PSALM 144 OVERVIEW.
Albeit that this Psalm is in some measure very similar to Psalms 18:1-50 , yet it is a new song, and in its latter portion it is strikingly so. Let the reader accept it as a new psalm, and not as a mere variation of an old one, or as two compositions roughly joined together. It is true that it would be a complete composition if the passage from Psalms 144:12-15 were dropped; but there are other parts, of David's poems which might be equally self contained if certain verses were omitted; and the same might be said of many uninspired sonnets. It does not, therefore, follow that the latter part was added by another hand, nor even that the latter part was a fragment by the same author, appended to the first song merely with the view of preserving it. It seems to us to be highly probable that the Psalmist, remembering that he had trodden some of the same ground before, felt his mind moved to fresh thought, and that the Holy Spirit used this mood for his own high purposes. Assuredly the addendum is worthy of the greatest Hebrew poet, and it is so admirable in language, and so full of beautiful imagery, that persons of taste who were by no means overloaded with reverence have quoted it times without number, thus confessing its singular poetical excellence. To us the whole psalm appears to be perfect as it stands, and to exhibit such unity throughout that it would be a literary Vandalism, as well as a spiritual crime, to rend away one part from the other.
Title. Its title is "Of David", and its language is of David, if ever language can belong to any man. As surely as we could say of any poem, this is of Tennyson, or of Longfellow, we may say, This is of David. Nothing but the disease which closes the eye to manifest fact and opens it to fancy, could have led learned critics to ascribe this song to anybody but David. Alexander well says, "The Davidic origin of this psalm is as marked as that of any in the Psalter."
It is to God the devout warrior sings when he extols him as his strength and stay (Ps 144:1-2). Man he holds in small account, and wonders at the Lord's regard for him (Ps 144:3-4); but he turns in his hour of conflict to the Lord, who is declared to be "a man of war", whose triumphant interposition he implores ( Psalms 144:5-8 ). He again extols and entreats in Psalms 144:9-11 and then closes with a delightful picture of the Lord's work for his chosen people, who are congratulated upon having such a God to be their God.
Verse 1. Blessed be the LORD my strength. He cannot delay the utterance of his gratitude, he bursts at once into a loud note of praise. His best word is given to his best friend -- "Blessed be Jehovah." When the heart is in a right state it must praise God, it cannot be restrained; its utterances leap forth as waters forcing their way from a living spring. With all his strength David blesses the God of his strength. We ought not to receive so great a boon as strength to resist evil, to defend truth, and to conquer error, without knowing who gave it to us, and rendering to him the glory of it. Not only does Jehovah give strength to his saints, but he is their strength. The strength is made theirs because God is theirs. God is full of power, and he becomes the power of those who trust him. In him our great strength lieth, and to him be blessings more than we are able to utter. It may be read, "My Rock"; but this hardly so well consorts with the following words:
Which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. The word rock is the Hebrew way of expressing strength: the grand old language is full of such suggestive symbols. The Psalmist in the second part of the verse sets forth the Lord as teacher in the arts of war. If we have strength we are not much the better unless we have skill also. Untrained force is often an injury to the man who possesses it, and it even becomes a danger to those who are round about him; and therefore the Psalmist blesses the Lord as much for teaching as for strength. Let us also bless Jehovah if he has in anything made us efficient. The tuition mentioned was very practical, it was not so much of the brain as of the hands and fingers; for these were the members most needful for conflict. Men with little scholastic education should be grateful for deftness and skill in their handicrafts. To a fighting man the education of the hands is of far more value than mere book learning could ever be; he who has to use a sling or a bow needs suitable training, quite as much as a scientific man or a classical professor. Men are too apt to fancy that an artisan's efficiency is to be ascribed to himself; but this is a popular fallacy. A clergyman may be supposed to be taught of God, but people do not allow this to be true of weavers or workers in brass; yet these callings are specially mentioned in the Bible as having been taught to holy women and earnest men when the tabernacle was set up at the first. All wisdom and skill are from the Lord, and for them he deserves to be gratefully extolled. This teaching extends to the smallest members of our frame; the Lord teaches fingers as well as hands; indeed, it sometimes happens that if the finger is not well trained the whole hand is incapable.
David was called to be a man of war, and he was eminently successful in his battles; he does not trace this to his good generalship or valour, but to his being taught and strengthened for the war and the fight. If the Lord deigns to have a hand in such unspiritual work as fighting, surely he will help us to proclaim the gospel and win souls; and then we will bless his name with even greater intensity of heart. We will be pupils, and he shall be our Master, and if we ever accomplish anything we will give our Instructor hearty blessing.
This verse is full of personality; it is mercy shown to David himself which is the subject of grateful song. It has also a presence about it; for Jehovah is now his strength, and is still teaching him; we ought to make a point of presenting praise while yet the blessing is on the wing. The verse is also preeminently practical, and full of the actual life of every day; for David's days were spent in camps and conflicts. Some of us who are grievously tormented with rheumatism might cry, "Blessed be the Lord, my Comforter, who teacheth my knees to bear in patience, and my feet to endure in resignation"; others who are on the look out to help young converts might say, "Blessed be God who teaches my eyes to see wounded souls, and my lips to cheer them"; but David has his own peculiar help from God, and praises him accordingly. This tends to make the harmony of heaven perfect when all the singers take their parts; if, we all followed the same score, the music would not be so full and rich.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The psalm, in its mingled tones of prayer and praise, is a fit connecting link between the supplicatory psalms which go before, and the strains of thanksgiving which follow it. --Speaker's Commentary.
Whole Psalm. After six psalms of sorrowful prayer in distress, we have now a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God's gracious answer to supplications; and also a psalm of intercession. The present psalm bears a strong resemblance to David's last song in 2Sa 22:51 and to Psalms 18:1-50 . Here we have a vision of Christ rejoicing; -- after his passion -- risen in glory, and having ascended in triumph, and pleading for us at the right hand of God. --Christopher Wordsworth.
Whole Psalm. This psalm is ruled by the numbers ten and seven. Ten verses complete the first part of the psalm, which falls into two divisions. The first portion contains, in Ps 144:1-2, ten attributes of God, -- three and seven, the seven divided into four and three. In like manner it contains ten requests to God in Psalms 144:5-7 , divided precisely as the attributes. To this significance of the number ten for the first part, allusion is pointedly made in Psalms 144:9 . Seven blessings are prayed for in the second part, four in Psalms 144:12-13 , (valiant sons, beautiful daughters, full storehouses, numerous flocks), and three in Ps 144:14 (labouring oxen, no breach and diminution, no cry). The whole contains, apart from the closing epiphonem, which, as usual, stands outside the formal arrangement, seven strophes, each of two verses.
An objection has been brought against the Davidic authorship from the "traces of reading" it contains. But one would require to consider more exactly, what sort of reading is here to be thought of. It is only the psalms of David which form the ground work of this new psalm. But that it is one of David's peculiarities to derive from his earlier productions a foundation for new ones, is evident from a variety of facts, which, if any doubt must still be entertained on the subject, would obtain a firm ground to stand upon in this psalm, which can only have been composed by David. The way and manner of the use made of such materials is to be kept in view. This is always of a spirited and feeling nature, and no trace anywhere exists of a dead borrowing. That we cannot think here of such a borrowing; that the appropriation of the earlier language did not proceed from spiritual impotence, but rested upon deeper grounds, is manifest from the consideration of the second part, where the dependence entirely ceases, and where even the opponents of the Davidic authorship have not been able to overlook the strong poetical spirit of the time of David. They betake themselves to the miserable shift of affirming, that the Psalmist borrowed this part of the psalm from a much older poem now lost. --E.W. Hengstenberg.
Verse 1. Blessed be the LORD. A prayer for further mercy is fitly begun with a thanksgiving for former mercy; and when we are waiting upon God to bless us, we should stir up ourselves to bless him. --Matthew Henry.
Verse 1. The LORD my strength, etc. Agamemnon says to Achilles --
If thou hast strength, 'twas heaven that strength bestowed;
For know, vain man! thy valour is from God. --Homer.
Verse 1. My strength (Heb. "my rock"). The climax should be noted; the rock, or cliff, comes first as the place of refuge, then the fortress or fastness, as a place carefully fortified, then the personal deliverer, without whose intervention escape would have been impossible. --Speaker's Commentary.
Verse 1. The LORD ... teacheth: and not as man teacheth. Thus he taught Gideon to fight with the innumerable host of Midian by sending to their homes twenty-two thousand, and retaining but ten thousand of his soldiers: and then again by reducing that remnant to the little band of three hundred who lapped when brought down to the water. Thus he taught Samson by abstaining from strong drink, and by suffering no razor to pass over his head. Thus he taught the three kings in the wilderness to war against their enemies, not by any strength of their armies, but by making ditches in the desert. Thus he taught David himself by waiting for the sound of the going in the tops of the mulberry trees. And so he taught the arms of the True David to fight when stretched on the cross: nailed, to human sight, to the tree of suffering, but, in reality, winning for themselves the crown of glory: helpless in the eyes of scribes and Pharisees; in those of archangels, laying hold of the two pillars, sin and death, whereon the house of Satan rested, and heaving them up from, their foundation. --Ayguan, in Neale and Littledale.
Verse 1. The LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war. There were three qualities of a valiant soldier found in Christ, the Captain of our salvation, in his war against Satan, which his followers are bound to emulate: boldness in attack, skill in defence, steadiness in conflict, all which he teaches by his example ( Matthew 4:1 Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:7 Matthew 4:10-11 ). He was bold in attack, for he began the combat by going up into the wilderness to defy the enemy. So we, too, should be always beforehand with Satan, ought to fast, even if not tempted to gluttony, and be humble, though not assailed by pride, and so forth. He was skilful in defence, parrying every attack with Holy Writ; where we, too, in the examples of the saints, may find lessons for the combat. He was steadfast in conflict, for he persevered to the end, till the devil left him, and angels came and ministered unto him; and we, too, should not be content with repelling the first attack, but persevere in our resistance until evil thoughts are put to flight, and heavenly resolutions take their place. --Neale and Littledale.
Verse 1. Teacheth my hands. Used to the hook and harp, and not to the sword and spear; but God hath apted and abled them to feats of arms and warlike exploits. It is God that giveth skill and success, saith Solomon ( Proverbs 8:1-36 ); wisdom and ability, saith Daniel (Da 2:1-49). And as in the spiritual warfare, so here; our weapons are "mighty through God" ( 2 Corinthians 10:4 ), who promises that no weapon formed against his people shall prosper (Isa 54:17). --John Trapp.
Verse 1. To war, ... to fight. I want to speak of a great defect among us, which often prevents the realization of going "from strength to strength"; viz., the not using, not trading with, the strength given. We should not think of going to God for money only to keep it in the bank. But are we not doing this with regard to strength? We are constantly asking for strength for service; but if we are not putting this out in hearty effort, it is of no use to us. Nothing comes of hoarded strength.
"Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my finger to fight." David, you see, was looking for strength for a purpose. Some people seem to expect strength, but never attempt to put forth their hands to war, and their fingers to fight -- there is so little venturing upon God, so little use of grace given, partly from fear of man, partly from indolence and worldly mindedness. It is not for us to be merely luxuriating in the power which God supplies. Action strengthens, and before we have a right to ask for an increase, we must use that already given. --Catherine Pennefather, in "Service", 1881.
Verse 1. Is not the spiritual victory of every believer achieved by God? Truly it is he who teaches his hands to war and his fingers to fight; and when the final triumph shall be sung in heaven, the victor's song will be, "Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake." --John Morison.
Verse 1. My hands for fight, my fingers for war. Fight and war are both verbs and nouns in English, but the Hebrew words are nouns with the article prefixed. -- Joseph Addison Alexander.
Verse 1. My fingers to fight. Probably the immediate reference here is to the use of the bow, -- placing the arrow, and drawing the string. --Albert Barnes.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- Two things needful in our holy war -- strength and skill; for the hands and the fingers, for the difficult and the delicate.
- In what way God supplies us with both. He is the one, and teaches the other. Impartation and Instruction. The teaching comes by illumination, experience, distinct guidance.
Verse 1. Things not to be forgotten by the Christian Soldier.
- The true source of his strength: "The Lord my strength." If remembered,
- He will not be found trusting in self.
- He will never be wanting in courage.
- He will always anticipate victory.
- He will never be worsted in the conflict.
- His constant need of instruction, and the Teacher who never forgets him: "Which teacheth my hands", etc. If remembered,
- He will gird on the armour provided and commended by God.
- He will select for his weapon the sword of the Spirit.
- He will study the divinely given text book of military tactics and discipline, that he may learn
- the devices of the enemy;
- methods of attack and defence;
- how to bear himself in the thick of the fight.
- He will wait upon God for understanding.
- The praise due to God, both for victories won and skill displayed: "Blessed be", etc. If remembered,
- He will wear his honours humbly.
- Glorify the honour of his King.
- Twice taste the sweets of victory in the happiness of gratitude. --J.F.