Verse 5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? The man of God looks calmly forward to dark times when those evils which have dogged his heels shall gain a temporary advantage over him. Iniquitous men, here called in the abstract iniquity, lie in wait for the righteous, as serpents that aim at the heels of travellers: the iniquity of our heels is that evil which aims to trip us up or impede us. It was an old prophecy that the serpent should wound the heel of the woman's seed, and the enemy of our souls is diligent to fulfil that premonition. In some dreary part of our road it may be that evil will wax stronger and bolder, and gaining upon us will openly assail us; those who followed at our heels like a pack of wolves, may perhaps overtake us, and compass us about. What then? Shall we yield to cowardice? Shall we be a prey to their teeth? God forbid. Nay, we will not even fear, for what are these foes? What indeed, but mortal men who shall perish and pass away? There can be no real ground of alarm to the faithful. Their enemies are too insignificant to be worthy of one thrill of fear. Doth not the Lord say to us, "I, even I, am he that comforteth thee; who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?"
Scholars have given other renderings of this verse, but we prefer to keep to the authorised version when we can, and in this case we find in it precisely the same meaning which those would give to it who translate my heels, by the words "my supplanters."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? Those that are full of years are approaching the nearer to their happiness. They have finished their voyage, and now are in sight of the haven. Nature's provision is spent, her stock is exhausted, and now the good man doth not so much descend as fall into the grave, and from thence he rises to heaven and eternal bliss. And shall he be disturbed at this? shall he be afraid to be made happy? If I mistake not, this is the meaning of the psalmist's words. They are generally interpreted concerning his ways in general, but they seem to me to refer particularly to the calamity which his old age was incident to: for the days of evil are old age, and are so called by the wise man Ecclesiastes 12:1 ; and as the heel is the extreme part of the body, so it is here applied to the last part of man's life, his declining age; and iniquity (as the word is sometimes used among the Hebrews) signifies here penal evil, and denotes the infirmities and decays of the concluding part of a man's life. So that the true meaning of the psalmist's words is this -- I will not now in my last days be dejected with fear and trouble of mind, for I am coming towards my happiness, my declining years shall deliver me up to death, and that shall consign me to everlasting life. This certainly is matter of joy rather than of fear. For this reason I account my last days to be the most eligible part of my whole life. John Edwards, D.D. (1637-1716), in "The Theologia Reformata."
Verse 5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? That is, when my sins or failings in what I have done, come to my remembrance, or are chastened upon me. Every man's heels hath some iniquity: as we shall have some dirt cleaving to our heels while we walk in a dirty world, so there is some dirt, some defilement, upon all our actions, which we may call, the iniquity of our heel. Joseph Caryl.
Verse 5. When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? With Bishop Lowth, the celebrated Michaelis, Bishop Hare, and a host of other critics, I decidedly incline to the idea, that (ybq[), rendered "my heels" is to be regarded as the present participle of the verb (bq[), to supplant, to act deceitfully, to deceive, to hold one by the heel, etc., etc. If this be correct, then the proper translation will be: --
Wherefore should I fear in the days of adversity,
The iniquity of my supplanters who surround me?
The Syriac and Arabic read, as does also Dr. Kennicott: --
Why should I fear in the evil day,
When the iniquity of my enemies compasses me about? John Morison.
Why should I fear the evil hour,
When ruthless foes in ambush lie,
Who revel in their pride of power,
And on their hoarded wealth rely?
A brother's ransom who can pay,
Or alter God's eternal doom?
What hand can wrest from death his prey,
Its banquet from the rotten tomb?
From "The Psalter, or Psalms of David, in English verse. By a member of the University of Cambridge." (Benjamin Hall Kennedy, D.D.) 1860.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The effects of our sin remain.
- In ourselves.
- In others.
- In a time of conviction they compass us about: better to do so in this life, than to haunt us as ghosts for ever.
- When they are pardoned we have nothing to fear. G.R.