm is an illustration of it. Observation and experience will perpetually furnish new proofs of the same. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”—C.

Ver. 3.—Purity of heart. “If I have done this.”

I. True innocence is marked by humility. David is bold before men, but humble before God. Why? There is the sense that innocence is limited and imperfect. We may be free from particular sins, and yet be guilty in others. Besides, innocence is but comparative. Measured by the standard of men, we may be without offence, but tried by the holy, spiritual Law of God, we are convicted of innumerable sins, and behind all is a sinful heart.

II. Associated with mercy. “Yea, I have delivered him” (ver. 4). So David dealt gently with Saul. His magnanimous sparing of him when he was in his power was no mere impulse, but the free outcome of his loving and generous heart. The merciful, whom our Lord has blessed, are placed between those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” and “the pure in heart,” who see God.

III. Appeals with confidence to the judgment of God. The sense of right prophesies of the triumph of right. Having faith in the justice of God, we can leave all in his hands; and, loving him and assured of his love toward us, we can patiently await the end, knowing that all things shall work together for our good.—W. F.

Ver. 1.—God the true Refuge of the soul. This psalm, like many others, refers to a time of trial. The key-note may, perhaps, be found in ver. 1, “In thee.” When trouble comes we naturally look out from ourselves for help. Some lean upon friends; others cry for a favourable change of circumstances; while others again preach patience to themselves, in the hope that somehow deliverance will come. But only by trusting in God can we find real help; he is the Adullam, the true Refuge of the soul. “In thee.” Here is—

I. Rescue from sin. When the paralytic was let down in the midst of the people before our Lord, his first word to him was, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” He needed healing, but he more sorely needed deliverance from sin. And so it is with us. Troubles may press heavily on the soul, but the first and chief thing is to be made right with God. Let this be done, and then we can bear the ills of life with patience, and face the future without fear (Ps. 143:9).

II. Refuge from social oppressions. Foes may be many and fierce; their tongues may be as sharp swords, and their malice unrelenting. Much that they speak against us may be false and calumnious; much more may be cruel perversions of the truth; but so long as we are able to rest in God, we are safe. He is just; he is the true Vindicator; he will not only defend us, but deliver us. Like Job, we can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25).

III. Rest amidst the confusions and miseries of the world. Evil abounds. We often feel constrained to cry, with the gentle Cowper—

“My ear is pain’d,

My soul is sick with every day’s report

Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fill’d.”

What then? How little can we do in the way of remedy! We can feel grief; we can express sympathy; we can try, as we have opportunity, to lessen human woe; we can bear our part in the great business of confession, humbling ourselves before the Lord for the sins of others as well as our own. There may be no result. Things may even seem to grow worse; but in the darkest hour we can cry, “Our Father, … deliver us from evil;” and take comfort from the thought that not only is God “our Father,” but that his are “the kingdom and the power and the glory.” “In thee:” here is hope for the sinner, and comfort for the saint. “In thee:” here is defence for the weak, and inspiration for the worker, and a bright future for all who long and labour for the advancement of truth and righteousness (Isa. 26:20, 21; Rev. 19:6).—W. F.

Vers. 1–17.—Trust in God. An earnest appeal to God to save him from the wickedness of men who would requite him with evil for the good he had done in sparing Saul’s life. The charge against him probably was that he still sought the life of Saul; and they plotted against his life. In the midst of this wrong and danger, what was his resource?

I. Trust in God. Not in counter-plotting against his enemies, nor neglecting the use of means for his own safety; but faith in the all-controlling providence of God.

II. A lofty consciousness of innocence. (Vers. 3–5.) Nothing can give such confidence in a righteous God as the consciousness of righteousness in ourselves. We cannot pray for Divine help if we regard iniquity in our heart.

III. In his blamelessness he appeals to God for judgment between him and his enemies. (Vers. 6–9.) He calls upon God to “arise,” “to lift himself up,” “to awake,” to exert his mightiest power in doing justice to both sides.

IV. God’s righteousness gives him hope that the overthrow of his enemies is near. (Vers. 10–13.) God’s justice is a manifest present fact, not deferred. “He judgeth the righteous, and is angry with the wicked every day.” The overthrow may come at any moment.

V. The overthrow has already begun, and this gives him confidence and gratitude. “Is fallen into the ditch which he made.” Deliverance is come, therefore “I will sing praise to the Name of the Lord most high.” But he did not see this so clearly before. Experience opens our eyes.—S.



Ps. 8 is altogether a psalm of praise and thanksgiving. Its primary idea is the condescending love and goodness of God towards man. That God, who had made the heavens, and set his glory on them, should have a regard for man, and “visit him,” and not only so, but give him so lofty a position, so exalted a destiny, is a thought that is well-nigh overwhelming. The psalmist, filled with the thought, can do no less than pour out his feelings of love and gratitude in song. The Davidical authorship is generally allowed. What “upon Gittith” means is very uncertain, but the most probable conjecture is that a melody, or musical style, which David had learnt at Gath, is intended.

Ver. 1.—O Lord our Lord. In the original, Jehovah Adoneynu; i.e. “Jehovah, who art our sovereign Lord and Master.” As David is here the mouthpiece of humanity, praising God for mercies common to all men, he uses the plural pronoun instead of the singular one. How excellent is thy Name in all the earth! or, “How glorious is thy Name!” (Kay, Cheyne). Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. It is difficult to obtain this sense from the present Hebrew text; but some corruption of the text is suspected.

Ver. 2.—Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength. By “babes and sucklings” are meant young children just able to lisp God’s praises, and often doing so, either through pious teaching or by a sort of natural instinct, since “Heaven lies about us in our infancy” (Wordsworth). These scarce articulate mutterings form a foundation on which the glory of God in part rests. Because of thine enemies. To put them to shame, who, having attained to manhood, refuse to acknowledge God. That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. It scarcely seems as if any single individual—either Absalom, or Ahithophel, or even Satan (Kay)—is intended. Rather the words are used generally of all those who are enemies of God, and desirous of revenging themselves upon him. The existence of such persons is well shown by Hengstenberg.

Ver. 3.—When I consider thy heavens (comp. Pss. 19:1; 33:6; 104:2). David, in his shepherd-life, had had abundant opportunity of “considering the heavens,” and had evidently scanned them with the eye of a poet and an intense admirer of nature. It is probably in remembrance of the nights when he watched his father’s flock, that he makes no mention of the sun, but only of “the moon and the stars.” The work of thy fingers; and therefore “thy heavens.” Often as the “hand of God” is mentioned in Scripture, it is but very rarely that we hear of his “finger” or “fingers.” So far as I am aware, the only places are Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Deut. 9:10; and Luke 11:20. The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained (comp. Gen. 1:16).

Ver. 4.—What is man, that thou art mindful of him? In comparison with the lofty heavens, the radiant moon, and the hosts of sparkling stars, man seems to the psalmist wholly unworthy of God’s attention. He is not, like Job, impatient of God’s constant observation (Job 7:17–20), but simply filled with wonder at his marvellous condescension (comp. Ps. 144:3). And the son of man, that thou visitest him? The “son of man” here is a mere variant for “man” in the preceding hemistich. The clause merely emphasizes the general idea.

Ver. 5.—For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels; rather, thou hast made him but a little lower than God (אלהים). There is no place in the Old Testament where Elohim means “angels;” and, though the LXX. so translate in the present passage, and the rendering has passed from them into the New Testament (Heb. 2:7), it cannot be regarded as critically correct. The psalmist, in considering how man has been favoured by God, goes back in thought to his creation, and remembers the words of Gen. 1:26, 27, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (compare the still stronger expression in Ps. 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods“). And hast crowned him with glory and honour; i.e. “and, by so doing, by giving him a nature but a little short of the Divine, hast put on him a crown of glory such as thou hast given to no other creature.” There is a point of view from which the nature of man transcends that of angels, since (1) it is a direct transcript of the Divine (Gen. 1:27); and (2) it is the nature which the Son of God assumed (Heb. 2:16).

Ver. 6.—Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands. An evident reference to Gen. 1:28, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By these words man’s right of dominion was established. His actual dominion only came, and still comes, by degrees. Thou hast put all things under his feet (comp. 1 Cor. 15:25–28; Heb. 2:8). In their fulness, the words are only true of the God-Man, Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18).

Ver. 7.—All sheep and oxen; literally, flocks and oxen, all of them. The domesticated animals are placed first, as most completely under man’s actual dominion. Yea, and the beasts of the field; i.e. “and all other land animals” (comp. Gen. 1:28; 9:2). If some were still unsubdued (2 Kings 17:25, 26; Job 40:24; 41:1–10), their subjugation was only a question of time (see Isa. 11:6–9; 65:25).

Ver. 8.—The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas; literally, fowl of the air, and fishes of the sea, the passer through the paths of the seas. Every passer through the paths of the seas, whether exactly a fish or no. The cetacea are thus included (comp. Gen. 1:21).

Ver. 9.—O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth! The psalmist ends as he began, with excellent poetic effect, and in a spirit of intense piety. Some think that he saw in vision the complete subjugation of the whole earth to man in such sort as will only be accomplished in the “new heavens and new earth,” in which Christ shall reign visibly over his people. But his words are not beyond those which are natural to one of warm poetic temperament and deep natural piety, looking out upon the world and upon man as they existed in his day. Inspiration, of which we know so little, may perhaps have guided him to the choice of words and phrases peculiarly applicable to “the Ideal of man’s nature and true Representative, Christ;” and hence the many references to this psalm in the New Testament (Matt. 21:16; 1 Cor. 15:25–28; Heb. 2:6–8), and in this sense the psalm may be Messianic; but it is certainly not one of those, like Ps. 2 and Ps. 22, where the author consciously spoke of another time than his own, and of a Personage whom he knew only by faith. (For other examples of the recurrence at the end of a psalm of the idea wherewith it commenced, see Pss. 20:1–9; 46:1–11 70:1–5; 103:1–22; 118:1–29; and the “Hallelujah psalms:” Pss. 106:1–48 113:1–9; 117:1, 2; 118:1–21; 146–150.)


Ver. 4.—Man’s littleness and his greatness. “What is man,” etc.? The littleness and greatness of man are set before us here in powerful contrast. In view of this vast magnificent universe, he seems a speck, an atom, a vapour that appears and vanishes (Jas. 4:14). But the love, care, grace of his Maker lift him to a height where he sees the world at his feet; he is endowed with a life, heir to a glory, that shall endure when the earth and the heavens pass away.

I. There is the earthly side of human life. Its littleness, frailty, brevity. “What is man?” 1. Compare the actual littleness and bodily weakness of man with the immensity of the material universe, the awful might of its never-wearying forces, the stability of its structure, the unswerving, undenying constancy of its laws. Illustrate from the discoveries of astronomy, geology, etc. Compare a long human life with that of an oak of a thousand years. But a thousand years are but a day—a few minutes—compared with the mighty past, the eternal future (1 Chron. 29:15; Ps. 90:3–6). 2. Consider the narrow limits of human life. Deduct from the effective force of even a well-spent life the time absorbed by infancy, sleep, sickness, trifles, outward hindrances, weakness, and decay. How great a proportion of the race is immersed in barbarism! How limited is man’s knowledge, even with the vast accessions of this century, compared with his illimitable ignorance! How powerless is he in the grasp of circumstances! If the Earth but stirs in her sleep, his cities fall. If the wind blows in its strength, his navies are wrecked. If the invisible seeds of pestilence crowd the air, he must breathe or die—his science is baffled. If the clouds withhold rain or pour out too much, famine enters his home. If the earth refuses him gold, or yields it too rapidly and easily, his commerce is deranged (Ps. 39:5, 6). 3. Consider, too, the perishing, vanishing nature of man’s greatest achievements, richest possessions, sweetest earthly joys and hopes. It is no wonder that, with those who meditate deeply on human life, and observe largely, seeing only its earthly side, philosophy should turn sour and curdle into “pessimism.” “Is life worth living?”

II. The Divine side. “Thou art mindful of him; … thou visitest him.” The greatness and glory of man’s nature are seen: 1. In its origin. (Ver. 5.) Man is the child of God (Gen. 1:26, 27; Acts 17:28, 29). 2. In the care of God’s providence. In those unmeasured ages, before man arrived, which so oppress our imagination, God was preparing the earth for man. For other creatures also, it is true, but not as for him. To each lower creature he gave its own haunt, its own food; but they sow no harvests, plant no forests, quarry no hills, pasture no flocks, navigate no seas; know nothing of nature as a whole—its beauty, mystery, wealth of enjoyment. For man was made the whole (vers. 6–8). It is God who has made the universe man’s storehouse, and “ministereth seed,” etc. (2 Cor. 9:10). 3. In what we may call spiritual providence; the grace and love which order the life of each one of God’s children, making sorrow and trouble a gracious discipline (Heb. 12:6, 7; 13:5). 4. Above all, in God’s unspeakable Gift. (1 John 5:11.) In the incarnate Son of God our humanity is exalted to the supreme height of glory (Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 2:6–9). To the image of his glory the humblest believer is to be raised (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2).

Lessons. 1. Humility. 2. Faith. 3. Adoration.

Ver. 6.—Man—nature—God. “Thou hast put … feet.” This brief but majestic psalm is remarkable for world-wide breadth; it shines with light transcending human genius. The name by which the Almighty Maker is addressed is his covenant name with Israel—the name which speaks not of power, but of personal being, “Jehovah.” But here is no reference to Israel; nothing national, limited, ceremonial, local, temporary. This psalm is a sufficient refutation of the mean, narrow views of the Old Testament Scriptures, which lower the religion of Israel to the rank of one among the many national religions. Here we are concerned only with these three supreme ideas: man; nature; God. Jehovah is invoked as the Author of nature and God of all mankind. Consider this sublime declaration—first, as it stands here in the Old Testament Scriptures; secondly, as interpreted in the New Testament Scriptures.

I. Read these words, first, by their own light, as they stand part of the Old Testament. 1. They are far from describing man’s present actual position on this globe. He does not at present reign over nature, but wrestles with it; slowly grasps its secrets and masters its forces; has to keep watch and ward lest it destroy him. A few tribes of lower animals attach themselves serviceably to him, but most fly from him or defy him. Wolves ravage his flocks; worms corrode his ships. The sight of a locust or a beetle makes him tremble: he can crush it in an instant, but when countless millions of these minute rebels invade his fields and vineyards and orchards, they turn his wealth to poverty. Truly, “we see not yet all things put under him.” 2. Yet these words are no poetic exaggeration. The context shows that the psalmist is looking back to the record of man’s original dignity and heirship of the world (vers. 6–8 compared with Gen. 1:27, 29). This original grant conveys the idea not of easy, effortless lordship over a passive creation, but of progressive conquest by toil, skill, reason. Such is and has been man’s dominion over the earth. This biblical account of the primitive dignity and moral standing of man is widely rejected in these days, on the assumption that it conflicts with science. Conflict between religious truth and scientific truth is impossible, because all truth is one. All truth is God’s truth. The conflict is between testimony and hypothesis—the testimony of the most venerable and ancient of all histories, and the newest hypotheses of scientific men—hypotheses very confidently affirmed; but yet only hypotheses. It may turn out that the testimony is more scientific than the hypotheses. At all events, it is no trifle to reject it. Man knows not, apart from the Bible, whence he cometh or whither he goeth. Reject it as a revelation of fact, and the human race is an apparition upon earth—a stupendous exception to the laws which govern all other animals—of which the wildest conjectures of what passes for science can give no rational account. Reject its revelation of law, and man is seen wandering out of the unknown past towards an unknown future, without guidance or government. Reject its revelation of promise, and that unknown future is without hope or intelligible meaning. Accept the Bible as God’s message, and we know whence we come and whither we go. Human life, sorrowful and confused as it is, shows like a stormy day which had a splendid dawn and shall yet have a serene evening and glorious rising again. We need not, then, be frightened by the most confident assertions, from the glorious belief that man began his history on earth as the child of the Father of spirits; not crawling out of sentient slime through a series of inconceivable transformations, compared with which all the miracles of the Bible are commonplace incidents; but able to converse with God, and to render intelligent, loving obedience to him: “a little lower than God himself;” “crowned with glory and honour.”

II. As interpreted in the New Testament. Faith prizes the past, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the present and the future. When we look at these words in the light of New Testament interpretation, new glory breaks from them. They are not simply history or poetry, but prophecy (Heb. 2:8, 9). We need not ask, and cannot say, whether this meaning was known to the psalmist. The prophets uttered more than they knew. God interprets by fulfilling; and the fulfilment far outruns all our expectations. 1. In the Person, life, character, of our Lord Jesus, even “in the days of his flesh,” our nature was raised to a pitch of glory and perfectness before inconceivable. God’s image was restored (John 14:9; 1 Cor. 15:47). 2. In the exaltation of Jesus, human nature is invested with Divine glory. The “days of his flesh” are past; but he wears our nature still (1 Tim. 2:5; Phil. 2:7–11; Matt. 28:18). 3. All who believe in him are already, by faith, partakers in some degree of his glory (Eph. 1:19–23; 2:6). And they shall hereafter, in perfect union with him and likeness to him, partake fully and eternally (1 John 3:1–3; John 17:22–24).


Vers. 1–9.—”Lord what is man?” This is a song of praise equally adapted for men of every nation, country, colour, and clime. Its author was David, who, as a shepherd-boy, had cast an observant eye on the works of God, both in the heavens above and the earth beneath; and the habit of doing this reverently and devoutly grew with his growth; so that, though we are entirely ignorant as to what period of his life it was in which he penned this psalm, it is manifestly an echo of the thoughts which, in his early shepherd-days, had filled his mind and inspired him to song. At that period in the world’s history, only a Hebrew could have written such a psalm as this. Observant men in other nations might have written similar poetry, setting forth the glory of Nature’s works; only a Hebrew saint could have so gloried in the great Worker whose majesty was “above the heavens,” and of whom he could speak as “our Lord.” Note: It is only as we know the Divine Worker that we can duly appreciate and fully enjoy the work. And as Science is, in her onward march, ever revealing more of the work, we have so much the more need to pray that the disclosures perpetually being made of the marvels of nature may be to us a book to reveal, and not a veil to conceal, the living and the true God. In dealing with this psalm we propose to let our exposition turn upon the expression, “Lord, what is man?” Let us note—

I. The insignificance of man when compared with the stupendous universe. The heavens, the earth, the moon, the stars: how much more do these terms convey to us than they did to the psalmist! His inspiration, it is probable, did not extend to the realm of physical science; and his views of the wonders of the earth and of the heavens would be limited by the knowledge of his day. But since the telescope has shown us that our world is but as an atom, and the microscope that in every atom there is a world; since millions on millions of stars have come into the astronomer’s field of vision; and since the conceptions of the time during which the orbs have been revolving and the earth has been preparing for man’s use have so immeasurably grown,—the larger the universe seems, the more does man dwindle to a speck. And when we look at the slender frame of man, his weakness, and the momentary duration of his life, compared with the vast masses, the ceaseless energy, the incalculable duration to which the universe bears witness,—it is no wonder if at the greatness in which we are lost we stand appalled, and are ready to say, “In the midst of all this sublimity, what am I? A shred of entity, a phantom, a breath, a passing form on this earthly stage. Here is this great machine, with a mighty Unknown behind it, rolling and grinding, grinding and rolling, raising up one and setting down another. Ever and anon a wave of liquid fire will heave up mountains and overturn cities and hurl them into an abyss, and the cries of myriads will rend the air; and never will nature spare one relenting sigh or drop one sympathizing tear. All is fixed. Law is everywhere. What I am, or do, or say, or think, can matter nothing to the Great Unknown. Prayer is but empty breath. Amid the vastness I am lost, and can be of no more consequence than a mote in the sunbeam, and were I and all this generation to be swept away in the twinkling of an eye, we should no more be missed than a grain of dust when blown into the crater of a volcano! What is man?” So men argue. Even good men are overwhelmed with such thoughts, and say. “Our way is hid from the Lord, and our judgment is passed over from our God.” While the unbeliever declares that a being so insignificant can never be the subject of Divine care, still less of Divine love; that man is no more to the Supreme than are the insects of a summer’s day. But this is only one side of a great question. Let us therefore note—

II. The dignity of man as disclosed by the gracious visitation of God. 1. His actual dignity. (1) In the structure and capacity of his nature. Mass however great, force however persistent, can never equal in quality the power of thinking, loving, worshipping, suffering, sinning. One soul outweighs in value myriads of worlds. Our estimate of things must be qualitative as well as quantitative. And a being who can measure the distance of a star is infinitely greater than the star whose distance he measures. Man is made in the image of God (a) mentally,—he thinks as God thinks; (b) morally; (c) spiritually; (d) regally, to have dominion. Man is made to see God in all things. Babes and sucklings in this put to shame the rebellious atheist. (2) God has revealed his “Name” to man; and this gracious visitation from the Father of our race has raised man in the scale of being. (3) When renewed by the Holy Ghost, he is elevated still higher in the scale, for “after God he is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (4) When the Son of God became “the second Man, even the Lord from heaven,” then, indeed, was our nature “crowned with glory and honour.” Nothing so exalted our race as the Son of God inserting himself into it by his incarnation, and so becoming the Son of man. 2. His prospective dignity. The psalm includes the vision of the seer as well as the song of the saint. Its repeated quotation (1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 2:6–9) in the New Testament shows us that its words await a grander fulfilment than ever. The preacher may indefinitely expand and illustrate the following points: (1) The dominion of man over nature is vastly greater even now than it was in David’s time, and is destined to be more complete than it even now is. David includes the sheep and oxen, beasts of the field, etc. Now fire, water, light, air, lightning, etc., are made to serve man. (2) The renewing process is going forward in the Christianized part of man. The image of God in man is to be perfected. (3) All things are now put under man’s feet, in being put under Christ’s feet as the Lord of all. But, as Bishop Perowne suggestively remarks, St. Paul’s “all things” are immeasurably more than David’s “all things.” Just so. This is a beautiful illustration of the progress of revelation. The later the date, the brighter the light. And words caught from men who were in the ancient time borne along by the Holy Ghost, are shown to have a very much broader and deeper meaning than their human penmen could possibly have conceived. “The New Testament is latent in the Old. The Old Testament is patent in the New” (Augustine).

Note: 1. The true greatness of man can only be manifested as he is renewed by the Spirit of God; and comes to grow up into him in all things who is the Head, even Christ. 2. How incomplete would the plan have been of permitting man to have dominion over nature, without the corresponding purpose of God’s love gaining dominion over man! Dominion is safe only where there is righteousness.—C.

Vers. 1–9.—God the glorious Creator. It is midnight. The sky is bright with stars. As the psalmist muses, the fire burns, and he bursts into song. The psalm is not for Israel alone, but brings before the mind such a vision of the glory of God as the great Creator, as binds all people of every land and age in a brotherhood of worship.

I. God’s glory revealed in nature. The heavens have a purpose. The outward glory images the inward and spiritual glory. The stars are silent witnesses for God. Their size, their order, their steadfastness, their splendour, and their mystery, which grow and deepen as investigation is prosecuted and knowledge increases, all proclaim the greatness of God. And the more the glory of God strikes our eye, the humbler do we feel in his awful presence. “When I have gazed into these stars,” said Carlyle, “have they not looked down upon me, as if with pity, from their serene spaces, like eyes glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man?” But while the glory of God in the heavens is fitted to humble us, it also awakens aspiration. It is the same God who rules above and below. If God so cares for stars, will he not much more care for souls? The argument of our Lord applies to the heavens as well as the earth—to the creation above and beneath. “Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

II. God’s glory more fully revealed in man. It may be said that in man mundane creation first of all became intelligent, self-conscious, endowed with conscience and will, able so far to understand its Maker. Man is the last and fullest expression of God’s thought—a being like himself, and that can hold communication with himself. It is only through man, made in God’s image, that God could rightly reveal himself. If the heavens stood alone, there would be silence. But when man was created, there was an eye made to see, and a heart to feel, and a voice to proclaim God’s praise. 1. The greatness of man’s being. 2. The dignity of his position. The last is first. Man is put at the head of creation. The past has evidence of his lordship, and more and more his sway increases. It is his, not only to replenish, but to subdue the earth. 3. The grandeur of his destiny. He has not only a great past, but a great future. God has not only given man his being, but provided also for his well-being. He has visited and redeemed his people (Eph. 1:3–10).

III. God’s glory most perfectly revealed in Christ. What is dimly seen in creation and in man awakens the desire for more light and a fuller knowledge of God. This yearning is met and satisfied in Jesus Christ. He is perfect God and perfect Man. We might conceive of a man simply, so enlightened and swayed by God as that he should in all things be in harmony with God. In so far he might perfectly express God’s mind and will. But there is far more in Christ. He is perfect Man and perfect God. He is the true Immanuel—God with us (John 14:9, 10). Open, ye heavens, and let us see the Lord as Isaiah did (Isa. 6:1–3)! Purge our eyes, O Spirit of love and holiness, and let us behold Christ Jesus as Stephen did! and then we shall cry, with wonder, love, and praise, “It is the same Lord, ‘my Lord and my God!’ ” Having such a faith, there is no bound to our hopes. What Christ did, he did for us; what Christ does, he does for us. We died with him and rose with him, and with him we shall be glorified (Eph. 1:17–23).—W. F.

Ver. 2 (cf. Matt. 21:16).—God glorified in little children. Two pictures: David on the housetop; Christ Jesus, David’s Son and Lord, in the temple. With the hosannas of the people blended sweetly the voices of children. The Pharisees were offended, but our Lord was pleased. The words of the old psalm find a new fulfillment. The question for us is—How God is glorified in little children.

I. In the place which he has given them in creation. They form a part of the great whole. Necessary. Take them away, how different things would be! But they have their place. They are weak, but out of their weakness comes strength. They are helpless, but from their helplessness come endless benefits.

II. In their capability of receiving Christian nurture. Children show from the first their powers of growth. Their bodies, their minds, their souls, are constantly developing. By proper care they are capable, under God, of growing up unto Christ, as true and living members of his Church. Christ himself, and not fallen men like Augustine, or Luther, or Bunyan, is the true type and pattern of what children should be (Luke 2:40).

III. In their fitness to serve and praise God. There is not only simple wonder in children, but also intelligence. Their moral sense is very keen. Their delight in the beautiful and the good is not the result of education, but the instinct of their innocent and pure hearts. How often has God used little children to do his will and show forth his praise! So in the sanctuary, so in life. Remember the infant Moses (Exod. 2:6), remember David’s child (2 Sam. 3:2), remember the young Josiah (1 Kings 13:2); above all, remember the Child of Bethlehem—the Babe in the manger (Luke 2:10, 11).

IV. As the objects of his tender care. In manifold ways God has shown how dearly he loves little children. It is he who has established the paternal relationship. It is he who has provided for the holy upbringing of the young, by law and sacrament. It is he who has manifested by his dear Son, in what he taught and did when he was in the world, his tender affection and care for the young (Mark 10:16; Matt. 18:2–10).

V. In taking so many of them to himself. The heathen had a saying, “Whom the gods love, die young.” And in this there is a hidden truth. Death is always a strange and terrible thing; but in the very young it is almost deprived of its terrors. Then it is but a sleep. It is the Lord calling his loved ones early to himself. Happy are we when we can say with unfeigned faith and lively hope, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” If our little ones were left to grow up in this world of sin and sorrow, we know not what their future would be; but we know and are sure that when Christ takes them to himself, it is “far better.” They are away from our sight, but not from our hearts. “Love never faileth.” They have been taken from our care, but it is to be under better teachers and to receive a nobler education. They have been parted from us, but it is only for a little while; for Christ is gathering his own to himself, and when he cometh, he will bring them all with him. In that day many a stricken heart shall be made glad. “Mother, behold thy son!” “Son, behold thy mother!” Have we the mind of Christ? Are we carrying out worthily the high trust committed to us, of caring for the young? Will our dear children, whom we have lost a while, meet us with joy and welcome in the heavenly world?

“O thou whose infant feet were found

Within thy Father’s shrine,

Whose years, with changeless virtue crowned,

Were all alike Divine.

“Dependent on thy bounteous breath,

We seek thy grace alone,

In childhood, manhood, age, and death,

To keep us still thine own.”


W. F.

Ver. 9.—The greatness of God in redemption. “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth!” This may be applied to redemption—

I. In choosing earth as the scene of redemption. There are millions of other worlds, which we may reasonably believe have their intelligent inhabitants. Out of these the earth was chosen for the highest honours.

II. In making man the subject of redemption. We cannot tell if sin extends to other worlds, but we know that other beings besides man have fallen from their first estate. The angels sinned, but God was pleased to pass them by, and to show his exceeding kindness and love to man in Christ Jesus (Heb. 2:16).

III. In employing Christ as the Author of redemption. It was not an angel, but his eternal Son, whom God sent to be our Saviour (Gal. 4:4, 5). And when he came, it was not in the fulness of his glory, but in fashion as a man, born of a woman, made under the Law, obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6–10).

IV. In proclaiming by the gospel the completeness of redemption. All men as sinners needed salvation, and the salvation of Christ is suitable and sufficient for all. He is the Propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and if the whole world should bow in penitence before God, their sins would that moment be all put away.

V. In revealing the eternal glories of redemption through his Spirit Already great things have been done. But we look for greater (Rev. 21:1–7).—W. F

Vers. 1–9.—God’s glory revealed. “The great spiritual truth contained in the first passage of Scripture, that God made man in his own image, flashes forth in this psalm in true lyric grandeur, a ray of light across the dark mystery of creation.” God is the most wonderful thought of the human mind, and this thought retains its hold upon us in spite of all atheistic influences. Here the thought is that God’s glory is celebrated—

I. By childhood. Putting to silence the clamour of the atheist. Christ uses the passage against the scribes and Pharisees, and in another place says that God reveals to babes what he hides from the wise and prudent. We must be converted to little children; “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” God reveals to babes unbounded trust, unbounded obedience to parents, the simple truthfulness, the guileless mind; and they proclaim all this aloud, and it tells of their Divine origin and inspiration, and they thus praise God, and ought to abash the irreligious. “Heaven lies about us [and within us] in our infancy.”

II. By the starry worlds. The things which tell us most of God are: 1. Night. The solemnity and impressiveness of the heavens are greater by night than by day. 2. Their constancy and order. 3. Their immensity. We cannot compute their number and distances by any effort of thought. 4. Their silence. God’s greatest works are all done in awful, impressive silence. Then we feel our physical insignificance.

III. By man’s spiritual greatness. (Gen. 1:26–28.) Compared with the material heavens, he is but an atom; but God has “visited him,” and made him great, by stamping him with his own image, and giving him the sovereignty of things. He is made a little lower than God, or little less than of Divine standing (Elohim). But he is to ascend up to sovereignty. In Heb. 2:6–8 the words are applied to Christ in a much wider sense, and by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15, because he is more perfected in his highest power, and is to have all rule and all authority. We have only begun to exercise lordship over the animal, the material, and the moral worlds, and over ourselves. It is only as we rule ourselves that we learn the secret of rule over others. Obedience is the road to sovereignty.—S.



This psalm, which, like the six preceding it, is declared by the title to be “a Psalm of David,” is a song of thanksgiving for the defeat of some foreign enemy. It is the first of what are called “the alphabetic psalms;” but the law of alphabetic order is applied in it somewhat loosely and irregularly. All the four lines of the first stanza commence with aleph; but after this it is only the first line of each stanza that observes the law. And even this amount of observance is neglected in the last stanza. The poem is one of the most regular in its structure of all the psalms, consisting as it does of ten equal strophes of four lines each. The words in the title, “upon Muth-labben,” have been variously explained; but no explanation hitherto given is satisfactory.

Ver. 1.—I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; rather, I will give thanks (Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). The thanks are special for a great deliverance—a deliverance from some heathen enemy (vers. 5, 15), who has been signally defeated and almost exterminated (vers. 5, 6). It has been conjectured that the subjugation of Ammon (2 Sam. 12:26–31) is the occasion referred to (‘Speaker’s Commentary’); but the expectation of further attack (vers. 17–20) scarcely suits this period, when David’s wars were well-nigh over. Perhaps the earlier victory over Ammon and Syria (2 Sam. 10:6–14), which was followed by the renewed invasion of the same nations in conjunction with “the Syrians beyond the river” (2 Sam. 10:16), is more likely to have drawn forth the composition. I will show forth all thy marvellous works; rather, I will tell forth, or I will recount all thy wondrous deeds. Not necessarily miracles, but any strange and unexpected deliverances, such as the recent one (comp. Pss. 40:5; 78:4).

Ver. 2.—I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy Name (see the comment on Ps. 8:9). O thou most High (comp. Ps. 7:17; and see also Gen. 14:18, 19, 22). Elion (עֶלְיוֹן) was a recognized name of God among the Phœnicians (‘Religions of the Ancient World,’ p. 133).

Ver. 3.—When mine enemies are turned back; or, because mine enemies are turned back (‘Speaker’s Commentary’); i.e. made to retreat, repulsed, driven before me in hasty flight. They shall fall and perish at thy presence; or, they stumble and perish, etc. The psalmist represents the enemy, poetically, “as if they had been thrown to the ground by the glance of God’s fiery countenance” (Hengstenberg).

Ver. 4.—For thou hast maintained my right and my cause. David uniformly ascribes his military successes, not to his own ability, or even to the valour of his soldiers, but to God’s favour. God’s favour, which is secured by the justice of his cause, gives him victory after victory. Thou satest in the throne judging right. While the late battle raged, God sat upon his heavenly throne, administering justice, awarding defeat and death to the wrong-doers who had wantonly attacked his people, giving victory and glory and honour to those who stood on their defence against the aggressors.

Ver. 5.—Thou hast rebuked the heathen; rather, thou didst rebuke; LXX., ἐπετίμησας: i.e. on the recent occasion. When God would rebuke, he punishes; when he punishes, by so doing he rebukes. Thou hast destroyed the wicked; rather, thou didst destroy. Thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. If taken literally, this should mean extermination, and so some explain (Hengstenberg, Kay, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’); but some allowance must be made for the use of hyperbole by a poet. None of the nations with which David contended suffered extinction or extermination.

Ver. 6.—O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end. It is better to translate, with the Revised Version, The enemy are come to an end; they are desolate for ever—a continuance of the hyperbole already noticed in the preceding verse. And thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them; rather, and as for the cities thou hast destroyed, their very memory has perished. This could only be an anticipation. It was fulfilled in the complete disappearance from history of the names of Zoba, Beth-rehob, and Tob, after the victory described in 2 Sam. 10:13, 14.

Ver. 7.—But the Lord shall endure for ever; rather, but the Lord is seated (i.e. upon his throne) for ever. Cities and nations perish, but Jehovah remains a King for evermore. While all is change and disturbance upon earth, the unchanged and unchangeable Eternal One continues constantly seated, in serene majesty, in heaven. He hath prepared (or rather, established) his throne for judgment (compare the second clause of ver. 4).

Ver. 8.—And he shall judge the world. The “he” is emphatic—he himself, and no other. From his throne of judgment he shall judge, not Israel’s enemies only, whom he has just judged (vers. 3–6), but the whole world. In righteousness; i.e. by a strict law of justice, rewarding to all men “after their deserving.” He shall minister judgment to the people (rather, the peoples; i.e. all the people of all the earth) in uprightness; literally, in uprightnesses—a plural of perfection.

Ver. 9.—The Lord also will be a Refuge for the oppressed. Misgâb, translated “refuge,” is literally “a hill-fort” (comp. Ps. 144:2, where it is rendered “high tower”). David’s use of the metaphor is reasonably ascribed to his having “often experienced safety in such places, when fleeing from Saul” (Hengstenberg; see 1 Sam. 23:14). A refuge in times of trouble; literally, in times in trouble; i.e. “in times that are steeped in trouble” (Kay).

Ver. 10.—And they that know thy Name will put their trust in thee. “To know the Name of God is to know him according to his historical manifestation; when one hears him named, to call to remembrance all that he has done. His name is the focus in which all the rays of his actions meet” (Hengstenberg). All who “know God’s Name” in this sense will be sure to “put their trust in him,” since his historical manifestation shows that he is thoroughly to be depended on. For thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. Never in the past, so far as David knew, had God forsaken those who faithfully clung to him. They might be tried, like Job; they might be “hunted upon the mountains,” like David himself; they might even have the sense of being forsaken (Ps. 22:1); but they were not forsaken nevertheless. God “forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever” (Ps. 37:28).

Ver. 11.—Sing praises to the Lord. Having praised God himself (vers. 1, 2), and declared the grounds upon which his praises rest (vers. 3–10), David now calls upon all faithful Israelites to join him in his song of thanksgiving. “Sing praises unto the Lord,” he says, which dwelleth in Zion. Who is enthroned, i.e., on the mercy-seat between the cherubim in the tabernacle, now set up upon Mount Zion (2 Sam. 6:1–17). The date of the psalm is thus to some extent limited, since it must have been composed subsequently to the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem. Declare among the people his doings. In the original “among the peoples” (עַמִּים); i.e. not the people of Israel only, but all the surrounding nations. David is possessed with the conviction that the revelation of God made to Israel is not to be confined to them, but through them to be communicated to “all the ends of the earth”—to the heathen at large, to all nations (comp. Pss. 18:49; 66:4; 72:11, 19, etc.).

Ver. 12.—When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them; rather, for he that maketh inquisition for blood (see Gen. 9:5) remembereth them. God, i.e., the Requirer of blood (Kay), remembers, when he makes his inquisition, those who are oppressed (ver. 9), and who seek him (ver. 10). He forgetteth not the cry of the humble; or, the afflicted (Kay, Cheyne). He comes to the aid of such persons, and avenges them on their enemies.

Ver. 13.—Have mercy upon me, O Lord! The consideration of God’s mercies in the past, and especially in the recent deliverance, leads the psalmist to implore a continuance of his mercies in the future. He is not yet free from troubles. There are still enemies who afflict and threaten him—”heathen” who seek to “prevail” against him (vers. 19, 20), and perhaps already domestic enemies, especially the “sons of Zeruiah,” causing him anxiety. Consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me; literally, my trouble (or, my affliction) from my haters. Vers. 17, 19, 20 show that the heathen are especially intended (see 2 Sam. 10:15–19). Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death;
i.e. “Thou that continually (or, habitually) art my Support in the extremity of peril,” “lifting me up” even from the very “gates of death.” (For other mentions of “the gates of death,” see Job 38:17; Ps. 107:18.) Classical writers speak of “the gates of darkness” (σκότου πύλας) in almost the same sense (Eurip., ‘Hec.,’ l. 1).

Ver. 14.—That I may show forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion. The “daughter of Zion” is, of course, Jerusalem. Compare “daughter of Babylon” (Ps. 137:8; Isa. 47:1; Jer. 50:42; Zech. 2:7), “daughter of the Chaldeans” (Isa. 47:1, 5), “daughter of Edom” (Lam. 4:21, 22), “daughter of Gallim” (Isa. 10:30). Hengstenberg is probably right in understanding “in the gates” as “within the gates,” since, as he observes, “God’s praise is not to be celebrated in the gates, amid the throng of worldly business, but in the temple.” The references in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’ do not bear out the statement there made, that “public mournings and public thanksgivings were proclaimed in the gates.” I will rejoice in thy salvation; or, that I may rejoice (Kay).

Ver. 15.—The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made. It is uncertain whether the writer here reverts to the judgment already executed (vers. 3–6), or with the eye of faith sees as past the judgment which he confidently anticipates (vers. 19, 20). Whichever he intends, there can be no doubt that he means it to be understood that the stratagems of the enemy brought about (or would bring about) their downfall. In the net which they hid is their own foot taken. A second metaphor, expressing the same idea as the preceding (comp. Pss. 7:15, 16; 10:2; 35:8; 141:10).

Ver. 16.—The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth; rather, the Lord hath made himself known; he executeth judgment (see the Revised Version; and comp. Ezek. 20:9). The two clauses are grammatically distinct, though no doubt closely connected in their meaning. God makes himself known—manifests his character, by the judgments which he executes, shows himself just, perhaps severe, certainly One who “will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nah. 1:3). The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Some translate, “he snareth the wicked,” or, “by snaring the wicked”—the special way in which God manifests himself (see Kay, p. 31; ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. iv. p. 190). Higgaion. This word is found in three other places only, viz. Pss. 19:14; 92:3; and Lam. 3:61. In the first it is translated “meditation,” and has clearly that meaning; in the second it is supposed to mean “a gentle strain;” in the third it seems best rendered by “musing” or “reflection.” Here it stands by itself, as a sort of rubrical direction, like the following word, “Selah.” Some suppose it a direction to the choir to play a gentle strain of instrumental music as an interlude; others regard it as enjoining upon the congregation a space of quiet “meditation” (see Hengstenberg, ad loc.; and compare Professor Alexander’s work, ‘The Psalms translated and explained,’ p. 45). Selah (see the comment on Ps. 3:2).

Ver. 17.—The wicked shall be turned into hell; literally, shall be turned backwards to
Sheol, or Hades; i.e. shall be removed from earth to the place of departed spirits. There is no direct threat of retribution or punishment, beyond the pœna damni, or loss of all that is pleasing and delightful in this life. And all the nations that forget God; rather, even all the people (Kay). “The wicked” and “the people that forget God” are identical.

Ver. 18.—For the needy shall not always be forgotten. The poor and needy, the oppressed and down-trodden (vers. 9, 12), seem for a time to be forgotten of God; but even this seeming oblivion comes to an end when judgment falls on the oppressors (ver. 17). The expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever. “The expectation of the poor” is deliverance. It shall not “perish,” or be disappointed, “for ever,” i.e. always. There shall be a time when their expectation shall have its accomplishment.

Ver. 19.—Arise, O Lord (comp. Ps. 7:6, and the comment ad loc.). Let not man prevail; or, let not weak man prevail. The word used for “man,” enôsh, carries with it the idea of weakness. That “weak man” should prevail over God is preposterous. Let the heathen be judged in thy sight. If judged, then, as being wicked, condemned; if condemned, then punished—defeated, ruined, brought to nought (see ver. 5).

Ver. 20.—Put them in fear, O Lord; literally, set fear to them; i.e. “make them afraid,” either by striking a panic terror into them, as into the Syrians when they had brought Samaria to the last gasp (2 Kings 7:6, 7), or by causing them calmly to review the situation, and to see how dangerous it was to assail God’s people (2 Kings 6:23). That the nations may know themselves to be but men. May recognize, i.e., their weakness; may remember that they are enôsh—mere weak, frail, sickly, perishing mortals. Selah. Here this word occurs for the second time at the end of a psalm (see above, Ps. 3:8)—a position which militates against the idea of its signifying “a pause,” since there must always have been a pause at the end of every psalm.


Ver. 10.—An appeal to experience, and its record. “They that know thy Name,” etc. Truth is given us in Scripture, not as bare doctrine, but clothed in living experience; not as an anatomical preparation for intellect to dissect and anatomize, but as food to nourish; nay, more—as a friend to talk with us. For the best reason—we are not merely to hold it intellectually, but to live by it. Hence the whole Bible, from end to end, is full of human life and history. But, above all, the Book of Psalms is a textbook and encyclopædia of spiritual experience. The text is an appeal to experience, and a record of its testimony.

I. Who are they whose experience is appealed to? Those who know God’s Name. Names are more than bare signs of thought; they are instruments of thought; storehouses and treasuries of knowledge; vessels from which it can be poured; current coin, in which it passes from mind to mind. More than this. They are treasuries of feeling; talismans to call it forth; ripe seeds from which its bloom and fragrance spring to new life. Our power of naming is the measure of our knowledge. Therefore in Scripture, the Name of God stands for all that we can know of him. It includes, not only knowledge of the intellect, but of the heart (comp. John 17:3, 6 with 1 John 4:8). “Canst thou by searching,” etc.? (Job 11:7, 8). Surely not. This is a depth we cannot fathom; a breadth and height we cannot measure. But to say this is no concession to the mental indolence of agnosticism. Do not let us underrate what we can and do know of God. 1. We know him as the Source and Foundation of all being but his own. Therefore eternal and infinite. It is mere idle ring of verbal logic to say that “from a finite universe you cannot prove an infinite Creator.” For, though the universe is (we are compelled to think) in some sense finite, yet it is infinite in possibility, and in demand on knowledge, wisdom, power, love. 2. We know him as the Father of our spirits, in whom we live and have our being. As a Personal Being; i.e. one to whom we can speak, and who speaks to us. We can say “Thou” to him, and he says “Thou” to each of us. 3. We know his character. Perfect righteousness, truth, holiness, love; and his will, as revealed in his Word. 4. We know him as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (John 1:18). Who, then, are “they that know God’s Name”? Those to whom all these truths are not words, but realities; who study his will, and obey it; study his Word, and believe it; live in fellowship with God by prayer and praise; know the power of his love (1 John 4:16, 19); and see his glory in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). In one word, “the Name” of God is matter of revelation; but the knowledge of his Name is matter of experience.

II. What is the testimony of their experience? This—that God may safely be trusted—is infinitely worthy of unswerving absolute trust. Those who know him best trust him most; and those who have trusted him most bear witness to his faithfulness. We may say that the truth of the whole Bible is involved in the truth of this verse. For what is the Bible from end to end, but an invitation to trust God—with the reasons for so doing? A revelation, not so much to intellect as to heart and conscience. With this it is very largely a record of the personal experience of those who have trusted (and also of those who have distrusted) God (Ps. 34:6). And, withal, it is a challenge to future experience. It invites practical personal test. “Taste and see” (Ps. 34:8). If the answer were that, practically, faith in God is found to be a failure, then the Bible would have missed its mark. Then Christianity must be confessed a beautiful illusion. But the facts are the other way. Go to the Christian—learned or simple, poor or prosperous—who, through a busy life, has made the experiment of trusting God, and bringing everything to the Lord Jesus in prayer. Ask him, “Has it answered?” There is no doubt what his reply will be. If the evidence for the truth of Christianity were to be compressed into one word, that word is “experience.” The contemptuous disregard of this immense mass of human experience and testimony by unbelievers is neither rational nor just (see ‘Basis of Faith,’ p. 359, 3rd edit.)

Vers. 19, 20.—An appeal to God. “Arise, O Lord,” etc. The mysteries of life are no modern discovery. They perplexed and oppressed the souls of ancient saints, often well-nigh to the overthrow of faith. They are aggravated and emphasized by the fact, which we perhaps fail sufficiently to grasp, that Israel stood alone among nations as the witness to the unity, holiness, and truth of God. The host of surrounding peoples, some of them at the very summit of worldly greatness, worshipped “gods many and lords many.” Hence Israel’s enemies could not but be regarded as God’s enemies; Israel’s cause as God’s cause.

I. An appeal to God as the Lord of the whole world, to manifest his sovereignty. The word for “man” expresses mortal weakness. Q.d.: “Let not weak mortals fancy themselves strong enough, or seem to others strong enough, to defy thy rule, break thy Law, disregard thy displeasure.” Ver. 8 shows that the world of mankind is in view, not merely Israel. The broad universal spirit of the Old Testament Scriptures is among the notes of inspiration. In the sacred enclosure of Israel the psalmist saw men sinning against light; in the great outlying world of heathendom he saw them sinning without the light of revelation (Rom. 2:12–14). But in all, the root-mischief is the same—human self-will. If all men, instead of pleasing themselves, set themselves to do God’s will, a change would pass over all life, private and public, like the breaking forth of spring out of winter. Faith does not dictate to God how or when men are to be brought to their right senses; to see that God is God, and men “but men”—weak, frail, ignorant, sinful. But faith longs and pleads that it be done.

II. There are times and circumstances which give to this appeal special urgency. In ancient Israel, when idolatry threatened to suppress true religion; or heathen invaders threatened the national existence. For the Christians of the first three centuries, in the deadly persecutions of the Roman emperors. For lovers of God’s pure Word and of freedom, during the dark years before the Reformation, in the gigantic growth of superstition, corruption, and ecclesiastical tyranny. The blood of Albigenses, Lollards, Huguenots, and a great army of martyrs beside, seemed to cry for vengeance (Rev. 6:10). In our own time the frightful prevalence of crime and vice, and of squalid misery in the midst of wasteful luxury; the murderous war-preparations of Christian nations; the slow progress of the gospel where it is matched against the mighty forces of heathenism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism; and the bold and subtle forms of atheism or unbelief that fill the very atmosphere of our age;—all these awaken in our hearts this earnest, passionate longing; try our faith with this deep perplexity (Isa. 64:1). Multitudes of earnest Christians find no comfort but in the belief that the second coming of the Lord is near at hand. They echo St. John’s “come quickly” (Rev. 22:20).

III. The gospel sheds a light on this mystery, which prophets and kings of old longed for, but could not see (see 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3). God could crush and stamp out sin, and destroy sinners quickly enough, by his almighty power. But his amazing purpose has been and is to “overcome evil with good;” subdue unbelief and rebellion, not by vengeance, but love. Mercy rejoices against judgment. The cross—grace and truth by Jesus Christ—exerts a power impossible before. The prophets show the possibility of the penitent being pardoned (Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 33:11, etc.). Yet Manasseh’s conversion is almost a solitary instance. The regeneration of a nation—as of nations of cannibal savages in our own day by the preaching of the gospel—was a thing impossible. Hence inspired psalmists saw no alternative but either the prosperity of the wicked or their destruction (Luke 9:54–56; 24:46, 47). But power will not always sleep, nor judgment tarry (2 Pet. 3:7, 10; 2 Thess. 1:7, 9).


Vers. 1–20.—Praise for the destroyer’s destruction. The title of this psalm is obscure. Its archaisms cannot now be satisfactorily explained. And even a reference to the most learned expositors may possibly only increase the confusion. The title, indeed, is very suggestive. It reads, “Upon the death of Labben.” Walford regards “Muth-labben” as the name of a musical instrument. For this we can find no warrant. The word muth, which is equivalent to “death,” seems to put us on a line of thought which is, at any rate, in harmony with the entire psalm. If we grant (as appears from the whole tenor of the verses) that the reference is to the death of some enemy, by whose plots and snares the people of God were imperilled, the whole song reads naturally enough. Whether we read “Labben” as a proper name, or read it “of the Son,” or regard the psalm as referring to the death of Goliath of Gath, is of no consequence as regards its general meaning or spiritual significance. Delitzsch, indeed, says, “This psalm is a thoroughly national song of thanksgiving for victory by David, belonging to the time when Jahve was already enthroned on Zion (ver. 14), and therefore to the time after the ark was brought home.” He asks, “Was it composed after the triumphant extermination of the Syro-Ammonitish War?” Hengstenberg remarks, “The relation which David had in view when he composed this psalm for public use was that of the Church of God to its external enemies.” Note: It is a fitting occasion for sanctuary-song when God’s people are delivered from threatening perils. Many English hearts would send up such a shout of praise as we find here, over England’s deliverance from the Spanish Armada. The joy, however, was not in its destruction, but in Britain’s safety. For a pulpit exposition of the psalm, we have five lines of thought presented to us.

I. We have here shown us in what peril God’s people had been placed. Although we cannot be sure to what specific events this psalm refers, yet several phrases therein show us the kind of peril to which the writer alludes, and thus put both expositor and preacher on the line for usefully and helpfully dealing therewith on any special occasion when unusual perils beset the Church of God. E.g.: 1. Enemies (ver. 3). 2. Oppression (ver. 12). 3. Murder (ver. 12). 4. Deceit (ver. 15). Four formidable terms, surely—sufficiently typical of perils which have had to be confronted again and again in the history of God’s Church, whether from paganism, or from the papacy, or from mere worldly hostility to goodness and truth.

II. God had wrought a great deliverance for his people. The psalm is, owing to this deliverance, one of triumph and joy. 1. It was so illustrious as to be altogether marvellous, yea, miraculous (ver. 1). 2. God had manifested his judgments (ver. 7). 3. He had rebuked the nations (ver. 5). 4. Had brought guilty cities low, and even blotted them out (ver. 6). 5. Had shown himself as the Goël, the Avenger of innocent blood (ver. 12). 6. Had manifested his remembrance of the poor and of the oppressed (ver. 12). 7. Had made the devices of the wicked to recoil upon themselves. These are but so many illustrative forms of the way in which God’s providence is ever working in the world, even now, under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Head over all things to his Church.

III. Such deliverances had thrown great light on God’s character, works, and ways. They had shown: 1. How truly there is a throne high above all the scheming and plotting of men (ver. 7)! 2. That under the sway of that throne judgment is administered for all who are oppressed. 3. That this judgment is manifested in vindicating right and putting wrong to shame (vers. 7, 8). 4. That such glorious and gracious government reveals the luster of God’s everlasting Name. All providential dealings are disclosers of God. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”

IV. A song of gratitude, triumph, and trust is hereby awakened. The very beginning of the psalm is an outburst of thankfulness (ver. 1). The psalmist gathers from deliverances already effected, a ground of trust in God for future days (vers. 9, 10). Judgments already brought to pass prove that God will not let evil deeds slumber in everlasting forgetfulness, and that he will not let the cry of the humble and down-trodden remain for ever unheard (ver. 12). Yea, more. They prove the glorious truth which is triumphantly proclaimed in ver. 17, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, and all the nations that forget God.” Few verses, indeed, have been more violently twisted than this to make it suit the exigencies of mediæval theology. It has been repeatedly dealt with as if it were a sentence on the wicked of everlasting woe. The question of future punishment is dealt with clearly enough in other parts of the Word of God. But it is not that which is intended here. The verse means—God will not suffer wicked people or nations perpetually to oppress the Church. In a little, in his own good time, they shall return to the dust whence they came, and enter the invisible realm of the dead. That this is the meaning intended is shown by the verse which follows (ver. 18; cf. also Ps. 37:10). Cheer up, ye poor, dispised, and oppressed people of God! Your Vindicator liveth. He will bring you forth to the light when your foes shall have vanished from the scene.

V. The grateful song over mercies past is followed by a prayer that mercies yet needed may be vouchsafed. 1. Although there had been a marked deliverance, yet the affliction from which the psalmist had suffered still left its scars upon him. Hence the prayer in vers. 13, 14. The oppression and the oppressor may be speedily removed, but the depression thereby caused lasts long after. And only the prolonged bestowal of grace to help in time of need will ever be sufficient to meet the case. 2. The future security of the world depends on the manifestation of the Divine presence and power; in counteracting the base designs of men, in asserting the right, and avenging the wrong (ver. 19). 3. This can only be done, perhaps, by such judgments as will make the nations tremble, and so will cause them to feel their utter impotence in the grasp of the mighty God (ver. 20).

Note: The remarks, applicable to so many psalms, should not be overlooked here 1. That we have here, not words of God to man, but words of man to God. Hence they may or may not be models for our imitation. Anyway, no inspiration in prayer can rise above the level of the revelation which had been granted where and when such prayer was offered. 2. Although, in every country and age, prayer from the heart must be limited by the measure of light in the conscience, yet a gracious God will answer it, not according to its limitation or imperfection, but according to his infinite wisdom, his boundless love, and his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 3. The Divine answers to such prayers as we find in the psalm, although they bring deliverance to the righteous, will bring terror and confusion to the wicked. The destruction of Pharaoh’s host is the salvation of the hosts of the Lord.—C.

Vers. 13, 14.—“The gates of death” and “the gates of Zion.” I. The gates of death open but once; the gates of Zion open continually. (Heb. 9:27; Isa. 60:11.)

II. The gates of death open to all men without distinction; the gates of Zion open only to the good. (Eccles. 9:5; John 3:3.)

III. The gates of death open without our will; the gates of Zion only open according to our choice. (Eccles. 8:8; Matt. 7:13.)

IV. The gates of death open to men as trangressors; the gates of Zion open to the objects of grace and salvation. (Rom. 5:12; Isa. 26:1, 2.)

V. The gates of death are dark with terrors; the gates of Zion are bright with hope. (Heb. 2:15; Ps. 118:20.)

VI. The gates of death and the gates of Zion are alike under the supreme control of God. (Rom. 14:8, 9; Rev. 1:18.)

VII. If we have entered by the gates of Zion, and dwelt there with God, we need not fear when called to pass through the gates of death. Job asks (Job 38:17), “Have the gates of death been opened to thee?” They have to others. They will be by-and-by to us. We are always near them and in sight of them, but we have no power over them. We cannot hinder them from opening when it is God’s will, nor can we return when once we have passed through them. It cannot be long before our turn comes. Every setting sun, every passing hour, every beat of the pulse, is bringing the time nearer. Happy are we if we are found ready, so that the gates of death may be to us the entering into the city, where we may have right to the tree of life and the endless joys of God (Rev. 22:14)!—W. F.

Ver. 14.—A song of thanksgiving for salvation. I. Salvation is ascribed to God. All deliverances are of God. There may be human means and instruments. There may be judges and saviours, such as Joshua (Neh. 9:27). But behind all is God. This holds true of all deliverance—national and individual—of the body, and of the soul. More especially is this true of the deliverance from our enemies, and of our redemption by Jesus Christ.

II. Manifests the righteousness of God. God must act in agreement with his character. He cannot deny himself. Therefore in whatsoever deliverances God effects, we may be sure that his righteousness will shine resplendent. So it is of the salvation by Christ (Rom. 1:16, 17). How vain to ask for help, if we are not willing to have it in God’s way! How foolish to expect deliverance, save in the form that will glorify God’s Name—his righteousness as truly as his mercy, his justice as well as his love!

III. Foreshadows the final judgment of the world. Every judgment is a sign and pattern of the last judgment. There is no change with God. All through, and in everything he does, he has acted like himself. His Law will stand. His righteousness will be vindicated in the end as in the beginning. The cross of Christ itself prophesies of the just judgments of God. “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). God’s people may await with confidence the result.

IV. Calls forth the hallelujahs of the good. There is the joy of trust (ver. 13), of gratitude (ver. 14), of hope (vers. 15–20). By faith we see the King in his beauty, and rejoice in his rejoicing.—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—Thanksgiving. This and the following psalm have been considered one poem, written by the same author. This one is in a continued strain of triumph throughout, and was composed, perhaps, by David at the conclusion of the Syro-Ammonite War, or after one of his victories over the Philistines.

I. Nature of the psalmist’s thanksgiving. 1. All his powers of mind and soul took part in it. “With my whole heart.” He ascribed his deliverances to God, and not to himself; therefore he was not half-hearted in his praise. 2. He gathered up in his mental vision the mercies of a lifetime. “All thy marvellous works.” He was filled with a sense of wonder when he thought of the long succession of God’s marvellous ways towards him. The last deliverance did not blot out the memory of those that had gone before. 3. God’s condescension filled him with rejoicing gratitude. He felt that God was “most High,” and that he had wonderfully stooped to regard him and his affairs—the same thought as in the previous psalm.

II. The grounds of the psalmist’s thanksgiving. Speaking generally, it was for deliverance from his enemies. The language here suggests: 1. That the sense of God’s presence with us nerves us against our greatest dangers. (Ver. 3.) Perils and temptations lose their power over us when we know God to be with us. 2. God’s deliverances from evil spring out of his regard for what is right. (Ver. 4.) God’s righteousness is as much concerned for our salvation as his love and mercy. The rescue of a soul from sin satisfies the sense of infinite right, and is part of the eternal administration of God. 3. The psalmist saw in prospect the certain destruction of all wickedness, both individual and social. (Vers. 5, 6.) The prospect of the prevalence and reign of righteousness filled him with holy gladness and thanksgiving. Not only himself, but all righteous persons, would then enjoy peace and safety. One evil man can do much mischief, and work wide ruin; but when cities and governments become corrupt, their power for evil sweeps all virtue out of its path. Therefore David rejoiced in their extirpation. Let us cultivate a thankful spirit for all the wonderful deliverances which God has made possible and actual to us.—S.

Vers. 1–6.—The cause of gratitude. To derive benefit from the study of any ancient writings, we must translate them into our present forms of thought and ways of thinking. David as king sang these hymns to God for the nation and to the nation, and for himself; for he and the people were one. It is difficult for us to realize this, being, as we are, in lower stations and with an intenser feeling of our individuality.

I. The prelude to this song. He praises God for his marvellous works and for his supremacy. 1. They captivated and subdued his whole nature: “With my whole heart.” 2. They filled him with joy. 3. He published them to others.

II. The special causes of his gratitude. God had judged his cause and maintained the right by subduing his enemies. 1. We too have enemies to be subdued—difficulties and temptations and hindrances which threaten our safety and destroy our peace. 2. David overlooks his own instrumentality in his victories by thinking only of the great First Cause of them. He saw God in everything. We lose sight of the cause in the instrument, and are not so devout as he. We see law where he saw a person. The highest men see both—the law which prescribes the way of conquest, and him who imparts the needed strength to obey.

III. David rejoiced over the complete destruction of his enemies. 1. He thought it right to rejoice over the destruction of human life; for he thought God sanctioned and did it. 2. Our outward difficulties may vanish, while the inward may remain. 3. We shall fully rejoice only when all our enemies, inward and outward, are vanquished.—S.

Vers. 7–12.—A righteous God. Experience is the great teacher; and especially as to our knowledge of the Divine nature. From what God has done (vers. 3–6) we are able to learn what he is, viz. righteous, and a Helper of the oppressed.

I. God’s rule is a continual exercise of judgment. (Vers. 7–9.) 1. This seals the doom of the unrighteous. It will destroy them and their works (vers. 5, 6). 2. This secures the safety and the triumph of the righteous. Ultimately and really, if not immediately and in appearance. 3. This is a comfort and a refuge for those who suffer from injustice and oppression. (Ver. 9.) God is a strong Tower, into which they may run and find shelter from their troubles.

II. The grounds of faith in God. 1. When we know how to name him. (Ver. 10.) Jacob wanted to know the name of the Being who wrestled with him, because the true name indicates the true nature. In our ignorance of the nature of things, we give arbitrary names; but if we have learnt anything of the nature of God, we shall know his true name, and then shall be able to trust in him without fear at all times. 2. God reveals himself as the faithful God to those who earnestly seek him. (Ver. 10.) And to none else. We can never prove the fidelity of any one of whom we have never felt the need. And we never seek earnestly for any one unless he becomes in some way necessary to us. And it is only thus, by experience, we find that God does not forsake those who seek him. Knowledge, faith, and experience are thus connected.

III. Grounds of the joyful worship of God. 1. God specially dwells in the Church. (Ver. 11.) The glory between the cherubim was in Zion. He gathers with his people where they gather, and specially manifests himself. “Where two or three are gathered together,” etc. 2. It is a high privilege to know and declare to others the Divine work. (Ver. 11.) To be able to expound God’s work truly is to help to bring God nearer to men, and so to help to save them. 3. God always remembers the cause of the afflicted. (Ver. 12.) The meaning is—God will not let the murderer go unpunished, but will avenge the relatives of the murdered man, and so relieve and console their sufferings. But he hears the cry of all afflicted ones, whatever the cause of their sufferings, and comforts them by his Spirit.—S.

Vers. 13–20.—Prayer to God. Previous verses have celebrated the triumph of the Divine righteousness in punishing the wicked and defending the cause of the oppressed. Vers. 13 and 14 are a personal prayer, interrupting the flow of the general strain of the psalm. Luther says, “In the same way do all feel and speak who have already overcome some tribulation, and are once more oppressed and tormented. They cry and beg that they may be delivered.”

I. The psalmist’s prayer to the righteous God. (Vers. 13, 14.) 1. The appeal. “Graciously see or consider my trouble. I am unjustly suffering from the hatred of men. If thou wilt only look upon the fact as it is, then I am confident thou wilt interpose and save me.” For the Divine sympathy is always on the side of justice. 2. The arguments which enforce the appeal. Two. (1) He had had many deliverances from dangers nearly fatal. From the gates of death. Experience taught him faith and hope. (2) He would proclaim the Divine praise in the most public place. “In the gates,” etc. (ver. 14). He felt that that would be acceptable to God. (But see the Exposition.)

II. The Divine work is a revelation of the Divine righteousness. (Vers. 15–18.) 1. The plots of the wicked become the means of their own destruction. (Vers. 15, 16.) Because the righteous Being overrules in the affairs of men. No wicked schemes can be so well laid but that in the end they ruin him who laid them. We have examples of this in the first and third Napoleons, and constantly recurring ones in more private life. 2. The premature end of the ungodly. (Ver. 17.) “The wicked must return to the unseen world”—sooner than others, is implied (not “the wicked shall be turned into hell”). Wickedness and vice tend to shorten life. 3. The righteous expectation of the afflicted shall be fulfilled. The poor and the afflicted hope in God, and their hope shall not be disappointed. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love.”

III. An urgent call upon God to give still more evident proof of his righteous rule. (Vers. 19, 20.) “Arise, O Lord, let not man have the upper hand: let not weak man carry himself as if he were strong.” What is needed to put men in fear is some irresistible work of judgment among men, that shall put God’s supreme rule beyond all doubt. There is something here of impatience—a wish to hasten God’s slow but sure methods of maintaining the cause of truth and righteousness in the world.—S.



This psalm is to some extent connected with the preceding one, but not very closely. It has turns of expression which are identical, and not common elsewhere; e.g. “in times of trouble” (ver. 1; comp. Ps. 9:9), and much similarity in the thoughts (comp. ver. 2, “Let them be taken,” etc., with Ps. 9:15, “In the net which they hid is their foot taken;” ver. 12, “Forget not the humble,” with Ps. 9:12, “He forgetteth not the cry of the humble;” ver. 16, “The heathen are perished out of the land,” with Ps. 9:5, 6; and ver. 4, “God is not in all his thoughts,” with Ps. 9:17, “The nations that forget God”). The metrical structure is thought to be similar (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), and there is the same imperfect and irregular employment of alphabetic arrangement. Moreover, in the Septuagint Version the two psalms are run into one; and the unusual absence of a title in the Hebrew raises the suspicion that they were once united there also. Yet in their subject they are markedly different. Ps. 9 is concerned almost wholly with the heathen, Ps. 10 with the wicked, by which we must understand wicked Israelites. The former is a psalm of praise and thanks-giving, the latter one of complaint and entreaty; the former is triumphant and exulting, the latter menacing and mournful. Possibly they were composed about the same time, and with some reference of the one to the other, Ps. 9 being a review of Israel in its external relations, and Ps. 10 a review of Israel in its internal relations and prospects.

Ver. 1.—Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Here is the key-note struck at once. Why does God stand aloof? Why, after delivering his people from their foreign foes, does he not interfere to protect his true people from their domestic oppressors? “Throughout the reign of David,” as it has been truly observed, “Palestine was infested by brigands, and disturbed by a factious nobility” (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. 4. p. 191). Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself,” says Isaiah (45:15). And so Job complains, “He hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him” (23:9). He seems neither to see nor hear. The psalmist inquires—Why? It can only be answered, “In his wisdom; for his own purposes; because he knows it to be best.”

Ver. 2.—The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor. Dr. Kay translates, “Through the pride of the wicked man the poor is set on fire;” and our Revisers, “In the pride of the wicked, the poor is hotly pursued;” and so (nearly) the LXX., the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, Köhler, Hengstenberg, and others. The Authorized Version paraphrases rather than translates; but it does not misrepresent the general sense, which is a complaint that the poor are persecuted by the wicked. Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined (comp. Ps. 35:8, “Let his net that he hath hid catch himself;” and Ps. 141:10, “Let the wicked fall into their own nets;” see also Pss. 7:15, 16; 9:15; Prov. 5:22; 26:27; Eccles. 10:8). Some, however, translate, “They (i.e. the poor) are ensnared in the devices which they (i.e. the wicked) have imagined;” and this is certainly a possible rendering. Hengstenberg regards it as preferable to the other “on account of the parallelism and connection.”

Ver. 3.—For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire; rather, for the wicked sings praise over his own soul’s greed. Instead of praising God, he praises his own greed and its success (comp. Hor., ‘Sat.,’ i. 1. 66, “At mihi plaudo ipse domi, simul ac nummos contemplor in arca.” And blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth; rather, and when he gets a gain blesses (but) despises the Lord (so Kay, Alexander, Cheyne, and Hengstenberg). Each time that he gets a gain, he says, “Thank God!”—but, in thanking God for an unjust gain, he shows that he despises him.

Ver. 4.—The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. The construction is concise to abruptness, and it is hard to determine the ellipses. The passage in the original runs thus: “The wicked, in the height of his scorn—will not require—no God—all his thoughts.” Of the various attempts to supply the ellipses, and obtain a satisfactory sense, the following (that of the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’) is probably the best: “As for the wicked in the height of his scorn—’God will not require’—’There is no God’—such are all his thoughts.” (Compare the Revised Version, which is not very different.) The general sense is that his pride conducts the wicked man to absolute atheism, or at least to practical atheism (comp. vers. 11, 13).

Ver. 5.—His ways are always grievous; rather, firm; i.e. steadfast and consistent, not wavering and uncertain. The thoroughly wicked person who “neither fears God nor regards man,” pursues the course which he has set himself, without deviation, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left. There is nothing to hinder him—no qualm of conscience, no distrust of himself, no fear of other men’s opposition. Thy judgments are far above out of his sight. They are held in reserve; he does not foresee them—he does not believe in them. As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. His human adversaries he wholly despises, believing that a breath from his mouth will bring them to nothing.

Ver. 6.—He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved (comp. Ps. 30:6). The idea of continuance is instinctive in the human mind. “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be” (Eccles. 1:9). We expect the sun to rise each day, solely because in the past it has always risen (see Butler’s ‘Analogy,’ part i. ch. 1). The wicked man, who has always prospered, expects to prosper in the future; he has no anticipation of coming change; he supposes that his “house will continue for ever, and his dwelling-place to all generations” (Ps. 49:11); he thinks that “to-morrow will be as to-day, and much more abundant” (Isa. 56:12). For I shall never be in adversity; rather, unto generation and generation, I am he who will be exempt from calamity. The wicked man has no thought of dying—he will be prosperous, he thinks, age after age.

Ver. 7.—His mouth is full of cursing. (On the prevalence of this evil habit among the powerful in David’s time, see Pss. 59:12; 109:17, 18; 2 Sam. 16:5.) And deceit and fraud; or, guile and extortion (Kay); comp. Pss. 36:3; 55:11. Under his tongue is mischief and vanity; rather, as in the margin, mischief and iniquity. These are stored “under his tongue,” ready for utterance whenever he finds a fit occasion.

Ver. 8.—He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages. These “lurking-places” must not be supposed to have been inside the villages, but outside of them. They were retired spots at no great distance, where brigands or others might lie in ambush, ready to seize on such of the villagers as might show themselves. In the secret places doth he murder the innocent (comp. Job 24:14). The usual object would be, not murder, but robbery. Still, there would be cases where it would be convenient to remove a man, as Jezebel removed Naboth; and moreover, in every case of robbery, there is a chance that the victim may resist, and a struggle ensue, in which he may lose his life. His eyes are privily set against the poor; or, his eyes lay ambush for the helpless (Kay). The word translated “poor” (חֵלְכִֹה) is only found in this place and in ver. 10, where the antithesis of “strong ones” seems to imply that the weak and helpless are meant.

Ver. 9.—He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den; or, he lurks in the covert as a lion in his lair (Kay)—a very striking image! He lieth in wait (or, lurks) to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net; rather, by drawing him into his net. The mode of capture is intended.

Ver. 10.—He croucheth, and humbleth himself; rather, crushed, he sinks down. The subject is changed, and the poor man’s condition spoken of. That the poor may fall by his strong ones; rather, and the helpless (comp. ver. 8) fall by his strong ones. The “strong ones” are the ruffians whom the wicked man employs to effect his purposes.

Ver. 11.—He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten (comp. vers. 4, 13). “The wish is father to the thought.” As Delitzsch says, “The true personal God would disturb his plans, so he denies him. ‘There is naught,’ he says, ‘but destiny, and that is blind; an absolute, and that has no eyes; an idea, and that has no grasp.’ ” He hideth his face. He looks away; he does not wish to be troubled or disturbed by what occurs on earth. So the Epicureans in later times. He will never see it (comp. Job 22:12; Pss. 73:11; 94:7).

Ver. 12.—Arise, O Lord (comp. Ps. 9:19) At this point the psalmist passes from description to invocation. From ver. 2 to the end of ver. 11 he has described the conduct, the temper, and the very inmost thoughts of the wicked. Now he addresses himself to God—he summons God to arise to vengeance. As Hengstenberg says, “Here the second part begins—prayer, springing out of the lamentation which has preceded;” prayer and invocation, beginning here, and terminating at the close of ver. 15. O God, lift up thine hand; i.e. to strike, to take vengeance on the wicked. Forget not the humble; or, the afflicted. Do not justify the hidden thought of the wicked (ver 11), that thou forgettest—show that thou rememberest at once the sufferings of the afflicted, and the guilt of their oppressors.

Ver. 13.—Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? God’s long-suffering does but make the wicked despise him. Wherefore is this allowed to continue (comp. ver. 1)? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it; rather, as in the Prayer-book Version, while he doth say in his heart (see vers. 6, 11).

Ver. 14.—Thou hast seen it. The most emphatic contradiction that was possible to the wicked man’s “He will never see it” (ver. 11). God sees, notes, bears in mind, and never forgets, every act of wrong-doing that men commit, and especially acts of oppression. For thou beholdest mischief and spite; or, perhaps, mischief and grief (see Job 6:2); i.e. the “mischief” of the oppressors, and the “grief” of the oppressed. (so Hengstenberg, Cheyne, and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). Others refer both words to the feelings of the oppressed, and translate, “travail and grief.” To requite it with thy hand. Again the Prayer-book Version is preferable, “to take the matter into thy hand,” both for reward and requital. The poor committeth himself unto thee. He has no other possible refuge—therefore no other reliance. Thou art the Helper of the fatherless. The word “thou” is emphatic—”Thou, and no other (אַתָּה).”

Ver. 15.—Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man; i.e. “break thou his strength; take away his ability to work evil to others.” Seek out his wickedness till thou find none; rather, require his wickedness. The verb is the same as that used in the last clause of ver. 13. The wicked man had said in his heart, “Thou wilt not require;” the psalmist calls on God, not only to require, but to require to the uttermost. Seek out, he says, require, and bring to judgment, all his wickedness—every atom of it—until even thy searching eye can find no more to require, requite, and punish.

Vers. 16–18.—Here begins the third part of the psalm. It is, as has been observed, “confident and triumphant.” The psalmist has, in the first part, shown the wickedness of the ungodly; in the second, he has prayed for vengeance on them, and for the deliverance of their victims; in the third, he expresses his certainty that his prayer is heard, and that the punishment and deliverance for which he has prayed are as good as accomplished.

Ver. 16.—The Lord is King for ever and ever (comp. Pss. 29:10; 146:10). Thus God’s kingdom is established, his authority vindicated, his absolute rule over all men made manifest. Internal and external foes are alike overcome. The heathen—whether uncircumcised in the flesh or in the heart (Jer. 9:25, 26)—are perished out of his (Jehovah’s) land.

Ver. 17.—Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble (comp. Ps. 9:12). It is not the psalmist’s prayer alone that he regards as heard and answered. The oppressed have cried to God against their oppressors, and their cry has “come before him, and entered into his ears.” Thou wilt prepare their heart; rather, thou dost establish (or, make firm) their heart. Through their conviction that thou art on their side, and art about to help them. Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear; or, thou causest.

Ver. 18.—To judge the fatherless; (see ver. 14) and the oppressed
i.e. to vindicate them—to judge between them and their oppressors. That the man of the earth may no more oppress; or, that terrene man may no longer terrify. There is a play upon the two words in the original, which might thus be rendered. But it has been said, with truth, that this sort of rhetorical ornament “does not suit the genius of our language” (Erle).


Ver. 13.—The protest of faith against sin. “Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God?” etc. This psalm is one of those which utter with burning fervour the pretest of faith against unbelief, of righteousness against iniquity, of loyalty to God against rebellion. To understand these utterances, we must try to see sin as it is in itself, apart from the gracious light of forgiving mercy which the gospel sheds—as they saw it who had to live the life of faith when no cross had been set up, no sacrifice offered “for the sins of the whole world,” no gospel of forgiveness preached to the nations. If the prevalence of sin, and its consequent misery, is so heavy a burden to pious hearts to-day, what must it have been then?

I. A terrible view of sin: contempt of God. Wilful transgressors despise God. 1. They are regardless of his Law. (1 John 3:4.) It is written on their conscience. The blessing of obedience and the curse of disobedience are inwoven in their very nature; for besides that some sins (drunkenness, gluttony, lust, and sloth) destroy even the body, the man himself is worse, mentally, in character, for every sin he commits. 2. They are careless of God’s honour. Sin insults and dishonours God—a greater crime than all the injury it does to man. 3. They depise his call to repentance. (Isa. 1:18; Acts 17:30.) 4. They defy his displeasure and are reckless of his judgment (Luke 13:3, 5).

II. A question asked and answered. “Wherefore,” etc.? Because “he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it” (so ver. 11). Men persuade themselves that, as they forget God, so he forgets them. That is all they desire. An ungodly man’s notion of forgiveness is mere omission to punish; neglect of justice; indulgence, not because it is right not to punish, but merely because the thought of punishment is too dreadful and painful. “God,” he says, “is too merciful to punish.” He does not consider or understand that, as it is impossible for God to forget anything, so there would be no true mercy, but the reverse, in the neglect of justice. This is what is meant by “will by no means clear the guilty,” even in the very proclamation of Divine mercy (Exod. 34:6, 7).

III. The fatal mistake. God has seen, does remember, will require and judge. To build hope for eternity on the supposed negligence and injustice of God, is to try to cross an abyss on a cloud. If God forgives sinners, he must do it justly, on good grounds (Rom. 1:17, 18; 2:6–9; 3:23–26). The gospel is the glorious revelation of God’s pardoning love and grace, not thrust at random on those who continue to despise him, but freely given to each, even the worst, who seeks to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20), and lays hold on his promises in Christ (Heb. 2:3; 10:28, 29).


Vers. 1–18.—Why? or, Hard facts and puzzling questions. Whether or no this psalm was originally a part of the ninth is a question which, as may be seen, is discussed by many expositors. The mere absence of a title to it is, however, a very slight indication in that direction; while the contrast, almost violent, between the two psalms seems to be sufficient to show that they could scarcely have been penned by the same writer at the same time. The ninth psalm is a song of praise over the great deliverance God had wrought in bringing about the destroyer’s destruction. This is a mournful wail over the ill designs and too successful plans of the wicked on the one hand, and over the long silence of God on the other. The ungodly are at the very height of their riotous and iniquitous revelling; and the Divine interposition is passionately and agonizingly implored. We have no clue whatever to the precise period of disorder to which reference is here made. Perhaps it is well that we have not. There have been times in the history of the world and of the Church, again and again, when designing and godless men have been, as it were, let loose, and have been permitted to play havoc with God’s people, while the righteous were mourning and the wicked were boasting that God did not interpose to check their cruelties and crimes. And it will be necessary for the student and expositor to throw himself mentally into the midst of such a state of things, ere he can appreciate all the words of a psalm like this. For it is one of those containing words of man to God, and not words of God to man. We have therein—terrific facts specified; hard questions asked; a permanent solace; a forced-out prayer.

I. Terrific facts. (Vers. 2–11.) Let every phrase in this indictment be weighed; it presents as fearful a picture of human wickedness as any contained in the Word of God. It sets before us pride, persecution, device, boasting, ridicule, denial of Providence, hardness, scorn, evil-speaking, defying and denying of God, oppression and crushing of the poor, a glorying in deeds of shame, and expected impunity therein. And what is more trying still is, that God seems to let all this go on, and keeps silence, and stands afar off, and hides himself in times of trouble. Such trials were felt by the Protestants in their early struggles; by the Covenanters in times of persecution in Scotland; by faithful ones on the occasion of the St. Bartholomew Massacre; by the Waldenses and Albigenses; by Puritans and Independents under Charles I.; by Churchmen under Cromwell; and by the Malagasy in our own times; and it is only by the terror of such times that psalms like this can be understood.

II. Hard questions. Of these there are two. One is in the first verse. 1. Why is God silent? As we look at matters, we might be apt to say that if God has indeed a people in the world, he will never let them fall into the hands of the destroyer; or that, if they are oppressed by evil men, God will quickly deliver them out of their hands, and will show his disapproval of their ways. But very often is it otherwise—to sight, and then faith is tried; and it is no wonder that Old Testament saints should ask “Why?” when even New Testament saints often do the same! But we know that to his own, God gives an inward peace and strength that are better marks of his love and better proofs of his timely aid than any outward distinction could possibly be. Take, e.g., the case of Blandina in the times of early persecution; and the cases of hundreds of others. And besides this, it is by the Christ-like bearing of believers under hardships such as these, that God reveals the reality and glory of his redeeming grace (see 1 Pet. 4:12–14). 2. A second question is: Why doth the wicked contemn God? Ah! why does he? He does contemn God in many ways. (1) His inward thought is, “There is no God” (ver. 4). (2) He denies that God will call him to account (ver. 13). (3) He denies that God watches his actions (ver. 11). (4) He lulls himself in imagined perpetual security (ver. 6). Thus the life of such a one is a perpetual denial or defiance of God. And all this is attributed (a) to “pride” (ver. 4); (b) to love of evil as evil (ver. 3). And yet the psalmist, seeing through the vain boast of the ungodly, may well peal out again and again the question, “Why does he do this?” for the implied meaning of the writer is, “Why does he do this, when, in spite of all his proud glorying in ill, he knows that God will bring his wickedness to an end, and will call him to account for it? This is the thought which connects our present division with the next.

III. Permanent solace. However hard it may be to interpret the ways of God at any one crisis, yet the believer knows that he must not judge God by what he sees of his ways, but ought to estimate his ways by what he knows of God. And there are four great truths known about God by the revelation of himself to man. 1. Jehovah is the eternal King (ver. 14). 2. God is the Helper of the fatherless (ver. 14). 3. God is known as the Judge of the oppressed (ver. 18; cf. Pss. 103:6; 94:8–23). 4. God hears his people’s cry (ver. 17). When believers know all this, they have a perpetual source of relief even under the heaviest cares. God’s plan for the world, in his government thereof by Jesus Christ, is to redress every wrong of man, and to bring about peace, by righteousness (Ps. 72:2–4).

IV. Fervid prayer. (Vers. 12, 15.) Times of severest pressure are those which force out the mightiest prayer (Acts 4:30–33). Luther, etc.; Daniel (2:16–18; 9:1–19). The true method of prayer is thus indicated, viz. to ascertain from God’s revelation of himself, what he is and what are his promises, and then to approach him in humble supplication, pleading with him to reveal the glory of his Name, by fulfilling the promises he has made; and when our prayers move in the direct line of God’s promises, we are absolutely sure of an answer (but see Ps. 65:5; Rev. 8:4, 5; Deut. 32:26–29). To-day is a day of God’s concealing himself; but his day of self-revealing is drawing nigh.—C.

Vers. 1–18.—Times of darkness and fear. The experiences of the psalmist may differ from ours, but by faith and sympathy we can enter into his feelings. Besides, there is always more or less of trouble. Life is full of vicissitudes. Times of darkness and of fear come to all. Not from one, but from many, the cry goes up to Heaven, “Why standest thou afar off?”

I. The complaint. (Vers. 1–11.) Why? Perplexity and fear are natural because of the silence of God. What makes his silence the more awful is that it is in sight of the sufferings of the good (ver. 2). On every side evil abounds. Truth, justice, benevolence, are set at naught. Might prevails against right. Righteousness is fallen in the dust. Oppression has reached such a height that it seems as if it would finally triumph. The mystery deepens, when we mark that God’s silence is in the hearing of the vauntings of the wicked (vers. 3–11). The proud not only boast of their strength, but exult in their success. They have accomplished their evil desires. They parade their insolence and scorn in the very hearing of Heaven. Seeing there is no judgment executed, they harden their hearts, and hold on their way with reckless hardihood.

II. The appeal. (Vers. 12–18.) The cry is impassioned and urgent. God’s truth and honour are concerned. Redress must be given, else things will soon be beyond remedy. 1. The experience of the past is urged. (Ver. 14.) God is just. What he has done is earnest of what he will do. His deeds bind him as well as his promises. 2. The present also bears witness. (Ver. 5.) There is requital even now. As surely as the good is blessed in his deed, the wicked is cursed in his wickedness. 3. The future is therefore anticipated with confidence. (Ver. 6.) As the singer muses on the character and ways of God, he rises to a bolder strain. Faith sees the vision of coming judgment. There are sore trials, there are great perplexities, but God is just. He is not indifferent. He is not helpless. He is not slack concerning his promise. But he waits in long-suffering mercy for the fit—the appointed time. A prepared heart will always find a prepared God (vers. 16–18): “Thou wilt cause thine ears to hear.” Men may give their ears, and no more. Not so God. He not only hears, but acts. There is the tenderest pity; but there is also the most tremendous power. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”—W. F.

Ver. 4.—Man’s thoughts. I. Man has thoughts. He can direct his mind to the past, the present, the future. He can speculate as to the manifold things that come before him and affect his interests. It is his glory that he can think; it is his shame that he so often thinks foolishly.

II. Man’s thoughts depend upon his moral condition. We are creatures of feeling. What is uppermost in our hearts will be uppermost in our thoughts. The good man has good thoughts, the evil man evil thoughts. Change the character of the heart, and you change the character of the thoughts (Prov. 12:5; 15:26; Matt. 12:33).

III. When the moral disposition is corrupt, the tendency is to exclude God from the thoughts. The plan, the labours, the enjoyments of life are too often without God (Luke 12:19, 20; Jas. 4:13). This is irrational, criminal, and ruinous (Ps. 146:4).—W. F.

Vers. 17, 18.—Trial in three aspects. I. Trial as a painful infliction. “For the present … grievous” (Heb. 12:11).

II. As a holy discipline. There is a “needs be.” God means us good, to make us partakers of his holiness.

III. As a salutary experience. David says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted,” and he gives reasons for this. Looking back, humbled and awed, but grateful, we can praise God for his judgments as well as for his mercies. We have the witness in ourselves that God is love, and that when he chastens us it is for our good. Thus we learn to suffer and to wait. The future is bright with hope. In the heavenly world to which we aspire there shall be no more pain, no more sorrow, nor crying, nor tears. Christ will make all things new.—W. F.

Vers. 1–18.—The righteous God. The one grand throught which runs through this psalm and most of the Old Testament literature is that God, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, is a Righteous Being, and that all wickedness must be punished and overthrown. In this psalm two principal thoughts are vividly pictured forth, and a prayer.

I. A complaint to God of the daring atheism of the wicked. (Vers. 1–11.) 1. He imagines himself to be above all restraint, human or Divine. (Vers. 2–4.) Proud, boastful, blessing the robber, despising God, blind. “He requireth not; there is no God.” 2. He feels safe and prosperous. (Vers. 5, 6.) 3. His ways are full of deceit and violence. (Vers. 7, 8.) This is a description of the wicked man in the very fulness and monstrosity of his evil power. 4. The cruelty of his ways. (Vers. 9–11.) He is compared to a ravenous lion. His ferocity is entirely unrestrained, because either there is no God or he will not concern himself with the fate of the oppressed and afflicted.

II. A prayer for God’s interposition. (Vers. 12–15.) 1. Founded upon the contrast between the thoughts of the wicked and the actual conduct of God. (Vers. 12–14.) 2. And upon the expectations of the helpless and the forlorn. (Ver. 14.) “The helpless leaveth it to thee, and thou wilt not disappoint him.” 3. Wickedness can be destroyed and made to disappear from amongst men. (Ver. 15.)

III. The triumph of faith. The psalmist looks upon God’s work of comfort and salvation as being quite as certain in the future as if they had been works done in the past. 1. Jehovah is King for ever and ever. (Ver. 16.) Nothing can overturn his eternal will. 2. The future triumph of God’s righteousness is regarded as already completed. (Vers. 17, 18.) The beginning of the work which he has seen gives him faith that it will be perfected. “Perfect that which concerneth us.” “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.”—S.



Ascribed to David in the “title,” this psalm is almost universally allowed to be his. It “has all the characteristics of the earlier Davidic psalms.” No allusion enables us to assign it to any particular occasion; but, on the whole, it would seem to belong most probably to the period of David’s residence at the court of Saul, when he had provoked the jealousy of the courtiers, and calumnious accusations were being continually brought against him. At such a time his friends and companions may well have lost heart, and advised him to “flee away to the mountains.” But David flees to God (ver. 1), and trusts in him for deliverance from his persecutors (vers. 4–7).

Ver. 1.—In the Lord put I my trust; or, in the Lord have I taken refuge (Kay, Cheyne). Before his friends address him on the subject of his danger, David has himself recognized it, and has fled to God for succour. How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? rather, flee ye, birds, to your mountain. Probably a proverbial expression, used when it was necessary to warn a man that in flight lay his only safety. The singular (צִפּוֹר) is used collectively.

Ver. 2.—For, lo, the wicked bend their bow. The words are still those of the timid friends. “Lo,” they say, “the ungodly are already bending the bow against thee”—preparing, i.e., to attempt thy life. They make ready their arrow upon the string; or, fit their arrow to the string. The last thing before discharging it. That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart; literally, that they may shoot amid darkness at the upright in heart (comp. 1 Sam. 19:1, 2, where, Saul having given orders to “all his servants, that they should kill David,” Jonathan persuades him to hide himself “until the morning”).

Ver. 3.—If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The word translated “foundations” is a rare one, only occurring here and in Isa. 19:10. The meaning of “foundations,” first given to it by Aquila, is now generally adopted. We must suppose the timid friends to be still speaking, and to mean that, under the lawless rule of Saul, the very foundations of society and of moral order were swept away; the righteous (צַדִּיק, a collective) had done and could do nothing to prevent it. What remained for David, but to withdraw from a community where there was neither law nor order, where the first magistrate commanded (1 Sam. 19:1) and attempted (1 Sam. 19:10) assassination?

Ver. 4.—The Lord is in his holy temple. David’s reply to his timid advisers is an expression of absolute faith and trust in God. Saul may reign upon earth; but Jehovah is in his holy temple (or rather, “palace,” הֵיכַל) on high—his throne is in heaven, where he sits and reigns. What need, then, to fear an earthly king? Especially when God is not inattentive to human affairs, but his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men (comp. Pss. 7:9; 17:3; 139:1). His “eyelids” are said to try men, because, when we closely scrutinize a thing, we drop our eyelids and half close our eyes.

Ver. 5.—The Lord trieth the righteous. God tries the righteous, scrutinizing them with his penetrating glance, but a glance wherein there is protection and love. When he tries (or closely scrutinizes) the wicked, the result is different—the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Ver. 6.—Upon the wicked he shall rain snares. On Divine displeasure follows Divine punishment—not always speedy, but sure. Those who have plotted against David will have “snares rained” upon them. God is said to “rain” on men both his blessings and his curses, when he gives them abundantly (comp. Job 20:23; Hos. 10:12; Ezek. 34:26). By “snares” are meant any difficulties or troubles in which men are entangled by the action of Divine providence. Fire and brimstone. The punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was the typical example of God’s vengeance to the Israelites generally. And an horrible tempest; literally, a breath of horrors (comp. Ps. 119:53; Lam. 5:10). It is thought that the simoom may be intended. But none of the threats are to be taken literally. All that the psalmist means is that God’s vengeance, in some shape or other, will overtake his persecutors. This shall be the portion of their cup. This is probably the earliest place where the metaphor of a “cup” for man’s lot in life is employed. Other instances are Pss. 16:5; 23:5; 73:10; 75:8; 116:13; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Ezek. 23:31, 32; Matt. 20:22, 23; 26:39; John 18:11.

Ver. 7.—For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; rather, for the Lord is righteous; he loveth righteousness (see the Revised Version); literally, righteousnesses; i.e. good and righteous deeds. His countenance doth behold the upright. So the LXX., the Vulgate, Hengstenberg, Bishop Horsley, and others; but the bulk of modern commentators prefer to render, “The upright will behold his countenance.” Either translation yields a good sense.


Vers. 3, 4.—The question of fear and the answer of faith. “If the foundations,” etc. The Bible is God’s gift to a world such as its pages describe. Not a world of sinless holiness and painless peace, but a world of sin, sorrow, strife. A book for pilgrims, toilers, warriors, mourners, sinners. The “sword of the Spirit,” forged in the fire of affliction, tempered in tears. Light in darkness; songs in the night-time; manna in the wilderness; water from the flinty rock; an anchor for the tempest-tossed soul. It leads us along the path beaten by the feet of scores of generations; across ancient battle-fields; shows us the monuments of heroes and conquerors; and fills our daily life with the echoes of the mighty past. Whether or no this psalm belongs to some particular occasion in David’s life—a question of no practical moment—it reflects the stormy experience he and many another saint have had oftentimes to face; and it does this for all time. In these verses we have (1) the question of fear; and (2) the answer of faith.

I. The question of fear. “If … what shall the righteous do?” The foundations, namely, of society; the pillars or supports of public order, peace, prosperity. These main pillars are four; authority, justice, policy, wealth. If these are shaken, the fabric totters. If they utterly fail, anarchy or tyranny ensues. When war threatens or assails, a weak distrusted government, an unrighteous cause, incapacity, an empty treasury, are more dangerous than any foreign foe. And though there were profound peace as regarded other nations, a nation afflicted with these four evils, one in which these main pillars break, would be on the verge of ruin. Yet underneath all these lies a deeper foundation—national character (Prov. 14:34). The particular form in which public life rested on religion has never been possible for any other nation than Israel. None other has had a covenant like that of Sinai—an inspired code of laws; a perfect identity of Church and state. The relations of Church and state differ in different lands; are matter of controversy. This does not change the fact that public as much as private life—that of the nation no less than of the individual—is healthful, safe, prosperous, truly free, only as it conforms to God’s law: is just, truthful, temperate pure, peaceable, benevolent.

II. The answer of faith. God reigns; God rules. 1. “In his temple,” q.d., “in heaven.” “His throne”—his supreme omnipotent dominion—is the reign, not of arbitrary power or mere mechanical law, but of holiness; perfect righteousness, wisdom, love. Therefore it is the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:6). 2. “His eyes behold,” etc. In all this wild confusion, as it seems, nothing is overlooked; nothing unjudged or uncontrolled. God rules as well as reigns. Never for a moment is his hand off the helm (Rom. 8:28; Ps. 76:10). Example: The beneficial results of the Babylonish captivity, in which the ruin of the nation had appeared total and final.

Practical lessons (especially in times of political strife and danger). 1. Courage. “How say ye,” etc.? It is no part of a Christian’s duty to flee, either in terror or disgust, from public duty. Public service—as citizen, official, or ruler—progresses under the great Christian law of love to our neighbour (comp. Gal. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:10). Who should be fearless and faithful, if not he who seeks in all to glorify God, and knows that all earthly as well as heavenly power is in Christ’s hands (Matt. 28:18)? 2. Prayer. (1 Tim. 2:1–3; comp. 1 Sam. 8:7–10.) Prayer for our country is a great Christian duty.


Vers. 1–7.—The victory of faith; or, rest amid storm. In each one of those psalms which represent some historic experience, there is its own differential feature. This feature it is the work of the student and expositor to seize and to utilize. We do not know and have no means of knowing the specific incidents in the writer’s life to which reference is here made, although, since David was the writer, we should find but little difficulty in fixing on some passages of his history to which the psalm might possibly apply. But although that might furnish some interesting points of history, it would add little or nothing to the value of the psalm. It is one which is far too much overlooked; since it yields us a powerful illustration of a faith which overcomes the world. Let us set to work and see if it be not so.

I. Here is a believer in God exposed to peril from designing foes. (Ver. 2.) Those who are upright in heart are hated by the wicked (cf. 1 John 3:12, 13). This is not to be wondered at, for righteous men by their righteousness are a standing condemnation of the ungodly (Heb. 11:7). The Lord Jesus was pre-eminently the object of hatred by the world (John 7:7; 15:18–24). In the time of the psalmist this hatred was expressed by plots for the destruction of God’s servants (ver. 2). But, as if conscious of wrong and of the meanness and wickedness of their aims, men sought the cover of darkness for their designs (see ver. 2, Revised Version). What a mercy there is One to whom the darkness and the light are both alike!

II. Here are well-meaning friends giving their advice. (Ver. 1, “Flee as a bird,” etc.) This is the counsel of timidity. There may possibly be circumstances in which it may be right to take flight (see Matt. 10:23). Although our Lord expected his disciples to be prepared, if need be, to lay down their lives for him, yet he did not wish them unnecessarily to expose themselves to danger. So that at times, flight may be wise. But in the case of the psalmist, the whole tenor of his psalm indicates that it would not have been right, and that the counsels of his friends were those of timidity and even of cowardice. Note: 1. We may any of us be exposed at some time or other to this temptation (1) to flee from the spot where we are placed; (2) to quit the duty we have in hand, because of peril; or (3) to resort to some safe nook, and thus consult our own ease and safety, regardless of the work in hand. 2. Such temptation may be even harder to resist when it comes from friends than if it came from foes. So our Lord Jesus found it; he felt Peter’s effort to dissuade him from the cross far more acutely than he did Satan’s (cf. Matt. 16:22, 23).

III. This ill-judged advice may be enforced with plausible arguments. (Vers. 1, 3.) The advice begins with the word “flee” (ver. 1), and ends with the close of the third verse. The arguments for flight are: 1. The secrecy of the designs of the wicked; since they work under cover of the darkness, it is best to be entirely out of their reach. 2. The grievous consequences of their success (ver 3). If the men who are the strength and glory of a state are removed, the righteous therein will be dismayed. This is a more specious argument than the former: it is equivalent to, “If you care not to flee for your own sake, you owe it to others to guard yourself; for if you, as one of the supports of the state, are overthrown, what will the righteous people do?” The wicked would rejoice, and would seize the occasion for the purposes of rapine and murder; but the righteous would be in sore dismay.

IV. To such advice, faith has a ready answer. (Vers. 4–6.) The various features of this answer may be summed up in one sentence, “The Lord reigneth!” This is faith’s rest and refuge in all times of trouble. Things are not left to the cross-purposes of man. There is a throne above all, and One sitting thereon. This fact has a manifold bearing: 1. On men generally. (1) God sees all (ver. 4). (2) God tests all (ver. 4). 2. On the righteous. (1) God tries his people. He proves them to improve them (ver. 5). (2) He loves the righteous; i.e. he approves them, and, in the midst of all confusion, he smiles upon them. (3) He will crown them with honour at last (ver. 7, Revised Version). 3. On the wicked. (1) He hates them; i.e. he disapproves their ways (ver. 5; Ps. 1:6). (2) The time will come when that disapproval will be manifest (ver. 6). The terrible figures used in this verse are probably drawn from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What the dread reality may be, of which these words are symbols, God grant that we may never know! More fearful than any physical judgments is the adverse verdict of the Great Supreme (John 3:19). Note: It is all-important for a believer in God, in the midst of the greatest calamities, and of the most serious public disorder, so to maintain his calm serenity of soul, as to enable him thus to rest in what he knows of God and of his revealed mind and will.

V. Knowing all this concerning God, the psalmist had actually anticipated the advice of his advisers, though in another and a better way (ver. 1): “In the Lord put I my trust;” rather, “To the Lord I have fled for refuge.” I need no other. He is mine. He will guard me. I am at rest in him. I will therefore stay where I am, and keep in the path of duty. I can calmly look on the raging storm, and wait till it has passed by. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Note: 1. The man who trusts in God has already a Refuge of which the ungodly man knows nothing. 2. That trust in God gives him the victory over his foes. 3. The God whom he trusts will be his Shield now, and his exceeding great Reward hereafter and for ever!

How much broader, deeper, and firmer should be our trust, now that we know God’s love as revealed in Christ! “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4, 5).—C.

Vers. 1–7.—A battle in the soul. Faith and fear are in conflict. Plausible reasons are suggested why the fight should be given up, but nobler thoughts prevail.

I. Fear confronting faith. (Vers. 1–3.) The outlook is discouraging. Our foes are many and strong; more, they are inveterate in malice; more still, they have already gained ground, and amidst the overturn of all right principles and the confusion worse confounded, it seems as if they were to prevail all along the line. In such a state of things selfish fear suggests—Why fight longer? Our best efforts are fruitless; we are spending our strength and labouring in vain. Better bow to the inevitable; better look to ourselves ere it be too late. The temptation is subtle and dangerous; even the best of us have felt its force. It was Jeremiah who said, “I will not speak any more in his Name” (Jer. 20:9); it was the great Elijah who cried out, as if in despair, “I only am left, and they seek my life” (1 Kings 19:10). Then there are not wanting false and mistaken friends, who say, as St. Peter to our Lord, “This shall not be unto thee” (Matt. 16:22), or as the disciples said to St. Paul, “Go not up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:11–13; Neh. 6:10, 11). So it has been in all great enterprises. There are lions in the way; difficulties arise that seem to the fearful impossibilities. So it is specially in the Christian life. “The fear of man bringeth a snare,” but so also does the fear that rises in our own hearts.

II. Faith conquering fear. (Vers. 4–7.) God’s truth is like Constantine’s banner: “By this we conquer.” 1. Realizing God’s presence. God is not afar off, but near; he is not an indifferent spectator, but pledged to defend the right. The end is in his hands. He will save his people. The presence of an earthly chief gives courage to his soldiers: how much more should we take heart when we know that God is with us! 2. Confiding in God’s protection. It is not chance, nor caprice, nor arbitrary rule, that settles things, but the will of God. He “trieth the righteous.” There is a holy, loving discipline. The furnace may be hot, but it is for the purifying of the gold (Job 23:10). Let us have patience (Jas. 5:10, 11; 1 Pet. 1:3–7). 3. Anticipating God’s deliverance. Faith looks beyond the seen. When the vision of God’s power is revealed, our fears give place to confidence, our tremblings to tranquillity (2 Kings 6:17). What God loves must live. What God has promised he will certainly perform (2 Pet. 2:9).

“Put we our quarrel to the will of Heaven,

Who, when he sees the hour is ripe on earth,

Will rain hot vengeance on th’ offenders’ heads.”


W. F.

Ver. 7.—”The righteous Lord loveth righteousness.” This is true for ever.

I. Righteousness is congruous to God’s nature. If light is pleasant to the eye, and music to the ear, and beauty to the soul, it is because they are in the line of rightness. “No man ever yet hated his own flesh” (Eph. 5:29): how much more must God love that which is akin to himself—which is of the very essence of his character!

II. Righteousness fulfils God’s purposes. What God seeks is righteousness. This is the end of the Law; this is the purpose of all good government; this is the teaching of the prophets and the great object of Christ (Isa. 42:1–14; Matt. 3:15; Rom. 5:21). Christ is the “Righteous One;” and of him the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” “Christ suffered once the Just for the unjust;” and we see how dear righteousness was to God when “he made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The cross is the measure of God’s love of righteousness.

III. Righteousness secures the blessedness of God’s creatures. Sin brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is by the taking away of sin and the re-establishment of the rule of God in the heart, that happiness is restored (Rom. 14:17). The prophets tell with rapture of the good time coming; and note it as the peculiar glory of the new heavens and the new earth, that in them “dwelleth righteousness” (Isa. 65:17–25; 2 Pet. 3:13, 14).

Here is a test: Do we love as God loves? “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:5–10).—W. F.

Vers. 1–7.—Faith’s antidote to fear. This psalm is referred by some to the early struggles of David against the unrelenting jealousy of Saul; by others to the rebellion of Absalom; by others to the general conflict ever waging between the good and the evil powers. The subject of it is “Confidence in the Lord, and his protection even against the mightiest force of the wicked.” The two leading ideas are the doctrine of David’s friends, and David’s own doctrine.

I. Safety in danger could be found only in flight. (Vers. 1–3.) This was the temptation with which his friends assailed him—to abandon the righteous cause by flight. The temptation was plausible: 1. Because his very life was in danger. If anything less had been threatened—reputation or property—it might have been prudent to remain; but “skin for skin,” etc. 2. The attack upon his life was secret, and not open. (Ver. 2.) He might resist and conquer an open attack; but what can defend us against cunning plots hatched in secret? 3. The greatest social disorder prevailed. (Ver. 3.) “What shall the righteous do?” was their plea with him. “You are powerless if you remain.” They were in despair, and thought that flight was his only desperate resource. But David’s doctrine was—

II. That safety was found by trusting to God’s protective care. (Vers. 4–7.) 1. Trust in God enabled him to stand by the righteous cause; by flight he would abandon it to the wicked. Faith in God gives an unconquerable devotion to the right; flight is unbelief and cowardice. Indolent trust—a trust that does not work and fight in the good cause—is no better than cowardly flight. 2. He trusted in God’s overruling power. (Vers. 4, 5.) That somehow he would uphold the righteous cause and righteous men; that as long as his throne was in the heavens, they could not be in any lasting peril, whatever appearances might be. 3. He trusted in the retributive providence of God. (Vers. 5, 6.) A providence that dealt with the righteous and the wicked; an inward and an outward retributive providence, which rewards and punishes in both spheres. 4. Whatever his outward lot, he trusted that he should one day see God’s face. (Ver. 7.) That is safety; that is salvation from all danger and all trouble. The highest salvation is of a spiritual kind, not outward and temporal. To see God’s face is to stand firmer than the mountains, and to be richer than all the outward universe.—S.



Another Davidical psalm, both according to the title and to the general opinion of critics; said (like Ps. 6.) to be “upon Sheminith”—an expression of uncertain meaning. It consists of a complaint (vers. 1, 2), a menace (vers. 3, 4), and a promise (vers. 5–8). Metrically, it seems to divide itself into four stanzas—the first, second, and fourth, of four lines each; the third, of six lines. There is nothing to mark definitely the time of the composition; but its position in the Psalter, and its general resemblance to the psalms which precede, point to the period of David’s residence at the court of Saul.

Ver. 1.—Help, Lord; rather, Save, Lord, as in the margin (comp. Pss. 20:9; 28:9; 60:5, etc.). For the godly man ceaseth. “Ceaseth,” i.e., “out of the land”—either slain or driven into exile. We must make allowance for poetic hyperbole. For the faithful fail from among the children of men (compare, for the sentiment, Micah 7:2). The writer, for the moment, loses sight of the “remnant”—the little flock”—which assuredly remained, and of which he speaks in vers. 5 and 7.

Ver. 2.—They speak vanity every one with his neighbour; rather, they speak falsehood (Kay, Cheyne). Contrast the injunction of the apostle (Eph. 4:25). With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak; literally, with lips of smoothness, and with a heart and a heart do they speak. The Authorized Version gives the true meaning (comp. 1 Chron. 12:33).

Ver. 3.—The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips. The complaint having been made, a threat follows (comp. Pss. 10:15; 11:6; 17:13, etc.). The men who flatter with their lips, beguiling and cozening their victims to get them completely into their power, shall be “cut off” from the congregation (see Gen. 17:14; Exod. 12:15, 19; Lev. 7:20, 27; 17:10, etc.). And the tongue that speaketh proud things; literally, great things; but proud and lofty boastings are intended (comp. Dan. 7:8, 20). The same man sometimes cozens with smooth words, sometimes blusters and talks big.

Ver. 4.—Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; or, through our tongues are we powerful; i.e. whatever we desire we can accomplish through our tongues—by persuasion, or by menaces, or by skill in argument. Success in pleading before courts of law is, perhaps, included. Our lips are our own; literally, are with us; i.e. are on our side, are our helpers (“Nobis auxilio et præsto sunt,” Michaelis). Who is lord over us? Who, i.e., can interfere with us and impede our action? They do not believe in any righteous Judge and Controller of the world, who can step in to frustrate their plans, upset their designs, and bring them to ruin (see Pss. 10:4, 11; 14:1).

Ver. 5.—For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord. The ungodly having been threatened, a promise of assistance is made to the righteous whom they oppress. God declares that, in response to the many calls made upon him (Pss. 3:7; 7:6; 9:19; 10:12), he will “now,” at last, “arise”—interpose on behalf of the oppressed, and deliver them (comp. Exod. 3:7, 8). I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. This is a possible meaning; but it is perhaps better to render, with Hengstenberg and Cheyne, “I will place him in the safety for which he sighs,” or “pants.”

Ver. 6.—The words of the Lord are pure words. There is no base alloy in them: therefore they may be trusted. What God promises, he will perform. As silver tried in a furnace of earth; rather, perhaps, silver assayed in a crucible on earth (Kay). Purified seven times (comp. Pss. 18:30; 19:8; 119:140; Prov. 30:5).

Ver. 7.—Thou shalt keep them, O Lord. God having promised to set the righteous, who are oppressed, in a place of safety (ver. 5), the psalmist is sure that he will keep them and preserve them from the wicked “generation,” which has possession of the earth, and bears rule in it, always. It is, no doubt, for the greater consolation and encouragement of these unfortunates that he dwells on the subject, and adds his own assurances to the Divine promise which he has recorded. Man’s faith is so weak that, unless promises and assurances are reiterated, they make little impression. Thou shalt preserve them (Hebrew, him) from this generation for ever. The “generation” is that of the worldly men in power at the time, of whom we have heard in Pss. 3:1, 2, 6, 7; 4:2; 5:4–6, 9, 10; 6:8; 7:1, 2, 9, 13–16; 10:2–11, 15; 11:2, 3, 6. “For ever” means “so long as they live.” The substitution of “him” for “them” in this clause is an instance of that generalization by which a whole class is summed up in a single individual—”all men” in “man,” “all good men” in “the righteous” (צַדִּיק), and the like.

Ver. 8.—The wicked walk on every side This can scarcely have been intended as an independent clause, though grammatically it stands alone. It is best to supply “while” or “though” before “the wicked,” as Dr. Kay does, and to translate, Though (or while) wicked men march to and fro on all sides; i.e. while they have their way, and control all other men’s incomings and outgoings, being free themselves. When the vilest men are exalted; rather, and though villainy (זֻלּוֹת) exalteth itself among the sons of men.


Ver. 4.—Unbridled speech. “Our lips are our own,” etc. If it be true, as we often say, that “actions speak louder than words,” it is also true that speech is a kind of action, and that words often speak more than the speaker means to utter. Light, thoughtless words, void of serious meaning, sometimes flash a light into the inmost chamber of the heart; they could not have been spoken if kindness, good sense, justice, humility, dwelt and ruled there. Profuse professions are often interpreted by the rule of contrary. When Judas said, “Hail, Master!” he branded himself as a traitor, hypocrite, murderer. The text may not mean that these words are audibly uttered. The Bible speaks often of what men say in their heart. The temper and spirit which go with an unbridled tongue are expressed thus: “Our lips are our own.”

I. This is a great mistake. Responsibility is not annihilated or lessened by our refusing to acknowledge it. We are responsible for our words as much as for the rest of our life. Our lips are not our own, because we ourselves are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Ps. 100:3, Revised Version). God “giveth richly all things to enjoy;” but he can give nothing away; all is his still, and cannot cease to be his (1 Chron. 29:14; Rom. 12:1). Responsibility to use God’s gifts in a way pleasing to him and to his glory increases with the preciousness of the gift. Who can reckon the value of speech? That without which reason would be not only dumb, but blind, deaf, paralyzed—the chief bond of human society, the instrument of truth, instruction, command, persuasion, comfort, converse. All life is “in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). For good or for evil, even a short speech often long outlives the lips that uttered it. Not only “what is written remains.” Books and writings decay and perish, while “winged words” fly from land to land, and live on through ages. A great trust is man’s gift of speech.

II. A more common mistake than may be thought. Thus boldly, coarsely spoken, it is indeed the language of atheism. But think of the enormous amount of idle, unprofitable, unkind, unjust, insincere talk poured forth every day; not to speak of what is wilfully false, impure, or malignant. What does all this mean but utter forgetfulness of responsibility to God for our use of this great gift? Passing sad, too, it is to think how it runs to waste; of all the words of counsel, comfort, kindness, prayer, praise, that might be spoken, but are not. The dulness of conscience on this point is astonishing. You may meet often with Christians who positively pride themselves on “speaking their mind,” no matter at what cost to others. People who would think it unpardonably wicked to strike a hard blow with the fist, think nothing of giving a stab with the tongue, which perhaps years will not heal (Jas. 3:6).

III. It is not enough that we see the sin of unbridled speech, the reckless impiety of supposing “our lips are our own.” Let us take to heart our responsibility to our brother man, above all, to our Saviour, for our use of this noble faculty and priceless gift. “The fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15) may be a “sacrifice” in other ways as well as praise. Remember our Lord’s warning (Matt. 12:36, 37). Meditate on what we owe to the words of those who have taught counselled, cheered, and helped us; to the words of inspired men; above all, to the words of the Lord Jesus. “A word spoken in season, how good is it!” A kind word, a faithful rebuke, an honest avowal of faith and conviction, a manly protest against impure or ill-natured speech, may be the turning-point for good of some young life. “Let your speech be alway with grace” (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29, 30, where note the remarkable reference to the Holy Spirit; Ps. 19:14).

Ver. 6.—The preciousness of the Word. “The words of the Lord,” etc. Thus the Bible bears witness to itself. We read often in Scripture of “the word of the Lord”—not so often of “the words” of the Lord. By “the Word of the Lord” is meant sometimes a particular command, promise, or prediction; but frequently—and usually in the New Testament—the substance or sum-total of Divine truth (Ps. 119:9, e.g.). But this phrase, “the words of the Lord,” calls attention to the actual utterances in which this truth is recorded for us. So our Lord distinguishes (John 8:43) between his “speech,” the particular form or method of his teaching, and his “Word,” his doctrine.

I. The inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. “The words of the Lord.” We must guard against such narrow, mechanical views of inspiration as would confine it to the Hebrew and Greek words in which it was written, so that one who reads a good translation would not have “the words of the Lord.” “The meaning of Scripture,” says Tyndale, “is Scripture.” Inspiration is the Holy Spirit working in men and by men—not as machines, but as living, reasonable beings. We ought not to speak of “the human element” and “the Divine element” as separable or hostile. A great picture is but paint and canvas, informed, vivified by the thought and genius of the artist. You cannot say, “This part is paint, and that part is genius.” So in the Bible. “Men of God spake”—there is the human element—”as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”—there is the Divine (comp. 2 Tim. 3:16, where, had the Revisers followed the analogy of their own rendering in 2 Tim. 4:4, they would have retained the rendering they have transferred to the margin).

II. Its tried and proved truth. The similitude is drawn from precious metal, whose worth and purity have been proved in the furnace, which separated the dross from the pure ore. The idea is not that we are to distinguish, in Scripture, dross from gold and silver, but that God has done so. He gives us not rough ore, but pure metal. But we may apply the image to the tests to which the Bible has been and daily is submitted. 1. The experience of those who have trusted it and gone by it. Those who have done this longest, most practically, with fullest faith, are the very persons most convinced of the truth and worth of the Bible. 2. Hostile criticism. For the last hundred years this has been especially fierce, learned, elaborate, determined, skilful. Had the Word not been pure gold, it must have perished in this fierce furnace. The result has been to shed a flood of light on the letter of Scripture, and to bring to light a mass of new and powerful evidence, bearing witness to its truth and genuineness. It stands both tests (1 Pet. 1:23–25).

III. Its preciousness. It is worth all the care and trouble God has bestowed, by his providence and inspiration, on its composition and preservation; all the help and illumination which the Holy Spirit continually grants to those who read it with faith and earnest prayer; all the study given to it by friends and foes (Pss. 119:72; 119:20).

Conclusion. Is it precious to you? Is this the witness of your own experience? If not, it must be because you have not really tried it.


Vers. 1–8.—Hard times. This psalm has no indication of the time in which it was written. At whatever time, however, it may have been penned, there is no doubt about the general features of the age here represented. It was one in which good men were becoming more and more rare, in which the wicked abounded, and took occasion from the numerical inferiority of the righteous to indulge in haughty and vain talk against them and against God. The psalmist looks with concern and distress upon this state of things, and sends up a piercing cry to God to arise and make his glory known. We have in the psalm three lines of thought—fierce trials; fervent prayer; faithful promise.

I. Fierce trials. They are not personal ones merely; they are such as would be felt mainly by those of God’s people who, possessed of a holy yearning for the prosperity of his cause and the honour of his Name, grieved more acutely over the degeneracy of their age than over any private or family sorrow. There were six features of society at the time when this psalm was written. 1. The paucity of good and faithful men (ver. 2). 2. Wicked men being in power (ver. 8). 3. The righteous being oppressed (ver. 5). 4. Falsehood, i.e. faithlessness. 5. Pride. 6. Vain-glorious boasting and self-assertion. When wickedness gets the upper hand in these ways, times are hard indeed for good and faithful men. In such times Elijah, Jeremiah, and others lived, and wept, and moaned, and prayed. Many a prophet of the Lord has had to look upon such a state of things, when all day long he stretched out his hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people. Note: 1. This description of the degeneracy of the writer’s age is not a Divine record of the state of the world as a whole. The psalm is made up of words of man to God, not of words of God to man. 2. Still less is the psalm to be regarded as stating or implying that the world as a whole is always getting worse and worse. Let the student take the psalm simply for what it professes to be—a believer’s moan over the corruptions of his age—and he will find it far more richly helpful and suggestive than on any forced hypothesis. 3. The special ills of any age may well press on the heart of a believer; yea, they will do so, if a becoming Christian public spirit is cherished by him. 4. There are times when Christian men have to sigh and cry, owing to the abominations of the social life around them; and when Faber’s touching words are true—

“He hides himself so wondrously,

As if there were no God;

He is least seen when all the powers

Of ill are most abroad.”

5. And trials not less severe are felt when there is a widespread defection from the faith once delivered to the saints, and when men are calling for a “religion without God;” and are even, in some cases, forsaking Christianity for Mohammedanism or Buddhism. Through such trials believers are passing now (A.D. 1894). At such times they must resort to—

II. Fervent prayer. The psalmist gives expression to the conviction that nothing but the immediate and powerful interposition of God will meet the crisis (cf. Isa. 64:1). In what way this Divine aid shall be vouchsafed it is not for the praying man to say. He must leave that with God, content to have laid the case before him. The answer may come in the form of terrible providential judgments, or in the sending forth of a new band of powerful witnesses to contend with the adversaries, or in a widespread work of grace and of spiritual quickening power. All these methods are hinted at in Scripture, and witnessed to by the history of the Church. Note: Such prayers as this agonizing “Help, Lord!” while they are the outcome of intense concern, are yet not cries of hopeless despair. True, our help is only in God; but it is there, and an all-sufficient help it will prove to be—as to time, method, measure, and effect. In every age the saints of God have thus betaken themselves to him, and never in vain. For ever have they proved the—

III. Faithful promise. 1. The contents of the promise are given in ver. 5. 2. The value of the promise, as proved and tried, is specified in ver. 6. There is not an atom of dross in any of the promises of God—all are pure gold. 3. Having these promises, the believer can calmly declare the issue in the full assurance of faith. (1) The false men and proud boasters shall be cut off (ver. 3). (2) The Divine preserving guard will keep the righteous from being sucked into the vortex of corruption (ver. 7). Note: The Christian teacher will feel bound to remember that in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the gift of the Spirit, and in all the resulting activities of the Christian Church, the Lord has put forces in operation for the rectification of social wrongs, more effective than any of which the psalmist dreamt, and that these forces have only to be given time to work, and “all things will become new.” The disclosures to this effect in the Book of the Apocalypse are an abiding source of comfort to God’s people in the worst of times.—C.

Vers. 1–8.—Christian growth. 1. Trouble moves men to prayer. (Ver. 1.) As the child instinctively cries to its father, so we cry to God. Society may wax worse and worse. The righteous may fail out of the land. It is hard to serve alone. Falsehood and lust prevail. There are fears on every side. In God alone is our help found.

II. Prayer strengthens faith. (Vers. 3, 4.) There is some relief in telling our griefs. Further, we are cheered by the assurance of God’s love. He must ever be on the side of truth and right. More particularly we are encouraged by the record of God’s mighty works, and his promises to stand by his people. In communing with God, and casting our cares upon him who careth for us, our faith gains force and grows in ardour and activity.

III. Faith inspires hope. (Vers. 5, 6.) We remember God’s word, on which he hath caused us to place our hope. God’s promises are good, for he is love; they are certain, for he is faithful; they are sure of accomplishment, for he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. Thus our hearts are revived. There may be delay, but not denial. There may be silence long, but never refusal. God has his own time and his own way.

IV. Hope culminates in assurance. (Vers. 7, 8.) Light arises. The sky becomes brighter and brighter. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” All things are working to a perfect end. The prosperity of the wicked is vanity, and his triumph endures but for a little while. The end of the righteous is peace. “Thou shalt preserve them for ever.”—W. F.

Vers. 1–8.—Lamentation over the growing corruption of the nation. “The psalmist is appalled by the rottenness of society around him; unscrupulous ambition appears to rule supreme; truth is scorned as folly, and the god of lies is enthroned in the national heart. But God had not left himself without a witness.” Prophets and seers had already declared the Divine word of promise, that the righteous cause should be upheld and vindicated.

I. A dark picture of depraved society. 1. There were few conspicuous for righteousness. (Ver. 1.) Not that they had entirely ceased, but that they were fewer than they used to be. “Say not that the former times were better than these.” Guard against this natural tendency—natural especially to men who are growing old 2. The prevalence of unscrupulous falsehood. (Ver. 2.) Lies and flattery and deceit A disregard for truth was widely spread, one of the sins most destructive of social life. This spirit of falsehood infested their most intimate relations—”every one with his neighbour”—and would corrupt at last even the family relations. 3. They worshipped that which won for them their evil success. (Vers. 3, 4.) Lying and deceit—the evil power of the tongue—prevailing for the time, made them feel that they were their own lords, that there was no higher power above them.

II. The psalmist consoles himself with the Divine promise of protection. (Ver. 5.) 1. That promise inspires him to pray for its fulfilment. (Vers. 1–3.) All true prayer bases itself on the Divine promise. “If we ask according to his will, we know that God heareth us.” 2. The Divine promise is pure from the alloy that corrupts the words of men. (Ver. 6.) It has no admixture of flattery and deceit as the words of men have. “God cannot lie.” 3. That promise guarantees them protection, even when wickedness walks in high places. (Vers. 7, 8.) Wickedness is most alluring when in high places; but if God helps us to see that it is wickedness, and keeps our consciences clear and active, we are effectually protected from it. The defence against wickedness must be a Divine work within us as well as without us.—S.



The writer—again, according to the title, David—is reduced almost to utter despair. He has undergone lengthened persecution—the Divine countenance has been turned away from him (ver. 1); it seems to him that God has altogether forgotten him; he is in extreme perplexity and distress (ver. 2), and raises the cry—so often raised by sufferers (Job 19:2; Pss. 6:3; 35:7; 79:5; 94:3, 4; Hab. 1:2; Rev. 6:10)—”How long?” This cry he repeats four times (vers. 1, 2). He does not, however, quite despair. In ver. 3 he passes from protest to prayer; and in vers. 5, 6 he proceeds from prayer to praise, having (apparently) through his prayer received an internal assurance of God’s help. The tone suits the time when he was “hunted in the mountains” by Saul (1 Sam. 26:20).

Ver. 1.—How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? God cannot forget, but man often feels as if he were forgotten of him (comp. Pss. 42:9; 44:24; Lam. 5:20). David seems to have feared that God had forgotten him “for ever.” How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? (comp. Ps. 30:7; Isa. 1:15; Ezek. 39:29). The “light of God’s countenance” shining on us is the greatest blessing that we know (see Pss. 4:6; 31:18; 44:4; 67:1; 80:3, 7, etc.). When it is withdrawn, and he “hides his face,” we naturally sink into despair.

Ver. 2.—How long shall I take counsel in my soul? or, How long shall I arrange plans? (Kay). Tossing on a sea of doubt and perplexity, David forms plan after plan, but to no purpose. He seeks to find a way of escape from his difficulties, but cannot discover one. Having sorrow in my heart daily; or, all the day. It is, perhaps, implied that the plans are formed and thought over at night. How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? A special enemy is once more glanced at. The allusion seems to be to Saul (comp. Pss. 7:2, 5, 11–16; 8:2; 9:6, 16; 10:2–11, 15; 11:5).

Ver. 3.—Consider and hear me, O Lord my God (comp. Pss. 5:1; 9:13; 141:1, etc.). David will not allow himself to be “forgotten;” he will recall himself to God’s remembrance. “Consider—hear me,” he says, “O Lord my God;” still “my God,” although thou hast forgotten me, and therefore bound to “hear me.” Lighten mine eyes. Not so much “enlighten me spiritually,” as “cheer me up; put brightness into my eyes; revive me” (comp. Ezra 9:8, “Grace hath been showed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape … that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving”). Lest I sleep the sleep of death; literally, lest I sleep death. Death is compared to a sleep by Job (14:12), Jeremiah (51:39, 57), Daniel (12:2), and here by David, in the Old Testament; and by our Lord (John 11:11–13) and St. Paul in the New (1 Cor. 11:30; 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:14, 15). The external resemblance of a corpse to a sleeping person was the root of the metaphor, and we shall do wrong to conclude from its employment anything with respect to the psalmist’s views concerning the real nature of death.

Ver. 4.—Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him. The triumph of David’s enemy over him, whether he were Saul or any one else, even the ideal wicked man, would be the triumph of evil over good, of those who had cast God behind their back over those who faithfully served him, of irreligion over piety. He could therefore appeal to God—not in his own personal interest, but in the interest of truth and right, and the general good of mankind—to prevent his enemy’s triumph. And those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. There would be a general rejoicing on the part of all his foes, if his arch-enemy succeeded in seriously injuring him.

Ver. 5.—But I have trusted (or, I trust) in thy mercy. I know, i.e., that thou wilt not suffer me to be overcome by my enemy. Thou wilt save me; and therefore my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation, whereof I entertain no doubt.

Ver. 6.—I will sing unto the Lord. I will exchange my cry of despair, “How long?” (vers. 1, 2), for a joyful song of thanksgiving; because already I am cheered, I am revived—he (i.e. the Lord) hath dealt bountifully with me. And this mental revival is an assurance of deliverance to come.


Vers. 1, 6.—Despair turned to thankfulness. “How long,” etc.? “I will sing,” etc. The last verse of this tender and beautiful little psalm contains the reply to the first. Despondency is turned into thankfulness; the prayer of anguish into the song of praise. Its music, beginning with a plaintive, pathetic minor, passes through a solemn strain of pleading prayer into the triumphant major of full-voiced faith and joy. This is the music to which many a Christian life is set. It is not a strictly prophetic psalm; but we may well suppose that it is one of those in which the “Man of sorrows” read his own experience.

I. David’s pathetic appeal. “How long,” etc.? Two questions run into one. It had endured so long, he felt as if it must go on for ever. The flame of hope flickered in the socket. Total darkness seemed at hand. Did David really think God had forgotten him? No; but he felt as if it were so. “Not that faith in God’s promises was dead in his soul, or that he no longer relied on his grace; but that, when troubles long press upon us, and no token of Divine help appears, this thought cannot fail to thrust itself into our mind, ‘God has forgotten me’ ” (Calvin). Causes of his despondency. 1. The long continuance of his trouble. 2. Prayer seeming to remain unanswered. 3. His foes’ exaltation. 4. Fear lest he should die before deliverance came (see 1 Sam. 27:1).

II. David’s joyful thanksgiving. “I will sing,” etc. Light suddenly breaks out of darkness. What is the secret of this surprising change? Have his troubles ceased? Not at all. But that which made their worst bitterness is gone—his doubt of God’s goodness and truth. In the very act of prayer, his mind is led out of himself, and faith rekindled. “The grace of God, which is hid from carnal apprehension, is grasped by faith” (Calvin). Despair said, “Faith is an illusion. I have trusted and am forsaken.” Faith answers, “God is faithful. I have trusted; therefore I cannot be forsaken.”


Vers. 1–6.—Sorrow and trust; sighing and song. This is one of those numerous psalms which come under the first division specified in our introductory homily. It belongs to those which give us an insight into the religious experiences of an Old Testament saint—probably David—but it matters not whose they were. For they are a precise reflection of the alternations of spiritual mood through which many a sorrowful believer since then has passed; yea, through the like of which many of our readers may be passing now. We can never be too thankful for such psalms as these, showing us, as they do, not so much the objectivities of Divine revelation, as the subjectivities of inward experience. Not that we are bound, in our experience, to find that which corresponds to every phase. By no means. Experienced nurses say that no two babes ever cried exactly alike; and certainly no two children of God ever went through precisely the same experience. Still, the course pursued by the early believers is a fine lesson-book for modern ones. We shall find our study of this psalm suggestive of much in the experience of believers and in the dealings of God with them.

I. Here are remarkable alternations of mood and emotion. There are seven notes in music; there are seven colours in light. If there are seven stages in religious emotion, surely this psalm notes them all. We have a believer: 1. Thinking himself shut off from God. “How long wilt thou forget me … hide thy face from me?” It does not follow that God had hidden his face; and assuredly he had not forgotten the troubled one. Had it been so, the afflicted one had not survived to offer this prayer. Note: It is not in the midst of sore anguish that we can rightly gauge the mind of God towards us. We may be the objects of tenderest compassion even when our sun seems to be eclipsed. 2. Fearing his adversaries. (See ver. 4.) He was evidently surrounded by those who lay in wait for him. He could have faced them boldly had it not been for the hiding of God’s face. But that made him tremble, and no wonder. 3. Sorrowfully musing. (Ver. 2.) What a tumult of agitation was he now passing through! And what a bewildered and bewildering host of troublous thoughts and queries seize the mind at such times as these! 4. Sinking under the pressure. (Ver. 3.) The phrase indicates that the psalmist was at the very verge of despair. “Courage almost gone.” So that his spirit is failing or his bodily frame is giving way. The writer may mean either or both. 5. Trusting. (Ver. 5.) “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” The woe reaches its deepest and bitterest; and then—trust prevents absolute despair. The renewed heart clings to God, even in the dark. And he to whom our spirit thus clings will appear for us at the right time, and in his own wonder-working way. 6. Trust leads to prayer. The whole psalm is a prayer. One of the greatest blessings in life is to have a friend who will never misunderstand us; and by whom all our unintelligible and contradictory words will be pitied, and not blamed; who will bury our follies in his own love. But there is only One in whom all this exists to perfection—even our God. He never misinterprets the language of broken hearts and bewildered souls—never! We may always tell him exactly what we feel, as we feel it; or, if words will not come, then “our groaning” is not hid from him. He will answer us, not according to our imperfection, but will do exceeding abundantly for us “above all that we can ask or think.” The fourth verse may not and does not give us the highest style of pleading. But it indicates the burden on the heart. And whatsoever is a burden on a child’s heart is to the Father an object of loving concern, and may be rolled over on to God (Pss. 55:22; 142:1–7). 7. Deliverances comes in answer to prayer. And thus it ever will be. So that he who moans at the beginning of prayer may sing at the end of it. “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” Thus does this psalm run through the various shades or stages of emotion. Having gone down to the depths of the valley of anguish, the writer comes at length to stand on the heights of the mount of praise!

II. Such a rehearsal of experience throws much light on the secret dealings of God with his people. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him,” says the psalmist elsewhere (Ps. 25:14). And this thirteenth psalm lets us into it. It teaches us: 1. That the child of God is the object of the Father’s tenderest pity and love, even at the moment of tumultuous anguish and deep darkness of soul. The sun shines just as brightly on us, even when a film over the eyes obscures our sight of it. Saints are never nearer or dearer to the heart of God than when they are in trouble. 2. God graciously sanctifies the anguish, and makes it the means of quickening to intenser devotion. It is not when all is calm that prayer is at its best. Ah, no! It is when we are stunned, startled, half-paralyzed by some dreadful and unexpected trial, that we pray the most earnestly. It is quite possible that at such times words may fail; but God reads deep meaning in the tear, and hears heavenly eloquence in the sighs of those that seek him. 3. The anguish will be removed in God’s own time. When the trial sent us has secured its needed end in the quickening of devotion, the strengthening of faith, and the improvement of the whole life, then will the pressure be taken off. Nor ought we to desire it otherwise. It is far more important to have our afflictions sanctified than to have them removed. 4. By the very trials through which we have passed we shall have learnt to be comforters of others. If the psalmist had known that the written experience of his sorrows and his songs would have gone down to hundreds of generations, to comfort sorrowing souls in all time, he would have been thankful for his trouble, sharp as it was. Note: (1) It is only those who have gone through trouble that can effectually be comforters of others (2 Cor. 1:6; cf. Heb. 2:18). (2) It is not to be supposed that merely because we have sorrow at one moment we shall have joy in the future. Only God’s mourners can expect God’s comforts. Matt. 5:4 is for those named in Matt. 5:3. The vast difference pointed out in Isa. 50:10, 11 should be reverently and anxiously pondered. (3) It is only the renewed soul that can possibly thus trust, pray, and plead, when in the midst of anguish. The supreme concern of each is to accept peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ; to have sin forgiven, and the soul renewed. He who has first cast his burden of sin and guilt on an atoning Saviour, and who is being renewed by the Holy Ghost, may come every day and cast any care, and all his care, upon his Father, God. (4) It is infinitely better to be in the depth of the valley of sorrow, as a good man, and to let our God lead us up to the height of joy, than, as a godless man, to be at the height of merriment and laughter for a while, only to sink to the depths of despair.—C.

Vers. 1–6.—From despondency to peace. The soul may pass quickly from one emotion to another—from fear to hope, from the gloom of despondency to the brightness of peace. Such a change finds expression in this psalm.

I. The cry. (Vers. 1, 2.) Under the pressure of affliction, hard thoughts of God arise. But if there be complaint of God, it is to be observed that the complaint is carried to God. Instead of sullen murmuring, there is meek confession. Instead of bitter resentment, there is affectionate remonstrance. There is not only the “taking counsel with his own soul,” which left him in deeper “sorrow,” but there is the going out of himself, to cast his cares upon God, whereby he finds relief.

II. The appeal. (Vers. 3, 4.) Led by the Spirit, the child of God quickly turns his cry of pain into a prayer for spiritual help. The shadows were deepening; night, with its sleep of death, seemed near; but God was able to bring deliverance. Hence the urgent and passionate appeal. So when we are in peril let us cry to God. Our extremity is his opportunity. Our time of need is his time of mercy.

III. The testimony. (Vers. 5, 6.) Help seems to have come to the psalmist as to Daniel; while he was yet “speaking in prayer” (Dan. 9:20, 21). So it often is. God is more ready to hear than we are to ask. “He waiteth to be gracious.” 1. The peace given is real. There may still be storm without, but there is calm within. 2. The confidence is comforting. Imagination no longer works by fear, but by hope, and brightens all the future. The soul that seemed about to enter the dark valley of the shadow of death, with the terrible fear that God was departed, now rejoices in the sunshine of God’s presence (Micah 7:9; Zech. 14:7).—W. F.

Ver. 1.—God’s averted face. The hiding of God’s face is a sore trial to his people. If they did not love him they could hear it; but as they love him so much, it is a great affliction. It may be said of such trials, that they are still harder to bear under the gospel. For the very fact that God once dwelt with men—going in and out among them as one of themselves, loving them, and doing them good—makes the mystery of his silence now the deeper, and our distress the greater. “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled” (Ps. 30:7; cf. Job 13:24). 1. This conduct on the part of our Lord seems alien to his nature. We expect a friend to show himself friendly. We blame a physician if he comes not at once when urgently summoned. We would call a father or mother unfeeling and unnatural who shut their ears to the cries of their own child. 2. Then this silence of our Lord seems contrary to his action when he was in the world. He was then easy of access, and ready to help. True, he at first refused the Syro-phœnician; but he gave her all she asked in the end. True, he delayed coming to Bethany; but he did come, in his own time, and turned the house of mourning into a home of joy. 3. Then, again, we have our Lord’s teaching and promises. We remember what is said, that we should “not hide ourselves from our own flesh” (Isa. 58:7); how we are taught to show kindness to our enemies, and even to have pity on the very brutes (Deut. 22:1–4; Matt. 12:12); and “how much is a man better than a sheep!” We think also of the parables of Lazarus, and of the man who fell among thieves, and our hearts are in perplexity. “I weep … because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me” (Lam. 1:16). Besides, we remember our Lord’s promises. It cannot be that he does not know; or that he lacks the power; or that his love is waxed cold. Why, then, does he let us lie at his gate; or leave us half-dead by the wayside; or fail to come to us when we are “comfortless”? These and such-like thoughts rise and trouble us. Our hearts are like a tree, with its many branches, tossed and torn by the storm. But in the multitude of our thoughts within us, there are comforts still left to us. First, Christ is not changed. Next, he knows all that has come to us, and has pity. Then, he has his own gracious purposes in our afflictions. They are necessary for our good (Isa. 59:2; Hos. 5:15). Then we should not count such trials as strange, as we are under a spiritual dispensation. Christ is really with us still, in his Word and Spirit and the ministry of his people. He even comes at times to us, when we know him not (Matt. 25:38). Then we should remember that he has, for a season, put a restraint upon himself. We may say, like Martha, “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” And this is true. But our Lord could not be here with us, as in the days of his flesh, and at the same time carry out his plans of discipline and training under the Spirit. Last of all, let us remember that these trials are temporary. They may end here. They will certainly end hereafter (Isa. 54:7; Eze 39:23–29). Our Lord knew himself the pain of desertion; and he longs to have us with him, where there shall be no more hidings of his face, or crying, or tears. Let us, therefore, take the counsel of Elihu, “Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him, yet judgment is before him; therefore trust thou in him” (Job 35:14; cf. Isa. 8:17).—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—The agony of desertion. Probably a psalm of David, composed at the time of Saul’s persecution. It expresses the agony of a mind that thinks itself deserted of God, in danger of death, and threatened by a formidable enemy. It is a long and weary struggle; and, wrestling with his despair, he breaks into a pitiful prayer, which is succeeded by the exercise of a returning faith.

I. Despair. (Vers. 1, 2.) 1. He thinks he is for ever forsaken of God. The emphasis lies on the “for ever.” How much this implies of delight in the former friendship of God! Compare Christ’s cry on the cross. 2. Fruitless efforts of the mind to escape from its position. “Taking counsel,” etc. These issue only in continued sorrow of heart. One plan after another is revolved and rejected; one solution after another of his difficulties is thought of, and then dismissed; and he is left in despair. He is helpless and hopeless. 3. Personal danger from some enemy. (Ver. 2.) Probably Saul. Internal and external causes combined to make him profoundly miserable.

II. But even in his despair he prays. 1. Look upon me (equivalent to “consider”). And do not continue to hide thy face. 2. Hear and succour (equivalent to “answer me”). And do not forget me for ever. This is hope out of despair—the single ray of light that shot into his deep darkness. There is something left for each of us. 3. Give a renewed power of life (equivalent to “lighten mine eyes”). Anxiety and sorrow had induced physical depression, and he apprehended that he would sink into the sleep of death. “Lighten mine eyes” here means, “Send back the tide of life, that my eyes may again be lit with life, and the deathlike drowsiness dispelled.”

III. Prayer leads him back into trust. 1. He remembers the object of his former trust. “In thy loving-kindness have I trusted.” Not in his personal merits, nor only in the justice of his cause. Faith grasps the unseen as the ground of its trust. 2. He recollects the reasons of that trust. “Thy salvation,” which I have experienced in former times. God’s bountiful dealing with him. That had been the rule of the Divine conduct towards him. Faith draws hope out of experience.—S.



It has been strongly argued, from the mention of the “captivity” of God’s people in ver. 7, that this psalm was written during the sojourn in Babylon, and therefore not by David (De Wette). But “captivity” is often used metaphorically in Scripture (Job 42:10; Ezek. 16:53; Rom. 7:23; 2 Cor. 10:5; Eph. 4:8, etc.); and to “return to the captivity”—which is the expression used in ver. 7—is simply to visit and relieve those who are oppressed. There is nothing, therefore, to prevent the psalm from being David’s as it is said to be in the title. With respect to the time in David’s life whereto it is to be referred, Dr Kay’s conjecture, which assigns it to the period of the flight from Absalom, may be accepted. The psalm is composed of two stanzas, one setting forth the wickedness of the ungodly (vers. 1–3), the other announcing their coming discomfiture, and the relief and consequent joy of the oppressed (vers. 4–7). (On the resemblance and differences between this psalm and Ps. 53, see the comment on Ps. 53.)

Ver. 1.—The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. An atheism is here depicted which goes beyond even that of Ps. 10. There the existence of God was not so much denied as his providence. Here his existence is not only denied, but denied in the very depths of the man’s heart. He has contrived to convince himself of what he so much wishes. The psalmist regards such a state of mind as indicative of that utter perversity and folly which is implied in the term nabal (נָבַל). They are corrupt; literally, they have corrupted themselves (comp. Gen. 6:12; Judg. 2:19). Their atheism is accompanied by deep moral corruption. We have not right to say that this is always so; but the tendency of atheism to relax moral restraints is indisputable. They have done abominable works (comp. vers. 3 and 4). There is none that doeth good; i.e. none among them. The psalmist does not intend his words to apply to the whole human race. He has in his mind a “righteous generation” (ver. 5), “God’s people” (ver. 4), whom he sets over against the wicked, both in this psalm and elsewhere universally (see Pss. 1:1–3; 2:12; 3:8; 4:3, etc.).

Ver. 2.—The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men. Corruption having reached such a height as it had, God is represented as looking down from heaven with a special object—to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. To see, i.e., if among the crowd of the “abominable” doers spoken of in ver. 1 there were any of a better spirit, and possessed of understanding, and willing to seek after God. But it was in vain. The result of his scrutiny appears in the next verse.

Ver. 3.—They are all gone aside. Hacôl (הַכֹּל), “the totality”—one and all of them had turned aside, like the Israelites at Sinai (Exod. 32:8); they had quitted the way of righteousness, and turned to wicked courses. The expression “denotes a general—all but universal—corruption” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). They are all together become filthy; literally, sour, rancid—like milk that has turned, or butter that has become bad. There is none that doeth good, no, not one. St. Paul’s application of this passage (Rom. 3:10–12), to prove that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (ver. 23), goes beyond the intention of the psalmist.

Ver. 4.—Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? The exclamation is put in the mouth of God. Can it be possible that none of these evil-doers is aware of the results of evil-doing? Do they think to escape Divine retribution? The “wonder expresses the magnitude of their folly” (Hengstenberg). Who eat up my people as they eat bread. Reducing men to poverty, robbing them, and devouring their substance, is called, in Scripture, devouring the men themselves (see Prov. 30:14; Isa. 3:14; Micah 3:3). Those who are plundered and despoiled are compared to “bread” in Numb. 14:2. The Homeric δημοβόρος βασιλεὺς, adduced by Dr. Kay, is an instance of the same metaphor. And call not upon the Lord. This might have seemed scarcely to need mention, since “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:14). But it connects them definitely with the atheists of ver. 1.

Ver. 5.—There were they in great fear. “There”—in the midst of their evil-doing, while they are devouring God’s people—a sudden terror seizes on them. Ps. 53:5 adds, “Where no fear was,” which seems to imply a panic terror, like that which seized the Syrians when they were besieging Samaria (2 Kings 7:6, 7). For God is in the generation of the righteous. God’s people cannot be attacked without provoking him; they are in him, and he in them; he will assuredly come to their relief.

Ver. 6.—Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his Refuge. The sense is obscure. Some translate, “Ye may shame the counsel of the poor (i.e. put it to shame, baffle it); but in vain; for the poor have a sure Refuge,” and the ultimate triumph will belong to them. Others, “Ye pour contempt on the poor man’s counsel,” or “resolve,” because “the Lord is his Refuge;” i.e. ye contemn it, and deride it, just because it rests wholly on a belief in God, which you regard as folly (see ver. 1).

Ver. 7.—Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! The salvation of the “righteous generation” (ver. 5), the “true Israel,” is sure to come. Oh that it were come already! It will proceed “out of Zion,” since God’s Name is set there. The ark of the covenant had been already set up in the place which it was thenceforth to occupy (see 2 Sam. 6:12–17). David’s reign in Jerusalem is began. When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people; either, when the Lord turneth the ill fortune of his people, or, when the Lord returneth to the captivity of his people; i.e. when he no longer turns away from their sufferings and afflictions, but turns towards them, and lifts up the light of his countenance upon them, then Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad. (For the union of these two names, see Pss. 78:21, 71; 105:23; 135:4, etc.) God’s people shall celebrate their deliverance with a psalm of thanksgiving.


Ver. 1.—The fool’s creed, and its consequences. “The fool hath said,” etc. This is very plain speaking. Bible writers are not wont to wrap their meaning in soft phrases. They utter truth in words clear as sunbeams, keen as lightning. This word “fool” refers to character rather than understanding. The psalmist has in his eye one blinded by worldliness or besotted with vice, who can see no charm in virtue, no beauty in holiness, no loveliness, grandeur, attractiveness, in Divine truth. “The fool’s creed,” as it has been called, is not the conclusion of his reason, but the practical language of a lawless, selfish life. On this very account it is objected that this is not only a harsh, but an unjust judgment, if it be taken to mean that none but fools say, “There is no God.” Wise men, it is affirmed, are to be found saying the same thing.

I. This claim requires our careful consideration. For our first duty is to be just. An unjust Christian is a living contradiction. 1. Now, it is at all events clear that any one who should affirm positively, as a truth men may be certain of, that “there is no God,” would be guilty of stupendous folly. Whether the evidence that God exists be adequate and convincing or no, there can be no contrary evidence. To be entitled to assert that God does not exist, a man must possess at least one attribute of Deity—omniscience. 2. Therefore thoughtful sceptics in our own day do not venture on this tremendous assertion. They disclaim the name “atheists,” and call themselves “agnostics;” q.d. persons who do not pretend to assert or deny the Divine existence, but simply maintain that the Cause of all things is altogether unknown and unknowable. Let us be honest, and not confuse things with a mist of words. Practically, agnosticism and atheism (differ as they may philosophically) come to the same result. “The ungodly,” in Scripture language, are not merely the openly vicious or violently wicked; they are those who do not fear, love, trust, obey God; who do not know God (1 John 4:8). Practically, therefore, the agnostic, who may be wise in all worldly wisdom; cultured, virtuous, benevolent; takes sides in the great warfare and journey of life, with the fool. If the agnostic be right, Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the ancient prophets; St. Paul, St. John, and all the apostles; St. Stephen and all the martyrs; with the greatest champions of justice and benevolence in all ages,—followed cunningly devised fables; Jesus Christ founded his religion and his Church on an illusion. The fool has in his blindness stumbled on the truth hid from the best and wisest in all ages: “There is no God!”

II. Supposing this ghastly denial to be, not the fool’s, but the wise man’s creed—the nearest approach to truth we can make on the greatest of all questions: let us reflect a little on the consequences. Truth, it may be said, is truth, whatever be the consequences. That is so. But consequences may be a test of truth. Unless truth leads to happiness and goodness, life is aimless wandering, and human nature a lie. 1. “No God!” Then Divine providence is a fiction. No wise plan or gracious purpose lives through each life, or through the history of the race. No eye watches over us with unsleeping care. No hand is on the helm of human affairs. We thought that the steps of a good man were ordered by the Lord; that he was the Ruler of nations, King of kings, and Friend of the widow and fatherless. These ideas must be given up as idle dreams. Law—a meaningless word, if there be no Supreme Will or Organizing Mind; and chance—the jumble of misconnected causes—rule all. 2. “No God!” Then prayer must be an illusion. We thought that when the poor man cried, the Lord heard him; that when we cast our care on him, he cared for us; that it was as easy for him to grant his children’s requests, without any interference with the laws of his universe, as for a mother to give her child bread. All the laws of the universe went to the making of the loaf—not to disable, but to enable her to grant her child’s prayer. If there be no God, or none we can know, prayer is of all delusions the most vain. 3. “No God!” Then there is no pardon for sin. Conscience must bear its awful burden: the heart’s deepest wound must bleed without balm; the tears of repentance must be frozen at their source by the terrible thought—there is no forgiveness! 4. “No God!” Then human life is degraded inexpressibly. It has no supreme purpose—no aim beyond or above itself. Human reason can draw no light or strength from wisdom higher than its own. History has no goal. 5. “No God!” Then sorrow is comfortless. No voice has a right to say, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” You must bear your burden in your own strength. Death and darkness close all. 6. “No God!” Then there is no wisdom higher than man’s; no strength stronger; no love deeper. No communion with an unseen, ever-present Friend and Helper, to lift our life above this world. No fountain of hope, purity, wisdom, for humanity. No common object of trust or centre of unity for mankind. Is it reasonable to think that it is truth which leads us into this pathless, sunless desert of despair? Is it falsehood that has inspired the teaching of apostles and prophets, nerved the courage of martyrs, sanctified the genius and learning of some of the noblest intellects, inspired the purest and most loving and lovely lives; that is the salt of goodness in daily life, the lamp of home, the victory over death, the comfort of bereaved hearts? Or is it the truest as well as highest instinct in our nature that answers to the voice (Isa. 41:10, 13; 43:11, 13, 25)?


Vers. 1–7.—The depravity of a godless world, viewed by God. This psalm is given us twice—as the fourteenth and the fifty-third. It is one of those which assumes a revelation of God as a redeeming God, and also the existence of a redeemed people of God. And by way of consequence it assumes the necessity of a Divine redemption in order to bring about “the generation of the righteous.” This could only have come about by Divine grace and by Divine power. Hence the very manifest distinction noted in the psalm between “the children of men” (ver. 2) and the people of God (ver. 4). The central part of the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, is a commentary on this psalm by one of the most richly inspired penmen. When God saw, as with his all-piercing gaze he looked down from heaven, that among “the children of men” there was absolutely not one righteous, no, not one—manifestly, a “generation of the righteous” could never have existed save for a gracious redemption and regeneration from above. And while the Apostle Paul develops from this description of the world, man’s absolute need of a Divine interposition, we, in expounding the psalm itself, must work distinctly on its own lines, showing the state of things in the world on which the eye of God rested, and also how far that state of things exists in it still. The expositor must also take up the Christian standpoint, and show when and for what purpose the Lord looked down on such a sight.

I. A fearful sight on which “The Lord looked down.”. To what precise period of time the psalm refers, we have no means of knowing; nor at what exact period it was written. This, however, is of no consequence. Every point specified here can be verified now. 1. The depravity of man had vented itself in the most egregious folly, even in the denial, of God. There is ample room for the Christian teacher to expose the folly of such denial quite irrespectively of his theory of creation, be it the evolutionary one or no. Either way, the (1) teleological, (2) cosmological, and (3) ontological proofs remain the same; in fact, the teleological proof is receiving abundant and amazing illustrations in modern discovery; so much so that its power again and again “overwhelmed” Mr. Darwin himself. The argument in Paley’s ‘Natural Theology’ may need resetting, but in substance has lost none of its force. While Mr. Herbert Spencer’s statement, that we know with undoubting certainty that there is “an infinite and eternal Energy from which everything proceeds” is one of which the Christian advocate may make large and effective use. That there is a God all Nature cries aloud in all her works. And not till a man is a “nabal,” “a fool,” a withered, sapless being, does he come to deny the Divine existence. Such denial has, however, not yet ceased. On the contrary, it has assumed in our days a boldness not even contemplated by the psalmist himself. There is (1) practical atheism, where men profess to know God, while in works they deny him; (2) agnosticism; (3) theoretical atheism, and even anti-theism; (4) and in some of the works of positivists,100 it is even reckoned as a virtue for men to have “no fear of God before their eyes”! 2. Such atheism is the most striking and grievous folly. (1) It is irrational. (2). It is corrupting. (3) It breaks out into abominable acts. (4) In the course of its evolution, it makes aggressions on and even mocks at theology, religion, and religious people. (5) It will gradually dry up entirely the springs of social virtue. It may not do this in the first generation, if the denier of God has first been cast by early Christian teaching in the mould of social morality and goodness; but let generation after generation of atheists arise, and it will be seen that when the ties are snapped which bind men to their God, the ties which bind man to man are cut asunder as well! 3. Such atheism is fearfully widespread among “the children of men.” “None that did understand, that did seek God.” It is common among (1) the irreligious; (2) the free-thinkers; (3) philosophers, under the guise of philosophy; (4) scientific men, under the guise of science. The fact is, atheism is of the heart, not of the head. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” and turns the very arguments which prove the Divine existence into an excuse for denying it! Its cry is, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us!” How grievous and terrible a sight is a world like this! How loathsome to infinite purity, when men are altogether become unprofitable, when there is “not one that doeth good, no, not one.” Every expression in the psalm should be critically examined: they are all “gone aside;” they are all together become “filthy,” “stinking,” “corrupt”, etc. There is a marvellous variety of words in the Hebrew for moral corruption. Nowhere in the whole world was the sense of sin, as sin, so deep as among the Hebrews. How was this? It will be seen how it was when we study our second question.

II. When and for what purpose did the Lord look down on this mass of evil? The meaning of the psalmist could not go beyond the range of his inspiration and enlightenment. We live in a later age; the light is brighter now than then; and therefore the preacher will fall short alike of his privileges and of his mission, if he does not open up from this point more truth than it was possible for the psalmist to know. 1. In an early stage of the world, God looked down on it to punish its iniquity. The Deluge. Sodom and Gomorrah. The desolations which have come on Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Jerusalem. And when great calamities come, the most irreligious men become the greatest cowards. “There were they in great fear, where no fear was.” 2. God looked on the wickedness of the sons of men, and resolved to call out therefrom a people for himself. (Cf. Isa. 51:1, 2, Hebrew.) God called Abraham; and how his people became a family, a tribe, and a nation, the roll of sacred history records. And it is owing to this that the psalmist refers to “the generation of the righteous” (ver. 5), in distinction from “the children of men” (ver. 2). Hence it is and has ever been the case, that, however prevalent the depravity of men may have become, there have ever been some trusting hearts who have found their refuge in God. 3. God instituted a priesthood and sacrifices to instruct his people in the dread evil of sin. The whole Levitical institute means this, and nothing less than this. The Law was a “child-guide”, which took men to school, and taught them that nothing was right with men till they were right with God. 4. God established a prophetic order, which should declaim against sin. (See Isa. 59:1–20, specially the fifteenth verse.) The mission of all the prophets was to speak for God, and uphold his claims before the people. And as they prophesied, God’s treatment of the world’s sin was being unfolded, as we see in the chapter from Isaiah to which we have just referred. 5. In the fulness of the times, God sent forth his Son, who by his death should atone for sin, and who by his Spirit should conquer sin. This, then, is like a God. We might have expected, from the psalmist’s words, that God would take vengeance on the sinner and crush him. But no. He is a just God and a Saviour; condemning sin and saving the sinner (Rom. 3). 6. God has created in the hearts of his own a yearning after salvation and righteousness, which is in itself a prophecy of God’s ultimate triumph over sin, and of a time when the anguish of his people shall give place to joy (ver. 7)! These desires of the holy are prophetic germs. The aspiration in the closing verse of the psalm is one the fulfilment of which has been going on ever since, and will, till the Redeemer who has come out of Zion shall have completed his saving work.—C.

Vers. 1–7.—Right views of God’s government. I. In considering God’s moral government of the world, we should be careful to Take the right standpoint. Much depends on the way we look, at things. We may be too near or too far off; we may lean too much to the one side or to the other. Here the standpoint is not earth, but “heaven”. This is the perfect state. Here we take our place by the side of God, and look at things in the light of his truth. If we have the Spirit of Christ, the true Son of man, then, though on earth, we shall yet be “in heaven” (John 3:13).

II. Another thing is that we should have regard to the true standard of judgment. (Ver. 2.) Much is being done to find out about the people who lived in the ages that are past; but we have to do more with the present day. Wise governments make inquiry as to population and the condition of the people—materially, intellectually, and socially. Here God is represented as holding inquest, and the chief concern is as to the moral condition of men. Religion is put first. If men are right with God, then all is right. The standard by which things are measured is the Law of God. How do men stand to God? Do they believe in God? What is the state of their mind and affections with reference to God? “To see if there be any that understand, and seek God.” It is not what other men think of us, nor is it what we think of ourselves, that is of importance, but the supreme thing is what God thinks of us.

III. We are thus led to apprehend the just retribution impending. (Vers. 2–6.) Life presents a varied aspect. But when we look at it in the light of God, society divides itself into two great parties—the wicked and the righteous. 1. There is marked diversity of character. Contrasted with the righteous—”my people,” as God calls them in his love and grace—there are the multitude who have gone aside, and who have waxed worse and worse, in their corruption and ungodly deeds. In this psalm there is something like a climax. In Ps. 10. we have the ungodly, or fool, hugging himself in his fancied security, and saying, “I shall not be moved.” Then in Ps. 11. there is an advance to a bold denial of God’s omniscience and justice: “The foundations are destroyed.” Then in Ps. 12. there is a further and still more fearful stride, in daring defiance of God: “Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?” From this it is but a step to sit down “in the seat of the scornful,” and to cry out in derision, “There is no God!” 2. But as there is diversity of character, so there will also be diversity of retribution. Judgment will be according to righteousness. Reason is appealed to (ver. 4). In wonder and pity, the question is asked, “Are they so senseless as not to see the consequences of their own wrong-doing?” But their stupidity and stubbornness will not stop the progress of events. Conscience is also appealed to (ver. 5). The term “there” brings the scene before us with the vividness of a picture. We see these wicked men “there” in their places; “there,” in the midst of their works and their pleasures; “there,” where they are priding themselves on their strength and their conquests; and “there” the hand of God seizes them, and they are stricken with terror (Lev. 26:36). And what conscience confesses, experience confirms (ver. 6). The uneasy sense, that, after all, God is on the side of the righteous, causes fear, and events are continually occurring which go to prove that the fear is well-grounded. The nearer we come to God, the fuller our sympathy with God, the more complete our trust in God, the better shall we be able to judge as to God’s doings. In God’s light we shall see light. God’s interest in man will be clear; God’s holy grief because of the folly and wickedness of man, will be evident; and bright and enlivening as the outshining of the sun from the midst of clouds and darkness will be the love of God for his people, and his tender and abiding care of them through all the vicissitudes of their earthly life. The wicked dishonour God by their distrust and their scorn. Let us honour God by our faith in his eternal love and goodness, and by our unceasing prayer that his salvation may come to all nations. “Alleluia! Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God!”—W. F.

Vers. 1–7.—Conflict between God and the wicked. The psalmist begins by lamenting the extent and the power of the atheism which reigns among men (vers. 1–3). But the righteous who have to suffer much on account of it, must not therefore despair; fools shall certainly bring destruction upon themselves (vers. 4–6). He closes with the prayer that God would send deliverance to his people (ver. 7).

I. Atheism. (Vers. 1–3.) 1. Atheism in the thought and in the desires. (Ver. 1.) The “heart” in the Old Testament is not only the seat of desire, but of thought also. But it is more easy for a bad man to wish there were no God, than honestly to think it. 2. Atheism in conduct. This is described under a positive and negative aspect. Corrupt conduct—they are gone away from the right path into every wrong way; especially they prey upon the righteous as they would eat bread; i.e. it is as natural for them to be cruel and unjust towards them as it is to eat bread. They have tried to defeat the counsels of the poor. The negative aspect is that not any of them did good, nor did they seek God or call upon the Lord. God was wholly shut out of their lives and thoughts.

II. The incredible ignorance of atheism. The “fool” hath said. “The fool” expresses the climax of imbecility. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge,” etc.? 1. He is ignorant of God’s all-seeing scrutiny of the human race. (Ver. 2.) In Gen. 11:5 it is said, “The Lord came down from heaven, to see the city and the tower,” etc. Men from a very early period have had this thought of God’s perfect knowledge of human affairs. 2. They have had experiences which filled them with great fear. (Ver. 5.) God was in the righteous generation; where they thought themselves safe, there they began suddenly to be afraid. The discourse here is of Divine judgments actually inflicted. 3. They have been frustrated in their best-laid plans. (Ver. 6.) “Whatsoever the pious man plans to do for the glory of God, the children of the world seek to frustrate; but in the final issue their attempt is futile; for Jehovah in his Refuge.” This is the meaning; and their defeat should have taught them who was on the side of the righteous.

III. The prayer springing out of this conflict between God and the wicked. (Ver. 7.) Prayer for the speedy deliverance of God’s people. This is the perpetual cry of the Church.—S.



So much having been said in so many psalms of the privileges and blessings accorded to the righteous man (Pss. 1:3; 3:8; 5:11, 12; 9:9, 12, 18; 10:17, 18; 11:7, etc.), the arrangers of this book thought it fitting to insert in this place a definition, or description, of who the righteous man is. They found a “psalm of David” (see title) in which such a description was set forth with singular force and brevity. The psalm is one of five verses. In the first verse the question is raised; the remaining four give the answer, which is arranged in two strophes of two verses each, the first verse of each strophe declaring the character of the righteous man positively, and the second verse negatively. The result is that five positive and five negative features are pointed out, by which the righteous man may be known. There is nothing to indicate at what period in David’s life this psalm was composed, except that it was after the establishment of the tabernacle on Mount Zion (ver. 1).

Ver. 1.—Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? rather, Who shall sojourn? Whom wilt thou accept as a sojourner in thy tent, to be near to thee, and consort with thee? Who shall dwell (i.e. whom wilt thou permit to dwell) in thy holy hill? The “tabernacle” and the “holy hill” of Zion are, of course, not to be understood literally. They are figurative expressions, pointing to the Divine presence and favour, and the blessedness of abiding in them.

Ver. 2.—He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness. An upright walk is the first requisite (comp. Gen. 17:1; Ps. 26:3, 11; Isa. 33:15). Such a walk involves the doing of righteousness, not, of course, in absolute perfection, but with a sincere intention, and so as to have “the answer of a good conscience towards God” (1 Pet. 3:21). And speaketh the truth in his heart. Not “from his heart,” as in the Prayer-book Version, which would make the reference one to mere truth of speech, but “in his heart,” which points to internal truthfulness—that truthfulness “in the hidden council-chamber of the soul,” which “holds no parley with what is false” (Kay).

Ver. 3.—He that backbiteth not with his tongue. Among the negative virtues the first place is given to the observance of the ninth commandment, probably because to err in this respect is so very common a fault (see Jer. 6:28; 9:4; Jas. 3:5–8). Nor doeth evil to his neighbour; rather, to his friend, or his companion—a different word from that used at the end of the verse, and implying greater intimacy. There is special wickedness in injuring one with whom we are intimate. Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. The good man does not, even when it is true, spread an ill report concerning his neighbour. He prefers to keep silence, and let the report die out (see Exod. 33:1).

Ver. 4.—In whose eyes a vile person is contemned. So the LXX., the Vulgate, Ewald, Hupfeld, Hengstenberg, and the Revised Version. Others prefer to translate, “He is despised in his own eyes, [and] worthless” (Aben Ezra, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Kay, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). Either rendering furnishes a good sense; but the law of parallelism is very decidedly in favour of the former. As the righteous man honours those who fear God, so he contemns those who are vile or worthless. He is no respecter of persons. Men’s outward circumstances are nothing to him. He awards honour or contempt according to men’s moral qualities. But he honoureth them that fear the Lord. “It is no common virtue,” says Calvin, “to honour pious and godly men, since in the opinion of the world they are often as the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:13).” He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. The righteous man, if he happens to have sworn to do something which it turns out will be to his own hurt, nevertheless keeps his engagement (comp Lev. 5:4, where לְהָרַע is used in the same sense).

Ver. 5.—He that putteth not out his money to usury. Usury, when one Israelite borrowed of another, was strictly forbidden by the Law (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; Deut. 23:19). When the borrower was a foreigner, it was lawful (Deut. 15:3; 33:20); and no discredit can attach to the practice, so long as the rate of interest charged is moderate (comp. Matt. 25:27). Here the writer contemplates only such usury as was forbidden by the Law. Nor taketh reward against the innocent; refuses, i.e., to take a bribe, either as judge or witness, when a charge is made against an innocent person. The contrary conduct was widely practised by the Israelites in later times (see Isa. 1:23; 5:23; Jer. 22:17; Ezek. 22:12; Hos. 4:18; Micah 3:11, etc.), and prevails generally in the East to the present day. He that doeth these things shall never be moved (comp. Ps. 16:8). He shall continue “steadfast, unmovable,” having God “at his right hand,” as his Protector and Sustainer.


Vers. 1, 2.—A standard of integrity. “Lord, who shall abide,” etc.? We may truly call this brief psalm a flawless gem of religious ethics, unmatched in all the treasures of heathen literature. It is a sufficient proof that the moral failures which surprise and distress us in many of the Old Testament saints were due to human infirmity—the imperfect character of the men and of the times, not to deficient revelation of truth and duty. Then, as now, men knew more than they practised. What the New Testament has done for morality is, firstly, to give us a model of holiness—a pattern life, which human imagination could never have framed, in the Person and life of Jesus our Lord; secondly, to supply motives to holiness only given in his gospel. But no higher standard of spotless integrity can be set forth than this psalm contains. The best commentaries on it are St. John’s First Epistle and St. James’s Epistle.

I. The question. Who is the guest of God? “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?” etc. In David’s time there were two tabernacles—the ancient one, where the brazen altar remained, at Gibeon; and the new one, to which the ark had been removed, on Mount Moriah, which thenceforth became the “holy hill” (1 Chron. 15:1; 16:1; 2 Chron. 1:3–6). But here is no question of priestly ritual or office, but of personal character before God; therefore under the image drawn from the actual tabernacle, the real thought is of spiritual communion with God (cf. Pss. 23:6; 27:4). Who is he who shall commune with God as a child with his father—to whom Christ’s great promise shall be fulfilled (John 14:23)?

II. The answer. (Ver. 2.) The portrait is here drawn in three strokes. The rest of the psalm is the shading and colouring of the picture. 1. “Walketh uprightly.” Our walk in Scripture means our conduct, especially as regards ourselves, and as in God’s sight—the inward, even more than the outward, life (Luke 1:6; Acts 9:31; Gen. 5:24). 2. “Worketh righteousness.” Deals justly, fairly, honestly, with others. This is the outward side, of which Christ says, “Let your light shine” (Matt. 5:16). 3. “Speaketh truth in his heart.” The correspondence of the inward and outward life. People sometimes speak truth with the lips—what is literally true, but with a different meaning in the heart. Transparent integrity is indicated—speech, the clear mirror on the hidden soul. No need to draw any strong line of distinction between these three—walk, work, speech. Like the sides of a triangle, each implies the other two. If we walk with God, we must needs deal justly with our fellows, and shall account our speech one of the most responsible parts of conduct towards God and towards man.

This is no impossible picture of ideal perfection—simply a description of whole-hearted obedience. Our Lord and Saviour expects no less. Strange if less were expected in a “disciple indeed” than in “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47; 8:31). Fellowship with our Father and our Saviour implies “walking in the light” (1 John 1:5–7; John 15:1–5). This fellowship is the earnest of and preparation for that of which the earthly “tabernacle” and “holy hill” were the faint, vanishing shadows (Rev. 7:15; 21:3, 27; 22:3, 4).


Vers. 1–5.—The man in undisturbed rest. It matters little when this psalm was written, or by whom. Although there is no reason for denying its Davidic authorship, still its contents are manifestly and equally precious, whoever was the inspired penman, and whenever he penned these words. Manifestly, the psalm is a product of Judaism. The Mosaic legislation had its ritual, but it was not ritualistic. There was not only an altar of sacrifice, but also a pillar of testimony and the tables of the Law; and to leave out either the sacrificial or the ethical part of the Hebrew faith would give as the residuum, only a mutilated fragment of it. This psalm is not one of those which in itself contains a new revelation, but one the inspiration of which is due to a revelation already received. The forms of expression in the first verse indicate this with sufficient clearness; the entire psalm suggests to us three lines of truth for pulpit exposition.

I. There is a home for the soul in God. We do not regard the question in the first verse as one of despair, but simply as one of inquiry. It suggests that there is a sphere wherein men may dwell with God, and asks who are the men who can and do live in this sphere. The inquiry is addressed to “Jehovah,” the redeeming God of Israel, who by this name had made himself known to the chosen people as their God—the Loving, the Eternal, the Changeless One. Moreover, there had been a tabernacle made, and afterwards the palace of the great King was erected on Mount Zion, the holy hill. “This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” And inasmuch as this was the spot where God dwelt with men, to the devout soul the happiest place was that spot where he could meet with God; and if, perchance, he could there abide, not only to sojourn as for a night, but even to take up his permanent abode, he would realize the very ideal of good. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” But in the later form of scriptural thought it is not only in this place or that that the yearning spirit can find God, but everywhere; yea, God himself is the soul’s home—a home neither enclosed by walls, nor restricted in space, nor bounded by time. And we know what are the features of that home—it is one of righteousness, of a purity which allows no stain; it is one of mercy, in which all the occupants have made a covenant with God by sacrifice; it is one of closest fellowship, in which there may be a perpetual interchange of communion between the soul and the great eternal God. And when we remember that on the one hand, God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity, and that on the other hand, even all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, it must always be a wonder of wonders that the sinner should ever be allowed to find a home in God; and never can it be inappropriate to ask the question with which the psalm begins, “Lord, dost thou give it to all men to find their rest in thee? If not, who are these happy ones?” “Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”

II. Only some souls find God a home for them. The rest of the psalm answers the question which is raised at the outset of it. Inasmuch as the very phraseology of the psalm is built upon and assumes the divinely appointed institutions of priesthood, sacrifice, penitence, prayer, and pardon, it is needful only to remark in passing that the man who dwells in God’s holy hill is the one who accepts the divinely revealed plan of mercy and pardon through an appointed sacrifice. But the fact that by God’s mercy we are permitted to base the edifice of our life on such a foundation does by no means dispense with the necessity or lessen the importance of our erecting such edifice with scrupulous exactness according to the Divine requirements. The two parts of revealed religion cannot be disjoined now, any more than of old; the sacrificial and ethical departments must be equally recognized. And we are here called upon to study a Scripture portraiture of a virtue which God will approve, by seeing how a man who lives in God will demean himself before the world. 1. His walk is upright. His entire life and bearing will be of unswerving integrity. Bishop Perowne renders the word “uprightly,” “perfectly,” which in the scriptural sense is equivalent to “sincerely,” with an absolutely incorruptible aim at the glory of God. 2. His deeds are right. They correspond with the simplicity and integrity of his life’s aim and intent. 3. His heart is true to his words. He does not say one thing and mean another, nor will he cajole another by false pretences. 4. He guards his tongue. He will not “backbite” or “slander:” the verb is from a root signifying “to go about,” and conveys the idea of one going about from house to house, spreading an evil report of a neighbour. 5. He checks the tongues of others. He will not take up a reproach against his neighbour. Retailers of gossip and scandal will find their labour lost on him. 6. He abstains from injuring a friend—by deeds of wrong. 7. He estimates people according to a moral standard, not according to their wealth. A base person is rejected, however rich. A man who fears the Lord is honoured, however poor. 8. He is true to his promise, though it may cost him much, even more than he at first supposed. 9. He is conscientious in the use of what he has. He will not be one to bite, to devour, or to oppress another by greed of gain, nor will he take a bribe to trick a guileless man. He will be clear as light, bright as day, true as steel, firm as rock. While resting on the promises of God as a ground of hope, he will follow the Divine precepts as the rule of his life. As Bishop Perowne admirably remarks, “Faith in God and spotless integrity may not be sundered. Religion does not veil or excuse petty dishonesties. Love to God is only then worthy the name, when it is the life and bond of every social virtue.” A holy man said on his death-bed, “Next to my hope in Christ, my greatest comfort is that I never wronged any one in business.”

III. From their home in God such souls can never be dislodged. (Ver. 5, “He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”) The man is one who lives up to the Divine requirements under the gospel.

“Yet when his holiest works are done,

His soul depends on grace alone.”

Even so. And he shall not be disappointed. Note, in passing, it is not his excellence that ensures this security; but the grace of God honours a man whose faith and works accord with his will. 1. No convulsions can disturb such a man. His rest in Divine love is one which is secure against any catastrophe whatever (Ps. 46:1, 2; Rom. 8:38, 39). 2. Time is on the side of such a one. For both the graces of faith and obedience will strengthen with age; while the Being who is his Stronghold is the same “yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” Such characters, moreover, can never get out of date. 3. No discoveries in science nor in any department can dim the lustre of such a life. To trust in the great eternal God and to aspire to his likeness, is surely that of which no advance in human thought can ever make us ashamed. 4. The faithful God will never desert such a one. Whoever clings to God in faith, love, and obedience will never find his love unreciprocated or his trust unrecompensed. 5. The promises made to such a one will never fail. They are all Yea and Amen in Christ; they are sealed by “the blood of the everlasting covenant.” And hence they who repose their trust in them can never be moved.

In conclusion, the preacher may well warn against any attempt to divorce these two departments of character—trust and action. 1. Without trust in God there can be no right action. 2. Without the aim at right action we have no right to trust in God.—C.

Vers. 1–5.—A life without reproach. In all ages there has been a sense of imperfection, and a longing and a cry for the perfect in human character. The ethical philosophers of Greece and Rome have given us their views; Christian teachers have aimed to set forth, in poetry and prose, their ideals of perfection; but it may be questioned whether anywhere we can find a truer or more beautiful portrait than this by the ancient Jewish poet. It has been said, “Christian chivalry has not drawn a brighter.” And we might even dare to say that it compares well with the character of the perfect man as depicted by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. No doubt there are traits in the character that are peculiar to the times, and things are put differently in some respects from what they would have been in the light of the gospel; but we cannot contemplate the picture except with wonder and delight. In heart and tongue, in deed and life, as a member of society and as an individual, the man of this psalm is without reproach.

I. His inspiration is from above. It is the life within that determines character. Abraham walked before God, and therefore was exhorted to aim at perfection. The “tabernacle” is not wholly a figure of speech, but represents the meeting-place with God. For us Christ is the “tabernacle.” Here we ever find light and strength. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.”

II. His character is moulded after the highest pattern. (Vers. 2, 3.) The law of righteousness is his rule. Conscience is not enough; the lives of the good are not enough: there is more needed. The will of God as revealed to us is our true rule of faith and practice. There is a certain order observed—first, the person must be acceptable by entire surrender to God; then he must work by righteousness; lastly, his word must be truth. So God had regard first to Abel, and then to his offering (cf. 2 Cor. 8:5).

III. His social life is marked by the noblest virtues. (Vers. 3–5.) Some have counted here ten or eleven particulars; but it is better to regard the spirit than the letter. The chief things are truth, justice, and benevolence, while with these there is humility of spirit and charity towards all men. All this is brought out the more vividly by contrast with the selfish and worldly life of the wicked.

IV. His happy destiny is sure as the throne of the Eternal. (Ver. 5.) There are things that can be moved; they have no stability or permanence. There are other things which cannot be moved; they are true as God is true, and stable as God is stable, with whom there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” This holds good of religion and the religious life (Heb. 12:27, 28). There are people who have no fixed principles. They cannot be trusted. St. James compares them to the waves of the sea—driven with the wind and tossed (Jas. 1:6). But the man who trusts in God can say, “My heart is fixed;” and of such it is true—he “shall never be moved” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:56–58; Acts 20:22–24; 21:13).—W. F.

Vers. 1–5.—The essentials of a spiritual religion. This psalm is supposed by some to have been written on the removal of the ark to Zion. “As it is not only in David’s time that the symbol has been placed above the thing signified, and a superstitious efficacy attached to the externals of worship, this psalm has an equal value in every age in keeping before the mind the great lesson that sanctity of life and truth of heart are the absolute essentials of a spiritual religion.” How can we dwell truly and in the most intimate abiding fellowship with God? That is the question which the psalm answers; and the answer is—Access to God lies open to none but his pure worshippers. Two answers are given, each answer having both a positive and a negative form.

I. First answer. 1. Positively. (Ver. 2.) (1) He walketh uprightly; i.e. with integrity, with an undivided purpose of heart and mind. He does not try “to serve two masters.” (2) He worketh righteousness, or does the will of God. Not his own will, or the desires of the passions and appetites. He loves and does the right. (3) He speaks the truth in his heart. Speaks the truth because he loves it, not with unwilling constraint. He speaks it in his heart, because it dwells there, before he utters it with his tongue. 2. Negatively. (Ver. 3.) He is not one who injures others (1) by word; or (2) by deed; or (3) by listening to and propagating slander.

II. Second answer. (Vers. 4, 5.) 1. Positively. (Ver. 4.) (1) He turns away from the company of evil persons because he has no sympathy with them. He contemns them. (2) He honours the good in every way that he can honour them—defending, applauding, imitating them. (3) He keeps sacred his word or his oath. “Not a casuist, who sets himself to find a pretext for breaking his word when it is inconvenient to keep it.” 2. Negatively. (Ver. 5.) (1) Not one who loves usury, but is willing to help the poor from a generous heart (Exod. 22:25). (2) Does not take bribes in the administration of justice. Incorruptibly just. “Such a man may not take up his dwelling in the earthly courts of the Lord; but he shall so live in the presence of God, and under the care of God, that his feet shall be upon a rock.” Would that all Christians answered to this picture!—S.



The sixteenth psalm is so far connected with the fifteenth that it is exclusively concerned, like the fifteenth, with the truly righteous man. It “depicts the true Israelite as rejoicing in God as the highest Good, and placing affiance in him in the face of Death and Hades” (Kay). The ascription of it to David in the title may well be acquiesced in. It has been called “a golden psalm,” and the word “Michtam” in the title has been understood in this sense (Kimchi, Aben Ezra, margin of the Authorized Version); but that is more probably a musical term, like “Mizmor,” “Maschil,” “Shiggaion,” etc. It is “full of the spirit of David,” and remarkably evangelical in tone; its Messianic character is attested by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:25; 13:35). It seems to divide itself only into two strophes—one extending from ver. 1 to the end of ver. 6, and the other from ver. 7 to the conclusion.

Ver. 1.—Preserve me, O God; i.e. keep me, guard me—protect me both in body and soul. It does not appear that the writer is threatened by any special danger. He simply calls upon God to continue his protecting care. For in thee do I put my trust. In thee, and in thee only. Therefore to thee only do I look for protection and preservation.

Ver. 2.—O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord. The ordinary Hebrew text, אָמַרְתְּ, “thou hast said,” requires the insertion of “O my soul,” or something similar. But if we read אמרתי, with a large number of manuscripts, with the LXX., the Vulgate, the Syriac, and most other versions, no insertion will be necessary. The meaning will then be, I have said to Jehovah. Thou art my Lord; Hebrew, adonai—”my Lord and Master.” My goodness extendeth not to thee. This meaning cannot be elicited from the Hebrew words. Tobah is not “goodness,” but “prosperity” or “happiness” (comp. Ps. 106:5); and ‘aleyka is best explained as “beside thee,” “beyond thee.” The psalmist means to say that he has no happiness beside (or apart from) God. (So Ewald, Hengstenberg, Cheyne, the ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ and the Revised Version.)

Ver. 3.—But to the saints that are in the earth; rather, it is for the saints. It (i.e. my prosperity) is granted me for the advantage of the saints that are in the land; i.e of all the true Israelites. “I hold it in trust for them” (Kay). And to (rather, for) the excellent, in whom is all my delight. And, especially, I hold it in trust for “the inner circle of the excellent ones,” in whom God takes pleasure (Ps. 147:11), and in whom therefore I also “delight.”

Ver. 4.—Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god. This is the only note of sadness in the entire psalm, and it is inserted to add force by contrast to the joyous outburst in ver. 5. If men would not cleave to Jehovah, but would “hasten after”—or perhaps it should be translated “wed themselves to”—another god (see Exod. 2:16, the only other place where the word occurs), then they must not expect “prosperity,” or joy of any kind. Their “sorrows will be multiplied;” distress and anguish will come upon them (Prov. 1:27); they will have to pay dear for their apostasy. Their drink offerings of blood will I not offer. Drink offerings of actual blood are not elsewhere mentioned in Scripture, and there is very little evidence of their having been offered by any of the heathen nations, though it is conjectured that they may have been employed in the worship of Moloch. It is therefore best to explain the expression, as here used, metaphorically, as drink offerings as hateful as if they had been of blood (comp. Isa. 66:3). Nor take up their names into my lips. By “their names” we must understand the names which they used—those by which they called their gods. The Law forbade the mention of these names by Israelites (Exod. 23:13; Deut. 12:3).

Ver. 5.—The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance. God had said to Aaron, when he gave him no special inheritance in Canaan, “I am thy Part and thine Inheritance among the children of Israel” (Numb. 18:20). David claims the same privilege. God is his “Portion,” and he needs no other. And of my cup. A man’s “cup” is, in Scripture, his lot or condition in life (Pss. 11:6; 23:5)—that which is given him to drink. David will have God only for his cup. Thou maintainest my lot; i.e. thou makest it firm and sure (comp. Ps. 30:6, “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved”).

Ver. 6.—The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places. The “lines” which marked out the place of his abode (comp. Deut. 32:9; Josh. 17:5). These had fallen to him “in pleasant places”—in Jerusalem and its near vicinity. Yea, I have a goodly heritage. Some explain “heritage” here by the “inheritance” of ver. 5. But the word used is different; and it is most natural to understand David’s earthly heritage, or lot in life. This, he says, is “pleasing” or “delightsome” to him.

Ver. 7.—I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel. God has become David’s “Counsellor” (see Ps. 32:8), makes suggestions to him which he follows, and so guides his life that he feels bound to praise and bless him for it. My reins also instruct me in the night seasons. The reins, according to Hebrew ideas, are the seat of feeling and emotion. David is “instructed” or “stimulated” (Hengstenberg) to bless God by the feelings which stir within him as he lies awake at night—feelings, we must suppose, of affection and gratitude.

Ver. 8.—I have set the Lord always before me. I have brought myself, that is, to realize the continual presence of God, alike in happiness and in trouble. I feel him to be ever with me. Because he is at my right hand (i.e. close to me, ready to protect and save), therefore I shall not be moved. Nothing will shake me or disturb me from my trust and confidence.

Ver. 9.—Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth. The thought of God’s continual presence at his right hand causes David’s “heart” to be “glad,” and his “glory”—i.e. his soul, or spirit (Gen. 49:6), man’s true glory—to rejoice. My flesh also shall rest in hope. His “flesh”—his corporeal nature, united closely with his “heart” and “spirit”—rests, and will rest, secure, confident that God will watch over it, and make the whole complex man—body, soul, and spirit—to “dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

Ver. 10.—For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; literally, to Sheol, or “to Hades.” The confidence in a future life shown here is beyond that exhibited by Job. Job hopes that he may not always remain in Hades, but may one day experience a “change” or “renewal” (Job 14:14); David is certain that his soul will not be left in hell. Hell (Sheol) is to him an “intermediate state,” through which a man passes between his life in this world and his final condition in some blest abode. Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. The present Hebrew text has חסידיךָ, “thy holy ones,” i.e. thy saints generally; but the majority of the manuscripts, all the ancient versions, and even the Hebrew revised text (the Keri) have the word in the singular number, thus agreeing with Acts 2:27, 31; 13:35, which give us the translation, τὸν ὅσιόν σου, and declare the psalmist to have spoken determinately of Christ. Certainly he would not have spoken of himself as “God’s holy one.” The translation of shâchath (שָׁחַת) by “corruption” has been questioned, and it has been rendered “the pit,” or “the grave,” but quite gratuitously. The LXX. have διαφθορὰν as the equivalent; and the rabbinical commentators, giving it the same meaning, but expounding it of David, invented the myth that David’s body was miraculously preserved from corruption.

Ver. 11.—Thou wilt show me the path of life; i.e. the path which leads to the Source and Centre of all life, even God himself—the way to heaven, in contrast with corruption and Sheol. In thy presence is fulness of joy; literally, satiety of joy—enough, and more than enough to satisfy the extremest cravings of the human heart. At thy right hand; rather, in thy right hand—ready for bestowal on thy saints. Are pleasures for evermore. An inexhaustible store, which may be drawn upon for ever


Ver. 10.—The antidote to death. “Thou wilt not leave,” etc. More than thirty generations of believers read and sang this psalm, pondered and prayed over it, and drew, no doubt, sweet though vague comfort from this verse, before the hidden glory of its meaning was disclosed. The temple built by David’s son was laid in ashes. The Scriptures were carried with the captives to Babylon, and brought back. A second and at last a third temple arose on Mount Moriah. Empires arose and fell. Above one thousand years rolled away. At last, one summer morning, when the Feast of Pentecost had returned in its yearly round, and Jerusalem was filled with gladness, the time arrived for putting the key into the lock. The same Spirit who inspired the prophecy, interpreted it. “Peter, standing up with the eleven,” etc. (Acts 2:14, 25–32).

I. The contrast between life and death, in its two most fearful aspects. 1. The separation of the soul. “My soul in hell,” or “to hell.” The Revisers here (and elsewhere) have given the Hebrew word Sheol, because the English word “hell” has come to be applied exclusively to the state of the lost. Thanks to the gospel, we have no word by which to translate this Hebrew word, because we have no corresponding idea. Often it is translated “grave;” but only figuratively—it never means a literal sepulchre. It is the world, place, or state of departed spirits, good or bad, happy or unhappy (in Greek, Hades). It is this view of death—the parting, rending asunder of spirit and body, which Solomon describes (Eccles. 12:7). It is this which appals. We see the deserted house of clay; but where is the tenant? Gone, as if into nothingness and eternal silence. 2. The corruption of the body. The other view of death increases our distress. Death may come gently, as though but a deeper sleep; even with a solemn, sad beauty of its own. But the beauty death brings, it hastens to destroy. Just because that sleeping form is so dear, we must hasten to hide it out of sight. Cover it with green turf and flowers. Let not thought pierce the secrets of the grave. Nothing is plainer than that God meant death to be terrible. It is something wholly different to man from what it is to the lower animals. God knew we should love sin, and think it beautiful. So when he tells us “the wages of sin is death,” it is as though he said, “Look at what death does to the body; that is the image of what sin does to the soul!” Whither shall we turn? The answer gleams forth in that word “not.” “Thou wilt not leave,” etc. Here is—

II. The antidote to the terror of death in the resurrection of Jesus. (Acts 2:31, 32.) So St. Paul at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:34–37). We are not now concerned with any reference these words may have to David himself. Modern critics are intensely anxious always to find a precise occasion for every psalm (after the manner of Horace’s odes), though such a rule would be wholly misleading if applied to modern poetry. But suppose it so. What concerns us is the glorious event to which the Apostles Peter and Paul apply these words as a prophecy. “Now is Christ risen from the dead;” “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” 1. Christ’s resurrection proves the fact of immortality; q.d. that death, which destroys the bodily life, does not touch the spirit, the self. “Behold,” he said, “it is I myself”—not a spectre, a phantom. “This same Jesus,” said the angels (Luke 24:39; Acts 1:11). The doctrine or belief of immortality was common to Jews and Gentiles. The Egyptians based their religion on it. The Greeks had their Elysium and Tartarus. So other nations. What was wanted was not doctrine, but proof. No proof so entirely decisive as this—that One should publicly die, and be buried, and rise from the dead. The value of the resurrection of Christ’s body lay in the proof thus given, that, though his body died, he lived. Death, then, does not end us. Hence the only way in which denial of immortality can now be maintained is by denying the resurrection of Jesus. For its reality there is not only (1) that mass of testimony which St. Paul summarizes (1 Cor. 15:5–8; comp. Acts 2:32, etc.); and (2) the utter failure of the Jewish authorities to produce any contrary evidence; but (3) the whole history of the founding of Christianity, based entirely on this fact. It would have been utterly contrary to human nature for the disciples to have preached and suffered as they did, had they not believed in the Saviour they preached; equally impossible for them to have believed, if he had not really risen. Further, neither their faith nor their preaching would have availed, had not the living Christ fulfilled his promises (Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:4, 5). 2. Christ’s resurrection is the assurance. As he has been one with us in death, we are to be one with him in life. His resurrection is the seal both of his power and of his faithfulness; and both are pledged (John 10:28–30; 14:19). True, this flesh must “see corruption;” this “earthly house be dissolved.” But for the humblest believer, as much as for an apostle, “to depart,” is “to be with Christ;” “Absent from the body, at home with the Lord” (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). And the body is to be “raised incorruptible;” not fleshly, but spiritual (Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Cor. 15:50–53; John 5:28, 29; 6:39). Because he lives, where he lives, as he lives, we shall live also.

Conclusion. All this turns on one simple, infinitely significant question—Are we his?

Ver. 11.—”The path of life.” The attractiveness and ease, or the reverse, of any path may depend on many conditions. Smooth or rough, steep or level, plain or confused with turns and windings; bright with sunshine or dark with tempest. But the main question is—Whither will it lead? We speak often of human life as a journey—a path along which, like pilgrims, we are travelling. Whither does it lead? Apart from Christ and his gospel, the only answer is—to the grave. Our Saviour’s death and resurrection have changed all this; made both life and death something quite other than before. He lived in order to die; died in order to live again; lives again, to make us partakers of his life.

I. Jesus lived that he might die. In quite another sense from what is true of all men, or of any other, his life was the path of death. In the prime of life and unrivalled usefulness, he thirsted for death; not the rest of the grave, but the conflict of the cross (Luke 12:50). As the purpose of his coming (Matt. 20:28). The fulfilment of prophecy (Luke 9:31). The commission of the Father (John 10:17, 18). The pain of his joy (Heb. 12:2).

II. Jesus died that he might live again. Life saw for him the path of death; death, the path of life. To this the text points, as interpreted by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:24–32). His resurrection has changed our whole view of death, and therefore of life (Heb. 2:14, 15). What seemed the mountain barrier against which the last waves of life break, proves to be but the narrow strait leading into the boundless ocean of life indeed.

III. Jesus lives to make us partakers of his life. (John 14:3, 19; 10:28.) Conclusion. It is a poor, mean view of Christianity which speaks of it as preparation for death. It is preparation for life. It is more—it is the beginning, the first stage, the infancy and childhood, of eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12; Col. 3:1–4).

Ver. 11.—”Fulness of joy.” The natural effect of sin is to quench all desire after God, deaden all sense of his presence; to make the thought of him unwelcome, even terrible. “I heard thy voice, … and was afraid.” The beginning of spiritual life is turning to God. Its highest attainments, joy in God. The supreme happiness to which it looks forward, fulness of joy in his presence.

I. God has bestowed on human nature a wonderful capacity for joy. The sunshine of the heart, in which “all the flowers of life unfold.” Look at the child with a birthday gift, a game, a holiday. Joy shines in his eyes, sets him singing and dancing. As our nature expands, and life’s varied experience gathers strength, such simple exuberance of joy becomes impossible; but its sources are deeper, more manifold. No longer a dancing brook, but a deep well, sometimes brimming over. As the Bible is fuller than all other books of human life, so you can nowhere match the fulness and variety of its images of joy. Beside its warm Eastern pictures, our Western modern life looks bleak and sad. But above the whole range of common life, it opens the range of spiritual joy—the joy of forgiveness, of salvation, of knowledge, of trust, peace, security; of fellowship with God in Christ (John 15:11; 16:20, 22). Higher still the Scripture lifts our thoughts—to the joy of angels; to God’s own joy (Luke 15:7, 10, 32; Zeph. 3:17).

II. God is the Source of all joy. Even the gladness of the frisking lambs, of the gnats dancing in the sunshine, of the lark singing in the sky, is his gift; even as the momentary twinkle on the breaking spray is the sun’s image. All pure joy is from God. There are impure joys—”the pleasures of sin.” But as the mountain stream is pure at its source, though in its course through plains and cities it becomes foul and tainted; so the original desires and affections of our nature are pure. Sin alone corrupts.

III. Joy unknown before, and else unattainable, comes into human life through faith in the Saviour—our crucified, risen, glorified Lord. “Then were the disciples glad” (John 20:30). Well they might be; for the heaviest grief human hearts ever suffered was in a moment rolled away, and “life and immortality brought to light.” 1. The joy of forgiveness—of knowing we are right with God (Rom. 5:11). 2. Of strength, safety, courage, comfort, in fellowship with Christ (John 14:18). 3. The joy of hope (1 Pet. 1:8).

IV. “Fulness of joy.” Joy unalloyed, complete, enduring, is not for this world. Not possible where all fairest flowers fade, fruits wither, brightest days have their sunset, fountains run dry. “In thy presence,” etc. There will be many sources of “everlasting joy” (Isa. 35:10) in the heavenly life: society, deliverance from pain, grief, sin, conflict, etc. (Rev. 7:15–17). But the source of all, “the fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13), will be God’s presence (Rev. 21:22, 23).

Conclusion. Is this the heaven we desire; for which we are preparing? There is no other prepared for us. In that measure in which the presence of God, realized by faith, love, prayer, is a source of joy here and now, we have the earnest and pledge of “fulness of joy” for ever.


Vers. 1–11.—”Once thine, ever thine:” the song of a saint, the vision of a seer. This psalm yields many texts for instructive discourse; but it is not on any of them that we propose now to dwell, but on the psalm as a whole. It is one of the most evangelical in all the five books of the Psalms. It opens with a prayer and a plea; but its main current is that of joy and praise. It is moreover repeatedly quoted in the New Testament, where, by the Apostles Peter and Paul, some of its words are declared to be those of David the prophet, and to have received fulfilment in Christ, and in him alone. We cannot, however, apply all the psalm to the Messiah. Some of it is evidently the expression of a private personal experience, and the utterance of a joyously devout saint, whose joy and devotion have both been inspired by a revelation of God to him; while other parts of it are the still more elevated utterances of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost, to tell of visions which he saw of One in whom his royal line should witness the culmination of its glory! The touching expressions in 2 Sam. 23:3–5 will account for both the words of the saint and the words of the seer which are here found. As the saint, David was inspired by revelation; as the seer, he was inspired for it. And by making these two main divisions we shall, perhaps, best homiletically expound the psalm.

I. We have here the song of a saint inspired by revelation. In this light the contents of the psalm are very varied. We number them, not as following in exact logical or culminative order, but that we may call the student’s and preacher’s attention thereto, one by one; observing that we follow the Revised Version, which is most excellent. Here is: 1. A prayer and a plea. (Ver. 1.) Apparently he is in peril; what, we do not know; but, as is his wont, he makes his hiding-place in God; and very touching is the plea he puts in: “for in thee do I put my trust.” Our God loves to be trusted. The confidence which his people repose in him is in his sight of great price; and he will not—cannot disappoint them. 2. The psalmist has taken Jehovah to be his own God. Jehovah—the eternal God—the God of Israel, was his own sovereign Lord. And as he confided to him all his cares, so he yielded to him his entire homage. 3. He finds in God his supreme joy. “I have no good beyond thee” (cf. Ps. 16:2). All the largest desires of the soul have their perfect satisfaction in God. 4. In his fellow-saints, he finds a holy brotherhood. In them is his delight (Ps. 42:4; Mal. 3:16). The closest and dearest bond of permanent friendship is found in the fellowship of holy life and love in God. 5. He shuns the ungodly. In blended pity and anger he looks on those of his nation who have lapsed into idolatry, and exchanged the worship of Jehovah for the service of idols (cf. Jer. 2:13; Rom. 1:25, Revised Version). 6. The portion which he has in God is secured to him. (Ver. 5.) It cannot slip from his grasp, nor be snatched out of his hand, nor can he in any way be despoiled thereof. God will uphold him in possession, and will give him timely counsel and assistance (ver. 7). 7. God is ever before him, as a constantly present Friend. He is no abstraction. But one ever at his right hand, to guard, guide, advise, gladden, and strengthen. Yea, to give him a steadfast, unconquerable firmness in the midst of numerous foes. 8. Consequently, he has a heritage of wealth with which he is well pleased. (Ver. 6.) The inheritance assigned to him as it were by lot, and marked out as it were by line, was one which gave him a plenitude of delight. 9. For he knows that the near and dear relationship between himself and God is one which not even death itself can disturb. David caught a glimpse of the sublime truth of how much God had meant when he told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (cf. Matt. 22:31, 32). We have almost the truth which is expressed in 1 Thess. 5:10. “My flesh,” he says, “shall rest in hope.” Yea, more; David even peers beyond the unseen state (Sheol); he beholds it conquered, and the one whose God is the Lord delivered for ever from the hold of death. And even this is not all; but he sees far, far beyond, awaiting the believer, fulness of joy and eternal delights in the immediate presence of the great eternal God. So that the burden of the song may be summed up in our final thought on this aspect of the psalm, that: 10. Once God’s, he was his for ever! “Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol” (cf. Ps. 48:14; 73:26). Is it any wonder that, with such a heritage in Divine love, the psalmist should find his heart glow with joy, and that his tongue should break out into shouts of praise? Surely if such a God is ours, and ours for ever, we are well provided for, and shall be well guarded, throughout eternity.

II. We have here also the vision of a seer who was inspired for a revelation. We have in that memorable sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter opened up the kingdom to Israel, a remarkable reference to this very psalm (cf. Acts 2:25–31). In which the apostle declares that what David said respecting the Holy One, he spoke as a prophet, seeing far ahead the fulfilment of the covenant God had made with him. And in Acts 13:34–37 the Apostle Paul makes an equally distinct reference to this psalm, while he even more emphatically declares this prophetic utterance to be a Divine declaration. And we get a plain and distinct account of such far distant scriptural forecasts in 2 Pet. 1:21. Thus we can clearly trace a second significance in the latter half of Ps. 16, as it recounts “the sure mercies of David.” For, indeed, if it had not been for the Divine promise and oath made to him—a promise and an oath the fulfilment of which could never be disturbed by the vicissitudes of time, there might not and probably would not have been the like joyful repose of the saint in God, in the prospect of death and of eternity. So that, although the vision of the prophet comes second in our consideration, it was really the first in importance, and the foundation of all the rest. And all this may be brought home in fruitful teaching, in four or five progressive steps. 1. David had had a direct revelation that his throne should be established for ever. (2 Sam. 23:3–5; 7:12–16; Pss. 72; 89:20–37.) And to his dying day, amid all the disturbances of his house, this covenant, “ordered in all things and sure,” was all his salvation, and all his desire. 2. In the foreglancings of prophetic vision he saw the Holy One in the
coming age as its Ruler and its Head. 3. He beheld also the Holy One going down into the tomb. To Sheol; not hell, but Hades, the invisible realm of the departed. 4. He beheld the Holy One rising again. As the Lord and Conqueror of death; as the Head of the redeemed, he beheld him leaving the grave, and going forward and upward as their Forerunner. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus carries along with it that of all his followers. 5. It was on this sublime Messianic hope that the psalmist built his own. And, indeed, it was on this that such as Abraham fixed their gaze, with leaping gladness and thankful joy. “That which is true of the members is true, in its highest sense, of the Head, and is only true of the members because they are joined to the Head” (Perowne); 1 Thess. 5:10.

III. In combining the song of the saint and the vision of the seer, we have most elevated and elevating teaching for ourselves. 1. Here is the great secret of life made known to and by the holy prophets. As one expositor remarks, the antithesis in the psalm is not between life here and life there, but between a life in God and a life apart from him. 2. That God should have disclosed this great secret by his Spirit can bring no difficulty whatever to those who understand communion with God. 3. The grand redemption of God’s grace is realized in a fellowship of holy souls in blest and everlasting relation to God as their Portion, their endless Heritage of infinite purity and delight. 4. This fellowship of life centres round him whom no death can retain in its hold, even round him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Believers are one in God because one in Christ. 5. His triumph over the tomb is the pledge of theirs. He has gone ahead as their Forerunner, and has in their name taken his place in the Father’s house, preparing theirs likewise. 6. Hence the entire blessing of God’s great salvation is summed up in the words, “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” In which phrase, as Austin finely says, “we have a guide, ‘Thou;’ a traveller, ‘me;’ a way, ‘the path;’ the end, ‘life.’ ” Happy are they who choose this Guide, who follow this way, who inherit such a life! How the troubles and perils of this life seem to dwindle away when we can realize that such a God and such a home are ours! and not ours only, but also of all those who have said to Jehovah, “Thou art my Lord”!—C.

Vers. 1–11.—Life-long convictions. Happy the man who holds to his faith in God through all changes and chances of this mortal life! Religion to him is a reality. He speaks of what he knows. He commends what he has proved to be good. He can rejoice in the assurance that God, who has been with him hitherto, will keep him safely to the end, and that the portion which satisfied his soul in this life will satisfy his soul eternally. We may take the psalm as expressing certain life-long convictions.

I. That God is to be trusted as the Supreme Good. Man is prone to seek happiness apart from God. This proves both his littleness and his greatness: his littleness in turning from God; his greatness, as nothing earthly can satisfy him, and his soul is restless till it finds rest in God. “Thou art my Lord” is the true response to God’s declaration, “I am the Lord thy God” (Exod. 20:2; Ps. 73:25).

II. That the saints are to be regarded as earth’s true nobles. When God has his right place, man gets his right place also. He is valued, not for his wealth, but for his worth; not for his circumstances, but for his character; not for his high standing among men, but for his near relation in love and holiness to God. If we love God, we shall love what God loves. If we delight in God, we shall delight in what God delighteth in. As a poet of our own has taught us—

“‘Tis only noble to be good.

Kind hearts are more than coronets,

And simple faith than Norman blood.”

III. That wickedness, whatever it promises, must in the end bring wretchedness. The wicked may be many; they may seem to prosper; they may appear as if they were to prevail, and have their own way in everything. There will be at times strong temptations to join them—to live as they live, to eat, drink, and be merry. But the heart that has known God recoils with horror from such a thought. What can come of forsaking God, but misery? This is the witness of history, observation, and experience. And we should be thankful that it is so. It is a proof of God’s love, as well as of God’s righteousness. That “the way of transgressors is hard” puts for many a warning in their path, and sounds for many a merciful call in their ears. “Turn ye: why will ye die?” (Ezek. 33:11; Isa. 55:1–7; Job 33:27–30).

IV. That the destiny of the good is Divinely ordered. Life is not fixed by chance, or by blind fate, or by man’s own designing and devising. It is of God’s ordering (Prov. 19:21). As it is with the stars above, so it is with souls beneath. They stand as God ordains (Pss. 119:91; 147:3, 4). As it was with Canaan, which was divided among the tribes by lot (Numb. 26:55; Josh. 13:6), so it is with the inheritance of God’s believing people; it is settled by the hand of God. In many things—as to our birth, and kinsfolk, and associations, and so on—we have no choice. But trusting in God, we cheerfully accept the place which he has appointed for us. And when we are free to choose, we seek counsel of God, and gladly and gratefully rest in his will (Heb. 13:5). What the King of Babylon did according to his lights when at the parting of the ways (Ezek. 21:21), we do, in a higher way (Acts 9:6).

V. That godliness has the promise both of this life and of that which is to come. 1. This life. (Vers. 6–8.) 2. Guidance. (Ver. 7.) 3. Protection. (Ver. 8.) 4. The life to come. (Ver. 11.) This truth, dimly revealed of old, shines out brightly and beautifully in the gospel.—W. F.

Ver. 11.—The future state. In this prayer it is implied that there is one “path,” which is truly “the path of life”—the path by which we can reach the highest ideal of our being, and be blessed for ever; and further, that God, and God alone, is able to show us this path. It may be said that the prayer has been answered in the fullest sense by Christ Jesus. We may use the words with reference to Christ’s teaching as to a future state. Christ has shown us—

I. The certainty of a future state. Reason may speculate, imagination may form pictures, the instincts of the heart may prompt the hope that there is a future state of being; but it is only through Holy Scripture that we attain to full conviction. What was dimly revealed to Old Testament saints has been now “made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 1:10).

II. The importance of character as determining man’s place in a future state. Our Lord always teaches that holy character is indispensable to blessedness. True life is from God, and tends to God (John 5:26; Col. 3:3). “The path of life” must be entered upon here, or we can never reach from earth to heaven. Faith and action determine character, and character settles destiny. “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

III. The intimate connection between the life that now is and that which is to come. There is continuity. Death transfers, but it does not transform. Life is the seed-time for eternity. Our present actions, good or bad, determine our future fate (Gal. 6:7, 8; Rom. 2:6–10).

IV. That everything tends to a great crisis, when judgment shall be given upon all men. Our Lord teaches us that judgment is already begun. Whatever we do has its effect. Every deed of self-denial and justice and love brings its blessing, and every deed of evil its curse. But there is to be a final judgment, and our Lord shows us that the acts of that great day will be based on law; that God will render unto every man according to his works. It is very striking also that our Lord should put such emphasis upon acts of love and charity (Matt. 25:31–46).

V. That he himself will hold the supreme place as Judge and King in the world to come. If the future state is a reality, this has been made certain by Christ (John 2:25). If character will determine our place in eternity, it is through Christ that we are to attain to the meetness of character required (Col. 1:12). If the awards of the judgment are final, it is because Christ is Judge, and there can be no appeal against his decisions. If the future state is, for the good, to be a state of highest and divinest “life,” it is because they have been made partakers of the life of Christ, and shall dwell for ever with him in the light and love of God.—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—Grounds of the prayer for preservation. This psalm is golden in thought, feeling, and expression. The substance of it is comprised in the first verse: “May God preserve him who has no other refuge in which he can hide but him!” The subject up to the end of the sixth verse may be called—Grounds of the prayer for preservation.

I. He has taken God for his Supreme Good. (Ver. 2, “I said to Jehovah, Thou art my Lord; beside thee I have no good.”) The “good” here in contrast with the “sorrows” in ver. 4. “Whom have I in heaven but thee,” etc.? It is the answer of the soul to, “Thou shalt have no other gods but me.” “Thou, O Lord, art my Portion, my Help, my Joy, my All in all.”

II. He delights in the fellowship of all the good. (Ver. 3.) He trusts God in company with the best and noblest in the land. If they trust and serve, it is my privilege also. That is one thought. Another is—I love the holy and the excellent who reflect most of God; not the worldly rich and great and powerful. The saints and only they are the excellent to him, even as they are to God. He is one with God in this—he is wholly on God’s side; therefore, he says, save me from impending danger.

III. He abhors apostates and their idols. (Ver. 4.) He will be loyal, and refuse all participation in the fellowship or the rites of the surrounding idolaters. Even the names of the false gods he refuses to take upon his lips. Philosophy, and luxury, and commerce, and wisdom in government, and the glories of conquest, combined to recommend the seductive idolatries of Philistia, Phœnicia, Syria, Assyria, Egypt. But he regarded them all with righteous scorn. We have need of a strong and simple trust in God, and sympathy with the good, to be able to repudiate the idolatries that ever surround us—the worship of wealth, success, fashion.

IV. He possesses all things in God. (Vers. 5, 6.) The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance—an allusion to the division of the land among the tribes. And this was preserved to him by the protecting power of God. God was also his meat and drink (equivalent to “cup”). “The lines,” etc.—in allusion to the ancient custom of marking out plots of land by measuring-lines. He had a goodly heritage. “What must not he possess who possesses the Possessor of all?” “All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”—S.

Vers. 8–11.—The confidence of the psalmist’s faith in the future. The two main ideas of the writer are (1) a sense of Divine privilege in having God as his chief Good; and (2) a confiding, hopeful prayer for deliverance from death. Not, of course, from death altogether; he could not hope to be finally delivered from the grave. The prayer, therefore, must have been for deliverance from impending danger, from death that was then threatened at that time, and for being conducted into and preserved in “the path of life.” The application which has been made of the ninth and tenth verses to Christ by Peter and Paul has led to a misunderstanding of the original sense. They say that the prayer was fulfilled in Christ, and not in David; that David did see corruption, and that Christ did not. But the best Hebrew scholars say that it is a confident prayer, not to be given over to death, but to be preserved in the way of life. We must understand, of course, death at present; for it could not mean death altogether, nor deliverance from the grave after death. The general subject of these verses, then, is—The confidence of the psalmist’s faith in the future, because he had chosen God as his chief Good.

I. The sense of God’s presence inspires a feeling of safety. (Ver. 8.) “Not in the moment of peril only, but at all times has he his eye fixed upon God.” “God in David’s eyes is no abstraction, but a Person, real, living, and walking at his side,” and able to protect him from danger. Have we such a sense of companionship with God? I shall not be moved—neither in character, nor in purpose, nor in work.

II. He rejoiced in the confidence that God would not allow him to perish. (Vers. 9, 10.) “Flesh” here, as always, means the living body—never means a corpse. “Shall rest in hope,” equivalent to “shall dwell in safety;” and must be understood of this life. No stress can be laid on the word “leave,” which means “give over to.” He is expressing the confidence “that God will not leave him to perish, will not give him up to be the prey of the grave,” which was the design of his enemies. The lessons for us—that God’s time is our time, and that he will not abandon us to our spiritual enemies, but will afford us effectual protection.

III. He rejoiced that God would make known to him the way to life. (Ver. 11.) Not only preserve him in life, but lead him on to that life whose joy is beholding the Divine face, and partaking of the everlasting pleasures which are at his right hand. The idea of immortality springs out of the sense of his relationship to God; for he could not think that such a relationship could end with death. If we are the sons of God, that is the strongest guarantee that we shall continue to partake of God’s life, rich and manifold and everlasting. Christ said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” This passage has its highest fulfilment when applied to the resurrection of Christ.—S.

Ver. 8.—The supreme choice of the soul. “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” “I have set Christ always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

I. This is to make the journey of life full of light. Pillar of cloud and fire. And this, in whatever view you look at this life—whether as a stage on which work has to be done, or on which good has to be acquired, or as a journey to reach our destiny. By this light we can clearly see the nature of the work that must be done; the kind of good that must be sought; and the glorious destiny awaiting us. But let a man make himself or the world the light by which he walks, the guide he follows, then his work, his well-being, and the future all become dark. Some dark moments there will be, when God’s way is through the clouds or through the great deep.

II. This will make us truly strong. “I shall not be moved.” We may know duty, self-interest, and the way to honour, and yet be too weak to follow them. Weakness of purpose and will is our misery and guilt. It is not merely our misfortune, but our sin. Importance of strength. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” The only way to become strong is by “looking unto Jesus.” All other stimulants soon spend their strength and leave us prostrate. But the setting God always before us will endow us with all strength to resist all temptations, and all fortitude to endure.

III. This is to make the aim of life really great. Our lives are mostly paltry and little. We go about filled with little vanities and ambitions, aiming at little ends, and content with little results. Often under the guise of humility our larger aims are mostly of the depraved or secular sort—wealth; social position; fame on the battlefield, or in the senate, or in literature. But to “have God always before us” is the real lasting greatness. This is the only true ideal of life.

IV. This is to make the way of life secure. “Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” 1. Not moved with fear. 2. Not moved from his hope. 3. Not moved from his righteousness.—S.



This psalm is termed “a prayer”—”a Prayer of David.” It consists, no doubt, mainly of a series of petitions (vers. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14); but contains also a number of verses which have no precatory character (vers. 3, 4, 5, 10–12, 15); and, on the whole, it cannot be said to be occupied with supplication to a greater extent than many of the compositions which are simply termed “psalms.” Probably it was called a “prayer” because the writer himself seemed so to entitle it in ver. 1. David’s authorship is generally allowed, since the composition has “the marked characteristics of David’s early style” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). The current of thought and language is vehement and abrupt; there is a deep dependence upon God, and at the same time a warmth of indignation against the writer’s enemies, found frequently in the Davidical psalms, and not very noticeable in the others. There is also an earnest faith in a future life (ver. 15), which was a marked feature of David’s character, but not very common among his contemporaries. The time in David’s life to which the psalm belongs is uncertain; but it has been conjectured, with a certain amount of probability, to have been written during the heat of the persecution by Saul, perhaps when David was pursued after by the wicked king in the wilderness of Maon (1 Sam. 23:26). (So Hitzig, Moll, and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary.’)

The metrical arrangement is somewhat doubtful. Perhaps the best division is that of Dr. Kay, who makes the poem one of four stanzas—the first of five verses (vers. 1–5); the second of four (vers. 6–9); the third of three (vers. 10–12); and the fourth also of three (vers. 13–15).

Ver. 1.—Hear the right, O Lord (comp. Ps. 9:4). Here and elsewhere the psalmist assumes that right is on his side, and that he is persecuted unjustly. Unless he had been convinced of this, he could not have called on God to vindicate him. The narrative in 1 Sam. 18–27 fully justifies his conviction. Attend unto my cry (comp. Pss. 4:1; 5:2; 61:1). Rinnah, the word translated “cry” here (and in Ps. 61:1) is a strong term: it means “shout,” “outcry”—most often, though not here, “a shout of joy.” Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips; rather, feigning lips, or guileful lips—lips, i.e., that speak falsehood knowingly.

Ver. 2.—Let my sentence come forth from thy presence. David does not doubt, any more than Job (13:18), what the sentence will be. As right is on his side (ver. 1), it must be in his favour. Let thine eyes behold the things that are equal; literally, Let thine eyes behold equities.

Ver. 3.—Thou hast proved mine heart (comp. Pss. 26:2; 66:9; 95:9; 139:23). “Proved” means “tried,” “tested,” examined strictly, so as to know whether there was any wickedness in it or not. Thou hast visited me in the night. The night is the time when men can least escape those searching, testing thoughts which God’s providence then especially sends, to “try the very heart and reins” (Ps. 7:9). Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; rather, and findest nothing. The process was one begun in the past, and continuing on in the present. God was ever searching David and trying him; but “found nothing,” i.e. no alloy, no base metal, no serious flaw in his character; not that he was sinless, but that he was sincere and earnest—a true worshipper of God, not a hypocrite. I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” (Jas. 3:2). David’s resolution to “keep the door of his lips” would have a chastening influence over both his thoughts and acts.

Ver. 4.—Concerning the works of man; i.e. “with respect to the actions of ordinary life”—here called “the works of Adam”—i.e. of the natural man. By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. By attending to thy Law, and following it (see Ps. 119:11), I have refrained myself from sin, and avoided the wicked courses of the violent (comp. 1 Sam. 24:4–10).

Ver. 5.—Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. So De Wette and Rosenmüller; but most recent critics prefer to consider the words as an assertion rather than a prayer, and translate, “My steps have held fast to thy paths: [therefore] my feet have not been moved” (Kay, Hengstenberg, Alexander, Cheyne, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ Revised Version).

Ver. 6.—I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God (comp. vers. 1, 2). Having established, as the ground of his claim to be heard of God, his own sincerity, steadfastness, and virtuous course in life (vers. 3–5), David now recurs to his original intent, and resumes his “prayer.” He is sure that God will hear him, since his prayer is grounded on “right.” Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech (comp. Pss. 71:2; 88:2, etc.).

Ver. 7.—Show thy marvellous loving kindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. It is uncertain to which clause of the sentence the word בִּימִיגָךָ belongs. Its position seems to attach it rather to those who resist God than to those who trust in him. See the marginal version, which has, O thou that savest them which trust in thee from those that rise up against thy right hand. But the rendering in the text of the Authorized Version is preferred by most writers.

Ver. 8.—Keep me as the apple of the eye (comp. Deut. 32:10, where the same simile is used). Here, however, the expression employed is still more tender and more practical: “Keep me,” says David, “as the apple, daughter of the eye.Hide me under the shadow of thy wings. This seems also to be a reminiscence of Deuteronomy, where, after the mention of the “apple of the eye,” the writer continues, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him” (Deut. 32:11, 12; comp. further Pss. 36:7; 57:1; 63:8; 91:4).

Ver. 9.—From the wicked that oppress me; or, lay me waste—treat me as invaders treat an enemy’s territory (see Isa. 15:1). From my deadly enemies, who compass me about; literally, my enemies in soul—those who in heart and mind are wholly set against me. When hunted by Saul upon the mountains, David was often “compassed about” with foes (1 Sam. 23:14, 15, 26; 26:20).

Ver. 10.—They are enclosed in their own fat (comp. Deut. 32:15; Job 15:27; Ps. 119:70). Self-indulgence has hardened their feelings and dulled their souls. An organ enclosed in fat cannot work freely. So their feelings cannot work as nature intended through the coarseness and hardness in which they are, as it were, embedded. With their mouth they speak proudly (comp. Pss. 12:3, 4; 86:14).

Ver. 11.—They have now compassed us in our steps; rather, [following] our steps, they now compass me (comp. ver. 9; and see 1 Sam. 23:26). They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth; rather, they have set their eyes, to cast [me] down to the earth. The simile of the lion is already in the writer’s mind. As the lion, before making his spring, fixes his eyes intently upon the prey—not to fascinate it, but to make sure of his distance—with intent, when he springs, to cast the prey down to the earth; so it is now with my enemies, who have set their eyes on me. (So Dr. Kay, the ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ and the Revised Version.)

Ver. 12.—Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey; literally, his likeness [is] as a lion that is greedy to rend (comp. Pss. 7:2; 10:9; 57:4). And as it were a young lion (kěphîr, “a lion in the first burst of youthful vigour”) lurking in secret places; rather, crouching. The attitude of the lion when he is just preparing to spring.

Ver. 13.—Arise, O Lord (comp. Pss. 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 44:26, etc.). Having described the character of the wicked man, and pointed out his ill desert (vers. 9–12), the psalmist now invokes God’s vengeance upon him. “Right” requires equally the succour of the godly and the punishment of the ungodly man. Disappoint him, cast him down; literally, get before him, bow him down; i.e. intercept his spring, and bow him down to the earth (see Ps. 18:39). Deliver my soul from the wicked. This will be the result of the interposition. When the ungodly are cast down, the righteous are delivered out of their hand. Which is thy sword. A true statement (see Isa. 10:5), but scarcely what the writer intended in this place, where he is regarding the wicked as altogether opposed to God. It is best to translate, with the Revised Version, Deliver my soul from the wicked by thy sword.

Ver. 14.—From men which are thy hand, O Lord; rather, from men, by thy hand, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, and in the text of the Revised Version. From men of the world; i.e. men who are altogether worldly, whose views, aspirations, hopes, longings, are bounded by this life—the “children of this world,” as our Lord expressed it (Luke 16:8). Which have their portion in this life; i.e. who have here all that they will ever receive, and all that they care to receive. And whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure; rather, with thy stores—the good things that thou makest the earth to produce. There seems to be some allusion here to the frequent worldly prosperity of the ungodly (comp. Job 12:6; 21:7–13; Ps. 73:3–12). They are full of children (so Job 21:8, 11; 27:14). And leave the rest of their substance to their babes (comp. Ps. 49:10). No doubt this is often the case; but the illgotten gains handed on by the wicked to their children seldom prosper (see Job 27:14–17).

Ver. 15.—As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness;
i.e. “As for me, I do not envy the wicked man’s prosperity. I set against it the blessedness of which I am quite sure. I in my righteousness shall behold the face of God, have the light of his countenance shine upon me, and thus be raised to a condition of perfect happiness.” Moreover, I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. David had already spoken of death as a “sleep” (Ps. 13:3). Now he speaks of “awaking.” What awaking can this be but an awaking from the sleep of death? When he so awakes, he says, he will be “satisfied with God’s likeness.” The word used is the same as that employed in Numb. 12:8, of the manifestation of the Divine glory to Moses—viz. temunah. David therefore expects to see, on awaking, a similar manifestation. He will have the enjoyment of the “beatific vision,” if not in the Christian sense, at any rate in a true and real sense, and one that will wholly “satisfy” him.


Ver. 15.—True satisfaction. “As for me … thy likeness.” “I shall be satisfied.” This is a great and bold thing to say. It implies one of two things—either a low standard of satisfaction, a poor measure of what it takes to satisfy a human soul; or else a prospect beyond this world. If only a question of lower wants—”What shall I eat … drink? wherewithal be clothed? what wages shall I earn? what holidays and amusements secure?”—then if your desires be temperate, you may easily say, “I shall be satisfied.” But if it be a question of your soul, life, whole being, with all high, deep, partially developed capacities for happiness and blessedness,—then it is not in this world that satisfaction is possible. Earth might be bankrupt, and yet leave your soul, your inner immortal self, starving (Matt. 16:26).

I. The satisfaction desired and expected—ardently desired and confidently expected (the Hebrew implies both; in the margin of the Revised Version, “Let me”). To behold God’s face in righteousness; to awake from the dream of life, from the sleep of death, to the reality of his presence, the sight of his unveiled glory. We are met here by one of those apparent contradictions in Scripture, which are always rich in deep meaning and instruction. On one hand, it is declared that to see God is impossible. He is “the King immortal, invisible” (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). “God is a Spirit,” the Infinite Spirit; and how can spirit become visible to sense? On the other hand, our Saviour promises that “the pure in heart shall see God.” Of Moses it was said, “The similitude [or ‘form,’ ‘image,’—the same word as in the text] of the Lord shall he behold” (Numb. 12:8). Isaiah tells us how, in vision, he beheld the Lord on his throne (Isa. 6). Ezekiel, Daniel, and St. John had similar visions. Visions, it is true; but visions that stood for that infinitely glorious reality of which the Lord said to Moses, “There shall be no man see me, and live” (Exod. 33:20). The explanation of this seeming contradiction is found in John 1:18. All those glorious manifestations, as well as the occasions on which a Divine angel appeared, as to Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, etc., who is identified with the Lord, we understand to have been manifestations of the Son of God, the everlasting Word, crowned and completed by the Incarnation (John 1:14). He is “the Image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Thus this desire and expectation have for us as Christians a clearness and force they could not have for the holiest of the ancient believers. Even in the days of his flesh, the Lord could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” How much more in his glory! The Lord God and the Lamb are the light of the heavenly city. This does not exclude other manifestations of God as Spirit to our spirits; like that of which Christ speaks (John 14:23). Some have thought there is a dead faculty in our nature, by which we should have direct intuition of God; be naturally conscious of his presence, as we are of space and time. If so, this dead or sleeping sense, partially quickened by faith, shall awake; we shall know, consciously, what now we believe, that “in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Meantime, this is enough for faith to lay hold on, to rest in—we shall see Jesus our Lord in his glory. “To depart,” is, for the Christian, “to be with Christ;” “Absent from the body, at home with the Lord.” We shall “see him as he is;” “the Fulness of the Godhead bodily” dwelling in the immortal temple of glorified humanity. And in him we shall see the Father, and come to the Father. Our fellowship will be “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Ambition cannot rise higher than this. Thought cannot soar beyond this. Faith, hope, love, cannot desire more than this.

“Then shall I see and hear and know

All I desired or wish’d below.”

Divines have been wont to call this “the beatific vision,” q.d. the happy-making sight of God. But note that whatever be the forms of inconceivable glory in which God reveals himself to his children, the true satisfaction is in the knowledge of God himself (1 Cor. 13:12). As we look into the face and eyes of a friend to read his soul—thought, feeling, inner self—so the knowledge of God of which Christ says, “This is life eternal” (John 17:3), is of his character, holiness, truth, wisdom, infinite love to us.

II. The glorious fulness and perfection of this satisfaction. 1. The end of the conflict between faith and doubt. How many a soul has echoed Job’s cry (Job 23:3, 8–10)! The life of faith is a wholesome discipline (John 20:29; 1 Pet. 1:8). But who could bear to think that it would last for ever? 2. The consciousness of perfect reconciliation to God. No shadow of fear, any more than of doubt. 3. The experience of complete likeness to our Saviour (Col. 3:10). This is the point of 1 John 3:2. 4. The perfect rest of the soul. Hope is compared to the “anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19). But the ship is still tossed on the surges (Heb. 4:9). 5. The elevation of our being and life to the highest pitch of love, knowledge, and joy.

Conclusion. Turn this expectation and desire into as question, a heart-trying test—Shall I be thus satisfied? Is my keenest desire tuned to this note? Will this satisfy me?—this and nothing else? The presence of Christ, perfect likeness to him, and eternal fellowship with him; to behold, without a veil, the glory of God in the face of Jesus; to know God? Believe it, no other heaven is promised or possible. If your life be not tending this way, you are misdirecting, misspending it.


Vers. 1–15.—The saint’s appeal from the wrongs of earth to the Righteous One on the throne. The title of our homily on this psalm is in some respects similar to that on the seventh psalm. There, however, the psalm is an appeal to the great Vindicator of one unjustly accused; here, it is the appeal of one beset with persecutors to the great Judge of all. Whenever or by whomsoever the words of this psalm were penned, it may not be easy to say. The probability is that it is one of David’s. If so, there is an abundance of incident in the record of his career by which it may be illustrated and explained. And, indeed, the surest (perhaps the only) way of interpreting such psalms as this is to read them by the light of the Books of Samuel. Anyway, however, it is an infinite mercy that we have preserved to us, not only psalms to be enjoyed at all times (such as the twenty-third and the forty-sixth), but others adapted for special times. For very often the saints of God have been so impeached, slandered, worried, beset, and persecuted, that the words of this psalm have exactly fitted their case. And in all such instances, the people of God may find sweet repose in reading the words before us; showing us, as they do, (1) that however greatly we may be wronged on earth, there is a Righteous One to whom we may make our final appeal; (2) that he who sitteth on the throne is not only just, but is also One of “marvellous loving-kindness;” (3) that therefore we may pour out our heart before him, and tell him our case—the whole of it, exactly as it is; so that, though we are by no means obliged to adopt as our own every word in psalms like this, yet we may learn from them to present our case before God as minutely and exactly as the psalmists did theirs,—as varied as are the cases, so varied may be the words.

I. Here is a remarkable case laid before God. There are in it six features. 1. The writer is sorely and grievously persecuted. (Vers. 9–12.) It has been well said, “Where would David’s psalms have been, if he had not been persecuted?” The experiences through which he passed may be studied in the records to which we have referred above. In fact, one of our most skilled expositors said to the writer that his own study of the Books of Samuel had thrown floods of light on the Psalms, had cleared up many phrases that before were unintelligible, and had shown the reason of many others that seemed unjustifiable. And since David was withal the poet of the sanctuary, he could and did put these hard experiences of his life in such words as should be helpful to the troubled and ill-treated saint in all future time. (For the exact significance of detailed expressions, see the Exposition.) Let believers follow David here, and whatever their cares and worries may be, let them tell them out, one by one, to their God, who will never misunderstand them, and, even if some expressions of emotion are unwise and faulty, will cover the faults with the mantle of his forgiving love, and fulfil the desires according to his own perfect wisdom. Oh, the infinite relief of having a Friend to whom we may safely tell every thing! 2. David is conscious of his own integrity. (Vers. 1–4.) This is by no means to be understood as a piece of self-righteousness (see Ps. 143:2). It is quite consistent with the deepest humiliation before a holy and heart-searching God, that an upright man should avow his innocence of the guilt that false accusers may charge upon him. In fact, we ought, while penitent before our God for innumerable heart-sins, to be able to look our fellow-men in the face with the dignity of conscious honesty and purity. 3. David knows there is a
Judge on the Throne, a Judge of perfect righteousness—and One who will listen to his cry (ver. 7). He knows God as One who saves the trusting ones from their foes by his own omnipotent hand. 4. Hence to him David makes his appeal. (Ver. 2.) Note: Only one who is at peace with God, and who is among the upright in heart, could possibly make such an appeal as this,—for sentence to come forth from God’s presence must be a terror to the rebel, for that sentence could only be one of condemnation. But souls in harmony with God can lovingly look to God as their Redeemer, their Goël, their Vindicator; they will say, with Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth;” or with Cromwell, “I know that God is above all ill reports; and that he will in his own time vindicate me.” Yea, they can call on God to do this, leaving in his hands the time and the way of doing it (cf. 1 John 3:21, 22). 5. With the appeal, David joins fervent supplication. (1) With regard to his enemies. That God would arise, i.e. interpose in the way of providential aid; that he would cast down the wicked from their high pretensions, and disappoint them, i.e. prevent them—be beforehand with them, and frustrate their evil designs ere they attempt to carry them out. (2) With regard to himself. (a) That God would deliver him out of their hand. (b) That God would hold up his goings in the right way. (c) That God would keep him (α) as the apple of the eye (literally, “the little man,” “the daughter of the eye”)—an exquisitely beautiful figure, admirably adapted to be the basis of an address to the young on God’s care in the structure of the eye; (β) as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings—another figure of marvellous tenderness (Pss. 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4; Matt. 23:37). Nor let it be unnoticed that for all this, David uttered a “piercing cry” (for so the word in the first verse signifies). 6. David remembers that, after all, he has no reason to envy his persecutors; that, after all, it is far better to know God as his God, and to have him as a Refuge, than to have all the ease, comfort, and wealth which this world can give. And this brings us to note—

II. That, remarkable as the psalmist’s case is, it presents to us a still more remarkable contrast. (Ver. 14.) How much force is there in the expression, “As for me” (cf. Ps. 55:16)! Note: Amid all the confusion, strife, and whirl of earth, each man has a distinctive individuality, which is all his own, and is never confounded with another’s (Gal. 6:5; Isa. 40:27). No one has a right to think he is lost in the crowd (2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 2:17; Isa. 43:1; Luke 12:6, 7). Each one has a relation to God entirely his own. The bad may mingle with the good, but are never confounded with them. Not one grain of wheat is by mistake cast into the fire, nor yet one of the tares gathered into the garner. All that is momentous in hope, character, relation, security, destiny, gathers round the individual. Each one has an “As for me.” In the psalm before us there are indications of six points of difference between David and his enemies; so vital are they, that not all the distress which he suffers from them could make him desire to change places with them. 1. He is right; they are in the wrong. (Ver. 1.) As we have before said, the writer by no means claims to be perfect, but he knows that he has chosen the side of righteousness, and is sincerely anxious to walk according thereto; he walks in his integrity, though he may be conscious of coming far short of his own ideal. But as for his enemies, to be in the right is no concern of theirs! Their’s is might against right. Note: Happy is the man who sees infinite honour in being right, however much it may cost him! 2. God is to him a Defender; to them he is a Judge—to condemn them and put them to shame. This is the ground-tone of the psalm. The throne of the great Eternal is to the psalmist one of grace, mercy, and love; but to his enemies, it appears to shoot forth devouring flame. Note: God will seem to us according to our state before him (see Ps. 18:25, 26). 3. The psalmist addresses God in confident hope; they resist God, in proud defiance. The whole attitude of David’s enemies was one of proud self-confidence: “Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us?” Hence: 4. The throne of righteousness, which was the safety of David, was the peril of his persecutors. His joy was their dread. Wicked men are afraid of God; and it is saddening to reflect that the guilt of an uneasy conscience projects its own dark shadow on the face of infinite love! 5. David had an eternal portion in his God; they lived only for this life. He calls them (ver. 14) “men of the world” (cf. Hebrew original). David could say, “Thou art my Portion, O God;” but with them their all was laid up here. When they depart hence, they will leave behind them all their treasures; but David would go, at death, to the enjoyment of his. Hence: 6. The outlook of the psalmist was full of gladness; theirs, full of gloom. How blissful the anticipation in the one case! (1) A glorious vision. “I shall behold thy face in righteousness.” Whether the writer thought of a bodily vision of Jehovah’s form, or of a spiritual vision of the invisible glory, we cannot say. At any rate, knowing even now the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we can forecast the ecstatic rapture which we shall feel when he shall be manifested, and we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is! (2) A glorious transformation. “When I awake, with thy likeness,” i.e. with possessing it (otherwise the phrase would be a tautology). As Watts beautifully puts it—

“I shall behold thy blissful face,

And stand complete in righteousness.”

(3) Entire satisfaction therein; i.e. both with the vision and with the conformation. Yes! There will be full and complete realization of the glory which now we see only “as through a glass darkly.” And this will be in the awakening (cf. Ps. 49:14, “The upright … in the morning“). The state after death has been viewed in three aspects. (a) As a slumbrous state in the under-world, from which there was no awaking. This was the pagan view. (b) As a slumbrous state in the underworld, but with the hope of an awaking “in the morning.” This was the Hebrew conception. (c) To the Christian, however, the state after death is—”Absent from the body, at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8, Revised Version). The glory, however, will be completed at the resurrection (Col. 3:4, Revised Version). But how different the outlook of the wicked! (Matt. 7:13, 14; Phil. 3:19; Luke 16:22, 23; 12:21; 13:28). Well may preachers plead agonizingly with their hearers to choose life rather than death (Heb. 11:25, 26)! Little will the godly think of past sorrow when they have their recompense in heaven! Small comfort will earth’s wealth give to those who miss heaven!—C.

Vers. 1–15.—The righteousness of God’s dealing. It is a common saying that “the pillow is a good counsellor;” and there is much truth in this. In the quietness and retirement of night we are able to collect our thoughts and to commune with our own hearts, as to the past, the present, and the future. And if we do this in the spirit of the psalmist, realizing God’s presence and relying upon him for counsel and guidance, it will be well. Whether this psalm was written at night or not, we cannot tell; but it contains truths fitted to soothe and comfort the soul in the night of trouble, and that mark the progress of the light from sunrise to the perfect day.

I. That God will hear the right. This faith accords with the intuitions of the heart. We are sure that God must be on the side of right, for we feel that it is only when we are for the right that we are on the side of God. If we are true, much more must God be true. If we are just, much more must God be just. And this confidence is confirmed by God’s words and deeds (vers. 4, 5). If it were otherwise, how could we trust God? and how could God govern and judge the world?

II. That God will defend the faithful. Perfect righteousness no man can claim. But as regards spirit and intention, and even as to actual conduct, some can plead integrity. Job could say, “Behold, my witness is in heaven” (Job 16:19). Samuel could appeal to Israel as to his uprightness, “Behold, here I am, witness against me before the Lord, … whom have I defrauded, or whom have I oppressed?” (1 Sam. 12:3). So David called Saul to witness to his innocence. “Moreover, my father, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee” (1 Sam. 24:11). It is a great matter if we can thus approach God with a good conscience (1 John 3:21). But our integrity, after all, is nothing to boast of. Before men, we may be innocent, but not before God. Our trust must therefore be, not in our own merits, but in God’s mercy. God’s loving-kindness will shine forth in giving protection and deliverance (vers. 6–12) to those who love him and hope in his mercy. He will be their Refuge and Defence against every foe. With tender care and never-failing prayer, he will keep them from the evil.

II. That God will disappoint the persecutor, while he will abundantly satisfy the desires of the humble. (Vers. 13–15.) When David was pursued by the forces of Saul, and in sore straits in the wilderness of Maon, God in a wonderful way brought him deliverance (1 Sam. 23:25). So we may expect that God will meet the enemies of his people, front to front, and cast them down. There are marvellous deliverances wrought by God in behalf of his children (2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Thess. 1:6–10). But God does far more than deliver—he satisfies. The heart is ever yearning after some unattained possession and enjoyment. “Man never is, but always to be blessed.” The children of this world have their desires, and, though they may so far be successful, though they may gain wealth, and have sons to bear their name and inherit their possessions, yet for all this they are not satisfied. Their blessings, through their own perversity, are turned to curses. But in bright contrast with these men of carnal minds, is the man who loveth God and worketh righteousness. “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”—W. F.

Ver. 3.—The visits of God in the night. The psalmist seems to have been one of the children of Israel scattered abroad. From the midst of a strange country he looks with a wistful eye towards the far-off land of his youth. Tried and persecuted by the worldly and profane, he takes refuge under the sheltering wings of Jehovah, his father’s God. If he was not David, he has the spirit of David. There are foreshadowings and foregleams of gospel times, in the ideas as to “the world,” the “loving-kindness,” and saving power of the Lord; and the blessed hope of satisfaction in God. This verse leads us to consider the visits of God in the night.

I. Refreshment. The divisions of time have to do with man (Gen. 1:5; Ps. 104:20).

“God has set labour and rest,

As day and night to men successive,

And the timely dew of sleep.”

When night comes, it brings, not only relief from toil, but needed rest in sleep. In this we see the mercy of God. Like the sunshine and the rain, sleep is a common gift from God to men. Sleep also often brings return of health. How often is it said of some beloved one, with trembling hope, “If he sleep, he shall do well” (John 11:12)!

II. Protection. We associate the day with safety (John 11:9). On the other hand, night is the season when not only wild beasts, but lawless men, seek their prey (Ps. 104:20, 21; Job 24:14–17; 1 Thess. 3:7). There may be dangers unseen and unknown (Ps. 91:5, 6). Besides, there are perils from evil thoughts and the wiles of the wicked one. But come what will, God is our sure Defence. He visits us in love and mercy. He watches over us with untiring vigilance (Ps. 121:3). The angel of judgment may be abroad, but under the shelter of the blood of the covenant we are safe. Even though God should say, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee,” it will be in love, and not in wrath. Even should we be taken away in our sleep, it will be to light, and not to darkness. Hence we may say, “I will lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

III. Instruction. God has access to us at all times. He speaks to us continually by day, when our ears are open; but he also speaks to us, as he sees cause, by night, in dreams and visions, and when he holds our souls waking. Of this we have many examples in the Bible, and who is there who has not had some knowledge of this in his own experience? Dreams and visions are, for the most part, vain things; but there are even dreams and visions that have been found to be visits of God and turning-points in life. But it is when we have hours of sleeplessness that precious opportunities occur of communing in our hearts with God. Then there is not only quietness, but solitude. We are alone with God, and if we recognize his presence and hearken to his Word, we shall have cause to say, with thankfulness, “Thou hast visited me in the night.” Sleeplessness, if prolonged, if it becomes a habit, is a sore evil; but sleepless hours may be turned to great profit. We have then the opportunity for quiet thought, for self-examination, for converse with God. Perhaps the past, with its joys and sorrows, rises before us, or we are troubled about the present or the future; but God is ever near, to counsel and to comfort us. “He giveth songs in the night” (Job 35:10). “One practical lesson at least may be remembered as bearing on this subject—the duty of storing the mind, while we are yet comparatively young and strong, with that which, in the hours of sleeplessness and pain, will enable us to rise up to God. A mind well stored with Holy Scripture, with good prayers and hymns, need never feel that the waking hours of the night are lost. We may do more, for the soul’s true sanctification and peace, than many others in their own brief earthly pilgrimage” (Canon Liddon).—W. F.

Ver. 15.—Three awakings. The Bible is a book of contrasts. Here we have a contrast between the man of God and “the men of the world.” We may bring out something of its force and significance by considering the three awakings here suggested.

I. The awaking from sleep. The psalmist says (ver. 3), “Thou hast visited me in the night.” The sense of God’s presence abides. When he awakes, it is not, like the worldling, to a life of selfish pleasure, but to a life of holy service. His first thought is not of self, but of God. His highest joy is in fellowship with God and in doing his work. His prayer is—

“Guard my first springs of thought and will,

And with thyself my spirit fill.”

II. The awaking from the night of trouble. Darkness is the image of gloom; light, of joy. “The men of the world” have few troubles, but they have fewer comforts. Their hope is in the things that perish. The godly man may be sorely tried (vers. 7–9), but he has “strong consolation.” And even if gloom settles down upon him, it is but for a little, and when he awakes, thoughts that troubled him pass away as the visions of the night, and he rejoices in God’s favour as in the light. Joy comes with the morning.

III. The awaking from the sleep of death. “Here we see right into the heart of the Old Testament faith.” In life and death, God is all. Thus the soul rises to the hope of immortality. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” 1. This awaking holds good of the whole being. The spirit is first, but the body next. 2. This awaking opens up a glorious vision. There will be many and wondrous sights, but the first and chief of all will be God. “Thy face.” So Moses (Numb. 12:8); so believers (2 Cor. 3:18). But here in a far higher way. 3. This awaking will bring complete satisfaction. Here we are never satisfied. This awaking into glory will first of all, and in the fullest sense of the word, bring satisfaction. “Thy likeness.” Nothing less will satisfy. This is the hope of all our hoping. The joy of joys. “The rest that remaineth for the people of God.” How grand must that possession be that will satisfy the soul, awakened to the highest life and the noblest aspirings! Not only will the redeemed be satisfied, but the Redeemer also. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.” Study the awful contrast (Dan. 12:2; Luke 16:25; John 5:28, 29).—W. F.

Vers. 1–5.—The prayer of the righteous. “In this psalm a servant of God, conscious of his own uprightness, and surrounded by enemies, prays to be kept from the evil world and from the evil men who persecute him, and then from the dark present looks forward with joy to the bright future.” The first five verses are as the porch to the temple—the introduction to the main prayer of the psalm. The psalmist pleads with God—

I. For the righteous cause. (Vers. 1, 2.) God is righteous, therefore he must be on the side of justice and right. When we pray that liberty may prevail against slavery of mind or body, that justice may triumph over all injustice, that truth may overcome falsehood, that the spirit may be stronger than the flesh, and that religion may conquer all irreligion, we may be sure that we are praying according to the will of God, and may expect him to answer us.

II.In a righteous spirit. The prayer is offered by “lips without deceit,” in all sincerity, without any hypocritical pretence. The truthfulness, righteousness, of his spirit are here pleaded as a ground for his being heard. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Integrity of mind is necessary to all true and successful prayer. He is in earnest about the righteous cause, and not making a pretence to it.

III. On the ground of a righteous character. (Ver. 3.) 1. God had subjected him to close scrutiny in the night. He had been divinely tested. “In the night,” when good and evil thoughts spring up in greatest force, because of our freedom from outward occupation, and when the native bias discovers itself unchecked. Then God tries him, and does not find that his thoughts are dross, but gold. This is a bold statement, when put by the side of other statements, “If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity,” etc. 2. He keeps evil thoughts in subjection, even when they do arise. They do not pass his mouth, do not find expression, but are held back from utterance. We cannot help evil thoughts, but we can help the utterance of them.

IV. He pleads also righteous conduct. (Vers. 4, 5.) He has kept himself from the common doings of men, from the ways of the oppressor and destroyer. This is the negative side of his conduct; but it is a great virtue to resist the mass and run against the stream. The positive is that he had held fast in his doings to the Divine paths, and been steadfast in the right course. He has been constant, and steered by the heavenly pole-star.—S.

Vers. 6–15.—Confidence in God. From the first to the fifth verse the prayer bases his confidence in God on four pleas. 1. He prays for the righteous cause. 2. In a righteous spirit. 3. On the ground of a righteous character. 4. On the ground of righteous conduct. Now we come to other grounds upon which he urges God to save him.

I. The compassion of God for those who urgently cry to him. (Vers. 6, 7.) He calls, because God answers him; and now he calls for a special exercise of mercy, because God saves those who find their refuge or safety in him. He was pleading according to the law of God’s nature, and had, therefore, a Divine warrant for his prayer: “If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.”

II. His imminent danger. (Vers. 7, 9, 11, 12.) His enemies were the enemies of God (ver. 7). They would destroy him (ver. 9). They haunted his footsteps everywhere (ver. 11). He prays, therefore, to be protected as the pupil of the eye is protected, as if he could not be kept secure enough; and to be hidden under the shadow of the Divine wings, where no danger could reach him (Deut. 32:10, 11).

III. The wickedness of his adversaries. 1. Their want of sympathy and their hard pride. (Ver. 10.) “Enclosed in fat” is equivalent to “have become gross and unfeeling.” 2. They were bent on the ruin of others as well as themselves. (Ver. 11.) 3. They were fierce and furious in their wicked efforts. (Ver. 12.) Like a greedy lion, like a young vigorous lion lurking in his lair.

IV. They were men who sought their portion in this passing life; while he sought his in God. (Vers. 13–15.) 1. They were satisfied with the treasures of this world. With children and worldly substance, and were not worthy, therefore, to triumph over the righteous cause and the righteous persons. Deliver me from such worldlings. 2. He was seeking after the highest good. (Ver. 15.) “In righteousness let me behold thy face; let me be satisfied, when I awake, with thine image.” An echo of the eleventh verse of the previous psalm, which reveals his trust in a future life. “There is an allusion probably to such a manifestation of God as that made to Moses (Numb. 12:8), where God declares that with Moses he will speak “mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches, and the similitude [rather, ‘form,’ the same word as here] of Jehovah shall he behold.”—S.



This psalm has many characteristics which distinguish it, not only from all that have preceded it in the collection, but from all those which are assigned to David by their titles. In the first place, it is the longest of such psalms, extending, as it does, to fifty verses, or a hundred and fourteen lines of Hebrew poetry. Next, it is continuous, not broken into strophes (Hengstenberg). Thirdly, it appears, not only in the Psalter, but also in one of the historical books—the Second Book of Samuel, in what seems to be a second edition. Further, it is in itself a very remarkable composition, being distinguished alike by “vigour and grace; full of archaic grandeur, and yet free from abrupt transitions and thoughts labouring for utterance, such as make some of the earlier psalms difficult to understand” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). Hitzig calls it “an unrivalled production of art and reflection.”

The authorship of David is generally allowed, and indeed has been questioned only by three recent critics—Olshausen, Von Lengerke, and Professor Cheyne. The period at which it was written is declared in the title to be “when the Lord had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul”—a date which is quite in accord with the contents of the poem. For while it celebrates his deliverance from perils of various kinds—from a “strong enemy” (ver. 17), from a “flood of ungodly men” (ver. 4), from the near approach of death (vers. 4, 5), and from a host of foreign enemies (vers. 29–43)—there is no allusion in it to domestic foes, and no indication of remorse for any special sin. The exact time cannot be fixed; but it was probably soon after the series of victories described in 2 Sam. 10, and before the events recorded in 2 Sam. 11 and 12.

It is thought, with some reason, that the psalm was composed for a great occasion of public thanksgiving. Most likely it was processional, and therefore not broken into strophes, but continuous. Still, we may trace in it, (1) an introduction, or prologue (vers. 1–3), which is an ascription of praise; (2) a central mass, chiefly in a narrative form (vers. 4–45), recounting God’s goodness; and (3) a conclusion, or epilogue (vers. 46–50), which is mainly thanksgiving. The central mass is further broken up by the interposition into the narrative of a passage (vers. 19–27) declaring the grounds of the favour and protection which God had extended to the psalmist, and, so far, “setting forth the subjective principles on which the Lord imparts his aid” to his servants (Hengstenberg).

Ver. 1.—I will love thee, O Lord, my Strength. This opening is very remarkable. The verb translated “I will love” expresses the very tenderest affection, and is elsewhere never used to denote the love of man towards God, but only that of God towards man. The entire verse, moreover, is withdrawn from the “second edition” of the psalm (2 Sam. 22)—which was perhaps prepared for liturgical use—as too sacred and too private to suit a public occasion.

Ver. 2.—The Lord is my Rock; or, my Cliff—my Sela’—an expression used commonly of Petra. And my Fortress (comp. Ps. 144:2). Not only a natural stronghold, but one made additionally strong by art. And my Deliverer. A living Protector, not a mere inanimate defence. My God, my Strength; rather, my Rock, as the same word (tsur) is translated in Exod. 17:6; 33:21, 22; Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 31; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 23:3; Isa. 26:4. It is the word from which the strong city, Tyre, derived its name. In whom I will trust (comp. Deut. 32:37). My Buckler (comp. Gen. 15:1, where God announced himself as Abraham’s “Shield;” and see also Deut. 33:29; Pss. 3:2; 5:12; 84:11; 119:114; 144:2). The Horn also of my salvation (comp. Luke 1:69). The horn is the emblem at once of strength and of dignity. A “horn of salvation” is a source of excellency and might, whence “salvation” or deliverance comes to those who trust in it. And my high Tower (comp. Ps. 9:9, with the comment ad loc.). It is remarked that God, in this passage, receives seven epithets, “the mystic number which in sacred things symbolizes perfection” (Delitzsch).

Ver. 3.—I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised. Not so much a simple future, “I will call upon the Lord at some particular time,” as a future of continuance, “I call, and will ever call, upon the Lord, worthy to be praised;” and soi.e. so long as I call—shall I be saved from mine enemies (comp. Pss. 5:10, 12; 6:8–10: 10:15, 16, etc.).

Ver. 4.—The sorrows of death compassed me. Here begins the narrative of David’s sufferings in the past. ” ‘The sorrows’—or rather, ‘the cords’—of death,” he says, “encompassed me,” or “coiled around me” (Kay). Death is represented as a hunter, who goes out with nets and cords, encompassing his victims and driving them into the toils. David’s recollection is probably of the time when he was “hunted upon the mountains” by Saul (1 Sam. 26:20), and expected continually to be caught and put to death (1 Sam. 19:1; 23:15; 27:1). And the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; literally, the torrents of Belial, or of ungodliness. The LXX. have χείμαῤῥοι ἀνομίας. Streams of ungodly men, the myrmidons of Saul, cut him off from escape.

Ver. 5.—The sorrows of hell compassed me about; literally, the cords of
Sheol, or Hades. Death and Hell are, both of them, personified, and made to join in the chase. The ensnaring nets are drawn nearer and nearer; at last the toils close in, the last cast is made, and the prey is taken. The snares of death prevented me; or, came upon me (Revised Version)—”took me by surprise” (Kay).

Ver. 6.—In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God. At this supreme moment, when he is entangled in the snares, and on the point of being slain, the psalmist represents himself as invoking the aid of the Almighty. As Hengstenberg notes, “While the manifold distresses are united in the beginning of the verse into one great ‘distress,’ so the manifold Divine hearings and helps are united into a single grand hearing and help”—and, we may add, the manifold cries into one great cry. He heard my voice out of his temple; i.e. his tabernacle, since the temple was not yet built (comp. Pss. 5:7; 11:4); or perhaps, “out of heaven” (Cheyne). And my cry came before him, even into his ears (comp. Exod. 2:23, where the same word is used for the “cry” of the children of Israel in Egypt).

Ver. 7.—Then the earth shook and trembled; or, quailed and quaked (Kay, who thus expresses the assonance of the Hebrew vat-tig’ash vat-tir’ash). The psalmist must not be understood literally. He does not mean that the deliverance came by earthquake, storm, and thunder, but describes the discomfiture and dismay of his opponents by a series of highly poetical images. In these he, no doubt, follows nature closely, and probably describes what he had seen, heard, and felt. The foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken. In violent earthquakes, the earth seems to rock to its foundations; mountain ranges are sometimes actually elevated to a height of several feet; rocks topple down; and occasionally there are earth-slips of enormous dimensions. Because he was wroth. God’s anger against the psalmist’s enemies produced the entire disturbance which he is describing.

Ver. 8.—There went up a smoke out of his nostrils. Emissions of smoke are a common feature of volcanic disturbances, with which earthquakes are closely connected. The LXX. give, instead of “out of his nostrils,” in his anger (ἐν ὀργῇ αὐτοῦ, which is better, since the Hebrew prefix בּ, “in,” certainly cannot mean “out of.” And fire out of his mouth devoured. Fire-balls are said to have accompanied some earthquakes, as especially that one by which Julian’s design of rebuilding Jerusalem was frustrated. Coals were kindled by it. The fire-balls above spoken of are declared to have scorched and burnt the workmen employed by Julian (Amm. Marc., xxiii. 1).

Ver. 9.—He bowed the heavens also, and came down (comp. Ps. 144:5). In a storm the clouds do actually descend, and the whole heaven seems to be bowed down to earth. God is said to “come down” to earth whenever he delivers the oppressed, and takes vengeance on their oppressors (see Exod. 3:8; 2 Sam. 22:10; Ps. 144:5; Isa. 64:1, 3, etc.). And darkness was under his feet. A deep darkness commonly accompanies both earthquake and storm. When God actually descended on Mount Sinai, it was amid thunders and lightnings, and “a thick cloud” (Exod. 19:16), elsewhere called “thick darkness” (Deut. 5:22).

Ver. 10.—And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly. The imagery here transcends all experience, and scarcely admits of comment or explanation. God is represented as borne through the heavens, as he proceeds to execute his purposes, by the highest of his creatures, the cherubim. Elsewhere (Ps. 104:3) he sails through the sky supported on clouds. Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind; rather, he sped swiftly (Kay). The verb used is different from that translated “did fly” in the preceding verse. It is applied elsewhere especially to the eagle (Deut. 28:49; Jer. 48:40; 49:22).

Ver. 11.—He made darkness his secret place; i.e. he hid himself amid clouds and thick darkness. In executing his judgments he did not allow himself to be seen. God’s action is always secret and inscrutable. His pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. The original runs as follows: “He made darkness his secret place—his pavilion round about him—dark waters, thick clouds of the skies.” The whole forms one sentence, “his pavilion” being in apposition with “secret place,” and the last clause, “dark waters, thick clouds of the skies,” being exegetical of the “darkness” in the first clause. God’s “pavilion,” or “tent” (סבּה), is mentioned again in Pss. 27:5 and 31:20.

Ver. 12.—At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed. The “brightness” intended is probably that of lightning. The “thick clouds” are riven and parted asunder for the lightning to burst forth. Then come, almost simultaneously, hail stones and coals of fire; i.e. hail like that which fell in Egypt before the Exodus (Exod. 9:22–34), when “there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail” (ver. 24)—a fire which “ran along upon the ground,” or some very unusual electrical phenomenon (see the comment on Exodus in the ‘Homiletic Commentary,’ p. 208).

Ver. 13.—The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice. With the lightning came, necessarily, thunder, rolling along the heavens, and seeming like the voice of God (comp. Job 37:4, 5). Hail stones and coals of fire. The phrase is repeated for the sake of emphasis. The hail and the lightning are represented as conjointly the ministers of the Divine vengeance.

Ver. 14.—Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them. God’s “arrows” are often spoken of. Job felt them within him (Job 6:4). David has already said of them, that they are “ordained against the persecutors” (Ps. 7:13). We may understand by the expression any sharp pains, mental or bodily, which God sends. And he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. The effect of the tempest of God’s wrath is to “scatter” and “discomfit” the enemy (comp. Exod. 14:24). Instead of “and he shot out lightnings,” our Revisers give, and lightnings manifold, which is perhaps better.

Ver. 15.—Then the channels of waters were seen. By “the channels of waters” seem to be meant the torrent-courses, so common in Palestine, especially on either side of Jordan, which convey into it the winter rains. These “were seen,” lit up by the “lightnings manifold,” having previously been in darkness (see vers. 9–11). At the same time, the foundations of the world were discovered. The earthquake (ver. 7) still continuing, the earth gaped in places, and the glare of the lightning enabled the eye to penetrate deep into the solid globe—so deep that it seemed to reach the “foundations.” At thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils (comp. ver. 7, “because he was wroth”).

Ver. 16.—He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. While destruction thus came upon David’s enemies (vers. 12–14), God’s protecting hand was stretched out to save David himself, who was carefully “taken” and tenderly “drawn” forth from among the “many waters,” i.e. the dangers and difficulties which threatened him. Some commentators see in the words used—”he sent, he took me, he drew me”—a tacit reference to Exod. 2:5, 10, and, by implication, a sort of parallel between the deliverance of David from his foes and that of Moses from the waters of the Nile (Kay, Hengstenberg, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’).

Ver. 17.—He delivered me from my strong enemy. This is generally understood of Saul. By the defeat of Gilboa, and its consequences (1 Sam. 31:1–4), God delivered David from the peril of death which hung over him so long as Saul lived. And from them which hated me. David’s enemies among the courtiers of Saul were powerless without their master. Many, probably, fell in the battle; the rest sank into obscurity. For they were too strong for me. I must have succumbed to them had not God helped me.

Ver. 18.—They prevented me in the day of my calamity (comp. 1 Sam. 23:13–15; 24:1–3; 26:1–4, etc.). But the Lord was my Stay. God frustrated all the designs of David’s foes, and prevented him from falling into their hands.

Ver. 19.—He brought me forth also into a large place (comp. Pss. 31:8; 118:5). By “a large place” is probably meant open ground, not encompassed by snares, or nets, or enemies in ambush. He delivered me, because he delighted in me. David now proceeds to explain the grounds of God’s favour towards him. He begins by summing up all in a word, “God delighted in him.” He then goes on to explain the causes of God’s “delight” (vers. 20–26).

Ver. 20.—The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness. David has spoken of his “righteousness” already in Ps. 7:8. We must not suppose him to mean absolute blamelessness, any more than Job means such blamelessness by his “integrity” (Job 27:5; 31:6). He means honesty of purpose, the sincere endeavour to do right, such conduct as brings about “the answer of a good conscience before God” (1 Pet. 3:21). According to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me (comp. Job 27:9; Ps. 24:4). “Clean hands” are hands unstained by any wicked action.

Ver. 21.—For I have kept the ways of the Lord. Compare the statement of the young man whom Jesus “looked upon and loved” (Mark 10:21), “All these commandments have I observed from my youth” (ver. 20). And have not wickedly departed from my God. It is observed that the word translated by “departed wickedly” implies “wilful and persistent wickedness” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’)—”an entire alienation from God” (Calvin). Not even in the humblest of the penitential psalms, when David is bewailing his great offence, does he use this verb of himself. He is an example to all men not to indulge in a false humility, nor employ phrases concerning himself which go beyond the truth.

Ver. 22.—For all his judgments were before me; i.e. “all his commandments” (compare the use of the same word (מִשׁפַט throughout the hundred and nineteenth psalm). And I did not put away his statutes from me. The wicked are said to “cast God’s commandments behind their back” (1 Kings 14:9; Neh. 9:26; Ps. 50:17; Ezek. 23:35). David declares that he had never so acted; he had kept God’s statutes always well before him, had borne them in mind, and given heed to them.

Ver. 23.—I was also upright before him (compare what is said of David in 1 Kings 11:4; 14:8; 15:5). Like Job, he was “perfect and upright”—”one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). And I kept myself from mine iniquity; i.e. “from the sin to which I was especially tempted.” (Kay compares the εὐπερίστατος ἁμαρτία of Heb. 12:1.) But what sin this was, we have no means of determining. All that appears is that David had an inclination to some particular form of sin, against which he found it necessary to be continually upon his guard.

Ver. 24.—Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight. Having set forth the particulars of his righteousness (vers. 21–23), the psalmist returns to his previous general statement (ver. 20), and emphatically reaffirms it.

Vers. 25–28.—A short didactic digression is here interposed, extending the principles on which God has dealt with David and his enemies, to mankind generally (vers. 25–27); after which a return is made to God’s special dealings with David (ver. 28).

Ver. 25.—With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful. The main principle is that God will act towards men as they act towards him. If they are kindly, gracious, loving towards him—for this is what the word chasid means—he will be kindly, gracious, loving towards them, and vice versâ, as explained in vers. 26, 27. With an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; or, a perfect man (Revised Version). The word is the same as that used in Pss. 4:3; 12:1; 31:23; 32:6; 37:28, etc., and generally translated “godly,” or, in the plural, “saints.”

Ver. 26.—With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward; rather, thou wilt show thyself adverse. The same root is not here used for the verb as for the adjective, as is done in the three preceding clauses. The reason is well explained in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary:’ “In dealing with the good, God shows his approval by manifesting attributes similar or identical in essence; in dealing with the wicked, he exhibits attributes which are correlative—in just proportion to their acts,” but not identical. God cannot “show himself froward”—he can only show himself opposed, antagonistic, an adversary. What the psalmist means to say is that, if men oppose and thwart God, he in return will oppose and thwart them. But they will act in a perverse spirit, he in a spirit of justice and righteousness.

Ver. 27.—For thou wilt save the afflicted people; i.e. the oppressed and down-trodden, who are assumed to be pious and God-fearing (comp. Pss. 10:12–14; 11:2, etc.). But wilt bring down high looks (comp. Ps. 101:5 and Prov. 6:17). The fact of “pride going before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” was noticed by the heathen of the ancient world, no less than by the “peculiar people.” And both alike attributed the downfall of the proud to God. “Seest thou,” says Herodotus, “how God with his lightning smites always the bigger animals, and will not suffer them to wax insolent, while those of a lesser bulk chafe him not? How likewise his bolts ever fall on the highest houses and the tallest trees? So plainly does he love to bring down everything that exalts itself. Thus ofttimes a mighty host is discomfited by a few men, when God in his jealousy send panic or storm from heaven, and they perish in a way unworthy of them. For God allows no one to have high thoughts but himself” (vii. 10, § 5). But the heathen seem to have imagined that God envied the proud ones, and therefore cast them down.

Vers. 28–45.—As in the former narrative section (vers. 4–24) David seems to have had his earlier troubles in mind, so, in the present one, his troubles since he entered upon the kingdom seem especially to engage his thoughts. These consisted chiefly of wars with foreign enemies, in which, while he incurred many dangers, he was, upon the whole, eminently successful.

Ver. 28.—For thou wilt light my candle; rather, my lamp—the word generally used of the lamps supported by the seven-branched candelabrum of the tabernacle (see Exod. 25:37; 37:22, 23; 40:25). David himself is called “the lamp of Israel” in 2 Sam. 21:17. The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. The true lamp of David, which “enlightened his darkness,” was “the light of God’s countenance.” While this shone upon him, his whole path was bright, and he himself, reflecting the Divine rays, was a lamp to others.

Ver. 29.—For by thee I have run through
a troop. The military key-note is at once struck. Gĕdûd (
גְּדוּד) is a marauding band of light-armed troops sent out to plunder an enemy’s country. David “ran through” such a “troop,” when he pursued and defeated the Amalekites who had plundered and burnt Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:17). It is called three times a gĕdûd (vers. 8 and 15 twice). And by my God have I leaped over a wall.
Shur (
שׁוּד) is a rare word for “wall,” occurring in the Hebrew text only here and in Gen. 49:22, though used also of the walls of Jerusalem in the Chaldee of Ezra (4:12, 13, 16). It may designate the walls of Jerusalem in this place, and David may intend to allude to his conquest of the stronghold of Zion from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:6, 7).

Ver. 30.—As for God, his way is perfect (comp. Deut. 32:4, “His work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment”). What God does, he does effectually; he does not have recourse to half-measures. The word of the Lord is tried; i.e. the promises of God are sure, they have been tested, and tried as by fire, and will never fail. He is a Buckler to all those that trust in him (comp. ver. 2).

Ver. 31.—For who is God save the Lord? (see Exod. 20:3; Deut. 32:39). As the one and only God, absolute confidence may be placed in Jehovah, who is able to protect and preserve to the uttermost all who serve him (comp. 2 Sam. 7:22–29). Or who is a Rock save our God? (comp. ver. 2; and see also Deut. 32:4, 18, 30, 31; and Ps. 61:2).

Ver. 32.—It is God that girdeth me with strength (comp. ver. 39). And maketh my way perfect. Keeps me, i.e., in the right way—the way of his commandments.

Ver. 33.—He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet (comp. 2 Sam. 2:18; 1 Chron. 12:8; Hab. 3:19). The Israelites reckoned swiftness of foot, agility, and endurance among the highest of warlike qualities. These qualities were needed especially in the pursuit of defeated enemies; and the rapidity of David’s conquests (2 Sam. 5:6–10; 8:1–14; 10:15–19) must be ascribed to them mainly. And setteth me upon my high places; i.e. establishes me in the strongholds that command my extensive territory, and give me secure possession of it, as Zion, Rabbath-Ammon, Damascus, Petra, perhaps Zobah, Rehob, and others.

Ver. 34.—He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms (comp. Ps. 144:1). “A bow of steel” is a mistranslation, since nĕchûsha (נְחוּשָׁה) is not “steel,” but “brass,” or rather “bronze”—and bows of steel were unknown to the ancients. Compare the comment on Job 20:24 (‘Homiletic Commentary,’ p. 342).

Ver. 35.—Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation;
i.e. in battle thou extendest over me the shield of thy protection. Nothing was more common in ancient warfare than for a warrior, while he was engaged in using his offensive weapons, especially the bow, to be protected from the missiles of the enemy by a comrade who held a shield before him. The Assyrian kings were constantly thus defended in battle, and it was even common for an ordinary archer to be similarly guarded (see ‘Ancient Monarchies,’ vol. ii. pp. 30, 32, 33, for illustrations). And thy right hand hath holden me up. The “right hand” is always spoken of as the arm of greatest strength (comp. Pss. 44:3; 45:4; 48:10; 60:5, etc.). And thy gentleness hath made me great; rather, thy condescension (Kay)—the quality in God which most nearly corresponds to humility in man. The word is not elsewhere used of God.

Ver. 36.—Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. Job often complained that God “hedged in his steps” (3:23) and “fenced up his way” (19:8), so that he had no liberty of movement. David enumerates among the blessings which he receives of God, the freedom which he enjoys (comp. Ps. 31:8). He is at liberty to go where he likes. and also his footsteps “do not slip.” This is rather an independent clause than a consequence. Translate, and my ankles slip not.

Ver. 37.—I have pursued mine enemies and overtaken them (see 1 Sam. 30:8–17; 2 Sam. 8:1–13; 10:6–18). Neither did I turn again till they were consumed. The greatest severities exercised by David seem to have been those against Edom (1 Kings 11:15, 16) and Ammon (2 Sam. 12:29–31). Otherwise he would seem not to have used, with any great harshness, his rights as a conqueror.

Ver. 38.—I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. It is remarkable that the nations which David subdued scarcely ever, while he lived, rose up again in revolt.

Ver. 39.—For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle. Having boasted of his own actions during the space of two verses (vers. 37, 38), David falls back upon his habitual acknowledgments, that all which he has done has been done wholly through the strength of the Divine arm, which has upheld him, sustained him, and given him the victory. Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me; rather, thou hast bowed down mine adversaries under me (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne).

Ver. 40.—Thou hast also given me the
necks of mine enemies;
i.e. “thou hast made them turn their backs upon me in flight” (comp. Exod. 23:27, where the same expression is used). That I might destroy them that hate me. David must not be supposed to speak from personal animosity. He expresses himself as the king of God’s people, bound to do his utmost to protect them, and to deliver them from the enemies who “hate” him only because he is the leader and champion of his countrymen. The neighbouring nations in David’s time seem to have been bent on the total extirpation of the Hebrew people.

Ver. 41.—They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. It seems strange, at first sight, that the heathen enemies of David should “cry unto the Lord,” i.e. to Jehovah; and hence some have been driven to suppose that a victory over domestic enemies is here interpolated into the series of foreign victories. But it seems better to explain, with Hengstenberg and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ that the heathen did sometimes, as a last resort, pray to a foreign god, whom they seemed to find by experience to be more powerful than their own (see Jonah 1:14). Jehovah was known by name, as the God of the Israelites, to the surrounding nations. Mesha mentions him upon the Moabite Stone; and Sennacherib declared, by the mouth of Rabshakeh, “Am I come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord (Jehovah) said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (2 Kings 18:25).

Ver. 42.—Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind (comp. Ps. 35:5). The enemy were beaten and dispersed so that they seemed driven as dust before the wind. I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets. They were made no account of, treated with as little ceremony as the clay in the streets. Language of utter contempt.

Ver. 43.—Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people. David now approaches his conclusion. In one verse he at once sums up his past deliverances and anticipates fresh glories. God has delivered him from the strivings of those who were hostile to him among his own people (see vers. 4–18), and has also given him victory over the heathen. In the future he will do even more. And thou hast made me the head of the heathen. The antithesis between “people” (עָם) and “heathen,” or “nations” (גוֹיִם), is unmistakable. The long series of David’s victories have made him “head” over the latter. This is less clearly seen in the history of David’s reign than in the description given of the state of the kingdom inherited from David by Solomon (1 Kings 4:21, 24). A people whom I have not known shall serve me. It is not clear that this was ever fulfilled literally in the person of David, and we are entitled to explain it as a Messianic prophecy, parallel with that of Ps. 2:8.

Ver. 44.—As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me; literally, at the hearing of the ear. But the meaning is that given in the Authorized Version. The words aptly describe the conversion of the Gentiles (see Acts 10:34–48; 13:48; 17:11; 18:8, etc.). The strangers shall submit themselves unto me; literally, the sons of the stranger shall pay court to me—not necessarily a false court, as Hengstenberg and others suppose, but, as Dr. Kay explains, an “obsequious and servile homage.”

Ver. 45.—The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places. Converts are represented as coming into the Church, not merely from love, but partly from fear. The kingdom of the Redeemer at once attracts and alarms. So Isaiah says, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.… The sons also of them that afflict thee shall come kneeling unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet, and they shall call thee, The city of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 60:12–14; see also Micah 7:16, 17).

Vers. 46–50.—This glorious and triumphant psalm concludes with a solemn ascription of praise, blessing, and thanksgiving to Almighty God—partly recapitulation of what has preceded (vers. 47, 48), partly additional (vers. 46, 49, 50). Terms of praise are accumulated, and the whole is made to culminate in a Messianic burst, where David is swallowed up in his “Seed;” and the “Anointed King” presented to our view is rather the antitype than the type—rather Christ Jesus than the son of Jesse.

Ver. 46.—The Lord liveth. God was known to Israel as “the living God” from the time of Moses (Deut. 5:26). The epithet exalted him above all other so-called gods, who were not living (comp. 2 Kings 19:4; Isa. 37:4, 17; Dan. 6:26). But it had also a very precious, absolute meaning. God’s life was the source of man’s. It was through God (who had life in himself) breathing into man the breath of life that man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Hence “the living God” (Ps. 42:2) is “the God of our life” (Ps. 42:8). And blessed be my Rock (see vers. 1, 31). In blessing “his Rock,” David blesses God for his qualities of firmness, steadfastness, and trustworthiness. And let the God of my salvation be exalted. “The God of my salvation” is a favourite phrase with David (see Pss. 25:5; 27:9; 38:22; 51:14; 88:1). Other writers use it rarely. When David prays that the God of his salvation (i.e. the God who continually saves him and preserves him) may be “exalted,” he probably desires that he may be praised and honoured of all men.

Ver. 47.—It is God that avengeth me; rather, even the God avengeth me (comp. vers. 3, 6, 14, 17, etc.). And subdueth the people under me; rather, the peoples; i.e. the nations (comp. vers. 37–42).

Ver. 48.—He delivereth me from mine enemies. The “deliverance” was especially from domestic foes (see vers. 17, 19). His foreign foes seem never to have brought David into much peril. Yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me. The “lifting up” was above enemies of both kinds (see ver. 43). Thou hast delivered me from the violent man (comp. ver. 17). There is no reason to doubt that in both places Saul is intended. He was at once David’s “enemy,” and a “man of violence.” Were the question open otherwise, it would be closed by the statement in the title.

Ver. 49.—Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen. As, in some sense, “the head of the heathen” (ver. 43), David was bound to offer prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving “among them,” if it were only to teach them by his example, and lead them on towards the worship of the true God. And sing praises unto thy Name; i.e.
to thy Person—God being in his Name.

Ver. 50.—Great deliverance giveth he to his king; literally, he magnifies salutations to his king. The primary reference seems to be to the gracious message which God sent to David by Nathan when he had brought the tabernacle into Jerusalem, and purposed to build a “house” worthy of it (see 2 Sam. 7:8–16). God had then “saluted” David as “his servant” (ver. 5), and sent him a message of the most gracious character, even promising the kingdom to him and to his seed “for ever” (vers. 13, 16). And showeth mercy to his anointed, to David. No doubt David is primarily intended, both by the “king” of the first clause, and by the “anointed” of the second; but the combination of the two, and the immediate mention of the “seed” which is to reign “for ever,” carry the passage beyond the psalmist individually, and give to the conclusion of the psalm, at any rate, a semi-Messianic character. As Hengstenberg says, “Psalms of this kind are distinguished from those which may more strictly be called Messianic, only by this—that in the latter the Messiah exclusively is brought into view, while here he is presented to our notice only as a member of the seed of David” (‘Commentary on the Psalms,’ vol. i. p. 324, Engl. trans.).


Vers. 25, 26.—God’s revelation of himself is suited to man’s capacity. “With the merciful,” etc. We see what we have eyes to see; hear what we have ears to hear; feel what we have capacity to feel. Suppose four listeners to the same piece of music. To one, with a critical ear, it is a rendering, good or ill, of the musician’s composition; to a second, a strain of national music; to a third, full of memories of childhood; to a fourth, who has no ear for music, a tedious noise. Suppose a group watching a lamb skipping in a field. One is a painter; another, a naturalist; another, a shepherd; another, a butcher. Each sees something the rest cannot see. Perhaps a simple Christian coming by sees what none of them perceives—a reminder of the good Shepherd, who gathers the lambs in his arms. As in outward things, so in spiritual. As with bodily sight, hearing, feeling, so with spiritual perception. He that has eyes will see. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Therefore the lesson of the text is a great and widely applicable truth—God’s revelation of himself is suited to men’s spiritual capacity. Different souls get different views of God.

I. This is true of God’s dealings. 1. They appear different to different eyes. Visit two homes, perhaps in the same street, in which there is similar trouble—sickness, or bereavement, or failure in business, or sore poverty. In one, all is gloom, repining, comfortless perplexity. In the other, there is light in the darkness, a rainbow on the storm. To one sufferer God’s ways are hard, dark, mysterious; he is even ready to think them unjust. The other says, “I could not bear it in my own strength, but the Lord stands by me and strengthens me. God’s will must be right. He cannot make mistakes or be unfaithful. He is my Refuge and Strength.” So with God’s government of the world and general providence. One mind fastens on the pain, sorrow, calamity, which every hour records—pestilence, earthquake, tempest, and so forth. Another sees that the universal design and general working of all natural laws is for good and happiness, not evil; that the main part of human suffering has its root in sin; that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord;” and trusts God for the rest. 2. God’s dealings not only appear different; they are and must be different, according to the temper and attitude of our souls. To the soul that bows under God’s hand, trusts his Word, clings closer to him in trial, it is “chastening”—full of mercy, rich in result (Heb. 12:6, etc.). The proud, stubborn heart, that resents and rebels against affliction, is hardened by it, like Pharaoh.

II. It is so with God’s Word. Come to the Scriptures in a cavilling, critical, hostile spirit, and they will teem with difficulties. Read them carelessly, scornfully; they will be dull and lifeless. Search them, with an earnest desire to know the truth, with prayer for the Holy Spirit’s teaching, with candour and humility; they will “talk with thee” (Prov. 6:22), and unfold their secrets. Thou shalt hear God’s own voice speaking to thy soul; and find what the Thessalonians found (1 Thess. 2:13).

III. So it was with our Lord Jesus. Isaiah’s prediction was fulfilled (Isa. 53:2, 3). Scrupulously religious persons, but blinded by self-righteousness, could no more see his glory than sceptics, hypocrites, or scoffing triflers (Matt. 13:14, 15). But his disciples—those who first believed on him, and then lived in close converse with him—could say, “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14).

Conclusion. So it is to-day. This is a universal law—What God is to you—what Christ is to you, shows what you are, and determines what you shall be. The gospel is an open secret, but still a secret, from proud, worldly hearts. The physician is for those who are sick and know it. The Saviour is for sinners who feel themselves sinners. The living water will not flow into a vessel turned upside down. Heaven itself would be no heaven to a heart full of love of the world, of self, of sin, and void of love to God.

Ver. 35.—Our exaltation through God’s gentleness. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” “Gentleness!” A most remarkable and wonderful word to apply to the Almighty Creator, the infinite God! Nowhere else do we find it thus applied. As applied to men, the Hebrew word so rendered here means “meekness,” “lowliness.” We are reminded of our Saviour’s words, “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” “Gentleness” is a very happy and beautiful translation. “Condescension,” which the Revisers give in the margin, would not be nearly so apt. It reminds us of Ps. 113:6. But there the leading thought is the glory and condescension of God; here, our exaltation through his gracious gentleness.

I. The gentleness of God’s providence is the safeguard of all our welfare, the condition of all human greatness and prosperity. Human life is like a flower, that can thrive only if fenced from storms and frosts. We are in a world filled with forces which, if they broke loose, would be our destruction. There is power sleeping in the winds and waves to wreck or drown all our navies; in earthquakes, to overthrow all our cities; in blight and insect ravages, to destroy our harvests. Even the light snowflakes, if they fell for a fortnight twenty feet deep all over our land, would turn it into a desert of the dead. On the other hand, how gently those immense forces work which minister to life! How smoothly earth flies in her yearly circle! No eye, or ear, or sense of ours can make the vapour rising from the ocean to fill the springs and water the plains; the secret ministry of the world of plants to the life of the animal world—pouring forth from numberless millions of millions of invisible mouths vital air, and removing what otherwise would soon poison and stifle us; or the pulse of growth in bud and blade, leaf, flower, and fruit, in spring and summer, as the returning tide of life answers to the gentle sunshine. “He causeth the grass to grow,” etc. (Ps. 104:14, 24, 27; 2 Cor. 9:10). How gently the great machine works! How gently the sunbeam touches the eye, after its flight of over ninety millions of miles in eight minutes! How gently the force of gravity, that holds suns and worlds in their places, draws the child’s foot to the ground and poises the gnat in the air! True, nature has a stern side, by fixing our thoughts on which a gloomy view may be made out. But take in the whole scope of natural law and Divine providence. For one city overthrown by earthquake, how many have stood safe for ages! For one shipwreck, how many prosperous voyages! For a season of local scarcity, how many plenteous harvests! For one home in mourning, how many bright with health and love!—how many happy years, perhaps, in that very home! In a word, our Saviour sums up all we can say of the gracious gentleness of our Father’s providence (Luke 12:6, 7; Matt. 6:26–30).

II. The gentleness of God’s revelation of himself in his Word is our highest wisdom. The Bible is a wonderfully different book from anything the wisest of men could have imagined as a revelation of God. Philosophers and men of genius, had they been consulted, would have agreed that it must be a book for the select few, not the multitude. The notion of teaching peasants, slaves, children, the deep things of God, would have seemed to them folly. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” He has given us a book for the cottage, the schoolroom, the sick-chamber, as well as for the college, the palace, the cathedral. A compilation of short books that look as though collected by chance, yet with wondrous living unity. Depth is concealed by clearness; sublimity by simplicity. Its deepest, highest lessons are given in words a child may understand. No words are too homely, no similitudes too humble, if only they can point the arrow of truth, or wing it home to the heart. We read of God’s eye, ear, hand, face; his throne, footstool, sword; of his remembering, forgetting, being angry, grieved, repenting, being well-pleased (look at Amos 2:13; Mal. 1:6; Isa. 1:3, 14, 18; 49:15, 16; Rev. 7:17). A long unlovely name has been invented by learned men to express this setting forth of Divine things in human language, “anthropomorphism.” It is used as though a reproach, indicating the ignorance and narrowness of the sacred writers. Suppose the Bible had been a book to please philosophic critics, what would have been its value to mankind? Suppose our heavenly Father had disdained to speak to us in our own language, how should we have learned that we are his children? The aim of his Word, his message to men, is not to make us philosophers, but to bring us sinners home to God. That teaching which best secures this end is worthiest of God.

III. The gentleness of God is the encouragement of our prayers. It would seem reasonable for God to say to us, “Prayer is needless; I know all your wants and desires. Presumptuous; I am the Judge, not you, of what is best. Useless; you cannot change my all-wise purposes.” Then we should have been deprived of the main comfort of life; our sheet-anchor in trouble; our closest, happiest, highest fellowship with our Maker and Father. Look at Abraham interceding for the guilty cities; Moses interceding for apostate Israel; Jonah crying from the sea-depths; Peter praying by the corpse of Dorcas; Paul over that of Eutychus. Read the promises to prayer. Consult the experience of all Christians in all ages. In prayer, our weakness takes hold on God’s strength. His gentleness makes us great.

IV. Lastly, God’s gentleness is seen in his mercy towards sinners. The Bible, like Nature, has a severe side; a severity solely aimed against that which is man’s deadliest enemy—sin. It is possible so to read it that terror and judgment seem to overshadow mercy and love. This is to misread it utterly. It is to forget that the terrible judgments it records—such as the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom, the plagues of Egypt, the destruction of the sinful nations, the overthrow of Jerusalem, of Babylon—stand as sure warnings, indispensably necessary, in the long thousands of years during which God has made the sun to shine and his rain to fall on the evil and unthankful, “not willing that any should perish.” (Matt. 5:45; 2 Pet. 3:9). Above all, the crowning revelation of God to man, for which the whole Old Testament law and history were the preparation, is “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” He is “the Brightness of the Father’s glory, the express Image of his Person.” All power is his. That brightness might have blinded us; that power crushed us. But “though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.” His gentleness makes us great. He stoops to lift us to God. Jesus, the Man of sorrows, the Friend of sinners, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, weeping by the grave, bidding the weary come to him for rest, taking the children in his arms, washing his disciples’ feet, led as a lamb to the slaughter, praying for his murderers, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, asks us, as he asked his apostles, “Have ye understood all these things?” And if our hearts can answer, “Yea, Lord,” he replies, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”


Vers. 1–50.—The conqueror’s song of praise and hope. It is not our purpose, nor is it our province, in this section of the ‘Pulpit Commentary,’ to write homilies on specific texts; but rather to deal with this psalm (as we have done with others) as a whole—for it is a unity—and to show how grand a basis it presents for the pulpit exposition of the provisions of “the everlasting covenant” to which allusion is made in the last verse of the psalm. The student and expositor might with advantage refer at the outset to Isa. 55:3, “I will give you the sure mercies of David,” with the view of showing that the promises made to David do immeasurably transcend any merely personal reference; that they include all the blessings which come to us through him who, though David’s Son, was yet David’s Lord. There is no reason to doubt the Davidic authorship of the psalm. There are, moreover, more data than most psalms present, to aid us in deciding the approximate date of its composition. We have it recorded in 2 Sam. 22:4–51. This gives us one historic clue to its date. Besides, the tone of triumph which is heard throughout it was scarcely heard in the later days of David, after his great crime had darkened the remainder of his earthly life. Vers. 19–24 could scarcely have been written after that catastrophe, even though it be urged that David writes rather of his administration as king than of his behaviour as a man. Regarding, then, the inscription at the head as showing us the occasion on which the psalm was first penned, and taking into account the prophetic far-reachingness of its closing words, we are called on to view it in a double aspect—one historical, the other typical.

I. Let us sketch its contents as historically referring to King David and his conquests. 1. Here is a distinct reference to David as king. And while we should miss very much of the significance of the psalm, were we to omit the larger view to which we shall presently refer, yet, on the other hand, if we omit the strictly historical application, our use of the psalm will be strangely incomplete. As, without the historic setting, there would be no basis on which to set anything further, so, without the larger view, there would be no adequate superstructure set up upon that basis. Combine both, and the glory of the psalm stands forth as combining inspiration and revelation in the contents of this triumphant song (see ver. 50, where the remarkable phrase occurs, “his king;” i.e. God’s king). David was God’s appointed king for Israel, and as such he tunes his harp for Jehovah’s praise. 2. With David as king, God had made a covenant. This is implied in ver. 50, where the mercies already granted are referred to as pledged “for evermore.” 3. David had been plunged into fierce conflict. (See vers. 4, 5.) The study of David’s life will furnish us with a host of facts in this direction. 4. Conflict had driven him to earnest prayer. (Ver. 6.) Again and again had he passed through this experience (see Pss. 34:6; 138:3). The believer’s most piercing cries are sent upward to God, when he is being pierced by the sharpest arrows of affliction. How is it that we so often need the pressure of sorrow to quicken us from languor in prayer? Sad,—that prayer should be forced out rather than drawn out! 5. Prayer had been followed by timely deliverance. This is set forth in poetry which is truly sublime (see vers. 7–16). The Divine deliverance was seen: (1) In girding the assailed one with strength (ver. 39). (2) In rescuing him from his pursuers (ver. 16). (3) In causing the foe to be prostrate under the conqueror’s feet (ver. 40). (4) In bringing forth the conqueror to liberty and gladness (ver. 19). 6. Such deliverance led him to triumph in God. It may be asked, however, “Is not such joy in God rather of an inferior order, when it arises because God has done for us just what we wished?” Perhaps so. But that is not a correct setting of the case before us. It is this: God had promised deliverance. David pleaded with God on the ground of the promise; and he found the great Promiser true. Hence the jubilation. When prayers that are presented on the basis of God’s promise are abundantly answered, gratitude may well burst forth in holy song (see vers. 1, 2). What joy to a believer to read in the trials and reliefs of life a perpetual revelation of the loving-kindness of God! 7. The mercies of the past assure him of help in the
future. (Ver. 50.) “For evermore.” Even so. So often has prayer been turned to praise, so often have we cast our burden at God’s feet, and borne a song away, that we cannot doubt him now. Rather will we sing, “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” God has helped us, and will “for evermore.”

II. Let us note its contents typically, as fulfilled and fulfilling in One who is of David’s seed, yet is David’s Lord. Although it is easy to explain the greater part of the phrases of this psalm by incidents in David’s personal career, there are some which seem to tower above his or any man’s experience, and which can be adequately interpreted only as the psalm is regarded as having not only historical meaning, but also typical and predictive significance. How this manifests itself will appear, we trust, from the present outlines. 1. The kingship of David was not only personal, but also typical and prophetic. That such was the case may be gathered from the last verse of this psalm, and also from a study of the following passages: 2 Sam. 7:12–16; 23:2–5; Pss. 16:8–10; 89:20–37; 132:11–18; 110; Matt. 22:41–45; Acts 2:25–36; 13:32–37. That gracious redemptive work, which began with the calling out of Abraham (Isa. 51:2, Hebrew), was being carried forward through David with a view to its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated on David’s throne. And the glory of King David is infinitely surpassed in David’s Lord; while the promises made to David and his seed are made over to all who are in blessed covenant relation to God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa. 55:3). 2. The Lord Jesus and his saints are gone forth to war. (Ver. 34.) In a high and holy sense, as the kingship of David was typical, so also were his wars. One of the early visions of the seer of Patmos indicated this. He sees One who speaks of himself as the Root and Offspring of David (Rev. 22:16) going forth conquering and to conquer (Rev. 6:2); and, indeed, the entire Book of the Apocalypse might be called the ‘Book of the Wars of the Lord.’ 3. The issue of the great conflict is already foreseen. The “for evermore” with which the psalm closes spans the whole of the present dispensation, and reaches forward to the time when Jesus shall have “all enemies beneath his feet.” This is beyond doubt. The everlasting covenant is “ordered in all things and sure.” 4. Ere this final victory, there will intervene many a struggle and many a rescue. While David’s Lord is on high, controlling the conflict, and administering all, the saints are in the midst of the struggle. As individuals they are called to “wrestle against the world-rulers of darkness.” Ministers of the gospel are to “endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” And the Church, as a whole, will have to undergo many a severe struggle. At times it may seem as if the cause were all but lost. But the great Commander will ensure his army all timely rescue as well as final triumph. 5. All the enemies of Christ will be put to shame. (Isa. 60:12; Rom. 16:20; Ps. 18:40–42; also vers. 13, 14, 45.) 6. The great King will receive the homage of the peoples, and be exalted above all. (Vers. 43, 44.) The expression in ver. 43, “the Head of the nations,” can be fully accomplished only in Christ as our victorious Lord. “All nations shall serve him.” 7. All who are now fighting on the King’s side will share his victory. That which is the result for David is ensured also to “his seed” (ver. 50). As our Lord is not alone in the war, so he will not be alone when the war is over. His triumph will be that also of those who are his. 8. The result of all will be a new disclosure of God. (Vers. 1, 2, 30, 31, 46, 47.) Just as David’s career was ever unfolding to him the faithfulness and love of God, so will the result of the Church’s conflict reveal to believers how great, how vast, was the scheme of mercy for men’s deliverance, and for the discomfiture of the powers of ill. The glory of God will stand out revealed in the day of final triumph, putting doubts and fears to flight, as his love stands forth vindicated in the glorious result of all. And the oft-repeated Scripture phrase, “They shall know that I am the Lord,” will be fulfilled with a glory and grandeur beyond our utmost stretch of thought. 9. All this is now God’s noblest prophecy, and will be hereafter the theme of the saints’ noblest song. Ps. 18 may well be regarded as finding its exposition, its supplement, in Rev. 5 In the psalm we have God’s providences forecast; in the Apocalypse we have God’s providences reviewed. In the former David’s conquests are recited; in the latter the conquests of the Root of David. In the former we have the song of the victorious David; in the latter the new song of the victorious Seed of David. And by as much as David’s Lord is greater than David, by so much will the new song of the redeemed transcend the noblest flights of Hebrew praise.—C.

Vers. 1–50.—A retrospect of life. The sailor tells of the perils of the sea; the traveller recounts the varied incidents of his career; and the soldier who has passed through battles and sieges can speak of hairbreadth escapes and moving accidents by flood and field. So it is with human life. We have the power of looking back; we can in imagination revive the past, and as scene after scene rises before us, our heart is thrilled with various emotions. And what we have experienced and recalled, we can set forth to others. The opening of this psalm is very touching and beautiful. It is as if the fire which had been burning within could no longer be restrained. The psalmist’s pent-up feelings must find an outlet. Before and beyond all, he must let his full heart speak. “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.” This may be regarded as the key-note, and it is touching how the psalmist dwells upon it, with variations, as if he could not let it go (ver. 2). Love to God was not an impulse, or the result of purposes, but the very habit and delight of his soul. Name after name, and epithet after epithet, is pronounced, each having its own peculiar associations, and each not only expressing, but exciting his love the more. In this retrospect of life we have—

I. The perils escaped. Various images are employed. We see how enemies increased and dangers thickened. In the midst of one terrible scene of tumult and storm, where all perils are gathered into one, the psalmist seems about to be engulfed. But in his helplessness, the hand of God from out of the cloud lays hold of him, and draws him forth from the great waters. His cry for help was not in vain. So let us remember with gratitude God’s goodness. There are some that dishonour the great memories of life, because they forget God. Let us acknowledge the hand of God, not only in the crises of our life, but also in the countless instances in which God has shielded us from dangers that we knew not, and saved us from evils and mischances of our daily life which else might have been our ruin.

II. The principles evolved. Trials are a test. There are certain principles which we should do well to hold fast, whatever comes. 1. God’s Fatherly care. Relation stands. God does not change his love, though he may change his ways. Through all afflictions he cleaves to his people, and his people should cleave to him. 2. The efficacy of prayer. There are infinite resources with God, but they are only available to us by prayer. We may not be able to see how help can come, or relief may reach us in ways different from what we expected; but let us have faith in God’s Word. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” To this David and all the saints bear witness. 3. That all things are working to a perfect end. God is just, and will do justly. God is good, and he cannot will us aught but good. Let us trust him utterly. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:26; Rom. 8:28).

III. The blessings enjoyed. Light shines in the darkness. Strength is evolved out of weakness. Progress is made in spite of opposition. Peace is enjoyed in the midst of trouble. Hope is cherished in the face of difficulties and sorrows. Victory is assured over every foe. And why? Because God is with his people (vers. 31–45).

IV. The acknowledgments demanded. (Vers. 46, 50.) The psalm concludes with a joyous burst of praise, in which, with brief touches, scenes previously described are recalled, and the rich fulness of the Divine goodness is set forth. There is personal thanksgiving for God’s love and mighty works. But there is more. There is the acknowledgment of God as the God of all flesh—not only of David and of Israel, but of all nations. And there is the grand hope expressed that, as God had brought the nations around within the dominion of Israel, so he would draw all the nations of the earth within the benign and blessed rule of Messiah (Rom. 15:9). “In Christ, the Son of David, David’s fallen throne has lasting continuance; and in him everything that was promised to David’s seed has eternal truth and reality. According to its final prospect, the praise of Jahve, the God of David, his Anointed, is praise of the Father of Jesus Christ” (Delitzsch).—W. F.

Ver. 35.—A God-made man. We often hear of what are called self-made men; but here is something nobler by far—a God-made man. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” We learn from this text that—

I. Man is capable of greatness. At first, man was made great, for he was made in the image of God. But he sinned and fell. Still, the capacity remained. Hence there was misery. Ambition wrongly directed became a bane. Powers and cravings that rose above earthly things left the heart unsatisfied. To be great, man must be raised from his fallen state, and renewed in the spirit of his mind. Love is the spirit of greatness; service is its test, and power with man is its proof. He is the greatest who serves his brethren best in love.

II. That God is able to make man great. It has been said that “some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them;” but this is a low and false view of greatness. It is of the earth, earthy. True greatness does not come from without, but from within; it is not a thing of circumstances, but of character; it does not depend upon the will of other men, but upon the spirit that dwelleth in us. We must be great in heart before we can be great in life. When God would make a man great, he not only gives him the right spirit, but submits him to a process of education and discipline. God has already made many great. Think of the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, and the exceeding great multitude of the saints of every kindred and tongue; all these would acknowledge, with glad and grateful hearts, that they owed everything to God. Their confession would be, “We are his workmanship” (Eph. 2:10; Rev. 4:10).

III. God makes men great by his gentleness. Force may overcome force, but it cannot win the heart. If we are dealt with in the way of terror and wrath, our tendency will be to resistance, aversion, and alienation. Severity may be, at times, necessary, but it is not severity but love that conquers. Mark God’s gentleness: 1. In his manifestation of himself in Christ. 2. In the love of the Spirit in the Word. 3. In the gracious discipline of Providence. We have in the life of David a beautiful example of the way in which God makes a man great. In the Gospels we have the true doctrine as to greatness (Matt. 20:26), and illustrative facts of the most convincing kind. See how Matthew was called; how Zacchæus was raised to a nobler life; how Peter and the rest of the apostles were trained to humble and loving service in behalf of their fellow-men. These, and such as these, will be hailed as truly great men when kings and conquerors, and all the “laurelled Barabbases of history,” who have lived only for themselves, are forgotten.—W. F.

Vers. 1–50.—The retrospect of a life: a sermon for the close of the year. “In this magnificent hymn the royal poet sketches in a few grand outlines the history of his life. By God’s help he had subdued every enemy, and now, in middle life, looking back with devout thankfulness on the past, he sings this great song of praise to the God of his life.” Divisions of the psalm: 1. The introduction, setting forth all that Jehovah is to David (vers. 1–3). 2. The record of David’s sufferings and peril, and the mighty deliverance by which he was rescued (vers. 4–19). 3. The reason for this deliverance, in the character of God and the principles of his government (vers. 20–30). 4. The blessings which David had received in his life; his own preservation and that of his race; help and strength in battle, rule over all enemies (vers. 31–45). 5. Joyful thanksgiving and acknowledgment of all God’s mercies (vers. 46–50). The general subject of the psalm is—The retrospect of a life. The interest of such a retrospect depends on the following conditions:—

I. Whether a man has had a history or not. (Ver. 43.) Anything to distinguish his life from the uneventful lives of the myriads who are born, pass through life, and die, and leave no trace behind them. But Moses and David, Paul and others, gave birth to history, and have mingled in the greatest affairs of a nation and of the world, and have much to think of and celebrate when they look back. So of modern great men. They animated and created their opportunities. Have we made our lives in any way worth looking back upon? Domestic history. Thinkers as well as actors make history. What Christ has done.

II. Whether a man has seen God in his life or not. (Vers. 19, 29, 32, 39.) To most men God has been only remotely related to their lives—a power at the back of things generally, but not occupying every single event and experience of their existence. To David and all the great saints of the world, God was everything and everywhere in his life. God had anointed him for every work and every office; and every event was a manifestation of his love and righteousness and power. The consciousness of such a past is very grand and elevating. Our life is rich or poor accordingly. Sense of God in common life and duties.

III. Whether the life has been righteous or wicked. (Ver. 20.) We turn our eyes from a life that has been ill spent, and are filled with reproach and sorrow. If we know that we have lived a wicked life, we know that we are unworthy and guilty, and are self-condemned. Whether David wrote this psalm before or after his sin with Bathsheba, we cannot say; but he affirms his righteousness in the most emphatic way. “He has kept the ways of the Lord, and has not wickedly departed from him.” Such a retrospect is full of deep power and sense of triumph.

IV. Whether a man has achieved his objects or not. (Vers. 37, 38, 48.) David was a king, and had been in many wars and troubles; but he had, through God, triumphed over all his difficulties and foes. How many of us fail, or only partly succeed, in the things we aim at, because we have been profane and faithless!

V. Whether we have a future to anticipate, as well as a past to remember. To some the past is all; they have no future. But David had a bright future as well as a glorious past. “In thy presence is fulness of joy,” etc.—S.



The nineteenth psalm is one of meditative praise. The psalmist, looking abroad over the whole world, finds two main subjects for his eulogy—first, the glorious fabric of the material creation (vers. 1–6); and, secondly, the Divine Law which God has given to man (vers. 7–11). Having thus poured out his heart in praise and thanksgiving to God, he turns his eye inward upon himself, and finds many shortcomings (ver. 12). The thought of these leads him to prayer, and so the hymn concludes with a few short petitions (vers. 12–14).

Rhythmically, the divisions correspond to the changes in the thought. There is first a stately movement, continued for six verses, devoted to the glories of the universe; then a livelier strain in longer (mostly double) lines, praising the Law of the Lord, and extending to five verses only; finally, a conclusion in short, broken lines, limited to three verses.

The psalm is generally allowed to be David’s, and is declared to be his by the title. There are no internal indications by which to assign it a date.

Ver. 1.—The heavens declare the glory of God; literally, the heavens are recounting the glory of God—of El, “the Mighty One”—the God of nature (see Rom. 1:20). David is perhaps carrying out his declared intention (Ps. 18:49) of “praising God among the heathen,” and therefore takes their standpoint—the ground of nature. And the firmament showeth his handywork. (On “the firmament,” see Gen. 1:6, 20.) It is the entire atmosphere enveloping the earth, in which the clouds hang and the birds move. Like the starry heavens above, this, too, “showeth,” or rather, “proclaimeth,” God’s handiwork.

Ver. 2.—Day unto day uttereth speech; literally, poureth out speech, as water is poured from a fountain. Each day bears its testimony to the next, and so the stream goes on in a flow that is never broken. And night unto night showeth knowledge. Dr. Kay compares St. Paul’s statement, that “that which may be known of God” is manifested to man through the creation (Rom. 1:19, 20). A certain superiority seems to be assigned to the night, “as though the contemplation of the starry firmament awakened deeper, more spiritual, thoughts than the brightness of day.”

Ver. 3.—There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard; rather, there is no speech, there are no words; their voice is not heard; i.e. the speech which they utter is not common speech—it is without sound, without language; no articulate voice is to be heard. (So Ewald, Hupfeld, Perowne, Kay, Hengstenberg, Alexander, and our Revisers.)

Ver. 4.—Their line is gone out through all the earth. It is much disputed what “their line” means. The word used, qav (קַו), means, ordinarily, a “measuring-line” (Ezek. 47:3; Zech. 1:16, etc.), whence it comes to have the further sense of a terminus or boundary; that which the measuring-line marks out. It is also thought to have signified an architect’s rule; and, hence, anything regulative, as a decree, precept, or law (see Isa. 28:10). The LXX. translated it in this place by φθόγγος, “a musical sound;” and Dr. Kay supposes “the regulative chord,” or “key-note,” to be intended. Perhaps “decree” would be in this place the best rendering, since it would suit the “words” (millim) of the second clause. The “decree” of the heavens is one proclaiming the glory of God, and the duty of all men to worship him. And their words to the end of the world. Though they have neither speech nor language, nor any articulate words, yet they have “words” in a certain sense. Millim is said to be used of thoughts just shaping themselves into language, but not yet uttered (Kay). In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun. God has made the heavens the sun’s dwelling-place, the place where he passes the day. There is, perhaps, a tacit allusion to the Shechinah, which dwelt in the tabernacle of the congregation.

Ver. 5.—Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; literally, and he is as a bridegroom. The bridegroom went forth to meet the bride in glorious apparel, and “preceded by a blaze of torch-light” (Kay). The sun’s “chamber” is where he passes the night—below the earth; from this he bursts forth at morning in his full glory, scattering the darkness, and lighting up his splendid “tabernacle.” And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race (comp. Judg. 5:31, “As the sun when he goeth forth in his might“). The Prayer-book Version, if less literal, better conveys the spirit of the original.

Ver. 6.—His going forth is from the end of the heaven. The poet, like other poets, describes the phenomena as they appear to him. He does not broach any astronomical theory. And his circuit (i.e. his course) unto the ends of it;
i.e. he proceeds from one end of the heavens to the other. And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. Many things are hidden from the light of the sun, but nothing from its “heat,” which is the vital force whence the whole earth receives life and energy.

Vers. 7–11.—The transition from the glories of the material universe to the “law of the Lord” is abrupt and startling. Some go so far as to say that there is no connection at all between the first and second parts of the psalm. But it is the law and order that pervades the material universe which constitutes its main glory; and the analogy between God’s physical laws and his moral laws is evident, and generally admitted (see the great work of Bishop Butler, part i.).

Ver. 7.—The Law of the Lord is perfect. Whatsoever proceeds from God is perfect in its kind; his “Law” especially—the rule of life to his rational creatures. That salvation is not by the Law is not the fault of the Law, but of man, who cannot keep it. “The Law” itself “is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). Converting (rather, as in the margin, restoring) the soul. The word employed, mĕshibah, is used of restoring from disorder and decay (Ps. 80:19), from sorrow and affliction (Ruth 4:15), from death (1 Kings 17:21, 22). The Law, by instructing men, restores them from moral blindness to the light which is theirs by nature (Rom. 1:19), and, as a further consequence, in many cases, restores them from sin to righteousness. The testimony of the Lord is sure. ‘Eduth—the word translated “testimony”—is employed especially of the Decalogue (Exod. 25:16, 21, 22, 26; Numb. 9:15; 17:4; 17:10, etc.); but may be regarded as one of the many synonyms under which the whole Law may be spoken of (see Ps. 119:2, 14, 22, 24, 88, etc.). The Law is “sure”—i.e. fixed, firm, stable—in comparison with the fleeting, shifting, unstable judgments of human reason. Making wise the simple; i.e. enlightening their moral judgment.

Ver. 8.—The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; rather, the precepts of the Lord are right. Another of the many synonyms under which the Law may be spoken of (see Dr. Kay’s preface to the hundred and nineteenth psalm). God’s precepts “rejoice the heart” of the godly. They are not felt as stern commands, but as gracious intimations of what God desires man to do for his own good. The commandment of the Lord is pure; i.e. spotless, clean, without fault (comp. ver. 7, “The Law of the Lord is perfect”). Enlightening the eyes; i.e. giving light to the intellect.

Ver. 9.—The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. Hengstenberg explains “the fear of the Lord” in this place as “the instruction afforded by God for fearing him.” And certainly, unless we adopt some such explanation, we shall find it difficult to account for the intrusion of the clause into its present position. The Law, the testimony, the statutes (or precepts), the commandment (vers. 7, 8), and the judgments (ver. 9), are external to man, objective; the fear of the Lord, as commonly understood, is internal, subjective, a “settled habit of his soul.” It is not a thing of the same kind with the other five nominatives, and appears out of place among them. Hence it seems best, with Professor Alexander, to adopt Hengstenberg’s explanation. The Law, viewed as teaching the fear of God, is undoubtedly “clean”—i.e. pure, perfect—and “endures for ever,” or is of perpetual obligation. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. In “judgments” we have another of the recognized synonyms for the entire Law (Ps. 119:7, 13, 43, 52, 62), which is from first to last “exceeding righteous and true” (Ps. 119:138, Prayerbook Version).

Ver. 10.—More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. (For the difference between “gold” (זהב) and “fine gold” (פז), see the ‘Homiletic Commentary on Job,’ p. 458.) God’s Law is a far greater good to man, and therefore far more to be desired, than any amount of riches; much more must it be preferable to honey and the honeycomb.

Ver. 11.—Moreover by them is thy servant warned. This verse is a sort of connecting link between the second and the third parts of the psalm. Through its subject-matter, which is still the Law of the Lord, it belongs to the second part; but metrically, and by the introduction of the person of the psalmist (“thy servant”), it belongs to the third. David feels that to him it is the crowning excellency of the Law, that it teaches, instructs, or “warns” him. And in keeping of them there is great reward. Not only the reward promised in Exod. 15:26, or “the recompense of the reward” laid up for men in heaven, but a present reward “in the act of keeping them” (Kay). Obedience, like virtue, is its own reward.

Vers. 12–14.—A consideration of the Law cannot but raise the thought of transgression. Man “had not known sin but by the Law” (Rom. 7:7), and he cannot contemplate the Law without being reminded of possible disobedience to it. The psalmist’s thoughts are led in this direction, and he ends with an earnest prayer against “secret sins” (ver. 12), against “presumptuous sins” (ver. 13), and against sins of word and thought (ver. 14), addressed to “God his Strength [or, ‘his Rock’] and his Redeemer.”

Ver. 12.—Who can understand his errors? rather, who can discern (or, perceive) his errors? i.e. all of them. Who will not overlook some, try as he may to search out his heart? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Those which are hidden from me, which I cannot discern.

Ver. 13.—Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins (comp. Exod. 21:14; Numb. 15:30; Deut. 17:12). Wilful, intentional, deliberate sins are intended—such as cut off from grace. They are called “presumptuous ones,” being “personified as tyrants who strive to bring the servant of God into unbecoming subjection to them” (Hengstenberg). Let them not have dominion over me (comp. Ps. 119:133; Rom. 6:14). Then shall I be upright; or, “blameless” (ἄμωμος, LXX.). And I shall be innocent from the great transgression. There is no article in the original. Translate, and innocent of great transgression (see the Revised Version).

Ver. 14.—Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. Nor let my doings only be righteous; let the door of my lips be kept, that I utter no evil word, and the recesses of my heart be purged, that I think no evil thought. O Lord, my strength; literally, my Rock (צוּדִי), as in Ps. 18:1. And my Redeemer (comp. Ps. 78:35; and see Gen. 48:16; Exod. 15:13; Lev. 25:48; Ruth 4:4; Job 19:25; Isa. 63:9). As applied to God, the word “Redeemer” (גוֹאֵל) always means a “Deliverer” from sin, or death, or danger.


Vers. 12, 13.—The saint’s prayer against sin. “Cleanse thou me.” Natural theology, revelation, spiritual experience,—these are the three successive spheres of thought through which this wondrously beautiful psalm leads us. God in nature; God in Scripture; God in the heart and conscience to which he manifests himself. And in this last sphere, reading the psalm with Christian eyes, we can see what the inspired psalmist “desired to see, but saw not”—God in Christ. First (as in Ps. 8), David lifts up his eyes to the sky; and as he beholds the starry host in its silent unswerving march, the moon walking in brightness, marking, as she waxes and wanes, the lapse of days and months; the sun coming forth in morning splendour, accomplishing his appointed journey, and leading the seasons in his train,—the royal singer sees in all this a perpetual revelation of the glory of God, his wisdom, power, goodness, and unchanging law. Whether men attend to it or not, the revelation is there.

“What though no real voice or sound,” etc.

Then the psalmist’s mind rises to contemplate a higher region, in which a nobler law than the laws of nature reveals God’s glory—the region of thought, duty, spiritual life. Compared with this, all outward beauty and order are but a passing shadowy show. “The Law of the Lord,” etc. (ver. 7). Lastly, conscience opens the windows of the psalmist’s own inmost soul, and lets the light of this glorious and perfect Law shine in. “In keeping … reward” (ver. 11). Yes. But is that reward mine? Have I kept this glorious and perfect Law? If I have not wilfully broken and presumptuously despised it, yet has not my best obedience come immeasurably short? “Who can understand his errors?” And then the lofty and almost jubilant tone of the psalm is subdued into lowliness, and it closes with prayer, “Cleanse,” etc. In these closing verses there is progress and climax. (1) Secret faults, from which the psalmist prays to be cleansed; (2) presumptuous sins, from which he prays to be kept; and (3) great transgression, of which he trusts God will hold him guiltless.

I. Secret sins. Perhaps St. Paul had this passage in his mind (Rom. 2:12, 16). There are two sorts of sin, widely different, which may be called “secret sins.” (1) Sins which the offender practises secretly, and carefully keeps secret; (2) sins into which we fall unawares, and which are a secret even from ourselves. Of both kinds those solemn words are true (Ps. 90:8). Not seldom, the searching light of the great day is anticipated, and a hidden course of sin brought to light, to the confusion and ruin of the sinner. Of all the sad sights that meet the eye, and well-nigh break the heart of the Christian pastor, incomparably the saddest is when one who has lived in honour and esteem among his fellow-Christians, perhaps far on in middle life, or even in old age—active and prominent as a Christian worker; alas! in some cases even in the Christian ministry—is suddenly discovered to have been secretly leading a dishonest, impure, or intemperate life (like a tree, hollow at the heart, suddenly uprooted). Such cases not merely grieve; they astound. They give terrible point and emphasis to the question, “Who can understand errors?” (for, you observe, the word “his” is inserted). Who can unravel the deceitfulness of sin, or comprehend its folly, or picture the inward anguish of a life of “secret sin,” hidden under a surface of apparent godliness and Christian activity? Evidently, however, it is the other kind of sins of which the text speaks—sins which God sees in us, though we see them not in ourselves. This is clear, firstly, because of the tone of intense sincerity pervading this psalm; secondly, because the word here rendered “cleanse” means “to absolve,” or “set free from guilt.” It is the same rendered “innocent” in ver. 13 (Revised Version, “clear”). We must include, however, the idea of actual inward cleansing, by the Holy Spirit, of the thoughts, desires, and affections, from which such sins spring; because, wherever God bestows pardon, he gives grace to “follow after holiness.” That such sins are sins, and need God’s forgiveness, is plain from the fact that we blame ourselves on discovering them. “I was wrong; I did not see it: I meant to do right, but I see I was very wrong.” We failed to see what a larger exercise of charity, or humility, or sympathy, or care and attention, would have enabled us to see. We judged too harshly, hastily, ignorantly. We were absorbed in some agreeable duty, and neglected a more urgent but uninteresting one. How often we bitterly blame ourselves for what at the moment we never thought wrong; perhaps even prided ourselves upon! If we ourselves often make this discovery, what a multitude of sins hidden from our forgetful memory and imperfectly enlightened conscience, must lie naked and open to him who sets “our secret sins in the light of his countenance” (Heb. 4:13)! What need to pray, “Cleanse,” etc.!

II. Here is, secondly, a class of sins regarding which the psalmist prays, not to be pardoned for having committed, but to be “kept back”—withheld, restrained altogether from committing them: “presumptuous sins.” The best commentary here, because the one we may suppose the psalmist to have had in mind, is in the Law of Moses (Numb. 15, especially vers. 27–31). These are the sins of which St. John says that the true child of God does not commit sin (1 John 3:9). He has fully taught that real Christians do commit sin, and need forgiveness (1 John 1:9, 10; 2:1). But not wilful sin—sin “with a high hand” (1 John 5:18). A child of God knowingly and perversely disobeying God, despising God’s Law, defying Divine justice, practically denying the Lord that bought him, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace, is an impossible supposition—a practical contradiction. Yet, how significant is it, that David prays to be “kept back” from even such sins—restrained by a power not his own! He even sees peril of sinking into abject bondage: “Let them not have dominion over me!” These are the sins of which our Lord speaks (John 8:34). The more willingly and wilfully a man sins, the more does he forge fetters for himself, and become “tied and bound.” With profound humility and knowledge of his own heart, the psalmist feels that he has in himself no security. “Is thy servant a dog?” said Hazael (2 Kings 8:13); but he did it (Prov. 28:26; 1 Cor. 10:12; Ps 119:117).

III. Great transgression. What the psalmist humbly prays, he confidently hopes. That he may “absolved,” “held guiltless,” or (as ver. 12) “cleansed.” This cleansing, as it regards sins actually committed, is what St. John calls being cleansed by “the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:7); St. Paul (Rom. 5:9), “being justified by his blood;” St. Peter (1 Pet. 1:2), “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” To forgiveness, the idea of practical holiness, actual purity, is added by the word “upright;” literally (as Revised Version), “perfect;” namely, with that perfection of which Scripture so often speaks—integrity; whole-hearted sincerity. What may we understand by “great transgression,” from which the psalmist hopes to be clear? It seems to correspond to the “sin unto death” of which St. John speaks (1 John 5:16, 17). Hence was drawn the famous attempt to classify sins: (1) “mortal,” or “deadly;” (2) “venial,” capable of forgiveness. The fatal mistake is in trying to judge of sins apart from the person who sins. What is a sin of ignorance in one may be a presumptuous sin in another. The sin of which one repents and finds forgiveness may in another be a sin against so much light and grace that it is impossible to renew to repentance (Heb. 6:4, 6)—”a sin unto death.” Let us not pry into that dark abyss; but seek to keep far from its fatal brink. Only remember and be sure of this—sorrow for sin and desire for pardon and purity are a sure proof that no unpardonable sin has been committed. God “pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel”—the message of his grace and love in Christ Jesus. To every one—whatsoever his sins may be—who can truly make this prayer his own, the Saviour answers as of old, “I will: be thou clean.”


Vers. 1–6.—The voice of God in his works. There is enough in this psalm for twenty discourses. But in this department of the ‘Pulpit Commentary’ it is not our province to dwell on specific texts, however attractive, but to indicate how by a homiletic exposition of the psalm as a whole, it may be brought home to us for everyday life in the continuous unfolding of the Scripture. At the same time, the two divisions of the psalm are so entirely distinct that they call for separate treatment, as they open up to the preacher entirely different branches of thought and instruction. There is no reason to question the Davidic authorship of the psalm, but it is so couched that from its contents there is nothing by which we can infer either its authorship or date; and it so speaks to man as man, that it is of equal value by whomsoever or whensoever it was penned. We have in its first six verses a rehearsal of the voices of God in the firmament above. And we gather from the forms of expression that the writer was accustomed to speak of natural phenomena in the language of his day. In his view the firmament of heaven spread out as a hemisphere above the earth, like a splendid and pellucid sapphire, in which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews believed there was a heavenly ocean. The Bible was not meant to teach science, but to teach God. Science has to do with the matter, order, and laws of the creation. In religion we have to do with the great Author of all. And while we find the writer far enough away from our present conceptions of what the heavens are, we find he is one to whom God had spoken as Jehovah, the great I am—and who had been taught God’s Law to man as well as God’s utterances in nature. And as God’s voices to us have become clearer than they were in the psalmist’s time, by his revelation in Christ Jesus, so the glory of his works has become amazingly clearer through the discoveries man has made therein; and he will fall very far short of a suitable setting forth of the truths of this first half of the psalm, who does not utilize the recent discoveries of science as a pedestal on which to set, in clearer and fuller ways, Jehovah’s glory! The expositor is bound to show how gloriously science helps religion, in furnishing him with new material for setting forth the greatness of God! An unfolding of the verses before us will lead us along several lines of thought, with which we propose to deal cumulatively.

I. There are natural objects and facts here specified. The heavens. The firmament. The sun. The orderly succession of day and night. In regard to each of these, science helps religion. And grand as was the scene in olden time to the natural eye, and with all the imperfections of ancient knowledge, the grandeur is unspeakably vaster now, owing to discoveries which have since been and are still being made (The expositor of this psalm needs to read up to date in astronomical researches.)

II. Among them there is incessant activity. “The heavens declare,” etc. Their activity is not conscious on their part, but it is nevertheless real. Light is ever acting on the vegetable world, and helps to open the petals of the flower, to give blossom its colour, and fruit its sweetness. Thus there is a reciprocal relation established between the sunbeam and the plant. So also is there between the stars above us and the mind of man. And though they utter not a word (ver. 3, Hebrew), they are sounding forth a message to the soul of man. “Their line is gone out,” etc. (ver. 4). The word “line” is one of much interest. It meant, first, any cord or string; then a string stretched out so as to emit a musical sound; then the sound emitted by the string; then a full musical chord.

“For ever singing, as they shine,

‘The hand that made us is Divine!’ ”

III. These activities are wondrously varied. The four verbs used here are all of them exceedingly expressive. The heavens are telling the glory of God, recounting it to us as in the pages of a book; the firmament is showing his handiwork, setting it before our eyes as in a picture; day unto day welleth forth speech, pouring it out as from a fountain; night unto night breatheth out knowledge, breathing it out gently so that the attentive listener may hear. “During the French Revolution, it was said to a peasant, ‘I will have all your steeples pulled down, that you may no longer have any object by which you may be reminded of your old superstitions.’ ‘But,’ replied the peasant, ‘you cannot help leaving us the stars.’ ”

IV. With all this variety of expression, they tell of a creating power. “The glory of God;” “The firmament showeth his handiwork.” When this is said, there are two points involved—one implied, the other expressed. It is implied that man has the faculty of understanding these varied forms of expression. Surely a perceived object implies a perceiving subject, and a message addressed implies the existence of those by whom it can be understood. The question of the origin of things will, must, come up; quite irrespectively of method, there will be the question of cause. The old design argument is valid as ever, though it may need to be thrown into a different form. That which it requires mind to understand, must à fortiori require the equivalent of mind to bring into being. From nature’s framework, power, wisdom, benevolent adaptation, order, etc., are manifest. Even the objection raised from the existence of wasted seeds, abortive organs, rudimentary and undeveloped possibilities, comes to nought when it is remembered that no atom of matter is wasted, but, if unused at one moment, is worked up again in other collocations. The advance of the most cultured thought at the present time is remarkable. The old atheism is now out of date; and so, intellectually, is even the old agnosticism. It is behind the times. The latest developments of Darwinism honour God. But while on the ground of knowledge and culture, intellect must admit the existence of “a Power above us,” it is only the lowly, devout, and loyal spirit that will see God in all things, and enjoy all things in God.

V. God’s message from the heavens is responded to in holy song. Whoso forgets the title of the psalm will miss much of its beauty and glory. It is meant for the choirmaster. It is to be set to music, and uttered in song. Poetry, music, song, are the audible response of man to the inaudible voices of the day and of the night. Through the stars, God speaks to man without words; with his voice man speaks to God. Thus the universe is one grand antiphony. God’s music delighting man; man’s music adoring God. The heavens speak to us of God; we respond to the God of heaven.

Note: Although we do not wish here to anticipate unduly the teaching of the second half of this psalm, yet we may be permitted to remark that, glorious as the music of the heavens is to those who have ears to hear, yet there is another message from the eternal throne, which alone tells us the thoughts God has towards us, and which, when understood and received, does touch our hearts and move our tongues to louder, sweeter, tenderer song than ever nature’s glory could inspire.—C.

Vers. 8–14.—The voice of Jehovah in his Word. The Prophet Isaiah, in his forty-fifth chapter, and in the eighth and ninth verses, refers both to the work of God’s hands in the world which he has created, and to the words of his lips in the promises he has made; and in both cases it is said, “not in vain.” “Not in vain” is the earth formed; “not in vain” is the promise uttered. In both there is a Divine aim and purpose. That antithesis between the works and the Word of God is more ancient than Isaiah’s day. It goes back to the time of Moses, who in the ninetieth psalm speaks to God as the Ever-living One, the Framer of the earth, and yet the Refuge of his people. And between Moses and Isaiah, in this nineteenth psalm we have the like distinction drawn. Its first six verses refer to God’s works in the world, the rest, to his words in the Word. Seven lines of exposition are required for their unfolding.

I. The heavens speak of God; the Word declares Jehovah. It is too commonly supposed that the use of the several words “Elohim” and “Jehovah” indicates a difference either of date, of document, or of authorship. There does not seem to us to be any adequate ground for such distinctions. As we in one and the same sermon or tract may use a dozen different names for God, why may it not have been so of old? The word “Elohim” indicates God as the God of nature. The word “Jehovah” points to him as the revealed God of our fathers. And it is from our own revealed God that the Word proceeds, from the depths of his heart; it is far more than any works of his hands. Hence the change of the word “God” to the word “Jehovah.”

II. Jehovah, the revealed God, has put before us priceless material for our use. There are six various terms to indicate this. Law; or the great body of truth in which God would have his people instructed. Testimony; or the Divine declaration as to what he is, has done, is doing, and will do. Statutes; or precepts, which indicate specific duty. Commandments; or rules for the regulation of the entire life. Fear; i.e. that fear of him, so repeatedly enjoined, and which in an infantine age was the predominant view of duty towards God. Judgments; the right-settings, in the Divine declarations pronounced against sin and in favour of righteousness. Let us put all these together, and lo! how rich are we in having all these voices from the eternal throne! But how much richer still are we in having the words of the New Testament economy superadded to those of the old!

III. The words of Jehovah are as remarkable for quality as for variety. The very names given to them are inspiring: “perfect,” “sure,” “right,” “pure,” “true,” “righteous,” “standing fast.” These several terms may be gathered up into three—true in statement, right in direction, everlasting in their duration. Even so. In the words of God we have absolute truth. In the precepts of God we have perfect directories for life and duty. And we know that, change what may, time is on our side, for “the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” Note: The words of God in the Bible are the only ones to which these epithets apply. Then it will be a very serious mistake if in school education or family training we ever allow the Bible to be crowded out or set on one side. For we must note—

IV. That the words of God are addressed to the innermost part of our nature. (Ver. 7, “the soul.”) Although this word, in Hebrew, is very frequently used in as free and popular a sense as it is with us, yet, on the other hand, it often denotes the highest part of our nature—even that which pertains to spirit, conscience, and to the regulation of the moral life of man. Such is the case here; as, indeed, the marvellous effects of the Divine Word (as pointed out under the next heading) plainly indicate. So much is this the case, that the Word is regarded even here as “dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow,” and as a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Old Testament conceptions of man and of sin are very deep and very solemn. As the late Dr. Duncan, Professor of Hebrew, rightly remarked,126 “The Hebrew language is peculiarly rich in religious and moral terms, though scanty enough in others. The reason is evident—it chronicled a revelation.”

V. The effect of God’s words are as marvellous as their contents and aim. Some six of these are specified in the psalm. And one other is illustrated by its writer. The six effects referred to are: 1. Converting the soul. Restoring it, calling it back from its wanderings, and causing it to return to God and home. 2. Making wise the simple. Where the words of God are read, studied, appropriated, by an honest and upright heart, they will lead in the way of understanding, and make wise unto salvation. 3. Rejoicing the heart, by their disclosures of God’s glory, grace, wealth, and love. To those who drink in the Word, God is their “exceeding Joy.” 4. Enlightening the eyes. This may mean either illumination or refreshment, restoring life and fainting energies (cf. 1 Sam. 14:24, 29). The former meaning, “illumination,” is triply true; for God’s commandments enlighten a man concerning God, duty, and himself. There is nothing like the searching Word to reveal to us what we are. 5. Warning is another effect. The exhortations to good and the dissuasion from evil are standing menaces of the peril of refusing the one and choosing the other. 6. Reward. No one can follow the commandments of God without ensuring a rich, ample, constant recompense.

Another effect of the Word of God is illustrated by the writer of this very psalm, who shows us the influence it had upon him. It awoke from him an earnest, prayerful response, awakened by the sight of himself which the commandment gave. The prayer is threefold—against involuntary, secret, and presumptuous sins. It is: 1. Cleanse me, which has a double meaning of “Pronounce me clean, and keep me so.” 2. Keep me back. It is a prayer that the restraining grace of God may keep in subjection a wayward and impulsive nature. 3. Accept me. (Ver. 14.) It is an earnest prayer that at the moment the Word reveals his guilt, the grace of God may cover it with the mantle of forgiving love, and receive him in spite of all his guilt. And to this prayer there is appended an earnest plea. The praying one invokes two of the names of God in which the Old Testament saints were wont most to delight, “My Rock” and “my Redeemer.” The word translated “Redeemer” is specially noticeable. It is Goël. (For illustrations of the use of the former word, see Deut. 32:4, 31; 2 Sam. 22:32; Pss. 62:2, 6, 7; 73:26; Isa. 26:4. Of the latter, see (in Hebrew) Numb. 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Job 19:25; Isa. 41:14; 43:14; 60:16; 63:16.) Note: (1) How unspeakable is the mercy that, though our guilt might well make us dread the approach to a holy God, yet his grace is such that we may flee to him and find deliverance there! The same Word which unbares our sin also reveals his grace. (2) The revelation of God through the stars will not suffice for us; we want the word of promise too. (3) Those who most luxuriate in the Word should also, more than others, luxuriate in the works of God. (4) Those who accept both know perfectly well that nothing in the book of nature can run counter to the book of grace.—C.

Vers. 1–14.—Nature as a preacher. Mark—

I. The grand subject. “The glory of God.”

II. The splendid audience. “All the earth.”

III. The faithful delivery. Marked by truth, freshness, constancy, impartiality (vers. 1–4). Other preachers cannot continue by reason of death. Hence there is change. One succeeds another. But this preacher goes on without break or weariness from day to day and age to age, bearing witness for God (Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:17).

IV. The diverse results. Minds vary. Where there is freedom of thought, there will be difference of opinion. When Paul preached at Athens, “some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again on this matter. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed” (Acts 17:32–34). And so it is here. Some hear, and others hear not. Some recognize God’s presence and working, and give him praise, and others deny that in all they see there is anything more than the evolution of matter, and the play of cause and effect.

V. The necessity of the Word. Nature can teach, but only such as are susceptible. It can proclaim the glory of God, but only to such as have already been brought to the knowledge of God. Our minds have been darkened and deadened by sin. Nature cannot tell us how sin is to be taken away. It is dumb as to a Saviour. It cannot inspire hope. It cannot convert the soul. Hence the necessity of the Word—of the Law by which is the knowledge of sin, and the gospel which reveals to us a Saviour. It is those who have been brought to the knowledge and love of God through Jesus Christ who are best able to appreciate the service of nature.—W. F.

Vers. 7–10.—The Word of God. This passage may be regarded as teaching three things concerning the Word of God, or the Bible.

I. What it is. Six names are used, and six different statements are made with regard to the Bible. 1. It is “the Law of the Lord,” and, as such, it is “perfect.” 2. It is “the testimony of the Lord,” and, as such, it is “sure.” In it God speaks with solemn earnestness and insistence, and what he says may be trusted. 3. It is “the statutes of the Lord;” and the statutes of the Lord are “right.” The way of duty is clearly and unmistakably marked out. 4. It is the “commandment of the Lord.” It is not mere counsel or instruction, but has all the authority and awfulness of “commandment.” And as such it is “pure,” clear as crystal, illuminating as the light. 5. It is “the fear of the Lord.” This may stand for religion (Prov. 15:33; cf. Deut. 17:19), and as such it is “pure and undefiled.” It is “our reasonable service.” 6. Lastly, the Bible is spoken of as “the judgments of the Lord.” This refers to the administration of the Law. God’s “judgments,” being the execution of his will, must be “true.” Based upon the eternal principles of right, they must themselves be eternal.

II. What the Bible does. 1. “It converts the soul” (Ps. 23:3; 1 Tim. 1:15). 2. It “makes wise the simple” (Ps. 119:130; Acts 16:31). 3. It “rejoices the heart” (Ps. 119:162; Acts 8:39). 4. It “enlightens the eyes” (Ps. 16:11; Eph. 1:18, 19). 5. It “endureth for ever” (Ps. 100:5; 1 John 2:14–17). What is here stated as doctrine is elsewhere illustrated as fact. It is, as we believe the doctrine, that we shall become witnesses to the facts (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pet. 1:23–25).

III. What the Bible deserves. We have it in our hands. We have heard its character, and the claims made in its behalf, and what is our response? The language employed by the psalmist fitly expresses what our feelings and conduct should be, how we should treat God’s most Holy Word. 1. It deserves to be valued more than gold. 2. It deserves to be loved and delighted in as “sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.” 3. It deserves to be studied and obeyed with increasing devotion; for thereby our minds are enlightened, and our lives illumined, and great is our reward in purity and peace and the love of God. And if we have learnt its preciousness ourselves, we shall surely labour to make it known to others, that they also may be enriched by its treasures and blessed with its joys.—W. F.

Vers. 1–10.—God’s revelation of himself in nature and in his Word. In nature it is continuous. Day utters speech unto day, night unto night. It is speechless; it has a language, but it is not articulate. It is universal. Gone out through all the world, and through all time. In his Word it has a converting power—power to make wise, to rejoice the heart and enlighten the eyes. It endures for ever; unlike the firmament, and is entirely true and righteous.

I. A comparison of these two revelations. 1. Both reveal God’s glory. The heavens reveal his glory by day and by night. But our solar system is but the glory of a single point of light, when compared with the glory of all the systems that fill infinite space. But quality rather than quantity is the test of the glory of any work. To redeem and reclaim a world of souls from the ruin of sin transcends the work of creating and sustaining all the suns and the stars of the universe; and this is the glory of God’s Word. 2. Both contain important instruction. “Day unto day uttereth speech” (ver. 2). “The testimony of the Lord is sure [or, ‘true’], making wise the simple.” To the devout mind nature suggests more than it directly teaches—the Sun of Righteousness, the mighty Quickener and Joy of darkened souls. Christ the great Bridegroom of the Church. But the Word uttered by prophets, Christ, and inspired men, expels our ignorance upon the topics most necessary to our highest well-being. They make us truly wise. 3. Both demand study and labour to enjoy their blessings. Great things can benefit us only by the exercise of earnest and inquisitive thought. La Place and Newton thus came to understand the science of the heavens; Milton and others, their poetry; and David and others, their religion. We benefit by the Word in a similar way. Study leading to practice and experience will open its stores of truth to us.

II. A contrast of these revelations. 1. The one universal, the other partial. Every one not born blind has seen the heavens; there are millions who have never heard of Christ. God does some things by taking them entirely into his own hands; but he takes us as fellow-labourers in the work of making known his Word. 2. The one is full of great spiritual energies; the other is not. Material things can do only material work; nature cannot alter a depraved will or heal a wounded conscience. Spiritual forces must rouse spiritual natures like ours. Christ is the Word of God, and can give the highest deliverance and salvation which souls need. Makes us wise with the noblest wisdom, gives light to the mind. The one rejoices the senses, the other the heart. The mourner can be made to sing, the captive to leap for joy, the heart-broken to laugh with gladness, the penitent to receive peace. Nature can do nothing of this to any extent.—S.

Vers. 11–14.—Man’s relation to the Divine Law. The former part of the psalm is a comparison and a contrast between God’s revelation of himself in nature and in his Law. Now the psalmist passes on to consider his own relation to the Divine Law; what light it throws upon his character and circumstances, and what rewards it bestows upon those who abide in the steadfast observance of it.

I. What the Divine Law taught the psalmist. (Vers. 12, 13.) 1. His manifold sins and errors. “Who can understand his errors?” Who can tell how often he offendeth? Our sins and mistakes are greater in number than we can understand or reckon. Our moral infirmity is greater than we can estimate. 2. That he was largely an ignorant transgressor. “Cleanse thou me from the sins that I know not of.” Arising from self-deception and self-ignorance. Others see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. The proud and covetous and unjust do not think themselves so. Cleanse us from the pretence to virtues which we have not. 3. To pray for deliverance from the temptation to deliberate sins. That he might not commit presumptuous, wilful sin. He does not ask for the pardon of such sins, but to be restrained from them. “If we sin wilfully after that we have come to the knowledge of the truth,” etc. No sacrifice in the Jewish Law for such sins.

II. The Law greatly rewards the steadfastly obedient. (Vers. 11, 14.) 1. By giving them an increasing spirit of consecration. “Let my words and meditations and actions be more and more acceptable in thy sight.” Obedience leads to further obedience, and longs for nothing short of being perfectly acceptable to God. 2. By giving a more perfect consciousness of God’s acquaintance with our thoughts and ways. The whole passage shows that, as well as the fourteenth verse. The disobedient think they can hide their ways from God. “How doth God know?” The obedient know that all things are naked and open before him; and rejoice in the thought, because they are aiming at what is acceptable to him. 3. By revealing God as a sure, faithful Redeemer from all evil. A rock is the image of faithful stability, and means that God will not swerve from his promise of redemption. The disobedient are the unbelievers; they attribute their own mind to God, and so cannot trust him.—S.

Ver. 14.—A sacrifice and a prayer. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.” Let us look at this language—

I. As offering a sacrifice. The thoughts and feelings of the soul uttered and unuttered. 1. The sacrifice is spiritual. Words and meditations. Man’s heart is the most precious thing God has created—the jewel of the universe. The thoughts that come out of the heart and the words that utter them—these are the precious treasures the psalmist offers before God. 2. The sacrifice is complete. The words of the mouth and the meditation of the heart indicate the whole man. This is the Christian view of man’s priestly work—the presenting of body and soul as living sacrifices. Not a partial offering of one part of our lives, nor of the outward apart from the inward life, but the total consecration of our whole being. 3. This offering is not acceptable to God on its own account. It is acceptable to God on account of the great expiatory sacrifice, and because that has brought us into a new and peculiar relation with God. Intrinsically, the offering is not acceptable. For all man’s words taken together, what are they? Our words when they utter our most religious thoughts, our truest deepest faith, our most rapturous love, our triumphant hope and praise, are unworthy of being thus offered. But when you add the words of every day and every employment, these are vain, proud, irreligious, sometimes blasphemous. And then our thoughts! But God in Christ is pleased with our offering. A child’s letter is pleasing to its father because it is his child’s.

II. As containing a prayer. Then what do they imply? 1. That God alone can deliver him from the sins he prays against. From secret and presumptuous sin. A faith is implied that God would so deliver him. They may have a wider meaning 2. That God is the Inspirer of right words and right thoughts. “Make my words and thoughts such as shall be acceptable in thy sight.”

III. The warrant for offering both sacrifice and prayer. The psalmist felt that God was his Rock and his Salvation. Stability and deliverance are the principal thoughts here.—S.



This psalm seems to have been composed for a special occasion, when David was about to proceed on an expedition against a foreign enemy. It is liturgical, and written to be recited in the court of the tabernacle by the high priest and people. The date of its composition is after the transfer of the ark from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David (2 Sam. 6:12–19), as appears from ver. 2. The conjecture which attaches it to the Syrian War described in 2 Sam. 10:17–19, is probable. There is no reason to doubt the authorship of David, asserted in the title, and admitted by most critics.

The psalm divides into two portions—the first of five, and the second of four verses. In the first part, the people chant the whole. In the second, the high priest takes the word, and initiates the strain (ver. 6), while the people join in afterwards (vers. 7–9).

Ver. 1.—The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble. The people intercede for their king in a “day of trouble” or “distress,” when danger impends, and he is about to affront it. They are made to ask, first of all, that God will hear the king’s prayers, which are no doubt being silently offered while they pray aloud. The Name of the God of Jacob defend thee. (On the force of the expression, “the Name of God,” see the comment upon Ps. 7:17.) “Jacob’s God”—a favourite expression with David—is the God who made him the promise, “I will be with thee, and I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest” (Gen. 28:15). “Defend thee” is scarcely a correct rendering. Translate, exalt thee.

Ver. 2.—Send thee help from the sanctuary. “The sanctuary” here is undoubtedly the holy place which David had established on Mount Zion, and in which he had placed the ark of the covenant. God’s help was always regarded as coming especially from the place where he had “set his Name.” In the original it is, “Send thy help”—the help thou needest and prayest for. And strengthen thee out of Zion; rather, support thee.

Ver. 3.—Remember all thy offerings. (On David’s offerings, see 2 Sam. 6:13, 17; 24:25; 1 Chron. 15:26; 16:1; 21:28; 29:21.) It is not to be supposed, however, that David ever sacrificed victims with his own hand, or without the intervention of a priest. And accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah. It is a reasonable conjecture that the “Selah” here marks a “pause,” during which special sacrifices were offered, with a view of entreating God’s favour and protection in the coming war (Hengstenberg).

Ver. 4.—Grant thee according to thine own heart; i.e. whatever thy heart desireth “in connection with this expedition, all that thou hopest from it, all that thou wouldst have it accomplish.” And fulfil all thy counsel; i.e. make all thy plans to prosper.

Ver. 5.—We will rejoice in thy salvation. David’s “salvation” is here his triumph over his enemies, which the people confidently anticipate, and promise themselves the satisfaction of speedily celebrating with joy and rejoicing. And in the Name of our God we will set up our banners. Plant them, i.e., on the enemy’s forts and strongholds. The Lord fulfil all thy petitions. A comprehensive prayer, re-echoing the first clause of ver. 1 and the whole of ver. 4, but reaching out further to all that the monarch may at any future time request of God. The first part of the psalm here ends, and the people pause for a while.

Ver. 6.—Now know I. The employment of the first person singular marks a change in the speaker, and is best explained by supposing that either the high priest or the king himself takes the word. The offering of the solemn prayer (vers. 1–5) and of the sacrifices (see the comment on ver. 3) has been followed by a full conviction that the prayer is granted, and the triumph of David assured. What was previously hoped for is “now known.” That the Lord saveth (or, hath saved) his anointed (comp. Ps. 18:50). He will hear him from his holy heaven; literally, from the heaven of his holiness. With the saving strength of his right hand. God will hear him, i.e., and, having heard him, will help and defend him “with the saving strength of his right hand.”

Ver. 7.—Some trust in chariots, and some in horses. The enemies of David towards the north—Syrians of Zobah, and Maachah, and Damascus, and Beth-Rehob—were especially formidable on account of their cavalry and their chariots. David on one occasion “took from Hadarezer, King of Zobah, a thousand chariots, and seven thousand horsemen” (1 Chron. 18:4). On another he “slew of the Syrians seven thousand men which fought in chariots” (1 Chron. 19:18). His own troops appear to have consisted entirely of footmen. But we will remember the Name of the Lord our
God. Our trust, i.e., shall be in the Lord, who has commanded our kings “not to multiply horses” (Deut. 17:16).

Ver. 8.—They are brought down and fallen; but we are risen, and stand upright. Confident of the result, the speaker represents it as already achieved. He sees the enemy bowed down to the earth, and fallen; he sees the host of Israel erect and triumphant. All stands out clearly before his vision, as though he were an actual spectator of the fight.

Ver. 9.—Save, Lord! This punctuation is adopted by Delitzsch, Kay, Professor Alexander, Hengstenberg, and our Revisers; but is opposed by Rosenmüller, Bishop Horsley, Ewald, Hupfeld, Cheyne, and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary.’ It has the Hebrew Masoretic text in its favour, the Septuagint and Vulgate against it. Authorities are thus nearly equally balanced on the point; and we are at liberty to translate either, “Save Lord: may the King hear us when we call!” or, “O Lord save the king: may he hear us when we call (upon him)!” On the whole, perhaps, the former is preferable (see the arguments of Professor Alexander, ‘Commentary on the Psalms,’ p. 94).


Ver. 5.—The safeguards of prayer. “The Lord fulfil all thy petitions.” An amazingly bold wish! Especially if you read it in the light of ver. 4, “Grant thee thy heart’s desire!” It might be the worst wish we could express—even for a good man—that God would grant him all he desires. It is written of the rebellious, ungrateful Israelites, “He gave them their own desire.” But it was their ruin (Ps. 78:29). We may be conscious of desires springing up in our own heart, even dwelling deep there, which, though we do not know them to be wrong, we ourselves would scarcely venture to put into our prayers. Nevertheless, this bold wish is not larger than our Saviour’s promise to prayer (Matt. 21:22; John 14:13, 14). The text, therefore, suggests—

I. God’s infinite power to answer prayer. Nature, with its innumerable forms, mighty forces, all-comprehending laws, undisclosed secrets, is his. He designed, created, controls it. All hearts and lives are in his hand. All holy creatures do his will. With God all things are possible (Rom. 8:28). To some minds, amazing difficulty and doubt beset this glorious fact, that God hears and answers prayer. The special stumbling-block, the objection most frequently urged, is that God works by law—governs all nature by unchanging law. Of course he does. So does man work by law; and, instead of governing, is governed by, the laws of nature. What then? This does not hinder men from answering prayer—granting, every minute, the requests of children, friends, customers, clients. Can anything, seriously considered, be more absurd than to suppose that God cannot do what he has enabled us to do?—that he has so made his universe that he cannot manage it; though, so far as our needs require, we can? Or is it anything less than childish narrowness of thought to suppose that, because we do not understand how the thing asked for can be done—the healing of a disease, e.g., or averting a danger, or giving a prosperous wind to a ship, or converting a sinner—therefore God does not know how to effect it? If there is one lesson the discoveries of modern science should teach, it is that our ignorance is not the measure of possibility. It is no business of ours to scheme how God can grant our prayers; only to see to it, as far as we can, that they are such as he can wisely, justly, and for our true welfare, grant. Infinite power, guided by infinite wisdom and love, suffices, This brings us to speak of—

II. The limits and safeguards of prayer. “All thy petitions” would be too bold and rash a wish, were there no tacit limitation, no fence of safety in the background. We cannot possibly be certain what is best for ourselves, even in the near future; still less how the granting of our petition would affect others. Much more ignorant are we of far-off results. Many a Christian looks back on the unwise prayers he offered, with shuddering thankfulness that his request was denied. Yet, at the time, it seemed so reasonable. In this ignorance we should not dare to pray—the hazard would be too great—if we knew that God would give what we asked, whether it were wise or foolish, right or wrong. “With God all things are possible;” but it is certain he will do nothing but what is wise and good. He will not grant his child’s request to his ruin, or to the breaking off of his own gracious purpose (Ps. 138:8). It is ours to ask, his to judge. Therefore we may ask boldly, never forgetting, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

III. The plea and warrant of our prayers is the all-prevailing intercession of Christ. The title “Anointed” (ver. 6)—”Messiah”—though often applied to David and his descendants, suggests a higher application (as in Ps. 2:7, 8). So the best Jewish as well as Christian interpreters (comp. John 1:41, 42). His prayers must always be in perfect accord with both the mind and the will of God, his wisdom and his goodness. When he says to the weakest disciple, “I have prayed for thee” (Luke 22:32), that disciple cannot perish. Our weak, unworthy prayers are mighty and acceptable in his Name (John 15:7; 16:23, 24). The glory of heaven is waiting to fulfil his prayer (John 17:20–24).


Vers. 1–9.—Prayer for Israel’s king when going forth to battle: a national sermon. In this psalm, as indeed in the rest, there are most suggestive verses, which might be elaborated into useful discourses. But in this division of the Commentary we refrain from dealing with isolated texts. We desire rather to show how the whole psalm may be used by the expositor of Scripture as the basis of a national sermon in a time of impending war. No doubt, as Mr. Spurgeon remarks, it has been used by court preachers and pressed into the service of unctuous and fulsome flattery. There is, however, another kind of abuse to which it has been subjected, even that of an extreme spiritualizing, in which the words are made to convey a meaning which there is no indication that they were ever intended to bear. No commentator seems to have set forth the bearing of the psalm more clearly and accurately than that prince of expositors, John Calvin. We have no clue, indeed, to the precise occasion on which the psalm was written; but we can scarcely be wrong in regarding it as a prayer to be said or sung in the sanctuary on behalf of the king when he was called forth to defend himself in battle against his enemies. And inasmuch as the kingship of David was a type of that of the Lord Jesus Christ, the psalm may doubtless be regarded as the prayer of the Church of God for the triumph of the Saviour over all his foes. It is said, “Prayer also shall be made for him continually,” and those words are being fulfilled in the ceaseless offering of the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” At the same time, there is such deep and rich significance in the psalm when set on the strictly historical basis, that to develop it from that point of view will occupy all the space at our command. The scenes here brought before us are these: Israel’s king is summoned to go forth to war; sanctuary service is being held on his behalf; a prayer is composed, is set to music, and delivered to the precentor, to be said or sung on the occasion; after sacrifices have been offered, and the signs of Divine acceptance have been vouchsafed, the Levites, the singers, and the congregation join in these words of supplication. Obviously, there is here assumed131 a Divine revelation: the aid of Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel, is invoked; he is called, “Jehovah our God.” The disclosures of God’s grace in the wondrous history of their father Jacob are brought to mind. They, as a people, have been raised above reliance on chariots and horses alone. The Name of their God has lifted them up on high, “as in a fortress where no enemy can do harm, or on a rock at the foot of which the waves fret and dash themselves in impotent fury.” They know of two sanctuaries—one in Zion (ver. 2), the other “the heaven of God’s holiness” (ver. 6); they know that God hears from the latter, when his people gather in the former. Hence the prayer is sent up from the sanctuary below to that above. We, as Christians, have all Israel’s knowledge, and more. The revelation the Hebrews had through Moses is surpassed by that in Christ. And although, as a “geographical expression,” no nation now has the pre-eminence over any other as before God, yet any praying people can get as near to God now as ever Israel did. All devout souls have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. Hence, when any trouble—especially that of war—befalls them, they may betake themselves to their God, and plead with him on behalf of their emperor, their king, their president, their state. And the psalm before us is truly a grand one for preachers to use at such emergencies, that they may cheer a people’s heart, quicken the people’s prayers. The abuse of the psalm by some courtiers, who feared man rather than God, is no reason why the preachers of any day should leave such a psalm unused, still less is it a reason why they should refuse to preach national sermons at all. For a long time, Non-conformists were so treated, that some of their preachers almost lost the national esprit de corps. But it is to be hoped that that is passing away; for on the basis of a psalm like this, some lines of thought may be so expounded and applied from the pulpit as to cause times of national peril and anxiety to be most fruitful in spiritual elevation and power.

I. It is an anxious time for any people when the head of their state is called forth to battle. (See 2 Chron. 20:1–3.) The interests at stake in the conflict itself, and for the promotion of which it is entered upon, must press heavily on the nation’s heart. The fearful bloodshed and unspeakable suffering and distress in private life, which any battle involves, must bring anguish to many mothers, wives, and children; many a home will be darkened, and many a heart crushed, through the war, however large the success in which it may ultimately result.

II. When wars are entered upon perforce, for a right object, the people may lay before their God the burden that is on their hearts. (2 Chron. 20:5–15.) There is a God. He is our God. He has a heart, tender as a father’s, and a hand gentle as a mother’s; while, with all such pitying love, he has a strength that can speed worlds in their course. Nothing is too large for him to control; nought too minute for him to observe. And never can one be more sure of a gracious response than when, with large interests at stake, a people are united as one in spreading before the throne of God their case with all its care. If “the very hairs of our head” are all numbered, how much more the petitions of the heart!

III. At such times the intensest sympathies of the people gather round their army and their throne. (Ver. 5.) “We will rejoice in thy deliverance,” etc. Whatever may have been the sentiment in bygone times, we now know that the king is for the people, not the people for the king. Hence his victory or defeat is theirs. The soldiers, too, who go forth loyally and obediently to the struggle, with their lives in their hands, leaving at home their dear ones weeping as they leave them lest they should see the loved face no more, how can it but be that a nation’s warmest, strongest sympathies should gather round them as they go to the war?

IV. The Name of God is a stronger defence to such a people than all material forces can command. (Vers. 6, 7.) This is so in many senses. 1. God himself can so order events as to ensure the victory to a praying people, however strong and numerous the foes. 2. An army sent out with a people’s prayers, knowing that it is so sustained, will fight the more bravely. 3. To the generals in command, God can give, in answer to prayer, a wisdom that secures a triumphant issue. 4. All chariots and horsemen are at his absolute disposal, and he can cause them all to vanish in an hour. The army of Sennacherib. The Spanish Armada. History is laden with illustrations of Divine interposition (Ps. 107:43).

V. When the people trustingly lay the whole matter before God, they may peacefully leave it to him and calmly await the result. (Cf. ver. 8.) When once their affairs are rolled over on God, they are on his heart, and will be controlled by his hand on their behalf. Hence the wonderfully timely word of Jahaziel (2 Chron. 20:15), “The battle is not yours, but God’s.” Such a thought may well inspire the people with the calmness of a holy courage, and may well lead them patiently to wait and see “the end of the Lord.” Note: By such devotional use of national crises, they may become to a nation a holy and blessed means of grace; whereby the people at large may learn more of the value and power of prayer than in many a year of calm, and may be drawn more closely together for ever through a fellowship in trouble and in prayer.—C.

Ver. 1.—”The day of trouble.” Such a day comes sooner or later to all. Nations have their “day of trouble,” when they are visited with pestilence, famine, or war, or torn by internal strifes. Individuals also have their “day of trouble” (Job 5:6, 7). Trouble is a test. It shows what manner of persons we are. Happy are we, if, like the king and people of this psalm, trouble brings us nearer to God and to one another in love and service! The day of trouble should—

I. Drive the soul to God. In prosperity there are many helps, but in adversity there is but one. God is the true Refuge. His ear is ever open, and can “hear.” His hand is ever stretched out, and can “defend.” His resources are infinite, and he can “strengthen us out of Zion.” The name here given to God, “the God of Jacob,” is richly suggestive. It holds out hope to the sinful; for God was very merciful to Jacob. It assures comfort to the distressed; for God was with Jacob, to keep him during all his wanderings. It encourages trust, for God had a gracious purpose with Jacob, and made all the trials of his life contribute to his moral advancement. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God!” (Ps. 146:5).

II. Bring all the good together in holy service. In face of a common danger, there is a tendency to unite. So “Pilate and Herod were made friends” (Luke 23:12). So Jehoshaphat and the King of Israel entered into alliance (1 Kings 22:2). So, in a nobler way, God’s people come together for mutual edification and comfort, and to call upon the Name of the Lord (Mal. 3:16). The Jews had the temple and the sacrifices, and the high priest to plead for them. But we have greater privileges. For us our great High Priest, “having offered one sacrifice for sin for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool” (Heb. 10:12, 13). We have common dangers and needs, and can do much to help one another. When David was in trouble in the wood of Ziph, Jonathan went down to him, and strengthened his hands in God. When Peter was in prison, and in peril of death, “prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5). When the Jerusalem Christians were in sore straits, the sympathies of their fellow-Christians in happier circumstances were called forth in their behalf (Rom. 15:26). So when the truth is assailed, and the interests of the kingdom are endangered, it is the duty of all true lovers of Christ to band together, and by prayer and holy effort to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.”

III. Strengthen our attachment to the supreme principles of right. There are many things dear to us which we may have to defend, but we must make a difference. “The day of trouble” is a searching and a sifting time. In drawing near to God, and by mutual warnings, we find out what is really of the highest value; what we may let go, and what we should keep; what we may safely relinquish, and what we should fight for to the last gasp; what is only of temporary or of secondary importance, and what is essential and more to be valued than all worldly and personal advantages, or even life itself (Dan. 3:16–18; Acts 4:18–20).

IV. Prepare for the celebration of the coming victory of good over evil. Waiting upon God gives hope. Praying and working inspire confidence. Imagination, kindled by the thought of God’s Name, portrays in glowing colours the near deliverance. There is something very inspiriting in the “I know” of the psalmist. Job says, “I know” (Job 19:25); Paul says, “I know” (2 Tim. 1:12); and so we may join with the psalmist in saying, “Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed.” We are too apt to think only of our troubles; but let us rather “remember the Name of the Lord.” We are too ready to wish the defeat of our opponents, but let us rather seek the vindication of truth and the triumph of right, and, if God will, the transformation of foes into friends, so that they, as well as we, may share in the joys of the great day.—W. F.

Vers. 1–9.—Help from the sanctuary for the battle of life. A liturgical psalm, which was sung on behalf of the king, who was about to go forth to battle. It was chanted in alternate voices by the congregation and the priest or Levite who led the choir. As the king stands within the sanctuary, offering his sacrifice, the crowd of worshippers in the spacious courts lift up their voices in the prayer of the first five verses; then the answering chant of the priest or leader from vers. 6 to 8; then all join in the prayer of the ninth verse, “God save the king!” Help from the sanctuary for the battle of life. Influences to be gathered there.

I. A sense of God’s helpful relations to us. (Vers. 1, 2.) He hears in trouble, defends us in danger, and strengthens us for conflict; and thus helps us by means of the worship of the sanctuary. It is thus he remembers our offerings and accepts our worship.

II. God grants the desires and fulfils the counsels which are inspired in his service. (Ver. 4.) “If we ask anything according to his will, we know that he heareth us.”

III. We can win the battle only so far as we realize that it is God’s battle. (Ver. 5.) “In the Name of our God must we set up our banners.” He is the Captain of our salvation, and if we are loyal to him we shall rejoice in a victorious cause.

IV. True faith in God is assured of victory before the battle is fought. (Ver. 6.) “I know whom I have believed, and … that he is able to keep that,” etc.; “Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory!” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

V. “Right is might” to all who have been taught of God. (Vers. 7, 8.) They do not trust in material strength, but in the justice of their cause, i.e. in the power of God, and not in chariots and horses. God, therefore, is not, in any historical war, on the side of the strongest battalions. “They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.”

VI. The persistent and final cry of the true worshipper is for the salvation of God. (Ver. 9.)—S.



Ps. 21 is generally regarded as a companion composition to Ps. 20, being the thanksgiving after the victory for which the preceding psalm was the supplication. It consists of three parts: (1) a direct thanksgiving to God, offered by the people on behalf of the king (vers. 1–7); (2) an address to the king, auguring for him future successes on the ground of his recent victory (vers. 8–12); and (3) a brief return to direct praise of God in two short ejaculatory sentences. Part 1 is interrupted by a pause (“Selah”) at the end of ver. 2, when thank-offerings may have been made. The Davidical authorship, asserted in the title, is not seriously disputed.

Ver. 1.—The king shall joy. The future is used to give the idea of continuance, “The king rejoices, and will go on rejoicing.” In thy strength, O Lord; i.e. in the strength that thou puttest forth to help and protect him (comp. Ps. 20:6). And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! God’s “salvation” had been confidently anticipated (Ps. 20:5, 6, 9), and has now been experienced.

Ver. 2.—Thou hast given him his heart’s desire (comp. Ps. 20:4, “Grant thee according to thine own heart”). And hast not withholden the request of his lips. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The deliverance from his enemies, which David had earnestly desired in his heart, he had also devoutly requested with his lips (Ps. 20:1, 5). Selah. The pause here may have been for the presentation of a thank-offering.

Ver. 3.—For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness; i.e. thou givest him blessings before he asks, and more than he asks. “The blessings of goodness” is pleonastic, since a blessing cannot be otherwise than a good. Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head. It is remarked that David, as the result of one of his wars, did actually take the crown of the conquered king, which was a crown of gold, from off the king’s head, and place it upon his own head (2 Sam. 12:30); but this is scarcely what is intended here. As Hengstenberg observes, “The setting on of the crown marks the bestowment of dominion,” not in one petty case only, but generally, and is scarcely to be altogether separated from the promises recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12–16.

Ver. 4.—He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever. The “life” intended cannot be ordinary human life, since in David’s case this certainly did not continue “for ever and ever.” We must understand the psalmist to have asked for continuance in his posterity, and this was guaranteed him in the message which God sent him by Nathan (2 Sam. 7:13, 16). In the full sense the promise was, of course, Messianic, being fulfilled only in Christ, the God-Man, who alone of David’s posterity “liveth for ever.”

Ver. 5.—His glory is great in thy salvation. David’s glory exceeds that of all other living men, through the “salvation” which God vouchsafes him. That salvation is partly temporal, consisting in deliverance from his foes; partly of an unearthly and spiritual character, arising out of his relationship to the coming Messiah. It is from the latter point of view, rather than the former, that it is said, Honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.

Ver. 6.—For thou hast made him most blessed for ever; literally, for thou settest him to be blessings for ever. Thou makest him, i.e., to be a perennial source of blessings to men. As all mankind were blessed in Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18), i.e. in his seed, so were they all blessed in David’s seed. Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance; i.e. with thy favour and protection, so frequently and so markedly extended to him.

Ver. 7.—For the king trusteth in the Lord. This is at once the ground and the result of God’s favour to him. God favours David because of his trust, and David trusts in God because of his favour. The result in that, through the mercy (or, loving-kindness, Revised Version) of the Most High he shall not be moved (comp. Pss. 15:5; 112:6). The words appear to denote a conviction, as Professor Alexander says, that David “would never be shaken from his standing in God’s favour.” This conviction we may well conceive him to have felt, and to have regarded as one that might fittingly be expressed by his subjects, in whose mouth he placed it. But such a conviction is not always borne out by events, and David confesses elsewhere, that, at any rate, once in his life, after he had said, “I shall never be moved,” God “hid away his face from him,” and he “was troubled” (Ps. 30:6, 7).

Vers. 8–12.—In this second portion of the psalm, the people address themselves to David, anticipating future glories for him. “Having shown what God would do for his anointed, the psalm now describes what the latter shall accomplish through Divine assistance” (Alexander). Past success is taken as a guarantee of victory over all other enemies.

Ver. 8.—Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies; i.e. “shall reach them, attain them, punish them” (comp. 1 Sam. 31:3). Thy right hand (the hand of greater power) shall find out those that hate thee; and, of course, punish them severely.

Ver. 9.—Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger. Some suppose a reference to the event mentioned in 2 Sam. 12:31, “He (David) made them (the Ammonites) to pass through the brick-kiln;” but the expression “fiery oven” is probably not intended to be taken literally, but metaphorically. Severe suffering is continually compared in Scripture to confinement in an oven or furnace (see Deut. 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Isa. 48:10; Jer. 11:4; Ezek. 22:18, 20, 22; Mal. 4:1). And we may best understand the present passage to mean simply that in the time of his anger David would subject such of his enemies as fell into his hands to very terrible sufferings. (See, as showing what extreme severities David did sometimes inflict on captured enemies, 2 Sam. 12:31 which is to the point, as also is 1 Kings 11:15, 16.) The Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them. The metaphor is followed up, with the addition that what was previously attributed to David alone is here declared to have the sanction of God.

Ver. 10.—Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth; i.e. their offspring or progeny. Joab, by David’s orders, remained in Edom “until he had cut off every male” (1 Kings 11:16). And their seed from among the children of men. The second clause, as so often, re-echoes the first, without adding anything to it.

Ver. 11.—For they intended evil against thee. Their destruction is brought upon them by their own selves. They plot against the people of God, and thus provoke God to anger, and cause him to deliver them into their enemy’s hand. It does not matter that they can effect nothing. The “intention” is enough. They imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform. The inability is not so much from a deficiency of strength in themselves, as from the opposition offered to their schemes by God. The best-laid plans are powerless, if God wills to baffle them.

Ver. 12.—Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back; literally, their neck (comp. Ps. 18:40). The meaning is simply, “Thou shalt put them to flight.” When thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them. The Authorized Version, by supplying “when” and “thine arrows,” expresses what the psalmist has left to the intelligence of the reader. The psalmist says, “Thou shalt put them to flight; thou shalt make ready upon thy strings against the face of them,” no doubt meaning that the discharge of arrows would produce the hasty flight, but not saying it.

Ver. 13.—Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength. The psalm, as already remarked, ends, as it began, with the praise of God. “Be thou exalted” means, “Be thou lifted up, both in thyself, and in the praises of thy people” (comp. Pss. 18:46; 46:10). So will we sing and praise thy power. We, at any rate, will do our part to exalt thee. Our tongues shall ever sing of the great deeds thou doest for us.


Ver. 2.—The triumph of victory. “Thou hast given him his heart’s desire.” We seem to hear in this psalm the trumpets and harps and shawms of the temple, and jubilant voices of Levites praising God for some great victory. Joy-bells are rung and Te Deum laudamus chanted because the king has come home in triumph. The psalm is closely connected with the preceding one. There we see the king going forth to war, consecrating his banner and trusting his cause to God. The Church prays, “The Lord hear thee … grant thee according to thine own heart” (Ps. 20:1–4). Here it triumphs in victory, and praises God as the Hearer of prayer. Whether the psalm refers to some special victory of David or any of his successors; or whether it be applied to Christ and his kingdom, the practical spiritual lessons we may draw from it are the same. One of the greatest Jewish commentators says, “Our ancient doctors interpreted this psalm of King Messiah; but against the heretics (Christians) it is better to understand it of David” (Rashi, quoted by Perowne). Take up briefly the leading thoughts which the text naturally suggests.

I. Desire is the mainspring of life. Could the infinite multitude of desires, good or bad, transient or constant, noble or base, loving or selfish, which at this moment agitate human hearts, all cease, and be replaced by dull apathy, hope and effort would die. The whole busy drama of life would come to a dead stand, like an engine stopping when the fire is burnt out. Because so many of these desires are either wrong or ill-regulated, the word “lust”—often used in our English Bible, originally meaning simply “pleasure” or “desire”—has come to have an ill meaning. St. James puts his finger on these ungoverned discordant desires as the source of all the strife that disturbs the world (Jas. 4:1, 2). If all hearts submitted their desires to reason and God’s law, the world would be one vast peace society. Vexatious litigation and unfair competition would be unknown.

II. Therefore our heart’s desire is the test of our character. Not what a man says and does, but what he would like to say and do, if he could and dared, decide his character. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” From the momentary wish, too unreasonable or too languid to stir us to action, to the deep steadfast purpose which rules a life, our desires mark us for what we are, and mould us to what we shall be. Find what it is you deeply and habitually desire, and you have the key to your characters (Prov. 19:22).

III. Desire is the soul of prayer. If we do not present to God our heart’s desire, we do not pray. Words without desire are not living prayer, only a dead form. Desire without words may be the truest, highest kind of prayer (Rom. 8:26). Here is the peril of even the best forms of prayer. Their benefit is that they help to put our best desires into better words than we could find for ourselves; and by the power of association, as well as aptness, quicken our desires and instruct us what we ought to desire. Their danger is that we may mistake form and habit for life and spirit—a danger not confined to set forms. Extempore prayer may be as heartless and lifeless as a Tartar prayer-mill. Our own private prayers may degenerate into dead forms. Every earnest Christian (I suppose) is aware of this danger. When men came to our Saviour, his question was not “What have you to say?” but “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” What is thy heart’s desire?

IV. The whole world of human desire is open to God’s eye. Heart-secrets are no secrets to him (Jer. 17:9, 10). The silent wish that flashed to the surface of consciousness, soaring up into light, or plunging, like a guilty thing, into darkness—God saw it; sees it still. The passionate longing, so timid yet so strong that the heart would die sooner than betray it, is to him as though proclaimed with sound of trumpet. No wish so sudden, strange, ambitious, as to take him by surprise. No lawful desire but he has provided for its satisfaction, either in creatures or in his own uncreated fulness. And unlawful desires are so, not because he forbids anything really good for us, but because they mean our harm, not happiness. This perfect Divine knowledge of all our desires, and of the wisdom or unwisdom of granting them, is not confined, remember, to the moment when we become conscious of them, or present them in prayer. They are foreseen. For the most part—perhaps, if we knew all, in every case—an answer to prayer implies preparation. Our prayer for “daily bread” is answered out of the fulness of last year’s harvest—the fruit of all harvests since corn was first reaped and sown. This abyss of Divine foreknowledge utterly confounds our intellect; yet to doubt it would be to doubt if God is God. Why then, with this boundless knowledge—foreknowledge—of all our desires and the conditions of their fulfilment, has God appointed prayer? Why does his Word show it to us as the very heart of religion? Partly, we may venture to say, because God delights to answer prayer. If not, it would scarcely be true—at least intelligible—that “God is love.” Partly because blessings are doubly, nay, tenfold, precious when they come in answer to prayer; a strong help to faith, a spur to hope, an assurance of God’s love, and powerful motive to love (Prov. 13:19). But supremely (I venture to think) in order that what is deepest, innermost, strongest, in our nature—our “heart’s desire”—should bring us closest to God; make us intensely feel our dependence on him; be consecrated, being offered to him in prayer.

V. Thank God, our heart’s desires—how large, lofty, pure, reasonable, soever—are not the measure of God’s giving; do not circumscribe his willingness, any more than his power. He is “able to do exceeding abundantly,” etc. (Eph. 3:20). If men’s desires are like the sea, his mercy is the shore. His chiefest, “his unspeakable Gift” came in answer to no desire of human hearts or prayer from human lips. “God so loved” a prayerless, thankless, godless “world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” This Gift has given us a new measure of expectation (Rom. 8:32). What is more vital, it has opened a new fountain of desire in our hearts, and thereby enlarged, deepened, exalted, the whole scope of our life. Desire to be like Christ, to glorify Christ, to be with Christ,—these three give to life a new meaning, purpose, hope. If these be our heart’s desires, they are secure of fulfilment, because they are in agreement with God’s most glorious Gift, his most merciful purpose, his most precious promises. Here, as everywhere, our Saviour has left us an example, that we should follow his steps. We know what the supreme consuming desire of his heart was John 4:34. In the midst of life and usefulness, he longed for death; not as an escape from this world, but as the accomplishment of his destined work (Luke 12:50; John 10:17, 18). “For the joy,” etc. (Heb. 12:2). In your salvation and mine he sees “of the travail of his soul” (Isa. 53:11).

Conclusion. We are furnished with a practical test—first, of our desires; secondly, of our prayers. Our desires (we said) are the index to our character. Will they fit into our prayers? Are they such that we can come with boldness to the throne of grace through the blood of Jesus, and say, “Lord, all my desire is before thee” (Ps. 38:9; Isa. 26:8)? Prayer (we said) is living, real, worth offering, only as it is the utterance of our desires, the pouring out of our heart. Are our prayers such a true outbreathing of our “heart’s desire”? Suppose, when you have joined in some high-toned hymn, or prayed in the earnest words of some ancient saint, a voice from heaven were to ask, “Do you mean what you say?” would it be for good or ill, here and hereafter, if God indeed granted your heart’s desire?


Vers. 1–13.—A royal thanksgiving for answers to prayer. (For a day of national thanksgiving.) We fail to see, in the structure of this psalm, sufficient indications of its being the counterpart of the preceding one, to lead us to call it a Te Deum, to be sung on returning from battle as victor. It would equally well suit other occasions on which the grateful hearts of king and people desired to render praises in the house of God for mercies received; e.g. ver. 4 would be equally adapted to the recovery of the king from sickness. Its precise historic reference it is, however, now impossible to ascertain; but this is of comparatively small importance. That the psalm is meant for a public thanksgiving is clear; and thus, with differences of detail in application thereof according to circumstances, it may furnish a basis for helpful teaching on days of national rejoicing over the mercies of God. We must, however, carefully avoid two errors in opening up the hid treasure of this psalm. We must not interpret it as if its references were only temporal, nor as if we lost sight of the supernatural revelation and of the Messianic prophecies which lie in the background thereof; nor yet, on the other hand, may we interpret its meaning as if the religious knowledge or conceptions of Israel’s king were as advanced as the thoughts of Paul or John. E.g. “His glory is great in thy salvation.” If we were to interpret this word “salvation” as meaning, primarily, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, we should be guilty of an anachronism. Its first meaning is, rescue from impending trouble or danger. This, however, may be regarded as prophetic of the triumph awaiting the Church’s King; but our exposition will be sure and clear only as we begin with the historic meaning, and then move carefully forward. The prayers and thanksgivings of a people cannot rise above the level of inspiration and revelation which marked the age in which they lived. We, indeed, may now set our devotions into another form than that which is represented by vers. 8–12; and, indeed, we are bound so to do. For since revelation is progressive, devotion should be correspondingly progressive too. So that if the remarks we make on the psalm are in advance of the thinkings of believers in David’s time, let us remember that this is because we now look at all events and read all truth in the light of the cross, and not because we pretend to regard such fulness of meaning as belonging to the original intention of the psalm. There are here six lines of exposition before us.

I. Here is the recall of a time of trouble—of trouble which gathered round the person of the king. (Ver. 1.) We cannot decide (nor is it important that we should) what was the precise kind of anxiety which had been felt. The word “life” in the fourth verse may indicate that some sickness had threatened the life of the king. The word “deliverance” and the allusions to “enemies” rather point to peril from hostile forces. Either way, when a monarch’s life is threatened, either through sickness or war, the burden is very heavy on the people’s heart. The first cause of anxiety was felt in Hezekiah’s time; the second, often and notably in the days of Jehoshaphat.

II. The trouble led to prayer. We gather from the contents of the psalm that the specific prayer was for the king’s life, either by way of recovery from sickness or of victory in war. Note: Whatever is a burden on the hearts of God’s people may be laid before God in prayer. Prayer may and should be specific; and even though our thought, desires, and petitions in prayer may be very defective, still we may tell to God all we feel, knowing that we shall never be misunderstood, and that the answer will come according to the Father’s infinite wisdom, and not according to our defects; yea, our God will do abundantly for us above all that we can ask or think. Hence we have to note—

III. The prayer brought an answer. The trust of the praying ones was not disappointed (cf. vers. 2–7). The jubilant tone of the words indicates that the prayer had not been barely, but overflowingly answered. God’s good things had gone far ahead of the petitions, and had even anticipated the king’s wishes and wants (ver. 3). “Life” had been asked; and God had granted “length of days for ever and ever.” This cannot refer to the personal earthly life of any human king; the meaning is that in the deliverance vouchsafed there had been a new confirmation of that “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure,” wherein God had promised to establish David’s throne for ever (Pss. 61:6; 132:11–14). Dr. Moll says, “I find here the strongest expression of the assurance of faith in the personal continuance of the life of those who hold fast to the covenant of grace in living communion with Jehovah.” Yea, the old Abrahamic covenant has been again confirmed. “Thou hast made him to be blessings for ever” (see Revised Version margin). So that this deliverance thus celebrated in Hebrew song is at once a development of God’s gracious plan, and the answer to a king’s and a people’s prayer! “Thou settest a crown of pure gold upon his head” (ver 3; cf. 2 Sam. 12:30).

IV. New answers to prayer inspired new hope. (Ver. 7.) “Through the loving-kindness of the Most High he shall not be moved” (cf. Pss. 23:6; 63:7). He who proves himself to be our Refuge to-day, thereby proves himself our Refuge for every day.

V. The providential interpositions in answer to prayer afforded new illustrations of God’s works and ways. (Vers. 8–13.) God is what he is. He remains “the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” But he cannot seem the same to his enemies as to his friends; the same events which fulfil the hopes of his friends are the terror and dread of his foes. This general principle is always true: it must be (ver. 10); and side by side with the Divine provision for the continuance of good, there is the Divine provision for shortening the entail of evil (see Exod. 20:6, Revised Version margin; and Deut. 7:9). But we are not bound in our devotions to single out others as the enemies in whose overthrow and destruction we could rejoice. At the same time, it is but just to the Hebrews to remember that they were the chosen people of God, and from their point of view, and with their measure of light, they regarded their enemies as God’s enemies (see Ps. 139:22). The way David sometimes treated his foes can by no means be justified. The views of truth which God’s people hold are often sadly discoloured by the conventionalisms of their time; and David was no exception thereto. We may pray for the time when Zion’s King “shall have put all enemies under his feet,” and even praise him for telling us that it will be so. But we may surely leave all details absolutely with him.

VI. The ever-unfolding disclosures of what God is may well call forth shouts of joyous song. (Ver. 13.) When we have such repeated illustrations of God’s loving-kindness, mercy, and grace, we can feel unfeigned delight in singing of his power. What rapturous delight may we have in the thought that—

“The voice which rolls the stars along

Speaks all the promises;”

that the same Being who is most terrible to sin, is infinitely gracious to the sinner, and that to all who trust him he is their “exceeding Joy”!—C.

Vers. 1–13.—”Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” This psalm concerns the king. But the question is which king? It may have been David. There is much that might apply to him. Perhaps on his recovery from some sickness, or on his return from some signal victory over his enemies, or on the occasion of his birthday or some great anniversary, David and his people may have rejoiced before the Lord with the voice of joy and praise. But a greater than David is here. If the psalm in part is true of David, it finds its highest and most complete fulfilment in David’s Son and Lord, and in the glorious salvation which he has accomplished for his people. We know that Jesus is a King. As a King he was announced by Gabriel (Luke 1:32); as a King he was worshipped in his cradle by the Wise Men (Matt. 2:11); as a King he was rejected by the Jews, persecuted by the chief priests, and crucified by Pilate (John 19:19). And as a King he rose from the dead, was received up into glory, and now rules in power in heaven and upon earth (1 Tim. 6:15). To this day and everywhere Jesus receives royal honours—his people say as with one voice and one heart, in the words of the ancient hymn, “Thou art the King of glory, O Christ!” The burden of this psalm may be said to be, “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.”

I. Because of his favour with God. (Vers. 1–3.) Other kings have been honoured of God, but none like Jesus. From the cradle to the cross we find continual proof and token of the favour of God towards him (Luke 2:52; 9:35; John 3:35; 8:29). The secret was in the perfect accord between the Father and the Son, and the absolute and complete surrender of the Son to do his Father’s will. What was said of the land of Israel, and still more tenderly of the house of the Lord, is true in the higher sense of God’s dear Son, “Mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (Deut. 11:12; 1 Kings 9:3).

II. Because of the great salvation which he has accomplished. (Vers. 1, 5.) 1. This salvation was very dear to him. It was “his heart’s desire.” 2. This salvation was obtained by a stupendous sacrifice. “Life” (ver. 4). We may take the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane as the true interpretation of this passage (Matt. 27:38–44). There we see Jesus in an agony. There we see him “asking life,” thrice, with strong crying and tears. And there we see him submitting, with the truest faith and love, to the holy will of God, which decreed that he should die that sinners might be saved (Matt. 27:53, 54; John 10:17, 18; Heb. 2:14, 15). 3. This salvation has secured inestimable benefits to mankind. (Ver. 6; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; Eph. 1:7; 2:4–6.)

III. Because of the sure triumph of his cause and kingdom. (Vers. 7–13.) 1. Certain. (Ver. 8.) Might here is right. God’s word is pledged, and what he has promised he is able to perform. The King’s strength is still in God, and through him all opposition shall be overthrown. 2. Complete. (Vers. 9–12.) The same power that is able to crush and confound the foe is arrayed in defence of God’s people. The end is as the beginning—praise. It is like an anticipation of the song of Moses and the Lamb of the Apocalypse (Rev. 15:3).—W. F.

Ver. 4.—Prayer. What is true of Christ is true, in a sense, of his people. Here we learn—

I. The true nature of prayer. It is the desire of the heart (ver. 2). This is frequently taught by doctrine and fact in Holy Scripture. Words are of the mouth, thoughts are of the heart. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” It is asking of God for things agreeable to his will. While there is real “asking,” there is also loving trust and acquiescence. God’s will is aye the best will.

II. Some light as to the manner in which God answers prayer. 1. By giving what is good. “Life.” 2. In a higher sense than we thought of. “For ever.” 3. In such a way as shall be for the greatest benefit to others as well as to ourselves. “Blessings” (cf. Paul, “more needful for you,” Phil. 1:24). Hence faith is confirmed. Our hopes as to the future are sustained. Our hearts are soothed amidst the disappointments and trials of life, by the assurance that all is well. We ask “life” for ourselves; and God gives what he sees best. We ask “life” for our friends. Some child or loved one is in peril of death. We plead for him. We entreat that he may be spared. We continue with “strong crying and tears” to pray that his life, so precious and so dear, may be prolonged. But in vain. He dies. We are troubled. We mourn in bitterness of soul, as if God had forgotten to be gracious. But when we look at things aright, we find comfort. God has answered us in his own way. He knows what is best. Your little one has gone quickly to heaven. Your darling boy has been taken to a nobler field of service than earth. The “desire of your eyes” has been caught up into the glory of God. There they await us. Love never faileth. The fellowship in Christ endures for ever.—W. F.

Vers. 1–13.—Thanksgiving for prayer answered. Close connection between this and the previous psalm—that a prayer for the king; this a thanksgiving that the prayer has been answered. The people speak to God (vers. 1–7); then (vers. 8–12) they speak to the king; then in ver. 13 they speak again to God. The occasion of the psalm has been disputed. Some think it is a birthday ode; some, a coronation hymn; and others, a thanksgiving for victory in battle. Let us take it first—

I. As a birthday ode. “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.” 1. This notwithstanding his sin. Which was thought in the Hebrew mind to forfeit length of days. His long life, therefore, was a special act of God’s salvation (vers. 1, 4, 6). 2. His long life had been made a prosperous one. (Ver. 2.) His heart’s desire had been granted him. How few can say this of a long life! How few feel that they have grasped the greatest good in life!

II. A coronation hymn. (Vers. 3, 5.) “Thou forestallest, or surprisest him with choicest blessings; thou settest a crown of gold upon his head.” “Honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.” 1. This highest earthly honour was to represent God. He was God’s vicegerent to the nation. The Lord’s anointed, who stood on earth for God in heaven; the image of the invisible King. This ought to be the idea still of all the highest earthly offices—king, statesman, teacher. 2. But the grandest crown is that of supreme moral influence. That is Christ’s crown; he is King of men, not by physical force, but by spiritual power. And this is our brightest crown when we can influence men supremely for their good.

III. Thanksgiving for victory in battle. (Vers. 8–12.) This may be the bearing of the whole strain of the psalm. Then from his previous victories it is prophesied in the eighth and following verses that he shall gain the victory in all future battles. 1. Trust in God is the source of all our strength in our conflicts. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith—not a passive, but an active faith. 2. Former victories show us that we can, if we will, conquer in all future conflicts. By taking unto us “the whole armour of God.”—S.



There is no psalm which has raised so much controversy as this. Admitted to be Messianic by the early Hebrew commentators, it is by some understood wholly of David; by others, applied to the Israelite people, or to the pious part of it; by others again, regarded as an ideal representation of the sufferings of the righteous man, and the effects of them; and by one or two eccentric critics, explained as referring to Hezekiah or Jeremiah. Against the view that David means to describe in the psalm his own dangers, sufferings, and deliverance, it is reasonably urged that David was at no time in the circumstances here described—he was never without a helper (ver. 11); never “despised of the people” (ver. 6); never stripped of his clothes (ver. 17); never in the state of exhaustion, weakness, and emaciation that are spoken of (vers. 14–17); never pierced either in his hands or feet (ver. 16); never made a gazing-stock (ver. 17); never insulted by having his garments parted among his persecutors, or lots cast upon his vesture (ver. 18). The suppositions that the nation is meant, or the pious part of it, or an ideal righteous man, are negatived by the impossibility of applying to them the second portion of the psalm (vers. 22–31), and the consideration that abstractions of the kind suggested belong to the later and not the earlier phases of a nation’s poetry. The only explanation which remains is that traditional in the Christian Church, that David, full of the Holy Ghost, was moved to speak in the Person of Christ, and to describe, not his own sufferings and perils and deliverance, but those of his great Antitype, the Messiah, which were revealed to him in vision or otherwise, and which he was directed to put on record. The close correspondence between the psalm and the incidents of the Passion is striking, and is admitted on all hands, even by Hupfeld, and it is a correspondence brought about by the enemies of the teaching of Christ, the Jews and the Romans. References indicative of the prophetic and Messianic character of the psalm are frequent in the New Testament. Note especially the following: Matt. 27:35, 46; Mark 15:34; John 19:24; Heb. 2:12.

The psalm is composed, manifestly, of two portions—the complaint and prayer of a sufferer (vers. 1–21), and a song of rejoicing after deliverance (vers. 22–31). According to some critics, the first of these two portions is also itself divided into two parts—each consisting of two strophes (vers. 1–10 and vers. 12–21), which are linked together by a single ejaculatory verse (ver. 11). A further analysis divides each of the three strophes of ten verses into two strophes of five; but there is certainly no such division in the second strophe of ten, since vers. 16 and 17 are most closely connected together.

The composition of the psalm by David, though not universally admitted, has in its favour a large majority of the critics. The imagery is Davidical; the sudden transition at ver. 22 is Davidical; the whole psalm “abounds in expressions which occur frequently, or exclusively, in psalms generally admitted to have been composed by David” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). David’s authorship is moreover distinctly asserted in the title, and confirmed by the “enigmatic superscription,” which is a Davidical fancy.

Ver. 1.—My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Not a cry of despair, but a cry of loving faith, “My God, my God—Why hast thou for a time withdrawn thyself?” It is remarkable that our Lord’s quotation of this passage does not follow exactly either the Hebrew or the Chaldee paraphrase—the Hebrew having ‘azabthani for sabacthani, and the Chaldee paraphrase metul ma for lama. May we not conclude that it is the thought, and not its verbal expression by the sacred writers, that is inspired? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? It is very doubtful whether our translators have done right in supplying the words which they have added. The natural translation of the Hebrew would be, Far from my salvation are the words of my roaring. And this rendering yields a sufficiently good sense, viz. “Far from effecting my salvation (or deliverance) are the words of my roaring;” i.e. of my loud complaint. Our Lord’s “strong crying and tears” in the garden (Heb. 5:7) did not produce his deliverance.

Ver. 2.—O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; rather, thou answerest not; i.e. thou dost not interpose to deliver me. And in the night season, and am not silent (see Matt. 26:36–44; Mark 14:34–39; Luke 22:41–44).

Ver. 3.—But thou art holy. Still God is holy; the Sufferer casts no reproach upon him, but “commits himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. God is seen enthroned in his sanctuary, where the praises and prayers of Israel are ever being offered up to him. If he hears them, he will assuredly, in his own good time, hear the Sufferer.

Ver. 4.—Our fathers trusted in thee. It sustains the Sufferer to think how many before him have cried to God, and trusted in him, and for a while been seemingly not heard, and yet at length manifestly heard and saved. They trusted in thee, and thou didst (ultimately) deliver them.

Ver. 5.—They cried unto thee, and were delivered. If they were delivered because they cried, the Sufferer who cries “day and night” (ver. 2) can scarcely remain unheard for ever. They trusted in thee, and were not confounded; or, were not put to shame (οὐ κατησχύνθησαν, LXX.).

Ver. 6.—But I am a worm, and no man (comp. Job 25:6; Isa. 41:14). The worm is a symbol of extreme weakness and helplessness—it is naturally despised, derided, trodden upon. A reproach of men, and despised of the people (comp. Isa. 49:7; 53:3; and for the fulfilment, see Matt. 27:39). How deeply Christ was “despised of the people” appeared most evidently when they expressed their desire that, instead of him, a murderer should be granted to them (Acts 3:14).

Ver. 7.—All they that see me laugh me to scorn; ἐξεμυκτήρισάν με, LXX. (comp. Luke 23:35, “The people stood beholding; and the rulers also with them derided him (ἐξεμυκτήριζον)”). They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying (see Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29: “They that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads,” where the expression of the Septuagint is again used).

Ver. 8.—He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him. This is a translation of the Septuagint Version rather than of the Hebrew text, which runs, Trust in the Lord (literally, Roll [thy care] upon the Lord): let him deliver him. Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. St. Matthew has put it on record that this text was actually cited by the scribes and elders who witnessed the Crucifixion, and applied to our Lord in scorn (Matt. 27:43). They quoted apparently from the Septuagint, but with an inaccuracy common at the time, when books were scarce, and persons had to depend on their memory of what they had occasionally heard read.

Ver. 9.—But thou art he that took me out of the womb (comp. Job 10:8–11). God’s creatures have always a claim upon him from the very fact that they are his creatures. Every sufferer may appeal to God as his Maker, and therefore bound to be his Helper and Preserver. Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. Thou gavest me the serene joy and trust of infancy—that happy time to which man looks back with such deep satisfaction. Every joy, every satisfaction, came from thee.

Ver. 10.—I was cast upon thee from the womb. In a certain sense this is true of all; but of the Holy Child it was most true (Luke 2:40, 49, 52). He was “cast” on God the Father’s care in an especial way. Thou art my God from my mother’s belly. The Child Jesus was brought near to God from his birth (Luke 1:35; 2:21, 22). From the first dawn of consciousness God was his God (Luke 2:40, 49).

Ver. 11.—Be not far from me. The considerations dwelt upon in vers. 3–5, and again in vers. 9, 10, have removed the sense of desertion expressed in ver. 1; and the Sufferer can now confidently call on God to help him. “Be not far from me,” he says, for trouble is near. The time is come when aid is most urgently required. For there is none to help; literally, not a helper. David himself had never been in such straits. He had always had friends and followers. Under Saul’s persecution he had a friend in Jonathan; he was supported by his father and his brethren (1 Sam. 22:1); in a short time he found himself at the head of four hundred (1 Sam. 22:2), and then of six hundred men (1 Sam. 25:13). In Absalom’s rebellion there remained faithful to him the priestly tribe (2 Sam. 15:24) and the Gibborim (2 Sam. 15:18), and others to the number of some thousands (2 Sam. 18:4). But he whom David prefigured, his Antitype, was deserted, was alone—”All the disciples forsook him and fled” (Matt. 26:56)—he was truly one that “had no helper.”

Ver. 12.—Many bulls have compassed me. The Sufferer represents the adversaries who crowd around him under the figure of “bulls”—fierce animals in all parts of the world, and in Palestine particularly wild and ferocious. “Bulls and buffaloes are very numerous,” says Canon Tristram, “in Southern Judæa; they are in the habit of gathering in a circle around any novel or unaccustomed object, and may be easily instigated into charging with their horns” (‘Natural History of the Bible,’ p. 71). Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. Bashan, the richest pasture-ground of Palestine, produced the largest and strongest animals (Ezek. 39:18). Hence “the kine of Bashan” became an expression for powerful oppressors (Amos 4:1).

Ver. 13.—They gaped upon me with their mouths. One metaphor is superseded by another. Fierce and threatening as bulls, the adversaries are ravenous as lions. They “gape with their mouths,” eager to devour, ready to spring on the prey and crush it in their monstrous jaws. As a ravening and a roaring lion. The tumult and noise made by those who demanded our Lord’s death are noted by the evangelist, περισσῶς ἔκραζον—θόρυβος γίνεται (Matt. 27:23, 24).

Ver. 14.—I am poured out like water (comp. Ps. 58:7; 2 Sam. 14:14). The exact meaning is uncertain; but extreme weakness and exhaustion, something like utter prostration, seems to be indicated. And all my bones are out of joint. The strain of the body suspended on the cross would all but dislocate the joints of the arms, and would be felt in every bone of the body. My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. The proximate cause of death in crucifixion is often failure of the heart’s action, the supply of venous blood not being sufficient to stimulate it. Hence palpitation, faintness, and final syncope.

Ver. 15.—My strength is dried up like a potsherd. All strength dies out under the action of the many acute pains which rack the whole frame, and as little remains as there remains of moisture in a potsherd. And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws. An extreme and agonizing thirst sets in—the secretions generally fail—and the saliva especially is suppressed, so that the mouth feels parched and dry. Hence the cry of suffering which was at last wrung from our Lord, when, just before the end, he exclaimed, “I thirst” (John 19:28). And thou hast brought me into the dust of death. “The dust of death” is a periphrasis for death itself, which is so closely associated in our thoughts with the dust of the tomb (see below, ver. 29; and comp. Pss. 30:10; 104:29; and Job 10:9; 34:35; Eccles. 3:20; 12:7, etc.).

Ver. 16.—For dogs have compassed me. “Dogs” now encompass the Sufferer, perhaps the subordinate agents in the cruelties—the rude Roman soldiery, who laid rough hands on the adorable Person (Matt. 27:27–35). Oriental dogs are savage and of unclean habits, whence the term “dog” in the East has always been, and still is, a term of reproach. The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; or, a band of wicked ones have shut me in. The “band” of Roman soldiers (Mark 15:16) seems foreshadowed. They pierced my hands and my feet. There are no sufficient critical grounds for relinquishing (with Hengstenberg) this interpretation. It has the support of the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate Versions, and is maintained by Ewald, Reinke, Bohl, Moll, Kay, the writer in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ and our Revisers. Whether the true reading be kâaru (כָאֲרוּ) or kâari (כָאֲרִי), the sense will be the same, kâari being the apocopated participle of the verb, whereof kâaru is the 3rd pers. plu. indic.

Ver. 17.—I may tell all my bones. Our Lord’s active life and simple habits would give him a spare frame, while the strain of crucifixion would accentuate and bring into relief every point of his anatomy. He might thus, if so minded, “tell all his bones.” They look and stare upon me (comp. Luke 23:35, “And the people stood beholding”).

Ver. 18.—They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. It has been well observed that “the act here described is not applicable either to David or to any personage whose history is recorded in the Bible, save to Jesus” (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. iv. p. 221. Two evangelists (Matt. 27:35; John 19:24) note the fulfilment of the prophecy in the conduct of the soldiers at the crucifixion of Christ. The circumstance is reserved for the final touch in the picture, since it marked that all was over; the Victim was on the point of expiring; he would never need his clothes again.

Ver. 19.—But be not thou far from me, O Lord (comp. ver. 11). The special trouble for which he had invoked God’s aid having been minutely described, the Sufferer reverts to his prayer, which he first repeats, and then strengthens and enforces by requesting that the aid may be given speedily, O my strength, haste thee to help me.
Eyaluth, the abstract term used for “strength,” seems to mean “source, or substance, of all strength.”

Ver. 20.—Deliver my soul from the sword. “The sword” symbolizes the authority of the Roman governor—that authority by which Christ was actually put to death. If he prayed, even on the cross, to be delivered from it, the prayer must have been offered with the reservations previously made in Gethsemane, “If it be possible” (Matt. 26:39); “If thou be willing” (Luke 22:42); “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The human will in Christ was in favour of the deliverance; the Divine will, the same in Christ as in his Father, was against it. My darling—literally, my only onefrom the power of the dog. By “my darling” there is no doubt that the soul is intended, both here and in Ps. 35:17. It seems to be so called as the most precious thing that each man possesses (see Matt. 16:26). “The dog” is used, not of an individual, but of the class, and is best explained, like the “dogs” in ver. 16, of the executioners.

Ver. 21.—Save me from the lion’s mouth (comp. ver. 13). Either the chief persecutors, viewed as a class, or Satan, their instigator, would seem to be intended. For thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns; rather, even from the horns of the wild oxen hast thou heard me. The conviction suddenly comes to the Sufferer that he is heard. Still, the adversaries are round about him—the “dogs,” the “lions,” and the “strong bulls of Bashan,” now showing as ferocious wild cattle, menacing him with their horns. But all the Sufferer’s feelings are changed. The despondent mood has passed away. He is not forsaken. He has One to help. In one way or another he knows himself—feels himself—delivered; and he passes from despair and agony into a condition of perfect peace, and even exultation. He passes, in fact, from death to life, from humiliation to glory; and at once he proceeds to show forth his thankfulness by a burst of praise. The last strophe of the psalm (vers. 22–31) is the jubilant song of the Redeemer, now that his mediatorial work is done, and his life of suffering “finished” (John 19:30).

Ver. 22.—I will declare thy Name unto my brethren. The thought of the brethren is uppermost. As, when the body was removed, loving messages were at once sent to the disciples (Matt. 28:10; John 20:17), so, with the soul of the Redeemer in the intermediate state, the “brethren” are the first care. God’s Name, and all that he has done—the acceptance of the sacrifice, the effectuation of man’s salvation—shall be made known to them (see Heb. 2:9–12). In the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. He will join with them in praising and adoring his Father, so soon as circumstances allow (compare the Eucharist at Emmaus, Luke 24:30).

Ver. 23.—Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. “All Israel:” all the people of God are called upon to join in the praise which the Son will henceforth offer to the Father through eternity. The praise of God is to be joined with the fear of God, according to the universal teaching of Scripture.

Ver. 24.—For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted. The Father might seem by his passivity to disregard his Son’s affliction; but it was not really so. Every pang was marked, every suffering sympathized with. And the reward received from the Father was proportionate (see Isa. 53:12, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death;” and Phil. 2:8–11, “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”). Neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. There was no real turning away, no real forsaking. Every cry was heard, and the cries were answered at the fitting moment.

Ver. 25.—My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation. The phraseology is that of the Mosaic dispensation, with which alone David was acquainted. But the fulfilment is in those services of praise where, whenever Christ’s disciples are gathered together, there is he in the midst of them. I will pay my vows before them that fear him. “Vows,” in the strict sense of the word, are scarcely meant; rather “devotions” generally.

Ver. 26.—The meek shall eat and be satisfied. In the Eucharistic feasts of Christ’s kingdom it is “the meek” especially who shall eat, and be satisfied, feeling that they have all their souls long for—a full banquet, of the very crumbs of which they are not worthy. They shall praise the Lord that seek him. The service shall be emphatically one of praise. Your heart shall live for ever. The result shall be life for evermore; for the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, worthily received, preserve men’s bodies and souls to everlasting life.

Ver. 27.—All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord. The Gentiles from every quarter shall come into the new kingdom, remembering him whom they had so long forgotten, Jehovah, the true God. And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. Pleonastic. A repetition of the idea contained in the preceding clause. (For the fulfilment, the history of missions must be consulted.)

Ver. 28.—For the kingdom is the Lord’s (comp. Pss. 96:10; 97:1). Christ has taken the kingdom, and even now rules on the earth—not yet wholly over willing subjects, but over a Church that is ever expanding more and more, and tending to become universal. And he is the Governor among the nations. Not the Governor of one nation only, but of all.

Ver. 29.—All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship. The Christian feast is not for the poor and needy only, like Jewish sacrificial feasts, but for the “fat ones” of the earth as well—the rich and prosperous. As Hengstenberg observes, “This great spiritual feast is not unworthy of the presence even of those who live in the greatest abundance: it contains a costly viand, which all their plenty cannot give—a viand for which even the satisfied are hungry; and, on the other hand, the most needy and most miserable are not excluded” (‘Commentary on the Psalms,’ vol. i. p. 396). All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him; i.e. all mortal men whatsoever—all that are on their way to the tomb—shall bow before Christ, either willingly as his worshippers, or unwillingly as his conquered enemies, made to lick the dust at his feet. And none can keep alive his own soul. Life is Christ’s gift; the soul cannot be kept alive except through him, by his quickening Spirit (John 6:53, 63).

Ver. 30.—A seed shall serve him. The Church is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. So long as the world endures, Christ shall always have worshippers—a “seed” which will “serve” him. It shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. If we accept this rendering, we must understand that the seed of the first set of worshippers shall be the Lord’s people for one generation, the seed of the next for another, and so on. But it is suggested that the true meaning is, “This shall be told of the Lord to generation after generation” (so Hengstenberg, Kay, Alexander, and our Revisers).

Ver. 31.—They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this. One generation after another shall come, and shall report God’s righteousness, as shown forth in Christ, each to its successor—a people yet to be born—telling them that God “has done this;” i.e. effected all that is here sketched out, and so accomplished the work of redemption.


Ver. 4.—A pedigree of faith and piety. “Our fathers trusted,” etc. The Bible takes great account of pedigree. Yet not on those grounds in which men commonly glory—rank, title, wealth, fame; but in the line of faith and piety. These words contain—

I. A thankful remembrance. It is no small honour and blessing to spring from a godly stock. Those who have not this happiness in family lineage may yet claim it by adoption. A true Christian has all past generations of God’s people as spiritual ancestors (Gal. 3:29; Rom. 4:16, 17).

II. A holy example, powerfully moving to faith, prayer, and holiness (Heb. 6:12; 12:1; 2 Tim. 1:3–5). Noblesse oblige.

III. A humble claim on God’s faithfulness. Because: 1. The trust and prayers of God’s people in past generations were not for themselves only, but for their children (Gen. 17:18, 20). Ancestral prayers are a rich inheritance. 2. God’s promises have regard to the children of his people (Ps. 103:17, 18; Acts 2:39; 3:25).

IV. An encouragement to faith. The experience of those who have gone before us, the consenting testimony of so many generations, and so innumerable a multitude of believers, to the truth of the Bible, the power of prayer, the reality of God’s grace, the fulfilment of his promises, is no small or feeble aid to our faith (Ps. 34:4–8; Heb. 11:32–40).

Conclusion. 1. We inherit the past. The wise thoughts immortal words, noble deeds, holy lives, fervent prayers, toils, and sufferings of those who have gone before us, are a great treasure and trust, of which we shall have to give account. 2. We are making the future. What pattern, work, prayer, memory, that they will “not willingly let die,” are we handing down to our successors?

Ver. 28.—God’s supreme dominion over all nations. “The kingdom is the Lord’s,” etc. The second clause of this verse defines the meaning of the first. God’s supreme dominion, in right and in fact, is over all nations. He reigns and he rules. There is a wide view of God’s kingdom, as embracing the universe (Pss. 103:19; 93:1; 97:1). There is also a spiritual view, in which the kingdom consists of individuals, ruled not by force, but by truth, love, and the Spirit of God (Luke 17:21; John 18:36). Nations have no place here. None the less, God’s government of nations is a sublime fact and undoubted truth, holding a prominent place in Scripture. “All authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18) must include this. The nations are promised as Christ’s inheritance (Ps. 2:8), and are to be blessed in him (Gal. 3:8).

I. God governs the nations by his all-controlling, wise, just, and merciful providence. This is one main lesson of the whole of Old Testament history—specially enforced in Jer. 18:7–10; 1:10; Gen. 15:16, etc.; Deut. 9:4. The ordered succession of empires, in Nebuchadnezzar’s and Daniel’s visions, emphatically enforces the same truth (Acts 17:26). The history of our own nation is a marvellous example, only second to that of Israel.

II. The authority of national government rests on Divine authority. (Rom. 13:1–6.) No human being can claim authority over another human being; no majority, any more than a single despot, over a minority or a single citizen, but by Divine ordinance. This is not merely revealed in Scripture, but imprinted and inwoven in human nature.

III. Nations, as much as individuals, are bound by God’s Law. Human laws lack sanction when they contradict justice; they may be enforced, but cannot be reverenced. Government which outrages mercy, virtue, truth, purity, equity, denies the very end of its existence, and forfeits allegiance. On this ground of natural right, the American colonies revolted. “Natural right” is but another name for God’s justice.

IV. National life and character, which are very far wider than government or state action, are within the province of Divine government; either conform to or disobey God’s Law and revealed will. Private, family, social, morality; religion; trade and industry in every branch; amusement and society; education; literature; art,—are all favouring or hindering the formation of a “righteous nation” (Isa. 26:2; Ps. 144:15). (This touches the great question of state religion. Are the aims and means of the Church and of the state the same? It is possible to have an established Church, yet an irreligious nation; or many Churches, all free, yet a religious nation.)

V. These words are prophetic of what shall yet be. (Ps. 72:8, 11, 17; Rev. 11:15.) Christ holds the sceptre of providence as well as of grace (Eph. 1:22); and “he must reign” (1 Cor. 15:25).

Conclusion. Practical lessons. 1. The character of a nation depends on the character of its individual citizens. A truly Christian nation would be one the bulk of whose citizens are personally real Christians. Its laws, institutions, and policy would then be moulded by principles learned from God’s Word. 2. Public duty, political, municipal, etc., far from being inconsistent with the Christian calling (as some teach), is, when rightly performed, religious—part of the service we owe to God.


Vers. 1–31.—From darkness to light; or, the song of the early dawn. This is one of the most wonderful of all the psalms. It has gathered round it the study of expositors of most diverse types—from those who see in it scarcely aught but a description beforehand of the Messiah’s suffering and glory, to those who see in it scarcely any Messianic reference at all, and who acknowledge only one sense in which even the term “Messianic” is to be tolerated, even in the fact that light gleams forth after the darkness. Both these extreme views should be avoided, and we venture to ask for the careful and candid attention of the reader, as we move along a specific path in the elucidation of this psalm. The title of the psalm is significant; literally, it reads, “To the chief musician [or, ‘precentor’] upon Aijeleth Shahar [or, ‘the hind of the morning,’ margin]. A Psalm of David.” We accept the heading, here and elsewhere, “a Psalm of David,” unless adequate reason to the contrary can be shown. But what can be the meaning of the expression, “the hind of the morning”? A reference to Fürst’s Lexicon will be found helpful. The phrase is a figurative one, and signifies, “the first light of the morning.” In this psalm we see the light of early morn breaking forth after the deepest darkness of the blackest night. Hence the title given above to this homily. But then the question comes—Whose is the darkness, and whose is the light? We reply—Primarily, the writer’s, whoever he may have been, whether David or any other Old Testament saint. For the psalm is not written in the third person, as is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. There is no room here for the question, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?” In Isa. 53. the reference is to another; in this psalm the wail is declared to be the writer’s own. Yet we have to take note of the fact that in the New Testament there are some seven or eight references to this psalm in which its words and phrases are applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are other phrases in the psalm which were literally true of our Lord, but yet are not quoted in the New Testament. We do not wonder at Bishop Perowne’s remark,137 “Unnatural as I cannot help thinking that interpretation is which assumes that the psalmist himself never felt the sorrows which he describes … I hold that to be a far worse error which sees here no foreshadowing of Christ at all. Indeed, the coincidence between the sufferings of the psalmist and the sufferings of Christ is so remarkable, that it is very surprising that any one should deny or question the relation between the type and the antitype.” To a like effect are the devout and thoughtful words of Orelli, “What the psalmist complains of in mere figurative, though highly coloured terms, befell the Son of God in veritable fact. Herein we see the objective connection, established of set purpose by God’s providence, which so framed even the phrasing of the pious prayer, that without knowledge of the suppliant it became prophecy, and again so controlled even what was outward and seemingly accidental in the history of Jesus, that the old prophetic oracles appear incorporated in it.” There is no reason to think, on the one hand, that the writer was a mere machine, nor yet, on the other, that he fully knew the far-reaching significance of the words he used. And this leads us to a remark which we make once for all, that there are two senses in which psalms may be Messianic—direct and indirect. 1. Direct. In these the reference is exclusively to the Messiah; every phrase is true of him, and of him alone, and cannot be so translated as not to apply to him, nor so that it can, as a whole, apply to any one else. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and also the second and hundred and tenth psalms are illustrations of this. 2. Indirect. In these the first meaning is historical, and applies to the writer himself; but many phrases therein have a second and far-reaching intent; of these the fullest application is to him who was David’s Son and yet David’s Lord. The psalm before us is an illustration of this indirect Messianic structure; and this not only, perhaps not so much, because in the first writing of the words the Spirit of God pointed forward to Christ, as because our Lord himself, having taken a human nature, and shared human experiences, found himself the partaker of like sorrows with the Old Testament saints, plunged into like horrible darkness, which found expression in the very same words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mr. Spurgeon, indeed, admits some possible application to David himself, but says that believers will scarcely care to think of his sufferings; they will rather fasten their gaze on those of their Lord. That is true, in a very touching sense. At the same time, we shall lose much of the comfort the psalm is adapted to afford, if we do not look very distinctly at the sufferings of David, in order to see, with equal distinctness, how completely our Lord shared his “brethren’s” sorrows, darkness, and groans, when he took up their burdens and made them his own.141 Let us therefore deal with this psalm in a twofold outline—first, as it applies to the writer; and then as it it taken up by the Lord Jesus, and made his own (with such exceptions as that named in the first footnote below).

I. Israel’s king passes through deepest darkness to the light. Here let us answer by anticipation a remark with which we have frequently met, to the effect that we cannot fasten on any incident in the career of David which would lead to such extreme anguish as that indicated here. Who that has any knowledge of the horrors to which sensitive souls are liable, could raise any difficulty over this? Far more depends on subjective condition than on outward incident. Why, the saints of God now do pass through times of indescribable anguish, of which no outward incident affords even a glimmer of explanation. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness.” Let the outer occasion have been whatsoever it may, here at any rate is: 1. A saint in terrible darkness. In the midst of his woe, he remembers his transgressions, and it may have been, as is so often the case, that the writer attributes his anguish to his numberless transgressions (ver. 1, LXX.). The details of his intensity of sorrow are manifold. (1) Prayer rises from his heart day and night without relief (ver. 2). (2) He is despised (vers. 6–8). His enemies laugh and mock. (3) His foes, wild, fierce, ravenous, plot his ruin (vers. 12, 13). (4) His strength is spent with sorrow (ver. 15). (5) There are eager anticipations of his speedily being removed out of the way (ver. 18). (6) And, worst of all, it seems as if God, his own God, whom he had trusted from childhood (vers. 9, 10), had now forsaken him, and given him up to his foes. How many suffering saints may find solace in this psalm, as they see how God’s people have suffered before them? Surely few could have a heavier weight of woe than the writer of this plaintive wail. 2. The woe is freely told to God. There may be the stinging memory of bygone sin piercing the soul, still the psalmist cleaves to his God. (1) The heart still craves for God; even in the dark; yea, the more because of the darkness. (2) Hence the abandonment is not actual. However dense the gloom may be, when the soul can cry, “My God,” we may be sure the cry is not unreciprocated. (3) Such a cry will surely be heard. Past deliverances assure us of this. Yea, even ere the wail in the dark is over, the light begins to dawn. “One Sunday morning,” said Mr. Spurgeon, in an address at Mildmay Hall, June 26, 1890, reported in the Christian of July 4, “I preached from the text, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ I could not tell why I should be made to preach it. I felt while preaching as if I were myself forsaken. On the sabbath evening, there came into the vestry a man of about sixty, whose eyes were bright with a strange lustre. He took my hand, and held it, and cried. He said to me, ‘Nobody ever preached my experience before. I have now been for years left, deserted, in a horrible gloom of great darkness; but this morning I learned that I was not the only man in the darkness, and I believe I shall get out!’ I said, ‘Yes; I have got out; but now I know why I was put in.’ That man was brought back from the depths of despair, and restored to joy and peace. There was a child of God, dying in darkness. He said to the minister who spoke with him, ‘Oh, sir, though I have trusted Christ for years, I have lost him now. What can become of a man who dies feeling that God has deserted him?’ The minister replied, ‘What did become of that Man who died saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Is he not on the highest throne of glory even now?’ The man’s mind changed in a moment, and he began to say, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;’ and he died in peace.” 3. The light dawns at last. The “everlasting covenant” does not fail; it has been “ordered in all things,” and remains sure and steadfast; and oftentimes, even while the saint is on his knees, he will scarce have ended his groaning ‘ere his sigh is turned to a song (cf. Ps. 27:12–14). Hence the last ten verses of the psalm are as joyous as the others are sad. “The darkest hour is before the dawn,” and the brightness of morning shall chase away the gloom of night. So it is here. (1) The saint who takes his groans to God alone, shall yet sing his praises in the assemblies of the saints. Having told the rest to his God, he will “give others the sunshine.” (2) The rehearsal of this story shall be the joy of other hearts in day to come (vers. 25–27). (3) The outcome of all will be that God will vindicate his own honour, and that the generation yet unborn will praise him and declare his righteousness.

II. Words of a suffering saint are appropriated by a suffering Saviour. The Lord Jesus Christ, in all things “made like unto his brethren,” takes up words from this psalm into his own lips. If we were dealing only with the Messianic aspect of the psalm, we should open it up in the following order: (1) The Saviour’s suffering. (2) The Saviour’s inquiry: “Why?” (3) The Saviour’s joy. Since, however, we are seeking to expound the psalm in both its aspects, we rather indicate four lines of thought, the pursuing of which will throw light on the wonder of the appropriation of the words of a suffering saint by a suffering Saviour; while some look at the fierce cry with which this psalm begins as intended to set forth the woes of the coming Messiah, that cry seems to us far more touching when we find that our dear Redeemer uses the words of an ancient sufferer as his own! Observe: 1. There is no depth of sorrow through which the saint can pass, but Jesus understands it all. How many causes of woe are enumerated here! But in all points Jesus felt the same. The writer endured (1) the cutting remarks of many; (2) weakness; (3) reproach and scorn; (4) the plotting of foes; (5) the treachery of friends; and, worst of all, (6) the sense of separation form God. Every one of these forms of hardship and ill pressed sorely on Jesus; and though we may meditate continuously and with ever-deepening wonder on each of them, yet all the rest fade away into insignificance compared with the anguish that arose from the hiding of the Father’s face. Every trouble can be borne when the Father is seen to smile; but when his face is hidden in a total eclipse, what darkness can be so dreadful as that? There was, as it were, a hiding of the face from him (Isa. 53:3). Let those saints of God who have to pass through seasons of prolonged mental anguish remember that, however severe the conflict may be, the Saviour has passed through one still more terrible than theirs. 2. If even the saint asks “why?” even so did the Saviour. The “why?” however, applies only to the opening words—to the hiding of God’s face. There may be mystery therein, even when (as in the case of every saint) there are transgressions to be bemoaned. But our Saviour has an unfathomable woe, “yet without sin.” The “why?” then, imperatively requires an answer. In the fire, at the faggot, and at the stake, martyrs have sung for joy. Why is it that at the moment of direst need the sinless Sufferer should have felt aught so dreadful as abandonment by God? Not that the abandonment was real. The Father never loved the Son more than when he hung bleeding on the cross. But our Saviour endured the sense of it. Why was this? He did not deserve it. But he had laden himself with our burden. “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.” Nor do we know that we can put the pith and essence of the atonement in fewer words than these: (1) sin separates from God; (2) Jesus bore our sin; therefore (3) Jesus endured the sense of separation. We can understand that, coming as Man into the midst of a sinful race, all the suffering which a holy nature must endure in conflict with sinful men would be his. But the sense of desertion by God while doing his Father’s will can only be accounted for by the amazing fact that “he sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins.” 3. In passing through his manifold experience of sorrow, the Saviour learned to suffer with the saint, and was being made perfect as the Captain of salvation. (Heb. 2:10; 5:2, 7, 8, 9.) Our Saviour was (1) to lead many sons unto glory; (2) to be One who could sympathize, soothe, and succour in every case of woe (Heb. 2:18); (3) to be One who by his sympathetic power could inspire his hosts; and (4) to teach them that, as they were destined to follow him in his heavenly glory, they must not be surprised if they have first to follow him in the pathway of woe. “The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord.” Objection: “But how can the sympathy of Jesus with me be perfect? He was without sin, and I am not. So the parallel fails.” Good people who urge this objection forget that it is the presence of sin in each of us which makes our sympathy with each other so imperfect. Because Jesus was without sin, he can draw the line exactly between defects that are due to infirmity and such as are traceable to sin. The second he forgives; the first he pities. Is not this the very perfection of sympathy?

III. The words of the saint emerging from his gloom are appropriate to the Saviour in his exaltation and triumph. With the Saviour, as with the psalmist, the darkest night was the prelude to the brightness of day. The brightness which marks the last ten verses of the psalm is a declaration that the kingdom of David shall be established for ever and ever, and that, though David may have to pass through fire and flood, his kingdom shall abide through age after age; and thus we find the phraseology of these verses applied to the after-career of David’s Son and David’s Lord in Heb. 2:11, 12. Whence five points invite attention. The Holy Ghost, inditing the psalmist’s words so that they forecast the issue of Messiah’s sufferings as well as his own, shows us our Saviour (1) emerging from the conflict; (2) joining with his people in songs of rejoicing; (3) declaring the Father’s Name to his “brethren;” (4) gathering home the severed tribes of mankind; (5) bringing in the victorious kingdom (vers. 21–31). It is not, it is not for nought that the Messiah endured all his woe (Isa. 53:11; Heb. 12:1, 2; Phil. 2:11). It behoved him to suffer, and then “to enter into his glory.” And as with the Master, so with the servant. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” He hath said, “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” Following him in sharing his cross, we shall follow him in sharing his crown.—C.

Vers. 1–31.—A struggle from the gloom of adversity to peace and joy. It was said among the heathen that a just man struggling with adversity was a sight worthy of the gods. Such a sight we have here. We see a truly just man struggling from the gloomiest depths of adversity upwards to the serene heights of peace and joy in God. Three stages may be marked.

I. The wail of desertion. (Vers. 1–10.) Suffering is no “strange thing.” It comes sooner or later to all. Always, and especially in its severer forms, it is a mystery. We cry, “Why?” “Why am I thus?” “Why all this from God to me?” God’s servants who have been most afflicted have most felt this mystery. So it was with Abraham, when “the horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12). So it was with Jacob, in that night of long and awful wrestling with the angel (Gen. 32:24). So it was with Moses and the prophets (Isa. 40:27). So it was with the psalmist here. His sufferings were intensified by the sense of desertion (vers. 1, 2). He cried to God, but there was no answer. He continued day and night in prayer, and yet there was no response. And yet he will not give up his trust in God. He tries to calm himself by remembrance of God’s holiness and love, and by the thought of God’s gracious dealings with his people. But, alas! this only aggravated his pain. The contrast was sharp and terrible. “Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them. But I am a worm, and no man.” It seemed to him that the desertion, which he felt so keenly, was equally apparent to others. But instead of pity, there was scorn; instead of sympathy, there was reproach. Lowered in the estimation of others, he was lowered also in his own. All this seemed irreconcilable with a right relation to God. He cannot understand, but no more can he reproach. The bond of love is strained, but it is not ruptured. Like Job, he is ready to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” How thankful should we be for such revelations! They not only teach us patience, but they help us in the time of our trial to draw nearer in loving concord with Jesus and his saints.

II. The prayer of trust. There is a time to speak. Speech helps to unburden the heart. But the psalmist does not cry for help till he has reached a calmer mood, and so far encouraged himself by recollection of God’s love and kindness in his life from the first (vers. 9, 10). He looks to the past, that he may be braced to look at the present. Then, in sight of all the distresses and perils that surrounded him, he cries mightily to God (vers. 11–18). His faith is sorely tried, but it does not fail. Even with things waxing worse and worse, with enemies many and fierce, with strength well-nigh worn out, with death staring him in the face (ver. 18), he renews his pathetic cry, “Be not far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me” (vers. 19–21).

III. The song of victory. The capacity of the soul is wonderful. It can sink very low, and it can rise very high. It has been said of prayer—

“What changes one short hour

Spent in thy presence has availed to make!”

And we see this here. Fear is turned to praise (vers. 22–24). Loneliness gives place to the joys of “the great congregation” (vers. 25, 26). Individual sufferings are forgotten in the glad vision of the triumphs of Messiah, and the glory and blessedness of his kingdom (vers. 27–31). Who is there who loves the Lord, whose heart does not rejoice in foretaste and foresight of these good times, and with renewed ardour pray, “Thy kingdom come”?—W. F.

Vers. 1–10.—The cry of despair struggling with the cry of faith. The writer was apparently an exile, still in the hands of his heathen captors. His extreme peril, the obloquy and scorn to which he was exposed as a professed worshipper of Jehovah, his imminent death, are touched on with a tenderness and a power which have made the language familiar to us in another application—as used by Christ in the agonies of the cross. It is the cry of despair struggling with the cry of faith.

I. The cry of despair. That God had forsaken him. 1. Had forsaken him for a long time. (Vers. 1, 2.) It was not a temporary eclipse, but seemed a permanent desertion. 2. That this abandonment was somehow consistent with God’s faithfulness. (Ver. 3.) There was no doubt it did not arise from caprice, but from holiness. That made the darkness very dark. 3. It arose from his personal unworthiness. (Vers. 4–6.) God had rescued his fathers; but he was a worm, and not a man, unworthy of deliverance, despised of men. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob.” 4. A contrast to God’s former care of him. (Vers. 9, 10.) Not easy to analyze the contents of such a consciousness. But in general, “It is the sense of the Divine mercy, care, and support gone!”

II. But there is in the background, faith struggling against this despair. 1. He still can say, “My God.” Repeatedly (vers. 1, 2). No unbelief could dissolve that tie. 2. Faith will not let go its hold upon his “holiness,” however dark its aspect towards him now. (Ver. 3.) God cannot be far from a man who retains the sense of his holy faithfulness. 3. He is suffering in the righteous cause—for God’s sake. (Vers. 6–8.) As Christ was. There is more than a gleam of hope for him here. 4. God had brought him into the world, and cared for him in helpless infancy. (Vers. 9, 10.) These are the grounds of persistent faith battling against the sense of desertion and despair; and they are all-sufficient for us in our darkest hours. “We can but trust; we cannot know.”—S.

Vers. 11–21.—Prayer in suffering. The persecuted exile continues to speak of his sufferings, but seems to rise up out of the despair of the first verse into the faith implied in prayer. Much of the suffering here described, if not productive, was at least typical, of the suffering of Christ. An argument is still going on in the sufferer’s mind as to whether God had finally forsaken him or not. He has been trying in the first ten verses to argue down the feeling, but has not yet succeeded; and now he breaks out into prayer, driven by the urgency of the crisis into which he has come.

I. The argument of the prayer. The general argument is stated in the eleventh verse. Trouble was near, and there was none to help; it had come to the last extremity with him, and not to help now would be completely and finally to forsake. The particulars of the argument are: 1. The strength and fury of his persecutors. (Vers. 12, 13, 16.) They are compared to bulls and lions, the most formidable beasts a man can encounter. Further on his enemies are compared to wild dogs, that have enclosed and surrounded him. So that there is no escape except by the hand of God. 2. He has lost all strength of body and courage of heart. (Vers. 14–17.) He sees no human means of escaping death. Severe trials from man and the Divine desertion (ver. 15) have “laid him in the dust of death.” 3. The last act of indignity, previous to his death, has been accomplished. (Ver. 18.) They strip him, and cast lots for his garments. So that this is a cry for deliverance, uttered in the very jaws of death itself. Of course, the psalm was written after the experiences it describes.

II. The prayer itself. It was begun at the eleventh verse, and now again breaks forth with full power (vers. 19–21). 1. He cries to the Infinite Strength to make haste to help him. This looks back to the second verse, where he complains, “Thou answerest me not;” and, if help is to come, it must come at once, for he is in the very article of death. 2. He is alone and unfriended among ruthless enemies. “My darling,” equivalent to “my lovely person” (ver. 20). Utterly and solely dependent on God, as we shall be in dying. 3. The cry ends with an expression of assured confidence. (Ver. 21, “Thou hast answered me.”) “Thou hast heard me.” At last he sees deliverance at hand, and knows that his prayer has been heard, and he has been delivered from death.—S.

Vers. 22–31.—Consequences of deliverance. In this last part the sufferer depicts the happy consequences of his deliverance, which he anticipates in faith, and, lifted up in spirit above the present, beholds, as if it were already present.

I. The psalmist’s deliverance shall be a cause of rejoicing to all Israel. (Vers. 22–26.) 1. He will inspire the whole congregation with the tidings. We cannot and ought not to keep to ourselves the great fact of our salvation. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee,” etc. 2. The good tidings were that God had answered the cry of one who was in the very jaws of death. (Ver. 24.) And if he had heard one, the unavoidable conclusion was that he would hear all who cried to him. The psalmist’s experience showed that God’s mercy was universal; that was the suppressed premiss of this argument.

II. The knowledge of God’s redeeming grace shall extend to heathen nations. (Vers. 27, 28.) This is to be rejoiced in. 1. Because the heathen have greater need of it than the Church. The Church (Israel) have already some knowledge of it; but the heathen are sunk in deeper sins and sorrows, and have no knowledge of God’s redeeming grace. 2. It is God’s will that the heathen should know and receive his grace. He saves one man or one nation, in order that they should make his work known to other men and other nations. He is to be made known as “the Governor among the nations.”

III. All classes, whether happy or miserable, shall welcome this knowledge. (Ver. 29.) 1. The great spiritual feast will be enjoyed by those who live in outward abundance. Because here is food for which even the satisfied are still hungry, which their plenty cannot supply. All guests are poor here, and God is rich for all. 2. It is a fountain of life to those ready to sink in death. They shall bow before and worship him.

IV. The present age sends forward the glad tidings to posterity. (Vers. 30, 31.) See how God’s work, beginning with a single individual, propagates itself by its effects upon the mind, spreading, first among those nearest to him; then, through them, to those remote, among the rich and poor, the living and the dying; and on through the ages with ever-increasing power and influence.—S.



This little psalm is an idyll of great beauty, describing the peace and calm delight which dwell with one whose trust is wholly in God. David’s authorship, asserted in the title, is highly probable; but we cannot fix the poem to any special period in his lifetime; we can only say that he is beyond the days of boyhood, having already enemies (ver. 5), and that he has known what it is to be in danger of death (ver. 4). But, when he writes, he is experiencing a time of rest and refreshment (vers. 1–3), nay, of prosperity and abundance (ver. 5). His thoughts are happy thoughts—he lacks nothing; he has no fear; God’s mercy and goodness are with him; and he feels assured that they will continue with him all the days of his life (ver. 6); he has but one desire for the future, viz. to dwell in the house of God—i.e. in the presence of God—for ever.

Ver. 1.—The Lord is my Shepherd. This metaphor, so frequent in the later Scriptures (Isa. 40:11; 49:9, 10; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:6–19; John 10:11–19, 26–28; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4; Rev. 7:17), is perhaps implied in Gen. 48:15, but first appears, plainly and openly, in the Davidical psalms (see, besides the present passage, Pss. 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1—psalms which, if not David’s, belong to the time, and were written under the influence, of David). It is a metaphor specially consecrated to us by our Lord’s employment and endorsement of it (John 10:11–16). I shall not want. The Prayer-book Version brings out the full sense, “Therefore can I lack nothing” (comp. Deut. 2:7; 8:9; and Matt. 6:31–33).

Ver. 2.—He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; literally, in grassy homesteads—”the richer, oasis-like spots, where a homestead would be fixed in a barren tract of land” (Kay). He leadeth me beside the still waters; rather, waters of refreshment; ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεως (LXX).

Ver. 3.—He restoreth my soul;
i.e. revives it and reinvigorates it when it is exhausted and weary (see the comment on Ps. 19:7, where the same verb occurs). He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. Which are also “paths of pleasantness and peace” (Prov. 3:17). For his Name’s sake. To magnify his Name as a gracious and merciful God.

Ver. 4.—Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. A sudden transition and contrast, such as David loved. The quiet paths of righteousness and peace remind the poet of the exact opposite—the dark and dismal way through the valley of the shadow of death. Even when so situated, he does not, he will not, fear. I will fear no evil, he says. And why? For thou art with me. The same Protector, the same gracious and merciful God, will be still with him—leading him, guiding his steps, shepherding him, keeping him from evil. Thou art with me, thy rod and thy staffi.e. thy shepherd’s crook, and thy staff of defence—they comfort me. They make me feel that, however long and however dreary the way through the dark vale, I shall still have thy guidance and thy protection.

Ver. 5.—Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Another transition. The danger of death is past. David reverts to the thought of the tranquil, happy, joyous time which God has vouchsafed to grant him. He has “adversaries,” indeed, but they are powerless to effect anything against him. They have to look on with ill-concealed annoyance at his prosperity, to see his table amply spread; his condition such as men generally envy; his wealth typified by abundant oil—thou anointest (or, makest fat, marginal rendering) my head with oil—great, his whole life full to overflowing with blessedness. My cup runneth over, he declares—is not only full to the brim, but runs over the brim—an expressive metaphor, indicative of a state of bliss rarely experienced in this life.

Ver. 6.—Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The past is an earnest of the future. As God’s “goodness and mercy” have always followed him hitherto, David has no doubt that they will continue to cling to him while his life continues. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (comp. Ps. 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple”). Such passages are, of course, not to be understood literally; they express the longing of the soul for a sense of the continual presence of God, and a realization of constant communion with him.


Ver. 1.—Human experience and Divine inspiration. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The few verses which compose this psalm would leave but a small blank on the page, if blotted out; but suppose all translations which have been made of them into all languages, all references to them in literature, all remembrance of them in human hearts, could be effaced, who can measure the blank, the void, the loss? To have written this short psalm is one of the highest honours ever put upon man. What libraries have these few lines survived? Yet they are as fresh as if written yesterday. They make themselves at home in every language. They touch, inspire, comfort us, not as an echo from three thousand years ago, but as the voice of a living friend. The child repeats them at his mother’s knee; the scholar expends on them his choicest learning; the plain Christian loves them for their simplicity as much as for their beauty; the Church lifts them to heaven in the many-voiced chorus; they fall like music on the sick man’s ear and heart; the dying Christian says, “That is my psalm,” and cheers himself with its words of faith and courage as he enters the dark valley. Mere poetic beauty could not confer or explain this marvellous power. The secret of it is twofold. These words are the language (1) of human experience, and (2) of Divine inspiration.

I. Human experience. This is the utterance of weakness and of trust. In the Bible, as in the Person of our Saviour, the human and the Divine are found, not apart, but in closest union. God spake not merely by the lips or pens of the prophets, but by the men themselves (2 Pet. 1:21). Were an angel to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” this would bring no assurance to a frail, sinful human heart. A voice from heaven might declare, “The Lord is a Shepherd,” or as promise, “The Lord is your Shepherd;” but only the voice of a brother man, weak and needy as ourselves, can speak this word, the key-note of the whole psalm, “my Shepherd.” God could have given us a Bible written, like the tables of the Law, “with the finger of God;” but he has spoken through the minds and hearts and personal experience of men of like passions with ourselves, making their faith, penitence, sorrow, joy, prayer, thanksgiving, the mirror and pattern of our own. This is the voice of personal experience. David is better known to us than any Bible hero except St. Paul. This psalm leads back our thoughts to his youth; but it is no youthful composition—it bears the stamp of deep experience. The young shepherd might have sung of the famous past, or of the glorious future; but the veteran king, looking back to his youth, sees in it a meaning he could not have seen then, and a light shining all along his path.

II. Inspired words. Sweet and deep as are these echoes from the depth of the past, they would never have reached us had they been no more than the words of a man, though a hero, a poet, a king; they are the voice of God’s Spirit in him. Hence, with that continuity which is one principal note of the inspiration of Scripture, we find this image taken up again and again, especially in five passages of signal importance—two in the Old Testament, three in the New. 1. In Ezek. 34 God is seen as the Shepherd of his people—the nation and Church of Israel. Hence the similitude passes on to the New Testament. Christ is the chief Shepherd, who employs under-shepherds to feed his flock (John 21:15–17; 1 Pet. 5:2–4). 2. In Isa. 40:11 (as in the psalm) Christ’s tender care of individuals, even the youngest, is represented. 3 and 4. In Luke 15:3–7 and John 10:1–16 our Saviour appropriates this similitude to himself, as seeking and saving the lost, ruling and feeding each one who follows him, laying down his life for the flock, gathering “other sheep” into “one flock.” 5. In Rev. 7:16, 17 we see the Divine Shepherd gathering his whole flock in the safety, rest, and joy of heaven.

Conclusion. Can you say, “The Lord is my Shepherd”? If not, the gospel has not yet fulfilled its mission in your heart and life. Observe, the warrant is not in yourself, but in your Saviour; not, “I am one of Christ’s flock,” but, “He is my Shepherd.” If you can say this, then you may fearlessly cast all your care on him, and finish the verse, “I shall not want” (1 Pet. 5:7; Matt. 6:25, 26).

Vers. 1–4.—”The Shepherd of Israel.” To a countryman of David, an ancient Israelite, the shepherd with his flock was no poetical figure, but a most familiar object. From Carmel to Gilead, from Hermon to the pastures of the wilderness of Paran, the green hills of Canaan were covered with flocks. On these same hills and plains the forefathers of the nation—Abraham, Isaac, Israel—had pitched their camps and fed their flocks, when as yet they could not call a rood of land their own. With us the shepherd’s trade is a very humble calling. The shepherd, though he may tend the sheep as faithfully as if they were his own, is a hired servant, “whose own the sheep are not.” We must dismiss all such associations if we would understand either the poetry or the parables of Scripture. Abraham and his descendants were not the only wealthy chiefs who fed their own flocks and herds. In Homer’s poetry, princes and princesses are seen tending their flocks, and kings and rulers are called, as in Scripture, “shepherds of the people.” Rightly understood, it is an image of as great dignity as tenderness by which the Lord is spoken of as “the Shepherd of Israel;” and each believer is encouraged to say, with David, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

I. Divine ownership. (Ps. 100:3, Revised Version.) This is a sublime contemplation, full of comfort, but also of awe. “I belong to God.” God is the only absolute Owner. “The earth,” etc. (Pss. 24:1; 95:5; 115:16). We talk largely about our possessions—”My money, business, home; my time, labour, life.” All well enough—for he “giveth us all,” etc. (1 Tim. 6:17)—if only we never forget that all is his, that we belong to him. “Despotism”—q.d. absolute, unlimited, lordship—is a word of terror and degradation among men, because of the cruel, selfish, tyrannical use men have made of it. Doubtful if there lives a man who could safely be trusted with it. But in Divine lordship is no shadow of terror, except for the wilfully, wickedly disobedient, no taint of degradation, no suggestion of tyranny or arbitrary caprice. It would be absurd to suppose there can be a right to do wrong with God any more than with man. God’s wisdom, love, righteousness, are a law to himself. That he is Lord of all is our safety, glory, joy. God must cease to be himself before he can inflict the lightest wrong on the weakest or unworthiest of his creatures.

II. Divine goodness, compassion, tender and watchful care. Religion, worthy of the name, cannot subsist on the bare relation of Creator and creature, any more than flowers and fruit on granite; it must be “rooted and grounded in love.” The assurance that God cannot possibly inflict wrong might free us from the slavery of fear, which otherwise the thought of his absolute ownership might bring with it, but would not suffice to fill our life with brightness and joy, our heart with trust and courage. To feel in any measure the force and beauty of the similitude, and get into sympathy with the soul of the psalmist, we must get rid of all that is mean, hard, mercenary in our modern English notions, and dress our thoughts in the bright colours of Eastern life; we must see the shepherd opening the well-guarded fold and walking at the head of his own flock, calling now one, now another, by its name, while the sheep willingly follow, for they know and love their shepherd’s voice; see him in dewy morning choosing their pasture, at hot noon leading them to some tranquil pool or hidden well, ever on the watch; ready, like David, to do battle with lion, bear, or wolf, in their defence; rather laying down his life than leaving them to perish (John 10:11). “The Lord is my Shepherd,” etc. (vers. 1, 2). In vers. 3, 4 the spiritual meaning shines through the figure, as in vers. 5, 6 it is laid aside altogether; yet still the psalmist speaks of the “rod and staff.” “Rod,” the shepherd’s crook, the received emblem of authority, guidance, and discipline. “Staff,” that on which one leans, emblem of Divine strength and support. (Only one word would be used of a real shepherd; the two are employed for the full spiritual meaning.) All is not ease and brightness in the lives which God has in his wisest, tenderest care. Divine shepherding means more than green pastures and still waters; it sometimes means “the valley of the shadow of death.” “Paths of righteousness” may be taken to include both the way of duty and the leading of God’s providence. In both, the right path must be, in the highest sense, the safe path, but it may be the path of deadly peril and anguish (Ps. 34:19). Our blessed Lord’s own path led through Gethsemane to Calvary. “The valley of the shadow of death” must not be limited to mean only the actual approach and experience of death; it may stand for any crisis of danger, suffering, or weakness, bodily or spiritual. Travellers tell of a desolate gorge near Ispahan, “the valley of the angel of death.” Through such a ravine, trackless, waterless, gloomy with overhanging precipices, where in every cleft wild beasts or robbers may lurk, the psalmist imagines himself led. But the Divine Shepherd is with him: this forbids fear. In Bunyan’s glorious dream the valley is placed midway in Christian’s pilgrimage—the image of fierce spiritual conflict (Ps. 18:5). The hardest trial that can befall the believer is, when tempted to doubt God’s goodness, to deem himself forsaken. The answer to all doubt is, “Thou art with me” (Isa. 50:10). The same trials are not appointed for all God’s children. Faithful, whom martyrdom awaited in Vanity Fair, had sunshine all through the valley. But there is a point to which all paths converge. If we must not limit the figure, still less must we exclude that one application common to all, that experience in which we must be absolutely alone, unless we can say, “Thou art with me.” Death. Here, again, experience wonderfully varies. To some the approach of death is a valley of sunshine, not shadow, or only such as falls from a summer cloud; to some, a momentary passage—through before they know it; to some, dark and rough with long suffering; to a few (even real Christians), gloomy with spiritual conflict. Here, then, above all, we need (both for ourselves and others) that highest application of this comforting image taught by our Lord himself (John 10:1–18, 26–29).

III. The Saviour’s constant presence and redeeming grace. (Comp. vers. 1, 2 with John 10:9; 7:37.) It is his to “restore the soul,” to reclaim the lost sheep (Luke 15:3–7), raise the fallen, refresh the weak, to lead in the path of duty (John 8:12). But especially in times of urgent need is his presence to be claimed and felt. With Paul and his companions it was a veritable valley of the shadow of death, when “all hope … was taken away” (see Acts 27:20, 23; again 2 Tim. 4:16, 17). Above all, in the hour and moment of death he has passed through it; he has “the keys;” he alone can be with us. Gentle and tranquil often is the actual approach of death; weakness and unconsciousness prevent fear; but take away the gospel, take away Christ, and who in health and strength can calmly face death, and say, “I will fear no evil”? You may be an unbeliever. Suppose the gospel not true, it does not follow there is nothing beyond death. But the believer has a right to say this—knows what is beyond (John 14:2–4; Rev. 7:15–17).

Ver. 6.—Goodness and mercy. “Surely goodness”, etc. These two words, “goodness” and “mercy”, are to be taken together rather than over-curiously distinguished. Yet they are not mere synonyms. Goodness is the stream, mercy the fountain; goodness the open hand of God’s bounty, mercy his loving heart. “Mercy” is not to be taken in the restricted sense in which we often use it, as contrasted with justice—goodness to the unworthy, pardon to the guilty. It is (in the Hebrew) the same word often beautifully Englished as “loving-kindness” (e.g. Ps. 107:43). “Goodness” reminds us that our nature is a bundle of wants; “mercy,” that our deepest, highest need can be satisfied, not by all God’s gifts, but only by himself. Faith here employs the great law of experience, and from the past infers the future. Consider (1) the wealth of hope, (2) the blessedness of certainty, expressed in these words.

I. The wealth of hope. 1. “All the days of my life”—days to come, as in days past. The course of thought in this psalm reminds us of a path which, after crossing peaceful plains and narrow gorges, climbs the mountain, and from its top beholds the wide, glorious prospect bathed in sunshine. This is the privilege of faith; only faith can see goodness and mercy in all God’s past dealings, and foresee them in all to come; for that varied fitness which is one great feature of God’s loving-kindness, implies a great mixture of rough with smooth, dark and bright. The “restoring of the soul” implies wandering, and means chastening as well as forgiveness. The “rod and staff” are needed in the dark valley; the table is spread in the desert and amongst foes. A child can see that a cricket-ball is a globe; but it needed much philosophy to convince men that this great world, which to ordinary vision is flat, is a globe too. So any eye can see goodness and mercy in health, wealth, prosperity, joy; but in sickness, poverty bereavement, private or public calamity, we are ready to ask Gideon’s question (Judg 6:13). It needs strong faith to be sure that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Ps. 25:10). To have David’s bold hope, we need David’s experience, submission, unreserved trust. 2. “And I will dwell … for ever.” This cannot mean the earthly tabernacle. David could not dwell there; even a priest or Levite could not dwell there “for ever.” He means the heavenly temple (Ps. 11:4). How bright or dim his faith was we know not. But for us the way into the holiest is made plain (Heb. 9:8, 24; 10:19, 20).

II. Here is a glorious emphasis of certainty. “Surely;” “all the days;” “I will dwell,” or “I shall dwell;” not simply “I choose and desire,” but “I expect assuredly to dwell in my Father’s house for ever.” Beyond the rough, weary, winding path lies rest; beyond the conflict, peace. The mysteries and seeming contradictions of God’s dealings, compared with his promises, cannot last long. Faith sees them vanish in the light of eternity. Whence this calm, exulting security? How can one whose life is “a vapour” (Jas. 4:14), standing on a point which crumbles beneath his feet, ignorant what the next hour may bring, thus boldly challenge the hidden future of earthly life, the boundless future beyond? The answer comes from the Divine Shepherd, the faithful Witness—”Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:1–3, 19; 12:26; 2 Cor. 5:1; Rom. 8:35–39).


Vers. 1–6.—The good Shepherd and his flock. This is one of the sweetest of all the psalms. That it was written by him who was raised from having care of a flock to be the king on Israel’s throne, there is no reason for doubting, spite of all that destructive critics may say. No amount of Hebrew scholarship can possibly let any one into the deep meaning of this psalm. No attainments in English literature will ever initiate any student into the mysteries of a mother’s love, and no attainments in Oriental learning will help any one to learn the secret of the Lord which is here disclosed. There is nothing to equal it in the sacred books of the East; for none but the Hebrews have ever had such a disclosure of God as that in which the writer of this psalm rejoices. Every clause in this psalm is suggestive enough to be the basis of a separate discourse; but in accordance with our plan in this section of the ‘Pulpit Commentary,’ we deal with it as a unity, indicating the wealth of material for perpetual use therein contained. We have presented to us—Four aspects of the Shepherd-care of God.

I. God’s Shepherd-care disclosed in revelation. For the Scripture doctrine of God’s relation to his people as their Shepherd, the student may with advantage study and compare the following: Pss. 74:1; 77:20; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; 119:176; Isa. 40:11; 53:6; Jer. 31:10; 23:1–3; Ezek. 34. Micah 7:14; Zech. 11:16; 13:7; Matt. 10:6; 15:24; 18:12; Luke 15:4–6; John 10:1–16, 26–29; 21:16; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4. These passages summarize Bible teaching on this theme for us. We may set it forth under the following heads: 1. God is related to men as their Shepherd. A purely absolute Being out of relation does not exist. To whatever God has made he stands in the relation of Maker. And when he has made man in his own image, after his likeness, he stands to such a one in a relation corresponding thereto; and of the many names he bears to express that relation, few more tenderly illustrate his watchful care than this word “shepherd.” 2. This relation is manifested in Jesus Christ. (John 10:1–16.) He claims to be emphatically “the good Shepherd.” The apostle speaks of him as “the Shepherd and Bishop of … souls.” 3. As the Shepherd, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His mission on earth was emphatically for this. He regards men as his wealth, in which he rejoices; and if they are not under his loving care he misses them—he is conscious of something lacking (Luke 15:4–6). 4. He has risen and ascended up on high as the great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20). 5. He now appoints under-shepherds to care for the flock. (Acts 20:28.) 6. As the chief Shepherd, he will again appear. Then he will gather in and gather home all the flock (1 Pet. 5:4). 7. Only as he gathers men to himself as their Shepherd, do they find safety and rest. (1 Pet. 2:25.) Till then they are homeless wanderers, perpetually in danger of stumbling “over the dark mountains.” 8. When men return to him they find all they need in his Shepherd-care. (Ps. 23.) 9. This Shepherd-care is for each as well as for all. Each one may say, “He loved me, and gave himself up for me;” “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Let us not forget to note the Shepherd’s individualizing care.

II. God’s Shepherd-care exercised in act. The points of detail are set forth in this psalm with exquisite tenderness and beauty. 1. Repose. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” In such a restless age as this, there is no thought which a believer has greater need to appropriate than this (see Mark 6:31). As physically we must find time for sleep, however severe the pressure of work, so spiritually we must find time for repose. And God’s gracious arrangements are planned with a view to this. “He maketh me,” etc. The good Shepherd says, “I will give you rest.” When he gets back the wandering sheep he lays it on his own shoulders (Greek, see Luke 15:5). The Master never expects his servants to be always on the stretch. He tells them to “rest awhile;” and if they are heedless of this kind monition, he will himself call them out of the rush into the hush of life. It would be well if some Christians thought more of rest in Christ; their work would be richer in quality even if less in quantity. 2. Refreshment. “Still waters;” literally, “waters of rest,” or refreshment. The believer has no craving thirst: he can ever drink of the living stream, and therewith be refreshed (see John 4:10; Rev. 7:17). Dropping the figure, the truth here conveyed is that there shall be a constant supply of the grace of Christ, and of the Spirit of Christ (cf. John 7:37–39). 3. Restoration. (Ver. 3.) This may either mean renewing the strength when worn down, or bringing back after wandering. We need not omit either thought, though the latter seems principally intended. 4. Leadership. (Ver. 3.) “Paths of righteousness,” i.e. straight paths. This follows on the restoration. Having recalled him from “by-paths,” the good Shepherd will lead him in the right way. The sheep can wander wide easily enough, but if they are to be kept in the right way, that can be only through the Shepherd’s care. God guides by (1) his Word; (2) his providence; (3) his Spirit. Sometimes, indeed, the way may be dark, even as death itself; still it is the right way (Ps. 107:7; Ezra 8:21–23). 5. A living presence. “Thou art with me” (ver. 4). This means, “Thou art continually with me,” not merely with me in the darkness, but with me always. The sunshine of the living presence of a Guide, Help, Friend, Saviour, is always on the believer’s path; and if the mingling of unbelief with faith did not dim the eyesight, he would always rejoice in it. 6. Discipline. (Ver. 4.) The rod and staff are special emblems of the Shepherd’s care in tending and ruling the flock. The Shepherd chides us when we rove, and uses sometimes sharp measures ere he recalls us. And this comforts us! Even so. The disciplinary dealings of our God are among our greatest mercies. 7. Ample provision. (Ver. 5.) The riches of God’s love and life are the provisions on which we feed, and on which souls can grow and thrive; and these supplies are ministered to the soul through the invisible channels of God’s grace, even while enemies prowl around. Yea, we are entertained as guests at the Father’s board. The anointing oil is the token of the right royal welcome which the Host delights to give! So rich, so abundant, are the mercies and joys which are vouchsafed, that our “cup runneth over”!

III. This Shepherd-care of God is accepted, and in it the needy one glories. We can but hint. 1. Here is appropriation.My Shepherd” (see John 10:11, 27, 28). 2. Here is satisfaction. “I shall not want.” 3. Here is loyalty. The psalmist not only consents to but delights in this Divine care, and has no wish but to follow where the Shepherd leads. 4. Here is joy. This thought is (perhaps latently, but really) in the expression, “Thou art with me.” The presence of God is life’s exceeding joy. 5. Here is fearlessness. “I will fear no evil.” Not even the darkest shade can make him fear, for God is with him there. 6. Here is recognition of the infinite grace of the Shepherd. (Ver. 3.) “For his Name’s sake.” Not for our sakes, but for his own; having undertaken to be the Shepherd, he will for his own glory’s sake do all that a shepherd’s care demands.

IV. The Shepherd-care of God is celebrated in song. The song has a threefold significance. 1. It is a song of gratitude. “Goodness and mercy” mark every feature of the Divine treatment, and they will, to life’s end. 2. It is a song of hope. The psalmist looks forward, without a moment’s fear of the Shepherd ever leaving him (ver. 6). 3. It is a song and vow of consecration. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” To what extent David thought of a future state when he wrote these words, we cannot say. Yet his meaning is to some extent clear. The house of God was the place where God made his home and manifested himself to his people (see Ps. 132:13–16). And the writer says, “Where God makes his home, there shall be mine. He and I will never part company” (see Pss. 61:4; 48:14; 73:24–26). It was not the house of God, but the God of the house, that was to be David’s home—and the home of all the saints—for ever and for ever!

There is a picture by Sir Noel Paton, which is a marvellous illustration of this psalm. It is entitled, ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death.’ It is worthy of prolonged study. In the foreground is a dismal and dark valley, through which a blasting wind has swept, laying low alike the warrior and the king; the helmet of the one and the crown of the other lie useless on the ground. In the centre of the picture is the Lord Jesus, with a halo of glory over his head, a crown of thorns around his brow, and in one hand a shepherd’s staff. On the left is a young maiden, whose face bears traces of the terror she has felt in coming through the valley, and yet of radiant hope as she now sees the good Shepherd there. She grasps his hand; he holds hers; his feet stand on a gravestone, beneath which lie the remains of the fallen; but where the Shepherd sets his feet, the tombstone is luminous with the words, “Death is swallowed up in victory!” The very sight of that glorious picture weaned one from the vanities of the world, and drew her to Jesus; and in the case of “an old disciple” it completely abolished the fear of death! May we all, by faith, catch a glimpse of our Shepherd, and every fear will vanish quite away!—C.

Vers. 1–6.—The good Shepherd. Dr. Arnold said that “amongst Christians, all looking upon the Scriptures as their rule of faith and life, there are particular passages which will most suit the wants of particular minds, and appear to them therefore full of an extraordinary measure of comfort and of wisdom.” This is true. Most people have their favourite passages of Scripture. But it may be said of this psalm that it holds a peculiar position. It has for more than three thousand years been one of the most precious possessions of the Church. Jews and Christians alike hold it dear, and there are few, if they were asked, but would thankfully confess that of all the psalms, it was to them the sweetest and most precious. It is among the psalms what Daniel was, compared with other men, “greatly beloved.” Why is this? Much, no doubt, depends upon association; but apart from this there are reasons, in the psalm itself, to account for the high place which it holds in all hearts. Three may be mentioned.

I. Because it brings God before us in so endearing a character. He is here represented as a Shepherd and a Host. The better we understand what this meaneth, the more will our hearts go forth to him in love and trust. He is all, and in all. Yea, each of us may say, “He is mine.”

II. Because it gives us such a beautiful picture of the blessedness of God’s people. They are the sheep of his pasture, and the guests of his table. Here in this world they are ever under his good and gentle keeping, and when they depart hence, it shall be to dwell in his house for ever. “The psalmist describes himself as one of Jehovah’s flock, safe under his care, absolved from all anxieties by the sense of his protection, and gaining from this confidence of safety the leisure to enjoy, without satiety, all the simple pleasures which make up life—the freshness of the meadow, the coolness of the stream. It is the most complete picture of happiness that ever was or can be drawn. It represents that state of mind for which all alike sigh, and the want of which makes life a failure to most; it represents that heaven, which is everywhere, if we could but enter it, and yet almost nowhere, because so few of us can” (‘Ecce Homo’).

III. Because it is associated so closely with our religious life. Though much of Scripture may be neglected, and almost unknown, this psalm is known and loved by all. We learnt it at our mother’s knee, and we have cherished it fondly ever since. To young and old, to the rich and poor, to the people of various lands and tongues, it is equally dear. At home and in the sanctuary it is in constant use. In the time of our joy it has been the vehicle of our gladness, and in days of darkness it has brought us comfort. When weary it gives us rest; when lonely it gives us company; when oppressed with sin and care it leads us to him who can restore our souls, and guide us safely through all difficulties and dangers, onward to the bright future. In itself it is exceedingly precious, but in the light of the gospel, and as interpreted by our dear Lord and Saviour, its value is infinitely enhanced. Jesus “the Good Shepherd” is here, and his sheep hear his voice, and follow him—to glory, honour, and immortality.—W. F.

Vers. 1–6.—The power of reflection. The psalmist looks back over his life, and sings with grateful heart of God’s love and care. We may use the psalm as bringing before us some of the changes and contrasts of life.

I. Youth and age. This psalm breathes the air of youth. It is the echo of the shepherd-life among the hills of Judah. But the psalmist was now old. Still, he cleaves to God. Happy are they who have sought God early, and whose days from youth to age are linked together by natural piety!

II. Helplessness and security. What creatures are, when left to themselves, more weak and silly than sheep? But under the shepherd’s care they are safe. So it is of the soul. Christ is the good Shepherd, and cares for his sheep. From first to last, and through all changes and dangers, they are safe under his loving guardianship.

III. Sorrow and joy. How sweet the picture of the flock feeding in “the green pastures,” and by the “still waters”! But there is another scene brought before us—the dark and terrible “valley of the shadow of death.” So there are alternations in the Christian life. If there are lights, there are also shadows. If there are times of sweet rest and comfort, there are also times of struggling and of fear. Mark the order—God does not at once call us to face the dark valley. It comes not at the beginning, but near the end of the Christian’s course. Christ’s disciples who have been with him in “the green pastures,” and whose souls have been “restored,” when they have fallen into sin, by his gracious discipline, are the better fitted for meeting with trial, and for treading with fearless step even the dark valley itself.

IV. Want and satisfaction. Always there is want on our part, and always there is supply with God. He who has God, the Possessor of all things, has everything. God is not only our Shepherd, but our Host, and the supplies of his table never fail.

V. Transitoriness and immortality. All things here are fading. Sheep and shepherds pass away. Joys and sorrows come to an end. Our life is but as a vapour. But we look to the things that are unseen and eternal. God’s two angels, “goodness and mercy,” not only abide with us here, but will bring us to the everlasting habitation. We shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.—W. F.

Ver. 5.—A table prepared. First we may apply this saying to our daily bread. Every “table” needs preparation. There is the material food, which may have come from far; and there are the kind hands that have made it ready. But besides this, there is love of God. We recognize that God has to do with our “daily bread.” It is a matter between him and us. “Thou” and “me.” How greatly is every blessing enhanced, when it is taken as from the hand of God! Then circumstances may give a special significance to our commonest mercies; difficulties are overcome, and wants are supplied, in a way that surprises us, and that leads us to confess with grateful hearts the loving-kindness of the Lord. Again, we may apply this to our social pleasures. We are not made to live alone. We crave fellowship. How graciously does God provide for our needs! We have not only the joys of home, but the pleasures of society. There are some who forget God amidst the stir and the seductions of life. They conduct their business and enjoy their pleasures “without God” (Isa. 5:8–12). But it is not so with the righteous. They desire to set the Lord always before them, and especially to acknowledge his goodness and mercy in the manifold social blessings which they enjoy. But chiefly should we apply the text to our religious privileges. The Word of God is as a “table” prepared for us. Think how much had to be done and suffered before we could have the Bible as a book free to every one of us! Think also how much there is in this blessed book to refresh and bless our souls!—a “feast of fat things.” Public worship is another “table” spread for us. When the Lord’s day comes round, what multitudes come together, and there is bread enough and to spare for them all! More particularly it may be said that the Lord’s Supper is a “table” prepared by God for his people. Here we see his wise forethought. He saw what was needful, and designed this feast for the good of his people. Here we see his loving care. His hand is seen in everything from first to last. The table is the Lord’s table. The “bread” is his “body;” the wine is “his blood;” the voice that says, “Come, eat,” is his voice. There is not only preparation of the table, but of the guests. When we think of what we were and what we are; of what we deserved and of what we have received,—it is with wonder, love, and praise that we say, “Thou preparest a table before me.” We have “enemies,” but they have not prevailed. We can think of them with pity, and forgive them; we can even pray for them, that they may be converted into friends, and, should they continue alienated and hostile, we can face them without fear, because “greater is he that is with us, than all they that are against us.” The future is for us bright with hope. The dark valley is behind, and the power of God before. The table below is the earnest of the table above.—W. F.

Ver. 6.—”All the days of my life.” Life is made up of “days.” Confidence in God gives—

I. Strength for life’s work. “I shall not want.” God is able to meet all our needs. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deut. 33:25; Phil. 4:13).

II. Support under life’s trials. There will be changes. The “green pastures” may give place to the dark valley. There may be loss of health, of property, of friends; there may be unknown trials. “Thou art with me.”

III. Fulfilment of life’s great hopes. It is a great thing to be one of Christ’s flock, ever under the Shepherd’s tender care. But more is promised. There will be the going in and out, and finding pasture—all through; but the end is not here, but above. The best is to come. The perfection of manhood; the “rest that remaineth;” the “fulness of joy;” the glorious fellowships that know no break, and that bring no pain, are in our Father’s house.

“For ever with the Lord!

Amen, so let it be;

Life from the dead is in that word,

‘Tis immortality.”


Vers. 1–4.—God’s providential care. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” etc. God’s care and providence over man are denoted by the following things.

I. He gives rest to the weary. “Maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Man is a combatant; he has a fight to maintain, a work to do; and he shall have seasons to rest from his exhaustion. He is a pilgrim-traveller. He has rest from bodily toil. So also rest from spiritual work. But the rest is spiritual in its kind. Not mental inactivity. But a clearer perception of those grand truths which afford the truest relief from the distraction of the conflict. Composure amidst distractions. The blessed end we aim at, and the certain issue of it.

II. He renews the exhausted strength of man. (Vers. 2, 3.) Religious strength consists in the power to do and the power to suffer—or courage and fortitude. This power to do—to conquer sin in ourselves and in the