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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 2
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Psalm 55:16-19

16. I will call upon God, and Jehovah shall save me. 17. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and he shall hear my voice. 18. He hath redeemed my soul into peace from the battle which was against me: for they were in great numbers with me. 19. God shall hear, and afflict them, 311311     “C’est, leur respondra.” — Fr. marg. “That is, will answer them.” even He who sitteth from ancient time. 312312     Ainsworth reads, “from antiquity;” Boothroyd, “from eternity.” Selah. Because they have no changes, and fear not God.

 

16 I will call upon God. In translating this verse I have retained the future tense of the verb, as the Psalmist does not refer to something already done, but rather excites himself to the duty of prayer, and to the exercise of hope and confidence. Though there was no apparent method of escape, and he stood on the brink of immediate destruction, he declares his resolution to continue in prayer, and expresses his assurance that it would be successful. In the verse which follows he engages more particularly to show perseverance in prayer. He does not content himself with saying that he will pray, for many do this in a perfunctory manner, and soon become wearied with the exercise; but he resolves to display both assiduity and vehemency. From the particular mention he makes of evening, morning, and noon, we are left to infer that these must have been the stated hours of prayer amongst the godly at that period. Sacrifices were offered daily in the temple morning and evening, and by this they were taught to engage privately in prayer within their own houses. At noon also it was the practice to offer additional sacrifices. As we are naturally indisposed for the duty of prayer, there is a danger that we may become remiss, and gradually omit it altogether, unless we restrict ourselves to a certain rule. In appointing particular fixed hours to be observed for his worship, there can be no doubt that God had respect to the infirmity of our nature, and the same principle should be applied to the secret as to the public services of devotion, as appears from the passage now before us, and from the example of Daniel, (Daniel 9:3.) Sacrifices are no longer to be observed in the Church, but as there remains the same indisposition on our part to the duty, and an equal need of incitements to overcome it, we should still prescribe certain hours to ourselves to be observed in prayer. He adds, that he would cry aloud, to denote vehemency of supplication, under the grief and anxiety of mind to which he was subjected. He intimates, that no extremity of present trouble would prevent him from directing his complaint to God, and cherishing a confident hope of deliverance.

18 He hath redeemed my soul into peace Those who read the two preceding verses in the perfect instead of the future tense, are apparently led to this by considering that David here proves his former prayers to have been answered, from the fact of deliverance having been granted. But there is no difficulty involved in adopting the other reading. We may suppose that either he was so confident of being delivered that he speaks as if he actually were so already, or that he inserts what was the substance of his meditations at different times; it being sufficiently common, when mention is made of prayers, to subjoin a statement of the event which followed from them. Having spoken, then, of his prayers, he adverts to the result of them, with the view of expressing his thankfulness for the mercy which he had received. He says that he had been redeemed into peace — a strong expression, signifying the danger to which he had been exposed, and the almost miraculous manner in which he had been delivered from it. What is added, they were in great numbers with me, admits of a double meaning. Some understand him as referring to enemies; with me being, according to them, equivalent to against me. He represents himself as having been beset, by a host of adversaries, and commends the goodness manifested by God in accomplishing his deliverance. Others think that he refers to the angels, whose hosts are encamped round about those that fear the Lord, (Psalm 34:7.) The letter ב, beth, which I have rendered in, they consider to be here, as in many other places, merely expletive; 313313     Rogers is of this opinion; and observes, that “in the Appendix to the first volume of Glassius, many instances are adduced of the redundancy of the prefix כ; as Exodus 32:22; Psalm 68:5; Ezra 3:3.” so that we may read the words, great numbers were with me. The last of these interpretations conveys a comfortable truth, as God, although he cannot stand in need of auxiliaries, has seen fit, in accommodation to our infirmity, to employ a multitude of them in the accomplishment of our salvation. But David would appear rather to speak of enemies, and to refer to the number of them, with the view of magnifying the deliverance which he had received. 314314     Walford renders the sentence, “Though multitudes be in opposition to me.” “The sense,” says he, “which is here given, is evidently required, and is fairly deducible from the Hebrew text.” Bishop Horsley’s rendering is, “For they who stood on my side told for many;” — “they who stood on my side,” denoting the Divine assistance described under the image of numerous auxiliaries. See 2 Kings 6:16; 1 John 4:4. Bishop Mant is satisfied that this is the Psalmist’s meaning, and he accordingly turns the verse thus: —
   “And he shall hear me, he shall shield,
And he with peace shall crown;
My guardian in the battle-field,
An host himself alone.”

19 God shall hear, and afflict them As the verb ענה, anah, which I have rendered afflict, signifies, occasionally, to testify, some understand David to say that God would rise up as a witness against them. The syntax of the language will scarcely, however, admit of this, as, in Hebrew, the letter ב, beth, is generally subjoined in such a case. There seems no doubt that the word signifies here to addict or punish, although this is rather its signification implicitly and by a species of irony; for, most commonly, ענה, anah, means to answer. Having said that God would hear him, he adds that he would answer him, in the way of avenging his cause, in the punishment of his enemies. The epithet, or descriptive title, which he applies to God, is one calculated to comfort the pious mind in times of trouble and confusion. Much of that impatience into which we are hurried arises from not elevating our thoughts to the eternity of God. Can anything be more unreasonable than that poor mortals, who pass away like a shadow, should measure God by their feeble apprehensions, which is to cast him down from his eternal throne, and subject him to the fluctuations of a changing world? As חלף, chalaph, may signify to cut off as well as to change, some have supposed that David here complains of the destruction of the wicked having been too long deferred; but this is not a probable interpretation. The term has been more properly rendered changes But even those who have adopted this rendering have varied in the sense of the passage. 315315     The reason of this difference arises from the ambiguity of the meaning of the original word, which signifies change simply, without reference to the kind of change. Of the two senses which our Author proceeds to state, the first is that adopted by the Chaldee, which reads, “Wicked men, who change not their very evil course, and fear not the sight of God, shall perish.” Dathe, while he admits the ambiguity of the word, follows the Chaldee. Gesenius gives the same interpretation. “But,” says Walford, “this reduces the passage nearly to an identical proposition; so that the probable meaning is, vicissitudes of fortune. These men had enjoyed great prosperity, and been subjected to few trials; they were therefore enamoured of this world and its pleasures, and gave themselves little regard about the will and authority of God. See Psalm 73:5, 6.” Some understand it to mean that no change to the better was to be expected in their character; that they were so bent upon evil as to be inflexible to repentance; so entirely under the influence of a cruel disposition, as never once to incline to humanity or mercy. Others, with more reason, consider that he refers, in the language of complaint, to the uninterrupted flow of their prosperity, which was such that they seemed exempt from the common vicissitudes of life. He represents them as being corrupted by this indulgence, and casting off from their minds every principle of fear, as if they were privileged with immunity from mortal ills. The copulative particle will thus carry the force of a consequence — they have no changes, and therefore they fear not God 316316     “That is,” says Williams, “they suppose they also shall live for ever; or, at least, that things will go on the same for ever. See 2 Peter 3:4. It is an undeniable truth, that the longer the wicked are left in the enjoyment of their pleasures, they are only hardened the more in their evil courses; and that where pride has the ascendancy in the heart, the effect of the Divine indulgence is to make us forget that we are men. In the connection between the two parts of the verse there is an implied censure of the infatuation of those who are led by their exemption from adversity to conclude that. they are a species of demigods; for, how insignificant is the course of human life when compared with the eternity of God? We have need to be upon our guard when under prosperity, lest we fall into the secure spirit which the Psalmist here alludes to, and even carry our exultation to the extent of a defiance of the Almighty.


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