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COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS (BOOK 2 - Psalms 42-72)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-LOndon) DD.

Book Two (Psalms 42-72).

The Book of Psalms divides up into five sections, of which this is the second, each of which ends with a special ‘blessing, which are as follows:

  • Book 1. Psalms 1-41, which ends with ‘blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen and Amen.’
  • Book 2. Psalms 42-72 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH God, the God of Israel, Who only does wonderful things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.’
  • Book 3. Psalms 73-89 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH for evermore. Amen and Amen.’
  • Book 4. Psalms 90-106 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting, and let all the people say, “Amen”. Praise you YHWH.’
  • Book 5. Psalms 107-150 which ends with ‘Let everything that has breath praise YHWH’. Praise you YHWH.’

In this second book of Psalms it is noticeable that the greater emphasis throughout, as compared with the first section, is on God as ELOHIM. But this, while noticeable, must not be over-exaggerated for the name YHWH certainly does appear fairly often (42.8; 46.7, 8 11; 47.2, 5; 48.1, 8; 50.1; 54.6; 55.16, 22; 56.10; 58.6; 59.3, 5, 8; 64.10; 68.4 (YH); 68.7, 16, 20; 69.13, 16, 31, 33; 70.5; 71.1, 5, 16; 72.18, (as also does ‘Lord’ - ADONAI), and it should be noted that the name YHWH appears in the verse which ends the section (72.18), although there specifically associated with ELOHIM, for there He is YHWH ELOHIM. So in the end this section also is dedicated to YHWH. It is only in contrast with the first section (1-41), where YHWH predominates, that we particularly notice the change of title/Name.

This Second Book contains Psalms from two main sources, firstly from a collection entitled ‘of the sons of Korah’ (42-49), and the remainder from a collection entitled ‘of David’. Apart from these there are two which are simply dedicated ‘for the Chief Musician’ (66; 67), one headed ‘of Asaph’ (50; see next section), and the final one which is entitled ‘of Solomon’. Interestingly the section ends with the note ‘the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (72.20). But this would simply seem to refer to the fact that the group which are ‘of David’ in this particular Book is now being concluded, for a number of Psalms of David will also be found in later sections. It might, however, have seemed to add strength to the idea that, at least in this section, ‘of David’ is intended to indicate authorship, were it not for the fact that the final Psalm before the note is actually ‘of Solomon’ (the son of David) which might suggest the opposite, i.e. that a Psalm by Solomon could easily be seen as ‘a prayer of ‘David’ (that is, of the Davidic house).

The sons of Korah were Levites who had important responsibilities, first with respect to the Tabernacle and then with respect to the Temple. Originally they acted as sentinels for the camp of the Levites, then as warders of the sacred Tent erected by David to contain the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH when it was brought into Jerusalem, and then as gatekeepers of the Temple, an important position which they resumed on their return from Babylon (1 Chronicles 9.17 ff; 26.1 ff; Nehemiah 11.19). It was they who determined who were to be allowed into the Temple, and the chief gatekeepers had responsibility for a number of other important Temple functions.

They were also prominent in connection with sacred song in the Temple. Heman, who was one of the three principle musicians appointed by David, was a ‘son of Korah’ (1 Chronicles 6.31-33), and his sons were leaders of fourteen of the twenty four courses of musicians in the Temple (1 Chronicles 25.4 ff). In the time of Jehoshaphat, along with the sons of Kohath, they are mentioned for their singing role. There is, however, no mention of this singing role after the Exile.

Some of their Psalms certainly breathe a spirit of strong devotion to the Temple, and of joy in its services, as we might expect, and they refer to the city of Jerusalem as the city which He has chosen for His own dwellingplace, and where He reigns as King. But they are equally certainly not unique in this, and their Psalms contain much else besides. It would indeed be wrong to narrowly categorise their Psalms as a specific type, for they include intensely personal Psalms (42-43; 84), national Psalms (44; 46-48; 85), and a miscellany of Psalms with a distinctive flavour (45; 49; 87; 88). The ones in this section (42-49) appear mainly to date from the period of the first Temple (note e.g. the mention of the king in 45; 46; 48), and there are in fact no grounds for dating any of these Psalms later than this period. The consequence of this is that we might well call these first two sections of the Psalms ‘the hymnbook of the first Temple’, although this must not be seen as excluding some later Psalms as also being sung in the first Temple. They were, however, later clearly incorporated into the larger collection which includes Exilic and post-Exilic Psalms, which were used in ‘the second Temple’.

Commentary On Psalms 42-59.

Up to Psalm 50 these are mainly Psalms of the sons of Korah (see above), with Psalm 50 being a psalm of Asaph. Further Psalms of Asaph and of the sons of Korah are found in Book 3. From Psalm 51 onwards we have further Psalms of David.

Psalms 42-43.

It is probable that we should see Psalms 42-43 as one Psalm separated for liturgical reasons. Rarely for a psalm, Psalm 43 has no heading, and it contains the same refrain as we find repeated in Psalm 42 in slightly different ways,

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope you in God,
For I will yet praise him,
Who is the help of my countenance,
And my God.’
.

It also fits the general balance of the whole. However, it is not a matter of great importance for it make no difference to what the two Psalms have to say to us. We will thus be looking at them together.

These refrains divide the Psalms up into three sections:

  • 1). In the first section he expresses his longings to once again be in the House of God, and he brings to memory past times in the House of God which are intended to encourage him. God will surely not forget these times. Why then should he be cast down, for God will surely ensure what is for His own wellbeing (for the health of His countenance), His servant’s renewed praise (42.1-5).
  • 2). In the second section he has become more aware of the pressures on him, but his confidence has grown as he recognises that, in spite of all, God Himself is his rocky fortress, and he need not therefore be cast down because God is the One Who make his countenance healthy and is his God (42.6-11).
  • 3). In the third section he is confident of God’s coming deliverance through His light and truth, and looks forward to again worshipping God in His house. And once again he need not therefore be cast down because God is the One Who make his countenance healthy and is his God (43.1-5).

Heading.

For the Chief Musician. Maschil of the sons of Korah.

The meaning of Maschil in this context is not certain. It is used to describe a number of Psalms. But the word maschil means ‘understanding’. It has been variously interpreted as meaning, ‘a teaching Psalm’ (although that does not appear to fit all its uses), ‘a meditation’, bringing understanding, or a ‘skilful Psalm’ indicating a complicated setting.

The chief musician. or choirmaster, was responsible for the music in the Temple. For the sons of Korah see the introduction to this section.

The Psalmist Describes His Longing Again To Know The Presence of God, Especially As It Was Known In The Assembly Of God People. But He Then Comforts Himself With The Thought That He Can Remember Him Wherever He Is And That One Day God Will Bring Him Back To His House So That He May Praise Him There.

It is clear from the Psalm that the writer is somehow prevented from coming to the House of God, and so enjoying His presence in fellowship with His people. He would appear to be in North West Jordan near Mount Hermon (verse 6). It is not really possible from this information to determine a real life situation to be found in Scripture. We have indeed no way of knowing who he was. All we know is that he was prevented from coming to the House of God, and attending the feasts, and that he found this situation very distressing. He may have been banished, or taken captive and held for ransom. But his great concern is that it is keeping him from worshipping with the people of God, in the place appointed by God. For it must be noted that his distress lay in the fact that this prevented him from enjoying the deep experience of God that he had found there, not just in missing out on festal occasions. It is a Psalm for all who love God and find themselves in isolated situations.

42.1-2

‘As the hind pants after the water brooks,
So pants my soul after you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God:
When shall I come and see the face of God?’

He commences by describing the great longing that he has to enjoy the presence of God, and compares it with the gentle, timorous hind (the verb is feminine) which, in a season of drought, pants and longs for water with its tongue hanging out (compare Joel 1.20 - ‘for the animals in the wild pant to you, for the water brooks are dried up’. See also Psalm 63.1). So in the same way does the Psalmist long after God, the living God. He has a great thirst for God. And he wonders how long it will be before he can again enjoy entering His presence in the company of His people.

The idea of the living God as the One Who satisfies the thirst of His people appears constantly in Scripture. See Isaiah 55.1-3; Jeremiah 2.13; 17.13; 36.8-19; John 4.10-14. It is especially poignant for those who live in hot countries and know what real thirst is.

‘See the face of God.’ To enter into God’s House worshipping with His people was for him to see the face of God, to be aware of His presence, and to know that He was there. And he longed for the experience again.

42.3

‘My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
Where is your God?’

Indeed so powerful are his feelings that he describes himself as weeping day and night so as to satisfy his emotional state, because his enemies taunt him continually about the fact that God does not help him (compare verse 10). His desire to join in worship with God’s people was so great that he could not stop thinking about it, and weeping over his loss. Reference to the words of his captors may suggest that even in his present condition he had been testifying about the greatness and splendour of his God. It may also indicate that he was being kept short of food. His tears were his food.

43.4

‘These things I remember,
And pour out my soul upon me,
How I was wont to go regularly with the throng,
And walked in procession with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
A festive crowd keeping holyday.’

The idea here is not that he just remembers the joys of the past, but that he speaks to himself and makes it quite clear to himself. His soul, as it were, speaks to his inner heart. And he brings home to himself the joy of his regular experiences at the three great feasts of Israel, when he had regularly gone with the crowd of worshippers and had walked in procession with them to the House of God, crying out with joy and praise. It was a festive crowd keeping holyday. It is this very thought, with its confidence and certainty in the power and goodness of God, which now causes him to lift himself up. Should a man who has a God like he has mope? With a God like Israel’s, past blessings are a guarantee of future glory.

42.5

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope you in God,
For I will yet praise him
For the help of his countenance.

And so he rebukes himself and speaks to his inner soul, and asks it why it is disquieted within him. He reminds himself that because he serves the living God (verse 2) he can have confident hope in God, knowing that God will come to his aid. He is sure therefore that one day he will once again be found in His House praising Him, because God will look on him with favour (give him the help of His countenance) and will therefore ensure his final restoration.

42.6-7

‘O my God, my soul is cast down within me,
Therefore do I remember you from the land of the Jordan,
And the Hermons, from the hill Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the noise of your downpourings,
All your waves and your billows are gone over me.

His disquietude is not, however, totally removed by his previously expressed confidence. The struggle goes on within him. And now he calls on God to witness the cast down state of his soul. Nevertheless this causes him to remember God, even from where he is. But even this only makes him think of overflowing and unfriendly waters. His faith is fluctuating between confidence and despair.

The description suggests that he is in the north west part of land around the River Jordan, near Mount Hermon (‘the Hermons’ probably refers either to the Hermon range, or possibly to the three peaks at different levels discernible on Mount Hermon itself). He would appear to be on the hill Mizar (‘the little mountain’). The identity of this latter is not known. Possibly he had been taken by bandits, or by marauding invaders, and was held in one of their mountain strongholds, but he certainly felt a long way away from Jerusalem.

He describes his emotions very powerfully. He feels as though he is being drowned at sea in a storm, ‘all your waves and billows are gone over me’. Perhaps he was familiar with fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee where violent storms tended to erupt. If so, he may well have witnessed the drowning of his fellow countrymen at sea. He might also have had in mind the story of the Flood, or have called to mind what had happened to the Egyptian forces at the Red Sea. This was what happened to those of whom God disapproved. Whichever it was he felt as though he himself was almost drowning in torrents of water, as though his end was not far away.

Others see in it a reference to the waters of Chaos which constantly threaten mankind. But there is nothing about the description to especially suggest this. He may well, however, have been able to hear the sound of powerful, rushing waterfalls nearby, and have seen them as calling to each other to drown him in their torrents as he is ‘caught’ between them (‘deep calls to deep’), especially if it was at the time of the winter rains when such torrents would pour down in majestic fashion from Mount Hermon and other mountains, before flowing down to swell the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Flood water would be very much in mind. Possibly it was a combination of a number of these factors, brought to mind by the raging torrents and waterfalls caused by the winter rains, that made him think in these terms. But the final point is that he is drowning in despair.

42.8-10 ‘Yet in the daytime YHWH used to command his covenant love,

And in the night his song was with me,
Even a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
With crushing in my bones,
My adversaries reproach me,
While they continually say to me,
Where is your God?’

But he thinks back to the days when in the daytime YHWH used to command His covenant love, while in the night time he would remember God’s songs, which contained a prayer to the God Who had given him life. They had been happy and secure days when it had seemed that nothing could ever go wrong. Surely then God had not now forgotten him. Thus he determines to buck himself up, and to ask God, Whom he sees as his rock and fortress (no doubt having in mind the craggy fortress in which he is being held) why He has forgotten him, and has allowed him to find himself in this predicament. Why should he be living in mourning at the oppression of his captors, which makes him feel as if he is being crushed. Why should God allow his adversaries to reproach him, as they continually say to him, ‘Where is your God?’ (compare verse 3).

Note the mention of YHWH. His good memories have brought back the thought that God is his covenant God, which is why he speaks of covenant love (chesed). or perhaps it was precisely because he was about to speak of covenant love, that he uniquely speaks of YHWH. The two go together. He saw himself as very much within God’s covenant.

The point here is that he will not allow the circumstances to make him forget that God is his Rock, and thus forget about God’s goodness, and willingness to act on his behalf.

42.11

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope you in God,
For I will yet praise him,
Who is the help of my countenance,
And my God.

So once again he calls on his soul, and demands to know why it should be so disquieted within him. Rather should he hope in God, for he is confident that one day he will again praise God in His House, and this because God is the One Who enables him to lift up his face, and is his God. Thus he knows that He cannot finally let him down.

43.1-2

‘Judge me, O God,
And plead my cause against an ungodly nation,
Oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
For you are the God of my strength,
Why have you cast me off?
Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’

He calls on God to judge him, with a view to vindicating him because of his love for Him, and to plead his cause before the godless nation which holds him. He seeks to be delivered from the hand of the deceitful and unjust men who represent that nation. The singular is signifying unjust man in general. They do not walk in God’s ways and therefore God must surely finally deliver him (who does walk in God’s ways) from their hands. For He is the God of his strength (and thus his rocky fortress).

So he again asks (compare 42.9) why God has seemingly cast him off, and allowed him to go in mourning because of the oppression of his enemies. He echoes the words of all those who have found themselves in difficult situations which do not seem to tie in with God’s love. And it gives assurance that God does know of our situation. The fact that we have this psalm available demonstrates that eventually he was released or ransomed.

43.3-4

‘Oh send out your light and your truth,
Let them lead me,
Let them bring me to your holy hill,
And to your tabernacles.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy,
And on the harp will I praise you,
O God, my God.’

‘Send out Your light and Your truth.’ Perhaps he has in mind here the pillar of light that had led God’s people from Egypt, and the light and truth revealed at Sinai. It was by these manifestations of God that Israel had been delivered. So now he wants God to act in the same way on his behalf, delivering him and leading him back to God’s holy hill and to His tabernacles. (The plural for tabernacles may suggest the time of David when there were two tabernacles, one in Hebron which was the main centre of worship, and one in Jerusalem that held the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH. Or it may simply have in mind the Temple as the dwelling place of God seen in plural majesty). Then he will again be able to go to the altar of God, to God Who is his great joy, and will be able to praise him on the harp because He is God his God.

Alternately the thought is that in the end God’s light and truth will always prevail, so that it must result in the deliverance of His people. (Possibly also he sees the armies of Israel as representing God’s light and truth). But the point is that once the God of light and truth comes to deliver him nothing will be able to prevent his release, for light and truth must always prevail. It is a salutary reminder that our salvation also is totally due to the coming of One Who was the Light and the Truth (John 8.12; 14.6).

43.5

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope you in God,
For I will yet praise him,
Who is the help of my countenance,
And my God.’

This final truth has confirmed his faith and made him sure of his deliverance. Thus he can with even more confidence call on his soul and ask it why is it so disquieted simply because of these troubles that have beset him. Let it hope in God. For he knows that God must eventually release him so that he may yet go to the House of God to praise Him, for God is the one who is his constant aid and sustainer, and is his God.

As mentioned above, the fact that we have this psalm is an indication that God did eventually deliver him.

Psalm 44.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Maschil

The meaning of Maschil in this context is not certain. It is used to describe a number of Psalms. But the word maschil means ‘understanding’. It has been variously interpreted as meaning, ‘a teaching Psalm’ (although that does not appear to fit all its uses), ‘a meditation’, thus bringing understanding, or a ‘skilful Psalm’ indicating a complicated setting.

The chief musician. or choirmaster, was responsible for the music in the Temple. For ‘the sons of Korah’ see the introduction to this whole section.

The basis of the Psalm, which is a lament because God has allowed them to be defeated in warfare, is as to why God has failed to fight on their side and give them victory as He had done in past times. It claims that the people have been faithful to God’s covenant, and yet that in spite of that God has failed to help them so that they find themselves in extremities. And it ends with an appeal to God to reverse the situation. There is no real evidence in it as to when it was written, but its position in the Second Book of Psalms would suggest an early date rather than a late one, and it is clear that it was regularly sung because such occasions kept reoccurring. It is thus an assurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In a similar way it contains encouragement for us when we cannot understand why God allows us to endure trials, even though we have not specifically failed Him in any way that we can recall, for it demonstrates that such circumstances have often come on the people of God in the past and must therefore be expected. It is the common experience of God’s people. It is not so much therefore that we have outwardly failed to observe His covenant, as that we have allowed our faith to fall to a low level, as with the church at Ephesus which had lost its first love (Revelation 2.1-6), so that we have been needing a jolt to get us back to truly trusting in Him.

A Description Of What God Has Done For His People In The Past (44.1-3).

The Psalmist first calls to mind how it was God Who gave His people victory when they initially took possession of the land of Canaan.

44.1

‘We have heard with our ears, O God,
Our fathers have told us,
What work you did in their days,
In the days of old.

The people (‘we’) call to God and describe what they have learned from their fathers in the past, of how God had acted for them in days of old. Each year at their festivals these things would be recalled, and read out to them as a reminder of God’s graciousness in the past, and especially so at the end of the seven year cycle. Compare Exodus 23.14-17; 24.7; Deuteronomy 16.16; also note Deuteronomy 31.11-13, 24-28.

‘Our fathers have told us.’ It was the responsibility of every father to make his family aware of YHWH’s deliverance of His people from Egypt at the Feast of the Passover (Exodus 12.26-27; 13.8), and to make known His word daily (Deuteronomy 11.19).

44.2

‘You drove out the nations with your hand,
But them you planted,
You afflicted the peoples,
But them you spread abroad.

On the one hand He had driven out the nations with His hand, on the other He had planted and established His own people in their place. On the one hand He had afflicted the peoples, and on the other He had spread His own people abroad throughout the land.

The picture is possibly of a tree which is firmly planted, and then grows and spreads out its leafy branches (compare 80.8-11). The idea of His people being ‘planted’ is a common one in Scripture (e.g. Exodus 15.17; 2 Samuel 7.10). It is applied in Isaiah 61.3 to those who will be restored to God by the coming Anointed Prophet, ‘that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of YHWH’, compare Matthew 15.13 where those who are not of the Father’s planting will be rooted up.

44.3

‘For they did not get the land in possession by their own sword,
Nor did their own arm save them,
But your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance,
Because you were favourable to them.

And it was God Who had done it. For it was not by their sword that they took possession of the land, nor as a result of the exercise of the strength of their own arm that they were saved (although they used both. Trust in God is no excuse for not acting ourselves where possible). Rather it was God’s right hand, and His arm, and the fact that He was looking on them with love and favour, that was responsible for their success.

The thing that stood out to them in their history was the amazing way that time and again God had openly acted on their behalf when they themselves were in dire straits.

The Psalmist Expresses His General Confidence In the Fact That God Will In The Future Fight For Them And Act On Their Behalf As He Has In The Past (44.4-8).

The Psalmist speaks in the singular as well as in the plural, and speaks of ‘my sword’, which suggests that he is the king. But here he allots the supreme Kingship to God, and calls on Him to act as their King and deliver His people. This was part of a King’s responsibility. He points out that he is putting all his trust in Him.

44.4-5

‘You are my King, O God,
Command deliverances for Jacob.
Through you will we push down our adversaries,
Through your name will we trample upon under those who rise up against us.’

Addressing God as ‘my King’, he calls on Him to exercise His divine power and ‘command’ deliverances for Israel (Jacob). Once God has done that he has no doubt that through Him and His mighty power His people will be able to ‘push down’ their adversaries, as a wild ox pushes down its foes with its horns, and that through His Name they will be able to trample on those who rise against them, as the wild ox tramples its foes beneath its feet.

‘Through your Name.’ The name was seen as expressing the full attributes and character of the One named. It may be that, as YHWH is nowhere mentioned, the ‘Name’ referred to is ‘King’.

44.6-8

‘For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor will my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our adversaries,
And have put them to shame who hate us.
In God have we made our boast all the day long,
And we will give thanks to your name for ever. [Selah

He is not prepared to trust to any weapon of his own, neither sword or bow, for he knows the power of his enemies, but his trust will be in God, Who has in the past saved His people from their adversaries, and has put to shame those who hate them. Thus it is in God that they have boasted all the day long, and it is their intention to give thanks to Him for ever. Their whole confidence is in Him. (It is this that makes it so surprising to him that they have faced defeat at the hands of their enemies).

‘Selah.’ This may have been a pause in the music, possibly indicating ‘think of that’, or a signal for a special blast of music signalling the importance of what has just been said..

In View Of Their Trust In God They Cannot Understand Why Therefore They Have Faced Defeat At The Hands Of Their Enemies So That Some Of His People Have Been Taken Captive And Are Now Slaves In The Hands of Their Enemies, While The Remainder Of The Nation Is Dishonoured By What Has Happened (44.9-16).

44.9-10

‘But now you have cast us off, and brought us to dishonour,
And you do not go forth with our hosts.
You make us to turn back from the adversary,
And those who hate us take spoil for themselves.

It is clear that at some stage they have received a resounding defeat at the hands of their enemies, and that this has shaken the king’s confidence in God (verse 15). This would suggest that it followed a long period when they had been triumphant in all their battles. But now there had been a reverse, and it seemed that God appeared to have washed His hands of them and brought dishonour on them.

In his view their defeat could only mean that God had not gone with the army into battle, and had not given them the strength to face the enemy. The result was that they had fled before the enemy, leaving them to take what spoil they would.

It could be that their problem had been overconfidence, and not waiting on God before they decided on their action. We must always be careful not to run ahead of God. Or there may have been some lesson that God wanted to teach them. It had certainly made them think.

44.11-12

‘You have made us like sheep appointed for food,
And have scattered us among the nations.
You sell your people for nothing,
And have not increased your wealth by their price.

As a consequence the enemy had been able to slaughter them, like sheep are slaughtered for food, and had been able to take many captives who had been scattered among the nations. This suggests that they had been fighting an alliance of nations. Alternately it many signify that so many had been taken prisoner that the surplus were sold on as slaves to other nations.

And what has God gained by it? Absolutely nothing. He has sold them for nothing, and is no better off than He was before. In this we find a clue to what has happened. Their faith in God had become based on the assumption that God blessed and delivered them because it was to His benefit, rather than because they were truly living in accordance with His will. Seeing themselves as His prized possession they had allowed the keen edge of their dedication to Him to diminish on the grounds that He would still look after them whatever they did.

44.13

You make us a reproach to our neighbours,
A scoffing and a derision to those who are round about us.
You make us a byword among the nations,
A shaking of the head among the peoples.

The consequence of what has happened is that their enemies are gloating. Their neighbours are reproaching them (‘Where is your God?’). They are scoffing at them and deriding them. They had made such boasts in their God that their neighbours saw what had happened to them as demonstrating their folly. They had become a byword, among the nations, who were shaking their heads at them because of what they saw as their foolishness in making such a big thing of their God.

44.15-16

All the day long is my dishonour before me,
And the shame of my face has covered me,
For the voice of him who reproaches and blasphemes,
By reason of the enemy and the avenger.

And it especially reflected on the king. He was shamed by what had happened, and the dishonour of it was with him all the day long. He could not get over it. And the shame reflected on his face covered his whole being. He was totally ashamed from head to foot. For all around him he heard those who reproached him, and even reproached God, because of the avenging enemy who had so dealt with them. Their utter defeat was hard to face.

What Is More The Psalmist Cannot Understand Why It Is, For In His View They Have Been Faithful To His Covenant And Have Walked In His Way (44.17-19).

44.17-19

‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten you,
Nor have we dealt falsely in your covenant.
Our heart is not turned back,
Nor have our steps declined from your way,
That you have sore broken us in the place of jackals,
And covered us with deep gloom.’

What is most puzzling to the Psalmist is that he can think of no reason why it has happened. They have not forgotten God (they have fulfilled all their cultic responsibilities), as far as they are aware they have not dealt falsely in His covenant (they have obeyed what they saw to be its precepts), their heart has not turned back from Him (a slight exaggeration in view of the reference above to ‘blasphemers’), nor have they ceased walking in His way. Why then has He so sorely broken them in the waste places (where jackals live) and covered them with such deep gloom?

There is an indication of complacency here. When men begin to think that their lives are exemplary it is usually a sign of spiritual complacency. Those who walk in His light are constantly aware of sin (1 John 1.7-10). Thus this may very well explain exactly what had happened. By it He may have been saying to them, ‘you say I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and do not know that are wretched; miserable, poor, blind and naked’ (Revelation 3.17).

‘Deep gloom.’ The Hebrew is ‘tslmwth’. The MT points as tsalmaweth (shadow of death), but such compounds are rare in Hebrew apart from in names. It is probable therefore that the waw is to be seen as an ancient vowel and the pointing to be seen as tsalmuth (deep gloom). This does not alter the ancient text, only the MT pointing which was included in the text well after the New Testament era, and is not seen as necessarily ‘inspired’.

The Psalmist Now Admits That Possibly They Have Been At Fault (44.20-22).

44.20-22

‘If we have forgotten the name of our God,
Or spread forth our hands to a strange god,
Will not God search this out?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
Yes, for your sake are we killed all the day long,
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

The Psalmist now admits the possibility that in a sense they have forgotten what God is, that is, they have forgotten ‘the Name of God’. He does it in the form of a question. If they have done so, or if they have worshipped a strange god, will not God search it out? Will He not be aware of what they have done? For after all He knows the secrets of the heart.

And his answer is, yes, that is what has happened. That is why some of His people are even now facing constant harrying, and are still being killed like sheep for the slaughter (compare verse 11). It is clear now that God does have something against them. They have left their first love. They are no longer truly glorying in Him as their Sovereign Lord as they should. Verse 22 is cited in Romans 8.36 where the aim is to bring out that even though God loves His people, He still allows them to go through times of trouble..

Awoken Himself To The True Situation He Now Calls On Their Sovereign Lord To Awaken And Rise Up And Help Them (44.23-26).

44.23-26

‘Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?
Arise, do not cast us off for ever.
Why do you hide your face,
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust,
Our body cleaves to the earth.
Rise up for our help,
And redeem us for the sake of your covenant love.’

He now calls on God as their ‘Sovereign Lord’ to awaken out of sleep, and act on their behalf. He asks Him to arise so that they may not be cast off for ever. This is not a rebuke but a recognition that God may act when He will. He does not really think that God is asleep, but simply behaving as though He were. The change from ‘God’ to ‘Lord’ (adonai) may indicate a recognition of the need for a new change of heart. They have been neglecting His Lordship.

Remembering how he had previously described the light of God’s countenance as having been turned towards His people at the conquest (verse 3), he asks why He is not doing the same now. Why does He now hide His face from them? Why does he forget their affliction and oppression? It is clear that the enemy are still active in the surrounding countryside, and that they are at the very end of their resources, for the soul bowed down to the dust, and the body cleaving to the earth are indications of total defeat. Compare the description of the serpent in Genesis 3.14. Thus their only hope is in their God.

And so he prays that their Sovereign Lord will now rise up and give them aid, and will for the sake of His own covenant love (compare Exodus 34.7-8) now redeem them. Their whole hope is in Him and they are looking to Him.

Psalm 45.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Shoshannim. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Maschil. A Song of loves.’

Again we have a psalm for the choirmaster set to the tune Shoshannim (‘lilies’). In the Song of Solomon 2.16; 6.2-3 the place of lilies was the place for love, and so the name of the tune fits the theme. As previously it is a Maschil and is ‘of the sons of Korah’ (see introduction to Book 2). And it is a song of ‘loves’, a wedding song, for it deals with the marriage between the Davidic king and his bride. The word used here for ‘loves’ always indicates a high and holy love. In practise the king and his bride may well never have previously met, for this great occasion suggests a political marriage, as does the exhortation to the bride, so that the love is anticipated rather than real.

The splendour of the occasion fits well with Solomon, and initially this psalm may well be describing the time when he was united with his Egyptian bride, the daughter of Pharaoh. But the king is undoubtedly addressed in terms reminiscent of the promises to David of the coming King from his house Who would rule the world, and be established on God’s throne (2 Samuel 7.12-16; Psalm 2). Thus the Psalm looks forward also to the Coming King, and we must also therefore find within it an indication of the coming of the Messiah. Indeed the Aramaic Targum paraphrases verse 2 as, ‘Your beauty O King Messiah exceeds that of the children of men, a spirit of prophecy is bestowed on your lips’.

The Psalmist Indicates the Joy With Which He Writes (45.1)

45.1

‘My heart overflows with a goodly matter;
I speak the things which I have made touching the king.
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.’

It is clear from these words that the writer was almost overwhelmed at the occasion as he considered his subject matter, the king dressed in all his finery and his jewels, the magnificence of the decorated palace, the array of queens and princesses and the glory of his queenly bride.

He recognises that he has a goodly matter to write about, and his heart overflows at the thought. He is also conscious that he will be speaking about things which he has formulated which concern his sovereign, a thought which fills him with awe. And thus his tongue flows smoothly like the pen of a capable and willing writer.

A Description of The King’s Glory (45.2-7).

His description of the bridegroom’s glory follows a carefully constructed pattern.

  • 1). Firstly he describes the king’s splendour (verse 2). He is fairer than the children of men, granted wisdom by God and blessed by God for ever. This was no doubt the nation’s view of Solomon, and it is even more true of the even greater ‘Son of David’, our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose bride is His people.. He is the fairest among ten thousand, has received directly the wisdom of the Father, and is truly from everlasting to everlasting.
  • 2). Secondly he is a mighty warrior on behalf of truth and meekness and righteousness (verses 3-4). This was initially true of Solomon until he lapsed, and it is permanently and everlastingly true of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greater than Solomon (Matthew 12.42).
  • 3). Thirdly his arrows are sharp and effective (verse 5). No doubt Solomon like all great Overlords would attend at the battlefield and fire his bow so that he could be lauded for having taken part in the fighting. (A similar picture is found of the Great King of Assyria on Assyrian inscriptions - compare Isaiah 37.33). But the greater than Solomon would Himself be a polished arrow in God’s quiver (Isaiah 49.2). The arrow of His word would be sharp and true.
  • 4). His throne is the very throne of God (verses 6-7). In the case of Solomon it was established by God, and Solomon was to be His righteous representative before His people, while in the case of the Coming One He Himself would share God’s throne, and would indeed be God upon that throne.

The King’s Splendour (45.2).

45.2

‘You are fairer than the children of men,
Grace is poured into your lips,
Therefore God has blessed you for ever.’

‘You are fairer than the children of men.’ David himself appears to have been a splendid looking man (1 Samuel 16.12), a trait which he passed on to his children (consider Absalom - 2 Samuel 14.25). Thus while flattering this was probably not totally untrue. And dressed in his royal finery he must well have seemed so, especially to his admirers.

‘Grace is poured into your lips.’ This may indicate that he was well known for the gracious way in which he spoke to people (compare Proverbs 22.11), or it may have reference to the special gift of wisdom which God gave to him after his coronation (1 Kings 3.5-15).

‘Therefore God has blessed you for ever.’ The God-given gifts above stress that God has blessed him, and his wisdom became a legend that was never forgotten. And he was blessed because of them. We still speak of ‘the wisdom of Solomon’. But primarily in mind here is the promise of the everlastingness of his house. Kingship would belong to his house for ever (2 Samuel 7.13, 16, 25, 29; Psalm 2; 18.50; 89.2 ff).

These words even more were descriptive of the Messiah when He came. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men (Luke 2.52), and on the Mount of Transfiguration His full beauty was made known (Mark 9.2-8). Men wondered at the gracious words that came from His lips (Luke 4.22). And He was ‘over all, God, blessed for ever’ (Romans 9.5).

2). The King, A Mighty Warrior (4.3-4).

45.3-4

Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one,
Your glory and your majesty.
And in your majesty ride on prosperously,
Because of truth and meekness and righteousness,
And your right hand will teach you terrible things.’

All kings were supposed to be mighty warriors, and certainly sought to depict themselves as such. Even when they did not lead their troops into action they would regularly appear on the battlefield and loose an arrow at the enemy in order to impress on men their warlikeness. And they would dress for battle, sword on their thigh, and arrive on their splendid warhorse or in their war chariot. Solomon was not famed for his warlike activity but we have no need to doubt that he was present at times in the defence, and even extension, of his realm.

Here he is seen in the wedding procession both as bridegroom and warrior, sword girded on his thigh as a ‘mighty one’, glorious in majesty, riding majestically either on his war horse or in his chariot with a glorious future before him because he sought truth, meekness and righteousness (compare and contrast Zechariah 9.9; and see Song of Solomon 3.9-11). The future looked rosy, until he frittered it away.

For the king of Israel truth was to be the central pillar of his life (Deuteronomy 17.18-20; Isaiah 11.1-5; 29.19; contrast Isaiah 59.14-15). Meekness was expected of a king as he considered the needs and petitions of the poor of the land (2 Samuel 15.3-4; Isaiah 29.19; Psalm 22.6; 37.11; 76.9). Righteousness was a prerequisite for a king of Israel (Isaiah 11.1-5).

‘Your right hand will teach you terrible things.’ From the activities of his sword arm he would achieve greatness and glory, and prove his appointment by God, and learn much about himself. And he would learn too the perils and dangers of greatness, as with his right hand he administered justice, and made his mistakes.

The Messiah would also go forward with His sword of truth (Isaiah 49.2; Revelation 1.16), and was called ‘the Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9.6). And he too would enter Jerusalem gloriously, even though on an asses colt (Zechariah 9.9. This was the normal mount for a king of Israel in times of peace). And truth and meekness and righteousness would prosper at His hand (Isaiah 11.1-4). While His right hand would achieve the greatest things of all as He healed all who came to Him, and healed the souls of men. Indeed the final picture of the Messiah in the New Testament is a glorious one of Him riding to victory with His sharp two edged sword at the consummation of the age, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19.11-16). It was, of course, a symbolic description indicating His supreme Kingship and power. He did not literally fight a battle. His victory was won by His word of mouth. The enemies just crumbled before Him as they fought each other.

The King An Impeccable Marksman (45.5)

45.5

‘Your arrows are sharp,
The peoples fall under you,
They are in the heart of the king’s enemies.’

The idea here is that Solomon and his armies are regularly victorious, and that his bowmen especially are always effective, so that his enemies cannot stand against him. It is an indication of the power and effectiveness of the hosts of Solomon.

But the Messiah is Himself like a polished arrow (Isaiah 49.2). And His shafts too are directed accurately into men’s hearts so that as a result men fall at His feet and cry mercy. And they reach into the very hearts of His enemies, bringing them into subjection to Him, by His word. We can compare how both Job and David saw their troubles as ‘arrows of the Almighty’ (Job 6.4; Psalm 38.2; compare Lamentations 3.12).

The picture of arrows as a means of God’s judgment is found in Deuteronomy 32.23, 42; 2 Samuel 22.15; Psalm 77.17; 144.6; Zechariah 9.14, often in parallel with the idea of His lightning.

The King Reigning In Glory And Equity As God’s Unique Representative (45.6-7).

The prestigious position of the king in God’s eyes is now made clear. His rule will be everlasting, he will rule with equity, he will be elevated by God above all his fellow kings.

45.6-7

‘Your throne is of God (or ‘O God is’) for ever and ever,
A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness, and hated wickedness,
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you,
With the oil of gladness above your fellows.

The essential divine nature of his kingship is now expressed. He has been adopted by God as His son, and God has promised to be his Father (2 Samuel 7.14; Psalm 2.7). Thus his throne is the one on earth appointed and established by God to have overall lordship, and its everlasting nature is guaranteed.

But having said that the king must rule as befits God’s appointee, in righteousness. His rule must demonstrate that he loves righteousness and hates all that is morally wrong. Thus his sceptre as king must be a sceptre of equity. He must rule justly and fairly, showing special favour to none. And it is for that reason that Elohim, his God (Elohim), has anointed him with joyous gladness above all others (compare 1 Kings 3.12-13). He is to rejoice in being king of kings as the anointed of God.

Such a hope lay at the root of ideas about the Messiah, and it is the ideal kingship of the Messiah that is really in the prophet’s mind. There was only One Who was really fitted for these words. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, and He alone, Who is worthy to be addressed as the Mighty El (Isaiah 9.6), Whose reign is from everlasting (Micah 5.2), Who will be exalted above all (Philippians 2.9-11), and of whose kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1.33). He above all was worthy to be anointed above His fellows as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19.16). And in His case we may therefore translate as, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever’, for He not only sits on a divine throne, but is Himself the Almighty God.

Note on ‘Your Throne Is Of God For Ever and Ever’.

There is here an interesting translation problem. The literal Hebrew is ‘your throne God for ever and ever’. We might thus translate:

  • 1). ‘Your throne O God is for ever and ever’, seeing ‘God’ as a vocative, and thus as either addressing God or addressing the king..
  • 2). ‘Your throne is elohim (divine) for ever and ever’, seeing God as intended adjectivally.
  • 3). ‘Your throne is of God for ever and ever’, seeing God as descriptive of Who the real possessor of the throne is.
  • 4). ‘God is your throne for ever and ever.’ Seeing God as the subject of the sentence (unlike in English, and similarly to Greek and Latin, word order in Hebrew does not indicate the order of meaning).

The Aramaic paraphrase in the Targum is, ‘the throne of your majesty, O YHWH, abides for ever and ever’. It thus sees ‘O God’ as referring to YHWH and not the king. But it must be seen as unlikely that the Psalmist would switch to addressing God in this way, and then immediately switch back again, in a passage where he is constantly addressing the king. It does, however, bring out how difficult the translators saw the Hebrew to be when they eschewed 1) above. They clearly did not like the idea of the king as being addressed as Elohim.

The writer to the Hebrews in 1.8 follows LXX which could be rendered as any of the above, apart possibly from the third (because Greek is able to indicate a genitive, and here it does not). But it should be noted that the writer to the Hebrews is concentrating more on His superiority to the angels in His mission than on His actual Godhead, and ‘your throne is divine’ fits well in parallel with ‘a sceptre of righteousness’.

One factor that should be borne in mind is that in this group of Psalms Elohim is very much the Name used of God, which would favour referring elohim here to God. However some have argued that elohim is elsewhere used of earthly authorities. Examples cited are Exodus 21.6; 22.7; Psalm 82.1, 6; compare Psalm 138.1, and it is said to be because they are God's representatives and the bearers of His image on earth. However, only Psalm 82.1, 6 can be said to be conclusive out of these verses, and there it is clear that the word is being used in the plural (as elsewhere it is also used of the angels). It is not therefore strictly parallel with here. It must be considered how unlikely it is that a man, even a great king, would be addressed as Elohim, especially in such a context in the Elohistic Psalms.

On the other hand the use of Elohim adjectivally in this way would be unique in the Old Testament. Where a noun is used adjectivally it usually indicates the constituent nature of what is being described, and that would not be the case here.

It would appear to us therefore that initially the text should be translated, ‘your throne is of God’ indicating that he does rule with God as his Overlord, although possibly with the intention of indicating some kind of special exaltation of the king. Compare 2 Samuel 7.14; Psalm 2.7 where he had received his throne directly from God. When applied to the Messiah therefore it can be seen as being given its fuller significance.

End of note.

Proceeding To The Royal Wedding (45.8-9).

Having established the glory of the king’s person attention now turns to the Royal Wedding. He is covered in delightful ointments and perfumes, he is welcomed by stringed instruments playing from ivory palaces, he is attended by the daughters of kings, and at his right hand is his noble queen arrayed in the finest of gold, the gold of Ophir. All is ready for he and his bride being united as one.

In the New Testament the bride of Christ is revealed to be the church (2 Corinthians 11.2; Ephesians 5.25-27; Revelation 19.8; 21.2), composed of all true believers in Christ, and her covering is to be ‘the righteousnesses’ of God’s people (Revelation 19.8).

45.8-9

‘All your garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia,
Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made you glad.
Kings’ daughters are among your honourable women,
At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.’

The king is rigged out in his finery, and covered in delightful ointments and perfumes, and the procession passes by his ivory palace. Ivory palaces were a sign of ostentation and wealth, and indicated powerful and successful kings (see Amos 3.15). Ahab was famous for his ivory palace (1 Kings 22.39). They were not of course made of ivory, but decorated with inlaid ivory. That there are a number of such suggests the glory of this king, and as he passes by them in his royal procession the musicians are out on the balconies playing loudly and skilfully in order to add to the joy of the occasion. Or the idea may be that it was in such a palace that he was greeted by his prospective queen.

He is so noble and powerful that his honourable women, attending at the wedding, were nothing less than the daughters of kings. The king’s daughters may have been other wives, or they may simply have come from their fathers’ kingdoms to play their part in the wedding in honour of the King.

But most conspicuous of all is his wife, standing there in her beauty, dressed in gold of Ophir, the finest of imported gold (1 Kings 9.28; 10.11). Here then is splendour indeed, and it demonstrates the magnificence of the occasion, and adequately depicts the even greater glory of the coming Messiah, of whom this king is a type and forerunner.

The identity of his queen is unknown. That it is not Pharaoh’s daughter is probable in that there is no mention of Egypt. To marry the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh was such an honour, and would have added such prestige to the wedding, that it would hardly have been allowed to pass without mention. It is attractive to think that it might have been the Shulamite of the Song of Solomon. The only doubt is as to whether she was a king’s daughter (verse 13). But see Song of Solomon 7.1. She may well have been the daughter of a relatively minor shepherd king.

Advice Given To The Bride (45.10-12).

The bride is advised to forget her past life and to look forward to her glorious future. She may well never have met her husband-to-be, and was probably feeling a little lost and homesick. But she is advised to accept advice and be responsive, and to forget her own people and her father’s house and give proper reverence to her new husband. Then will the king desire her, and all will treat her with honour. This was a duty that every king’s daughter was expected to follow. They were brought up to recognise that they would go to some foreign king as a treaty wife, and from then on should forget their old home.

It is a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ who on coming to Christ is called on to turn her back on the past and live only for Him. Her sole desire is to be to please Him.

45.10-12

Listen, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear;
Forget also your own people, and your father’s house,
So will the king desire your beauty,
For he is your lord, and reverence you him.
And the daughter of Tyre will be there with a gift,
The rich among the people will entreat your favour.’

The bride is called on to listen carefully to final last minute advice, probably from some beloved attendant who has accompanied her on her journey. It is that she will pay close heed to what she is now told. She must now put out of her mind her own people, for whom she has had such affection, and her father’s house where she has been so courted and admired, and give all her attention to pleasing her new lord. Then the king will desire her beauty. For she is to remember that he is now her lord and that she must reverence him.

Then not only will her husband desire her beauty, but influential and wealthy people will come and pay her homage. The ‘daughter of Tyre’, like ‘the daughter of Zion’, is a description of the whole people of Tyre. Tyre was at the time an outstandingly rich and influential city state. She would only bring a gift to someone of great importance. And the same was true of the wealthy. They would seek the favour of someone whom they saw as influential.

It is therefore unlikely that the bride is the daughter of Pharaoh. The daughter of Pharaoh was unlikely to be impressed by either of these facts. But the young Shulammite princess, who was probably Solomon’s first wife, certainly would have been.

As far as the Messianic aspect is concerned it is an indication that His ‘bride’ should leave behind their old lives and be completely committed to Him. Old things are to pass away. All things are to become new (2 Corinthians 5.17). He is to be their ‘all’.

The Glory Of The Bride (45.13-15).

The glory of the bride, who is a king’s daughter, is now described, and her entrance in splendour into the king’s palace.

45.13-15

‘The king’s daughter within the palace is all glorious,
Her clothing is inwrought with gold.
She will be led to the king in embroidered work,
The virgins her companions who follow her,
Will be brought to you.’
With gladness and rejoicing will they be led,
They will enter into the king’s palace.’

Having responded to the advice given to her the bride now leaves her palace and goes bravely to the king’s palace amidst all the festivities. She is splendidly dressed in a gold interlaced, heavily embroidered outfit, and is led forth to her bridegroom. Her virgin companions accompany her in solemn and stately procession, and they are brought with gladness and rejoicing into the king’s own palace.

‘Will be brought to you.’ The Psalmist has been talking to the prospective queen, (verse 10-11), but had changed tense to describe her splendour, now he turns back to speaking to her again.

We can see in this splendour of the bride a picture of the even greater splendour given to Christ’s church, when she is to be ‘glorious, without spot and blemish and any such thing’ (Ephesians 5.26). She too will enter Heaven with rejoicing.

Concluding Promises To The King (45.16).

45.16

‘Instead of your fathers will be your children,
Whom you will make princes in all the earth.
I will make your name to be remembered in all generations,
Therefore will the peoples give you thanks for ever and ever.’

The final urging to the king is that he should concentrate his thoughts on his prospective children. These will replace his ancestors, and in contrast will be made princes in all the earth. Compare what was said about the sons of David in Psalm 122.5. The king’s sons regularly had a say in ruling under their father.

This will then enable the writer (or God) to make the king’s name remembered to all generations, although note the possible gentle transition into God’s final promise made to him (Who else could promise this?). God will ensure that his name is remembered for ever, and that people will thank him for ever and ever. This last could only really be true of the Coming king who would rule over the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13, 16).

It is often said that it is difficult to apply this last verse to the Messianic concept of the Psalm, but that is only so if the application is interpreted too strictly. However, if we remember that Isaiah said of the future Messiah that ‘He would see His seed’ (Isaiah 53.10), it fits in admirably. The bride will produce princely sons for her bridegroom (who will in fact then become part of the bride). We can compare how the woman arrayed with the sun in Revelation 12.1, who was symbolic of Israel, also had children who were themselves Israel (Revelation 12.17).

Psalms 46-48.

The next three Psalms which we will look at, Psalms 46-48, are connected and contain a trilogy of praise for some signal deliverance of Jerusalem from its enemies. They make clear that God is the Great King over all the earth. But as with so many Psalms they give no hint as to whom the deliverance was from. Psalms were written so that they could be continually used. They are focused on God and on His power to save, and were clearly written so that they might be of ongoing value. Thus for us they are a reminder that God is over all and that God’s power is available to save us if we are His, whatever our circumstances might be. Thus:

  • Psalm 46 stresses that God is with His people and is their refuge and Stronghold, and the consequence is that while their trust is in Him Jerusalem is the inviolate city of God, so that opposing kingdoms will melt before them at the sound of His voice. The invitation is then given to the people to consider how He has wrought peace on the earth, and has been exalted among the nations. Its overall theme is that ‘YHWH is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge’. Most commentators see it as having in mind God’s deliverance of Jerusalem under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.13-19.37; compare Isaiah 36-37), but other alternatives have been suggested.
  • Psalm 47 concentrates on the idea of the universal sovereignty of YHWH. It stresses that God is their King, and is King over all the earth, and is the great Subduer of the nations.
  • Psalm 48 stresses the mightiness of YHWH, and the inviolability of Mount Zion because it is the City of the Great King. The consequence will be that when the nations gather together against her, they will fall back in dismay so that great praise comes to God.

We will now consider the three Psalms individually.

Psalm 46.

Heading

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah; set to Alamoth. A Song.’

Here we have another Psalm dedicated to the choirmaster, and also another which was either written by, or composed on behalf of ‘the sons of Korah’ who were musicians and singers in the Temple. They were a branch of the subtribe of the Korahites. (See introduction to Part 2). ‘Alamoth’ means ‘damsels’ and 1 Chronicles 15.20 speaks of ‘psalteries set to Alamoth’. Thus Alamoth may well refer to Psalms set especially for women’s voices.

This Psalm stresses that God is with His people and is their refuge. The consequence is that while they trust in Him Jerusalem is the inviolate city of God, with the result that opposing kingdoms will melt before them at the sound of His voice. (What they overlooked later was that this was only the case when king and people were loyal to God. It was not automatic).

The invitation is then given to consider how He has wrought peace on the earth, and has been exalted among the nations. Its theme is ‘YHWH is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge’ (verses 7, 11).

Most commentators see it as having in mind God’s deliverance of Jerusalem under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.13-19.37; compare Isaiah 36-37), when the armies of Assyria which were besieging Libnah and Jerusalem were decimated by the angel of YHWH (Isaiah 37.36), something which, combined with news from Assyria about troubles at home (Isaiah 37.7), caused Sennacherib to return there, leaving Jerusalem relatively unscathed.

Note the contrast between the raging waters of the enemy, and of spiritual troubles battering at us (2-3), and the peaceful waters that come from the throne of God which bring only gladness to God’s people (4). Compare the similar pictures in Isaiah 8.6-8 where because the people have rejected the peaceful waters ‘of Shiloah that flow gently’, they will have to face the raging waters of the armies of Assyria. Because they have turned away from the true Immanuel (7.14), they will find themselves at the tender mercies of Ahaz, the self-proclaimed Immanuel (8.8).

God’s People’s Confidence Is In Him Even In The Face Of Raging Waters (46.1b-3).

46.1b

‘God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.’

The Psalmist commences with an expression of confidence in God as our place of safety, our certain refuge. Once we are in God we are therefore truly safe. Indeed He is the source of our very strength, (or alternately is our stronghold). The words may well have had in mind how stoutly the walls of Jerusalem had kept out the Assyrians. But they were also well aware that if God had not stepped in eventually those mighty walls would have fallen, whereas they can know that the walls of God will never be breached, even in the face of the battering of the mightiest of seas. To Israel particularly the seas were seen as an enemy of inestimable proportions because they had little to do with the sea and only saw its awesomeness from the land. Despite their coastline they had few secure ports.

‘A very present help in trouble.’ This should literally be translated, ‘a help in troubles has He let Himself be found exceedingly’, expressing the wonderful deliverance that they had experienced, and their consciousness that God had abundantly stepped in and supplied it. But its presence in a Psalm indicates that His massive help is available for all continually, whilst they are faithful to the covenant. It was not just a one off.

46.2-3

‘Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change,
And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas,
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof.’ [Selah

As a result we will not be filled with fear, and will not be shaken, whatever happens. The earth itself may be subject to change, the fierce waters may batter against the great cliffs causing them to fall into the sea, the waters may roar and be troubled as the storm rages, the mountains may tremble at their impact. But none of this will move us, for we will know that God is our refuge.

In mind in the picture may well have been the impact of invading forces, and the fierce onslaughts of enemy warriors, as they battered the people, and the walls with battering rams, but it is equally as true when we have to face spiritual enemies. Then, when the world seems in turmoil, we can be sure that God will be our refuge and stronghold. He will be ‘our strength’.

We note that each section ends with the word ‘selah’, which probably denotes a musical pause. From our point of view it is saying dramatically, ‘think of that!’

In Contrast With The Raging Waters Which Seek To Shake Them God Is To Be Seen As Like A Peaceful River Making Glad His People (46.4-7).

46.4-5

‘There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the dwellingplaces of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; She shall not be moved,
God will help her, and that right early.’

We can compare with this Isaiah 33.21, where it says, ‘there (in Zion) YHWH in majesty will be for us, a place of broad rivers and streams’. Permanent rivers and streams where what men in Palestine dreamed of so that they might not be so dependent on the rain. We can compare the fruitfulness of Eden with its great river (Genesis 2.10). This is therefore a picture of full provision. (Compare the similar picture in Ezekiel 47). And the promise is that to us God will be such a River, through His Spirit, a river that will satisfy our hearts and will also flow out from us to others (John 7.37-38). And it will flow to all of God’s people, to ‘the city of God’.

Note the description of the city of God. It is ‘the holy place of the dwellingplaces of the Most High’. For Israel that was because it was there that the Temple was among them, with its inner and outer sanctum, and its storage and utility rooms, the place where God met with them and dwelt among them. For us it is because we are ourselves are together the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and each of us is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16-18; Ephesians 2.19-22), so that God’s River flows in, and through, and from us continually (John 7.38).

Note also the description of God as ‘the Most High’. This title is regularly used in relation to the nations. It is a reminder that God is over all. See, for example, Genesis 14.22; Numbers 24.16; and compare Daniel 3.26; 4.2.

And because God in the midst of her is over all, nothing can move or shake her. For while she trusts in Him God will always help her, and that without delay (right early). In the same way because God is in the midst of us we too, if we trust in Him, will not be moved. We too can be sure that we will know His prompt and powerful help.

‘And that right early.’ Literally, ‘when the morning appears’ (compare Exodus 14.27). Thus it is saying that His assistance will come once the night is over and morning appears, without our being made to wait until later in the day.

46.6-7

‘The nations raged (or ‘roared’), the kingdoms were moved,
He uttered his voice, the earth melted.
YHWH of hosts is with us,
The God of Jacob is our refuge.’ [Selah

This confidence that we have in God is in spite of the activities and efforts of the world in its enmity against God. The nations might rage and roar against God’s people, the kingdoms might move against them, but they can be confident that when God utters His voice the earth and all that is within it melts. And where will they be then? We can compare with this Isaiah’s beautiful words, ‘in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30.15).

And this is because YHWH of hosts, YHWH the God of battle and lord of the heavenly hosts, is with us. It is because the God of Jacob (Israel) is our stronghold. Knowing that God is with us and is our stronghold is sufficient to bring peace in the most devastating of situation.

In the original instance Israel had seen the raging and roaring nations melt away as the Assyrians withdrew hastily from Judah once God had uttered His voice. But the promise is to all believers whatever troubles they have to face. Note how the same words ‘roar’ and ‘moved’ are used as in verse 2. It reminds us that those whose trust is in God need fear neither natural phenomena, nor the activities of men. For God is in control over all.

The second section again ends with Selah, ‘think of that’.

A Call To Consider All God’s Mercies And To Recognise That One Day He Will Bring Everlasting Peace And Will Be Exalted Among The Nations (46.8-11).

46.8-9

‘Come, behold the works of YHWH,
What desolations he has made in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,
He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in sunder,
He burns the baggage wagons (or ‘shields’) in the fire.

All God’s people are now called on to look on and consider the works of YHWH. Let them look on and consider His final judgments, as initially exemplified in the destruction of the Assyrian army. Mankind may continue to fight and war, but God will in the end visit them with His desolations, thereby bringing to an end all their sinful activities. He will outlaw war worldwide, He will destroy man’s weaponry, He will burn up their supplies. Then He will introduce His kingdom of everlasting peace. Compare here Isaiah 2.3-4 which describes how He will do it. And see Revelation 19.

‘Baggage wagons.’ Compare 1 Samuel 17.20; 26.7. The word nowhere means chariots. Some would repoint to mean ‘shields’ as in LXX and the Targum.

46.10

‘Be still, and know that I am God,
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’

All are therefore to be stilled in awe, as they recognise by what He has done, that He truly is God, and what it will mean for the future. For in the future God will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth. All power will be seen to be His, even on earth. To Him every knee will bow. His triumph is sure.

This gradual attainment of His triumph began at the cross when he defeated all the powers of evil (Colossians 2.15), then as His people went our to establish the Kingly Rule of God, and it will be finalised in that day when Satan and all his hosts and followers, including warring mankind, are totally vanquished (Revelation 19), and God is all in all.

46.11

‘YHWH of hosts is with us,
The God of Jacob is our refuge.’ [Selah

No wonder then that he can remind God’s people that:

  • ‘YHWH of the hosts of heaven and earth is with us.’
  • ‘The God who protected weak and lowly Jacob is our refuge.’

With God present with us as our powerful God and Protector we need fear nothing. ‘Of hosts’ has in mind God’s people (Exodus 12.41; Numbers 2); the heavenly hosts (the angels - Genesis 32.2; Psalm 148.2); the host of heaven, (the sun moon and stars - Deuteronomy 4.19; 17.3; Psalm 33.6), the hosts of men (their armies), and the hosts of creation (everything that is made - Genesis 2.1). He is God over all.

‘The God of Jacob’ underlines the fact that He was the God of His people who saw themselves as ‘descended from Jacob’. They looked to the God of their forefathers to whom the promises were made. They WERE Jacob.

(Of course, not all of the people of Israel were literally descended from Jacob. They included among their number descendants of those who had been in Jacob’s ‘household’ who would probably have numbered a few thousand (Abraham had 318 fighting men in his household and they would have grown in numbers since then); descendants of the mixed multitude who had left Egypt with them (Exodus 12.38) and were united with them at Sinai and then by circumcision on entering the land; descendants of others who had joined with them in the wilderness (e.g. Kenites); and descendants of any who chose to become Yahwists and united themselves with Israel (Exodus 12.48; Deuteronomy 23.1-8).

Psalm 47.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.’

See introduction to part 2.

The Psalm divides easily into two as indicated by ‘Selah’. The first half describes Who and What God is as YHWH Most High, King over all the earth, and the One Who has chosen out, and acted on behalf of, His people in the past. The second half has in mind the acclamation of YHWH as a result of the signal deliverance that He has wrought for His people, which has demonstrated His worldwide Kingship and glory, and has resulted in the nations of the world acknowledging His Kingship and becoming His people too. It is a depiction of God as Lord over all, and is a foretaste of God’s final triumph in Christ.

The Nations Are Called On To Salute YHWH Most High As The Great King Over All The Earth Who Has Established His People In The Choicest Of Lands (47.1-4). .

47.1-2

Oh clap your hands, all you peoples,
Shout to God with the voice of triumph.
For YHWH Most High is terrible,
He is a great King over all the earth.

The clapping of hands and the shouts of acclamation were the means by which peoples normally acknowledged their great king and overlord. Here then they are called on to acknowledge YHWH Most High, the great King over all the earth, in the same way, because of His recent triumph. For thereby He had revealed His awesome power.

The description is in direct contrast with the title that Sennacherib claimed for himself as ‘the great king’ (Isaiah 35.4). YHWH had now put Sennacherib firmly in his place demonstrating Who really was the Great King (compare 46.4; 48.2), YHWH Most High. His worldwide dominion has been demonstrated.

Here then His people are to clap their hands and shout in triumph because He has come down and wrought a mighty deliverance and is now returning to His heavenly abode, having achieved the victory.

We also should clap our hands and shout in triumph as we consider how our Lord Jesus Christ came down and wrought our deliverance, and has now ascended into Heaven as the great Victor, and as our everlasting King, having commenced His rule over the earth (Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.36) even though many are still in rebellion against Him. That kingship will be even more firmly established wen He commences to reign over His people in the heavenly kingdom (on the new earth in which dwells righteousness - 2 Peter 3.13) at His second coming.

47.3-4

‘He subdued peoples under us,
And nations under our feet.
He chose our inheritance for us,
The glory of Jacob whom he loved.’ [Selah

And that worldwide dominion that is His, and has now been demonstrated, had already been previously demonstrated by the fact that in earlier times He had subdued peoples under Israel, and had brought nations under their feet. He had done it when Israel had entered Canaan in order to take their inheritance. Indeed it was He Who had chosen that inheritance for them, that choicest of lands in which they gloried as the people (Jacob) whom He loved (compare Deuteronomy 7.6-8). And it was He Who had enabled them to possess it.

Note their recognition that it was because He had chosen to love them that they had experienced His salvation and blessing. It had not been their doing. It had been all of His goodness. And the same is true of us as the people of God today. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4.9-10), and He has given us a glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1.11, 14; 1 Peter 1.4), because He chose us in Christ before the world began (Ephesians 1.4).

The Psalmist Sees YHWH As Having Received His Acclamation As King Over All The Earth And Over All Peoples (47.5-9).

In this second part of the Psalm we are introduced to the triumph ceremony following the defeat and humiliation of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army. We are probably to see that the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH (suitably covered) has been brought out of the Holy of Holies and is now leading a great procession up the Mount back into the Temple, accompanied by clapping, shouting and singing, and this as a portrayal of His own rise to heaven after having gloriously come down and disposed of the enemy.

It is probable that representatives of the nations round about who had seen the humiliation of Sennacherib had come to Jerusalem and were joining with them in the ceremony. (Hezekiah had been one of the leaders in a coalition against Assyria). They too were grateful for what had been wrought by Israel’s God (compare 2 Chronicles 20.29).

47.5-6

‘God is gone up with a shout,
YHWH with the sound of a ram’s horn.
Sing praise to God, sing praises,
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.’

As the Ark, the symbol of God’s earthly presence, is borne triumphantly upwards towards the Temple, it is seen as depicting the greater reality of YHWH returning to His heavenly throne having dealt with the Assyrians (compare 68.18; 1 Kings 8.27). The shouting and the blowing of the ram’s horns greet His victory, while the people are called on to sing praises to Him as their God and King. It is bringing home their recognition of the supreme Sovereignty of God as Lord over both Heaven and earth.

47.7-8

‘For God is the King of all the earth,
Sing you praises with understanding.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.’

And this is moreso because He has now unquestionably proved Himself to be the King of all the earth. (Who else could have defeated the Great King of Assyria who ruled over ‘all the earth’?). Thus as they praise they are to understand the significance of what they are doing. They are to see that they are praising the One Who reigns over the nations, and Who sits on His holy throne, both in Heaven and on earth.

When Jesus came to His disciples after His resurrection and declared that ‘all authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28.18) He was revealing the same, and it represented an even greater victory, which we too should constantly celebrate with clapping and shouting and singing, and the blowing of trumpets (see Acts 2.32-36; Ephesians 1.19-22; 1 Peter 3.22; Hebrews 1.3).

47.9

‘The princes of the peoples are gathered together,
To be the people of the God of Abraham,
For the shields of the earth belong to God,
He is greatly exalted.’

As they looked at the nations from round about who had gathered with them to celebrate the victory it must have brought to mind the great promises of Isaiah about the nations submitting at His feet. And they saw in this a portrayal of that day when the peoples of the nations would become the people of the God of Abraham, through whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). And they knew that that day was inevitable. For what God had done had demonstrated that the shields of the earth belonged to Him. It had demonstrated His great exaltation.

Today as we look around and see how His true church has become established around the world, how much more should we be shouting His praise as His conquest of the nations continues as a result of His even greater victory gained at the cross. For He has truly gathered men from the nations of the world, and is still doing so, in order that they might be the people of the God of Abraham (Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Romans 11.16-24; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9; James 1.1).

Psalm 48.

Heading.

‘A Song; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.’

For the sons of Korah see introduction to Part 2. Many of the temple singers were sons of Korah.

This psalm continues the theme of the Great King. Its aim is to exalt Him and describe the wonder of the place where He dwells. Israel were well aware that God was so great that even the Heaven of Heavens could not contain Him. In the words of the wise Solomon, ‘Behold Heaven, and the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8.27).

But they also knew that God had been pleased to establish on earth a place where He could be approached, a kind of doorway to Heaven. And that place was the Temple on Mount Zion, on which was centred the worship of the one true God. That was why they gloried in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, because they represented God’s interest revealed on earth towards His people, and they pointed to, and drew men to, God. Today that Temple has been replaced by a greater Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (compare John 4.24). Thus all that is said here about the Temple and Jerusalem should now be focused on our Lord Jesus Christ Who has replaced the Temple as the centre of people’s worship. It is now to Him that we should point, and to Whom we should give praise and glory.

The Greatness of God And The Beauty Of The Place Which Represents His Dwelling Among Men (48.1-3).

48.13

‘Great is YHWH, and greatly to be praised,
In the city of our God, in his holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth,
Is mount Zion, on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God has made himself known in her palaces for a refuge.’

We should note here that while Mount Zion is being admired, it is not Mount Zion but the Great God Himself Who is being exalted. Mount Zion is only seen as beautiful in that it points towards the living God. It is the great God YHWH Who is to be greatly praised.

The description of Mount Zion should also be noted. It is described in a way that transcends itself. ‘The sides of the north’ indicated the sacred mountains far off from men (see Isaiah 14.13; Ezekiel 38.6, 15; 39.2). Here in this psalm God is, as it were, seen to have planted those sacred mountains in Jerusalem as His earthly abode. So as in Isaiah 2.2-4 it represents both the earthly and the heavenly Mount Zion. As men gazed on the earthly they were also to think of the heavenly. Today the earthly has long been done away, and we are to concentrate our thoughts on the heavenly (Hebrews 12.22; compare Galatians 4.20 ff).

And yet there is still a Temple on earth in which God can be found. It is that Temple which consist of all true believers in Jesus Christ. In them dwells the Holy Spirit of God, and through them the glory of God is to be manifested to the world (see 1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16-18; Ephesians 2.18-22). That is why we can rightly apply ideas about Mount Zion to His people.

So just as the people of old could gather on Mount Zion and sing His praises, and see it as beautiful because of its exaltation, and as the joy of the whole earth because of what it represented as ‘the city of the Great King’ where God made himself known, so today can we glorify God for His true church in which He dwells, made up of all who truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and call on His Name (regardless of denomination) and worship Him in His Temple. His church is beautiful in elevation (compare Galatians 4.26; Ephesians 5.25-27), even though it may dwell here in vessels of clay, for we are the living stones of the Temple of God, built up on the chief Cornerstone, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2.4-7), and we are called on to show forth the excellencies of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His most glorious light (1 Peter 2.9).

Thus can we sing:

Glorious things of you are spoken,
Zion city of our God.
He Whose word cannot be broken,
Formed you for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake your sure repose,
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
You can smile at all your foes.

‘God has made himself known in her palaces for a refuge.’ And because God has made Himself known in the palaces of Jerusalem as being a refuge of His people (at that stage Jerusalem had a godly king), Jerusalem can rest secure knowing that she cannot be touched by her enemies. And the same confidence can be enjoyed by God’s people today as He makes Himself known to us in His church.

The Nations Quail Before The Power of God In His Holy Hill (48-4-7).

The glory of the dwellingplace of the Great God is such that the nations quail before Him. Though they may assemble themselves against His people and approach them with hostile purpose, once they recognise what they are fighting against they quail before it and fade away. This had proved true of Sennacherib and his forces. It would always prove true for whoever came against Jerusalem, because God was with them.

48.4-7

‘For, lo, the kings assembled themselves,
They passed over together.
They saw it, then were they amazed,
They were dismayed, they hastened away.
Trembling took hold of them there,
Pain, as of a woman in travail.
With the east wind you break,
The ships of Tarshish.’

The kings of the nations had gathered themselves together against God’s people. They had passed over together and approached the city of God. But then, when they actually saw it they stopped in amazement. They were dismayed at what they saw and hastened away. Indeed so great was its impact that they trembled and were filled with the equivalent of labour pains. And God’s powerful and feared east wind blew among them, and the proud Tyreans and their associates fell before it. The ships of Tarshish sailed regularly from Tyre, and indeed from other ports, around the world, and here they indicate what is strong and invulnerable. The mighty ships of Tarshish. Or at least they are until the East wind blows. Perhaps it also represents the powerful Tyrean contingent in Sennacherib’s army. But we are not to limit it to Tyre. Tyre’s glory and Sennacherib’s glory could not stand in the face of God’s holy mountain, the place that God had chosen as His earthly abode. God’s East Wind would see to that.

In the same way we can be sure today that all who begin to plot against the people of God will find themselves ashamed and dismayed. They may appear to be a great threat, but in the end their threat will collapse.

God’s People Rejoice In The Security Of The City Of God Now Evidenced Not Just By Hearsay But Also By What They Had Themselves Seen (48.8).

48.8

‘As we have heard, so have we seen,
In the city of YHWH of hosts,
In the city of our God,
God will establish it for ever. [Selah

The deliverance having taken place, and the enemy having faded away, God’s people triumphantly declare that they have now seen with their own eyes the delivering power of God revealed on behalf of His people. They had from their past heard many stories of His delivering power, but now they had seen it for themselves. It was thus clear to them that the city of YHWH of hosts, the city of their God, would be established by Him for ever.

And while they were faithful to Him that was, of course, true. But what they later forgot was that their security depended on faithfulness to the covenant. The truth was that God’s promises were only secure to an obedient people. That is why Jerusalem would end up a ruin, not once but a number of times (under Nebuchadnezzar, under Antiochus Epiphanes and under the Romans). However, in all that it was not that God had forgotten His true people. While unbelieving Israel suffered and perished, His true people, the remnant who expanded into the church, were preserved through all the tribulations that would come, as part of the whole people of God who will rise again at the last day (Isaiah 26.19). Their names were recorded in Heaven. Thus God’s cause was secure. It is the outward trimmings that suffer, as they would later also for the churches in Asia Minor to whom John sent his letters (Revelation 1-3), when their lamp became but a dim glow through the rise of Islam. But the inner heart of His true people will burn on for ever.

‘Selah.’ This once again indicates a musical break and a pause for thought.

Having Meditated On What Has Happened, God’s People Now Declare Their Confidence in God (48.9-11).

48.9-11

‘We have thought on your covenant love, O God,
In the midst of your temple.
As is your name, O God,
So is your praise to the ends of the earth,
Your right hand is full of righteousness,
Let mount Zion be glad,
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice,
Because of your judgments.

What they have seen has turned their thoughts towards God’s lovingkindness (His covenant love), as they come to worship in His Temple, and they acknowledge gladly that what His Name (His nature and activity) means to them, has also become known to other nations so that they also praise Him. Many nations had in fact cause to be grateful for the humiliating of Assyria, and would give praise to Israel’s God for His deliverance.

For they recognise that God has acted in righteous deliverance by the might of His right hand, and will therefore, they are sure, continue to do so. Thus Mount Zion herself could rejoice, and so could all the neighbouring towns (her ‘daughters’ - compare Numbers 21.25; Joshua 17.11, 16) who had suffered so terribly under the Assyrian invasion. All could now rest secure in the judgments and decisions of their mighty God.

What they later forgot was that His righteous deliverance was only for the righteous. Thus once they had virtually forsaken Him (in the time of Jeremiah Jerusalem was almost totally unfaithful to YHWH - Jeremiah 5.1 ff.), His protection no longer applied. The promise of His protection applies to all who are faithful to God, but only if they are looking to Him and trusting in Him. When they are they can ever be sure that His right hand will finally vindicate them, and that His judgments will be carried out on their behalf.

The Triumphant Inspection (48.12-14).

This may well originally have indicated a celebratory inspection of the walls carried out in triumphal procession in order to give thanksgiving to God, and it may even have been one that continued to be celebrated annually.

48.12

‘Walk about Zion,
And go round about her,
Number her towers,
Mark well her bulwarks,
Consider her palaces,
That you may tell it to the generation following.
For this God is our God for ever and ever,
He will be our guide even to death.

We must not misunderstand the Psalmist here. He is not boasting about the strength of Jerusalem He is rather praising God for the fact that it is all still there. He is basically saying, ‘look, because of what God has done you are now free to walk around the outside of the city. And as you do so you will note that nothing is missing. Her towers are still intact, her bulwarks (defensive walls) are in place, her palaces are still unmarked. And this in spite of the threats of the King of Assyria.’ This then was final evidence of how fully God has delivered them, and they will therefore be able to tell ensuing generations, how God preserved it for them, and delivered them without any real harm coming to Jerusalem. And this, he reminds them, is due solely to their God, the God Who is theirs for ever and ever, and will be the guide of each one of them until death.

Note the contrast between their counting the towers, and the fact that the Assyrians had previously counted the towers with very different intent (Isaiah 33.18). The Assyrians had intended to destroy them. Thus God has by His deliverance altered the whole situation.

‘He will be our guide even to death.’ Some suggest that this fits oddly in the context because it is too personally applied in a national Psalm, but it is not really so. It can rather be seen as a practical final comment applying the situation of the whole to each individual. Having sung generally of the greatness of God, they are being brought to recognise that for each one of them that greatness is applicable throughout their lives.

Psalm 49.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.’

This is the last of the Psalms of the sons of Korah (42-49) to be found in this second part. (In the third part see 84-85; 87-88).

The Psalm is addressed to both rich and poor, and is a meditation on wealth. It can be seen as in very close parallel with the Book of Proverbs. It could be called a ‘wisdom’ Psalm, and gives warning that while wealth may appear desirable in this life, it offers nothing for the next. Then the only question that will count will be as to whether we were right with God.

An Appeal To Listen To His Words (49-1-5).

The Psalmist commences by making an appeal to all men, both high and low, rich and poor, to listen to his wisdom. Note his recognition that he is speaking mysteries (parables, dark sayings). This would confirm that he expects them to see in what he is saying something more than the usual platitudes. For he is in fact indicating that for those who trust God this life is not the end. There is hope beyond the grave. Such glimpses of a future hope are found a number of times in Davidic Psalms (e.g. 16.10-11; 17.15; 23.6) and in Proverbs (11.4; 13.14; compare 10.2; 14.27, 32; 15.24).

49.1-5

‘Hear this, all you peoples,
Give ear, all you inhabitants of the world,
Both low and high,
Rich and poor together.
My mouth will speak wisdom,
And the meditation of my heart will be of understanding.
I will incline my ear to a parable,
I will open my dark saying on the harp.
For what reason should I fear in the days of evil,
When iniquity at my heels compasses me about?

His appeal is to all people of all classes. It contains a universal appeal which is characteristic of wisdom literature, but is also found in the prophets (see Micah 1.2). He wants it known that what he has to say applies to everyone. The word for ‘world’ is an unusual one indicating the transitory nature of the world. And it is the transitory nature of life that is a central idea in the Psalm.

He speaks to ‘both low and high’. This is literally ‘both sons of mankind (adam) and sons of men (ish - important men)’. Thus it is to the common man and also to the distinguished man. It is also to rich and poor. To the rich lest they trust in their riches. To the poor lest they become discontented with their lot. All need to heed his words. None must see themselves as outside their scope.

He explains that his aim is to give wisdom and understanding (literally ‘wisdoms and understandings’. The plural indicates the length and breadth of that wisdom and understanding). In other words he is speaking of the deeper things in life. Yet he recognises also that he can only do so in terms of simile and metaphor. He is not speaking of what is commonplace. He thus speaks in comparisons (mashal) and dark sayings (chidah).

‘I will incline my ear --.’ He leans forward, as it were, to hear what God has to say, for what he has to say is coming from God..

The word mashal (parable) indicates a comparison, a proverb, a parable, a metaphorical saying, or a poem (Isaiah 14.4). It is illustrative rather than literal. The word chidah (dark saying) indicates an enigma or riddle (Judges 14.12 ff; 1 Kings 10.1), a simile or parable (see Ezekiel 17.2), an obscure utterance, a mystery, a dark saying. For both words used together elsewhere see 78.2; Proverbs 1.6; Ezekiel 17.2. Certainly one of the great mysteries of life to many was the prosperity of the unrighteous. Why should God allow the unrighteous to prosper, and the truly righteous to go in need? Men often saw only the outward trimmings and not the importance of the inner heart which riches could destroy.

‘On the harp.’ He intends to set it to music. Men will often listen to the wisdom of a song where they would eschew the same words if plainly put.

And the question that he raises is as to why he should fear when evil abounds, and when he is dogged by injustice and sin which threaten to trip him up. David especially, for example, had known what it meant to be ‘on the run’, as had Elijah. And they had learned in such experiences to trust in God.

The Helplessness Of The Rich In The Face Of Death (49.6-10).

He now points out that the rich are helpless in the face of death. None can redeem his brother, because the price of such redemption is too high. None can give to his brother eternal life and incorruptibility. The implication is that such a redemption might be possible. But not at a cost that the rich can pay, however rich they are.

49.6-9

Those who trust in their wealth,
And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches,
None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
Nor give to God a ransom for him,
(For the redemption of their life is costly,
And it fails for ever),
That he should still live always,
That he should not see corruption.’

He sees men strutting around in their riches and splendour, confident that nothing can drag them down. And then they are suddenly faced with the death of a loved one, and there is nothing that they can do about it. Suddenly all their wealth has become useless. All their money cannot enable them to buy that person back from death. They cannot make anyone live for ever.

The words for ransom and redemption are found in Exodus 21.30 where a man is considered to bear the guilt for a death which is caused by an ox if that ox has gored men previously, thus showing its propensities, and has been allowed to live (thus putting its owner under a responsibility to ensure that it cannot happen again). If it gores a man to death the owner bears the guilt. But in that case ransom and redemption was possible and the courts and the relatives of the dead man could determine the size of compensation which would allow the owner to live.

However, the Psalmist’s point is that when it comes to a man or woman themselves dying, there is no price payable by man that can prevent them from dying and their body corrupting. In this case no ransom is sufficient. The redemption of such a life is too costly. Any attempt to achieve it must fail for ever. Again, however, there is the implication that there is such a redemption. It is simply one that is not achievable by man.

‘By any means redeem.’ This is translating the emphatic repetition of the root for ‘redeem’ in the Hebrew text (padoh yipdeh). We might paraphrase as ‘redeem by redemption’. The idea is that redemption by any earthly means is totally impossible.

‘Nor give to God a ransom for him.’ Indeed none is able to pay sufficient to satisfy God’s requirements. And that is because the price of redemption is too high (‘the redemption of their life is costly’) and all men’s efforts to achieve it can only fail (‘it fails for ever’).

49.10

For he will see it.
Wise men die,
The fool and the brutish alike perish,
And leave their wealth to others.’

‘For he will see it.’ The one who dies will see corruption whatever men do to prevent it. It will be just as true for the wise man as for the fool and brutish. All alike perish. And all alike leave their wealth to others.

Man’s Vain Attempt To Perpetuate Himself Will Be In Vain Whatever He Does (49.11-13).

Men do in their own ineffective way seek to perpetuate themselves. They think that they will live for ever in their children and their children. They set up establishments and foundations in their own name. And they vainly imagine that they will be perpetuated for ever. But it will always fail. Families die out, foundations fail, and any idea of the people themselves disappears into oblivion. Even Alexander the Great is but a bust and a name.

49.11-13

Their inward thought is,
That their houses will continue for ever,
And their dwelling-places to all generations,
They call their lands after their own names.
But man being in honour abides not,’
He is like the beasts which perish.
This their way is their folly,
Yet after them men approve their sayings. [Selah

Man’s vanity and hopeless search for continued remembrance is well brought out here. They vainly hope that they will live on in their children’s children, that their houses will continue for ever. They vainly hope that their family residence will abide for ever. They even call their lands after their own name. Surely that will last for ever? But it does not. Sooner or later it will vanish from the combined memories of man.

For no man’s honour is permanently abiding. Even those whose memories abide are at the mercy of historians and wits. They are not remembered as they would wish to have been. So the truth is that in the end men are like the beasts that perish, with the result that all their attempts to perpetuate themselves turn out to be but folly. And yet after them other foolish men actually approve of their attempts to perpetuate themselves. Such is the folly of mankind.

But For The Upright There Is Hope. For Them There Is A Coming Morning and A Redemption (49.14-15).

These two verses stand out on their own between the two ‘Selahs’. In them the fate of the unrighteous is contrasted with the of the upright. Once again we see in a Davidic Psalm his certainty that somehow God will not let him or the upright perish for ever. This is especially confirmed by the use of the term ‘redeem’ (same root as verse 8). Here there is a redemption. It is wrought by God Who alone can pay the price that is required

49.14-15 ‘They are appointed as a flock for Sheol,

Death will be their shepherd,
And the upright will have dominion over them in the morning,
And their beauty will be for Sheol to consume,
That there be no habitation for it.
But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol,
For he will receive me. [Selah

The truth is that just as sheep follow one another without thought wherever the shepherd leads, so all these men described are appointed as a flock for the world of the grave, entering it by following their shepherd Death, with no way of escape. And all their wealth and beauty will be for the grave to consume. In Sheol there is nowhere for their wealth and beauty to be stored.

But this is in contrast with the upright for whom there is to be a morning. ‘And the upright will trample over them (rule over them, triumph over them) in the morning’, Had it not been for what follows we might simply have seen this as signifying that they would live on and enjoy fullness of life, but the mention of redemption from Sheol argues strongly that such a redemption is indicated for the upright. For them there will be a resurrection morning when at last they receive their reward and triumph over those who have spurned them. See Isaiah 26.19. We can compare how on our behalf Christ rose again from the dead and triumphed over those who assailed Him (Colossians 2.15)

This thought is confirmed by the certainty of the Psalmist himself that his soul will be redeemed from the power (literally ‘the hand’) of Sheol, so that God will receive him. In the light of the previous mention of a redemption so costly that no wealthy man can finance it, the thought must surely be that God Himself can pay that price. The Psalmist is therefore confident that he will be received into the presence of God. He possibly has in mind how Enoch walked with God, and ‘God took him’ (Genesis 5.22-24). A similar idea is in mind when Elijah was taken up into Heaven (2 Kings 2.11, 16-18). Both these examples indicated the possibility of the upright not finally dying. In view of the sacrifices that redeemed men from death it is not a great step from them to the possibility of a greater sacrifice that will redeem men from eternal death, but that is of course not mentioned here. It is, however, made more plain in Isaiah 53.10.

For the Christian the significance is even clearer. Through the offering of Christ once and for all, the greatest price that was ever paid (see 1 Peter 1.18-19), the truly believing Christian has been redeemed from the grave and has been guaranteed eternal life through the resurrection.

The Upright Are Not Therefore To Be Concerned About The Way That The Rich Seem To Flourish, For In The End The Rich Who Do Not Have True Understanding Will Simply Perish Like The Beasts (49.16-20).

The Psalm ends with the assurance that there is no need to fear, or be puzzled, when the rich flourish and increase in wealth and glory, and lord it over men, because when those who lack true understanding die they will take nothing with them. They will no longer be rich. Their glory will not follow them. Rather they will go into everlasting darkness, and will be like the beasts which perish. It is very much a warning to the rich that they ensure that they walk in the ways of the Lord in all their doings.

49.16-20

‘Do not be afraid when one is made rich,
When the glory of his house is increased.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away,
His glory will not descend after him.
Though while he lived he blessed his soul,
(And men praise you, when you do well to yourself,)
He will go to the generation of his fathers,
They will never see the light.
Man who is in honour, and understands not,
Is like the beasts which perish.

Jesus may well have had this Psalm in mind when He told the story of the rich fool (Luke 12.13-20). The picture is of men who appear to be blessed because their prosperity grows and their glory and fame increases. But the Psalmist assures us that they are not to be envied. For when they die they will leave it all behind. And then they will receive the due reward of their behaviour. While they are alive they preen themselves, and ‘bless their souls’, and others praise them because they do well for themselves, but eventually they must go to those who have died before them, and once there they will be in perpetual darkness. ‘They will never see the light.’

And the Psalmist ends the Psalm with the assurance that men who are held in honour on earth, but do not have true understanding (they do not walk in God’s ways), will simply be like the beasts that perish. For that is what by their behaviour they will have revealed themselves to be, mere brute beasts. (Compare how in Daniel 7 the people of God are likened to a ‘son of man’, while those who oppose God are seen as being like wild beasts).

Psalm 50.

Heading.

‘A Psalm of Asaph.’

The Songs of the Sons of Korah having come to an end as far as Book 2 is concerned (42-49), we now have a Psalm of Asaph which stands on its own, presumably because it was seen as forming a bridge between Psalms 49 and 51. This Psalm will then be followed by a number of Psalms of David, and one of Solomon.

As we will see later there are a number of Psalms of Asaph, but the remainder are in Book 3 (73-83) where they are followed by more songs of the Sons of Korah. Asaph was one of David’s three chief musicians, and ‘the sons of Asaph’ continued throughout the generations to provide music for the Temple (2 Chronicles 20.14; 29.13; 35.15. See also Ezra 2.41; 3.10; Nehemiah 7.44; 11.22). For further information see the introduction to Book 3.

Like Psalm 49 this is a teaching Psalm, but more from a prophetic viewpoint. Note, for example, the importance of the divine utterance, the description of the theophany, the stress on spiritual worship as against sacrifice, and the denunciation of the wicked. Thus whereas Psalm 49 was addressed to ‘the peoples’, this Psalm is specifically concerning the people of YHWH. It contains a solemn picture of His judgment of them, as the mighty God YHWH calls on all the earth to witness as He sits to judge His people. It contains a firm warning that if they are to be able to depend on Him to answer them in the Day of Trouble, then they must walk rightly before Him and offer Him true worship.

It can be divided up as follows:

  • 1). God is pictured as coming from Zion, surrounded by the symbols of His majesty described in terms of a tremendous storm. All are called on to witness His act of judgment on His covenant people whom He has caused to be gathered together (50.1-6).
  • 2). God speaks to the majority of His people who have not gone too badly astray and calls on them to recognise that what He requires of them is not sacrifices and offerings which are simply designed to ‘satisfy’ Him. What He requires from them is rather their true worship and obedience. Then they can be sure that He will respond to them in the day of trouble (50.7-15).
  • 3). God speaks to the ‘wicked’, the more overt covenant breakers, whom he sees as blatantly hypocritical, and outlines the activities that cut them off from His mercy. He points out that He is coming in order to ‘reprove’ them and put things right (50.16-21).
  • 4). God calls on all who have forgotten Him to consider, lest they finally discover that there is none to deliver, and promises that to those who truly praise Him and live rightly before Him, He will show the salvation of God (50.22-23).

God Calls On The Whole Earth To Witness His Coming To Judge His People (50.1-6).

This section can be divided up as follows:

  • Who it is Who is coming (verse 1).
  • Where He is coming from and how He is coming (verses 2).
  • The glory in which He is coming (verse 3).
  • The purpose of His coming (verses 4-6).

Who It Is Who Is Coming (50.1).

50.1b

‘The Mighty One, God, YHWH,
He has spoken and called the earth,
From the rising of the sun,
To its going down.’

The One Who is coming is El Elohim YHWH, the mighty God of Gods, YHWH. This unusual combination of divine names is found nowhere else in this particular formation. But the three names do appear together in Joshua 22.22, which speaks of YHWH El Elohim in a most solemn oath; Deuteronomy 4.31, where His people are told ‘YHWH your Elohim is a merciful El’; Deuteronomy 5.9, where God declares, ‘I YHWH your Elohim am a jealous El’, (compare Deuteronomy 6.15); and Deuteronomy 7.9 where His people are told, ‘YHWH your Elohim, He is Elohim, El the faithful.’

The three names bring out three aspects of God. As El He reveals Himself as the Mighty One. As Elohim He reveals Himself as the Creator of Heaven and earth, the One Who is manifest through creation (19.1-6; Genesis 1.1). As YHWH He reveals Himself as Israel’s covenant God, the Self-revealing One (Exodus 3.14-15; 6.3; 20.2). And finally His universality is revealed in that He speaks to the whole known earth, and those who dwell in it, from where the sun rises in the east to where it sets in the west. All are under His sway and are to be interested in His verdict.

Where He Is Coming From And How He Is Coming (50.2a).

50.2

‘Out of Zion,
The perfection of beauty,
God has shone forth.

In the ancient days God shone forth from the Tabernacle (Exodus 40.34, 38). He also shone forth from Sinai and Mount Paran on behalf of His people (Deuteronomy 33.2). Now He is revealing Himself from Mount Zion. It is an open question whether ‘the perfection of beauty’ refers to Zion, or to God. (Do we read as ‘Zion which is the perfection of beauty’ (compare 48.2; Lamentations 2.15) or as ‘As the perfection of beauty God has shone forth’ - compare 29.2). Israel may well have seen Zion, where God dwelt, as the perfection of beauty because of the fact that He dwelt there, something confirmed in Lamentations 2.15, but the fulsome description might be seen as favouring the idea that it refers to God Himself. Lamentations 2.15 may then have arisen from a later application of this description to Zion on the basis of this Psalm. It is not really important. Under either interpretation the perfection of beauty is finally God’s.

Israel did not believe that God was limited to Mount Zion, any more than they saw Him as limited to the Tabernacle or to Sinai. The point was rather that these were places where God had been pleased to manifest Himself on behalf of His people. They knew, however, that, in the words of Solomon, ‘even the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8.27).

The Glory In Which He Is Coming (50.3b).

50.3

Our God comes,
And does not keep silence,
Fire devours before him,
And it is very tempestuous round about him.

God is not coming in silence. He is coming to speak openly to His people, whether out of the splendour of Zion as indwelt by Him, or out of His own glorious splendour. And His glory is revealed as being like a mighty storm, with lightning devouring before Him, and a raging tempest swirling around Him. Compare 19.1-6. There also He was to be worshipped in ‘the beauty of holiness’.

The vision of God as coming in a raging and violent storm is a regular one in Scripture. E.g. 18.7-14; 19.1-6; 97.2-5; Exodus 19.16-18; Isaiah 29.6. For God as a consuming fire see Deuteronomy 4.24; 9.3; Hebrews 12.29.

The Purpose Of His Coming Is To Judge His People (50.4-6).

50.4-6

He calls to the heavens above,
And to the earth, that he may judge his people,
Gather my saints together to me,
Those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
And the heavens will declare his righteousness,
For God is judge himself. [Selah

It is stressed that He has come to pass judgment on His people. The call to Heaven and earth concerning His judgment of His people is paralleled in Deuteronomy 4.26, 32; 31.28; 32.1; Isaiah 1.2-3. Compare Micah 1.2; 6.1-2. They, including their inhabitants, are solemn witnesses who have seen all that has happened since creation.

He desires that His people be gathered together, ‘Those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice’. It is they who made a covenant with Him at Sinai through the blood of the sacrifices (Exodus 24), and are sealed by the blood of the covenant, something which they have ratified since then by continuing sacrifices, and it is they who are being called on to fulfil their responsibilities towards Him. Then the Heavens will declare His righteous judgments, because it is God Himself Who is judging.

The call goes out to gather His ‘saints’ together. Note the use of ‘saints’ (chasid, who are those on whom He has set His covenant love (chesed)), to signify the true people of God. The call may be addressed to the leaders of the people who normally summoned the assembly, or to the angels in Heaven (compare Matthew 24.31), or to Heaven and earth as a whole, or may simply be a general request indicating His desire that they might be gathered together. Whichever is true what matters is that His true people are to be brought together. They were to some extent brought together during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the inter-testamental period, when Israel were once again established as a believing people, and it has been most gloriously fulfilled in establishing the believing remnant of Israel who formed the people of the Messiah, who have gradually become known as ‘the church (ekklesia)’, having incorporated within them believers in the Messiah from among the Gentiles. They are now the true Israel.

‘And the heavens will declare his righteousness.’ This may be stressing that because God is the judge, it is the Heavens and not earth who will declare His righteous judgment, or it may be indicating that the Heavens will confirm the righteousness of the Judge, because the Judge is God Himself. Either way the judgment can be seen as just and righteous.

God Addresses His People As Defendants And Reveals That He Is Not Judging Them Because Of The Inadequacy of Their Physical Sacrifices, Which In Fact Are Not Needed By Him, But Because Of The Inadequacy Of Their Thanksgiving And Faithfulness To Their Vows (50.7-15).

God assures them that He is not judging them because of the inadequacy of their sacrifices. Indeed they were not necessary for His sustenance, because had He required sustenance the whole of nature was His, the world and all its fullness was available to Him. No what He rather requires is their offerings of thanksgiving, and their obedience to their vows. Then they can be sure that when they call on Him He will respond.

We are reminded here of Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15.22, ‘has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen and respond than the fat of rams.’

50.7

‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, and I will testify to you,
God, even your God am I.

God now calls on Israel to listen to Him in what He says to them, for He wants to testify to them. And He reminds them of Who He is. He stresses that He is God, even their own God. That is why they should hear what He has to say.

50.8-10

‘I will not reprove you for your sacrifices,
And your burnt-offerings are continually before me.
I will take no bullock out of your house,
Nor he-goats out of your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
And the cattle on a thousand hills.’

He assures them that He is not reproving them for the quality and number of their sacrifices. Indeed their burnt offerings are continually before Him. Thus it is not their ritual observance that is at fault.

In fact He stresses that He wants nothing more from them in that regard. He will not take any bullock from their house, or he-goats from their fold, for He has no need of them. After all, every beast of the forest is His. He possesses the cattle on a thousand hills. (We have here a typical use of ‘a thousand’ to simply mean a large number. Israelites were not on the whole very numerate, and large numbers tended to be used in this way).

50.11-12

‘I know all the birds of the mountains,
And the wild beasts of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
For the world is mine, and its fullness.’

Continuing the same theme He stresses that He knows all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the countryside. Thus if He had been hungry He would not have needed to tell them, because the whole world was His, and all its fullness.

In many polytheistic religions the belief was that their gods fed on sacrifices, and needed such sacrifices in order to maintain their welfare. But they are assured that this is not true of the God of Israel. He requires no sustenance from sacrifices. Thus they should recognise that their offerings and sacrifices are for their benefit, not His.

50.13-15

‘Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And pay your vows to the Most High,
And call on me in the day of trouble,
I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.’

To suggest therefore that God would eat the flesh of bulls or would drink the blood of goats when they were offered in sacrifice was ludicrous. No. The truth was that what God required of them was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the performance of their vows to serve and worship Him faithfully. In other words He sought their spiritual worship and gratitude, and their fulfilling of their promises. As long as they offered these things they could then be sure that when they called on Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver them, so that they could give glory to God, and give Him glory by their testimony. He is not here speaking of the ‘thanksgiving sacrifice’ of Leviticus 7.12, but of genuine thanksgiving as being itself the ‘sacrifice’ that is pleasing to Him.

It is similar to the worship that is required in the New Testament. ‘Through Him (Who sanctified us through His own blood) therefore let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that make confession to His Name. Do not neglect to do good, and to share what you have with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’ (Hebrews 13.15-16). Man looks at ritual. God looks at the heart.

God Speaks To The ‘Wicked’, The More Overt Covenant Breakers, Whom He Sees As Blatantly Hypocritical, And Outlines The Activities That Cut Them Off From His Mercy. He Points Out That He Is Coming In Order To ‘Reprove’ Them And Put Things Right (50.16-21).

50.16-17

‘But to the wicked God says,
What have you to do to declare my statutes,
And that you have taken my covenant in your mouth,
Seeing you hate instruction,
And cast my words behind you?’

God challenges ‘the wicked’ for their hypocrisy in that they hate His instruction and cast His words behind them, and yet declare His statutes and take His covenant in their mouths. In Israelite society this was almost inevitable for any who wanted to demonstrate their respectability and yet had no wish really to obey God, but that gave them no excuse before God. Rather the opposite. In the same way today many pay lip service to God, but by their lives they deny Him.

The Psalmist then goes on to give examples of their disobedience to God’s instruction and statutes., demonstrating how they ‘cast His words behind them’.

50.18-21

‘When you saw a thief, you consented with him,
And have been partaker with adulterers.
You give your mouth to evil,
And your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother,
You slander your own mother’s son.
These things have you done, and I kept silence,
You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself,
But I will reprove you,
And set things in order before your eyes.’

Examples of their perfidy are now presented in detail. Instead of convicting thieves, they allow them to get away with it, and share with them in their ill-gotten gains. They have partaken in adultery and have not reproved it in others. They speak evil with their mouths, and deceive with their tongues, both by bearing false witness, and by general deception and lies. They even deliberately (they sit) and slanderously speak out wrongly and untruthfully about their own family. And foolishly they think that because God appears to do nothing about it, He is not concerned about it. They think that God is like themselves.

However, He assures them that He is not such a one as themselves. Let them recognise that He will reprove them severely and put things right in front of their eyes. Note the contrast with verse 8 where God did not reprove them in respect of their sacrifices. Now we know that He will, however, reprove them because of their sins. And we should recognise that God’s reproof can be severe and devastating, especially when He sets about putting things right. Large parts of the most painful parts of Israel’s history occurred because of His reproof, and because He was seeking to put things right.

A Final Plea To All His Covenant People (50.22-23).

God now makes a final plea to them to consider their ways, and not forget Him. For if they do He will stand by when they are being torn in pieces and will not deliver them. For His salvation is only available to those who offer up to Him the ‘sacrifice’ of genuine thanksgiving, and order their ways aright.

50.22-23

‘Now consider this,
You who forget God,
Lest I tear you in pieces,
And there be none to deliver,
Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
Glorifies me,
And to him who orders his way (aright) ,
Will I show the salvation of God.

God closes by calling on those who have ‘forgotten’ Him in their lives to consider what He says lest He tear them in pieces like a wild animal tears its prey, and there is no one to deliver them at the time of their distress.

Indeed He wants them to recognise that His deliverance is only available to those who glorify Him by offering to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and who order their way aright. It is to such that He will show the salvation of God. (‘Aright’ is not in the text but clearly has to be read in. The point is that in ‘ordering their way’ rather than living loosely they are doing so in terms of God’s requirements). Those who want to experience YHWH’s salvation will only do so if they respond to Him from a true heart.

Psalm 51.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David; when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba.’

Following the nine Psalms of the sons of Korah and a Psalm of Asaph we now have a further series of Psalms of David. The headings indicate that a number of these, at least, were written by David personally (in some cases ‘to/for David’ could signify the Davidic house). It is 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 first Psalm, one of the most famous of the Psalms, was written by David in repentance over his sin with Bathsheba, when he stole Uriah’s wife from him and then arranged for Uriah’s death (2 Samuel 11). It was one of the blackest moments in his career, and resulted in great grief for him later on when his sons in one way or another followed his example.

Nevertheless David’s genuine repentance is clear from the words of the Psalm. But his experience is a reminder that sin always has its consequences for others, even when we have been forgiven.

An Appeal For Forgiveness And Cleansing (51.1-2).

The Psalm commences with an appeal to God for forgiveness and cleansing. In these verses David throws himself on the mercy of God, in recognition that only in God’s supreme compassion is there any hope for him. He knew that he had committed the sins of adultery and murder, which in earlier times would have resulted in his execution. He knew that for these sins there was no pardon. And yet such is his intense faith that he is convinced that God will pardon him, not because he deserves it, not because of who he is, not through the cultic ritual, but because of God’s great compassion and mercy.

51.1-2

‘Show your grace towards me , O God,
According to your covenant love,
According to the abundance of your tender compassions,
Blot out my transgressions (rebellions),
Launder me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

‘Show your grace towards me.’ Often translated as ‘have mercy on me’ the Hebrew is better translated as ‘show your grace, your unmerited love and favour, towards me’. The emphasis is not on his own need for forgiveness, but on the greatness of God’s undeserved love and favour. He knows that without that he is undone, for he is a defector. He has rebelled against God and thwarted His Law.

He is aware that nothing can excuse what he has done. No sacrifice can atone for it, no way of atonement is provided. He had sinned ‘with a high hand’. His only hope lay in what God is as the One Who is ‘a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and truth, Who keeps mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’ (Exodus 34.6-7).

As one who is within the covenant he points to God’s chesed, His love revealed in the covenant, a sovereign love to those wholly undeserving. He points to the huge number of His tender compassions. And on the basis of this he calls for God to blot out every trace of his acts of rebellion, to thoroughly wash him from his depraved and filthy conduct, and to cleanse him from having turned in the wrong way and missed the mark. He is totally honest. He realises that it is his only hope. Nothing can ameliorate what he has done. He knows that there are no excuses. No sacrifice can avail. He deserves immediate execution. It is total and heartfelt repentance. He is throwing himself utterly on God’s mercy.

‘Blot out my acts of rebellion.’ He wants his record made clean, so that nothing stands against his name that can be brought against him in the future. He knows that strictly speaking adultery and murder are not forgivable sins. His only hope is for the record of them to be totally removed (compare verse 9).

‘Launder me thoroughly from my depraved and filthy conduct’. This is not a reference to cultic washings. The word is never used of the washing of the person in the cult, but of the washing of the person’s clothes, and it never availed for the cleansing of sin. Such washings were regularly followed by the words ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. The washing was preparatory, removing earthly stains from the clothes so that it was possible to wait on a pure God. But it was the time spent waiting on God that cleansed. It has more to do with Jeremiah 2.22; 4.14 where the principle of laundering is applied to the person. In Jeremiah 2.22 it would not avail, but in Jeremiah 4.14 it was seemingly to be effective, and was by their evil thoughts being removed from them. David is thus using a metaphor concerning his need to be laundered clean, taken from daily life and not from the cult.

‘Cleanse me from my sin.’ This verb is more closely connected with cult cleansing, especially with regard to the cleansing of leprosy, but the water there did not physically cleanse the leprosy, it was for cultic ‘cleansing’ once the leprosy was healed or seen as harmless. David, however, would know that for his sins the cult was ineffective. So here, where David was not wanting cultic cleansing (which was not possible for murder and adultery) but full, deep inner cleansing of his life, we are probably to see it as parallel in idea to the previous reference to the laundering of his life. The cult is far from his mind. He wants removal of his filthiness of heart. He has more in mind the royal bath house.

David Freely And Openly Admits His Total Sinfulness And Guilt (51.3-6).

David tells God that he now knows the truth about himself. He no longer dismisses what he has done as unimportant because he is a king and chief judge, and therefore, as the one finally responsible for the law, above the law. For God has brought home to him the depths to which he has fallen. He now recognises his responsibility towards a greater King and Judge. As he said to Nathan when his sin was made clear to him, ‘I have sinned against YHWH’ (2 Samuel 12.13).

51.3-4

For as for me I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned,
And done what is evil in your sight,
That you may be justified when you speak,
And be clear when you judge.

In the Hebrew the ‘I’ is emphasised, which we have indicated by the words ‘as for me’. He is emphasising his inner awareness of his own guiltiness. ‘I know’, that is, I have recognised the situation for what it is and am fully aware of what I have done. I recognise that I have no excuse. ‘My rebellions.’ He has not just done wrong, he has been in rebellion against God, something revealed by his two acts of open rebellion. ‘My sin is ever before me.’ All who have ever come under deep conviction of sin will know what he means. Whatever he tries to do he cannot get away from the heavy weight of guilt that lies upon him. It continually forces itself on his attention. Only God can remove it.

‘Against you, you only have I sinned.’ He had, of course, sinned against Uriah, and he had sinned against the nation by bringing it under the wrath of God. But Uriah was dead and could not hold him accountable. And the nation had no jurisdiction over him. Who else could bring the king into account? There was only One other and that was God. He was responsible only to God. Indeed, it was the shame that he had brought on God’s Name that wholly possessed his thoughts. He was a man who truly loved God, and the thought of how he had disgraced his God tore deep into his heart. It blotted out any other thought.

‘And done what is evil in your sight.’ No one had seen his adultery, he had made sure of that. The murder had been cleverly concealed. Only Joab knew of his desire to have Uriah killed. All his attention had been on ensuring that no one else knew. And he had been quite satisfied in his heart that he was in the clear. But now Nathan had brought home to him the fact that God had been watching all the time. God had seen everything that he had done, and was appalled by it. He had not only done evil, but he had done it openly before God. His greatest sin was his treating of God as though He would not know and flouting His severest Laws before His eyes. The words echo the words of Nathan in 2 Samuel 12.9, ‘why have you despised the word of YHWH, to do what is evil in His sight?’.

‘In order that you may be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge.’ Thus he admitted that God was totally justified in pronouncing judgment against Him, He was after all an eyewitness, and was thus totally in the clear in judging him. No charge could be brought against God of unfairness. He had seen what had been done.

David does not, of course mean that his sin was committed in order that God might be justified, as though the revelation of God’s justice rested upon his having sinned, thus suggesting that his sin has achieved a good purpose. The reference back is rather to his having done it in His sight. It was because he had done it in His sight that God was justified in passing sentence. He had not, of course intended to do it in God’s sight. But all that we do is in His sight. This is why none of us can avoid our sins, or God’s judgment on them. It is because He is an eyewitness to them. And God has determined that all that we do should be done in His sight in order that He might be justified in calling it into account.

51.5-6

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom.

In his deep awareness of his sinfulness David now looks back to how it is he can be so depraved. It is because he was the product of sinful parents. It is because man is inherently sinful so that every child born is sinful. He is not excusing his sin, but recognising his true state, and the true state of every man. There was only One Who was brought forth sinless. And He was not the product of a human father, nor of a human egg. He was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit’s working (Matthew 1.20; Luke 1.35). Thus all men, including the smallest child, is sinful before God, although not guilty until a sin is first committed. However, that act of sin is not long in coming. ‘The unrighteous are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies’ (Psalm 58.3). Lying and deceit is inherent in human nature.

‘Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom.’ God, on the other hand, demands truth. He is the very opposite of man. And what He requires of those who love Him, is not an outward response of truth only, but truth in the inward parts. Total honesty within. This requires the mighty working of God within, spoken of in the Old Testament as being ‘circumcised in heart’ (Deuteronomy 30.6; compare Deuteronomy 10.16; Jeremiah 4.4; Exodus 6.30) and ‘having the law written in the heart’ (Jeremiah 31.33), and in the New Testament as being ‘born from above’ (John 3.3) and ‘newly created’ (2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 2.10). For such an experience only comes about when God makes us to know wisdom in our inner lives. David was thus aware that such an experience could only come about by the divine activity of God.

His Prayer For Forgiveness And For The Removal Of His Sins (51.7-9).

David now turns to the question of how his sins can be removed from him. He recognises that outward ritual would be irrelevant (‘you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it’ - verse 16). There was no prescription for murder and adultery within the cult. That only knew of execution as the way of dealing with them. What David required was the activity of God Himself in removing his sin.

51.7-9

‘Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean,
Launder me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
That the bones which you have broken may rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.

‘Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.’ David uses the language of the cult when he refers to being ‘purified with hyssop’. Hyssop was a common plant that grew on walls and was used as a means of sprinkling water and blood in the cult (see Exodus 12.22; Leviticus 14.4 ff.; Numbers 19.6 ff., 18 ff.). David, in effect, is calling on God to do the same for him. Let Him, as it were, acting as his priest, purify him through the blood of sprinkling (compare 1 Peter 1.2). In mind may have been the water of purification, water containing sacrificial ashes (Numbers, 19.18). But David is probably rising above the cult to the activity of God Himself (compare verse 16). He knew that there was no cosy way out for what he had done. He had sinned ‘with a high hand’. All depended on God to act. His sins were such that only the direct action of God could deal with them. It was an unconscious prophecy that one day God would provide a means of cleansing separate from the cult.

‘Launder me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ That this goes far beyond the cult comes out in the description. He wants God to act directly in laundering him. He wants his heart laundering. And he wants to be ‘whiter than snow’. A similar picture is used in Isaiah 1.16-18, ‘bathe yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well -- though your sins be as scarlet they will be as white as snow.’ The difference lies in the fact that in Isaiah it was people who had to do it by changing the course of their lives, whilst here David recognises that for him only God can do it. But even in Isaiah there is no reference to the cult, for he has previously dismissed the cult as achieving nothing (Isaiah 1.11-15), and in doing so he has ignored cult washing of clothes and cleansing altogether. Thus they do not appear to have been in Isaiah’s mind. The same is probably true of David here. He is thinking of the launderer as providing his metaphor, not the cult. But he certainly wants the evil of his doings to be put away from before God’s eyes (verses 4b, 9), which he recognises can only be achieved by God’s activity.

‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice.’ Having been faced up to his sins David became aware that something of the joy and gladness that he had once known had been lost. Outwardly his religious life continued the same, but he was aware that for some time the inward joy and gladness had been missing (it could hardly have been otherwise). And that had been accentuated once he was faced up with his guilt. So now, in his hope of forgiveness and cleansing, and of the renewing of his spiritual life (verse 10), he prays that his former joy in God might be restored (compare verse 12). He wants to hear his inner self rejoicing in God. The breaking of the bones is not literal. The bones were seen as representing the man within. And that man within had been broken. It had been crushed and had lost the joy of God’s presence. He wanted to be restored to God’s favour. Paradoxically, as he will point out later, the remedy for his broken bones is a broken heart (verse 17).

‘Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.’ He asks God to hide away His face from his sins, in other words not to look on them, to treat them as something that does not come before His gaze. We can compare the words of Hezekiah, ‘you have cast all my sins behind your back’ (Isaiah 38.17). Indeed, he wants them ‘blotted out’ (compare verse 1; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22), in the same way as He had blotted out Amalek from men’s memory (Exodus 17.14; Deuteronomy 25.19), had blotted man out at the Flood (Genesis 6.7; 7.4, 23), and would blot out sinners from His book (Exodus 32.33; Deuteronomy 9.14; 29.20), from the book of the living (Psalm 69.28). He wanted his sins to be no more.

A Prayer For Transformation (51.10-13).

Genuine repentance seeks not only forgiveness, but transformation of life. It is no good asking for forgiveness if we intend to do it again. So David wanted not only to be forgiven but also to be restored into the way of obedience in which he had once walked, for then only could his fellowship with God be restored. And he knew that this required the powerful activity of God within him.

51.10-13

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And make new a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
And take not your holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
And sinners will be converted to you.

‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and make new a steadfast spirit within me.’ The word used for ‘create’ is the one which is regularly used of God’s creative power. It indicates the bringing about of something new. It suggests that he sees his sins as having been so heinous that he needs a new creation to take place within him. His ‘heart’, his mind, will and emotions, needs to be reconstituted because the old has been damaged beyond repair. And only God can do it. This is confirmed by the second verb which means to ‘make new’. He feels that he has failed God so utterly that there has to be a wholly new beginning. A ‘clean’ heart is a heart free from all taint of sin, including being free from adultery (Numbers 5.28). It is a heart which knows and obeys God (Jeremiah 24.7; 32.29; Ezekiel 11.19; 36.26). A steadfast spirit is one that will keep free from succumbing to temptation.

The Law spoke of two kinds of sins. ‘Sins done in ignorance, that is, unwittingly’, for which forgiveness and atonement could be obtained through the offering of sacrifices, and ‘sins with a high hand’ for which the penalty was death. They were acts of open and deliberate defiance of God. Adultery and murder were seen as ‘sins with a high hand’. There was no atonement for them. For those only God acting directly could remit the ultimate penalty.

So David is calling on God to perform the ultimate miracle, the total transformation of his inner life. His awareness of his guilt is so great that he is convinced that nothing less will do. He knows that in God’s eyes his old self is under sentence of death. He is therefore pleading for a new self.

What is described here is precisely what happens when a person commits himself to Jesus Christ for salvation. He becomes a new creation. Old things pass away and all becomes new (2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 2.10; 4.24). He receives a ‘clean’ heart and a ‘steadfast spirit’. It is only the pure in heart who can ‘see God’ (Matthew 5.8). Thus from then on he has to put to death the old man, and respond to the new (Romans 6.2-11; Ephesians 4.22-24). In a sense therefore this prayer cannot be prayed by a Christian, who when he becomes aware of sin knows that his new life is still intact. He prays for renewal rather than making new. But the principle is the same. He still needs God’s powerful work within in order to be renewed.

‘Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy Spirit from me.’ This is speaking of a special enduement of the Spirit for God’s work, not simply of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer. David was very conscious of the fact that he enjoyed a unique privilege. God had taken way His Spirit from Saul and had rejected Saul (1 Samuel 16.14; compare 15.11, 23, 35; 16.1) and had put His Spirit on David (1 Samuel 16.13). Now he was very fearful lest God would do the same to him as he had done to Saul. To be cast from the king’s presence was an indication of rejection, and an indication that the person was no longer suitable to serve the king. In the same way David had visions of this happening to him before God. He is not talking of ‘loss of salvation’ but of loss of acceptability and usefulness. He does not say, ‘restore to me your salvation’, but ‘restore to me the joy of your salvation’.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.’ Earlier (in verse 8) he had prayed for joy and gladness to be restored to his inner man. Now he repeats his request. He had missed the joy of the Lord for so long that he had not realised it. But now it has come home to him with full force, and he prays for it to be restored. The joy was joy in God’s ‘salvation’, the status of being a forgiven sinner. ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered -- in whose spirit there is no guile’ (Psalm 32.1-2). Note the connection of forgiveness of sins with a right spirit within. Here also he connects the two as he prays for a willing spirit, a ‘made new’ spirit (verse 10). This willing spirit parallels his anticipated joy in salvation. Alternately he was praying that God would have a willing spirit towards him. He had sinned deeply with a high hand. In that case he was recognising that the choice lay wholly with God as to whether He forgave him or not, so it was then a question as to whether God was so willing. He was praying that He would be, a prayer shown as answered in 2 Samuel 12.13. But the parallel suggests that the willing spirit was to be David’s (all the other parallels are repeating two parallel ideas).

‘I will teach transgressors (rebels) your ways, and sinners (offenders) will be converted to you.’ These words connect closely with the previous ones. It is only if he is still acceptable in God’s presence and still His anointed one, that he will be in a position to use his position and authority to teach others the right way, and to face men up with their rebelliousness and their offences. His own need of restoration has brought home to him the precarious situation of others before God. But he can only help them if he himself has been restored. It is those who are most conscious of what God has done for them, who seek humbly to help others. He is not bargaining with God. He is asserting his intention once he himself has been restored.

Recognising That His Only Hope Lies In Total And Contrite Submission David Makes A Final Plea That God Will Deliver Him From Blood-guiltiness (51.14-17).

Blood-guiltiness is an idea prominent in the Old Testament. When a person slew another person they were seen as blood-guilty and their lives were seen as forfeit to the ‘avengers of blood’, relatives of the deceased person who sought to take the slayer’s life in return. Indeed, it was seen as incumbent on them to do so. If they slew him no court would find them guilty. It was the only way in which justice could be maintained (there was no police force). That was why ‘cities of refuge’ were provided to which men could flee if they had killed someone accidentally. Once in such a city they were safe. But they could only remain there if they could satisfy the elders of the city that the killing had not been intentional. On the other hand, if the avengers of blood were willing to come to some arrangement (such as compensation) with the killer, then he would go free. Much would depend on the circumstances.

Of course, no one was going to try to kill David. He was too powerful. So in cases like this the idea was that God would take their lives. They were forfeit to Him, which is why Nathan had to assure David, ‘You will not die’ (2 Samuel 12.13). Thus David, recognising this, is pleading for clemency. He is asking that God will withhold his sentence of death. We are all under sentence of death because of sin (Romans 6.23). We also therefore constantly require God’s clemency.

51.14-15 ‘Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation,

And my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Sovereign Lord, you will open my lips,
And my mouth will show forth your praise.

He cries to God to deliver him ‘from blood’. The blood of his victim Uriah cries out to God for vengeance, as did the blood of Abel (Genesis 4.10), and he hopes that like Cain he might, as a consequence of God’s compassion and mercy, be saved from the final punishment that his crime deserved, just as God has delivered him in the past. For he was fully aware of how much he owed to God for past deliverances. God was the God of his salvation. He was only there because God had watched over him so constantly. And he hoped that He would deliver him again. Strictly he could claim before men that he had not killed Uriah. Uriah had died in battle. But he knew that that plea would not work before God. It was he who in a cowardly way had pronounced sentence of death on Uriah (2 Samuel 11.15) for no good reason other than to hide his own sinfulness. We can hardly conceive of those words to Joab as being words of David, if they had not been spelled out in black and white. They are an indication of what even the finest Christian man is capable of when trying to hide something of which he is ashamed.

Alternately ‘from blood’ may signify ‘from his own blood being spilled’ (compare Ezekiel 18.10-13), and it may therefore be a plea to be delivered from his own blood being shed as a consequence of high handed sin. It would also then include his adultery. But in either case he is acknowledging that in God’s eyes he is under sentence of death, and that his only hope lies in the granting of a pardon.

‘And my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.’ He promises that if he is pardoned he will use his gifts as a psalmist and musician to sing about and proclaim God’s righteousness. He will not take his pardon as indicating that God’s standards have been watered down. He will continually declare God’s righteousness and His righteous requirements, in the same way as he has been faced up with them himself. He will not lower God’s requirements by even the smallest amount. But the paralleling of salvation with righteousness would be a theme of Isaiah, where righteousness paralleled with salvation often signifies righteous deliverance. Thus we could translate ‘righteousness’ as ‘righteous deliverance’. He would make clear how a righteous God could deliver in mercy.

‘O Sovereign Lord, you will open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise.’ The king whose power was a byword in his day now addresses God as his Sovereign Lord. He is dumb before Him because of his sins. He recognises that as a rebel he has no right to speak. (In those days a person would not speak in the presence of the king unless given the right to do so by the king. Compare Esther 5.1-2). Thus he tells God as his Sovereign Lord, that when, having pardoned him, He gives him permission to speak (opens his lips), his mouth will show forth His praise. He will humbly (verse 17) proclaim the goodness, righteousness and mercy of God.

51.16-17

‘For you do not delight in sacrifice, else would I give it,
You have no pleasure in burnt-offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

He acknowledges that no offering that he offers, no sacrifice that he sacrifices, will be acceptable to God, because for the sins that he has committed no such sacrifice was provided. If offered in repentance sacrifices could atone for unwitting sins, but they could not atone for the sins of which he was guilty, ‘sins with a high hand’. He had blatantly committed capital crimes for which the only remedy was execution. If he brought sacrifices God would not delight in them (the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH - Proverbs 15.8). If he brought offerings God would have no pleasure in them. That his particular situation was in mind comes out in the words ‘or else I would give it’. Both before and after this time he would offer offerings and sacrifices aplenty, but at this stage he recognised that they would simply not be acceptable. He was restrained from offering them because he had put himself beyond their scope.

The only sacrifices that he could offer to God at this stage were the sacrifices of a broken spirit, and a broken and contrite heart. It was all that was open to him But these he was sure God would receive. He would not despise them (as He would offerings and sacrifices from the unrighteous). It was possibly these words that Isaiah had in mind in Isaiah 57.15.

‘A broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.’ A broken spirit and heart are a spirit and heart whose resistance has been ‘broken’ by God’s rebuke and chastening (Proverbs 3.11-12), and which are thus contrite (repentant and grieved). These are what God seeks in all cases of sin. ‘Whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. --- If you are without chastening, then you are illegitimate children and not sons’ (Hebrews 11.6, 8).

A Prayer For The Prosperity of Jerusalem (5.18).

The Psalm as it now stands ends with this prayer. It was possibly not a part of the original Psalm, (which was David’s written confession), but added when the Psalm became part of public worship. Although if David specifically wrote the Psalm with its use in public worship in mind, he could have included it at the beginning. It was a plea for God to protect Jerusalem, and prosper it, so that it would continue to offer up sacrifices and offerings, and sustain the worship of YHWH. The adding of it also made clear that verse 16 was not repudiating sacrifices and offerings.

Many see it as added after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, when the walls needed to be totally rebuilt. But against such a suggestion is the thought that we might then have expected the prayer to be for the restoration of the Temple. Building the walls of Jerusalem was not at the time the first priority. The offering of offerings and sacrifices required an altar and a Temple rather than a walled city (Ezra 3). But the prayer for God to ‘build the walls of Jerusalem’ could refer to any time after a siege in which parts of the walls had been severely damaged, of which there were a number known to us. Or it could indeed refer to attempts to repair and improve the fortifications after the taking over of the fortress city from the Jebusites (the word for ‘build’ means more than just ‘repair’). We know specifically that such improvements took place in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 3.1), and David, with that end in view, may well have established a liturgical prayer for that to prosper. That would then make Jerusalem safe from invaders and ensure continuation of the cult at the Tent set up by David to house the Ark. But it is impossible to be sure.

51.18-19

Do good in your good pleasure to Zion,
Build you the walls of Jerusalem.
Then will you delight in the sacrifices of righteousness,
In burnt-offering and in whole burnt-offering,
Then will they offer bullocks on your altar.

The Psalm, along with other Psalms of David, was probably taken over for public worship in the time of David when David expanded pubic worship in the way that the Chronicler describes. It would then become a Psalm of penitence through which the people expressed their penitence to God for their sins. It could well have been at this stage that this verse was added in order to make the Psalm more expressive of the prayers of the people, or it may be that David was writing the Psalm with public worship in mind from the beginning.

The call is for God to ‘do good’ to Jerusalem and ‘build’ its walls, so that it would prosper and be kept safe from its enemies. It could refer to any period from David onwards. And the aim was the safe and permanent establishment of the cult of YHWH within its walls. As a consequence of that security God would be able to delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering, with bullocks being offered on YHWH’s altar, i.e. the one set up in Jerusalem.

‘The sacrifices of righteousness’ may well have been called that in contrast with the sacrifices that had previously been offered up by the Jebusite priesthood. They were seen as false sacrifices. This would then point to it having been written in the time of David. Or it may refer to the restoring of the untainted cult after the Exile, the ‘sacrifices of righteousness’, offered in purity of worship, being distinguished from the tainted sacrifices offered before the Exile. The ‘burnt offering’ (the ‘going up offering’) had in mind the time when the sacrifice was being offered up as offerings which ‘go up’. The ‘whole burnt offering’ (the ‘completed’ or ‘wholly consumed’ offering) then indicated the time when the burnt offering was wholly consumed. The one would result in the other. Burnt offerings were offered daily in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the process would be continual. As one burnt offering was finally consumed, another would replace it. Worship was continual. Or there may have been a technical difference between ‘burnt offerings’ and ‘whole burnt offerings’ (both are technical terms for ‘whole offerings’ in the Hebrew but the latter is only used in respect of offerings on behalf of priests - Leviticus 6.22, 23).

Psalm 52.

Heading.

These headings were attached later and may well not be part of the inspired text (in the same way as we divide the original text into chapters and verses, divisions which are convenient but not inspired). They may have been later attempts to find a life situations in which to place the Psalms in question.

52.1a

‘For the Chief Musician. Maschil of David; when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech.’

This is another Psalm dedicated to the choirmaster. It is the first of four Maschils of David in succession (52-55). Thirteen Psalm are described as Maschils, eleven of them in Parts 2 & 3 of the Psalms. (These are, Psalms 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, 142). It may be that Maschil signifies ‘making wise/skilful’. The word maschil means ‘understanding’, and has been variously interpreted as meaning, ‘a teaching Psalm’ (although that does not appear to fit all its uses); ‘a meditation’, bringing understanding; or a ‘skilful Psalm’ indicating a complicated setting.

The occasion for the composition of the Psalm is seen as the time when Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief herdsman, saw David visiting the high priest Ahimelech in order to obtain food for his men as he fled from Saul. Doeg reported this back to Saul which resulted in the massacre of all the priests at Nob (a priestly city). See 1 Samuel 21.1-9; 22.9-23.

There are indications in the Psalm which would tie in with this suggestion. As Saul’s chief herdsman (a post of high distinction) Doeg would be seen as a ‘mighty man’ (verse 1b), a man of wealth (verse 7), and verse 5 could well have in mind what happened to the priests of Nob. He certainly deceived Saul into thinking that Ahimelech had betrayed him (verse 3). It is probable that David found rest and recreation in writing Psalms, and his feelings of guilt when he learned from Abiathar what had happened might well have been assuaged by writing this Psalm as a kind of curse on Doeg (verse 5), and a vindication of himself (verse 8). This would explain why the concentration is on the man rather than on the incident. He is drawing God’s attention to the kind of man that Doeg is. As a consequence the Psalm has reference to all evil men.

The Psalm is divided up by ‘Selah’ into three parts:

  • A Description Of Man’s Sinfulness (52.1b-3).
  • A Description Of The Consequences To Himself Resulting From His Sinfulness (52.4-5).
  • A Description Of How The Righteous See His Fate And The Personal Vindication Of Each Of The Righteous Concerning Themselves (52.6-9).

A Description Of Man’s Sinfulness (52.1b-3).

In the first verse the ‘man of substance’ is asked why he boasts continually about mischief he has wrought in the light of the fact of the continually enduring covenant love of God. He is then described as a man who speaks wickedness and deceit, and who loves evil rather than good, and lying rather than honesty.

52.1b

‘Why do you boast yourself in mischief, O mighty man?
The covenant love of God (endures) continually’

These opening lines sum up the message of the Psalm. Certain men of substance boast about their wrongdoing, failing to recognise that there is a God Who will call them to account. They see themselves as above the law, but can be sure that God will finally deal with them as they deserve. And this is because His covenant love towards His own (His love which fulfils His responsibility to those who are within His covenant) is continuous. He will not overlook anything that is done against them. He does not overlook what men do to His true servants, and will in time deal with them accordingly. They have thus no reason to boast. The implication is that they should rather hide themselves in shame.

We have in these words the assurance that those who truly respond to God from the heart, looking to Him as those who have committed themselves to Him on the basis of His declared promises (His covenant), can be sure that God will call to account any who seek to do them harm, because God’s love to His own never fails.

‘O mighty man (gibbor).’ Thus a man strong in either prowess on the field of battle, or in wealth and status as a consequence of his talents. There may be some sarcasm in the description, in that the gibbor is seen as opposing himself to the mighty God. He sees himself as ‘mighty’ but he pales into insignificance before ‘the Almighty’.

Doeg, holding a prominent position in Saul’s entourage, insidiously reported to him suggesting that Ahimelech, who was wholly innocent of wrongdoing, was a traitor. He could have enquired of Ahimelech and discovered the truth, but he preferred to go behind his back and spread insinuations. Ahimelech, the anointed High Priest, was seemingly a good man, and faithful to God’s covenant. Thus by attacking him Doeg was attacking God. And he no doubt did boast afterwards about what he had done. Such men always do. Thus the words are particularly apposite to his case. If he was still alive when David took the throne, we need not doubt that he would be called to account. Ahimelech’s son Abiathar, David’s High Priest, would see to that.

52.2-3

‘Your tongue devises wickednesses,
Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.’
‘You love evil more than good,
And lying rather than to speak righteousness. [Selah

The mischief of the mighty man in verse 1 is now defined. He is a man whose tongue devises many types of wickedness, cuts men and their reputations to shreds like a sharp razor, and works deceitfully. Such men prefer evil to good (compare Isaiah 5.20), and lying to truthfulness. They reckon that in order to be successful in life goodness and truthfulness must be forfeited because they can be too much of a hindrance. And as men mature in sin they become more and more incapable of discerning right from wrong. Their consciences are ‘seared with a hot iron’ (1 Timothy 4.2).

Such a man sounds totally disreputable. But there is something of this in us all. Before we nod and pass on we should consider our own lives. We also may scheme to hurt people whom we do not like, may use our tongues like a sharp razor, may pass on rumours and insinuations, may at times act deceitfully and prefer evil to good. So this man is just ourselves amplified. And it is only the power of Christ that can root this out of us.

That it was true of Doeg is unquestionable. He was not concerned to find out the truth of the situation, (Ahimelech genuinely thought that David was on the king’s business), but preferred sneaking to Saul behind Ahimelech’s back, no doubt hoping for reward. Why discover the truth when you can turn what you know to such good account? It is a warning to us all to discover the truth before we pass information on. False information is deceit.

At the end of the three verses we find the word ‘selah’. This was possibly a musical pause, and may well be seen as saying, ‘think of that’.

A Description Of The Consequences To Himself Resulting From His Sinfulness (52.4-5).

The Psalmist now tells us that what a man sows he will reap. In the final analysis God will do to men what they have done to others. Thus those who devour with their words will themselves be devoured.

52.4-5

‘You love all devouring words,
O you deceitful tongue.’
In the same way God will destroy you for ever,
He will take you up, and pluck you out of your tent,
And root you out of the land of the living.’ [Selah

‘Devouring words’ are literally ‘words which swallow up’. They cause harm, and even death. The deceiver loves such words, for they enable him to obtain his ends, at whatever cost to those whom he denigrates. Doeg’s words certainly ‘swallowed up’ Ahimelech and the priests of Nob. And they were certainly ‘plucked from their tents (homes) and rooted out of the land of the living’. Thus the application to Doeg as a recompense for what he had done is very apposite.

And the warning to all who love devouring words which ‘swallow people up’, is that they also will be ‘taken up’ by God, will be ‘plucked from their tents’, and will be ‘rooted out of the land of the living’. What they have done to others will be done to them. God will destroy them for ever.

The verbs are forceful, almost violent. ‘Plucked from their tents’. Compare how in Deuteronomy Israel were warned that if they did not observe YHWH’s Instruction (His Torah - Law) they too would be plucked out of the land which YHWH had given them (Deuteronomy 26.63). ‘Tents’ was a synonym for their homes, commonly found throughout the Old Testament. ‘Rooted out of the land of the living’ may have in mind weeds which, in order to be destroyed, were torn up by their roots. This was precisely what had happened to the priests at Nob.

‘O you deceitful tongue.’ In other words, ‘you man with a deceitful tongue’. The man is spoken of in terms of his tongue.

A Description Of How The Righteous See The Deceitful Man’s Fate And The Personal Vindication Of Each Of The Righteous Concerning Themselves (52.6-9).

52.6

‘The righteous also will see, and fear,
And will laugh at him, (saying),

The righteous will see what happens to such a man and will be filled with awe. And ‘they will laugh at him’ in incredulity. Being themselves filled with awe at the thought of the holiness of God they will be amazed that he could be so foolish. The laugh is not vindictive. Rather they are laughing at his folly. They cannot believe that he could be so foolish. The aim is to bring out the extreme foolishness of his ways as will now be described. Compare Proverbs 1.26-30. To laugh vindictively at what befalls an evil man is forbidden in Proverbs 24.17-18 with the warning that God will not be pleased..

52.7

‘See, this is the man who did not make God his strength,
But trusted in the abundance of his riches,
And strengthened himself in his wickedness.’

They will say to one another, ‘This is the man who did not make God his strength, but rather trusted in the abundance of his riches, and thus strengthened himself in his wickedness’. Like all men he had had a choice. He could have found his strength in God. He could have looked to Him for strength. But he rather trusted in his riches. He saw being wealthy as more important than pleasing God, for he was convinced that in riches he would find security and happiness. They would be his stay. But they would be of little use when disaster struck, and his wealth was taken from him, or when he became ill and died.

And because his trust had been in the abundance of his riches, striving to obtain more and more by any means, he became convinced that nothing else mattered. He felt that nothing could harm him, and this bolstered him up in the wrongdoing that he perpetrated. After all, it was through wrongdoing that his riches had been gained. And wrongdoing would make him richer.

Doeg had become wealthy. He was chief of all Saul’s herdsmen, which in those days, in a land where agriculture was its mainstay, was a very important position. And it was this that had persuaded him to act as he did in the hope of gaining favour and obtaining more wealth. His mind was fixed on ‘getting on’. He thus disregarded truth, whilst his wealth, and his desire for more, strengthened him in his wrongdoing. Jesus warned men of the deceitfulness of riches (Mark 4.19), and Paul pointed out that a desire for wealth was at the root of all evil and had brought on men many sorrows (1 Timothy 6.10). It is one thing to prosper. It is quite another to make it your goal in life.

52.8

‘But as for me, I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God,
I trust in the covenant love of God for ever and ever.’

These may well be a continuation of the words of the righteous, individualised to each one. Or else they may be the words of the Psalmist himself, as representing the righteous. The change to the individual may well be intended so as to cause each singer to make his own personal dedication to God as he sings the Psalm in the Temple area.

In contrast with the man who will be rooted up is the one who, rather than being rooted up, is firmly established like a green olive tree in the house of God. A green olive tree was so because its roots went deep and were well watered (compare Psalm 1.3). And being established as such in the house of God indicated his loyalty to God and to the covenant. It was this that made him fruitful. The covenant was the covenant established at Sinai (Exodus 20.1 onwards), as partly reproduced and expanded on in Deuteronomy. It was the covenant of those who had been redeemed responding to their Redeemer. It was a covenant that constantly revealed God’s covenant love for his obedient people (Deuteronomy 7.8; Hosea 11.1; Malachi 1.2), a love that could be wholly relied on by those who walked with Him. It was a love in which they could trust for ever.

‘The green olive tree’ is said elsewhere to be God’s designation of Israel (Jeremiah 11.16). Paul would later use it a picture of the remnant of Israel who received the Messiah, where it incorporated Gentiles who believed in the Messiah (Romans 11.17). These were the true Israel as opposed to the false who were broken off.

(We should note the clear indication in this and many Psalms that ‘not all Israel, were Israel’ (Romans 9.6). The covenant only benefited those who were obedient to it. The remainder would be rooted out and cast off. This was continually so throughout Israel’s history).

52.9

‘I will give you thanks for ever, because you have done it,
And I will hope in your name, for it is good, in the presence of your saints.’

The Psalmist ends with thanksgiving and praise. He gives thanks for what God has done, rooting out the unrighteous, and establishing the righteous. And this causes him to have continual hope in YHWH’s Name, the Name which is ‘good’, revealing the love and holiness of God. He is confident that God will continue to cause the righteous to flourish, and the unrighteous to be rooted out. And he does it in the presence of God’s ‘beloved ones’, that is, beloved within the covenant, those who are true to Him, an indication that this Psalm has been made suitable for public worship.

Psalm 53.

This Psalm is mainly a repetition of Psalm 14 but here using ‘God’ all the way through. The other main change occurs in verse 5, a change which suggests that this Psalm is an adaptation of Psalm 14 written in order to celebrate the defeat of a particular enemy. But the adaptation is a careful one for the consonants used (in the Hebrew text) are very similar as though the writer wanted to keep as near to the original text as possible. It is a clever piece of adaptation.

Heading (53.1a).

53.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Mahalath. Maschil of David.’

The Psalm is once again dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and is set to the tune of Mahalath (which possibly means ‘sickness’, and may be the opening word of another Psalm for which this tune was first composed. Or it may be a mournful tune bewailing the sickness of mankind in his sins). It is again a Maschil of David. This last may refer to the original Psalm and not to the adaptation.

The World’s Verdict On The Living God And God’s Verdict On Them (53.1-3).

The man who is corrupt and sins in a way which is an abomination to God (a concept regularly found in Proverbs) is here described as ‘a fool. By his actions he has foolishly treated God as though He does not exist.

53.1b

‘The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity,
There is none who does good.’

In these words a general verdict is passed by God on mankind. None are good. All are in one way or another corrupt. They behave like fools because they reject the idea of Him as the One Who is, and the One to Whom they are accountable. They may do this by having many gods, and worshipping idols who but represent aspects of creation (compare Romans 1.18-23), or simply by gross disobedience to the covenant with God (the Law of Moses), but the underlying fact is that 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. It is expressive of those who do outwardly worship YHWH, but who in their hearts ignore Him. They worship Him outwardly in the Temple area, but in their lives they live as though He does not exist.

‘The fool.’ This is 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. Under other Hebrew words for ‘fool’ he is prominent in Proverbs. Inevitably he always sees himself as wise.

‘In his heart.’ It is not his intellect that rejects the idea of God, but his mind, will and emotions. He may ‘believe in God’, but 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 iniquity.’ Compare Genesis 6.11. They are corrupt within and their lives reveal what they really are, sinful, violent, idolatrous, and/or sexually perverted. See Romans 1.18-32.

‘There is none who does good.’ This is the final verdict on the world. They are cited in Romans 3.10 in order to demonstrate that all men are sinners. All mankind are fools in this sense, for sin is folly. The difference is that some have found forgiveness, and have begun to live in a new way. 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.

53.2

God looked down from heaven on the children of men,
To see if there were any who understood, Who sought after God.’

But God would not judge men without a fair examination, and so He looked down to see if there were any who understood and who sought after Him. (In Jeremiah 5.1 ff. he challenges Jeremiah to do the same). 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. He examines men in depth testing out, not what they say to Him, but their true understanding, and response

53.3 ‘Every one of them is gone back, they are together become filthy,

There is no one who does good, no, not one.’

He declares that all have turned aside, even the best; all have walked in ways that are sinful, all have become morally tainted (compare Job 15.16). There was not one man on earth who continually did good and did not sin (Ecclesiastes 7.20). (For the thought of the one man Who would come Who would not sin see Isaiah 50.2 with 4-9; 52.13-53.12).

God Expresses His Surprise At The Inability Of The Nations To Recognise That Israel/Judah Are His People (53.4)

53.4

‘Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on God?’

God is perplexed at the folly of men. He cannot believe that they are so lacking in wisdom and common sense. Do they have no knowledge and understanding? Do they not recognise that those who are in covenant with Him are His people? They neither call on God nor treat well those who do truly call on Him.

The fact that they do not call on God, that is on YHWH (14.5), would appear to point to foreign nations. They ‘eat up My people as they eat bread’. ‘My people’ must refer here to Israel/Judah, but especially 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 then seen as combined with the enemy (this is made clear in the Book of Ezra). 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; Ezra 4-5). 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 have turned away from the covenant. 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.

In Their Folly The Nations Have Invaded Israel/Judah And, Being Rejected By God, Have Been Utterly Defeated (53.5).

53.5

‘There were they in great fear, where no fear was,
For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you,
You have put them to shame, because God has rejected them.’

Apart from the first clause this verse is totally different in meaning from 14.5-6. Clearly it has been adapted to a new situation, an invasion that failed, even though the consonantal text is similar. It is clear that the adapter realised that he was dealing with a sacred text, and changed it as little as possible. In 14.5 the great fear was that of Israel’s enemies. Here it is Israel’s fear because of their enemies. But the Psalmist points out that there was no need for that fear, because God was with them. And as a consequence He had scattered the bones of their enemies who had encamped against them.

Because He had rejected them Israel was able to put them to shame, presumably by defeating them in some way. This could refer to Judah’s ‘victory’ over Sennacherib as described in Isaiah 36-37, with the idea that there had really been nothing to fear because God was with them, although it had certainly seemed at the time that there was something to fear. But the addition of ‘you have put them to shame’ militates against this, unless we see it as meaning that they put them to shame by their prayers. For the people had nothing to do, apart from prayer, with the defeat of the Assyrians. It could thus refer to some similar invasion that was thwarted, where there was no real danger because God was with the forces of Israel/Judah. Verses 1-4 are here given as an explanation of why God had rejected their enemies.

A Final Cry That Israel/Judah Might Be Freed From The Yoke That is Upon Them (53.6).

53.6

‘Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!
When God brings back the captivity of (or ‘restores the fortunes of’) his people,
Then will Jacob rejoice,
Israel will be glad.’

These words bring the Psalm back on track as parallel with Psalm 14, being almost word for word the same. The psalmist finishes on a note of longing for Israel’s final deliverance when their king will rule to the ends of the earth (Psalm 2.8) and they will thus experience such invasions no more. ‘O that Israel’s deliverance had come’. This confirms that they are here seen as having been under some kind of misfortune. In Job 42.10 the verb is translated ‘restores the fortunes’ and clearly signifies a restoring 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, and a prayer for deliverance from it. But the prayer is finally not just for deliverance but for final deliverance when God’s final purpose of deliverance for His people comes about through the establishing of God’s everlasting rule Psalm 2.8-9; 2 Samuel 7.13, 16; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4. And as a consequence of the restoring of their fortunes Jacob (Israel) will rejoice, and Israel will be glad.

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 possibly to see them here 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 God 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 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 Him and His people and see it as folly. And it ends on the positive note that salvation is yet coming for His people.

Psalm 54.

Heading (54.1a).

54.1a

‘For the Chief Musician, on stringed instruments. Maschil of David; when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, “Does not David hide himself with us?”

Dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and to be played on stringed instruments, this is another Maschil of David. It is said in the heading to have been written when the Ziphites, in the Judean wilderness, betrayed David to Saul (1 Samuel 26.1). That was a particularly difficult time for David, for having built up a private army a few hundred strong, he had previously been in danger of being handed over to Saul by the men of Keilah, whom he had delivered from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23.1-13). Having therefore escaped to the wilderness of Judea he was once more betrayed to Saul by the Ziphites, who may well have been very concerned at having such a large armed contingent in their territory.

The Psalm divides into two sections separated by the usual word Selah, indicating a pregnant pause in the singing, when the singers and listeners could pause to consider what had been said. The two sections are as follows:

  • David Prays To Be Delivered From The Hands Of Saul (54.1b-3).
  • David Expresses His Confidence In God’s Protection And Deliverance, And Assures Him That He Will Not Be Short On Gratitude (54.4-6).

David Prays To Be Delivered From The Hands Of Saul (54.1b-3).

54.1b-2

‘Save me, O God, by your name,
And judge me in your might.
Hear my prayer, O God,
Give ear to the words of my mouth.’

David calls on God to deliver him ‘by His Name’, in other words by the character and attributes that that Name reveals. It would be in His Name that David was anointed by Samuel to be Saul’s replacement (1 Samuel 16.12-13), which David no doubt saw as giving him the right to God’s protection. It was to Samuel that David first fled when he recognised that he was no longer safe from Saul’s jealousy (1 Samuel 19.18). He was also relying on what that Name revealed of loyalty to those who observed His covenant (which Saul had failed to do).

‘Judge me in Your might.’ He calls on God as ‘the Strong One’ to consider his case and act accordingly, demonstrating a verdict in favour of David by acting in might on his behalf. Confident that he is in the right, David calls on God to hear his prayer, and listen to what he has to say..

54.3

‘For strangers are risen up against me,
And violent men have sought after my life,
They have not set God before them. [Selah

He points out to God that strangers and violent men have risen up against him and are seeking his life, because they have not given consideration to God’s purposes. They are not looking to God for guidance (something that David constantly did. See for example, 1 Samuel 23.9-12; 2 Samuel 2.1). ‘Strangers’ regularly signifies ‘foreigners’ of whom there may well have been a good number in Saul’s standing army. Having come to dwell in Israel they would be content to be on full time duty because they possessed no land which had to be cultivated (they may have included the Habiru of 1 Samuel 14.21. Habiru (landless people) were often mercenaries). One such was Doeg the Edomite who might well have been in David’s mind. (David’s mighty men also included non-Israelites). Or ‘strangers’ may refer to the Ziphite wilderness dwellers, who lived lives separately from ‘civilised society’.

David Expresses His Confidence In God’s Protection And Deliverance And Assures Him That He Will Not Be Short On Gratitude (54.4-6).

54.4-5

‘Behold, God is my helper,
The Sovereign Lord is of those who uphold my life.
He will requite the evil to my enemies,
Destroy you them in your truth.’

Having prayed to God he is confident of God’s help and protection. He sees God as his helper. For had God not anointed him to replace Saul? How then could He not help him to escape from Saul? And he sees Him as the Sovereign Lord (adonai) Who is the Upholder of his life, as One Who is on his side. He is thus confident that God will respond to the evil of his enemies by Himself acting against them, requiting them for what they are doing. And that, having by anointing David demonstrated His favourable attitude towards him, He will be true to His promise so given.

54.6

‘With a freewill-offering will I sacrifice to you,
I will give thanks to your name, O YHWH, for it is good,
For he has delivered me out of all trouble,
And my eye has seen (my desire) on my enemies.’

David then promises that he himself will respond in gratitude. He will sacrifice a freewill offering to God, and will give thanks to Him under His covenant Name of YHWH, a Name which he declares to be ‘good’ (totally reliable, dependable and trustworthy). Contrast this offering of a sacrifice with 51.16 where, because he had sinned with a high hand, he knew that no sacrifice would be acceptable until he was sure of forgiveness as a consequence of God’s free and unmerited favour.

The goodness of YHWH’s Name is especially brought out by the fact that He has delivered David from ‘all trouble’, something demonstrated by the fact that David’s eye has seen what was necessary for his deliverance on his enemies. (‘Desire’ is not there in the Hebrew. David did not desire their discomfiture as such, in the sense of wanting them to suffer and gloating over them. He sought it because it was the only way in which he could be delivered)

Note the fairly unusual use (in this Second Part of Psalms) of the Name YHWH. It is an indication that he is seeing God as having helped him because He is the covenant God.

Psalm 55.

Heading (55.1a).

55.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; on stringed instruments. Maschil of David.’

As with Psalm 54 we have a Psalm dedicated to the Choirmaster, or chief musician, which was to be played on stringed instruments, and was a Maschil of David. No indication is given of the specific ‘situation in life’ of the Psalm. It does, however, describe the bitter attacks in some way of the Psalmist’s enemies and his betrayal by a close and formerly trusted friend who has become a bitter enemy (compare Psalm 41.5). It would fit well into the time when David, having been one of Saul’s leading commanders, had to flee from him for his life, and would suggest that at that time, not only did those who were jealous of him seek to undermine him, but one of his trusted companions turned against him. We have no indication in the Book of Samuel of any such person, but it is a very likely scenario, and it may have in mind a situation like that in 1 Samuel 19.11-17. He was probably well admired, and it is quite possible that one who professed to be his loyal friend was sent by Saul to kill him. A similar kind of rejection would also happen to great David’s greater son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Some connect it with Absalom and the treacherous Ahithophel, but the language is hardly suitable. Absalom was not David’s equal, he was his son, nor would David as king have spoken of Ahithophel in such terms. Indeed, it is difficult to see how David could have spoken of his son whom he loved so dearly without making that fact clear. As suggested it could rather possibly have in mind the incident in 1 Samuel 19.11-17).

A strange thing about the Psalm is that the use of Selah is unusual in that it does not, as in most cases, bring about a pause at a place which indicates an immediate change of emphasis in the Psalm. On the other hand, in each case good reason can be seen for the pause.

A Desperate Plea For God To Hear Him In The Light Of The Terrible Oppression And Persecution That He Is Facing (55.1b-3).

David calls on God to hear his cries for help as he faces the threatenings of his enemies who are persecuting him.

55.1b-3

‘Give ear to my prayer, O God,
And do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Listen carefully to me, and answer me,
I am restless in my complaint, and moan agitatedly,
Because of the voice of the enemy,
Because of the oppression of the wicked,
For they roll iniquity on me,
And in anger they persecute me.’

Using three different methods of expression (‘give ear to -- do not hide yourself from my supplication -- listen carefully’), an indication of the completeness of his intercession, he calls on God to hear what he has to say. He is desperate for an answer. He is restless (roams around and therefore cannot sit still) as he considers what he has to complain about, and moans agitatedly, because of what his enemy is saying about him, and because of the oppression of unrighteous men. He is being verbally attacked on every side, and having his reputation ruined. For they are accusing him of all kinds of things (rolling iniquity on him as stones are rolled on an enemy) and in their rage against him are persecuting him. The darling of Israel’s womenfolk has become the butt of men’s jealous hatred. They are out to get him.

He Describes His Inner Condition (55.4-5).

He points out to God his deep distress of heart. The situation has become too much for him. Living under the constant threat of execution by a jealous Saul could not get rid of him because of his popularity, and yet saw him as a threat to the crown, must have been very difficult for someone not brought up at court, who was not used to political intrigues and infighting. When we find ourselves out of our depth it is to God that we can turn.

55.4-5

‘My heart is sore pained within me,
And the terrors of death are fallen on me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come on me,
And horror has overwhelmed me.’

He declares how he was hurt, humiliated, and afraid at his undeserved treatment, and in a man of David’s calibre, who had no fear of the lion and the bear and Goliath, this really meant something. As a righteous man whose only aim was to be loyal and to do good, he found their attitude difficult to comprehend. His heart was well nigh broken at the treatment that he was quite unjustifiably receiving, and he was aware that at any moment he could be in danger of an ignominious death. For he was, or would soon be, a proscribed outlaw, being sought by those who would kill him on sight. It was not that he was afraid to die, but that he feared the kind of death that he would have to face, a death of ignominy and shame like that of a hunted animal. The thought appalled him, and made him shudder. He was overwhelmed with horror at the thought.

He Longs To Escape Into A Safe Place Where He Would Find Rest And No Longer be Subjected To His Trials (55.6-8).

He longs to be able to escape from his present situation into a place where he can be safe from threats, and where he can leave his problems behind him. But life is not like that, and he realises that it cannot be, which is why he restricts the thought to words, and does not carry it into effect. If you have been anointed by God for some responsibility, you cannot just walk away from it.

55.6-8

‘And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove!
Then would I fly away, and be at rest,
Lo, then would I wander far off,
I would lodge in the wilderness.’ [Selah
I would haste me to a shelter,
From the stormy wind and tempest.’

He thinks enviously of how the dove can fly away to inaccessible crags where it is safe, and wishes that he had wings so that he could fly away to a place of refuge in a similar way and be at rest in his soul. He longs to be able to wander far off and find shelter and security in the wilderness, where he might be alone and secure. (Moses actually did this, but his position had become extreme - Exodus 2.15-22). If only the opportunity was there he would hastily seek a shelter from the stormy winds and tempests of life. The impression that we have is that he was hanging on precariously. Later, of course, this wish would be partially fulfilled. He would flee into the wilderness with his men. But it was only because he had no alternative.

We note that both here and in verse 19 ‘selah’ interrupts the flow of his words. This is probably in order to confirm his agitation, and to make the listeners concentrate on what has just been said. To lodge in the wilderness was no light matter, for it indicated being apart from men like a fugitive.

He Describes The City From Which He Has Escaped As, For Him At Least, A Place Of Violence, Strife And Wickedness (55.9-11).

He describes the city in which he has been dwelling as a place of continual threat and intrigue, and he calls on God to cause confusion among them and render them harmless.

55.9-11

‘Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongue,
For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go about it on its walls,
Iniquity also and mischief are in the midst of it.
Wickedness is in the midst of it,
Oppression and guile do not depart from its streets.’

Probably having in mind the situation in Babel in Genesis 11.1-9 where God stepped in and divided the language of the people so as to render them relatively harmless, he calls on his ‘Sovereign Lord’ to do the same with his enemies in the city. ‘Divide their tongue’ meant ‘cause confusion among them and render them harmless’. ‘Destroy’ is literally ‘swallow them up’. He wants God to deal with his enemies in the city. This was probably the city in which Saul had his headquarters, although we are never given its name (1 Samuel 18-19). To David it was a very dangerous place to be, as he had already discovered. But being a barrack town, probably including foreign mercenaries, there would certainly be a lot of nasty goings on, with quarrels, drunkenness, partisanship, lost tempers and violence.

Thus he describes it as a place of violence and strife, of men wandering around on the watch for what trouble they could cause, a place of iniquity, wickedness and mischief. Saul’s standing army were probably very rough types who knew how to ‘enjoy themselves’ and gave short shrift to the weak. There were no police. Thus the streets were full of oppression and guile. Whilst there would be some discipline, at least while they were sober, it was not the safest of places to live. It may be that David was still stationed there, and having to watch his back all the time, (his life there was very precarious due to Saul’s suspicions about him) whilst wishing he was elsewhere (verses 6-8), or it may be that he had just left it and was now a fugitive.

He Bewails The Fact That He Has Been Betrayed By A Comrade-In-Arms (55.12-14).

The description of the city has prepared the way for the story of his own betrayal. What hurt him most was that he had been betrayed by a close comrade-in-arms who had responded to his love by seeking his death. We do not know who it was but it would have been surprising if a man like David had not had a few close friends as well as Jonathan. And clearly one of these close friends had turned against him and betrayed him.

55.12-14

‘For it was not an enemy who reproached me,
Then I could have borne it,
Nor was it he who hated me who magnified himself against me,
Then I would have hid myself from him,
But it was you, a man my equal,
My companion, and my familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together,
We walked in the house of God with the throng.’

He addresses the close friend who has betrayed him. This was either because his friend wanted to keep on the right side of Saul, or because he was jealous, either of David’s growing reputation, or his friendship with Jonathan. The fact that the man had reproached him may suggest that he had been persuaded by Saul that David was encroaching and a chancer. The fact that he magnified himself against him might suggest that he had ‘pulled rank’ or that he had heavily contributed towards David’s disgrace. Either way, to see his bosom friend treating him like this had hit David hard. He points out that he could have borne it from a man who was his enemy, and if it had been a man who hated him he would just have avoided him. But to be treated in this way by a man whom he saw as his equal, a constant companion and a close friend, had hurt him really deeply. He describes him as a friend with whom he had had many close personal conversations, and with whom he had walked side by side in festal processions. Indeed they had entered together into a covenant of friendship (verse 20). But now his friend had, as it were, stabbed him in the back. And it had hit him hard.

He Prays That God Will Deal With His Treacherous Friend, Along With His Associates, By Death (55.15).

He prays for sudden death to come on these men. The fact that David prayed like this indicates that the man’s betrayal had been so serious that it had endangered his life. He had been so treacherous that he had sought David’s death whilst David still trusted him as a friend. And thus David prays that God will cause the behaviour of his treacherous friend and of his friend’s associates, to rebound on them. He is basically praying that, in the same way as they have tried to sow death for him, they themselves will reap death. Let them receive what they deserve.

55.15

‘Let death come suddenly on them,
Let them go down alive into Sheol,
For wickedness is in their dwelling,
In the midst of them.’

He prays that just as these men have sought his life, death may come suddenly on them. The violence of his expression confirms that he saw what they had done as unforgivable. He sees them as having been acting vindictively. So he prays that they may go down alive into the grave world, Sheol.

The prayer that they might go down alive into Sheol, the grave world, possibly has in mind the fate of Korah and his company in Numbers 16.30-33. They too had been treacherous, and had acted against God’s chosen ones (the Aaronide priests), and they were described as being swallowed up alive by the ground and as going down into the Pit. This confirms that David saw these men, led by his one time friend, as treacherous in the extreme, and therefore deserving of the worst of fates. It is quite possible that not many had been willing to act against a respected commander like David, and that Saul had therefore had to seek out such as would betray him. And all this is confirmed by his reference to wickedness as something that was in their dwelling, and even in their inmost hearts. He saw them as enveloped in wickedness. Their behaviour had appalled him, and cut him to the heart.

But He Is Not Afraid For He Expresses His Confidence That YHWH Will Save Him And Will Hear His Voice When He Calls On Him (55.16-17).

But David knew where to turn in such situations. He knew that he was blameless of what was being suggested against him (as Jonathan, the king’s son, had also recognised). Thus in the face of his continuing problems, which would never cease until Saul died, he continually called on God to preserve him. As the record of his life at this time shows, he was constantly in need of that protection.

55.16-17

‘As for me, I will call on God,
And YHWH will save me.’
Evening, and morning, and at noonday, will I complain, and moan,
And he will hear my voice.’

David stresses that he will not himself directly reciprocate evil for evil. He will rather call continually on God morning noon and night for His deliverance. He was confident that YHWH would hear his voice (the change in name indicates his confidence in YHWH as the God of the covenant). It is significant that David never faced up to Saul in battle even when he grew much stronger. He was able to defeat a Philistine expedition against Keilah, but he clearly felt that it would not be right to fight against ‘YHWH’s anointed’, nor would he want to set the people against him. Thus he always avoided conflict. It is an interesting question whether, if he had been backed into a corner, his 6 units of men (600), with which he later captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, would have been able to defeat Saul’s 3 larger units (3000). They would certainly enable him to defeat the Philistines once and for all later. But it would not have been good for Israel if David had seriously damaged Israel’s fighting potential

He Stresses That God Has Already Redeemed Him Once (55.18-19).

It would appear from this that an attempt had already been made to get rid of him by an armed assault. As one of Saul’s commanders he would, of course, have had men who were loyal to him, thus the attempt would have had to be made by a good number of men. It was possibly this large contingent, which he had either driven off or defeated, which had been led by his one-time friend. If the situation in life was of the time when David was under threat from Saul, while still acting as one of his commanders, it was clearly at a stage when Saul did not feel that he could act openly against one of the people’s favourites, with the consequence that his attempts had to be made surreptitiously. It could be that his erstwhile friend, with a group of willing soldiers, had tried to enter his house at night, or that they had tried to catch him unawares by subtlety in some lonely place when he was away from the city on a military mission. Indeed his ‘friend’ might have used his friendship in order to lure him into danger. One possible instance of this was 1 Samuel 19.11-17.

55.18

‘He has redeemed my life in peace from the battle which was against me,
For they were many (who strove) with me.’

David confidently asserts how God had ‘redeemed his life in peace’ (delivered him safely), when a goodly number of men had come to do battle against him. We can understand why, if the group was led by his supposed friend, he had received such a shock. There is no verb in the second clause and one thus has to be read in. But the point is that with God’s help he had survived the attack on his life.

‘For there were many with me’ might indicate that the attempt had failed because he himself at the time was able to call on his men, but it more probably signifies men who were ‘battling with me’.

55.19

‘God will hear, and answer them,
Even he who abides of old, [Selah
Those who have no changes,
And who do not fear God.’

‘God will hear’ probably refers to David’s prayers (alternately it could mean that He would hear their false calumnies and their plots against David). But the ones who will be answered are his enemies. God will provide a full answer to their accusations and attempts on David’s life, by saving David and bringing judgment on them. For He is the One Who is from of old, and has always in the past proved faithful to His own. Note the emphasis on God as continually active in the past, something which is drawn to men’s attention by a pause in the music (selah).

The ones who will be answered are those who ‘have no changes and who do not fear God’. The word for ‘changes’ usually refers to changes of clothing, but in Job 10.17 it seemingly refers to changes of circumstances or changing troops (‘changes and a host’). It probably here signifies ‘no changes of mind and attitude’ (they are obstinate in the performance of their evil task). But it could mean that it was always the same men who made attempts on his life. That they do not fear God (among other things they ignore the fact that David is God’s anointed) indicates that they are unscrupulous and ready to do anything that is required of them without a twinge of conscience.

The purpose of the musical pause may well be in order that the hearers might for a brief moment concentrate their thoughts on the permanence of God.

David Draws Out The Evil And Hypocrisy Of His Enemy (55.20-21).

David here defines what type of enemy he is up against. This may refer to Saul, but more probably it refers to his treacherous one time friend who has already been mentioned (verse 13-14).

55.20-21

‘He has put forth his hands against such as were at peace with him,
He has profaned his covenant.
His mouth was smooth as butter,
But his heart was war,
His words were softer than oil,
Yet were they drawn swords.’

We have described here his friend’s (or Saul’s) treachery. He and David had been on the best of terms (at peace), as had their men, but without warning he had put forth his hands against both David and his bodyguard. They had had a covenant of friendship, but he had ignored it and dealt treacherously with David. He had, pretending continuing friendship, spoken soft, smooth words, possibly in order to get him on his own, but in his heart he had been plotting violence and death. He is treacherous in every way.

David Now Exhorts All Who Hear These Words To Do What He Does, By Casting Their Burden On YHWH, With The Assurance That He Can Be Trusted And Will Certainly Sustain The Righteous (55.22-23)

As so often happens in the Psalms, there is a change of theme at the end of the Psalm which has the worshippers who are using the Psalm primarily in view.

55.22

‘Cast your burden on YHWH,
And he will sustain you,
He will never allow the righteous to be moved.’

He calls on all who are righteous (those who seek genuinely to walk in accordance the covenant) to learn from his experience and to cast any burden that they have on YHWH (note again the use of the covenant Name), with the assurance that if they do so He will sustain them as He has the Psalmist. He assures them that YHWH will never allow the righteous to be moved. Once again we note the emphasis on ‘the righteous’, the remnant of Israel. The assurance is to those who truly follow YHWH, not to the whole of Israel. And God will not be deceived by someone giving the title of ‘the righteous’ to the whole of Israel. Man looks at the outwards appearance, but God looks at the heart. It is only true for the truly righteous. which is the continual emphasis of Scripture.

55.23

‘But you, O God, will bring them down into the pit of destruction,
Bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days,
But I will trust in you.’

In contrast to the truly righteous, he assures God that he knows that He will bring the violent and deceitful down into the pit of destruction. Rather than having a full length of life they will die younger. They will not be sustained. They will not remain ‘unmoved’. And he completes the Psalm on a positive note when he says, ‘But as for me, I will trust in you.’ Whatever happens this is his one mainstay. As one of the righteous he knows that God will sustain him to the end with the consequence that he knows that he can trust Him under all circumstances, even of his friends betray him.

Psalm 56.

The Heading (56.1a). 56.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Yonath elem rehokim (‘the silent dove of far off places (or ‘men’)’). A Psalm of David. Michtam; when the Philistines took him in Gath.

This is another Psalm dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician (the head of music). A Michtam may signify ‘a covering’ and thus a plea for protection (from the Akkadian katamu (‘to cover’). It has also been interpreted as ‘a golden Psalm’ (from chetem = ‘gold’). Michtam occurs also in reference to Psalms 16; 56-60. The tune ‘silent doves of far off places (or ‘far off men’) may originally have been the music composed for a Psalm celebrating the cultic releasing of birds to fly off to far off places (Leviticus 14.5-7). Or alternately of a Psalm celebrating escape from the turmoils of life (compare 55.6). The situation in life is described as being when the Philistines seized David in Gath (1 Samuel 21.10 ff.). At this time he had fled from Israel, possibly alone, and had taken refuge with Achish of Gath (that is in territory ruled by Achish) hoping to be unrecognised. But there he was challenged as to whether he was the successful Israelite commander who had had great successes against the Philistines. Being brought before Achish he escaped whatever fate might have been in store for him by feigning madness, subsequently fleeing back to Adullam where he built up his own fighting force.

Accepting the provenance stated it would appear that, having arrived in Gath after fleeing from the persecutions of Saul (verses 1-2), and hoping to be unnoticed, David’s footsteps were dogged by suspicious Philistines (verse 6). They clearly challenged him as to who he was (verse 5) refusing to accept his assurances, or that he was there in peace, and thus determined evil against him. The Psalm may well have been written while he was waiting for them to pounce, and praying in anticipation, with the final verses of the Psalm indicating that he had prayed through to a position of certainty concerning YHWH’s deliverance, even though it was yet future.

The Psalm stresses the Psalmist’s trust in God (verses 3, 4, 10-11) and the powerful enemies whom he is facing (verses 1a, 2, 5-7), and can be divided up into four parts:

  • A plea for God’s protection (verses 1-4).
  • A description of his enemies tactics as they close in on him (verse 5-7).
  • An expression of his trust in God in the face of his enemies (verses 8-11).
  • An expression of his gratitude for his deliverance (verses 12-13).

A Plea For God’s Protection (verses 1-4).

56.1b-2

‘Show favour to me, O God, for a human (’enosh) would swallow me up,
All the day long his fighting oppresses me.’
My enemies would swallow me up all the day long,
For they are many who fight haughtily (on high) against me.’

These verses may refer to the circumstances which forced David to flee to Gath, and thus be speaking of Saul’s attempts on his life. Alternately they may have in mind the attempts by the Philistines to seek him out whilst he was in hiding in a Philistine city.

Taking the first, and more probable alternative in view of the language, he calls on God for favour in view of the fact that a mere earthly man is seeking to swallow him up. He emphasises the continual attempts by his enemy (Saul or his erstwhile friend - Psalm 55), along with his men, to oppress him and ‘swallow him up’ (repeated twice for emphasis). These attempts have been occurring continually ‘all the day long’ (repeated twice for emphasis). He has never been able to relax. For his enemies are numerous and are behaving arrogantly towards him. They have set themselves up ‘on high’.

The repetitions stress how strongly he feels his situation, and how harassed he feels, as well he might for he has moved from being a power in the land to being a lone fugitive. But he is still confident in God, for whilst his enemies might think much of themselves, he recognises that they are mere humans.

Note the twofold patterns. ‘A human’ (line 1) contrasts with the fact that they have set themselves up ‘on high’ (line 4). All the day long (line 2) parallels ‘all the day long’ (line 3). There is a chiastic pattern. But ‘swallow me up’ occurs in lines 1 and 3, and ‘fighting’ occurs in lines 2 and 4. So there is also a consecutive pattern.

56.3-4

The time when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.’
In God, I will praise his word,
In God have I put my trust,
I will not be afraid, what can flesh do to me?’

He assures God of how much he trusts in Him (repeated twice). When he is afraid it is to God that he will look, and as a consequence he will not be afraid. And this is because he has full confidence in Him. He had cause to be afraid, for the hand of Saul, and every man’s hand was against him. And even now as a fugitive in Gath he was in enemy territory. The Philistines had no cause to love him either. So he was beset on every side. But he was confident that God was greater than them all, and that He would help him. Why then should he be afraid. After all his enemies were merely flesh. On the other hand God was God, and he trusted Him and praised His promised word (possibly the word spoken to him by Samuel). Compare for this verse 10.

Note again the chiastic pattern. ‘Afraid’ in lines 1 and 5. ‘Put my trust’ in lines 2 and 4. ‘In God’ in lines 3 and 4.

A Description Of His Enemies Tactics As They Close In On Him (verse 5-7).

These words could still refer to his enemies in Israel, but it seems more likely that they have his current situation in mind as a fugitive among the Philistines. When he arrived among them it would not be surprising if he was closely questioned, for it would be clear to them that he was an Israelite. The Israelites were no friends of the Philistines, although no doubt in times of peace they traded with each other, but the Israelites had been a subject people, and quite probably there were many Israelites living in Philistia. This the Philistines were not quite sure about David.

56.5

‘All day long they wrest my words,
All their thoughts are against me for evil.’

So now that he is in Philistine territory David finds that he has not escaped from trouble. It still dogs him ‘all day long’. The Philistines are suspicious of this Israelite fugitive who has come among them, and they are questioning him and twisting his words. It is quite clear that they intend trouble against him. Their thoughts are against him. They are for evil and not for good.

56.6

‘They gather themselves together,
They hide themselves,
They mark my steps,
Even as they have waited for my life.’

A group of Philistines have apparently got together. They are watching him continually. They try to remain unobserved, although to no avail, and they watch his every step. It is quite clear that they bode no good, and are waiting for his life. He had escaped from Saul only to find himself pursued by the Philistines. If at this stage they were already fairly sure that he was David, one of Saul’s most successful commanders (1 Samuel 21.21-22), we can understand why they were suspicious. But it seems that they were not absolutely sure of their ground. Later they would detain him and bring him before Achish, one of the five Philistine Rulers (1 Samuel 21.14), but by this time David, aware of his great danger, had begun to feign madness so that Achish dismissed him in contempt.

56.7

‘Will they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God.’

In David’s eyes these men are accountable to God, and what they are planning is iniquitous. He feels that as a fugitive (and as the anointed of YHWH) he deserves consideration, and that all they are doing is make things worse for him. He had come in good faith and sought refuge among them. Did they think that they could escape any threat that he posed by failing to show hospitality and doing him harm? Was he not only one among many? To David’s pure soul this was not acceptable conduct, it was inexcusable (it was the opposite of what he would have done). And he calls on God in His anger against their perfidy to ‘cast down the peoples’, that is, all who are causing him trouble, whether Israelite or Canaanite or Philistine, and all who are like them. At present he sees the whole world as against him. Everyone has proved to be his enemy.

An Expression Of His Trust In God In The Face Of His Enemies (verses 8-11).

His confidence lies in the fact that he knows that he is the chosen of YHWH, that God is keeping count of his wanderings, and has stored up his tears. Thus he knows that God is ‘for him’, and that those who are opposing him are thus acting against God. He is sure that when he calls on God, God will turn back his enemies. He will thus trust in God and His promises and not be afraid.

56.8-9

‘You number my wanderings,
Put you my tears into your bottle, are they not in your book?’
Then will my enemies turn back in the day that I call.
This I know, that God is for me,’
.

He is certain that God is keeping count of his wanderings, and will bottle up his tears, because He is keeping a record of them. (The ‘bottle’ would be a skin container such as was used for storing wine). He is sure that God is interested in, and has kept on record, every aspect of his life. (For God’s records compare 69.28; 139.16; Malachi 3.16). Thus his enemies need to be careful, for he is certain that when he calls on God his enemies will have to turn back because God is for him. Whatever happens, his enemies will not prevail.

56.10-11

‘In God, I will praise (his) word,
In YHWH, I will praise (his) word,
In God have I put my trust, I will not be afraid,
What can man (adam) do to me?

His confidence lies in God, Who has given him a word, which he can praise; in YHWH, Who has given him a word, which he can praise. He is aware that he is one of God’s chosen. The word which he praises may be the word that he received from Samuel (his anointing by Samuel must have been accompanied by an explanation (1 Samuel 16.13), and he had then spent time with Samuel in Naioth after he had initially fled from Saul (1 Samuel 19.18-24)). Or it may be the Torah (the Law of Moses), an indication of his own commitment to YHWH’s covenant. Or indeed it could include both.

So his assurance and certainty lie in God, in Whom he has put his trust (compare verses 3 & 4), and thus he will not be afraid, for what can mere created beings (adam) do to him? His confidence in God is total.

The Psalm provides assurance to all true believers that they are in the hands of God, a God who keeps account of their wanderings and a record of their tears. They too, therefore, can enjoy the same assurance and certainty.

An Expression Of His Gratitude To God For His Deliverance (verses 12-13).

Having prayed through to total confidence in God David now gives thanks for the certainty of his deliverance. God has delivered him in the past and he is confident that God will go on delivering him.

56.12-13

Your vows are on me, O God,
I will render thank-offerings to you,
For you have delivered my life from death.
(Have you) not (delivered) my feet from falling?
That I may walk before God in the light of life (or ‘of the living’).’

With these words David expresses his gratitude to God. He acknowledges the vows that he has made to God (your vows = vows made to you), and assures Him that he will render the appropriate thank-offerings. And this in the light of the fact that God has delivered him from death, and has prevented his feet from falling, with the consequence that he can still walk before God enjoying the light of life.

The words could have been written while he was still waiting to see whether he was to be called to account before the Philistines, the deliverance he refers to being deliverance from Saul. Or they could have been written after his final deliverance from Achish. Either way he rejoices in his deliverance which means that he can still walk before God ‘in the light of life’. ‘Life’ was often seem in terms of a lamp that was still burning, and David was aware that his lamp was still burning brightly.

Psalm 57.

Heading (57.1a).

57.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Al-tashheth. A Psalm of David. Michtam; when he fled from Saul, in the cave.’

This is one of many Psalms dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician. It may simply indicate Psalms put at his disposal. It is set to the tune Al-tashheth (‘Do not destroy’), and is one of the ‘Psalms of David’. Michtam is probably to be seen as a plea for protection Its provenance is said to be ‘when he fled from Saul in the cave’, which probably refers to his exploits in the wilderness of Engedi, near the Dead Sea, rather than to his time in the Cave of Adullam. There is nothing in the Psalm which excludes Davidic authorship.

It commences in the same way as the previous Psalm and in the same way speaks of those who would ‘swallow him up’ (verse 3). It continues the theme of God’s protection from his enemies, and from those who speak against him (verse 4), forecasting the downfall of his enemies (verse 6). There is thus some relationship between the two Psalms.

The Psalm can be divided into three parts:

  • A Call For God’s Favour And Protection In The Face Of His Enemies (57.1-3).
  • A Description Of His Enemies And Their Fate (57.4-6).
  • An Expression Of Praise And Thanksgiving For God’s Intervention On His Behalf (57.7-11).

A Call For God’s Favour And Protection In The Face Of His Enemies (57.1-3).

He calls for God’s favour to be shown towards him because he has taken refuge under the shadow of His wings until all danger is past, and because he looks to Him to save him from the reproaches of his enemy.

57.1b

‘Show favour to me, O God, show favour to me,
For my person takes refuge in you,
Yes, in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge,
Until these calamities are overpast.’

He twice calls on God to show him favour in the midst of his calamities, confident that at some stage they will pass, as they must do in the face of God’s promises to him. He reminds Him that at His word he has taken refuge in him, and that he will continue to take refuge under the shadow of His wings. God has called him and he looks to Him to protect him. The picture is of nestlings sheltering under the wings of the mother bird, secure from all that is happening around including storms and tempests, not emerging until all is safe. It was a favourite illustration of David, see 17.8; 36.7; 61.4; 63.7. Compare also 91.4; Ruth 2.12; Matthew 23.37.

57.2-3

‘I will cry to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.
He will send from heaven, and save me,
When he who would swallow me up reproaches. [Selah
God will send forth his covenant love and his truth.’

He declares that his cry is to God Most High (Elohim Elyon), the God Who is above all things, and Whom he knows will perform all things that are necessary for him. He is confident that God will send from heaven and deliver him from the reproaches of ‘him who would swallow him up’. This last can only be Saul, who began so well, but failed in the end through disobedience. As we know David was innocent of the charges of being a traitor that were laid against him. So David’s confidence lies in the fact of the God Who will send forth His covenant love and truth. He will be faithful to His promises given in the covenant, revealing His love towards those who walk in it, and establishing them in truth. Or ‘truth’ may be a description of God’s own faithfulness. He is true to those who look to Him. Compare verse 10 where he again exalts God’s covenant love and truth.

As in Psalm 55 the selah appears in mid theme. It is drawing attention to God’s intervention on David’s behalf. Note that David expects His help ‘from heaven’, not from Zion. He is aware that God is over all. He is God Most High.

This is the only use of the title God Most High by David, although he does refer to Him as YHWH Most High in 7.17. It is used in a Maschil of Asaph in 78.56. YHWH Most High is also used by the sons of Korah in 47.2. When used it is therefore significant.

A Description Of His Enemies And Their Fate (57.4-6).

David describes the kind of people whom he is up against, and their desire to trap him, but is confident that, although he feels beset by them, they will fall into their own pit. Meanwhile he exalts the great God Who will cause this to happen.

57.4

‘My person is among lions,
I lie among those who are set on fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword.’

He describes his enemies as being ‘like lions’, on the prowl for their prey (compare 7.2; 10.9; 17.12. He was very familiar with the depredations of lions (1 Samuel 17.34). And as being like ‘those who are set on fire’. This may signify those who are inflamed against him, having been stirred on by Saul. Or it may even have in mind an attempt, not spoken of elsewhere, to smoke him out of his hideout. Both descriptions bring out he fierce intent of his enemies. But he lies down without fear among them, unafraid of their teeth or their fiery flames.

His life in the wilderness of Engedi was one of almost unceasing pursuit, as men sought to hunt him down and to envelop him in their flames. But along with his men he lay at rest in the midst of his searching foes, because he knew that God was with him. His enemies might bare their teeth like lions on the prowl, or seek to strike him down with their tongues, but they did not disturb his peace one wit. Indeed, he was not only unafraid, but entered his enemy’s camp at night, in order to demonstrate that had he wanted to he could have slain Saul out of hand (1 Samuel 26.4 ff.).

57.5

‘Be you exalted, O God, above the heavens,
Let your glory be above all the earth.’

He makes clear that his courage does not just arise from within himself, but that it is because his trust is in God. Thus he calls on the God to exalt Himself above the heavens as He steps in on his behalf. And he prays that in the same way His glory might be above all the earth. His main desire in what he does is for the glory of God. He knows that God’s purposes surmount all earthly situations. And this is why he can lie at peace among his enemies.

57.6

‘They have prepared a net for my steps,
My person is bowed down,
They have dug a pit before me,
They are fallen into the midst of it themselves. [Selah

But he is not deceived. he knows that he has to be wary. He knows that his enemies have spread a net in order to entrap him, and have dug a pit for him to fall into. They are using all their wiles as hunters. And it has bowed him down. He finds being constantly on the run and having to watch all the time for what his enemies plot against him very wearing. But he is not afraid, and is assured in his heart that in the end they will fall into their own pit. For God is on his side.

An Expression Of Praise And Thanksgiving For God’s Intervention On His Behalf (57.7-11).

Even in the midst of his trials David was able to sing and compose Psalms, for his delight was in his God, and he now calls on himself to wake early in order to do so. He wants all peoples and nations to be aware of God’s goodness and of His covenant love and faithfulness. He wants God’s glory to be above all the earth (verse 5).

57.7

‘My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed,
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises.’

He assures God that his heart is fixed on one thing, the praise and glory of God. And to that end he will sing, yes, he will sing praises. Hunted he may be but his spirit is free.

57.8

‘Awake up, my glory, awake, psaltery and harp,
I myself will awake right early.’

So he calls on his own spirit (his glory) to wake up. He calls on his psaltery (a stringed instrument) and harp to awake. He assures God that he himself will awake right early for the purpose of praising God. He wants the day to begin with praise, before the time arrives for once more evading the enemy.

‘I myself will awake right early’ or ‘will awake the dawn’. He does not want to wait for the dawn to wake him, but wants himself to awake the dawn.

57.9-10

‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples,
I will sing praises to you among the nations.’
‘For your covenant love is great to the heavens,
And your truth to the skies.’

And his purpose is in order to give thanks to his Sovereign Lord among the peoples, and to sing His praise among the nations. There may be a hint in this that among his six military units were men from a number of nations. But his thoughts are also looking forward to the time when God fulfils his promise to him and he comes into his kingship.

And what he wants to bring to men’s attention is God’s covenant love which is so great that it is great to the heavens. It stretches to heaven above. and His trustworthiness and faithfulness which reaches to the skies.

57.11

‘Be you exalted, O God, above the heavens,
Let your glory be above all the earth.’

He finishes the Psalm with a repeat of his prayer that God might be exalted, from verse 5. He calls on God to exalt Himself above the heavens, and let His glory be above all the earth. In other words that God might reveal Himself as above all and over all.

Psalm 58.

Heading (58.1a).

58.1a

‘For the Chief Musician, set to Al-tashheth. A Psalm of David. Michtam.

The heading is a reproduction of the heading to Psalm 57 without the final clause. Psalm 58 is another of the many Psalms dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician. This may simply indicate Psalms put at his disposal. It is set to the tune Al-tashheth (‘Do not destroy’), and is one of the ‘Psalms of David’. Michtam is probably to be seen as a plea for protection.

Having himself been a victim of injustice, both at the hands of Saul, and at the hands of his duly appointed authorities, David inveighs against injustice in all its forms. It has brought home to him the sinfulness of man in general, and he calls on God to deal with it wherever it is found. He then ends the Psalm in the triumphant assurance that righteousness will prevail because it is God Who judges the earth.

Some have seen in the psalm a reference to Absalom’s rebellion, but it is difficult to see how the man who was so grieved over Absalom’s death because he loved him so much, could have written of him in such terms. It seems far more likely that the ideas spring from the time when David was himself suffering at the hands of unjust authorities.

Injustice Prevails Where There Should Be Justice (58.1b-2).

Having constantly experienced injustice at the hands of those who ruled over Israel, David gives his assessment of them. Instead of being men who quietly assess things and come to the right verdict, they make hasty judgments and act violently. It is certainly a fair assessment of the behaviour of Saul.

58.1b

‘Do you indeed in silence speak righteousness?
Do you judge uprightly, O you sons of men?’

David reminds men of what they are, they are ‘sons of men (adam)’, not gods or heavenly beings. And he challenges them to consider as to whether they are wise in their judgments. Are they of those who listen quietly before coming to a verdict? Do they judge uprightly? David’s experience is otherwise. He was constantly aware of how much he had suffered as a consequence of those who would not listen to the truth.

To ‘speak righteousness’ is in context to pronounce a righteous verdict (it parallels judging uprightly). To do it ‘in silence’ (elem) is to act thoughtfully without being swayed by outside voices, or inward prejudices. The wise judge listens and does not talk too much. ‘He who refrains his lips does wisely’ (Proverbs 10.19). The Book of Proverbs constantly emphasises the need for the righteous to be silent, and not to judge things precipitately and speak too quickly (Proverbs 10.19; 15.28; 17.27-28; 18.13).

Note On ’Elem (‘in silence’).

There is no real justification for emending ’elem (‘in silence’), derived from ’lm - to be speechless, to eliym (‘mighty ones’), and then emending further to elohiym (‘gods’). None of the ancient versions would support such a change, and elem makes good sense as it is. Thus the emendation is unnecessary. It is done by those who are attracted by emendations, (something which has been all too common in the past), as a suggested contrast with ‘sons of men’.

End of note.

58.2

‘No, in heart you work wickedness,
You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth (or ‘land’).’

His reply to his own question is ‘No’. The tendency of men is not to judge uprightly (verse 1), not to listen (verses 4-5), but to ‘work unrighteousness’ (the word for wickedness constantly contrasts with righteousness), to come to hasty judgments, to be unrighteous of heart, to dispense (weigh out) their own kind of justice through violence. It was an assessment that came from his own experience.

David’s Verdict On The Unrighteous (58.3-5).

David’s verdict on the unrighteous is that they are like this from birth. That there is within man that which causes them to go astray, a tendency to sin. They are like snakes who poison men, and never listen.

58.3

‘The wicked are estranged from the womb,
They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.’

The unrighteous are like it even from birth. They are estranged from righteousness and justice, and therefore from God, from the womb. They are ‘alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts’ (Ephesians 4.18). As soon as they are born they begin to use deceit to get their own way. Babes in arms soon discover how they can get attention for themselves by pretending that there is something wrong. And as they grow older such deceit becomes natural to them. It arises from what men are.

58.4-5

‘Their poison is like the poison of a serpent,
They are like the deaf adder which stops her ear,
Which does not listen to the voice of charmers,
Charming never so wisely.’

As a consequence when they grow up they are like snakes who are filled with poison with which they harm others. And what is worse they are like the deadly poisonous deaf adders who will not listen to any attempt to make them hear. They go blindly on in their own way, without a thought of what they are doing. No matter how wisely God and good men speak to them, they are deaf to all attempts to reach them.

Snake charming was, and is, regularly practised in the east. By this means even snakes could be charmed into harmlessness. But not the deaf adder. It did not respond to any attempt to charm it, however subtle.

In the same ways David had made every effort to show Saul how wrong he was about him. But Saul even refused to listen to the pleas of his own son Jonathan. Whatever was said his ears were closed. All he could do was strike out with deadly poison.

David Calls On God To Deal With The Unrighteous As They Deserve (58.6-9).

In five more vivid illustrations David calls on God to deal with the unrighteous, followed by a sixth by which he assures the unrighteous that all their plans will come to nothing. In the first three he calls for them to be rendered harmless; to have their teeth broken, to be caused to disappear like dangerous, life threatening, fast flowing water, and to be robbed of their means of hurting people. In the next three he calls for them to have the life span of a snail, or the lifelessness of a still born child, and then assures them that they will lose their means of hurting people, because God will sweep them away. Note that along with the illustration about the snake there are seven illustrations in all, an indication of divine completeness.

58.6

‘Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth,
Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O YHWH.’

As well as being like snakes, his adversaries are like lions on the hunt. The breaking of the teeth was an ancient way of rendering a fierce animal harmless. So David calls on God to ‘break the teeth’ of those who are arrayed against him, in other words to render them comparatively harmless. He describes them as young lions with large teeth. We have already seen his descriptions of his enemies as ‘lions’ (35.17; 22.13, 21; 57.4). And he wants them neutralised.

58.7

‘Let them melt away as water which runs apace,
When he aims his arrows, let them be as though they were cut off.’

His next illustration is of flood waters which suddenly arise, flow swiftly along the bed of the wadi sweeping all before it, and then as quickly disappear, leaving once more a dry river bed. Their life-threatening violence is replaced by calm. He calls on God to ensure this end for the unrighteous, no doubt with his own assailants in mind.

His third illustration is of an archer whose arrows have their points removed. When he lets loose his arrows, may they be rendered useless. In the same way, he prays, when unrighteous let loose their arrows, but let them be rendered harmless.

58.8

‘ Let them be as a snail which melts and passes away,
Like the untimely birth of a woman, which has not seen the sun.’

His illustrations now change from asking for the unrighteous to be rendered harmless, to praying for their untimely end. His next illustration is that of a snail which is short-lived, and melts and passes away. The snail clings to the rock, but the burning heat of the son causes it to shrivel and melt so that all that is left is the empty shell clinging to the rock. This can especially be seen if salt is put on it, a device possibly practised by the ancients. It may also have in mind the trail of slime that it leaves behind as it moves. He prays that the unrighteous, who are equally disgusting, might be equally short-lived.

His next illustration is that of the stillborn child which never lives to see the sun. In the same way he prays for a swift end for the unrighteous.

58.9

‘Before your pots can feel the thorns,
He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.’

He closes his list of illustrations by referring to habit of the traveller to gather desert scrub in order to light his fire by which to heat his cooking pot. Having made a fire with some of it, and having piled up beside the fire a heap from which he can feed the flames, he sits there contentedly anticipating the heating up of his prey. But suddenly a desert storm arises, and a whirlwind sweeps away both the burning scrub beneath his pot, and the green scrub which is his reserve. To his chagrin he no longer has any means of heating his pot and burning his victim.

In the same way the unrighteous, who have claimed their prey and are eagerly preparing to devour them, will suddenly discover that all their hopes are dashed by a storm from YHWH which sweeps away their means of doing harm.

The word for ‘burning’ is a word regularly used of the burning of God’s anger, often being translated as ‘fierce’. But in Jeremiah 25.38 the lion is driven out of his covert by burning instigated by oppressors. It thus illustrates the unrighteous ‘burning’ their prey, and the rendering of them as unable to do so any more.

The Joy Of The Righteous At God’s Intervention Which Demonstrates That Righteousness Will Prevail (58.10-11).

The Psalm ends with the assurance that there is a God Who judges in the earth (or ‘land’), which will be made known to the righteous by His acts of vengeance on their behalf, in accordance with what has previously been described.

58.10

‘The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance,
He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,’

When the righteous (those who are responsive to God’s covenant of grace) see the unrighteous rendered harmless or swept away they will rejoice, not vindictively as Proverbs 24.17-18 makes clear, but because it means that righteousness has triumphed. The righteous are warned against seeking vengeance with the assurance that they can leave it in God’s hands. “Vengeance belongs to Me,” says YHWH, “I will repay” (Romans 12.29; Hebrews 10.30; Psalm 94.1; Deuteronomy 32.35). But they can only rejoice when God finally does deal with unrighteousness. The picture of washing the feet in blood comes from the battlefield. The idea is not that the righteous choose to use the blood to wash in, but that they will be unable to avoid it, because God’s judgment has made it inevitable. The thought is that judgment has come on the unrighteous and they have been totally defeated. Compare Revelation 14.20, and see Isaiah 63.2-3.

58.11

So that men will say, “Truly there is a reward for the righteous,
Truly there is a God who judges in the earth.’

The reason for the rejoicing of the righteous is now made clear. It is because it brings home to them that righteousness is finally rewarded, and that there truly is a God Who judges the earth.

Psalm 59.

Heading (59.1a).

59.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Al-tashheth. A Psalm of David. Michtam; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him.’

Like the last two Psalms this is another Psalm which is dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and set to the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’. It is a Psalm of David, a Michtam (plea for ‘cover’ or protection).

The provenance of the Psalm is said to be when Saul sent some of his men to watch David’s house in order to kill him (1 Samuel 19.1, 8 ff.). Compare our interpretation of Psalm 55. And there can be do doubt that in spite of its reference to the nations, the Psalm is of a very personal kind. Indeed, the references to the nations could arise from the fact that those who came to kill David were mainly mercenaries recruited for his army by Saul. Such mercenaries may well be in mind in 1 Samuel 14.21. Hebrews (Habiru) is an unusual term for Israelites except as used by foreigners, and they are described in that verse as contrasted with Israelites, whereas we know that mercenaries were sometimes called Habiru.

Psalm 59.

Heading (59.1a).

59.1a

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Al-tashheth. A Psalm of David. Michtam; when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him.’

Like the last two Psalms this is another Psalm which is dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and set to the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’. It is a Psalm of David, a Michtam (plea for ‘cover’ or protection).

The provenance of the Psalm is said to be when Saul sent some of his men to watch David’s house in order to kill him (1 Samuel 19.1, 8 ff.). Compare our interpretation of Psalm 55. And there can be do doubt that in spite of its reference to the nations, the Psalm is of a very personal kind. Note the contrast between ‘me’ (regularly) and ‘my people’ (verse 11). Indeed, the references to the nations could arise from the fact that those who came to kill David were mainly mercenaries recruited for his army by Saul. Israel’s farmers would not want to be part of a standing army. Compare how many of David’s men also appear to have been foreigners. Such mercenaries may well be in mind in 1 Samuel 14.21. Hebrews (Habiru) is an unusual term for Israelites except as used by foreigners, (never used by Israelites of themselves), and they are described in that verse as contrasted with Israelites. Furthermore we know that in those days foreign mercenaries were sometimes known as Habiru (stateless persons).

David Prays For Deliverance From Armed Men, Including Foreign Mercenaries, Sent By Saul, Who Seek His Life As They Watch His House With A View To Killing Him When He Emerges (59.1-5).

As a prominent commander David’s house would be well guarded. He was also married to Saul’s daughter Michal, who was, of course, in the house with him. And he was popular with the people. Thus Saul had three good reasons for not simply sending in his soldiers to kill David. He therefore sent them to watch David’s house with a view to killing him when he emerged (1 Samuel 19.11). In view of David’s own possible escort, this would require a good number of men.

Michal, who would know her father well, appears to have been suspicious of the men who had gathered outside the house, which as befitted David’s position would have been a large one, and warned David of what was afoot (1 Samuel 19.11). Indeed, her father may have sent her a warning to make sure that she kept out of the way. Thus she had good grounds for being suspicious.

So, aware of what was happening, David calls on God to deliver him, declaring his innocence, and describing the unscrupulous and bloodthirsty men who are out to assassinate him.

59.1b-2

‘Deliver me from my enemies, O my God,
Set me on high from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,
And save me from the bloodthirsty men.’

He calls on God to deliver him from ‘his enemies’, ‘the workers of iniquity’, ‘bloodthirsty men’. He asks to be ‘set on high’ by God, out of danger’s reach, so that they will not be able to touch him. The thought is of being secure, as though in a fortified tower (see verses 9, 16).

He knew that they were not just soldiers sent to perform their duty of arresting him so that he could have a fair trial, but men who hated him, selected because of their willingness to be part of a plot against him, and not averse to shedding innocent blood. At this stage Saul dared not attack him openly, for there were too many who might have come to David’s support, including his own son Jonathan. But in his jealousy, and because he suspected David of having an eye on the throne, he was determined to kill him, even though he had promised Jonathan that he would not (1 Samuel 19.6). Thus Saul had had to find men willing to be a part of his plot, some of whom would no doubt be mercenaries who only therefore owed loyalty to him.

Having been made a public Psalm it was a reminder to all that when trouble beset them, in whatever form, they could look to God for help. We all find ourselves at times beset by troubles, and even possibly the target of influential people. At such times we can call on this and similar Psalms for comfort.

59.3-4

‘For, lo, they lie in wait for my life,
The mighty gather themselves together against me,
Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O YHWH.
They run and prepare themselves without my fault,
Awake yourself to help me, and behold.’

David points out to God that these mean are lying in wait for his life (an indication of the personal nature of the Psalm), although not for anything that he has done because he is innocent. It is not because of any particular sin or rebellion of which he is guilty, for in this regard he is without fault. He is totally loyal to Saul. And he stresses the strength of the force that has come against him. ‘The mighty’ suggests that he recognised, as he surveyed them through a window, that they included some of Saul’s best warriors, powerful men who had come together for the soul purpose of assassinating him. He was not a fearful man, and he knew how to look after himself, something which Saul would have taken into account when determining the size of the force that he chose to send. But he knew that this assassination squad was too strong for him and the men who were with him to be able to cope with.

He points out their zeal to take him. They have ‘hastened and prepared themselves’ (it bears all the signs of a rushed operation hatched by Saul in one of his periods of severe depression), and he has done nothing to deserve it (see 1 Samuel 20.1). So he calls on YHWH to ‘awake Himself’ on his behalf, and take note of what is happening. Saul has aroused these men on his side, let YHWH now arouse Himself on David’s side.

All of us may feel at some time or other that the whole world is against us, even though it is not our fault. At such times we too can pray this prayer.

59.5

‘Even you, O YHWH, God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Arise to visit all the nations,
Do not show favour to any wicked transgressors. [Selah’

David has recognised the diversity of Saul’s assassination squad, mercenaries from a number of nations, and he may well have felt that the whole world was against him. So he calls on God to deal with them all, and not to spare any of them, because they are showing themselves to be evil men. It would not even have crossed his mind to take part in an operation like this. It was totally abhorrent to him.

Alternately it may be that the sight of all these foreign soldiers out to get him has awoken his mind to the perils that Israel is facing from nations round about (see 1 Samuel 14.47-48), and thus causes him, in the nobility of his heart, to pray for Israel’s deliverance as well as his own, and not spare any wicked transgressors. He would not be unaware of the threats facing Israel. It might thus indicate his breadth of mind in that, in spite of his own troubles, he is still concerned for Israel’s fate.

Note his description of God as, ‘YHWH, God of Hosts, God of Israel’. In his extremity he recognises that he need a powerful God to save him, not only YHWH his covenant God, but YHWH Who is the God of Hosts, sovereign over all hosts of heaven and earth, and with a special concern for Israel. This title would be especially apposite if his thought had turned for a moment to Israel’s wider problems.

Some see this verse as added to the Psalm later (or altered to suit) when it became a public Psalm and prayer for the deliverance of Israel, something which cannot be discounted. Many hymns today are later altered for some purpose, whilst still being attributed to the original author.

‘Selah.’ This might be seen as indicating a break in his words, giving time for thought and worship when it became a public Psalm.

David Expresses His Confidence That YHWH Will Protect Him (59.6-10).

Describing his enemies as like a pack of stray dogs on the prowl (compare also verse 14) David is confident that YHWH will laugh at their folly and will protect him. God will be his fortress in the face of the strength of the enemy.

59.6

‘They return at evening, they howl like a dog,
And go round about the city.’

At night time all decent citizens remain in their homes and take to their beds. And it is then that packs of howling stray dogs roam the streets looking for food. Thus he sees Saul’s men, as they try to secrete themselves around the neighbouring houses, as fairly similar, although in their case he is their prospective food. ‘They return at evening’ may suggest that they had been watching his house for a number of nights, dispersing during the day and returning each evening. Or the main reference may be to the fact that stray dogs return each evening, which he likens to the arrival of these men.

59.7

‘Behold, they belch out with their mouth,
Swords are in their lips, “For who,” they say, “hears”?’

He describes them as being like belching dogs, hungry to get at him. But in their case their lips are like swords. They express murderous intent against him. They are confident that no one knows what they are about. But they have overlooked YHWH.

59.8

‘But you, O YHWH, will laugh at them,
You will have all the nations in derision.’

He is confident that YHWH can deal with these foreign mercenaries. That YHWH will laugh at them in their supposed ‘secrecy’, and will have them all in derision. See similarly Psalm 2.4. And still concerned about Israel’s needs in spite of his own danger, he also lifts his prayers beyond himself, desiring that in a similar way YHWH will have in derision all foreigners who have designs on Israel.

59.9

‘Because of his strength I will give heed to you,
For God is my high tower.’

Recognising that he stand almost alone against Saul, the man who rules Israel, he informs God that he is giving heed to Him. He has nowhere else to turn. All the ‘strength’ is on Saul’s side. He recognises that he now needs some support from somewhere. But he has no doubt about where he can obtain that strength from. For God is his fortress and his high tower (into which the righteous can run and be safe - Proverbs 18.10).

59.10

‘My God with his covenant love will meet me,
God will let me see my desire on my enemies.’

His confidence lies in God’s covenant love (chesed), the love which God revealed when He redeemed Israel from Egypt, and the love that He shows to all who are true to the covenant. He knows that God has already demonstrated that love towards him by sending Samuel to anoint him in readiness for the future that he has in store for him (1 Samuel 16.13). Thus he has no doubt that He will meet him in this present situation. He will see that his enemies will be thwarted in their desire to kill him. And he is, indeed, equally sure that God will give him victory over all his enemies, whoever they may be.

‘Let me see my desire on.’ This was a common phrase indicating the granting of success. It is found on the Moabite stone, where Mesha of Moab speaks of Chemosh (the Moabite god) as having ‘let me see my desire on all who hated me’.

David Points Out To God That He Is A Victim Of Slander, Lies And Cursing And Asks Him To Deal With Them Accordingly (59.11-13).

We should note that what David majors on is not the power of a great enemy, but on slanderous and lying words which are being spoken against him. This indicates a local situation where he is being falsely accused. He does not want them just to be killed out of hand (something that he knows God could do), but rather to be made a public example of that will never be forgotten, an example that will reveal that God rules over all nations.

59.11

‘Do not slay them, lest my people forget,
Make them wander to and fro by your power, and bring them down, O Lord our shield.’

David had no doubt that God could simply strike his enemies down where they were. But he asks Him not to do that, for if He did it would soon be forgotten, and then his people would simply forget it. It would be a seven day wonder. What he rather wants is that they might be made to wander to and fro (compare verse 15, same verb) or be ‘scattered’, by God’s power, and then brought down, by the One Who is Israel’s shield. Wandering to and fro would well describe a mercenary’s life, but here it may be the more prosaic thought of them wandering up and down in the city in vain as they wait to seize him (verse 15), something that the people would observe and remember, laughing continually behind their backs. Both, of course, may be in mind. They were to be constantly trying, never succeeding, until God brought them down. Their presence would be a constant reminder of what Saul was like and what he had tried to do to David, and how he had failed. David seemingly at this stage did not approve of foreign mercenaries lording it in Israel. In his view they were not needed. Did Israel not have their Sovereign Lord as their shield?

‘MY people’ does not necessarily indicate that David was speaking as their king. It could equally well see him as identifying himself with his fellow countrymen against all their enemies, of which these foreign mercenaries reminded him. For he sees God as Israel’s shield and protector. What need then of foreign mercenaries?

59.12

‘For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips,
Let them even be taken in their pride,
And for cursing and lying which they speak.’

He now describes what his charge is against these men. They have cursed him and lied against him, and behaved haughtily towards him. So he calls for them to be called to account for the sin of their mouth and the word of their lips. They had no doubt been convinced by Saul (they would not take much convincing) of how treacherous and dangerous David was, and as such men will, they had made it openly known with cursing and swearing. They wanted it known that they had been charged to deal with the infamous David. It was from those who overheard them that Michal may have obtained her intelligence (1 Samuel 19.11).

59.13

‘Consume them in wrath, consume them,
So that they will be no more,
And let them know that God rules in Jacob,
To the ends of the earth. [Selah’

So whilst he did not want them simply struck down immediately, leaving him still open to further attacks by Saul’s men (compare 2 Kings 1.9-14), he did want them to be dealt with in such a way that when they were consumed, to be no more, it would let men know that it is God Who rules in Israel (Jacob), even to the ends of the earth. ‘To the ends of the earth’ would suit the idea that although the mercenaries moved on to pastures new, God would reach them wherever they were. It may be that he had in mind the story of the Exodus when the delayed judgment on Pharaoh eventually led to the nations learning of the glory of YHWH. But what we should note from this is that David’s great concern, even at such a time, was not so much for his own safety as for the glory of God.

Many of these men, if they survived or remained with Saul that long, would be struck down on Mount Gilboa as they sought to defend Saul (1 Samuel 31.1 ff.). And even though that did not initially fulfil David’s desire (what happened on Mt Gilboa could have been seen as suggesting that God did not rule in Israel), the situation was remarkably transformed when David rose to power and finally convincingly smashed the Philistine power. God’s reputation was thus finally enhanced among the nations as a consequence of the mercenaries being consumed.

‘Consume them in wrath.’ He wanted them consumed by God as One Who was angry at the fact that they had lied and cursed against the anointed of YHWH (1 Samuel 16.13), and had taken up arms against him. (Something which we know he himself would never do, in spite of Saul’s unforgivable treatment of him - 1 Samuel 24.6; 26.11). He considered that by attacking him they were attacking God.

‘Selah.’ A further pause for thought.

His Would Be Assassins Can Wander Up and Down Like Stray Dogs All Night If They Wish, But He Will Meanwhile Sing Of The Triumph And Protection Of His God (59.14-17).

David concludes the Psalm by taunting his oppressors for wasting their time awaiting him in order to strike him down (compare verse 6-7), because he knows that it will be in vain. And he declares that meanwhile he will sing of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, knowing that God will be his refuge and strength.

59.14-15

‘And at evening let them return,
Let them howl like a dog, and go round about the city.’
They will wander up and down for food,
And tarry all night if they be not satisfied.’

David again takes up the picture of the wild dogs who scavenge in the city streets at night, if necessary wandering up and down all night if they are unable to find sufficient food. They would obtain their food from the rubbish thrown out of houses, which awaited collection by the rubbish collectors who would collect it in carts and burn it outside the city (in later days in the Valley of Hinnom).

He is quite content for his would be assassins to do the same, for he has prayed through to certainty of God’s deliverance. He sees them returning that night to keep watch outside his house, remaining there all night until they can seize him, only to be thwarted when they cannot find him. But he is satisfied now that it will be in vain, for he has already made his plans for escape, leaving them to face the smothered laughter of Israel when the story got around. (It may well be that the window through which he escaped (1 Samuel 19.12) was in the city wall, but whether it was or not, he was confident that they knew nothing about it, and he proved to be correct).

59.16

‘But I will sing of your strength,
Yes, I will sing aloud of your covenant love in the morning,
For you have been my high tower,
And a refuge in the day of my distress.’

Meanwhile David would sing of God’s strength, the strength which had delivered him, and he will sing aloud (in contrast to their howling) of God’s covenant love in the morning, by which time through God’s help he would be safe and far away. God had not overlooked His covenant promises.

59.17

‘To you, O my strength, will I sing praises,
For God is my high tower, the God of my mercy.’

Indeed, he declares, he will yet sing praises to God who is his strength, and to God Who is his fortress, and the God Who shows him favour. Note that there is no boasting about his cleverness in escaping, or even of the wife who helped him to escape. All his thought is on the fact that he owes it all to God, and to His strength, protection and favour.

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