Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Before Falling Asleep in the Wilderness
The Psalms that are to be sung after the melody אל־תּשׁחת (Psa 57:1-11, Psa 58:1-11, 59 Davidic, 75 Asaphic) begin here. The direction referring to the musical execution of the Psalm ought properly to be אל־תשׁחת (אל); but this is avoided as being unmelodious, and harsh so far as the syntax is concerned. The Geneva version is correct: pour le chanter sur Al taschchet. There is no actual reference in the words to Deu 9:26, or Sa1 26:9 (why not also to Isa 65:8?).
The historical inscription runs: when he fled from Saul, in the cave. From the connection in the history from which this statement is extracted, it will have been clear whether the Psalm belongs to the sojourn in the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22) or in the labyrinthine cave upon the alpine heights of Engedi, "by the sheep-folds" (1 Sam. 24), described in Van de Velde's Journey, ii. 74-76.
How manifold are the points in which these Psalms belonging to the time of Saul run into one another! Psa 57:1-11 has not merely the supplicatory "Be gracious unto me, Elohim," at the beginning, but also שׁאף applied in the same way (Psa 57:4; Psa 56:2.), in common with Psa 56:1-13; in common with Ps 7, כבודי = נפשׁי (Psa 57:9; Psa 7:6); the comparison of one's enemies to lions and lionesses (Psa 57:5; Psa 7:3); the figure of the sword of the tongue (Psa 57:5; Psa 59:8, cf. Psa 52:4); with Psa 52:1-9 the poetical expression הוות (Psa 57:2; Psa 52:4); with Ps 22 the relation of the deliverance of the anointed one to the redemption of all peoples (Psa 57:10; Psa 22:28.). Also with Psa 36:1-12 it has one or two points of contact, viz., the expression "refuge under the shadow of God's wings" (Psa 57:2, Psa 36:8), and in the measuring of the mercy and truth of God by the height of the heavens (Psa 57:11, Psa 36:6). Yet, on the other hand, it has a thoroughly characteristic impress. Just as Psa 56:1-13 delighted in confirming what was said by means of the interrogatory הלא (Psa 57:9, 14), so Psa 57:1-11 revels in the figure epizeuxis, or an emphatic repetition of a word (Psa 57:2, Psa 57:4, Psa 57:8, Psa 57:9). Psa 108:1-13 (which see) is a cento taken out of Psa 57:1-11 and Psa 60:1-12.
The strophe-schema of Psa 57:1-11 is the growing one: 4. 5. 6; 4. 5. 6.
(Note: The Syriac version reckons only 29 στίχοι (fetgome); vid., the Hexaplarian version of this Psalm taken from Cod. 14,434 (Add. MSS) in the British Museum, in Heidenheim's Vierteljahrsschrift, No. 2 (1861).)
Here also the Michtam is not wanting in its prominent favourite word. A refrain of a lofty character closes the first and second parts. In the first part cheerful submission rules, in the second a certainty of victory, which by anticipation takes up the song of praise.
By means of the two distinctive tense-forms the poet describes his believing flight to God for refuge as that which has once taken place (חסיה from חסה = חסי out of pause, like the same forms in Psa 73:2; Psa 122:6), and still, because it is a living fact, is ever, and now in particular, renewed (אחסה). The shadow of the wings of God is the protection of His gentle, tender love; and the shadow of the wings is the quickening, cordial solace that is combined with this protection. Into this shadow the poet betakes himself for refuge now as he has done before, until הוּות, i.e., the abysmal danger that threatens him, be overpast, praeteriverit (cf. Isa 26:20, and on the enallage numeri Psa 10:10, Ges. ֗147, a). Not as though he would then no longer stand in need of the divine protection, but he now feels himself to be specially in need of it; and therefore his chief aim is an undaunted triumphant resistance of the impending trials. The effort on his own part, however, by means of which he always anew takes refuge in this shadow, is prayer to Him who dwells above and rules the universe. עליון is without the article, which it never takes; and גּמר (Psa 57:3) is the same, because it is regularly left out before the participle, which admits of being more fully defined, Amo 9:12; Eze 21:19 (Hitzig). He calls upon God who accomplisheth concerning, i.e., for him (Est 4:16), who carrieth out his cause, the cause of the persecuted one; גּמר is transitive as in Psa 138:8. The lxx renders τὸν εὐεργετήσαντά με, as though it were גּמל עלי (Psa 13:6, and frequently); and even Hitzig and Hupfeld hold that the meaning is exactly the same. But although גמל and גמר fall back upon one and the same radical notion, still it is just their distinctive final letters that serve to indicate a difference of signification that is strictly maintained. In Psa 57:4 follow futures of hope. In this instance "that which brings me deliverance" is to be supplied in thought to ישׁלח (cf. Psa 20:3) and not ידו as in Psa 18:17, cf. Psa 144:7; and this general and unmentioned object is then specialized and defined in the words "His mercy and His truth" in Psa 57:4. Mercy and truth are as it were the two good spirits, which descending from heaven to earth (cf. Psa 43:3) bring the divine ישׁוּעה to an accomplishment. The words חרף שׁאפי sdro standing between a and c have been drawn by the accentuators to the first half of the verse, they probably interpreting it thus: He (God) reproacheth my devourers for ever (Sela). But חרף always (e.g., Isa 37:23) has God as its object, not as its subject. חרף שׁאפי is to be connected with what follows as a hypothetical protasis (Ges. 155, 4, a): supposing that he who is greedy or pants for me (inhians mihi) slandereth, then Elohim will send His mercy and His truth. The music that becomes forte in between, introduces and accompanies the throbbing confidence of the apodosis.
In Psa 57:5, on the contrary, we may follow the interpretation of the text that is handed down and defined by the accentuation, natural as it may also be, with Luther and others, to take one's own course. Since לבאים (has Zarka (Zinnor) and להטים Olewejored, it is accordingly to be rendered: "My soul is in the midst of lions, I will (must) lie down with flaming ones; the children of men - their teeth are a spear and arrows." The rendering of the lxx, of Theodotion, and of the Syriac version accords with the interpunction of our text so far as both begin a new clause with ἐκοιμήθην (ודמכת, and I slept); whereas Aquila and Symmachus (taking נפשׁי, as it seems, as a periphrastic expression of the subject-notion placed in advance) render all as afar as להטים as one clause, at least dividing the verse into two parts, just as the accentuators do, at להטים. The rendering of Aquila is ἐν μέσῳ λεαινῶν κοιμηθήσομαι λάβρων; that of Symmachus: ἐν μέσῳ λεόντῶν εὐθαρσῶν ἐκοιμήθην; or according to another reading, μεταξὺ λεόντων ἐκοιμήθην φλεγόντων. They are followed by Jerome, who, however, in order that he may be able to reproduce the נפשׁי, changes אשׁכבה into שׁכבה: Anima mea in medio leonum dormivit ferocientium. This construction, however, can be used in Greek and Latin, but not in Hebrew. We therefore follow the accents even in reference to the Zarka above לבאים (a plural form that only occurs in this one passage in the Psalter, = לביים). In a general way it is to be observed that this לבאים in connection with אשׁכּבה is not so much the accusative of the object as the accusative of the place, although it may even be said to be the customary local accusative of the object with verbs of dwelling; on שׁכב cf. Rut 3:8, Rut 3:14, and Psa 88:6; Mic 7:5 (where at least the possibility of this construction of the verb is presupposed). But in particular it is doubtful (1) what להטים signifies. The rendering "flaming ones" is offered by the Targum, Saadia, and perhaps Symmachus. The verb להט obtains this signification apparently from the fundamental notion of licking or swallowing; and accordingly Theodotion renders it by ἀναλισκόντων, and Aquila most appropriately by λάβρων (a word used of a ravenous furious longing for anything). But להט nowhere means "to devour;" the poet must, therefore, in connection with להטים, have been thinking of the flaming look or the fiery jaws of the lions, and this attributive will denote figuratively their strong desire, which snorts forth as it were flames of fire. The question further arises, (2) how the cohortative אשׁכבה is meant to be taken. Since the cohortative sometimes expresses that which is to be done more by outward constraint than inward impulse-never, however, without willing it one's self (Ew. 228, a) - the rendering "I must," or "therefore must I lie down," commends itself. But the contrast, which has been almost entirely overlooked, between the literal beasts of prey and the children of men, who are worse than these, requires the simple and most natural rendering of the cohortative. We need only picture to ourselves the situation. The verb שׁכב here has the sense of cubitum ire (Ps 4:9). Starting from this אשׁכבה we look to Psa 57:9, and it at once becomes clear that we have before us an evening or nightly song. David the persecuted one finds himself in the wilderness and, if we accept the testimony of the inscription, in a cave: his soul is in the midst of lions, by which he means to say that his life is exposed to them. Here bold in faith, he is resolved to lie down to sleep, feeling himself more secure among lions than among men; for the children of men, his deadly foes both in word and in deed, are worse than beasts of prey: teeth and tongue are murderous weapons. This more than brutal joy at the destruction of one's neighbour
(Note: Cf. Sir. 25:15, in the Hebrew: אין ראשׁ מעל ראשׁ פתן ואין חמה מעל חמה אויב (no poison exceeds the poison of the serpent, and no wrath exceeds the wrath of an enemy).)
which prevails among men, urges him to put forth the prayer that God, who in Himself is exalted above the heavens and the whole earth, would show Himself by some visible manifestation over the heavens above as the exalted One, and the prayer that His glory may be, i.e., may become manifest (or even: exalted be His glory, ירוּם), over the whole earth beneath, - His glory which to His saints is a health-diffusing light, and to the heartless foes of men and God a consuming fire, - so that the whole world shall be compelled to acknowledge this glory in which His holiness manifests itself, and shall become conformed to it after everything that is hostile is overthrown.
In this second half of the Psalm the poet refreshes himself with the thought of seeing that for which he longs and prays realized even with the dawning of the morning after this night of wretchedness. The perfect in Psa 57:7 is the perfect of certainty; the other perfects state what preceded and is now changed into the destruction of the crafty ones themselves. If the clause כּפף נפשׁי is rendered: my soul was bowed down (cf. חלל, Psa 109:22), it forms no appropriate corollary to the crafty laying of snares. Hence kpp must be taken as transitive: he had bowed down my soul; the change of number in the mention of the enemies is very common in the Psalms relating to these trials, whether it be that the poet has one enemy κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν before his mind or comprehends them all in one. Even the lxx renders καὶ κατέκαμψαν τὴν ψυχὴν μου, it is true, as though it were וכפפו, but can scarcely have read it thus. This line is still remarkable; one would expect for Psa 57:7 a thought parallel with Psa 57:7, and perhaps the poet wrote כפף נפשׁו, his (the net-layer's) own soul bends (viz., in order to fall into the net). Then כפף like נפל would be praet. confidentiae. In this certainty, to express which the music here becomes triumphantly forte, David's heart is confident, cheerful (Symmachus ἐδραία), and a powerful inward impulse urges him to song and harp. Although נכון may signify ready, equipped (Exo 34:2; Job 12:5), yet this meaning is to be rejected here in view of Psa 51:12, Psa 78:37, Psa 112:7 : it is not appropriate to the emphatic repetition of the word. His evening mood which found expression in Psa 57:4, was hope of victory; the morning mood into which David here transports himself, is certainty of victory. He calls upon his soul to awake (כּבודי as in Psa 16:9; 30:13), he calls upon harp and cithern to awake (הנּבל וכנּור with one article that avails for both words, as in Jer 29:3; Neh 1:5; and עוּרה with the accent on the ultima on account of the coming together of two aspirates), from which he has not parted even though a fugitive; with the music of stringed instruments and with song he will awake the not yet risen dawn, the sun still slumbering in its chamber: אעירה, expergefaciam (not expergiscar), as e.g., in Sol 2:7, and as Ovid (Metam. xi. 597) says of the cock, evocat auroram.
(Note: With reference to the above passage in the Psalms, the Talmud, B. Berachoth 3b, says, "A cithern used to hang above David's bed; and when midnight came, the north wind blew among the strings, so that they sounded of themselves; and forthwith he arose and busied himself with the Tra until the pillar of the dawn (עמוד השׁחר) ascended." Rashi observes, "The dawn awakes the other kings; but I, said David, will awake the dawn (אני מעורר את השׁחר).")
His song of praise, however, shall not resound in a narrow space where it is scarcely heard; he will step forth as the evangelist of his deliverance and of his Deliverer in the world of nations (בעמּים; and the parallel word, as also in Psa 108:4; Psa 149:7, is to be written בּלעמּים with Lamed raphatum and Metheg before it); his vocation extends beyond Israel, and the events of his life are to be for the benefit of mankind. Here we perceive the self-consciousness of a comprehensive mission, which accompanied David from the beginning to the end of his royal career (vid., Psa 18:50). What is expressed in v. 11 is both motive and theme of the discourse among the peoples, viz., God's mercy and truth which soar high as the heavens (Psa 36:6). That they extend even to the heavens is only an earthly conception of their infinity (cf. Eph 3:18). In the refrain, v. 12, which only differs in one letter from Psa 57:6, the Psalm comes back to the language of prayer. Heaven and earth have a mutually involved history, and the blessed, glorious end of this history is the sunrise of the divine doxa over both, here prayed for.