David complains of the implacable cruelty of his enemies, and of their treachery and rancorous calumnies. In the close, having besought God's help, and expressing his persuasion of obtaining his layout, he comforts himself with the hope of deliverance, and just vengeance being executed upon his enemies.

To the chief Musician -- A Psalm of David.


Psalm 140:1-5

1. Deliver me, O Jehovah! from the evil man, (homo,) preserve me from the man (vir)1 of injuries. 2. Who imagine mischiefs in their heart; daily they congregate for war. 3. They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent:2 the poison of an asp3 is under their lips. Selah. 4. Keep us, O Jehovah! from the hands of the wicked: preserve me from the man of injuries, who plot to overthrow my goings. 5. The proud have set a snare for me, and have spread a net with cords: by the way side they have set gins for me.4 Selah.

To the chief Musician, etc. I cannot bring myself to restrict this Psalm to Doeg, as the great body of interpreters do, for the context will clearly show that it speaks of Saul, and of the counselors who ceased not to inflame the king -- himself sufficiently incensed against the life of one who was a saint of God. Being as he was a figure of Christ, we need not wonder that the agents of the devil directed so much of their rage against him. And this is the reason why he animadverts so sharply upon their rancor and treachery.

The terms wicked and violent men denote their unwarranted attempts at his destruction without provocation given. He therefore commends his cause to God, as having studied peace with them, as never having injured them, but being the innocent object of their unjust persecution. The same rule must be observed by us all, as it is against violence and wickedness that the help of God is extended. David is not Multiplying mere terms of reproach as men do in their personal disputes, but conciliating God's favor by supplying a proof of his innocence, for he must always be upon the side of good and peaceable men.

2. Who imagine mischief's in their heart. Here he charges them with inward malignity of heart. And it is plain that the reference is not to one man merely, for he passes to the plural number (in a manner sufficiently common,) reverting from the head to all his associates and copartners in guilt. Indeed what was formerly said in the singular number may be taken indefinitely, as grammarians say. In general he repeats what I have noticed already, that the hostility to which he was subjected arose from no cause of his. From this we learn that the more wickedly our enemies assail us, and the more of treachery and clandestine acts they manifest, the nearer is the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, who himself dictated this form of prayer by the mouth of David. The second clause may be rendered in three ways. Literally it reads, who gather wars, and so some understand it. But it, is well known that the prepositions are often omitted in the Hebrew, and no doubt lie means that they stirred up general enmity by their false information's being as the trumpet which sounds to battle. Some render the verb -- to conspire, or plot together, but this is a farfetched and meager sense. He intimates afterwards in what manner they stirred up unjust war by the wicked calumnies which they spread, as they could not crush a good and innocent person by violence, otherwise than by first overwhelming him with calumny.

4. Keep me, O Jehovah! To complaints and accusations he now again adds prayer, from which it appears more clearly, as I observed already, that it is God whom he seeks to be his avenger. It is the same sentiment repeated, with one or two words changed; for he had said deliver me, now he says keep me, and for the wicked man he substitutes the hand of the wicked. He had spoken of their conceiving mischief's, now of their plotting how they might ruin a poor unsuspecting individual. What he had said of their fraud and deceit he repeats in figurative language, which does not want emphasis. He speaks of nets spread out on every side to circumvent him, unless God interposed for his help. Though at first sight the metaphors may seem more obscure than the prayer was in its simple unfigurative expression, they are far from darkening the previous declarations, and they add much to the strength of them. From the word Myag, geim, which signifies proud or lofty in the Hebrew, we learn that he does not speak of common men, but of men in power, who considered that they would have no difficulty in crushing an insignificant individual. When our enemies attack us in the insolence of pride, let us learn to resort to God, who can repel the rage of the wicked. Nor does he mean to say that they attacked him merely by bold and violent measures, for he complains of their spreading gins and snares; both methods are spoken of, namely, that while they were confident of the power which they possessed, they devised stratagems for his destruction.

1 "The word 'man' in these two lines is expressed in the first by Mda (homo,) in the second by sya (vir.)" -- Jebb's Translation of the Psalms, etc., volume 1.

2 Mant translates --

"The serpent's brandished tongue is theirs."

"The verb," says he, "here rendered 'brandished,' signifies either 'to whet, sharpen,' which is performed by reiterated motion or friction, or to 'vibrate.' In either case the metaphor, as applied to a wicked tongue, is beautiful and appropriate. I have preferred the latter as affording a more poetical image. See Parkhurst on Nns, 3." In illustration of this figure Kimchi observes, that "the serpent when it comes to bite will open its mouth, and will hiss, and move its tongue here and there as if it would make it sharp as a barber's razor."

3 The original word bwske, achshub, rendered "asp," is to be found in Scripture only in this place; and though it evidently denotes some of the serpent tribe, it is not so easy to determine the particular species intended. In our English Bible it is translated "adder," and as the word is derived from an Arabic verb, which signifies to coil up, or bend back, it has been said that this act perfectly corresponds with the nature of the adder, which in preparing to strike contracts itself into a spiral form, and raises its horrid head from the middle of the orb; and which also assumes the same form when it goes to sleep, coiling its body into a number of circles, with its head in the center. -- (Paxton's Illustrations of Scripture, vol. i. p. 428.) But the same action is common to most serpents; and this name may, therefore have reference to no particular species. Some, however, contend that it is another name for the pethem, or asp mentioned in Job 20:14, the venom of which is so deadly as to be incurable and followed by speedy death, unless the wounded part is amputated. Such seems to have been the opinion of the LXX., as they render it by aspiv, in which they are followed by the Vulgate and by the Apostle Paul, who quotes this text in Romans 3:13. Calvin here adopts the word sanctioned by these authorities.

"As to the poison, it will be observed, that in the venomous serpents there is a gland under the eye secreting the poisonous matter which is conveyed in a small tube or canal to the end of a fang which lies concealed at the roof of the mouth. This fang is moveable at the pleasure of the serpent, and is protruded when it is about to strike at an antagonist. The situation of this poison, which is in a manner behind the upper lip, gives great propriety to the expression -- 'Adders' poison is under their lips.' The usage of the Hebrew language, renders it by no means improbable that the fang itself is called Nwsl, lashon, 'a tongue,' in the present text; and a serpent might be said to sharpen its tongue, when in preparing to strike it protruded its fangs. We do not see any explanation by which a more consistent meaning may be extracted from the expression here employed." -- Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible.

4 The imagery in this verse is borrowed from the practices of hunters and fowlers in the eastern regions of the world, who are accustomed to take and destroy the ferocious beasts and the larger species of birds by a variety of ingenious snares and devices. It is a curious circumstance, as noticed by Thevenot, that artifices of this kind are literally employed against men as well as against birds and wild beasts by some of the Orientals. "The cunningest robbers in the world," says he, as quoted by Mant, "are in this country. They use a certain slip, with a running noose, which they cast with so much slight about a man's neck when they are within reach of him, that they never fail, so that they strangle him in a trice."


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