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Psalm 7

“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver. O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah Arise, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you; over it return on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” (Psalm 7:1–17, ESV)

The Psalmist still prays for deliverance from his enemies, ver. 2, 3 (1, 2), on the ground that he is innocent of that wherewith they charge him, ver. 4–6 (3–5). He prays for justice to himself and on his enemies, as a part of that great judicial process which belongs to God as the universal judge, ver. 7–10 (6–9). He trusts in the divine discrimination between innocence and guilt, ver. 11, 12 (10, 11). He anticipates God’s vengeance on impenitent offenders, ver. 13, 14 (12, 13). He sees them forced to act as self-destroyers, ver. 15–17 (14–16). At the same time he rejoices in God’s mercy to himself, and to the whole class whom he represents, ver. 18 (17).

The penitential tone, which predominated in the sixth psalm, here gives way again to that of self-justification, perhaps because the Psalmist here speaks no longer as an individual, but as the representative of the righteous or God’s people. The two views which he thus takes of himself are perfectly consistent, and should be suffered to interpret one another.

  1. Shiggaion, i.e. wandering, error. The noun occurs only here, and in the plural form, Hab. 3:1, but the verb from which it is derived is not uncommon, and is applied by Saul to his own errors with respect to David (1 Sam. 26:21). See also Ps. 119:10, 118. Hence some explain the word here as denoting moral error, sin, and make it descriptive of the subject of the psalm. See above on Ps. 5:1. Still more in accordance with the literal meaning of the root is the opinion that it here denotes the wandering of David at the period when the psalm was probably conceived. In either case, it means a song of wandering or error, which he sang, in the literal sense, or in the secondary one of poetical composition, as Virgil says, I sing the man and arms, i.e. they are the subject of my poem. To the Lord, Jehovah, to whom a large part of the psalm is really addressed. Concerning (or because of) the words of Cush the Benjamite. It is clear from ver. 4–6 (3–5), that the words referred to were calumnious reports or accusations. These may have been uttered by one Cush, a Benjamite, who nowhere else appears in history. But as this very circumstance makes it improbable that he would have been singled out, as the occasion of this psalm, from among so many slanderers, some suppose Cush to be Shimei, who cursed David when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 16:5–13). As the psalm, however, seems much better suited to the times of Saul, some suppose Cush, which is properly the Hebrew name of Ethiopia, to be here an enigmatical name applied to Saul himself, in reference to the blackness of his heart, and perhaps to his incorrigible wickedness. See Jer. 13:23, and Amos 9:7. The description Benjamite, is equally appropriate to Saul (1 Sam. 9:1, 2; 16:5, 11) and Shimei, who, indeed, were kinsmen. This explanation of the word Cush is less forced than it might otherwise appear, because enigmatical descriptions of the theme are not infrequent in the titles of the Psalms. See above, on Ps. 5:1, and below, on Ps. 9:1; 22:1; 53:1; 57:1; 60:1.

  2. (1). The psalm opens with an expression of strong confidence in God, and a prayer founded on it. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, not merely by creation, but by special covenant, in thee, as such, and therefore in no other, I have trusted, and do still trust. This relation and this trust entitle him to audience and deliverance. Save me from all my persecutors, or pursuers, a term frequently employed in David’s history. See 1 Sam. 24:15 (14); 26:20. By these we are here to understand the whole class of worldly and ungodly men, of which Saul was the type and representative. The all suggests the urgency of the necessity, as a motive to immediate interposition. And extricate me, or deliver me. The primary idea of the verb translated save is that of making room, enlarging. See above, on Ps. 4:2 (1).

  3. (2). Lest he tear, like a lion, my soul. The singular form, following the plural in the foregoing verse, may have particular reference to Saul, or to the class of which he was a type, personified as an ideal individual. The imagery of the verse is borrowed from the habits of wild beasts, with which David was familiar from a child. See 1 Sam. 17:34–37. The soul or life is mentioned as the real object of attack, and not as a mere periphrasis for the personal pronoun, as if my soul were equivalent to me. Rending, or breaking the bones, and there is none delivering, or with none to deliver.

  4. (3.) He proceeds upon the principle that God will not hear the prayer of the wicked, and that he must hear that of the righteous. He proceeds, therefore, to assert his innocence, not his freedom from all sin, but from that particular offence with which he had been charged. O Lord, Jehovah, my God, as in ver. 2 (1), if I have done this, which follows, or this of which I am accused, referring to "the words of Cush," the calumnies, which gave occasion to the psalm itself. If there is, with emphasis on the verb, which might have been omitted in Hebrew, and is therefore emphatic, if there is indeed, as my accusers say, perverseness, iniquity, in my palms, in the palms of my hands, here mentioned as instruments of evil. The apodosis of the sentence is contained in ver. 6 (5) below.

  5. (4). If I have repaid my friend, one at peace with me, evil, and spoiled, plundered, (one) distressing me, acting as my enemy, without a cause. There seems to be an allusion here to the two periods of David’s connection with Saul, that of their friendly intercourse, and that of their open enmity. During neither of these had David been guilty of the sins charged upon him. He had not conspired against Saul while in his service (1 Sam. 22:7, 8), and when persecuted by him he had spared his life (1 Sam. 24:10, 11). Some suppose this last fact to be here referred to, and translate the second clause, yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy. The Hebrew verb is certainly used elsewhere in this sense (2 Sam. 22:20, Ps. 6:5), but its primary meaning seems to be that of stripping or spoiling a conquered enemy. The first construction above given is moreover much more natural, and agrees better with the grammatical dependence of the second verb upon the first.

  6. (5). His consciousness of innocence is expressed in the strongest manner by invoking the divine displeasure if the charge can be established. An enemy, or by poetic license, the enemy, whether Saul or the ideal enemy referred to in verse 3 (2), shall pursue, or may pursue, which is equivalent to saying, Let the enemy pursue my soul, the figure being still the same as in verse 3 (2) above, but carried out with more minuteness, and overtake (it), and trample to the earth my life, and my honor in the dust make dwell, i.e. completely prostrate and degrade. Some regard honor as equivalent to soul and life, the intelligent and vital part, which is the glory of man’s constitution. But the analogy of Ps. 3:4 (3) and 4:3 (2) makes it more probable that in this case also there is reference to the Psalmist’s personal and official honor. The allusion, however, is not so much to posthumous disgrace as to present humiliation. All this he imprecates upon himself if really guilty of the charges calumniously brought against him. The solemnity of this appeal to God, as a witness and a judge, is enhanced by the usual pause. Selah.

  7. (6). Upon this protestation of his innocence he founds a fresh prayer for protection and deliverance. Arise, arouse thyself, O Lord, Jehovah. See above, on Ps. 3:8 (7). Arise in thine anger, raise thyself, or be exalted, in, i.e. amidst, the ragings of my enemies. The idea because of my enemies is rather implied than expressed. The sense directly intended seems to be that, as his enemies are raging, it is time for God to arise in anger too. As they rage against him, he calls upon God to rise in anger against them. And awake, a still stronger figure than arise, because implying sleep as well as inactivity. Awake unto me, at my call and for my benefit. Judgment hast thou commanded, or ordained. Let that judgment now be executed. He appeals to the general administration of God’s justice, as a ground for expecting it in this one case. As it was part of the divine plan or purpose to do justice, both on friends and foes, here was an opportunity to put it into execution.

  8. (7). And the congregation of nations shall surround thee, which in this connection is equivalent to saying, let it surround thee. The most probable sense of these obscure words is, appear in the midst of the nations as their judge. The same connection between God’s judicial government in general and his judicial acts in a particular case, that is implied in the preceding verse, is here embodied in the figure of an oriental king dispensing justice to his subjects in a popular assembly. And above it, the assembly, to the high place, or the height, return thou. This may either mean, return to heaven when the judgment is concluded, or, which seems more natural, Resume thy seat as judge above this great ideal congregation. Above it, thus assembled to receive thee, to the high place, or the judgment-seat, return thou, after so long an absence, previously intimated by the summons to arise and awake. Inaction, sleep, and absence from the judgment-seat, are all bold metaphors for God’s delay to save his people and destroy their enemies.

  9. (8). The same thing is now expressed in a direct and formal manner. Jehovah will judge, is to judge, the nations. This is laid down as a certain general proposition, from which the Psalmist draws a special inference in the shape of a petition. Judge me, O Lord, Jehovah! If it be true that God will judge the world, redress all wrong, and punish all iniquity, let him begin with me. Let me share now in the justice which is to be universally administered. Judge me, O Lord, according to my right, and my completeness, or perfection, over me, i.e. according to my innocence which covers and protects me. All such expressions must be qualified and explained by the confession of unworthiness in Ps. 6 and elsewhere, which sufficiently demonstrates that the Psalmist here makes no claim to absolute perfection and innocence, nor to any whatever that is independent of God’s sovereign mercy.

  10. (9). Let cease, I pray, the badness of wicked (men). The future has an optative meaning given to it by the Hebrew particle (נָא), which is often rendered now, not as an adverb of time, but of entreaty. Between man and man, it is frequently equivalent to if you please in modern parlance. When addressed to God, it scarcely admits of any other version than I pray. The assonance or paronomasia in the common version, wickedness of the wicked, is not found in the original, where two words, not akin to one another, are employed. The plural form of wicked is also lost or left ambiguous in the common version. And thou wilt confirm, or establish, a righteous (man), and a trier of hearts and reins, constantly used in Scripture for the internal dispositions, (is the) righteous God, or (art thou) O righteous God, which last agrees best with the direct address to God in the preceding clauses. This does not merely mean that God is omniscient, and therefore able thus to try the hearts and reins, but that he actually does it. Here he is specially appealed to, as a judge or umpire between Saul, or "the wicked" whom he represented, and "the righteous," of whom David was the type and champion.

  11. (10). My shield (is) upon God. My protection or defense depends on him alone. The figure is the same as in Ps. 3:4 (3) and 5:13 (12). Here again the hope of personal deliverance is founded on a general truth, as to the course of the divine administration. My shield (is) upon God, saving, or who saves, the Savior of the upright, straightforward, or sincere in heart. This is a new indirect assertion of his own integrity and innocence.

  12. (11). The second word in the original of this verse may be either a participle or a noun, so that the clause admits of two translations, God (is) a righteous judge, and, God is judging, i.e. judges, the righteous. The first would be a repetition of the general truth taught in ver. 9 (8) above, but here applied to the punishment of the wicked, as it is there to the salvation of the innocent. According to the other construction, the verse before us presents both ideas: God judges the righteous, i.e. does him justice, and God is angry every day. The object of this anger, although not expressed, is obvious, and is even rendered more conspicuous by this omission. As if he had said, "God, who does justice to the righteous, has likewise objects for his indignation."

  13. (12). If he, the sinner at whom God is angry, will not turn, i.e. turn back from his impious and rebellious undertakings, his sword he will whet, i.e. with a natural though sudden change of subject, God will whet his sword, often referred to as an instrument of vengeance. His bow he has trodden on, alluding to the ancient mode of bending the large and heavy bows used in battle, and made it ready. The bow and the sword were the most common weapons used in ancient warfare. The past tense of these verbs implies that the instruments of vengeance are prepared already, and not merely viewed as something future.

  14. (13). And at him (the wicked enemy) he has aimed, or directed, the instruments of death, his deadly weapons. This is still another step in advance. The weapons are not only ready for him, but aimed at him. His arrows to (be) burning he will make, i.e. he will make his arrows burning arrows, in allusion to the ancient military custom of shooting ignited darts or arrows into besieged towns, for the purpose of setting them on fire, as well as that of personal injury. The figurative terms in these two verses all express the certainty and promptness of the divine judgments on incorrigible sinners. For even these denunciations are not absolute, but suspended on the enemy’s repentance or persistency in evil. That significant phrase, if he will not turn, may be tacitly supplied as qualifying every threatening in the book, however strong and unconditional in its expressions.

  15. (14). Behold, he, the wicked man, will writhe, or travail (with) iniquity, (towards others), and conceive mischief (to himself), and bring forth falsehood, self-deception, disappointment. The meaning seems to be, that while bringing his malignant schemes to maturity, he will unconsciously conceive and bring forth ruin to himself.

  16. (15) The same idea is then expressed by other figures, borrowed perhaps from certain ancient modes of hunting. A well he has digged, i.e. a pitfall for his enemy, and hollowed it, or made it deep, and fallen into the pit he is making, or about to make. The change from the past tense to the future seems to place the catastrophe between the inception and completion of the plan. The translation of the last verb as a simple preterite is entirely ungrammatical.

  17. (16). Still a third variation of the same theme. His mischief shall return upon his own head, literally into it, like a falling body which not only rests upon an object, but sinks and is imbedded in it. And on his own crown his violence, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty, shall come down.

  18. (17). While the wicked enemy of God and his people is thus made to execute the sentence on himself, the Psalmist already exults in the experience of God’s saving mercy. I will praise the Lord, Jehovah, i.e. acknowledge his favors. See above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). According to his right, desert, or due, as in ver. 9 (8) above. Or according to his righteousness, his justice, i.e. the praise shall correspond to the display just made of this attribute, as well in the deliverance of the Psalmist as in the destruction of his enemies. And I will sing praise, praise by singing, praise in song, the name, the manifested excellence (see above, on Ps. 5:12 (11),) of the Lord, Jehovah, High or Most High. He will praise the Lord in this exalted character as manifested by his dealings in the case which gave occasion to the psalm. The resolution thus expressed may be considered as fulfilled in the psalm itself, so confident is he that it cannot be performed before his prayer is answered. Or the words may be understood as engaging to continue these acknowledgments hereafter.

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

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