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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-59--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Note: Throughout this commentary God’s Name is represented as YHWH in accordance with the Hebrew text. LXX represented it as ‘LORD’. It is in fact a name that was seen as so sacred that no one ever pronounced it. Thus how to do so has been forgotten. Yahweh is probably the nearest best guess, although others suggest Yohweh. Jehovah is a corruption of it.
The Book of Psalms divides up into five sections, each of which ends with a special ‘blessing, which are as follows:
It is not my intention to go into detail at this stage about the book as a whole. There are many views which are helpful in encouraging thought, but interesting though they may be, much is speculation about things that we will never know the answers to, and are not necessary to the appreciation of the Psalms.
Suffice to say that Psalms (spiritual songs and prayers) were written from an early stage. See for example Exodus 15.1-18, 21 and Judges 5. Compare Numbers 10.35-36. They often arose from people’s experiences and would be in the forms of Hebrew poetry, and they were used for worship, prayer and praise. Israel’s covenant view of YHWH would demand such expressions of praise, as the song of Miriam demonstrates, and these would undoubtedly from the beginning include psalms referring to the Exodus deliverance, psalms which may well have been incorporated into some of the Psalms we now have. Such psalms were indeed part of the milieu of the time of Moses and later, and parallel Canaanite examples from before the time of Moses are found at Ugarit.
Unless such ancient psalms and songs disappeared completely, something which must be considered very doubtful with regard to what would have been precious to many people, and would have been seen as of ancient tradition, we must consider the probability that many of them were incorporated in the later Psalms as we have them now.
I Chronicles 6.31-32 makes clear that there was an official group of singers in the Tabernacle once the Ark had taken its due place there in the time of David. And they had to have something to sing. But it is doubtful if the Psalms were a total innovation. There would have been singers connected with the Tabernacle from the earliest days (as the song of Miriam demonstrates - Exodus 15.20-21).
So while it is reasonable to call the book of Psalms ‘the hymn book of the second temple’ if we do not interpret that too restrictively and literally, (for it certainly was that), we would have to assume, even if we had nothing else to go on, that many were written and used in public worship long before the days of the second temple. For most hymns were written for use as individual Psalms before they were introduced into a collection, and the same is true of many of these Psalms, and there are indications that there were possibly smaller collections before they were gathered into one large collection. We have no reason to doubt that some of them were originally used for worship in the Tabernacle, in the first Temple, and in the worship of the northern kingdom (see Isaiah 30.29; Amos 5.23). Similar works of worship and praise to their own gods were found from the earliest times among the Canaanites, as witnessed at Ugarit, and in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Therefore Israel’s stress on the fact that YHWH revealed Himself through historical deliverance and activity was even more likely to have produced such songs of praise and worship.
Thus the one thing that we can be sure about is that the book grew from smaller beginnings, and developed over the centuries. As we shall see we have indications that a good number of them at least were set to music, and that some were seen as particularly suitable for certain musical instruments and for certain specific occasions. Some were connected with specific incidents, but in the end even these became generalised, for they were used for general worship.
With regard to authorship we must tread with care. In the case of some of them specific authorship is stated, but other ascriptions may be more general. Whereas David wrote many Psalms (see 2 Samuel 23.1 where he is called ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’) the ascription ‘to (or ‘for’) David’ may not always be intended to indicate authorship. Some may simply have been dedicated to David by later composers, who admired him and saw themselves as following in his train, especially by such descendants of his as inherited his musical prowess, their works possibly then being seen as part of a smaller corpus ‘for David’. Many do, however, see the heading as indicating his authorship in view of the fact that the same appellation is used for psalms which are undoubtedly the work of David.
There is no reason intrinsically why a good number should not be attributed to him. Just as Moses wrote out the Law to meet the particular needs of a conglomerate group delivered from Egypt, so might David, with his poetic and musical soul, and as priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4), have felt a responsibility to add to the worship material available for the Tabernacle and for the Temple that it was his desire to build. He was after all the nation’s intercessor. And once he was refused permission to build the Temple he may well have devoted his talents to preparing for its building by writing psalms ready for its more formal worship, adapting some of his own compositions to that end. For as he grew older he regularly left the fighting to others (2 Samuel 11.1)
It is probable that some of the Psalms were to some small extent developed and changed by pious men, both for musical reasons and with the idea of ‘modernising’ them, and clarifying their meaning, or providing some extra element of worship, just as in modern hymnals hymns are altered in order to ‘improve’ and modernise them, with, in the latter case, a verse being added or taken away. The ancient Hebrew language was originally primitive, and, as with all languages, developed and grew through the centuries. It would have been very different in the time of Moses from the time of the Exile. So just as many of us find Chaucer difficult to understand because he wrote in ancient ‘English’, so would Israel find ancient Hebrew difficult to understand, especially in poetry. Thus in a book so constantly used in worship it is probable that an occasional modernising touch would be considered necessary in order to maintain the sense for the users.
But in the end we have here an inspired collection of sacred writings suitable for our use, and with many lessons to teach us, although we must ever remember that, while we can learn from them, they are not carefully worded doctrinal statements but ideas conveyed through vivid poetry. We must remember that we cannot justly treat a verse from a Psalm as analytically and as factually as we would a verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
We must differentiate the headings, which are not a part of the text, from the Psalms themselves. They may provide valuable insights into the significance of a particular Psalm and many are clearly very ancient (by the time the LXX was translated in the three centuries preceding Christ’s coming the meaning of many of the terms used had been long forgotten), and some contain information not known of from elsewhere. They cannot fairly be dismissed as just an attempt to fit the life of David in with the Psalms. They bear the evidence of ancient tradition. This is evidenced by the fact that LXX clearly did not understand the language of many of the titles. But whether these headings were seen as part of ‘the inspired word’ is doubtful. LXX did not hesitate to add further titles. They were probably rather seen as helpful notes.
The influence of David is everywhere obvious. The Psalms in the first section of the Book, apart from an occasional anonymous Psalm, are dedicated ‘to David’. We could almost call this ‘the Davidic collection, were it not for the fact that Psalms of David appear in all four of the remaining sections. In section 2 we have Psalms 51-65 and 68-70, and it ends with a Psalm of Solomon. In section 3, mainly composed of Psalms of Asaph, with a few of the sons of Korah, we have Psalm 86, ‘a prayer of David’. In section 4 we have Psalms 101 and 103, although apart from one by Moses most are anonymous. In section 5 we have Psalms 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145. So the influence of David pervades the whole Psalter. Many would have essentially been written by David himself, but it would soon become customary to dedicate Psalms ‘to David’ (the Davidic house) so that we must not be over dogmatic. What we must not do is allow such questions to interfere with our appreciation of the Psalms.
This psalm is introductory to the whole collection. The entire psalm extols the blessedness of the one who avoids the path of the sinful, and delights in the Instruction (Law) of YHWH, walking in its truth. Such a person chooses the way of righteousness.
The Psalm initially declares what the way of the righteous is by describing what it is not, and this is followed in verse 2 by an indication of what specifically differentiates the righteous, resulting in verse 3 in the declaration of their great reward, that their lives flourish and blossom like a tree beside life-giving streams.
In verse 4 he points out that the way of the unrighteous is the very opposite of that. For instead of being firmly rooted they are swept away as the chaff is swept away by the wind, with the result that, in contrast with the righteous they will be unable to face God when He judges (verse 5). Verse 6 then summarises the situation, explaining that the way of the righteous is known to God, while the way of the unrighteous perishes. It is the righteous who truly live.
1.1-3 The Way of the Righteous.
The psalmist first declares that the righteous are blessed. To be righteous means to be in a right relationship with God, having a heart that responds to Him and His word, and walking in His ways, using the provided means of mercy and forgiveness from a true heart. To be blessed means to prosper in the right way, to prosper in spirit. It is to enjoy God’s approbation. And it is to enjoy the exultancy that comes from it. We might translate this as ‘O the multiple blessednesses’. It is plural and emphatic, and speaks of great joy.
And then he explains why such a person is blessed, first negatively and then positively. Firstly he declares that the righteous are blessed because of what they do not do. They do not live in a way that results from following the counsel and advice of the wicked, they do not align themselves with the behaviour of the sinful and wrongdoers, who come short of the mark, and they do not reveal themselves as those who associate with the scornful, the ungodly, those who mock at the ways of YHWH, by sitting among them and seeming to be one of them. They stand up for truth.
So the first negative is that they do not ‘walk in the counsel of the wicked’. To walk is to go deliberately along in a certain way. It is to have an attitude that determines the direction that you take, and then to follow that attitude through continually. Thus the righteous do not listen to the advice and planned purpose of the wicked, that is, of those who choose to disobey God’s laws, who behave ‘wickedly’, and who are willing to do anything to advance themselves or to find enjoyment at the expense of others, and who counsel others to do the same. Such men say ‘you have to look after yourself in this life’ and ‘this is business’. They point out that those who are too fussy will not ‘get on’. They advise us that a little bit of sin is fun and does no one any harm. They will even go so far as to say that it is bad for us to repress our feelings and that we should express our natural desires, meaning simply by this that we should ‘let ourselves go’. (There is of course sometimes some truth in some of this in some instances, but they take it to excess). ‘The wicked’ is the most common expression in the Old Testament for those whose lives are contrary to God’s ways. They are those who are not in harmony with God.
But the righteous will close their ears to such advice. They will refuse to take the way of such people (Job 21.16; 22.18), and will reject the very way such people plan their lives (see the use of ‘counsel’ in Exodus 18.19; Micah 6.16). They will reject the whole attitude which lies behind it. For they know that it is selfish and inconsiderate, harmful to others and displeasing to God.
So while the wicked are set on a determined course which means ignoring God’s commandments, thinking that it will result in prosperity, power, freedom and fun, the righteous take up another position. The righteous take up the position of obedience to God. They walk with God, knowing that this will bring them blessing, spiritual power, true freedom and fullness of joy. Each of us has to choose which way we walk.
‘Stand in the way of sinners’. The first phrase described the walk of the sinner. This describes his stance. The sinner takes his stance in the way that sinners, those who ‘come short of the mark’, take, with the full intention of joining them. This is a matter of deliberate choice. He takes his stance on refusing to love his neighbour, and instead puts himself and his desires first. He fails to show compassion and mercy, and instead fights to ensure that he gets his rights, and that no one interferes with his liberties or his pleasures. He takes his stance on easy living. He chooses ‘the broad way’ (Matthew 7.13).
But the righteous do not take their stance in the way of sinners. They take their stance on the word of God, and on obedience to that word. They take their stance in the way of His instruction. They study His word and seek to live it out. Each of us has to choose our stance, and that will very much determine what we are and what we become.
Thirdly, the righteous do not ‘sit in the seat of the scornful’. There are always those who are scornful of right living, of being particular to obey God’s commands, and of adherence to the word of God. They are often supercilious and scornful of anyone who does not see things as they do. It is the most difficult thing for the godly person to fight. It is not opposition or persecution, it is simply contempt. And that is hard to bear.
In the twenty first century it includes those who are scornful of reliance on the word of God. They make clear their contempt of anyone who dares to really believe that the Bible is the word of God, even though men with powerful minds do believe it. They reveal their contempt of those whom they see as ‘narrow-minded’, those who put God’s will first. They consider it foolish and old-fashioned. Their view is often that rules and regulations do not matter. That what matters is to do our own thing, to be free. Others do the opposite and make rules and regulations everything. But they too scorn the way of faith and trust. The righteous, however, do not join with these people or take up their position. Nor do they sit among them as though they are one with them. They stand out and make their position clear. They recognise that the freedom that these people seek can lead to scepticism and bondage.
Being scornful is elsewhere connected with those who are at ease and enjoy over-excess of wine, with the attitude of those who consider themselves superior (Hosea 7.5). Scorners pride themselves on what they are and deride others (Psalm 119.51). They are in contrast with the wise who seek to live rightly and gladly accept criticism (Proverbs 9.8). They refuse to listen to rebukes (Proverbs 13.1; 15.12). They consider themselves right all the time. They are in an entrenched position.
‘The seat of the scornful’ can be contrasted with ‘the seat of the elders’ which was occupied by those who praised YHWH for His goodness (Psalm 107.32). Here too, in the seat of the scornful, we often have learned and important men (compare Isaiah 28.14), but their learning has taken them in the wrong direction. They are self-satisfied. They are scornful of God’s word. They are scornful of God’s ways. They are scornful of simple faith.
The problems were not basically different in the psalmist’s day from our own day. They are the problems that men continually face. They simply often express them in a different way.
So the psalmist has dealt with a man’s walk and what advice he listens to, his stance and what position he takes up, and whom he takes up company with, and how he views things, and points out that the way of the world, the path of the wicked and the unrighteous, and the position of the scornful are to be avoided.
The righteous man takes the high road. He rises above what is wrong. He keeps himself clear of anything that can taint his life. He delights in the law of God. In contrast the very sinful take the low road. They are the ultra wicked. They are mixed up in everything that is unpleasant. But most take the middle road, the way of ease and non-exertion, of compromise and self-consideration. They come short of God’s requirements. They come short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). That is ‘the way of sinners’.
‘But his delight is in the instruction of YHWH, and in his instruction he meditates day and night.’ This is the positive side. The righteous man delights in God’s ways, in the ways of YHWH, the covenant God whom he sees as being his Deliverer and Saviour. He longs to know God’s will, he wants to know the Lawgiver Himself. So he meditates day and night in His ‘instruction’ (torah - Law), His word.
This is what lifts him above the world and its ways, this is what sets him on the high road, for he lives in the rarified atmosphere of God’s revelation of Himself. He listens to the word of God (Isaiah 1.10; 2.3). He goes into a private place to meet with God. He comes to know God and the ways of God, and thus he knows that there is no other way worth following.
He does not make lists of rules he has to follow, although he carefully studies God’s word in order to obey it. He rather fixes his eye on his Creator, on the great Deliverer of Israel (as many psalms will make clear). He reads of His wondrous ways and doings, of how He defeated the power of Egypt, of how He brought them to Sinai where He revealed Himself in splendour and made His covenant with them, of how He brought His people through the wilderness in spite of their weakness and failure, and how He established them in the promised land. And he worships and honours God and gladly responds to His commands, which he sees are good and right, recognising with joy the special relationship he has with God through His gracious covenant. Indeed he is so full of God’s revelation that he cannot put it down. The instruction of his God is in his heart (Psalm 37.31; 40.8). He meditates on it and thinks about it day and night (compare Joshua 1.8). It is not a hardship, it is a joy (Psalm 112.1; 119.35).
Today we can add to this that he reads the word of God as revealed in the New Testament. He rejoices in the life and death of Jesus Christ and all that it has accomplished for us. He constantly studies the life and teaching of Jesus. He studies in order to understand all that Christ is and what He has done for us, and can be to us. And he responds to that word.
The Hebrew word translated “meditate” is used of a young lion standing over his prey and roaring his defiance (Isaiah 31.4), of the moaning of a dove (Isaiah 38.14), as meaning to think over and imagine (Psalm 2.1), as meaning to speak righteousness and wisdom (Psalm 35.28; 37.30; 71.24). Thus it contains within it both the idea of careful thought and of effective declaration to others. A man meditates so that he may speak.
We should note the change in tenses. In verse 1 the verbs are ‘definite’. The righteous man has taken up a definite attitude towards these things. He is set in his ways. In verse 2 the verbs are ‘indefinite’, indicating continuous action, he continually delights in, and continually ponders, God’s law.
The Reward of the Righteous (verse 3).
Here the word of God is likened to streams of water, providing the unfailing and multiplied means of life and growth. It is life-sustaining. And the one who meditates on it is like a tree, drawing through its roots on those streams of water, and thus becoming fruitful and abounding with life. Nothing about his life withers; all who see his life behold his fresh green leaves, they observe the abundance of his life. And he prospers in all he does. The thought is not of prospering physically in the sense of becoming rich, but of achieving God’s ends (Joshua 1.8), of doing well what he sets his hand to (Genesis 39.3), so that God causes it to prosper for the advantage of all (Genesis 39.23). It is of having a fulfilled life, a worthwhile life, contributing to the good of mankind. He is like a fruitful tree. He prospers in fruitfulness. And like a tree drawing water from a river he draws in to himself the word of God, and lives by it. As Jesus Himself declared, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4.4 citing Deuteronomy 8.3).
Note also that the tree is ‘planted’ there. It did not arrive there on the wind, it did not grow there wild and by chance, it was deliberately ‘planted’. It was selected and chosen. It is God’s tree, and He is the planter. For all who delight in the word of God finally do so because the Father has drawn them (John 6.44; Deuteronomy 7.6-8). They hear His word and respond to it because He has chosen to plant them. He gives them “a festive garland instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness, so that they may be called ‘trees of righteousness, the planting of YHWH’ so that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61.3). Moreover the streams of water are probably to be seen as artificial canals. They too are not there accidentally. They are God’s provision. They have been prepared in order to water the tree, so that it will not wither in the burning heat of the sun (compare Ecclesiastes 2.6, ‘I made myself pools of water that I might water from them the forest where trees were reared’).
We should also note that the tree ‘bears its fruit in its season’. Just as water does not produce instantaneous growth or instant fruit in a tree, so the word of God does not immediately bring us to maturity and fruitfulness (see Mark 4.28). God has ordained that this is a process which takes time. Thus we should not grow impatient or doubting because our progress is not as fast as we would like it to be. In due time we will come to full fruitfulness if we faint not. But we should certainly become concerned if some fruit does not at some stage become visible.
The Destruction of the Unrighteous (1.4-5). .
The opposite is true of the wicked. They are not fruitful. They are not firmly grounded and planted. They are not good grain. They are rather chaff, the outer husk, the useless and lifeless part of the grain. They have no substance, they have no value, and instead of being rooted in the ground they are eventually blown away by a puff of wind as useless and worthless. They cannot produce fruit. They are chaff.
So just as the chaff is blown away when the grain is tossed up, separated from the grain by the wind, so are the careless and sinful blown away in their frailty. They are blown away when God’s wind blows on them. This picture of sinners as chaff is a constant one in the Old Testament (Psalm 35.5; Job 21.18; Isaiah 29.5; Hosea 13.3), and in the New (compare Matthew 3.12; Luke 3.17), and the wind is compared in one place with ‘the Angel of YHWH’ (Psalm 35.5), that mysterious figure Who is the representation of God Himself. It is God Who blows them away.
When judgment comes they will not be able to stand (Psalm 5.5; 130.3), they will have no place in the gathering of the righteous. The thought is not specifically of some final Judgment Day, but of whenever God’s judgment comes on them (for an extreme example see Numbers 16). It is a principle of Scripture that God continually judges the wicked, even before the day of His final judgment which finally completes that judgment. Because sin must be judged and must be condemned God deals with it continually in all kinds of ways. And in the face of that judgment the wicked will be blown away. They will not be able to prevent it. They will be unable to stand. If you ‘stand in the way of sinners’, you will not be able to stand at the judgment.
‘The assembly of the righteous.’ Israel were known as ‘the congregation, the assembly’ which represented the whole of Israel as they gathered together as God’s people. But here already we see the idea of the remnant within Israel (Isaiah 6.13), the true Israel (Isaiah 49.3 with 5), the assembly of the righteous. For not all of Israel were Israel. Not all were faithful to God and the covenant. And that separation will become apparent by judgment, when the righteous are gathered as one, separated from the wicked (Matthew 25.31-46; 13.30; 24.31).
Every man must choose the way in which he walks, whether in the way of the word of God or in the way of sinners. And those who walk in the way of His word ‘YHWH knows’ (see Genesis 18.19), He reveals Himself to them, He meets with them, and He blesses them. They are His people and they enjoy His presence and His watch over them. And He knows their way. It is the way of life (Psalm 16.11; Proverbs 12.28), it is the way of peace (Isaiah 59.8), it is the everlasting way (Psalm 139.24). So although they may be tested in it they will finally triumph, for He is with them (see Job 23.10).
But the way of the wicked can be described quickly, its end is that they will perish. That is its one certainty. Whatever they may enjoy along the way, and that is not certain, finally they will perish (compare Psalm 73.17). All in which they are involved will be destroyed. Their way is the way of death (Proverbs 14.12).
For this whole psalm compare Jeremiah 17.7-8 where he speaks of those who ‘trust in YHWH’ in similar terms. And then he finishes by saying, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately sick. Who can know it?’, speaking finally of those who have not trusted in YHWH.
The first psalm looked at the righteous man and his relationship with God, indicating the blessings that flowed to him from God.. This psalm looks at the Righteous One and His relationship with man. It is necessary first to consider the background to this Psalm for it concerns first the King of Israel. It describes him as YHWH’s anointed, His adopted son and as the prospective world ruler. But in the end it has in mind the Great King Who is yet to come, the One Who will fulfil all YHWH’s will..
Abraham was called by God to leave his family and go to the land of Canaan. When he arrived he received the first of a series of promises. Part of that promise was that the whole world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12.3). This was later expanded to include the fact that he would be the father of kings who would rule nations (Genesis 17.6). And indeed in the thinking of those days the only way by which a man could bless the whole world would be seen as by ruling over it. Thus intrinsic in these promises was that Abraham’s descendants would rule ‘the world’.
A hint of this was included in Genesis 49.10 and Numbers 24.17, both of which indicated the ruling of an empire by the coming descendant of Judah/Israel. The idea was vague but growing. They thought in terms of their ‘world’. Exodus 19.6 speaks of Israel becoming a kingdom of priests and this again required that the nations should look to Israel. Thus Israel had a growing sense of the fact that one day they would be called on to act on God’s behalf on the world as it was around them.
Then the triumphs of David caused hope of the fulfilment of the dream. And this was when this psalm was written. To take it as just the description of a local squabble is to overlook a number of things. Firstly Israel’s vision of itself; secondly, the fact that David was a poet as well a king, with all a poet’s dreams; and thirdly, that his meteoric rise, as well as his successes, was extremely likely to cause a hunger after more. In the eyes of most of Israel he must later almost have seemed to be king of the world. He certainly ruled their ‘world’, and the ‘worlds’ round about, with an iron hand. And this would probably have seemed even more so in the splendour of the reign of Solomon. They are a picture (when viewed idealistically) of the future Kingly Rule of God.
So David exulted in his privilege as being made YHWH’s anointed, and he calls on the nations to submit and yield themselves to YHWH. Then and then alone will come worldwide blessing. He no doubt hoped for it in his day, with the eyes of the visionary, or at the worst in his son’s day. But he spoke better than he knew. For its fulfilment would await the coming of his Greater Son, Jesus Christ.
After the fall of Solomon this idea of future kingship was taken up with a vengeance by the prophets. In their eyes the collapse of the kingdom had not removed the possibility, only delayed it. Although the kingship appeared to be in decline they declared that YHWH could not finally fail. God had promised to David an everlasting kingship. So there would come one day a king from the house of David, endued with the Spirit of God, who would become the perfect example of righteousness and He would rule the world, with the result that the nations would be transformed (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4 with 9-10; 32.1-2; Psalm 72; Ezekiel 37.24-28). Thus the continual ideal ‘king to come’ was seen as destined to rule the nations, bringing the blessing promised to Abraham on all the families of the earth. This was their hope. This was their dream. And it was necessary in order to fulfil God’s promises for the kingship, and God’s promises to Abraham. So when David failed to fulfil the ideal, the coming of a greater David became a certainty. And it was that dream that was in the people’s minds when this psalm was sung throughout the periods of the first and second temples and beyond.
In Acts 4.25-26 the new people of God refer to the opening words of this psalm saying ‘Who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David did say’. Then they referred the significance of the Psalm to Jesus. They saw the psalm as spoken by the Holy Spirit through David and fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and especially in the resurrection of Jesus, the final fulfilment of the psalm. He had been treated abominably by all the world, both king and governor, both Gentile and Jew (Acts 4.27), but had finally been set on God’s holy hill as YHWH’s Anointed (Acts 2.34-36).
The time of the writing of the psalm was probably not too long after Nathan’s vision from God, declared to David in 2 Samuel 7.8-16. We can imagine the impression those words made on David as he saw himself as the anointed of YHWH, adopted as His son, as his sons would be after him. Thus he sought to express the ideal in poetry. Each was ‘YHWH’s anointed’, but ever awaiting the One Who would rule the everlasting Kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13, 16).
It seemingly also arose at a time when there were simmerings of rebellion among the tribute nations. Possibly there was news of a plot afoot to rebel against David. But he was not afraid, for he knew that he was YHWH’s anointed. He knew that he had defeated the mighty Philistines, taking over their empire (2 Samuel 8.1-14), and even at that stage the vision was possibly already growing in his mind of a ‘world’ empire over which YHWH would rule. If he could defeat them he could defeat anyone.
So in the psalm he signalled the certainty of the triumph of the favoured of YHWH, and gave warning to all of what it would mean to rebel against him and his God. Indeed the poem might have been despatched to kings in his empire as a subtle warning that he was aware of plans that were afoot. Inevitably they would be brought into fruition at any sign of weakness. But when it was sung regularly within the Temple it signified a looking forward to the dream, the dream of the great and godly king of the house of David who would one day arise, with YHWH’s help and power, to rule the world, thus fulfilling David’s vision.
The psalm begins with the nations and rulers seething and hatching rebellion against YHWH and against His anointed king. It continues with YHWH’s derision of their attempt to overthrow His anointed. Then it declares to the nations that this one against whom they rebel is in fact YHWH’s ‘son’, adopted by Him in order that he might rule the world and bring judgment on God’s enemies. And finally it calls on the nations to submit to YHWH and His son, finishing with the words “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him”.
While possibly springing from a specific occasion we must remember that this is poetry. It was intended to be sung. It depicted David’s view of the Davidic kingship. It was a vision of the significance of the rule of the ‘anointed of YHWH’ which would carry on through generations, and it was his idealistic view of what it would achieve. David did not just have himself in mind. He thought of his sons, and his son’s sons over an everlasting kingdom, with all men submitting to YHWH, as YHWH had promised him (2 Samuel 7.8-16). It was to be fulfilled in Great David’s Greater Son.
The Nations In Rebellion Against YHWH and Against His Anointed One
The first reference is probably to a proposed confederation of nations under his rule planning to overthrow the king of Israel, the Davidic king, of which the king had become aware. David would ever be aware of such plots and schemes They began from the moment when David took ‘the bridle of the mother city’ (the right to rule others) out of the hands of the Philistines and took over their subject nations, who did not, however, want to exchange tribute to the Philistines with tribute to this upstart king of Israel, and thus fought for their freedom (2 Samuel 8.1-14). The plots would continue in later simmerings of rebellion of which we are not told, plots and schemes that finally came to nought. In all cases they would be seen as an attempt to avoid being under the rule of YHWH.
But if so it is described in words that look beyond local nations to the world situation of David’s dreams. While David may partly have had the local situation in mind, it also looks forward to the greater vision, the vision of the world as required to be subject to YHWH and His anointed. YHWH was King over all the earth (Genesis 18.25; 1 Chronicles 29.11; Psalm 22.28; 47.2, 7; Jeremiah 10.10; Zechariah 14.9). But people did not want to be under His yoke. They wanted to be free to do exactly what they wanted. So he saw the wider world also as constantly simmering in its rebellion against God. He knew that not only the local nations, but all the nations of the world would one day be called to be subject to YHWH, but would plan rebellion against Him and thus would need to be brought into subjection to Him or summarily dealt with.
This demonstrates David’s great vision, and may well have been the result of David’s dreams at that time. He possibly felt that that was his destiny, or the destiny of his son to whom he would hand over a powerful empire, world submission to YHWH. His vision of world empire was not thus just totally selfish. And he spoke better than he knew. For unknowingly he spoke of One Who would come as God’s Anointed, Who would indeed be rejected and spurned, but Who would then lay claim to the submission of the world to His Father. He spoke of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The stress is on the nations as being at odds with YHWH. The nations rage (definite tense) because they do not want to be in subjection to Him. The thought infuriates them. The people go on imagining (indefinite tense) folly by thinking that they do not have to obey Him. It was like that then. It is the same today. Men seek to throw off His restraints, they do not want Him to tie them down.
The kings and rulers of the earth are also involved. They too seek ways of escaping from YHWH’s grip. They try every way to avoid His rule. They are at enmity with YHWH and with His anointed. They are constantly setting themselves (indefinite tense) against Him, and thus take counsel together (definite tense) with this in mind. The world and its rulers are in it together.
David may well have seen himself like this as the supreme anointed of YHWH (1 Samuel 16.13; Psalm 89.20). He laid great stress on what it meant to be ‘the anointed one’, chosen by YHWH. That is why he spared Saul so often (1 Samuel 24.6, 10; 26.9 etc). To him being ‘the anointed of YHWH’, the one chosen and called out by YHWH and empowered by Him, was the greatest privilege a man could have. And it contained within it a world view. Thus their refusal to submit to him was itself a sign of their rebellion against YHWH.
So he saw in these local nations, simmering in their rebellion, a picture of the whole world unwilling to submit to God and His anointed one, a world that he wanted to conquer, a world that should submit to YHWH’s rule. What he did not at that time know was that his dream for himself would never be fulfilled. But he would have been quite content to know that it would be fulfilled in his descendants, and, had he known of Him, in the greater Anointed One yet to come. It was then recognised that a promise from God was often to a man and his seed, so that David would be satisfied to think that what he had begun Another would take up. But they would reject Him too.
And his world would constantly consider rebellion against David. It was hardly possible to hold together an empire of the kind he ruled without it being so. But the attempts would be futile. He would bring them in subjection to his feet, because YHWH was on his side. The world would also similarly reject the greater Anointed One, the greater David, when He came, even though He came as the prince of peace. Indeed, the New Testament reveals how they constantly raged against Him. How they imagined vain things against Him. The rulers came together to take counsel against Him, and ‘kings’ like Herod and Pilate set themselves against Him. All this was to be literally fulfilled. But it was a hopeless cause. They could not get rid of YHWH’s Anointed. And they rage against Him and rebel against Him still, and still try to get rid of Him. But their attempts are in vain.
‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’ The subject nations saw David’s rule as being like a yoke fitted on oxen ready for the use of the plough. The bands bound the yoke to the oxen so that they could not be rid of it. The cords may have been similar to reins. They chafed at being guided by someone else’s reins. The more David conquered, the more it would be so. And the nations did not want to see themselves as oxen.
And today the world still seeks to throw off God’s yoke, and to rid themselves of His reins. For the truth is that obedience can always be looked on in two ways. One as glad obedience to a Father, the other as submission to a tyrant. And the latter was the view here.
The world ever sees God as making demands that are too great. They do not want to submit to Him or His anointed servant. They want to be free of restraint, free to do what they like. They want to rid themselves of what they see as His chains. So ‘the bands’ are what ties the yoke to the shoulders of the oxen, and they do not want to be subjected to His yoke. The ‘cords’ can be seen as the reins for directing the oxen, but they do not want to be guided by YHWH. And because they could not attack YHWH directly they attacked His Anointed, and still do. It is an irony that the One Who offers perfect freedom is accused of bringing chains and ropes. But that is how they see His demands.
God Will Laugh At Man’s Folly.
The picture of derision is not to be taken literally. It is men who deride their enemies, not God. The point is that YHWH is being depicted as the great Overlord, who is not afraid of His enemies and can afford to laugh at their feeble attempts to overthrow Him. He does not draw back before their vehemence against Him. Rather He can, as it were, laugh because of the futility of what they are doing, and carry out His purposes without any hindrance from man. None can prevent His will.
‘‘He who sits in the heavens.’ He is enthroned in majesty (Psalm 123.1), aware of, and controlling, all that goes on on earth (Psalm 11.4; 103.19; 113.4-6; Revelation 5.13; 6.16). And He can only laugh at their folly (Psalm 37.13; 59.8; Proverbs 1.26). They are as nothing before Him (Isaiah 40.17).
David was confident that YHWH was on his side. In the face of this how foolish were those who took up arms against him, only to meet defeat. And later how foolish were those who took up arms against God’s greater Anointed One. For what they did was also folly and could only in the end result in their defeat and ruin. And it is just as foolish today.
‘Then will He speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.’ God is angry at those who rebel against His anointed. It was so and it is so today. And when YHWH speaks, powerful results follow (Isaiah 55.11). YHWH spoke to the enemies of David by the size of his victories and the punishment that followed. But He spoke to those who attacked His Son in an even severer way by destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and by scattering them throughout the world (Luke 21.24), and by many other means. Empires tottered and fell. And there will be greater judgment yet to come for all who reject Him still. God is still angry at those who reject Jesus, His Anointed.
“Yet have I set my king, upon my holy hill of Zion” These were the triumphant words of YHWH as He spoke in response to the words of His enemies in verse 3. He acknowledged David as His anointed, and declared that he was YHWH’s king, YHWH’s earthly representative, established on YHWH’s holy hill. Thus they should submit to him. And when the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH were established on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, making it ‘His holy hill’, David was king there on his throne. And he could boast in the certainty of his success, because YHWH, the Creator, the God of all the earth, had set him there.
‘Zion’ was the name appertaining to the original mountain on which Jerusalem was built (2 Samuel 5.7), and, as a result of the introduction of the Tabernacle, it was brought into the orbit of Israel’s religion as a holy place.
This was not David’s coronation psalm. While it had in mind that he was the anointed of YHWH and adopted by Him as His son, it probably followed the vision presented by Nathan (2 Samuel 7) while looking back to his coronation. The more he thought on what God had said through Nathan the more he exulted. And when he heard of plots among his subjects this was the result.
But the greater Anointed One would also be established as king on Mount Zion, when He rode triumphantly up the holy hill of Zion, as prophesied by the prophets (Zechariah 9.9; compare Micah 5.5), overturned the tables of the money changers, drove the cattle out of the Temple and commanded the removal of the birds, claiming the Temple for His Father (see Mark 11.1-11, 15-17 and parallels). Then when after His resurrection God tore the veil of the temple from end to end and the earth shook (Matthew 27.51), it was God declaring that He had set His King on the holy hill of Zion, the heavenly Zion (see 1 Peter 2.6; Revelation 14.1) and that the way into His presence was open through Him (Hebrews 10.19-20) . And today His Anointed One is seated in the heavenly Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12.22, 24; Galatians 4.26), and from there He exercises His kingship (Hebrews 1.3; Luke 22.69) and calls all to come under the Kingly Rule of God. But still men reject His call.
This is the solemn decree of God. This has firstly in mind the words of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7.8-16. God had chosen him, a humble shepherd, to be prince over Israel, yes, to be a great name like the name of the great ones on the earth. It was then that he was ‘adopted’, and informed that God would be father to his son, indicating that He was so to David too. And He promised that this would continue on in his descendants. Just as God was a father to David so would He be a father to his son, and his son’s sons (Psalm 89.29, 36). Each would be made God’s son, adopted by YHWH.
In those days an adopted son was looked on, and described as, ‘begotten’. He became a full member of the family. Thus they would be the begotten of YHWH by adoption. And through the house of David would be established an everlasting throne. Inherent in this is that David would not be the greatest. An even Greater than he would arise, great David’s greater son, to bring in the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13, 16; Ezekiel 37.25).
We must see here the ideas in Psalm 89.3-4, 20-21, 26-29, 35-36 where this is clearly in mind. ‘David’, who had probably long since passed away, was to be made God’s ‘firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth’, the term firstborn signifying high position and authority as well as descent. Thus this theoretical position was to pass on through his line until it found its fulfilment in a greater David. And as the words were sung regularly in the temple, the people looked forward to the coming of this greater David. This would lead on to belief in the Messiah (the supreme Anointed One).
So we can understand David’s confidence in the light of the great position that was his. He was YHWH’s son, the chosen of God, and the destiny of his house was world rule. No wonder he had no fear of his enemies.
And that decree was later spoken over Another, when at His baptism a voice from heaven spoke, and said, ‘You are My Son, the beloved’ (Mark 1.11), and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, the heavenly sign of His anointing. The greater David was here, the One Who was not only adopted as His Son, but was truly ‘the Son’ (Mark 13.32; John 5.19-23 and often; Philippians 2.6-7), begotten of the Father (John 1.14, 18), full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4.1), the One Who fulfilled all the significance of Davidic sonship and more. And He too would triumph over His enemies and their rebellion. The words are indeed quoted in Hebrews 1.5 in order to declare that Jesus is the true Son of God.
God’s Offer To His Anointed One.
Here the widespread nature of the promises is made clear. David is promised that to him and his house will be given the world-wide dominion promised through Abraham. The nations will be blessed through them, and the whole world will come under their control. Kings always described their conquests in terms of blessing under their benevolent rule, and often depicted them as universal, but certainly in mind is something more widespread than a few local small kings. David is given a vision of widespread conquest. But first they will have to be conquered, although Jesus would later point out that it must be by words.
‘Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance.’ Israel’s original inheritance was the promised land (Genesis 17.8; Deuteronomy 4.21; 32.49), but now the inheritance is to be enlarged for YHWH’s adopted son. He will give to him ‘the nations’ outside Israel. That is then expanded as reaching to ‘the uttermost parts of the earth.’ He is to seek by prayer for the expanding of YHWH’s rule to the whole of the known world. He was not to know that his prayer would be fulfilled in One Who was not a warrior, as all over the world people of all nations would submit at His feet, given to Him by the Father as His inheritance (John 6.37, 39), as His possession (Titus 2.14; 1 Peter 2.9). He asked and He was given His inheritance.
‘You will break them with a rod of iron.’ This may indicate the severity of the treatment. Beaten and broken, not with a wooden stick but with a rod of iron. Or it could equally well be translated, ‘you will rule them with an iron sceptre’. Either way the idea is of stern control, with all who refuse to submit firmly dealt with. Judgment will come on the rebellious, either once they are defeated or in process of that defeat. For we must ever remember that ruling also includes judgment. Those who will not submit will suffer his wrath.
The picture of the potter’s vessel may well have in mind the vessels which come out of the kiln of substandard quality and are irreparable, and are therefore deliberately smashed by the potter (Jeremiah 19.11; Isaiah 30.14). So what is being demanded is submission, with the alternative of judgment. Both pictures are vivid, depicting the iron control of God where it is needed, and His devastating judgments on those who finally refuse to submit to His will. All men must choose between willing submission, or the rod of iron
The words are later specifically applied as His destiny to the glorified Jesus in Revelation 12.5; 19.15, and to the persecuted people of God in Revelation 2.27. They too will partake in the judgments of God (Matthew 19.28; 1 Corinthians 6.2).
The Call For Response.
Was this poem sent to certain kings to seek to achieve their submission before they had even rebelled, a hint that he knew what they were about without being too direct? (Compare for such an idea Judges 11.12-27). Or was it simply sung to sustain his own people? We do not know. But after describing the certainty of his success it calls for submission.
‘Now therefore be wise, O you kings, be instructed you judges of the earth.’ He calls on the kings and their councils, and others responsible for justice (see Psalm 148.11), to be sensible and to accept reproof. Note the emphasis on the ‘dispensers of justice’. Unless they bow the knee they are shortly to have justice dispensed on them. ‘Wise’ means to be understanding, prudent, sensible. The word for ‘instructed’ has within it the idea of chastening. Let them consider their ways before severe chastening comes upon them because of their proposed rebellion.
The words also had in mind the wider world, who in their turn would be faced up with the claims of YHWH. Let all kings and rulers everywhere take note of his words and submit to YHWH before they too are sought out for judgment. All men are similarly advised to consider their ways. Will they continue with rebellion, or will they submit to YHWH? They should be wise, for David has already revealed that they face an invincible force.
‘Serve YHWH with fear, and rejoice with trembling.’ Notice that it is YHWH to Whom they must submit. This is the positive option. Recognition of God’s authority and a reverent fear of YHWH evidenced by submission to YHWH’s Anointed. This gained new meaning when the lowly King came, and called men to submit to His teaching. They were to allow themselves to be conquered by His word, and come under the Kingly Rule of God.
To ‘rejoice with trembling’ indicated the blessing that could be theirs in return for their acknowledgement of His overlordship. If they bow the knee in fear and awe they will prosper under His benevolent rule and it will be well with them. They will be able to rejoice, and have good cause to do so. This is true also for those who enter under the Kingly Rule of God (compare Philippians 2.10). They too must ‘fear the Lord’, and then their joy will unspeakable.
‘Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way. For his wrath will blaze forth quickly.’ The summons is urgent. They must either kiss the feet of the anointed of YHWH in submission and acknowledgement of YHWH’s uniqueness (compare 1 Kings 19.18; Hosea 13.2 where the kisses are given to idols), or wherever they are they will perish. There is no time to lose. At the appointed time His wrath will blaze forth, and it will do so quickly, without further warning.
The same warning went out when God’s greater Anointed walked the earth. He not only offered mercy to those who would submit, and receive His words and follow Him, He also warned of judgment to come for those who refused to do so, a judgment vividly revealed in Revelation 19.11-21. Men must either come under the Kingly Rule of God or under His wrath (John 3.36).
‘Kiss the son.’ If the text is correct it is a most unusual usage. The word for ‘son’ is not the Hebrew ‘ben’ as in verse 8 but the Aramaic ‘bar’. The only other usage of the latter, apart from in Aramaic sections of the Old Testament, is in Proverbs 31.2 (three times) in a context where there are other Aramaisms. But that usage warns against dismissing it too easily. Its use may be deliberate here in order to stress the expansion of his message to the whole world. In verse 8 the ‘son’ (ben) is adopted as the chosen one of Israel, but here he is the world’s ‘son’ (bar), offering himself to the world. The wider world and not only Israel must recognise him as the son of YHWH, ‘bar YHWH’ as well as ‘ben YHWH’.
This is even more significant when applied to the greater David. He had come to offer Himself to both Jew and Gentile, to the whole world, and all were called to kiss His feet.
Instead of ‘kiss the son’ the LXX has ‘lay hold of instruction’ and the Targum ‘receive instruction’. But these may have arisen as a paraphrase, partly as a result of the above problem, so as to avoid it, and possibly because they did not like the word ‘bar’ being applied to David.
‘Lest he be angry.’ The verb used here is elsewhere only used of God’s anger. Thus the ‘He’ here is YHWH, angry at the thought of the rejection of His anointed.
‘And you perish in the way.’ That is before you reach your objective. Their plans will never reach fulfilment. This may have in mind the rebellious forces being cut down while on the way to meet YHWH’s anointed in battle, but it could also be in order to stress that God’s judgment will catch all the world’s rebellious unawares as they go about life’s business. Compare Matthew 24.40-41.
‘Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.’ But for those who respond positively there will be great blessing. For He will watch over them and protect them and enable their ways to prosper (compare 2 Kings 18.31-32), because their confidence is in Him. Just as Abraham believed in YHWH and He counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15), and Israel of old came under His protection when He called them to Him in the covenant at Sinai, and they responded, so will all in the whole world who respond to Him come under His protection and blessing. So this great psalm finally points to the final triumph of YHWH.
While very much rooted in the environment of the times this Psalm can also be seen as clearly pointing forward to Our Lord, Jesus Christ. And that is unquestionably how it was seen in the New Testament. It is cited in Acts 4.24-27 with reference to the attitude of the Jews towards Him, to say nothing of references to it in the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (Mark 1.11; 9.7; Luke 3.22; 9.35; Matthew 3.17; 17.5). We will now therfore consider it from this viewpoint.
The Nations In Rebellion Against YHWH and Against His Anointed One
In these words we have a picture of the world’s attitude towards God and towards Jesus Christ. For while they cannot agree together the nations as a whole are united in one thing, breaking the yoke of God upon them, and the result is the rejection of Jesus Christ as their Lord and King. Even among His people many may call Jesus Christ to be ‘their Saviour’ but they do not want His cords and bands to bind them, they do not want to be under His yoke (Matthew 11.29).
But these words are especially applied in Acts 4 to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews in what is a very important passage, for it makes clear the final rejection of the unbelieving Jewish nation, and a dismissal of them as simply being a part of the ‘nations’. They are no longer to be seen as God’s people. For the true Israel, the genuine descendant of Israel, is found in that small group of men and women through whom the Holy Spirit has begun His work, and it is to them that all the promises of God in the Old Testament now apply.
Let us consider it in more detail. In Acts 4.27-28 Luke demonstrates quite clearly that the old unbelieving Israel is no longer, after the resurrection, the true Israel. This is clearly to be inferred from the words of the infant ‘congregation’, for we read, "For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about." Note the four ‘items’ mentioned, the Gentiles, the peoples of Israel, ‘King’ (Tetrarch) Herod and Pontius Pilate the ruler. And note that these words follow as an explanation of a quotation from this Psalm as follows:
The important point to note here is that ‘the peoples’ who imagined vain things, who in this Psalm were described as nations who were enemies of Israel, have now become in Acts ‘the peoples of Israel’. Thus the ‘peoples of Israel’ who were opposing the Apostles and refusing to believe are here seen as the enemy of God and His Anointed, and of His people, and as having become simply one among the nations in their opposition. It is a clear indication that old unbelieving Israel was now to be seen as ‘cast off’ and numbered by God among the nations, and that that part of Israel which had believed in Christ were seen as the true Israel. As Jesus had said to Israel, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21.43). This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 11.13-32.
Thus the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over. If it be asked, what then of the return to Israel of the Jews, is this not a fulfilment of prophecy? my reply would be, yes in so far as He is gathering them so that He might do a work of His Spirit among them in order to win many of them to Jesus Christ, with their thus becoming a part of the new Israel (compare Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5; Joel 2.28-29; Ezekiel 26.24-25), but no in so far as people suggest that God will deal with Israel on a separate basis. They have been brought back to Israel in order that they may again have the opportunity to respond to Him in the very place where they arranged His crucifixion, and rejected Him after His resurrection. They are being given a second chance. But that chance can only be accepted by responding to Him and becoming His disciples, not as a separate nation. Indeed Revelation 11 suggests the vainness of even that hope for the majority. It suggests that once again God has in mind simply a remnant prior to the Rapture of His people.
God Will Laugh At Man’s Folly And Exalt His Anointed.
But God will laugh at the folly of man in thinking that they can dismiss Him. For in spite of their opposition as so vividly described above He will yet set His King upon His holy hill of Zion. It is true that when the King presented Himself in Mark 11.1-18 and parallels, He was rejected by all but a few, and once they had crucified Him they thought that they were rid of Him, but it was He Who had the last laugh, for He rose again from the dead, was enthroned and acclaimed in Heaven (e.g. Acts 2.36; 7.56; Ephesians 1.19-21; Revelation 5), and came down at Pentecost in wind and fire in order to establish His claim to Kingly Rule (Acts 2.1-3; compare Matthew 28.18-20), the Holy Spirit bearing Him witness (Acts 2.4). On that very holy hill of Zion that God had promised His Kingly Rule was manifested. The Kingly Rule of God had come with power (Mark 9.1).
And after Jesus had been baptised as the representative of the new Israel (Matthew 2.15), He came up out of the water and the decree of YHWH was declared, ‘You are My Son, My Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased’. He had passed His probation with flying colours, and was now set on course to fulfil God’s purpose for Him. And on the mount of Transfiguration His Kingly glory was revealed, with Moses on one hand and Elijah on the other, and again the heavenly voice declared’ ‘This is My Beloved Son, hear Him’ (Mark 9.7). And we need not doubt that He asked of His Father precisely this, that He would give Him the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Indeed we are told how this began to happen at Pentecost when men were present ‘from every nation under Heaven’ (Acts 2.5), and from then on through Acts we have the description of how He triumphed until at last He came to Rome itself where Paul proclaimed His Kingly Rule and taught the things concerning Jesus (Acts 28.31).
But there is also another side to the King, for there are those who will refuse to accept His rule, and concerning them God declares, “You will break them with a rod of iron, You will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” For He has committed all judgment to His Son (John 5.22), and those who reject Him must finally face their judgment.
The Call For Response.
And so the call comes to us today, as it came to the men in David’s day. Let all who take authority on earth recognise their need to serve YHWH with godly fear and awe, and even in their times of relaxation remember to tremble, for they will one day have to give account to His Son. Thus they should make obeisance to the Son, and submit themselves to Him, for if there is rebellion in their hearts He will be ‘angry’, and that ‘anger’ will spill over into judgment. In contrast all those who believe on Him, and put their trust in Him, will be truly blessed.
Heading ‘A psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.’
The headings of the Psalms were clearly very ancient and this may well therefore be a reliable tradition.
The context in which this psalm was written by David is thus stated to be the civil war in Israel caused by the rebellion of Absalom, the son of David, as he wrought to seize the kingdom from under David’s control (2 Samuel 15-18). This is probably why it follows Psalm 2, whose message is pertinent here. Even his own nation rages and his own people have risen up against YHWH’s anointed, a ‘king’ has set himself against him, and taken counsel together with his advisers. They wanted to be free from his iron control.
The Psalm brings out the attitude of such peoples. They think that he is a write-off. They say of him, ‘there is no help for him in God’ (verse 2). They consider that God has finished with him. But they had forgotten that it was YHWH Who had set him on the holy hill of Zion, and that He was merciful to those who called on Him. And they thus do not realise that from that holy hill He will reach out and deliver him (3.4).
The rebellion caused David great bitterness of soul. His complacency had been shattered, his anguish that his beloved son would do this to him tore at his heart, and even his triumph over Absalom would cause a bitterness all the greater because of the death of his son. Here in this Psalm we have depicted his personal despair at such an unexpected event, and how he responded to it. And that is why it was retained and sung. It was a continuing reminder that however bitter the circumstances might be in a man’s life, God can provide a solution to them.
Some have argued that the psalm does not contain a sufficiently clear reference to what happened and is therefore simply a more general psalm. But there is no evidence for their position apart from that, and we can argue quite reasonably that David is here expressing his own personal emotions and spiritual battles, rather than praying about the circumstances in detail. He is not concerned with the details of the situation, but with God, and with his own emotions and how it affected him personally.
Furthermore it is likely that he did not want to include mention of his son in it, the son whom he loved who had betrayed him, for that would have meant giving details of his betrayal. It would have seemed like a betrayal of love on his own part. So it was deliberately a very personal prayer even though produced for public usage. It brings out just how personally he felt the situation.
The Psalm splits up into four sections.
Section 1. The Distress in Which He Found Himself.
The Psalm opens with a cry of distress and almost despair. As he lay in his hastily erected tent, snatching a few brief hours of stolen rest, before moving on again, hopefully to relative safety, David was deeply aware that his life was in grave danger. He had only just escaped with his life by a hairsbreadth, and he had seen how many there were who were against him. The rebellion had taken him completely by surprise, even though he must have been aware of Absalom’s activities and attempts to win the people’s hearts. For in his sublime self-confidence he had not doubted the people, and he had indulgently thought that his son was simply preparing for the time when he died, when it would be normal for sons of different mothers to dispute the right to the throne. He had even probably smiled tolerantly to himself, knowing what his own plans were.
Now, however, he was appalled. He was totally taken by surprise, and very upset, to discover how many there were who were clearly disenchanted with his reign. He had not expected this. He had not realised, in his sense of his own supremacy, that the days of his early popularity had gone, and that his reign was now probably considered too harsh. His constant calling on men for war to sustain the status quo, and his plans for expansion which involved them even more, had disillusioned the people (e.g. 2 Samuel 11.1). They had been unable to work their land as they had wanted to, and had had to spend too much time away from home. Apart from his own private army, (‘his men’), the whole army had turned out to be disenchanted with him. And with some reason, for it was clear that justice for the ordinary people had become hard to find (2 Samuel 15.2-4) and that they felt cut off from the king (2 Samuel 15.5). That was always the danger of becoming powerful, it resulted in becoming remote from the people. But he had not realised that it had happened.
How easy it is to become like David. We become complacent with our lives and fail to observe that we are no longer taking account of the feelings of those around us Our complacency leads us into taking too much for granted rather than into putting in the effort that success requires. We feel that we can manage very well as we are, and we forget to keep strict accounts of our lives, and to recognise that others might have concerns different from ours. The ministry of many a servant of God has been minimised because of complacency. And the consequence is that one day we can be pulled up short by unpleasant realities.
So David’s cry here was concerning the huge number of people who were teemed up against him, and, (and this was what hurt most), especially the number of the people of Jerusalem his own city who were against him. He had won Jerusalem for them (and from some of them) and now they had turned against him. But worse. Not only had they turned against him, but they were also clearly equally convinced that YHWH had turned against him, for they cried, ‘there is no help for him in God’. The word for ‘help’ is ‘deliverance’ as in verse 8. Thus they believed that God would no longer watch over him and deliver him, and that they could therefore rid themselves of him with impunity. They no longer saw him as ‘the Lord’s Anointed’.
This last fact especially smote his conscience. Their feelings seemingly went very deep. And he reluctantly had to recognise that much of it was probably due to his sin against Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11.2-5) and Uriah the Hittite. They had seen his adultery, and they had also heard of his callous and dreadful murder, by underhand means, of a faithful servant (2 Samuel 11.6-21). For the rumours would undoubtedly have spread, and the whisperings would have gone on behind people’s hands. They knew by this that he had openly broken the covenant, no, that he had shattered it. He had committed sins worthy of death. And that was why they could not believe that God could still support such a king. Thus, as a result of his actions, they could only consider that he was no longer YHWH’s anointed, the representative of the people, the ‘breath of their nostrils (Lamentations 4.20). They expected better of the king than they expected of themselves, and he had failed them. And the result was that they had lost their awe of him, and their confidence in him.
So as he saw how the people had multiplied against him David’s conscience was smiting him, and the more so because he knew that he deserved it. He was aware that he was unworthy, not only before these men but before God. And he recognised that there were some grounds for their doubts, for they were not fully aware of the depths of his repentance (Psalm 51) and of how God had forgiven him.
It must be remembered that the king had an important part to play in the people’s worship of YHWH. He had a role of non-sacrificing priest, a priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110.4). For he regularly had to approach YHWH on the people’s behalf (compare how the prince had a special place reserved for him in Ezekiel’s temple - Ezekiel 44.1-3). He was their intercessor before YHWH (compare 2 Samuel 24.14, 24-25; Jeremiah 30.21). And they felt that he had thus failed his people. Of what use was an intercessory priest whose life was so tainted? And he had to face up to the fact that they were partly right.
So here he now was, lying as a fugitive in his tent, fleeing for his life, with a great army of common people (2 Samuel 15.12-13), the disillusioned people who had once looked to him and admired him, ready to seek him out and destroy him. And with a deeply troubled conscience concerning what had brought it about, he was, at this moment, in an agony of doubt. He was aware of their numbers. He was conscious of the smallness of his own force. What hope then had he against them? He knew that if they caught up with him he was done for. So he brings his need before God.
We all need to remember that how we behave inevitably affects the way that people think about us and behave towards us. And that once we have lost their confidence it is hard to regain it. Like David we may find forgiveness but the physical consequences of our sins may go on and on. If we sin an open sin others may consider that God can no longer be with us. This was true of David. He was forgiven by God, but his people remembered and had not forgiven him. It is sometimes easier to find forgiveness from God than from fellow-sinners.
We can compare here Matthew 27.43 where a greater than David was subjected to similar taunts. He had not sinned but He too was surrounded by enemies, enemies greater than we could ever know (Colossians 2.15), but He defeated them all.
Section 2. His Recognition of God’s Help and Protection.
However, in the moment of his extremity David did the wisest thing possible. He took his eyes off himself and looked at God. Having acknowledged his own inadequacy he turned his thoughts towards God’s complete adequacy and faithfulness.
What the people had overlooked was that he was a forgiven sinner, that he had deeply repented of his sins, and had been forgiven and accepted back by God. That he was still therefore YHWH’s anointed. Thus in this moment of deepest need, and even perplexity, and with his conscience screaming out at him, his heart reached upwards and he turned towards YHWH, his covenant God. He no longer now prayed to Him as ‘God’. He prayed to Him as ‘YHWH’, the One Who loved him.
Lonely and desolate in his tent he sought reassurance. He reminded YHWH, and himself, (for that is often what prayer is, something in which we remind ourselves of the promises of God), that YHWH had promised to be his shield. To be the One Who guarded and protected him, like a great shield of war. That He was his glory, the One without Whom David knew that he was nothing, and that He was the One Who lifted up the head of, and restored, those who were cast down, and so would lift up David’s head. And he threw himself on the grace of God.
‘You are a shield about me.’ To a warrior like David the shield was a vital weapon. His trusty shield had saved his life many a time. Thus the thought of YHWH as his shield comforted him. He Who was Abram’s shield (Genesis 15.1) must be his shield, for he was the seed of Abram, one of the kings who came from his loins. He Who was Israel’s shield (Deuteronomy 33.29) must be his shield, for in himself he represented Israel before God. And he could remember back to when God had given him the shield of His deliverance when He had saved him from Saul (2 Samuel 22.3, 36. See also Psalm 5.12; 84.11; 119.14). So he knew that God was like a surrounding shield to him, a great protective shield, even greater than one carried in the ordinary way into battle.
We also as we face the problems that life can bring need to constantly remember that if we are truly His, God is our shield. If we are walking in faithfulness to Him, with our sin forgiven and behind us, we too can be confident of His protection, both in the trials of life, and from the arrows of the Evil One. He will not fail us nor forsake us.
‘You are my glory.’ The glory of the king was the reflected glory of YHWH. He was YHWH’s anointed, glorious because YHWH was glorious. For the king’s glory was obtained from YHWH, and given to Him by YHWH. YHWH’s glory was also revealed in His deliverance of him, when YHWH laid on him honour and majesty (Psalm 21.5 compare 62.7). So in every way he knew that his glory depended on YHWH Who was his glory. Without YHWH he was nothing. And without YHWH he would no longer gain the victory. So he now looked again to YHWH and trusted Him to restore his glory, because He was his God.
We too need to recognise that without God our glory is nothing, our lives are nothing. We may strut around for a while convinced that we are something, and that we are achieving great things, or we may stumble along in doubt and feel that life is no longer worthwhile. But unless we recognise that our glory comes from God we will finally achieve nothing. Either way we need to look off to God’s glory, the one in order to learn humility, the other in order to gain strength. For it is only as our eyes are set on things above, and as our confidence is placed in Him, that our lives will become finally meaningful and we will then become ‘something’, something that will be everlastingly worthwhile. Jesus Christ will cover us with His glory (John 17.22).
‘The lifter up of my head.’ At this moment when his conscience was revived over his past doings David’s head was bowed, and he needed it to be lifted up, so that he was no more ashamed and could be assured that he was truly restored to favour. He knew that YHWH had done exactly that for him in the past and he was confident that He would do it again. Thus his cry was that YHWH would lift up his head in deliverance.
In other references the lifting up of the head also reflects release from prison and restoration to favour and prominence (Genesis 40.13, 20; 2 Kings 25:27), and its negative to not being able to invade any more because of weakness (Judges 8.28). Compare also Psalm 27.6; 83.2. Thus the idea includes here David’s confidence that God will restore him in his time of need, will release him from the danger of captivity, and will weaken Absalom in his plotting against him.
And he knew within him that his prayer was answered. That is why he wrote down his agonised complaint and his prayer, - and then the consequence of his prayer. He knew that it was happening already. ‘I was crying to YHWH with my voice, and He was answering me out of His holy hill.’ Peace now flooded his soul. He knew that his prayer was being heard. YHWH had seen his distress and had drawn near to him and was in process of delivering him. As he continued on with YHWH, constantly looking to Him, he knew that he need not be afraid. He may still lay tossing in his tent, with the enemy still pursuing. He may have to strike camp shortly and continue his flight. But now he knew that God was on his side, and he had nothing to fear.
‘Out of His holy hill.’ Probably, in the light of 2.6, this means the holy hill of Zion. There was the Tabernacle, and there was the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH. There were the symbols that spoke of His faithfulness and love. There was YHWH’s earthly dwellingplace, and from there He had responded to David in the past and would continue to do so.
His faithful priests had in fact brought the Ark to accompany them in their flight, but David had sent it back to the Tabernacle, confident that if it was YHWH’s will that he should be restored to minister there again (2 Samuel 15.24-29), it would be so. He knew that God was with him wherever he was, whether the Ark was there or not, but he had wanted YHWH still to be seen as reigning from Zion. Whatever happened to him God was not to be put to flight. That was unthinkable. He was the God of Israel, not just of David.
Section 3. His Confidence In The Midst of Danger.
So satisfied that YHWH had heard him he could now settle down to sleep. And in the morning he awoke, aware that he was still safe because YHWH was sustaining him. With that knowledge he would not be afraid of anyone, even ‘ten thousands’ of people (a great army), even though they had surrounded him and were set against him.
The picture fits exactly into the circumstances. David in the camp, supported by his men, his faithful private army, together with others who had accompanied them, faced with the possibility of an approaching army of Israel surrounding the camp in order to destroy them, but no longer afraid because YHWH sustained him.
His Prayer for Deliverance, and Cry for Blessing on His People.
David’s cry here parallels the marching song of the hosts of Israel (Numbers 10.35; compare Psalm 68.1) as they went forward in confidence with the Ark leading the way. In the same way he was confident that YHWH would equally be with him even though the Ark was not there, for he knew that YHWH was not restricted to a physical object, however sacred.
He brings to mind past victories when God had smitten his enemies on the cheekbone. The smiting on the cheekbone was an act of reproach to a defeated opponent (Job 16.10; 1 Kings 22.24). It indicated reproach offered to someone who should have known better, and was a sign of total victory, and that all their resistance had ceased. Thus would YHWH again vindicate him at this time.
‘Breaking the teeth’ of the wicked meant rendering them powerless, removing their weapons, and was based on the idea that captured wild animals would often have their teeth broken so as to render them safe (see Psalm 58.6). He has no doubt that God will deliver him again, rendering his enemies powerless and subject to reproach for attacking YHWH’s anointed.
Those who trust in God can always be sure that even though they may have reached their weakest point God will hear them. Indeed the fact is that He often deliberately brings us to our weakest point so that we might learn to trust Him more.
The psalm ends with a cry of confidence. Salvation is in the hands of YHWH, for all deliverance is finally in His hands. This includes the deliverance of a nation or a king, and it includes a person’s own personal deliverance. He is the Saviour (or otherwise, as He chooses) of kings, nations and individuals. All salvation belongs to Him. We are not therefore to look to strength of arm, but to the strength of God. In the New Testament this develops into the idea of God’s saving action in each individual life. He works within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). So daily we should face life with the same cry, ‘Salvation belongs to God’. And it is to Him that we should look daily in order to continually enjoy it. For although in one sense once we become His our salvation is complete, in another we need Him to continue to save us daily.
‘Your blessing be on your people.’ Finally he prays that God’s blessing may be on His people. Not just those who were with him at that time but on all his people. He recognised that much of the blame for the rebellion lay at his own door. Thus he sought that when he was finally delivered they might be blessed under his own re-enlightenment. Even in his extremity he did not forget his intercessory role. And as 2 Samuel 19.8-10 reveals, not all the people had followed Absalom. In the confusion of unexpected civil war, and leaderless, many of them had simply sought refuge in their homes to await events.
And as we know from our knowledge of later events, things turned out just as the Psalm says.
Heading. ‘For the chief musician, on stringed instruments. A psalm of David.’
This psalm is one of a number dedicated to the Choirmaster, or chief musician. What this actually signified we do not know. Possibly the choirmaster originally had his own collection of psalms and hymns. This one was intended for public use. It was for playing on stringed instruments and was a psalm of David.
It is generally recognised that there is a close affinity between this and the previous psalm. Compare for example the ‘many there be that say’ (verse 5) with 3.2, a phrase unique to these two psalms. It was probably written a little later than Psalm 3 when things were more settled and the fight back was beginning.
It is divided up by ‘selah’, that is pauses in the music, although others have seen the divisions differently. However, it is all a matter of opinion for in the end the psalm is one whole.
We may divide it as follows:
The psalm begins with prayer. The writer is grateful that when he was in distress God delivered him from it and set him ‘at large’. He had brought him out of his distress both physically and spiritually and given him freedom, both outwardly and within himself. This would well fit the fact that David was now delivered from the initial source of impending danger. Now he prays for continued mercy to be shown to him, in response to his praying.
‘O God of my righteousness.’ The righteous God is the source of his vindication, and its upholder. It is the righteous God Who has accepted him as righteous through forgiveness, and enables him to walk in righteousness. Thus his conscience can be clear because of God’s graciousness.
The Christian has an equally great joy. He can say that Christ has been made to him righteousness, that we have been ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’ (1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21).
‘Have mercy on me.’ This is meant in the sense of ‘show your graciousness towards me’ (see Exodus 34.6). He is seeking that God will continue to act on his behalf in response to his prayer.
This again fits well with David’s situation. It was the vanity of Absalom that had finally resulted in the rebellion, as a result of Absalom’s false claims (2 Samuel 14.25-26; 15.1-6). Thus David’s glory as king in Jerusalem had been replaced by the dishonour of dwelling as a fugitive in tents. And even more his status as ‘Yahweh’s anointed’ had been marred by the accusations that had been made against him.
However the words can also apply to any man of God who has been dishonoured because of men’s vain thinking and deceptiveness. How easily can a man’s reputation be wrecked by lies. For the world hates those who are true to God (John 15.18-19; 16.2). So Jesus paradoxically warned of the danger of being thought well of, for that too would only result in persecution because of the nature of man. Men hate those who are truly righteous (1 Peter 4.14, 16; Matthew 5.11-12; Luke 6.26), especially when others see them as righteous. It was something that Jesus Himself suffered from, as He was misrepresented by the leaders of the people. These words could easily be applied to Him.
‘O you sons of men.’ Not ben ’adam but ben ‘ish, high born men rather than low. See its use in Psalms 49.2; 62.9. His address is to the high born who are responsible for his distress. By evicting him from Jerusalem with the intention of removing him from the throne they had dishonoured him and the glory that was his as YHWH’s anointed. But they are still but sons of men, in contrast to God, and they should remember that, for God is not pleased when those He favours are ill-used. And whenever the true people of God are attacked falsely and dishonoured it is God’s glory in them that is being outwardly tarnished.
‘How long will you love vanity, and seek after falsehood?’ When men attack those who are God’s they are revealing that they love ‘vanity’, that, is the desire for empty and meaningless things. They are seeking what is temporal rather than what is eternal. And regularly they do it by deceit, as Absalom had deceived. They deceive themselves and they deceive others, twisting facts in order to win their case, erecting a refuge of lies which will one day be swept away (see Isaiah 28.25-27).
Compare 3.3. He warns his opponents that God has set him apart specially. He is the anointed one, supremely favoured by the covenant God. And he points out that he is still in God’s favour, he has been reinstated in godliness. Therefore to rebel against him is to rebel against God. And they must remember that as His anointed one God will hear him when he calls on Him.
Indeed all those who are godly (or those whom God favours) have been chosen by Him for Himself. To touch them is to touch the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2.8). Thus men should beware of how they treat them.
The word for ‘set apart’ also contains the idea of marvellous dealing (see Psalm 17.7; 39.14). He not only sets them apart but also ‘deals marvellously’ with them. It is a dangerous thing to touch YHWH’s anointed (Psalm 105.15).
‘Him who is godly.’ One who is characterised by covenant love to God, and is within God’s covenant love, and therefore ‘one who is favoured by His covenant love’. Therefore they are God’s own special possession. That is why He will hear when they call on Him.
In view of whom they are dealing with they should pause and stand in awe. They are touching YHWH’s anointed. Let them therefore fear before God and beware of incurring His anger, for such fear will prevent them from sin. Let them wait for the quietness of their beds, away from the incitement of others who are just as foolish, then let them talk to themselves sensibly and thus they will cease from what they are doing. They will cease to sin.
Then they can be true to YHWH and offer true sacrifices, sacrifices which are offered from a true heart (Deuteronomy 33.19; Psalm 51.19; Isaiah 1.11 with 16-18). Thus can they put their trust in YHWH. For to offer sacrifices truly was to come to God in trust and love, depending on His promises of mercy. This once again strongly reminds us that sacrifices alone were insufficient to turn away God’s wrath. They had to be offered from a true heart and with the intention in the future of living a righteous life (1 Samuel 15.22). And must be accompanied by trust in YHWH Himself.
Glad in heart he is aware that many who have been against him, or have been neutral, are now having second thoughts, because they have ‘stood in awe’ and considered. They had turned to Absalom because of his promises of what he would do for them but now they are reconsidering. They are now remembering all that David had achieved for them, and possibly also aware that as he has survived the first onslaught he may well come out as the victor. They are also remembering that he had been a successful intercessor. Thus they are asking YHWH to guide them as to what choice they should make. And the result is that many are gathering to David to support his cause.
‘Who will show us any good.’ Who is the one who will make the best king so that we prosper under his rule? Who will be the best intercessor? And they recognised that it had to be the one anointed by YHWH.
‘YHWH, lift up the light of your face on us.’ Compare Psalm 31.16; 80.3, 17, 19. The idea behind the phrase is of YHWH acting on their behalf. So having made their choice for YHWH’s anointed, they seek His delivering power to deliver David and themselves and bring the country back to normal.
All of us can ask the same question. ‘Who will do us any good?’ And the answer for us is great David’s Greater Son. As we seek Him with all our hearts God will act for us and reveal the glory of His presence to us. His face will be turned towards us.
The greatest gladness in life in an agricultural society was for the corn and the wine to increase. And the harvest festivals, in a good year, were their time of greatest rejoicing (see Isaiah 9.3; contrast Jeremiah 48.32-33). It meant plentiful food, much enjoyment, increasing wealth and a year of fullness. But the gladness that YHWH puts in the heart, David says, is greater far than that. David rejoiced in the pouring out of His goodness for it far exceeded the blessing of the harvest. And he especially rejoiced in that in his present situation God was working for Him and would continue to do so.
But every child of God can echo his experience. Like David they may sometimes find themselves in tight corners, seemingly unable to escape. But when His time comes they will be delivered, and great will be their rejoicing, far exceeding anything that the physical world offers.
David finishes with his declaration of full confidence in YHWH. The final battle is not yet over, but as he prepares for it he can afford to lie down, and yes, he even sleeps (compare 3.5). For he knows that his safety and security are in YHWH’s hands. Because he is YHWH’s he is confident of his safety and security in YHWH’s hands. We too may sleep in peace if we are His.
The great emphasis on the sin of rebelling against YHWH’s anointed finds even greater significance in the light of the coming of Jesus. Here was YHWH’s Anointed par excellence. And so the psalm becomes a call to all men to lay down their arms and submit to Him.
Heading ‘For the chief musician, with the Nehiloth (wind instruments?). A psalm to/for David.’ On behalf of the choirmaster and written by or dedicated to David.
This psalm can be divided as follows:
This is an introductory plea for YHWH to hear his prayer. He asks that God will respond to his words, and consider his thoughts, and addresses Him as both his King and his God (compare Psalm 84.3, also 44.3; 68.24; 74.12). He exults in His majesty and power, and thus declares that He is the One to whom he prays and Who is able to do what he asks. He points out that his prayer is not haphazard. It is ordered and disciplined. Furthermore he wants God to know that he will be on the watch for YHWH’s response and direction, and on the watch so that he does not sin. It is a prayer for use in the morning as a person prepares for a new day, a reminder that we too should begin each day with prayer.
‘The voice of my cry,’ stresses the urgency of his petition. It is an imploring cry (see Psalm 22.24; 28.2 etc).
‘My King and my God.’ That is, his great Overlord and God, stressing the mightiness and sovereignty of the One to Whom he comes, and to Whom we also can come.
‘O YHWH in the morning you will hear my voice.’ He begins each day with prayer, for he recognises that he must go into the day with God.
‘I will order my prayer to you.’ Literally ‘I will set in order for you’ (‘prayer’ is read in). The word ‘order’ is used of setting pieces of wood in order on an altar (Genesis 22.9; Leviticus 1.7), or the parts of the sacrifice (Leviticus 1.8). So just like those who set in order the sacrifices he does not pray haphazardly but comes to God with an orderly approach, setting out his prayer before Him (compare Job 33.5; 37.19 for its use of ‘words’). This is a lesson we all need to learn. We should come to prayer with hearts and thoughts prepared. While extempore prayer is good, it should not necessarily be without previous thought. That can be lazy prayer. Some, however, see the words as indicating a morning sacrifice, at the offering of which he prays.
‘And will keep watch.’ He will be like a watchman on the lookout to hear YHWH’s word to him, no doubt throughout the day, and will guard his way so as to avoid sin (compare Isaiah 21.6; Micah 7.7). All God’s people should be watchmen in a similar way.
This is why he is on the watch, so that he will not be like these. His words make clear to himself and others the kind of God YHWH is and the kind of people that God rejects. God hates wickedness, evil, the arrogant, workers of iniquity, men of deceit (repeated twice) and bloodthirstiness. That the psalmist refers to his own countrymen is suggested by the lack of reference to the nations, and by the fact that they cannot ‘stand in His sight’, that is, enter the Temple in true worship expecting acceptance. Thus this is a dreadful indictment on the nation and its condition.
‘Evil will not sojourn with you, the arrogant will not stand in your sight.’ To sojourn was to stay as a guest (compare 15.1). Thus none who are evil can spend time in His presence and be made welcome. Nor can the arrogant stand in His sight. That is, those who are presumptious, who assume that the approach to God can be made lightly and without proper reverence. They cannot come into His court to stand before Him. They may think that they can for they arrogantly sin against Him, and then equally arrogantly assume that it does not matter. But the psalmist tells us that it does matter. They may stand in the temple but they will not stand in His sight. If we would seek to know the presence of God we must do away with sin.
‘You hate all workers of iniquity, you will destroy him who speaks lies, YHWH abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.’ The worker of iniquity is the one who practises what is morally worthless and wrong, he acts contrary to God’s Instruction. Such are ‘hated’ by God because He is a holy God and must recoil from sin. Speaking lies and being a man of deceit are also spoken against in the strongest terms. Deceit is constantly condemned throughout the Bible (10.7; 24.4; 35.20; 36.3; 38.12 and regularly). We are told in the New Testament that the liar will never enter God’s heavenly kingdom (Revelation 21.27 compare 14.5). So men of violence and deceit are ‘abhorred’ by Him. Notice the strength of the verbs which reveal God’s attitude; hated, destroyed, abhorred. Sin is no light matter.
His own entry before God rests in his confidence in God’s overwhelming lovingkindness (‘warm covenant love’ - chesed), His benevolence and goodness, and his own reverent awe and fear. He comes aware of the greatness and holiness of God, but also aware of His grace and mercy revealed through the covenant between God and His people, a covenant which has provided a way of forgiveness for all sin through the shedding of blood. And he worships (‘prostrates himself before’) God with proper respect and due deference.
This is why we too can come with such confidence. It is not because we are such good people, but because we come to One Who loved us and gave Himself for us, and it is in Him that we find a welcome. It is because He has made a new and living way for us through His flesh (Hebrews 10.20), so that we can come through Him.
He mentions God’s house and God’s temple. While mention of these may suggest that he lives at the time of what we know of as the temple, that need not be so. The phrase ‘God’s house’ is equally used of the tabernacle (Exodus 23.19; 34.26; Deuteronomy 23.18; Joshua 6.24;1 Samuel 1.24; 3.15; see also 2 Samuel 12.20) and so is God’s ‘temple’ (1 Samuel 1.9; 3.3). For God dwells in house, temple and tent without regard (Psalm 27.4-6). In view of the fact that Israel did not have a temple until the time of Solomon, to describe the tabernacle as God’s ‘temple’ would be natural, as a shadow of the heavenly temple (Psalm 11.4; 18.6), and in contrast with the temples of the nations. The words are all synonyms for God’s earthly dwellingplace. However, note that he worships ‘in God’s house’ but ‘towards His holy temple’. Thus he may be thinking of the house as earthly and the temple as heavenly (see 1 Kings 8.30). Or the latter phrase may simply refer to the inner sanctuary
He asks God, because He is righteous, to lead him, in view of those who lie in wait for him. He needs protection from those who are seeking to entrap him, and asks that God will show him the way ahead, and will keep his path level so that he will not stumble or fall on it.
For ‘in your righteousness’ see Psalm 31.1; 71.2; 119.40;143.1, 11, where it clearly means ‘because you are righteous’.
The psalmist claims no merit of his own. He can walk in righteousness because the righteous God leads him, and because he has been forgiven. But it is God Who must lead him forward and make the way before him a level plain.
He describes his enemies, those who are against him and against YHWH. He declares that what they say cannot be trusted, that their inner thoughts plan destruction for others, and especially for the people of God, that their throat is like an open grave i.e. what they say may result in death for the unfortunate so that they enter the open grave, or may lead to ruin. And yet at the same time they speak smooth words with their tongues. They are totally untrustworthy.
Alternately behind the idea of the open sepulchre might be the idea of a grave that has been opened and the stench of a rotting body rises from it. So are the lives of these wicked men, they stench rottenly, and those who have contact with them become unclean.
What upsets him is that these people have rebelled against God Himself, and so He calls for God to deal with them because they have rebelled against Him. Let Him recognise their guilt, he pleads, and hold them to it. Let Him bring their own clever schemes down on their own head, let the heavy load of their transgressions thrust them down. For they are unrepentant rebels against His Instruction (Law), and cause great problems for His people. Let them therefore reap what they sow.
But in contrast let those whose trust is in YHWH and His covenant, those who love His name, rejoice, aware that He is defending them; let them shout for joy because they know that He will bless the righteous. So His defence of them and His blessing are causes of their great rejoicing. They know that the huge shield of His favour protects and watches over them.
‘Your name.’ That is His being, attributes and character. They love Him for what He is, the Deliverer of His people. See Psalm 69.36; 119.132.
So the psalm began with confidence and ends with triumph, triumph in the God of the righteous. Triumph in the name of the One Whose being, attributes and character they know so well, the One in Whom they can put their trust without any fear of being confounded.
Heading ‘For the chief musician on stringed instruments, set to the Sheminith (‘the eighth’, a musical notation?). A Psalm to/for David (i.e. a part of the Davidic collection, dedicated to and possibly written by David).’
The psalmist cries desperately to God in his need. Possibly because he is overburdened by his sin which he seems somehow unable to control, something which has been brought home to him by a prostrating illness. The mention of his ‘enemies’ comes in only in a secondary fashion as they seek to make the most of his grief. It is not they who mainly concern him, but his sin. But finally he ends on a note of triumph, and he knows that his enemies will be ashamed.
Then, having begun by praying for restoration of his health, and for an end to the chastening that he feels is the cause of the illness, he goes on to call on YHWH to restore him, describing his grief and misery, and finally tells his mocking adversaries that YHWH has done so, to their chagrin,
What his illness was we do not know, but it had certainly deeply affected him, not necessarily because it was serious, but because it felt serious. He felt as though he could die. And this had brought home to him his sinfulness and he was deeply distressed and troubled in mind.
He knew that he deserved God’s rebuke. That he merited His hot displeasure. But he nowhere states why, and it may well be that it was just a result of the general sense of sinfulness he felt because of his belief that his illness was a punishment (in contrast with Psalm 38). But now he felt that he had been chastened enough and sought relief (compare Job 5.17).
Conscience makes cowards of us all, and certainly it had deeply affected him. His body felt withered, and his bones felt troubled, so that he longed for healing, but far more than this was the fact that his inner self was troubled by the thought of his sinfulness. He wanted to know how long it would be before YHWH brought him relief from his conscience, and gave him the sense of forgiveness.
‘Heal me, for my bones are troubled.’ The bones are poetically representative of the whole physical body. They are the seat of health (Proverbs 16.24), and of pain. (Compare the dry bones in Ezekiel 37 and see Psalm 31.10; 32.3; 38.3; 42.10; 102.3, 5). He was physically troubled and spiritually troubled. So he looked to the only final Source of healing, the One Who could heal both.
He senses the loss of YHWH’s presence (compare Psalm 51.11). He feels that his sins have separated between him and God. So he pleads for Him to come back to him, on the basis of His warm covenant love, His lovingkindness, so as to heal him and restore their relationship. For he points out that he cannot worship YHWH if he dies and goes to the grave.
Sheol means the mysterious grave world where the dead go, and where they are only shadows without real life, in the land of silence and forgetfulness from where no man could return (30.9; 88.10-12; 115.17; Isaiah 14.9; Ezekiel 31.17; 32; Job 3.17). And he felt so miserable and sinful, that unlike some other psalmists he could not muster up the thought that he might go to be with God (contrast Psalm 16.10-11; 23.6; 49.15; 73.24-25; 139.24).
He goes on to describe his present state, groaning both because of his illness and because of his conscience stricken state, so much so that his bed is soaked with tears. Indeed it has affected his eyes, which reveal what he is going through, made worse by his adversaries who mock him in his state. The state of a man’s health is often revealed by his eyes, and here his eye ‘grows old’, that is, wrinkled and careworn.
Very few who are God’s have not experienced such times. Times of distress and smitten conscience, when they grew weary of the sense of sin and longed for deliverance. It is often a prelude to blessing, but it does not seem so at the time.
At last his illness begins to subside. He has once again become more confident in YHWH. He tells those who are distressing him to leave him alone because YHWH has responded to him. He knows that God has accepted his repentance, and is once again receiving his prayer. (Of course YHWH had never ceased receiving his prayer, but it was no good telling him that). He is once again restored to full fellowship with YHWH.
We know nothing about who the ‘workers of iniquity’ are. This is a favourite expression in the Psalms (5.5; 14.4; 28.3 and often). In Matthew 7.22-23 it refers to those who while professing belief were not genuine in their belief. They were ‘wrongdoers’. These wrongdoers had possibly sought to comfort him by telling him not to take his sin so seriously. Or they may taken the opportunity to get their own back for ways in which he had previously pricked their consciences by his life and behaviour, by speaking out against his beliefs. They may well have thought that his experiences had demonstrated that they were right. We can compare Job’s friends in the book of Job.
But now he senses the restoration of God’s presence with him. He knows that he is forgiven. And he knows that the result can only be that those who railed at him are now put to shame, as well as being annoyed at his restoration in this way. It has upset their self-satisfied thoughts and beliefs. Thus they will turn back from him and leave him alone. It is their turn to be vexed or troubled (compare verses 2-3).
Notice the three steps to his restoration. YHWH has heard what his weeping has revealed, that he is truly repentant for his sin. YHWH has then heard his spoken prayers and pleas, returning to him the sense of His presence. And finally he is aware that once again YHWH is receiving his prayers. Full fellowship is restored.
And finally he is satisfied because his ‘enemies’ are thwarted. Like Job’s comforters, in the end they are put to flight. And his final hope is that through this they might be made to face up to their own position, recognising that his experience should trouble them and put them to shame.
Heading: ‘Shiggaion of David which he sang to YHWH concerning the words of Cush a Benjamite.’
Shiggaion probably corresponds to the Akkadian segu, ‘to howl or lament’. It thus indicates a poem of passionate character written under the influence of strong emotion.
No details are known of Cush the Benjamite. He was a fellow-tribesman of Saul and probably one of those who accused David before Saul, insinuating that he was seeking to take the king’s life (1 Samuel 22.8; 24.9; 26.19). The background of David’s life when he was hunted from place to place by Saul, and spared his life when he had him in his power, is essential background reading to the psalm (1 Samuel 21-26).
In this psalm David prays for deliverance from his pursuers (1-2), declares his innocence of what he is accused of (3-5), prays for another worldwide judgment like the Flood which will purify the earth and establish righteousness (6-10), reveals that God is a man of war against unrepentant sinners (11-13), declares God’s law of retribution on those who seek to harm their fellows (14-16), and finally gives praise to YHWH Most High for His goodness (17).
David Prays To Be Delivered Because He Is Pursued and Hard-pressed (7.1-2).
The prayer is a trusting cry to YHWH in the face of false accusations made against him that he was seeking Saul’s life, and the resulting need to flee for safety. He prays for deliverance from those who are seeking to hunt him down, and especially from his chief enemy, who, as a lion does to his prey, wants to tear him in pieces. He had often seen sheep torn to pieces by lions, and had himself outfaced them. He knew precisely what they were capable of. And he knew that God had delivered him from the mouth of lions (1 Samuel 17.34-37). Thus he knew that He was also able to deliver from these adversaries as well.
The singular of lion demonstrates that he had one particular person in mind, probably Saul, for he knew how merciless he could be in his mad rages. But it may have been Cush who was leading the search for him.
His appeal is to the covenant God, YHWH, on the ground of His covenant promises. ‘In you do I put my trust (take refuge)’ is a constant theme in psalms (11.1; 16.1; 31.1; 57.1; 71.1; 141.8). It expresses his confidence in God and his sense of insecurity in the present situation.
‘There is no one to deliver’. Along with those who were with him he knew that every man’s hand was against him. They had no powerful friends apart from God.
The psalm will be a comfort to all who are hard-pressed or falsely accused. For in the end the hard-pressed one is delivered through prayer.
He Pleads His Own Innocence (7.3-5).
David is aware that YHWH at least knows the truth, that he is innocent of seeking Saul’s death. He is guilty of no ‘iniquity’ in this regard. Iniquity is the opposite of ‘right’ and indicates what is crooked and distorted. Indeed he has never done evil against anyone who was at peace with him, and he has spared Saul’s life more than once, in spite of the fact that he is his enemy without genuine reason (1 Samuel 24.3-6; 26.11). Happy is the man who can say from an honest heart that he has treated fairly those who have treated him fairly, and even those who have treated him unfairly, as David could.
He declares that he is quite willing to be judged in this regard, and that if it be proved untrue, then he is ready to forfeit his own life to the violent men who seek him. Then let him be pursued and slain, his breath be taken from him, and his life trodden in the earth, and his glory laid in the dust (compare Isaiah 26.19). ‘Breath’, ‘life’ and ‘glory’ are three parallel words. Man had within him the breath (nephesh) of life (chay) (Genesis 2.7), and was made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26-27). This was man’s glory, the image of the divine glory (compare Psalm 16.9; 30.12; 57.8).
He Calls On God To Set Up a Court of Justice and Put All On Trial So That The World Can Begin Again (7.6-10).
His plight has moved David to a consciousness of the way sin triumphs and the righteous suffer. He is filled with a huge desire that righteousness might be established and that all sin might be done away, and that the world might become one in which righteousness prevails.
Conscious that he is not in the wrong and moved by his unfair treatment David calls on God to set up a court of judgment, both in anger at the behaviour of his adversaries, and in order to justify him, and all who are like him, for his misery has made him aware of all who are treated like he has been in an unfair world. He wants God as the commander of judgment, to ‘command judgment’ (set up the court for that purpose), gather an assembly of the peoples, while He Himself sits on high as Judge in the place of honour. Then He must pass judgment on all, giving David among others a fair trial, and weighing up his righteousness and his integrity. As a result wickedness will cease, and the righteous will be established, for it is the righteous God Who will test all out. His confidence is that God is his shield, his Protector, and that his own heart is upright, so that he has nothing to fear.
(‘You have commanded judgment’ = you are the commander of judgment having established the principle from the beginning. From the eternal point of view judgment and justice are determined, are permanently God’s intention and are continually under His control).
‘Arise --- return.’ There may be intended as a background here the cry when the Ark went forward or settled down in the wilderness. ‘Rise up O YHWH and let your enemies (here David’s enemies) be scattered,’ and then ‘Return O YHWH to the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel’ (Numbers 10.35-36). So David calls on YHWH to rise up to deal with his enemies, followed by His returning on high (to His throne) as the assembly of people surround Him.
‘Arise, O YHWH, in your anger.’ Aware of God’s anger continual against sin, that is, His revulsion to it and determination to deal with it and remove it either in mercy or in judgment, he asks Him to awaken on his, David’s, behalf and judge the sinfulness of his enemies, a sinfulness revealed by their rage against him.
‘You have commanded judgment.’ It is YHWH who has previously decreed that all must be judged, therefore let Him now set up a court of justice, so that all righteous men might be delivered from the kind of treatment he is receiving. It is a reminder that God requires true judgment, and will finally bring it about.
‘And let the assembly of the peoples surround you, and over them return you on high.’
The idea is that He should make a general call to judgment of all peoples. He clearly has in mind a previous similar judgment (‘return you’), possibly the Flood which covered all men, destroying the wicked and establishing the righteous. But see also Genesis 15.14; Exodus 12.12; Deuteronomy 32.39-41 where it is established that God is a God of judgment in many circumstances. ,So he calls for YHWH to return for another such judgment, with Himself ‘on high’ on the Judge’s (or King’s) throne. There is a case for suggesting that he especially has in mind Deuteronomy 32.41-42, which looked to another such judgment, where the whetting of the sword and the arrows of verses 12-13 also occurs.
‘YHWH ministers judgment (is the One Who administers judgment) to the peoples. Judge me, O YHWH, according to my righteousness, and to my integrity that is in me. O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, for a righteous God tries the hearts and reins.’ The psalmist has a real concern that justice for all might come, and that wickedness might be done away. If his prayer were to be answered YHWH would sit in judgment on all the peoples, for He is the minister of judgment. Then David himself is ready to give account because he is satisfied that he is righteous and a man of integrity. As a forgiven sinner his conscious is clear. But his concern is not just for himself but for all righteous men. His prayer is, ‘let righteousness triumph’.
Thus he pleads that wickedness might come to an end by God judging and dealing with the wicked, and that all who are righteous might be established, by the One Who tries the hearts and the reins. The heart signifies the mind and the will which produce man’s moral and religious character, the reins control man’s behaviour. He desires that both will be fully tested. The idea of trying the hearts and the reins was popular with Jeremiah (11.20; 17.10; 20.12. See also Revelation 2.23).
Notice David’s confidence in his own state of righteousness before God. He knows that although he is a sinner, he is a forgiven sinner. And he has offered with a righteous heart the appropriate sacrifices, and his conscience is clear before God. Indeed he can say. ‘My shield is with God who tries the upright in heart.’ It is the covenant God Who shields and covers him, and he has assurance that God will keep him.
So David’s prayer, dragged from the bitterness of his experience, is that once again God will come in a great act of judgment, with the result that evil will be removed from the earth and the righteous will be established to build up a new world. Then man can begin again as he did at the Flood. But it is not a totally selfish prayer. He has in mind all the righteous, especially those suffering unfairly (compare Revelation 6.9-11). He longs for a fair world.
He Reveals That God Is A Present Judge on All (7.11-13).
But while longing for that great day of judgment which will slay the wicked and establish the righteous, he wants all to know that even now God judges continually on earth every day (see Psalm 10.4, 11, 13). He is a righteous judge, and thus has indignation every day as He looks at the state of the world. For all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do, and He never overlooks anything.
God looks for men to repent, but if they will not do so He becomes a man of war against their sin. He sharpens His sword and has already prepared His bow, and makes ready His arrows, which He has already prepared as His instruments of death. His arrows are shafts of lightning (see Psalm 18.14; Zechariah 9.14), although he may also have in mind arrows with inflammable materials attached which were often fired among the enemy.
It is noteworthy that even here David leaves room for repentance (‘if a man turn not’). He remembers what mercy God had had on him. But his picture is a warning to all who play with sin that God is not mocked. And that He is even now ever ready to deal with sin by death (compare Ezekiel 18.4 onwards).
He Declares That There Are Even Now Present Consequences of Sin (7.14-16).
(It may be that this was to be sung by a different section of the choir to distinguish the change of subject).
While looking for a great act of judgment David does not over look the fact that God judges continually. The ones who exert themselves to what is worthless and evil, and especially to violence (verse 16), who plan and bring to birth mischief, and deceive men, laying traps for them, will find if they are not careful that they will fall into the hole of deceit that they are digging for others, will find their mischief returning on their own heads, and their violence crushing their skulls. Thus what they sow they will reap.
The pit being dug has in mind the hunter’s trap. The picture is of one who digs his pit, and while doing so accidentally falls in even before it is finished.
David’s Final Hymn of Praise.
His final gratitude is expressed concerning the fact that God is righteous and behaves righteously, thus establishing the righteous and destroying the wicked, and this results in his singing praise to YHWH Most High and all that He is (His name). It is only the righteous who recognise the importance of righteousness, who can rejoice that God is truly righteous. Others wish that He was not so particular.
Heading ‘For the chief musician, set to the Gittith. A psalm to/for David.’
‘Gittith may refer to a musical instrument named after its origin in Gath. The Septuagint, however, has ‘for the winepresses (gittoth)’ suggesting that it was sung in connection with the feast of Tabernacles, and as ‘gath’ means winepress it could possibly be right.
The psalm is a hymn of worship to the Creator, and a description of man’s intended higher status in that creation, exceeding that of the physical heavens and of all other created things, but only once he is returned to innocence.
Two sections of humanity are in mind, on the one hand the ‘innocent’ and on the other ‘the enemy and the avenger’. Man restored to innocence, as pictured by the innocent babe, is seen as the one through whom God’s final purposes will come to fruition, the establishment of righteousness. The enemy and the avenger, unless returning and being restored, are excluded from this hope of future blessing.
The psalm begins and ends with the same two lines. This is the first aim of the psalmist, to ascribe praise to YHWH, the One Who is the great and mighty Overlord over His people, the One Whose name and nature is revealed as excellent throughout all the world, by nature if not by man. Thus the splendour, the majesty, the overall excellence of His name is being declared (compare Psalm 148.13). ‘The name’ to Israel ever indicated the essence of the one to whom the name was applied. Here it is YHWH, ‘the One Who is’, ‘the One Who causes to be’, Lord of Being, Lord of Creation. And His name is all-excelling, majestic over all the earth (compare Psalm 104.1 onwards, where that majesty is clearly revealed), for He is Lord of the whole earth and is its Creator.
But the ascription of praise, which might at first sight appear only to stress the glory of His name, also stresses His close relationship with His people. He is not only ‘the Lord’, He is our Lord. The writer has a thrill of pride as he recognises that YHWH is their Lord, the Lord of His people. He has chosen them as His people, and they are uniquely His, and yet at the same time His excellence is revealed over the whole world. So the great Creator had become their Deliverer. There is here a contrast between the small (‘our’) and the great (all the earth’) which continues throughout the psalm.
Setting verse 1b with verse 2 maintains the parallelism, is equally in accordance with the text, ties in with the contrasts in the first four verses, and agrees with the idea that the psalm opens and closes with the same majestic statement. It would seem therefore the right translation.
The One ‘Whose glory is spread over the heavens’ (compare Habakkuk 3.3), which themselves speak of God (Psalm 19.1; 97.6), must be glorious indeed, yet the heavens in mind are but an ‘earthly’ revelation of His glory. As the psalmist studied the moon and the stars shining brilliantly from the night sky, full of wonder at their all pervading splendour, he was filled with awe. ‘The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhood’ (Romans 1.20).
But, he adds, He has spoken even more emphatically through babes and sucklings. Each tiny baby, with his budding morality, with his ability to think and reason, with his coming ability to do good in the earth, and with his prospective mastery of the world, is a wonder of creation and declares the glory of God. Here under God is the prospective lord of creation. For he is to be crowned with glory and honour (verse 5), he is to be set over all living things, and in relation to the world he is indeed little less than God Himself (compare Genesis 41.40). He is the image of God, that which in its own way, while still innocent, reveals and reflects God. It is an idealistic view of man as Hebrews 2.5-10 brings out. It is depicting God’s final intention.
So the writer sees in the baby the image of what was before the fall and the image of what must be. Its innocent cry silences the enemies of God and strengthens God’s position as Overlord of all things. Here is the prototype of God’s purpose for man. Here is one who rebukes all who have fallen from that position. The babes and sucklings are not in opposition to God. They represent man in his obedience. They do not seek vengeance for fancied wrong. They have committed no sin. Their hearts are open. They are potentially the fulfillers of God’s purposes.
These are in stark contrast to ‘the adversaries’, those who oppose God. But who are these adversaries, ‘the enemy and the avenger?’ Psalm 44.16 depicts them as those who reproach and blaspheme. In that psalm they are the nations of the world who are not in submission to YHWH, those Who reject His name and rule. But there the contrast is with God’s people. Here, however, the contrast is with the innocent babe. Thus we must expand the idea to include all who are against God and who speak against His name, in contrast with this tiny child. He is a reproach and a rebuke to them all. He depicts what they might have been. And they are ‘stilled’. Their voices are silenced. Revealed innocence condemns them, for these babies are the prototype of what should be, and what should have been.
That is why Jesus regularly depicts those who would respond to Him and believe as themselves needing to become like the innocent babe (Matthew 11.25; 18.3-4; 19.14 compare Psalm 131.2), man restored to his innocence through faith. Thus the babes and sucklings in the end represent all who are true believers, restored to innocence and trust by the mercy of God. This must be so for otherwise the believers do not appear in the psalm, and it is finally dealing with the concept of ‘man’.
The words that follow must therefore be read in that light. They are not a paean of praise to man in general, but to man in ‘innocence’, man as restored to the favour and mercy of God. It is not ‘men’ who are to be ‘crowned’ but ‘God’s men’, God’s true people. Those who will still the enemy and the avenger. For that is why they were born.
It is, of course, true of all men potentially. But those who have risen against Him, those who have turned their backs on Him, are by their act excluded unless they repent and return to innocence. What is described, while potentially the lot of all men, can only actually be for those who are in submission to Him.
It is the same picture as that given by Hosea. ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt’ (Hosea 11.1). Again it was an idealistic picture. It was the picture of an ‘innocent’ Israel in Egypt, God’s babe, whom He taught to walk, whom He bore in His arms, whom He drew to Him with the reins of love, whom He ‘healed’, whom He fed. But they fell from Him and rebelled against Him, and so He called on them to return to what that idealistic picture of what they had been when they were in Egypt. However there in God’s inheritance they refused to return and were thus handed over to Assyria (Hosea 11.1-4). It is only to man walking in innocence with God that the promises will be fulfilled.
As the psalmist considers the glories of the universe, the beauty of the heavens as seen in the night sky, the glorious lights in that sky, it makes him ask, what is weak man in comparison with these? We today with our knowledge of the vastness of the universe have even more reason to ask that question.
‘The work of your fingers.’ God has shaped and moulded them and given them their glory, not literally but by His word (Genesis 1). They are His deft workmanship.
The words used for man stress his frailty and humanness. ’Enosh stresses his impotence and mortality (Psalm 103.15; Job 4.17 and often in Job). Ben ’adam stresses his earthly origin (compare Job 14.1). And yet God is mindful of him in his frailty, and visits him. The words denote His care for man, and His exaltation of him, once he is responsive through faith (in contrast with the enemies and the avenger).
But his answer to the question of ‘what is man?’ is clear and unequivocal. At his best man is ‘over all’. That is why in Daniel the true people of God are represented as ‘like a son of man’ while the nations are likened to wild beasts. The heavens have no dominion, but God has made man, when in his right mind, to be His regent, to stand on earth in relation to living creatures as little less than God. Man is a rational thinking and authoritative being, with a conscious relationship with God. He is a ‘king’, crowned with glory and honour. He is thus superior to the night skies. But not in himself, it is God’s appointment of him that has made him great. Man as he should be, restored to innocence, is great because God has destined him to greatness.
‘Little lower than God (or the elohim - the angelic spirits)’. He is below the spiritual heavens but above all else. Made in the same image as God and the elohim (Genesis 1.27), he is the contact between the spiritual heaven and earth. Note therefore that the ‘gods’ whom others worshipped, connected with the skies, are hereby dismissed. Man is greater than the gods.
‘And you crown him with glory and honour.’ The honour and glory with which he is crowned is described in the next verses. It is revealed in his domination under God of all living creatures. The psalmist sees believing man, and possibly especially as epitomised in the Davidic king, as the crown of earthly creation, (it is not likely that he had in view the enemy and the avenger), through whom will come blessing to the whole world, even peace and plenty and fulfilment (Isaiah 11.1-10).
But in the letter to the Hebrews this crowning is seen as finally being achieved through Jesus. Until Jesus came all things had not been put under man. The vision was not fulfilled. But Jesus coming as Representative man, was the only One perfect enough and innocent enough to deserve the crown. And taking on Himself the form of frail man, and coming here on our behalf, He did triumph and was crowned through triumphant suffering, so that He was made the perfect Saviour and true Representative of man through that suffering (Hebrews 2.9-10 compare Job 7.17-21), followed by His resurrection to glory and honour. This rather idealistic simple picture painted by the psalmist in its bare outline is there defined in terms of a fuller realism of suffering for sin, to be followed by a crowning and a glory that is all the greater. The psalmist was limited by the fact that this world was all he knew. The reality is of a far greater world yet to come.
The idea is based on Genesis 1.21-28; 2.19-20. The word in Genesis for ‘have dominion’ has the root meaning of ‘tread under foot’. Note that cattle, wild animals, birds and fish are all included, finally also including the great sea monsters (‘whatever passes through the paths of the seas’). He has in mind not only those that man has domesticated, or tamed, but the whole of living creation. That is man’s privilege, only partially fulfilled but it is his ultimate destiny (Isaiah 11.6-9).
To the psalmist this was the height of attainment. A world restored to innocence with righteous man, walking in submission to God, ruling over all creation.
But this idealistic picture finds its greater final fulfilment through Christ when as ‘the last Adam’, ‘the second man’, all things are put in subjection under His feet (1 Corinthians 15.27, 45, 47) in the final Kingly Rule of God (verse 50) in the far superior new creation. What God intends for restored man is better far than man could ever dream.
Summary of the Thought.
That the writer is not just celebrating the special position of mankind as a whole comes out in his mention of the adversaries, the enemy and the avenger. What he has in mind is therefore believing man, righteous man, man when true to God. It is they, as first pictured in terms of babes and sucklings, who have dominion and rule under God. It is they for whom God has foreordained glory. Thus the writer in Hebrews is not unduly overextending the passage when he sees it as fulfilled in Christ, the representative man and Saviour, the only One Who was finally truly innocent.
This repetition of verse 1 again summarises a main purpose of the Psalm, to give glory to Israel’s God (and ours), and especially for the final restoration that He will bring about when He will be all in all.
Psalm 9. A Psalm of Future Hope.
Psalm 9 is a song of hope and victory, looking forward to the coming of the everlasting kingdom. The first two verses exalt YHWH, and this is followed by a description of what He has done for the writer and for Israel in defeating all unrighteous opposition, and rendering them powerless. It would well fit David’s chain of victories by which he established his extensive rule. But that was only temporary. Here the idea is more of the certainty that God’s people will finally triumph over all their enemies, that all enemies of God will be defeated, and that finally God’s righteous kingdom will come in.
So in contrast with the opposing enemies is the vision of YHWH as sovereign over all, as the righteous Judge, ruling righteously (through His chosen king), and as a fortress for those in need.
It then goes on to declare God’s interest in the needy and oppressed which results in the writer’s prayer that God will consider his own needs and concerns, which are also the people’s, so that he may then praise God for His deliverance. And it finishes with a declaration of the certainty that one day all the sinful of the nations will be called into judgment while the needy and helpless will be remembered, and a final cry to God to make the true position known by bringing it about.
Like many psalms this one is written as a kind of acrostic. Each of the four lines in verses 1-2 commence with aleph (A), the second stanza begins with beth (B), and so on, but it is not carried through consistently. The poem was more important than the gimmick.
9.1a ‘For the Chief Musician; set to (‘al) Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
The psalm is offered for worship to or by the Choirmaster, and set to the tune ‘al Muth-labben (possibly ‘on the death of a son’, but it has been suggested that by repointing it could mean ‘trebles (or ‘young women’) for clarity’ - ‘alamoth labin). It is of the Davidic collection, and may well be by David himself.
The psalmist begins with a cry of worship and praise to YHWH. He declares his gratitude for what God has done for him, for His marvellous works on His people’s behalf, and especially (as is revealed later) because that in itself is a reflection of what YHWH will finally do for all the righteous. He declares further that he will therefore be glad and exult in YHWH, and sing praise to His name as the Most High.
‘‘I will give thanks to YHWH with my whole heart.’ This was what the psalmist was determined to do whatever the circumstances, for he could look back on past blessings and knew that however dark it might sometimes seem, the future was safe in God’s hands. Whatever our situation this must also be our first concern, a whole-hearted giving of thanks to YHWH our God. However bad our situation there is always something to give thanks for. So let us determine to do so. ‘With my whole heart.’ It is good for us too to examine ourselves to ask whether our praise also is from our whole heart, or just perfunctory.
‘Your marvellous works.’ This signifies the outstanding works of God both in nature (Job 5.9), in His dealings with His people in history (Exodus 3.20), and especially at the times of their great crises (Psalm 78. 4, 11, 32). It no doubt includes the situation described in verses 3-6. He is determined to show them forth and confident that those marvellous works will continue until the end. The Bible is full from beginning to end with His marvellous works. That in the end is what it is all about, and none more wonderful than the coming of Jesus and its consequences.
‘Your name.’ That is, the character and being of God as revealed through His name. That He is the Most High is the guarantee that what He desires, the total vindication of the righteous, will be accomplished. None can circumvent His will.
‘I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O you who are Most High.’ The psalmist had learned the truth that when things appear blackest (see verse 13) is the time to sing and give praise. We too need to learn that lesson. If sometimes things seem dark then make yourself sing your favourite hymns. You will be surprised how quickly things will appear brighter. For then we will realise that the Most High is still on our side.
This could be speaking of David or it could have in mind the current king, but in the end it is the greater David Who is in mind for He achieves the final victory. In each case the king rejoices in the great victories that YHWH has accomplished. He knows that he himself has been victorious because YHWH has been with him. That is why his enemies turned back, fled in panic, and stumbled and perished. They were in the presence of YHWH (‘before the face of YHWH’) and could not face Him, and therefore could not stand against God’s anointed. For similar descriptions of the effect of God’s presence compare ‘you shall make them (your enemies) as a fiery furnace in the time of your presence’ (Psalm 21.9), for ‘the face (presence) of YHWH is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth’ (Psalm 34.16). See also Exodus 14.24.
And, as the Psalm goes on to point out, this is not only what He is like for the king, or even for the people as a whole, but an example of what He will be to each of His people, even to the very lowest (verses 12, 18). All their unrighteous enemies will be similarly dealt with. The face of God will be with them and in the end all will flee before Him.
‘For you have maintained my right and my cause, you sit in the throne judging righteously.’ It is important to recognise that God only acts thus in a righteous cause. It was only because the king was living and judging righteously that he could expect help from YHWH. But because of that, and because God had chosen him, he can then expect help from the Righteous One. God has delivered in this case because the one delivered was accounted worthy. All who walk worthily in a way that is acceptable to God can also be sure that their enemies will finally be defeated, because for them too He is on His throne judging righteously. And this all finally points forward to the triumph of the greater David Who will one day come and triumph in YHWH’s name in the day of permanent triumph.
‘You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the unrighteous.’ This explains why God has given His righteous king, the one accepted as righteous in His sight, the victory. It is because his enemies were unrighteous in God’s sight. Thus their final fate was sealed in a way that was to be the inevitable fate for the unrighteous. For the unrighteous there is no future hope, unless they turn from their sins and respond to His mercy.
‘You have blotted out their name for ever and ever. The enemy are come to an end, they are desolate for ever; And the cities which you have overthrown, the very remembrance of them is perished.’ The king looks with gratitude at the way that God has dealt with his enemies, and sees in it a guarantee that in the end all the unrighteous must be destroyed. The temporary victory will be followed by the final victory. The finality of it is revealed. Their name will be blotted out (compare Exodus 17.14), they will come to an end and be desolate for ever, and the remembrance of their overthrown cities will perish. This is the only end possible for the unrighteous, unless they return to God.
In contrast to the brevity of the nations is the eternity of YHWH. And in contrast to the unrighteousness of the nations, is the righteousness of YHWH. He sits enthroned for ever (compare 29.10), and His throne is established for judgment. And that judgment will be in righteousness and will be on all peoples and will always be upright. Thus we are assured that YHWH judges the whole world in righteousness without fear and without favour. Every knee will have to bow to Him, every tongue will have to confess to God (Isaiah 45.23; Philippians 2.10). Notice that the ‘He’ in ‘He will judge’ is emphatic. None other is fit to judge apart from ‘He’, and the teaching of Jesus made clear that this ‘He’ is none other than Jesus Himself Who has been appointed to be the Judge of all (John 5.22, 27).
But it is not only the Davidic king who enjoys God’s protection, it is he and all God’s true people. God protects all who, because they are righteous and trust in Him, are oppressed by the unrighteous, and He will be a fortress tower on their behalf, into which they can enter and be safe. While they may be laid siege to, or may be bombarded, they will be totally secure. Those who know Him for what He is will put their trust in Him, knowing that He will never forsake those who seek Him. They know by faith that he is totally reliable, and that they can shelter securely in His hands.
‘A high tower.’ A regular description of YHWH’s protecting hand (e.g. 18.2; 144.2; see also Proverbs 18.10 )
‘In times of trouble.’ That is, in the extremity of trouble when all hope of deliverance seems to be cut off.
Indeed all the peoples, and not only Israel, are to know the praises of the One Who dwells in Zion, where His earthly Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) has been set up. For His doings are to be declared to them, that they may do so. And these doings encompass His enquiries into all crimes committed against them, especially crimes of blood (Genesis 9.5-6). For he does not forget the cry of the poor. So they learn that God is personally concerned about their welfare, sufficiently to act on their behalf. In Israel the oppressed and the poor were regularly associated with the righteous. It was mainly they who in the trials of life kept close to YHWH. And we are assured that He remembers them, and keeps an eye on their affairs.
‘Who dwells in Zion.’ From the beginning they were well aware that this Dwellingplace (the Tabernacle/Temple) was but an earthly shadow of His greater Dwellingplace in Heaven (1 Kings 8.27, 29, 30 etc.). But the latter was seen as their point of contact with Him, as Solomon makes clear.
‘For he who makes official enquiry (or ‘requisition’) for blood remembers them.’ YHWH is hear seen as acting either as judicial examiner on behalf of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35.24-25) where an innocent killer could escape from the avengers of blood, revealing Him as enquiring into whether a killing was deliberate or accidental, looking into every case of violent death. Or it could signify that He will in fact be the avenger of blood Himself for those who suffer deliberate violent death. Either way He is acting as protector of His true people.
In those days it was the responsibility of the family of the dead man to pursue a case of homicide, and they had the right to a life for a life. They were to be the ‘avengers of blood’. In a time when there were no police and no local prisons it was an attempt to ensure justice, and to ensure that murder was punished. But an innocent man could flee to a city of refuge, and while there he could not be touched. However, if the family claimed that he was guilty of deliberate murder the case would be examined and if proven the man would be rejected by the city to face the avengers.
‘He does not forget the cry of the poor.’ God hears those whom no one else listens to, those who have little influence, who are downtrodden and forgotten. The poor are often synonymous with the righteous, for they have nowhere else to turn but God. They are the humble seekers of God who bow down before Him.
(This is one of those few cases where the Massoretic Text offer two alternatives, the kethib being the textual reading, ‘what is written’, the qere being a correction, ‘that which is to be read’. This arose because so sacred was the text seen to be that once written it could not be altered. Thus where the experts considered that rarely the text had been corrupted by error (for they knew the text by heart and knew what it should be) they would append the correction without changing the text back to what they considered it should be. It was not done lightly. The kethib here is ‘anniyim and the qere ‘anavim (a yod for a waw - they were very similar in written Hebrew, often almost indistinguishable). Both are derived from the root ‘bend or bow down’, denoting either those who are bowed down (the poor), or those who bow down (the humble)).
Having declared the general position the psalmist now applies it to himself. He is going through great trouble, suffering at the hands of those who hate him, the unrighteous. He asks YHWH to behold his suffering and affliction. In view of verses 3-4 it may be that we are to see these troubles as internal, enemies in the midst, for there are always enemies within as well as enemies without. But the following verses suggest a further outbreak of trouble from the surrounding nations.
However he is confident that these enemies too will be defeated. For it is YHWH Who shows mercy, it is YHWH Who raises him up when he feels that he is about to die. And he seeks that YHWH will do so now in order that he might show forth all the praises of YHWH, and rejoice in His deliverance. Let the gates of Zion be triumphant that he might rejoice there in His deliverance.
Note the contrast between the gates of death and the gates of the daughter of Zion. He wants to live in public triumph and joy in Jerusalem, with the unrighteous defeated, he does not want to die and go into the gloom of the grave. ‘The gates’ were the place where public affairs were carried on, where celebrations took place and where the representatives of the city were regularly to be found. And there in the gates of Jerusalem he will rejoice in God’s deliverance, and show forth all His praise. All will know of God’s goodness.
Others see these verses as looking back to verses 3-4 and as indicating his cry to God then, which brought about the deliverance that he speaks of there, and that interpretation would also gain some support from verses 15-16 which reiterate the defeat of the nations. But the psalm appears to be ongoing and this may rather be a reminder that once one crisis is past another may appear on the horizon, with God being triumphant over all, until at last in the end righteousness triumphs for ever.
‘Daughter of Zion.’ An expression only found here in the Psalms but taken up by the prophets later. Zion was the mountain, and her daughter the city built on the mountain, especially important because it was on the mountain which God had chosen. But as always a city also signifies its people.
The consequence is that, thanks to God, those who have raised themselves against him have been defeated. They have set their traps for him and now they have fallen into their own traps. They have laid their hidden nets and now they have been caught in them themselves. Note how these descriptions stress their unrighteousness, because in the end the whole message of the Psalm is about the battle between righteousness and unrighteousness, with righteousness finally being the victor through the power of the Righteous One. Israel, the chosen of YHWH, is to be blessed because in as far as she is righteous. The nations are to be judged because they are unrighteous. On the one hand YHWH has made Himself known on behalf of the righteous, executed judgment and gained the victory, and on the other the unrighteous have been caught in their own snares. (Once Israel proved herself consistently unrighteous she lost the protection and the blessing).
So these words can still be applied to the true people of God, the new Israel, (Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.12-22; Romans 11.17-24) today. They live as righteous ones in an unrighteous world, and can be sure of God’s genuine concern and action on their behalf.
‘Higgaion. Selah.’ Higgaion is a call for musical instruments to play (compare 92.3 where it refers to the sound of a stringed instrument) in order to emphasise the triumphant conclusion. Selah may indicate a moment of pause, possibly while only music is played, signifying ‘think of what you have heard’ or ‘rejoice in what you have heard’.
After the pause and the music the final triumphant conclusion is reached. It deals with final principles. The unrighteous, and those who forget God (compare Psalm 50.22; Job 8.13; Psalms 10.4), revealing it by their behaviour, will depart for the world of the grave, into gloom and darkness. They will return to the dust from which they came (Genesis 3.19). That is their inevitable end. On the other hand the needy and the poor will survive and come into God’s everlasting blessing, which is their destiny, because He has not forgotten them. They may be forgotten now, but they will not always be forgotten. They may see their cherished expectations dying now, but it will not always be so. In the end the righteous will prevail. For the righteous there will be life, for the unrighteous, judgment and destruction.
Note the change in this verse from YHWH to ‘God’. These are those who have rejected YHWH’s offer of mercy, and must therefore face Him as ‘God’ over all, the Judge, and not as YHWH the covenant deliverer.
They could have come to YHWH. For we must remember that there was always a way into the covenant for any among the nations who would submit to YHWH, for ‘strangers’ were always welcomed if they would but submit to God’s Instruction (Torah - Law), and worship Him in the way that He required (Exodus 13.48-49). Thus by refusing this opportunity and choosing to remain as part of ‘the nations’ as opposed to ‘God’s people’ they were rejecting God. That is why ‘the nations’ were the unrighteous. They were ‘the world’, deliberately turning away from God and His ways, in direct contrast with believers.
The Psalm finishes with a cry to YHWH to bring about these purposes, and deal with the unrighteous nations. Let YHWH arise and prevent man from prevailing, for he is unrighteous and will behave unrighteously. Let Him judge them in accordance with their deserving, as known by the all-seeing eye. Indeed let Him put them in fear and make them recognise that they are but men. Let see themselves in a proper perspective. For then there would be a hope that some would hear the declaration among them of His doings (verse 11) and recognise their need, and hear and respond to YHWH.
This is not a vindictive cry. It is a prayer for the deliverance of the righteous. He wants the nations to recognise that they are dealing with the anointed of YHWH and cannot therefore prevail. They may boast about their greatness but they are but men. And thus when their belligerence results in judgment they will be made to recognise the fact. The people of God will win in the end.
For the truth is that it is only when men are finally brought to a true judgment concerning themselves that the everlasting kingdom of righteousness can be established. It was a feature of the Davidic kingship that in the end not only Israel but the whole world that had not been judged and condemned was to be blessed through it once the unrighteous had been dealt with (Psalm 2.8-12).
There are indications that this psalm has connections with the previous one. The psalm has no title, the partial acrostic possibly continues, although not consistently, and could therefore easily be a coincidence, while in LXX and the Vulgate they are treated as one psalm. But the possible coincidence of the partial acrostic may in fact have determined the position of the psalm and been responsible for its later being taken as one, rather than vice versa. They are really two separate psalms.
In this psalm the psalmist is puzzled why YHWH does not intervene in difficult times. His cry can be echoed through all ages. He is asking why the unrighteous seem to triumph while the people of God suffer, and describes the unrighteous in great detail, drawing God’s attention to what they are.
Then he cries to YHWH to rise up and deal with them, removing unrighteousness, and finally sees ahead to the day when YHWH will indeed be King and the unrighteous nations will be no more. In the end His righteous Kingly Rule will be established for ever.
The psalmist is puzzled and concerned. His own heart is righteous, and as he surveys the society in which he lives he cannot conceive why YHWH stands back in the day of trouble, why He seems to be hiding Himself while the lowly righteous are suffering (compare 22.1), and are caught in the schemes of the unrighteous. Alternately (for the Hebrew can mean either) he prays that YHWH will ensure that the unrighteous are ensnared in the schemes and snares that they themselves have set.
Like many he had a low view of sin. He did not at this stage see the lowly as themselves sinful and needing to be purged and as being given the opportunity to become strong in faith, although later his own faith in the face of what is happening will come out. And He did not recognise that YHWH had deeper purposes than he could conceive of. He failed to recognise that the outright unrighteous are indeed sometimes used as instruments of chastening for God’s true people, prior to their own final defeat and judgment, a constant theme throughout Scripture.
‘Why do you stand far off?’ That is, seemingly so because of His inaction (see Isaiah 59.1-2 for one answer). In contrast when YHWH openly acts He is said to be ‘near’ (34.18; 75.1).
‘Why do you hide yourself?’ Literally ‘muffle yourself’. Compare 55.1. Seemingly covering his eyes so that He cannot see (Isaiah 1.15), and his ears so that He cannot hear (Lamentations 3.56).
‘The arrogance of the unrighteous.’ Men who are selfish, greedy and strong tend to treat all others arrogantly. And often no one seems to be able to do anything about it. They go their own way without regard for the weak. The writer recognised the total wrongness of this, and therefore wondered why God did nothing about it. Possibly it is saying that He wants them to be caught out by their own schemes, as indeed they often are, but not often enough.
‘The poor is hotly pursued.’ It is always the weak and helpless and poor who suffer most under the arrogance of the unrighteous, for they have no way of countering it, and are treated just as pawns and targets. And yet it is often those poor who are the righteous ones. Why then does God allow them to be pursued like hunted animals?
‘They are taken (or ‘Let them be taken’) in the schemes that they have conceived.’ The poor are not only hunted but often captured by the schemes of the unrighteous. The picture is a sad one of the sufferings of the hunted animal and its final entrapment. This continuation of the theme seems to fit better than the alternative rendering.
With deep insight the psalmist recognises that the behaviour of the unrighteous reveals their true attitude to God, whatever their outward protestations. What a man thinks in his heart, that is what he is (Proverbs 23.7). So here he sees these unrighteous men as actually stating by their behaviour that they take no heed to YHWH’s judgments, and do not believe that He will call them to account for their failure to observe them. In fact basically they are saying in their hearts, ‘There is no God’.
The arrogance of the modern day is vividly portrayed here. Boasting, greedy, ignoring God’s word, fixed in their own ways, closing their hearts against God’s requirements, puffing at those who contend with them, and declaring that nothing can stop them in their ways. It is God’s photograph of society. But in the final analysis they will be proved wrong, for in the end righteousness will triumph (verses 15-18).
‘The unrighteous man boasts of his heart's desire.’ Godless men set their hearts and thoughts on what they want, and not on what God wants, and openly boast about it. There is no submissiveness to God, but a determination to get what they want in any way they can. This is the competitive society with a vengeance, but the point is that they do it without regard for others, and without regard to God, except possibly by a passing reference as a sop to the godly.
‘And the man who is greedy for gain renounces, yes, passes judgment on YHWH.’ The deceitfulness of riches chokes the word and it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4.19). Those seized by a desire to possess and to be rich, or even ‘well off’, put God’s will to one side in their pursuit. The desire for gain and wealth possesses them. Thus in effect they renounce YHWH and His requirements, and the Instruction He has given man in His Law, and declare that God’s ways are wrong, and thrust Him away, and even pass judgment on Him and His ways, whatever the outward appearance of piety.
We can, however, equally translate as - ‘For the unrighteous praises his heart’s desire, and blesses the covetous whom YHWH despises.’ The basic idea is the same but brings out more their hypocrisy. They make out that evil is good, and that their greed is right. Compare Isaiah 5.20.
‘The wicked man, in the pride of his demeanour, says, “He will not require it.” All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” His ways are fixed at all times. Your judgments are far above out of his sight.’ Those who take little notice of God’s requirements are really declaring that they do not believe that He will call them to account. They are really saying that God is not there (14.1). So they are set in their own ways and blind to His judgments for He is in Heaven and they are on the earth. Thus His judgments are far above them and beyond them. For all practical purposes they are atheists. To them the idea of retribution is far away.
‘As for all his adversaries, he puffs (sniffs) at them. He says in his heart, I will not be moved. To all generations I will not be in adversity.’ His attitude towards God continues through into his attitude towards his fellow-man. He treats his competitors and opponents lightly and with a certain contempt. He is confident that he is so firmly established that he can cope with them and that nothing can halt his future plans, or the prosperity of his descendants. He has no fears at all for the future. The remainder of the Old Testament only reveals his folly.
The gradual growth of sin is well depicted in the Psalm. It begins with a callous attitude towards God and his fellow-man, and leads on into deeper and deeper sin. Here the sinner is depicted at his worst. Not all reach these depths, but all have the propensity for it. It begins with his words, which reveal what he is (compare Matthew 12.37), continues on into unscrupulous behaviour, and into increasing callousness, and all because he convinces himself with the vain hope that God has forgotten the world and will not see what he is doing.
‘His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppressiveness, under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.’ He is loud-mouthed, aggressive, and deceitful, and plans evil and mischief with his tongue. ‘Cursing’ may indicate his aggressive attitude, or his willingness to lie on oath to obtain what he wants. ‘Deceit’ declares his dishonesty in his dealings. He says what he wants people to think, while hiding the true situation. His aim is to deceive people. We can think of much modern advertising and salesmanship. ‘Oppressiveness’ indicates his determination to get his own way by any possible means. He tries to obtain his own way by aggression and forcefulness. And nothing that he says can be trusted.
‘Under his tongue.’ He actually enjoys his unscrupulous behaviour like a man enjoying a titbit (see Job 20.12).
‘He sits in the hiding places of the villages, in the secret places he murders the innocent. His eyes are surreptitiously set against the helpless. He lurks in secret like a lion in his covert; he lies in wait to catch the poor.’ Openly included here are muggers, and violent criminals, but equally included are any who are set to catch people out, or trap them into something, and make profits at their expense, without giving due and fair return. In their own way they all ‘mug’ people. They are like man-eating lions who wait in hiding for some helpless human to pass by.
‘He catches the poor, when he draws him in his net. He crouches, he bows down, and the helpless fall by his might (or rather ‘his strong ones’).’ The picture changes to the subtle hunter who lays his nets out to catch the unwary, and then draws them in. The emphasis is all on hidden motives and secretive behaviour, subtlety and deceit. The one who crouches may be the hunter with his net, or refer back to the lion waiting in hiding. If the former the idea is that he crouches in hiding, bows down behind the bushes when they approach and then quickly draws in his net dragging down his prey with his strong nets and strength. If the latter then the ‘strong ones’ may be his paws and teeth.
‘He says in his heart, “God has forgotten. He hides his face. He will has not seen it for ever.”’ This is the crux of the matter, his attitude towards God. He convinces himself that God has forgotten the world, has forgotten the poor and needy, has hidden His face and that he therefore does not see what men are doing, and indeed will never see it, will never bring it to mind. He assumes that men are unaccountable and therefore that he can get away with his behaviour. He forgets, or refuses to accept, that ‘all things are laid bare and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4.13). It is something he dismisses out of hand.
From here on an acrostic is introduced with stanzas beginning with Qoph (Q) through to Tau (T)
The psalmist now expresses his puzzlement and distress at YHWH’s reluctance to act. He calls on Him to act speedily on behalf of those who are in need. Let Him ‘arise’ (in order to do something), let Him ‘lift up his hand’ (to act in power), let Him show that He has not forgotten the needy. Why does He allow the unrighteous man to get away with his attitude? The psalmist himself is not deceived. He knows very well that God does see the full situation, and knows that God will one day deal with it. But he wants to know, why the delay? And so he reminds God that the helpless are looking to Him and depending on Him to act. For they know that He is the helper of the fatherless, of those who have none to look after them.
‘Arise, O YHWH.’ Do not wait any longer. Start to act! Compare 3.7; 7.6; 9.19 and often. ‘Lift up your hand.’ Commence actual action with your strength. Compare 138.7; Exodus 7.5; Micah 5.9. ‘Do not forget the needy.’ Do not do what these people say you are doing, but rather show that they are wrong by what You do on behalf of the needy.
‘You have seen, for you behold mischief and spite, to deal with it (literally ‘give it’ i.e. give in respect of it) with your hand.’ Faith declares that, contrary to the belief of the unrighteous, God does see all that is done, and especially such things as mischief and vexation brought on the weak and helpless. And faith also knows that one day He will deal with it and bring retribution accordingly. For the helpless and the weak look to Him as their only Protector. They abandon themselves to Him. And He will not fail them.
In unarmed combat the breaking of the arm rendered the opponent powerless. Thus YHWH is exhorted to render the unrighteous powerless, and search out the evil man’s wickedness so that He can call it to account. And He will in fact be so successful in removing it that when He looks for wickedness He will find none. Compare 37.17; Job 38.15.
‘Seek out his wickedness. You find none.’ Literally ‘when You seek to call to account his wickedness you shall not find’, because it has been removed. All wickedness will have been done away (compare 17.3). Yahweh had seen everything after all.
The psalm, which began with such hopelessness, finishes with the triumphant picture of the everlasting kingdom, with YHWH established as everlasting king, all adversaries and unrighteous thrust out and dealt with, and the meek and the fatherless and the oppressed living quiet lives in full confidence of true justice, and treated with respect by all. In Isaiah’s words, the lions will lay down with the lambs, for no one will any longer strike terror into anyone else. It will not be men of the earth who control things, but God. Righteousness will reign supreme. The picture is of total divine dominance by God, dwelling in His light.
‘YHWH is King for ever and ever.’ His enthronement will be revealed and His rule over His own will from then on be permanent for ever.
‘The nations are perished out of his land.’ The land that He promised His people will now be free of all enemies, of all who defile it and of all unrighteous men. The first thought is probably of the final fulfilling of God’s requirement that ‘the nations’ who had dwelt in Canaan should be thrust out as God had previously commanded, so that all pernicious influences would be removed. But it can also include any nations who had trespassed on God’s land and introduced pernicious influences. And with them would be thrust out all who followed in their ways and thus identified with them.
So those who are without, and even more importantly, the quislings within, will be removed from the land, which will thus be purified. The thought is clearly that the unrighteous were seen as unrighteous because they did not respond to YHWH but submitted to subversive influence, the ways of the godless nations. Thus all these will now have been destroyed out of the land (compare Deuteronomy 8.19-20). It will be the land of His inheritance as it was intended to be, a land of eternal bliss, where all worship YHWH and are obedient to His will. Ancient Israel had no conception of a possible heavenly kingdom and thought in terms of permanent and fruitful possession for ever of the land that God had given them and a possession which was under God’s personal rule, where all responded to Him.
And this will be because YHWH has heard the cries of the meek and lowly. Though they had cried to Him day and night for what had seemed so long, now He would avenge them speedily (Luke 18.8). In the end His will will be done. All fear will be done away. The future will be eternally secure in righteousness.
Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted this in terms of the everlasting heavenly kingdom of which His own were citizens.
This is a psalm in praise of YHWH. The principle idea of it is that once a man has put his trust in YHWH and taken Him as his refuge he can stand firm against all opposition, whatever the danger, because YHWH is with him. For YHWH looks down and sees all, and brings about His righteous will. And it stresses that such a man will not stoop to the evil behaviour of the unrighteous in retaliation, for to do so would shake the very foundations of God’s Law. To behave in such a way would be to make him evil too. And then what would the righteous do? To whom would they be able to turn? It is a firm statement that if men behave unrighteously towards us it does not justify our behaving in the same way towards them.
11.1a ‘For the Chief Musician. Of David.’
The psalm is dedicated to the Choirmaster and is of the Davidic collection, of which a large part, if not all, were written by David himself. For his reputation as a psalmist see 2 Samuel 23.1 where he is called ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’; 1 Chronicles 16.7; Amos 6.5.
There may be good reason to see that it was indeed written by David for it pictures his situation exactly. For if the psalm is by David it may signify the time when he was under threat by Saul while in his service, but refusing to flee and raise up his supporters against him, although aware that an attempt might be made by a secret hand to strike him down. For although he was too popular for Saul to condemn him publicly, an assassination was always a possibility. Would it not then be sensible to strike first?
On the other hand it could apply to any situation where a godly man was under threat. It does not mean that a man must not take wise precautions, but is a reminder that there are times when a man must not flee, but must bravely face a strong opposition in order to stand firm for the right.
11.1b-3 ‘In YHWH do I take refuge.
Note the central point. The one spoken of has taken refuge in YHWH. He could have no stronger or safer position. Thus all his judgments must be made in this light. Sometimes such a man may need temporarily to flee, but he must also consider his duties and responsibilities and decide what is best for the establishment of righteousness and a true foundation for life.
So he challenges the advice given to him by those around him. How should such a one as he flee? (compare Nehemiah 6.11). The next question we must then ask is whether the reference to the wicked assassins continues the argument of the advisers or is part of the psalmist’s reply to suggestions made by those advisers (‘For, look, it is the wicked who bend the bow’).
If the psalmist is David this reply to the advice to flee may well indicate the suggestion made by others (whether friend or subtle foe) that he flee to where he had men waiting in their mountain refuge, so that they may return secretly and deal with the tyrant Saul once and for all through an arrow coming out of the darkness. If so David’s reply is one of horror. He signifies that it is only the wicked who behave in such a way. It is the wicked who would shoot arrows out of the darkness; those who are truly upright are the targets of such evil, not its perpetrators. And he wants to be one of the upright.
He was especially aware that if his men fired their arrows in this way it would be against YHWH’s anointed. And to slay YHWH’s anointed would be to destroy the very foundations of the covenant to which they were all committed. How then could he, as one who has taken refuge in YHWH, behave in such a way? And if he did what then could the righteous do? He would have destroyed the very foundations that he and they believed in.
We know in fact that David did behave exactly like he claimed, refusing to slay Saul even when Saul was hunting him down to kill him (1 Samuel 23.14, 25-26), precisely because Saul was YHWH’s anointed (1 Samuel 24.6, 10). He would not lift up his hand against YHWH’s anointed. And in the same incident he uses a similar picture of Saul as seeking him like he would seek a partridge in the mountains (1 Samuel 26.20).
The more general thought may be that the psalmist’s friends have advised him to flee for refuge like a bird to the mountain where he has his supporters, because there is someone out to get him. Again the thought being that he return with his supporters secretly and kill his adversary. But the psalmist is horrified. He has taken His refuge in YHWH, how then can he behave in such a way, like the wicked, for murder hits at the very foundations of the covenant. Then he would rightly lose any respect from the righteous. He would cease to be regarded as upright. Rather must he remain where he was and stand firm for the truth.
Or it may be that his advisers are declaring that there are those who are ready to bend the bow, fit their arrow, and shoot at him in the darkness, and that he should flee before it is too late. Then he is suggesting that to flee in the face of such a threat would be cowardly and to give way to tyranny, and thus by such cowardice he would help to destroy the foundations of society. The tyrant would then think that he could do the same to others, and achieve his purposes by threats. And if that happened what then could the righteous do? There are some men whose position is such that they must stand firm and even be willing to face the possibility of death so as to be on hand to defend justice and truth.
The point behind all these scenarios is that the righteous man must behave righteously whatever the provocation, otherwise the purposes which are dearest to his heart will collapse. To behave like the wicked would be to make him wicked. To flee unnecessarily would be to desert his cause.
‘Flee (singular), O bird, to your (plural) mountain.’ The idea would seem to be that the one who is to flee has a place of refuge in some particular mountain where he has supporters who are in possession of it. Fleeing to the mountains is a popular Biblical image (e.g. Genesis 19.30; 1 Samuel 14.22; 23.14; 26.1; Matthew 24.16). But the singular suggests a special mountain which can be a natural fortress.
‘If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ The important thing to the psalmist is that at all costs the foundations are preserved, otherwise the righteous have nowhere to turn. That involves maintenance of YHWH’s Instruction (Law) at all costs however hard it may be in the circumstances. To obtain the right in the wrong way, or not to defend it when called upon to do so, would be to destroy the right.
Of course the foundations can never actually be destroyed, for ‘The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, that the Lord knows those who are his’ (2 Timothy 2:19). In the end all depends on God and on His personal and eternal knowing of His people. But it is still the duty of the righteous to uphold those foundations at whatever cost.
The psalmist now turns from the challenge that has been put to him and the reply he has given, to the God in Whom he trusts, the God Who is his refuge. He knows that he does not need to defend himself in this case for YHWH is over all. He is on His heavenly throne (9.4, 7), and from His heavenly Temple He watches over His people (compare 1 Kings 8.26 onwards) and over him. Indeed His eyes behold all men, and His eyelids test them out, so that the wicked are under His eye too. He knows all that they do. The idea behind the eyelids is that when we are carefully peering at something we tend to contract the eyelids. So God peers at the behaviour of men carefully and constantly. The word for testing out is used of the refining of metals. At a glance YHWH can distinguish what is true from what is base, for YHWH has an all-seeing eye.
For His Temple as signifying Heaven see also 18.6; 29.9; Micah 1.2; Habakkuk 2.20 compare also 9.7 with 11. This is a reminder that the earthly Temple was always seen as but a shadow of the heavenly, a kind of way by which His people could approach the heavenly Temple through the earthly (1 Kings 8.26 onwards). This was what was in Ezekiel’s mind when he spoke of the heavenly Temple descending on an anonymous high mountain, a pure and heavenly Temple accessible through the earthly altar in the physical Temple, the altar which men were commanded to build (they were not commanded in Ezekiel to build a Temple, only the altar).
The psalmist finishes with a strong contrast between righteousness and unrighteousness. He is confident that YHWH accounts him righteous and so he will trust YHWH to watch over him and ensure that justice is done. ‘YHWH tries the righteous.’ That is, He tries them in order to establish their faithfulness and loyalty, in order that He might then bless them. So what have such to fear? In contrast, however, He tries the unrighteous, those who do not seek to obey His laws, and those who love violence, and He ‘hates’ them (has an aversion to them) because of what He finds. So the psalmist can safely leave his enemies to the judgment of God.
Indeed YHWH will rain snares on the unrighteous, and what they ‘drink’ will be fire and brimstone and a hot, searing wind such as some miserably experience in the desert. That will be their portion. And this must be so because YHWH, Who is Himself righteous, loves righteousness and hates iniquity, rewarding goodness and punishing sin.
Finally he points out that in contrast to those who must drink of YHWH’s anger, the upright look up and see His face. They walk in His presence. And if a man walks in YHWH’s presence why should he fear his foes?
Note the parallel between the upright at whom the wicked shoot their arrows (verse 3), and the upright who walk in His presence and see and behold His face. If we walk with God we should not be surprised that arrows are levelled at us (Ephesians 6.13). For the wicked hate God and all that is of God.
One final point we must remember. It was because of David’s situation and because of his position that he could not flee. He had been secretly anointed as the successor to Saul. He was a man of authority. He stood in the court for righteousness. Many looked to him for the future, and his destiny was there. It would not have been right for him to leave until he had no alternative, although when that time came he did flee. There are times when discretion is the better part of valour, but there are others where we must stand firm because so much rides on it. And God will help us to decide which applies when. We are not called on to be foolhardy. But we are called on to trust God in all circumstances.
This Psalm was written in dark times when evil seemed to prevail. But the humble and lowly were assured that while it might seem like it, it was not so, and that whatever the situation God was aware of their need and would sustain them. The same promise comes to His people today.
12.1a ‘For the Chief Musician; set to the Sheminith. A Psalm of David.’
Again the psalm is for the Choirmaster. ‘Sheminith’ means eighth. It may refer to an eight stringed instrument, or to a musical notation. Again the psalm is a part of the Davidic collection.
It is a sad day for good men when it appears as though all godly men have disappeared (compare Hosea 4.1-2; Micah 7.2-6; Isaiah 57.1; 59.12-15; Jeremiah 5.1-4; 7.28; 9.2-6). It often seems to be the case, but it is never truly so. This godly man who writes the psalm is evidence of that, and he was not alone, even if he perhaps thought he was. He was like Elijah who thought only he was left (1 Kings 19.10, 14), only to learn that God had reserved for Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18).
But the situation was certainly bad. Deceit and falsehood were prevalent. No one could be trusted. Honesty between men seemed to have vanished. They lied, they flattered falsely, they spoke with double tongues, saying one thing and thinking and meaning another. The world seemed totally corrupt. They were bad times. So the psalmist cries out to YHWH for help, for deliverance. Surely He cannot allow things to continue as they are?
YHWH assures him in his heart that it will not always be so. Those who have flattering lips will be cut off, as will those with a boastful tongue. They thought they could speak as they liked, they thought that their powerful words would enable them to achieve their own selfish ends, they challenged the right of anyone to be lord over them, they thought that none could gainsay them. But they will inevitably be proved wrong. They will discover that there is indeed One Who is Lord over them.
Very much in mind here are those in authority or seeking authority, those seeking to win people by half-truths and downright lies. Those seeking to get their own way by the power of speech. Thus they speak and think arrogantly, prior to their inevitable downfall.
But they should recognise that YHWH sees all that happens on earth, and He was aware of the oppression of the poor. He heard the sighing of those in need. He saw their panting after deliverance. And because of such things He will arise, and will remedy the situation, and give them the security that they long for. Truth and righteousness will be made to prevail in the end.
In contrast to the deceit and falsehood of men the words of YHWH are true and pure, and totally to be relied on. They are like silver which has been refined, yes refined ‘seven times’ (totally and completely), as silver on earth needs to be. But the words of YHWH are so pure that they do not need such a refining process. They are already purer than any silver on earth, even though they are practical and effective on earth. Thus we can always rely on His word to see us through any situation. It has survived through the centuries, and will continue to do so. And it brings home truth to the heart.
There may also be the thought here that the words of YHWH themselves have such a purifying effect, making those who receive them pure.
12.7 ‘You will keep them, O YHWH.
So through His word YHWH will keep His people and will continue to preserve them through the generations for ever. His words are the perfect antidote to unbelief, sin and deceit.
But meanwhile sin will continue to walk abroad, the unrighteous will appear to be on every side, and vileness will be exalted among men. They will boast about it. God is not deceived about the human race. He knows what men are. Thus must the godly look constantly to the word of God, and God will then preserve and keep them. Note that the opening ‘You’ is emphatic, for in the end it is only YHWH Who can keep His own and enable them to persevere.
As often with the Psalms this is the cry of someone in dire trouble. It would fit many periods in David’s life, but it would also fit the same in many of his godly successors. It would also fit Israel at various times. In the end it is a message that sometimes fits us all. And that is the genius of the Psalms. They apply to the psalmist, they apply to those who sing the psalms, and they apply to all who read them today. But the psalm also ends on a note of confident assurance. The psalmist refuses to believe that YHWH will leave him in his distress.
13.1a ‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’
Once again we are reminded that this is one of the Psalms dedicated to the Choirmaster, and from the Davidic collection.
The psalmist has been at prayer over his problems but feels that his prayers are unanswered, and that YHWH has forgotten him, and has hidden His face from him, and he does not know why. It almost feels to him as though it is going to be for ever, and yet he does not really think so, for he asks how much longer he must wait.
So he is puzzled and wants to know how long this is to go on. His thoughts within him are in turmoil, his heart is filled with sorrow, and the reason is because his enemy seems to triumph.
‘How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart by day?’ The problem is such that it requires much thought during each day. It would seem that he had little to fear at night. This may suggest such a time as when David was hiding in the mountains which he and his men knew well. Saul would not dare seek him at night for he did not himself know the terrain. But once day came he pursued David with a vengeance, prompting David to constant use of his mind, and counsel from others, in order to avoid him.
This might well fit David when his controversy with Saul had been going on for some long time, when the searches were constant and he was beginning to feel that it would never end. It would fit any ruler who was being hard pressed by enemies in such a situation. It fits any who have a private enemy and feel that they are experiencing constant persecution and defeat in one way or another. It is a reminder of those times when God tests us by not responding immediately, so that we might learn to trust Him ‘in the dark’.
But in its own way it is also a cry of faith. The psalmist cannot believe that God can leave him in this situation for much longer. He is confident that at some stage God will act. But the question is, when?
How often we too might find ourselves in such a situation, and then we too must have the confidence that in the end God will act on our behalf.
13.3-4 ‘Consider, answer me, O YHWH my God:
Yet the situation is getting desperate. He pleads for YHWH to consider his case and deal with it. He is very much aware that death may not be far away, so the situation is serious. And he prays that his enemy might not triumph over him simply because he himself is in despair and becomes careless or uncaring. He does not want him to be able to gloat over his removal. This could again well fit David’s problems with Saul. But it could also have in mind any continual dangerous threat against a ruler.
‘Consider, answer me.’ He urgently presses YHWH to look at the situation, and respond. Let him no longer forget him and hide His face from him. For it is a genuine response that he desires, not just comfort.
‘Lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.’ The light in the eye can reveal the situation of the soul. He is weary of what he is facing. He feels that life is going from him. He wants YHWH to lift him from his state of resignation and imbue him with life, (which indicates that he already feels half dead), and to bring new light to his eyes so that he is again confident and again looks for and receives YHWH’s positive response. For he does not want to die at the hand of his enemy.
Or the thought may be that he wants God’s light to shine on Him, that He wants the evidence of His presence in His activity on his behalf, so as to save him from death.
13.5-6 ‘But I have trusted in your covenant love (lovingkindness within the covenant);
But the psalmist finishes on a note of assurance. In the darkness he finds light. He reminds YHWH that he is trusting to His covenant love. That is what the covenant is all about, that YHWH will act on behalf of those who are faithful towards Him. So he anticipates deliverance, and that he will again sing to YHWH, because he expects Him to deal bountifully towards him, indeed know that He must do so for He has chosen him as His own. For he who believes in God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11.6). So in the end his despair vanishes in the renewed faith that his prayer has revived.
The psalm begins with a verdict on man’s general attitude towards God, and follows it with a general view of the whole world, seeing it as totally sinful. It then moves on to the fact that either YHWH’s or the psalmist’s people are being devoured in that world by ‘the workers of iniquity’, those who do not call on YHWH or obey His commandments but reveal the sinfulness of their hearts by their lives. This will assuredly result in some judgment on those workers of iniquity which will reduce them to great fear, because YHWH looks after the righteous. He allows them to be subject to chastening but in the end He will act to deliver them. But these workers of iniquity will have only themselves to blame because they will have deliberately thwarted God’s people, overlooking the fact that YHWH is the refuge of His people. So from this position of confidence the psalmist then prays that that deliverance will now become actualised.
14.1a ‘For the Chief Musician. Of David.’
This is yet another psalm dedicated to the Choirmaster and part of the Davidic collection.
A general verdict is passed on mankind. They behave like fools because they reject the idea of God as the one to Whom they are accountable. They have many gods, they worship idols who but represent aspects of creation, but in their hearts they reject the living God who speaks to them through the wonder of creation and through their consciences. They say that there is no such God. See Romans 1.18-23.
‘The fool.’ This is rather describing the morally perverse person who rejects the idea of living a godly life. ‘Folly’ in the Old Testament is a term used to describe the person who behaves foolishly in that he forgets or misrepresents God or refuses to do His will (Deuteronomy 32.6, 21; Job 42.8; Psalm 74.18, 22), he commits gross offences against morality (2 Samuel 13.12, 13) or sacrilege (Joshua 7.15), or he behaves churlishly and unwisely (1 Samuel 25.25). See also Isaiah 32.5-6. Inevitably he always sees himself as wise.
‘In his heart.’ It is not his intellect that rejects the idea of God, but his will and emotions. He does not want to have to face up to God because of what it might involve in a transformed life. He likes living as he is. See 73.11; Jeremiah 5.12; Zephaniah 1.12.
‘They are corrupt, they have done abominable works.’ Compare Genesis 6.11. They are corrupt within and their lives reveal what they really are, sinful, violent, idolatrous, sexually perverted. See Romans 1.18-32.
‘There is none who does good.’ This is the final verdict on the world. All mankind are fools in this sense, for sin is folly. The difference is that some have found forgiveness. God is declaring that there is no true, positive, untainted goodness in the world. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). All are likewise guilty.
14.2-3 ‘YHWH looked down from heaven on the children of men,
But God would not judge men without a fair examination, and so He looked down to see if there were any who understood and sought after Him. The vivid anthropomorphism brings out the truth of God’s constant examination and assessment of the human race (compare Genesis 11.5), and His call to accountability. But all had turned aside, even the best; all had become morally tainted (compare Job 15.16). There was not one man on earth who did good and did not sin (Ecclesiastes 7.20). (For the thought of the one man Who would come see Isaiah 50.2 with 4-9; 52.13-53.12).
Indeed God is perplexed at the folly of men. He cannot believe that they are so lacking in wisdom and common sense. They neither call on YHWH nor treat well those who do truly call on Him. They ‘eat up My people as they eat bread’. ‘My people’ must refer here to those who truly call on Him, the faithful in Israel (Micah 2.9; 3.5). For while ‘my people’ is used of Israel as a whole it is always with the understanding that they are potentially responding to the covenant. Those who fail to do so in the end cease to be ‘His people’. They are combined with the enemy. Devouring or eating up His people refers both to depriving them of their possessions, devouring their wealth, and to oppressing them, giving them a hard time and even doing violence to them (compare Micah 3.1-3; Isaiah 3.14-15). So the world is seen as in deliberate antagonism against God, and against true righteousness as personified in His true people.
‘The workers of iniquity’ are thus those who deliberately continue in the way of sin having refused to become one of His people. They are not necessarily great sinners as the world would view it, but they are from God’s viewpoint, because they fail to truly respond to Him.
What is more they overlook the fact that ‘God is in the generation of the righteous’, that He is among the righteous and concerned about them and looks after them in each generation. Thus He will judge the persecutors in such a way that they will be in great fear. (This may be referring to a past event, or a number of past events, an example of judgments that have already happened. Or it may be simply looking to the future, to a judgment yet to come. Hebrew tenses are often not particular as regards to time. They are more concerned with whether an action is complete or incomplete, than whether past or future). And all because they have taken advantage of, or have derided, the lowly who have taken refuge in Yahweh, and whose thoughts and honesty and peacemaking attitude make them a prey to their scheming.
‘The poor’ regularly indicates those who are lowly and godly. This confirms that while ‘My people’ must in one sense mean Israel, it basically means the ones who show that they are His people by their way of living. The remainder are linked with the world.
The psalmist finishes on a note of longing. O that Israel’s deliverance had come. This confirms that they are here seen as under some kind of misfortune. In Job 42.10 the verb ‘restores the fortunes’ clearly signifies a restoral of fortunes to Job. He is only a captive to his misery. And this fits all the other places where the verb is used. Thus it is possibly the best translation here. It could therefore refer to a period of subjection under the Philistines, or some other enemy of Israel..
But even if we translate as being in ‘captivity’, it would not necessarily mean exile. It could equally signify being in subjection in the land. So we are probably to see them as being under the iron rule of some foreign monarch, subject to tribute and in a period when they were being treated badly. ‘From Zion’ probably has in mind Mount Zion from which, speaking in an earthly way, God will act. Or the thought may be that the psalmist was looking to Zion’s king, the anointed of YHWH, to bring about the deliverance. Either way the deliverance will be of God. And that is the final certainty, that YHWH will restore His people. And then they will be glad and rejoice.
‘Brings back the captivity’, or ‘restores the fortunes’, of His people.’ See for the use of the phrase Job 42.10; Hosea 6.11; Amos 9.14; Ezekiel 16.53; Zephaniah 2.7.
So the message of the Psalm is of God’s calling to the account the folly of the nations, both as regards Himself, and especially as revealed in their attitude towards His people, having very much in mind here His true people. The thought is that His being and nature are so obvious in the light of creation and conscience, and His people so precious, that humanly speaking, from the psalmist’s point of view, God could only question the behaviour of the world in its treatment of His people.
This psalm is called only ‘a psalm of David’. This may signify that it is to be sung by the congregation rather than by the choir (not ‘for the choirmaster’). It is a psalm of approach. Possibly it was sung, with responses, when the people approached the tabernacle in assembly during feasts.
15.1a ‘A Psalm of David.’
It is a further psalm in the Davidic collection. The reference to the Tabernacle or Dwellingplace suggests the pre-Solomonic nature of the Psalm. Thus it may well have been written by David himself.
As the people begin to consider their approach to God’s Dwellingplace they ask themselves the question, quite rightly, as to who has the right to sojourn in His Tent, that is, be there on a temporary basis. Then the question becomes a little stronger. Who has the right to take up a dwelling in His holy hill? The point is that to approach near to YHWH’s Dwellingplace is a serious thing, and only open to those qualified. The former situation may be thinking of the people, the latter of their representatives the priests. They are conscious that both situations represent a great privilege. Or the latter question may be as to who has the right to establish their camp there during the feasts. The questions by their nature acknowledge that not all are to be seen as having the right.
The mention of the Tent suggests an early date, and some have seen it as first written when the Ark was to be brought to the Tabernacle after being in the house of Obed-edom (2 Samuel 6). Possibly the death of Uzziah made David think more seriously about the holiness of God.
The reply follows in detail. It is very significant, however, that it is not the cultic requirements but the moral requirements that come to the fore. Both priests and people who would approach God must be pure and holy in their lives. That is the first requirement. It is not anti-cult. The very purpose of their approach is to offer sacrifices and to worship God in accordance with His ordinances. But it emphasises that genuine moral purity rather than ritual requirements are primary with God.
The man who would approach God and dwell with Him must be upright, righteous and without deceit. He must not be a slanderer, nor a doer of evil, nor a talebearer. He must regard with disapproval and reproach those who reveal their disregard of God’s commandments, and he must honour those who fear YHWH. He must keep his word once given even when it costs him to do so, and he must not take interest when he lends to the poor, or accept bribes to pervert justice and harm the innocent. This is the portrait of the true believer. He alone can dwell in God’s presence.
‘He who walks uprightly.’ This refers to a man of full integrity, who does right in all his ways. He is the complete man, blameless and devoted to God (18.23; 119.1; Genesis 17.1; Deuteronomy 18.13). LXX translates it amomos for which see Ephesians 1.4; Colossians 1.22.
‘And works righteousness.’ He is a doer of righteous deeds so that he is loved and respected among God’s people. Compare Isaiah 56.1; Acts 10.35; 1 John 3.7.
‘And speaks truth in his heart.’ He is genuine through and through, right from the heart. His word can be trusted, and he is totally reliable. Contrast those in 12.2.
‘He who does not slander with his tongue.’ Everyone knows that such a man will not bear tales, or gossip about others. He will say only what he knows to be true, and only do so when it is necessary.
‘Nor does evil to his associate, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour.’ Both associate and neighbour can rely on him not to let them down in any way, either in the way he behaves or by small talk. He never causes them hurt or speaks badly of them without cause.
‘In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honours those who fear YHWH.’ He is a man who disapproves of those who are not true through and through, especially those who treat God and His ways lightly, but honours those who truly fear YHWH, and whose lives reveal the fact. ‘Despised’ is not to be taken in its literal application. It rather indicates disapproval, not so much of the person, as of the person’s way of life and attitude towards God.
‘He who swears to his own hurt, and does not change.’ There was a time in the last century when the word of a gentleman was his bond. Nothing would cause him to break it. That is what the godly man who approaches YHWH must be like. Even if he regrets what he has sworn or what he has promised, he must fulfil it. He has given his word.
‘He who does not put out his money to interest.’ The reference to not charging interest was because in an agricultural society men who borrowed did so because of dire poverty. No good man would therefore seek to benefit by such a person’s poverty and dire need. He would lend from the goodness of his heart. (See Leviticus 25.36-37; Exodus 22.25; Ezekiel 18.17).
It has no reference to a modern capitalist society, and in fact charging of interest was allowed with foreigners (Deuteronomy 23.19-20). The point was not that charging interest in general was forbidden, but that a man would not do it to his brother in God. The principle clearly still applies in so far as it applies to money lent to the poor, or to a fellow-believer in need, and includes not being greedy in the amount of interest taken in general.
‘Nor takes reward against the innocent.’ He would scorn to accept the possibility of accepting bribes in order to perjure himself (Isaiah 33.15; Ezekiel 22.12; Deuteronomy 27.25; Exodus 23.7-8). To aid the condemnation of an innocent person would be abhorrent to him.
The man described above, whose behaviour is like this because of his love for YHWH, will have access to YHWH’s holy hill and Tent. None will seek to move him from where he sojourns at feasts on the holy hill, close to the Tent. None will dispute his right to approach YHWH and find atonement. And that joyous position will be true for him wherever he goes. He will always be close to YHWH. YHWH will always be with him. He will enjoy His protection and guidance under all circumstances.
16.1a ‘A Michtam of David.’
The word michtam has been related to the Akkadian katamu, ‘to cover’. Some therefore see it as a prayer for, or with an assurance of, protection. It is a part of the Davidic collection, with special reference to the house of David.
During his inspired building up of the psalm he ascends to greater and greater heights of being lost in YHWH, until in the end he recognises that those who had been made ‘holy’ (separated to God, devout, faithful) like him could not possibly face corruption. To suggest that one so made holy by God could be laid in the grave and left there to rot was beyond his comprehension and acceptance. Their future had to be in the presence of God. It was by no means fully thought out. It was a flight of the soul. But it contained within it the seed thought that would blossom out into the resurrection of God’s Holy One, the Greater David. He foresaw more than he knew. For what was true for David would be even more true for the great Seed of David.
In Acts 2.25 Peter says of this psalm that the one who spoke through it was David, and he added that he spoke as a prophet, for through it he foresaw not only his own certainty of life with God in some form beyond the grave, but in seed form to an even greater resurrection and certainty of life for his Greater Son.
After an opening call on God as his refuge and stronghold in verse 1 the Psalm can be divided up into four central thoughts, indicated by the mention of YHWH.:
He Looks To God As His Refuge (16.1b).
The michtam opens with a plea for protection. The psalmist commits himself to God and prays that God (El) will preserve him in all circumstances, because he sees God as a safe refuge in Whom he can find shelter. It is a prayer based on the confidence of what God is to him, not because of some particular situation of urgency that requires assistance, but as an overall basis of life. We too should seek to take such refuge in God daily in a similar way. It is the right situation to be in for a man of faith.
He Has Said To YHWH, ‘You Are My Lord’ (2-4).
The psalmist now addresses himself. ‘You (feminine singular) have said to YHWH.’ The reference of the feminine singular is unclear. He is possibly attributing it to some feminine noun applied to himself which he is carrying in his thoughts (compare ‘you, O my soul’ 42.5a; see Lamentations 3.24). Or it may be in deference to his reference to YHWH, with him seeing himself as God’s helpmeet.
He reminds himself that he has declared YHWH to be his sovereign Lord, to be the source of all his benefits, indeed of his whole life. For apart from Him he has nothing. So he delights in the fact that YHWH is everything to him, and he has no good beyond or apart from Him. He is a YHWH-gripped man.
Parallel with this is his delight in YHWH’s own true people, those truly set apart to God, His ‘holy ones’. He sees them as the true ‘nobles’ of Israel, the most excellent people on earth and as such takes delight in them. So all his thoughts at this time are of YHWH and of YHWH’s true people, His ‘holy ones’, to him the two most important things in life. For ‘holy ones’ compare his description of himself as ‘your holy one’ (verse 10) although the Hebrew word is different. Certainly later it is a word used to describe God’s true people.
Others see the reference to ‘holy ones’ as signifying heavenly beings, but nowhere else are similar comments made about heavenly beings. They are always seen as background to the glory of YHWH, not as to be appreciated in their own right. To delight in the angels would be totally without precedent, whereas the use of ‘holy ones’ in the Psalms to denote God’s people is a regular feature (30.4; 31.23; 34.9; 37.28; 50.5; 52.9 and often).
He spurns the idea of any contact with ‘another’, i.e. with any of ‘the gods’ whose names he will not take on his lips. Those who give gifts to such gods or who exchange YHWH for another god, will have their sorrows multiplied. As for him he will not offer to such gods drink offerings of blood or even take their name on his lips (he has assiduously avoided doing so here. They are nonentities).
‘The drink offerings of blood’ may refer to drink offerings offered with child sacrifices which certainly occurred elsewhere in connection with the worship of Molech (see Isaiah 57.5-6), or it may be that drink offerings of blood were made to some gods, or it may refer to drink offerings made by men of violence. Or he may simply be saying that their drink offerings are so detestable that they may be likened to offering the forbidden blood for the god to drink.
YHWH Maintains His Lot And Destiny (5-6).
Rather than drink offerings of blood the psalmist delights in what YHWH has bestowed on him by giving him Himself. YHWH is all to him. It is YHWH of Whom he wants to drink (compare 42.2; John 6.35). It is YHWH Who is his portion. And he rejoices in the fact that YHWH has indeed graciously given Himself fully to him. He is the psalmist’s lot, better than his inheritance in the land, He is his all, so that he wants no other. And what is more His faithful God is the One Who maintains that lot for the psalmist by maintaining his position and their relationship constantly. Thus the psalmist can continually delight in YHWH, and that is all he wants to do. It is a goodly heritage, better than any physical inheritance in the land, and means that his lines (the lines marking off his lot) have fallen to him in pleasant places. They have separated him off to God. So to the psalmist YHWH is all.
YHWH Has Given Him Counsel (7).
And with the joy of having YHWH as his lot, and of His possession of so goodly a heritage, he can also rejoice in the wisdom and guidance given to him by YHWH as he lies in his bed at night. Along with all his other benefits he blesses YHWH for the counsel given to him. His ‘reins’, those things which guide and control him, his conscience and the voice of God, give him his instruction night by night so as to maintain his continuing fellowship with God.
Happy are those whose lot is so in God, and who are experiencing having their lines set in pleasant places as they walk with Him, wanting no other inheritance, and who nightly so receive wisdom from God that their daily walk with Him continues untarnished. For they too will have the joy of the psalmist.
‘I Have Set YHWH Always Before Me’ (8-11).
Indeed the psalmist’s joy in God is such that he desires that it go on for ever (verse 11), and indeed is confident that it will do so. And to that end he has set YHWH always before him. He meditates day and night in His word (1.2-3). He walks with Him by faith (Genesis 5.22). He looks constantly to Him. And because YHWH stands at his right hand as his mighty Champion, (as a king’s champion would stand at his king’s right hand) he knows that nothing can disturb him or remove him from YHWH’s presence. But while it may be a walk of faith, it is not a dreamy faith, it is a positive, responsive faith as genuine faith must be, faith that produces a glorious life. And because he is there in YHWH’s presence he knows that he will not be moved. He will remain there constantly.
This gives him great gladness of heart. ‘Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices.’ His ‘heart’ represents his will, mind and emotions, his ‘glory’ the spiritual life within him, made in the image and likeness of the elohim (Genesis 1.26-27). It is the latter especially which makes man glorious. So both his heart and his spirit (his glory) rejoice within him in what YHWH is to him. His spiritual emotion and ecstasy is rapidly expanding. He feels immortal.
Thus when he thinks of the coldness and darkness of the grave with all it involves of worm-eaten bodies, of lifelessness, of dankness, of emptiness and especially of the horror of ‘uncleanness’ and God-forsakenness, he knows instinctively that YHWH must somehow preserve him from it (as He preserved Enoch - Genesis 5.22). He can surely not allow him, as one of God’s holy ones (qethoshim - verse 3), as the anointed of YHWH, as separated to YHWH by His covenant love, and faithful (chasid) to Him, to see such corruption. There is undoubtedly an awareness here that he is seen as a holy one (both one set apart in holiness to YHWH, and one beloved of YHWH and devout, separated and faithful) and that because he is such ‘a holy one’ YHWH will give him a long life, and keep him from an early grave, and from early corruption. But is that all it means? Not if we take the language literally. And such an interpretation misses the whole point which is that one who is so close to God that he feels that they are inseparable, cannot believe that the unclean grave can claim him, any more than it did Enoch.
There is in fact clearly so much more in David’s mind. The grave eventually creeps up on us all. Eventually we do all see corruption of our physical bodies. But David would hardly go into such ecstasies about a few short years of life, even though it would be with God, if that were to be its end. It would almost be to come down from his high level to the trite and mundane. Rather he is at this time of ecstasy so conscious of YHWH and His presence with him, and of what God has wrought in him, that he is confident at this moment that as God’s ‘holy one’ (both qadosh and chasid) he is beyond all corruption, that the grave has no hold on him, that he can never finally die and perish and suffer corruption, for it would not be seemly.
He is here seized with what it means to be a ‘holy one’ (qadosh) and a separated one (chasid - one bound by God’s covenant love, and devotion and faithfulness). He is fully aware of the holiness of all that was in the Tabernacle, set apart from the mundane and untouchable because it was God’s, and made holy (qdsh), seemingly there to go on for ever. No corruption could enter there. And he saw himself as similarly God’s ‘holy one’ (verse 3), God’s set apart one, anointed by Him and set apart in holiness as His, so that though his body descend to the world of the grave, to Sheol, as all men’s bodies must, corruption will not be able to seize hold of him, indeed will not be able to touch what he essentially is. There is that in him which is beyond ‘corruption’, which is incorruptible, that which is bound up with God. For God must surely see His anointed, separated one and somehow deliver him from the after effects of death. It must be so, for he is holy, set apart totally to Him. He is YHWH’s ‘holy one’, His anointed. And what is YHWH’s is so holy, and so without blemish and so whole, that it is set apart from the profane world and all that is profane, including the grave with its uncleanness. He may even have had in mind that when certain holy offerings were burnt on the altar the blood was put on the horns of the altar pointing upwards and its smoke went up to God as a pleasing odour.
So there is reason to think that he is at this moment confident of life with God through and beyond the grave in the presence of His holiness, as His beloved and separated one. Compare for this thought Isaiah 26.19 contrasted with 14, where God’s dew was the dew of light falling on His people so that the shades could not hold them but had to cast them forth. There His light, and the people who had experienced His light, were incompatible with the darkness of Sheol. In the same way David feels that his ‘holy life’ and anointing from God is incompatible with the corruption of the grave.
We must not see this as a thought out doctrine but as something arising from his there and then experience of God, in the ecstasy of beholding YHWH. At this time, and as placed on record for ever, he was confident that he would somehow live on with God, free from corruption, although in an undefined way. For him an end in Sheol was out of the equation. And what would be true for him he would see as true also for such of his sons who were anointed and faithful to God, for they too would be God’s anointed.
‘You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ There is an eternal ring to this. He feels that, rather than having to face his end in death, life awaits him, continuing in this life and beyond, a life of joy and abounding in delights. YHWH will show him the path of continuous life, abjuring death. And in YHWH’s presence he will find fullness of joy continually. Yes, at His right hand, as His chosen one, His anointed, he will find everlasting pleasure and delights that will never end.
So in the ecstasy of the moment, and of his poetic and divine inspiration, David has been lifted up into a new sphere, the thought that for those who walk with God (perhaps he had Enoch in Genesis 5.22 in mind), and especially for him as God’s anointed one, death cannot be the final end. It would be to soil that holy relationship, and to soil what has been made holy, something no longer contaminated by a profane creation, and was the inward human equivalent of the furniture in the Tabernacle which could not be touched by earthiness. So inevitably God and they must go on for ever.
Next day his thoughts might descend again to the mundane world, and his assurance dim, and the glory partly evaporate, but here recorded for ever in his psalm, and sometimes repeated elsewhere (17.15; 23.6; 49.14-15; 73.24; 139.5-12), are the foundations of a glory that was yet to be revealed, not yet fully thought out but clear to him at that moment nonetheless. And surely something of its glory would stay with him. And the corollary of his thinking might have been that this would also be true of all God’s true people (116.15), His holy ones (verse 3), His ‘holy, separated and faithful ones’, as Isaiah makes clear. If so it was a first reaching out to the idea of an afterlife. But here his concentration is really only on his own relationship with God.
But most true, of course, would it necessarily be of the greater David, Who as God’s unique Holy One, the final David, would rule over his kingdom for ever, and could never be allowed to remain in the grave to suffer the tarnish of corruption. The thought that was true of the psalmist would be even more true of Him. His place and destiny was with His Father in the beauty and otherness of His holiness. Thus in having this glorious vision and speaking thus of himself, David spoke even more, although partly unaware of it, of the Holy One yet to come, his Greater Son. For within his dream were all his descendants who were faithful to YHWH. And his spiritual logic would apply even more specifically to this One.
Of course it was an idealistic picture. His flesh, if taken literally, would finally see corruption. But by ‘flesh’ David probably meant his whole self as a human being, himself as he was, (I as I am in my flesh), not just his body. It was he as ‘the holy and faithful one’ who could not suffer corruption.
That is why in Acts 2.25-36 Peter points out that if the words are taken literally these words are more true of Jesus than they could ever be of David, for David’s body had suffered corruption, while that of Jesus had not. But that was to literalise what David spoke of in ecstasy, and to emphasise the flesh aspect. David knew that what was holy in him must survive, although he did not know how. But, says Peter, David spoke as a prophet, and here was an even greater and more literal fulfilment in the Seed of the house of David Who would be the everlasting king (Daniel 7.14; Ezekiel 37.25). For He was not just holy in soul, His very body was most holy. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He was the Holy One. And no part of Him could therefore see corruption, as David had indicated. Let all therefore recognise that Jesus is supremely both Lord and Anointed One par excellence with the power of an endless life (Acts 2.24-36).
Note on chasid. This is the adjective from the noun chesed which means ‘covenant love’. In the Psalms almost without exception (over a hundred times) chesed signifies God’s covenant love towards man, His compassion, lovingkindness and mercy revealed in the covenant relationship. Thus chasid might quite reasonably be seen as signifying ‘one subject to YHWH’s covenant love’, a chosen one and precious. But such love is a love that demands response, a two-way relationship, and so it also signifies one who is faithful to and separated by the covenant, one who is devout and godly. No man can be a chasid who does not respond appropriately. The first meaning, however, predominates in the Psalms.
Note on David’s Concept of ‘Everlasting Life’.
There were already in Scripture a number of pointers to the possibility of ‘everlasting life’ to the special few. Adam had originally been intended to live for ever (Genesis 3.22). That was the privilege that was lost by sin. But it did make clear that it was possible, and Enoch had later walked with God and had thus escaped death (Genesis 5.24). He had been granted everlasting life. Thus it was clearly available on a rare basis to one especially holy who walked with God. And now God had set David apart and had promised to the seed of David that he would reign over an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13). Thus God had planted the idea of everlastingness in David’s heart, and had established with him an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 55.3). It was only a step from this to the realisation, when in a kind of spiritual ecstasy, that as God’s ‘holy one’, especially anointed by Him, the grave could not retain him, and that he could somehow enjoy God’s pleasures for evermore (compare Micah 5.2 where the future son of David comes from ‘everlastingness’). The same idea would in Isaiah 26.19 expand into a concept of resurrection for all God’s holy ones. But here David might well have limited it to himself and his heirs.
17.1a ‘A Prayer of David.’
A further psalm from the Davidic psalms.
The psalmist is under attack by the world and cries to YHWH to vindicate him. The verb indicates that his cry is strong and piercing. ‘O YHWH, righteousness’ might signify that it is God Who is his righteousness (‘YHWH of righteousness’), or that he wants YHWH to judge righteously.
The scene is the heavenly court. He declares that he is speaking honestly and has nothing to hide. There is no deceit on his lips. He asks that he might be justified in the eyes of all men as YHWH passes judgment on his life and behaviour. Let YHWH Who knows all things hear his plea, and come to the right verdict, the right judgment, and make it known to the world (compare 37.6; Isaiah 42.1-4; contrast Habakkuk 1.4). Thus will His eyes look down on what is totally right.
‘You have proved my heart.’ That is, have tried it and tested it and found out the truth about it.
‘You have visited me in the night.’ The night is the time when men can be alone and the truth can come out. It is at night that a man’s thoughts roam freely and people consider mischief (36.4). It is also possible that when seeking a solution in a case the judge would visit a man at night when, alone together in privacy, he may be able to discover the truth. Compare how Nicodemus came to Jesus by night in order to find the truth (John 3.1). But YHWH has visited him and tried him then and found nothing. Indeed he is determined that nothing that he says will suggest transgression against God’s Law and against His requirements.
When he compares his behaviour with the behaviour of others he can justly claim that because he has heard YHWH’s word from His lips (through His Law) he has kept himself from being an unjustly violent man, even though none might have had better excuse. For he was a trained fighting man, had a band of men at his call, and had been unjustly treated. Yet he has ensured that his steps held fast firmly to YHWH’s paths, and his feet never slipped. What we suffer provides no excuse for how we behave.
He calls on YHWH as the Deliverer, the One Who reveals His marvellous covenant love, Who saves by His powerful right hand, confident that He will answer him. He cries to Him to do so. The ‘I’ is emphatic. He has taken refuge in YHWH. Let YHWH deliver him from those who rise up against him, as for one who is true to the covenant.
The apple of the eye is the pupil. It represented the precious gift of sight. Thus it is above all things what a man guards, and it is protected by the eyelid. Thus the psalmist wants God to protect him as a man would protect his eyesight, indeed he wants him to be as an eyelid to him. The second illustration is that of the bird which takes its young under its wing for protection. Thus the psalmist claims dual protection.
The reason that he needs such protection is then given. The unrighteous, those who do not heed the voice of God, are oppressing him and seeking to despoil him. His deadly enemies are surrounding him, those who seek his death. They may have been internal enemies like Saul. They may have been external enemies. But the need is the same. The writer seeks protection from them all because he is YHWH’s, because he is righteous and does observe YHWH’s Law and YHWH’s will.
Those whose trust is in God can look to God with confidence when unbelievers press in for He will be their eyelid to protect His precious eye, He will take them under His wings to protect His young.
It may be that he vividly picture his enemies as being entrapped in their own midriff. (Different parts of the body are often used to depict the whole person and as thus affecting behaviour). Thus they are unable to consider their ways or behave humanely. The fat blocks their ears. Or it may signify that in their current prosperity (possibly gained by toadying up to the psalmist’s enemy) they are unable to hear the voice of God and behave righteously. Thus when they speak it is always with pride and arrogance. Either way they have now trapped the psalmist and his men, with their eyes showing their determination to cast them down to the earth.
The ‘he’ here is some individual who is like a hunting lion greedy for its prey, a prime young lion of the pack lurking in hiding ready to pounce. There is always a ringleader, one who is especially subtle and dangerous. Certainly David found himself in such a situation against Saul. But many of God’s people experienced the same in those dangerous days. Our enemies may be less deadly but they can seem as equally dangerous. But God is able to deliver us from them all.
‘Arise, O YHWH. Confront him, make him bow down.’ He calls on YHWH to awaken to the situation, and to face up to ‘the lion’, confront him and bring him down to the ground. Let him be rendered powerless. Let YHWH’s sword deliver him from the unrighteous, those who contrary to God’s will seek to bring him down. Let His hand save him from the men who come against him.
‘From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly you fill with your treasure. They are satisfied with children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.’ He sums up the unrighteous. They are men taken up with the world (compare John 15.19; Philippians 3.19), men whose sole portion is in this life, (they have no portion in God - contrast 16.5), their only aim being to bear sons to perpetuate their name and to pass down what they have built up to their children. Thus they ignore God and His ways, their lives are meaningless and inward-looking, and their lives can be summed up in their children and so on ad infinitum. They live a purposeless existence.
And all this in spite of the fact that it is YHWH who supplies them with good things, fills their bellies with treasure, making His rain fall equally on the unrighteous (Matthew 5.45) in order to provide them with the treasures of the harvest.
Or ‘bellies filled with His treasure’ might refer to the children in the wombs of their wives, their wives’ bellies being seen as their own.
The whole picture of the unrighteous is of meaninglessness of existence rather than of positive evil. They fail to do the good required by God’s Law. They fail to love their neighbours as themselves. They fail to truly worship God. They fail in all that is most important.
In contrast to his enemies the psalmist beholds YHWH’s face ‘in righteousness’. This may mean that it is because God has accounted him as righteous in that he has responded to Him truly under the covenant, including the necessary making of atonement, or because he sees YHWH as the Righteous One. Either way he considers that to see the face of YHWH is better by far than all that the unrighteous can have.
‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your form.’ When he wakes he will be satisfied if he but behold the ‘form’ of YHWH, as Moses had done before him (Exodus 33.17-23). What are the treasures of earth beside this? His only desire is to live for YHWH and enjoy His presence and see His face.
It is quite probable that we are to see in this his conscious hope of living on for ever in the presence of God (compare 16.9-11). The point is that the unrighteous live on in their children, and maintain their treasures by passing them on, while he lives on in beholding YHWH continually and his continuing treasure is found in YHWH. He needs no children or children’s children in order to be fulfilled because he will find his continual fulfilment in God. And God is his eternal treasure. In his times of ecstasy at least he cannot conceive of being separated from God by anything, not even by death.
‘When I awake.’ Probably not from the sleep of death, for that is a much later concept, but from the sleep of half-realisation of YHWH to being awake to the full realisation. He is confident that one day he will see Him as He is (1 John 3.1-3). That is all that he desires.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of YHWH, who spoke to YHWH the words of this song in the day that YHWH delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. And he said,’
This Psalm, dedicated to the Choirmaster, and therefore now prepared for public worship, is a revision of 2 Samuel 22.1-51. It was a Psalm written in the first place in order to express David’s gratitude to God for all his deliverances once he had reached the plateau of security as king and ruler over his wide dominions, and to begin with he had in mind especially his deliverance from the hand of Saul. All his trials and problems now seemed behind him, and he gave glory to YHWH.
And indeed in the future he would continue to be victorious, over all but himself. But like all men, although he was able to conquer his world, he was not able to conquer the sin within. And through that, great king though he was, he would continually learn the grace of God to a repentant sinner. In this he was different from the greater David who would one day come to be the Saviour of the world, for He would be the One ‘Who knew no sin’. And this greater David is also in mind, for the blessing David is describing is not just for himself. It is for his seed for evermore (verse 50).
But his own failure is not the theme of the Psalm, the whole aim of which is to glorify YHWH for what He is to His own, and what He does for them. Everything is concentrated on that. Everything that has happened in his packed life is seen in that light. It is all about what YHWH has done and will continue to do.
His greatest delight was in the fact that he was ‘the servant of YHWH’, a mirror of the great Servant yet to come (Isaiah 42.1-4; 49.1-6; 52.13-53.12). It was this that gave meaning to his life. This above all is why his life was significant, because YHWH had chosen him and called him to serve Him. And he delighted in doing so. And this is his testimony. The title ‘servant of YHWH’ is a rare one in Scripture, used regularly of Moses, and twice of Joshua. It was a title of high honour.
And yet all of us may in our own way (or should we say in His way) be ‘servants of YHWH’. The position is open to all who will respond.
For in the end this is not just a personal psalm. It may have been initially but it has become a part of the worship of God’s people. Each one who is faithful to Him can apply its thought to himself. Each one can, as it were, step into David’s skin and experience what he has experienced, and partake in God’s blessings to the king.
David Expresses His Trust in YHWH (18.1-3).
These words are added to the beginning of the original Psalm. They are not found in the parallel Psalm in 2 Samuel 22.2-51. They are a declaration of personal faith and dedication, especially suitable for expressing worship. In them both the worshipper’s genuine love for YHWH, and his personal dependence on His strength are both stressed. Love towards God and trust in His provided strength are the basis of all spiritual life. Blessed is the man who can truly say to God, ‘I love you’ (Deuteronomy 6.5-6) and can also say, ‘YHWH is my strength’, the One Who makes him strong.
David now multiplies metaphors in order to bring out the wonder of what it means to trust in the Almighty God, and the people enter into the experience with him. He twice describes God as a rock, the first time as a strong and firm foundation, the second as a useful hiding place. The idea is firstly of a rock which is firmly a part of the mountain of which it is the expression, firm, solid, dependable, unbreakable and sure. He had cause to know. He had spent much time in the mountains, and knew the strength of those solid rocks in the face of adversity. But he saw God as the great Rock, stronger and more dependable than all.
God was also his fortress, the place where he could go to find refuge so that he could look out on his enemy without fear. Once he was in his fortress he could laugh in the face of the enemy. And He was also his Deliverer, his Saviour. For God not only protects, He also delivers those who are His own.
The second mention of the rock has the idea of it as a place of refuge. It is still firm and strong, but it is a place where the fugitive may hide in its crevices, kept safe from those who would hunt him down.
The fact that the Psalm was introduced into public worship is an indication that we can each take these promises to ourselves. We too can depend on the Rock, take refuge in the Fortress and respond to and rejoice in the Saviour.
‘My God (El), my rock, in whom I will take refuge.’ Above all YHWH is his God, the ever-reliable, the ever-dependable, the impregnable, the One in Whom is the place of total safety. Nothing can harm us when we are hidden in God, for when we are with Him all that would affect us must come through Him. It may seem fearful, but it is under His control, and can only enter with His permission.
‘My shield, and the horn of my salvation.’ A shield is in a sense a personal fortress which we can carry around with us. It protects from all attacks, both by arrow, sword or spear, indeed from all assaults of the enemy (Ephesians 6.16). And a horn is the expression of personal strength which we bear, as it were, on our foreheads (as the wild ox does) and with which we can defend and deliver ourselves. It may well be that warriors wore horns on their headgear as an expression of their ferocity. But here our horn is God Himself. Nothing can stand before Him. Thus deliverance is sure. The promise is to each individual as well as to all. We will each be delivered because YHWH shields us and gives us saving strength, and acts as our horn with which to defeat the enemy. For the idea of the horn compare among other references 28.7-8; Deuteronomy 33.17; Luke 1.69.
‘My high tower.’ And finally we reach the ultimate in security, ‘the high tower’. That mighty fortress which men built for maximum security, made even more secure by the fact that this particular high tower is God Himself. No vulnerability here.
‘I will call on YHWH, who is worthy to be praised, so shall I be saved from my enemies.’ Thus David knows that he can call on this mighty Rock, this Fortress, this Deliverer, this Shield and Horn, this High Tower, the One Who is worthy of all praise, and will then in one way or another be saved from all his enemies. And all who sing the psalm with him know it too.
Troubles and Death Had Pressed In On Him (18.4- 6).
David now describes the sore situation in which he had found himself time and again, especially when he had been hunted by Saul. The general nature of the description enables us to apply it to all difficult situations in which the people of God find themselves. All but the most fortunate at some time find themselves in this kind of situation, when life seems to be pressing in on them and there seems to be no solution.
‘The cords of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness (literally ‘worthlessness’) made me afraid.’ David had felt the cords of death closing around him. It happened again and again in his attempts to avoid the vengeful Saul, and then also with the Philistines. He had regularly been at the point of death, only to escape with his life, and he had been continually aware that the cords of death could entangle him at any moment. He had lived in the constant shadow of death.
‘The ‘cords of death’ (see also 116.3) may have reference to the ropes that bound a man who was destined for execution (compare Judges 15.13-14), the ropes which Saul planned for David, a prospect that entered David’s mind whenever Saul’s searchers came into sight, or they may signify the ropes used to hem in wild animals in preparation for the kill, ropes by which David constantly felt himself hemmed in. In both cases they were arbiters of doom.
And the floods of destruction or of moral wickedness too had almost overwhelmed him and had made him afraid. The word belial (worthlessness) may indicate physical destruction or moral wickedness. That Saul’s behaviour had been particularly evil supports the second interpretation. It was not only his actions but the sense of the evil behind them that had shaken David to the core. In 2 Samuel 22 it is ‘the waves/breakers of death’ rather than ‘the cords of death’, which better parallels the next phrase. However the alteration to ‘cords’ connects more closely with the next verse and the whole thought.
‘The cords of Sheol were round about me, the snares of death came on me.’ He had felt continually trapped and ensnared. The cords of the grave had reached out to him, the snares of death had seemed about to close on him. The whole description is vivid, the picture of a man fighting for his very existence, with death a hairsbreadth away.
‘In my distress I called on YHWH, and cried to my God. He heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry before him came to his ears.’ In his distress David cried to God. The significance of the tense is of repeated prayer. He was to succeed by steady, confident praying. And from His heavenly Temple God heard his cry (compare 11.4; Isaiah 6.1; 29.6; 63.15; Micah 1.2; Habakkuk 2.20). God’s ears were not deaf to his need. Though the answer was not instantaneous, David was confident that it would come. He knew that God had heard him and so it would have to come. We are always so impatient, thinking that God should act at once, but God’s purposes must move through to fruition in their own way. We are not the best arbiters of what is right for the world. It was during this period that he formed and trained the band of men, ‘his men’, who would prove his mainstay into the future. What we learn and achieve in these periods is regularly the mainstay of our futures. David could never have become what he did had he not gone through these experiences.
And all who sang the psalm knew something of these experiences. For all face the vicissitudes of life. And each could testify to his own personal experiences and rejoice in the certainty of God’s continual deliverance.
God Had Intervened On His Behalf (18.7-19).
David’s description of God’s intervention portrays the situation from Heaven’s point of view. Little was necessarily seen on earth, but David was aware of the mightiness of God active on his behalf in powerful ways. He looked back to the experiences of his forebears, and remembered how God had revealed Himself then, and is confident that He will do so again (Exodus 19.16-18; Judges 5.4-5. Compare also 68.7-8; 77.16-18; Isaiah 29.6; 30.27-30; 64.1-3; Habakkuk 3.3-6). He thinks of it in terms of a great and vivid storm and possibly a thundering earthquake, as YHWH’s power unfolds, but YHWH Himself is also seen as essentially there and active. He was thinking of the most powerful forces he knew with which to depict the powerful activity of God.
And through his times of tribulation he was confident that God was acting, and that unseen heavenly forces were intervening in his behalf. That was why he knew he could not fail. In the quietness of our lives we too can be sure that God is active in the same way. Thus we must trust Him and not be afraid.
The fierceness of God’s anger over the treatment of His anointed is expressed in terms of the quaking earth and the mountains shaking to their very bases, in the thick, swirling clouds that sometimes come down to cover the earth and the fire and smoke resulting from bolts of lightning which start fierce fires on it, and the lightning that strikes the very ground. It is intended to be an awe-inspiring scene. As Saul sought to track down David and kill him he was oblivious to this. He was unaware of the vengeance he was bringing down on himself. To him the heavens seemed silent. God was pushed from his mind. What he overlooked was that the mills of God were grinding, and that though they ground slowly, they ground exceeding small, and with great power.
And the people of God knew that when they went through deep trials they too could know that, that while often nothing may seem to be happening, God had not forgotten them. Around them, though they cannot see it, are His thunders and His lightning as He reveals His anger against sin in the world. And God is ever building up to the final showdown when His people will finally triumph.
For the smoke compare verse 15; 74.1; 80.4. The smoke from the nostrils may be intended to indicate the smoking breath of a wild animal, angry, steaming and intent on its adversary. Fire regularly indicates God’s anger (97.3; Exodus 15.7; Deuteronomy 32.22; Hebrews 12.29).
God was in the midst of the invisible storm. The heavens bowed under His presence, as He descended to earth. Thick darkness was under His feet (Exodus 19.16; 20.21; 1 Kings 8.12; Psalm 97.2). All was power and awe and mystery, for the world was not to be allowed to see Him. God works in His own mysterious ways. He is not to be fathomed by man. When God ‘comes down’ that is the indication that He is about to act (Genesis 11.7; 18.21; Exodus 3.8; Isaiah 64.1).
‘And he rode on a cherub, and flew. Yes, he soared on the wings of the wind.’ When God came it was on His transportable throne, borne by ‘a cherub’, probably a composite singular indicating all the heavenly escorts, the guardian cherubim that bear His throne (see Ezekiel 10 and compare Ezekiel 1). These heavenly beings were symbolised by a powerful wind, bearing YHWH along in majesty.
‘And flew.’ The word suggests the swooping of a bird of prey (Deuteronomy 28.49; Jeremiah 48.40; 49.22). The picture is vivid. It is as though God swooped down like the great eagle and then soared up again on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104.3-4) having taken the prey. Victory was certain and would be His.
Again the emphasis is on darkness, the darkness of hiddenness, of mysterious working. Darkness and thick clouds were His hiding place and His enveloping tent, His protection and His cover. Man cannot see God and live. But before Him within the cloud and darkness was the brightness of His majesty, which pierced the cloud cover and produced hailstones and thunderbolts, the missiles of God. God’s glory could not be fully hidden. His glory shone through and He smote as He would.
But having completed His first sally His activity went on. He thundered in the heavens, and ‘spoke’ as the Most High, accompanied again by hailstones and thunderbolts. And He sent out His lightnings like arrows, scattering His enemies, indeed so many were His lightnings that they were discomfited. For it was the time for deliverance.
The scene is now pictured as like a great all prevailing flood of adversaries in which David is almost overwhelmed, a flood portraying the men of Saul, the armies of the Philistines, the other enemies round about, but when YHWH rebuked them and blew on them in His anger, channels appeared in the waters, and dry land appeared to ensure David’s safety. No flood could stand before the Almighty.
Here David had perhaps in memory the deliverance of Israel at the Sea of Reeds, in poetic form, when the mighty flood had swept back and made a way through for God’s people, only for it then to swamp the enemy (78.13-14; 106.9; Exodus 15.8; Nahum 1.4, compare Psalm 104.5-7).
He may well have had in mind here some particular incident when the rains had come suddenly, turning a quiet valley into a raging torrent before his eyes, catching men up in its irresistible stream and from which they had struggled to escape (compare Judges 5.5, 20-21). He may himself have had an amazing escape from such. And he sees it as having been repeated in his deliverance from his foes.
So David had been delivered from enemies who at the time had seemed all-powerful. God had sent from on high and had drawn him from the midst of the many waters that would have overwhelmed him, delivering him from his strong enemy, and from all who hated him. All his foes had in the end been swept aside by YHWH.
He admits that at the time they had appeared too mighty for him, for they had come on him when he was weak and ill-prepared as a result of his flight. But he had found that YHWH was there. He had been his stay. And He brought him out into a large place, and delivered him, because He delighted in him. Things always look worse at the time than when we look back on them, having been delivered.
He was brought into ‘a large place’. No longer hemmed in and crowded, caught within narrow bounds, but free and triumphant, with the world at his feet, and space to move. So through YHWH’s power victory would eventually come out of seeming defeat, and triumph out of seeming disaster. Leaving those craggy mountains that had been his home for so long, and the dry dustbowl of the wildernesses where he had taken refuge, he would ascend the throne in glory and expand his kingdom from the River Euphrates in the north down to the Wadi of Egypt in the south. Everything would be transformed.
So all who sang the psalm were declaring that for all who trust in God there is a large place waiting for them if only they will persevere, as it had waited for David. Darkness may come first, they were declaring, but the morning will always follow.
David’s Gives The Explanation For His Triumph (18.20-24).
David’s explanation for YHWH’s intervention on his behalf is simple. His attitude had been right towards God. He had been faithful to YHWH and His covenant. He had walked in YHWH’s ways and had sought to please Him, not in order to earn His favour, but because he looked to YHWH as his life, and was ready to do His will, and maintained his life in cleanliness through the God provided means. It is only if we walk rightly as David sought to do that we can have the same confidence towards God that he had.
This was not boasting. It was indicative of a quiet confidence in God. He knew where his heart lay. There may be times when we are perplexed and overburdened by sin, but the man of God knows whether his heart is set right to seek to please God. He may sometimes regrettably fail, but he knows the intentions of his own heart. He loves God and wants to please Him.
His words are not boasting, but a solid declaration of trust and faith. He had been YHWH’s man from the beginning, brought up to faith by a godly father, and he had lived out that faith in uprightness and truth. Now he is receiving his reward. This central theme is vital to his whole message. It is only those who would be righteous who can depend on God’s deliverance. In verse 50 the Psalm is applied to all Davidic kings who will follow him. But the indication is that if they are to enjoy the blessings, they too must be righteous like David. And when the greater David came, He would triumph because He was wholly righteous.
‘YHWH has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of YHWH, and have not wickedly departed from my God.’ David has no doubt in his heart that he has always sought to please God, because he loves Him. There may have been the momentary failure, but such was an aberration, and he sought forgiveness then with strong crying and tears. And it was because of such a life, lived out in honesty and right living, that he was certain that YHWH would reward and recompense him as a forgiven and repentant sinner. God is always good to His own if their hearts are right, weak and failing though they may sometimes be.
He was not saying that he had never sinned. Indeed he had good cause to know that he had. But when he had sinned he would come to God in repentant faith, and offer the appropriate sacrifices, and make the appropriate cleansing. Thus was he kept righteous and clean before Him. He did not linger with sin. He dealt with it straight away. ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light --- the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).
‘And have not wickedly departed from my God.’ Note the ‘my God’. David’s personal faith shines through. He had ‘kept the ways of YHWH’. To have departed from Him would to David have been the utmost wickedness. That was the final evidence of his character.
‘For all his ordinances were before me, and I put not away his statutes from me. I was also perfect with him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.’ David had loved God’s Instruction (Torah, Law). He had kept His ordinances before his eyes, he had clung to His statutes, not putting them from him, he had studied His word, he had meditated on His Instruction (Torah) day and night (1.2). And he had sought to live out all His teachings fully and do what was right, and keep from all that would displease God. And we must remember that this was God’s testimony of him too, that his heart was right before Him (1 Samuel 16.7). By ‘perfect’ he does not mean literally so, but wholehearted and true.
‘Therefore YHWH recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.’ So, confident that his heart had been right towards God, he repeats boldly what he had said in verse 20. YHWH rewarded and recompensed him because he walked rightly before Him, kept his hands clean from sin, and kept himself spiritually clean in His eyes, utilising the means that God had provided. He had not been perfect, but he had been true.
How important it was that the singers recognise this. Their hope too must lie in the fact of their righteous response to God. They too must recognise that God required them to be wholly righteous. It was only then that they could share David’s experiences of blessing.
He Declares That What A Man Sows He Will Reap (18.25-27).
David was confident that righteousness must triumph simply because of what God is. Like him we too can know that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
He looks to God and declares that in the end He will respond to what men are. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God sees the heart. All men essentially choose the way in which they will walk, they choose their attitudes and what they set their hearts on. They choose whether they will seek God and serve Him, or whether they will be perverse and wayward. And God sees and responds to what they are.
This is the picture of the ideal. David is not claiming to be sinless. He knows he has at times fallen short. But he is expecting God to be merciful to him, as he seeks to be merciful to others, to behave irreproachably towards him as he seeks to live an irreproachable life, to behave with purity towards him as he strives to keep himself pure. All this is apparent also from his other psalms. He knew as most of us do the periods of darkness and doubt, of self reproach, and deep conviction of sin. But he also knew what it was to rise above it and set his heart on God. And he knew that a true walk with God involved mercy, and irreproachability, and purity, made possible by God’s grace, and that to such God would respond.
This is, of course, looking from the manward side. Men are revealed by how they behave. By their fruits they will be known. If a man walks with God his life will reveal it.
And the contrary side is that ‘with the wayward you will show yourself perverse’. Not for David the idea that God will overlook sin in all. Those who are wayward in respect of God’s ways must expect God to behave waywardly with them (Leviticus 26.23-24; Isaiah 29.9-12; Proverbs 3.34).
But he did not doubt that these hopes required the grace and power of God exercised on his behalf. It is God Who will save the afflicted people, and will bring down the haughty. In the end all is of God. The afflicted people are the humble and needy, those whom the world treats badly, those who face the struggles of life, and are aware of their need, and who in their need seek God. And David knows that God will step in to deliver such, and he sees himself as one of them. He puts on no great airs. He is humble before God. Without Him he knows that there is no hope. But the haughty, those who are self-seeking and seek to put God in His place, will discover that in the end they are brought down. For God is over all.
Indeed It Is Through God That We Will Triumph (18.28-29).
Here is the Godward side. David is confident that it is God Who will deliver him. Note that his reliance is all on God. It is He Who will light his lamp, showing him the way in the darkness and giving him guidance as to how he should walk, and illumination as he seeks God. What seemed at the time dark around him would be illuminated by God. ‘God is light’ said John (1 John 1.5), ‘and in Him is no darkness at all’. And David had found it true in experience. It was because God had shone within him, and would continue to shine within him, that he had hope. What he was, was because God had shone within him. Note the change from ‘you’ to ‘YHWH my God’. As he speaks man to God he is suddenly filled with awe to think Who it is he is speaking to. It is not just anyone, but YHWH, Who will lighten his darkness.
There may be here the thought of the lamp in the Tabernacle which was lit daily in the evening (Exodus 30.8) to represent God as a light to His people. As each day began the lamp was lit, the lamp that illuminated Israel. God’s illumination was continually with them, repeatedly renewed, and he shone out for them. So was David confident that He would light his lamp daily too.
‘For by you I run on a troop, and by my God do I leap over a wall.’ The twofold thought here is of success in warfare. He had not chosen warfare but it had been forced on him. And he knew that his success had been of YHWH. To run on a troop is to chase, attack and defeat them, as he did the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30), to leap over a wall describes his taking of cities like the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. The walls were no hindrance to him. He, as it were, simply leapt over them. And it was because YHWH was with him. He gave all the glory for his success to God.
And it will ever be thus. The singers were confident, as they entered into David’s experience, and we too may be sure, that whatever foe we face, whatever obstacle lies before us in the spiritual realm we also can ‘run on’ them or ‘leap over’ them by the power and sustenance of God.
David Gives A Summary of What God Is And Of All God’s Blessings to Him (18.30-36).
David knows that God’s way is perfect. Thus to walk in that way is to walk the perfect road. He desired no other. For he knew that God’s word had been tried and tested and had never failed. Each of us similarly can enjoy the perfection of God’s way, and enjoy the security and blessing that comes from it. And in that way we too enjoy the security of His word. God has spoken and will fulfil it, as many have continually proved. His word, what He has said, has been tried and tested, and has always proved sure.
Similarly God’s word is perfect however it expresses itself. His Instruction (Law) is perfect, restoring the soul (19.7), as is His work, for He does the right and is faithful and just (Deuteronomy 32.4). Those who follow Him have the perfect workmaster and guide, know that His word is true, and are secure in His trustworthy and tested promises.
And what is more, in that way we are protected by God as our shield. Those who look to Him and rely on Him, will find in Him the perfect protection. The arrows of misfortune and evil may pour down on us, but the shield of YHWH will prove all sufficient for those who are hid with Christ in God.
For there is none like Him. It is only YHWH Who is the true God. And no rock, no place of safety, stability and security can be like Him, for He is firm and strong and totally dependable. And David knew that this God also girded him with strength, renewing him on the way, and made the way before him perfect with His own perfection, as He will to all who trust in Him.
He knew it was the perfect way because it was God’s way. It will have every unnecessary obstacle removed, leading surely in the course of a man’s destiny. For God knows the way that we take (Job 23.10). Sometimes it may appear hard and difficult, as David had himself known, but it is the way by which He perfects His own so that He may bring them through triumphantly, so that they are made holy and without blemish.
David had proved it. God had brought him through the difficult days, and now he was strong. It had begun with a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17.34). Then it had been Saul and the Philistines. And now he was sure of foot, like the hind on the mountainside, swift and sure footed, skipping from slippery gradient to slippery gradient, with never a falter, and thus, like the hind, standing on high places, from where he can look down in triumph. For the one who serves God truly will always find himself on the high places, above the mundaneness of the world.
Thus David was made skilled and given strength in war and able to bend that ultimate test of a man’s strength, a bow of bronze (Job 20.24 lets us know how powerful such a bow was). Israel’s antagonists, who had always been a thorn in their side, had to submit to his power. Their foes had been put under his feet. God had made him what he was, and would continue to maintain him in that place, so that Israel might prosper. And his dependence was still all on YHWH. To David God was all, both in times of distress and in times of triumph and vigour.
When we are going through the time of trial it behoves us to look ahead to what will be. And when we have achieved it, it behoves us to remember Who has done it, and Who maintains us there.
He is conscious that God has done all for him. God’s deliverance has been his shield, the guarantee of his protection and of his ability to deal with the missiles of the enemy. God’s strong right hand has held him up so that he did not fail. God’s ‘gentleness’ has made him great.
‘And your gentleness has made me great.’ The word for ‘gentleness’ means lowliness, meekness, a humbling of Himself. See for this Psalm 113.6. ‘Who is like to YHWH our God, Who has His seat on high, Who humbles Himself to behold what is in heaven and in the earth?’ The idea is that God is so great on His throne that He has to humble Himself to have dealings with the heavens and the earth, and especially with men and women. He Who is in the high and holy place condescends to stoop to those who are of a contrite spirit (Isaiah 57.15). And David is aware that the Almighty has stooped to make him great.
It must ever be the wonder of our hearts that the Almighty God Himself has taken the trouble to reach down to us and save us. And it should be especially so to us as we face the fact that in doing so He gave us His Son to die for us.
‘You have enlarged my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.’ He has enabled David to stride forward with confidence, without stumbling. Nothing has stood in his way. Every step has been a giant one, and yet he remains firmly grounded. His way has been sure.
And the singers participated in his triumphs. How grateful we too should be that God has humbled Himself and stooped towards us, calling us by name and making us His own. With this knowledge we too can go forward in confidence, making great strides with God and yet remaining sure-footed.
He Declares That YHWH Has Given Him Victory Over All His Enemies (18.37-42).
We should note as we consider this cry of triumph that this is not describing peaceful nations who are being subjugated by a tyrant, but nations who ‘rose up against me’. David’s world was a violent place, with neighbouring nations always on the lookout for weaknesses in their fellow nations so that they could take advantage of it. And Israel had in general been the whipping boy, as a glance at the Book of Judges will reveal. Aram, Canaanites, Edom, Moab, Amalek, Midian, Arabians, Philistines, all had had their bite of the pie. Each in turn had, it is true, been defeated, but undoubtedly only to return again at any sign of weakness, and constantly attacking the peripheries. But now God has raised up His champion to deliver Israel, and make her safe, and this champion acknowledges that he does so by the help of YHWH.
With YHWH’s help he is confident of victory. His enemies will not be able to escape, he will pursue and overtake them and not withdraw until he has utterly defeated them. Then, and then only, can Israel feel permanently secure. He will smite them through so that they cannot recover. They will be subjected to him.
Note that the emphasis is on his victory with the help of YHWH. It is the latter which is his prime concern here. He succeeds because God is with him.
It is God Who has girded him with strength for the battle. It is God Who subdues his enemies. It is God Who makes them turn and flee, turning their backs on him and thus enabling David to deal with those who hate him. And they have demonstrated their hate by their invasions. But now they have learned that YHWH is with him. They will be cut off and invade no more.
And it was the singers’ hope that God would do this for them too. We too can hope like this. Unlike David our battles may rather be spiritual ones and not physical but we too can have David’s confidence. No weapon that is formed against us can prosper, even though it seem to do so for a time as it did with David. But in the end God will subdue our enemies too, and we will triumph.
These people were so harried that they cried to their gods, and when those failed they got so desperate that they cried to YHWH. This is sarcastic. They saw how powerful YHWH was on his behalf and they hoped that they could steal his God and undermine him. (compare 2 Kings 18.25). But it was a vain hope. They were not the faithful of YHWH. He could not be manipulated. He acts for those who are true to Him.
The result was overwhelming victory. His enemies were like beaten dust, blown by the wind (compare 2 Kings 13.7), they were like rubbish tossed into the streets, turning to mire. They were as nothing before YHWH.
David Describes His Widespread Victories Which Are All Due To God (18.43-45).
First he was delivered from civil war in Israel and from the strivings of his own people against him, and then from the strivings of those further afield (2 Samuel 22 has ‘from the strivings of my people’, but this widens the idea). But then the ultimate is reached. His throne has been established, he has defeated Israel’s constant enemies, and now his hand reaches wider and he subdues the ever threatening larger neighbours. He has been made the head of the nations, and the people no longer strive to overcome Israel and David (2 Samuel 8.1-14). Indeed he has become so great that his name has become known to those who had not previously been aware of him. They had not known him, but now they will know him, for they will serve him. As soon as they learn of his name they will submit. The word contains the idea of unwilling submission (compare 66.3). They dare not dispute with him. He has reached the zenith of his power.
‘The foreigners will submit themselves to me. The foreigners will fade away, and will come trembling out of their close places.’ The foreigners are those who were not neighbours. They too will submit. All their courage will fade away, and they will come submissively and tremblingly out of their walled cities and from their previously closed gates, the places which should have kept them close and safe, for they will recognise that there is no point in resistance. Those who would once have mocked at him now fear his name. Such is what God does for His own. Thus was David’s kingdom widely established. Out of unlikely beginnings God can do great things for those who trust Him.
Even when Israel and Judah reached their darkest hours they sang of this as their hope for the future. They were certain that one day God would again work for their deliverance. One day a greater David would arise to bring it all to fruition.
David Closes The Psalm By Rejoicing in the God Who Has Done So Much For Him And will Continue To Do For His Descendants (18.46-50).
David finishes the Psalm with a paean of praise to YHWH.
David reiterates the essence of what he has previously declared. Firstly that Yahweh is the living God, the One Who is. ‘YHWH lives’. Thus all is well for His own. Then he blesses Him that He is to him a Rock, a firm and sure foundation, and exalts Him that He is a Delivering God, a Saviour. Surety and deliverance is the essence of what He is for those who are His.
Thus He executes vengeance for His own against those who have misused him, and subdues all peoples under him. This is not a vindictive statement. It is rather a cry of gratitude and wonder. He had known what it was to be trodden down and in fear of his life. And now the tables have been turned. God has taken vengeance on those who did it, and it is he who subdues people. And what is true for David is true for all His own. God will finally triumph on behalf of all His people.
And God is the One Who continually rescues him from his enemies. They have been many, but God has delivered him from them all. The thought overwhelms him and he begins speaking directly to God. ‘Yes, you are the One Who lifts me up above those who rise up against me. It is You Who delivers me from the violent man.’ It is YHWH Who is his personal Deliverer.
And because of this he will continually give thanks to YHWH among all the nations, and give universal praise to His name, that all may see his gratitude and honour the One Who has been so good to him. And because of this the people continued to have hope.
The ultimate in the Psalm has been reached. God has given great deliverance to His king, the one whom He has chosen to rule the nations, the one whom He has anointed, setting him aside for Himself, the one with whom He has dealings through the covenant, and He will continue to do so. In this is Israel’s confidence.
And this delivering goodness of God is not only for David but also for his seed after him for evermore. His house is to enjoy an everlasting rule. Here is seen the confirmation of God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7.12-16. In the short term the assumption is, ‘while they are faithful’. But the triumph of God in David is not just a passing thing of history, not something that is left to man’s initiative, it carries within it the seeds of God’s permanent blessing for the whole world, for all who will be His people. Davidic kings may fail temporarily in the future, but in the end God will prevail and a Davidic king will arise Who will be true, triumphant and the source of all God’s blessing. This was the hope of the future.
Forward to Psalms 19-41
Forward to Psalms 42-50
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