Psalm 141:5-7

5. Let the righteous smite me, a kindness; and let him chastise. me, a precious oil, it shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities. 6. Their judges have been thrown down upon stony places; and they shall hear my words, for they are sweet. 7. As one who breaketh and cutteth 1 on the earth, our bones have been, scattered at the mouth of the grave.


5. Let the righteous smite me, etc. While Satan tempts the wicked by his allurements, they, at the same time, deceive one another by flattery, which leads David to declare, that he would much rather be awakened to his duty by the severe rod of reproof, than be seduced through pleasing falsehoods. Among those who hold religion in contempt no reproof is administered to one who has contracted any sin, and, therefore, if we have any concern for our spiritual safety we will connect ourselves with good men, who restore such as have fallen by upright admonition, and bring back those who have erred to the right way. It is not agreeable to corrupt nature to be reproved when we sin, but, David had brought himself to that degree of docility and self-denial which led him to consider no reproof distasteful which he knew to proceed from the spirit of kindness. As there is some ambiguity in the words, we may see to ascertain the proper meaning of them. The noun dox, chesed, can very well be resolved into the adverb -- the righteous shall smite me mercifully, or in mercy, supplying the preposition. And this is the meaning adopted by most interpreters, that David reckoned as the best ointment such reproofs as breathed charity and kindness, or proceeded from a kind and dispassionate spirit. Should this reading be preferred it is to be remembered, that David refers, not so much to the outward manner in which the reproof is to be administered, as to the frame of the heart. However how good men may be, and whatever severity of language they may employ in admonishing those who have erred, they are still actuated by the force of brotherly affection. My, the very severity is, in fact, occasioned by their holy anxiety and fear of their brother's safety. The righteous act mercifully under all this apparent sharpness and severity -- as the wicked, on the other hand, act cruelly who censure only in a very gentle manner. By noticing this feature in reproof, David besides would distinguish that kind of it which takes its rise in sincere affection, from invectives which proceed from hatred or private animosity, as Solomon says. (Proverbs 10:12.) The other rendering of the words, however, which I have adopted, is equally suitable --

Let the righteous censure me, it shall be mercy, or, I will reckon it a benefit, let him reprove me, this shall be precious ointment that will not hurt my head.

The last clause some interpret in another way -- the oil of the head let it not break my head, that is, let not the wicked seduce me to destruction by their pleasing flatteries.2 By the oil they understand the pernicious adulations by which the wicked would ruin us, and plunge us deeper and deeper in destruction, while they seem to administer pleasure. This would make the passage convey a fuller meaning, That while David was pliable and yielding in the matter of reproof, he fled from flattery as from the fatal songs of the Sirens. However sweet praise may be to the taste at first, every one who lends an ear to flattery, drinks in a poison which will presently diffuse itself through the whole heart. Let us learn by David's example to reject all flatteries, prone as we are naturally to receive them, and to renounce waywardness and obstinacy, lest we should put away from us those corrections which are wholesome remedies for our vices. For such is the infatuated love men have to their own destruction, that even when forced to condemn themselves they wish to have the approbation of the world. And why? that by superinducing torpor of conscience, they may, by their own spontaneous act, devote themselves to ruin.

For yet my prayer, etc. Three explanations of this clause have been suggested. According to some the meaning of it is, that, as we are ever ready to be corrupted by bad example, David here prays, that he might not decline to their evils, or the evils which they practiced. The second sense assigned is, that David, recognizing their mischievous devices, prays that he may be kept by the Lord from their wickedness. The third sense, that recognizing them as reduced to desperate calamities, he prays that the just vengeance of God might be executed upon them according to their deserts. The very opposite meaning might seem the more suitable, that David was not prevented by their obstinacy in wickedness from praying for their welfare. For there is the adverb yet emphatically inserted. Or, what if David is to be considered as predicting their unfortunate end, intimating, that though the ungodly now riot in excess, they shall shortly be arrested, and that before long his compassion would be exercised towards them? The way in which the words stand connected favors this view; for he does not say -- yet my prayer shall be in their calamities, but rather separately, "yet, or, yet a little while, and then my power shall be in their calamities." As David was in danger of being tempted to yield to similarly vain courses with them, he very properly suggests a sustaining motive to his soul, why he should retain his integrity, that erelong they would be overtaken with so awful a destruction as to entreat compassion from him and others of the people of God.

6. Their judges have been thrown down upon stony places. 3 Almost all interpreters agree, that the tense of the verb should be changed from the preterit to the future, and then resolve it into the optative -- let them be thrown down. It appears to me that the sense of David would be made very plain by reading, When their judges have been cast down from the rock, or upon stony places, they shall hear my words. David, on perceiving the rage which the common people expressed towards him, as carried away through the influence of error and misrepresentation, lays the blame upon their leaders. When their power should be taken away, he is confident that the simple, who had been misled, would be brought to a right mind. Casting from the rocks, or upon stony places, is a metaphorical expression in reference to the high and dignified position in which they were placed. Although not without blame in following evil counselors so as to persecute unjustly a good and godly man, yet he had reason to entertain more hope of their repentance, that they would return to consideration when God executed vengeance upon those who were at their head. We see how ready the common people are to judge by impulse rather than deliberation, and to be hurried into most condemnable proceedings by blind prejudice, while afterwards upon being admonished they retrace their steps with equal precipitation. So that, granting cruelty must always be sinful, and simplicity no excuse, we are taught by David's example to pray that sound counsel may be sent to such as are in error, with a view to enabling them to hear the truth and the right with patience.

7. As one who breaketh, etc. Here David complains that his enemies were not satisfied with inflicting upon him one death -- death of a common description -- but must first mangle him, and those associated with him, and then cast them into the grave. The common robber on the highway throws the body of his murdered victim whole into the ditch; David tells us, that he and those with him were treated more barbarously, their Bones being dispersed, as one cleaves wood or stones into fragments, or digs the earth. From this it appears, that David, like Paul, (2 Corinthians 1:9,) was delivered from deaths oft; 4 and we may learn the duty of continuing to cherish hope of life and deliverance even when the expression may apply to us, that our bones have been broken and scattered.

1 "As one cutting and slitting. Many persons understand Myue, wood, after these participles, supposing the comparison of scattering the bones to be made with the scattering of wood after it has been cleft. But it is more probable that what the Psalmist intended to say was in substance as follows: 'Our bones lie scattered at the edge of the grave, just as one cutting and cleaving the earth in making a grave often throws up bones, which may be seen scattered here and there with the earth lying at its sides.' The verse is poetical, and the figure indicates great distress." -- Phillips.

2 "Que l'huile de la teste ne rompe point ma teste, c'est a dire, que les meschans ne m'amadouent point par leurs flatteries a ma perdition et ruine." -- Fr.

3 Those who understand this verse as containing an allusion to the generous manner in which David acted towards Saul in the cave of En-gedi, and to his mild expostulation after they had both left the cave, translate thus: --

"Their princes on the sides of the rock were dismissed,
or let go in safety; And they heard my words that they were pleasant."

This exactly corresponds with the occurrences referred to. In correspondence with the first line, it, is said in 1 Samuel 24:2, that Saul and his chosen men went to seek David upon the rocks of the wild goats; and the terms in which David expostulated with Saul, were so gentle, dutiful and affecting, as for the time to melt into tenderness and contrition the heart of Saul, and to impress the minds of all who heard them.

4 If David here refers to the treatment he and his followers met with at the hands of Saul, this exhibits in dark colors the extreme inhumanity of that monarch. "We are not sufficiently informed," says Walford, "respecting the cruelties which were perpetrated against David and those who adhered to him, to enable us to point out the instances to which he here alludes; but the murder of Abimelech, and of the priests who were with him, furnishes a pregnant proof of the atrocities which Saul and his agents were capable of perpetrating. (See 1 Samuel 22.) It appears from the language of this verse that such enormities were not confined to a few cases, but must have been numerous, to give occasion to the image which is employed to describe them." How striking the contrast between David's treatment of Saul, and that which Saul adopted towards him! Mr. Peters in his Dissertations on Job, gives an exposition of this 7th verse which is ingenious, and which Archbishop Secker calls "admirable, though not quite unexceptionable." Understanding the verse as referring to the slaughter of the priests at Nob, just now adverted to, he renders the words ypl lwas, (which Calvin translates, at the grave's mouth,) at the mouth, that is, at the command of Saul. In. support of this translation he produces similar expressions, herp yp le, at the command of Pharaoh, (Genesis 45:21,) and Kyp le, at thy command. (Job 39:17.) To this rendering there is, however, this strong objection, that we do not find David ever mentioning Saul by name in any of the Psalms. Peters, indeed, states that this objection was offered to him against his view, and he endeavors to remove it, though, as we think, with indifferent success.


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