Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The theme of this Psalm is God’s judgement upon the enemies of the righteous. It falls into two main divisions, in each of which the verses are arranged in pairs.
i. The Psalmist confidently appeals to God for protection against the secret plots and open attacks of evil-doers (Psalm 64:1-2), who are bent on ruining innocent men by slander and intrigue (Psalm 64:3-4), and flattering themselves that they have nothing to fear, prosecute their designs with an evil inventiveness and determination (Psalm 64:5-6).
ii. But surely and suddenly the arrow of God’s judgement will pierce them, and their plots will recoil upon themselves, to the scorn of all beholders (Psalm 64:7-8). In their fate men will recognise the hand of God, and the righteous will rejoice in this proof of His providence (Psalm 64:9-10).
Thus the Psalmist’s present and personal need is merged in the larger question of the punishment of the persecutors of the righteous; and the certainty of their punishment as the consequence of their sin is proclaimed in a tone of prophetic authority. The Ps. has its distinctive peculiarities, though numerous parallels of thought and language are to be found in other Psalms. Cp. especially 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 36, 5255, 57, 58.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.1. in my prayer] R.V., in my complaint. Cp. Psalm 55:2; Psalm 55:17; 1 Samuel 1:16.
preserve &c.] From the enemy’s terror—the alarm which he excites—thou wilt guard my life (Psalm 12:7; Psalm 61:7). The common rendering of the verbs in this and the following line as imperatives (‘preserve’ ‘hide’), though legitimate, seems to miss the shade of meaning intended by the change from the imperative ‘hear.’ From petition the Psalmist passes at once to the language of confident anticipation, such as we find in Psalm 16:10 f.
1–6. Prayer for preservation from malicious enemies, who are plotting against the Psalmist with subtle treachery and resolute determination.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:2. Thou wilt hide me from the secret council of evil doers,
From the tumultuous throng of workers of iniquity.
i.e. from secret machinations and open attack. The cognate verbs are used together in Psalm 2:1-2 (tumultuously assemble, R.V. marg.; take counsel). Cp. Psalm 31:13. The same words occur in Psalm 55:14, but in a good sense.
Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:3. Who whet] R.V., who have whet. For the comparison see Psalm 55:21; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7.
and bend &c.] Render, They have aimed as their arrow a bitter scheme. For the peculiar phrase see Psalm 58:7. Dâbâr seems to mean scheme as in Psalm 64:5, rather than speech, or words. So the LXX πρᾶγμα πικρόν. Bitter = hurtful or venomous. Is the idea that of a poisoned arrow? The Targ. paraphrases, “They have anointed their arrows with deadly and bitter venom.”
That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.4. That they may shoot] Cp. Psalm 11:2.
in secret] R.V., in secret places, as Psalm 10:8; Psalm 17:12.
the perfect] The upright, blameless man, an epithet often applied to Job (Job 1:1, &c.). Cp. Psalm 37:37; Proverbs 29:10, and see note on the cognate word in Psalm 15:2.
fear not] They neither fear God nor regard man. Cp. Psalm 55:19.
They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?5. They encourage &c.] Lit., They make strong for themselves an evil scheme, sparing no pains to make their plot successful.
they say] Lit. they have said, i.e. to themselves; they have made up their minds that there is no retributive Providence in the world. This is the reason of their unrestrained wickedness.
Who shall see them?] An indirect form of speech in place of the direct Who will see us? More exactly the Heb. means, Who will see to them? They have persuaded themselves that there is no God who will take any account of their proceedings. Cp. Psalm 10:11; Psalm 10:13; Psalm 12:4; Psalm 59:7; Isaiah 29:15, &c.
They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep.6. They plan deeds of iniquity; We have perfected (say they) a consummate plan;
And each man’s innermost thought and heart is deep.
The form of the verb is anomalous, and it is uncertain whether it is meant for the first person, or, as A.V. takes it, the third person, ‘they accomplish.’ The first person is however more graphic and forcible. For a similar abrupt introduction of the persons spoken of as speakers, see Psalm 59:7. The various reading they have hidden is improbable. They conceal their thoughts deep in their own hearts, but in vain! God explores the lowest depths and most tortuous labyrinths of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Cp. with this and the preceding verse Isaiah 29:15, “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from Jehovah, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?” and the sarcastic words of Micah 7:3, “Both hands are set to that which is evil to do it well.”
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.7. Therefore God shoots at them with an arrow;
Suddenly are they smitten.
The peculiar idiom of the Heb. in this and the following verses conveys the idea that this judgement is the immediate consequence of their conduct, and though still future, is as certain as though it were already historical fact. Lit. So God hath shot … they have been wounded … and they have been made to stumble … and all men have feared, and they have declared … and understood &c.: Note the parallelism of this verse to Psalm 64:4, They aim their arrows at the righteous, unseen, as they fancy, by man, and unregarded by God; but swift retribution overtakes them unawares. Cp. Psalm 7:12 ff. R.V. follows the Massoretic accents in attaching with an arrow to the second line; but the balance of the clauses is in favour of dividing the verses as A.V. does, and the parallel with Psalm 64:4 is more striking if ‘suddenly’ occupies the same emphatic position at the beginning of the second line as there. Note how their punishment is described in terms of their crime (Psalm 64:4-5).
7–10. They may scheme, but in the midst of their schemes the arrow of divine judgement pierces them: by this exhibition of God’s justice all men are warned, and the righteous are encouraged.
So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away.8. So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves] An untenable rendering of an obscure sentence. It is best to render, substantially as R.V., And they are made to stumble, their own tongue being against them. Lit. they make him stumble: the plural subject to the verb suggesting, as in Psalm 63:10, the idea of mysterious agents in God’s service, and the singular object regarding ‘the enemy’ (as in Psalm 64:1 b) collectively as a body. For the sense cp. Psalm 140:9; Psalm 7:15 f (note that v. 12 f are parallel to v. 7 here); Psalm 57:6. Their tongue, the weapon with which they sought to destroy others, is turned against themselves. Ahithophel’s fate may serve for illustration. Possible, but less satisfactory, is the rendering of R.V. marg.: So shall they against whom their tongue was make them to stumble. The context does not hint that their victims become their executioners.
shall flee away] For fear of sharing their fate (Numbers 16:34). But the right rendering certainly is, All that see their desire upon them shall wag the head, in scornful triumph, as Jeremiah 48:27, R.V.; cp. Psalm 22:7. See Psalm 52:6 ff.; Psalm 54:7; Psalm 59:10, and for the light in which such expressions of satisfaction are to be regarded see note on Psalm 58:11.
And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing.9. all men] Upon men in general (cp. Psalm 58:11) this judgement produces an impression of wholesome fear, in contrast to the profane fearlessness of the ungodly (Psalm 64:4).
And they declare the work of God,
And understand his operation:
publicly acknowledging that He rules in the world, and interpreting for themselves the meaning of the judgement. For ‘work,’ ‘operation,’ cp. Psalm 28:5; for ‘understand,’ Psalm 106:7; and generally, Hosea 14:9.
The P.B.V. all men that see it presumes a slightly different and inferior reading.
The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.10. For the righteous and the upright in heart—the Psalmist and those whom he represents—the judgement is an occasion of joy, supplying a fresh proof that Jehovah governs the world righteously and that in Him they have a sure refuge. Cp. Psalm 5:11; Psalm 52:6 ff; Psalm 58:10 f; Psalm 63:11.
and shall trust in him] Rather, take refuge in him (Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4).
the upright in heart] Cp. Psalm 11:2, already quoted as a parallel to Psalm 64:4.