This psalm consists of two parts. In the first part, David recounts the severe assaults of temptation which he had encountered, and the state of distressing anxiety to which he had been reduced during the time of his persecution by Saul. In the second, he congratulates himself on the deliverance which God had granted him, and magnifies the righteousness of God in the government of the world.
To the chief musician. A Psalm of David.
1. In Jehovah do I put my trust:how then say ye to my soul, Flee ye into your mountain as a bird? 2. Surely, behold! the ungodly shall bend1 their bow, they have fixed their arrows upon the string, to shoot secretly at the upright in heart. 3. Truly, the foundations are destroyed:what2 hath the righteous One done?
1. In Jehovah do I put my trust. Almost all interpreters think that this is a complaint which David brings against his countrymen, that while seeking in every quarter for hiding-places, he could find nowhere even common humanity. And it is indeed true, that in the whole course of his wanderings, after betaking himself to flight to escape the cruelty of Saul, he could find no secure place of retreat, at least, none where he might continue for any length of time undisturbed. He might, therefore, justly complain of his own countrymen, in that none of them deigned to shelter him when he was a fugitive. But I think he has a respect to something higher. When all men were striving, as it were, with each other, to drive him to despair, he must, according to the weakness of the flesh, have been afflicted with great and almost overwhelming distress of mind; but fortified by faith, he confidently and steadfastly leaned on the promises of God, and was thus preserved from yielding to the temptations to which he was exposed. These spiritual conflicts, with which God exercised him in the midst of his extreme perils, he here recounts. Accordingly, as I have just now observed, the psalm should be divided into two parts. Before celebrating the righteousness of God, which he displays in the preservation of the godly, the Psalmist shows how he had encountered even death itself, and yet, through faith and an upright conscience, had obtained the victory. As all men advised him to leave his country, and retire into some place of exile, where he might be concealed, inasmuch as there remained for him no hope of life, unless he should relinquish the kingdom, which had been promised to him; in the beginning of the psalm, he opposes to this perverse advice the shield of his trust in God.
But before entering farther upon the subject, let us interpret the words. The word dwn, nud, which we have rendered to flee, is written in the plural number, and yet it is read in the singular;3 but, in my opinion, this is a corrupt reading. As David tells us that this was said to himself only, the Jewish doctors, thinking the plural number unsuitable, have taken it upon them to read the word in the singular. Some of them, wishing to retain the literal sense as it is called, perplex themselves with the question, why it is said, Flee ye, rather than Flee thou; and, at length, they have recourse to a very meagre subtilty, as if those who counselled him to betake himself to flight addressed both his soul and his body. But it was unnecessary labor to put themselves to so much trouble in a matter where there is no difficulty; for it is certain that those who counselled David did not say that he alone should flee, but that he should flee, together with all his attendants, who were in the same danger with himself. Although, therefore, they addressed themselves especially to David, yet they included his companions, who had a common cause with him, and were exposed to the like danger. Expositors, also, differ in their interpretation of what follows. Many render it from your mountain, as if it were Mkrhm, meharkem; and, according to them, there is a change of person, because those who spoke to him must have said, flee thou from Our mountain. But this is harsh and strained. Nor does it appear to me that they have any more reason on their side, when they say that Judea is here called mountain. Others think we should read rwpu wmk rh, har kemo tsippor,4 that is, into the mountain as a bird, without a pronoun.5 But if we follow what I have said, it will agree very well with the scope of the passage to read thus, Flee ye into your mountain, for you are not permitted to dwell in your own country. I do not, however, think that any particular mountain is pointed out, but that David was sent away to the desert rocks wherever chance might lead him. Condemning those who gave him this advice, he declares that he depends upon the promise of God, and is not at all disposed thus to go away into exile. Such, then, was the condition of David, that, in his extreme necessity, all men repelled and chased him far away into desert places.
But as he seems to intimate that it would be a sign of distrust were he to place his safety in flight, it may be asked, whether or not it would have been lawful for him to flee; yea, we know that he was often forced to retire into exile, and driven about from place to place, and that he even sometimes hid himself in caves. I answer, it is true he was unsettled like a poor fearful bird, which leaps from branch to branch,6 and was compelled to seek for different bypaths, and to wander from place to place to avoid the snares of his enemies; yet still his faith continued so steadfast that he never alienated himself from the people of God. Others accounted him a lost man, and one whose affairs were in a hopeless condition, setting no more value upon him than if he had been a rotten limb,7 yet he never separated himself from the body of the Church. And certainly these words, Flee ye, tended only to make him yield to utter despair. But it would have been wrong for him to have yielded to these fears, and to have betaken himself to flight, as if uncertain of what would be the issue. He therefore says expressly, that this was spoken to his soul, meaning that his heart was deeply pierced by such an ignominious rejection, since he saw (as I have said) that it tended only to shake and to weaken his faith. In short, although he had always lived innocently, as it became a true servant of God, yet these malignant men would have doomed him to remain for ever in a state of exile from his native country. This verse teaches us, that however much the world may hate and persecute us,8 we ought nevertheless to continue steadfast at our post, that we may not deprive ourselves of a right to lay claim to the promises of God, or that these may not slip away from us; and that, however much and however long we may be harassed, we ought always to continue firm and unwavering in the faith of our having the call of God.
2. Surely, behold! the ungodly. Some think that this is added as the excuse made by those who desired David to save himself by flight. According to others, David expostulates with his countrymen, who saw death menacing him on all sides, and yet denied him shelter. But, in my judgment, he here continues his account of the trying circumstances in which he was placed. His design is not only to place before our view the dangers with which he was surrounded, but to show us that he was exposed even to death itself. He therefore says, that wherever he might hide himself, it was impossible for him to escape from the hands of his enemies. Now, the description of so miserable a condition illustrates the more strikingly the grace of God in the deliverance which he afterwards granted him. With respect to the words, they have fixed their arrows upon the string, to Shoot Secretly, or in darkness, some understand them metaphorically of the attempts which David's enemies made to surprise him by craft and snares. I, however, prefer this interpretation, as being more simple, - that there was no place so hidden into which the darts of his enemies did not penetrate, and that, therefore, to whatever caves he could betake himself for concealment and shelter, death would follow him as his inseparable attendant.
3. Truly, the foundations are destroyed. Some translate the word twtsh, hashathoth, by nets, a sense in which the Scripture in other places often uses this word; and their explanation of the words is, that the wicked and deceitful arts which the ungodly practiced against David were defeated. If we admit this interpretation, the meaning of what he adds immediately after, What hath the righteous one done? will be, that his escape in safety was owing neither to his own exertion, nor to his own skill, but that, without putting forth any effort, and when, as it were, he was asleep, he had been delivered from the nets and snares of his enemies by the power of God. But the word foundations agrees better with the scope of the passage, for he evidently proceeds to relate into what straits he had been brought and shut up, so that his preservation was now to all appearance hopeless. Interpreters, however, who hold that foundations is the proper translation of the word, are not agreed as to the sense. Some explain it, that he had not a single spot on which to fix his foot; others, that covenants which ought to have stability, by being faithfully kept, had been often shamefully violated by Saul. Some also understand it allegorically, as meaning that the righteous priests of God, who were the pillars of the land, had been put to death. But I have no doubt of its being a metaphor taken from buildings, which must fall down and become a heap of ruins when their foundations are undermined; and thus David complains, that, in the eyes of the world, he was utterly overthrown, inasmuch as all that he possessed was completely destroyed. In the last clause, he again repeats, that to be persecuted so cruelly was what he did not deserve:What hath the righteous one done? And he asserts his own innocence, partly to comfort himself in his calamities from the testimony of a good conscience, and partly to encourage himself in the hope of obtaining deliverance. That which encouraged him to trust in God was the belief which he entertained, that on account of the justice of his cause God was on his side, and would be favorable to him.