Treasury of David
To the Chief Musician. Strange that the painful events in David's life should end in enriching the repertoire of the national minstrelsy. Out of a sour, ungenerous soil spring up the honey bearing flowers of psalmody. Had he never been cruelly hunted by Saul, Israel and the church of God in after ages would have missed this song. The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints. Affliction is the tuner of the harps of sanctified songsters.
Destroy not. Another "destroy not" Psalm. Whom God preserves Satan cannot destroy. The Lord can even preserve the lives of his prophets by the very ravens that would naturally pick out their eyes. David always found a friend to help him when his case was peculiarly dangerous, and that friend was in his enemy's household; in this instance it was Michal, Saul's daughter, as on former occasions it had been Jonathan, Saul's son.
A Michtam of David. This is the Fifth of the Golden Secrets of David: God's chosen people have many such. When Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him. Great efforts were made to carry the Psalms away to other authors and seasons than those assigned in the headings, it being the fashion just now to prove one's learning by disagreeing with all who have gone before. Perhaps in a few years the old titles will be as much reverenced as they are now rejected. There are spasms in these matters, and in many other things among the would be "intellectuals" of the schools. We are not anxious to show our readiness at conjecture, and therefore are content with reading this Psalm in the light of the circumstances here mentioned; it does not seem unsuitable to any verse, and in some the words are very appropriate to the specified occasion.
DIVISION. In verses 1-2 he prays,
in verses 3-4 he complains of his woes,
and again in verse 5 he prays.
Here he inserts a Selah, and ends one portion of his song.
In verses 6-7 he renews his complaint,
in verses 8-10 declares his confidence in God,
and in verses 11-13 lifts up his heart in prayer;
closing another part of his Psalm with Selah.
Then he prays again in verses 14-15,
and afterwards betakes himself to singing.
Verse 1. Deliver me from my enemies, O my God. They were all round the house with the warrant of authority, and a force equal to the carrying of it out. He was to be taken dead or alive, well or ill, and carried to the slaughter. No prowess could avail him to break the cordon of armed men, neither could any eloquence stay the hand of his bloody persecutor.
He was taken like a bird in a net, and no friend was near to set him free. Unlike the famous starling, he did not cry, "I cannot get out," but his faith uttered quite another note. Unbelief would have suggested that prayer was a waste of breath, but not so thought the godly man, for he makes it his sole resort. He cries for deliverance and leaves ways and means with his God.
Defend me from them that rise up against me. Saul was a king, and therefore sat in high places, and used all his authority to crush David; the persecuted one therefore beseeches the Lord to set him on high also, only in another sense. He asks to be lifted up, as into a lofty tower, beyond the reach of his adversary.
Note how he sets the title, My God, over against the word, my enemies. This is the right method of effectually catching and quenching the fiery darts of the enemy upon the shield of faith. God is our God, and therefore deliverance and defense are ours.
Verse 2. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity. Saul was treating him very unjustly, and besides that was pursuing a tyrannical and unrighteous course towards others, therefore David the more vehemently appeals against him. Evil men were in the ascendant at court, and were the ready tools of the tyrant, against these also he prays.
Bad men in a bad cause may be pleaded against without question. When a habitation is beset by thieves, the godly man of the house rings the alarm bell; and in these verses we may hear it ring out loudly, "deliver me," "defend me," "deliver me," "save me."
Saul had more cause to fear than David had, for the invincible weapon of prayer was being used against him, and Heaven was being aroused to give him battle.
And save me from bloody men. As David remembers how often Saul had sought to assassinate him, he knows what he has to expect from that quarter and from the king's creatures and minions who were watching for him. David represents his enemy in his true colors before God; the bloodthirstiness of the foe is a fit reason for the interposition of the righteous God, for the Lord abhors all those who delight in blood.
Verse 3. For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul. They were in ambush for the godly man's life. He knew their design and cried to God to be rescued from it. Like wild beasts they crouched, and waited to make the fatal spring; but their victim used effectual means to baffle them, for he laid the matter before the Lord.
While the enemy lies waiting in the posture of a beast, we wait before God in the posture of prayer, for God waits to be gracious to us and terrible towards our foes.
The mighty are gathered against me. None of them were absent from the muster when a saint was to be murdered. They were too fond of such sport to be away. The men at arms who ought to have been fighting their country's battles, are instead thereof hunting a quiet citizen; the gigantic monarch is spending all his strength to slay a faithful follower.
Not for my transgression, not for my sin, O Lord. He appeals to Jehovah that he had done no ill. His only fault was, that he was too valiant and too gracious, and was, besides, the chosen of the Lord, therefore the envious king could not rest until he had washed his hands in the blood of his too popular rival.
We shall always find it to be a great thing to be innocent; if it does not carry our cause before an earthly tribunal, it will ever prove the best of arguments in the court of conscience, and a standing consolation when we are under persecution.
Note the repetition of his declaration of integrity. David is sure of his innocence. He dares repeat the plea.
Verse 4. They run and prepare themselves without my fault. They are all alive and active, they are swift to shed blood. They prepare and use their best tactics; they besiege me in my house, and lay their ambushes as for some notable enemy. They come up fully armed to the attack, and assail me with all the vigor and skill of a host about to storm a castle; and all for no cause, but out of wicked malice. So quick are they to obey their cruel master, that they never stay to consider whether their errand is a good one or not; they run at once, and buckle on their harness as they run. To be thus wickedly attacked is a great grief. To a brave man the danger causes little distress of mind compared with the injustice to which he is subjected. It was a cruel and crying shame that such a hero as David should be hounded down as if he were a monster, and beset in his house like a wild beast in its den.
Awake to help me, and behold. When others go to sleep, keep watch, O God. Put forth your might. Arouse from your inaction. Only look at your servant's sad condition and your hand will be sure to deliver me.
We see how thorough was the psalmist's faith in the mercy of his Lord, for he is satisfied that if the Lord does but look on his case it will move his active compassion.
Verse 5. You, yourself, work for me personally, for the case needs your interposition.
Therefore, because I am unjustly assailed, and cannot help myself. O Lord, ever living, God Almighty, able to rescue me; the God of Israel, pledged by covenant to redeem your oppressed servant; awake to visit all the heathen, arouse your holy mind, bestow your sacred energies, punish the heathen among your Israel, the false hearted who say they are Jews and are not, but do lie.
And when you are about the business, let all the nations of your enemies, and all the heathenish people at home and abroad know that you are upon circuit, judging and punishing. It is the mark of a thoughtful prayer that the titles which are in it applied to God are appropriate, and are, as it were, congruous to the matter, and fitted to add force to the argument.
Shall Jehovah endure to see his people oppressed? Shall the God Almighty permit his enemies to exult over his servant? Shall the faithful God of a chosen people leave his chosen to perish? The name of God is, even in a literal sense, a fortress and high tower for all his people.
What a forceful petition is contained in the words, "awake to visit"! Actively punish, in wisdom judge, with force chastise.
Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Be merciful to them as men, but not as transgressors; if they continue hardened in their sin, do not wink at their oppression. To wink at sin in transgressors will be to leave the righteous under their power, therefore do not pass by their offences but deal out the due reward.
The psalmist feels that the overthrow of oppression which was so needful for himself must be equally desirable for multitudes of the godly placed in like positions, and therefore he prays for the whole company of the faithful, and against the entire confraternity of traitors.
Selah. With such a subject before us we may well pause. Who would not sit still and consider, when vengeance is being meted out to all the enemies of God? How wrong is that state of mind which hates to hear of the punishment of the wicked!
Verse 6. They return at evening. Like wild beasts that roam at night, they come forth to do mischief. If foiled in the light, they seek the more congenial darkness in which to accomplish their designs. They mean to break into the house in the dead of might.
They make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Howling with hunger for their prey, they sneak round and round the walls, prowling with stealthy footstep, and barking in unamiable concert.
David compares his foes to Eastern dogs, unowned, loathsome, degraded, lean, and hungry—and he represents them as howling with disappointment, because they cannot find the food they seek.
Saul's watchmen and the cruel king himself must have raved and raged fiercely when they found the image and the pillow of goat's hair in the bed instead of David. Vain were their watchings, the victim had been delivered, and that by the daughter of the man who desired his blood. Go, you dogs, to your kennels and gnaw your bones, for this godly man is not meat for your jaws.
Verse 7. Behold they belch out with their mouth. The noisy creatures are so remarkable in their way, that attention is called to them with a behold. Ecce homines, might we not say, Ecce canes! Their malicious speech gushes from them as from a bubbling fountain. The wicked are voluble in slander; their vocabulary of abuse is copious, and as detestable as it is abundant. What torrents of wrathful imprecation will they pour on the godly! They need no prompters, their feelings force for themselves their own vent, and fashion their own expressions.
Swords are in their lips. They speak daggers. Their words pierce like rapiers, and cleave like cutlasses. As the cushion of a lions's paw conceals his claw, so their soft ruby lips contain bloody words.
For who, say they, does hear? They are free from all restraint, they fear no God in Heaven, and the government on earth is with them. When men have none to call them to account, there is no accounting for what they will do. He who neither fears God nor regards man sets out on errands of oppression with gusto, and uses language concerning it of the most atrociously cruel sort.
David must have been in a singular plight when he could hear the foul talk and hideous braggings of Saul's black guards around the house. After the style in which a Cavalier would have cursed a Puritan, or Claverhouse a Coventanter—the Saulites swore at the upstarts whom the king's majesty had sent them to arrest. David called them dogs, and no doubt a pretty pack they were, a cursed cursing company of curs. When they said, "Who does hear?" God was listening, and this David knew, and therefore took courage.
Verse 8. But you, O Lord, shall laugh at them. He speaks to God, as to one who is close at hand. He points to the liers in wait and speaks to God about them. They are laughing at me, and longing for my destruction, but you have the last laugh of them seeing you have determined to send them away without their victim, and made fools of by Michal.
The greatest, cleverest, and most malicious of the enemies of the church are only objects of ridicule to the Lord; their attempts are utterly futile, they need give no concern to our faith.
You shall have all the heathen in derision. As if David had said—What are these fellows who lie in ambush! And what is the king their master, if God is on my side? If not only these but all the heathen nations were besetting the house—yet Jehovah would readily enough disappoint them and deliver them.
In the end of all things it will be seen how utterly contemptible and despicable are all the enemies of the cause and kingdom of God. He is a brave man who sees this today when the enemy is in great power, and while the church is often as one shut up and besieged in his house.
Verse 9. Because of his strength will I wait upon you. Is my persecutor strong? Then, my God, for this very reason I will turn myself to you, and leave my matters in your hand. It is a wise thing to find in the greatness of our difficulties, a reason for casting ourselves on the Lord.
"And when it seems no chance nor change
From grief can set me free,
Hope finds its strength in helplessness,
And, patient, waits on Thee."
For God is my defense, my high place, my fortress, the place of my resort in the time of my danger. If the foe be too strong for me to cope with him, I will retreat into my castle, where he cannot reach me.
Verse 10. The God of my mercy shall go before me. God who is the giver and fountain of all the undeserved goodness I have received, will go before me and lead my way as I march onward. He will meet me in my time of need. Not alone shall I have to confront my foes, but he whose goodness I have long tried and proved will gently clear my way, and be my faithful protector.
How frequently have we met with preventing mercy—the supply prepared before the need occurred, the refuge built before the danger arose. Far ahead into the future the foreseeing grace of Heaven has projected itself, and forestalled every difficulty.
God shall let me see my desire upon my enemies. Observe that the words, my desire, are not in the original. From the Hebrew we are taught that David expected to see his enemies without fear. God will enable his servant to gaze steadily upon the foe without trepidation; he shall be calm, and self-possessed, in the hour of peril; and before long he shall look down on the same foes discomfited, overthrown, destroyed.
When Jehovah leads the way, victory follows at his heels. See God, and you need not fear to see your enemies. Thus the hunted David, besieged in his own house by traitors, looks only to God, and exults over his enemies.
Verse 11. Slay them not, lest my people forget. It argues great faith on David's part, that even while his house was surrounded by his enemies he is yet so fully sure of their overthrow, and so completely realizes it in his own mind, that he puts in a detailed petition that they may not be too soon or too fully exterminated.
God's victory over the craft and cruelty of the wicked is so easy and so glorious, that it seems a pity to end the conflict too soon. To sweep away the plotters all at once were to end the great drama of retribution too abruptly. Nay, let the righteous be buffeted a little longer, and let the boasting oppressor puff and brag through his little hour, it will help to keep Israel in mind of the Lord's justice, and make the brave party who side with God's champion accustomed to divine interpositions.
It were a pity for godly men to be without detractors, seeing that virtue shines the brighter for the foil of slander. Enemies help to keep the Lord's servants awake. A lively, vexatious devil is less to be dreaded than a sleepy, forgetful spirit which is given to slumber.
Scatter them by your power. Blow them to and fro, like chaff in the wind. Let the enemy live as a vagabond race. Make Cains of them. Let them be living monuments of divine power, advertisements of Heaven's truth. To the fullest extent let divine justice be illustrated in them.
And bring them down. Like rotten fruit from a tree. From the seats of power which they disgrace, and the positions of influence which they pollute, let them be hurled into humiliation. This was a righteous wish, and if it be untempered by the gentleness of Jesus, we must remember that it is a soldier's prayer, and the wish of one who was smarting under injustice and malice of no ordinary kind.
O Lord, our shield. David felt himself to be the representative of the pious party in Israel, and therefore he says, our shield, speaking in the name of all those who make Jehovah their defense. We are in good company when we hide beneath the buckler of the Eternal; meanwhile he who is the shield of his people is the scatterer of their enemies.
Verse 12. For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips let them even be taken in their pride. Such dreadful language of atheism and insolence deserves a fit return. As they hope to take their victims, so let them be taken themselves, entangled in their own net, arrested in the midst of their boastful security.
Sins of the lips are real sins, and punishable sins. Men must not think because their hatred gets no further than railing and blasphemy, that therefore they shall be excused. He who takes the will for the deed, will take the word for the deed and deal with men accordingly. Wretches who are persecutors in talk, burners and stabbers with the tongue, shall have a reckoning for their would be transgressions.
Pride though it shows not itself in clothes, but only in speech, is a sin; and persecuting pride, though it pile no faggots at Smithfield, but only revile with its lips, shall have to answer for it among the unholy crew of inquisitors.
And for cursing and lying which they speak. Sins, like hounds, often hunt in couples. He who is not ashamed to curse before God, will be sure to lie unto men. Every swearer is a liar. Persecution leads on to perjury. They lie and swear to it. They curse and give a lying reason for their hate. This shall not go unnoticed of the Lord, but shall bring down its recompense. How often has it happened that while haughty speeches have been fresh in the mouths of the wicked, they have been overtaken by avenging providence, and made to see their mischief recoil upon themselves!
Verse 13. Consume them in wrath. As if he had changed his mind and would have them brought to a speedy end, or if spared would have them exist as ruins, he cries, consume them, and he redoubles his cry, consume them; nay, he gives a triple note, that they may not be.
Revilers of God whose mouths pour forth such filth as David was on this occasion obliged to hear, are not to be tolerated by a holy soul; indignation must flame forth, and cry to God against them.
When men curse the age and the place in which they live, common humanity leads the righteous to desire that they may be removed. If they could be reformed it would be infinitely better; but if they cannot, if they must and will continue to be like mad dogs in a city, then let them cease to be. Who can desire to see such a generation perpetuated?
And let them know; that is, let all the nations know, that God rules in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. He whose government is universal fixes his headquarters among his chosen people, and there in special he punishes sin. So David would have all men see.
Let even the most remote nations know that the great moral Governor has power to destroy ungodliness, and does not wink at iniquity in any, at any time, or in any place. When sin is manifestly punished, it is a valuable lesson to all mankind. The overthrow of a Napoleon is a homily for all monarchs, the death of a Thomas Paine a warning to all infidels, the siege of Paris a sermon to all cities.
Selah. Good cause there is for this rest, when a theme so wide and important is introduced. Solemn subjects ought not to be hurried over; nor should the condition of the heart while contemplating themes so high be a matter of indifference. Reader, bethink you. Sit still awhile and consider the ways of God with men.
Verse 14. They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city. Here verse six is repeated, as if the songster defied his foes and reveled in the thought of their futile search, their malice, their disappointment, their rage, their defeated vigilance, their wasted energy. He laughs to think that all the city would know how they were deceived, and all Israel would ring with the story of the image and the goats' hair in the bed.
Nothing was more a subject of Oriental merriment than a case in which the crafty are deceived, and nothing more makes a man the object of derision than to be outwitted by a woman, as in this instance Saul and his base minions were by Michal. The warrior poet hears in imagine the howl of rage in the council of his foes when they found their victim clean escaped from their hands.
Verse 15. Let them wander up and down for meat. Like dogs that have missed the expected carcass, let them go up and down dissatisfied, snapping at one another, and too disappointed to be quiet and take the matter easily. And grudge if they be not satisfied.
Let them act like those who cannot believe that they have lost their prey: like a herd of Oriental dogs, unhoused, unkennelled, let them prowl about seeking a prey which they shall never find. Thus the menial followers of Saul paraded the city in vain hope of satisfying their malice and their master. "Surely," say they, "we shall have him yet. We cannot endure to miss him. Perhaps he is in yonder corner, or concealed is such a hiding place. We must have him. We grudge him his life. Our lust for his blood is hot, nor can we be persuaded but that we shall light upon him."
See the restlessness of wicked men; this will increase as their enmity to God increases, and in Hell it will be their infinite torment. What is the state of the lost, but the condition of an ambitious camp of rebels, who have espoused a hopeless cause, and will not give it up, but are impelled by their raging passions to rave on against the cause of God, of truth, and of his people.
Verse 16. But I will sing of your power. The wicked howl, but I sing and will sing. Their power is weakness, but your is omnipotence. I see them vanquished and your power victorious, and forever and ever will I sing of you.
Yes, I will sing aloud of your mercy in the morning. When those lovers of darkness find their game is up, and their midnight howlings die away, then will I lift up my voice on high and praise the loving-kindness of God without fear of being disturbed.
What a blessed morning will soon break for the righteous, and what a song will be theirs! Sons of the morning, you may sigh tonight, but joy will come on the wings of the rising sun. Tune your harps even now, for the signal to commence the eternal music will soon be given; the morning comes and your sun shall go no more down forever.
For you have been my defense. The song is for God alone, and it is one which none can sing but those who have experienced the loving-kindness of their God. Looking back upon a past all full of mercy, the saints will bless the Lord with their whole hearts, and triumph in him as the high place of their security.
And refuge in the day of my trouble. The greater our present trials the louder will our future songs be, and the more intense our joyful gratitude. Had we no day of trouble, where would be our season of retrospective thanksgiving? David's besetment by Saul's bloodhounds creates an opportunity for divine interposition and so for triumphant praise.
Verse 17. Unto you, O my strength, will I sing. What transport is here! What a monopolizing of all his emotions for the one object of praising God! Strength has been overcome by strength; not by the hero's own prowess, but by the might of God alone. See how the singer girds himself with the almightiness of God, and calls it all his own by faith. Sweet is the music of experience, but it is all for God; there is not even a stray note for man, for self, or for human helpers.
For God is my defense, and the God of my mercy. With full assurance he claims possession of the Infinite as his protection and security. He sees God in all, and all his own. Mercy rises before him, undisturbed and manifold, for he feels he is undeserving, and security is with him, undisturbed and impregnable, for he knows that he is safe in divine keeping.
Oh, choice song! My soul would sing it now in defiance of all the dogs of Hell. Away, away, you adversaries of my soul, the God of my mercy will keep you all at bay!
"Nor shall the infernal lion rend
Whom He designs to keep."