Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?1. Why standest thou afar off] As an indifferent or indolent spectator. Cp. Psalm 38:11 (of fair-weather friends); Psalm 22:1 (of God); Isaiah 59:14; and the corresponding prayer in Psalm 22:11; Psalm 22:19, Psalm 35:22, Psalm 38:21, Psalm 71:12. Conversely, God is said to be ‘near’ when His power is manifested (Psalm 75:1, Psalm 34:18).
why hidest thou thyself] Lit. why mufflest thou?—Thine eyes so that Thou dost not see (Isaiah 1:15); Thine ears so that Thou dost not hear (Lamentations 3:56). Cp. Psalm 55:1.
in times of trouble] Or, of extremity. See note on Psalm 9:9.
1, 2. Stanza of Lamed. Expostulation with Jehovah for neglect of His persecuted people, and statement of the wrongs which call for redress.
The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.2. The general sense of the first clause is that given by R.V.:
In the pride of the wicked the poor is hotly pursued;
or possibly, is consumed, by fear, anxiety, and distress.
In the second clause there is a double ambiguity. The verb taken may be rendered as a wish or as a statement of fact; and its subject may be the ‘wicked’ or the ‘poor.’ Hence either, as A.V.,
let them (the wicked) be taken in the devices that they have imagined: or, as LXX, Vulg., R.V. marg.:
they (the poor) are taken in the devices that they (the wicked) have imagined.
With the first rendering comp. Psalm 7:15-16, Psalm 9:16 : but the second is on the whole preferable. It gives a good parallelism to the first line of the verse; and a further description of the wrongs of the poor suits the context better than a parenthetical cry for retribution.
For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.3. A difficult verse. Boasteth of his heart’s desire may mean either, makes shameless boast of his selfish greed without any pretence at concealment: or, boasts that he obtains all that he desires, and that, as the next clause shews, without troubling himself about God. This clause may be rendered;
and in his rapacity renounceth, yea contemneth Jehovah.
The verb rendered bless in A.V. means also to bid farewell to, to renounce (Job 1:5; Job 2:9, &c.; R.V.). Covetous is an inadequate rendering for a word which means to appropriate by violence or injustice. The wicked man’s lawless plundering of the poor is a virtual renunciation of Jehovah; nay more, it indicates positive contempt for Him (Psalm 10:13; Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:14).
Another rendering however deserves consideration:
For the wicked singeth praise over his own soul’s lust:
And in his rapacity blesseth, (but) contemneth Jehovah.
He gives thanks for his prosperity, and like the shepherds of Zechariah 11:5, blesses God, though his conduct is really the grossest contempt for Him.
Grammatically possible, but far less forcible, is the rendering of R.V. marg., blesseth the covetous, but contemneth &c.: and Psalm 10:13, which combines 3 b and 4 a, is decisive against the rendering of A.V., whom the Lord abhorreth.
3–11. The Psalmist justifies his complaint by a description of the reckless character (3–6) and the ruthless conduct (7–11) of the wicked man, and he traces them to their source in his virtual atheism. The alphabetic structure disappears in this section.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.4. The A.V. follows the Ancient Versions in rendering, ‘the wicked … will not seek after God:’ but a comparison of Psalm 10:13, which clearly recapitulates Psalm 10:3-4, is decisive in favour of rendering as follows:
As for the wicked, according to the loftiness of his looks, he saith, He will not make requisition:
There is no God, is the sum of his devices.
The construction is abrupt and forcible. The wicked man’s scornful countenance is the index of his character (Psalm 101:5); all his devices (as Psalm 10:2) are planned on the assumption that God does not regard and punish (Psalm 9:12); upon a virtual atheism, for such an epicurean deity, “careless of mankind,” would be no ‘living and true God.’ Cp. Psalm 14:1.
His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.5. His ways &c.] Rather, as R.V., His ways are firm at all times. His plans succeed: he is never harassed by vicissitudes of fortune. Cp. Psalm 55:19, Psalm 73:3-5; Jeremiah 12:1-2.
thy judgments &c.] God, he thinks, is too far away in heaven to interfere. The possibility of retribution does not enter into his calculations or disturb his equanimity. Cp. Job 22:12 ff.; and contrast the spirit of Psalm 18:22.
enemies] R.V. adversaries. Cp. Psalm 6:7, Psalm 7:4; Psalm 7:6, Psalm 8:2.
puffeth at them] Openly by his gestures expressing his scorn and contempt for them. Cp. ‘snuff,’ Malachi 1:13.
5, 6. The security of the wicked. He fears neither God nor man.
He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.6. He hath said] R.V. he saith, and so in Psalm 10:11; Psalm 10:13. He presumes in his carnal self-confidence to use language which the righteous man employs in faithful dependence upon God (Psalm 16:8, &c.).
for I shall never &c.] R.V., To all generations I shall not be in adversity. Hardly in the sense that “pride stifles reason,” and “he expects to live for ever” (Cheyne); but rather that he identifies his descendants with himself, and looks forward to the uninterrupted continuance of their prosperity. Cp. Psalm 49:11; and the promise to the righteous man in Psalm 37:27-29.
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.7. His sins of tongue; cursing,—which may include both malicious imprecation (Job 31:30, R.V.) and perjury (Psalm 59:12 : Hosea 4:2): deceits, the plural, as in Psalm 38:12, expressing their abundance and variety: oppression (Psalm 55:11, Psalm 72:14), which he advocates, or abets by false witness (Psalm 27:12, Psalm 35:11; Exodus 23:1).
Under his tongue, ready for immediate use, is a store of mischief and iniquity (Psalm 7:14). This is the usual interpretation; but it seems strange to regard ‘under the tongue’ as synonymous with ‘upon the tongue,’ and the use of the phrase in Job 20:12 suggests another explanation. Wickedness is there spoken of as a delicious morsel which is kept in the mouth to be enjoyed. (See Prof. Davidson’s note.) And similarly here the mention of the mouth as the organ of speech leads up to the thought of the tongue as the organ of taste. Mischief and iniquity are thoroughly to the wicked man’s taste. Cp. Proverbs 19:28, which speaks of iniquity as the wicked man’s favourite food: and Job 15:16.
The first half of the verse (according to the LXX) is woven by St Paul into his description of human corruption in Romans 3:14.
He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.8. He coucheth in ambush in the villages:
In the secret places doth he murder the innocent,
His eyes watch privily for the helpless.
The unwalled villages would be most exposed to the raids of marauders; and the country-folk, as Micah shews, suffered most from the oppression of the nobles.
Helpless (R.V.) or hapless (R.V. marg.) are good renderings of an obscure word peculiar to this psalm (Psalm 10:10; Psalm 10:14).
8–11. The wicked man’s crimes. He is described as a brigand, lying in wait to rob; as a lion lurking for its prey; as a hunter snaring his game. His victims are the innocent and defenceless poor.
The reference is probably to the bands of freebooters which, in the absence of a system of police, have always been common in the East. At no time was the country entirely free from them, and in periods of anarchy they would multiply rapidly. See Jdg 11:3; 1 Samuel 22:2; 2 Samuel 4:2; Hosea 6:9; St Luke 10:30. The emphatic warning of the wise man to his disciple in Proverbs 1:10-18 (a passage which should be studied in illustration of this Psalm) shews that such a life was common, and had strong attractions for young men.
But in all probability the Psalmist has also in view the powerful nobles who plundered their poorer neighbours, and made their lives intolerable by oppressive exactions. They were no better than the professed brigands, and no doubt did not shrink from actual murder. See the prophets generally, and in particular Micah’s bitter invective, Psalm 2:1-11; Psalm 3:1-3. Cp. Sir 13:18-19.
He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.9. Render:
He lieth in ambush in the secret place as a lion in his lair;
He lieth in ambush to catch the poor:
He catcheth the poor, dragging him off with his net.
The wicked man is now described as a lion, lurking in his lair in the forest till his prey comes near. In the third clause the figure is changed for that of a hunter: probably the victim is dragged off to be sold for a slave.
He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.10. We may render with R.V.
He croucheth, he boweth down,
And the helpless fall by his strong ones.
An obscure verse. According to the rendering of the R.V., which follows the traditional reading (Qrç), the figure of the lion is resumed. The word rendered boweth down is used of a lion couching in Job 38:40, the whole of which verse should be compared with Psalm 10:9-10. His strong ones is explained to mean his claws.
But it seems preferable to regard the poor as the subject, and, neglecting the Massoretic accents, to render: He is crushed, he boweth down and falleth; (yea) the helpless (fall) by his strong ones: i.e. the ruffians of the wicked man’s retinue. The R.V. marg., And being crushed, follows the reading of the text (Kthîbh), and gives the same sense.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.11. He saith in his heart, God (El) hath forgotten:
He hath hidden his face; he hath not seen nor ever will.
Experience, he thinks, confirms the assumption from which he started (Psalm 10:4), that God will not trouble Himself to interfere: the exact opposite of the faith of the saints (Psalm 9:12; Psalm 9:18). The last clause means literally, He hath not seen for ever: i.e. hath not seen hitherto nor will hereafter.
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.12. Arise] The usual summons to action. Cp. Psalm 3:7, Psalm 7:6 (notes); Psalm 9:19.
O God] El, as in Psalm 10:11.
lift up thine hand] The attitude of action. Cp. similar phrases in Psalm 138:7; Exodus 7:5; Micah 5:9; and contrast Psalm 74:11.
forget not the humble] Disprove the calumny of the wicked (Psalm 10:11). The Qrç ‘anavîm, ‘humble’ or ‘meek,’ is preferable to the Kthîbh ‘aniyyîm, ‘afflicted’ or ‘poor.’ The spirit in which sufferings have been borne is urged as a plea. Cp. Psalm 10:17.
12, 13. Stanza of Qôph.
12–18. An urgent plea that Jehovah will vindicate His own character by action, grounded upon a confident assurance of the present reality of His government. The alphabetical arrangement is here resumed.
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.13. Why, urges the Psalmist in support of his appeal, has God so long tolerated the blasphemies of the wicked man (Psalm 10:3-4), and by inaction let Himself be misunderstood? The verbs are in the perfect tense, expressing what long has been and still is the case.
he hath said] R.V. and say.
Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.14. Stanza of Resh, consisting of one long verse. Originally in all probability there were two verses, as in the other alphabetic stanzas.
Thou hast seen it] Whatever the wicked may imagine to the contrary, arguing from his own limited experience (Psalm 10:11). Faith triumphs over appearances, for it rests on the unchanging character of God, Who never ceases to ‘behold,’ to observe all that goes on upon the earth. Cp. Psalm 33:13; Psalm 35:22; Psalm 94:9.
mischief and spite] The words may be understood thus, of the wrong done; or, as in R.V. marg., of the suffering endured, travail and grief. The first word inclines rather to the objective, the second to the subjective sense. Perhaps we might render: mischief and vexation.
to requite it with thy hand] More exactly as R.V., to take it into thy hand. God’s observation cannot fail to lead to action. In His own time He will take the matter in hand. Cp. P.B.V., which however, in opposition to the Hebrew accents, connects the words with the following clause, ‘That thou mayest take the matter into thine hand: the poor &c.’
the poor] The helpless (Psalm 10:8; Psalm 10:10) abandons (such is the literal sense of the word) himself and his cause to God, Who will never abandon him (Psalm 9:10).
thou art] Rather as R.V., thou hast been. It is an appeal to experience. The ‘fatherless’ (or ‘orphan’) is mentioned as a typical example of the friendless and unprotected, who are under God’s special guardianship. Cp. the primitive law of Exodus 22:22 ff., reechoed in the latest utterance of prophecy, Malachi 3:5.
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.15. Break &c.] Paralyse his power to do mischief. Cp. Psalm 37:17; Job 38:15.
of the wicked and the evil man] So the ancient versions, taking the most obvious division of the words. R.V. follows the accentuation of the Hebrew text in rendering, and as for the evil man, seek out &c.
seek out &c.] Lit. when thou requirest his wickedness, thou shall not find. The word is the same as that used in Psalm 9:12 and in Psalm 10:4; Psalm 10:13. The Psalmist looks forward to a time when the wicked will be powerless to do harm. When God ‘makes inquisition’ and holds His assize, He will find no crime to punish, cp. Psalm 17:3. There may be an allusion to the proverbial phrase ‘to seek and not find,’ used in reference to what has utterly disappeared (Psalm 37:36), but a special word for ‘seek’ is chosen for the sake of the allusion indicated.
15, 16. Stanza of Shin. Prayer for the extermination of evil, based on the facts of faith and history.
The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.16. The second clause has been variously explained to refer (1) to the past, or (2) to the future (prophetic perfect). If (1) it refers to the past, the Psalmist finds the guarantee for the fulfilment of his prayers and hopes in the extermination of the Canaanites, or, it may be, in the repulse of ‘the nations’ referred to in Psalm 9:5-6; Psalm 9:15 ff. As the nations have been driven out before God’s people, so the wicked must ultimately give place to the godly, and Jehovah’s land will become in fact what it is in name, the Holy Land. Cp. the frequent warnings to Israel that the fate of the Canaanites might be theirs (Deuteronomy 8:19-20, &c.). If (2) the clause refers to the future, it is a confident anticipation (expressed as though it were already realised) of the ultimate destruction of the foreign oppressors of Israel, including, it may be supposed, all the godless of whom they are typical.
The first explanation suits the context best. The complaint and prayer of the psalm are directed against wicked oppressors within the nation of Israel, not against foreign enemies. An anticipation of the destruction of such external enemies is foreign to the line of thought. But an appeal to history as the ground of hope for the future is quite in place.
his land] Cp. Leviticus 25:13; Joel 2:18.
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:17. ‘The desire of the meek’ is contrasted with ‘the desire of the wicked’ (Psalm 10:3), which in spite of his boasting is doomed to end in disappointment (Psalm 112:10).
The second half of the verse may be taken as an explanatory parenthesis: thou didst prepare (or direct) their heart to pray (1 Samuel 7:3), thou didst cause thine ear to attend: or as expressing the further anticipation, thou wilt establish (encourage, comfort) their heart: thou wilt &c.
17, 18. Stanza of Tav. God has ‘seen’ (Psalm 10:14); He has also ‘heard’; the prayer of faith cannot remain unanswered.
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.18. So justice will be done to the orphan (Psalm 10:14) and the downtrodden (Psalm 9:9); that mortal man which is of the earth may be terrible no more: may no more insolently defy God, and do violence to men. Cp. Psalm 9:19-20; Psalm 37:35, note.