Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. Even short Psalms, if
they record but one instance of the goodness of the Lord, and rebuke but briefly
the pride of man, are worthy of our best minstrelsy. When we see that each Psalm
is dedicated to "the chief musician, "it should make us value our psalmody, and
forbid us to praise the Lord carelessly. Maschil. An Instructive. Even
the malice of a Doeg may furnish instruction to a David. A Psalm of
David. He was the prime object of Doeg's doggish hatred, and therefore the
most fitting person to draw from the incident the lesson concealed within it.
When Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and saith unto him, David is
come to the house of Ahimelech. By this deceitful tale bearing, he
procured the death of all the priests at Nob: though it had been a crime to have
succoured David as a rebel, they were not in their intent and knowledge guilty
of the fault. David felt much the villany of this arch enemy, and here he
denounces him in vigorous terms; it may be also that he has Saul in his eye.
DIVISION. We shall follow the sacred pauses marked by the
Selahs of the poet.
Verse 1. Why boasteth thyself in mischief, O mighty man?
Doeg had small matter for boasting in having procured the slaughter of a band of
defenceless priests. A mighty man indeed to kill men who never touched a sword!
He ought to have been ashamed of his cowardice. He had no room for exultation!
Honourable titles are but irony where the wearer is mean and cruel. If David
alluded to Saul, he meant by these words pityingly to say, "How can one by
nature fitted for nobler deeds, descend to so low a level as to find a theme for
boasting in a slaughter so heartless and mischievous?" The goodness of
God endureth continually. A beautiful contrast. The tyrant's fury
cannot dry up the perennial stream of divine mercy. If priests be slain their
Master lives. If Doeg for awhile triumphs the Lord will outlive him, and right
the wrongs which he has done. This ought to modify the proud exultations of the
wicked, for after all, while the Lord liveth, iniquity has little cause to exalt
Verse 2. Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs. Thou speakest with
an ulterior design. The information given was for Saul's assistance apparently,
but in very deed in his heart the Edomite hated the priests of the God of Jacob.
It is a mark of deep depravity, when the evil spoken is craftily intended to
promote a yet greater evil. Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
David represents the false tongue as being effectual for mischief, like a razor
which, unawares to the person operated on, is making him bald; so softly and
deftly do Oriental barbers perform their work. Or he may mean that as with a
razor a man's throat may be cut very speedily, under the pretence of shaving
him, even thus keenly, basely, but effectually Doeg destroyed the band of the
priests. Whetted by malice, and guided by craft, he did his cruel work with
Verse 3. Thou lovest evil more than good. He loved not good
at all. If both had been equally profitable and pleasant, he would have
preferred evil. And lying rather than to speak righteousness. He was more
at home at lying than at truth. He spake not the truth except by accident, but
he delighted heartily in falsehood. SELAH. Let us pause and look at the
proud blustering liar. Doeg is gone, but other dogs bark at the Lord's people.
Saul's cattle master is buried, but the devil still has his drovers, who fain
would hurry the saints like sheep to the slaughter.
Verse 4. Thou lovest. Thou hast a taste, a gusto for evil
language. All devouring words. There are words that, like boa
constrictors, swallow men whole, or like lions, rend men to pieces; these words
evil minds are fond of. Their oratory is evermore furious and bloody. That which
will most readily provoke the lowest passions they are sure to employ, and they
think such pandering to the madness of the wicked to be eloquence of a high
order. O thou deceitful tongue. Men can manage to say a great many
furious things, and yet cover all over with the pretext of justice. They claim
that they are jealous for the right, but the truth is they are determined to put
down truth and holiness, and craftily go about it under this transparent
Verse 5. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever. Fain
would the persecutor destroy the church, and therefore God shall destroy him,
pull down his house, pluck up his roots, and make an end of him. He shall
take thee away. God shall extinguish his coal and sweep him away like the
ashes of the hearth; he would have quenched the truth, and God shall quench him.
And pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, like a plant torn from
the place where it grew, or a captive dragged from his home. Ahimelech and his
brother priests were cut off from their abode, and so should those be who
compassed and contrived their murder. And root thee out of the land of
the living. The persecutor shall be eradicated, stubbed up by the
root, cut up root and branch. He sought the death of others and death shall fall
upon him. He troubled the land of the living, and he shall be banished to that
land where the wicked cease from troubling. Those who will not "let live" have
no right to "live." God will turn the tables on malicious men, and mete to them
a portion with their own measure. "SELAH." Pause again, and behold the divine
justice proving itself more than a match for human sin.
Verse 6. The righteous --the object of the tyrant's hatred--
shall outlive his enmity, and also shall see, before his own face, the
end of the ungodly oppressor. God permits Mordecai to see Haman hanging on the
gallows. David had brought to him the tokens of Saul's death on Gilboa. And
fear. Holy awe shall sober the mind of the good man; he shall reverently
adore the God of providence. And shall laugh at him. If not with
righteous joy, yet with solemn contempt. Schemes so far reaching all baffled,
plans so deep, so politic, all thwarted. Mephistopheles outwitted, the old
serpent taken in his own subtlety. This is a good theme for that deep seated
laughter which is more akin to solemnity than merriment.
Verse 7. Lo. Look ye here, and read the epitaph of a mighty
man, who lorded it proudly during his little hour, and set his heel upon the
necks of the Lord's chosen. This is the man that made not God his
strength. Behold the man! The great vainglorious man. He found a fortress,
but not in God; he gloried in his might, but not in the Almighty. Where is he
now? How has it fared with him in the hour of his need? Behold his ruin, and be
instructed. But trusted in the abundance of his riches, and
strengthened himself in his wickedness. The substance he had
gathered, and the mischiefs he had wrought, were his boast and glory. Wealth and
wickedness are dreadful companions; when combined they make a monster. When the
devil is master of money bags, he is a devil indeed. Beelzebub and Mammon
together heat the furnace seven times hotter for the child of God, but in the
end that shall work out their own destruction. Wherever we see today a man great
in sin and substance, we shall do well to anticipate his end, and view this
verse as the divine in memoriam.
Verse 8. But I, hunted and persecuted though I am, am
like a green olive tree. I am not plucked up or destroyed, but am
like a flourishing olive, which out of the rock draws oil, and amid the drought
still lives and grows. In the house of God. He was one of the divine
family, and could not be expelled from it; his place was near his God, and there
was he safe and happy, despite all the machinations of his foes. He was bearing
fruit, and would continue to do so when all his proud enemies were withered like
branches lopped from the tree. I trust in the mercy of God for ever and
ever. Eternal mercy is my present confidence. David knew God's mercy to be
eternal and perpetual, and in that he trusted. What a rock to build on! What a
fortress to fly to!
Verse 9. I will praise thee for ever. Like thy mercy shall
my thankfulness be. While others boast in their riches I will boast in my God;
and when their glorying is silenced for ever in the tomb, my song shall continue
to proclaim the lovingkindness of Jehovah. Because thou hast done it.
Thou hast vindicated the righteous, and punished the wicked. God's memorable
acts of providence, both to saints and sinners, deserve, and must have our
gratitude. David views his prayer as already answered, the promise of God as
already fulfilled, and therefore at once lifts up the sacred Psalm. And I
will wait on thy name. God shall still be the psalmist's hope; he will
not in future look elsewhere. He whose name has been so gloriously made known in
truth and righteousness, is justly chosen as our expectation for years to come.
For it is good before thy saints. Before or among the saints David
intended to wait, feeling it to be good both for him and them to look to the
Lord alone, and wait for the manifestation of his character in due season. Men
must not too much fluster us; our strength is to sit still. Let the mighty ones
boast, we will wait on the Lord; and if their haste brings them present honour,
our patience will have its turn by and by, and bring us the honour which
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. That Maschil means a sacred composition, is
evident from Ps 47:7, where the passage which we render, "Sing ye praises with
understanding, "is literally, "Sing ye a Maschil, "or song of
instruction. This word occurs as a title in thirteen places; and six times is
prefixed to compositions of David's. In several instances it occurs in
consecutive Psalms; i.e., in the 42nd (of which the 43rd is the sequel),
the 44th and 45th, the 52nd, 53rd, 54th, and 55th, the 88th and 89th. A
circumstance which favours the notion that the term was one peculiarly used by
some particular editor or collector of a certain portion of the Psalter. John
Verse 1. (first clause). Why doth he glory in
malice that is mighty? that is, he that in malice is mighty, why doth
he glory? There is need that a man be mighty, but in goodness, not in malice. Is
it any great thing to glory in malice? To build a house belong to few men, any
ignorant man you please can pull down. To sow wheat, to dress the crop, to wait
until it ripen, and in that fruit on which one has laboured to rejoice, doth
belong to few men: with one spark any man you please can burn all the crop. . .
. What art thou about to do, O, mighty man, what are thou about
to do, boasting thyself much? Thou art about to kill a man: this thing also a
scorpion, this also a fever, this also a poisonous fungus can do. To this is thy
mightiness reduced, that it be made equal to a poisonous fungus!
Verse 1. By mischief is understood not simply what
evil he had done, but the prosperity which he now enjoyed, obtained through
mischief; as is clear both from the word boasting and from the seventh
verse...Formerly he was the chief of Saul's shepherds 1Sa 21:8, but by that
wicked destruction of the priests of God by Saul, and the execution of the cruel
sentence, he obtained the chief place near to the king 1Sa 22:9. Hermann
Verse 1. O mighty man. These words may be added by way of
irony, as if he had said, A great deal of valour and prowess you have shown in
slaying a company of unarmed men, the priests of the Lord, yea, women and
children, no way able to resist you or else to imply the ground of his vain
boasting, to wit, either his present greatness, as being a man in great place,
and of great power with Saul; or the great preferments he expected from Saul.
Verse 1. The goodness of God endureth continually. He
contrasts the goodness of God with the wealth and might of Doeg, and the
foundation of his own confidence as widely different from that of Doeg, his own
placed upon the goodness of God, enduring for ever and showing itself effectual.
It is as if he had said, The goodness of God to which I trust, is most
powerful and the same throughout all time, and in it I shall at all times most
surely rejoice that goodness of God, since now it sustains me, so it will
exalt me in its own good time; it therefore is, and will be above
me. . . . Not without emphasis does he say the goodness la of the strong God, a contrast to Doeg
the hero, and the ruinous foundation of his fortune. Hermann
Verse 2. Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs, like a sharp razor,
working deceitfully. Thus our version. But I do not very well
understand the propriety of the tongue's devising mischief, and devising
it like a sharp razor. But we may easily avoid this harsh comparison by
rendering the words: You contrive mischiefs with thy tongue, as with a
sharp razor, O thou dealer in deceit: i.e., you contrive with thy smooth and
flattering tongue to wound the reputation and character of others, as though
thou wast cutting their throats with a smooth razor. Samuel Chandler.
Verse 2. Like a sharp razor, that instead of shaving the
hair lances the flesh; or missing the beard cutteth the throat. John
Verse 2. The smooth adroit manner of executing a wicked
device neither hides not abates its wickedness. Murder with a sharp
razor is as wicked as murder with a meat axe or bludgeon. A lie very
ingeniously framed and rehearsed in an oily manner, is as great a sin, and in
the end will be seen to be as great a folly as the most bungling attempt at
deception. William S. Plumer.
Verse 3. Thou lovest evil more than good. --Thou hast
loved evil, he says, more than good, not by simply preferring
it, but by substituting it; so that in the stead of good he hath done evil, and
that from the inmost love of his soul, bent upon evil; wherefore he does not say
that he admitted, but loved evil, not moral only, but
physical, for the destruction of his neighbours; so to have loved
it, that he willed nothing but evil, being averse to all good. Hermann
Verse 4. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful
tongue. He was all tongue; a man of words; and these the most
deceitful and injurious. Adam Clarke.
Verse 5. God shall destroy thee forever, etc. There are four
words the psalmist makes us of to denote the utter vengeance that awaited this
deceitful and bloody wretch, all of them having a very strong meaning. The
first, ksty from stn, signifies to pull down, and break utterly into
pieces; as when an altar is demolished. (Jud 6:30 8:9.) The second, kth from the root hrh, which signifies to twist anything, or pluck it up
by twisting it round, as trees are sometimes twisted up. The third,
khmy from hmg, which properly signifies utterly to sweep away
anything like dust or chaff; and the expression lhm khm means not sweep thee away from thy tent, but
sweep thee away, that thou mayest be no longer a tent; thyself,
thy family, thy fortune, shall be wholly and entirely swept away, and dissipated
forever; to which the fourth word, ksrs,
answers, eradicabit te, he shall root thee out from the land of
the living. It is impossible words can express a more entire and absolute
destruction. Samuel Chandler.
Verse 5. God shall likewise destroy thee forever. Here are
quot verba tot tonotrua, so many words, so many thunderclaps. As thou
hast destroyed the Lord's priests, and their whole city, razing and harassing
it; so God will demolish and destroy thee utterly, as an house pulled down to
the ground, so that one stone is not left upon another (Le 14:45); so shall God
pull down Doeg from that high preferment, which he by sycophancy hath got at
court. John Trapp.
Verse 5. Wonderful is the force of the verbs in the
original, which convey to us the four ideas of laying prostrate, dissolving
as by fire, sweeping away as with a besom, and totally extirpating root
and branch, as a tree is eradicated from the spot on which it grew.
If a farther comment be wanted, it may be found in the history of David's
enemies, and the crucifiers of the son of David; but the passage will be fully
and finally explained by the destruction of the world of the ungodly at the last
day. George Horne.
Verse 5. The poet accumulates dire and heavy words, and
mingles various metaphors that he might paint the picture of this man's
destruction in more lively colours. Three metaphors appear to be joined
together, the first taken from a building, the second from a tent,
the third from a tree, if attention is given to the force and common
acceptation of the words. Hermann Venema.
Verse 5. He shall take thee away; or, seize thee, as
coals are taken with the tongs. J. J. Stewart Perowne.
Verse 6. The righteous also shall see, etc. That is, to use
the apt words of Gejerus, "This shall not be a secret judgment, or known
only to a few, but common fame shall spread abroad throughout the
kingdom, or city, the notable punishments of the ungodly. The
righteous also shall not pass by such an event with indifference, but
with earnest eyes shall contemplate it, "etc. I add, and hence shall they
take joy, and turn it to their own use, to the greater fearing of God... The
righteous, upon whose destruction the ungodly man was intent, shall survive
and spend their lives safe in the favour of God; they shall see with
attentive mind, they shall consider; nor, as worldlings are accustomed, shall
they pass it by without reflection or improvement, they shall see and fear,
namely, God the just judge; and instructed in his judgment by this instance,
they shall be the more careful to abstain from all designs and crimes of this
kind. Hermann Venema.
Verse 6. And shall laugh at him; or, over him --over
the wicked man thus cast down--they shall laugh. Such exultation, to our
modern sensibilities, seems shocking, because we can hardly conceive of it,
apart from the gratification of personal vindictiveness. But there is such a
thing as a righteous hatred, as a righteous scorn. There is such a thing as a
shout of righteous joy at the downfall of the tyrant and the oppressor, at the
triumph of righteousness and truth over wrong and falsehood. J. J. Stewart
Verse 7. Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength.
David having showed (Ps 52:5-6) the wicked man, by the righteous judgment of God
rooted out of the land of the living, shows us in the next verse, the righteous
man at once fearing and laughing at this sight, as also pointing at him saying,
Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength. The words are
a divine but cutting sarcasm. The original is geber, which signifieth a
strong, valiant man: as we say in English, Lo, this is the brave and gallant man
you wot of! But who was this for a man? He was one, saith he, that trusted in
the abundance of his riches. Oh! It is hard to abound in riches and not to
trust in them. Hence that caution (Ps 62:10): If riches increase, set not
your heart upon them. Now, what is the setting the heart upon riches but our
rejoicing and trusting in them? And because the heart of man is so easily
persuaded into this sinful trust upon riches, therefore the apostle is urgent
with Timothy to persuade all rich men--not only mere worldly rich men, but godly
rich men--against it; yea, he urges Timothy to persuade rich men against two
sins, which are worse than all the poverty in the world, yet the usual
attendants of riches--pride and confidence: Charge them that are rich in this
world, that they be not highminded. 1Ti 6:17. Joseph Caryl.
Verses 7-8. Perhaps some of you have been long professors,
and yet come to little growth in love to God, humility, heavenly mindedness,
mortification; and it is worth the digging to see what lies at the root of your
profession, whether there be not a legal principle that hath too much influenced
you. Have you not thought to carry all with God from your duties and services,
and too much laid up your hopes in your own actings? Alas! this is as so much
dead earth, which must be thrown out, and gospel principles laid in the room
thereof. Try but this course, and try whether the spring of thy grace will not
come on apace. David gives an account how he came to stand and flourish when
some that were rich and mighty, on a sudden withered and came to nothing. Lo,
saith he, this is the man that made not God his strength; but
trusted in the abundance of his riches. But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
While others trust in the riches of their own righteousness and services, and
make not Christ their strength, do thou renounce all, and trust in the mercy of
God in Christ, and thou shalt be like a green olive when they fade and wither.
Verse 8. (first clause):
"But I am olive charged with fruit
In fertile soil that grows."
This appears to express of the Hebrew words, which our
translators render, like a green olive tree, but which in reality have no
reference to the colour, but to the flourishing, vigorous, and thriving state of
the plant; just as Homer gives it the epithet of "luxuriant, "and "flourishing;
"and Ovid that of "ever flourishing." The fact is, the colour of the leaves of
this tree is not a bright lively green; but a dark, disagreeable, or yellowish
one. Scheuchzer describes the leaves, as "superne coloris atrovirentis, vel
in viridi flavescentis." An English traveller, writing from Italy,
thus expresses his disappointment about the olive tree: --"The fields, and
indeed the whole face of Tuscany, are in a manner covered with olive trees; but
the olive tree does not answer the character I have conceived of it. The royal
psalmist and some of the sacred writers, speak with rapture of the `green olive
tree, 'so that I expected a beautiful green; and I confess to you, I was
wretchedly disappointed to find its hue resembling that of our hedges when they
are covered with dust." I have heard other travellers express the same feeling
of disappointment. "The true way of solving the difficulty, "as Harmer properly
remarks, "is to consider the word translated `green, 'not as descriptive of
colour, but of some other property; youthfulness, vigour, prosperity, or the
like." Richard Mant.
Verse 8. Green olive tree in the house of God. Several
expositors fancifully imagine that olive trees grow in certain of the courts of
the Tabernacle; but the notion must not be endured, it would have been too near
an approach to the groves of the heathen to have been tolerated, at least in
David's time. The text should surely be read with some discretion; the poet does
not refer to olive trees in God's house, but compares himself in the house of
God to an olive tree. This reminds us of the passage, "Thy children like
olive plants around thy table, "where some whose imaginations have been more
lively than their judgments, have seen a table surrounded, not with children,
but with olive plants. Whoever, in the realms of common sense, ever heard of
olive plants round a table? If, as Thrupp supposes, Nob was situated upon the
Mount of Olives, we can, without any conjecture, see a reason for the present
reference to a flourishing olive tree. C. H. S.
Verse 9. He compares himself
1. With an olive tree, a tree a ways green, lasting long and fruitful, whose fruit is most useful and
grateful: so he paints his future state as joyful, glorious, lasting, and useful and pleasing to men:
plainly a reference is made to the royal and prophetic office, in both of which he represents
himself as an olive tree, by supplying others with oil through his rule and instruction:
2. With the olive growing luxuriantly, and abounding in spreading bough, and so, spacious and large...
3. But why does he add in the house of God? That he might indicate, unless I am deceived:
(a) That he should possess a dwelling in that place where the house of God was, whence
he was now exiled through the calumnies of Doeg and the attacks of Saul stirred up
(b) That he should perform distinguished service to the house of God, by adorning it, and by
restoring religion, now neglected, and practising it with zeal:
(c) That he should derive from God and his favour, whose that house was, all his prosperity:
(d) That he, like a son of God, should rejoice in familiarity with him, and should become heir
to his possessions and promises. Hermann Venema.
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
Verse 1. The confidence of faith.
1. The circumstances were distressing.
(a) David was misjudged.
(b) David exiled.
(c) A bad man in power.
(d) God's priests slain.
2. The consolation was abiding.
(a) There is a God.
(b) He is good.
(c) His goodness continues.
(d) Good will therefore overcome.
3. The rejoinder was triumphant. Why boasteth
(a) The mischief did not touch the main point.
(b) It would be overruled.
(c) It would recoil.
(d) It would expose the perpetrators to scorn.
Verse 3. In what cases men clearly love evil more than good.
Verses 7-8. The worldling like an uprooted tree, the believer
a vigorous well planted olive.
Verse 8. The believer's character, position, confidence, and
Verse 9. The double duty, and the double reason: the single
heart and its single object.
Verse 9. What God has done, what we will do, and why.
WORK UPON THE FIFTY-SECOND PSALM
CHANDLER'S "Life of David, "contains an Exposition of
this Psalm. Vol. 1., pp. 140-143.