17. I will number all my bones; they look and stare upon me. 18. They part my garments among them, and cast the lot upon my vesture. 19. Be not thou then, O Jehovah! far from me. O thou: who art my strength, make haste to help me. 20. Deliver my soul from the sword; my only one1 from the hand [or power] of the dog. 21. Save me from the mouth of the lion, and hear me from the horns of the unicorns.2
17. I will number. The Hebrew word twmue, atsmoth which signifies bones, is derived from another word, which signifies strength; and, therefore, this term is sometimes applied to friends, by whose defense we are strengthened, or to arguments and reasons which are, as it were, the sinews and the strength of the defense of a cause. Some, therefore, put this meaning upon the passage, -- I will profit nothing by reckoning up all my arguments in self-vindication; for my enemies are fully determined to destroy me by some means or other, whether fair or foul, without having any regard to the dictates of justice. Others explain it thus:Although I should gather together all the aids which might seem to be capable of affording me succor, they would avail me nothing. But the exposition which is more generally received seems to me to be also the more simple and natural, and, therefore, I embrace it the more readily. It is this - that David complains that his body was so lean and wasted, that the bones appeared protruding from all parts of it; for he adds immediately after, that his enemies took pleasure in seeing him in so pitiable a condition. Thus the two clauses of the verse are beautifully connected together. The cruelty of his enemies was so insatiable, that beholding a wretched man wasted with grief, and as it were pining away, they took pleasure in feeding their eyes with so sad a spectacle.
What follows in the next verse concerning his garments is metaphorical. It is as if he had said, that all his goods were become a prey to his enemies, even as conquerors are accustomed to plunder the vanquished, or to divide the spoil among themselves, by casting lots to determine the share which belongs to each. Comparing his ornaments, riches, and all that he possessed, to his garments, he complains that, after he had been despoiled of them, his enemies divided them among themselves, as so much booty, accompanied with mockery of him; and by this mockery the villany of their conduct was aggravated, inasmuch as they triumphed over him, as if he had been a dead man. The Evangelists quote this place to the letter, as we say, and without figure; and there is no absurdity in their doing so. To teach us the more certainly that in this psalm Christ is described to us by the Spirit of prophecy, the heavenly Father intended that in the person of his Son those things should be visibly accomplished which were shadowed forth in David. Matthew, (Matthew 8:16, 17,) in narrating that the paralytic, the blind, and the lame, were healed of their diseases, says, that this was done "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bear our sicknesses;" although the prophet, in that place, sets before us the Son of God in the character of a spiritual physician. We are extremely slow and backward to believe; and it is not wonderful, that, on account of our dullness of apprehension, a demonstration of the character of Christ, palpable to our senses, has been given us,3 which might have the effect of arousing the sluggishness of our understandings.
19. Be not thou, then, far from me, O Jehovah! We must keep in mind all that David has hitherto related concerning himself. As his miseries had reached the utmost height, and as he saw not even a single ray of hope to encourage him to expect deliverance, it is a wonderful instance of the power of faith, that he not only endured his afflictions patiently, but that from the abyss of despair he arose to call upon God. Let us, therefore, particularly mark, that David did not pour out his lamentations thinking them to be in vain, and of no effect, as persons who are in perplexity often pour forth their groanings at random. The prayers which he adds sufficiently show that he hoped for such an issue as he desired. When he calls God his strength, by this epithet he gives a more evident proof of his faith. He does not pray in a doubting manner; but he promises himself the assistance which the eye of sense did not as yet perceive. By the sword, by the hand of the dog, by the mouth of the lion, and by the horns of the unicorns, he intimates that he was presently exposed to the danger of death, and that in many ways. Whence we gather, that although he utterly fainted in himself when thus surrounded by death, he yet continued strong in the Lord, and that the spirit of life had always been vigorous in his heart. Some take the words only soul, or only life, for dear and precious;4 but this view does not appear to me to be appropriate. He rather means, that, amidst so many deaths he found no help or succor in the whole world; as in Psalm 35:17 the words, only soul,5 are used in the same sense for a person who is alone and destitute of all aid and succor. This will appear more clearly from Psalm 25:16, where David, by calling himself poor and alone, doubtless complains that he was completely deprived of friends, and forsaken of the whole world. When it is said in the end of the 21st verse, Answer me, or, Hear me from the horns of the unicorns, this Hebrew manner of speaking may seem strange and obscure to our ears, but the sense is not at all ambiguous. The cause is only put instead of the effect; for our deliverance is the consequence or effect of God's hearing us. If it is asked how this can be applied to Christ, whom the Father did not deliver from death? I answer, in one word, that he was more mightily delivered than if God had prevented him from falling a victim to death, even as it is a much greater deliverance to rise again from the dead than to be healed of a grievous malady. Death, therefore, did not prevent Christ's resurrection from at length bearing witness that he had been heard.