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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 1
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Psalm 21:11-13

11. For they have spread out 489489     “Ou, ont decliner.” — Fr., Or, have turned aside.” evil against thee; they have devised a stratagem against thee, which they could not accomplish. 12. For 490490     This verse explains the reason why they could not accomplish what they had devised. thou wilt set them as a butt; thou wilt prepare thy bowstrings to shoot against their faces. 13. Raise thyself, O Jehovah! In thy strength; then we will sing, and celebrate in psalms thy power.

 

11. For they have spread out. In this verse David shows that the ungodly had deserved the awful ruin which he predicted would befall them, since they had not only molested mortal man, but had also rushed forth in the fury of their pride to make war against God himself. No man, as has been stated in our exposition of the second psalm, could offer violence to the kingdom of Israel, which was consecrated in the person of David, by the commandment of God, without making foul and impious war against God. Much more when persons directly attack the kingdom of Christ to overthrow it, is the majesty of God violated, since it is the will of God to reign in the world only by the hand of his Son. As the Hebrew word נטה, natah, which we have translated to spread out, also sometimes signifies to turn aside, it may not unsuitably be here rendered either way. According to the first view the meaning is, that the wicked, as if they had spread out their nets, endeavored to subject to themselves the power of God. According to the second the meaning is, that for the purpose of hindering, and as it were swallowing up his power, 491491     “Pour icello empescher et comme engloutir.” — Fr. they turned aside their malice, so as to make it bear against it, just like a man who, having dug a great ditch, turned aside the course of some torrent to make it fall within it. The Psalmist next declares, that they devised a stratagem, or device, which would fail of its accomplishment. By these words he rebukes the foolish arrogance of those who, by making war against God, manifest a recklessness and an audacity which will undertake any thing, however daring.

12. For thou wilt set them as a butt. As the Hebrew word שכם, shekem, which we have rendered a butt, properly signifies a shoulder, some understand it in that sense here, and explain the sentence thus: Their heads shall be smitten with heavy blows, so that having their bodies bended, their shoulders shall appear sticking out. According to these interpreters, the subjugation of the enemies of God is here metaphorically pointed out. But there is another explanation which is more generally received even among the Jewish expositors, namely, that God will shut them up in some corner, and there keep them from doing mischief; 492492     Kimchi and others read, “Thou wilt put them into a corner;” which has been understood in this sense, “Thou wilt thrust them into a corner, and then direct thine arrows against their faces.” — See Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum. and they take this view, because the Hebrew word שכם, shekem, is often used to denote a corner, quarter, or place. As, however, the sacred writer, in the clause immediately following, represents God as furnished with a bow, ready to shoot his arrows directly in their faces, I have no doubt that, continuing his metaphor, he compares them to a butt, or mound of earth, on which it is customary to plant the mark which is aimed at, and thus the sense will flow very naturally thus: Lord, thou wilt make them as it were a butt against which to shoot thine arrows. 493493     This is the view taken by Ainsworth, Castellio, Cocceius, Diodati, Dathe, Horsley, and Fry. Horsley translates the verse thus:—
   “Truly thou shalt make them a butt for thine arrows;
Thou shalt take a steady aim against them.”

   “I take,” says he, “כונך, [the word which he translates a steady aim,] to be a technical term of archery, to express the act of taking aim at a particular object.” In our English version it is, Therefore thou shalt make them turn their backs.” In defense of this sense of שכם, shekem, see Merrick’s Annotations. Gesenius takes the word in the same sense. Literally, “thy bow-string.”
The great object which the Psalmist has in view is doubtless to teach us to exercise patience, until God, at the fit time, bring the ungodly to their end.

13. Raise thyself, O Jehovah! The psalm is at length concluded with a prayer, which again confirms that the kingdom which is spoken of is so connected with the glory of God, that his power is reflected from it. This was no doubt true with respect to the kingdom of David; for God in old time displayed his power in exalting him to the throne. But what is here stated was only fully accomplished in Christ, who was appointed by the heavenly Father to be King over us, and who is at the same time God manifest in the flesh. As his divine power ought justly to strike terror into the wicked, so it is described as full of the sweetest consolation to us, which ought to inspire us with joy, and incite us to celebrate it with songs of praise and thanksgivings.


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