LIKE, Psalms 56:1-13 and Psalms 57:1-11, this is a cry for deliverance out of great peril, with a final expression of confidence (verses 16, 17) that the deliverance will be granted. From the psalm itself there is some difficulty in determining who are the enemies against whom aid is sought, since, while the bulk of the allusions suggest domestic enemies, there is distinct mention of the "heathen" in two places (Psalms 57:5, Psalms 57:8). Hence it has been argued by critics of note that the entire complaint is against foreign foes, and the complainant either the nation (De Wette), or a late king of Judah (Ewald), or a Maccabean leader (Hitzig), or a poet of the time of Nehemiah (Koster). But the whole character of the psalm is Davidic, and the "title" must be regarded as having more intrinsic weight than the conjectures of critics, especially of critics who are so wholly at variance one with another as these. The title lays it down that the psalm is David's, and assigns, as the occasion of its composition, Saul's sending emissaries to watch the house where David was, with the intent to kill him. The reference is clearly to the narrative in 1 Samuel 19:11-18. And the psalm itself, when carefully considered, will be found to agree well with this time and occasion.
It is generally agreed that the composition divides into four portions, two of them closed by the pause mark, "Selah," and the other two by a refrain. It thus consists of four strophes, the first of five verses (1 Samuel 19:1-5), and the other three of four verses each (1 Samuel 19:6-9, 1 Samuel 19:10-13, and 1 Samuel 19:14-17).
Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God. This is David's almost constant cry (see Psalms 7:1; Psalms 17:13; Psalms 22:20; Psalms 25:20; Psalms 31:1, Psalms 31:2, Psalms 31:15; Psalms 35:17; Psalms 40:13; Psalms 43:1; Psalms 69:18; Psalms 70:1, Psalms 70:4; Psalms 109:21, etc.). He has enemies, both domestic and foreign. In his early youth Saul becomes his enemy out of jealousy; then most of Saul's courtiers espouse their master's quarrel, he has enemies at the court of Achish; enemies in his family, even among his sons, as Absalom enemies among his counsellors, as Ahithophel; foreign enemies on all sides of him—Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Syrians, Mesopotamians, etc. Against all of them he invokes God's aid, and by God's aid he triumphs over all. Defend me from them that rise up against me; or, set me on high above them (Kay, Revised Version). David's domestic foes "rose up against him," no less than his foreign foes; made war on him; sought to seize his person, and put him to death.
Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. Foreign enemies are never reproached with being "bloody men," since war is their trade, and it is their business to wound and slay.
For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul. The emissaries of Saul were sent to David's house "to watch him, and to slay him in the morning" (1 Samuel 19:11). This seems to be the "lying in wait" intended. Warned by his wife, Michal, Saul's daughter, David fled from his house during the night through a window, and so saved himself (1 Samuel 19:12). The mighty (or, the strong ones) are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord. Not in consequence of any wrong that I have done. It is noted, as characteristic of David's early psalms, that he protests his absolute innocence in them.
They run and prepare themselves without my fault; or, "establish themselves"—"take up their position" (so Hengstenberg, Kay, and Professor Cheyne). Awake to help me (see the comment on Psalms 44:23). And behold; i.e. "see how things are—how innocent I am; how unjust and cruel are my enemies!"
Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel (comp. Psalms 69:6, also "a psalm of David"). Awake to visit all the heathen. "All" is emphatic, and means not only those without the covenant, but also those within—the wicked Israelites. It is noted that Saul's instruments consisted of two classes—actual heathen, such as Doeg the Edomite; and irreligious Israelites, as the Ziphites and others, who were no better than heathen. Be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. "The Hebrew words denote treachery and faithlessness" (Cook). They are scarcely applicable to open foreign enemies.
"Here a new stanza begins" (Cheyne). The "enemies" of Psalms 59:1 and the "workers of iniquity" of Psalms 59:2 are more elaborately portrayed. First they are represented as "dogs"—such hideous, half-wild dogs as frequent Eastern cities, which sleep during the greater part of the day, and rove about in packs at night—unclean, horrid, loathsome animals (Psalms 59:6). Then they appear as men—abusive, slanderous, godless (Psalms 59:7). In conclusion, appeal is made to God against them. He will "laugh them to scorn" (Psalms 59:8); and he is a sure Defence against all their efforts (Psalms 59:9).
They return at evening. Having traced David to his house, they disperse for a time, but "return" again at evening, and take up their watch (1 Samuel 19:11). They make a noise like a dog; i.e. snarl and growl, quarrelling more or less among themselves during the night time. And go round about the city. Either wander vaguely about, as dogs do for prey, or patrol the walls and gates to see that David does not quit the city, and so escape them.
Behold, they belch out with their mouth. All night long they keep uttering abuse and execrations and threats (comp. Psalms 94:4). Swords are in their lips (comp. Psalms 57:4). Speeches that wound and cut to the heart. For who, say they, doth hear! (comp. Psalms 10:11-13; Psalms 64:5; Psalms 73:1-28 : 11; Psalms 94:7). They think themselves irresponsible for their words. No one will hear or know what they say.
But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them (comp. Psalms 2:4). Thou shalt have all the heathen in derision (see the comment on Psalms 59:5, and particularly the explanation there given of "all the heathen").
Because of his strength. There is no "because of" in the original, and the reading, "his strength" ( עזּוֹ ), is doubtful. Several manuscripts have "my strength" ( עזּי ), and this reading was followed in all the ancient versions. Most modern critics prefer it, and translate, O my strength, as in Psalms 59:17. Will I wait upon thee; rather, I will wait upon thee. For my God is my Defence; or, my High Tower (Revised Version).
The enemies are still the main subject. Their pride, their cursing, their lying, are denounced (Psalms 59:12). The psalmist trusts to "see his desire" upon them (Psalms 59:10). First he begs that they may not be slain, but only "scattered abroad," so that they may remain as examples of God's vengeance for the warning of others (verse. 11). Then, forgetting this wish, he pleads for their capture and their utter destruction, without which God's glory will not be fully vindicated (Psalms 59:12, Psalms 59:13).
The God of my mercy shall prevent me; or, according to another reading, God with his mercy shall prevent (i.e. anticipate) me. God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies (comp. Psalms 54:7).
Slay them not, lest my people forget; i.e. my true people—faithful Israel. The psalmist's "first thought is, that by lingering on in life for a while the wicked may be more edifying monuments of the Divine anger" (Cheyne). (For a parallel, see Exodus 9:16.) Scatter them by thy power; or, make them wanderers (comp. Genesis 4:12, Genesis 4:14). It has been often noted that David's curse seems to have passed on to the entire nation of the Jews. And bring them down, O Lord our Shield; i.e. "cast them down from their honourable positions bring them into misery and disgrace—O Lord, who art our Defense and Shield" (comp. Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:7).
For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips; rather, the sin of their mouth is each word of their lips (Hupfeld, Cheyne); or, O the sin of their mouth! O the word of their lips! (Ewald, Kay, Canon Cook). Let them even be taken in their pride. Saul's special emissaries (1 Samuel 19:11) would, of course, be proud of their mission. And for cursing and lying which they speak (comp. Psalms 10:7; and, for an example, see 2 Samuel 16:5-8).
Consume them in wrath, consume them; or, "make an end of them"—''bring them to naught." That they may not be; or, "that they be no more." And let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. The frustration of their plans, and their signal punishment, will cause the God of Israel to be recognized widely as the King of the whole earth. Compare the words of David to Goliath, "I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel" (1 Samuel 17:46).
David here turns back from the future fate of his enemies to their present condition,and repeats Psalms 59:7 verbatim. He thus reminds himself of his existing danger; he is still being sought—they are still in quest of their prey, and will continue so till morning comes (Psalms 59:15). But in the morning he will be gone—he will have escaped them. Upon this thought occurring, he raises a renewed thanksgiving to God (Psalms 59:16, Psalms 59:17)
And at evening let them return; rather, they return, as in Psalms 59:6. And let them make a noise like a dog; rather, they make a noise. And go round about the city. Keeping their watch upon me.
Let them wander up and down for meat; rather, they wander up and down for meat. David himself was the prey which they desired. They kept guard around his house, wandering, no doubt, up and down. And grudge if they be not satisfied; rather, as in the margin and in the Revised Version, and if they be not satisfied, they will stay all night. This they appear to have done from 1 Samuel 19:11-15.
But I will sing of thy power; rather, of thy strength—the same word as that used in Psalms 59:9 and Psalms 59:17. Yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning. When the morning came, David had escaped (1 Samuel 19:12), and could "sing of God's mercy" securely at Ramah, where he had joined Samuel. For thou hast been my Defense and Refuge in the day of my trouble; or, my High Tower, as in Psalms 59:9 and Psalms 59:17.
Unto thee, O my Strength, will I sing: for God is my Defense; or, Strong Tower (comp. Psalms 59:9, which, if we read עזּי for עזוֹ, is so far, excepting in the verb, identical). And the God of my mercy; i.e. "the God who showeth mercy upon me" (comp. Psalms 59:10).
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Waiting upon God.
There are expressions in this psalm which sound harsh and cruel, and which Christians would shrink from using. But, on the other hand, there is much here that comes home to our experience, and that is helpful and comforting in the great trials of life. It is something to know that good men have suffered affliction before us—that they have been falsely accused and foully wronged, that they have felt the pangs of grief and the bitterness of disappointment, and that they have had to bear much and wait long before deliverance came. The lesson is clear. It is—Wait upon God. This is the refrain, which comes so sweetly at the middle (Psalms 59:10), and then with increased force and emphasis at the end (Psalms 59:17). The figure seems that of a sentinel on his tower. He is set there to watch. He must be vigilant and patient. There is much to try him, but not till morning breaks will he find release.
I. WAITING UPON GOD ASSURES DELIVERANCE. Waiting implies faith and hope. "The husbandman waiteth for the harvest." The physician waits for the effect of his remedies. The father waits for the time when his son is educated, and fit to take his place in the world. So we are to have faith, to hold ourselves still, in patient expectancy, till God's will is made known. Waiting does not preclude personal effort. On the contrary, it implies it. God will not do for us what he has made us able to de for ourselves. Our duty is to work, and wait upon God for his blessing. We must do our part, if we expect God to do his part. But there are times when we have, so far as we know, done all in our power, when we have exhausted all lawful efforts, and yet our condition is not bettered, but rather grown worse. Our straits are great. Our needs are urgent. Our enemies press us on every side, and shout as if sure of their prey. What comfort it is, at such a time, to commit ourselves to God, and to wait patiently for him from whom our salvation cometh! Remember what God is, and what he has done. He is our "Strength" and our "Defence." God in us is our Strength—our strength made perfect in weakness. We in God is our "Defence"—our Strong Tower to which we run and are safe.
II. WAITING UPON GOD AWAKENS PRAISE. (Psalms 59:14 17.) Here is a sweet strain of thanksgiving. The rage and malice of the enemy still continue, but it is malice that is defeated, and rage that is baulked of its prey. The "morning" brings deliverance, and, instead of the shrieks of the victim, there are the songs of the victor. God has saved his servant who trusted in him. How often has the same thing come true! God's people, waiting upon him in the day of their trouble, have found "defence" and "refuge." God's power has delivered them from their enemies; God's "mercy" has brought joy and peace to their hearts. Therefore they, with renewed ardour, say, "Unto thee, O my Strength, will I sing: for God is my Defence, and the God of my mercy."—W.F.