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Psalm 25

THE first of the alphabetical psalms, in which the verses begin with the different Hebrew letters in their order, an arrangement peculiar to those psalms, in which a single theme or idea is repeated under various forms, and, as it were, in a series of aphorisms. Now and then, in order to complete the expression of the thought, the series of the letters is neglected, either by repeating or omitting one. In this psalm, for example, two successive verses begin with א, and two with ר, while ו and ק are left out. The first verse, however, does not properly belong to the alphabetical series, but constitutes one sentence with the short verse at the end, which is added after the completion of the alphabet. The theme which runs through this psalm is deliverance from enemies, occasionally blended with a prayer for the divine forgiveness.

1. By David. Unto thee, Jehovah, my soul will I lift up, or as some explain it, bring or carry. All agree, however, that the essential idea is that of confident desire. See above, on Ps. 24:4, and compare Ps. 86:4, 143:8, below, where the phrase occurs again. The sentiment expressed is that of settled confidence in God, to the exclusion of all other helpers.

2. My God, in thee have I trusted, let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me, or more exactly, with respect to me. As the future verb of the preceding verse implies a fixed determination to confide in God hereafter, so the preterite in this verse indicates that such trust has been exercised already. The present is included under both forms.—Ashamed, disappointed, defeated in my plans and expectations. See above, on Ps. 22:6 (5).—The last clause shews that suffering from enemies was in the Psalmist’s mind throughout.

3. Likewise all (those) waiting for thee shall not be ashamed, ashamed shall be the traitors without cause. He does not ask for any special dispensation in his own behalf, but merely for a fair participation in God’s customary mode of dealing with the whole class of which he is a member, here described as those waiting for God, i.e. hoping in him, awaiting the fulfilment of his promises. The modern English sense of waiting on is too restricted, though the phrase once exactly corresponded to the Hebrew.—The position of the verbs, at the end and the beginning of successive clauses, gives a peculiar turn to the sentence, which is lost in some translations.—Without cause qualifies the word immediately preceding, and describes the enemy not only as perfidious, but as acting so gratuitously, and without provocation. See above, on Ps. 7:5 (4), and below, on Ps. 35:19, 38:20 (19), 69:5 (4).

4. Thy ways, Jehovah, make me know; thy paths teach me. As the ways of God, throughout this psalm, are the same as in Deut. 32:4, namely his dispensations towards his people, the way in which he orders their condition and disposes of their lot, the teaching prayed for must be that of experience. “Let me know in my own case what it is to be guided and protected and provided for by God himself.” This meaning suits the context better than that of moral guidance, which however is implied, if not expressed.

5. Make me walk in thy truth and teach me, for thou (art) the God of my salvation; for thee have I waited all the day. The obvious meaning of this verse, interpreted according to New Testament and modern usage, would be that of a prayer for divine instruction in religious truth or doctrine. But the usage of the Psalms, and the preceding context, are in favor of explaining truth to mean the veracity of God, or the faithful performance of his promises. See Ps. 30:10 (9), 71:22, 91:4. The teaching asked is then experimental teaching, or the actual experience of God’s faithfulness.—The God of my salvation, or my Saviour God. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46).—I have waited. This is no new or untried exercise of faith, to be attempted for the first time, but one with which I have been long familiar.—All the day, continually, always.

6. Remember thy mercies, O Jehovah, and thy favors, for from eternity are they. The prayer for future favors is here founded upon those experienced already.—Of old is an inadequate translation of מֵעוֹלָם, and even in the stronger form, ever of old, less exact and expressive than the literal translation from eternity, to which there is the less objection here, as the words relate not merely to God’s acts but to his attributes.

7. The sins of my youth and my transgressions (O) remember not; according to thy mercy remember thou me, for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! Among the mercies which he craves, the most important is the pardon of his sins, not only in itself considered, but as that without which all the others must be worthless. The sins of his youth are mentioned as the earliest in date, and probably as those committed with the least restraint, at an age when reflection is subordinate to passion. Compare Job 13:26, 2 Tim. 2:22. Besides the obvious reference to the youthful sins of individuals, there may be also an allusion to the national iniquities of Israel, committed in the period of their childhood as a people, namely, that of their sojourn in the wilderness. See below, on ver. 22, and compare Deut. 9:7.

8. Good and upright (is) Jehovah; therefore will he guide sinners in the way. Not only the goodness, but the rectitude of the divine nature requires the exercise of covenanted mercy. The second epithet is borrowed from Deut. 32:4.—The way meant in the last clause is the way of safety or salvation. What is meant may be either that God guides sinners into it by converting them, or that he guides those sinners in it who are still his people, as the same person claims to be both righteous and a sinner in Ps. 41:5, 13, (4, 12). Hence perhaps he uses the indefinite term sinners, not the distinctive phrase the sinners, or the more emphatic epithet, the wicked.

9. He will guide humble (sinners) in justice, and teach humble (sinners) his way. The common version of ענוים, meek, is too restricted and descriptive of mere temper. The Hebrew word is the nearest equivalent to humble in its strong religious sense. The omission of the article may be explained as a poetic licence, and the word translated the humble, so as to include the whole class. But the intimate connection between this verse and the one before it, makes it more natural to take ענוים as a description of the sinners mentioned in ver. 8, who are then of course to be regarded as penitent believing sinners, i.e. as true converts. In justice, i.e. in the exercise of justice, as before explained. The way and the teaching are the same as in the foregoing context, namely, those of Providence.

10. All the paths of Jehovah (are) mercy and truth to the keepers of his covenant and his testimonies. The paths of Jehovah are the paths in which he walks himself, in other words, the ways in which he deals with his creatures.—Truth, veracity, fidelity. See above, on ver. 5. A similar combination occurs, John 1:14. The last clause shews that the preceding promises are limited to those who are in covenant with God.—Keepers, observers, those obeying.—His covenant, the commands to which his promise is annexed. The same are called his testimonies against sin and in behalf of holiness. See above, on Ps. 19:8 (7).

11. For the sake of thy name (wilt thou do this), and wilt pardon my iniquity because it is great. The form of the verb (וְסָלַחְתַּ) is one that is commonly preceded by a future, which may here be readily supplied, so as to make the first clause refer to the preceding promises. For thy name’s sake, for the honor of thy nature and thy attributes, as heretofore revealed in act. See above on Ps. 23:3. The emphatic pronoun at the end (רֵב־הוּא) may possibly refer to the remoter antecedent, as in Ps. 22:18 (17). The sense will then be, “and forgive my iniquity because that name is great.” (Compare Mal. 1:11.) There is nothing ungrammatical, however, in the usual construction, which also agrees better with the usage of the adjective (רַב), as denoting rather quantity than elevation, and with the parallel phrase, much transgression (פֶּשַׁע רַב), in Ps. 19:14 (13).

12. Who (is) the man fearing Jehovah? He will guide him in the way he shall choose. In the first clause the form of the original is highly idiomatic; who (is) this, the man, a fearer of Jehovah? See above, on Ps. 24:8.—The ellipsis of the relative in the last clause is common to both idioms.—He guides him, and will guide him. There is not only an affirmation, but a promise. The way, as in the foregoing context, is the providential way in which God directs the course of a man’s life. His choosing it implies not only sovereign authority, but a gracious regard to the interests of his servant.

13. His soul in good shall lodge, and his seed shall possess the land. The parallelism between soul and seed seems to shew that by his soul we are to understand himself, for which the Hebrew has no appropriate expression. The promise, then, includes both himself and his posterity. To lodge, to be at home, to dwell at ease, and by implication, to abide or continue undisturbed. In good, not goodness, but good fortune or prosperity. The verb, translated shall possess, denotes specifically to inherit, or possess as an inheritance, i.e. from generation to generation, in perpetual succession. The land, to wit, the land of Canaan; and as this was the standing promise of the law, uttered even in the decalogue (Exod. 20:12), it became a formula for all the blessings implicitly embraced in the promise of Canaan to the ancient Israel, and is so used even by our Lord himself, (Mat. 5:5.)

14. The friendship of Jehovah is to (those) fearing him, and his covenant to make them know. The word translated friendship means originally a company of persons sitting together, Ps. 111:1; then familiar conversation, Ps. 55:15 (14); then confidential intercourse, intimacy, friendship, Prov. 3:32; then a confidence or secret, Prov. 11:13. The last sense is commonly preferred in the English version, even when one of the others would be more appropriate, as in this case, where the sense of intimacy, friendship, seems required by the context. The last clause is ambiguous, and may either mean, his covenant is designed to be known by them, or his covenant is designed to make them know, i.e. his way; or in general, to give them knowledge. To make them know his covenant is a forced construction, and forbidden by the collocation of the Hebrew words. The meaning of the whole verse seems to be, that Jehovah condescends to hold familiar intercourse with those who fear him, and enters into covenant relation with them, for the purpose of making them know all that they need know for his service or their own advantage.

15. My eyes (are) always towards Jehovah; for he will bring out from the net my feet. The first clause expresses settled trust and constant expectation. The figure of a net is a favorite one for dangers arising from the craft and spite of enemies. See above, on Ps. 9:16 (15), 10:9.

16. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, for lonely and distressed (am) I. The prayer to turn implies that his face was before averted, a common figure in the Psalms for the suspension or withholding of God’s favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—The word translated lonely is the same that occurs above, Ps. 22:21 (20).

17. The troubles of my heart have they enlarged; from my distresses do thou bring me out. The plural of the first clause is indefinite, equivalent to a passive construction in English, are enlarged. (Compare the common version of Luke 12:20.) It does not refer even to his enemies specifically, but to all others, as distinguished from his lonely self, and from his sole deliverer.

18. See my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. So long as God leaves him to endure, he is conceived of as not seeing his condition. The prayer that he will see includes the prayer that he will save. The renewed prayer for forgiveness in the last clause seems again to recall to mind the intimate connection between suffering and sin.

19. See my enemies, for they are many, and (with) hatred of violence have hated me. The agency of wicked foes in causing his distresses, which had been referred to in ver. 2, 15, 17, is here again brought into view. The word translated violence is very strong, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 11:6 (5), 18:49 (48).—The past tense represents the enmity as something of long standing.

20. (O) keep my soul and deliver me; let me not be ashamed, for I have trusted in thee. To keep is here to keep in safety, to preserve.—Ashamed, confounded, disappointed. See above, on ver. 2. The word translated trusted is not that employed in ver. 2, but the one which occurs in Ps. 2:12, and which originally means to seek a refuge or a hiding-place. See above, on Ps. 11:2 (1).

21. Integrity and rectitude shall preserve me, because I have waited for thee. The first word means completeness or perfection (integritas), i.e. freedom from essential defect. See above, on Ps. 18:21, 24 (20, 23). Here, however, it may signify the perfect rectitude of God, which will not suffer him to cast off or forsake those who wait for him, i.e. trustfully expect the fulfilment of his promises.

22. Redeem, O God, Israel out of all his troubles! As the psalm was designed, from the first, to be a vehicle of pious feeling and desire for the whole church, it is here wound up with a petition shewing this extent of purpose. The Psalmist prays no longer for himself, but for all Israel. The peculiar name, Jehovah, which had hitherto been used exclusively, is here exchanged for the generic name of God, perhaps in opposition to the human adversaries of the Psalmist, and his total destitution of all human help. This verse forms no part of the alphabetical series, but begins with the same letter as ver. 16. Like the first verse, it consists of a single clause, as if the two together were designed to constitute one sentence.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 113–117). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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