Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
(In the Hebrew, v.1 is the designation 'To the leader:...'; from then on v.1-8 in English translation corresponds to v.2-9 in the Hebrew)
Evening Hymn of One Who Is Unmoved before Backbiters and Men of Little Faith
The Davidic morning hymn is now followed by a Davidic evening hymn. It is evident that they belong together from the mutual relation of Psa 4:7 with Psa 3:3, and Psa 3:6 with Ps 4:9. They are the only two Psalms in which the direct words of others are taken up into a prayer with the formula "many say," רבים אמרים. The history and chronological position of the one is explained from the inscription of the other. From the quousque Psa 4:3, and the words of the feeble-faiths Psa 4:7, it follows that Psa 4:1-8 is the later of the two.
It is at the head of this Psalm that we are first met by למנצּח (or למנצּח with Gaja, Hab 3:19), which still calls for investigation. It is found fifty five times in the Psalter, not 54 as is usually reckoned: viz., 19 times in book 1, 25 times in book 2, 8 times in book 3, 3 times in book 4. Only two of the Psalms, at the head of which it is found, are anonymous: viz., Ps 66, Psa 67:1-7. All the others bear the names of David and of the psalmists celebrated from David's time, viz., 39 of David, 9 of the Korahites, 5 of Asaph. No fewer than 30 of these Psalms are Elohimic. למנצח is always the first word of the inscription; only in Ps 88, which is easily liable to be overlooked in reckoning, is it otherwise, because there two different inscriptions are put together.
The meaning of the verb נצּח is evident from the Chronicles and the Book of Ezra, which belongs to them. The predilection of the chronicler for the history of religious worship and antiquarian lore is also of use in reference to this word. He uses it in the history of the time of David, of Solomon, of Josiah, of Zerubbabel and Joshua, and always in connection with the accounts of the Temple-service and the building of single parts of the Temple. To discharge the official duties of the Temple-service is called נצּח על־מלאכת בּית־ה Ch1 23:4 (comp. Psa 28:1), and the expression is used in Ezr 3:8. of the oversight of the work and workmen for the building of the Temple. The same 3300 (3600) overseers, who are called הרדים בּעם העשׂים בּמּלאכה in Kg1 5:5 are described by the chronicler (Ch2 2:1) as מנצּחים עליהם. In connection with the repair of the Temple under Josiah we read that Levites were appointed לנצּח (Ch2 34:12), namely לכל עשׂה מלאכה (Ch2 34:13), instead of which we find it said in Ch2 2:17 להעביד, to keep the people at their work. The primary notion of נצח is that of shining, and in fact of the purest and most dazzling brightness; this then passes over to the notion of shining over to outshining, and in fact both of uninterrupted continuance and of excellence and superiority (vid., Ithpa. Dan 6:4, and cf. Ch1 23:4 with Psa 9:13; Co1 15:54 with Isa 25:8). Thus, therefore, מנצּח is one who shows eminent ability in any department, and then it gains the general signification of master, director, chief overseer. At the head of the Psalms it is commonly understood of the direct of the Temple-music. מנצּח est dux cantus - Luther says in one place - quem nos dicimus den Kappellenmeister the band-master, qui orditur et gubernat cantum, ἔξαρχος (Opp. lat. xvii. 134 ed. Erl.). But 1st, even the Psalms of Asaph have this למנצח at the beginning, and he was himself a director of the Temple-music, and in fact the chief-director (חראשׁ) Ch1 16:5, or at any rate he was one of the three (Heman, Asaph, Ethan), to whom the 24 classes of the 4000 Levite singers under the Davidico-Salomonic sanctuary were subordinate; 2ndly, the passage of the chronicler (Ch1 15:17-21) which is most prominent in reference to this question, does not accord with this explanation. According to this passage the three directors of the Temple-music managed the cymbals להשׁמיע, to sound aloud; eight other musicians of high rank the nablas and six others the citherns לנצּח. This expression cannot mean "to direct," for the direction belonged to the three, and the cymbals were also better adapted to it than the citherns. It means "to take the lead in the playing": the cymbals directed and the citherns, better adapted to take the lead in the playing, were related to them, somewhat as the violins to the clarinets now-a-days. Hence מנצּח is not the director of the Temple-music but in general the master of song, and למנצח addresses the Psalm to him whose duty it is to arrange it and to train the Levite choristers; it therefore defines the Psalm as belonging to the songs of the Temple worship that require musical accompaniment. The translation of the Targum (Luther) also corresponds to this general sense of the expression: לשׁבּחא "to be sung liturgically," and the lxx: εἰς τὸ τέλος, if this signifies "to the execution" and does not on the contrary ascribe an eschatological meaning to the Psalm.
(Note: Thus e.g., Eusebius: εἰς τὸ τέλος ὡς ἂν μακροῖς ὕστερον χρόνοις ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος μελλόντων πληροῦαθαι, and Theodoret: σημαίνει τὸ εἰς τὸ τέλος ὅτι μακροῖς ὕστερον χρόνοις πληρωθήσεται τὰ προφητευόμενα, with which accords Pesachim 117a ניצוח ונגון לעתיד לבא, i.e., Psalms with למנצח and בנגינות refer to the last days. Gregory of Nyssa combines the different translations by rendering: εἰς τέλος ὅπερ ἐστὶν ἡ νἰκη. Ewald's view, that τέλος in this formula means consecration, celebration, worship, is improbable; in this signification it is not a Septuagint word.)
The בּנגינות which is added is not governed by it. This can be seen at once from Hab 3:19 : to the chief singer, with an accompaniment of my stringed instruments (vid., my Commentary), which Hitzig renders: to the chief singer of my musical pieces; but נצּח בּ is not a phrase that can be supported, and נגינה does not mean a piece of music. The Piel, נגּן, complete with בּיר, signifies to touch the strings (cogn. נגע), to play a stringed instrument. Whence comes נגיות (Psa 77:7; Isa 38:20) which is almost always used as a pluralet.: the play of the stringed instruments, and the superscribed בּנגינות Psa 4:1; Psa 6:1; Psa 54:1; Psa 67:1; Psa 76:1 : with an accompaniment of the stringed instruments; and b is used as in Psa 49:5, Isa 30:29, Isa 30:32. The hymn is to be sung in company with, probably with the sole accompaniment of, the stringed instruments. The fact of the inscribed words למנצח בנגינות preceding מזמור לדוד probably arises from the fact of their being written originally at the top over the chief title which gave the generic name of the hymn and the author.
(Heb.: 4:2) Jahve is אלהי צדק, the possessor of righteousness, the author of righteousness, and the vindicator of misjudged and persecuted righteousness. This God of righteousness David believingly calls his God (cf. Psa 24:5; Psa 59:11); for the righteousness he possesses, he possesses in Him, and the righteousness he looks for, he looks for in Him. That this is not in vain, his previous experience assures him: Thou hast made a breadth (space) for me when in a strait. In connection with this confirmatory relation of בּצּר הרהבתּ לּי it is more probable that we have before us an attributive clause (Hitz.), than that we have an independent one, and at any rate it is a retrospective clause. הרחבת is not precative (Bttch.), for the perf. of certainty with a precative colouring is confined to such exclamatory utterances as Job 21:16 (which see). He bases his prayer on two things, viz., on his fellowship with God, the righteous God, and on His justifying grace which he has already experienced. He has been many times in a strait already, and God has made a broad place for him. The idea of the expansion of the breathing (of the stream of air) and of space is attached to the ח, Arab. ḥ, of רחב, root רח (Deutsch. Morgenl. Zeitschr. xii. 657). What is meant is the expansion of the straitened heart, Psa 25:17. Isa 60:5, and the widening of a straitened position, Psa 18:20; Psa 118:5. On the Dag. in לּי vid., on Psa 84:4.
(Heb.: 4:3-4) Righteous in his relation to God he turns rebukingly towards those who contemn his whose honour is God's honour, viz., to the partisans of Absolom. In contrast with בּני אדם, men who are lost in the multitude, בּני אישׁ denotes such as stand prominently forward out of the multitude; passages like Psa 49:3; Psa 62:10; Pro 8:4; Isa 2:9; Isa 5:15, show this distinction. In this and the preceding Psalm David makes as little mention of his degenerate son as he does of the deluded king in the Psalms belonging to the period of his persecution by Saul. The address is directed to the aristocratic party, whose tool Absolom has become. To these he days: till when (עד־מה beside the non-guttural which follows with Segol, without any manifest reason, as in Psa 10:13; Isa 1:5; Jer 16:10), i.e., how long shall my honour become a mockery, namely to you and by you, just as we can also say in Latin quousque tandem dignitas mea ludibrio? The two following members are circumstantial clauses subordinate to the principal clause with עד־מה (similar to Isa 1:5; Ew. 341, b). The energetic fut. with Nun parag. does not usually stand at the head of independent clauses; it is therefore to be rendered: since ye love ריק, that which is empty - the proper name for their high rank is hollow appearance - how long will ye pursue after כּזב, falsehood?-they seek to find out every possible lying pretext, in order to trail the honour of the legitimate king in the dust. The assertion that the personal honour of David, not his kingly dignity, is meant by כּבודי, separates what is inseparable. They are eager to injure his official at the same time as his personal reputation. Therefore David appeals in opposition to them (Psa 4:4) not only to the divine choice, but also to his personal relationship to God, on which that choice is based. The ו of וּדעוּ is, as in Kg2 4:41, the ו of sequence: so know then. The Hiph. חפלה (from פּלה = פּלא, cogn. פּלל, prop. to divide) to make a separation, make a distinction Exo 9:4; Exo 11:7, then to distinguish in an extraordinary and remarkable way Exo 8:18, and to show Psa 17:7, cf. Psa 31:22, so that consequently what is meant is not the mere selection (בּחר), but the remarkable selection to a remarkable position of honour (lxx, Vulg. mirificavit, Windberg translation of the Psalms gewunderlichet). לו belongs to the verb, as in Psa 135:4, and the principal accent lies on חסיד: he whom Jahve Himself, not men, has thus remarkably distinguished is a חסיד, a pious man, i.e., either, like the Syriac חסידא = רהימא: God's favourite, or, according to the biblical usage of the language (cf. Psa 12:2 with Isa 17:1), in an active signification like פּליט, פּריץ, and the like: a lover of God, from חסד (root חס Arab. ḥs, stringere, whence ḥassa to curry, maḥassa a curry-comb) prop. to feel one's self drawn, i.e., strongly affected (comp. ḥiss is mental impression), in Hebrew, of a strong ardent affection. As a חסיד he does not call upon God in vain, but finds a ready hearing. Their undertaking consequently runs counter to the miraculously evidenced will of God and must fail by reason of the loving relationship in which the dethroned and debased one stands to God.
(Heb.: 4:5-6) The address is continued: they are to repent and cleave to Jahve instead of allowing themselves to be carried away by arrogance and discontent. The lxx has rendered it correctly: ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε (cf. Eph 4:26): if ye will be angry beware of sinning, viz., backbiting and rebellion (cf. the similar paratactic combinations Psa 28:1; Jos 6:18; Isa 12:1). In connection with the rendering contremiscite we feel to miss any expression of that before which they are to tremble (viz., the sure punishment which God decrees). He warns his adversaries against blind passion, and counsels them to quiet converse with their own hearts, and solitary meditation, in order that they may not imperil their own salvation. To commune with one's own heart, without the addition of the object, is equivalent to to think alone by one's self, and the bed or resting-place, without requiring to be understood literally, points to a condition of mind that is favourable to quiet contemplation. The heart is the seat of the conscience, and the Spirit of God (as Hamann, Werke i. 98, observes on this subject) disguises itself as our own voice that we may see His exhortation, His counsel, and His wisdom well up out of our own stony heart. The second imper. continues the first: and cease, prop. be still (דּמם from the sound of the closed mouth checking the discourse), i.e., come to your right mind by self-examination, cease your tumult-a warning coming with the semblance of command by reason of the consciousness of innocence on his part; and this impression has to be rendered here by the striking in of the music. The dehortation passes over into exhortation in Psa 4:6. Of course the sacrifices were continued in the sanctuary while David, with his faithful followers, was a fugitive from Jerusalem. Referring to this, David cries out to the Absolomites: offer זבחי־צדק. Here at least these are not offerings consisting of actions which are in accordance with the will of God, instead of slaughtered animals, but sacrifices offered with a right mind, conformed to the will of God, instead of the hypocritical mind with which they consecrate their evil doings and think to flatter God. In Ps 51:21, Deu 33:19 also, "the sacrifices of righteousness" are real sacrifices, not merely symbols of moral acts. Not less full of meaning is the exhortation וּבטחוּ אל־ה. The verb בּטח is construed with אל as in Psa 31:7; Psa 56:4; Psa 86:2, combining with the notion of trusting that of drawing near to, hanging on, attaching one's self to any one. The Arabic word bṭḥ, expandere, has preserved the primary notion of the word, a notion which, as in the synon. Arab. bsṭ, when referred to the effect which is produced on the heart, countenance and whole nature of the man by a joyous cheerful state of mind, passes over to the notion of this state of mind itself, so that בּטח (like the Arab. inbasaṭa to be cheerful, fearless, bold, lit., expanded [cf. רהב Isa 60:5] = unstraitened) consequently signifies to be courageous, confident. They are to renounce the self-trust which blinds them in their opposition to the king who is deprived of all human assistance. If they will trustingly submit themselves to God, then at the same time the murmuring and rancorous discontent, from which the rebellion has sprung, will be stilled. Thus far the address to the rebellious magnates goes.
(Heb.: 4:7-8) Looking into his own small camp David is conscious of a disheartened feeling which is gaining power over him. The words: who will make us see, i.e., (as in Psa 34:13) experience any good? can be taken as expressive of a wish according to Sa2 23:15; Isa 42:23; but the situation gives it the character of a despondent question arising from a disheartened view of the future. The gloom has now, lasted so long with David's companions in tribulation that their faith is turned to fear, their hope to despair. David therefore prays as he looks upon them: Oh lift upon us (נסה־עלינוּ)
(Note: The Metheg which stands in the second syllable before the tone stands by the Sheb, in the metrical books, if this syllable is the first in a word marked with a greater distinctive without any conjunctive preceding it, and beginning with Sheb; it is, therefore, not נסה־עלינוּ but נסה־עלינוּ, cf. Psa 51:2 בּבוא־, Psa 69:28 תּנה־, Psa 81:3 שׂאו־, Psa 116:17 לך־, Psa 119:175 תּחי־. The reason and object are the same as stated in note p. *84 supra.)
the light of Thy countenance. The form of the petition reminds one of the priestly benediction in Num 6. There it is: פּניו יאר ה in the second portion, in the third פּניו ישּׂא ה, here these two wishes are blended into one prayer; and moreover in נסה there is an allusion to neec a banner, for the imper. of נשׂא, the regular form of which is שׂא, will also admit of the form נשׂא (Psa 10:12), but the mode of writing נסה (without example elsewhere, for נסּה Job 4:2 signifies "to be attempted") is only explained by the mingling of the verbs נשׂא and נסס, Arab. nṣṣ, extollere (Psa 60:6); נסּי ה (cf. Psa 60:6) is, moreover, a primeval word of the Tra (Exo 17:15). If we may suppose that this mingling is not merely a mingling of forms in writing, but also a mingling of the ideas in those forms, then we have three thoughts in this prayer which are brought before the eye and ear in the briefest possible expression: may Jahve cause His face to shine upon them; may He lift upon them the light of His countenance so that they may have it above them like the sun in the sky, and may that light be a banner promising them the victory, around which they shall rally.
David, however, despite the hopelessness of the present, is even now at peace in His God. The joy which Jahve has put into his heart in the midst of outward trial and adversity is מעת דּגנם ותירושׁם רבּוּ. The expression is as concise as possible: (1) gaudium prae equivalent to gaudium magnum prae -majus quam; then (2) מעת after the analogy of the comparatio decurtata (e.g., Psa 18:34 my feet are like hinds, i.e., like the feet of hinds) is equivalent to משּׂמחת עת; (3) אשׁר is omitted after עת according to Ges. 123, 3, for עת is the construct state, and what follows is the second member of the genitival relation, dependent upon it (cf. Psa 90:15; Isa 29:1); the plurality of things: corn and new wine, inasmuch as it is the stores of both that are specially meant, is exceptionally joined with the plur. instead of the sing., and the chief word raabbu stands at the end by way of emphasis. The suff. does not refer to the people of the land in general (as in Psa 65:10), but, in accordance with the contrast, to the Absolomites, to those of the nation who have fallen away from David. When David came to Mahanaim, while the rebels were encamped in Gilead, the country round about him was hostile, so that he had to receive provisions by stealth, Sa2 17:26-29. Perhaps it was at the time of the feast of tabernacles. The harvest and the vintage were over. A rich harvest of corn and new wine was garnered. The followers of Absolom had, in these rich stores which were at their disposal, a powerful reserve upon which to fall back. David and his host were like a band of beggars or marauders. But the king brought down from the sceptre of the beggar's staff is nevertheless happier than they, the rebels against him. What he possesses in his heart is a richer treasure than all that they have in their barns and cellars.
(Heb.: 4:9) Thus then he lies down to sleep, cheerfully and peacefully. The hymn closes as it began with a three line verse. יחדּוּ (lit., in its unions = collectively, Olshausen, 135, c, like כּלּו altogether, בּעתּו at the right time) is by no means unemphatic; nor is it so in Psa 19:10 where it means "all together, without exception." With synonymous verbs it denotes the combination of that which they imply, as Isa 42:14. It is similar in Psa 141:10 where it expresses the coincidence of the fall of his enemies and the escape of the persecuted one. So here: he wishes to go to sleep and also at once he falls asleep (ואישׁן in a likewise cohortative sense = ואישׁנה). His God makes him to dwell in seclusion free of care. לברד is a first definition of condition, and לבטח a second. The former is not, after Deu 32:12, equivalent to לבדּך, an addition which would be without any implied antithesis and consequently meaningless. One must therefore, as is indeed required by the situation, understand לבדד according to Num 23:9; Mic 7:14; Deu 33:28; Jer 49:31. He needs no guards for he is guarded round about by Jahve and kept in safety. The seclusion, בּדד, in which he is, is security, בּטח, because Jahve is near him. Under what a many phases and how sweetly the nature of faith is expressed in this and the foregoing Psalm: his righteousness, exaltation, joy, peace, contentment in God! And how delicately conceived is the rhythm! In the last line the evening hymn itself sinks to rest. The iambics with which it closes are like the last strains of a lullaby which die away softly and as though falling asleep themselves. Dante is right when he says in his Convito, that the sweetness of the music had harmony of the Hebrew Psalter is lost in the Greek and Latin translations.