Verse 3. The Psalmist now goes on to describe his condition at the time when he prayed unto God. The sorrows of death compassed me. As hunters surround a stag with dogs and men, so that no way of escape is left, so was David enclosed in a ring of deadly griefs. The bands of sorrow, weakness, and terror with which death is accustomed to bind men ere he drags them away to their long captivity were all around him. Nor were these things around him in a distant circle, they had come close home, for he adds, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me. Horrors such as those which torment the lost seized me, grasped me, found me out, searched me through and through, and held me a prisoner. He means by the pains of hell those pangs which belong to death, those terrors which are connected with the grave; these were so closely upon him that they fixed their teeth in him as hounds seize their prey.
I found trouble and sorrow -- trouble was around me, and sorrow within me. His griefs were double, and as he searched into them they increased. A man rejoices when he finds a hid treasure; but what must be the anguish of a man who finds, where he least expected it, a vein of trouble and sorrow? The Psalmist was sought for by trouble and it found him out, and when he himself became a seeker he found no relief, but double distress.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 3. Here begins the exemplification of God's kindness to his servant; the first branch whereof is a description of the danger wherein he was and out of which he was delivered. Now, to magnify the kindness of God the more in delivering him out of the same, he setteth it out with much variety of words and phrases.
The first word ylbx, "sorrows," is diversely translated. Some expound it snares, some cords, some sorrows. The reason of this difference is because the word itself is metaphorical. It is taken from cruel creditors, who will be sure to tie their debtors fast, as with cords, so that they shall not easily get loose and free again. The pledge which the debtor leaveth with his creditor as a pawn, hath this name in Hebrew; so also a cord wherewith things are fast tied; and the mast of a ship fast fixed, and tied on every side with cords; and bands or troops of men combined together; and the pain of a woman in travail, which is very great; and destruction with pain and anguish. Thus we see that such a word is used here as setteth out a most lamentable and inextricable case.
The next word, "of death" twm, sheweth that his case was deadly; death was before his eyes; death was as it were threatened. He is said to be "compassed" herewith in two respects:
The word translated "pains," yrcm, in the original is put for sacks fast bound together, and flint stones, and fierce enemies, and hard straits; so that this word also aggravates his misery.
The word translated "hell," lwaf, is usually taken in the Old Testament for the grave; it is derived from laf, a verb that signifieth to crave, because the grave is ever craving, and never satisfied.
The word translated "gat hold on me," ygwacm, and "I found," acma, are both the same verb; they differ only in circumstances of tense, number, and person. The former sheweth that these miseries found him, and as a serjeant they seized on him; he did not seek them, he would wittingly and willingly have escaped them, if he could. The latter sheweth that indeed he found them; he felt the tartness and bitterness, the smart and pain of them.
The word translated trouble, hrc of dwc, hath a near affinity with the former word translated pain, dcm of dwc, and is used to set out as great misery as that; and yet further to aggravate the same, another word is added thereto, "sorrow."
The last word, "sorrow," !wgy of hgy, imports such a kind of calamity as maketh them that lie under it much to grieve, and also moveth others that behold it much to pity them. It is often used in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Either of these two last words, trouble and sorrow, do declare a very perplexed and distressed estate; what then both of them joined together? For the Holy Ghost doth not multiply words in vain. William Gouge.
Verse 3. Gat hold upon me. The original word is, found me, as we put in the margin. They found him, as an officer or serjeant finds a person that he is sent to arrest; who no sooner finds him, but he takes hold of him, or takes him into custody. When warrants are sent out to take a man who keeps out of the way, the return is, Non est inventus, the man is not found, he cannot be met with, or taken hold of. David's pains quickly found him, and having found him they gat hold of him. Such finding is so certainly and suddenly followed With taking hold, and holding what is taken, that one word in the Hebrew serves to express both acts. When God sends out troubles and afflictions as officers to attack any man, they will find him, and finding him, they will take hold of him. The days of affliction will take hold; there's no striving, no struggling with them, no getting out of their hands. These divine pursuivants will neither be persuaded nor bribed to let you go, till God speak the word, till God say, Deliver him, release him. I found trouble and sorrow. I found trouble which I looked not for. I was not searching after sorrow, but I found it. There's an elegancy in the original. The Hebrew is, "The pains of hell found me." They found me, I did not find them; but no sooner had the pains of hell found me, than I found trouble and sorrow, enough, and soon enough. Joseph Caryl.
Verse 3. See how the saints instead of lessening the dangers and tribulations, with which they are exercised by God, magnify them in figurative phraseology; neither do they conceal their distress of soul, but clearly and willingly set it forth. Far otherwise are the minds of those who regard their own glory and not the glory of God. The saints, that they may make more illustrious the glory of the help of God, declare things concerning themselves which make but little for their own glory. Wolfgang Musculus.
Verse 3-7. Those usually have most of heaven upon earth, that formerly have met with most of hell upon earth. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow: (as Jonas crying in the belly of hell). But look upon him within two or three verses after, and you may see him in an ecstasy, as if he were in heaven; Psalms 116:7 : Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. Matthew Lawrence.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 3-4,. 8. See Spurgeon's Sermon, "To Souls in Agony," Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No 1216.
Verse 3-5. The story of a tried soul.