Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm
TITLE. To the Chief Musician on Neginoth. The music
was to be that of stringed instruments. Variety is to be studied in our tunes,
and in all other matters relating to sacred song. Monotony is often the death of
congregational praise. Providence is varied, and so should our recording songs
be. Maschil. We are to learn and to teach by what we sing. Edification
must not be divorced from psalmody. A Psalm of David. David's productions
were as plentiful as they are profitable. His varied life was for our benefit,
for from it we derive these hymns, which at this hour are as fresh and as
precious as when he wrote them. When the Ziphims came and said to
Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us? To curry favour with Saul they
were guilty of gross inhospitality. What cared they what innocent blood was shed
so that they earned the graceless monarch's smile! David came quietly among
them, hoping for a little rest in his many flights, but they deserted him in his
solitary abode, and betrayed him. He turns to God in prayer, and so strong was
his faith that he soon sang himself into delightful serenity.
DIVISION. From Ps 54:1-3, where the Selah makes a pause
for us, the psalmist pleads with God, and then in the rest of the song, laying
aside all doubt, he chants a hymn of joyful triumph. The vigour of faith is the
death of anxiety, and the birth of security.
Verse 1. Save me, O God. Thou art my Saviour; all around me
are my foes and their eager helpers. No shelter is permitted me. Every land
rejects me and denies me rest. But thou, O God, wilt give me refuge, and deliver
me from all my enemies. By thy name, by thy great and glorious nature. Employ all
thine attributes for me. Let every one of the perfections which are blended in
thy divine name work for me. Is not thine honour pledged for my defence? And judge me by thy strength. Render justice to me, for
none else will or can. Thou canst give me efficient justice, and right my wrongs
by thine omnipotence. We dare not appeal to God in a bad cause, but when we know
that we can fearlessly carry our cause before his justice we may well commit it
to his power.
Verse 2. Hear my prayer, O God. This has ever been the
defence of saints. As long as God hath an open ear we cannot be shut up in
trouble. All other weapons may be useless, but all prayer is evermore available.
No enemy can spike this gun. Give ear to the words of my mouth. Vocal prayer helps the
supplicant, and we keep our minds more fully awake when we can use our tongues
as well as our hearts. But what is prayer if God hear not? It is all one whether
we babble nonsense or plead arguments if our God grant us not a hearing. When
his case had become dangerous, David could not afford to pray out of mere
custom, he must succeed in his pleadings, or become the prey of his adversary.
Verse 3. For strangers are risen up against me. Those who
had no cause for ill will had gone against him; persons to whom he could have
given no offence, for they were strangers to him. They were aliens to his God
also, and should these be allowed to worry and destroy him. A child may well
complain to his father when strangers come in to molest him. What right have
they to interfere? Let them leave off meddling and mind their own concerns. And oppressors seek after my soul. Saul, that persecuting
tyrant, had stamped his own image on many more. Kings generally coin their own
likeness. He led the way, and others followed seeking David's soul, his blood,
his life, his very existence. Cruel and intense were they in their malice, they
would utterly crush the good man; no half measure would content them. They have not set God before them. They had no more regard
for right and justice than if they knew no God, or cared for none. Had they
regarded God they would not have betrayed the innocent to be hunted down like a
poor harmless stag. David felt that atheism lay at the bottom of the enmity
which pursued him. Good men are hated for God's sake, and this is a good plea
for them to urge in prayer. Selah. As if he said, "Enough of this, let us pause." He is
out of breath with indignation. A sense of wrong bids him suspend the music
awhile. It may also be observed, that more pauses would, as a rule, improve our
devotions: we are usually too much in a hurry: a little more holy meditation
would make our words more suitable and our emotions more fervent.
Verse 4. Behold, God is mine helper. He saw enemies
everywhere, and now to his joy as he looks upon the band of his defenders he
sees one whose aid is better than all the help of men; he is overwhelmed with
joy at recognizing his divine champion, and cries, Behold. And is not this a theme for pious exultation in all
time, that the great God protects us, his own people: what matters the number or
violence of our foes when HE uplifts the shield of his omnipotence to guard us,
and the sword of his power to aid us? Little care we for the defiance of the foe
while we have the defence of God. The Lord is with them that uphold my soul. The reigning
Lord, the great Adonai is in the camp of my defenders. Here was a greater
champion than any of the three mighties, or than all the valiant men who chose
David for their captain. The psalmist was very confident, he felt so thoroughly
that his heart was on the Lord's side that he was sure God was on his
side. He asked in the first verse for deliverance, and here he returns thanks
for upholding: while we are seeking one mercy which we have not, we must not be
unmindful of another which we have. It is a great mercy to have some friends
left us, but a greater mercy still to see the Lord among them, for like so many
cyphers our friends stand for nothing till the Lord sets himself as a great unit
in the front of them.
Verse 5. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies. They worked
for evil, and they shall have their wages. It cannot be that malice should go
unavenged. It were cruelty to the good to be lenient to their persecutors. It is
appointed, and so it must ever be, that those who shoot upward the arrows of
malice shall find them fall upon themselves. The recoil of their own gun has
often killed oppressors. Cut them off in thy truth. Not in ferocious revenge is this
spoken, but as an Amen to the sure sentence of the just Judge. Let the veracity
of thy threatenings be placed beyond dispute, the decree is right and just, let
it be fulfilled. It is not a private desire, but the solemn utterance of a
military man, a grossly injured man, a public leader destined to be a monarch,
and a man well trained in the school of Moses, whose law ordains eye for eye,
and tooth for tooth.
Verse 6. I will freely sacrifice unto thee. Spontaneously
will I bring my freewill offerings. So certain is he of deliverance that he
offers a vow by anticipation. His overflowing gratitude would load the altars of
God with victims cheerfully presented. The more we receive, the more we ought to
render. The spontaneousness of our gifts is a great element in their acceptance;
the Lord loveth a cheerful giver. I will praise thy name, O Lord. As if no amount of
sacrifice could express his joyful feelings, he resolves to be much in vocal
thanksgiving. The name which he invoked in prayer (Ps 54:1), he will now magnify
in praise. Note how roundly he brings it out: O Jehovah. This is ever the grand name of the revealed God
of Israel, a name which awakens the most sublime sentiments, and so nourishes
the most acceptable praise. None can praise the Lord so well as those who have
tried and proved the preciousness of his name in seasons of adversity. The
psalmist adds, for it is good, and surely we may read this with a double
nominative, God's name is good, and so is his praise. It is of great use to our
souls to be much in praise; we are never so holy or so happy as when our
adoration of God abounds. Praise is good in itself, good to us, and good to all
around us. If David's enemies are described in Ps 54:3 as not setting God before
them, he here declares that he is of a different mind from them, for he resolves
to have the Lord in perpetual remembrance in his sacrifices and praises.
Verse 7. For he hath delivered me out of all trouble. Up to
that time deliverance had come, and for that danger also he felt that rescue was
near. David lived a life of dangers and hair breadth escapes, yet he was always
safe. In the retrospect of his very many deliverances he feels that he must
praise God, and looking upon the mercy which he sought as though it were already
received, he sang this song over it--
"And a new song is in my mouth,
To long loved music set,
Glory to thee for all the grace
I have not tasted yet."
Out of all trouble our covenant God is pledged to bring us, and
therefore even now let us uplift the note of triumph unto Jehovah, the faithful
preserver of them that put their trust in him. Thus far have we proved his
promise good; he changes not, and therefore in all the unknown future he will be
equally our guardian and defence, "showing himself strong in the behalf of them
whose heart is perfect toward him."
And mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine enemies. He
knew that yet he should look on his haughty foes, gazing down on them in triumph
as now they looked on him in contempt. He desired this as a matter of justice,
and not of personal pique. His righteous soul exulted because he knew that
unprovoked and gratuitous malice would meet with a righteous punishment. Could
we keep out of our hearts all personal enmity as fully as the psalmist did in
this Psalm, we might yet equally feel with him a sacred acquiescence and delight
in that divine justice which will save the righteous and overthrow the
malicious. In closing, let us trust that if we are as friendless as this man of
God, we may resort in prayer as he did, exercise the like faith, and find
ourselves ere long singing the same joyous hymn of praise.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. From the inscription, learn,
1. Particular straits and particular deliveries should be
particularly remarked: as David here remembereth the danger he was in by the
treachery of the Ziphims.
2. Mighty men will find readily more friends in an evil cause,
than the godly do find in a good cause: as Saul has the Ziphims to offer their
service to his cruelly, when David was in straits.
3. The wicked are very hearty to do an ill turn, and glad to
find occasion of it. "Doth not David, "saith they, "hide himself with
us?" as if this had been good and blessed news. David Dickson
(1583-1662), in "A Brief Explication upon the Psalms."
Whole Psalm. The church has taken a clear view in
appointing this as one of the Psalms in commemoration of the passion of Jesus.
It is seen with greatest effect as a simple prophecy of Christ. Read thus, it is
very plain and intelligible; requiring little more than the first idea to
exhibit a perfect correspondence with the life and feelings of the Messiah.
William Hill Tucker, in "The Psalms... with Notes, "1840.
Whole Psalm. In the first three verses, David being sought
for by his enemies, prays against them. That was his course, he always began his
conflict with God, contending and wrestling with him for a blessing and
assistance. He durst not lift up his hands even against the enemies of God (yet
what durst not David do?) till he had first lifted them up in humble
supplication to the Lord his strength. "Who taught his hands to war, and his
fingers to fight." Ps 144:1. This being done, his courage breaks out like
lightning, he doubts not of slaying his thousands and ten thousands. So in the
fourth and fifth verses, he becomes his own prophet, promising himself victory.
For who can resist him who hath Omnipotence for his second? Or how can any enemy
maintain a fight against that captain who hath beforehand defeated and broken
their forces by his prayers? assured his conquest before he puts on his armour?
Then in the last verses, David concludes where he began, thankfully
acknowledgeth God's goodness in his deliverance, and the dissipation of his
enemies, obliging himself to a return of dutiful affectionate service, in
consideration of so great mercies received. J. Dolben, in a Thanksgiving
Whole Psalm. Blessed Redeemer! give me grace to eye thee,
and to call to my recollection thine exercises amidst the false friends and open
foes, which in the days of thy flesh surrounded thee. Lord! help me so to
consider thee, who didst endure such a contradiction of sinners against thyself,
that I may not be weary and faint in mind. And while the Ziphims of the present
hour harass and distress me, and would deliver my soul up into the hand of the
enemy: oh! for grace to be looking unto thee, and deriving strength from thee,
that I may discover thy gracious hand delivering me out of all my troubles, and
making me more than conqueror in thy strength, and in the power of thy might.
Robert Hawker, D.D., 1753-1827.
Verse 1. Save me, O God. As David was at this time placed
beyond the reach of human assistance, he must be understood as praying to be
saved by the name and the power of God, in an emphatic sense, or by these
in contradistinction to the usual means of deliverance. Though all help must
ultimately come from God, there are ordinary methods by which he generally
extends it. When these fail, and every earthly stay is removed, he must then
take the work into his own hands. It was such a situation that David here fled
to the saints' last asylum, and sought to be saved by a miracle of divine power.
Verse 1. Judge me by thy strength, or power, i.e.,
determine, decide my cause by thy mighty power. Saul, in the cause between
him and David, was resolved to end it by force only, and to arbitrate in no
other way than by a javelin, a sword, or his forces. The psalmist well knew that
Saul, in this respect, would be too hard for him; and therefore applies for
protection and justice to one whose power he knew was infinitely superior to his
adversaries, and who, he was assured, could and would defend him. Samuel
Chandler (1693-1766), in "A Critical History of the Life of David."
Verse 2. (second clause). Let the words of my
mouth with which I have defended my cause, be pleasing and acceptable to
thee. For in this way can prayers and words of the mouth be
correctly distinguished, unless any one should wish simply to understand by them
prayers uttered by the mouth; but, as I have said, the phrase is more
emphatic. Hermann Venema, 1697-1787.
Verse 3. Strangers: aliens to his truth, men who from
unbelief have estranged themselves from all lot and portion in his covenants
--oppress and persecute. William Hill Tucker.
Verse 3. (first clause). The Chaldee interpreter
reads, proud men, instead of strangers, a reading which also is
found in eight of Kennicott's Codices. So also Ps 86:14. William Walford, in
"The Book of Psalms. A New Translation, " etc., 1837.
Verse 3. (first clause). There is a great mistake
made by rendering the word oyrz
(zarim) strangers. The Ziphites surely were Israelites, and not
strangers. The fact is this, that word is taken from hrz (zarah) the primary meaning of which is "to scatter,
"to "disperse, "also "to sift, "as grain. Hence it signifies, likewise
figuratively, to sift a matter, to investigate, to search out, to trace out. So
here, David complains of the new and dangerous enemies he had got in the
Ziphites, who became Saul's spies. When he pleads, therefore, for deliverance,
saying, "Save me, O God, " etc., he describes the danger he was in: For spies
have risen against me. Benjamin Weiss, in "New Translation,
Exposition, and Chronological Arrangement of the Psalms," 1858.
Verse 3. Oppressors seek after my soul; i.e., my life
at least; my soul also they would destroy, if it lay in their power, as the
Papists delivered up John Huss to the devil. John Trapp, 1611-1662.
Verse 4. Behold, says he, I produce a certain fact, well
known, demonstrated by a new proof, and worthy of all attention; for the
particle behold, contains this breadth of meaning. Hermann Venema.
Verse 4. Christ sees with the utmost clearness, that God
will be his own helper, and of them--the disciples and believers--
that uphold his soul. In the same moment, does he foresee the destruction
of his enemies. He views, in thought, the armies of Titus, the fall of the
Jewish nation, and the dispersion of the remnant. He beholds the avenging hand
of God, stretched in fury over the destroyers. William Hill Tucker.
Verse 4. (second clause). Such as take part with the
persecuted saints, God will take part with them! The Lord is with them
that uphold my soul. David Dickson.
Verses 4-5. He is assured of help to himself and to his
friends, and of vengeance to his enemies. Whence learn,
1. Fervent prayer hath readily a swift answer, and sometimes
wonderfully swift, even before a man have ended speech, as here David findeth in
experience. Behold, saith he, God is my helper.
2. The sight of faith is very clear and piercing through all
clouds when God holds forth the light of his Spirit unto it, it can demonstrate
God present in an instant; ready to help in greatest straits: Behold, God is
3. There is more joy in God's felt presence than grief in felt
trouble; for, Behold, God is mine helper, was more comfortable to David
than his friends' unkindness, and strangers' malice was grievous. David
Verse 5. Cut them off. He desires that God would destroy
them with a death dealing blow, which is the force the word tmu contains; its primitive sense is to be silent,
to keep silence, whence it is transferred to a stroke penetrating deeply and
striking fatally, such as is called a silent blow, opposed to a
sounding one, which is wont to rebound and not pierce deeply. Hermann
Verse 6. I will freely sacrifice unto thee. He would
sacrifice freely: by which he does not allude to the circumstance,
that sacrifices of thanksgiving were at the option of worshippers, but to the
alacrity and cheerfulness with which he would pay his vow when he had escaped
his present dangers. John Calvin.
Verse 7. Mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine enemies.
Or, mine eye hath looked upon mine enemies; that is, he was able to meet
them without terror. Samuel Davidson, D.D., 1852.
Verse 7. The reader will note that the words his
desire are supplied by our translators, and are not in the original text.
C. H. S.
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
Verse 1. In the deliverance of the saints the honour and
power of God are concerned.
1. Their failure would dishonour both.
2. Their salvation glorifies both.
3. Both are immutable, therefore we have a sure plea at all times.
Verse 2. Our main concern in prayer.
1. What is meant by God's hearing prayer.
2. How we may know that he has done so.
3. What is to be done when this is doubtful.
4. What is due to him when the hearing is given.
Verse 3. Strange trials.
1. They are not altogether strange.
(a) Not so to God.
(b) Not so in the history of the church.
(c) Not so to the provisions of grace wherein they are
2. Wherein they are strange.
(a) They reveal God anew.
(b) Endear forgotten promises.
(c) Train unused graces.
(d) Being new praises, etc.
Verse 3. (last clause). The root of sin: if they
remembered his authority they dared not, if they tasted his love they would not,
if they were conformed to his nature they could not.
Verse 4. A theme for wonder.
1. At his unmerited grace, that he should side with me.
2. At his gracious power, for who can resist him?
3. At his practical help, for he has upheld my soul.
Verse 6. We should sacrifice voluntarily, liberally,
joyfully, continuously, with pure motive.
Verse 6. The goodness of praising the good name.
Verse 7. (first clause). The exclamation of the newly
pardoned penitent, the cry of the delivered saint, the song of the ripe
Christian, the shout of the glorified believer.
WORK UPON THE FIFTY-FOURTH PSALM
In CHANDLER'S "Life of David, "pp. 152-4, there is an
Exposition of this Psalm.