Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Here we have the prayer of an Israelite living at a distance from his country, and declaring in the simplest possible manner that in spite of this banishment he does not feel remote from God nor deprived of the Divine protection. It is a forecast of the great principle of spiritual worship which Jesus Christ was to proclaim.
Tradition assigns this exquisite little song, with its fine spiritual discernment, to David. The repetition of the imagery of the high tower is in the Davidic style, but many critics think it breathes rather of the time of the captivity. Three equal stanzas of six short lines and elegant rhythm compose the poem.
Title—See title Psalms 4.
Neginah, properly negînath, probably an error for negînôth, as in Psalms 4, as the LXX. and Vulg. (“in hymns”) evidently read it. Or it may be an anomalous form of negînah, which, in Job 30:9, means a satirical song.
To the chief Musician upon Neginah, A Psalm of David. Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.(2) From the end. of the earth . . .—A hyperbolic expression for a great distance. Isaiah (Isaiah 5:26) uses the expression of Assyria, and it would be natural in an exile’s mouth, but must not be pressed to maintain any theory of the psalm’s date.
When my heart is overwhelmed.—Literally, in the covering of my heart, the verb being used (Psalm 65:13) of the valleys covered with corn, and metaphorically, as here, of “the garment of heaviness,” which wraps a sad heart (Psalms 102 title; Isaiah 57:16). (Comp. Tennyson’s “muffled round with woe.”)
Lead me to the rock . . .—Literally, upon the rock lead me, which is probably a constructio prægnans for lead me to the rock too high for me to climb by myself, and place me there. The elevated rock is a symbol of security, which cannot be obtained without the Divine help. Others take the expression as figurative for a difficulty which it needs God’s help to surmount.
For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.(3) A strong tower.—Comp. Proverbs 18:10.
I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.(4) I will abide.—Rather, Let me be a guest in, etc. (Comp. Psalm 15:1; Psalm 27:4.)
Thy tabernacle . . .—It is difficult to decide whether this indicates. the Mosaic tabernacle, and so may be used as an index of the date of the poem; or whether the tent is a general figure for the protection of God, wherever it may be found. It certainly recalls Psalm 23:6.
For ever.—Literally, for ages or æons. For the same plural, see Psalm 145:13.
I will trust . . .—Rather, let me find refuge under the shelter of thy wings. (For the image, see Note Psalm 17:8.)
For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.(5) Heritage.—As the Authorised Version runs, the heritage is length of days, one promised generally to those who fear Jehovah (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 19:23), and particularly to Israel (Deuteronomy 6:2) and its kings (Deuteronomy 17:19-20, which passage may have been in the psalmist’s mind). But the LXX. and Vulg. read, “to them that fear thy name,” meaning, of course, by the heritage, Canaan.
Thou wilt prolong the king's life: and his years as many generations.(6) See margin, and render as a prayer.
He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.(7) He shall abide.—Better, may he sit enthroned.
Prepare.—Rather, appoint. But the LXX. had a different reading, and an ingenious emendation has been suggested from a comparison with Psalm 40:11, viz., “let mercy and truth continually preserve him.”