Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The preceding psalm was a prayer for success; this is a thanksgiving after victory. Possibly, as many think, the two refer to the same event, and are by the same author. The composition is also similar, since here also the arrangement is for a part song. The people—probably a chorus of maidens (see Note to Psalm 21:3), or of Levites—meet the returning hero, with their shouts of praise to Jehovah (Psalm 21:1-7). The monarch himself is then addressed, perhaps by the leader of the procession (Psalm 21:8-12), and the whole concourse again unite in a burst of praise to God at the end. The rhythm is weak and ill-sustained.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The king shall joy in thy strength, O LORD; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!(1) The king shall.—Rather, the king is exulting in thy might (which has secured the victory he prayed for), and in thy help how greatly glad is he.
Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah.(2) Request.—The Hebrew word occurs nowhere else, but is connected with a root, to be poor, and, therefore, in want. The “not” is emphatic: “And the request of his lips thou hast by no means withheld.” The mention in Psalm 21:4 of a prayer for long life, or perhaps, rather, continuance of life, suggests that this “request” was uttered in sickness. On the other hand the general tone of the psalm connects it with a victory.
For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.(3) Thou preventest—i.e., comest to meet him. The word “prevent” is familiar in this sense in the English collect: “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings.” (Comp. Psalm 79:8; 1Thessalonians 4:15.) The “crown “is by some identified with that won by David at Rabbah Moab. Others make it refer to a coronation. Ewald thinks of a birthday celebration. Probably no more is intended than a symbol of victory and rejoicing. Maidens were accustomed to meet a monarch returning in victory, and to offer a crown, or garland, which was a symbol of extraordinary rejoicing. (Comp. 1Samuel 18:6; Psalm 68:11; Song of Solomon 3:11; Wisdom Of Solomon 2:8; Judith 15:13; 3Ma 7:16.)
He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.(4) For ever and ever.—This is merely a term for indefinite length. (Comp. the common salutation of a king: 1Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3; Daniel 3:9.) An allusion to the eternal kingdom of the Messiah is not to be forced on the passage.
For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.(6) Most blessed.—Literally, blessings. The idiom is similar to that in Psalm 1:1.
With thy countenance.—Rather, In thy presence. (Comp. Psalm 16:11.)
Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies: thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.(8) Thine.—The psalm has hitherto been addressed to Jehovah. It now turns in prophetic strain to the king.
Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.(9) Thou shalt make . . .—As it stands the figure is most obscure. Lamentations 5:10 is not analogous. Here the fire and not the blackness of the smoky oven is the object of comparison. A very slight literal change gives the sense obviously required: Thou shalt put them into a fiery oven. The figure is not drawn from Sodom and Gomorrah, but from a smelter’s furnace. (Comp. Isaiah 31:9; Malachi 3:3. For the custom in its literal horror, see Jeremiah 48:45; Jeremiah 49:2; Amos 2:1, where the reference is to the Transjordanic tribes.) The Philistines subjected their enemies to a similar treatment (Judges 15:6).
In the time of thine anger.—Literally, of thy face, i.e., by thy very appearance. The dread majesty of God’s face is often thus spoken of (Psalm 34:16; Leviticus 20:6). Here the same awful power of withering the wicked with a glance is ascribed to the representative of Jehovah. (Comp. Proverbs 16:14-15; Proverbs 19:12.) But, as if startled by the boldness of his own figure, the poet instantly refers to Jehovah.
In his wrath.—Literally, in his nostril, in direct parallelism with “face” in last clause.
Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.(10) Their fruit.—More fully, “fruit of the womb” (Psalm 127:3; Psalm 132:11).
For they intended evil against thee: they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.(11) For they.—Better, though they have intended evil against thee, have plotted mischief, they have no power at all.
Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back, when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.(12) Therefore.—Literally, for thou shalt put them shoulder (pones eos dorsum, Vulg.). Upon thy strings thou shalt aim against the face of them. Ewald renders: “Shalt strike them back;” but the English version seems to explain rightly To “give the neck of an enemy” (Psalm 18:4) is a similar form of expression.
Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.(13) Thou.—Again the song turns to address Jehovah.
So will we sing and praise.—Better, We will both with song and lyre celebrate Thy power.