Psalm 141:5

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness. He prefers the bitters of gracious company to the dainties of the ungodly. He would rather be smitten by the righteous than feasted by the wicked. He gives a permit to faithful admonition, he even invites it -- "let the righteous smite me." When the ungodly smile upon us their flattery is cruel; when the righteous smite us their faithfulness is kind. Sometimes godly men rap hard; they do not merely hint at evil, but hammer at it; and even then we are to receive the blows in love, and be thankful to the hand which smites so heavily. Fools resent reproof; wise men endeavour to profit by it. And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break ray head. Oil breaks no heads, and rebuke does no man any harm; rather, as oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken sweeten and renew the heart. My friend must love me well if he will tell me of my faults: there is an unction about him if he is honest enough to point out my errors. Many a man has had his head broken at the feasts of the wicked, but none at the table of a true hearted reprover. The oil of flattery is not excellent; the oil so lavishly used at the banquet of the reveller is not excellent; head breaking and heart breaking attend the anointings of the riotous; but it is otherwise with the severest censures of the godly: they are not always sweet, but they are always excellent; they may for the moment bruise the heart, but they never break either it or the head. For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities. Gracious men never grow wrathful with candid friends so as to harbour an ill feeling against them; if so, when they saw them in affliction, they would turn round upon them and taunt them with their rebukes. Far from it; these wisely grateful souls are greatly concerned to see their instructors in trouble, and they bring forth their best prayers for their assistance. They do not merely pray for them, but they so closely and heartily sympathize that their prayers are "in their calamities," down in the dungeon with them. So true is Christian brotherhood that we are with our friends in sickness or persecution, suffering their griefs; so that our heart's prayer is in their sorrows. When we can give good men nothing more, let us give them our prayers, and let us do this doubly to those who have given us their rebukes.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me, etc. This verse is so obscure as to be almost unintelligible. According to the English versions, it expresses his willingness to be rebuked by good men for his benefit. But this sense is not only hard to be extracted from the words, but foreign from the context. Of the many contradictory interpretations which have been proposed the most probable is that which makes the sentence mean, that the sufferings endured by the good man, even at the hand of the wicked, are chastisements inflicted by a righteous God in justice and with mercy, and as such may be likened to a festive ointment, which the head of the sufferer should not refuse, as he will still have need of consolation and occasion to invoke God, in the midst of trials and of mischiefs yet to be experienced. --Joseph Addison Alexander.

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me, The word slh is seldom used in Scripture but to signify a severe stroke which shakes the subject smitten, and causeth it to tremble; see Pr 23:35 1 Samuel 14:16 Psalms 74:6 ; and it is used for the stroke of the hammer on the anvil in fashioning of the iron ( Isaiah 41:7 ). Wherefore the word dsx following may be taken adverbially, as a lenitive of that severity which this word imports: "Let him smite me, but" leniter, benigne, misericorditer, "gently, kindly, friendly, mercifully": and so some translations read the words, "Let the righteous smite me friendly, or kindly." --John Owen.

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness, etc. Grace will teach a Christian to take those potions which are wholesome, though they be not toothsome. Faithful reproof is a token of love, and therefore may well be esteemed a kindness. Such wounding of a friend is healing, and so David might well call it an excellent oil. And he did not only say so, which is easy and ordinary, but acted accordingly. He did not as the papists, who highly commend holy water, but turn away their faces when it comes to be sprinkled on them. When he had by sin, and continuance in it, so gangrened his flesh, and corrupted himself, that he was in danger of death, he suffered his sores to be thoroughly searched without regret. Nathan was the chirurgeon whom God employed to search that wound which had divers mouths for festering in his soul; and truly he did not dally with his patient, though he were a prince, but thrust his instrument to the bottom; yet whatever pain it put him to, he took it patiently, and was so far from being angry with the prophet, that he made him one of his privy council. It is a sign of a polluted nature for a man, like a serpent, if he be but touched, to gather poison, and vomit it up at the party. "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee": Proverbs 9:8 . --George Swinnock.

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me, etc. If the righteous smite us by reproofs, it must be taken as a kindness, and as a precious balsam, which doth not break our head, but heal us. Not that we are bound to belie ourselves in compliance with every man's censorious humour that will accuse us; but we must be readier to censure ourselves than others, and readier to confess a fault than to expect a confession from others whom we reprove. Sincerity and serious repentance will be honourable in that person who is most careful to avoid sin, and most ready penitently to confess it when he hath been overcome, and truly thankful to those that call him to repentance; as being more desirous that God and his laws and religion should have the glory of their holiness, than that he himself should have the undue glory of innocency; and escape the deserved shame of his sin.

It is one of the most dangerous diseases of professors, and one of the greatest scandals of this age, that persons taken for eminently religious arc more impatient of plain, though just, reproof than many a drunkard, swearer, or fornicator; and when they have spent hours or days in the seeming earnest confession of their sin, and lament before God and man that they cannot do it with more grief and tears, yet they take it for a heinous injury in another that will say half so much against them, and take him for a malignant enemy of the godly who will call them as they call themselves. --Richard Baxter (1615-1691), in "The Morning Exercises."

Verse 5. Let the righteous smite me. If a righteous or a right wise man smite and reprove, he will do it,

  1. Sine felle, without gall, without bitterness.
  2. Sine publicatione, without publishing, divulging, or telling it to the world.
  3. Sine contumelia, without disgrace -- to reform his friend, not to disgrace him.
  4. Sine adulatione, without flattery.
  5. Nonn sine Deo, not without God. --John Gore, in a Sermon entitled "Unknowne Kindnesse",

Verse 5. The righteous, etc. The minister cannot be always preaching; two or three hours, may be, in a week, he spends among his people in the pulpit, holding the glass of the gospel before their faces; but the lives of professors, these preach all the week long: if they were but holy and exemplary, they would be as a repetition of the preacher's sermon to their families and neighbours among whom they converse, and keep the sound of his doctrine continually ringing in their ears. This would give Christians an amiable advantage in doing good to their carnal neighbours by counsel and reproof, which now is seldom done, and when done it proves to little purpose, because not backed with their own exemplary walking. "It behooves him", saith Tertullian, "that would counsel or reprove another, to guard his speech with the authority of his own conversation, lest, wanting that, what he says puts himself to the blush." We do not love one that hath a stinking breath to come very near us; such, therefore, had need have a sweet scented life.

Reproofs are a good physic, but they have an unpleasant reception; it is hard for men not to throw them back on the face of him that gives them. Now nothing is more powerful to keep a reproof from thus coming back than the holiness of the person that reproves. "Let the righteous smite me", saith David, "it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." See how well it is taken from such a hand, from the authority that holiness carries with it. None but a vile wretch will smite a righteous man with reproach for smiting him with a reproof, if softly laid on, and like oil fermented, and wrought into him, as it should, with compassion and love to his soul! Thus we see how influential the power of holiness would be unto the wicked, neither would it be less upon our brethren and fellow Christians. Holy David professed he would take it as a kindness for the righteous man to smite him; yea, as kindly as if he broke a box of precious oil upon his head, which was amongst the Jews a high expression of love. --William Gurnall.

Verse 5. It shall be a kindness.

  1. It is a kindness reducere errarvin, to bring back the wandering.
  2. Senate cegrotum, to recover the sick.
  3. Suscitare letbargum, to awake, to stir up the lethargic, the sleepy.
  4. Ligure insanum, to bind a madman.
  5. Liberare perditum, to save a lost man, one in imminent danger. --John Gore.

Verse 5. It shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head. Some persons pride themselves on being blunt, or, as they call it, "honest"; but very blunt people do little good to others, and get little love to themselves. The Scriptures recommend gentleness and kindness. Reproof should fall like the dew, and not like the rushing hailstorm. The "oil" insinuates itself; the stone wounds and then rebounds. Christians should take heed of getting fond of the work of "rebuking." Such "spiritual constables" do a great deal of mischief without intending it. They are in a church what a very witty and sarcastic person is in society, or what a tell tale is in a school; and approximate very closely to that class which the apostle terms "busy bodies in other men's matters." Our manner must be tender and winning. The nail of reproof, says an old writer, must be well oiled in kindness before it is driven home. Meddling with the faults of others is like attempting to move a person afflicted with the rheumatic gout: it must be done slowly and tenderly, nor must we be frightened by an out cry or two. The great thing is to show the person that you really love him; and if you manifest this in the sight of God, he will bless your efforts, and give you favour in the sight of an erring brother. --Christian Treasury.

Verse 5. It shall be an excellent oil. Certain oils are said to have a most salutary effect on the head; hence in fevers, or any other complaints which affect the head, the medical men always recommend oil. I have known people who were deranged, cured in a very short time by nothing more than the application of a peculiar kind of oil to the head. There are, however, other kinds which are believed, when thus applied, to produce delirium. Thus the reproofs of the righteous were compared to "excellent oil", which produced a most salutary effect on the head. So common is this practice of anointing the head, that all who can afford it do it every week.

But, strange as it may appear, the crown of their heads is the place selected for chastisement; thus owners of slaves, or husbands, or school masters, beat the heads of the offenders with their knuckles. Should all urchin come late to school, or forget his lesson, the pedagogue says to some of the other boys, "Go beat his head!" "Begone, fellow! or I will beat thy head." Should a man be thus chastised by an inferior, he quotes the old proverb: "If my head is to be beaten, let it be done with the fingers that have rings on"; meaning a man of rank. "Yes, yes; let a holy man smite my head! and what of that? it is an excellent oil." "My master has been beating my head, but it has been good oil for me." -- Joseph Roberts.

Verse 5. Oil, which shall not break my head. When I first took this text in hand, this seemed unto me a very strange and uncouth expression. If the Psalmist had said, It shall be a stone that shall not break my head, etc., we had easily understood him; but to speak of an oil, or a balm, which we know to be so soft, so supple, so lithe and gentle an ointment, that he should speak of breaking his head with oil, it is strange. I confess it troubled me a while, till at length I conceived it might be spoken by contraries; as when a physician gives a patient some pectoral, or cordial, and saith, Take this, it will not hurt you; his meaning is, it will help and do him good. So this oil shall not break my head; that is, it shall heal it, being broken by my own corruption, by Satan's temptations, and by the evil influence of such as flatter me in my sins. --John Gore.

Verse 5. If David could say of his enemy that cursed him, "Let him alone, for God hath bidden him to curse"; much more safely mayest thou say of thy friend that reproves thee, "Let him alone, for God hath bidden him to smite." And as the apostle saith of ministers, that God "doth entreat you by us"; so persuade yourselves that God doth reprove you by them. --John Gore.

Verse 5. It was the saying of a heat hell, though no heathenish saying, "That he who would be good, must either have a faithful friend to instruct him, or a watchful enemy to correct him." Should we murder a physician because he comes to cure us; or like him worse, because he would make us better? The flaming sword of reprehension is but to keep us from the forbidden fruit of transgression. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." Let him smite me as with a hammer, for so the word signifies. A Boanerges is as necessary as a Barnabas. --William Seeker.

Verse 5. Yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities. That is, if ever they who are my reprovers fall into calamity, though they may think they provoked me so by reproving me, that they have lost my love, and have cast themselves out of my prayers, or that I will never speak well of them or for them again; yet I will pray for them with all my heart, as their matter shall require. I will pray for them when they have most need of prayer, even "in their calamities." Some heighten the sense thus, -- The more they sharpen their reproof, the more I think myself bound to pray for them. It shows an excellent spirit, not to be hindered from doing good to others by anything they do or speak against us, nor by their sharpest (though perhaps mistaken) reproofs of us. Thus it was that that good man Job "prayed for his friends", who had spoken much against him, and not only reproved him without cause, but reproached him without charity. --Joseph Caryl.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 5. Rebukes of good men.

  1. Invited.
  2. Appreciated: "it shall be a kindness."
  3. Utilized: "an excellent oil."
  4. Cheerfully endured: "not break my head."
  5. Repaid, by our prayers for them in time of trouble.

Verse 5. (last clause.) "Intercessory Prayer." See" Spurgeon's Sermons", No. 1,049.