Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The situation indicated in this psalm is one that frequently occurs in Israel’s hymn-book. A prey to calumny, the poet for himself, or, more probably, for the community, implores the protection of God, and then suddenly takes up the prophetic strain—persuaded, from the known order of Providence, that retribution must come—and foretells the sudden dissipation of the deeply-laid schemes of those who vex and oppress God’s chosen people.
The last couplet is probably a liturgical addition, and not part of the original poem, which without it divides into three regular stanzas of seven lines.
Title.—See title, Psalms 4.
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) My prayer.—Rather, my cry, complaint, as in Psalm 55:2.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:(2) Secret counsel . . . insurrection—Better, secret league (sôd) . . . noisy gathering (rigshah). For sôd see Psalm 25:14, and for rigshah see Note to Psalm 2:2.
Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:(3) For the figure in this and the following verse, see Psalm 10:7; Psalm 11:2; Psalm 52:2; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7.
Whose edge is sharper than the sword.”
For the ellipse in “they bend (literally, tread) their arrows,” see Psalm 58:7.
That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.(4) And fear not.—These are utterly unscrupulous, fearing neither God nor man.
They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?(5) They encourage themselves.—Literally, they strengthen for themselves an evil thing (or “word,” margin, LXX., and Vulg.,) which evidently means that they take their measures carefully, and are prepared to carry them out resolutely.
They commune . . .—Better, they calculate how they may lay snares privily. The conspirators carefully and in secret go over every detail of their plot.
Who shall see them?—Literally, who shall look to them? which seems at first glance to mean, “who will see the snares?” but this is weak. It may be equivalent to, “who is likely to see us?” the question being put indirectly. But in 1Samuel 16:7, the expression, “looketh on,” implies “regard for,” which may possibly be the meaning here, “who careth for them?”
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 search out iniquities—i.e., they plan wicked schemes.
They accomplish a diligent search.—See margin, which indicates the difficulty in this clause. The versions and some MSS. also suggest a corruption of the tent. Read “They have completed their subtle measures” (literally, the planned plan).
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.(7, 8) The meaning of these verses is clear. In the moment of their imagined success, their deeply-laid schemes just on the point of ripening, a sudden Divine retribution overtakes the wicked, and all their calumnies, invented with such cunning, fall back on their own heads. But the construction is most perplexing. The text presents a tangled maze of abrupt clauses, which, arranged according to the accents, run: And God shoots an arrow, sudden are their wounds, and they make it (or him) fall on themselves their tongue. The last clause seems to pronounce the law which obtains in Divine judgment. While God orders the retribution it is yet the recoil of their own evil on the guilty. In these cases,
“We still have judgment here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor; this evenhanded justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.”
Flee away.—The verb (nādad) properly means to flutter the wings like a bird (Isaiah 10:14).
And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing.(9) For they shall wisely consider.—Rather, And they understand his work.
The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.(10) Shall glory.—Or, perhaps, shall shine forth clear, i.e., shall have their cause acknowledged just. The LXX. and Vulg. seem to have understood it so: “shall be praised.”