Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Psalms 140-143 form a group distinguished by external and internal characteristics.
(1) All bear the name of David: three are entitled ‘a Psalm [Mizmor] of David,’ a designation comparatively rare in Books iv and v; and one is entitled ‘Maschil of David,’ a designation which occurs nowhere else in these books. Psalms 142 is the only Psalm in these books which has a title indicating the occasion to which it is supposed to refer. Psalms 140 is inscribed For the Precentor, which is only found twice again in these books. Selah occurs three times in 140 and once in 143, but nowhere else in these books. These external characteristics suggest that these Psalms may have been derived from some source in which such terms and notes were common, as they are in the earlier books.
(2) They are marked by a general similarity of thought and language. Compare especially Psalm 141:1, Psalm 142:1, Psalm 143:1, Psalm 140:6, Psalm 142:3, Psalm 143:4, Psalm 142:7, Psalm 143:11, Psalm 140:5, Psalm 141:9, Psalm 142:3, Psalm 140:9, Psalm 141:10.
(3) They appear to reflect the same or similar circumstances. In 140 we see the Psalmist exposed to the plots of merciless and unscrupulous enemies, who are endeavouring to ruin him by calumny and slander; in 141 we watch him struggling against the temptation to sacrifice principle and cast in his lot with the godless party; in 142 his utter solitude and helplessness are pathetically described; in 143 his situation has become even more desperate: all will soon be over if he is not speedily rescued from the hands of his persecutors.
It is then not improbable that they were composed by the same author. This author however can hardly have been David. While it would be rash to affirm that all the Psalms of David must have been included in earlier collections incorporated in the Psalter, these Psalms lack the marks of originality. They are full of reminiscences of earlier Psalms, some of which, e.g. Psalms 77, are of comparatively late date, and probably they shew traces of familiarity with Job and Proverbs. They may have the name of David prefixed to them because they were taken from a collection bearing the name of David, or because they were recognised as imitations of Psalms believed to be his. Delitzsch supposes that they were “dramatic lyrics,” written to illustrate episodes in the life of David, and originally stood in some historical work, from which they were transferred to the Psalter. But dependent as they are upon earlier Psalms for their language, they have a vigour and pathos of their own which points to their having sprung from the actual experience of the author.
Who he was or in what period he lived cannot be determined. The times of Manasseh’s persecution; the Exile; the post-exilic period, have been suggested; and on the whole it seems most probable that the Psalms reflect the persecution of earnestly-minded religious men by a worldly and unscrupulous party at some time in the unsettled circumstances of this later period.
Some critics suppose that the speaker in these Psalms is not an individual, but the nation; but though some phrases favour this view, the poet’s utterances seem to be inspired by the reality of personal experience, and the ascription of the Psalms to David shews that at the time of their incorporation in the Psalter they were regarded as personal.
The structure of Psalms 140 is regular. It consists of four stanzas of six lines each, the second containing two verses, the others three; and a concluding stanza of four lines.
i. The Psalmist prays to be preserved from the plots of arrogant and unscrupulous enemies, who are endeavouring to ruin him by virulent calumny and treacherous plots (Psalm 140:1-3).
ii. He repeats his prayer, with further description of the treacherous character of his enemies’ schemes under the usual figure of snares and traps (Psalm 140:4-5).
iii. Further prayer that these plots may fail (Psalm 140:6-8),
iv. and that retribution may overtake their authors (Psalm 140:9-11).
v. Concluding expression of confidence in Jehovah’s guardianship of the righteous (Psalm 140:12-13).
Compare generally Psalms 7, 58, 64.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. Deliver me, O LORD, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man;1. the evil man … the violent man] Both words may be collective; evil men … men of violent deeds: but the second may single out a particular individual as the leader of the treacherous hostility of which the Psalmist complains. For the phrase man or men of violent deeds (plur.) cp. Psalm 140:4 and 2 Samuel 22:49; Psalm 140:11 and Psalm 18:48 have the sing., violence.
1–3. Prayer for deliverance from the machinations of calumnious enemies.
Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.2. Who have devised evils in their heart] Secretly and deliberately.
continually &c.] Every day do they stir up strife: lit. wars. They are perpetually trying to pick a quarrel with me.
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips. Selah.3. They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent] The lying tongue is elsewhere compared to the sword or arrow which wounds (Psalm 52:2; Psalm 55:21; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 64:3), or the serpent which inflicts a poisonous bite (Psalm 58:3-4); and here the Psalmist combines the metaphors. They deliberately prepare to inflict a deadly wound by slander.
adder’s poison is under their lips] Hidden like the poison gland of the asp. The words are quoted in Romans 3:13, from the LXX.
Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings.4. to overthrow my goings] To trip me up and overthrow me. Cp. Psalm 118:13. R.V. to thrust aside my steps.
4, 5. Repeated prayer for deliverance from their plots.
The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me. Selah.5. For the figures cp. Psalm 31:4; Psalm 119:110; Psalm 141:9; Psalm 142:3. The hunter sets his snares in the ‘run’ of the animal he wishes to catch, and the Psalmist’s enemies are scheming to ruin him as he goes about his daily duties. Cp. Matthew 22:15, “how they might ensnare (παγιδεύσωσιν, cp. LXX παγίδα here) him in talk.” He calls them proud, for their hostility to God’s servant is virtually a defiance of God (Psalm 10:2).
grins] More properly, baits or lures, to entice him to his ruin. Grins, the original reading of the A.V. of 1611, restored by Scrivener, is an obsolete word of the same meaning as gins, which has been substituted for it in modern editions of the A.V. here and in Psalm 141:9. For examples of its use see Wright’s Bible Word Book.
I said unto the LORD, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O LORD.6. I said] I have said, or, I say. Cp. Psalm 16:1; Psalm 31:14. In his distress he appeals to Jehovah, pleading the relation which entitles him to expect protection. Cp. Psalm 63:1; Psalm 143:10.
hear] R.V., Give ear unto.
6–8. Appeal to Jehovah, the Helper in time of need.
O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.7. O God the Lord] Jehovah, Lord. Cp. Psalm 109:21 (note); Psalm 141:8.
thou hast covered my head] Protected it as with a helmet. Cp. Psalm 60:7; Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8. The perfect tense might refer to past experience, but is probably to be taken as a perfect of certainty: thou wilt̄ assuredly cover.
the day of battle] Lit. of armour, when armour is needed. The language is of course figurative, for the ‘war’ which his enemies were making upon him was carried on with the weapons of slander and calumny.
Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves. Selah.8. further not his evil device] Suffer it not to issue in success.
lest they exalt themselves] The construction is harsh, whether we render thus, or, ‘for then will they exalt themselves,’ and probably the word belongs to the next verse.
As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.9. A word seems to be wanting at the beginning of the verse, and if the last word of Psalm 140:8, with the change of a single letter (ירימו for ירומו), is prefixed to this verse, it reads, When those that compass me about lift up the head, let the mischief &c. Let the mischief they are trying to do me by slander and calumny recoil upon themselves, and overwhelm them. Cp. Psalm 141:10.
9–11. May retribution overtake my enemies!
Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again.10. Let the fate of Sodom overtake these defiant offenders! Possibly we should read, comparing Psalm 11:6, May he rain hot coals upon them! may he cast them into the fire!
deep pits] A word of uncertain meaning, found here only. Some render whirlpools: cp. R.V. marg. floods. If they try to escape the fiery storm, may they be swept away by torrents!
that they rise not up again] Let their fall be final and irremediable (Psalm 36:12), in contrast to that of the righteous, who falls to rise again (Proverbs 24:16).
Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.11. A slanderer shall not be established in the land] Cp. Psalm 101:5.
to overthrow him] Again the idea is that of the evil which he devises for others relentlessly pursuing him, lit. with thrust upon thrust. Cp. Psalm 35:5-6; Proverbs 13:21. The Targ. paraphrases, “misfortune shall hunt the violent man; the angel of death shall drive him down to hell.”
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.12. Jehovah is the Judge Who rights the weak and oppressed. Cp. Psalm 7:8-9; Psalm 9:4; &c.
12, 13. The destiny of the righteous contrasted with the fate of the wicked.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.13. Surely] The particle ’ak expresses the thought, Nay but after all; in spite of present trials.
shall dwell in thy presence] In the land where Jehovah’s Presence is especially manifested. Cp. Psalm 102:28. The manifestation of God which is destruction to the wicked (Psalm 9:3) is security and happiness to the upright. Cp. Psalm 11:7, note; Psalm 16:11; Psalm 89:15.