Treasury of David
To The Chief Musician.
Intended therefore to be sung, and sung in the temple service! Yet is it by no means easy to imagine the whole nation singing such dreadful imprecations. We ourselves, at any rate, under the gospel dispensation, find it very difficult to infuse into the Psalm a gospel sense, or a sense at all compatible with the Christian spirit. Therefore one would think the Jews must have found it hard to chant such strong language without feeling the spirit of revenge excited; and the arousal of that spirit could never have been the object of divine worship in any period of time—under law or under gospel.
At the very outset this title shows that the Psalm has a meaning with which it is fitting for men of God to have fellowship before the throne of the Most High—but what is that meaning? This is a question of no small difficulty, and only a very childlike spirit will ever be able to answer it.
A Psalm of David.
Not therefore the ravings of a wicked misanthrope, or the execrations of a hot, revengeful spirit. David would not smite the man who sought his blood, and he frequently forgave those who treated him shamefully; and therefore these words cannot be read in a bitter, revengeful sense, for that would be foreign to the character of the son of Jesse.
The imprecatory sentences before us were penned by one who with all his courage in battle was a man of music and of tender heart, and they were meant to be addressed to God in the form of a Psalm, and therefore they cannot possibly have been meant to be mere angry cursing.
Unless it can be proved that the religion of the old dispensation was altogether hard, morose, and Draconian, and that David was of a malicious, vindictive spirit, it cannot be conceived that this Psalm contains what one author has ventured to call "a pitiless hate, a refined and insatiable malignity." To such a suggestion we cannot give place, no, not for an hour.
But what else can we make of such strong language? Truly this is one of the hard places of Scripture, a passage which the soul trembles to read; yet as it is a Psalm unto God, and given by inspiration, it is not ours to sit in judgment upon it—but to bow our ear to what God the Lord would speak to us therein.
This psalm refers to Judas, for so Peter quoted it; but to ascribe its bitter denunciations to our Lord in the hour of his sufferings is more than we dare to do. These are not consistent with the silent Lamb of God, who opened not his mouth when led to the slaughter. It may seem very pious to put such words into his mouth; we hope it is our piety which prevents our doing so.
In the first five verses David humbly pleads with God that he may be delivered from his remorseless and false hearted enemies.
From Verses 6-20, filled with a prophetic fervor, which carries him entirely beyond himself, he denounces judgment upon his foes.
And then from Verses 21-31 he returns to his communion with God in prayer and praise.
The central portion of the Psalm in which the difficulty lies must be regarded not as the personal wish of the psalmist in cool blood—but as his prophetic denunciation of such persons as he describes, and emphatically of one special "son of perdition" whom he sees with prescient eye. We would all pray for the conversion of our worst enemy, and David would have done the same; but viewing the adversaries of the Lord, and doers of iniquity, as such, and as incorrigible we cannot wish them well; on the contrary, we desire their overthrow, and destruction. The gentlest hearts burn with indignation when they hear of barbarities to women and children, of crafty plots for ruining the innocent, of cruel oppression of helpless orphans, and gratuitous ingratitude to the good and gentle.
A curse upon the perpetrators of the atrocities in Turkey may not be less virtuous than a blessing upon the righteous. We wish well to all mankind, and for that very reason we sometimes blaze with indignation against the inhuman wretches by whom every law which protects our fellow creatures is trampled down, and every dictate of humanity is set at nothing.
Verse 1. Hold not your peace.
My enemies speak—may you be pleased to speak too. Break your solemn silence, and silence those who slander me. It is the cry of a man whose confidence in God is deep, and whose communion with him is very close and bold. Note, that he only asks the Lord to speak—a word from God is all a believer needs.
O God of my praise.
You whom my whole soul praises, be pleased to protect my honor and guard my praise.
"My heart is fixed", said he in the former psalm, "I will sing and give praise", and now he appeals to the God whom he had praised. If we take care of God's honor he will take care of ours. We may look to him as the guardian of our character if we truly seek his glory. If we live to God's praise, he will in the long run give us praise among men.
Verse 2. For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me.
Wicked men must needs say wicked things, and these we have reason to dread; but in addition they utter false and deceitful things, and these are worst of all. There is no knowing what may come out of mouths which are at once lewd and lying. The misery caused to a good man by slanderous reports no heart can imagine but that which is wounded by them. In all Satan's armory there are no worse weapons than deceitful tongues. To have a reputation, over which we have watched with daily care, suddenly bespattered with the foulest aspersions, is painful beyond description; but when wicked and deceitful men get their mouths fully opened we can hardly expect to escape anymore than others.
They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
Lying tongues cannot lie still. Bad tongues are not content to vilify bad men—but choose the most gracious of saints to be the objects of their attacks. Here is reason enough for prayer. The heart sinks when assailed with slander, for we know not what may be said next, what friend may be alienated, what evil may be threatened, or what misery may be caused to us and others. The air is full of rumors, and shadows impalpable flit around. The mind is confused with dread of unseen foes, and invisible arrows. What ill can be worse than to be assailed with slander,
"Whose edge is sharper than the sword,
whose tongue out-venoms all the worms of Nile"?
Verse 3. They compassed me about also with words of hatred.
Turn which way he would they hedged him in with falsehood, misrepresentation, accusation, and scorn. Whispers, sneers, insinuations, satires, and open charges filled his ear with a perpetual buzz, and all for no reason—but sheer hate. Each word was as full of venom as an egg is full of meat—they could not speak without showing their teeth.
And fought against me without a cause.
He had not provoked the quarrel or contributed to it—yet in a thousand ways they labored to "corrode his comfort, and destroy his ease." All this tended to make the suppliant feel the more acutely the wrongs which were done to him.
Verse 4. For my love they are my adversaries.
They hate me because I love them. One of our poets says of the Lord Jesus, "Found guilty of excess of love." Surely it was his only fault. Our Lord might have used all the language of this complaint most emphatically—they hated him without a cause and returned him hatred for love. What a smart this is to the soul, to be hated in proportion to the gratitude which it deserved, hated by those it loved, and hated because of its love. This was a cruel case, and the sensitive mind of the psalmist writhed under it.
But I give myself unto prayer.
He did nothing else but pray. He became prayer as they became malice. This was his answer to his enemies, he appealed from men and their injustice, to the Judge of all the earth, who must do right. True bravery alone can teach a man to leave his traducers unanswered, and carry the case unto the Lord.
Verse 5. And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
Evil for good is devil like. This is Satan's line of action, and his children upon earth follow it greedily; it is cruel, and wounds to the core. The revenge which pays a man back in his own coin has a kind of natural justice in it; but what shall be said of that baseness which returns to goodness the very opposite of what it has a right to expect?
Our Lord endured such base treatment all his days, and, alas, in his members, endures it still.
Thus we see the harmless and innocent man upon his knees pouring out his lamentation. We are now to observe him rising from the mercy seat, inspired with prophetic energy, and pouring forth upon his foes the forewarning of their doom. We shall hear him speak like a judge clothed with stern severity, or like the angel of doom robed in vengeance, or as the naked sword of justice when she bares her arm for execution.
It is not for himself that he speaks so much as for all the slandered and the down trodden, of whom he feels himself to be the representative and mouthpiece. He asks for justice, and as his soul is stung with cruel wrongs he asks with solemn deliberation, making no stint in his demands.
To pity malice would be malice to mankind. To screen the crafty seekers of human blood would be cruelty to the oppressed. Nay, love, and truth, and pity lift their wounds to Heaven, and implore vengeance on the enemies of the innocent and oppressed. Those who render goodness itself a crime, and make innocence a motive for hate, deserve to find no mercy from the great Preserver of men.
Vengeance is the prerogative of God, and as it would be a boundless calamity if evil were forever to go unpunished, so it is an unspeakable blessing that the Lord will recompense the wicked and cruel man, and there are times and seasons when a good man ought to pray for that blessing. When the Judge of all threatens to punish tyrannical cruelty and false hearted treachery, virtue gives her assent and consent. Amen, so let it be, says every just man in his inmost soul.
Verse 6. Set a wicked man over him.
What worse punishment could a man have? The proud man cannot endure the proud, nor the oppressor brook the rule of another like himself. The righteous in their patience find the rule of the wicked a sore bondage; but those who are full of resentful passions, and haughty aspirations, are slaves indeed when men of their own class have the whip hand of them.
For Herod to be ruled by another Herod would be wretchedness enough, and yet what retribution could be more just?
What unrighteous man can complain if he finds himself governed by one of like character? What can the wicked expect but that their rulers should be like themselves? Who does not admire the justice of God when he sees fierce Romans ruled by Tiberius and Nero.
And let Satan stand at his right hand.
Should not like come to like? Should not the father of lies stand near his children? Who is a better right hand friend for an adversary of the righteous than the great adversary himself? The curse is an awful one—but it is most natural that it should come to pass. Those who serve Satan may expect to have his company, his assistance, his temptations, and at last his doom.
Verse 7. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned.
He judged and condemned others in the vilest manner, he suffered not the innocent to escape. It would be a great shame if in his time of trial, being really guilty, he should be allowed to go free. Who would wish Judge Jeffries to be acquitted if he were tried for perverting justice? Who would desire Nero or Caligula to be cleared if set at the bar for cruelty? When Shylock goes into court, who wishes him to win his suit?
And let his prayer become sin.
It is sin already, let it be so treated. To the injured it must seem terrible that the black-hearted villain should nevertheless pretend to pray, and very naturally do they beg that he may not be heard—but that his pleadings may be regarded as an addition to his guilt. He has devoured the widow's house—and yet he prays. He has put Naboth to death by false accusation and taken possession of his vineyard—and then he presents prayers to the Almighty. He has given up villages to slaughter, and his hands are red with the blood of babes and maidens—and then he pays his vows unto Allah!
He must surely be accursed himself, who does not wish that such abominable prayers may be loathed of Heaven and written down as new sins. He who makes it a sin for others to pray will find his own praying become sin. When he at last sees his need of mercy, mercy herself shall resent his appeal as an insult. "Because he forgot to show mercy", he shall himself be forgotten by the God of grace, and his bitter cries for deliverance shall be regarded as mockeries of Heaven.
Verse 8. Let his days be few.
Who would desire a persecuting tyrant to live long? As well might we wish length of days to a mad dog. If he will do nothing but mischief the shortening of his life will be the lengthening of the world's tranquility. "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days"—this is bare justice to them, and great mercy to the poor and needy.
And let another take his office.
Perhaps a better man may come, at any rate it is time a change were tried. So used were the Jews to look upon these verses as the doom of traitors, of cruel and deceitful mind—that Peter saw at once in the speedy death of Judas a fulfillment of this sentence, and a reason for the appointment of a successor who should take his place of oversight. A bad man does not make an office bad—another may use with benefit, that which he perverted to ill uses.
Verse 9. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
This would inevitably be the case when the man died—but the psalmist uses the words in an emphatic sense, he would have his widow "a widow indeed", and his children so friendless as to be orphaned in the bitterest sense. He sees the result of the evil man's decease, and includes it in the punishment. The tyrant's sword makes many children fatherless, and who can lament when his barbarities come home to his own family, and they too, weep and lament.
Pity is due to all orphans and widows as such—but a father's atrocious actions may dry up the springs of pity. Who mourns that Pharaoh's children lost their father, or that Sennacherib's wife became a widow? As Agag's sword had made women childless—none wept when Samuel's weapon made his mother childless among women. If Herod had been slain when he had just murdered the children at Bethlehem—no man would have lamented it even though Herod's wife would have become a widow.
These awful maledictions are not for common men to use—but for judges, such as David was, to pronounce over the enemies of God and man. A judge may sentence a man to death whatever the consequences may be to the criminal's family, and in this there will be no feeling of private revenge—but simply the doing of justice because evil must be punished.
We are aware that this may not appear to justify the full force of these expressions—but it should never be forgotten that the case supposed is a very execrable one, and the character of the culprit is beyond measure loathsome and not to be met by any common abhorrence.
Those who regard a sort of effeminate benevolence to all creatures alike as the acme of virtue, are very much in favor with this degenerate age; these look for the salvation of the damned, and even pray for the restoration of the devil. It is very possible that if they were less in sympathy with evil, and more in harmony with the thoughts of God—they would be of a far sterner and also of a far better mind. To us it seems better to agree with God's curses, than with the devil's blessings. When at any time our heart kicks against the terrors of the Lord, we take it as a proof of our need of greater humbling, and confess our sin before our God.
Verse 10. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg.
May they have neither house nor home, settlement nor substance; and while they thus wander and beg may it ever be on their memory that their father's house lies in ruins.
Let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
It has often been so—a race of tyrants has become a generation of beggars. Misused power and abused wealth have earned the family name universal detestation, and secured to the family character an entail of baseness. Justice herself would award no such doom except upon the supposition that the sin descended with the blood; but supreme providence which in the end is pure justice, has written many a page of history in which the imprecation of this verse has been literally verified.
We confess that as we read some of these verses we have need of all our faith and reverence to accept them as the voice of inspiration; but the exercise is good for the soul, for it educates our sense of ignorance, and tests our teachability. Yes, Divine Spirit, we can and do believe that even these dread words from which we shrink have a meaning consistent with the attributes of the Judge of all the earth, though his name is LOVE. How this may be we shall know hereafter.
Verse 11. Let the extortioner catch all that he has.
A doom indeed. Those who have once fallen into the hands of the usurer, can tell you what this means: it were better to be a fly in the web of a spider. In the most subtle, worrying, and sweeping manner the extortioner takes away, piece by piece, his victim's estate, until not a fraction remains to form a pittance for old age. Baiting his trap, watching it carefully, and dexterously driving his victim into it, the extortioner by legal means performs unlawful deeds, catches his bird, strips him of every feather, and cares not if he dies of starvation. He robs with law to protect him, and steals with the magistrate at his back! To fall into his clutches is worse than to be beset by professed thieves.
And let the strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
So that his kindred may have none of it. What with hard creditors and pilfering strangers, the estate must soon vanish! Extortion drawing one way, and thievery the other, a known moneylender and an unknown robber both at work—the man's substance would soon disappear, and rightly so, for it was gathered by shameless means.
This too has been frequently seen. Wealth amassed by oppression has seldom lasted to the third generation. It was gathered by wrong and by wrong it is scattered, and who would desire that it should be otherwise? Certainly those who suffer beneath high-handed fraud will not wish to stay the retribution of the Almighty. Nor would those who see the poor robbed and trampled on, desire to alter the divine arrangements by which such evils are recompensed even in this life.
Verse 12. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him.
He had no mercy—but on the contrary, he crushed down all who appealed to him. Loath to smite him with his own weapon, stern justice can do no otherwise—she lifts her scales and sees that this, too, must be in the sentence.
Neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
We are staggered to find the children included in the father's sentence, and yet as a matter of fact children do suffer for their father's sins, and, as long as the affairs of this life are ordered as they are, it must be so.
So involved are the interests of the race, that it is quite impossible in all respects to view the father and the child apart. No man among us could desire to see the fatherless suffer for their deceased father's fault—yet so it happens, and there is no injustice in the fact. They share the parent's ill-gotten gain or rank, and their aggrandizement is a part of the object at which he aimed in the perpetration of his crimes. To allow them to prosper would be an encouragement and reward of his iniquity. Therefore, for these and other reasons, a man perishes not alone in his iniquity.
If the man were innocent this would be a crime; if he were but commonly guilty it would be excessive retribution; but when the offence reeks before high Heaven in unutterable abomination, it is little marvel that men devote the man's whole house to perpetual infamy, and that so it happens.
Verse 13. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
Both from existence and from memory, let them pass away until none shall know that such a vile brood ever existed. Who wishes to see the family of Domitian or Julian continued upon earth? Who would mourn if the race of Thomas Paine or of Voltaire should come to an utter end? It would be undesirable that the sons of the utterly villainous and blood-thirsty should rise to honor; and if they did, they would only revive the memory of their father's sins.
Verse 14. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
This verse is, perhaps, the most terrible of all—but yet as a matter of fact, children do procure punishment upon their parents' sins, and are often themselves the means of such punishment.
A bad son brings to mind his father's bad points of character; people say, "Ah, he is like the old man. He takes after his father." A mother's sins also will be sure to be called to mind, if her daughter becomes grossly wicked. "Ah", they will say, "there is little wonder, when you consider what her mother was."
These are matters of everyday occurrence. We cannot, however, pretend to explain the righteousness of this malediction, though we fully believe in it. We leave it until our heavenly Father is pleased to give us further instruction. Yet, as a man's faults are often learned from his parents, it is not unjust that his consequent crimes should recoil upon him.
Verse 15. Let them be continually before the LORD, that He may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
Again, he wishes that his father's sins may follow up the transgressor and assist to fill the measure of his own iniquities, so that for the whole accumulated load the family may be smitten with utter extinction.
A king might justly wish for such an end to fall upon an incorrigible brood of rebels. And of persecutors, continuing in the same mind, the saints might well pray for their extinction.
But the passage is dark; and we must leave it so. It must be right or it would not be here—but how we cannot see. Why should we expect to understand all things? Perhaps it is more for our benefit to exercise humility, and reverently worship God over a hard text, than it would be to comprehend all mysteries.
Verse 16. Because he forgot to show mercy.
Because he had no memory to show mercy—the Judge of all will have a strong memory of his sins. So little mercy had he ever shown that he had forgotten how to do it—he was without common humanity, devoid of compassion, and therefore only worthy to be dealt with after the bare rule of justice.
But he persecuted the poor and needy man.
He looked on poor men as a nuisance upon the earth, he ground their faces, oppressed them in their wages, and treated them as the mire of the streets. Should he not be punished, and in his turn laid low? All who know him are indignant at his brutalities, and are delighted to see him overthrown.
That he might even slay the broken in heart.
He had malice in his heart towards one who was already sufficiently sorrowful, whom it was a gross malignity to attack. Yet no grief excited sympathy in him, and no poverty ever moved him to relent. No, he would kill the heart broken and rob their orphans of their patrimony. To him groans were music, and tears were wine, and drops of blood were precious rubies! Would any man spare such a monster? Will it not be serving the ends of humanity if we wish him gone, gone to the throne of God to receive his recompense? If he will turn and repent, well—but if not, such a poisonous tree ought to be felled and cast into the fire. As men kill mad dogs if they can, and justly too—so may we lawfully wish that cruel oppressors of the poor were removed from their place and office, and, as an example to others, made to smart for their barbarities.
Verse 17. As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him.
Deep down in every man's soul the justice of the law of retaliation is established. Retaliation, not for private revenge—but as a measure of public justice, is demanded by the psalmist and deserved by the crime. Surely the malicious man cannot complain if he is judged by his own rule, and has his grain measured with his own bushel. Let him have what he loved. They are his own chickens, and they ought to come home to roost. He made the bed—let him lie on it himself. As he brewed—so let him drink.
So all men say as a matter of justice, and though the higher law of love overrides all personal anger—yet as against the base characters here described even Christian love would not wish to see the sentence mitigated.
As he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.
He felt no joy in any man's good, nor would he lift a hand to do another a service, rather did he frown and fret when another prospered or mirth was heard under his window; what, then, can we wish him? Blessing was wasted on him, he hated those who gently sought to lead him to a better mind. Even the blessings of providence he received with murmurs and repinings. He wished for famine to raise the price of his corn, and for war to increase his trade. Evil was good to him, and good he counted evil. If he could have blasted every field of grain in the world, he would have done so if he could have turned a penny by it, or if he could thereby have injured the godly man whom he hated from his very soul.
What can we wish for him? He hunts after evil, he hates good; he lays himself out to ruin the godly whom God has blessed, he is the devil's friend, and as fiendish as his patron. Should things go well with such a being? Shall we "wish him good luck in the name of the Lord?" To invoke blessings on such a man would be to participate in his wickedness, therefore let blessing be far from him, so long as he continues what he now is.
Verses 18-19. As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment—so let it enter his body like water, and like oil into his bones. Let it be to him like the garment which covers him, and for a belt with which he girds himself continually.
He was so openly in the habit of wishing ill to others, that he seemed to wear robes of cursing. Therefore let it be as his clothing girded and belted about him, yes, let it enter as water into his body, and search the very marrow of his bones like a penetrating oil. It is but common justice that he should receive a return for his malice, and receive it in kind, too.
Verse 20. Let this be the LORD'S recompense to my accusers, and to those who speak evil against my person.
This is the summing up of the entire imprecation, and fixes it upon the persons who had so maliciously assailed the inoffensive man of God.
David was a man of gentle mold, and remarkably free from the spirit of revenge, and therefore we may here conceive him to be speaking as a judge or as a representative man, in whose person great principles needed to be vindicated and great injuries redressed.
Thousands of God's people are perplexed with this psalm, and we fear we have contributed very little towards their enlightenment. What then? Is it not good for us sometimes to be made to feel that we are not yet able to understand all the word and mind of God? A thorough bewilderment, so long as it does not stagger our faith, may be useful to us by confounding our pride, arousing our faculties, and leading us to cry, "What I know not teach me."
Verse 21. But you do for me, O God the Lord, for your name's sake.
How eagerly he turns from his enemies, to his God! He sets the great YOU in opposition to all his adversaries, and you see at once that his heart is at rest. The words are very indistinct and though our version may not precisely translate them—yet it in a remarkable manner hits upon the sense and upon the obscurity which hangs over it.
"You do for me"—what shall he do? Why, do whatever he thinks fit. He leaves himself in the Lord's hands, dictating nothing—but quite content so long as his God will but undertake for him. His plea is not his own merit—but God's name. The saints have always felt this to be their most mighty plea. God himself has performed his grandest deeds of grace for the honor of his name, and his people know that this is the most potent argument with him. What the Lord himself has guarded with sacred jealousy—we should reverence with our whole hearts and rely upon without distrust.
Because your mercy is good, deliver me.
Not because I am good—but because your mercy is good. See how the saints fetch their pleadings in prayer, from the Lord himself. God's mercy is the star to which the Lord's people turn their eye when they are tempest-tossed and not comforted—for the peculiar bounty and goodness of that mercy have a charm for weary hearts. When man has no mercy, we shall still find it in God. When man would devour, we may look to God to deliver. His name and his mercy are two firm grounds for hope, and happy are those who know how to rest upon them.
Verse 22. For I am poor and needy.
When he does plead anything about himself, he urges not his riches or his merits—but his poverty and his necessities. This is gospel supplication, such as only the Spirit of God can indite upon the heart. This lowliness does not comport with the supposed vengeful spirit of the preceding verses—there must therefore be some interpretation of them which would make them suitable in the lips of a lowly-minded man of God.
And my heart is wounded within me.
The Lord has always a tender regard to broken hearted ones, and such the psalmist had become. The undeserved cruelty, the baseness, the slander of his remorseless enemies had pierced him to the soul, and this sad condition he pleads as a reason for speedy help. It is time for a friend to step in when the adversary cuts so deep. The case has become desperate without divine aid; now, therefore, is the Lord's time.
Verse 23. I am gone like the shadow when it declines.
I am a mere shadow, a shadow at the vanishing point, when it stretches far—but is almost lost in the universal gloom of evening which settles over all, and so obliterates the shadows cast by the setting sun. Lord, there is next to nothing left of me—will you not come in before I am quite gone?
I am tossed up and down as the locust.
Which is the sport of the winds, and must go up or down as the breeze carries it. The psalmist felt as powerless in his distress as a poor insect, which a child may toss up and down at its pleasure. He entreats the divine pity, because he had been brought to this forlorn and feeble condition by the long persecution which his tender heart had endured. Slander and malice are apt to produce nervous disorders and to lead on to pining diseases. Those who use these poisoned arrows, are not always aware of the consequences; they scatter fire brands and death and say it is sport.
Verse 24. My knees are weak through fasting.
Either religious fasting, to which he resorted in the dire extremity of his grief, or else through loss of appetite occasioned by distress of mind. Who can eat when every morsel is soured by envy? This is the advantage of the slanderer, that he feels nothing himself, while his sensitive victim can scarcely eat a morsel of bread because of his sensitiveness. However, the good God knows all this, and will support his afflicted. The Lord who bids us confirm the feeble knees, will assuredly do it himself.
And my flesh fails of fatness.
He was wasted to a skeleton, and as his body was emaciated, so was his soul bereft of comfort. He was pining away, and all the while his enemies saw it and laughed at his distress. How pathetically he states his case. This is one of the truest forms of prayer, the setting forth of our sorrow before the Lord. Weak knees are strong with God, and failing flesh has great power in pleading.
Verse 25. I became also a reproach unto them.
They made him the theme of ridicule, the butt of their ribald jests. His emaciation by fasting made him a tempting subject for their caricatures and lampoons.
When they looked upon me they shook their heads.
Words were not a sufficient expression of their scorn, they resorted to gestures which were meant both to show their derision and to irritate his mind. Though these things break no bones—yet they do worse, for they break and bruise far tenderer parts of us. Many a man who could have answered a malicious speech, and so have relieved his mind—has felt keenly a sneer, a sticking out of the tongue, or some other sign of contempt. Those, too, who are exhausted by such fasting and wasting, as the last verse describes are generally in a state of morbid sensibility, and therefore feel more acutely the unkindness of others. What they would smile at during happier seasons, becomes intolerable when they are in a highly nervous condition.
Verse 26. Help me, O LORD my God.
Laying hold of Jehovah by the appropriating word my, he implores his aid both to help him to bear his heavy load and to enable him to rise superior to it. He has described his own weakness, and the strength and fury of his foes—and by these two arguments he urges his appeal with double force. This is a very rich, short, and suitable prayer for believers in any situation of peril, difficulty, or sorrow.
O save me according to your mercy.
As your mercy is, so let your salvation be. The measure is a great one, for the mercy of God is without bound. When man has no mercy, it is comforting to fall back upon God's mercy. Justice to the wicked is often mercy to the righteous, and because God is merciful he will save his people by overthrowing their adversaries.
Verse 27. That they may know that this is your hand.
Dolts as they are, let the mercy shown to me be so conspicuous that they shall be forced to see the Lord's agency in it. Ungodly men will not see God's hand in anything if they can help it, and when they see godly men delivered into their power they become more confirmed than ever in their atheism. But in good time God will arise and so effectually punish their malice and rescue the object of their spite that they will be compelled to say like the Egyptian magicians, "This is the finger of God!"
That you, LORD, have done it.
There will be no mistaking the author of so thorough a vindication, so complete a turning of the tables.
Verse 28. Let them curse—but may you bless.
Or, "they will curse—and you will bless." Their cursing will then be of such little consequence, that it will not matter a straw. One blessing from the Lord will take the poison out of ten thousand curses of men.
When they arise, let them be ashamed.
They lift up themselves to deal out another blow, to utter another falsehood, and to watch for its injurious effects upon their victim—but they see their own defeat and are filled with shame.
But let your servant rejoice.
Not merely as a man protected and rescued—but as God's servant in whom his master's goodness and glory are displayed when he is saved from his foes. It ought to be our greatest joy that the Lord is honored in our experience. The mercy itself ought not so much to rejoice us, as the glory which is thereby brought to him who so graciously bestows it.
Verse 29. Let my adversaries be clothed with shame.
It is a prophecy as well as a wish, and may be read both in the indicative and the imperative. Where sin is the underclothing—shame will soon be the outer vesture. He who would clothe godly men with contempt shall himself be clothed with dishonor.
And let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
Let their confusion be broad enough to wrap them all over from head to foot, let them bind it about them and hide themselves in it, as being utterly afraid to be seen.
Now they walk abroad unblushingly and reveal their own wickedness, acting as if they either had nothing to conceal or did not care whether it was seen or not. But they will be of another mind when the great Judge deals with them, then will they entreat mountains to hide them and hills to fall upon them, that they may not be seen. But all in vain, they must be dragged to the bar with no other covering but their own confusion.
Verse 30. I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth.
Enthusiastically, abundantly, and loudly will he extol the righteous Lord, who redeemed him from all evil; and that not only in his own chamber or among his own family—but in the most public manner.
Yes, I will praise him among the multitude.
Remarkable and public providence demand public recognition, for otherwise men of the world will judge us to be ungrateful. We do not praise God to be heard of men—but as a natural sense of justice leads every one to expect to hear a befriended person speak well of his benefactor, we therefore have regard to such natural and just expectations, and endeavor to make our praises as public as the benefit we have received.
The singer in the present case is the man whose heart was wounded within him because he was the laughing stock of remorseless enemies. Yet now he praises, praises greatly, praises aloud, praises in the teeth of all gainsayers, and praises with a right joyous spirit. Never let us despair, yes, never let us cease to praise.
Verse 31. For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor.
God will not be absent when his people are on their trial; he will hold a brief for them and stand in court as their advocate, prepared to plead on their behalf. How different is this from the doom of the ungodly who has Satan at his right hand (Verse 6).
To save him from those that condemn his soul.
The court only met as a matter of form, the malicious had made up their minds to the verdict. They judged him guilty, for their hate condemned him—yes, they pronounced sentence of damnation upon the very soul of their victim. But what did this matter? The great King was in court, and their sentence was turned against themselves. Nothing can more sweetly sustain the heart of a slandered believer than the firm conviction that God is near to all who are wronged, and is sure to work out their salvation. O Lord, save us from the severe trial of slander. Deal in your righteousness with all those who spitefully assail the characters of holy men, and cause all who are smarting under calumny and reproach to come forth unsullied from the affliction, even as did your only begotten Son. Amen.