Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Prayer for Protection against Wicked, Crafty Men
The close of the preceding Psalm is the key to David's position and mood in the presence of his enemies which find expression in this Psalm. He complains here of serpent-like, crafty, slanderous adversaries, who are preparing themselves for war against him, and with whom he will at length have to fight in open battle. The Psalm, in its form more bold than beautiful, justifies its לדוד in so far as it is Davidic in thoughts and figures, and may be explained from the circumstances of the rebellion of Absalom, to which as an outbreak of Ephraimitish jealousy the rebellion of Sheba ben Bichri the Benjamite attached itself. Psa 58:1-11 and Psa 64:1-10 are very similar. The close of all three Psalms sounds much alike, they agree in the use of rare forms of expression, and their language becomes fearfully obscure in style and sound where they are directed against the enemies.
The assimilation of the Nun of the verb נצר is given up, as in Psa 61:8; Psa 78:7, and frequently, in order to make the form more full-toned. The relative clause shows that אישׁ חמסים is not intended to be understood exclusively of one person. בּלב strengthens the notion of that which is deeply concealed and premeditated. It is doubtful whether יגוּרוּ signifies to form into troops or to stir up. But from the fact that גּוּר in Psa 56:7; Psa 59:4, Isa 54:15, signifies not congregare but se congregare, it is to be inferred that גּוּר in the passage before us, like גּרה (or התגּרה in Deu 2:9, Deu 2:24), in Syriac and Targumic גּרג, signifies concitare, to excite (cf. שׂוּר together with שׂרה, Hos 12:4.). In Psa 140:4 the Psalm coincides with Psa 64:4; Psa 58:5. They sharpen their tongue, so that it inflicts a fatal sting like the tongue of a serpent, and under their lips, shooting out from thence, is the poison of the adder (cf. Sol 4:11). עכשׁוּב is a ἅπαξ λεγομ. not from כּשׁב (Jesurun, p. 207), but from עכשׁ, Arab. ‛ks and ‛kš, root ‛k (vid., Fleischer on Isa 59:5, עכּבישׁ), both of which have the significations of bending, turning, and coiling after the manner of a serpent; the Beth is an organic addition modifying the meaning of the root.
(Note: According to the original Lexicons Arab. ‛ks signifies to bend one's self, to wriggle, to creep sideways like the roots of the vine, in the V form to move one's self like an adder (according to the Ḳamûs) and to walk like a drunken man (according to Neshwn); but Arab. ‛kš signifies to be intertwined, knit or closely united together, said of hairs and of the branches of trees, in the V form to fight hand to hand and to get in among the crowd. The root is apparently expanded into עכשׁוב by an added Beth which serves as a notional speciality, as in Arab. ‛rqûb the convex bend of the steep side of a rock, or in the case of the knee of the hind-legs of animals, and in Arab. charnûb (in the dialect of the country along the coast of Palestine, where the tree is plentiful, in Neshwn churnûb), the horn-like curved pod of the carob-tree (Ceratonia Siliqua), syncopated Arab. charrûb, charrûb (not charûb), from Arab. charn, cogn. qarn, a horn, cf. Arab. chrnâyt, the beak of a bird of prey, Arab. chrnûq, the stork [vid. on Psa 104:17], Arab. chrnı̂n, the rhinoceros [vid. on Psa 29:6], Arab. chrnuı̂t, the unicorn [vid. ibid.]. - Wetzstein.)
The course of this second strophe is exactly parallel with the first. The perfects describe their conduct hitherto, as a comparison of Psa 140:3 with Psa 140:3 shows. פּעמים is poetically equivalent to רגלים, and signifies both the foot that steps (Psa 57:5; Psa 58:11) and the step that is made by the foot (Ps 85:14; Psa 119:133), and here the two senses are undistinguishable. They are called גּאים on account of the inordinate ambition that infatuates them. The metaphors taken from the life of the hunter (Psa 141:9; Psa 142:4) are here brought together as it were into a body of synonyms. The meaning of ליד־מעגּל becomes explicable from Psa 142:4; ליד, at hand, is equivalent to "immediately beside" (Ch1 18:17; Neh 11:24). Close by the path along which he has to pass, lie gins ready to spring together and ensnare him when he appears.
Such is the conduct of his enemies; he, however, prays to his God and gets his weapons from beside Him. The day of equipment is the day of the crisis when the battle is fought in full array. The perfect סכּותה states what will then take place on the part of God: He protects the head of His anointed against the deadly blow. Both Psa 140:8 and Psa 140:8 point to the helmet as being מעוז ראשׁ, Psa 60:9; cf. the expression "the helmet of salvation" in Isa 59:17. Beside מאויּי, from the ἅπ. λεγ. מאוה, there is also the reading מאויי, which Abulwald found in his Jerusalem codex (in Saragossa). The regular form would be מאוי, and the boldly irregular ma'awajjê follows the example of מחשׁכּי, מחמדּי, and the like, in a manner that is without example elsewhere. זממז for מזמּתו is also a hapaxlegomenon; according to Gesenius the principal form is זמם, but surely ore correctly זמם (like קרב), which in Aramaic signifies a bridle, and here a plan, device. The Hiph. חפיק (root פק, whence נפק, Arab. nfq) signifies educere in the sense of reportare, Pro 3:13; Pro 8:35; Pro 12:2; Pro 18:22, and of porrigere, Psa 144:13, Isa 58:10. A reaching forth of the plan is equivalent to the reaching forth of that which is projected. The choice of the words used in this Psalm coincides here, as already in מעגּל, with Proverbs and Isaiah. The future ירוּמוּ expresses the consequence (cf. Psa 61:8) against which the poet wishes to guard.
The strophic symmetry is now at an end. The longer the poet lingers over the contemplation of the rebels the more lofty and dignified does his language become, the more particular the choice of the expressions, and the more difficult and unmanageable the construction. The Hiph. הסב signifies, causatively, to cause to go round about (Exo 13:18), and to raise round about (Ch2 14:6); here, after Jos 6:11, where with an accusative following it signifies to go round about: to make the circuit of anything, as enemies who surround a city on all sides and seek the most favourable point for assault; מסבּי from the participle מסב. Even when derived from the substantive מסב (Hupfeld), "my surroundings" is equivalent to איבי סביבותי in Psa 27:6. Hitzig, on the other hand, renders it: the head of my slanderers, from סבב, to go round about, Arabic to tell tales of any one, defame; but the Arabic sbb, fut. u, to abuse, the IV form (Hiphil) of which moreover is not used either in the ancient or in the modern language, has nothing to do with the Hebrew סבב, but signifies originally to cut off round about, then to clip (injure) any one's honour and good name.
(Note: The lexicographer Neshwn says, i. 279b: Arab. 'l-sbb 'l - šatm w-qı̂l an aṣl 'l-sbb 'l - qaṭ‛ ṯm ṣâr 'l - štm, "sebb is to abuse; still, the more original signification of cutting off is said to lie at the foundation of this signification." That Arab. qṭ‛ is synonymous with it, e.g., Arab. lı̂štqt‛fı̂nâ, why dost thou cut into us? i.e., why dost thou insult our honour? - Wetzstein.)
The fact that the enemies who surround the psalmist on every side are just such calumniators, is intimated here in the word שׂפתימו. He wishes that the trouble which the enemies' slanderous lips occasion him may fall back upon their own head. ראשׁ is head in the first and literal sense according to Psa 7:17; and יכסּימו (with the Jod of the groundform kcy, as in Deu 32:26; Kg1 20:35; Chethb יכסּוּמו,
(Note: Which is favoured by Exo 15:5, jechasjûmû with mû instead of mô, which is otherwise without example.)
after the attractional schema, Sa2 2:4; Isa 2:11, and frequently; cf. on the masculine form, Pro 5:2; Pro 10:21) refers back to ראשׁ, which is meant of the heads of all persons individually. In Psa 140:11 ימיטוּ (with an indefinite subject of the higher punitive powers, Ges. 137, note), in the signification to cause to descend, has a support in Psa 55:4, whereas the Niph. נמוט, fut. ימּט, which is preferred by the Ker, in the signification to be made to descend, is contrary to the usage of the language. The ἅπ. λεγ. מהמרות has been combined by Parchon and others with the Arabic hmr, which, together with other significations (to strike, stamp, cast down, and the like), also has the signification to flow (whence e.g., in the Koran, mâ' munhamir, flowing water). "Fire" and "water" are emblems of perils that cannot be escaped, Psa 66:12, and the mention of fire is therefore appropriately succeeded by places of flowing water, pits of water. The signification "pits" is attested by the Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, and the quotation in Kimchi: "first of all they buried them in מהמורות; when the flesh was consumed they collected the bones and buried them in coffins." On בּל־יקוּמוּ cf. Isa 26:14. Like Psa 140:10-11, Psa 140:12 is also not to be taken as a general maxim, but as expressing a wish in accordance with the excited tone of this strophe. אישׁ לשׁון is not a great talker, i.e., boaster, but an idle talker, i.e., slanderer (lxx ἀνὴρ γλωσσώδης, cf. Sir. 8:4). According to the accents, אישׁ חמס רע is the parallel; but what would be the object of this designation of violence as worse or more malignant? With Sommer, Olshausen, and others, we take רע as the subject to יצוּדנּוּ: let evil, i.e., the punishment which arises out of evil, hunt him; cf. Pro 13:21, חטּאים תּרדּף רעה, and the opposite in Psa 23:6. It would have to be accented, according to this our construction of the words, אישׁ חמס רע יצודני למדחפת. The ἅπ. λεγ. למדחפת we do not render, with Hengstenberg, Olshausen, and others: push upon push, with repeated pushes, which, to say nothing more, is not suited to the figure of hunting, but, since דּחף always has the signification of precipitate hastening: by hastenings, that is to say, forced marches.
With Psa 140:13 the mood and language now again become cheerful, the rage has spent itself; therefore the style and tone are now changed, and the Psalm trips along merrily as it were to the close. With reference to ידעת for ידעתי (as in Job 42:2), vid., Psa 16:2. That which David in Psa 9:5 confidently expects on his own behalf is here generalized into the certain prospect of the triumph of the good cause in the person of all its representatives at that time oppressed. אך, like ידעתּי, is an expression of certainty. After seeming abandonment God again makes Himself known to His own, and those whom they wanted to sweep away out of the land of the living have an ever sure dwelling-place with His joyful countenance (Psa 16:11).