O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me: 2 Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. 3 O Lord my God, If I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; 4 If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) 5 Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. Selah. 6 Arise, O Lord, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. 7 So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about: for their sakes therefore return thou on high. 8 The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. 9 Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. 10 My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. 11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. 12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. 13 He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors. 14 Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. 15 He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. 16 His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate. 17 I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.
Verse 1. David appears before God to plead with him against the Accuser, who had charged him with treason and treachery. The case is here opened with an avowal of confidence in God. Whatever may be the emergency of our condition we shall never find it amiss to retain our reliance upon our God.
O Lord my God, mine by a special covenant, sealed by Jesus’ blood, and ratified in my own soul by a sense of union to thee; in thee, and in thee only, do I put my trust, even now in my sore distress. I shake, but my rock moves not. It is never right to distrust God, and never vain to trust him. And now, with both divine relationship and holy trust to strengthen him, David utters the burden of his desire — save me from all them that persecute me. His pursuers were very many, and any one of them cruel enough to devour him; he cries, therefore, for salvation from them all. We should never think our prayers complete until we ask for preservation from all sin, and all enemies.
And deliver me, extricate me from their snares, acquit me of their accusations, give a true and just deliverance in this trial of my injured character. See how clearly his case is stated; let us see to it, that we know what we would have when we are come to the throne of mercy. Pause a little while before you pray, that you may not offer the sacrifice of fools. Get a distinct idea of your need, and then you can pray with the more fluency of fervency.
Verse 2. Lest he tear my soul. Here is the plea of fear co-working with the plea of faith. There was one among David’s foes mightier that the rest, who had both dignity, strength, and ferocity, and was, therefore, like a lion. From this foe he urgently seeks deliverance. Perhaps this was Saul, his royal enemy; but in our own case there is one who goes about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour, concerning whom we should ever cry, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” Notice the vigour of the description — rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. It is a picture from the shepherd life of David. When the fierce lion had pounced upon the defenceless lamb, and had made it his prey, he would rend the victim in pieces, break all the bones, and devour all, because no shepherd was near to protect the lamb or rescue it from the ravenous beast. This is a soul moving portrait of a saint delivered over to the will of Satan. This will make the bowels of Jehovah yearn. A father cannot be silent when a child is in such peril. No, he will not endure the thought of his darling in the jaws of a lion, he will arise and deliver his persecuted one. Our God is very pitiful, and he will surely rescue his people from so desperate a destruction. It will be well for us here to remember that this is a description of the danger to which the Psalmist was exposed from slanderous tongues. Verily this is not an overdrawn picture, for the wounds of a sword will heal, but the wounds of the tongue cut deeper than the flesh, and are not soon cured. Slander leaves a slur, even if it be wholly disproved. Common fame, although notoriously a common liar, has very many believers. Once let an ill word get into men’s mouths, and it is not easy to get it fully out again. The Italians say that good repute is like the cypress, once cut it never puts forth leaf again; this is not true if our character be cut by a stranger’s hand, but even then it will not soon regain its former verdure. Oh, it is a meanness most detestable to stab a good man in his reputation, but diabolical hatred observes no nobility in its mode of warfare. We must be ready for this trial, for it will surely come upon us. If God was slandered in Eden, we shall surely be maligned in this land of sinners. Gird up your loins, ye children of the resurrection, for this fiery trial awaits you all.
Verse 3-5. The second part of this wandering hymn contains a protestation of innocence, and an invocation of wrath upon his own head, if he were not clear from the evil imputed to him. So far from hiding treasonable intentions in his hands, or ungratefully requiting the peaceful deeds of a friend, he had even suffered his enemy to escape when he had him completely in his power. Twice had he spared Saul’s life; once in the cave of Adullam, and again when he found him sleeping in the midst of his slumbering camp: he could, therefore, with a clear conscience, make his appeal to heaven. He needs not fear the curse whose soul is clear of guilt. Yet is the imprecation a most solemn one, and only justifiable through the extremity of the occasion, and the nature of the dispensation under which the Psalmist lived. We are commanded by our Lord Jesus to let our yea be yea, and our nay, nay: “for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil.” If we cannot be believed on our word, we are surely not to be trusted on our oath; for to a true Christian his simple word is as binding as another man’s oath. Especially beware, O unconverted men! of trifling with solemn imprecations. Remember the woman at Devizes, who wished she might die if she had not paid her share in a joint purchase, and who fell dead there and then with the money in her hand.
Selah. David enhances the solemnity of this appeal to the dread tribunal of God by the use of the usual pause.
From these verses we may learn that no innocence can shield a man from the calumnies of the wicked. David had been scrupulously careful to avoid any appearance of rebellion against Saul, whom he constantly styled “the Lord’s anointed;” but all this could not protect him from lying tongues. As the shadow follows the substance, so envy pursues goodness. It is only at the tree laden with fruit that men throw stones. If we would live without being slandered we must wait till we get to heaven. Let us be very heedful not to believe the flying rumours which are always harassing gracious men. If there are no believers in lies there will be but a dull market in falsehood, and good men’s characters will be safe. Ill will never spoke well. Sinners have an ill will to saints, and therefore, be sure they will not speak well of them.
Verse 6. We now listen to a fresh prayer, based upon the avowal which he has just made. We cannot pray too often, and when our heart is true, we shall turn to God in prayer as naturally as the needle to its pole.
Arise, O Lord, in thine anger. His sorrow makes him view the Lord as a judge who had left the judgment seat and retired into his rest. Faith would move the Lord to avenge the quarrel of his saints.
Lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies — a still stronger figure to express his anxiety that the Lord would assume his authority and mount the throne. Stand up, O God, rise thou above them all, and let thy justice tower above their villainies.
Awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. This is a bolder utterance still, for it implies sleep as well as inactivity, and can only be applied to God in a very limited sense. He never slumbers, yet doth he often seem to do so; for the wicked prevail, and the saints are trodden in the dust. God’s silence is the patience of longsuffering, and if wearisome to the saints, they should bear it cheerfully in the hope that sinners may thereby be led to repentance.
Verse 7. So shall the congregation of the people compass thee about. Thy saints shall crowd to thy tribunal with their complaints, or shall surround it with their solemn homage: for their sakes therefore return thou on high. As when a judge travels at the assizes, all men take their cases to his court that they may be heard, so will the righteous gather to their Lord. Here he fortifies himself in prayer by pleading that if the Lord will mount the throne of judgment, multitudes of the saints would be blessed as well as himself. If I be too base to be remembered, yet, for their sakes, for the love thou bearest to thy chosen people, come forth from thy secret pavilion, and sit in the gate dispensing justice among the people. When my suit includes the desires of all the righteous it shall surely speed, for, “shall not God avenge his own elect?”
Verse 8. If I am not mistaken, David has now seen in the eye of his mind the Lord ascending to his judgment seat, and beholding him seated there in royal state, he draws near to him to urge his suit anew. In the last two verses he besought Jehovah to arise, and now that he is arisen, he prepares to mingle with “the congregation of the people” who compass the Lord about. The royal heralds proclaim the opening of the court with the solemn words,
The Lord shall judge the people. Our petitioner rises at once, and cries with earnestness and humility,
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. His hand is on an honest heart, and his cry is to a righteous Judge.
Verse 9. He sees a smile of complacency upon the face of the King, and in the name of all the assembled congregation he cries aloud,
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just. Is not this the universal longing of the whole company of the elect? When shall we be delivered from the filthy conversation of these men of Sodom? When shall we escape from the filthiness of Mesech and the blackness of the tents of Kedar? What a solemn and weighty truth is contained in the last sentence of the ninth verse! How deep is the divine knowledge! —
He trieth. How strict, how accurate, how intimate his search! — he trieth the hearts, the secret thoughts, and reins, the inward affections. “All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
Verse 10. The judge has heard the cause, has cleared the guiltless, and uttered his voice against the persecutors. Let us draw near, and learn the results of the great assize. Yonder is the slandered one with his harp in hand, hymning the justice of his Lord, and rejoicing aloud in his own deliverance.
My defense is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. Oh, how good to have a true and upright heart. Crooked sinners, with all their craftiness, are foiled by the upright in heart. God defends the right. Filth will not long abide on the pure white garments of the saints, but shall be brushed off by divine providence, to the vexation of the men by whose base hands it was thrown upon the godly. When God shall try our cause, our sun has risen, and the sun of the wicked is set for ever. Truth, like oil, is ever above, no power of our enemies can drown it; we shall refute their slanders in the day when the trumpet wakes the dead, and we shall shine in honour when lying lips are put to silence. O believer, fear not all that thy foes can do or say against thee, for the tree which God plants no winds can hurt.
Verse 11. God judgeth the righteous, he hath not given thee up to be condemned by the lips of persecutors. Thine enemies cannot sit on God’s throne, nor blot thy name out of his book. Let them alone, then, for God will find time for his revenge.
God is angry with the wicked every day. He not only detests sin, but is angry with those who continue to indulge in it. We have no insensible and stolid God to deal with; he can be angry, nay, he is angry today and every day with you, ye ungodly and impenitent sinners. The best day that ever dawns on a sinner brings a curse with it. Sinners may have many feast days, but no safe days. From the beginning of the year even to its ending, there is not an hour in which God’s oven is not hot, and burning in readiness for the wicked, who shall be as stubble.
Verse 12. If he turn not, he will whet his sword. What blows are those which will be dealt by that long uplifted arm! God’s sword has been sharpening upon the revolving stone of our daily wickedness, and if we will not repent, it will speedily cut us in pieces. Turn or burn is the sinner’s only alternative. He hath bent his bow and made it ready.
Verse 13. Even now the thirsty arrow longs to wet itself with the blood of the persecutor. The bow is bent, the aim is taken, the arrow is fitted to the string, and what, O sinner, if the arrow should be let fly at thee even now! Remember, God’s arrows never miss the mark, and are, every one of them, “instruments of death.” Judgment may tarry, but it will not come too late. The Greek proverb saith, “The mill of God grinds late, but grinds to powder.”
Verse 14. In three graphic pictures we see the slanderer’s history. A woman in travail furnishes the first metaphor.
He travaileth with iniquity. He is full of it, pained until he can carry it out, he longs to work his will, he is full of pangs until his evil intent is executed.
He hath conceived mischief. This is the original of his base design. The devil has had doings with him, and the virus of evil is in him. And now behold the progeny of this unhallowed conception. The child is worthy of its father, his name of old was, “the father of lies,” and the birth doth not belie the parent, for he brought forth falsehood. Thus, one figure is carried out to perfection; the Psalmist now illustrates his meaning by another, taken from the stratagems of the hunter.
Verse 15. He made a pit, and digged it. He was cunning in his plans, and industrious in his labours. He stooped to the dirty work of digging. He did not fear to soil his own hands, he was willing to work in a ditch if others might fall therein. What mean things men will do to wreak revenge on the godly. They hunt for good men, as if they were brute beasts; nay, they will not give them the fair chase afforded to the hare or the fox, but must secretly entrap them, because they can neither run them down nor shoot them down. Our enemies will not meet us to the face, for they fear us as much as they pretend to despise us. But let us look on to the end of the scene. The verse says, he is fallen into the ditch which he made. Ah! there he is, let us laugh at his disappointment. Lo! he is himself the beast, he has hunted his own soul, and the chase has brought him a goodly victim. Aha, aha, so should it ever be. Come hither and make merry with this entrapped hunter, this biter who has bitten himself. Give him no pity, for it will be wasted on such a wretch. He is but rightly and richly rewarded by being paid in his own coin. He cast forth evil from his mouth, and it has fallen into his bosom. He has set his own house on fire with the torch which he lit to burn a neighbour. He sent forth a foul bird, and it has come back to its nest.
Verse 16. The rod which he lifted on high, has smitten his own back. He shot an arrow upward, and it has returned upon his own head. He hurled a stone at another and it has come down upon his own pate. Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost. Ashes always fly back in the face of him that throws them. “As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him.” ( Psalms 109:17 .) How often has this been the case in the histories of both ancient and modern times. Men have burned their own fingers when they were hoping to brand their neighbour. And if this does not happen now, it will hereafter. The Lord has caused dogs to lick the blood of Ahab in the midst of the vineyard of Naboth. Sooner or later the evil deeds of persecutors have always leaped back into their arms. So it will be in the last great day, when Satan’s fiery darts shall all be quivered in his own heart, and all his followers shall reap the harvest which they themselves have sown.
Verse 17. We conclude with the joyful contrast. In this all these Psalms are agreed; they all exhibit the blessedness of the righteous, and make its colours the more glowing by contrast with the miseries of the wicked. The bright jewel sparkles in a black foil. Praise is the occupation of the godly, their eternal work, and their present pleasure. Singing is the fitting embodiment for praise, and therefore do the saints make melody before the Lord Most High. The slandered one is now a singer: his harp was unstrung for a very little season, and now we leave him sweeping its harmonious chords, and flying on their music to the third heaven of adoring praise.