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Psalm 9

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. When my enemies turn back, They shall fall and perish at Your presence. For You have maintained my right and my cause; You sat on the throne judging in righteousness. You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever. O enemy, destructions are finished forever! And you have destroyed cities; Even their memory has perished. But the Lord shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness. The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble. Have mercy on me, O Lord! Consider my trouble from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, That I may tell of all Your praise In the gates of the daughter of Zion. I will rejoice in Your salvation. The nations have sunk down in the pit which they made; In the net which they hid, their own foot is caught. The Lord is known by the judgment He executes; The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Meditation. Selah The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten; The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever. Arise, O Lord, Do not let man prevail; Let the nations be judged in Your sight. Put them in fear, O Lord, That the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah” (Psalm 9:1–20, NKJV)

THIS psalm expresses, in a series of natural and striking alternations, gratitude for past deliverances, trust in God’s power and disposition to repeat them, and direct and earnest prayer for such repetition. We have first the acknowledgment of former mercies, ver. 2–7 (1–6); then the expression of trust for the future, ver. 8–13 (7–12); then the petition founded on it, ver. 14, 15 (13, 14). The same succession of ideas is repeated: recollection of the past, ver. 16, 17 (15, 16); anticipation of the future, ver. 18, 19 (17, 18); prayer for present and immediate help, ver. 20, 21 (19, 20). This parallelism of the parts makes the structure of the psalm remarkably like that of the seventh. The composition was intentionally so framed as to be a vehicle of pious feeling to the church at any period of strife and persecution. The form is that of the Old Testament; but the substance and the spirit are common to both dispensations.

  1. To the Chief Musician, Al-muth-labben. This enigmatical title has been variously explained. Some understand it as descriptive of the subject, and make labben an anagram of Nabal, the name of one of David’s enemies, and, at the same time, an appellative denoting fool, in which sense it is frequently applied to the wicked; see, for example, Ps. 14:1. The whole would then mean on the death of the fool, i.e. the sinner. Such enigmatical changes are supposed to occur in Jer. 25:26, 51:1, 41; Zech. 9:1. Others, by a change of pointing in the Hebrew, for al-muth read alamoth, a musical term occurring in the title of Ps. 46, or a cognate form almuth, and explain labben to mean for Ben, or the (children of) Ben, one of the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chron. 15:18. Neither of these explanations seem so natural as a third, which supposes muth-labben to be the title, or the first words, or a prominent expression of some other poem, in the style, or to the air of which, this psalm was composed. After the manner, or to the air, of (the song or poem) Death to the son, or the death of the son. Compare 2 Sam. 1:18, where David’s elegy on Saul appears to be called Kesheth or the Bow, because that word is a prominent expression in the composition. As it cannot be supposed that the expression was originally without meaning, the obscurity, in this and many similar cases, is rather a proof of antiquity than of the opposite.

  2. (1). I will thank Jehovah, praise him for his benefits, with all my heart, sincerely, cordially, and with a just appreciation of the greatness of his favors. I will recount all thy wonders, the wonderful things done by thee, with special reference to those attested by his own experience. The change from the third to the second person is entirely natural, as if the Psalmist’s warmth of feeling would not suffer him to speak any longer merely of God, as one absent, but compelled him to turn to him, as the immediate object of address. There is no need, therefore, of supplying thee in the first clause, and construing Jehovah as a vocative.

  3. (2). I will joy and triumph in thee, not merely in thy presence, or because of thee, i.e. because of what thou hast done, but in communion with thee, and because of my personal interest in thee. The form of the verbs, both here and in the last clause of the preceding verse, expresses strong desire and fixed determination; see above, on Ps. 2:3. I will praise, or celebrate in song; see above, on Ps. 7:18 (17). Thy name, thy manifested excellence; see above, on Ps. 5:12 (11). (Thou) Highest, or Most High! see above, on Ps. 7:18 (17). Here again there is special reference to the proofs of God’s supremacy afforded by his recent dealings with the Psalmist and his enemies.

  4. (3). In the turning of my enemies back, i.e. from their assault on me, which is equivalent to saying, in their retreat, their defeat, their disappointment. This may either be connected with what goes before, and understood as a statement of the reason or occasion of the praise there promised: “I will celebrate thy name when (or because) my enemies turn back;” or it may begin a new sentence, and ascribe their defeat to the agency of God himself: “When my enemies turn back (it is because) they are to stumble, and perish from thy presence, from before thee, or at thy presence, i.e. as soon as thou appearest.” The Hebrew preposition has both a causative and local meaning. The form of the verbs does not necessarily imply that the deliverance acknowledged was still future, but only that it might occur again, and that in any such case, whether past or yet to come, Jehovah was and would be the true author of the victory achieved. The act of stumbling implies that of falling as its natural consequence, and is often used in Scripture as a figure for complete and ruinous failure.

  5. (4). This was not a matter of precarious expectation, but of certain experience. For thou hast made, done, executed, wrought out, and thereby maintained, my cause and my right. This phrase is always used elsewhere in a favorable sense, and never in the vague one of simply doing justice, whether to the innocent or guilty. See Deut. 10:18; 1 Kings 8:45, 49; Ps. 140:12; and compare Isa. 10:2. And this defense was not merely that of an advocate, but that of a judge, or rather of a sovereign in the exercise of those judicial functions which belong to royalty. See Prov. 20:8. Thou hast sat, and sittest, on a throne, the throne of universal sovereignty, judging right, i.e. rightly, or a judge of righteousness, a righteous judge. See above, on Ps. 7:12 (11). In this august character the Psalmist had already seen Jehovah, and he therefore gives it as a reason for expecting him to act in accordance with it now.

  6. (5). The forensic terms of the preceding verse are now explained as denoting the destruction of God’s enemies. Thou hast rebuked nations, not merely individuals, but nations. God’s chastisements are often called rebukes, because in them he speaks by act as clearly as he could by word. Thou hast destroyed a wicked (one), i.e. many a wicked enemy, in former times, in other cases, and that not with a partial ruin, but with complete extermination even of their memory. Their name, that by which men are distinguished and remembered, thou hast blotted out, erased, effaced, obliterated, to perpetuity and eternity, an idiomatic combination, coincident in sense, though not in form, with the English phrase, for ever and ever. This verse does not refer exclusively to any one manifestation of God’s power and wrath, but to the general course of his dealings with his enemies, and especially to their invariable issue, the destruction of the adverse party.

  7. (6). The enemy, or as to the enemy, a nominative absolute placed at the beginning of the sentence for the sake of emphasis—finished, completed, are (his) ruins, desolations, for ever, i.e. he is ruined or made desolate for ever. The construction of the first word as a vocative—O enemy, ended are (thy) desolations for ever, i.e. the desolations caused by thee—affords a good sense, but is neither so agreeable to usage nor to the context as the one first given. Still less so are the other versions which have been given of this difficult clause. E.g. The enemies are completely desolate for ever;—the enemies are consumed, (there are) ruins (or desolations) for ever, &c. The address is still to Jehovah, as in the preceding verse. And (their) cities, viz. those of the enemy, hast thou destroyed. According to the second construction above given, this would mean, thou (O enemy) hast destroyed cities, but art now destroyed thyself. The same reasons as before require us to prefer Jehovah as the object of address. Gone, perish, is their very memory. The idiomatic form of the original in this clause cannot be retained in a translation. The nearest approach to it would be, gone is their memory, themselves. This may either mean their memory, viz. (that of) themselves, i.e. their own; or, perished is their memory (and) themselves (with it). There seems to be an obvious allusion to the threatenings against Amalek in the books of Moses (Exod. 17:14; Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:19), which received their literal fulfilment in the conquests of Saul and David (1 Sam. 15:3, 7, 27:8, 9, 30:1, 17; 2 Sam. 8:12; 1 Chron. 4:43). But this is evidently here presented merely as a sample of other conquests over the surrounding nations (2 Sam. 8:11–14), and even these as only samples of the wonders wrought by God for his own people, and celebrated in ver. 2 (1) above.

  8. (7). And Jehovah to eternity, for ever, will sit, as he sits now, upon the throne and judgment-seat. He has set up for judgment, for the purpose of acting as a judge, his throne. It is not as an absolute or arbitrary ruler, but as a just judge, that Jehovah reigns. This recognition of God’s judicial character and office as perpetual is intended to prepare the way for an appeal to his righteous intervention in the present case.

  9. (8). And he, himself, with emphasis upon the pronoun, is to judge the world, the fruitful and cultivated earth, as the Hebrew word properly denotes, here put for its inhabitants, in justice, or righteousness, i.e. in the exercise of this divine perfection. He will judge, a different Hebrew verb, to which we have no equivalent, he will judge nations, peoples, races, not mere individuals, in equities, in equity, the plural form denoting fulness or completeness, as in Ps. 1:1. As the preceding verse describes Jehovah’s kingship as judicial, so the verse before us represents him in the actual exercise of his judicial functions.

  10. (9). And (so) will Jehovah be a high place, out of reach of danger, hence a refuge, for the oppressed, literally the bruised or broken in pieces, a high place, refuge, in times of distress, literally at times in distress, i.e. at times (when men are) in distress. God’s judicial sovereignty is exercised so as to relieve the sufferer and deliver those in danger.

  11. (10). And in thee will trust, as now so in all times to come, the knowers of thy name, those who know the former exhibitions of thy greatness and thy goodness, all which are included in the name of God. See ver. 3 (2), and Ps. 8:2 (1), 7:18 (17), ver. 12 (11). For thou hast not forsaken thy seekers, or (those) seeking thee, O Lord, Jehovah, i.e. seeking thy favor in general, and thy protection against their enemies in particular. The certain knowledge of this fact is laid as the foundation of the confidence expressed in the first clause.

  12. (11). Sing, make music, give praise by song or music, to Jehovah, as the God of Israel, inhabiting Zion, i.e. the sanctuary there established. Or the words may mean sitting, as a king, enthroned, (in) Zion, which agrees well with the use of the same verbs in ver. 5, 8 (4, 7) above, although the other version is favoured by the obvious allusion to the symbolical import of the sanctuary under the Mosaic law, as teaching the great doctrine of God’s dwelling among men. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4), 5:8 (7). Zion is here represented as the centre of a circle reaching far beyond the house of Israel, and indeed co-extensive with the earth. Tell, declare, make known, in, among, the nations, his exploits, his noble deeds, the wonders mentioned in ver. 2 (1). We have here, in his inspired formula of worship, a clear proof that the ancient church believed and understood the great truth, that the law was to go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, Isa. 2:3, Mic. 4:2.

  13. (12). For seeking blood, or as an inquisitor of blood, he has remembered, he remembers, it, i.e. the blood; he has not forgotten the cry of the distressed. God is here revealed in the character which he assumes in Gen. 9:5, where the same verb and noun are used in the first clause of the verse before us. The word translated blood is in the plural form. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6). Hence the literal translation of the next word is, he has remembered them, i.e. the bloods or murders. The cry meant is the cry of suffering and complaint, with particular reference to Gen. 4:10. According to another reading of the last clause, the cry is that of the meek or humble, not of the distressed. But the common text affords a better sense, and really includes the other, as the innocence of the sufferers is implied, though not expressed. The general import of the verse is that God’s judgments, though deferred, are not abandoned, that he does not forget even what he seems to disregard, and that sooner or later he will certainly appear as an avenger. Murder is here put as the highest crime against the person, for all others, and indeed for wickedness in general.

  14. (13). Have mercy upon me, or be gracious to me, O Jehovah, see my suffering from my haters, raising me from the gates of death. The view previously taken of God’s faithfulness and justice is now made the ground of an importunate petition for deliverance from present dangers and distress. My haters, those who hate me. From my haters may be taken as a pregnant construction, meaning, see my suffering (and free me) from my enemies. Thus in 2 Sam. 18:19, “Jehovah hath judged him from the hand of his enemies,” means “hath done him justice (and so freed him) from the power of his enemies.” See a similar expression in Ps. 22:22 (21) below. It seems more natural and obvious, however, in the case before us, to give from a causal meaning. “See my distress (arising) from, or caused by, those who hate me.” Raising me does not denote an accompanying act, as if he had said, see my distress, and at the same time lift me up, &c. It is rather descriptive of a certain divine character or habit, and agrees with the pronoun of the second person understood. “Thou that liftest me up,” that art accustomed so to do, that has done so in other cases, with an implied prayer, do so now. The gates of death may have reference to the image of a subterranean dungeon, from which no prisoner can free himself; or it may be simply a poetical expression for the entrance to the grave or the state of the dead. Compare Isa. 38:10, and Mat. 16:18.

  15. (14). That I may recount all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion, may joy in thy salvation. This is one important end for which he asks to be delivered, namely, that God may have the praise of his deliverance. There is a trace, in the Hebrew text, of an original plural form, praises, which might then denote praiseworthy deeds, actions worthy to be celebrated. But the singular form occurs with all in Ps. 106:2 below. The gates here mentioned are contrasted with those of the preceding verse. The God who saves him from the gates of death shall be praised for this deliverance in the gates of the daughter of Zion. This last expression is supposed by some to be a personification of the people inhabiting Zion or Jerusalem, who are then put for Israel at large, as the church or chosen people. Others regard the genitive construction as equivalent to a simple apposition, as in river of Euphrates, or in our familiar phrase, the city of Jerusalem. The personification is then that of the city itself, considered as an ideal virgin, and on that account called daughter, by a usage similar to that of the corresponding word in French. In either case, there is an obvious reference to the ancient church, as the scene or the witness of the Psalmist’s praises. The verb in the last clause may be made to depend upon the particle at the beginning of the verse, (that) I may exult: or it may be still more emphatically construed as an independent proposition, I will exult in thy salvation. The form of the verb is the same as in Ps. 2:3 above. The second verb itself occurs in ver. 11 of that psalm, and as in that case, may either denote an inward emotion or the outward expression of it, I will shout. In thy salvation, i.e. in the possession or experience of it, and in acknowledgment of having thus experienced or possessed it.

  16. (15). Sunk are nations in a pit they made; in a net which they hid, taken is their foot. This may be either a confident anticipation of the future as if already past, or a further reference to previous deliverance, as a ground of hope for others yet to come. Nations, whole nations, when opposed to God. Compare Ps. 2:1. The accessory idea of Gentiles, heathen, would be necessarily suggested at the same time to a Hebrew reader. Most versions have the definite forms, the pit, the net; but the indefinite form of the original is equally intelligible in English, and therefore preferable as a more exact translation. The ellipsis of the relative, a pit (which) they made, is common to the Hebrew idiom and our own. The figures are borrowed from ancient modes of hunting. See above, on Ps. 7:16 (15). Their foot, their own foot, not that of the victim whose destruction they intended.

  17. (16). Known is Jehovah, or has made himself known. Justice has he done, or judgment has he executed. In the work of his (own) hands ensnared is a wicked (man). Higgaion, meditation. Selah, pause. God has revealed himself as present and attentive, notwithstanding his apparent oblivion and inaction, by doing justice on his enemies, or rather by making them do justice on themselves, converting their devices against others into means of self-destruction. In view of this most striking attestation of God’s providential government, the reader is summoned to reflect, and enabled so to do by a significant and solemn pause. The sense of meditation or reflection is clear from Ps. 19:15 (14), and Lam. 3:62. See below, on Ps. 92:4 (3). The addition of Higgaion to Selah here confirms the explanation already given of the latter word. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2). With this understanding of the terms, we may well say, to ourselves or others, in view of every signal providential retribution, especially where sin is conspicuously made its own avenger, Higgaion Selah!

  18. (17). The wicked shall turn back even to hell, to death, or to the grave, all nations forgetful of God. The enemies of God and of his people shall be not only thwarted and repulsed, but driven to destruction; and that not merely individuals, but nations. For the meaning of Sheol see above, on Ps. 6:6 (5). The figure of turning back, retreating, failing, is the same as in ver. 4 (3) above. The idea expressed is not that of being turned directly into hell, but that of turning back, first to one’s original position, and then beyond it, to the grave or hell. In the last clause there is an allusion to the implied charge of forgetfulness on God’s part in ver. 13 (12) above. He had not forgotten the “poor innocents,” as they feared, and as their enemies believed; but these very enemies had forgotten him, and must now abide the consequences of their own forgetfulness. The future forms of this verse may have reference to the same things mentioned in the verse preceding as already past. It seems more natural, however, to explain them as a confident anticipation of results precisely similar to those which had already been produced by the same causes. As Jehovah had already caused the heathen to become their own destroyers, so he might be expected to renew the same judicial process in another case.

  19. (18). For not for ever shall the poor be forgotten, (and) the hope of the humble perish to eternity. However long God may appear to be forgetful of his suffering people, even this seeming oblivion is to have an end. Still another allusion to the charge or imputation of forgetfulness implied in ver. 13 (12) above. The difference between the readings humble and afflicted (ענוים and עניים) is not essential, as the context shews that the humble meant are humble sufferers.20 (19). Arise, Jehovah! Let not man, frail man, be strong. Let nations, or the heathen, be judged, and as a necessary consequence condemned, before thy face, in thy presence, at thy bar. Here again, as in ver. 13, 14 (12, 13), the expression of strong confidence is made the occasion of an earnest prayer. So far is an implicit trust from leading men to cast off fear and restrain prayer before God. On the exhortation to arise, as from a state of previous inaction, see above, Ps. 3:7 (6). For the full sense of the word translated man, see above, on Ps. 8:5 (4). Let him not be strong, i.e. let him not so appear, or so esteem himself. Let him have no occasion, by indulgence or prolonged impunity, to cherish this delusion, or to practice this imposture. The absurdity of making man the stronger party in this strife with God is so preposterous, that God is summoned to arise for the purpose of exploding it. To be judged, in the case of the wicked, is of course to be condemned. To be judged in God’s presence, or at his tribunal, is of course to be condemned without appeal.

  20. (20). Set, place, or join, O Jehovah, fear to them. Let nations know, or then shall nations know, (that) man, not God, (are) they. Selah. God is entreated so to frighten them, that they may become conscious of their own insignificance and weakness. The word translated fear is elsewhere used to signify a razor. Hence some would render the first clause, apply the razor to them, i.e. shave them, in allusion to the oriental feeling with respect to the beard. But this seems far-fetched, and the masoretic reading yields a better sense. The precise import of the first phrase seems to be, set fear as a guard over them (Ps. 141:3), or join it to them as a constant companion. The word translated man is still the same as in the foregoing verse, and was therefore intended to suggest the idea of human frailty, as contrasted with divine omnipotence.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 40–46). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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