Psalm 61:1-8

To the Chief Musician. On a stringed instrument. A Psalm of David.

1 Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.

2 From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

3 For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.

4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah

5 For You, O God, have heard my vows;
You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.

6 You will prolong the king’s life,
His years as many generations.

7 He shall abide before God forever.
Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!

8 So I will sing praise to Your name forever,
That I may daily perform my vows.

David expresses himself in language intended to underscore his vulnerability—removed from all that make shim feel familiar and secure, calling out to God as if from a strange land, from the end of the earth … when his heart is faint (v.2). It is in God that he therefore looks for the most intimate familiarity (his internal/emotional needs) and the most impenetrable security (his external/physical needs): for security he implores that God lead him to the rock—i.e., to God Himself, for whom the term “rock” here is a common biblical designation, signifying a massive rock formation that is humanly impossible to move; for familiarity he implores that God let him dwell in His tent forever and—employing one of his favorite images—that He let him take refuge in the shelter of His wings, the phrasing of both of which statements is elsewhere connected with the expectation of joyful, all-fulfilling intimacy in the unrestricted presence of God. — Wechsler, page 164.

the rock that is higher than I (v.2) — which he himself cannot attain

tabernacle (v.4) — The psalm was evidently composed while the tabernacle was standing; and after David had received the promise of the everlasting kingdom (vs. 6-7). — Meyer, page 76

Notwithstanding his opening appeal that God “hear,” David affirms that He has already “heard” (v.5)—i.e., that He has already provided that which is best for David. This “best” as David goes on to affirm (not petition), entails: (1) the inheritance of those who fear God’s name (v.5), referring to the family of believers, of which he is part; (2) qualitatively eternal life, as indicated by verse 6 (“Thou wilt prolong, etc.”), in which “many generations” is a poetic idiom for “forever”; and (3) the sublimest of all privileges, to abide before God forever—i.e., in His presence—as a remade man, preserved (i.e., permanently ensconced) in lovingkindness and truth. — Wechsler, pages 164-165.

I will sing praise to Your name forever (v.8) — David’s ultimate motivation and goal.

William’s take:

The doctrine of this, and similar Psalms, is the perfection of the faith of Messiah, as man, under every form of hatred, affliction and adversity. The sharper these became the more He trusted. His moral glory as the Servant of Jehovah shines through all. This position of dependence and suffering He voluntarily took in union with, and on behalf of, His people. Hence they are cheered and comforted in trial, and their faith sustained by these communications, for they prove that their King and Shepherd trod these dark paths before them; that He trusted God and was delivered; and that a like deliverance is consequently assured to them. — Williams, page 347

It seems to me that Williams’ has a point here. Verses 6 and 7 certainly seem Messianic. Again I am drawn by the writer’s simultaneous experience of despair and hope. This is why it makes me sad that many (most) churches and ministries no longer preach about future things because somebody might disagree and be offended. How can we hope, especially in the midst of trials and despair, when we have no idea what it is our hope is in?

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Psalm 60:1-12

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” A Michtam of David. For teaching. When he fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

1 O God, You have cast us off;
You have broken us down;
You have been displeased;
Oh, restore us again!

2 You have made the earth tremble;
You have broken it;
Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.

3 You have shown Your people hard things;
You have made us drink the wine of confusion.

4 You have given a banner to those who fear You,
That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah

5 That Your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and hear me.

6 God has spoken in His holiness:
“I will rejoice;
I will divide Shechem
And measure out the Valley of Succoth.

7 Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine;
Ephraim also is the helmet for My head;
Judah is My lawgiver.

8 Moab is My washpot;
Over Edom I will cast My shoe;
Philistia, shout in triumph because of Me.”

9 Who will bring me to the strong city?
Who will lead me to Edom?

10 Is it not You, O God, who cast us off?
And You, O God, who did not go out with our armies?

11 Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.

12 Through God we will do valiantly,
For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.

The heading associates this psalm with David’s war with Aram-naharaim (i.e. Mesopotamia) and Aram-Zobah (between Damascus and the Upper Euphrates). Cf. 2 Samuel 8:3-6. Apparently, while the war was being waged in the northeast, Edom and Moab invaded from the south. in this sudden crisis David recalled Joab to bring his forces to bear on the new threat. This psalm conveys the sense of national humiliation resulting from a wholly unforeseen military reverse. — Guthrie, page 488

For teaching (heading) — (used only here in the headings of the Psalms) which, rather that indicating what is generally true of all Scripture (that it is to be taught), most likely indicates, in light of how the same expression is used in the preface to David’s psalmic elegy on Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:18), that this psalm was meant to be taught to the sons of Judah in commemoration of the many Israelites who fell in the difficult battle (referring in all likelihood to the events of 2 Samuel 8). — Wechsler, page 162

O God, You have cast us off (v.1) — This unexpected military reverse had struck a tremendous blow at the people’s morale. It was like an earthquake which rends strong buildings (v.2). Divine action had led to defeat; both led to demoralization; the nation reeled as a man who has just drunk drugged wine (v.3). Their defeat was all the more demoralizing in that they believed themselves to be the people of the Lord, under whose banner (v.4) they would experience security. The heart of their problem and distress was thus that God’s promises seemed to go unfulfilled. — Guthrie, page 488

Since this psalm, according to a natural reading of the heading, was composed in the course of Israel’s ongoing battle with the Arameans at a point when the former was “struggling” against the latter, David begins with a gut-wrenching cry of despair, likening his people’s situation to those whom God has rejected (v.1). That this is, as in Psalm 44:9, exaggerated wording intended to emphasize the depth of David’s despair over the situation, and not an actual assertion of fact (viz., that God has truly “rejected” His people), is indicated by (in addition to clear Scriptural statements to the contrary—e.g., Jeremiah 31:37; 33:25-26; Romans 11:2; Romans 11:29) David’s following description of what amounts to God’s chastisement of Israel. The difference is a crucial one: the notion of “rejection” (or “abandonment”), which is in the Bible synonymous with “condemnation,” takes place only in the absence of relationship, whereas “chastisement” takes place only within the existence of relationship (even if its “presence” isn’t felt by the chastisee). That a relationship indeed exists between Israel and God is indicated by David’s use of the clearly relational expressions “Thy people” (v.3) and, even more intimately, “Thy beloved” (in Hebrew plural yedidim, from the same root as David’s own name; v.5) — Wechsler, pages 162-163

Shechem (v.6) — one of the oldest cities in Palestine, located about 30 miles north of Jerusalem.

Verses 6-12 are repeated in Psalm 108:7-13.

David here affirms God’s promises regarding the land—i.e., that He has given it to Israel and that they will dwell in it in peace and flourish therein—by focusing on those places and peoples within it that have served as historical focal points of opposition to the fulfillment of these promises. Hence he mentions ( in v.8) Israel’s most prominent tribal-ethnic enemies in the land: Moab (to the east), Edom (to the southeast), and Philistia (to the south and southwest)—all of which have since been judged and removed by God from the face of history. (The “Palestinians” of today, despite the oft-touted claims of their religious and political authorities, bear no connection whatsoever—except that of a similar ethos of opposition to Israel—to the “Philistines” of the Old Testament.) In vs 7-8 he mentions those places epitomizing opposition to Israel’s presence in the land not before David’s time, but also in the time after David—specifically, after Israel’s return from Babylonian exile and especially in the present day. i.e., Shechem (on Mount Ephraim; the political center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:1, 25) and, today, the area around Nablus in the West Bank), the valley of Succoth (a city east of the Jordan River alloted to the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:27) and in present-day Jordan), Gilead, Manasseh, and Ephraim (all three of which collectively encompass those areas of the Promised Land currently part of the West Bank and western Jordan). These references culminate with the mention of Judah, whose capital (i.e., Jerusalem) has always served as a political nexus of opposition to Israel (as it still does in the ongoing controversy over “East Jerusalem,” and as it will until the end (cf. Zechariah 12:3)—the resolution of which opposition is concisely affirmed by the qualification of Judah as God’s “scepter,” referring to His promise in Genesis 49:10 to raise up a Jewish king from the tribe of Judah who will bring peace to His people and receive the obedience of all other nations on earth.

David concludes—in characteristic fashion—by affirming his and (what should be) his people’s utter dependence on God for military victory, for whereas deliverance by man is in vain, through God they shall do valiantly. — Wechsler, pages 258-259

Williams’ take:

The doctrine of this, and similar psalms, is the perfection of the faith of Messiah, as man, under every form of hatred, affliction, and adversity. The sharper these became the more He trusted. His moral glory as the Servant of Jehovah shines through all. — Williams, page 347

I think this is one of Williams’ less convincing interpretations. The psalm, as I read it, really doesn’t seem to support his view. But if he’s right that all the psalms are prophetic, as many of them obviously are, then it’s a possibility.

Once again I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit included in Scripture a passage so filled with despair. It’s only in the final verse that David expresses his faith in God’s sovereignty.

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Psalm 59:1-17

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.”
A Michtam of David when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him.

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Defend me from those who rise up against me.

2 Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,
And save me from bloodthirsty men.

3 For look, they lie in wait for my life;
The mighty gather against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.

4 They run and prepare themselves through no fault of mine.
Awake to help me, and behold!

5 You therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Awake to punish all the nations;
Do not be merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah

6 At evening they return,
They growl like a dog,
And go all around the city.

7 Indeed, they belch with their mouth;
Swords are in their lips;
For they say, “Who hears?”

8 But You, O Lord, shall laugh at them;
You shall have all the nations in derision.

9 I will wait for You, O You his Strength;
For God is my defense.

10 My God of mercy shall come to meet me;
God shall let me see my desire on my enemies.

11 Do not slay them, lest my people forget;
Scatter them by Your power,
And bring them down,
O Lord our shield.

12 For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips,
Let them even be taken in their pride,
And for the cursing and lying which they speak.

13 Consume them in wrath, consume them,
That they may not be;
And let them know that God rules in Jacob
To the ends of the earth. Selah

14 And at evening they return,
They growl like a dog,
And go all around the city.

15 They wander up and down for food,
And howl if they are not satisfied.

16 But I will sing of Your power;
Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning;
For You have been my defense
And refuge in the day of my trouble.

17 To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises;
For God is my defense,
My God of mercy.

they watched the house in order to kill him (heading) — Although married to Saul’s daughter, Michal, David was stalked by men commissioned by Saul to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1, 9-18).

David earnestly implores God to deliver him from his enemies (v.1), referring not to Saul’s soldiers in general—many of whom would have refused to abet the king in his plan “to put [David[ to death” (1 Samuel 19:15), just as they refused Saul’s order to kill the priests at Nob who helped David (1 Samuel 22:17)—but rather to those among Saul’s soldiers whose desire for social and political favor (by supporting the king) was greater than their desire for righteousness; hence David further describes them as those who do iniquity (v.2) and who are treacherous in iniquity (v.5). The futility of their schemes is underscored by his use of the same phraseology as in Psalm 2:4: Thou, O Lord, dost laugh …; Thou dost scoff at them (v.8), implying that in their opposition to him, God’s newly anointed (1 Samuel 16:13), they are ultimately opposed to God Himself. — Wechsler, pages 160-161

O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel (v.5) — Jehovah, the unchanging; Elchim Sabaoth, the God of hosts, indicating the resources at His command; Elohe Israel, the God of Israel in His covenant relations.

God is my defense (v.9) — By contrast with their confident prowling, David is already safe: mark the present tenses. These verses strikingly contrast his enemies’ powerlessness against God with his own power in God, who gives him strength in his own person and the surrounding protection of a fortress. — Guthrie, page 488

defense (v.9) = a secure height, retreat, stronghold

God is his high Tower! There is perhaps no more beautiful description of what God is to His tried people. The phrase suggests at once strength and peace. A tower against which all the might of the foe hurls itself in vain. A high tower so that the soul taking refuge therein is lifted far above the turmoil and the strife, and enabled to view from a vantage ground of perfect safety the violence which is futile, and the victory of God. — Morgan, page 107

David’s plea (vs.11-13) to God for a visitation upon his would-be assassins is shown to be free of vindictiveness. He is concerned for the imparting of a moral lesson to his people (v.11), the just punishment of sin (v.12), and a universal revelation of Israel’s God. He does not ask for their swift destruction; his people would too soon forget that. Rather he asks that these enemies be somehow made a lasting exhibition of how God opposes sinners and judges them. — Guthrie, page 488

in the morning (v.16) — David concludes in typical fashion with unconditional praise—i.e., as for him, regardless of how and when God answers him, he will joyfully sing of God’s lovingkindness in the morning (for every morning they “are renewed” — Lamentations 3:22-23) and sing praises to Him, “my strength.” — Wechsler, pages 161-162

Williams’ take:

The prophecy relates to the last hours of Jacob’s trouble. verses 13 and 16 point to this fact. The believing remnant of Israel is pictured at the last extremity shut up in Jerusalem by the nations and by certain wicked transgressors, i.e., ungodly Jews in league with them (Zechariah 14:14). Messiah in spirit takes His place in their midst; cheers them with the assurance of deliverance; and prays for the destruction of their besiegers (v.5).

The words “me,” “my,” “our,” and “I” express this relationship of Immanuel with His people. When asking deliverance for them, He prays in the first person. Although their conduct will be blameless, as His was in the days of His flesh, yet will men hate them as they hated Him. — Williams, page 346.

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Psalm 58:1-11

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David.

1 Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones?
Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men?

2 No, in heart you work wickedness;
You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth.

3 The wicked are estranged from the womb;
They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent;
They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear,

5 Which will not heed the voice of charmers,
Charming ever so skillfully.

6 Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!
Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!

7 Let them flow away as waters which run continually;
When he bends his bow,
Let his arrows be as if cut in pieces.

8 Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes,
Like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

9 Before your pots can feel the burning thorns,
He shall take them away as with a whirlwind,
As in His living and burning wrath.

10 The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,

11 So that men will say,
“Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
Surely He is God who judges in the earth.”

The psalm is against wicked rulers. It has been suggested that it was written on account of Abner and the rest of Saul’s princes, who judged David as a rebel and outlaw, and urged Saul to pursue him. — Meyer, page 72

The whole psalm will be misunderstood save as we carefully note its opening questions. The reason of the judgment is not personal wrong. It is rather the failure of the rulers to administer justice. They are silent when they should speak. Their judgments are not upright. Evil in heart, the lie in word, and poison like serpents, and no charming wins them. — Morgan, page 105.

you silent ones (v.1) = lit. “sheaf, aggregate of stalks.” The sense of David’s opening words (a rhetorical question) is thus: “Do you indeed speak righteousness, O throng (i.e., throng of people generally, parallel to “sons of men” in the next line)? — Wechsler, page 159

weigh out the violence (v.2) — Weighing is symbolic of justice, but these unrighteous judges weighed out violence instead.

estranged from the womb (v.3) — We are born with the fallen nature of Adam. (Psalm 51:5)

like the deaf cobra that stops its ear (v.4) — In the case of David’s persecutors, it was not so much their inability as their unwillingness to hear. Saul’s conscience was not dead, for he was on more than one occasion touched by David’s appeals (1 Samuel 19:6; 24:17-21; 26:21, 25). But he resisted the prompting of his better self. — Meyer, page 73

not heed the voice of charmers (v.5) — Jeremiah 8:17: “For behold, I will send serpents among you, vipers which cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you,” says the Lord.”

Break their teeth (v.6) — continuing the imagery from v.4, in which the wicked are described as having “venom like the venom of a serpent”; hence, just as a serpent’s ability to cause harm would be removed by shattering (i.e., removing) its teeth, so too is David imploring that God “shatter” the ability of the wicked to cause harm. — Wechsler, page 159

waters which run continually (v.7) — Water when conserved is powerful; when dispersed it is powerless. — Williams, page 345

snail (v.8) — A snail’s trail remains for a time marked by the slime which melts from its body, but the snail itself so effectually disappears that it cannot be found. — Williams, page 345

The righteous shall rejoice (v.10) — The response to God’s justice when it becomes manifest is that the righteous will rejoice—not that the wicked have been destroyed per se (for God takes no delight—and so neither should His people—in the death of the wicked; Ezekiel 18:23, 32), but rather that God Himself has been vindicated. Even more—the sovereignty of God upon all the earth will be manifest—hearkening to the earlier words of David in 1 Samuel 17:46 and grounded in the words of God Himself in His greatest of all promises to Abraham: “and in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). — Wechsler, page160.

Williams’ take:

Israel being an earthly people to whom the government of the world will be committed, and who will be responsible to God therefor, has been, and will be, hated by the nations, and the predicted Divine way of delivering her from their oppression will be by their destruction. Hence her deliverance and their judgment will synchronize. She will, therefore, with spiritual intelligence, desire and pray for their punishment. These desires and petitions are voiced for her in the psalms by her Great High Priest.

But what will be proper to Israel in the coming day of the Lord as an earthly people with earthly promises, is not proper to the Church of God in the present day of grace. Her position and promises are heavenly. She is not to be delivered by the destruction of her persecutors, but by her being raptured to heaven from out of their midst; and the same Holy Spirit that will instruct Israel to pray for the destruction of her enemies, teaches the Church to bless them and to seek to save them. Thus the Church and Israel belong to two differing Divine economies. Confounding these leads to the confusion of thought and the misinterpretation of Scripture. This psalm belongs to the day described in Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19 when Messiah will come in the glory of His mighty angels to execute vengeance upon the oppressors of His people (vs. 9-11). — Williams, page 345.

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Psalm 57:1-11

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.

2 I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.

3 He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.

4 My soul is among lions;
I lie among the sons of men
Who are set on fire,
Whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword.

5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

6 They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They have dug a pit before me;
Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah

7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and give praise.

8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, lute and harp!
I will awaken the dawn.

9 I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing to You among the nations.

10 For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens,
And Your truth unto the clouds.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

This psalm was composed soon after David’s escape from Gath (see 1 Samuel 22:1) and it resembles the preceding psalm in both theme and style. Both begin with identical words, are in two parts each followed by a refrain (vs.5 and 11), speak of similar perils (56:1-2; 57:3), and express the same deep trust in God. — Guthrie, page 486.

David when he fled from Saul into the cave (heading) — referring to either or both of the events introduced in 1 Samuel 22:1 and 24:3.

Be merciful (v.1) — see comments on Psalm 56:1

in the shadow of Your wings (v.1) — presents the idea of a baby bird hiding from danger under the wings of its mother. Also used in Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 91:4.

David’s entreaty is balanced by his following assertion that, despite his present situation (and whether or not it is soon resolved), his soul takes refuge in God—to underscore which point David next employs a favorite “family” expression: “In the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge’ (see Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4), the poignant poetic imagery of which, as first employed by Moses (Deuteronomy 32:11) and then David’s own great-grandparents Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2:12 and 3:9, in which latter “covering” is lit., as here, “wing”), is contextually indicative of unreserved submission and selfless devotion, grounded in relationship.

David also affirms that God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth—as if they were angels sent ahead of David to prepare his way. — Wechsler, page 157-158

The focus of David’s heart is the glory of God (v.5), whom he declares to be exalted above the heavens. Implicit in this declaration—and a source of self-encouragement to David (cf. 1 Samuel 30:6)—is also the idea that God, being in the heavens and hence “above” all nations, will do as He pleases despite the will and opposition of man (so per the similar phraseology in Psalms 113:4 and 115:3). So too, all that happens—regardless of when and how God resolves David’s situation—will ultimately contribute to the manifestation of God’s glory above all the earth (as similarly expressed in Isaiah 6:3). — Wechsler, page 158

William’s take:

In all this, David was a type of his Greater Son. The psalm foretells the hatred of men to the Messiah (v.4); His descent into the realm of the dead (v.3); His glorious resurrection therefrom (v.3); and His exaltation as King of both heaven and earth (vs.5 and 11). The entire psalm is the language of the Messiah, with the exception of vs. 5 and 11, which are addressed to Him by the Holy Spirit. — Williams, page 344.

This comment has to do with my response to this psalm and the previous one plus my study of earlier psalms and my reflection back on the past year and a half of my life.

David wrote repeatedly about his fear, his suffering, his depression, his guilt. Through it all, he never lost his faith and never stopped looking toward God for his hope and purpose. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t still constantly afraid, suffering, depressed, or feeling guilty. Paul, in Romans 7, writes on a similar theme.

I tend to think that, once I realize the hope I have in Christ, all my problems will become easier to bear. And the Bible does promise that tribulation works patience and hope. But I don’t think any of us will reach a place on this earth where we escape from the cycle that David wrote about so often. And I think it’s unreasonable to believe that we will this side of glory.

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Psalm 56:1-13

To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up;
Fighting all day he oppresses me.

2 My enemies would hound me all day,
For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3 Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.

4 In God (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not fear.
What can flesh do to me?

5 All day they twist my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.

6 They gather together,
They hide, they mark my steps,
When they lie in wait for my life.

7 Shall they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God!

8 You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?

9 When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.

10 In God (I will praise His word),
In the Lord (I will praise His word),

11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12 Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,

13 For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living?

The title refers to David’s first sojourn in Gath when he was evidently under some restraint (cf. 1 Samuel 21:13; 22:1). Psalm 34 was composed shortly after his escape from the Philistines, but Psalm 56 is expressive of his misgivings while actually in the hands of Achish.

The psalm’s two parts are each followed by a refrain (vs. 4, 10 and 11), while vs. 12 and 13 form a brief conclusion — Guthrie, page 486

michtam (heading) = to cut in, or engrave … The Septuagint renders it stelographia — a sculptured writing … a sepulchral monument. The word, therefore, points to a graven and therefore a permanent writing; graven on account of its importance. The [six] Michtam psalms are all pervaded by the common characteristic of being personal, direct, and more or less private. — Pettingill, page 37.

Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” (heading) = lit. “Dove of the throng of (the) distant ones,” referring to the tune by which it was to be sung.

all day (vs. 1, 2, 5) = at any moment of the day

merciful (v.1) — It concisely embodies those foundational convictions upon which all of his entreaties to God are based—to wit: (1) the conviction of an existing relationship between him and God, (2) the conviction that he does not merit God’s favor, and (3) the conviction that, because of their existing relationship (and despite his lack of merit), God desires to be gracious to David, His child. — Wechsler, pages 155-156

I am afraid (v.3) — referring to his fear of the Philistine king (1 Samuel 21:12. And yet in v.4 he writes, “I will not fear.” Even when he felt fear, he knew he could trust God.

trust (v.3) = lit. “lean on”

You number my wanderings (v.8) — He affirms that God has taken account of (lit., “counted”) his wanderings—i.e., his wanderings about Israel “as he fled from Saul, and went to … Gath” (1 Samuel 21:10). — Wechsler, page 156.

Put my tears into Your bottle (v.8) — In the East mourners used to catch their tears in bottles (water skins) and place them in the tomb with the deceased.

Your book (v.8) — Malachi 3:16: Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.

As characteristic of David at the end of his psalms of entreaty and complaint, he looks ahead, not to the hoped-for resolution of his immediate situation, but beyond it to that for which his heart truly longs: that time when he and all God’s children will do what man was meant to do in Eden—to walk (lit., “walk about,” “stroll”) before God in the light of the living (or life), … signifying qualitative (i.e., ideal) life in which the Tree of Life was meant to seal man (Genesis 3:22)—and one day will (Revelation 22:2). — Wechsler, pages 156-157

Williams’ take:

The meaning of the word [Michtam] is obscure. It possibly means “engraven in gold.” God in the Scriptures suggests Divine power and relationship, and what is engraven expresses permanence. Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and resurrection is a permanent doctrine of the Gospel. The word Michtam, therefore, may be a term expressing the certitude of faith in the predicted resurrection of Christ.

David’s experiences when far from his father’s house and in exile among those who hated him (1 Samuel 21) occasioned the giving of this psalm. He was inspired to write it; but its full theme is the experiences of the Messiah when living in this world among sinners, and in the under-world among demons, far from the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. He is the speaker, His are the petitions, and His the expressions of faith and confidence. — Williams, page 343.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Nine

If you were reading my blog a year ago, you may remember a series of posts on the correct interpretation of Genesis 2:15. In short, the question is whether the verse should be understood in the traditional way, as the NIV has it — The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Or should it have been translated something like this — “God caused man to rest in the garden for the purpose of obeying and worshiping Him.”

I won’t rehash my entire argument again. You can read the whole thing here: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart Eight.

Finally, I got a chance to discuss the issue with the Bible professor from whom I first heard the alternate “obey and worship” interpretation. I asked him the questions at the bottom of Part Eight. Here is his answer: (The rest of this post is his answer verbatim.)

My reasoning regarding Genesis 2:15, which in my view is truly a crucial verse with respect to properly understanding our pre- (and hence post-) Fall purpose, is as follows, in logical sequence:

1) The traditional (though not the only, or even the oldest) translation/understanding of Genesis 2:15 is that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to guard it.

2) Premise: how one understands/translates one of the boldface expressions inevitably influences and informs how one understands/translates the other.

3) Observation 1: The verbal root used for “put him” in v. 15 (nu’ah) is not the same as the verbal root used for “put him” in v. 8 (sim).

4) Observation 2: The verbal root used in v. 8 (sim), when used with either God or man in Scripture, almost always refers to a physical “putting (down) or placing.”

5) Observation 3: The verbal root used in v. 15 (nu’ah), when used with God as the subject in Scripture, is predominantly used to indicate the “setting at rest,” which comes to represent one of the standard biblical idioms for being brought into full relationship with God.  In the Old Testament, this is evident in the oft-repeated promise of God “to give you [i.e., His people] rest” (cf. Joshua 1:15; 2 Samuel 7:11; Psalm 95:11) — which is clearly not simply physical “putting down” or even “physical” at all, since He continues to hold out this “giving of rest” as a yet to be realized promise even after Israel has achieved complete physical rest from war and strife under David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:1 with 7:11).

6) To be biblically consistent, therefore, it must be CONCLUDED that the use of rest in Genesis 2:15, in which God is the subject, is intended just as everywhere else when God is the subject — i.e., as an indication of Him giving spiritual rest to the specified object — in this case Adam (and later Eve).

7) This being so, it stands to reason that the rest of the verse should also be read in a “spiritual” context.  I.e., if the first part of the verse establishes a significant spiritual/theological idea, this is clearly the vein in which the rest of the verse will/should be read.

8 ) Observation: “cultivating” and “guarding” a garden are not clearly spiritual — or spiritually significant — concepts. (This is distinct from the concept of work as valid and positive — to assume that one must be denying the value of “work” to agree with this statement/observation is a logical non sequitur.)

9) Observation: the pronominal object “it” after “cultivate” and “guard” is feminine (if taken as a pronominal object) — literally, “her”.

10) The term “garden” (gan) in biblical Hebrew is not feminine (“her”), but masculine (i.e., “him”).  Some lexicons of biblical Hebrew suggest that the term “garden” (Heb.: gan) may in fact be both masculine AND feminine, but this is begging the question and not at all borne out by the evidence — in fact, this is circular lexical reasoning based EXCLUSIVELY on the view that garden in Genesis 2:15 is feminine and because the pronominal object on the verbs “cultivate” and “guard” is feminine — yet as I will show in following, a more consistent, grammatical, and hence natural reading is that that there is no pronominal object at all!

11) In all of the instances where the word for garden (gan) is predicated by a verb or adjective, it is clearly treated as masculine (e.g., Isaiah 58:11, Jerermiah 31:11, Song of Solomon 4:12, and Song of Solomon 4:16).  Not surprisingly, therefore, it is identified as an exclusively masculine noun in the standard Concordance of the Hebrew Bible by A. Even Shoshan (Heb. edition [Qonqordantsya Hadasha], p. 240c).

12) The most grammatical — and therefore natural — reading of the clause in question, therefore, would be to take what has been mistakenly thought to be a pronominal object suffix (“her”) as in fact an alternate feminine affix to an infinitive noun — which is attested elsewhere in biblical Hebrew — and may be intended to denote emphasis.

13) This reading solves/avoids the clear gender disagreement noted above by effectively eliminating an object from the infinitive verbs (“to cultivate … to guard”).  The verbs thus become “intransitive” (not taking an object) rather than “transitive” (taking an object).

14) When a) used intransitively, b) used in a clearly spiritually focused context, and c) when used together, the Hebrew infinitive verbs traditionally translated “cultivate” and “guard” in fact mean “worship” and “obey.” Thus writes G.K. Beale, “Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/1 (2005), pp. 7–8: “The two Hebrew words for ‘cultivate’ and ‘keep’ (respectively, ‘?bad and sh?mar) can easily be, and usually are, translated ‘serve and guard.’  When these two words occur together later in the Old Testament, without exception they have this meaning and refer either to the Israelites ‘serving and guarding/obeying’ God’s word’ (about 10 times) or, more often to priests who ‘serve’ God in the temple and ‘guard’ the temple from unclean things entering it (Numbers 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14).”

15) Not only does this translation/understanding flow smoothly from the spiritual focus of the first part of the verse, but — contrary to the usual rendering as “cultivate it and guard it” — it also sets up and flows smoothly into v. 16, which proceeds to give the content of obedience — i.e., to answer the obvious, implied question with which v. 15 thus ends — to wit, “So how do I [Adam] obey?”

16) This translation/understanding is not new, but well established in early Jewish exegetical thought, as attested in a) Midrash Genesis Rabbah, xvi.5, b) Targum Jonathan ad Genesis 2:15, and c) Targum Yerushalmi ad Genesis 2:15.

17) The “traditional” translation, we suspect, is a carry-over by late medieval Christian-English translators who, along with their knowledge of Hebrew, are taking this particular exegetical view from their Jewish teachers.  In Jewish tradition, though the proper reading of “worship and obey” was early recognized, it was set aside in favor of the ungrammatical and contextually problematic reading “cultivate it and keep it” due to the essential theological emphasis of Rabbinic Judaism on fully attaining God’s “rest” (i.e., approval) through worship and obedience rather than expressing such as a result of having already been “set at rest” by God (thus the reason for the “setting at rest” coming before the “worship & obedience” in 2:15). This theologically motivated misreading eventually carried over into Christian English Bible translation history, was consolidated within Jewish exegetical tradition as the monolith of Pharisaically-based Judaism (i.e., Rabbinic Judaism), became entrenched over time and crystallized in the corpus of early Rabbinic literature.

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Eight

I turned next to a friend of mine who wishes to be identified as “Kristen.” She’s a Semitic language authority who is currently studying etching on pottery shards from ancient Assyria.

I sent her my original lesson with this request: “Don’t tell me what the commentaries and translations say — I don’t really care. What I want to know is whether the original Hebrew allows this interpretation without twisting things around too much.”

Here’s her reply: (Much of this is over my head, but I get the general gist and I think you will too.)

On “put” meaning “rest”:

The verbal form you’re referring to here is actually ?????? (wayyanihayhu) which is a composite form consisting of a temporal marker, a prefix (which indicates that the subject is masculine, singular, 3rd person), the three-letter root (which carries the meaning), and a pronominal suffix at the end (which indicates that the object of the verb is masculine, singular, 3rd person).  In other words, the English “(He) put him” comes from one lexical unit in Hebrew. The form yanach is, therefore, inaccurate, because that’s not the form used here and when one refers to Hebrew “verbs” in general, one should always use the naked form which is nothing but an unvocalized (no vowels) three-letter root, in this case nwh. That’s the dictionary form. If you add any vowels to make it pronounceable, you also add a meaning to it. It may sound complicated, but it’s not.

As far as the meaning, you’re right on. The form of nwh in Gen. 2:15 is in the Hiphil stem which is causative. The general meaning of the root nwh is “to rest,” “to repose,” or “to be quiet.” In the causative sense, it means X causes Y to rest. I don’t have any problem with this part at all, other than the yanach thing.

So far, so good. She supports the first part of the RWO interpretation and disagrees with the theologian from Part Six.

On “dress” meaning “worship”:

Inaccurate. See above. Also, the second letter can be b or v depending on whether or not it’s doubled. In this case, it’s not, so it should be a v. Granted, the letter beth is often transliterated as b in English. But Hebrew speakers will pronounce the beth in this verbal form like a v. Your best bet is to say that the Hebrew verb used here is abd without suggested pronunciation. The actual form used here is ????? (le-av-dah).

Your interpretation [PWO] would have been legitimate if the object suffix hadn’t been 3rd person, feminine, singular. I actually like your interpretation a lot, and I don’t think it’s wrong to think of rest/serve/obey as the pre-Fall command at all. It’s just that this verse cannot be used to back up that idea. I tried to help you, but there doesn’t seem to be any way you can get this interpretation out of this verse. You know I don’t use commentaries. I don’t use Word Study aids either. I approached this from a purely philological stand point and tried to go as far back as I could – even beyond the vocalized texts back to the consonantal texts. I even looked at translations which were done before the fifth century AD when the Hebrew texts became vocalized to see whether there might have been some variants of the consonantal texts which back up my hypothesis. This is because the Masoretes – the guys who superimposed vowels on the consonantal texts – are known to have made quite a few mistakes. When the consonantal texts can be vocalized more than one way, the Masoretes were actually the people who interpreted the texts for all of us by assigning vowels which they thought made the most sense to the unvocalized texts. In other words, when the consonantal texts allow for multiple possibilities, they were the ones choosing one possibility for us and declaring that reading authoritative (as is “thus saith the Lord,” done deal – no further questions). I don’t necessarily think they had the right to do that, but I’m not going to go into that. Nonetheless, as evident in ancient translations done prior to the Masoretic era, not all Hebrew readers read the consonantal texts the same way as the Masoretes. In the case of what appears to be irreconcilable differences between the Masoretic texts and other versions (that are based on the consonantal texts), philologists/exegetes (at least the responsible ones) always bypass the Masoretic vocalization and go back all the way to the consonantal texts.) I did all that and found nothing that would help you.

Your interpretation would only make sense if you could establish that the object of serve and obey is God, not the garden. That’s the ONLY way you can justify the meanings “serve” [actually, I said “worship”] and “obey” which you have chosen out of the whole range of things these two verbs can mean.

However, no matter from how many angles I look at this, I just don’t see anything in the linguistic realm that allows for that possibility. You see, the object in Hebrew is built-in; it’s attached right onto the verbs. When Hebrew speakers look at these verbs, there’s no confusion whatsoever that the object of these two verbs (the “rest” verb doesn’t apply here as it is intransitive, requiring no objects) is the garden, not God. “Garden” in Hebrew is feminine in gender and serves as the antecedent of the object suffixes which are attached to these verbs (also feminine singular). If the object suffixes on these verbs were masculine, singular, then, no doubt, the antecedent would definitely be God and you would have yourself a very, very solid case.  If the word “garden” were masculine, then one would have two ways of understanding this verse due to the ambiguity revolving the antecedent, i.e., “till it” vs. “serve [worship] Him” and “guard it” vs. “obey Him.” (Both interpretations would be grammatically possible, because a 3rd person, masculine lexical unit in Hebrew can be translated “he/him” or “it” in English depending on what it is.) Now, as for which reading one decides to go with, that depends upon one’s judgment. Syntactically, you can make a case for either view.

However, as the verse stands, whether in the vocalized texts or the consonantal texts, there just isn’t any possibility that the object of the two verbs would point to God. This has made the rendering of the verbs as “serve” [worship] as opposed to “till/work” and “obey” as opposed to “guard” implausible.  True, the meaning range of both abd and shmr covers “serve” and “obey,” but when you see that the built-in object is inanimate (garden), “serve” [worship] and “obey” have no relevance. You cannot serve [worship] and obey an object. A general rule: a verb means what it means according to how it’s used and the context in which it’s used; it doesn’t mean everything it can mean.

That seemed to be that. The RWO interpretation won’t work. I may have to admit that I’m wrong or at least that the issue can’t be definitively resolved.

But I still want to pursue it a bit further.

  1. I want to track down the professor from whom I first heard this interpretation and see what he has to say about all this. He’s a good friend of a good friend of mine, so I think I’ll be able to do this sometime.
  2. It still makes no sense to me that God put man in a perfect place for the purpose of keeping it nice.
  3. Resting in, worshipping and obeying God is our purpose now, after the fall. I have to believe it was our purpose before the fall too.
  4. The professor, Krell and Kristen all agree that “put” means “rest.” If that’s the case, the rest of the verse doesn’t make sense if interpreted as “dress” and “keep.”

That’s where it stands at present. If I discover more, I’ll post it. As for the original lesson that started this all — I rewrote it. I made the exact same point — that man’s purpose is to rest in God and worship and obey Him. I didn’t use Genesis 2:15 as a proof text, but relied on other Scripture. Everybody liked it just fine.

The rest of this post consists of a couple questions that Kristen wants me to ask the professor when I see him. They don’t add anything new to the discussion, so you don’t need to read them. I’m including them here so I’ll have everything together in one place.

Based on the Masoretic text, the pronominal suffixes on both abd and smr are clearly feminine singular which point to gan as their antecedent. Even if one was to override the masoretic vocalization, the consonantal text would still support the feminine/singular reading. One could argue that, according to the consonantal text, the waw immediately following the two infinitives could have originally been part of the pronominal suffixes attached to the two verbs (thus making them masculine/singular), but that is highly unlikely given the fact that the first waw would be needed to link the two infinitival phrases at the end of 2:15 and the other waw would be needed to form a waw-consecutive form at the beginning of 2:16. To make God the object of abd and smr (which is the only way to justify translating these verbs as serve and obey respectively as opposed to till and guard as required by the context), one has to argue very convincingly that the consonantal text is corrupt or that the Masoretes, for whatever reason, intentionally altered the consonantal text and vocalized the emended text in such a way that the object of these two inifinitives is the garden (or a feminine/singular entity), not God. This position would be considered strong only if the hypothesized reading is supported by pre-Masoretic versions such as the transliteration in the second column of the Hexapla or the translation of the LXX (which probably wouldn’t lend much help since “garden” in Greek is masculine, thus adding to the ambiguity).

Unless a strong case is made for God as the object of the two verbs, the context demands that the verbs be understood according to their object, garden. This has significantly narrowed down the semantic range of these two verbs. Undoubtedly, “serve” and “obey” are part of the semantic range of abd and smar, but can one “serve” and “obey” a garden? Elsewhere in the OT where abd and smar are used to convey the meanings “serve” and “obey,” they’re never used in conjunction with an object like a garden. Therefore, again, the only way to justify translating the two verbs as “serve” and “obey” is to prove that the originally intended object is God, not the garden. Can this be done without violating the Hebrew syntax or clearly demonstrating that this is indeed a case of textual corruption and religiously-motivated vocalization? And if so, on what bases can this be done?

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Seven

While all this was going on, I was also working on a Bible survey series and found myself right back in Genesis 2. I took a different angle this time and didn’t bring up the PDK/RWO issue. But during the course of my study, I was reading in The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris. (Creation-Life Publishers, 1976)

He has this to say on Genesis 2:15:

Before explaining to Adam the terms of his “probation,” God first assigned him the specific duty of caring for his garden home. Apparently it was later, after God had formed Eve, that He gave the two of them the much broader commission to exercise dominion over the entire creation (Genesis 1:28-29). At this point, Adam was instructed merely to till the ground in the garden of Eden, to dress it and keep it. Even though there were as yet no noxious weeds, the ground was so fertile and the plant cover so luxuriant that its growth needed to be channeled and controlled.

It is noteworthy that, even in the perfect world as God made it, work was necessary for man’s good. The ideal world is not one of idleness and frolic, but one of serious activity and service. Even in the new earth to come, after sin and the curse have been completely removed, Scripture says “that his servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3).

Adam was told to “keep” the garden. The word means actually to “guard” it. There is no thought involved of protecting it from external enemies, of which there were none, but rather that of exercising a careful and loving stewardship over it, keeping it beautiful and orderly, with every component in place and in harmonious relationship with the whole.

First of all, Genesis 1:28-29 is after Genesis 1:27, which says male and female He created them. So the idea that Adam was tilling the ground but not exercising dominion until Eve comes along is simply wrong. The last sentence of the first paragraph is total speculation based on his PDK interpretation.

Second, in the second paragraph, Morris uses Revelation 22:3 as proof that man will still be working after the curse has been removed. Revelation 22:3 reads: There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him. On a hunch, I looked up the meaning of the word “serve,” the basis for Morris’s entire argument here. It comes from the Greek word latreuo, which means — you already guessed it, didn’t you? — it means “worship.”

Thirdly, in Morris’s third paragraph, he comes up with yet another definition of “keep” as used in Genesis 2:15, which means that the word must allow separate interpretations — including the RWO interpretation, perhaps. The rest of that third paragraph is just speculation.

So now what. I’d heard from several different sources, all of them leaning toward the traditional PDK interpretation, although a few of them dabbled with the RWO interpretation. Taken all together, almost every aspect of the RWO interpretation was allowed by somebody.

Instead of convincing me that I was wrong, everything to this point just made me more convinced that there was something to it.

I just had to find an answer to the issue of the garden and not God being the object of  “dress/worship” and “keep/obey.”

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Genesis 2:15 — Part Six

Meanwhile, I sent my lessons to another reviewer. He is a “theologian” with an M.Div. from Trinity and a good grasp of the original languages and all the tools to consult. Here is his reply.

On “put” meaning “caused to rest”: Checking my Hebrew-English reference works I find that “rest” is one of the meanings of this word, but the particular form of the Hebrew verb in this verse and the fact that it is used in association with a person (him) and a location (in the garden) strongly points to the meaning “put”, as all the translations (including the Septuagint) render it in this verse and the two standard Hebrew reference works I checked confirm (with examples of verses with similar grammatical construction).  The solution to the problem posed is not to get work removed from Gen 2 (and thereby make it a consequence of the fall and a part of the curse — which I think biblically is a false idea, for work is an inherently good thing, for God himself worked in creation).  But the work before the fall was not burdensome and sweaty.  After the fall it was so, because of hindrances to productive work (in the sinful nature of man, and in the cursed creation).  When we finish the verse the way they have rendered it, it makes no sense.  He “made him rest in the garden to till it and keep it” (the Hebrew construction here clearly means that “to” means “for the purpose of”) So, He made Adam rest to work?  That is not what God is saying here.  And we certainly don’t want children to get the idea that work is a result of the curse!

I’m no scholar, but this seems to be largely circular reasoning again. There are also other issues:

  • God’s work in creation certainly wasn’t work in the sense of obligation, so it’s not really the same thing at all.
  • There’s no support for the idea that there was non-burdensome, non-sweaty work before the fall except this verse.
  • I never said God “made him rest in the garden to till it and keep it”. The first part of my lesson is linked to the rest of the lesson. It’s all one argument.
  • He agrees that this verse serves as a purpose statement. But what makes more sense — That God put man in the garden for the purpose of working, or that God wanted man to rest in Him and worship and serve Him. As I showed in the lesson, resting in God and worshipping and serving Him are our purpose after the fall. It makes no sense that man had a different, less-meaningful purpose before the fall.

The theologian continues on the subject of “dress”:

But the same word is use in Gen. 2:5 and 3:23 and it does not mean there “worship the ground” but till or cultivate the ground.  Context rules out the translation “worship”, again as all the Bible translations would confirm, including the Septuagint.

I’ve already addressed the Genesis 2:5 usage, and 3:23 was post-fall and obviously a different activity. I disagree with his context argument in Genesis 2:15.

He goes on to discuss my conclusion:

Work wasn’t needed to fight weeds, but work was perhaps given to man for man’s sake (as the ruler of creation), not for the ground’s sake, and could have prepared the ground to receive seeds from the plants that God made and possibly to prune them to bear more fruit.  We can’t be certain of the nature of the work.  But this [my RWO interpretation] way of rendering Genesis 2:15 finds almost no scholarly support that I can see (though one of my OT profs, argued this way about the verse as part of his old-earth interpretation of Genesis and John Gill (on-line Bible) indicates that a few rabbis may have viewed it this way, although the Septuagint doesn’t.

He starts his comment by saying “perhaps” and later says “We can’t be certain,” which makes his interpretation as much speculation as mine is. He goes on to say that the RWO view has almost no scholarly support, then proceeds to state two people (plus however many rabbis) who do support it.

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