The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to denote “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end,” suggesting considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew. An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor,” probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat”).
There is also uncertainty about the significance of the transliterated term Muth-labben (‘almuth labben). The Septuagint rendering, “concerning the hidden things of the son,” fits the apparent meaning of the terms making up this expression (‘alam [hide] and ben [son]). Because the Hebrew verb muth means “die,” the expression has also been understood to mean “concerning the death of the son.” The Vulgate reads, pro morte filii (for [the] son’s death). Possibly the Hebrew designation served to indicate the melody to which the psalm was to be sung. This conjecture is reflected in the rendering of the Contemporary English Version, “To the tune ‘The Death of the Son.’”
David’s determination was to praise (acknowledge, LXX) YHWH. This would not be merely an expression of the lips but would stem from his “whole heart,” his inmost self. He would also tell others about God’s wonderful works. These amazing deeds would have included YHWH’s acts of deliverance from difficult circumstances.
For David, being a servant of God was a source of joy. In his God, by reason of his relationship with him, David would rejoice and exult, singing praise to his name (the Most High himself, the one represented by the name).
When his enemies turned back, evidently in defeat, they stumbled as persons without strength and perished before YHWH’s face or before him. David did not take credit for the defeat on the basis of his skills as a warrior but acknowledged God as the One who had executed justice for him. David depicted YHWH, in the capacity of Sovereign, as seated on a throne and rendering righteous judgment.
YHWH’s rebuking nations is apparently to be regarded as meaning his expressing his displeasure against them for their opposition to his people. The result was that these wicked ones were destroyed and their name blotted out for all time to come, putting an end to their ability to cause harm.
The destruction of the enemy proved to be thorough. Seemingly the reference to “perpetual ruins” applies to what remained after the defeat. According to the Septuagint, the swords of the enemy failed to the end, and God razed their cities, destroying any remembrance of them with a “noise” (possibly to be understood as meaning the sound of the crashing into ruins). Much like the Septuagint, the Hebrew text does mention the “plucking up” of cities. Although the plural “they” in the Septuagint could refer to the cities (concerning which all remembrance would cease), the pronominal suffix “they” is masculine gender in Hebrew and cities is feminine gender, indicating that the Masoretic Text is to be understood as pointing to an end of any remembrance of the enemies.
In sharp contrast to the end for the enemy and the cities, YHWH is portrayed as enthroned for time without limits and as the One who has established his throne to execute justice. His judgment of peoples is righteous and fair. For those who are oppressed, he provides the kind of security associated with an elevated site. In their times of affliction or need, he is their safe high place.
Those who know God’s name are persons who have an approved relationship with him. Their knowing him is manifest in their adherence to his upright ways. (Compare Jeremiah 22:15, 16.) Those who know God’s name, the person bearing the name, place their trust in him. That unqualified trust is not misplaced, for YHWH does not abandon those who seek him, earnestly desiring to have his approval and blessing.
Because the ark of the covenant, representative of the divine presence, was located on Mount Zion, YHWH resided there in a representative way. To him, the people are invited to sing praises and to make known his deeds (apparently his saving acts) to other peoples or nations.
As the Creator, YHWH considers life as precious and, therefore, avenges blood that has unjustly been spilled. He does not forget or disregard the outcry of the afflicted, which provides the basis for confidence in his requiting bloodshed.
At this point, the psalmist focused on his personal distress. He pleaded for YHWH to show him mercy, considering the suffering to which he had been subjected by those hating him. Apparently David felt that his very life was in jeopardy, as he referred to YHWH as the One who would raise him from the gates of death. This deliverance would make it possible for him to relate God’s praises (lauding him for what he had done for him) in the gates of the daughter of Zion. (The designation “daughter” fits the fact that the Hebrew word for city is in the feminine gender.) Because the open areas next to the gates of the city were places of public concourse, many people would hear the expressions of praise. Moreover, David would be able to rejoice in YHWH’s deliverance.
With reference to enemy nations, David observed that they ended up being caught by their own devious schemes. The pit they had excavated to trap others proved to be one into which they themselves sank, and the net they had hidden to ensnare others was the very one that entangled their own foot.
The reference to YHWH’s having made himself known evidently relates to his revealing himself as the God who executes justice. By the work of his hands or his deeds, the wicked one is ensnared (seized, LXX), suffering the punishment resulting from his own actions. According to another reading of the Hebrew text, God strikes down the wicked one.
Apparently with reference to divine judgment, the wicked would turn back to Sheol (Hades, LXX), suggesting that they would experience a premature death and end up in Sheol, the realm of the dead. All the nations forgetting God (disregarding his ways) would likewise be among those who would find themselves among the dead in Sheol or Hades. This is because YHWH would not always forget the needy or afflicted ones among the people as if having no concern for their sad plight. Their hope (apparently with reference to relief or deliverance) would not perish for time without limit or, according to the Septuagint, “into the age” (everlastingly).
The psalm concludes with the petition that YHWH would arise (as from a seated position) in order to take action, not allowing man or a mere earthling to appear to have superior strength by being able to continue acting ruthlessly. Instead, YHWH is asked to judge the nations before his face or in front of him, executing the deserved judgment against them. By his thus acting in bringing about the deliverance of those suffering oppression, YHWH would fill people of the nations with fear (see Notes) and make it known to them that they were mere men, mortals.
For a discussion of the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
The Hebrew expression, commonly transliterated Higgaion, is perhaps a musical term or applies to a meditation or a melody. The rendering of the Septuagint is odé (song, ode). The Hebrew term “selah” is likewise of uncertain meaning. Based on the Septuagint rendering diápsalma, it may designate a pause or a musical interlude.
In the concluding verse, there is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew term moráh, commonly translated “fear” or “terror.” The Septuagint rendering is “lawgiver” or “teacher” (nomothétes). It reads, “appoint ... a lawgiver over them.”