This psalm is ascribed to David. It may relate to the time he was pursued by King Saul.
The psalmist supplicated YHWH to contend with those contending against him, warring against those who warred against him. It was a plea for the Most High to come to his defense like a warrior.
Portraying his God in the capacity of a warrior, David prayed that he take hold of his small “shield” (“weapon,” LXX) and “large shield.” The psalmist asked YHWH to rise, as from a seated position, to prepare for action to help him.
The expression “empty out” or “pour out” the “spear” or “sword” (LXX) may mean to pull the weapon from its sheath. After the Hebrew word for “spear,” the text continues “and shut.” This is also the significance of the Greek term (synkleío). Possibly the Hebrew expression “and shut to summon my pursuers” means to block their way. This meaning is reflected in the renderings of a number of translations. “And draw out the spear, and stop [the way] against my pursuers.” (Darby) “Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me.” (NKJV) Based on a different vocalization, the Hebrew word for “shut” has been understood to mean “battle ax.” Therefore, many translators have rendered the term as the designation for a weapon (“battle-ax,” NAB, NLB; “javelin,” NIV, NRSV, Tanakh).
With reference to the Most High, the psalmist directed the words, “Say to my soul [to me], ‘I am your deliverance.’” This was David’s appeal for assurance that YHWH would save him from his pursuers.
As for those seeking his “soul” or life, the psalmist prayed that they would be put to shame and humiliated or dishonored, failing in their efforts to bring about his death. He petitioned YHWH that they (those plotting evil against him) be “turned back” and disgraced, evidently meaning that they be the ones to suffer humiliating defeat.
For the psalmist’s enemies to become like chaff (“dust,” LXX) that is easily blown away by the wind would have meant an end for them and their ability to inflict harm. The psalmist also looked to YHWH’s angel to share in the defeat of the enemies, driving them along like the wind that blows the refuse of the threshing operation away. According to the Septuagint, the angel would be afflicting them.
With YHWH’s angel in pursuit while they were fleeing, these enemies should find their way to be “dark and slippery.” In the dark, they would be unable to see where they were going and unable to detect the danger that slippery areas posed.
The psalmist’s prayer was one for retributive justice. Without cause or justification, his foes had hidden a pit for him to trap him. After “pit,” the Masoretic Text reads “their net.” This may be understood to mean “even their net” or that an ensnaring net covered the pit. The Septuagint reads, “For without cause they have hidden their destructive trap for me.” These enemies had dug, evidently the pit, for David’s “soul” or life. According to the Septuagint, they had “reproached” his soul or reviled him.
He prayed that they (literally, “him,” evidently collectively of all the enemies) be the ones to experience the disaster they had meant for him. Ruin should befall them unawares. The Hebrew says, “not does he know,” suggesting that nothing would provide the basis for suspecting the possibility of coming calamity. In the Septuagint, the focus is on the “trap” or “snare.” “Let a trap that they do not know come to them.” The psalmist expressed the retribution in terms of two more parallel expressions. “And let his net that he hid capture him; let him fall to ruin therein.” In Hebrew, the last word of verse 8 is a preposition. The nearest antecedent would indicate that the object is the “net.” A number of translations, however, have added the word “pit.” (NAB, NIV)
David’s “soul” or he himself would rejoice in YHWH upon witnessing divine retribution. He would exult or be joyful in the deliverance the Most High would have effected for him.
Appreciatively, “all [his] bones,” or his entire being, would say to YHWH, “Who is like you?” The implied answer is, no one. He delivers the “poor” or the “oppressed” person from the oppressor, from the individual having the power and thus being too strong for the afflicted one. YHWH delivers the “poor” or oppressed and needy from those who would rob them, depriving them of what little they have.
The witnesses rising up against the psalmist are described as “violent” or ruthless. In the Septuagint, they are called “unjust” or “false.” Evidently this is because they intended to bring about the psalmist’s ruin. They asked him about matters concerning which he knew nothing, apparently insinuating that he had committed serious wrongs. (Compare 1 Samuel 24:9.)
For the “good” he had done and that benefited them, they repaid evil. They requited his “soul” or the psalmist himself with bereavement. This may mean that they reduced him to a state of bereavement — alone and abandoned.
The psalmist had conducted himself very differently toward them. When they were sick, he mourned for them as indicated by his clothing himself with sackcloth. He afflicted his “soul” or himself by “fasting.” Like a mourner, he did not eat. The point about his prayer returning upon his bosom has been translated to mean a repayment to him for having sought their well-being (“may what I prayed for happen to me!” [Tanakh]). Another interpretive rendering is that, instead of being answered, the prayers returned to his bosom (“my prayers returned to me unanswered” [NIV]). To preserve the Hebrew expression “on my bosom,” others have supplied additional words or used terms not in the original text. “I prayed with head bowed on my bosom.” (NRSV) “I...sobbed my prayers upon my bosom.” (NAB)
David’s sadness on account of their illness was a sincere expression and not a hypocritical display. He walked about as for an afflicted friend or brother. His mourning was like that for his own mother; he was bowed down and in a state of gloom or intense sadness. The Septuagint does not include a reference to the mother but reads, “like a mourner and sad of countenance, thus I humbled myself.”
They, however, maliciously rejoiced when he stumbled or experienced adversity, having gathered themselves as a group to express their glee. All of them were gathered against him. The “smitten” or “stricken” ones have been understood to mean “wretches” (ESV, Tanakh), “ruffians” (NRSV), “attackers” (NIV, NKJV), “smiters” (NAS), “defamers” (Green), and “assailants” (HCSB). They were persons the psalmist seemingly did not even know. (See, however, the Notes section.) Regarding them, he said, “they tear and are not silent.” This may mean that they persisted in slandering and mocking him, hatefully ripping him to pieces.
Godless or profane men are designated as “godless mockers of a cake.” This could mean that for just a cake they were willing to engage in ridicule. (Compare Micah 3:5.) Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew text — “like profane mockers at a feast” (ESV), “with the ungodly they were mockers for a cake” (J. P. Green), “with godless mockery” (HCSB), “[w]ith impious, mocking grimace” (Tanakh), “they impiously mocked more and more” (NRSV), and “[l]ike the ungodly they maliciously mocked” (NIV). The Septuagint rendering differs from the Hebrew. “They tested me; they mocked me with contempt.” In anger and hatred, they gnashed their teeth at the psalmist.
Apparently he had long been submitted to hateful mockery, causing him to ask YHWH, “How long will you look on?” He pleaded that his soul or life be rescued from the “ravages” or attacks of his enemies. (See the Notes section on verse 17.) These enemies were like lions or vicious beasts of prey from whom the psalmist’s “only one” or his precious life needed to be delivered.
Evidently upon being delivered, the psalmist would thank his God in the great congregation of assembled worshipers. In this mighty throng, he would praise the Most High.
The psalmist prayed that his treacherous enemies would not maliciously rejoice over him because of having attained their unworthy aims. In the case of these foes who had no basis for hating him, he pleaded that they not be allowed to “wink the eye” (indicative of scorning or gloating).
These foes did not “speak peace.” They aimed to injure and not to promote “peace” or well-being. According to the Septuagint, the reference is specifically to the psalmist. “For to me indeed they spoke peaceably and devised deceits in anger,” indicating that their speaking peaceably was a false front. According to the Masoretic Text, however, they devised deceitful “words” (speech or schemes designed to deceive or defraud) against “quiet ones in the land” or harmless, peaceable people.
Against the psalmist, his foes opened their mouths wide, spewing forth accusatory, hateful and contemptuous speech. They would say, “Aha! Aha! [Good! Good! (LXX)] our eyes have seen.” This could mean that they gloated about seeing actions of David that they viewed as blameworthy. “They say, ‘You did it! We saw you ourselves.’” (CEV) Another possibility is that they took delight in seeing the psalmist in distress. “They say, ‘Aha! Good! Our eyes relish the sight!’” (NAB)
Confident that YHWH had “seen” or was fully aware of developments, David prayed that he not be “silent” or fail to respond in providing aid. He pleaded that his Lord not be “far” from him (as if too distant to rescue him).
David prayed that his God would “arouse” himself and “awake” or prepare to undertake his “judgment” or defense. The psalmist knew that he was in the right and confidently appealed to his God and his Lord to vindicate his cause.
Trusting in YHWH’s righteousness or justice, David prayed that he be judged or vindicated in harmony therewith. He pleaded that his God would not let his foes rejoice over him, finding malicious delight in his calamity.
David begged that YHWH not allow them gleefully to say in their “heart” or to themselves that their “desire” (néphesh) respecting him had been attained. He prayed that his God would not permit them to say, “We have swallowed him up” (brought about his complete ruin).
The psalmist asked that his foes be the ones to experience retribution for their evil scheming. May all those rejoicing over his misfortune, distress, or adversity be the ones to experience shame or disappointment and feel abashed. May they who arrogantly magnified or lifted themselves up over him (spoke boastfully against him, LXX), regarding him with contempt, be the ones clothed with shame and disgrace.
The psalmist then prayed for all who recognized the rightness of his cause. May they cry out joyfully and be glad, continuing to acknowledge that YHWH is great and finds delight or pleasure in the “peace” or well-being of his servant. Evidently this acknowledgment of greatness found its basis in David’s being delivered as God’s servant, one in whose welfare YHWH took delight. According to the Septuagint, however, the reference is to people who found delight in the well-being of the psalmist, and one of the Dead Sea Psalms scrolls agrees with the rendering of the Septuagint.
As for himself, David, upon experiencing God’s help, would use his tongue to tell about God’s righteousness (the manifestation of divine justice) and declare his praise all day long (or without ceasing and at every opportunity), lauding him for all that he had done.
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
In verse 15, the Hebrew reads, “not did I know.” There is no object for the verb “know,” and this has resulted in a variety of renderings in efforts to make the passage more explicit. The psalmist’s not knowing has been regarded as his being unaware of their actions. “But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; attackers gathered against me when I was unaware. They slandered me without ceasing.” (NIV) Translators often represent these slanderers as persons the psalmist did not know or who were strangers to him. “But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing.” (NRSV) “I have stumbled, and worthless liars I don’t even know surround me and sneer.” (CEV) The Tanakh conveys yet another meaning. “But when I stumble, they gleefully gather; wretches gather against me, I know not why; they tear at me without end.” Although the Septuagint reading differs from the Masoretic Text, it is even more obscure and does not clarify the expression “I did not know.” The Septuagint reads, “And they rejoiced against me and gathered; scourges gathered upon me, and I did not know; they were separated and not pained [repentant].”
There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word thought to mean “ravages” (verse 17). The term in the Septuagint is kakourgía, meaning “villainy,” “wickedness,” or “mischief.” In the Septuagint, the rendering for the Hebrew “only one” is “only-begotten” (monogenés) and evidently means the psalmist’s life, the precious life that is uniquely his own.
The one greater than David, the Messiah, was also hated without cause, fulfilling the words of verse 19. In John 15:25, where these words are quoted, the verb for “hated” is in the aorist tense (usually rendered as a past tense), but in the Septuagint the verb is a plural participle in the present tense and signifies the “ones hating.”
Both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint (in verse 25) use the expression “our soul” (Hebrew, néphesh; Greek, psyché). In this context, “soul” appears to designate “desire,” and numerous translations convey this sense. “Aha! Just what we wanted!” (NAB) “Aha, we have our desire.” (Margolis) “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” (NRSV) “Aha, just what we wished!” (Tanakh) “Aha, just what we wanted!” (NIV) As in verse 21, the Septuagint renders “aha” as “good.”