Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Evening Psalm in the Times of Absalom
The four Psalms, Psa 140:1-13, Psa 141:1-10, Psa 142:1-7, and Psa 143:1-12, are interwoven with one another in many ways (Symbolae, pp. 67f.). The following passages are very similar, viz., Psa 140:7; Psa 141:1; Psa 142:2, and Psa 143:1. Just as the poet complains in Psa 142:4, "when my spirit veils itself within me," so too in Psa 143:4; as he prays in Ps 142:8, "Oh bring my soul out of prison," so in Psa 143:11, "bring my soul out of distress," where צרה takes the place of the metaphorical מסגר. Besides these, compare Psa 140:5-6 with Psa 141:9; Psa 142:7 with Psa 143:9; Psa 140:3 with Psa 141:5, רעות; Ps 140:14 with Ps 142:8; Psa 142:4 with Psa 143:8.
The right understanding of the Psalm depends upon the right understanding of the situation. Since it is inscribed לדוד, it is presumably a situation corresponding to the history of David, out of the midst of which the Psalm is composed, either by David himself or by some one else who desired to give expression in Davidic strains to David's mood when in this situation. For the gleaning of Davidic Psalms which we find in the last two Books of the Psalter is for the most part derived from historical works in which these Psalms, in some instances only free reproductions of the feelings of David with respect to old Davidic models, adorned the historic narrative. The Psalm before us adorned the history of the time of the persecution by Absalom. At that time David was driven out of Jerusalem, and consequently cut off from the sacrificial worship of God upon Zion; and our Psalm is an evening hymn of one of those troublous days. The ancient church, even prior to the time of Gregory (Constitutiones Apostolicae, ii. 59), had chosen it for its evening hymn, just as it had chosen Psa 63:1-11 for its morning hymn. Just as Psa 63:1-11 was called ὁ ὀρθρινός (ibid. 8:37), so this Psalm, as being the Vesper Psalm, was called ὁ ἐπιλύχνιος (vid., 8:35).
The very beginning of Psa 141:1-10 is more after the manner of David than really Davidic; for instead of haste thee to me, David always says, haste thee for my help, Psa 22:20; 38:23; Psa 40:14. The לך that is added to בּקראי (as in Psa 4:2) is to be explained, as in Psa 57:3 : when I call to Thee, i.e., when I call Thee, who art now far from me, to me. The general cry for help is followed in Psa 141:2 by a petition for the answering of his prayer. Luther has given an excellent rendering: Let my prayer avail to Thee as an offering of incense; the lifting up of my hands, as an evening sacrifice (Mein Gebet msse fur dir tgen wie ein Reuchopffer, Meine Hende auffheben, wie ein Abendopffer). תּכּון is the fut. Niph. of כּוּן, and signifies properly to be set up, and to be established, or reflexive: to place and arrange or prepare one's self, Amo 4:12; then to continue, e.g., Psa 101:7; therefore, either let it place itself, let it appear, sistat se, or better: let it stand, continue, i.e., let my prayer find acceptance, recognition with Thee קטרת, and the lifting up of my hands מנחת־ערב. Expositors say that this in both instances is the comparatio decurtata, as in Psa 11:1 and elsewhere: as an incense-offering, as an evening mincha. But the poet purposely omits the כּ of the comparison. He wishes that God may be pleased to regard his prayer as sweet-smelling smoke or as incense, just as this was added to the azcara of the meal-offering, and gave it, in its ascending perfume, the direction upward to God,
(Note: It is not the priestly קטרת תּמיד, i.e., the daily morning and evening incense-offering upon the golden altar of the holy place, Exo 30:8, that is meant (since it is a non-priest who is speaking, according to Hitzig, of course John Hyrcanus), but rather, as also in Isa 1:13, the incense of the azcara of the meal-offering which the priest burnt (הקטיר) upon the altar; the incense (Isa 66:3) was entirely consumed, and not merely a handful taken from it.)
and that He may be pleased to regard the lifting up of his hands (משׂאת, the construct with the reduplication given up, from משּׂאת, or even, after the form מתּנת, from משּׂאה, here not oblatio, but according to the phrase נשׂא כפּים ידים, elevatio, Jdg 20:38, Jdg 20:40, cf. Psa 28:2, and frequently) as an evening mincha, just as it was added to the evening tamı̂d according to Exo 29:38-42, and concluded the work of the service of the day.
(Note: The reason of it is this, that the evening mincha is oftener mentioned than the morning mincha (see, however, Kg2 3:20). The whole burnt-offering of the morning and the meat-offering of the evening (Kg2 16:15; Kg1 18:29, Kg1 18:36) are the beginning and close of the daily principal service; whence, according to the example of the usus loquendi in Dan 9:21; Ezr 9:4., later on mincha directly signifies the afternoon or evening.)
The prayer now begins to be particularized, and that in the first instance as a petition fore the grace of silence, calling to mind old Davidic passages like Psa 39:2; Psa 34:14. The situation of David, the betrayed one, requires caution in speaking; and the consciousness of having sinned, not indeed against the rebels, but against God, who would not visit him thus without his deserving it, stood in the way of any outspoken self-vindication. In pone custodiam ori meo שׁמרה is ἅπ. λεγ., after the infinitive form דּבקה, עזבה, עצמה. In Psa 141:3 דּל is ἅπ. λεγ. for דּלת; cf. "doors of the mouth" in Mic 7:5, and πύλαι στόματος in Euripides. נצּרה might be imper. Kal: keep I pray, with Dag. dirimens as in Pro 4:13. But נצר על is not in use; and also as the parallel word to שׁמרה, which likewise has the appearance of being imperative, נצּרה is explicable as regards its pointing by a comparison of יקּהה in Gen 49:10, דּבּרה in Deu 33:3, and קרבה in Psa 73:28. The prayer for the grace of silence is followed in Psa 141:4 by a prayer for the breaking off of all fellowship with the existing rulers. By a flight of irony they are called אישׁים, lords, in the sense of בּני אישׁ, Psa 4:3 (cf. the Spanish hidalgos = hijos d'algo, sons of somebody). The evil thing (רע
Thus far the Psalm is comparatively easy of exposition; but now it becomes difficult, yet not hopelessly so. David, thoroughly conscious of his sins against God and of his imperfection as a monarch, says, in opposition to the abuse which he is now suffering, that he would gladly accept any friendly reproof: "let a righteous man smite in kindness and reprove me - head-oil (i.e., oil upon the head, to which such reproof is likened) shall my head not refuse." So we render it, following the accents, and not as Hupfeld, Kurtz, and Hitzig do: "if a righteous man smites me, it is love; if he reproves me, an anointing of the head is it unto me;" in connection with which the designation of the subject with היא would be twice wanting, which is more than is admissible. צדּיק stands here as an abstract substantive: the righteous man, whoever he may be, in antithesis, namely, to the rebels and to the people who have joined them. Amyraldus, Maurer, and Hengstenberg understand it of God; but it only occurs of God as an attribute, and never as a direct appellation. חסד, as in Jer 31:3, is equivalent to בּחסד, cum benignitate = benigne. What is meant is, as in Job 6:14, what Paul (Gal 6:1) styles πνεῦμα πραΰ́τητος. and הלם, tundere, is used of the strokes of earnest but well-meant reproof, which is called "the blows of a friend" in Pro 27:6. Such reproof shall be to him as head-oil (Psa 23:5; Psa 133:2), which his head does not despise. יני, written defectively for יניא, like ישּׁי, in Psa 55:16, אבי, Kg1 21:29 and frequently; הניא (root נא, Arab. n', with the nasal n, which also expresses the negation in the Indo-Germanic languages) here signifies to deny, as in Psa 33:10 to bring to nought, to destroy. On the other hand, the lxx renders μὴ λιπανάτω τὴν κεφαλήν μου, which is also followed by the Syriac and Jerome, perhaps after the Arabic nawiya, to become or to be fat, which is, however, altogether foreign to the Aramaic, and is, moreover, only used of fatness of the body, and in fact of camels. The meaning of the figure is this: well-meant reproof shall be acceptable and spiritually useful to him. The confirmation כּי־עוד וגו follows, which is enigmatical both in meaning and expression. This עוד is the cipher of a whole clause, and the following ו is related to this עוד as the Waw that introduces the apodosis, not to כּי as in Ch2 24:20, since no progression and connection is discernible if כי is taken as a subordinating quia. We interpret thus: for it is still so (the matter still stands thus), that my prayer is against their wickednesses; i.e., that I use no weapon but that of prayer against these, therefore let me always be in that spiritual state of mind which is alive to well-meant reproof. Mendelssohn's rendering is similar: I still pray, whilst they practise infamy. On עוד ו cf. Zac 8:20 עוד אשׁר (vid., Khler), and Pro 24:27 אחר ו. He who has prayed God in Psa 141:3 to set a watch upon his mouth is dumb in the presence of those who now have dominion, and seeks to keep himself clear of their sinful doings, whereas he willingly allows himself to be chastened by the righteous; and the more silent he is towards the world (see Amo 5:13), the more constant is he in his intercourse with God. But there will come a time when those who now behave as lords shall fall a prey to the revenge of the people who have been misled by them; and on the other hand, the confession of the salvation, and of the order of the salvation, of God, that has hitherto been put to silence, will again be able to make itself freely heard, and find a ready hearing.
As Psa 141:6 says, the new rulers fall a prey to the indignation of the people and are thrown down the precipices, whilst the people, having again come to their right mind, obey the words of David and find them pleasant and beneficial (vid., Pro 15:26; Pro 16:24). נשׁמטוּ is to be explained according to Kg2 9:33. The casting of persons down from the rock was not an unusual mode of execution (Ch2 25:12). ידי־סלע are the sides (Psa 140:6; Jdg 11:26) of the rock, after which the expression ἐχόμενα πέτρας of the lxx, which has been misunderstood by Jerome, is intended to be understood;
(Note: Beda Pieringer in his Psalterium Romana Lyra Radditum (Ratisbonae 1859) interprets κατεπόθησαν ἐχόμενα πέτρας οἱ κραταιοὶ τὐτῶν, absorpti, i.e., operti sunt loco ad petram pertinente signiferi turpis consilii eorum.)
they are therefore the sides of the rock conceived of as it were as the hands of the body of rock, if we are not rather with Bttcher to compare the expressions בּידי and על־ידי construed with verbs of abandoning and casting down, Lam 1:14; Job 16:11, and frequently. In Psa 141:7 there follows a further statement of the issue on the side of David and his followers: instar findentis et secantis terram (בּקע with Beth, elsewhere in the hostile signification of irrumpere) dispersa sunt ossa nostra ad ostium (לפי as in Pro 8:3) orci; Symmachus: ὥσπερ γεωργὸς ὅταν ῥήσσῃ τὴν τὴν, οὕτως ἐσκορπίσθη τὰ ὀστᾶ ἡμῶν εἰς στόμα ᾅδου; Quinta: ὡς καλλιεργῶν καὶ σκάπτων ἐν τῇ γῇ κ. τ. λ. Assuming the very extreme, it is a look of hope into the future: should his bones and the bones of his followers be even scattered about the mouth of Shel (cf. the Syrian picture of Shel: "the dust upon its threshold ‛al-escûfteh," Deutsche Morgenlnd. Zeitschrift, xx. 513), their soul below, their bones above - it would nevertheless be only as when on in ploughing cleaves the earth; i.e., they do not lie there in order that they may continue lying, but that they may rise up anew, as the seed that is sown sprouts up out of the upturned earth. lxx Codd. Vat. et Sinait. τὰ ὀστᾶ ἡμῶν, beside which, however, is found the reading αὐτῶν (Cod. Alex. by a second hand, and the Syriac, Arabic, and Aethiopic versions), as Bttcher also, pro ineptissimo utcunque, thinks עצמינו must be read, understanding this, according to Ch2 25:12 extrem., of the mangled bodies of those cast down from the rock. We here discern the hope of a resurrection, if not directly, at least (cf. Oehler in Herzog's Real-Encyclopdie, concluding volume, S. 422) as am emblem of victory in spite of having succumbed. That which authorizes this interpretation lies in the figure of the husbandman, and in the conditional clause (Psa 141:8), which leads to the true point of the comparison; for as a complaint concerning a defeat that had been suffered: "so are our bones scattered for the mouth of the grave (in order to be swallowed up by it)," Psa 141:7, would be alien and isolated with respect to what precedes and what follows.
If Psa 141:7 is not merely an expression of the complaint, but at the same time of hope, we now have no need to give the כּי the adversative sense of imo, but we may leave it its most natural confirmatory signification namque. From this point the Psalm gradually dies away in strains comparatively easy to be understood and in perfect keeping with the situation. In connection with Psa 141:8 one is reminded of Psa 25:15; Psa 31:2; with Psa 141:9., of Psa 7:16; Psa 69:23, and other passages. In "pour not out (תּער with sharpened vowel instead of תּער, Ges. ֗75, rem. 8) my soul," ערה, Piel, is equivalent to the Hiph. הערה in Isa 53:12. ידי פח are as it were the hands of the seizing and capturing snare; and יקשׂוּ לּי is virtually a genitive: qui insidias tendunt mihi, since one cannot say יקשׁ פח, ponere laqueum. מכמרים, nets, in Psa 141:10 is another hapaxlegomenon; the enallage numeri is as in Psa 62:5; Isa 2:8; Isa 5:23, - the singular that slips in refers what is said of the many to each individual in particular. The plural מקשׁות for מקשׁים, Psa 18:6; Psa 64:6, also occurs only here. יחד is to be explained as in 4:9: it is intended to express the coincidence of the overthrow of the enemies and the going forth free of the persecuted one. With יחד אנכי the poet gives prominence to his simultaneous, distinct destiny: simul ego dum (עד as in Job 8:21, cf. Job 1:18) praetereo h.e. evado. The inverted position of the כּי in Psa 18:10-12 may be compared; with Psa 120:7 and Kg2 2:14, however (where instead of אף־הוּא it is with Thenius to be read אפוא), the case is different.