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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 2
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Psalm 41:7-9

7. All they that hate me whisper together against me: they plot mischief against me. 8. An evil deed of Belial cleaveth fast to him: and he that lieth down shall never be able to rise again. 9. Even the man of my peace, in whom I trusted, who eats of my bread, has lifted up the heel against me.

 

7. All they that hate me whisper together against me. Here he seems generally to include both classes of his enemies; those who sought to oppress him in an open manner, and in the character of avowed enemies; and those who, under the pretense of friendship, attempted to do the same thing by deceit and stratagem. Accordingly, he says that all of them took counsel together about his destruction, just as we know that wicked men hold much secret consultation respecting their intended deeds of treachery, and whisper to one another concerning them. Hence he adds the words to meditate, or plot, which he employs to denote their base conspiracies and sinful consultations.

8. An evil deed of Belial cleaved fast to him. From this verse it appears that they had thus conspired together for his destruction, on the ground that they regarded him as a wicked man, and a person worthy of a thousand deaths. The insolence and arrogance which they manifested towards him proceeded from the false and wicked judgment which they had formed concerning him, and of which he made mention in the beginning of the psalm. They say, therefore, that an evil deed of Belial holds him shut up, and, as it were, bound fast. This the verb יצוק, yatsuk, properly signifies; but in translating the verse I have followed the rendering which is most commonly received, reading cleaveth fast to him, etc. This expression is by others rendered spreadeth upon him, but this interpretation seems to me to be too constrained. As to the word Belial, we have already spoken of it in the eighteenth psalm. But as grammarians maintain that it is compounded of בלי, beli, and יעל, yaäl, which signify not to rise, the expression, thing of Belial, (for so it is literally in the Hebrew,) I understand in this place as meaning an extraordinary and hateful crime, which, as we commonly say, can never be expiated, and from which there is no possibility of escape; unless, perhaps, some would rather refer it to the affliction itself under which he labored, as if his enemies had said that he was seized by some incurable malady. 105105     There seems some difficulty as to what is meant by the words לעיעל, debar beliyaäl They are literally a word of Belial But word in Hebrew is often used for a thing or matter, Exodus 18:16; Deuteronomy 17:4; 1 Kings 14:13. And Belial is used by the Hebrews to designate any detestable wickedness. Thus the original words bring out the meaning which Calvin fixes upon them; and in the same sense they are understood by several critics. Dr Geddes reads “a lawless deed;” and he explains the expression as referring to “David’s sin in the case of Uriah; which his enemies now assign as the cause of his present calamity; as if they had said, ‘This sin hath at length overtaken him,’ etc.” Horsley reads, “Some cursed thing presseth heavily upon him;” and by “some cursed thing” he understands “the crime which they supposed to be the cause of the divine judgment upon him.” Fry reads, “Some hellish crime cleaveth unto him.” Cresswell adopts the interpretation of M. Flaminius: “They say, Some load of iniquity presses upon him, (or clings to him,) so that from the place where he lieth he will rise no more.” But there is another sense which the words will bear. The Septuagint reads, “λόγος παράνομος;” the Vulgate, “a wicked word;” the Chaldee, “a perverse word;” the Syriac, “a word of iniquity;” and the Arabic, “words contrary to law;” and so the expression may mean a grievous slander or calumny. This is the sense in which it is understood by Hammond. “And this,” says he, “is said to cleave to him on whom it is fastened; it being the nature of calumnies, when strongly affixed on any, to cleave fast, and leave some evil mark behind them: “Calumniare fortiter, aliquid hoerebit.” In our vulgar version it is “an evil disease.” And דבר, debar, no doubt sometimes signifies a plague or pestilence According to this rendering, the sense will be, he is smitten with an evil disease on account of his crimes, from which he will never recover. But whatever may be as to this, his enemies regarded it as absolutely certain that God was altogether hostile to him, and would never be reconciled towards him, since he was chastising him with so much severity. When they add in the following clause, he shall never be able to rise again, 106106     So Hammond reads with our English version, Now that he lieth he shall rise again no more, and thinks that this is a proverbial phrase which was in use among the Hebrews, and which was applied to any sort of ruin, as well as to that which is effected by bodily disease. “The calumniator,” he observes, “may destroy and ruin as well as the pestilence; and from him was David’s danger most frequently, and not from a pestilential disease.” this clearly shows that they utterly cut off from him all hope of recovery. And certainly it was a sore temptation to David, who had in himself the testimony of a good conscience, to think that he was regarded by men as one who was pursued by the vengeance of God, nay, that they even cast him headlong into hell. But it pleased God thus to try his servant, that, trusting to the testimony of his own conscience, he should pay no regard to what men might say, or be troubled by the reproaches they might cast upon him. It was also his design to teach us, by his example, that we must seek the reward of our righteousness elsewhere than in this world, since we see with what unequal balances the world often sets itself to estimate the difference between virtue and vice.

9. Even the man of my peace. As the very height of all his miseries, David here declares that he had found the same treachery in some one, or, indeed, in many of his greatest friends. For the change of number is very frequent in the Hebrew language, so that he may speak of several individuals as if they were only one person. Thus the meaning would be: Not only the common people, or strangers of whom I had no knowledge or acquaintance, but my greatest friends, nay, even those with whom I was most intimate, and those of my own household, whom I admitted to eat and drink with me at my table, vaunt themselves reproachfully against me. Among the Hebrews, the expression, men of peace, denotes their kinsfolk and connections; but it was a much closer alliance, and one which ought to have secured a stricter observance of the laws of friendship, to eat the bread of David in company with himself: for it is as if he had employed the appellation, My companion. 107107     “Mon compagnon ordinaire, et qui estoit a pot et a feu avec moy, ainsi qu’on dit en commun proverbe.” — Fr. “My usual companion, and one who, according to the common proverb, had bed and board with me.” If, however, any would rather understand it of some particular traitor than of several persons, I have no objection to it. To lift up the heel is, in my opinion, to be understood metaphorically, and signifies to rise up disdainfully against a man who is afflicted and cast down. 108108     “Hath lifted against me his heel; i.e. hath spurned me, hath kicked at me, as a vicious beast of burden does, hath insulted me in my misery. Comp. Psalm 36:11.” — Cresswell. Others explain the expression by to lay wait secretly; but the former interpretation is more appropriate, That the wicked, seeing that David was placed in embarrassed circumstances, or already prostrated in the dust, took occasion from this to assail him indirectly indeed, but, nevertheless, always with insolence; a thing which usually happens among people of a wicked and servile disposition. Christ, in quoting this passage, (John 13:18,) applies it to the person of Judas. And certainly we ought to understand that, although David speaks of himself in this psalm, yet he speaks not as a common and private person, but as one who represented the person of Christ, inasmuch as he was, as it were, the example after which the whole Church should be conformed — a point well entitled to our attention, in order that each of us may prepare himself for the same condition. It was necessary that what was begun in David should be fully accomplished in Christ; and, therefore, it must of necessity come to pass, that the same thing should be fulfilled in each of his members, namely, that they should not only suffer from external violence and force, but also from internal foes, ever ready to betray them, even as Paul declares that the Church shall be assailed, not only by “fightings without,” but also by “fears within,” (2 Corinthians 7:5.)


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