PSALM 141 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Psalm, Of David. Yes, David under suspicion, half afraid to speak lest he should speak unadvisedly while trying to clear himself; David slandered and beset by enemies; David censured even by saints, and taking it kindly; David deploring the condition of the godly party of whom he was the acknowledged heard: David waiting upon God with confident expectation. The Psalm is one of a group of four, and it bears a striking likeness to the other three. Its meaning lies so deep as to be in places exceedingly obscure, yet even upon its surface it has dust of gold. In its commencement the psalm is lighted up with the evening glow as the incense rises to heaven; then comes a night of language whose meaning we cannot see; and this gives place to morning light in which our eyes are unto the Lord.
Division. The Psalmist cries for acceptance in prayer ( Psalms 141:1-2 ); Then he begs to be kept as to his speech, preserved in heart and deed, and delivered from every sort of fellowship with the ungodly. He prefers to be rebuked by the gracious rather than to be flattered by the wicked, and consoles himself with the confident assurance that be will one day be understood by the godly party, and made to be a comfort to them ( Psalms 141:3-6 ). In the last verses the slandered saint represents the condition of the persecuted church, looks away to God and pleads for rescue from his cruel enemies, and for the punishment of his oppressors.
Verse 1. Lord, I cry unto thee. This is my last resort: prayer never fails me. My prayer is painful and feeble, and worthy only to be called a cry; but it is a cry unto Jehovah, and this ennobles it. I have cried unto thee, I still cry to thee, and I always mean to cry to thee. To whom else could I go? What else can I do? Others trust to themselves, but I cry unto thee. The weapon of all prayer is one which the believer may always carry with him, and use in every time of need. Make haste unto me. His case was urgent, and he pleaded that urgency. God's time is the best time, but when we are sorely pressed we may with holy importunity quicken the movements of mercy. In many cases, if help should come late, it would come too late; and we are permitted to pray against such a calamity. Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. See how a second time he talks of crying: prayer had become his frequent, yea, his constant exercise: twice in a few words he says, "I cry; I cry." How he longs to be heard, and to be heard at once! There is a voice to the great Father in every cry, and groan, and tear of his children: he can understand what they mean when they are quite unable to express it. It troubles the spirit of the saints when they fear that no favourable car is turned to their doleful cries: they cannot rest unless their "unto thee" is answered by an "unto me." When prayer is a man's only refuge, he is deeply distressed at the bare idea of his failing therein.
"That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a prayer hearing, answering God
Supports me under every load."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This psalm, like the one before it, is distinguished by a pregnant brevity and the use of rare expressions, while at the same time it is full of verbal and real coincidences with the other psalms of David. These indications are so clear and undeniable, that a sceptical critic of great eminence (De Wette) pronounces it one of the oldest psalms in the collection. --Joseph Addison Alexander.
Whole Psalm. Few psalms in so small a compass crowd together so many gems of precious and holy truth. --Barton Bouchier.
Whole Psalm. Many commentators are strongly of opinion that this psalm was written as a memorial of that very interesting scene in the life of David recorded in 1 Samuel 24:1-22 , relating to his generous treatment of Saul. Though he had an opportunity of putting his cruel persecutor to death in the cave of Engedi, yet he spared his life, only cutting off his skirt, and not suffering his followers to touch him; and when Saul had gone out of the cave, David, going out after him, remonstrated with him from some distance in the gentlest and most respectful language in regard to the injustice of his conduct towards him. It is thought that the sixth verse contains so express a reference to this very remarkable occurrence in David's history, as to leave little doubt that it was the occasion on which the psalm was composed. --James Anderson's Note to Calvin, in loc.
Whole Psalm. The imagery and allusions of the psalm are in keeping; viz., the oil which had lately anointed him; and the watch before his mouth, etc., suggested by the watching at the mouth of the cave, though ultimately referring to the tabernacle service. -- John Jebb.
Verse 1. LORD, I cry unto thee. Misbelief doth seek many ways for delivery from trouble; but faith hath but one way, -- to go to God, to wit, by prayer, for whatsoever is needful. -- David Dickson.
Verse 1. LORD, I cry unto thee. No distress or danger, how great soever, shall stifle my faith or stop my mouth, but it shall make me more earnest, and my prayers, like strong streams in narrow straits, shall bear down all before them. --John Trapp.
Verse 1. Unto thee ... unto me. Our prayer and God's mercy are like two buckets in a well; while the one ascends, the other descends. --Ezekiel Hopkins.
Verse 1. Note that the difference of tense, "I have cried" (Heb., 70., and Vulgate) followed by "when I cry", signifies the earnest perseverance of the saint in prayer, never ceasing, so long as trouble lasts. And trouble does last so long as we are in the world; wherefore the apostle teaches us to "Pray without ceasing." --Augustine and Bruno, in Neale and Littledale.
Verse 1-5. That the Psalmist was now in some distress, whereof he was deeply sensible, is evident from the vehemency of his spirit, which he expresses in the reiteration of his request or supplication ( Psalms 141:1 ); and by his desire that his "prayer might come before the Lord like incense, and the lifting up of his hands as the evening sacrifice" ( Psalms 141:2 ). The Jewish expositors guess, not improbably, that in that allusion he had regard unto his present exclusion from the holy services of the tabernacle, which in other places he deeply complains of.
For the matter of his prayer in the beginning of the psalm, it respecteth himself, and his deportment under his present condition, which he desireth may be harmless and holy, becoming himself, and useful to others. And whereas he was two ways liable to miscarry; first, by too high an exasperation of spirit against his oppressors and persecutors; and, secondly, by a fraudulent and pusillanimous compliance with them in their wicked courses; -- which are the two extremes which men are apt sinfully to run into in such conditions: he prays earnestly to be delivered from them both. The first he hath respect unto in Psalms 141:3 , "Set a watch, O, LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips": namely, that he might not, under those great provocations which were given him, break forth into an unseemly intemperance of speech against his unjust oppressors, which sometimes fierce and unreasonable cruelties will wrest from the most sedate and moderate spirits. But it was the desire of this holy Psalmist, as in like cases it should be ours, that his heart might be always preserved in such a frame, under the conduct of the Spirit of God, as not to be surprised into an expression of distempered passion in any of his words or sayings. The other he regards in his earnest supplication to be delivered from it, Psalms 141:4 : "Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties." There are two parts of his request unto the purpose intended.
- That by the power of God's grace influencing his mind and soul, his heart might not be inclined unto any communion or society with his wicked adversaries in their wickedness.
- That he might be preserved from a liking of, or a longing after those things, which are the baits and allurements whereby men are apt to be drawn into societies and conspiracies with the workers of iniquity; "And let me not eat of their dainties." See Proverbs 1:10-14 . For he here describeth the condition of men prospering for a season in a course of wickedness; they first jointly give up themselves unto the practice of iniquity, and then together solace themselves in those satisfactions of their lusts, with which their power and interest in the world do furnish them.
These are the "dainties", for which an impotent longing and desire do betray the minds of unstable persons unto a compliance with ways of sin and folly: for I look on these "dainties" as comprising whatever the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life can afford. All these David prays to be delivered from any inclination unto; especially when they are made the allurements of a course of sin. In the enjoyment of these "dainties", it is the common practice of wicked men to soothe up, and mutually encourage one another in the way and course wherein they are engaged. And this completes that poor felicity which in this world so many aspire unto, and whereof alone they are capable. The whole of it is but a society in perishing sensual enjoyments, without control, and with mutual applause from one another. This the Psalmist had a special regard unto when casting his eye towards another communion and society which he longed after ( Psalms 141:5 ). He saw there not dainties but rebukes: he discerned that which is most opposite unto those mutual applause and rejoicing in one another, which is the salt and cement of all evil societies, for he noticed rebukes and reproofs for the least miscarriages that shall be observed. Now whereas the dainties which some enjoy in a course of prosperous wickedness, are that alone which seems to have anything in it amongst them that is desirable, and on the other side rebukes and reproofs are those alone which seem to have any sharpness, or matter of uneasiness and dislike in the society of the godly, David balances that which seemeth to be sharpest in the one society, against that which seems to be sweetest in the other, and, without respect unto other advantages, prefers the one above the other. Hence, some read the beginning of the words, "Let the righteous rather smite me", meaning, "rather than that I should eat of the dainties of the ungodly." --John Owen.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The Perpetuity of Prayer: "I cry. I cry."
- The Personality: "unto thee", "unto me."
- The Practicalness: "Make haste; give ear."
Verse 1. Holy haste.
- The saint hasting to God.
- The saint hastening God.
- God's sure hastening to his help. --W. B. H.
- Prayer put forth:
- With urgency: "Make haste unto me."
- With fervency: "Give ear", etc.
- Prayer set forth: "Let my prayer be set forth", etc. When hearing is obtained there is composure and order in prayer. When the fire is kindled the incense rises.
- Prayer held forth: "The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice", as constant and accepted. --G. R.