Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The opening of this ode reads like the expression of a warrior’s faith. On the other hand, Psalm 27:4 and G point to a Levitical origin. Probably a priest or Levite speaks here for the nation at large, deprived for the present, by foreign persecution, of the regular Temple services. The tone is confident and even triumphant till we come to Psalm 27:7, when an abrupt change occurs both in feeling and rhythm. The situation which inspired these latter verses was plainly sad—quite changed from the confidence of the earlier part. Nor is it only that the attitude of praise is changed for that of prayer, but the religious experience of this writer is plainly of a different kind from that of the author of the earlier part. He has had “fears within” as well as “fightings without.” He shrinks from the anger of God, and dreads that the Divine favour may be withdrawn (Psalm 27:9). Many therefore regard the psalm as composite, the work of two different minds. The opening rhythm resembles that of Psalm 11:7-7, and this part of the psalm may be arranged in six verses of four lines each, resembling English common metre verse (see General Introduction, V.). The latter part is irregular. The Codex Vat. of the LXX. and the Vulg. add to the title the words “before he was anointed,” which only serve to make the question of date of composition still more perplexing.
A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?(1) The Lord is my light.—This noble thought appears nowhere else so grandly, though we may compare Isaiah 60:1. The Latin of the Vulgate, “Dominus illuminatio mea,” is the motto of the University of Oxford, and expands in a new but true direction the thought of the ancient bard. To him, Jehovah was the guiding and cheering beacon-fire, proclaiming his victory and pointing him the happy homeward way. From this to the belief in God as the source both of moral and intellectual light, is a long but glorious stage, along which the world has been guided by such words as Isaiah 60:1, still more by the recognition of the incarnate Son as the Light of men (John 1:5; John 3:19; John 12:46, &c).
Strength.—Better, defence or bulwark; Heb., maôz, rendered “rock,” Judges 6:26 (margin, strong place); used in Isaiah 17:9 of fortified cities; as here, Psalm 37:39; Psalm 43:2; LXX., “shields;” Vulg., “protector.”
When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.(2) When . . .—Literally, In the coming against me (of) the wicked to devour my flesh—my enemies and my foes to me—themselves stumbled and fell. Job 19:22 would allow us to understand those who eat up flesh, as a figure for calumniators and detractors; but the context marks out the situation so clearly as that of a warrior, that we rather take it as a general metaphor for savage and violent attacks. To me, is an emphatic repetition—my enemies, mine.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.(3) Though an host.—Literally, Though a camp should encamp.
In this.—Either in this circumstance or in spite of this. (Comp. Psalm 78:32.) The LXX. ἐν ταύτῃ, followed by μίαν in the next clause, seems to refer it to the hope about to be expressed. The Rabbinical commentators (e.g., Aben Ezra and Rashi) refer back to the beginning of the psalm. “In this”—viz., that Jehovah is my light—“do I trust.” Rosenmiiller refers it to “the battle” just mentioned, in ipsa pugna.
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.(4) To behold the beauty.—Literally, to see into the favour—i.e., to meditate on the graciousness of God.
To enquire . . .—Literally, to look into, either judicially or critically; here, “to ponder or meditate” Ewald, however, and others add with notion of pleasure, “refresh myself,” but on doubtful authority. Some Rabbis, connecting bākar with boker, the morning, render, “to attend in the morning,” while some commentators would entirely spiritualise the wish, as if the actual attendance on the House of God were not in the poet’s thoughts. But the words breathe—only in even a higher key—the feeling of Milton’s well-known
“But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister’s pale,” &c
A mere transposition of letters would give an easy sense, “to offer in thy Temple.”
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.(5) Pavilion.—A booth or hut; also of the lair of wild beasts (Psalm 10:9; Jeremiah 25:38). (Comp. Job 38:40.)
Secret of his tabernacle.—Better, hiding place of his tent (ôhel), the regular word for the tent of the congregation, but also used generally of a habitation of any kind—not necessarily of the tent set up for the ark by David at Zion (2Samuel 6:17). The clause, “He shall set me up upon a rock”—i.e., for safety—shows that the tent is also used figuratively for shelter; but there may also be a thought of the sure asylum to be found in the tabernacle of the congregation.
And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.(6) Sacrifices of joy.—Literally, of shouting; so LXX. and Vulg., hostiam vociferationis. The custom of blowing trumpets (Numbers 10:10; comp. Ecclesiasticus 1:16-18) at the time of the burnt offering illustrates this expression even if there is no direct allusion to it.
I will sing, yea.—Better, I will sing and play.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.(7) The change of tone so marked here, from the warlike to the plaintive, leads to the supposition that Psalm 27:7-12 are interpolated from another song of quite another kind in contents, art, and period.
I cry with my voice—i.e., aloud.
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.(8) When thou saidst.—The margin rightly rejects these words, and restores the order of the Hebrew; but the text of the Authorised Version really gives its meaning.
The thought seems borrowed from seeking admission to a royal personage to ask a favour.
Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.(9) Far.—This is unnecessary and misleading.
Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.(11) Enemies.—Comp. Psalm 56:2; Psalm 54:7; Psalm 59:10-11. Ewald, “malignant liers in wait”; so Aquila.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.(12) By slightly changing a letter, we avoid the awkward ellipse in Psalm 27:13, and get
“Such as breathe out cruelty against me,
So that I did not believe to see,” &c
Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.(14) He shall strengthen.—Better, let thy heart be strong.
Wait . . .—Heb., wait for Jehovah, and wait for Jehovah.