Psalm 18:4
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
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(4) The sorrows of death.—The Hebrew word may mean either birth pangs (LXX. and Acts 2:24, where see Note, New Testament Commentary), or cords. The figure of the hunter in the next verse, “the snares of death,” determines its meaning there to be cords (see margin). It is best, therefore, to keep the same rendering here: but there can be little doubt that the version in Samuel, breakers, or waves, is the true one, from the parallelism—

“Waves of death compassed me,

And billows of Belial terrified me.”

For Belial, see Deuteronomy 13:13. Here the parallelism fixes its meaning, “ruin.” For the ideas of peril and destruction, connected by the Hebrews with waves and floods, comp. Psalm 18:16, also Psalm 32:6; Psalm 42:7; Psalm 69:1. Doubtless the tradition of the Flood and of the Red Sea helped to strengthen the apprehensions natural in a country where the river annually overflowed its banks. and where a dry ravine might at any moment become a dangerous flood. The hatred of the sea arose from quite another cause—viz., the dread of it as a highway for invasion.

Psalm 18:4-5. The sorrows of death compassed me — That is, dangerous and deadly troubles. Or, the bands, or cords, of death, as חבלי, cheblee, may be rendered, quæ hominem quasi fune arctissime constringunt, which binds a man most closely, as with a cord, whence the word is used concerning the pains of women in labour. And the floods of ungodly men — Literally, of Belial, as in the margin. Their great multitudes, strength, and violence, broke in upon me like an irresistible flood, carrying all before it, or like a torrent came down upon me as though they would have swept me away by their fury. “Nothing,” says Dr. Delaney, “can be a finer emblem of a host of men, in their several ranks, than the waves of the sea succeeding one another in their natural order.” And when we consider them pressing forward to the destruction of their adversaries, they may be very properly termed waves of death. The sorrows — Or, cords, of hell, or of death, compassed me about — Brought me to the brink of the grave; the snares of death prevented me — Deadly snares came upon me, and almost took hold on me, before I was aware of my danger.18:1-19 The first words, I will love thee, O Lord, my strength, are the scope and contents of the psalm. Those that truly love God, may triumph in him as their Rock and Refuge, and may with confidence call upon him. It is good for us to observe all the circumstances of a mercy which magnify the power of God and his goodness to us in it. David was a praying man, and God was found a prayer-hearing God. If we pray as he did, we shall speed as he did. God's manifestation of his presence is very fully described, ver. 7-15. Little appeared of man, but much of God, in these deliverances. It is not possible to apply to the history of the son of Jesse those awful, majestic, and stupendous words which are used through this description of the Divine manifestation. Every part of so solemn a scene of terrors tells us, a greater than David is here. God will not only deliver his people out of their troubles in due time, but he will bear them up under their troubles in the mean time. Can we meditate on ver. 18, without directing one thought to Gethsemane and Calvary? Can we forget that it was in the hour of Christ's deepest calamity, when Judas betrayed, when his friends forsook, when the multitude derided him, and the smiles of his Father's love were withheld, that the powers of darkness prevented him? The sorrows of death surrounded him, in his distress he prayed, Heb 5:7. God made the earth to shake and tremble, and the rocks to cleave, and brought him out, in his resurrection, because he delighted in him and in his undertaking.The sorrows of death compassed me - Surrounded me. That is, he was in imminent danger of death, or in the midst of such pangs and sorrows as are supposed commonly to attend on death. He refers probably to some period in his past life - perhaps in the persecutions of Saul - when he was so beset with troubles and difficulties that it seemed to him that he must die. The word rendered "sorrows" - חבל chebel - means, according to Gesenius, "a cord, a rope," and hence, "a snare, gin, noose;" and the idea here is, according to Gesenius, that he was taken as it were in the snares of death, or in the bands of death. So Psalm 116:3. Our translators, however, and it seems to me more correctly, regarded the word as derived from the same noun differently pointed - הבל chēbel - meaning "writhings, pangs, pains," as in Isaiah 66:7; Jeremiah 13:21; Jeremiah 22:23; Hosea 13:13; Job 39:3. So the Aramaic Paraphrase, "Pangs as of a woman in childbirth came around me." So the Vulgate, "dolores." So the Septuagint, ὠδῖνες ōdines. The corresponding place in 2 Samuel 22 is: "The waves of death." The word which is used there - משׁבר mishbâr - means properly waves which break upon the shore - "breakers." See Psalm 42:7; Psalm 88:7; Jonah 2:3. Why the change was made in the psalm it is not possible to determine. Either word denotes a condition of great danger and alarm, as if death was inevitable.

And the floods of ungodly men - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Belial." The word "Belial" means properly "without use or profit;" and then worthless, abandoned, wicked. It is applied to wicked men as being "worthless" to society, and to all the proper ends of life. Though the term here undoubtedly refers to "wicked" men, yet it refers to them as being worthless or abandoned - low, common, useless to mankind. The word rendered floods - נחל nachal - means in the singular, properly, a stream, brook, rivulet; and then, a torrent, as formed by rain and snow-water in the mountains, Job 6:15. The word used here refers to such men as if they were poured forth in streams and torrents - in such multitudes that the psalmist was likely to be overwhelmed by them, as one would be by floods of water. "Made me afraid." Made me apprehensive of losing my life. To what particular period of his life he here refers it is impossible now to determine.

4. sorrows—literally, "bands as of a net" (Ps 116:3).

floods—denotes "multitude."

4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

6 In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.

8 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.

9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down and darkness was under his feet.

10 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.

11 He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.

12 At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.

14 Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.

15 Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.

16 He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.

17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.


The sorrows of death, i.e. dangerous and deadly troubles. Or, the bands or cords of death, which had almost seized me, and was putting its bands upon me. Compare Psalm 73:4.

The floods of ungodly men; their great multitudes, and strength, and violent assaults, breaking in upon me like a flood. The sorrows of death compassed me,.... These words and the following, in this verse and Psalm 18:5, as they respect David, show the snares that were laid for his life, the danger of death he was in, and the anxiety of mind he was possessed of on account of it; and as they refer to Christ, include all the sorrows of his life to the time of his death, who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief personally, and bore and carried the sorrows and griefs of all his people; and may chiefly intend his sorrows in the garden, arising from a view of the sins of his people, which he was about to bear upon the cross; and from an apprehension of the wrath of God, and curse of the law, which he was going to sustain for them, when his soul was encompassed about with sorrow, even unto death, Matthew 26:38; when his sorrow was so great, and lay so heavy upon him, that it almost pressed him down to death, he could scarce live under it; and may also take in the very pains and agonies of death; he dying the death of the cross, which was a very painful and excruciating one; see Psalm 22:14; The Hebrew word for "sorrows" signifies the pains and birth throes of a woman in travail; and is here fitly used of the sufferings and death of Christ; through which he brought forth much fruit, or many sons to glory. The Targum is,

"distress has encompassed me, as a woman that sits upon the stool, and has no strength to bring forth, and is in danger of dying.''

In 2 Samuel 22:5, it is "the waves" or "breakers of death compassed me"; and the word there used is rendered in Hosea 13:13; "the breaking forth of children"; moreover the same word signifies "cords" (r), as well as pains and sorrows; and the allusion may be to malefactors being bound with cords when led to execution, and put to death; and may here signify the power of death, under which the Messiah was held for a while, but was loosed from it at his resurrection; to which sense of the word, and to the words here, the Apostle Peter manifestly refers, Acts 2:24;

and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; meaning either the multitude of them, as Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and people of the Jews, who all gathered together against him; so the Targum renders it, "a company of wicked men"; or the variety of sufferings he endured by them; as spitting upon, buffering, scourging, &c. The word rendered "ungodly men is Belial"; and signifies vain, worthless, and unprofitable men; men of no figure or account; or lawless ones, such as have cast off the yoke of the law, are not subject to it; persons very wicked and profligate. The word in the New Testament seems to be used for Satan, 2 Corinthians 6:15; where it is so rendered in the Syriac version, and he may be designed here; and by the floods of Belial may be meant, not so much the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, as his violent and impetuous attacks upon Christ in the garden, when being in an agony or conflict with him, his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood, Luke 22:44. The Septuagint render the word, "the torrents of iniquity troubled me"; which was true of Christ, when all the sins of his people came flowing in upon him, like mighty torrents, from all quarters; when God laid on him the iniquity of them all, and he was made sin for them; and in a view of all this "he began to be sore amazed", Mark 14:33; compare with this Psalm 69:1. Arama interprets Belial of the evil imagination in David, who had a war in himself.

(r) "funes mortis", Musculus, Montanus, Vatablus, Gejerus, Michaelis; so Ainsworth, Hammond.

{c} The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

(c) He speaks of the dangers and malice of his enemies from which God had delivered him.

4. The sorrows of death] Rather, as R.V., The cords of death. But the word has been wrongly introduced here from Psalm 18:5, and the true reading should be restored from 2 Sam.: the waves (lit. breakers) of death. This gives a proper parallelism to floods in the next line. But the reading cords must be very ancient, for Psalm 116:3 appears to recognise it.

floods of ungodly men] More graphically the original, torrents of destruction, or, ungodliness. Destruction threatened him like a torrent swollen by a sudden storm, and sweeping all before it (Jdg 5:21). The Heb. word belial, lit. worthlessness, may mean destruction, physical mischief, as well as wickedness, moral mischief: and the context points rather to the former sense here. Death, Destruction, and Sheol, are indeed almost personified, as conspiring for his ruin.

4–6. In forcible figures David pictures the extremity of need in which he cried for help, and not in vain. Again and again there had been ‘but a step between him and death.’ (1 Samuel 20:3.) The perils to which he had been exposed are described as waves and torrents which threatened to engulf him or sweep him away: Sheol and Death are represented as hunters laying wait for his life with nets and snares.Verse 4. - The sorrows of death compassed me. Here begins the narrative of David's sufferings in the past. "'The sorrows' - or rather, 'the cords' - of death," he says, "encompassed me," or "coiled around me" (Kay). Death is represented as a hunter, who goes out with nets and cords, encompassing his victims and driving them into the toils. David's recollection is probably of the time when he was "hunted upon the mountains" by Saul (1 Samuel 26:20), and expected continually to be caught and put to death (1 Samuel 19:1; 1 Samuel 23:15; 1 Samuel 27:1). And the floods of ungodlymen made me afraid; literally, the torrents of Belial, or of ungodliness. The LXX. have χείμαῥῤοι, ἀνομίας. Streams of ungodly men, the myrmidons of Saul, cut him off from escape. The phrase קדּם פּני, antevertere faciem alicujus, means both to appear before any one with reverence, Psalm 95:2 (post-biblical: to pay one's respects to any one) and to meet any one as an enemy, rush on him. The foe springs like a lion upon David, may Jahve - so he prays - as his defence cross the path of the lion and intercept him, and cast him down so that he, being rendered harmless, shall lie there with bowed knees (כּרע, of the lion, Genesis 49:9; Numbers 24:9). He is to rescue his soul from the ungodly חרבּך. This חרבך, and also the ידך which follows, can be regarded as a permutative of the subject (Bצttcher, Hupfeld, and Hitzig), an explanation which is commended by Psalm 44:3 and other passages. But it is much more probable that more exact definitions of this kind are treated as accusatives, vid., on Psalm 3:5. At any rate "sword" and "hand" are meant as the instruments by which the פּלּט, rescuing, is effected. The force of פּלּטה extends into Psalm 17:14, and mimatiym (with a Chateph under the letter that is freed from reduplication, like ממכון, Psalm 33:14) corresponds to מרשׁע, as ידך to חרבּך. The word ממתים (plural of מת, men, Deuteronomy 2:34, whence מתם, each and every one), which of itself gives no complete sense, is repeated and made complete after the interruption cause by the insertion of ידך ה, - a remarkable manner of obstructing and then resuming the thought, which Hofmann (Schriftbeweis ii. 2. 495) seeks to get over by a change in the division of the verse and in the interpunction. חלד, either from חלד Syriac to creep, glide, slip away (whence חלדּה a weasel, a mole) or from חלד Talmudic to cover, hide, signifies: this temporal life which glides by unnoticed (distinct from the Arabic chald, chuld, an abiding stay, endless duration); and consequently חדל, limited existence, from חדל to have an end, alternates with חלד as a play upon the letters, comp. Psalm 49:2 with Isaiah 38:11. The combination מחלד מתים resembles Psalm 10:18; Psalm 16:4. What is meant, is: men who have no other home but the world, which passeth away with the lust thereof, men ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, or υίοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου. The meaning of the further description חלקם בּחיּים (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:9) becomes clear from the converse in Psalm 16:5. Jahve is the חלק of the godly man; and the sphere within which the worldling claims his חלק is החיּים, this temporal, visible, and material life. This is everything to him; whereas the godly man says: טּוב חסדּך מחיּים, Psalm 63:4. The contrast is not so much between this life and the life to come, as between the world (life) and God. Here we see into the inmost nature of the Old Testament faith. To the Old Testament believer, all the blessedness and glory of the future life, which the New Testament unfolds, is shut up in Jahve. Jahve is his highest good, and possessing Him he is raised above heaven and earth, above life and death. To yield implicitly to Him, without any explicit knowledge of a blessed future life, to be satisfied with Him, to rest in Him, to hide in Him in the face of death, is the characteristic of the Old Testament faith. חלקם בחיים expresses both the state of mind and the lot of the men of the world. Material things which are their highest good, fall also in abundance to their share. The words "whose belly Thou fillest with Thy treasure" (Chethb: וּצפינך the usual participial form, but as a participle an Aramaising form) do not sound as though the poet meant to say that God leads them to repentance by the riches of His goodness, but on the contrary that God, by satisfying their desires which are confined to the outward and sensuous only, absolutely deprives them of all claim to possessions that extend beyond the world and this present temporal life. Thus, then, צפוּן in this passage is used exactly as צפוּנים is used in Job 20:26 (from צפן to hold anything close to one, to hold back, to keep by one). Moreover, there is not the slightest alloy of murmur or envy in the words. The godly man who lacks these good things out of the treasury of God, has higher delights; he can exclaim, Psalm 31:20 : "how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up (צפנתּ) for those who fear Thee!" Among the good things with which God fills the belly and house of the ungodly (Job 22:17.) are also children in abundance; these are elsewhere a blessing upon piety (Psalm 127:3., Psalm 128:3.), but to those who do not acknowledge the Giver they are a snare to self-glorifying, Job 21:11 (cf. Wisdom Job 4:1). בּנים is not the subject, but an accusative, and has been so understood by all the old translators from the original text, just as in the phrase שׁבע ימים to be satisfied with, or weary of, life. On עוללים vid., on Psalm 8:3. יתר (from יתר to stretch out in length, then to be overhanging, towering above, projecting, superfluous, redundant) signifies here, as in Job 22:20, riches and the abundance of things possessed.
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