Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
When Saul came into the cave where David lay concealed, this saint of God might upon such an occurrence have been either thrown into consternation, or led by his alarm into some unwarrantable step, it being common for persons in despair either to be prostrated with dismay, or driven into frenzy. But it appears from this Psalm that David retained his composure, relying with assured confidence upon God, and resigning himself to vows and prayers instead of taking any unauthorized steps.
A Prayer of David, giving instruction when he was in the cave. 244
1. I cried to Jehovah with my voice, with my voice to Jehovah I made supplication. 2. I pour out my meditation before his face: I tell my affliction before his face. 3. When my spirit was perplexed within me, and thou knewest my path: in the way wherein I walked they laid a snare for me. 4. On looking to the right hand, and perceiving, none would know me, refuge failed me, there was none seeking after my soul.
1. I cried 245 to Jehovah, etc. It showed singular presence of mind in David that he was not paralyzed with fear, or that he did not in a paroxysm of fury take vengeance upon his enemy, as he easily might have done; and that he was not actuated by despair to take away his life, but composedly addressed himself to the exercise of prayer. There was good reason why the title should have been affixed to the Psalm to note this circumstance, and David had good grounds for mentioning how he commended himself to God. Surrounded by the army of Saul, and hemmed in by destruction on every side, how was it possible for him to have spared so implacable an enemy, had he not been fortified against the strongest temptations by prayer? The repetition he makes use of indicates his having prayed with earnestness, so as to be impervious to every assault of temptation.
He tells us still more clearly in the next verse that he disburdened his ears unto God. To pour out one’s thoughts and tell over his afflictions implies the reverse of those perplexing anxieties which men brood over inwardly to their own distress, and by which they torture themselves, and are chafed by their afflictions rather than led to God; or it implies the reverse of those frantic exclamations to which others give utterance who find no comfort in the superintending providence and care of God. In short, we are left to infer that while he did not give way before men to loud and senseless lamentations, neither did he suffer himself to be tormented with inward and suppressed cares, but made known his grief’s with unsuspecting confidence to the Lord.
3. When, my spirit, etc. Though he owns here that he felt anxiety, yet he confirms what he had said as to the constancy of his faith. The figure which he uses of his spirit being perplexed, 246 aptly represents the state of the mind in alternating between various resolutions when there was no apparent outgate from danger, and increasing its distress by resorting to all kinds of devices. He adds, that though there was no apparent way of safety, God knew from the beginning in what way his deliverance should be effected. Others put a different meaning upon this clause, thou knowest my way, as if David asserted God to have been witness of his integrity, but the other is the more correct, that God knew the way to deliver him, while his own mind was distracted by a variety of thoughts, and yet could not conceive any mode of extrication. The words teach us, when we have tried every remedy and know not what to do, to rest satisfied with the conviction that God is acquainted with our afflictions, and condescends to care for us, as Abraham said —
“The Lord will provide.” (Ge 22:8.)
4. On looking to the right hand, 247 etc., He shows that there was good cause for the dreadful sufferings he experienced, since no human aid or comfort was to be expected, and destruction seemed inevitable. When he speaks of having looked and yet not perceived a friend amongst men, he does not mean that he had turned his thoughts to earthly helps in forgetfulness of God, but that he had made such inquiry as was warrantable after one on the earth who might assist him. Had any person of the kind presented himself, he would no doubt have recognized him as an instrument in the hand of God’s mercy, but it was God’s purpose that he should be abandoned of all assistance from man, and that his deliverance from destruction should thus appear more extraordinary. In the expression, none seeking after my soul, the verb to seek after is used in a good sense, for being solicitous about any man’s welfare or safety.
5. I cried unto thee, O Jehovah! I said thou art my hope and my portion in the land of the living. 6. Attend unto my cry, for I labor very much under affliction: deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I. 7. Rescue my soul from prison, that I may praise thy name; the righteous shall crown me, for thou wilt recompense me.
5. I cried unto thee, O Jehovah! With a view to hasten God’s interposition, David complains of the low estate he was reduced to, and of his extremity; the term cry denoting vehemence, as I have elsewhere noticed. He speaks of deliverance as being plainly needed, since he was now held a prisoner. By prison some suppose he alludes to the cave where he was lodged, but this is too restricted a meaning. The subsequent clause, the righteous shall compass me, is translated differently by some, they shall wait me. I have retained the true and natural sense. I grant that it is taken figuratively for surrounding, intimating that he would be a spectacle to all, the eyes of men being attracted by such a singular case of deliverance. If any consider the words not to be figurative, the sense will be, That the righteous would not only congratulate him, but place a crown upon his head in token of victory. Some explain the passage, They will assemble to congratulate me, and will stand round me on every side like a crown. As the words literally read, they will crown upon me, some supply another pronoun, and give this sense, that the righteous would construe the mercy bestowed upon David as a glory conferred upon themselves; for when God delivers any of his children he holds out the prospect of deliverance to the rest, and, as it were, gifts them with a crown. The sense which I have adopted is the simplest, however, That the mercy vouchsafed would be shown conspicuously to all as in a theater, proving a signal example to the righteous for establishment of their faith. The verb גמל, gamal, in the Hebrew, is of a more general signification than to repay, and means to confer a benefit, as I have shown elsewhere.
In the history of David we read particularly of the two caves in which he took shelter, that of Adullam, (1Sa 22:1,) and that of En-gedi, (1Sa 24:3.) The latter is generally supposed to be the cave here
In the Hebrew the verb is in the future — “I will cry;” but as that language has no present tense, it frequently uses for it the past and future promiscuously. Bishop Horne, therefore, renders in the present all the verbs in this Psalm, which Calvin translates in the past, except the verbs in the two first verses, which he renders in the future. Translators, however, in general concur with Calvin, and we think justly, the Psalm, as we conceive, being a recollection of the substance of the prayers he addressed to God while in the cave of En-gedi, but which it cannot be supposed he had then an opportunity of committing to writing.
“Or c’est une belle similitude quand il dit que son esprit a este en tortille et enveloppe,” etc. — Fr.
The allusion here, it is supposed, is to the observances of the ancient Jewish courts of judicature, in which the advocate, as well as the accuser, stood on the right hand of the accused. (Ps 109:5.) The Psalmist felt himself in the condition of one who had nobody to plead his cause, and to protect him in the dangerous circumstances in which he was placed.