Psalms 141

PSALM CXLI

The psalmist prays that his devotions may be accepted, 1, 2.

That he may be enabled so to watch that he do not offend with

his tongue; and that he may be preserved from wickedness, 3, 4.

His willingness to receive reproof, 5.

He complains of disasters, 6, 7.

His trust in God, and prayer against his enemies, 8-10.

NOTES ON PSALM CXLI

This Psalm is generally attributed to David, and considered to

have been composed during his persecution by Saul. Some suppose

that he made it at the time that he formed the resolution to go to

Achish, king of Gath; see 1Sa 27:1-3. It is generally thought to

be an evening prayer, and has long been used as such in the

service of the Greek Church. It is in several places very obscure.

Verse 1. Lord, I cry unto thee] Many of David's Psalms begin

with complaints; but they are not those of habitual plaint and

peevishness. He was in frequent troubles and difficulties, and

he always sought help in God. He ever appears in earnest; at no

time is there any evidence that the devotion of David was formal.

He prayed, meditated, supplicated, groaned, cried, and even

roared, as he tells us, for the disquietude of his soul. He

had speedy answers; for he had much faith, and was always in

earnest.

Verse 2. As incense] Incense was offered every morning and

evening before the Lord, on the golden altar, before the veil of

the sanctuary. Ex 29:39, and Nu 28:4.

As the evening sacrifice.] This was a burnt-offering,

accompanied with flour and salt. But it does not appear that David

refers to any sacrifice, for he uses not zebach, which is

almost universally used for a slaughtered animal; but

minchah, which is generally taken for a gratitude-offering or

unbloody sacrifice. The literal translation of the passage is,

"Let my prayer be established for incense before thy faces; and

the lifting up of my hands for the evening oblation." The psalmist

appears to have been at this time at a distance from the

sanctuary, and therefore could not perform the Divine worship in

the way prescribed by the law. What could he do? Why, as he could

not worship according to the letter of the law, he will worship

God according to the spirit; then prayer is accepted in the place

of incense; and the lifting up of his hands, in gratitude and

self-dedication to God, is accepted in the place of the evening

minchah or oblation. Who can deplore the necessity that obliged

the psalmist to worship God in this way?

Verse 3. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth] While there are

so many spies on my actions and words, I have need to be doubly

guarded, that my enemies may have no advantage against me. Some

think the prayer is against impatience; but if he were now going

to Gath, it is more natural to suppose that he was praying to be

preserved from dishonouring the truth, and from making sinful

concessions in a heathen land; and at a court where, from his

circumstances, it was natural to suppose he might be tempted to

apostasy by the heathen party. The following verse seems to

support this opinion.

Verse 4. Let me eat not of their dainties.] This may refer

either to eating things forbidden by the law; or to the partaking

in banquets or feasts in honour of idols.

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me] This verse is extremely

difficult in the original. The following translation, in which the

Syriac, Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Arabic nearly agree,

appears to me to be the best: "Let the righteous chastise me in

mercy, and instruct me: but let not the oil of the wicked anoint

my head. It shall not adorn ( yani, from navah) my

head; for still my prayer shall be against their wicked works."

The oil of the wicked may here mean his smooth flattering

speeches; and the psalmist intimates that he would rather suffer

the cutting reproof of the righteous than the oily talk of the

flatterer. If this were the case, how few are there now-a-days of

his mind! On referring to Bishop Horsley, I find his translation

is something similar to my own:-

Let the just one smite me, let the pious remove me.

Let not the ointment of the impious anoint my head.

But still I will intrude in their calamities.

Verse 6. When their judges are overthrown in stony places]

biyedey sela, "In the hands of the rock." Does this

rock signify a strong or fortified place; and its hands the

garrison which have occupied it, by whom these judges were

overthrown? If we knew the occasion on which this Psalm was made,

we might be the better able to understand the allusions in the

text.

They shall hear my words; for they are sweet.] Some think there

is here an allusion to David's generous treatment of Saul in the

cave of En-gedi, and afterwards at the hill of Hachilah, in this

verse, which might be translated: "Their judges have been

dismissed in the rocky places; and have heard my words, that they

were sweet." Or perhaps there may be a reference to the death of

Saul and his sons, and the very disastrous defeat of the

Israelites at Gilboa. If so, the seventh verse will lose its chief

difficulty, Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth; but if

we take them as referring to the slaughter of the priests at Nob,

then, in stead of translating lephi sheol, at the grave's

mouth, we may translate at the command of Saul; and then the verse

will point out the manner in which those servants of the Lord were

massacred; Doeg cut them in pieces; hewed them down as one

cleaveth wood. Some understand all this of the cruel usage of the

captives in Babylon. I could add other conjectures, and contend

for my own; but they are all too vague to form a just ground for

decided opinion.

Verse 8. But mine eyes are unto thee] In all times, in all

places, on all occasions, I will cleave unto the Lord, and put my

whole confidence in him.

Verse 10. Let the wicked fall into their own nets] This is

generally the case; those who lay snares for others fall into them

themselves. Harm watch, harm catch, says the old adage. How many

cases have occurred where the spring guns that have been set for

thieves have shot some of the family! I have known some dismal

cases of this kind, where some of the most amiable lives have been

sacrificed to this accursed machine.

Whilst-I withal escape.] They alone are guilty; they alone

spread the nets and gins; I am innocent, and God will cause me to

escape.

ANALYSIS OF THE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FIRST PSALM

The contents and sum of the Psalm are the following:-

I. His prayer, Ps 141:1, 2.

II. That God would restrain his tongue, and compose his mind,

that through anger or impatience he offend not, Ps 141:3, 4.

III. He prays that if he must be reproved, it be by the just,

not the unjust man, Ps 141:5; whose judgment he declares,

Ps 141:5, 6, and will not have any society with him.

IV. He shows the malice of the wicked to good men, Ps 141:6, 7.

V. He puts his trust in God, and prays to be delivered from

snares, Ps 141:8-10.

I. 1. "Lord, I cry unto thee," &c. Speedily hear my prayer,

which is fervently and affectionately addressed to thee.

2. "Let my prayer be set forth before thee," &c. Which was

offered with the sacrifice. Why does David pray that his prayer

might be accepted as the evening rather than the morning

sacrifice? Perhaps the evening sacrifice might be more noble, as a

figure of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, which was in the

evening.

II. His second petition is, that God would restrain his tongue,

that he might know when to speak and when to be silent. The

metaphor is taken from the watch and gate of a city, which, to be

safely kept, no one must be suffered to go in or out that ought

not. The gate will not be sufficient without the watch; for it

will be always shut, or ever open.

His third petition is for his heart, because it is deceitful

above all things. Man is weak without the grace of God.

1. "Incline not my heart," &c. Suffer it not to be bent, or set

on any evil thing.

2. "Incline not my heart to practices," &c. To do iniquity,

being invited by their example.

3. "Let me not eat," &c. Partake with them in their feasts,

doctrines, feigned sanctity, power, riches, or dignities.

III. His fourth petition is, that if reproved, it may be in the

kindness of friendship, not revenge or bitterness.

1. "Let the righteous smite me," &c. Smite with a reproof.

2. "It shall be a kindness," &c. I shall account it an act of

charity, and I will love him for it.

3. "And let him reprove me," &c. An excellent oil, to heal my

wounds of sin.

IV. His next petition he prefaces thus: "Let my prayer," &c.

"When their judges are overthrown," &c., refers to the judicature:

the chief seats, authorities, &c., are swallowed up, as men are by

the sea; as the ship is dashed against the rock, and broken to

pieces.

And this sense the following verse will justify: "Our bones are

scattered," &c. They beset me and my company so closely, that we

despair of life; and our bones must be scattered here and there in

the wilderness, except thou, O Lord, succour us.

V. Therefore he presents his last petition, which has two parts.

1. "But mine eyes are unto thee," &c. 2. "Leave not my soul

destitute."

1. For his own safety: "Leave not my soul," &c. Let me not fall

into their hands.

2. Which prayer is grounded on his confidence in God: "Mine eyes

are unto thee," &c. I depend on and look to thee alone for

deliverance.

3. "Keep me from the snares," &c. From their frauds and

ambushes.

Lastly, he imprecates confusion on the heads of his enemies.

1. "Let the wicked fall," &c.

2. "Whilst that I withal escape." Pass by or through them

unhurt.

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