Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Watch.—The image drawn from the guard set at city gates at night seems to indicate the evening as the time of composition of the psalm.
Door of my lips.—Comp. “doors of thy mouth” (Micah 7:5), and so in Euripides, πύλαι στόματος. For the probable motive of the prayer, see Introduction. The poet’s feeling is that of Xenocrates: “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having been silent.”Psalm 141:3-4. Set a watch before my mouth — That I may not, through mine own infirmity, and the great provocation of mine enemies, break forth into any unadvised speeches, or any expressions of impatience, distrust, envy, or malice; keep the door, &c. — My lips, which are the door of my mouth, whence words come forth. Incline not my heart — Suffer it not to be inclined, either by the temptations of the devil, the world, or the flesh, to any evil thing — Whatever inclination there may be in me to sin, let it be not only restrained but mortified by divine grace; and keep me, not only from wicked words and works, but from all evil motions of the heart, which might otherwise draw me to join with wicked men in sinful courses, or to act wickedly as they do. And let me not eat of their dainties — Let me not partake of the pleasures or advantages which they gain by their wickedness. My troubles and afflictions are more desirable than such prosperity.Psalm 39:1. The prayer here is, that God would guard him from the temptation to say something wrong. To this he seems to have been prompted by the circumstances of the case, and by the advice of those who were with him. See introduction to the psalm. Compare the notes at Psalm 11:1.
Keep the door of my lips - That my lips or mouth may not open except when it is proper and right; when something good and true is to be said. Nothing can be more proper than "this" prayer; nothing more desirable than that God should keep us from saying what we ought not to say.
Ps 141:1-10. This Psalm evinces its authorship as the preceding, by its structure and the character of its contents. It is a prayer for deliverance from sins to which affliction tempted him, and from the enemies who caused it.
4 Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity, and let me not eat of their dainties.
5 Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head, for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.
6 When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.
"Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth." That mouth had been used in prayer, it would be a pity it should ever be defiled with untruth, or pride, or wrath; yet so it will become unless carefully watched, for these intruders are ever lurking about the door. David feels that with all his own watchfulness he may be surprised into sin, and so he begs the Lord himself to keep him. When Jehovah sets the watch the city is well guarded: when the Lord becomes the guard of our mouth the whole man is well garrisoned. "Keep the door of my lips." God has made our lips the door of the mouth, but we cannot keep that door of ourselves, therefore do we entreat the Lord to take the rule of it. O that the Lord would both open and shut our lips, for we can do neither the one nor the other aright if left to ourselves. In times of persecution by ungodly men we are peculiarly liable to speak hastily, or evasively, and therefore we should be specially anxious to be preserved in that direction from every form of sin. How condescending is the Lord! We are ennobled by being door-keepers for him, and yet he deigns to be a door-keeper for us.
"Incline not my heart to any evil thing." It is equivalent to the petition, "Lead us not into temptation." O that nothing may arise in providence which would excite our desires in a wrong direction. The Psalmist is here careful of his heart. He who holds the heart is lord of the man; but if the tongue and the heart are under God's care all is safe. Let us pray that he may never leave us to our own inclinings, or we shall soon decline front the right.
"To practise wicked works with men that work iniquity." The way the heart inclines the life soon tends: evil things desired bring forth wicked things practised. Unless the fountain of life is kept pure the streams of life will soon be polluted. Alas, there is great power in company: even good men are apt to be swayed by association; hence the fear that we may practise wicked works when we are with wicked workers. We must endeavour not to be with them lest we sin with them. It is bad when the heart goes the wrong way alone, worse when the life runs in the evil road alone; but it is apt to increase unto a high degree of ungodliness when the backslider runs the downward path with a whole horde of sinners around him. Our practice will be our perdition if it be evil; it is an aggravation of sin rather than an excuse for it to say that it is our custom and our habit. It is God's practice to punish all who make a practice of iniquity. Good men are horrified at the thought of sinning as others do; the fear of it drives them to their knees. Iniquity, which, being interpreted, is a want of equity, is a thing to be shunned as we would avoid an infectious disease. "And let me not eat of their dainties." If we work with them we shall soon eat with them. They will bring out their sweet morsels, and delicate dishes, in the hope of binding us to their service by the means of our palates. The trap is baited with delicious meats that we may be captured and become meat for their malice. If we would not sin with men we had better not sit with them, and if we would not share their wickedness we must not share their wantonness.
"Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness." He prefers the bitters of gracious company to the dainties of the ungodly. He would rather be smitten by the righteous than feasted by the wicked. He gives a permit to faithful admonition, he even invites it - "let the righteous smite me." When the ungodly smile upon us their flattery is cruel; when the righteous smite us their faithfulness is kind. Sometimes godly men rap hard; they do not merely hint at evil, but hammer at it; and even then we are to receive the blows in love, and be thankful to the hand which smites so heavily. Fools resent reproof; wise men endeavour to profit by it. "And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." Oil breaks no heads, and rebuke does no man any harm; rather, as oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken sweeten and renew the heart. My friend must love me well if he will tell me of my faults: there is an unction about him if he is honest enough to point out my errors. Many a man has had his head broken at the feasts of the wicked, but none at the table of a true-hearted reprover. The oil of flattery is not excellent; the oil so lavishly used at the banquet of the reveller is not excellent; head-breaking and heart-breaking attend the anointings of the riotous; but it is otherwise with the severest censures of the godly: they are not always sweet, but they are always excellent; they may for the moment bruise the heart, but they never break either it or the head. "For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities." Gracious men never grow wrathful with candid friends so as to harbour an ill-feeling against them; if so, when they saw them in affliction, they would turn round upon them and taunt them with their rebukes. Far from it; these wisely grateful souls are greatly concerned to see their instructors in trouble, and they bring forth their best prayers for their assistance. They do not merely pray for them, but they so closely and heartily sympathize that their prayers are "in their calamities," down in the dungeon with them. So true is Christian brotherhood that we are with our friends in sickness or persecution, suffering their griefs; so that our heart's prayer is in their sorrows. When we can give good men nothing more, let us give them our prayers, and let us do this doubly to those who have given us their rebukes.
This is a verse of which the meaning seems far to seek. Does it refer to the righteous among the Israelites? We think so. David surely means that when their leaders fell never to rise again, they would then turn to him and take delight in listening to his voice. "When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear roll words; for they are sweet." And so they did: the death of Saul made all the best of the nation look to the son of Jesse as the Lord's anointed; his words became sweet to them. Many of those good men who had spoken severely of David's quitting his country, and going over to the Philistines, were nevertheless dear to his heart for their fidelity, and to them he returned nothing but good-will, loving prayers, and sweet speeches, knowing that by-and-by they would overlook his faults, and select him to be their leader. They smote him when he erred, but they recognized his excellences. He, on his part, bore no resentment, but loved them for their honesty. He would pray for them when their land lay bleeding at the feet of their foreign enemies; he would come to their rescue when their former leaders were slain; and his words of courageous hopefulness would be sweet in their ears. This seems to me to be a good sense, consistent with the context. At the same time, other and more laboured interpretations have their learned admirers, and to these we will refer in our notes from other authors.
My lips, which are the door of my mouth whence words come forth.
keep the door of my lips; which are as a door that opens and shuts: this he desires might be kept as with a bridle, especially while the wicked were before him; lest he should say anything they would use against him, and to the reproach of religion; and that no corrupt communication, or any foolish and filthy talk, or idle and unprofitable words, might proceed from them. The phrase signifies the same as the other; he was sensible of his own inability to keep a proper watch and guard over his words, as was necessary, and therefore prays the Lord to do it; see Psalm 39:1.Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)3. Cp. Psalm 34:13; Psalm 39:1; Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 21:23. The special point of the prayer is that he may be guarded from adopting the profane language of the ungodly men by whom he is surrounded. Cp. Psalm 73:8 ff. This verse is apparently quoted in Sir 22:27, “Who shall set a watch over my mouth?”
keep the door of my lips] Parallelism and construction suggest the reading, a guard over the door of my lips. For the figure cp. Micah 7:5.
3–5. Prayer for grace to resist the temptation to sin in word and thought and deed.Verse 3. - Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips (comp. Psalm 39:1). David's was a hasty, impetuous temper, which required sharp control. He strove to "keep his own mouth with a bridle" - to " be dumb with silence, and hold his peace" - but this was not always possible for him of his own unassisted strength. He therefore makes his prayer to God for the Divine help. Exodus 13:18), and to raise round about (2 Chronicles 14:6); here, after Joshua 6:11, where with an accusative following it signifies to go round about: to make the circuit of anything, as enemies who surround a city on all sides and seek the most favourable point for assault; מסבּי from the participle מסב. Even when derived from the substantive מסב (Hupfeld), "my surroundings" is equivalent to איבי סביבותי in Psalm 27:6. Hitzig, on the other hand, renders it: the head of my slanderers, from סבב, to go round about, Arabic to tell tales of any one, defame; but the Arabic sbb, fut. u, to abuse, the IV form (Hiphil) of which moreover is not used either in the ancient or in the modern language, has nothing to do with the Hebrew סבב, but signifies originally to cut off round about, then to clip (injure) any one's honour and good name.
(Note: The lexicographer Neshwn says, i.:279b: Arab. 'l-sbb 'l - šatm w-qı̂l an aṣl 'l-sbb 'l - qaṭ‛ ṯm ṣâr 'l - štm, "sebb is to abuse; still, the more original signification of cutting off is said to lie at the foundation of this signification." That Arab. qṭ‛ is synonymous with it, e.g., Arab. lı̂štqt‛fı̂nâ, why dost thou cut into us? i.e., why dost thou insult our honour? - Wetzstein.)
The fact that the enemies who surround the psalmist on every side are just such calumniators, is intimated here in the word שׂפתימו. He wishes that the trouble which the enemies' slanderous lips occasion him may fall back upon their own head. ראשׁ is head in the first and literal sense according to Psalm 7:17; and יכסּימו (with the Jod of the groundform kcy, as in Deuteronomy 32:26; 1 Kings 20:35; Chethb יכסּוּמו,
(Note: Which is favoured by Exodus 15:5, jechasjûmû with mû instead of mô, which is otherwise without example.)
after the attractional schema, 2 Samuel 2:4; Isaiah 2:11, and frequently; cf. on the masculine form, Proverbs 5:2; Proverbs 10:21) refers back to ראשׁ, which is meant of the heads of all persons individually. In Psalm 140:11 ימיטוּ (with an indefinite subject of the higher punitive powers, Ges. 137, note), in the signification to cause to descend, has a support in Psalm 55:4, whereas the Niph. נמוט, fut. ימּט, which is preferred by the Ker, in the signification to be made to descend, is contrary to the usage of the language. The ἅπ. λεγ. מהמרות has been combined by Parchon and others with the Arabic hmr, which, together with other significations (to strike, stamp, cast down, and the like), also has the signification to flow (whence e.g., in the Koran, mâ' munhamir, flowing water). "Fire" and "water" are emblems of perils that cannot be escaped, Psalm 66:12, and the mention of fire is therefore appropriately succeeded by places of flowing water, pits of water. The signification "pits" is attested by the Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, and the quotation in Kimchi: "first of all they buried them in מהמורות; when the flesh was consumed they collected the bones and buried them in coffins." On בּל־יקוּמוּ cf. Isaiah 26:14. Like Psalm 140:10-11, Psalm 140:12 is also not to be taken as a general maxim, but as expressing a wish in accordance with the excited tone of this strophe. אישׁ לשׁון is not a great talker, i.e., boaster, but an idle talker, i.e., slanderer (lxx ἀνὴρ γλωσσώδης, cf. Sir. 8:4). According to the accents, אישׁ חמס רע is the parallel; but what would be the object of this designation of violence as worse or more malignant? With Sommer, Olshausen, and others, we take רע as the subject to יצוּדנּוּ: let evil, i.e., the punishment which arises out of evil, hunt him; cf. Proverbs 13:21, חטּאים תּרדּף רעה, and the opposite in Psalm 23:6. It would have to be accented, according to this our construction of the words, אישׁ חמס רע יצודני למדחפת. The ἅπ. λεγ. למדחפת we do not render, with Hengstenberg, Olshausen, and others: push upon push, with repeated pushes, which, to say nothing more, is not suited to the figure of hunting, but, since דּחף always has the signification of precipitate hastening: by hastenings, that is to say, forced marches.
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