Psalm 144 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

(Read all of Psalm 144)
A Psalm of David. This psalm was written by David; not on account of the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, by a spirit of prophecy, as Theodoret; but on his own account, after he was come to the throne, and was king over all Israel; and was delivered from the was between him and Israel, and from the war of the Philistines, as Kimchi observes, having gained two victories over them: or it was written between the two victories, and before he had conquered all his enemies; since he prays to be delivered from the hand of strange children, Psalm 144:7. R. Obadiah thinks it was written on the account of his deliverance from Absalom and Sheba; but the former is best. Some copies of the Septuagint, and also the Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, have in their titles these words, "against Goliath;" and so Apollinarius; as if it was written on account of his combat with him, and victory over him; but this clause is not in the Hebrew Bibles; nor could Theodoret find it in the Septuagint in the Hexapla in his time. The Syriac inscription is still more foreign to the purpose, "a psalm of David, when he slew Asaph the brother of Goliath." R. Saadiah Gaon interprets this psalm of the times of the Messiah; and there are several things in it which are applicable to him.

Verse 1. Blessed [be] the Lord my strength,.... The author and giver of his natural strength of body, and of the fortitude of his mind, and of all the spiritual strength he had, to exercise grace, to bear up under afflictions and trials, to perform duty, and withstand enemies. It may be applied to Christ, the antitype of David, the man of God's right hand, he has made strong for himself. It may be rendered, "my rock" {c}; to whom the psalmist fled for shelter, when in distress and overwhelmed; and on whom he built his faith, and hope of eternal salvation, as well as depended on him for all supplies of grace and strength, and for help and succour in all times of need. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, render it, "my God": and so the word "rock" is used for God, Deuteronomy 32:30;

which teacheth my hands to war, [and] my fingers to fight; he took him from being a shepherd, and made him a soldier; and from being the leader of a flock of sheep, to be a general of armies; and all his military skill in marshalling of troops, in leading them on to battle, and bringing them off as well as all his courage and success, were from the Lord: he whose hands and fingers had been used to the shepherd's crook, and to the handling of the harp and lyre, were taught how to handle the sword, the bow, the shield, and spear. God is a man of war himself; and he teaches the art of war, as he does husbandry and other things; see Exodus 15:3; and so the Lord furnishes his people, who are here in a militant state, with spiritual armour, to fight against their spiritual enemies; he teaches them how to put it on, and directs them how to make use of every piece of it; as well as gives them boldness to face their enemies, and victory over them.

{c} yrwu "rupes mea," Montanus, Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, &c. so Ainsworth.

Verse 2. My goodness,.... Not only good, but goodness itself; the donor of all the blessings of goodness to him; the author of all goodness in him; the provider of all goodness for him, laid up to be used hereafter. The Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions render it my mercy, properly enough; that is, the God of "my mercy," as in Psalm 59:10; who is all mercy, full of mercy, rich and plenteous in it; which is abundant, and from everlasting to everlasting. Or, "my grace" {d}; the God of all grace, the giver of every grace, and who is able to make all grace to abound; and from whom every blessing of grace, and every particular grace, as faith, hope, and love, and all the supplies of grace, as well as every good and perfect gift, come: Christ is prevented with all the blessings of goodness; in him all fulness of grace dwells, and with him God keeps his mercy for evermore;

and my fortress; garrison or strong hold: what fortresses or fortifications are to cities, whether natural or artificial, that is God to his people; all his perfections are on their side; and particularly they are kept by his power, as in a garrison, through faith unto salvation, 1 Peter 1:5;

my high tower: the name of the Lord, which is himself, is a strong tower, where his righteous ones that flee to him are safe; and is an "high" one, where they are out of the reach of all their enemies, Proverbs 18:10;

and my deliverer; that delivered him from his temporal enemies; and from his spiritual ones, from sin, Satan, and the world; from all afflictions and temptations, from wrath and ruin, death and hell;

my shield; that protected him from all evil and danger; whose favour encompassed him as a shield; whose salvation was a shield to him; and more particularly the person, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of his Son, called the shield of faith, Ephesians 6:16;

and [he] in whom I trust; not in men, no, not in princes; but in the Lord only; in his Word, as the Targum; for things temporal and spiritual; for the blessings of grace here, and glory hereafter; of these several titles, see more on Psalm 18:2;

who subdueth my people under me; the people of Israel, all the tribes; whose hearts the Lord inclined to make him king over them all, 2 Samuel 5:1. Or, "the people" {f}; so the Targum, Syriac, and Arabic versions; the Heathen people, the Philistines, Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, and Syrians; see 2 Samuel 8:1. The former reading seems best, and is followed by the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and other versions: and this may be typical of the subduing of Christ's people under him; who are made willing, in the day of his power, to receive and own him as their King; profess subjection to his Gospel, and submit to his ordinances.

{d} ydox "gratia mea," Cocceius, Gejerus. {f} yme "pro" Myme "populos," Piscator.

Verse 3. Lord, what [is] man, that thou takest knowledge of him?.... Man, that is at most and best but a creature, made of the dust of the earth, is but dust and ashes; yea, a sinful creature, that drinks up iniquity like water: and yet the Lord not only knows him, as he is the omniscient God, but takes notice of him in a way of providence, and in a way of grace. His chosen people are no other nor better than others, of the same original, and of the same character; and yet he owns and acknowledges them as his peculiar people, and makes himself known unto them: and so it is rendered by the Septuagint version, "that thou shouldest be known unto him?" or, "appear to him?" as the Arabic; reveal thyself to him, not only by the light of nature and works of creation, but in Christ, and by the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him;

[or] the son of man, that thou makest account of him? as the Lord does, especially of some of the sons of men; whom he reckons as his portion and inheritance, his jewels and peculiar treasure, and who are as dear to him as the apple of his eye; whom he "magnifies," as in Job 7:17; makes them kings and priests; raises them from the dunghill, and sets them among princes, to inherit the throne of glory; on whom he sets his heart, and loves them with an everlasting love: or, "that thou shouldest think of him?" {g} thoughts of peace, and not of evil; so as to provide a Saviour for men, and send down the Spirit of his Son into their hearts to quicken them; so as to bless them with all spiritual blessings, and at last to glorify them. David no doubt had a special respect to himself; and wondered at the goodness of God to him, in taking him from a family of little or no account, from a mean employ, from a shepherd's cottage, and raising him to the throne of Israel; and especially in making him a partaker of grace, and an heir of glory; see Psalm 8:4; which is applied to Christ, Hebrews 2:6.

{g} whbvxtw "quod cogites de eo," Tigurine version, Vatablus.

Verse 4. Man is like to vanity,.... Is vanity itself, in every age, state, and condition; yea, in his best estate, Psalm 39:5; or, "to the breath" {h} of the mouth, as Kimchi; which is gone as soon as seen almost: or, to a vapour {i}; to which the life of man is compared, James 4:14;

his days [are] as a shadow that passeth away; as the former denotes the frailty and mortality of man, this the shortness of his duration; his days fleeing away, and of no more continuance than the shadow cast by the sun, which presently declines and is gone.

{h} lbhl "halitui," Muis; so Kimchi. {i} "Vapori," Cocceius; so the Syriac and Arabic versions

Verse 5. Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down,.... The heavens, which the Lord has made, and where he dwells; and which are under his influence, and he can cause to incline or bow at his pleasure: and which literally may be said to bow, particularly the airy heavens, when these are filled with clouds heavy with rain, and hang low, ready to fall upon the earth, and being rent, let down showers on it: and mystically may design storms of wrath gathering over the heads of ungodly men, and revealed from heaven against them. Or rather, as connected with the phrase, "and come down," denotes some appearance or manifestation of God; either for the help and assistance of his people; or in a way of vengeance against their enemies; or both: and which descent must be understood in consistence with the omnipresence of God; and supposes his habitation to be on high, and is expressive of regard to the persons and affairs of men on earth; and is by some considered as a prayer for the incarnation of Christ, which is sometimes signified by coming down from heaven; not by change of place, nor by bringing an human nature, soul or body, down with him from heaven; but by the assumption of our nature; and which was greatly wished, prayed, and longed for, by the Old Testament saints The Targum is, "O Lord, bow the heavens, and manifest thyself;" see Psalm 18:9;

touch the mountains, and they shall smoke; as Mount Sinai did when the Lord descended on it, Exodus 19:18; see Psalm 104:32; These, according to Kimchi, signify mighty kings, strong as mountains: so kingdoms are sometimes called; as the Babylonian empire is called a mountain, a destroying and burnt mountain, Zechariah 4:7. Such kings and kingdoms rose up like mountains against Christ, when here incarnate; and against his Gospel, and the ministry of it by his apostles; as the kingdom and nation of the Jews, and the whole Pagan empire: but these, by a touch of his almighty power, have vanished into smoke, Psalm 2:1, Revelation 8:8.

Verse 6. Cast forth lightning, and scatter them,.... The mountains, the kings and kingdoms of the earth; the enemies of David, and of Christ, and of his people; particularly the Jews, who have been scattered all over the earth by the judgments of God upon them; cast forth like lightning, which is swift, piercing, penetrating, and destructive;

shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them; or, "trouble them" {k}; as the Targum, Septuagint, and Arabic versions, nearer to the Hebrew: these also design the sore judgments of God, the arrows of famine, pestilence, and sword; which fly swiftly, pierce deeply, cut sharply, and, like fiery darts, give great pain and trouble. So Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret them of the decrees which come down from heaven, as Aben Ezra does Psalm 144:5: by "lightning" Arama understands the flame of fire which comes out with thunder; and by "arrows" the thunderbolt, which he calls a stone hardened in the air like iron.

{k} Mmhtw "ac turba eos," Tigurine version; "et conturba eos," Cocceius, Michaelis.

Verse 7. Send thine hand from above,.... From the high heavens, as the Targum; that is, exert and display thy power in my deliverance, and in the destruction of my enemies; as follows:

rid me, and deliver me out of great waters; out of great afflictions, which, for quantity and quality, are like many waters, overflowing and overwhelming; see Isaiah 43:2; or out of the hands of enemies, many, mighty, and strong, whom he compares to waters; as Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and Ben Melech observe: and so the Targum, "deliver me from the multitudes or armies, that are like to many waters;" see Revelation 17:1. It may be applied to the sorrows and sufferings of Christ, the antitype of David, with which he was overwhelmed; to the billows of divine wrath which went over him; to the floods of ungodly men that encompassed him; and to the whole posse of devils, Satan, and his principalities and powers, that attacked him; see Psalm 18:4;

from the hand of strange children; which explains what is meant by "great waters": wicked men chiefly; either Gentiles, the children of a people of a strange nation, and of a strange language, and of strange sentiments of religion, and that worship a strange god: such as the Edomites, Moabites, Philistines, &c. who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise: or else the Israelites, who were degenerated from their ancestors, such of David's subjects that rebelled against him; so the Ziphims are called strangers that rose up against him, Psalm 54:3; and such were the enemies of Christ, both the Romans, who were Heathens and aliens; and the people of the Jews, his own countrymen, who were a generation of vipers; see Acts 4:27; such as Juvenal calls {l} "filii morum," who inherited the vices of their fathers.

{l} Satyr. 14. v. 52.

Verse 8. Whose mouth speaketh vanity,.... Vain words, lies, flatteries, and deceit, Psalm 12:2; when they speak loftily of themselves, and contemptuously of others; when they deliver out threatenings against some, and make fair promises to others; it is all vanity, and comes to nothing;

and their right hand [is] a right hand of falsehood; their strength and power to perform what they boast of, threaten, or promise, is fallacious, is mere weakness, and cannot effect anything; or their treaties, contracts, and covenants, they enter into and sign with their right hand, are not kept by them; they act the treacherous and deceitful part. The Latin interpreter of the Arabic version renders it, "their oath is an oath of iniquity"; and Ben Balaam in Aben Ezra, and R. Adnim in Ben Melech, say the word so signifies in the Arabic language; and Schultens {m} has observed the same: but the word in that language signifies the right hand as well as an oath, and need not be restrained to that; it is better to take it in the large sense, as Cocceius {n} does; whether they lifted up the hand to pray, or to swear; or gave it to covenant with, to make contracts and agreements; or stretched it out to work with; it was a right hand of falsehood.

{m} Observat. Philolog. p. 195. {n} Lexicon, col. 312.

Verse 9. I will sing a new song unto thee, O God,.... The author of his being, the Father of mercies, temporal and spiritual, and therefore to him praise is always due; a new song of praise is to be sung for new mercies; and as these are new every morning, and are renewed day by day, new songs should be sung continually: or this is a song suited to New Testament times, in which all things are become new; there is a new covenant of grace; and a new and living way to the throne of grace; a newly slain sacrifice; redemption newly wrought out, and therefore the new song of redeeming grace must be sung. Arama suggests that this refers to the days of the Messiah;

upon a psaltery, [and] an instrument of ten strings, will I sing praises unto thee; such instruments of music were used in the Old Testament dispensation, and were typical of the hearts of God's people; which are the harps they now strike upon, and where they make melody to the Lord; see Psalm 33:2.

Verse 10. [It is he] that giveth salvation to kings,.... Which is the reason of singing the new song to the Lord, or this is the matter of it. The Lord is the Preserver of men and beasts, the Saviour of all men, and especially of them that believe; who are in a spiritual sense kings and priests unto God; and in a temporal sense he saves high and low, rich and poor: but there is a particular providence respecting kings; who, as they are the powers ordained of God, and are his vicegerents on earth, and represent him, so they are preserved by him; were they not, there would soon be an end to all public order and government: they cannot save themselves; nor are they saved by their bodyguards about them; nor is any king saved by the multitude of his host, but by the Lord, Psalm 33:16. Or, "he that giveth victory to kings"; over their enemies; which is not obtained by the strength and force of their armies, and by their military skill valour; but by the right hand and arm of the Lord: and therefore, whenever this is the case, a new song should be sung to him; see Psalm 98:1. David no doubt has regard to himself, and to the many salvations God had wrought for him, and the victories he had given him; as also to the King Messiah, whom God heard and helped, as man and Mediator, in the day of salvation, and gave it to him, and in which he rejoiced, Isaiah 49:8;

who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword; David literally, the servant of the Lord by creation, redemption, and grace, as well as by his office, as king of Israel; him the Lord delivered from the sword of Goliath, as the Targum; from the sword of Saul, as Jarchi and Kimchi; and from the sword of strange children, as Arama; of all his enemies he had been or was engaged with in war: and David mystically, Christ the son of David, God's righteous servant, he chose, called, upheld; and in whom he was glorified, by doing his work diligently, faithfully, and completely; him he delivered from the sword of justice, when he had satisfied it; and from wicked men, like a sword; and from all his enemies, and death itself, when he raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; see Psalm 22:20. Aben Ezra thinks there is a defect of the copulative "and": and that it should be read, "from the sword and evil"; every evil person or thing; and observes, that some take it for an adjective, and understand it of an evil camp or company.

Verse 11. Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children,.... This is repeated from Psalm 144:7; and is done to show the vehemency and importunity of the request, and the danger David was in, and his sense of it; See Gill on "Ps 144:7";

whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand [is] a right hand of falsehood. See Gill on "Ps 144:8."

Verse 12. That our sons [may be] as plants grown up in their youth,.... The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, Syriac, and Arabic versions, read, "whose sons [are as] plants," &c. as if this and what follows were a description of the families, estates, substance, and outward happiness of wicked men, the enemies of David, the strange children he desired to be delivered from, agreeably to Job 21:7; and if the word "saying," or "who say," be supplied, as by some {o}, and connected with "that our sons are," &c. they may express the vain boastings of these men, and explain what is meant by the vanity their mouth spake; as well as furnish out another reason for the repetition of the above requests, namely, for the sake of introducing those vain boasts to which the happiness of good men is opposed, who have an interest in God as their God, Psalm 144:15; but we with other versions take them to be a petition of the psalmist; that as he would deliver him personally out of the hands of his enemies, so he would bless his subjects with all prosperity and happiness in their families and estates; like a good prince concerned for the real welfare of his people, and wishes that their sons might be as plants, young, tender, well nursed, and taken care of, that were healthful, thriving, flourishing, and promising much fruit; so they might he of healthful constitutions, well educated in all useful knowledge, natural and religious, and grow both in wisdom and stature, and appear to be of promising parts for usefulness in the church and state; and especially that they might be the plants of the Lord, pleasant ones to him, and profitable to others; be planted in Christ, and in his house, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of him, and grow up to him their bead in all things. The Targum is, "that our sons may be as plants of the dactyles (or palm trees, Psalm 92:12), nourished up in the doctrine of the law from their youth;" see Psalm 128:3;

[that] our daughters [may be] as corner stones, polished [after] the similitude of a palace; or "temple"; tall, beautiful, and in good proportion; children have their name in Hebrew from a word which signifies to "build" {p}, because by them families are built up, Ruth 4:11; and by marriage divers families are connected together, so that they are as corner stones to them; thus Plautus {q} speaks of children as a building, and parents as the fabricators of them; laying the foundation of them, raising them up and polishing them, and sparing no cost to make them useful to the commonwealth: or "as corner pillars" {r}, which support the house and continue in it; so they guide the house, take care of the affairs of it, and be keepers at home, 1 Timothy 5:14; and like such as are in temples or in kings' palaces, finely graved and beautifully polished, be adorned with grace and good works, particularly with modesty, meekness, and humility, 1 Thessalonians 2:9; and grow up into an holy temple in the Lord, being parts of the spiritual building, and being laid on the foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the corner stone. The Targum is, "our daughters splendid and fit for the priests that minister in the midst of the temple." The Syriac version, "their daughters as spouses adorned like temples."

{o} So Schmidt. {p} hnb "aedificavit, unde" Mynb & twnb "filii et filiae." {q} Mostellaria, Act. 1. Sc. 2. {r} tywzk "sicut angulares lapides, aut columnae," Michaelis.

Verse 13. [That] our garners [may be] full, affording all manner of store,.... Or "our corners" {s}, the corners of their houses, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi; the nooks that were in them might be full of provisions for the supply of the family; or that their barns and granaries might be full of all kind of corn, as wheat, rye, barley, &c. which might be sufficient from year to year, as the Targum; plenty of all food is intended, in opposition to a scarcity, dearth, and famine, Proverbs 3:9; that so there might be enough for increasing families. Spiritually it may design that large provision of grace in the churches of Christ, and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel the ministers of it come forth with, bringing out of their treasure things new and old, in the ministration of the word and administration of ordinances;

[that] our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets; or millions; in which lay the riches of men formerly, and indeed in our nation now, where wool is the staple commodity of it; and these are creatures that breed and increase much; when they stand well, a few soon become a thousand, and these thousands produce ten thousands or millions, more. The Hebrew word Nau, "sheep," seems to be derived from the Arabic word "tzana," which signifies to be "fruitful," whether in men or beasts: "tzana": "foecunda fuit, et multos liberos hubuit mulier-----idem significat, et multa habuit pecora," Golius, col. 1428; and though for the most part they bring but one at a time, yet Aristotle {t} says, sometimes two, three, and four; and in India, Aelianus {u} says, they bring four, and never less than three. It is a beautiful sight to see them driven in such numbers through the streets of cities to markets, or to pasture. Or rather this may design the country towns and villages, where large flocks of them are kept. The people of God resemble these in their meekness, harmlessness, innocence, and other things; and who not only increase in grace and gifts, and spiritual knowledge, and in all goodness, which is desirable, but also in numbers, as they did in the first times of the Gospel, and will in the last, when they shall be increased as a flock; the fulness of the Gentiles, the other sheep, shall be brought in, and the nation of the Jews called at once.

{s} wnywzm "anguli nostri," Pagninus, Vatablus, Cocceius, Michaelis. {t} Hist. Animal. l. 6. c. 19. {u} De Animal. l. 4. c. 32.

Verse 14. [That] our oxen [may be] strong to labour,.... To draw carriages, to plough with, and to tread out the corn: or "may be burdened" {w}; fit to carry burdens; or burdened with flesh, be plump and fat, and in good condition to work; or burdened with young, as some {x} understand it, and then it must be meant of cows, as the word is used, Deuteronomy 7:13; and so here an increase of kine is wished for, as of sheep before. Ministers of the word are compared to oxen for their patience in suffering, and their laboriousness in working, 1 Corinthians 9:9 1 Timothy 5:17; and happy is it for the churches of Christ when their ministers are laborious ones; are strong to labour, and do labour, in the word and doctrine; stand fast in the faith, and quit themselves like men, and are strong;

[that there be] no breaking in: of the enemy into the land to invade it, into cities and houses to plunder and spoil them;

nor going out: of the city to meet the enemy and fight with him, peace and not war is desirable; or no going out of one's nation into captivity into a foreign country, as Kimchi; or no breaking in to folds and herds, and leading out and driving away cattle, to the loss of the owners thereof. Some {y} understand both these of abortion, of any violent rupture of the womb, and an immature birth;

that [there be] no complaining in our streets; on account of famine, pestilence, the sword, violence, and oppression; or no crying {z}, no mournful cry or howling and shrieking on account of the enemy being at hand, and just ready to enter in, or being there, killing, plundering, and spoiling.

{w} Mylbom "onusti," Pagninus, Montanus, Gejerus; "onerarii," so some in Vatablus; "onerati," Schmidt; "loden," Ainsworth, {x} So Bochart. Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 2. c. 295. {y} lbid. {z} hxwu "clamor," Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Musculus, Cocceius, Gejerus, Michaelis.

Verse 15. Happy [is that] people that is in such a case,.... Whose families are in good order and behave well; who enjoy plenty of all good things; whose flocks and herds increase, and who live in peace and prosperity; these are temporal blessings highly valuable, and for which those who have them should be thankful, as being happy in comparison of others that are destitute of them, Deuteronomy 28:3; and especially who besides these are blessed with spiritual blessings, signified by them, and of which these were typical;

[yea], happy [is that] people, whose God [is] the Lord; whose God the Lord is, not only by creation, and as he is a common benefactor and preserver, but as their God in covenant, their covenant God and Father in Christ; whom he has loved, chosen, redeemed, adopted, justified, pardoned, regenerated, and sanctified; all which appears to them in effectual calling, is manifested by the application of covenant grace to them, and is witnessed to their spirits by the spirit of God, and which their faith claims an interest in: and these are happy, thrice happy persons; for all that God has are theirs; all his perfections are on their side and for their good; he is their portion, shield, reward, and their all in all; his covenant, its blessings and promises, are all theirs; they have enough, having all things, and can want no good thing; nor need they fear any enemy; the Lord takes care of them, sets a guard about them, resents all injuries done them, prevents the designs of their enemies, makes all things work together for their good, provides all things necessary for them for time and eternity, and will be their God and guide even unto death; covenant interest always continues, and therefore such must be ever happy.