Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
Verse 1. - Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Here is the key-note struck at once. Why does God stand aloof? Why, after delivering his people from their foreign foes, does he not interfere to protect his true people from their domestic oppressors? "Throughout the reign of David," as it has been truly observed, "Palestine was infested by brigands, and disturbed by a factious nobility" ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 4. p. 191). Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself," says Isaiah (Isaiah 45:15). And so Job complains, "He hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him" (Isaiah 23:9). He seems neither to see nor hear. The psalmist inquires - Why? It can only be answered, "In his wisdom; for his own purposes; because he knows it to be best."
The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
Verse 2. - The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor. Dr. Kay translates, "Through the pride of the wicked man the poor is set on fire;" and our Revisers, "In the pride of the wicked, the poor is hotly pursued;" and so (nearly) the LXX., the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, Kohler, Hengstenberg, and others. The Authorized Version paraphrases rather than translates; but it does not misrepresent the general sense, which is a complaint that the poor are persecuted by the wicked. Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined (comp. Psalm 35:8, "Let his net that he hath hid catch himself;" and Psalm 141:10, "Let the wicked fall into their own nets;" see also Psalm 7:15, 16; Psalm 9:15; Proverbs 5:22; Proverbs 26:27: Ecclesiastes 10:8). Some, however, translate, "They (i.e. the poor) are ensnared in the devices which they (i.e. the wicked) have imagined;" and this is certainly a possible rendering. Hengstenberg regards it as preferable to the other "on account of the parallelism and connection."
For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.
Verse 3. - For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire; rather, for the wicked sings praise over his own soul's greed. Instead of praising God, he praises his *own greed and its success (comp. Her., 'Sat.,' 1:1. 66, "At mihi plaudo ipse dotal, stimul ac nummos contemplor in area." And blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth; rather, and when he gets a gain blesses (but) despises the Lord (so Kay, Alexander, Cheyne, and Hengstenberg). Each time that he gets a gain, he says, "Thank God!" - but, in thanking God for an unjust gain, he shows that he despises him.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
Verse 4. - The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. The construction is concise to abruptness, and it is hard to determine the ellipses. The passage in the original runs thus: "The wicked, in the height of his scorn - will not require - no God - all his thoughts.' Of the various attempts to supply the ellipses, and obtain a satisfactory sense, the following (that of the 'Speaker's Commentary') is probably the best: "As for the wicked in the height of his scorn - 'God will not require' - 'There is no God' - such are all his thoughts." (Compare the Revised Version, which is not very different.) The general sense is that his pride conducts the wicked man to absolute atheism, or at least to practiced atheism (comp. vers. 11, 13).
His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
Verse 5. - His ways are always grievous; lather, firm; i.e. steadfast and consistent, not wavering and uncertain. The thoroughly wicked person who "neither fears God nor regards man," pursues the course which he has set himself, without deviation, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left. There is nothing to hinder him - no qualm of conscience, no distrust of himself, no fear of other men's opposition. Thy judgments are far above out of his sight. They are held in reserve; he does not foresee them - he does not believe in them. As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. His human adversaries he wholly despises, believing that a breath from his month will bring them to nothing.
He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
Verse 6. - He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved (comp. Psalm 30:6). The idea of continuance is instinctive in the human mind. "The thing that has been, it is that which shall be" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We expect the sun to rise each day, solely because in the past it has always risen (see Butler's 'Analogy,' part 1. ch. 1.). The wicked man, who has always prospered, expects to prosper in the future; he has no anticipation of coming change; he supposes that his "house will continue for ever, and his dwelling-place to all generations' (Psalm 49:11); he thinks that "to-morrow will be as to-day, and much more abundant" (Isaiah 56:12). For I shall never be in adversity; rather, unto generation and generation, I am he who will be exempt from calamity. The wicked man has no thought of dying - he will be prosperous, he thinks, age after age.
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
Verse 7. - His mouth is full of cursing. (On the prevalence of this evil habit among the powerful in David's time, see Psalm 59:12; Psalm 109:17, 18; 2 Samuel 16:5.) And deceit and fraud; or, guile and extortion (Kay); comp. Psalm 36:3; Psalm 55:11. Under his tongue is mischief and vanity; rather, as in the margin, mischief and iniquity. These are stored "under his tongue," ready for utterance whenever he finds a fit occasion.
He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
Verse 8. - He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages. These "lurking-places" must not be supposed to have been inside the villages, but outside of them They were retired spots at no great distance, where brigands or others might lie in ambush, ready to seize on such of the villagers as might show themselves. In the secret places doth he murder the innocent (comp. Job 24:14). The usual object would be, not murder, but robbery. Still, there would be cases where it would be convenient to remove a man, as Jezebel removed Naboth; and moreover, in every case of robbery, there is a chance that the victim may resist, and a struggle ensue, in which he may lose his life. His eyes are privily set against the poor; or, his eyes lay ambush for the helpless (Kay). The word translated" poor" (הֵלְכָה) is only found in this place and in ver. 10, where the antithesis of "strong ones" seems to imply that the weak and helpless are meant.
He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
Verse 9. - He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den; or, he lurks in the covert as a lion in his lair (Kay) - a very striking image! He lieth in wait (or, lurks) to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net; rather, by drawing him into his net. The mode of capture is intended.
He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
Verse 10. - He croucheth, and humbleth himself; rather, crushed, he sinks down. The subject is changed, and the poor man's condition spoken cf. That the poor may fall by his strong ones; rather, and the helpless (comp. ver. 8)fall by his strong ones. The "strong ones" are the ruffians whom the wicked man employs to effect his purposes.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
Verse 11. - He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten (comp. vers. 4, 13). "The wish is father to the thought." As Delitzsch says, "The true personal God would disturb his plans, so he denies him. ' There is naught,' he says, 'but destiny, and that is blind; an absolute, and that has no eyes; an idea, and that has no grasp.'" He hideth his face. He looks away; he does not wish to be troubled or disturbed by what occurs on earth. So the Epicureans in later times. He win never see it (comp. Job 22:12; Psalm 73:11; Psalm 94:7).
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
Verse 12. - Arise, O Lord (comp. Psalm 9:19). At this point the psalmist passes from description to invocation. From ver. 2 to the end of ver. 11 he has described the conduct, the temper, and the very inmost thoughts of the wicked. Now he addresses himself to God - he summons God to arise to vengeance. As Hengetenberg says, "Here the second part begins - prayer, springing out of the lamentation which has preceded;" prayer and invocation, beginning here, and terminating at the close of ver. 15. O God, lift up thine hand; i.e. to strike, to take vengeance on the wicked. Forget not the humble; or, the afflicted. Do not justify the hidden thought of the wicked (ver. 11), that thou forgettest - show that thou rememberest at once the sufferings of the afflicted, and the guilt of their oppressors.
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
Verse 13. - Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? God's long-suffering does but make the wicked despise him. Wherefore is this allowed to continue (comp. ver. 1)? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it; rather, as in the Prayer-beck Version, while he cloth say in his heart (see vers. 6, 11).
Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
Verse 14. - Thou hast seen it. The most emphatic contradiction that was possible to the wicked man's "He will never see it" (ver. 11). God sees, notes, bears in mind, and never forgets, every act of wrong-doing that men commit, and especially acts of oppression. For thou beholdest mischief and spite; or, perhaps, mischief and grief (see Job 6:2); i.e. the "mischief" of the oppressors, and the "grief' of the oppressed. (so Hengstenberg, Cheyne, and the' Speaker's Commentary'). Others refer both words to the feelings of the oppressed, and translate, "travail and grief." To requite it with thy hand. Again the Prayer-book Version is preferable, "to take the matter into thy hand," both for reward and requital. The poor committeth himself unto thee. He has no other possible refuge - therefore no other reliance. Thou art the Helper of the fatherless. The word "thou" is emphatic - "Thou, and no other (אַתָּה)."
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
Verse 15. - Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man; i.e. "break thou his strength; take away his ability to work evil to others." Seek out his wickedness till thou find none; rather, require his wickedness. The verb is the same as that used in the last clause of ver. 13. The wicked man had said in his heart, "Thou wilt not require;" the psalmist calls on God, not only to require, but to require to the uttermost. Seek out, be says, require, and bring to judgment, all his wickedness - every atom of it - until even thy searching eye can find no mere to require, requite, and punish.
The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
Verses 16-18. - Here begins the third part of the psalm. It is, as has been observed, "confident and triumphant." The psalmist has, in the first part, shown the wickedness of the ungodly; in the second, he has prayed for vengeance on them, and for the deliverance of their victims; in the third, he expresses his certainty that his prayer is heard, and that the punishment and deliverance for which he has prayed are as good as accomplished. Verse 16. - The Lord is King for ever and ever (comp. Psalm 29:10; Psalm 146:10). Thus God's kingdom is established, his authority vindicated, his absolute rule over all men made manifest. Internal and external foes are alike overcome. The heathen - whether uncircumcised in the flesh or in the heart (Jeremiah 9:25, 26) - are perished out of his (Jehovah's) land.
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
Verse 17. - Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble (comp. Psalm 9:12). It is not the psalmist's prayer alone that he regards as heard and answered. The oppressed have cried to God against their oppressors, and their cry has "come before him, and entered into his ears." Thou wilt prepare their heart; rather, thou dost establish (or, make firm) their heart. Through their conviction that thou art on their side, and art about to help them. Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear; or, thou causest.
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Verse 18. - To judge the fatherless (see ver. 14) and the oppressed; i.e. to vindicate them - to judge between them and their oppressors. That the man of the earth may no more oppress; or, that terrene man may no longer terrify. There is a play upon the two words in the original, which might thus be rendered. But it has been said, with truth, that this sort of rhetorical ornament "does not suit the genius of our language" (Erle).