Title. “To the Chief Musician upon Nehiloth, a Psalm of David.” The Hebrew word Nehiloth is taken from another word, signifying “to perforate;” “to bore through,” whence it comes to mean a pipe or a flute; so that this song was probably intended to be sung with an accompaniment of wind instruments, such as the horn, the trumpet, flute, or cornet. However, it is proper to remark that we are not sure of the interpretation of these ancient titles, for the Septuagint translates it, “For him who shall obtain inheritance,” and Aben Ezra thinks it denotes some old and well known melody to which this Psalm was to be played. The best scholars confess that great darkness hangs over the precise interpretation of the title; nor is this much to be regretted, for it furnishes an internal evidence of the great antiquity of the Book. Throughout the first, second, third, and forth Psalms, you will have noticed that the subject is a contrast between the position, the character, and the prospects of the righteous and of the wicked. In this Psalm you will note the same. The Psalmist carries out a contrast between himself made righteous by God’s grace, and the wicked who opposed him. To the devout mind there is here presented a precious view of the Lord Jesus, of whom it is said that in the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.
Division. The Psalm should be divided into two parts, from the first to the seventh verse, and then from the eighth to the twelfth. In the first part of the Psalm David most vehemently beseeches the Lord to hearken to his prayer, and in the second part he retraces the same ground.
The Treasury of David.
Against thee: not against me. If they were my enemies I would forgive them, but I cannot forgive thine. We are to forgive our enemies, but God’s enemies it is not in our power to forgive. These expressions have often been noticed by men of over refinement as being harsh, and grating on the ear. “Oh!” say they, “they are vindictive and revengeful.” Let us remember that they might be translated as prophecies, not as wishes; but we do not care to avail ourselves of this method of escape. We have never heard of a reader of the Bible who, after perusing these passages, was made revengeful by reading them, and it is but fair to test the nature of a writing by its effects. When we hear a judge condemning a murderer, however severe his sentence, we do not feel that we should be justified in condemning others for any private injury done to us. The Psalmist here speaks as a judge, ex officio; he speaks as God’s mouth, and in condemning the wicked he gives us no excuse whatever for uttering anything in the way of malediction upon those who have caused us personal offence. The most shameful way of cursing another is by pretending to bless him. We were all somewhat amused by noticing the toothless malice of that wretched old priest of Rome, when he foolishly cursed the Emperor of France with his blessing. He was blessing him in form and cursing him in reality. Now, in direct contrast we put this healthy commination of David, which is intended to be a blessing by warning the sinner of the impending curse. O impenitent man, be it known unto thee that all thy godly friends will give their solemn assent to the awful sentence of the Lord, which he shall pronounce upon thee in the day of doom! Our verdict shall applaud the condemning curse which the Judge of all the earth shall thunder against the godless.
In the following verse we once more find the contrast which has marked the preceeding Psalms.
Ver.10. All those portions where we find apparently prayers that breathe revenge, are never to be thought of as anything else than the breathed assent of righteous souls to the justice of their God, who taketh vengeance on sin. When taken as the words of Christ himself, they are no other than an echo of the Intercessor’s acquiescence at last in the sentence on the barren fig-tree. It is as if he cried aloud, “Hew it down now, I will intercede no longer, the doom is righteous, destroy them, O God; cast them out in (or, for) the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against thee.” And in the same moment he may be supposed to invite his saints to sympathise in his decision; just as in Revelation 18:20, “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets.” In like manner when one of Christ’s members, in entire sympathy with his Head, views the barren fig-tree from the same point of observation, and sees the glory of God concerned in inflicting the blow, he too can cry, “Let the axe smite!” Had Abraham stood beside the angel who destroyed Sodom, and seen how Jehovah’s name required the ruin of these impenitent rebels, he would have cried out, “Let the shower descend; let the fire and brimstone come down!” not in any spirit of revenge; not from want of tender love to souls, but from intense earnestness of concern for the glory of his God. We consider this explanation to be the real key that opens all the difficult passages in this book, where curses seem to be called for on the head of the ungodly. They are no more than a carrying out of Deuteronomy 27:15-26, “Let all the people say, Amen,” and an entering into the Lord’s holy abhorrence of sin, and delight in acts of justice expressed in the “Amen, hallelujah,” of Revelation 19:3. Andrew A. Bonar, 1859.
Ver.10. (Or imprecatory passages generally.) Lord, when in my daily service I read David’s Psalms, give me to alter the accent of my soul according to their several subjects. In such Psalms wherein he confesseth his sins, or requesteth thy pardon, or praiseth for former, or prayeth for future favours, in all these give me to raise my soul to as high a pitch as may be. But when I come to such Psalms wherein he curseth his enemies, O there let me bring my soul down to a lower note. For those words were made only to fit David’s mouth. I have the like breath, but not the same spirit to pronounce them. Nor let me flatter myself, that it is lawful for me, with David, to curse thine enemies, lest my deceitful heart entitle mine enemies to be thine, and so what was religion in David, prove malice in me, whilst I act revenge under the pretense of piety. Thomas Fuller, D.D., 1608-1661.
Ver.10. Viewed as a threatening. The sentence, Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, is specially fitted to be the groundwork of a very solemn discourse.
The Treasury of David.
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