Psalms 59

PSALM LIX

The psalmist prays for deliverance from his enemies, whose

desperate wickedness he describes, 1-7;

professes strong confidence in God, 8-10;

speaks of the destruction of his enemies, 11-15;

praises God for benefits already received; and determines to

trust in him, 16, 17.

NOTES ON PSALM LIX

The title, "To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, Michtam of

David," has already occurred: and perhaps means no more than that

the present Psalm is to be sung as Ps 57:1-11, the

first which bears this title. But there is here added the

supposed occasion on which David made this Psalm: it was, "when

Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him." When the

reader considers the whole of this Psalm carefully, he will be

convinced that the title does not correspond to the contents.

There is scarcely any thing in it that can apply to the

circumstances of Saul's sending his guards by night to keep the

avenues to the house of David, that when the morning came they

might seize and slay him; and of his being saved through the

information given him by his wife Michal, in consequence of which

he was let down through a window, and so escaped. See

1Sa 19:10, 11. There is not in the whole Psalm any positive

allusion to this history; and there are many things in it which

show it to be utterly inconsistent with the facts of that history.

The Psalm most evidently agrees to the time of Nehemiah, when he

was endeavouring to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, when the

enterprise was first mocked; then opposed by Sanballat the

Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, who watched

day and night that they might cause the work to cease; and laid

ambuscades for the life of Nehemiah himself. Every part of the

Psalm agrees to this: and I am therefore of Calmet's opinion, that

the Psalm was composed in that time, and probably by Nehemiah, or

by Esdras.

Verse 1. Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God] A very proper

prayer in the mouth of Nehemiah, when resisted in his attempts to

rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem,

who opposed the work, and endeavoured to take away the life of the

person whom God had raised up to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. I

conceive the Psalm to have been made on this occasion; and on this

hypothesis alone I think it capable of consistent explanation.

Verse 2. The workers of iniquity] Principally Sanballat the

Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian; who were

the chief enemies of the poor returned captives.

Bloody men.] The above, who sought the destruction of the

Israelites; and particularly, that of Nehemiah, whom four several

times they endeavoured to bring into an ambush, that they might

take away his life. See Ne 6:1-4.

Verse 3. For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul] For my life. See

the passages referred to above.

Verse 4. They run and prepare themselves] They leave no stone

unturned that they may effect my destruction and prevent the

building.

Verse 5. O Lord God of hosts] This was a proper view to take of

God. when Israel, a handful of poor distressed captives were

surrounded and oppressed by the heathen chiefs above mentioned,

and their several tribes. But Jehovah, God of hosts, was the God

of Israel; and hence Israel had little to fear.

Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.] Do not favour the

cause of these wicked men. They are bogedey aven,

"changers of iniquity:" they go through the whole round of evil;

find out and exercise themselves in all the varieties of

transgression. How exactly does this apply to Nehemiah's foes!

They sought, by open attack, wiles, flattery, foul speeches, fair

speeches, threats, and ambuscades, to take away his life. Do not

show them favour, that they may not succeed in their wicked

designs. The prayer here is exactly the same in sentiment with

that of Nehemiah, Ne 4:4, 5. Hear, our God, for we are despised;

turn their reproach upon their own heads;-cover not their

iniquity, "and let not their sin be blotted out."

Verse 6. They return at evening] When the beasts of prey leave

their dens, and go prowling about the cities and villages to get

offal, and entrap domestic animals, these come about the city to

see if they may get an entrance, destroy the work, and those

engaged in it.

Verse 7. They belch out with their mouth] They use the lowest

insult, the basest abuse. They deal in sarcasm, ridicule, slander,

and lies.

Verse 8. Thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them] They have mocked us;

God will turn them and their schemes into ridicule and contempt:

"Thou shalt have all these heathenish nations in derision."

Verse 9. Because of his strength will I wait upon thee] With

this reading, I can make no sense of the passage. But instead of

uzzo, "his strength," uzzi, "my strength," is

the reading of fourteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., of

the Vulgate, Septuagint, Chaldee, and, in effect, of the

AEthiopic, Syriac, and Arabic; and also of the Anglo-Saxon. To

thee I commit all MY strength; all I have I derive from thee, and

all the good I possess I attribute to thee. The old Psalter

translates, My strenght I shall kepe till the, for myn uptaker

thou art. See on Ps 59:17.

Verse 10. The God of my mercy shall prevent me] The mercy of God

shall go before me, and thus help me in all my doings.

God shall let me see my desire] The sentence is short. God will

let me see concerning my enemies, i.e., how he will treat them.

Verse 11. Slay them not, lest my people forget] I believe the

Chaldee gives the true sense of this verse: "Do not slay them

suddenly, lest my people should forget. Drive them from their

habitations by thy power, and reduce them to poverty by the loss

of their property." Preserve them long in a state of chastisement,

that Israel may see thou hast undertaken for them: that thy hand

is on the wicked for evil, and on them for good. The Canaanites

were not suddenly destroyed; they were left to be pricks in the

eyes and thorns in the sides of the Israelites. It is in a sense

somewhat similar that the words are used here.

Verse 12. For the sin of their mouth] This verse has puzzled all

the commentators. If we take chattath for sin-offering

instead of sin, we shall get a better sense. Some of Nehemiah's

enemies made a profession of the Jewish religion. Tobiah and his

son were allied by marriage to the Jews; for Eliashib the priest

had married his grandson to the daughter of Sanballat; and this

produced a connexion with Tobiah, the fast friend of Sanballat.

Besides this very priest had given Tobiah one of the great

chambers in the house of the Lord, where formerly the

meat-offerings, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithe of

the corn and wine and oil were kept; Ne 13:4, 5, 7-9. And

there were children of Tobiah (probably the same family) who

professed to be of the Levites, Nethinim, or children of Solomon's

servants; but as they could not show their father's house and

their seed, whether they were of Israel; these, and others which

were children of the priests, were put out of the priesthood, and

out of the sacred service, as polluted; as having sprung from

intermarriages with heathens. See Ezr 2:59-62. Tobiah was

expelled from the house of the Lord by Nehemiah, and all his

household stuff thrown out of doors: Ne 13:7, 8. And this was

doubtless one ground of the enmity of Tobiah to Nehemiah; and in

this verse of the Psalm he may allude particularly to his

occupancy of the chamber of offerings, which offerings, instead of

being given to the Levites, were consumed by Tobiah and his

household. This may be fairly gathered from Ne 13:6, 10, 11. Here

then we have the sin of their mouth; their eating the offerings

that belonged to the Levites; so that the temple service was

deserted, the Levites being obliged to go and till the ground in

order to obtain the means of life. And if we take chattath

for sin-offering, it may refer to promises of sacrifice and

offering which Tobiah and his family made, but never performed.

They ate instead of offering them; and here was the sin of their

mouth, in connexion with the words of their lips, and their

cursing and lying which they spake, for which the psalmist calls

upon the Lord to consume them, that they may not be, Ps 59:13.

Verse 14. At evening let them return] He had mentioned before,

Ps 59:6, that these persons came like beasts of prey round the

city striving to get in, that they might take possession. Now,

being fully assured of God's protection, and that they shall soon

be made a public example, he says, Let them return and make a

noise like a dog, &c., like dogs, jackals, and other famished

creatures, who come howling about the city-walls for something to

eat, and wander up and down for meat, grumbling because they are

not satisfied, Ps 59:15. Nehemiah had made up all the breaches;

and had the city guarded so well day and night, by watches who

continually relieved each other, that there was no longer any fear

of being taken by surprise: and now they must feel like the hungry

beasts who were disappointed of their prey.

Verse 16. I will sing of thy power] For it was because thy hand

was upon me for good, that I have thus succeeded in my

enterprises.

Yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy] I shall publish abroad what

thou hast done; and done not for my worthiness, nor for the

worthiness of the people; but for thy own mercy's sake.

In the day of my trouble.] When I came with small means and

feeble help, and had the force and fraud of many enemies to

contend with, besides the corruption and unfaithfulness of my own

people; thou wast then my defence; and in all attacks, whether

open or covered, my sure refuge. I will, therefore, sing of

thy mercy in the morning-I will hasten to acquit myself of a duty

I owe to thee for such singular interpositions of mercy and power.

Verse 17. Unto thee, O my strength] A similar sentiment to that

expressed, Ps 59:9. But the words are very emphatic:

God is my strength; God is my elevation. My God is my mercy. I

have nothing good but what I have from God. And all springs from

his dwelling in me. God, therefore, shall have all the glory, both

now and for ever.

As many persons may still think that the inscription to this

Psalm is correct, the following analysis may be applied in that

way; or considered as containing a general resolution of the

Psalm, without referring it to any particular occasion.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-NINTH PSALM

The contents of this Psalm are:-

I. The psalmist's prayer for deliverance, Ps 59:1, 2, and

against his foes, Ps 59:5.

II. He complains of and expresses his enemies' cruelty and

improbity, Ps 59:3-8.

III. He comforts himself, being confident of his own

preservation, Ps 59:8-10.

1. And of their punishment, for which he prays, Ps 59:14.

2. And of their vain endeavours, for which he insults over them,

Ps 59:14, 15.

IV. He concludes with thanks, Ps 59:16, 17.

I. He begins with a petition for deliverance, defence,

salvation; and urges it from the qualities of his enemies.

1. "Deliver me, defend me from mine enemies:" 1. "Them that rise

up against me." 2. "From the workers of iniquity." 3. "From bloody

men." These considerations make him pray, "O my God, deliver," &c.

2. And yet, more particularly, he expresses their cruelty and

treachery; to aggravate which he pleads his innocence towards

them.

II. 1. Their cruelty: "Lo, they lie in wait for my soul."

2. Their treachery: "The mighty are gathered against me." They

run and prepare themselves.

3. 1. They are diligent about it: "They return at evening." 2.

Mad, and set to do it: "They make a noise like a dog," and

threaten boldly. 3. Unwearied and obdurate in their purpose: "They

go round about the city." 4. Impudent, and brag what they will do

to me: "Behold, they belch out with their mouth." 5. And their

words are bloody: "Swords are in their lips."

4. And the cause of this is, that they are proud and

atheistical. Who, say they, doth hear? They think themselves

secure, supposing they may contemn God and man; neither regarding

what is done or becomes of poor David.

5. In the midst of which aggravations he asserts his own

innocence: "They gather themselves together, not for my

transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord."

Then he renews his petition:-

1. Awake to help me, and behold: "Thou, therefore, the Lord God

of hosts, the God of Israel." 1. The Lord God of hosts; therefore,

powerful. 2. The God of Israel; therefore, merciful.

2. "Awake to visit all the heathen," i.e., punish the heathen;

and the Israelites, in this no better.

3. And be not merciful to any wicked transgressors, i.e.,

obstinate nations.

III. To this rage and implacable hatred of his enemies he now

begins to oppose the comfort he had in God's promises. This I

know,-

1. "Thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them." As it were in sport,

destroy them, be their power never so great; "Thou wilt laugh them

to scorn."

2. Them and all that are like them: "Thou shalt have all the

heathen in derision."

3. I confess that Saul's strength is great; but my Protector is

greater: "Because of his strength will I wait upon thee, for God

is my defence."

4. This I am assured also, "that the God of my mercy," that hath

hitherto showed me mercy, "shall prevent me," come in season to my

help. "And God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies."

And to the 16th verse he expresses what his desires were:-

1. Negatively; he would not have them slain and eradicated; and

he gives his reason for it: "Slay them not, lest my people

forget;" for a dead man is quickly out of mind, and his punishment

also, and few the better for it.

2. Positively; the first degree of which is dispersion,

vagrancy, banishment. Scatter them, which however severe a

judgment, let the Jews witness.

2. Humiliation: "Bring them down, O Lord, our shield." Bring

them from their power, command, honour, to a low degree, which is

no small heart-breaking to a great spirit. Fuimus Troes, is never

remembered without a groan.

And now he assigns the cause why he would have them scattered,

and brought low; that their blasphemies and lies may never be

forgotten, but stand as a terror to all liars and blasphemers.

1. "For the sin of their mouth, and the words of their lips, let

them even be taken in their pride;" the Jews cried Beelzebub,

nolumus hunc; and they were taken.

2. "And for cursing and lying which they speak." They cursed

themselves: "His blood be upon us;" and upon them, indeed, it was.

3. He goes on in his desires. "Consume them, O Lord,"

emphatically, "consume them in wrath, that they may not be;"

which, at first sight, appears contrary to the first desire, "Slay

them not:" but he speaks not of their life as if he would have it

consumed; but he desires only a consumption of their power,

royalty, command. And so these words are a farther explication of

his second desire, "Bring them down." He would have them brought

down in their strength, dignity, command, wealth, riches, which

made them proud; that they might never be able to oppose God any

more, hurt his people, trample upon religion and his Church; but

he would have them live.

4. And shows the end why he would have them live, and still

remain-that they might know by their calamities and miseries, that

"it is God that ruleth in Jacob, and unto the ends of the earth;"

that he doth wonderfully govern and preserve his Church that is

scattered over all the earth.

5. And now by a bitter epitrope, or rather synchoresis, he

insults over them. In the sixth verse he showed their double

diligence to do mischief.

1. "They return at evening." Well, esto; be it so; "At evening

let them return."

2. "They make a noise like a dog." Well; "let them make a noise

like a dog."

3. "And go round about the city." Well; "let them go round about

the city."

They know that they shall be in a miserable poor mean

condition:-

1. "Let them wander up and down for meat." Let them find no

settled habitation, but seek necessary food in a strange nation.

2. "And grudge if they be not satisfied." Let them be always

grudging, if they have not content. If they be not satisfied, they

will stay all night; be importunate and unmannerly beggars.

IV. The conclusion is a doxology, and contains David's thanks

that God is his defence, his refuge, his strength. Of him,

therefore, he makes his song.

1. "I will sing of thy power."

2. "I will sing of thy mercy." 1. "Aloud." 2. "In the morning."

3. The reason he gives: "For thou hast been my refuge and

defence in the day of my trouble."

Both he repeats again:-

1. "Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing."

2. The reason: "For God is my defence, and the God of my mercy."

And he joins these two attributes, strength and mercy. Take away

strength from him, and he cannot, remove mercy, and he will not,

protect. Both must go together; power that he can, mercy that he

will; otherwise it is in vain that we hope for help from him.

David found God to be both, and for both he extols him.

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