<<A Psalm of David.>> Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.
Verse 1. - Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me (comp. 1 Samuel 24:15, "The Lord therefore be Judge, and judge between me and thee; and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand." The word translated "plead" is a judicial term; but the context shows that it was in the battle-field, rather than in the law-courts, that David's cause was to be pleaded. The second hemistich is therefore added to explain and correct the first; it is fighting, not pleading, that is needed under the circumstances.
Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.
Verse 2. - Take hold of shield and buckler. "The shield (magen) was a smaller hand-weapon; the buckler (tsinnah)covered the whole body" (Kay). The "shield and buckler" are put forward first, because it is primarily defence and protection that David needs. His adversaries are the aggressors; he is on the defensive; Saul is hunting him upon the mountains. And stand up for mine help (comp. Psalm 7:6). Standing is the natural posture of one who interposes to help another.
Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
Verse 3. - Draw out also the spear; rather, bring out also the spear, since spears were not, so far as is known, kept in sheaths, like swords (Exodus 15:9), but only laid up in an armoury. And stop the way against them that persecute me. So Jarchi, Rosenmuller, Hitzig, Kay, Professor Alexander, Hengstenberg, and our Revisers; but a large number of critics regard סְגר - the word translated "stop the way" - as really the name of a weapon, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek σάγαρις, which was probably the battle-axe. (So Vitringa, Michaelis, Bishop Horsley, Cheyne, Mr. Aglen, and the 'Speaker's Commentary.') The passage will then read, "Bring out also the spear and the battle-axe against them that persecute me," which is certainly a better parallel to "Take hold of shield and buckler," than "Bring out the spear, and stop the way." Say unto my soul, I am thy Salvation. Comfort my soul, i.e., with the assurance that thou art, and wilt ever be, ray Salvation (comp. Psalm 27:1; Psalm 62:2, 6; Psalm 118:14, 21, etc.). Deliverance from the immediate danger is not all that is meant; but rather support and saving help in all dangers and in all troubles.
Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.
Verse 4. - Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul. It appears from this that David's life is being sought, which only happened at two periods in his career:
(1) when he was a fugitive from Saul (1 Samuel 19:15 - 26:4); and
(2) during the rebellion of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13 - 18:8).
The psalm therefore belongs to one or other of those periods, most probably to the former (see the introductory paragraph, and note the resemblance between this passage and 1 Samuel 20:1; 1 Samuel 22:23). Let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Imprecations closely resembling these occur frequently in the Davidical psalms (see ver. 26; Psalm 40:14; Psalm 70:2; Psalm 71:13), and amount to a sort of commonplace, to be used whenever the machinations of his enemies against him are the subject that occupies his thought.
Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them.
Verse 5. - Let them be as chaff before the wind (comp. Psalm 1:4; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5; Hosea 13:3). Chaff is the type of whatever is light, vain, futile, and worthless; chaff driven before the wind represents the confused rout of a beaten army flying without any resistance before an enemy. And let the angel of the Lord chase them; rather, smite them. The angel of the Lord, who protects the righteous (Psalm 34:7), is called on to complete the discomfiture of the wicked ones, who are David's enemies.
Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
Verse 6. - Let their way be dark and slippery; literally, darkness and slipperiness; i.e. let them fly along dark and slippery paths, where they cannot see their way, and will be sure to stumble and fall. And let the angel of the Lord persecute them; rather, pursue after them.
For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.
Verse 7. - For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit; literally, the pit of their net. This is explained by some to mean "the destruction of their net;" by others, "the pit that is covered by a net." But neither explanation is altogether saris-factory. Some therefore suppose an accidental transposition of a word. Which without cause they have digged for my soul. "Without cause" means "without provocation on my part."
Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.
Verse 8. - Let destruction come upon him at unawares; i.e. let the evil happen to him that he designed against others. As he sought to catch others in traps of which they knew nothing (ver. 7), so let an unexpected destruction come upon him. And let his net that he hath hid catch himself (comp. Psalm 9:15, 16; Psalm 57:6; Psalm 141:10). It is the perfection of poetic justice when "the engineer" is "hoist by his own petard." Into that very destruction lot him fall; rather, for destruction let him fall therein; i.e. let him not only fall into his own trap, but let his fall prove his destruction. David's imprecations have always something about them from which the Christian shrinks; and this is particularly the case when he asks for his enemies' destruction.
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation.
Verse 9. - And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord. A sudden transition from imprecatory prayer to thanksgiving, or rather, to the promise of it - "My soul shall be joyful;" i.e. it shall be so when my prayers have been granted. It shall rejoice in his salvation. "Salvation" here is, no doubt, especially, deliverance from the immediate danger, but, perhaps, even here, not only that (see the comment on ver. 3).
All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?
Verse 10. - All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee? The "bones" here represent, not the frame only, as in Psalm 34:20, but the entire nature. David promises that his whole nature shall bear witness to God's mercy and goodness, proclaiming that there is "none like unto him" in these respects, none other that can deliver from danger as he can and does. As Hengstenberg observes, "He seeks to make the Lord grant the desired help by promising that the help afforded would yield a rich harvest of praise and thanksgiving." Which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him? (comp. Psalm 86:1, where David again calls himself "poor and needy;" i.e. in want of help and peace and comfort; not absolutely without means, or he would not offer any temptation to the spoiler.
False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.
Verses 11-18. - The second part of the psalm begins with a long complaint, David sets forth the woes under which he is suffering. There are:
1. Calumny (ver. 11).
2. Ingratitude (vers. 12-14).
3. Malevolence (ver. 15).
4. Insult from the vile and base (ver. 16).
He then passes to prayer: Will not God rescue him (ver. 17)? In conclusion, he for the second time promises praise and thanks (ver. 18). Verse 11. - False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I know not (comp. Psalm 27:12); literally, malicious, or unrighteous witnesses (see Exodus 23:1). It is not probable that witnesses in a court are intended. David's calumniators accused him privately to Saul of "seeking his hurt" (1 Samuel 24:9), and so stirred Saul up against him (1 Samuel 26:19). By what is here said, they appear to have accused him to his face, and to have endeavoured to extort from him a confession of guilt.
They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.
Verse 12. - They rewarded me evil for good (comp. ver. 13). Among those who slandered him were persons with whose troubles he had sympathized, and for whom he had prayed with fasting when they were sick. His worst persecutor, Saul, admitted the charge here made. "Thou art more righteous than I," he said; "for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil" (1 Samuel 24:17). To the spoiling of my soul; or, the desolating of my soul. The result of his enemies' machinations against him was to make him a fugitive and a wanderer, to separate him from the friend whom he tenderly loved, from his wife, his parents, and the greater part of his acquaintance.
But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.
Verse 13. - But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. It is suggested that David had acted thus, especially in the case of Saul, when he was first afflicted with his terrible malady (1 Samuel 16:14-23; 1 Samuel 18:10); but he appears to speak of his habitual practice, whenever any of his friends were sick. (On the putting on of sackcloth as a sign of grief, see Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Samuel 21:10; 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 6:30; 2 Kings 19:1; Esther 4:1; Job 16:15; Psalm 69:11; Psalm 69:11, etc.) I humbled my soul with fasting. Another customary indication of grief (see Psalm 69:10; Psalm 109:24; Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12; 2 Samuel 22:16; 1 Kings 21:27; Nehemiah 1:4, etc.). And my prayer returned into mine own bosom (comp. Matthew 10:13). Prayers for others, if prevented by their unworthiness from benefiting them, are yet not altogether void and vain. They bring a blessing to the man that offers them.
I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
Verse 14. - I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother. In every such case I sympathized with the sufferer to such an extent, that my conduct was like that of an intimate friend or a brother. I bowed down heavily, as one that mournsth for his mother. Nay, I went further; I took on all those outward signs of grief which are usual when a man has lost his mother. I "bowed down heavily," as though I could scarcely stand. The Orientals are extreme and exaggerated in their manifestations both of joy and grief (see Herod., 8:99).
But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not:
Verse 15. - But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together; rather, in my fall, or in my halting; "when I halted" (Revised Version). "The word implies a sudden slip and overthrow," such as is represented in 1 Samuel 18:8-29. Yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me. Compare the case of Job (Job 30:1-14). It is a matter of common experience that when men fall from a high position into misfortune, the base vulgar crowd always turns against them with scoffs and jeers and every sort of contumely. And I knew it not; rather, and I knew them not; men, i.e., of so low a condition, that I had no acquaintance with them (see the margin of the Revised Version). They did tear me, and ceased not (comp. Job 16:9).
With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.
Verse 16. - With hypocritical mockers in feasts; literally, profane jesters of cakes; i.e. ribald parasites at a great man's table, whose coarse buffoonery entitles them to a share of the dainties; they made me their butt, their jest, and their byword (cf. Job 30:9). They gnashed upon me with their teeth; i.e. spoke fiercely and angrily against me, like dogs that snarl and show their teeth (comp. Job 16:9; Psalm 37:12).
Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions.
Verse 17. - Lord, how long wilt thou look on? "How long?" is the common cry of sufferers (Job 19:2; Psalm 6:3; Psalm 13:1; Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:46; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10), who do not recognize the wholesome discipline of suffering, or realize the fact implied in the phrase, "No cross, no crown." Man desires immediate deliverance; God mostly delays his deliverance until Patience has "had her perfect work" (James 1:4). Rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling, from the lions (comp. Psalm 22:20).
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.
Verse 18. - I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I win praise thee among much people. The promise is repeated (see vers. 9, 10); hut, as before, it is conditional on deliverance being granted, and intended to induce God to grant it, and to grant it speedily.
Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
Verses 19-28. - The main element of this, the third section of the psalm, is prayer. Complaint finds a voice in vers. 20, 21, and thanksgiving in ver. 28; but with these exceptions, the strophe is one long strain of prayer. The prayer is, first, negative: "Let not mine enemies rejoice" (ver. 19); "Keep not silence" (ver. 22); "Be not far from me" (ver. 22). But after this it becomes mainly positive: "Stir up thyself, and awake to judgment" (ver. 23); "Judge me, O Lord" (ver. 24); "Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion that rejoice at my hurt" (ver. 26); "Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause" (ver. 27); "Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in my prosperity" (ver. 27). Verse 19. - Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me (comp. Psalm 38:19, where David says that those who "hated him wrongfully" were "multiplied"). David feels that no one had any reason to hate him, since he had always sought the good of all with whom he came into contact (see ver. 12). Neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause; i.e. let them not have cause to wink to each other in self-congratulation on their having triumphed over me completely.
For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.
Verse 20. - For they speak not peace. Once more the language of complaint. David's enemies, though they have driven him from the court, and made him a fugitive and a wanderer, were not yet satisfied. They did not speak him peace. They continued to scheme against him. But they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land. David, if let alone, was willing enough to have remained "quiet in the land." He was a fugitive and an outlaw; but, could he have obtained a safe refuge - the cave of Adullam, or any other - would gladly have remained peacefully within it. But his enemies would not allow him to remain quiet. They stirred up the jealousy and hatred of Saul by false tales, and caused him to be "hunted upon the mountains" (1 Samuel 26:20).
Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.
Verse 21. - Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha! our eye hath seen it. They "opened their mouth wide" in scornful derision; and shouted triumphantly, "Ha, ha! our eye hath seen his downfall!"
This thou hast seen, O LORD: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.
Verse 22. - This thou hast seen, O Lord. Nothing of this has been hid from thee; thine eye, O Lord, has seen it. Therefore I call upon thee. Keep not silence. Refrain not thyself. "Up, and let not man have the upper hand" (Psalm 9:19). O Lord, be not far from me. Draw near, hasten, vindicate my name (comp. Psalm 22:19; Psalm 38:21; 70:12).
Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.
Verse 23. - Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment (camp. Psalm 80:2; Psalm 44:23; Psalm 78:65). The psalmists call on God to awake, not as though he were really asleep, but as a sort of stirring appeal to him to arise and manifest himself. Even unto my cause, my God and my Lord. "Awake," i.e., "to judge my cause - to acquit me, and condemn my enemies" (camp. Psalm 9:4; Psalm 35:1; Psalm 43:1, etc.).
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.
Verse 24. - Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness, Let thy law of righteousness be the rule by which I am judged, and my enemies also. Then the victory will remain with me; thou wilt not let them rejoice over me.
Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up.
Verse 25. - Let them not say in their hearts, Ah! so would we have it (camp. ver. 21); literally, ah! our soul, i.e. "our heart's desire is accomplished; we have got our wish." Let them not say, We have swallowed him up; i.e. destroyed him, ruined him, brought him to an evil end (camp. 2 Samuel 17:16).
Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.
Verse 26. - Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me (camp. ver. 4, of which this is an enlargement, with variations, the sentiment being exactly the same). Very similar maledictions will be found in Psalm 40:14; Psalm 70:2; Psalm 71:13; Psalm 109:29.
Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
Verse 27. - Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause. When David's enemies are "ashamed and put to confusion" (ver. 26), his friends will naturally "shout for joy, and be glad." This they will do, partly, out of sympathy; partly because their own interests are bound up with those of their leader. Had Saul captured David when he "hunted him upon the mountains," the fate of David's followers would have been death or exile. Yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant; literally, in the peace of his servant. God desires that David's present troubles should cease, and that he should enjoy a time of rest and tranquillity. This was granted him, to some extent, at Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:4-7), but more fully when he came into his kingdom (2 Samuel 5:1-16).
And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.
Verse 28. - And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long (camp. vers. 9, 10, and 18). David means to premise perpetual gratitude and thankfulness. He will not merely return thanks publicly, once for all, in the great congregation (ver. 18), but will continue to praise God always.