AT a time of great danger from domestic enemies, who threaten insurrection (Psalms 64:2), the psalmist first complains to God, and entreats his aid (Psalms 64:1-6); after which he boldly denounces his foes, and threatens them with discomfiture (Psalms 64:7, Psalms 64:8). Finally, he draws a lesson from their fate, of warning to men in general (Psalms 64:9), and of encouragement to the righteous (Psalms 64:10). The author is probably David, as asserted in the "title," and the time that a little preceding the open revolt of Absalom.
Two strophes of four verses each (Psalms 64:1-4, Psalms 64:7-10) are separated by one of two verses (Psalms 64:5, Psalms 64:6).
Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer; rather, in my complaint (Cheyne, Revised Version); see Psalms 55:2. Preserve my life from fear of the enemy. David already feels that it is not his deposition only, but his life, that is sought.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity. The first danger is from secret plots, which David knows to be going on against his authority (2 Samuel 15:1-12). The second, and greater danger, will be from open insurrection (2 Samuel 17:1-14).
Who whet their tongue like a sword (comp. Psalms 55:21; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 59:7). And bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words (comp. Psalms 11:2; Psalms 57:4). Calumny was what David especially feared, and what actually brought about his downfall (see 2 Samuel 15:2-6). The "bitterness" of his enemies is further emphasized by the speeches and curses of Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-13).
That they may shoot in secret at the perfect; or, in their hiding places. David does not scruple to call himself "perfect," using the word in the sense in which it is used of Job (Job 1:1; Job 2:3), meaning a sincere and upright man. Suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not. They are not afraid, though it is "the anointed of the Lord," whom to attack is not only rebellion, but sacrilege (see 2 Samuel 1:14).
They encourage themselves in an evil matter; or, in an evil scheme—the plan of making David unpopular, and then raising the standard of open revolt against him (2 Samuel 15:1-12). They commune of laying snares privily. The ungodly continually set traps for the righteous, who are so simple that they often fall into them. We do not know the exact proceedings of his enemies against David at the time, the narrative of 2 Samuel 15:1-37 being so brief; but it was probably by some trickery that David was induced to quit the stronghold of Jerusalem, and so yield the seat of government, and many other advantages, to his rival. They say, Who shall see them? (comp. Psalms 10:11; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 94:7). It is an inveterate folly for men to imagine, either that God will not see their actions, or that he will pay no heed to them. A spurious humility is brought into play in the latter case—How can it be supposed that God will note the doings of such worms as men?
They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search; rather, they devise iniquities. We have accomplished (they say) a well devised device. So modern critics generally (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, Canon Cook, Revised Version). Both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. Therefore the righteous man is in great danger from them, unless God interpose.
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow. But God will interpose. As they have shot with their arrows at the righteous (Psalms 64:3), so with his arrow shall God shoot at them. Suddenly shall they be wounded. The first word, "suddenly," may belong equally well either to the preceding or to the following clause. The result is all that is important. Not the righteous, but they themselves, shall receive the wound; literally, their wound shall be.
So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves; rather, so shall they be made to stumble; their own tongue shall be against them. The tongue, which they "whetted like a sword," shall be the principal means of bringing them into trouble (see 2 Samuel 17:1-23). All that see them shall flee away; rather, shall wag the head (Cheyne, Revised Version) in derision.
And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God. The fate of David's enemies shall cause widespread fear and alarm. Men shall perceive God's hand in it, and shall be led, in consequence, to declare "God's work." The tragic ends of Ahithophel and Absalom were certainly well calculated to impress the minds of men generally, and to strike awe into the hearts of those who had looked with indifference, or even, perhaps, with satisfaction, on the political troubles. For they shall wisely consider of his doing; rather, for they shall understand his operation. They shall understand, i.e; that God is on the side of the righteous, and, when danger presses, will interpose on their behalf, to the terrible discomfiture of the wicked.
The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him. The righteous, delivered from their imminent peril, naturally "rejoice in the Lord," i.e. rejoice in God's goodness to them, and feel their confidence in him increased. And all the upright in heart shall glory (comp. Psalms 32:11; Psalms 58:11). A thrill of joy passes through the whole of God's people, whether they were involved in the danger escaped or not.
Of the ten commandments, two are directed against sins of speech—one against profane words concerning God; the other against slanderous words concerning our neighbours. No sins are apt to be thought more lightly of than sins of the tongue; yet no sins are more severely and constantly denounced in Scripture. Probably no class of sins does more mischief in the world. Our words are spoken of as the special object of Divine knowledge (Psalms 139:4). The sinfulness of "bitter words" is seen
I. IN THEIR SOURCE. St. James compares the heart to a fountain, and notes the unnatural anomaly that from the same source should flow sweetness and bitterness, blessing and cursing, praise and slander (James 3:8-12). If the heart harboured no envy, malice, anger, pride, uncharitableness, ill-natured censorious judgments, how sweet and refreshing would the flow of speech be (Ephesians 4:29-32; Matthew 15:18)!
II. IN THEIR UTTERANCE. Our Lord speaks of the good man bringing forth what is good from "the good treasure of his heart," and the evil man, that which is evil "out of the evil treasure" (Matthew 12:35). Solomon marks it as one great difference between a wise man and a fool, that the former knows how to hold his tongue (Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 29:11). A good man may be aware of envious evil, uncharitable thoughts; but he is very careful how he gives them vent in bitter words. His prayer is, "Keep the door of my lips" (Psalms 141:3). Some people not merely find a pleasure in uttering all the sharp unkind things that occur to them; they persuade themselves it is a duty. No matter how bitter the word may be, out it comes, on the plea, "I must be honest; I must always speak my mind." Why must you? It is not honesty; it is want of self-control, of sympathy, good feeling, Christian and Christ-like consideration for others.
III. IN THEIR RESULTS. The word once spoken, like the bolt overshot, cannot be recalled. But the deadliest arrow can hit but one mark; the bitter word may fly from lip to lip, growing as it flies, and inflict a thousand wounds before it is forgotten. David suffered much from bitter words. He counts it a great instance of God's goodness when he defends his servants "from the strife of tongues" (Psalms 31:20; cf. Psalms 31:13, Psalms 31:18). Unjust, slanderous, cruel words are compared to arrows, swords, spears, razors, serpents' teeth, burning coals (Psalms 52:2-4; Psalms 55:21; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 58:4; Psalms 120:4; Psalms 111:3).
Bitter words were no small part of the bitter cup which our Saviour drank for us, and of which he warned his disciples they must taste. Spoken by the unbelieving world, "falsely for his sake," they are the Christian's glory (Matthew 5:11; Matthew 10:25); but spoken by Christians of Christians, they are weapons put into the hand of unbelief. The bitterness of controversy has perhaps been a greater hindrance to truth than the assaults of atheism. Wherever this Marah flows—in the Church, the home, the social circle, the nation—it poisons life. Seek to cast into it the healing branch (Colossians 4:6).
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Man's inhumanity to man.
I. DRIVING THE GODLY MAN TO PRAYER. We see many evils we cannot remedy. They move our pity, they stir our indignation. Perhaps we argue and remonstrate; perhaps in a moment of generous impulse we may try our hand at redress. But how little can we do! and our best efforts not only fail, but may even bring ourselves and others into greater trouble (Exodus 2:11-14). In our grief and despair we turn to God; his ear is ever open to the cry of the poor; his arm is ever ready to bring help to the oppressed. Into his great, fatherly heart we can pour all our woes; and under his sheltering wings we may ever find sweet security.
II. DEPLORED AS A SORE EVIL UNDER THE SUN. There are differences. Inhumanity breaks forth more furiously at times. Some men see and suffer vastly more than others. It has been said of poets that "they learn in suffering what they teach in song," and this was the experience of the psalmist. Inhumanity is characterized by secrecy. Men who do evil hate the light. By combinations. Sin is weakness. Hand had to join with hand so as to give power. Cooperation for good is praiseworthy; but men banded together for evil are branded with infamy. Inveterate malice. There is no relenting, no mercy. The heart grows hardened in selfishness. Utter godlessness. (Psalms 64:5.) The more men indulge in sin, the blinder they become; the more persistently they break the second great commandment, the more indifferent they grow to the first. The thought of God troubles them, and they put it away. If it returns, they still reject it. By and by it will cease to come. Their hearts are set in them to do iniquity. How distressing it is for the man who fears God to behold all this! He thinks how different it might have been; he grieves over the waste and, worse still, the awful misapplication of human power; he confesses with shame and sorrow of heart the sins that have brought such terrible woes into the world; and mourns the guilt of which he must bear his share.
III. DOOMED TO THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF GOD. Even here, where we know but in part, we cannot but see that it is ill with the wicked. In spite of their vauntings, they are not at peace. Though they call their lips their own, they are in reality held in by bit and bridle; though they boast of their successes, their rejoicing is vain and futile; retribution will in the end surely come upon them. So it was with Pharaoh and Sennacherib and Herod; so it was with Ahab, who thought to escape by disguising himself; but a certain man drew his bow at a venture, and smote him between the joints of his harness, and he died. God's arrows never miss their mark.
Learn three great lessons.
1. That to do right is always best.
2. That we can only overcome evil with good.
3. That vengeance belongeth to God alone.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Danger and faith.
The psalm was probably written by David at the court of Saul.
I. DANGER. (Psalms 64:2-6.)
1. To character. From slander.
2. To life. (Psalms 64:1.) From secret plots and conspiracies.
II. FAITH IN GOD.
1. Expressed in prayer for protection.
2. That God will destroy the plots of his enemies. (Psalms 64:7, Psalms 64:8.)
"The Divine judgment is now painted as if actually fulfilling itself before the very eyes of the psalmist."
III. THE SALUTARY EFFECTS OF GOD'S RETRIBUTIVE PROVIDENCE.
1. Upon the companions of the wicked. (Psalms 64:8.) They shake the head, or flee away, so that they become separate and scattered.
2. Upon men generally. (Psalms 64:9.) They shall declare the work of God, and consider his doings.
3. Upon the righteous. They shall trust, rejoice, and glory in the Lord, in his righteousness and goodness.—S.