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Psalm 18

THIS psalm consists of five unequal parts. In the first, David announces his desire to praise God for his wonderful deliverances, ver. 2–4 (1–3). In the second, these are described, not in historical form, but by the use of the strongest poetical figures, ver. 5–20 (4–19). In the third, he declares them to have been acts of righteousness as well as mercy, and in strict accordance with the general laws of the divine administration, ver. 21–28 (20–27). In the fourth, he goes again into particulars, but less in the way of recollection than of anticipation, founded both on what he has experienced and on what God has promised, ver. 29–46 (28–45). In the fifth, this change of form is accounted for by summing up the promises referred to, and applying them not merely to David as an individual, but to his posterity for ever, thus including Christ, and shewing the whole composition to be one of those Messianic psalms, in which he is the principal subject of the prophecy, though not the only one, nor even the one nearest to the eye of the observer, ver. 46–51 (45–60).

  1. To the Chief Musician. By a Servant of Jehovah. By David, who spake unto Jehovah the words of this song, in the day Jehovah freed him from the hand of all his foes and from the hand of Saul. The first clause of the title shews, in this as in other cases, that the composition was designed from the beginning to be used in the public worship of the ancient church, and has reference therefore to the experience of the writer, not as a private person, but as an eminent servant of the Lord, i.e. one entrusted with the execution of his purposes, as an instrument or agent. The expressions, spake unto Jehovah, &c., are borrowed from Exod. 15:1, and Deut. 31:30. This is the more observable, because the psalm contains obvious allusions to the song of Moses in Deut. ch. 32. An analogous case is found in 2 Sam. 23:1, where the form of expression is evidently borrowed from Num. 24:3.—The repetition of hand is not found in the original, where the first word (כַּף) properly denotes the palm or inside of the hand, but is poetically used as an equivalent to יָד. The hand is a common figure for power and possession. This whole clause bears a strong analogy to Exod. 18:10, where “out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh” corresponds exactly to “out of the hand of all his foes and out of the hand of Saul,” i.e. and especially of Saul. Compare “Judah and Jerusalem,” Isa. 1:1; “the land and Jericho,” Josh. 2:1. This form of expression does not imply that Saul was the last of his enemies, but rather that he was the first, both in time and in importance, so that he might be considered equal to all the others put together. And accordingly we find their idea carried out in the structure of this psalm, one half of which seems to relate especially to Saul, and the remainder to his other enemies. The general expressions of this title shew that the psalm was not occasioned by any particular event, but by a retrospect of all the deliverances from persecution which the writer had experienced.

  2. (1). And said, I will love thee, Jehovah, my strength! The sentence is continued from the foregoing verse, who sang unto the Lord … and said. The future form, I will love, represents it as a permanent affection, and expresses a fixed purpose. I not only love thee now, but am resolved to do so for ever. The verb itself occurs nowhere else in its primitive form, but often in one of its derived forms, to express the compassionate regard of a superior to an inferior. The simple form is here used to denote the reciprocal affection of the inferior party. From its etymology the verb seems to express the strongest and most intimate attachment, being properly expressive of στοζγὴ, or parental love. The noun translated strength is also peculiar to this passage, though its root and cognate forms are very common. Combined with one of the divine names, it constitutes the name Hezekiah, which may have been suggested by the verse before us. My strength, i.e. the giver of my strength or the supplier of its deficiencies, the substitute for my strength, my protector and deliverer.

  3. (2). Jehovah (is) my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my o (is) my rock, I will trust in him; my shield and my horn of salvation, my height (or high place). By this accumulation of descriptive epithets, the Psalmist represents God as the object of his trust and his protector. The first two figures, my rock and my fortress, contain an allusion to the physical structure of the Holy Land, as well as to David’s personal experience. The caves and fissures of the rocks, with which the land abounded, had often afforded him shelter and concealment when pursued by Saul. See Judges 6:2, 1 Sam. 24:8, 2 Sam. 5:7. The literal expression, my deliverer, seems to be added as an explanation of the figures which precede. My God may also be explained as one of the descriptive terms; but it seems more natural to make it the subject of a new proposition, equivalent and parallel to that in the first clause. Here again we are obliged to use the same English word as a translation of two different words in Hebrew. As the rock (סָלַע) of the first clause suggests the idea of concealment and security, so the rock (צוּר) of the second clause suggests that of strength and immobility. The figure is borrowed from Deut. 32:4, and reappears in Ps. 92:16 (15). Compare Isaiah’s phrase, a rock of ages (Isa. 26:4), and Jacob’s phrase, the stone of Israel (Gen. 49:24), where stone, like rock in the clause before us, denotes not the place but the material, not a stone, but stone, as one of the hardest and least mutable substances with which we are acquainted, and therefore an appropriate figure for combined immutability and strength. For the figurative use of shield in such connections, see above on Ps. 3:4 (3). The next phrase has allusion to the defensive habits of horned animals. The figure seems to be borrowed from Deut. 33:17. (Compare 1 Sam. 2:10, Job. 16:15.) My horn of salvation may be understood to mean, my horn, to wit, my salvation, so that the second noun is explanatory of the first. More probably, however, the expression means the horn that saves me, by repelling or destroying all my enemies. In Luke 1:69, the same phrase is applied to Christ by Zacharias. The last term in the description belongs to the same class with the first, and was probably suggested by the Psalmist’s early wanderings among the rocks and caverns of Judea. The Hebrew word properly denotes a place so high as to be beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:10 (9), where the same word is twice used in the same sense and figurative application.

  4. (3). To be praised I will call Jehovah, and from my enemies I shall be saved. “I will invoke God as a being worthy of all praise.” The first Hebrew word, which has the force of a future passive participle, is a standing epithet of Jehovah in the lyrical style of the Old Testament. See Ps. 48:2 (1), 96:4, 113:3, 145:3, 1 Chron. 16:25. The connection of the clauses is, that the believing invocation of Jehovah in his true character, and with a just appreciation of his excellence, must needs be followed by the experience of his Favour. They who cry and are not heard, as we read in ver. 42 (41) below, cry indeed to Jehovah, but they do not invoke him as the one to be praised, they do not see him as he is, and cannot pray to him as they ought. They ask and receive not, because they ask amiss (James 4:3).

  5. (4). The bands of death have enclosed me, and the streams of worthlessness (or Belial) will (still) affright me. From the general acknowledgment contained in ver. 1–4, he proceeds to a more particular description of his danger. By bands we are probably to understand the cordage of a net, such as fowlers spread for birds. This is a favorite metaphor with David to denote dangers, and particularly those of an insidious and complicated kind. See below, Ps. 116:3. The word Belial properly means worthless, good for nothing. The reference is here to wicked men, whose number and violence are indicated by the figure of torrents, overflowing streams. The use of the future in the last clause shews that the writer, as in many other cases, takes his position in the midst of the event, and views it as partly past and partly future. This bold assumption of an ideal situation greatly adds to the life and vividness of the description.

  6. (5). The bands of hell surrounded me, the snares of death encountered me. This verse merely repeats and amplifies the first clause of the fifth. Hell, in the wide old English sense, is a poetical equivalent to death. See above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). The explicit mention of snares in the last clause confirms the explanation before given of bands. Encountered, met me, crossed my path. The sense prevented or anticipated does not suit the context, and that of surprised is not sufficiently justified by usage. See above, on Ps. 17:13.

  7. (6). In my distress I will invoke Jehovah, and to my God will cry; he will hear from his palace my voice, and my prayer before him will come, into his ears. The verbs are in the future, because they express the feelings not of one looking back upon the danger as already past, but of one actually implicated in it. See above, on ver. 5 (4). The literal meaning of the words is, in distress to me. Compare the phrase, at times in distress, Ps. 9:10 (9), 10:1. My God implies a covenant relation and a hope of audience founded on it. The verb translated cry is specially appropriated to a cry for help. His palace here means heaven, as God’s royal residence. See above, on Ps. 11:4. Into his ears is a kind of after-thought, designed to strengthen the preceding expression. It shall not only reach his presence, but, as it were, shall penetrate his ears. The whole expresses an assured hope of being heard, and is really tantamount to an assertion that he was heard.

  8. (7). Then did the earth shake and quake, and the foundations of the mountains trembled and were shaken because he was angry. The idea of succession expressed by the English then is conveyed in Hebrew by the form of the verb. The resemblance, in form and sound, of shake and quake, corresponds to that of the original verbs (וַתִּגְעַשׁ וַתִּרְעַשׁ). A reflexive or emphatic passive form of the first verb appears in the second clause. The closing words of this clause strictly mean because it was inflamed (or enkindled) to him with an ellipsis of the noun (אַף) anger. The full construction may be found in Deut. 6:15, and Ps. 124:3. The phrase foundations of the mountains is copied from Deut. 32:22.

  9. (8). There went up smoke in his wrath, and fire from his mouth devours: coals are kindled from it. Smoke and fire are mentioned as natural concomitants and parallel figures, both denoting anger, and suggested by the phrase it was inflamed to him in the preceding verse. Compare Deut. 32:22, 29:19 (20), Ps. 24:1. The translation nostrils rests on a confusion of two collateral derivatives from the verb to breathe. (See my note on Isa. 48:9.) Nor is this sense required by the parallelism, unless mouth and nose must always go together. There seems to be some allusion to the fire and smoke at Sinai, Exod. 19:18. From it may have reference to fire; but the nearest antecedent is his mouth. Compare Job 41:11–13 (19–21). There is no need of supplying any object with devours; the idea is that of a devouring fire, i.e. one capable of consuming whatever combustible material it may meet with.

  10. (9). So he bowed the heavens and came down, and gloom (was) under his feet. The scene seems here to be transferred from heaven to earth, where the psalmist sees not only the divine operation but the personal presence of Jehovah. The word so, familiarly employed in English to continue a narrative, here represents the vau conversive of the Hebrew. The word translated gloom is not the usual term for darkness, but a poetical expression specially applied to dense clouds and vapors. The expression seems to be derived from Deut. 5:22. Compare with this clause, Exod. 19:16, and with the first, Isa. 63:19 (64:1).

  11. (10). And he rode on a cherub and flew, and soared on the wings of a wind. The cherubim of the Mosaic system were visible representations of the whole class of creatures superior to man. The singular form cherub seems to be used here to convey the indefinite idea of a superhuman but created being. The whole verse is a poetical description of God’s intervention, as a scene presented to the senses. As earthly kings are carried by inferior animals, so the heavenly king is here described as borne through the air in his descent by beings intermediate between himself and man. The word soared, in the second clause, is used to represent a poetical term in the original borrowed from Deut. 28:49. With the whole verse compare Ps. 68:18 (17), and 104:3.

  12. (11). (And) set darkness (as) his covert about him, his shelter, darkness of waters, clouds of the skies, This concealment suggests the idea of a brightness insupportable by mortal sight. Compare Deut. 4:11, Job 36:29, Ps. 97:2. Darkness of waters does not mean dark waters, but watery darkness, a beautiful description of clouds charged with rain. The two nouns in the last clause both mean clouds, but the second is used only in the plural, and seems properly to designate the whole body of vapors constituting the visible heavens or sky. A somewhat similar combination occurs in Exod. 19:9.

  13. (12). From the blaze before him his clouds passed—hail and coals of fire. The dark clouds which enveloped him are now described as penetrated by the light within. Passed, i.e. passed away, were dispelled. The last clause may be construed as an exclamation such as an eyewitness might have uttered. The combination is borrowed from Exod. 9:24. (Compare Ps. 78:47, 48.) Hail, as an instrument of the divine vengeance, is also mentioned in Josh. 10:11.

  14. (13). Then thundered in the heavens Jehovah, and the Highest gave his voice—hail and coals of fire. The second clause is a poetical repetition of the first. “The Most High gave his voice,” means in this connection neither more nor less than that he “thundered in the heavens.” Though visibly present upon earth he is described as still in heaven. Compare Gen. 11:5, 7; 18:21; John 3:13. The last clause may be construed as in ver. 13, or made dependent on the verb gave, as in Exod. 9:23: “Jehovah gave thunder and hail.” This clause is repeated because the hail and lightning were not merely terrific circumstances, but appointed instruments of vengeance and weapons of destruction.

  15. 15 (14). Then sent he his arrows and scattered them, and shot forth lightnings and confounded them. The lightnings of the last clause may be understood as explaining the arrows of the first. Instead of shot forth lightnings some translate and lightnings much, i.e. many, in which sense the Hebrew word (רָב) occurs sometimes elsewhere (Exod. 19:21, 1 Sam. 14:6, Num. 26:54). In several other places it seems to mean enough or too much (Gen. 45:28, Exod. 9:28, Num. 16:3, 7, Deut. 1:6). If either of these constructions is adopted, the verb sent must be repeated from the other clause. The version first given, shot, is justified by the analogy of Gen. 49:23. The last verb in the sentence is a military term denoting the confusion of an army produced by a surprise or sudden panic; see Exod. 14:24, 23:27, Josh. 10:10, and with the whole verse compare Ps. 144:6.

  16. (15). Then were seen the channels of water and uncovered the foundations of the world, at thy rebuke, Jehovah, at the blast of the breath of thy wrath. The idea meant to be conveyed by this poetical description is that of sudden and complete subversion, the turning of the whole earth upside down. The language is not designed to be exactly expressive of any real physical change whatever. From, or at thy rebuke, i.e. after it and in consequence of it. The breath of thy wrath, thy angry breath, might also be rendered, the wind of thy wrath, thy angry or tempestuous wind. That the Hebrew words do not mean thy nose or nostrils, see above, on ver. 9 (8). Some suppose an allusion, in the figures of this verse, to the floods of worthlessness in ver 5 (4), and the bands of hell in ver. 6 (5).

  17. (16). He will send from above, he will take me, he will draw me out of many waters. Here again the writer seems to take his stand between the inception and the consummation of the great deliverance, and to speak just as he might have spoken while it was in progress. “All this he has done in preparation, and now he is about to send,” &c. This seems to be a more satisfactory explanation of the future forms than to make them simple presents, and still more than to make them preterites, which is wholly arbitrary and ungrammatical, although the acts described by these futures were in fact past at the time of composition. To send from above in our idiom means to send a messenger; but in Hebrew this verb is the one used with hand, where we say stretch out, e.g. in the parallel passage Ps. 144:7. (See also Gen. 8:9, 48:14). The noun, however, is sometimes omitted, and the verb used absolutely to express the sense of the whole phrase, as in 2 Sam. 6:6, Ps. 57:4 (3). From above, from on high, from the height or high place, i.e. heaven, the place of God’s manifested presence. There is peculiar beauty in the word translated draw, which is the root of the name Moses, and occurs, besides the place before us, only in the explanation of that name recorded by himself, Exod. 2:10. The choice of this unusual expression here involves an obvious allusion both to the historical fact and the typical meaning of the deliverance of Moses, and a kind of claim upon the part of David to be regarded as another Moses.

  18. (17). He will free me from my enemy (because he is) strong, and from my haters, because they are mightier than I. The futures are to be explained as in the verse preceding. The enemy here mentioned is an ideal person, representing a whole class, of whom Saul was the chief representative. The idiomatic phrase, my enemy strong, may be understood as simply meaning my strong enemy; but the true construction seems to be indicated by the parallelism. His own weakness and the power of his enemies is given as a reason for the divine interposition.

  19. (18). They will encounter me in the day of my calamity; and Jehovah has been for a stay to me. The first clause seems to express a belief that his trials from this quarter are not ended, while the other apppeals to past deliverances as a ground of confidence that God will still sustain him. Most interpreters, however, make the future and preterite forms of this verse perfectly equivalent. “They encountered me in the day of my calamity, and the Lord was for a stay to me.” As to the meaning of the first verb, see above, on ver. 6 (5). It is not improbable that David here alludes to his sufferings in early life when fleeing before Saul; see above on ver. 3 (2).

  20. (19). And brought me out into the wide place; he will save me because he delights in me. The construction is continued from the foregoing sentence. As confinement or pressure is a common figure for distress, so relief from it is often represented as enlargement, or as coming forth into an open space. See above, on Ps. 6:2 (1). Here, as in the preceding verse, most interpreters make no distinction between preterite and future. The meaning may, however, be that he expects the same deliverance hereafter which he has experienced already.

  21. (20). Jehovah will treat me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands will he repay me. The future verbs have reference to the condition of the Psalmist under his afflictions, and the hopes which even then he was enabled to cherish. At the same time they make this the announcement of a general and perpetual truth, a law by which God’s dispensations are to be controlled for ever. The hands are mentioned as organs or instruments of action. Compare Isa. 1:15, Job 9:30, 22:30. The righteousness here claimed is not an absolute perfection or entire exemption from all sinful infirmity, but what Paul calls submission to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3), including faith in his mercy and a sincere governing desire to do his will. This is a higher and more comprehensive sense than innocence of some particular charge, or innocence in reference to man, though not in reference to God.

  22. (21). For I have kept the ways of Jehovah, and have not apostatized from my God. The Lord’s ways are the ways which he marks out for us to walk in, the ways of duty and of safety. To keep them is to keep one’s self in them, to observe them so as to adhere to them and follow them. The last clause strictly means, I have not been wicked (or guilty) from my God; a combination of the verb and proposition which shews clearly that the essential idea in the writer’s mind was that of apostasy or total abjuration of God’s service. Its is of this mortal sin, and not of all particular transgressions, that the Psalmist here professes himself innocent.

  23. (22). For all his judgments (are) before me, and his statutes I will not put from me. Judicial decisions and permanent enactments are here used as equivalent expressions for all God’s requisitions. To have these before one is to observe them, and the opposite of putting them away or out of sight. The terms of this profession have been evidently chosen in allusion to such dicta of the law itself as Deut. 5:29, 17:11. From the past tense of the foregoing verse he here insensibly slides into the present and the future, so as to make his profession of sincerity include his former life, his actual dispositions, and his settled purpose for all time to come.

  24. (23). And I have been perfect with him, and have kept myself from my iniquity. He not only will be faithful, but he has been so already, in the sense before explained. There is evident reference in the first clause to the requisition of the Law, “thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God,” Deut. 18:13. (Compare Gen. 17:1.) With means not merely in his presence, or his sight, as distinguished from men’s estimate of moral objects, but “in my intercourse and dealing with him.” Compare 1 Kings 11:4, and the description of David in 1 Kings 14:8, 15:5. In the last clause some see an allusion to David’s adventure in the cave, when his conscience smote him for meditating violence against Saul. See 1 Sam. 24:6, and compare 1 Sam. 26:23, 24. But whether this be so or not, the clause undoubtedly contains a confession of corruption. My iniquity can only mean that to which I am naturally prone and subject. We have here, then, a further proof that the perfection claimed in the first clause is not an absolute immunity from sin, but an upright purpose and desire to serve God.

  25. (24). And Jehovah has requited me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes. This verse shews clearly that the futures in ver. 21 (20) must be strictly understood. What he there represents himself as confidently hoping, he here professes to have really experienced. In the intervening verses he shews how he had done his part, and now acknowledges that God had faithfully performed his own.

  26. (25, 26). With the gracious thou wilt shew thyself gracious; with the perfect man thou wilt shew thyself perfect; with the purified thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the crooked thou wilt shew thyself perverse. What he had previously mentioned as the method of God’s dealings towards himself, he now describes as a general law of the divine administration. The essential idea is that God is, in a certain sense, to men precisely what they are to him. The particular qualities specified are only given as examples, and might have been exchanged for others without altering the general sense. The form of expression is extremely strong and bold, but scarcely liable to misapprehension, even in ver. 27 (26). No one is in danger of imagining that God can act perversely even to the most perverse. But the same course of proceeding which would be perverse in itself or towards a righteous person, when pursued towards a sinner becomes a mere act of vindicatory justice. In the first clause of ver. 26 (25), the ambiguous word gracious has been chosen to represent the similar term חָסִיד, for the comprehensive use of which we see above, on Ps. 4:4 (3), 12:2 (1). Perfect has the same sense as in ver. 23 (22), namely, that of freedom from hypocrisy and malice. The verbs are all of the reflexive form and might be rendered, thou wilt make thyself gracious, thou wilt act the gracious, or simply thou wilt be gracious, &c., but the common version approaches nearest to the force of the original expression. The first verb of ver. 27 (26) occurs once elsewhere (Dan. 12:10), the rest only here. The forms may have been coined for the occasion, to express the bold conception of the writer. The resemblance of the last clause of ver. 27 (26) to Lev. 26:23, 24, makes it highly probable that the whole form of this singular dictum was suggested by that passage, the rather as this Psalm abounds in allusions to the Pentateuch and imitations of it.

  27. (27). For thou wilt save the afflicted people, and lofty eyes thou wilt bring down. Another general description of God’s dealings with mankind, repeated more than once in the New Testament. See Mat. 23:12, Luke 14:11, 18:14. High looks or lofty eyes is a common Old Testament expression for pride and haughtiness. See below, on Ps. 101:5, 131:1, and compare Prov. 21:4, 30:13, Isa. 10:12, 37:23. The afflicted people means the people of God when in affliction, or considered as sufferers. Thou is emphatic: “however men may despise and maltreat thy afflicted people, I know that thou wilt save them.”

  28. (28). For thou wilt light my lamp; Jehovah, my God, will illuminate my darkness. Having ascended from particulars to generals, he now reverses the process. On his own experience, as described in ver. 4–25 (3–24), he had founded a general declaration of God’s mode of dealing with men, which statement he proceeds now to illustrate by recurring to his own experience. In this second part there is reason to believe that he has reference to the other cases of deliverance in his history, besides those from Saul’s persecutions which had furnished the theme of his thanksgiving in the first part of the psalm. In accordance with this difference of subject, it has been observed that in this second part he appears more active, and not merely as an object but an instrument of God’s delivering mercy. As to the form of expression in this part, it has been determined by the writer’s assuming his position at the close of the Sauline persecution, and describing his subsequent deliverances as still prospective. This was the more convenient, as he wished to express a confident assurance of God’s goodness, not only to himself individually but to his posterity. A lamp or candle in the house is a common Hebrew figure for prosperity, and its extinction for distress. See Job 18:5, 6, 21:17, Prov. 24:20. The first clause may also be translated, thou wilt make my light shine. The verb in the parallel clause is from another root, and there is consequently no such assonance as in the English version (light, enlighten). The pronoun in the first clause is again emphatic. “Whatever I may suffer at the hands of others, THOU at least wilt light my candle.” The emphasis is sustained in the last clause by a sudden change of person and introduction of the divine name.

  29. (29). For in thee I shall run (through or over) a troop, and in my God I shall leap a wall. From his ideal post of observation he foresees the military triumphs which awaited him, and which were actually past at the time of composition. The for, as in the two preceding verses, connects the illustration with the general proposition in ver. 27–29 (26–28). “This is certainly God’s mode of dealing, for I know that he will deal thus with me.” In thee, and in my God, i.e. in intimate union with him and possession of him, a much stronger sense than that of mere assistance (by thee), which however, is included. See below, on Ps. 44:6 (5).—The ellipsis of the preposition, with which the verbs are usually construed, belongs to the licence of poetical style. Even in prose, however, we can say, to walk the streets, to leap a wall. To run a troop may either mean to run against or through it; the phrase may therefore be completed so as to have either an offensive or defensive sense. In like manner, leaping a wall may either mean escaping from an enemy or storming his defences. Most interpreters prefer the stronger meaning of attack, which is certainly entitled to the preference, unless the writer be supposed to have selected his expressions with a view to the suggestion of both these ideas, which together comprehend all possible varieties of success in war. As if he had said, “Weak though I be in myself, I am sure that in conjunction with thee, neither armies nor fortifications shall be able to subdue or even to resist me.” With David’s tone of triumphant confidence in this verse, compare Paul’s in 2 Cor. 2:14, and Philip. 4:13.

  30. (30). The Almighty—perfect is his way—the word of Jehovah is tried—a shield (is) he to all those trusting in him. The first clause seems to be an amplification of my God in the preceding verse. In my God, the Mighty (God), whose way is perfect, i.e. his mode of dealing, as before described, is free from all taint of injustice. This explanation suggests a further description of Jehovah as a sure protector. His word here means especially his promise, perhaps with specific allusion to the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel. Tried, as metals are tried by fire, and thus proved to be genuine; see above, on Ps. 12:7 (6). A shield; see above, on Ps. 3:4 (3). Trusting in him; see above, on Ps. 2:12.

  31. (31). For who is God save Jehovah? And who is a rock besides our God? The for shews that this verse gives the ground of the strong assurances contained in that before it. “I affirm all this because I recognize Jehovah as the only true God.” Rock has the same sense as in ver. 3 (2). The whole verse bears a strong resemblance to 2 Sam. 7:22.

  32. (32). The Almighty girding me with strength, and (who) has given (or rendered) my way perfect. The connection of the verses is the same as that between ver. 31 (30) and 32 (31). The our God of the preceding verse is here described as the Almighty girding me, &c. For the true sense of the divine name here and in ver. 32 (31), see above, on Ps. 5:5 (4). 7:12, (11), 10:11, 12, 16:1, 17:6. The imparting of a quality or bestowing of a gift is in various languages described as clothing. Thus the English words endue and invest have almost lost their original meaning. The figure of girding is peculiarly significant, because in the oriental dress the girdle is essential to all free and active motion. Compare Ps. 65:13 (12), as translated in the margin of the English Bible, and Isa. 11:5. The last clause may either mean, “who is faultless in the way by which he leads me,” i.e. whose dispensations towards me are free from all injustice; or, “who gives my conduct the perfection which belongs to it.” The first construction gives the words the same sense as in ver. 31 (30), but the other is by far the simplest and most natural, and as such entitled to the preference.

  33. (33). Making my feet like hinds, and on my heights he makes me stand. The first word properly means equalling, assimilating, the idea of resemblance being expressed in Hebrew both by the verb and by the particle of comparison. The female animal is supposed by some to be mentioned because it was regarded as more fleet, and accordingly we find it used in the Egyptian hieroglyphics as a symbol of swiftness. The name, however, may be used generally, as in English we apply either the masculine or feminine pronoun to some whole species. My heights, those which are to be mine by right of conquest and by divine gift. The heights may be either the natural highlands of the country or the artificial heights of its fortified places. It has been disputed whether the swiftness mentioned in the first clause has reference to attack or flight. Most probably both were meant to be included, as in ver. 30 (29) above. For both reasons swiftness of foot was prized in the heroic age, as appears from Homer’s standing description of Achilles. See 2 Sam. 2:18, 1 Chron. 12:8.

  34. (34). Teaching my hands to war, and my arms have bent a bow of brass. The construction is continued from the preceding verse, all the participles having reference to the name of God in ver. 33 (32). The last clause is a strong expression for extraordinary strength, which is mentioned merely as a heroic quality. The translation broken rests on what is now regarded as a false etymology. Brass was used before iron in Egypt and other ancient countries as a material for arms.

  35. (35). And hast given me a shield, thy salvation; and thy right hand is to hold me up, and thy condescension is to make me great. In the first clause we may also read the shield of thy salvation, or thy shield of salvation, i.e. thy saving shield, without material variation of the sense. The futures have reference to the point from which he is surveying things past as still future. The noun in the last clause means humility, as an attribute of human character (Prov. 15:33), but when applied to God, benignant self-abasement, condescending kindness to inferiors. Compare Ps. 8:5 (4), Isai. 66:1, 2.

  36. (36). Thou wilt enlarge my steps under me, and my ankles shall not swerve. To enlarge the steps is to afford ample room for walking freely without hindrance. The opposite figure is that of confined steps. See Prov. 4:12, Job 18:7. The meaning of the whole verse is, thou wilt guide me safely.

  37. (37). I am to pursue my enemies and overtake them, and not to turn back until I destroy them. This is not a threat of vengeance, but a confident anticipation of perpetual triumphs, either in his own person or in that of his descendants. The form of expression in the first clause is borrowed from the Song of Moses, Exod. 15:9. See above on Ps. 7:6 (5), where the same two verbs are combined. The reference of all these future forms to past time would be not only gratuitous but ungrammatical.

  38. (38). I shall smite them and they cannot rise, they shall fall beneath my feet. This simply carries out the idea of successful pursuit in the preceding verse.

  39. (39). And thou hast girded me with strength for the war (or battle), thou wilt bow down my assailants under me. He returns to God as the author of his triumphs and successes. The first clause blends the ideas expressed in the corresponding clauses of ver. 33, 36 (32, 35).—My assailants, literally, my insurgents, those rising up against me. See ver. 49 below, and compare Ps. 44:6 (5), 59:2 (1), Job 27:7. Here again the spirit of the Psalmist is not that of an ambitious conqueror, but of a willing instrument in God’s hand, to be used for the promotion of his sovereign purpose.

  40. (40). And my enemies—thou hast given to me the back—and my haters—I will destroy them. Each clause begins with an absolute nominative which might be rendered, as to my enemies, as to my haters. The remainder of the first clause is highly idiomatic in its form, and scarcely admits of an exact translation. The word translated back properly means the back of the neck, but is frequently used in such connections. The meaning of the whole phrase is, thou hast given me their back, i.e. made them to turn it towards me by putting them to flight. This is also a Mosaic form of speech. See Exod. 23:27, and compare Josh. 7:8, 2 Chron. 29:6. Ps. 21:13 (12).

  41. (41), They shall call for help, and there is no deliverer—upon Jehovah, and he hears them not. Because they have no covenant relation to him, as the Psalmist had. Their calling on Jehovah does not exclude all reference to heathen foes, as appears from Jonah 1:14.—Hear, in the pregnant sense of hearing favorably, granting, answering a prayer. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).

  42. (42). And I shall beat them small as dust before the wind, as dirt in the streets I will pour them out. The comparisons in this verse are intended to express the Psalmist’s superiority to his enemies, his consequent contempt for them, and the facility with which he will destroy them. Similar images are not infrequent in the Old Testament. See for example Isa. 10:6, Zeph. 1:17. Zech. 10:5.

  43. (43). Thou wilt save me from the strifes of the people; thou wilt place me at the head (or for a chief) of nations; a people I have not known shall serve me. He was not only to be freed from the internal strifes of his own people, but by that deliverance enabled to subdue other nations. The closing words of the psalm, and its obvious connection with the promises in 2 Sam. 7, shew that this anticipation was not limited to David’s personal triumphs, either at home or abroad, but meant to comprehend the victories of his successors, and especially of him in whom the royal line was at once to end and be perpetuated. It may, therefore, be affirmed with truth that this prediction had its complete fulfilment only in Christ.

  44. (44, 45). At the hearing of the ear they will obey me, the sons of outland will lie to me; the sons of outland will decay, and tremble out of their enclosures. The meaning of the first words of this verse is clear from Job 42:5, where the hearing of the ear is put in opposition to the sight of the eye, report or hearsay to personal and ocular inspection. The verb translated will obey, whenever it occurs elsewhere, is a simple passive of the verb to hear, and accordingly some render it here, they who have only been heard of by the hearing of the ear, i.e. those whom I have only heard of, but have never seen, will feign obedience. But as the corresponding form of the verb to lie (יִכָּחֲשׁוּ) is used by Moses actively in Deut. 33:29, to which place there is an obvious allusion here, the first translation above given is entitled to the preference, and the sense is, that as soon as foreign nations hear of him they will lie to him, i.e. yield a feigned obedience through the influence of fear, in which sense another form of the same verb is used not only in the passage of the Pentateuch just cited, but in Ps. 66:3, 81:16 (15).—The old word outland, which may still be traced in its derivative adjective outlandish, has been here employed to represent a Hebrew word for which we have no equivalent in modern English, and which means foreign parts indefinitely or collectively. The marginal version in the English Bible (sons of the stranger) is only an inexact approximation to the form of the original. The verb decay, which properly denotes the withering of plants (see above, Ps. 1:3), is applied to the wasting of the human subject, and indeed of whole communities, in Exod. 18:18. To tremble from, or out of, is a pregnant phrase, involving the idea of a verb of motion, and meaning to come forth with fear. The same form of expression may be found in Micah 7:17, and analogous ones in 1 Sam. 16:4, Hosea 11:11.—Their enclosures, their retreats or refuges, perhaps with special reference to military enclosures, such as fortresses and camps.

  45. (46). Jehovah lives, and blessed be my rock, and high shall be the God of my salvation. The first phrase, (חַי יְהֹוָה) which is elsewhere always used as a formula of swearing (as the Lord liveth, i.e. as certainly as God exists), is by some interpreters confounded with a kindred phrase (יְחִי הַמָּלָךְ) vive le roi, (long) live the king, and regarded as a kind of acclamation, similar to those which were uttered at the coronation of the Jewish kings (1 Sam. 10:24, 1 Kings 1:25, 39, 2 Kings 11:12). But besides, the difference of form in Hebrew, such a wish is inappropriate to any but a mortal. There may, however, be an intentional allusion to the custom in question, as well as to the practice of swearing by the life of Jehovah, both of which would naturally be suggested to a Hebrew reader. Jehovah is described as the living God, in contrast to dead idols, or imaginary deities, which, as Paul says (1 Cor. 8:4), are nothing in the world. Blessed be my rock, the foundation of my hope, my refuge and protector; see above, on ver. 3 (2). The word translated blessed does not mean happy, but praised, and may here have the peculiar sense of worthy to be praised, like מְהֻלָּל in ver. 4 (3) above. It may be rendered as an affirmation: My rock (is) worthy to be praised. Or it may be taken as a wish: Praised (be) my rock, to which there is the less objection, as the preceding proposition is, in fact though not in form, a doxology, i.e. a declaration of what God is in himself, and of that to which he is in consequence entitled. The third phrase, he shall be high, may be understood to mean, not only he shall still be glorious, but he shall be magnified as such, exalted by the praises of his creatures. The God of my salvation, or, my God of salvation, does not merely mean the God who saves me, but my God who is a Saviour, of whom this is one essential character. Compare Luke 1:47. This epithet is common in the Psalms, and occurs once or twice in the Prophets. Isa. 17:10, Mic. 7:7, Hab. 3:18.

  46. (47). The Mighty (God) who gives revenges to me and has subdued nations under me. The construction is the same as in ver. 31, 33 (30, 32) above. This verse contains a further description of the God of his salvation, and at the same time justifies the affirmations of the preceding verse. What the Psalmist here rejoices in is not vengeance wreaked upon his personal enemies, but punishment inflicted on the enemies of God through himself as a mere instrument. Not to rejoice in this would have proved him unworthy of his high vocation. With the last clause compare Ps. 47:4 (3), 144:2.

  47. (48). Saving me from my enemies; yea, from my assailants (or insurgents) thou wilt raise me high; from the man of violence thou wilt deliver me. Here again the construction changes from the participle to the finite verb, but with a further change to the second person, which adds greatly to the life and energy of the expression. The yea may be taken as a simple copulative, and assailants as a mere equivalent to enemies. Some prefer, however, to assume a climax, and to understand the verse as meaning that he had not only been delivered from external foes, but from the more dangerous assaults of domestic treason or rebellion. There would then seem to be an allusion to Absalom’s conspiracy. Thou wilt raise me, set me up on high, beyond the reach of all my enemies. For a similar expression see below, Ps. 59:2 (1), as translated in the margin of the English Bible. The man of violence has, no doubt, reference to Saul, but only as the type of a whole class. Compare Ps. 140:2, 5 (1, 4).

  48. (49). Therefore, I will thank thee among the nations, O Jehovah, and to thy name will sing. The first word has reference not merely to the fact of his deliverance and promotion, but to the character in which he had experienced these blessings, and the extent of the divine purpose in bestowing them. “Therefore—because it is God who has done and is to do all this for me, and because it is in execution of a purpose comprehending the whole race—I will not confine my praises and thanksgiving to my own people, but extend them to all nations.” The performance of this vow has been going on for ages, and is still in progress wherever this and other psalms of David are now sung or read. The verse before us is legitimately used by Paul, together with Deut. 32:43, Isa. 11:1, 10, and Ps. 117:1, to prove that, even under the restrictive institutions of the old economy, God was not the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also. (Rom. 3:29, 15:9–12).—The verb in the first clause strictly means I will confess or acknowledge, but is specially applied to the acknowledgment of gifts received or benefits experienced, and then corresponds almost exactly to our thank. The corresponding verb in the last clause means to praise by music. See above, on Ps. 7:18 (17), 9:3, 12 (2, 11).

  49. (50). Making great the salvations of his King, and doing kindness to his Anointed, to David, and to his seed unto eternity. We have here another instance of the favourite construction which connects a sentence with the foregoing context by means of a participle agreeing with the subject of a previous sentence; see above, ver. 31 (30), 32 (31), 33 (32), 34 (33), 49 (48). Making great salvations, saving often and signally. The plural form conveys the idea of fulness and completeness. As the phrase His Anointed might have seemed to designate David exclusively, he shews its comprehensive import by expressly adding David and his seed, from which it clearly follows that the Messiah or Anointed One here mentioned is a complex or ideal person, and that Jesus Christ, far from being excluded, is, in fact, the principal person comprehended, as the last and greatest of the royal line of David, to whom the promises were especially given, in whom alone they are completely verified, and of whom alone the last words of this psalm could be uttered, in their true and strongest sense, without a falsehood or without absurdity. In this conclusion, as in other portions of the psalm, there is a clear though tacit reference to the promise in 2 Sam. 7:12–16, 25, 26, where several of the very same expressions are employed. Compare also Ps. 28:8, 84:10 (9), and Ps. 89, passim.

Another copy of this psalm is found recorded near the close of David’s history (2 Sam. ch. 22), which confirms the intimation in the title, that it was not composed in reference to any particular occasion, but in a general retrospection of the miseries of his whole life. The two texts often differ, both in form and substance, which has led some to suppose, that one is an erroneous transcript of the other. But this conclusion is forbidden by the uniform consistency of each considered in itself, as well as by the obvious indications of design in the particular variations, which may be best explained by supposing, that David himself, for reasons not recorded, prepared a twofold form of this sublime composition, which is the less improbable, as there are other unambiguous traces of the same process in the Old Testament, and in the writings of David himself. See below, the exposition of Ps. 53, and compare that of Isaiah, ch. 36–39. If this be a correct hypothesis, the two forms of the eighteenth psalm may be treated as distinct and independent compositions; and it has therefore been thought most advisable, both for the purpose of saving room and of avoiding the confusion which a parallel interpretation might have caused, to confine the exposition in this volume to that form of the psalm, which was preserved in the Psalter for permanent use in public worship, and which exhibits strong internal proofs of being the original or first conception, although both are equally authentic and inspired.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 74–87). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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