Psalm 144
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

There is nothing more curious in the composition of the psalter than the union of the two entirely dissimilar pieces which compose this psalm. Psalm 144:1-11 are a mere cento from former psalms, the 18 furnishing the greater number of expressions and figures, and must from this circumstance be regarded as one of the latest in the collection, whereas Psalm 144:12-15 are Composed of a fragment of some ancient song, whose beginning is lost, and which has neither grammatical nor logical connection with the medley of quotations that precedes it. (See Note to Psalm 144:12). This interesting fragment gives, unfortunately, no indication of its date or authorship. We can imagine it, however, chanted at harvest, at festivals, or as “the help tune” of the reapers:

“their wine song, when hand

Grasps at hand, eye lights eye in good friendship,

and great hearts expand,

And grow one in the sense of this world’s life.”


The progressive rhythm of the latter part is very fine.

A Psalm of David. Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:
(1) Strength.—Rather, rock. Comp. Psalm 18:2; Psalm 18:46. LXX. and Vulg., “my God.”

Which teacheth.—See Psalm 18:34. More literally,

“Who traineth my hands for war,

My fingers for fight.”

My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
(2) My goodness·—Or, my lovingkindness, or my grace, a shortened form of “God of my grace” (Psalm 59:10; Psalm 59:17). The expression is exactly analogous to the term” grace,” applied to kings as the source of grace or mercy. For the other epithets, see Psalm 18:2.

Who subdueth.—Psalm 18:47; but the verb is different (cognate with 2Samuel 22:48), and here the singular, “my people,” instead of “my peoples.” Some MSS. indeed have the plural here, and the Syriac and Chaldee followed them, or changed to suit Psalms 18. If we had the historical incidents out of which the psalm sprung we might account for the change.

LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
(3) See Psalm 8:4.

Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.
(4) Vanity . . . shadow.—See Psalm 39:5-6; Psalm 102:11. The occasion of the introduction of these sentiments here is not quite clear. It may be the humility of the warrior who ascribes all success to God instead of to human prowess, or it may be a reflection uttered over the corpses of comrades, or, perhaps, a blending of the two.

Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
(5) Come down.—The theophany for which the psalmist prays is described in the classic language for such manifestations taken from Psalm 18:9; Psalm 18:13; Psalm 18:16-17; Psalm 18:43; Psalm 18:45, with reminiscences of Psalm 104:32; Exodus 19:18. But there are touches of originality, as in the next clause.

Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them.
(6) Cast forth lightning.—Literally, lighten lightning, the verb being quite peculiar to this place.

Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children;
(7) Rid.—The Hebrew verb means “to tear asunder,” and is used of the gaping of the mouth (Psalm 22:13). The meaning here is got from the cognate Arabic, and Syriac

Strange children.—Literally, sons of the stranger.

Whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.
(8) Right hand of falsehood.—Most probably with allusion to the custom (see Psalm 106:26) of raising the right hand in taking an oath.

I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee.
(9) See Psalm 33:2-3.

O God.—The only instance of Elohim in the last two books of the psalter with the exception of Psalms 108, which is a compilation from two older songs.

It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.
(10) David his servant.—See Psalm 18:50.

That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace:
(12) That our sons.—This rendering of the relative, which so strangely begins this fragment, would be possible after Genesis 11:7; Genesis 13:16, &c, if a finite verb instead of participles followed; or it might mean “because,” as in Genesis 30:18, &c, but for the same anomalous construction; or it might, as by the LXX., be rendered whose, if any antecedent for it could be discovered. But all these devices are plainly impossible, and there is nothing for it but to treat the passage which it introduces as a fragment of another poem quite unconnected with the previous part of the psalm. Render, we whose.

As plants.—The Hebrew word seems always to denote a young, vigorous tree lately planted. (See especially Job 14:9, aptly translated by the LXX. νεόϕυτον. (For the comparison, comp. Isaiah 5:7; Psalm 1:3, Note, Psalm 128:3.)

Grown up in their youth.—The form here used is peculiar, but in another conjugation the verb is frequently used of bringing up children (see 2Kings 10:6; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 23:4, &c.). as it is of the rain nourishing young plants (Isaiah 44:14). Here the poet must mean grown tall beyond their age, or the figure is somewhat tame. A suggestion to read, “reproductive in their youth,” i.e., though young themselves, bringing up families, improves the poetry, and suits well the intention of this fragment of song and the general feeling of the Hebrew race. Comp. especially Psalm 127:4, “sons of youth” (Burgess).

Corner stones.—The word only occurs once besides, in Zechariah 9:15, where it is used of the corners of the altar. The derivation is from a root meaning to conceal, as is also the word rendered garners, in the next verse. Aquila and Symmachus, “angles.”

Polished.—The Hebrew word means to hew, used, with one exception, of wood for fuel, but is cognate with a word used of stones, and in Isaiah 51:1 in the passive participle of a cave hewn in a rock. The exception is Proverbs 7:16, where the word is applied to tapestry.

After the similitude of a palace—i.e., like a large and stately building. There seems no reason to confine the reference to the Temple, as the LXX. and Vulg. do, though the absence of the article is not insuperably against this (Isaiah 44:28).

The explanations usually given of this passage make the resemblance to be either to caryatides carved at the angles of a palace, or to carved or variegated wood pillars in the corners of a spacious room. For the former there seems to be no authority in Scripture or known Hebrew usage. The latter has the support of Dr. J. G. Wetzstein, but seems far-fetched. It is far more according to Hebrew feeling to render the words simply, like hewn angles, the building of a palace; an image suggestive, like that of “the wall” in Song of Solomon 8:9 (see Note), of unassailable chastity and virtue. Perhaps the phrase “women of strength or of a strong fortification,” in Ruth 3:11, may imply the same figure. Grätz alters to “daughters of a palace.”

That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store: that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets:
(13) All manner of store.—See margin, all kinds of corn.

Thousands and ten thousands.—Literally, thousands multiplied.

Streets.—Rather, outplaces, i.e., pastures, fields, as in Job 5:10 (where see margin).

That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets.
(14) This verse is full of obscurities. The words rendered “oxen, strong to labour,” can hardly bear this meaning with the present pointing, since the participle is passive, and there is no authority for rendering oxen bearing burdens. The words have been rendered oxen laden, either with the produce of the land, or with their own fat (so apparently the LXX.), or with young, pregnant—all open to the objection that the passive of to bear must mean “to be borne,” and the latter to the further objection that the words are in the masculine. But since allûphîm elsewhere means “heads of families” (Jeremiah 13:21, &c) or “princes,” and the noun cognate with the verb is used of a post connected with the revenue (1Kings 11:28; comp. the connection between the Greek ϕορός and ϕέρτερος), the participle passive may easily here mean “honoured,” or “high in office.” Or, from the use of the cognate Chaldee form in Ezra 6:3, “strongly laid,” we might render, our princes firmly established; and this is the best explanation of the passage.

No breaking in.—Heb., a “breach,” i.e., in the town walls. LXX. and Vulg., “no falling of the fence.” Others refer to the folds for cattle. (See Psalm 60:2.) Ewald, however, connecting closely with the mention of “pregnant oxen,” renders no abortion. So Syriac: “Our cattle are great (with young), and there is not a barren one among them.”

Nor going outi.e., either to war, or into captivity (Prayer Book version), or the breaking out of cattle. The first is the more probable.

Complaining.—Rather, outcry, cry of sorrow, as in Jeremiah 14:2; or possibly, cry of battle.

Streets.—Better, squares.

Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.
(15) Happy.—It is only a narrow and one-sided religion that can see anything out of place in this beatitude of plenty and peace. If we could rejoice with the psalms, fully and without misgiving, in the temporal blessings bestowed by Heaven, we should the more readily and sincerely enter into the depths of their spiritual experience. And the secret of this lies in the full comprehension and contemplation of the beautiful and pleasant as the gift of God.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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