Psalm 141

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-07-08 09:32.

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This psalm is ascribed to David. It may come from the period when King Saul pursued him.

David found himself in distressing circumstances, calling upon YHWH for help. In view of the eminent danger he faced, David prayed that YHWH would “hasten” to him with assistance, “giving ear” to his voice when he cried out to him.

He wanted the Most High to consider his prayer like incense offered on the altar of incense and the lifting up of his hands in an attitude of prayer like the regular evening sacrifice.

David prayed that his words would be acceptable to YHWH, untainted by the kind of hatred and maliciousness his enemies expressed. Therefore, he asked that YHWH would set a guard over his mouth or restrain him from uttering words that he would later regret. His appeal for YHWH to watch “over the door of [his] lips” indicated that he desired to be stopped from opening this door, avoiding all improper expressions.

He did not want his heart or his deep inner self to be inclined to any “evil thing.” While the Hebrew davár can mean “thing,” “affair,” “matter,” or “word,” the Septuagint rendering basically applies to “words” (the plural form of lógos). David regarded what YHWH allowed as being his activity and, therefore, prayed, “Do not incline my heart to anything evil.” He desired to be shielded from becoming involved in wicked deeds in association with workers of iniquity. David wanted to be kept from sharing with them in eating the delicacies of their ill-gotten gain. According to the Septuagint, he asked the Almighty to restrain him from using excuses for sins with men who practiced lawlessness and joining “with their selected ones.”

David valued sound reproof or correction. The Septuagint reads, “The righteous one will discipline me in mercy and reprove me, but let not the oil of the sinner anoint my head, for my prayer still also [is] in their pleasures.” This rendering may be understood to mean that the psalmist preferred the correction and reproof of upright persons and would not become resentful but would pray for their well-being. On the other hand, though an application of oil could be soothing and refreshing, he did want to be the recipient of such from an ungodly person.

In the Masoretic Text, verbs are missing and the passage is obscure. This is the reason for various interpretive renderings (including those partially based on the Septuagint). “Let the righteous strike me; let the faithful correct me. Never let the oil of the wicked anoint my head, for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.” (NRSV) “May the upright correct me with a friend’s rebuke; but the wicked shall never anoint my head with oil, for that would make me party to their crimes.” (NJB) “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Yet my prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers.” (NIV) “Let the just strike me; that is kindness; let him rebuke me; that is oil for my head. All this I shall not refuse, but will pray despite these trials.” (NAB) Let the righteous smite me, it is kindness; and let him reprove me, it is an excellent oil which my head shall not refuse: for yet my prayer also is [for them] in their calamities. (Darby)

In the Hebrew text of verse 5, the phrase regarding prayer concludes with the term ra‘áh, which, depending on the context, can mean “evil,” “wickedness,” “depravity,” “misfortune,” calamity,” “disaster,” “misery,” or “distress.” It appears to be more in line with the spirit of the psalmist to regard his petition as being for reprovers who might experience distress or calamity rather than an appeal directed against the evil deeds of ungodly persons.

According to the Masoretic Text, verse 6 literally reads, “Cast to [the] hands of [the] rocks have been those who will condemn them, and they will hear my words, for they are pleasant.” The Septuagint rendering is likewise obscure, “Near a rock their judges have been consumed. They will hear my words, because they were made pleasant.” Perhaps the thought is that corrupt judges would be destroyed, revealing the psalmist’s words about retribution to be pleasant (as they would prove to be true).

Interpretive renderings of this verse vary considerably. “When their leaders are cast over the cliff, all will learn that my prayers were heard.” (NAB) “When they [the wicked] are given over to those who shall condemn them, then they shall learn that my words were pleasant.” (NRSV) “Their rulers will be thrown down from cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.” (NIV) “When their rulers will be thrown off the sides of a cliff, the people will listen to my words, for they are pleasing.” (HCSB) “They are delivered into the power of the rock [God, according to the footnote], their judge, those who took pleasure in hearing me say, ‘Like a shattered millstone on the ground our bones are scattered at the mouth of Sheol.’” (141:6, 7; NJB) “Everyone will admit that I was right when their rulers are thrown down a rocky cliff.” (CEV) “Let their leaders be thrown down the cliffs. Then people will know that I have spoken correctly.” (NCV) “May their judges slip on the rock, but let my words be heard, for they are sweet.” (Tanakh)

Possibly the cleaving and shattering on the “earth” refers to plowing the land. A number of translations convey this significance. “As when a farmer plows a field into broken clods, so their bones will be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.” (NAB) “They will say, ‘As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.” (NIV) “The ground is plowed and broken up. In the same way, our bones have been scattered at the grave.” (NCV) Other interpretive renderings include: “Their bones lie scattered like broken rocks on top of a grave.” (CEV) “Our bones are scattered at the mouth of Sheol, as when one cutteth and cleaveth [wood] upon the earth.” (Darby)

Both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint read “our bones,” but a Dead Sea Scroll says “my bones.” It appears that the psalmist portrayed the grave danger as if he (and his supporters) had already been slain and their bones scattered. The Septuagint rendering supports the thought that the breaking up of the soil is being likened to the scattering of the bones. “As thick earth [soil] has been crushed upon the earth [land], our bones have been scattered beside Hades.”

While in serious danger, David kept his eyes fixed on YHWH, his Lord whom he served. Fully trusting the Most High for aid, David prayed that his soul or life would not be left exposed to danger.

He asked YHWH to keep him from the trap his foes had set for him and the snares of the “workers of lawlessness,” shielding him from becoming a victim of their plots to bring about his ruin.

The “wicked” (“sinners,” LXX) should fall into their own nets, suffering just punishment for their evil scheming. With YHWH’s help, David anticipated escape from calamity.


In verse 1, the extant Septuagint text does not include a corresponding term for “make haste” (chush). It reads, “Lord, I cried to you; hear me.”

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.