Verses 1-4 contain a pathetic complaint, expressed first in figurative language (vers. 1-3), but (in ver. 4) plainly connected with the wicked designs of human enemies. Verse 1. - Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. This is a common, perhaps, we may say, a proverbial, expression for any great distress (comp. Psalm 18:4; Psalm 42:7; Psalm 88:7, 17; and Job 22:11; Job 27:20).
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
Verse 2. - I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing. "Mire" and "clay" are metaphors for dangers and difficulties, which entangle a man and incapacitate him from exertion (comp. Psalm 40:2). I am come into deep waters (comp. ver. 15; and see also Psalm 124:4, 5; Psalm 130:1). Where the floods overflow me; i.e. "I am utterly overwhelmed by my misfortunes."
I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Verse 3. - I am weary of my crying; i.e. "I have cried to God for aid, until I am weary of so doing." No reply comes, no aid is given. My throat is dried. Parched - unable to cry out any more. Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God (comp. Psalm 119:82; Deuteronomy 28:32). "I have waited and looked for God, till I can look no more."
They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.
Verse 4. - They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head (comp. Psalm 35:14; and for the simile. comp. Psalm 40:12; both of them Davidical compositions). They that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty. Joab and Abiathar, who supported the rebellion of Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7), and were "mighty" men, certainly were David's enemies "wrongfully." And the same may be said of Absalom and Ahithophel. Then I restored that which I took not away. Dr. Kay supposes David's quasi-abdication of a crown which he had not placed on his own head (2 Samuel 15:14-17) to be alluded to.
O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.
Verses 5-12. - David follows up his complaint by a confession of sin (ver. 5), which shows that his sufferings are, at any rate, in some measure, deserved; but, at the same time, he pleads that, as his enemies are really persecuting him for his righteous deeds and his adherence to God (vers. 74 11), God is bound to come to his aid, in order that his own honour may be vindicated, and that the godly may not be put to shame on his (David's) account. Verse 5. - O God, thou knowest my foolishness (see Psalm 38:5). According to the teaching both of the Old Testament (Proverbs, passim) and of the New (Mark 7:22; Romans 1:21, 22; Galatians 3:1, etc.), folly is a form of sin. And my sins are not hid from thee. The rebuke of Nathan and the death of his child (2 Samuel 12:7-19) had fully convinced David of this. Thenceforward his sins were ever before him (Psalm 51:3), continually confessed by him, and felt to be as well known to God as to himself. Compare the opening of Psalm 139:, "Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether" (vers. 1-4).
Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
Verse 6. - Let not them that wait on thee (or, hope in thee), O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake; or, through me (Revised Version); on my account (Kay) - as they would be if I, although thy faithful worshipper, were delivered into my enemies' hands. Let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. One of the many places where the second clause is a simple echo of the first.
Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face.
Verse 7. - Because for thy sake I have borne reproach. The real secret of the enmity which David provoked, both on the part of Saul, of Absalom, of Joab, and of other ungodly men, was his own piety and devotion to God's service. Irreligious men hate those who are religions, whose conduct shames them by its contrast with their own evil courses. They revenge themselves, sometimes by scoffing at the religious observances of the pious (ver. 10), sometimes by insinuating that all profession of religion is hypocrisy. Shame hath covered my face. I have been made to feel shame at the charges which have been brought against me (see 2 Samuel 15:3; 2 Samuel 16:7, 8).
I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children.
Verse 8. - I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. The preference of David over all his elder brethren was calculated to arouse their jealousy (1 Samuel 16:6-13); and Eliab's hostile feeling is distinctly shown in 1 Samuel 17:28. We may gather from Psalm 38:, as well as from the present passage, that the alienation continued, and was not confined to Eliab.
For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
Verse 9. - For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. David's "zeal for God's house" was shown, first, in his establishment of the tabernacle on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 6:12-19); next, in his earnest desire to build a permanent and magnificent dwelling for the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 7:2; Psalm 132:2-5); then, in his careful collection of materials for the building which he was forbidden to erect himself (1 Chronicles 28:11-18; 1 Chronicles 29:2-5); and finally, in the directions that he left to Solomon with respect to it (1 Chronicles 28:9, 10, 20). It was also shown, if we take "house" in a wider sense, by his careful government of the land and people, the kingdom and household of God, for forty years. And the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. David may either mean that every reproach uttered against God was as keenly felt by him as if it had been directed against himself, or that, when men reproached him, they really meant to reproach God (i.e. religion) in him.
When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.
Verse 10. - When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. David's practice of fasting appears both here and also in Psalm 35:13; Psalm 109:24; 2 Kings 12:16, 22. As fasting was not enjoined by the Law, he might be reproached for over-righteousness, and perhaps also for ostentation, on account of it.
I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them.
Verse 11. - I made sackcloth also my garment (see Psalm 30:12; Psalm 35:13); and I became a proverb to them; or, a byword, as the same word, mashal, is rendered in Psalm 44:14.
They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.
Verse 12. - They that sit in the gate speak against me; rather, talk about me (Revised Version) - make me their theme (Cheyne). The gates, where the chief business was done, were no doubt also places of gossip. And I was the song of the drunkards (comp. Job 30:9); literally, of the drinkers of strong drink.
But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.
Verses 13-21. - The psalmist now betakes himself to earnest prayer - he has sufficiently represented his condition, though he still adds a few words respecting it (vers. 19-21), and the immediate need is relief. He therefore approaches God in what he hopes is "an acceptable time" (ver. 13), and humbly entreats for mercy (vers. 14-18). Verse 13. - But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time (comp. Psalm 32:6; Isaiah 49:8). Professor Cheyne asks, "How has it been revealed to the psalmist that this is an acceptable time?" We can only answer - Perhaps it has not been revealed; he may express a hope rather than a full assurance. Or it may have been revealed to him in the way that other things were. O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me; or, "in the greatness of thy mercy;" i.e. as thy mercy is so great. In the truth of thy salvation. "In the exercise of that fidelity which secures the salvation of all that trust it" (Professor Alexander).
Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.
Verse 14. - Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink (comp. ver. 2, with the comment). Let me be delivered from them that hate me (see ver. 4). And out of the deep waters (comp. vers. 1, 2).
Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.
Verse 15. - Let not the waterflood overflew me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. The reference is still to vers. 1, 2; and the prayer is for deliverance from the dangers and entanglements there spoken of.
Hear me, O LORD; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies.
Verse 16. - Hear me, O Lord, for thy loving kindness is good (comp. ver. 13). Turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. The psalmist implies that God's face had been for some time turned away from him, and begs to be restored to favour.
And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily.
Verse 17. - And hide not thy face from thy servant (comp. Psalm 10:1; Psalm 13:1; Psalm 22:24; Psalm 27:9, etc.). For I am in trouble; literally, for there is trouble to me. On the probable nature of the "trouble," see the introductory paragraph. Hear me speedily (comp. Psalm 22:19; Psalm 31:2; Psalm 38:22; Psalm 70:1, etc.).
Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies.
Verse 18. - Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it. David often complains that God is far from him (Psalm 10:1; Psalm 22:19; Psalm 38:21; Psalm 71:12, etc.), and prays that he will "draw nigh," the sense of distance and alienation being intolerable. Deliver me because of mine enemies; i.e. because of their plots and machinations (see ver. 4).
Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee.
Verse 19. - Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour (comp. vers. 7-12). Whatever David has suffered at the hands of his enemies has been fully known to God, who has at any rate permitted it. Having seen and known, God will not forget. My adversaries are all before thee. Thou hast seen my adversaries also, and still hast them in thy sight. Thou beholdest their insolence and audacity.
Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
Verse 20. - Reproach hath broken my heart. (comp. vers. 7, 9, 19). Some of his enemies' reproaches were, no doubt, based on David's old misdoings. These, which he could not rebut, would cause him the severest pain. And I am full of heaviness; or, "full of sickness;" "very sick" (Kay); "sick to death" (Delitzsch). And I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. It is questioned whether David was ever without friends to pity and comfort him, and suggested that at this point he passes from narrative to prophecy, and describes, not his own condition, but that of the Messiah, whom he typified, speaking as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. Jesus was certainly left without pity or comfort, when "all the disciples forsook him, and fled" (Matthew 26:56).
They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Verse 21. - They gave me also gall for my meat. Here, at any rate, the psalmist is inspired to be Messianic, i.e. to use words which, while they can only be applied to himself metaphorically and loosely, are in the strictest and most literal sense applicable to Christ. Gall was actually mingled with the drink which was given to Christ just before he was crucified, and which he tasted, but would not swallow (Matthew 27:34). And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Similarly, when upon the cress Christ uttered the words, "I thirst," those who stood by "filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his month. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19:29, 30); comp. Psalm 22:16-18, where little facts, not true of David, but true of Christ, are recorded of an afflicted one, who partly represents David, partly his great Descendant.
Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.
Verses 22-29. - The imagination of the cruelties to be inflicted on his innocent Descendant works up the psalmist to a pitch of passionate resentment, which finds vent in a series of bitter imprecations, very distasteful to many. They are less startling, however, than some to be found elsewhere, as in Psalm 102. We may view them either as an outpouring of righteous indignation upon the enemies, not of David only, but of God; or as a series of prophetic denunciations, whereby the wicked of David's time were warned of the consequences of such wickedness as theirs, and stimulated to repentance. Verse 22. - Let their table become a snare before them. It is not very clear how their table was to ensnare them: perhaps by encouraging them to gluttony and sensuousness, and bringing upon them the diseases which those sins breed; perhaps by leading them to an ostentatious display of wealth and luxury (comp. Ezekiel 23:40, 41). And that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let them be trapped by the good things of their table, like a wild beast by a bait.
Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake.
Verse 23. - Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not. This may be taken either literally, "let blindness come upon those who have so misused their eyes;" or metaphorically, "let their understandings, which they have partially blinded, be wholly darkened." And make their loins continually to shake. Deprive them of the strength whereof they have boasted, and which they have misapplied.
Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them.
Verse 24. - Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. At any rate, be angry with them, and show thine anger in some way or other. Let them net escape scatheless. A general malediction, after which the writer returns to particulars.
Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
Verse 25. - Let their habitation be desolate; literally, their encampment Tirah (טִירָה) is the circular enclosure of a nomadic tribe, within which it kept its cattle or took refuge itself (Genesis 26:16; Numbers 31:10). Nomadic expressions remained in use after nomadic habits had ceased (see 1 Kings 12:16). And let none dwell in their tents. A duplication of the preceding clause.
For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.
Verse 26. - For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten. This would apply equally to David, and his great Antitype. It is an aggravation of cruelty when men persecute one who is already suffering affliction at God's hand. And they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded; rather, they talk of the grief of those, etc. They speak of it mockingly, or, at any rate, unsympathetically.
Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.
Verse 27. - Add iniquity unto their iniquity. Either "let them fall from one wickedness to another," as the clause is rendered in the Prayer book Version; or "add to the record of their sin in thy book, a further record of other sins, as they commit them." And let them not come into thy righteousness; i.e. let them not receive the gift of thy justifying grace, and so be counted among thy righteous ones.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.
Verse 28. - Let them be blotted out of the Book of the living. God is supposed to have a "book of the living" in his possession, which contains the names of all those on whom he looks with favour, and whom he will bless both in this world and beyond the grave (comp. Exodus 32:32; Psalm 86:6; Ezekiel 13:9; Daniel 12:1). From this list, as from any register of earthly citizenship, the names of the unworthy may be erased. David prays for the erasure of the names of those unworthy ones against whom his imprecations are uttered. And not be written with the righteous; i.e. not remain written in the book side by side with the names of the righteous. The New Testament, no less than the Old, tells of this book (see Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27).
But I am poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high.
Verse 29. - But I am poor and sorrowful; let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high. The psalmist adds to his list of imprecations, by way of contrast, an invocation of blessing on himself. As his present condition is iu strong contrast with that of his ungodly enemies, as be is "poor and sorrowful," while they are prosperous and self-satisfied, so let their future conditions be. While they are depressed and disgraced, let him be "set up on high."
I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.
Verses 30-36. - In conclusion, the psalmist bursts out into praise. Confident of receiving the deliverance for which he has prayed, he anticipates it by at once offering thanksgiving (ver. 30). He then calls on others to rejoice with him, first on the poor and humble (vers. 32, 33), then on heaven and earth and their inhabitants generally (ver. 34). Finally, he delivers a confident prophecy of the continued prosperity of Judah and Jerusalem (vers. 35, 36). Verse 30. - I will praise the Name of God with a song. (For praise of the Name of God, see Psalm 7:17; Psalm 9:2; Psalm 29:2; Psalm 34:3; Psalm 66:1; Psalm 68:4, etc.) And will magnify him with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving had already, in Psalm 50:13, 14, been set above sacrifice.
This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
Verse 31. - This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs; i.e. that is fit for legal sacrifice - of full age, and clean.
The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.
Verse 32. - The humble shall see this, and be glad. The meek - God's people - see David's deliverance, and are glad - rejoice in their heart, and unite with him in thanksgiving. And your heart shall live that seek God (comp. Psalm 22:26).
For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.
Verse 33. - For the Lord heareth the poor. The "poor in spirit" are probably meant (comp. ver. 29). And despiseth not his prisoners. Those who suffer for his sake.
Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein.
Verse 34. - Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and everything that moveth therein (comp. Psalm 96:11). As Job calls on heaven and earth to sympathize with him in his distress (Job 16:18, 19), so David would have them to partake in his joy at his deliverance.
For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession.
Verse 35. - For God will save Zion. It is not necessary to suppose that Jerusalem was in any immediate danger. The psalmist merely means that the same God from whom he now confidently expects deliverance will always watch over his city, over his people, over his inheritance, and whenever danger threatens, will exert his protecting power and save. Prophecies of this kind are always conditional, and thus Zion, when she rejected God for idols (2 Chronicles 36:14), and again when she rejected him for Barabbas (Matthew 27:21), forfeited the promised blessing of continuance, and brought about her own destruction. And will build the cities of Judah; i.e. maintain them, keep them from decay and ruin. That they may dwell there; i.e. continue to inhabit the cities. And have it (i.e. Zion, or Jerusalem) in possession.
The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein.
Verse 36. - The seed also of his servants shall inherit it. Nor shall the city alone - the mere walls and buildings - continue to exist. "The seed of God's servants" - his people Israel - shall continue to inhabit it. And they that love his Name shall dwell therein. When the earthly Zion fell away and forfeited the promises, they passed to the heavenly Zion (Hebrews 12:22) - the Church of God, the true Israel.