Psalm 141:5
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.
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(5) The difficulties of the psalm thicken here. Render, Let a righteous man smite me, it is a kindness; and let him reprove me, it is oil for the head: my head shall not refuse it though it continue; yet my prayer is against their wickedness.

The word rendered “smite” is that used of Jael’s “hammer strokes “(Judges 5:26). (Comp. Isaiah 41:7.) The Hebrew for “reprove” is probably used in a judicial sense, as in Genesis 31:37; Isaiah 2:4; Proverbs 24:25, &c. The greatest obscurity attaches to the word rendered above “refuse,” but in the Authorised Version “break,” probably because in Psalm 33:10 (“ bring to none effect”) it is in parallelism with “break.” The LXX. and Vulg. take it as meaning “anoint,” rendering (from a different text to ours) “let not oil of a wicked man anoint my head.” If we might adopt this reading it would remove the difficulty of this part of the verse, and give an excellent parallelism: “A righteous man may smite me in mercy and reprove me, but let not a wicked man’s oil anoint my head;” i.e., I would welcome reproof from the righteous, but reject even the festive oil offered by the wicked. For the rendering “wickednesses,” instead of “calamities,” comp. Job 20:12; Psalm 94:23. For the sense of “although” given to the conjunction, see Exodus 13:17. The suffix “their” refers back, of course, to the ungodly in Psalm 141:4. The “oil for the head” (comp. Psalm 45:7) is a natural emblem of festivity, and the whole sentiment of the passage is tolerably clear. Rather than join in the wicked mirth of a profane banquet, the poet would be the object of continued rebuke and chastisement from one of the godly—his prayer meanwhile still rising for protection against the allurements held out to tempt him. We probably have sketched here the actual condition of many a Levite between the apostate and the loyal part of the nation.

Psalm 141:5. Let the righteous smite me — Namely, by reproofs. If at any time, through the frailty of nature, I should be inclined to yield to temptation, let me find, among my attendants or friends, some righteous and faithful person, who, with kind severity, will check and reprove me. It shall be a kindness — I shall be so far from being offended with it, as an act of enmity or ill will, that I shall esteem it an act and mark of true friendship. It shall be an excellent oil — Hebrews שׁמן ראשׁ, the oil of the head, that is, as the oil which is poured upon the head as the manner was in great feasts and solemnities, which shall not break my head — Nor hurt, but heal, and greatly refresh me. For yet my prayer shall be in their calamities — Either, 1st, In the calamities of those persons who reproved and censured him. When they came into such calamities as those wherein he had been involved, he would pity them, and pray for them. Or, he may mean the calamities of his enemies, of which he speaks in the next words. He foresaw that his enemies would be in calamities, and that they would need, and desire his prayers; and he here declares he would willingly grant them: but the Hebrew of this clause may be properly rendered, My prayer shall be against their wickedness.141:5-10 We should be ready to welcome the rebuke of our heavenly Father, and also the reproof of our brethren. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart: we must show that we take it kindly. Those who slighted the word of God before, will be glad of it when in affliction, for that opens the ear to instruction. When the world is bitter, the word is sweet. Let us lift our prayer unto God. Let us entreat him to rescue us from the snares of Satan, and of all the workers of iniquity. In language like this psalm, O Lord, would we entreat that our poor prayers should set forth our only hope, our only dependence on thee. Grant us thy grace, that we may be prepared for this employment, being clothed with thy righteousness, and having all the gifts of thy Spirit planted in our hearts.Let the righteous smite me - This verse is exceedingly difficult and obscure (compare the margin); and there have been almost as many different opinions in regard to its meaning as there have been commentators on the psalm. A large number of these opinions may be seen in Rosenmuller in loc. DeWette explains it, "I gladly suffer anything that is unpleasant from my friends, that may be for my good; but the wickedness of my enemies I cannot endure." The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render it, "Let a righteous man correct me with mercy, and he will work convictions in me; but let not the oil of a sinner (for this shall still be my prayer) anoint my head at their pleasure." "Thompson's translation." According to this, the sense would be, "If the righteous smite me with severity of words I shall take it as an act of kindness and benevolence; on the other hand, the bland words of a sinner, smooth as oil, which wound more than sharp arrows, may God avert from me."

Or, in other words, "I had rather be slain by the severe words of the righteous than anointed by the oily and impious words of the wicked." The sense proposed by Hengstenberg (Com. in loc.) is, "Even as I through the cloud of wrath can see the sunshine of divine goodness, I will not give myself over to doubt and despair, according to the course of the world, when the hand of the Almighty rests upon me; but I will, and can, and should, in the midst of trouble, be joyful, and that is the high privilege of which I will never be deprived." According to this, the idea is, that the sufferings endured by good people, even at the hand of the wicked, are chastisements inflicted by a gracious God in justice and mercy, and as such may be likened to a festive ointment, which the head of the sufferer should not refuse, as he will still have occasion for consolation to invoke God in the midst of trials yet to be experienced.

The word "righteous" is evidently employed in the usual sense of the term. It refers to those who love and serve God. The word translated "smite" - חלם châlam - is rendered broken in Judges 5:22; Isaiah 16:8; Isaiah 28:1 ("margin," but rendered by our translators "overcome," sc. with wine); "smote," Judges 5:26; Isaiah 41:7; "beaten," Proverbs 23:35; "beating down," 1 Samuel 14:16; "break down," Psalm 74:6. It does not elsewhere occur, except in the verse before us. It would apply to any beating or smiting, with the fist, with a hammer, with a weapon of war, and then with "words" - words of reproof, or expressions of disapprobation. According to the view above taken (Introduction), it is used here with reference to an apprehended rebuke on the part of good people, for not following their advice.

It shall be a kindness - literally, "A kindness;" that is, an act of kindness. The idea is, that it would be so intended on their part; it should be so received by him. Whatever might be the wisdom of the advice, or the propriety of yielding to it, or whatever they might say if it were not followed, yet he could regard it as on their part only well-intended. If a certain course which they had advised should be rejected, and if by refusing or declining to follow it one should incur their displeasure, yet that ought to be interpreted only as an act well-intended and meant in kindness.

And let him reprove me - As I may anticipate that he will, if his advice is not taken. I must expect to meet this consequence.

It shall be an excellent oil - literally, "Oil of the head." That is - like oil which is poured on the head on festive occasions, or when one is crowned, as a priest, or a prophet, or a king. See the notes at Mark 6:13; notes at Luke 4:18-19. Oil thus used for the head, the face, etc., was an indispensable article for the toilet among Orientals. The idea is here that the reproof of the righteous should be received as readily as that which contributed most to comely adorning and comfort; or that which diffused brightness, cheerfulness, joy.

Which shall not break my head - Or rather, Which my head shall not (or, should not) refuse; which it should welcome. The word rendered break should not have been so translated. The Hebrew word - הניא hāniy', is from נוא nû' - in Hiphil, to negative; to make naught; then to refuse, to decline, to deny. It is rendered "discourage" in Numbers 32:7, Numbers 32:9 (Margin, "break"); "disallow," Numbers 30:5 ("twice"), Numbers 30:8, Numbers 30:11; "make of none effect," Psalm 33:10; "break," in the passage before us. It does not elsewhere occur. The idea is, "If such reproof comes on me for the faithful doing of what I regard as wise and best, I ought no more to reject it than the head would refuse the oil poured on it, to make the person healthful and comely."

For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities - I will not be sullen, displeased, angry, revengeful. I will not refuse to pray for them when trials come upon them, because they have not approved of my course, because they have reproved me for not following their counsel, because they have used words that were like heavy blows. I will cherish no malice; I will not be angry; I will not seek to be revenged. I will not turn away from them when trouble comes on them. I will love them, cherish with gratitude the memory of the kindness they meant, and pray for them in the time when they especially need prayer. Should they now rebuke me rather than pray for me, yet I will not in turn "rebuke" them in similar trials, but "will pray for them," as though nothing of this had happened. Noble spirit - indicative of what should always be the spirit of a good man. Our friends - even our pious friends - may not be always "wise" in their advice, and they may be severe in their reproofs if we do not follow their counsel; yet let us receive all as well-intended, and let us not in anger, in sullenness, or in revenge, refuse to aid them, and to pray for them in trouble, though they were "not" wise, and though they used words of severity toward us.


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.

Smite me, to wit, with his tongue by reproofs, as the next clause explains it, which are called wounds, Proverbs 27:6. As I pray unto thee that thou wouldst keep me from sinful practices, so I beg it of all just men, that if I do transgress, or if by the arts and slanders of mine enemies any of them are made to believe that I am guilty of evil designs against Saul, or of any other wickedness, that they would freely admonish and reprove me for it. And their reproofs shall please me better than the dainties of the wicked last mentioned, Psalm 114:4.

It shall be a kindness; I shall be so far from being offended with it as an act of entity or ill will, as they may suspect, that I shall esteem it an act and sign of true friendship.

It shall be an excellent oil; or, it shall be as the oil of the head, as it is in the Hebrew, i.e. which is poured upon the head, as the manner was in great feasts and solemnities.

Not break my head; not Inert or disturb it, but, on the contrary, shall heal and greatly refresh and delight it; which is here understood by a known figure called meiosis, whereby more is intended than is expressed, as Proverbs 17:21, and oft elsewhere.

In their calamities; either,

1. In the calamities of those righteous persons who reproved and censured him. So this is an evidence of what he last said, that he should take their reproofs for a kindness, because when they came into such calamities as those wherein he was involved, as all righteous men must expect sufferings at one time or other, he would not insult over them, nor censure them, but pity them, and pray for them. Or,

2. In the calamities of his enemies, of which he speaks in the next words. And so this may be added as a reason why he did so freely offer himself to the righteous to be reproved by them, if he or his cause were so bad as his enemies made them, because he was well assured that he was sincere and his cause good, and that God would bring him out of all his calamities, and bring his enemies into such calamities that they should need and desire his prayers, which also he would willingly grant to them; and then all good men would be fully satisfied of the justice of his person and cause. Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness,.... Or, "smite me in kindness" (a). In love; in a loving and friendly manner, which makes reproofs the more agreeable and effectual. Not the righteous God, as Arama; though he does sometimes smite his people for their sins, Isaiah 57:17; that is, reproves, corrects, and chastises them, and that in love and for their good; and therefore such smitings and corrections should be taken in good part by them, and received as fatherly chastisements, and as instances of his paternal care of them, and love to them; but rather righteous and good men; who, when there is occasion for it, should reprove and rebuke one another; but then it should be in a kind and tender manner, and with the spirit of meekness; and such reproofs should be as kindly received: "for faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful", Proverbs 27:6. Or, "let the righteous beat me with kindness" or "goodness" (b); with precepts of goodness, by inculcating good things into him; which he should take, as if he overwhelmed and loaded him with benefits; even though it was like striking with a hammer, as the word signifies;

and let him, reprove me; which explains what is meant by smiting;

it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head; give no pain nor uneasiness to his head or his heart, but rather supple and heal the wounds sin reproved for has made. The Targum is,

"the oil of the anointing of the sanctuary shall not cease from my head;''

with which he was anointed king; and signifies that he should enjoy the dignity, and continue in it. The Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it, "the oil of the ungodly", or "sinners": meaning their flattering words, which, though smooth as oil, were deceitful; and therefore he deprecates them, "let not the oil of the wicked", &c. as being hurtful and pernicious;

for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities; that is, when the righteous, that smote and reproved him for his good, should be in any distress; such a grateful sense should he retain of their favour in reproving him, that he would pray for them, that they might be delivered out of it; which would show that he took it kindly at their hand. Or, "in their evils", or "against them" (c); which some understand of the evil practices of wicked men; which the psalmist prayed against, and that he might be kept and delivered from.

(a) , Sept. "in misericordia", V. L. "benigne ac clementer", Michaelis. (b) "benignitate", Tigurine version; "bonitate", Gejerus; "seu praeceptis bonitatis", Gussetius, p. 212. (c) "in malis eorum", Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius; "adversus mala eorum", Musculus, Michaelis; so some in Vatablus.

Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let {e} 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.

(e) He could abide all corrections that came from a loving heart.

5. Let the righteous smite me, it shall be kindness:

And let him reprove me, it shall be as oil for the head;

Let not my head refuse it:

But still let my prayer be against their evil doings.

From the prayer of Psalm 141:4 it is clear that the Psalmist had felt the seductiveness of worldly luxury, and apparently (cp. Psalm 141:9) godless men had been endeavouring to entice him to cast in his lot with them. On the other hand it would seem that he had been tempted to resent the correction and reproof of the godly, possibly not always offered in the most conciliatory way. He therefore prays that he may welcome correction as kindness, and reproof as the “ointment and perfume” which “rejoice the heart” (Proverbs 27:9), alluding no doubt to the oil with which his head would have been anointed at the banquets of the wicked (Amos 6:6). Smite is of course a metaphor for severe correction. Cp. Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” The Book of Proverbs insists constantly on the value of reproof, which the wise man welcomes and the fool resents (Proverbs 3:11 f.; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 15:5; Proverbs 15:31-32; Proverbs 28:23), and the duty of neighbourly reproof is enjoined in the Law (Leviticus 19:17). Cp. Ecclesiastes 7:5.

The last line is obscure, and the text is possibly corrupt, but the general sense may be, ‘Let me not resent reproof, and associate with the wicked, but let me continue to pray against (or, in the midst of) their evil deeds.’ Neglecting the Heb. accents we might render, Let not my head refuse it, but again! (i.e. let him repeat his reproofs), and let my prayer be against their evil deeds.Verse 5. - Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness; rather, let the righteous smite me kindly, as in the margin. And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head; rather, which my head shall not refuse. The psalmist will prefer the reproof of the righteous to the dainty allurements of the wicked. He will regard their words as an oil of welcome, such as was poured upon the head of favored guests (Luke 7:36), and his head will not refuse it. For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities; rather, their wickednesses. This healing oil will strengthen him to continue to pray for his enemies, even though they still continue in their "wickednesses." With Psalm 140:13 the mood and language now again become cheerful, the rage has spent itself; therefore the style and tone are now changed, and the Psalm trips along merrily as it were to the close. With reference to ידעת for ידעתי (as in Job 42:2), vid., Psalm 16:2. That which David in Psalm 9:5 confidently expects on his own behalf is here generalized into the certain prospect of the triumph of the good cause in the person of all its representatives at that time oppressed. אך, like ידעתּי, is an expression of certainty. After seeming abandonment God again makes Himself known to His own, and those whom they wanted to sweep away out of the land of the living have an ever sure dwelling-place with His joyful countenance (Psalm 16:11).
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