In it we see the psalmist's soul surging with the ground swell of strong emotion, which breaks into successive waves of varied feeling -- first (vers.1, 2) terror blended with trust, the enemy pictured, as so frequently in these early psalms, as a lion who tears the flesh and breaks the bones of his prey -- and the refuge in God described by a graphic word very frequent also in the cotemporaneous psalms (xi.1; lvii.1, etc.). Then with a quick turn comes the passionate protestation of his innocence, in hurried words, broken by feeling, and indignantly turning away from the slanders which he will not speak of more definitely than calling them "this."
(3) Jehovah, my God! if I have done this --
(4) If I have rewarded evil to him that was at peace with me -- Yea, I delivered him that without cause is mine enemy --
(5) May the enemy pursue my soul and capture it,
How remarkably all this agrees with his words to Saul, "There is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, ... yet thou huntest my soul to take it" (1 Sam. xxiv.11); and how forcible becomes the singular reiteration in the narrative, of the phrase "my hand," which occurs six times in four verses. The peculiarly abrupt introduction in ver.4 of the clause, "I delivered him that without cause is mine enemy," which completely dislocates the grammatical structure, is best accounted for by supposing that David's mind is still full of the temptation to stain his hands with Saul's blood, and is vividly conscious of the effort which he had had to make to overcome it. And the solemn invocation of destruction which he dares to address to Jehovah his God includes the familiar figure of himself as a fugitive before the hunters, which is found in the words already quoted, and which here as there stands in immediate connection with his assertion of clean hands.
Then follows, with another abrupt turn, a vehement cry to God to judge his cause; his own individual case melts into the thought of a world-wide judgment, which is painted with grand power with three or four broad rapid strokes.
(6) Awake for me -- Thou hast commanded judgment.
(7) Let the assembly of the nations stand round Thee, And above it return Thou up on high.
(8) Jehovah will judge the nations.
Each smaller act of God's judgment is connected with the final world-judgment, is a prophecy of it, is one in principle therewith; and He, who at the last will be known as the universal Judge of all, certainly cannot leave His servants' cause unredressed nor their cry unheard till then. The psalmist is led by his own history to realize more intensely that truth of a Divine manifestation for judicial purposes to the whole world, and his prophetic lip paints its solemnities as the surest pledge of his own deliverance. He sees the gathered nations standing hushed before the Judge, and the Victor God at the close of the solemn act ascending up on high where He was before, above the heads of the mighty crowd (Psalm lxviii.19). In the faith of this vision, and because God will judge the nations, he invokes for himself the anticipation of that final triumph of good over evil, and asks to be dealt with according to his righteousness. Nothing but the most hopeless determination to find difficulties could make a difficulty of such words. David is not speaking of his whole character or life, but of his conduct in one specific matter, namely, in his relation to Saul. The righteous integrity which he calls God to vindicate is not general sinlessness nor inward conformity with the law of God, but his blamelessness in all his conduct to his gratuitous foe. His prayer that God would judge him is distinctly equivalent to his often repeated cry for deliverance, which should, as by a Divine arbitration, decide the debate between Saul and him. The whole passage in the psalm, with all its lyrical abruptness and lofty imagery, is the expression of the very same thought which we find so prominent in his words to Saul, already quoted, concerning God's judging between them and delivering David out of Saul's hand. The parallel is instructive, not only as the prose rendering of the poetry in the psalm, explaining it beyond the possibility of misunderstanding, but also as strongly confirmatory of the date which we have assigned to the latter. It is so improbable as to be almost inconceivable that the abrupt disconnected themes of the psalm should echo so precisely the whole of the arguments used in the remonstrance of the historical books, and should besides present verbal resemblances and historical allusions to these, unless it be of the same period, and therefore an inlet into the mind of the fugitive as he lurked among the rugged cliffs by "the fountain of the wild goat."
In that aspect the remainder of the psalm is very striking and significant. We have two main thoughts in it -- that of God as punishing evil in this life, and that of the self-destruction inherent in all sin; and these are expressed with such extraordinary energy as to attest at once the profound emotion of the psalmist, and his familiarity with such ideas during his days of persecution. It is noticeable, too, that the language is carefully divested of all personal reference; he has risen to the contemplation of a great law of the Divine government, and at that elevation the enemies whose calumnies and cruelties had driven him to God fade into insignificance.
With what magnificent boldness he paints God the Judge arraying Himself in His armour of destruction!
(11) God is a righteous Judge,
(12) If he (i.e., the evil-doer) turn not, He whets His sword, His bow He has bent, and made it ready.
(13) And for him He has prepared weapons of death,
Surely there is nothing grander in any poetry than this tremendous image, smitten out with so few strokes of the chisel, and as true as it is grand. The representation applies to the facts of life, of which as directed by a present Providence, and not of any future retribution, David is here thinking. Among these facts is chastisement falling upon obstinate antagonism to God. Modern ways of thinking shrink from such representations; but the whole history of the world teems with confirmation of their truth -- only what David calls the flaming arrows of God, men call "the natural consequences of evil." The later revelation of God in Christ brings into greater prominence the disciplinary character of all punishment here, but bates no jot of the intensity with which the earlier revelation grasped the truth of God as a righteous Judge in eternal opposition to, and aversion from, evil.
With that solemn picture flaming before his inward eye, the prophet-psalmist turns to gaze on the evil-doer who has to bear the brunt of these weapons of light. Summoning us to look with him by a "Behold!" he tells his fate in an image of frequent occurrence in the psalms of this period, and very natural in the lips of a man wandering in the desert among wild creatures, and stumbling sometimes into the traps dug for them: "He has dug a hole and hollowed it out, and he falls into the pitfall he is making." The crumbling soil in which he digs makes his footing on the edge more precarious with every spadeful that he throws out, and at last, while he is hard at work, in he tumbles. It is the conviction spoken in the proverbs of all nations, expressed here by David in a figure drawn from life -- the conviction that all sin digs its own grave and is self-destructive. The psalm does not proclaim the yet deeper truth that this automatic action, by which sin sets in motion its own punishment, has a disciplinary purpose, so that the arrows of God wound for healing, and His armour is really girded on for, even while it seems to be against, the sufferer. But it would not be difficult to show that that truth underlies the whole Old Testament doctrine of retribution, and is obvious in many of David's psalms. In the present one the deliverance of the hunted prey is contemplated as the end of the baffled trapper's fall into his own snare, and beyond that the psalmist's thoughts do not travel. His own safety, the certainty that his appeal to God's judgment will not be in vain, fill his mind; and without following the fate of his enemy further, he closes this song of tumultuous and varied emotion with calm confidence and a vow of thanksgiving for a deliverance which is already as good as accomplished:
(17) I will give thanks to Jehovah according to His righteousness, And I will sing the name of Jehovah, Most High.
We have still another psalm (lvii.) which is perhaps best referred to this period. According to the title, it belongs to the time when David "fled from Saul in the cave." This may, of course, apply to either Adullam or Engedi, and there is nothing decisive to be alleged for either; yet one or two resemblances to psalm vii. incline the balance to the latter period.
These resemblances are the designation of his enemies as lions (vii.2; lvii.4); the image of their falling into their own trap (vii.15; lvii.6); the use of the phrase "my honour" or "glory" for "my soul" (vii.5; lvii.8 -- the same word in the original); the name of God as "Most High" (vii.17; lvii.2), an expression which only occurs twice besides in the Davidic psalms (ix.2; xxi.7); the parallelism in sense between the petition which forms the centre and the close of the one, "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens" (lvii.5, 11), and that which is the most emphatic desire of the other, "Arise, O Lord, awake, ... lift up Thyself for me" (vii.6). Another correspondence, not preserved in our English version, is the employment in both of a rare poetical word, which originally means "to complete," and so comes naturally to have the secondary significations of "to perfect" and "to put an end to." The word in question only occurs five times in the Old Testament, and always in psalms. Four of these are in hymns ascribed to David, of which two are (lvii.2), "The God that performeth all things for me," and (vii.9), "Let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end." The use of the same peculiar word in two such dissimilar connections seems to show that it was, as we say, "running in his head" at the time, and is, perhaps, a stronger presumption of the cotemporaneousness of both psalms than its employment in both with the same application would have been.
Characteristic of these early psalms is the occurrence of a refrain (compare lvi. and lix.) which in the present instance closes both of the portions of which the hymn consists. The former of these (1-5) breathes prayerful trust, from which it passes to describe the encompassing dangers; the second reverses this order, and beginning with the dangers and distress, rises to ringing gladness and triumph, as though the victory were already won. The psalmist's confident cleaving of soul to God is expressed (ver.1) by an image that may be connected with his circumstances at Engedi: "In Thee has my soul taken refuge." The English version is correct as regards the sense, though it obliterates the beautiful metaphor by its rendering "trusteth." The literal meaning of the verb is "to flee to a refuge," and its employment here may be due to the poetical play of the imagination, which likens his secure retreat among the everlasting hills to the safe hiding-place which his spirit found in God his habitation. A similar analogy appears in the earliest use of the expression, which may have been floating in the psalmist's memory, and which occurs in the ancient song of Moses (Deut. xxxii.). The scenery of the forty years' wanderings remarkably colours that ode, and explains the frequent recurrence in it of the name of God as "the Rock." We have false gods, too, spoken of in it, as, "Their rock in whom they took refuge," where the metaphor appears in its completeness (ver.37). Our psalm goes on with words which contain a further allusion to another part of the same venerable hymn, "And in the shadow of Thy wings will I take refuge," which remind us of the grand image in it of God's care over Israel, as of the eagle bearing her eaglets on her mighty pinions (ver.11), and point onwards to the still more wonderful saying in which all that was terrible and stern in the older figure is softened into tenderness, and instead of the fierce affection of the mother eagle, the hen gathering her chickens under her wings becomes the type of the brooding love and more than maternal solicitude of God in Christ. Nor can we forget that the only other instance of the figure before David's psalms is in the exquisite idyl which tells of the sweet heroism of David's ancestress, Ruth, on whose gentle and homeless head was pronounced the benediction, "A full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust" (Ruth ii.12). We may perhaps also see in this clause an extension of the simile which unquestionably lies in the verb, and may think of the strong "sides of the cave," arching above the fugitive like a gigantic pair of wings beneath which he nestles warm and dry, while the short-lived storm roars among the rocks -- a type of that broad pinion which is his true defence till threatening evils be overpast. In the past he has sheltered his soul in God, but no past act of faith can avail for present distresses. It must be perpetually renewed. The past deliverances should make the present confidence more easy; and the true use of all earlier exercises of trust is to prepare for the resolve that we will still rely on the help we have so often proved. "I have trusted in Thee" should ever be followed by "And in the shadow of Thy wings will I trust."
The psalmist goes on to fulfil his resolve. He takes refuge by prayer in God, whose absolute elevation above all creatures and circumstances is the ground of his hope, whose faithful might will accomplish its design, and complete His servant's lot. "I will call to God Most High; to God who perfects (His purpose) for me." And then assured hope gleams upon his soul, and though the storm-clouds hang low and black as ever, they are touched with light. "He will send from heaven and save me." But even while this happy certainty dawns upon him, the contending fears, which ever lurk hard by faith, reassert their power, and burst in, breaking the flow of the sentence, which by its harsh construction indicates the sudden irruption of disturbing thoughts. "He that would swallow me up reproaches (me)." With this two-worded cry of pain -- prolonged by the very unusual occurrence, in the middle of a verse, of the "Selah," which is probably a musical direction for the accompaniment -- a billow of terror breaks over his soul; but its force is soon spent, and the hope, above which for a moment it had rolled, rises from the broken spray like some pillared light round which the surges dash in vain. "God shall send forth His mercy and His truth" -- those two white-robed messengers who draw nigh to all who call on Him. Then follows in broken words, the true rendering of which is matter of considerable doubt, a renewed picture of his danger:
(4) (With) my soul -- among lions will I lie down.
The psalmist seems to have broken off the construction, and instead of finishing the sentence as he began it, to have substituted the first person for the third, which ought to have followed "my soul." This fragmentary construction expresses agitation of spirit. It may be a question whether the "lions" in the first clause are to be regarded as a description of his enemies, who are next spoken of without metaphor as sons of men who devour (or who "breathe out fire"), and whose words are cutting and wounding as spear and sword. The analogy of the other psalms of this period favours such an understanding of the words. But, on the other hand, the reference preferred by Delitzsch and others gives great beauty. According to that interpretation, the fugitive among the savage cliffs prepares himself for his nightly slumbers in calm confidence, and lays himself down there in the cave, while the wild beasts, whose haunt it may have been, prowl without, feeling himself safer among them than among the more ferocious "sons of men," whose hatred has a sharper tooth than even theirs. And then this portion of the psalm closes with the refrain, "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let Thy glory be above all the earth." A prayer that God would show forth His power, and exalt His name by delivering His servant. What lofty conviction that his cause was God's cause, that the Divine honour was concerned in his safety, that he was a chosen instrument to make known God's praise over all the world! -- and what self-forgetfulness in that, even whilst he prays for his own deliverance, he thinks of it rather as the magnifying of God, than as it affects himself personally!
The second part continues the closing strain of the former, and describes the plots of his foes in the familiar metaphor of the pit, into which they fall themselves. The contemplation of this divine Nemesis on evil-doers leads up to the grand burst of thanksgiving with which the psalm closes --
(7) Fixed is my heart, O God! fixed my heart!
(8) Awake, my glory! awake psaltery and harp![L]
[K] Properly, "sing with a musical accompaniment."
[L] Two kinds of stringed instrument, the difference between which is very obscure.
If the former part may be regarded as the evening song of confidence, this is the morning hymn of thankfulness. He lay down in peace among lions; he awakes to praise. He calls upon his soul to shake off slumber; he invokes the chords of his harp to arouse from its chamber the sleeping dawn. Like a mightier than himself, he will rise a great while before day, and the clear notes of the rude lyre, his companion in all his wanderings, will summon the morning to add its silent speech to His praise. But a still loftier thought inspires him. This hunted solitary not only knows that his deliverance is certain, but he has already the consciousness of a world-wide vocation, and anticipates that the story of his sorrow and his trust, with the music of his psalms, belong to the world, and will flow over the barriers of his own generation and of his own land into the whole earth --
(9) I will praise Thee among the peoples, O Lord,
(10) For great unto the heavens is Thy mercy,
These two mighty messengers of God, whose coming he was sure of (ver.3), will show themselves in his deliverance, boundless and filling all the creation. They shall be the theme of his world-wide praise. And then with the repetition of the refrain the psalm comes round again to supplication, and dies into silent waiting before God till He shall be pleased to answer. Thus triumphant were the hopes of the lonely fugitive skulking in the wilderness; such bright visions peopled the waste places, and made the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.
The cxlii. is also, according to the title, one of the cave-psalms. But considerable doubt attaches to the whole group of so-called Davidic compositions in the last book of the psalter (p.138-144), from their place, and from the fact that there are just seven of them, as well as in some cases from their style and character. They are more probably later hymns in David's manner. The one in question corresponds in tone with the psalms which we have been considering. It breathes the same profound consciousness of desolation and loneliness: "My spirit is darkened within me;" "Refuge fails me, no man cares for my soul." It glows with the same ardour of personal trust in and love to God which spring from his very loneliness and helplessness: "I cry unto Thee, O Jehovah! I say Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living." It triumphs with the same confidence, and with the same conviction that his deliverance concerns all the righteous: "They shall crown themselves in me, for Thou hast dealt bountifully with me;" for such would appear to be the true meaning of the word rendered in our version "compass me about;" the idea being that the mercy of God to the psalmist would become a source of festal gladness to all His servants, who would bind the story of God's bounty to him upon their brows like a coronal for a banquet.