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Psalm 10

“Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, And blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; Thy judgments are far above out of his sight: As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: For I shall never be in adversity. His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: Under his tongue is mischief and vanity. He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: In the secret places doth he murder the innocent: His eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: He lieth in wait to catch the poor: He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. He croucheth, and humbleth himself, That the poor may fall by his strong ones. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: He hideth his face; he will never see it. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: Forget not the humble. Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, To requite it with thy hand: The poor committeth himself unto thee; Thou art the helper of the fatherless. Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: Seek out his wickedness till thou find none. The Lord is King for ever and ever: The heathen are perished out of his land. Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, That the man of the earth may no more oppress.” (Psalm 10, KJV 1900)

The Psalmist complains of God’s neglect, and of the malice of his enemies, ver. 1–11. He prays that both these subjects of complaint may be removed, ver. 12–15. He expresses the most confident assurance that his prayer will be heard and answered, ver. 16–18.

The Septuagint and Vulgate unite this with the ninth psalm as a single composition. But each is complete in itself, and the remarkable coincidences even of expression only shew that both were meant to form a pair or double psalm like the first and second, third and fourth, &c. From the same facts it is clear, that this psalm, though anonymous, is, like the ninth, the work of David, and that both were probably composed about the same time.

  1. For what (cause), why, O Jehovah, wilt thou stand afar, wilt thou hide at times (when we are) in trouble? The question really propounded is, how this inaction can be reconciled with what was said of God in Ps. 9:10 (9).—To stand afar off, is to act as an indifferent, or, at the most, a curious spectator. Wilt thou hide, i.e. thyself or thine eyes, by refusing to see, as in Lev. 20:4, 1 Sam. 12:3. The futures imply present action and the prospect of continuance hereafter. The question is not merely why he does so, but why he still persists in doing so. The singular phrase, at times in trouble, occurs only here and in Ps. 9:10 (9), a strong proof of the intimate connection of the two psalms, and perhaps of their contemporary composition. This expostulation betrays no defect either of reverence or faith, but, on the contrary, indicates a firm belief that God is able, and must be willing, to deliver his own people. Such demands are never uttered either by skepticism or despair.

  2. In the pride of the wicked burns the sufferer; they are caught in devices which they have contrived. This very obscure verse admits of several different constructions. The first verb sometimes means to persecute, literally to burn after, or pursue hotly. Gen. 31:36; 1 Sam. 17:53. In one case it seems to have this meaning even without the preposition after. Lam. 4:19. The sense would then be, in the pride of the wicked he will persecute, &c. But the collocation of the words seems to point out עָנִי as the subject, not the object, of the verb. The sufferer’s burning may denote either anger or anguish, or a mixed feeling of indignant sorrow.—The adjective עָנִי means afflicted, suffering, whether from poverty or pain. Poor is therefore too specific a translation. In the Psalms this word is commonly applied to innocent sufferers, and especially to the people of God, as objects of malignant persecution. It thus suggests the accessory idea, which it does not formally express, of righteousness or piety.—In the last clause there is some doubt as to the subject of the first verb. If referred to the wicked, the sense will be, that they are taken in their own devices. If to the poor, that they are caught in the devices of the wicked. The first is favored by the analogy of Ps. 7:15–17 (14–16), and Ps. 9:16, 17 (15, 16). But the other agrees better with the context, as a description of successful wickedness.

  3. For a wicked (man) boasts of (or simply praises) the desire of his soul, and winning (i.e. when he wins), blesses, despises Jehovah. This seems to be a description of the last stage of corruption, in which men openly defend or applaud their own vices, and impiously thank God for their dishonest gains and other iniquitous successes.—The preterite forms, has praised, &c., denote that it always has been so, as a matter of familiar experience. The desire of his soul means his natural selfish inclination, his heart’s lust. And winning, i.e. when he wins or gains his end, with special reference to increase of wealth. Hence the word is sometimes used to signify the covetous or avaricious grasper after wealth by fraud or force. The same participle, joined with a cognate noun, is rendered “greedy of gain” in Prov. 1:19, 15:27, and “given to covetousness” in Jer. 6:3, 8:10. See also Hab. 2:9, where the true sense is given in the margin of the English Bible.—He who gains an evil gain blesses (and) despises Jehovah, i.e. expresses his contempt of him by thanking him, whether in jest or earnest, for his own success. He blesses God, and thereby shews that he despises him. An illustrative parallel is Zech. 11:4, 5. “Thus saith the Lord my God, Feed the flock of the slaughter, whose possessors slay them and hold themselves not guilty, and they that sell them say, Blessed is the Lord, for I am rich.” This parallel, moreover, shews that blesses, in the verse before us, does not mean blesses himself, as some suppose, but blesses God.

  4. A wicked (man), according to his pride, will not seek. There is no God (are) all his thoughts. Pride is here expressed by one of its outward indications, loftiness of look, or as some suppose the Hebrew phrase to signify originally, elevation of the nose.—Will not seek, i.e. seek God in prayer (Ps. 34:4), or in the wider sense of worship (Ps. 14:2), or in that of inquiring the divine will (Gen. 25:22), all which religions acts are at variance with the pride of the human heart.—All his thoughts, not merely his opinions, but his plans, his purposes, which is the proper meaning of the Hebrew word. The language of his life is, that there is no God.—Another construction of the first clause is as follows. The wicked, according to his pride (says), He, i.e. God will not require, judicially investigate and punish, as in Ps. 9:13 (12), and in ver. 13 below, where there seems to be a reference to the words before us, as uttered by the wicked man himself.—A third construction thus avoids the necessity of supplying says.—‘As to the wicked in his pride—He will not require, there is no God—are all his thoughts.” This may be transferred into our idiom as follows: All the thoughts of the wicked in his pride are, that God will not require, or rather that there is no God. In favor of the first construction given is the fact that it requires nothing to be supplied like the second, and does not disturb the parallelism of the clauses like the third. Common to all is the imputation of proud self-confidence and practical atheism to the sinner.

  5. His ways are firm, or will be firm, in all time, always. A height, or high thing, (are) thy judgments from before him, away from him, out of his sight. (As for) his enemies he will puff at them, as a natural expression of contempt, or he will blow upon them, i.e. blow them away, scatter them, with ease. This describes the prosperity and success of sinners, not only as a fact already familiar, but as something which is likely to continue. Hence the future forms, which indicate continuance hereafter, just as the preterites in ver. 3 indicate actual experience.—The only other sense which can be put upon the first clause is, his ways are twisted, i.e. his actions are perverse. But the Chaldee paraphrase, the cognate dialects, and the analogy of Job 20:21, are in favor of the rendering, his ways are strong, i.e. his fortunes are secure, his life is prosperous, which moreover agrees best with the remainder of the verse, as a description of the sinner’s outward state. Thus understood, the second clause describes him as untouched or unaffected by God’s providential judgments, and the third as easily ridding himself of all his human adversaries. Both together represent him as impregnable on all sides, in appearance equally beyond the reach of God and man. (Compare Luke 18:2, 4.) As this immunity from danger, strictly understood, could exist only in appearance, the whole verse may be regarded as an expression of the sinner’s own opinion rather than his true condition.

  6. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved; to generation and generation, (I am one) who (shall) not (be) in evil, or as the same Hebrew phrase is rendered in the English version of Exod. 5:19, in evil case, i.e. in trouble, in distress. This is a natural expression of the proud security engendered in the natural man by great prosperity. He hath said, implying that the cause has already been in operation long enough to shew its natural effect. In his heart, to himself, in a spirit of self-gratulation and self-confidence. To age and age, throughout all ages or all generations. The strength of this expression shews that the speaker is not a real person, but the ideal type of a whole class. The sinner, who thus says in his heart, is not the sinner of one period or country, but the sinner of all times and places, one who never disappears, or ceases thus to feel and act.—The form of the last clause in Hebrew is peculiar and emphatic. He does not simply say, I shall never be in evil or adversity, but I am he, I am the man, who shall never be in evil, as if the very supposition of such a contingency, however justified by general experience, would be not only groundless but absurd in this one case. (Compare Isaiah 47:8–10.) There could scarcely be a stronger expression of the self-relying spirit of the sinner, as contrasted with the saints’ implicit confidence in God’s will and power, not only to preserve him from falling, but to raise him when he does fall.

  7. (Of) cursing his mouth is full, and deceits, and oppression. Under his tongue (are) trouble and iniquity. He now gives a more particular description of the wicked man, beginning with his sins against his neighbor, and among these, with his sins of word or speech. If this be a correct view of the whole verse, the cursing, mentioned in the first clause, is most probably false swearing, or the invocation of God’s name, and imprecation of his wrath upon one’s self, in attestation of a falsehood. This kind of cursing is closely connected with the fraud and violence which follow. The Hebrew word תֹּךְ, to which the older writers gave the sense of fraud, is now commonly explained to mean oppression; so that with the noun preceding, it denotes injustice, injury to others, both by fraud and violence.—Under the tongue may have reference to the poison of serpents, or to the use of the tongue for speaking, as in Ps. 66:17, where the same phrase occurs in the original, though not in the common version.—Toil, labor, trouble, endured by others as the consequence of his deceits and violence.—For the meaning of the last word in the verse, see above, on Ps. 5:6 (5).—Oppression is here reckoned among sins of speech, because the latter may be made the means of violent injustice, by tyrannical command, by unjust judgment, or by instigating others to deprive the victim of his rights. If only fraud had been referred to, this description of the sins committed with the tongue would have been palpably defective.

  8. He will sit in the lurking-place of villages; in the secret places he will slay the innocent; his eyes for the sufferer will hide, watch secretly, or lie in wait. From sins of word he now proceeds to those of deed or outward action. The wicked enemy is here represented as a robber. The futures, as in ver. 5, imply that what is now is likely to continue. Sitting implies patient waiting for his prey or victim. The lurking-place, the place where murderers and robbers usually lurk or lie in wait. Where such crimes are habitually practiced, there is commonly some spot especially associated with them, either as the scene of the iniquity itself, or as a place of refuge and resort to those who perpetrate it.—The mention of villages is no proof that the psalm relates to any specific case of lawless violence, but only that the Psalmist gives individuality to his description by traits directly drawn from real life. A slight change in the form of expression would convert it into a poetic simile. ‘As the robber sits in the lurking-place of villages,’ &c. The verb hide has the same sense as in Prov. 1:11, 18.—The word translated sufferer (חַֽלְכָה for חֵֽילְךָ) is peculiar to this psalm, and was not improbably coined for the occasion, as a kind of enigmatical description, in which David seems to have delighted. A Jewish tradition makes it mean thy host, i.e. the church of God; but this, besides being forced in itself, is forbidden by the use of the plural in ver. 10 below. Others derive it from an Arabic root, meaning to be black, dark, gloomy, sad, unhappy. A third hypothesis explains it as a compound of two Hebrew words, one meaning weak or sick, the other sad or sorrowful, and both together representing the object of the enemy’s malice, in the strongest light, as a sufferer both in mind and body.

  9. He will lurk in the hiding-place as a lion in his den; he will lurk (or lie in wait) to catch the sufferer; he will catch the sufferer by drawing him into his net, or in drawing him (towards him) with his net. That the preceding verse contains a simile, and not a description of the enemy as an actual robber, is here rendered evident by the addition of two new comparisons, applied to the same object. In the first clause he is compared to a lion, in the second to a hunter. See above, on Ps. 7:16 (15), 9:16 (15), and below, on Ps. 35:7, 57:7 (6). The force of the futures is the same as in the foregoing verse.—His den, his shelter, covert, hiding-place. The Hebrew word is commonly applied to any temporary shed or booth, composed of leaves and branches. He lies in wait to seize the prey, and he succeeds, he accomplishes his purpose. A third possible construction of the last clause is, in his drawing (i.e. when he draws) his net. The whole verse, with the one before it, represents the wicked as employing craft no less than force for the destruction of the righteous.

  10. And bruised he will sink; and by (or in, i.e. into the power of) his strong ones fall the sufferers, the victims. These are represented, in the first clause, by a collective singular, and in the second by a plural proper, that of the unusual word used in ver. 8 above. Its peculiar etymology and form might be imitated in an English compound, such as sick-sad, weak-sad, or the like. By his strong ones some would understand the strong parts of the lion, teeth, claws, &c.; others the same parts personified as warriors. But even in the foregoing verse, the figure of a lion is exchanged for that of a hunter; and this again gives place here to that of a military leader or a chief of robbers, thus insensibly returning to the imagery of ver. 8. These numerous and rapid changes, although not in accordance with the rules of artificial rhetoric, add greatly to the life of the description, and are not without their exegetical importance, as evincing that the whole is metaphorical, a varied tropical exhibition of one and the same object, the combined craft and cruelty of wicked men, considered as the enemies of God and of his people. According to this view of the passage, by his strong ones we may understand the followers of the hostile chief, those who help him and execute his orders, or the ideal enemy himself, before considered as an individual, but now resolved into the many individuals, of whom the class which he represents is really composed.

  11. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, he hath hidden his face, he hath not seen, doth not see, and will not see, forever. The opening words are the same, and have the same sense, as in ver. 6 above. The three parallel clauses which follow all express the same idea, namely, that God takes no note of human offences. This is first expressed by the figure of forgetfulness; then by that of deliberately refusing to see, as in ver. 1 above; then by a literal and direct affirmation that he does not see, either the sufferings of his people or the malice of their enemies; and that this is not a transient or occasional neglect, but one likely to continue forever.

  12. Arise, Jehovah! Almighty (God), raise thy hand! Forget not sufferers (or the wretched)! The impious incredulity, expressed in the preceding verse, is now made the ground of an importunate petition. God is besought to do away with the appearance of inaction and indifference. See above, on Ps. 7:7 (6). Raise thy hand, exert thy power. The second name by which God is addressed (אֵל) is one expressive of omnipotence, and may be correctly rendered by our phrase, Almighty God. As the name Jehovah appeals to his covenant relation to his people, as a reason for granting their requests, so this invokes his power as necessary to their deliverance and the vindication of his own honor from the imputation of forgetfulness cast upon him by his enemies. This imputation he is entreated, in the last clause, to wipe off by shewing that he does remember. Forget not is, in this connection, tantamount to saying, shew that thou dost not forget. Here, as in Ps. 9:13 (12), the margin of the Hebrew Bible reads (ענוים) meek or humble, while the text has (עניים) suffering or afflicted. The Kethib, or textual reading, is regarded by the highest critical authorities as the more ancient, and therefore, except in some rare cases, entitled to the preference.

  13. On what (ground) has the wicked contemned God, has he said in his heart, Thou wilt not require? The question implies the sin and folly of the conduct described. The past tense suggests the inquiry why it has been suffered to go on so long. Contemned, i.e. treated with contempt. The reference is not to inward feeling merely, but to its external manifestation. The second clause shews how the feeling has been manifested. Said in his heart, is here repeated for the third time in this psalm. See ver. 6, 11, above. The direct address to God in the last clause is peculiarly emphatic. The wicked man not only speaks irreverently of him, but insults him to his face. Thou wilt not require. The Hebrew verb includes the ideas of investigation and exaction. Thou wilt not inquire into my conduct, or require an account of it. See ver. 4 above, and compare Ps. 9:13 (12). The whole verse contains an indirect expostulation or complaint of the divine forbearance towards such high-handed and incorrigible sinners.

  14. Thou hast seen (this particular instance of iniquity); for trouble, the suffering occasioned by such sins, and provocation, that afforded by such sins, thou wilt behold, it is thy purpose and thy habit to behold it, to give with thy hand a becoming recompense, or to give into thy hand, i.e. to lay it up there in reserve, as something to be recompensed hereafter. Upon thee the sufferer wilt leave (his burden), will rely. An orphan, here put for the whole class of innocent and helpless sufferers, thou hast been helping; God has ever been a helper of the friendless, and may therefore be expected to do likewise now. The whole verse is an argument drawn from the general course of the divine administration. Hence the preterite and future forms. Thou hast seen in this case, for thou always wilt see in such cases. For the meaning of trouble and provocation, see above, on Ps. 6:8 (7), 7:15 (14).

  15. Break thou the arm, destroy the power, of the wicked, and the bad (man), or as to the bad man, thou wilt seek for his wickedness (and) not find it. This may either mean, thou wilt utterly destroy him and his wickedness, so that when sought for it cannot be found (Ps. 37:36), or thou wilt judicially investigate his guilt, and punish it till nothing more is left to punish. The Hebrew verb (דרש) has then the same sense as in ver. 4, 13, above, and there is a direct allusion to the sinner’s boast that God will not inquire into men’s acts or require an account of them. There may be a latent irony or sarcasm, as if he had said, Thou wilt find nothing, as he boasts, but in a very different sense; not because there is nothing worthy of punishment, but because there will be nothing left unpunished.

  16. Jehovah (is) king! He is not dethroned, as his enemies imagine; he is still king, and will so remain, perpetuity and eternity, for ever and ever. Lost, perished, are nations, the heathen, i.e. hostile nations, from, out of, his land, the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, the land of which he is the king in a peculiar sense, distinct from that of providential ruler. The Psalmist sees Jehovah still enthroned, not only as the sovereign of the world, but as the sovereign of his people. (See Num. 23:21, Deut. 33:5). The stations or heathen of this verse may be either literal or spiritual gentiles (Jer. 9:25, Ezek. 16:3). The psalm is so framed as to express the feelings of God’s people in various emergencies. The preterite tense in the last clause represents the destruction of God’s enemies as already past, not only on account of its absolute certainty, but because the process of destruction, although not completed, is begun and will infallibly continue. Here, as often elsewhere, earnest prayer is followed by the strongest expression of confidence and hope.

  17. The desire of the meek (or humble) thou hast heard, Jehovah! Their desire is already accomplished. And this not merely once for all. Thou wilt settle (or confirm) their heart, i.e. dispel their fears and give them courage, by new assurances of favor and repeated answers to their prayers. Thou wilt incline thine ear, or make it attentive, cause it to listen, to their future no less than their past petitions. The figure of a fixed or settled heart recurs more than once below. See Ps. 51:12 (10), 57:8 (7), 112:7. The essential idea is that of a firm resolution, as opposed to timid doubt and vacillation.

  18. To judge, or do justice to, the orphan and the bruised, or oppressed. See above, on Ps. 9:10 (9). This clause seems properly to form a part of the preceding verse; thou wilt incline thine ear to judge, &c. The remainder of the verse is a distinct proposition. He shall not add (or continue) any longer to resist, or defy, i.e. to set God at defiance. The subject of these verbs is placed last for the sake of greater emphasis. Man, frail man, from the earth, springing from it, and belonging to it; see Gen. 3:19. For the full sense of the word translated man, see above, on Ps. 8:5 (4), 9:20 (19), and compare the whole prayer in the latter passage with the one before us. The sense here is, that weak and short-lived man shall not continue to insult and defy Almighty God. It implies a wish or prayer, but is in form a strong expression of the Psalmist’s confident assurance that it will be so, and in connection with the similar expressions of the two preceding verses, forms a worthy and appropriate close of the entire composition. The original of this verse is commonly supposed to exhibit an example of the figure called paronomasia, an intentional resemblance, both in form and sound, between two words of very different meaning. The words supposed to be so related here are those translated to defy (ערץ) and earth (ארץ). This peculiarity of form, if really designed and significant, is one which cannot be completely reproduced in any version. There is reason to suspect, however, that in this, as in many other cases, the resemblance is fortuitous, like that which frequently occurs in a translation, without anything to match it in the original; e.g. in the Vulgate version of Gen. 8:22, æstus and æstas, and in that of Gen. 12:16, oves et boves.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 46–52). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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