Psalms 57

PSALM LVII

David cries to God for mercy, with the strongest confidence of

being heard, 1-3;

he describes his enemies as lions, 4;

thanks God for his deliverance, 5;

and purposes to publish the praises of the Lord among his

people, 6-11.

NOTES ON PSALM LVII

The title is, To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, (destroy not,)

a golden Psalm of David, (or one to be engraven,) where he fed

from Saul in the cave. It is very likely that this Psalm was made

to commemorate his escape from Saul in the cave of En-gedi, where

Saul had entered without knowing that David was there, and David

cut off the skirt of his garment. And it is not improbable that,

when he found that Saul was providentially delivered into his

hand, he might have formed the hasty resolution to take away his

life, as his companions counselled him to do; and in that moment

the Divine monition came, al tascheth! Destroy not! lift

not up thy hand against the Lord's anointed! Instead, therefore,

of taking away his life, he contented himself with taking away his

skirt, to show him that he had been in his power. When,

afterwards, he composed the Psalm, he gave it for title the words

which he received as a Divine warning. See the history

1Sa 24:1-22. See also my note upon the

fourth verse of that chapter. See Clarke on 1Sa 24:4.

Verse 1. Be merciful unto me] To show David's deep earnestness,

he repeats this twice; he was in great danger, surrounded by

implacable enemies, and he knew that God alone could deliver him.

My soul trusteth in thee] I put my life into thy hand; and my

immortal spirit knows no other portion than thyself.

In the shadow of thy wings] A metaphor taken from the brood of a

hen taking shelter under her wings when they see a bird of prey;

and there they continue to hide themselves till their enemy

disappears. In a storm, or tempest of rain, the mother covers

them with her wings to afford them shelter and defence. This the

psalmist has particularly in view, as the following words show:

"Until these calamities be overpast."

Verse 2. I will cry unto God most high] He is the Most High; and

therefore far above all my enemies, though the prince of the power

of the air be at their head.

Unto God, lael, unto the strong God, one against whom

no human or diabolic might can prevail. David felt his own

weakness, and he knew the strength of his adversaries; and

therefore he views God under those attributes and characters which

were suited to his state. This is a great secret in the Christian

life; few pray to God wisely; though they may do it fervently.

That performeth all things for me.] Who works for me;

gomer, he who completes for me, and will bring all to a happy

issue.

Verse 3. He shall send from heaven, and save me] Were there no

human agents or earthly means that he could employ, he would send

his angels from heaven to rescue me from my enemies. Or, He will

give his command from heaven that this may be done on earth.

Selah] I think this word should be at the end of the verse.

God shall send forth his mercy and his truth.] Here mercy and

truth are personified. They are the messengers that God will

send from heaven to save me. His mercy ever inclines him to help

and save the distressed. This he has promised to do; and his truth

binds him to fulfil the promises or engagements his mercy has

made, both to saints and sinners.

Verse 4. My soul is among lions] bethoch lebaim.

I agree with Dr. Kennicott that this should be translated, "My

soul dwells in parched places," from laab, he thirsted. And

thus the Chaldee seems to have understood the place, though it be

not explicit.

I lie even among them that are set on fire] I seem to be among

coals. It is no ordinary rage and malice by which I am pursued:

each of my enemies seems determined to have my life.

Verse 5. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens] Let the

glory of thy mercy and truth be seen in the heavens above, and in

the earth beneath. Several of the fathers apply what is said above

to the passion of our Lord, and what is said here to his

resurrection.

Verse 6. They have prepared a net for my steps] A gin or

springe, such as huntsmen put in the places which they know the

prey they seek frequents: such, also, as they place in passages in

hedges, &c., through which the game creeps.

They have digged a pit] Another method of catching game and wild

beasts. They dig a pit, cover it over with weak sticks and turf.

The beasts, not suspecting danger where none appears, in

attempting to walk over it, fall through, and are taken. Saul

digged a pit, laid snares for the life of David; and fell into one

of them himself, particularly at the cave of En-gedi; for he

entered into the very pit or cave where David and his men were

hidden, and his life lay at the generosity of the very man whose

life he was seeking! The rabbins tell a curious and instructive

tale concerning this: "God sent a spider to weave her web at the

mouth of the cave in which David and his men lay hid. When Saul

saw the spider's web over the cave's mouth, he very naturally

conjectured that it could neither be the haunt of men nor wild

beasts; and therefore went in with confidence to repose." The

spider here, a vile and contemptible animal, became the

instrument in the hand of God of saving David's life and of

confounding Saul in his policy and malice. This may be a fable;

but it shows by what apparently insignificant means God, the

universal ruler, can accomplish the greatest and most beneficent

ends. Saul continued to dig pits to entrap David; and at last

fell a prey to his own obstinacy. We have a proverb to the same

effect: Harm watch, harm catch. The Greeks have one also: ητε

κακηβουλητωβουλευσαντικακιστη, "An evil advice often becomes

most ruinous to the adviser." The Romans have one to the same

effect:-

Neque enim lex justior ulla est

Quam necis artificem arte perire sua.

"There is no law more just than that which condemns a man to

suffer death by the instrument which he has invented to take away

the life of others."

Verse 7. My heart is fixed] My heart is prepared to do and

suffer thy will. It is fixed-it has made the firmest purpose

through his strength by which I can do all things.

Verse 8. Awake up, my glory] Instead of kebodi, "my

glory," one MS., and the Syriac, have kinnori, "my harp."

Dr. Kennicott reads kebori, which he supposes to be some

instrument of music; and adds that the instrument used in

church-music by the Ethiopians is now called kaber. I think

the Syriac likely to be the true reading: "Awake up, my harp;

awake, psaltery and harp: I will awake early." Such repetitions

are frequent in the Hebrew poets. If we read my glory, it may

refer either to his tongue; or, which is more likely, to his skill

in composition, and in playing on different instruments. The five

last verses of this Psalm are nearly the same with the five first

verses of Ps 108:1-5. The reason of this may be, the

notes or memoranda from the psalmist's diary were probably,

through mistake, twice copied. The insertion at the beginning of

the cviiith Psalm seems to bear no relation to the rest of that

ode.

Rabbi Solomon Jarchi tells us that David had a harp at his bed's

head, which played of itself when the north wind blew on it; and

then David arose to give praise to God. This account has been

treated as a ridiculous fable by grave Christian writers. I would

however hesitate, and ask one question: Does not the account

itself point out an instrument then well known, similar to the

comparatively lately discovered AEolian harp? Was not this the

instrument hung at David's bed's head, which, when the night

breeze (which probably blew at a certain time) began to act upon

the cords, sent forth those dulcet, those heavenly sounds, for

which the AEolian harp is remarkable? "Awake, my harp, at the due

time: I will not wait for thee now, I have the strongest cause for

gratitude; I will awake earlier than usual to sing the praises of

my God."

Verse 9. Among the people] The Israelites.

Among the nations.] The Gentiles at large. A prophecy either

relating to the Gospel times, Christ being considered as the

Speaker: or a prediction that these Divine compositions should be

sung, both in synagogues and in Christian churches, in all the

nations of the earth. And it is so: wherever the name of Christ is

known, there is David's known also.

Verse 10. Thy mercy is great unto the heavens] It is as far

above all human description and comprehension as the heavens are

above the earth. See the notes on Ps 36:5, 6, where nearly the

same words occur.

Verse 11. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens] The same

sentiments and words which occur in Ps 57:5.

See Clarke on Ps 57:5.

David was not only in a happy state of mind when he wrote this

Psalm, but in what is called a state of triumph. His confidence in

God was unbounded; though encompassed by the most ferocious

enemies, and having all things against him except God and his

innocence. David will seldom be found in a more blessed state than

he here describes. Similar faith in God will bring the same

blessings to every true Christian in similar circumstances.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-SEVENTH PSALM

The contents of this Psalm are,-

I. David's petition, Ps 57:1.

II. The reasons which induced him to offer it, Ps 57:2-6.

III. His resolution to give God due praise, Ps 57:5, 7-11.

I. His petition is ardent. The repetition shows this: it is for

grace and protection: "Be merciful unto me, be merciful unto me, O

God!"

II. He adduces his reasons to persuade the Lord to be merciful.

First reason. The faith and confidence he had in God: "My soul

trusteth in thee; and under the shadow of thy wings," as the

chicken does under those of the hen, "shall be my refuge until

these calamities be overpast."

Second reason. The sufficiency and efficiency of God: "I will

call upon God."

l. He is the Most High; then he is sufficient and able to

deliver me.

2. He will perform all things for me: therefore he will effect

this.

In the following verse he insists on this argument.

"He shall send from heaven." He will do it in a miraculous way,

if there be no other way: "He will send from heaven, and save me.

He will send forth his mercy and his truth;" he will perform his

word, and graciously save me.

The third reason of his petition is the extreme danger he was

then in by a cruel and merciless enemy.

1. "My soul is among the lions," a ravenous, strong, and bloody

creature.

2. "I lie even among those who are set on fire." Their anger and

hatred to me are implacable.

3. Even among those whose "teeth are spears and arrows, and

their tongue a sharp sword." They wound by calumniating me. A

spear wounds near; an arrow, afar off; a sword, at hand: near

or far off, they spare not to disgrace me.

He now brings another argument, stronger than all the rest,

viz., God's glory. It will be to his glory to be merciful, to

save, and to deliver; and therefore he prays: "Be thou exalted, O

God, above the heavens, and let thy glory," &c. That is, Let not

the wicked triumph; but display thy power, and assert thy glory;

which, if thou do, thy glory will be conspicuous above-in the

heavens, and below-over all the earth.

He then begins his complaint, describing the practices of his

enemies:-

1. "They have prepared a net for my feet." They lay snares as

fowlers do.

2. Through which "my soul is bowed down." My life is in extreme

danger.

3. "They have digged a pit before me," intending to take me like

some wild beast, but, praised be God I foresee the event. "They

are fallen into the pit themselves."

III. In confidence of this David gives thanks, which may be

considered a fourth argument; for there is no such way to procure

a new favour as to be thankful. Our thanksgiving: should consist

of two especial points: 1. Commemoration; 2. Declaration.

1. He that will be thankful should treasure up in his heart and

memory the kindness that is done to him. This David had done:

"My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed."

2. After he remembers it, he should be affected by it, and

resolve on it. So does David. My heart is ready, prepared,

fixed. I will be thankful. I am determined.

3. It is not enough that a man have a thankful heart; he must

declare it, and make publicly known what God has done for him:

"I will sing, and give praise."

4. He should use all means in his power to make it known;

tongue, psaltery, harp, are all little enough. To these he

addresses himself: "Awake, tongue, lute, harp," &c.

5. He must not do it carelessly: "Awake! Awake! Myself will

awake."

6. He must take the first opportunity, and not delay it: "I will

awake EARLY."

7. He should do it in such a way as most tends to God's glory:

"I will praise thee among the people-I will sing of thee among the

nations."

That all this may be done, David gives a sufficient

reason,-God's mercy and truth. His infinite mercy in promising,

his truth in performing: "Thy mercy is great unto the heavens; thy

truth unto the clouds."

And then he concludes with a repetition of the fifth verse: "Be

thou exalted above the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds."

Let all give thee the glory due to thy name.

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