Psalm 140
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Some there are who unhesitatingly and strongly condemn this psalm: they say it moves only on the low plane of bodily needs; it never mounts up to holy, spiritual desire at all. Further, it is wholly personal, not to say selfish; it is all for "me," no one else, throughout the psalm; also, it is aflame with the "burning coals" of fierce revenge, and is, at the same time, saturated with self-righteousness. Such are the charges brought against this psalm, and a protest is entered against its being used in Christian worship, or regarded as Christian at all. But, to take a present and pressing matter: how do we Christians feel in regard to the unspeakable Turk, now inflicting such awful cruelties on the Armenian? Is there a sentence in this psalm that we would hesitate to apply to that detestable oppressor? If in an Armenian church this psalm was sung just now, as probably it often is, would we unchristianize them for it? Surely not. Then let us, ere we condemn its writer, try and place ourselves in his oppressed and persecuted condition, then we shall be able to judge more fairly and to speak less rashly. But the psalm has its use and application for ourselves; for we have, if not earthly, yet assuredly, spiritual enemies, above all, our "adversary the devil," and of him and of his agents all may be said that is here said, and all prayed that is here prayed. Therefore consider -


1. Is he not evil? Do not the manifold manifestations of evil around us and within us prove the existence of a prince of evil, as do the like manifestations of goodness prove the existence of One whom we call God our Father?

2. And violent. With what cruel might does he often assault our souls!

3. And even aiming at our hurt. "Going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Are not the declarations of vers. 2-5 absolutely true - so incessant, so subtle, so malignant, so venomous, so hidden and unexpected, are his snares? Let those who have been his victims tell, and the many who still are perpetually oppressed by him.

II. OUR ONLY BUT SURE DEFENSE. It is God the Lord. No power of our own, or of our fellow-man, or of any religious rite, but all and only in God. So do his delivered ones with unanimous voice declare.

III. THIS DEFENSE MADE OUR OWN. HOW may we avail ourselves of the deliverance which God assures us of? Well:

1. Our peril must be clearly seen. See how in this whole psalm, especially vers. 1-5, the writer, whoever he was, is vividly conscious of the formidableness of his foe. And so must we be, as, unhappily, too many are not. Many see no peril, feel no anxiety, are wrapped in profound indifference. Such fall an easy prey to the tempter's power. True, the world is not the devil's world - it was one of his lies when he told our Lord that all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory were given to him; it is not so; but still he is here in the world, and we ever need to be on our guard.

2. We must betake ourselves to prayer. Prayer brings the unseen and the eternal near to us, so that they become visible and tangible to our spirits, and as living realities exercise their mighty influence upon us. As the earth gets out of the darkness by swinging itself round to the light, so by prayer we turn to where God and all the power of his blessed Spirit are, and so deliverance comes.

3. Evil must be intensely hated. (Vers. 9-11.) No matter whether it be that embodiment of evil external to us, which is called the devil, or whether it be that inward corruption and wicked disposition which we find still lurking in our souls. We cannot curse it too bitterly or hate it too intensely. "Ye that fear the Lord hate evil" - so are we commanded, and any less intense feeling towards it is incompatible with the true love of God.

4. Personal appropriation of God. We must be able to say unto the Lord, "Thou art my God." A mere abstract creed will not help us; we must each one know God as "the Strength of my salvation."

5. Remembrance of former mercies will greatly help us. "Thou hast covered," etc. (ver. 7).

6. Let there be confident faith. (Vers. 12, 13.) The faith of Israel was shown by their believing shout as they compassed the city of Jericho. The walls had not yet fallen, but they knew they would, and so they shouted. So the psalmist says, "I know" (ver. 12), and "surely" (ver. 13). We must come to God, expecting that he will answer our prayers (James 1:6). Such are some of the suggestions of this psalm as to God's way of deliverance. May we be able to avail ourselves of them! - S.C.

The speaker is a king, in danger from crafty and violent and rebellious subjects, who prays for deliverance from them. The situation may be generalized and taken as an account of the struggle for ever going on between the righteous and the wicked.


1. A war carried on by brute strength. "Violent men" (vers. 14). When men have not reason and justice on their side, they resort to the employment of physical force - Nihilism, dynamite, insurrection.

2. Slander. (Ver. 3.) Poisonous reports, full of lies and libels, and foul imaginations of a wicked heart, are propagated without scruple, with a view of taking away the character.

3. Crafty plots. (Ver. 5.) When open warfare is unsuccessful, they resort to traps and plots that shall surprise the unwary, and seek to ruin a man by secret means.

II. THE RIGHTEOUS MAN'S SECURITY. Commits his cause to God; he cannot defend himself by retaliations - by using their means in reply. The grounds of his hope.

1. God was his; therefore God would hear and answer him. (Ver. 6.) God the Almighty and All-sufficient was his, and he was God's.

2. His past experience. (Ver. 7.) God had already defended him in scenes of danger.

3. God cannot favor the wicked cause. (Ver. 8.) Therefore God would appear for him, on his side.


1. There is a law of retribution at work. (Vers. 9-11.) The imprecations of the ninth and tenth verses emerge into the prophecy of the eleventh.

2. An assurance that God is pledged to the righteous cause. (Ver. 12.)

3. The righteous shall ultimately rejoice in the manifested presence of God. (Ver. 13; see Psalm 11:7; Psalm 16:11.) - S.

Mischiefs is a very suggestive and comprehensive term. It is frequently used in the Psalms in the singular form, and always suggests scheming, underhanded plotting, to do some evil. In the plural form there are only two passages in the Scriptures, besides our text, in which the word is employed: Deuteronomy 32:23, "I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them;" Psalm 52:2, "Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully."

I. REGARD MISCHIEFS AS MALICIOUS INTENTION. "The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth;" "How long will ye imagine mischief against a man?" It is the characteristic of the evil-hearted, evil-disposed man, that he "deviseth mischiefs upon his bed." It is his pleasure to plan an injury; he delights in making misery, and ruining reputations. Any man may do a mischief on impulse or by accident. The evil man cherishes malicious intentions.

II. REGARD MISCHIEFS AS INJURIOUS SPEECH. "They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent." There is speech that cuts and wounds by its bitterness; that injures by its untruthfulness; that destroys reputations by its slanderings. There is no surer sign of the evil heart than the evident pleasure felt in saying mischievous things.

III. REGARD MISCHIEFS AS VIOLENT ACTS. (Vers. 4, 5.) It is the peculiarity of evil-disposed men that cherished evil thoughts inspire evil deeds. The good man checks unkind and evil thoughts, lest they should get expression in acts. But the evil man nourishes them, enjoys them, puts himself into their power, and is by them urged on to violent and injurious deeds. Cherish malicious thought, and you put yourself into its power; and it may lead you on to shameful deeds. But the mischiefs of evil men never transcend the Divine limitations. God has his hand on them, and we may be absolutely assured that he says," Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther; here shall thy proud waves be stayed." And we may even see deeper into the heart of Divine dealing, and say that the mischiefs of evil men become ministries of the Divine purpose of grace concerning God's people. - R.T.

I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God (comp. Psalm 16:2, "I have said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord; I have no good beyond thee; "Psalm 27:1, "The Lord is my light and my salvation;" and many other places). Indeed, a characteristic feature of the Psalms is this personal appropriation of God. It is an essential feature of spiritual religion. There must be this sense of kinness with God, and actual relationship to him. So St. Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!" And our Divine Lord, as model and representative Humanity, said, even in a time of overwhelming darkness and distress, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" From this psalm we learn how such personal appropriation of God really comes to us.

I. IT COMES FROM GOD SEEN IN OUR PAST. "Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle." Some one thing was in the psalmist's thought, but it would be sure to lead on a great panorama of Divine defenses and interventions. The one thing was like the first star seen in the evening sky. It is "the glorious token of millions more." God has always been on our side. He is our God.

II. IT COMES FROM GOD REALIZED IN PRESENT RELATIONS. We express this when we call him the living God. It should always be clearly seen that "living" involves present activity. Silent and inactive Buddha does not live, does not sustain personal relations, is only an object of contemplation. God lives; is active; is in relations; as these relations are seen to be directly present and personal ones, we call him our God. Our God is here now; he is for us now; he is ours now.

III. IT COMES FROM GOD FELT AS THE LOVED AND LOVING ONE. We can appropriate a thing in a cold mood of acquisition. We can only appropriate a person by the act of affection. And herein is a remarkable thing. We cannot appropriate a person unless he is willing to be appropriated. He must love us, or our love to him only keeps us at a distance from each other. We may appropriate God in our love because he appropriates us in his love. - R.T.

We need not fix close attention on the intensity of the language which the psalmists use concerning their enemies, or even concerning the enemies of God. All that unrestrainedness belongs to the times and the race. Eastern people use language which to the Western mind appears extravagant and unworthy. We feel, under persecution and calamity, precisely as they felt, but we know how to express our feelings more guardedly. Only in moments of passion do we ever permit ourselves to say or to wish such things as these psalmists utter so freely. The topic suggested here is this - What is to be done by the godly man when he finds himself in the midst of malicious foes?

I. HE IS TEMPTED TO INDULGE REVENGEFUL FEELING. Such feelings at once come. They are the natural, or we may more truly say the unnatural, response of our hearts, Indeed, if we do not watch ourselves well, we at once answer back. It is not our sin that revengeful feeling is aroused. It is sin when revengeful feeling is encouraged; our grievous sin when it is enjoyed.

II. HE IS TEMPTED TO VINDICATE HIMSELF BY ACTS OF RETALIATION. "Rendering evil for evil." Taking the avenging of his injuries into his own hands. Children do that. Uncivilized and unorganized nations do that. Each one avenges his own wrongs. But from the Divine standpoint that is always and altogether wrong; for one supremely good reason - that a man can never avenge himself without seriously injuring himself in so doing. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to get his revenge. That dims the fine gold of character.

III. HE IS PERSUADED TO LEAVE VENGEANCE TO GOD. And this he may safely do, because whosoever touches God's people touches God - touches the "apple of his eye." Moreover, God never lets the wicked go unpunished; but as he loves the wicked and seeks his good, he alone can adjust the punishment to the individual, and to the securing of wise and gracious ends. God can be calm in judgments.

IV. HE IS MOVED TO ASK GOD TO UNDERTAKE THE VENGEANCE FOR HIM. And then he is altogether relieved from the pressure of responsibility, and is free to bear the burden quietly and calmly. - R.T.

The "upright" man is the man of integrity. And the consciousness of integrity gives, and properly gives, confidence and security. A man may cherish a sense of right, of uprightness, of sincerity. He may be sure that this puts him into the sympathy and favor of God. The psalmist - who may well have been David - may properly plead before God and say, "Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me." When the psalmist made this plea, he was suffering from unjust suspicions and unworthy accusations, very much as was the writer of the psalm now before us. But these terms, "uprightness," "integrity," "righteousness," need very careful consideration. They can be applied to a man. It is certain that man can be said to have a righteousness. "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees." We have known men and women of integrity who were right-hearted and sincere, and gained our confidence because they were. Sometimes, in the Scriptures, the word "righteousness" means right-hearted-ness, sincerity; it shows a man who is, at heart, centered on God and virtue. We have a way of speaking of men as being "good at bottom." If we say that as any excuse for men's sins, we are altogether in the wrong. If we say it in recognition of human frailty, and with discernment of life as the conflict of the human will over the disabilities that surround us, then it is a true and worthy speech.

I. A MAN MUST HAVE ESTABLISHED GOOD PRINCIPLES IF HE IS TO HAVE AN INWARD SENSE OF RIGHT. When there is drifting and uncertainty as to what is right, there can be no restful inward conviction that we are right.

II. A MAN MUST HAVE GOOD CONTROL OF HIS LIFE IF HE IS TO HAVE AN INWARD SENSE OF RIGHT. There must be harmony between the conduct and relations of the life and the cherished feelings of the heart, or the sense of sincerity will be destroyed.

III. A MAN MUST BE SURE OF DIVINE DEFENSE IF HE IS SURE OF HIS OWN SINCERITY, God is true; he must be on the side of the true. God is served by the sincere; he surely defends his servants. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 139
Top of Page
Top of Page