Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In this psalm we seem to be once more on sure historical ground. It not only breathes the feeling when David and his outlawed band were daily evading the snares laid for them by the emissaries of Saul, but seems to refer pointedly to the two most romantic incidents in all that romantic period—the chance encounter of pursuer and pursued—(1) In the cave of En-gedi, and (2) (if the two are not the same under different versions) in the wilderness of Ziph (1 Samuel 24, 26); at least, no other recorded incidents in the Bible fall in so well, either as occasions for its composition or as illustrations of its spirit. We can readily imagine that there would be men (for Cush, see Note to Title) who would turn even these instances of David’s generosity into occasions of slander against him, and that he would pour out his feelings under such unjust provocation in song.
Against this must be noticed the occurrence of an Aramaic word in Psalm 7:9, which suggests a late date for the poem.
The poetical form is uncertain.
Title.—Shiggaion is either a variation of Higgaion (Psalm 9:16), and means generally, as the LXX. render it, “poem or psalm;” or it is derived from shāgah, to wander, and denotes a wild passionate ode—cantio erratica, as some of the old expositors describe it. The Greeks called such a composition Dithyrambic. Gesenius makes it simply “a song of praise.” “Cush,” or Kush, cannot be identified. The mistake of the LXX. in writing it Chus has led some to connect it with the Hebrew name for an Ethiopian, and to regard it as a nickname, “the blackamoor.” The fact of the tribal relation with Saul is quite enough to allow us to conjecture that Cush was some person high in favour with that monarch, servilely eager to injure David.
Concerning the words.—This is better than the margin, “business,” since Psalm 7:4 shows that the author’s indignation arose from some calumny of him.
Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the LORD, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite. O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:(1) In thee do I put my trust.—Or, in thee have I taken refuge.
Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.(2) Lest he tear.—The poet turns from the thought of his enemies generally to the one who has just made himself conspicuous. Such a change from plural to singular often occurs in the Psalms. (Comp. Psalm 41:5-6.)
Rending it in pieces.—The LXX., followed by the Vulg. (so too the Syriac), take the verb in its primitive sense of “snatch away,” and translate, “there being none to redeem or deliver.” So Milton: “Tearing, and no rescue nigh.” Notice the comparison of human enemies to beasts of prey—a reminiscence of the lion and the bear of his youth, so constantly present to David. (Comp. Psalm 3:7; 1Samuel 17:37.)
O LORD my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands;(3) This—i.e., this with which I am charged—the Benjamite’s slander.
If there be iniquity.—A comparison with 1Samuel 24:12-13, and still more 1Samuel 26:18, shows how closely this psalm is connected with the two notorious instances of David’s magnanimous and generous conduct towards Saul.
If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:)(4) Yea, I have—i.e., on the contrary, so far from returning evil for good, I have returned good for evil. With allusion, there can be little doubt, to the incidents referred to in the last Note. From metrical reasons, and also to avoid the abruptness of the change of construction, Ewald conjectures that two clauses have dropped out of the text, and restores as follows—
“If I have rewarded evil unto him that dealt friendly with me
(And cunning unto him that was at peace with me,
Yea, if I have not rewarded his soul with good).
And delivered him that without cause is my enemy.”
Milton’s translation gives yet another colour to the passage—
“If I have wrought
Ill to him that meant me peace,
Or to him have rendered less,
And not freed my foe for nought.”
The conjecture of a corruption of the text is supported by the rendering of the LXX. and Vulg., and a very slight change gives the probable rendering: “If I have returned evil to him that dealt friendly with me, and injured my enemy without cause.”
Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah.(5) Let the enemy.—Better, let an enemy.
Persecute.—Literally, burn. (See Note on Psalm 10:2.)
Dust.—Either as Psalm 22:15, “the dust of death,” and if so, then khabôd’.
Honour must be the soul or life, as plainly in Psalm 16:9; Psalm 57:8, where the Authorised Version has “glory.” The parallelism is in favour of this. On the other hand, to lay one’s honour in the dust is a common figurative phrase. Shakespeare, K. Hen. VI., i. 5, “Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust”; and Coriol. iii. 1, “And throw their power in the dust.”
Selah.—See Note on Psalm 3:2. This is one of the places which suggest its interpretation as a direction to the music, to strike up with passion and force.
Arise, O LORD, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded.(6) In the rapid succession of abrupt utterance of feeling in ejaculations, we see the excitement of the poet’s mind.
Of the rage.—Better, against the rage, unless we may correct to “in thy rage.” The LXX. and Vulg. read, “in the ends of,” which Jerome explains as meaning, “exalt thyself by making an end of my enemies.” Syriac, “Be thou lifted up upon the necks of my enemies.”
And awake for me.—Better, arranged in two petitions: yea, awake for me; prepare the judgment. There is some difficulty about the syntax of the last clause, but the imperatives suit the parallelism of the context better than the past tenses.
So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about: for their sakes therefore return thou on high.(7) So shall.—This clause is also in the optative: “let the communities of peoples be gathered round thee.”
For their sakes.—Rather, over or above it, as in LXX. The poet has a vision of judgment. Jehovah summons the nations, arranges them at His tribunal, and then returns to His high throne to preside. This explanation is more consonant with the context (see next verse) than to suppose the judgment to have taken place between the two causes of the verse, and the departure of God into the height “as a victor after battle” (Delitzsch), or “in proof of His supremacy as judge” (Ewald). This picture of arraigned nations is certainly in favour of the view which makes the psalm the expression of the feelings of the community rather than of an individual.
The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.(8) The Lord shall.—Better, Jehovah judgeth the nations. Everything is complete, and the work of judgment begins. The poet prays that his sentence may be according to his own consciousness of righteousness and integrity. Of this plea of innocence Jerome says, “David could not say this; this properly belongs to the Saviour, who was sinless.” Others think it is the ideal Israel, which stands before Jehovah’s tribunal. But we may compare Job’s protestations of innocence, and his persistent demand for a trial. David (if he is the author) refers naturally to his innocence of the charge calumniously brought against him. As between Saul and himself, his conduct had been blameless.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.(9) Establish.—Literally, let him stand erect.
My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.(10) My defence.—Literally, as in margin, my shield is upon God. (Comp. Psalm 62:7, “In God is my salvation,” where the Hebrew is as here, “God is my shield-bearer.”) Another explanation appears in Milton’s translation—
“On God is cast
My defence, and in Him lies,
In Him who both just and wise,
Saves the upright at heart at last.”
God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.(11) God judgeth.—The two clauses answer to each other; so the margin, “God is a righteous judge, and God avengeth every day.” LXX., “God is a just judge, and strong and longsuffering, not letting loose his anger every day.” Vulg., “Still is he not angry with the wicked?” Syriac, “God is the judge of righteousness. He is not angry every day.” It has been proposed to read véal—“and not”—instead of veél—“and God”—conformably to these versions, but unnecessarily.
If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.(12) If he turn not.—The Hebrew is doubly idiomatic. Translate surely (see Hebrews 3:11, with Note in New Testament Commentary), He will again whet His sword. It is true that the verb to turn in the sense of repetition usually precedes the other verb immediately, without, as here, any other words intervening.
Bent.—Literally, trodden, showing that the foot was used by the Israelites to bend the bow, as by archers now. (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Arms.”)
He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.(13) Instruments of death.—That is, deadly weapons.
Against the persecutors.—Literally, for those burning; so LXX. and Vulg. The meaning appears to be, “His arrows he makes into fiery arrows”—i.e., tips them with fire, by wrapping them in burning tow. Latin, malleoli. (Comp. Ephesians 6:16, with Note, in New Testament Commentary.) Milton’s “rattling storm of arrows barb’d with fire,” refers to the same custom.
Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.(14) Behold, he travaileth.—The poet’s thought recurs to the calumniator, whose sin has deserved all this Divine wrath, and he sees the truth that God’s judgments are not arbitrary, but follow naturally on sin as its consequence. The verb “travaileth” gives the general figure, which is elaborated in the two clauses which describe the stages of conception and pregnancy. (For the image, comp. Job 15:35.)
He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.(15) He hath made.—Better, he digged a pit, and hollowed it out. Milton: “He digged a pit, and delved it deep.”
(15) Pate.—A word retained from Coverdale’s translation, and common in the Elizabethan age. In Shakespeare it is frequent—
Comes from my pate,
As bird-lime does from frieze.”
For the moral, comp. 1Samuel 25:29.
Psalm 7:15-16 are quoted by Eusebius of the overthrow of Maxentius by Constantine, with special reference to the fact that in preparing a bridge of boats he had prepared the means for his own destruction.