Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Recalling the treachery of some pretended friends, the writer in this psalm pronounces, in contrast, a eulogy on those who know how to feel for and show compassion to the suffering. There is nothing, however, to indicate who the author was, or what particular incidents induced him to write. Possibly the sickness is entirely figurative, and the psalm is the expression of the feelings of the community of pious Israelites.
The doxology in Psalm 41:13 does not belong to the psalm, but closes the first book of the collection. (See General Introduction.) The parallelism is very imperfect.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.(1) Blessed is he.—This general statement of the great law of sympathy and benevolence—fine and noble however we take it—may be explained in different ways, according as we take the Hebrew word dal as poor, with the LXX. and Vulg. (comp. Exodus 30:15), or with the margin, as sick, weak in body (comp. Genesis 41:19), or give it an ethical sense, sick at heart. (Comp. 2Samuel 13:4.) The context favours one of the two latter, and the choice between them depends on whether we take the author’s sickness to be real or figurative. Psalm 41:3 strongly favours the view that the sickness is physical.
Considereth.—The Hebrew word implies wise as well as kindly consideration. So LXX. and Vulg., “he that understands.”
The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.(2) And he shall be blessed.—Not as in margin Isaiah 9:16, and in Symmachus “called happy,” but with deeper meaning, as in Proverbs 3:18. Another derivation is possible, giving the meaning, “he shall be led aright,” i.e., shall have right moral guidance. The context, however, does not favour this.
Upon the earth.—Rather, in the land, i.e., of Canaan.
The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.(3) Will strengthen.—Literally, will prop him up, support him.
Wilt make.—Literally, hast turned. Some think with literal allusion to the fact that the Oriental bed was merely a mat, which could be turned while the sick man was propped up. But such literalness is not necessary. To turn here is to change, as in Psalm 66:6; Psalm 105:29, and what the poet says is that, as in past times, Divine help has come to change his sickness into health, so he confidently expects it will be now, “in his sickness” being equivalent to “in the time of his sickness.”
I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.(4) I said.—After the general statement, the poet applies it to his own case, which showed such sadly different conduct on the part of friends from whom more than sympathy might have been expected. The pronoun is emphatic: In my case, I said, etc.
But it is a singular mark of the psalmist’s sincerity and genuineness that he first looks into his own heart for its evil before exposing that of his friends.
Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish?(5) Shall he die . . . perish.—Better, When will he die, and his name have perished.
And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it.(6) And if he come.—Some one particular individual is here singled out from the body of enemies.
Vanity.—Better, lies. No more vivid picture of an insincere friend could be given. Pretended sympathy lies at the very bedside, while eye and ear are open to catch up anything that can be retailed abroad or turned into mischief, when the necessity of concealment is over.
The scene of the visit of the king to the death-bed of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s King Richard II. illustrates the psalmist’s position, and the poet may even have had this verse in his mind when he wrote.
“Should dying men flatter with those that live
No, no; men living flatter those that die.
An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.(8) An evil disease.—Margin, thing of Belial. (For “Belial,” see Deuteronomy 13:13.) The expression may mean, as in LXX. and Vulg., “a lawless speech,” so the Chaldee, “a perverse word.” Syriac, “a word of iniquity,” or “a physical evil,” as in Authorised Version, or “a moral evil.” The verse is difficult, not only from this ambiguity, but also from that of the verb, which, according to the derivation we take, may mean “cleave” or “pour forth.” Modern scholars prefer the latter, understanding the image as taken from the process of casting metal. An incurable wound is poured out (welded) upon him. (Comp. “molten,” 1Kings 7:24; 1Kings 7:30.) This does not, however, suit the context nearly so well as the reading,
“A wicked saying have they directed against me:
Let the sick man never rise again,”
which has the support of the LXX. and Vulg., though they make of the last clause a question, “Shall not the sleeper rise again?”
Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.(9) Hath lifted up his heel.—See margin. The meaning is, possibly, kicked violently at me. But Böttcher’s conjecture is valuable, “has magnified his fraud against me,” which is supported by the LXX. and Vulg., “has magnified his supplanting of me.” (For the quotation of this verse in John 13:18, see New Testament Commentary.) The rights of Oriental hospitality must be remembered, to bring out all the blackness of the treachery here described. The expressive Hebrew idiom, “man of my peace,” is retained in the margin. Possibly (see Note, Obadiah 1:7) the second clause recalls another idiom, “man of my bread.”
By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.(11) By this I know.—Better, shall know. His restoration would be a sign of the Divine favour, and a pledge of his victory over his enemies.
Triumph.—Literally, shout; “sing a paean.”
And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.(12) Thou upholdest.—Here we seem to have the acknowledgment that the prayer just uttered is answered.
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.(13) Blessed.—This doxology is no part of the psalm, but a formal close to the first book of the collection. (See General Introduction.)