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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 58
 
 
 
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PSALM 57

PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD

THE SUPERSCRIPTION: FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN; SET TO ALTASHETH.

A PSALM OF DAVID. MICHTAM; WHEN HE FLED FROM SAUL IN THE CAVE.

Set to Altasheth. This, or course, was the tune to which the psalm was to be sung; but no one has the slightest idea what that tune was. Delitzsch tells us that "There were three of the Davidic psalms set to this tune, namely, Ps. 57; Ps. 58; and Ps. 59, and also one of the Psalms accredited to Asaph, Ps. 75."F1 Following the Douay Version of the Old Testament, Spurgeon, translated the name of this tune, as "Destroy Not."

He commented that, "David had said, `Destroy Not,' in reference to Saul, when he had him in his power; and now he takes pleasure in the employment of the same words in his supplications to God. We may thus infer from the spirit of the Lord's Prayer, that God will spare us if we spare our foes."F2

When he fled from Saul in the cave. "This occasion was either David's stay in the cave of Adullum (1 Samuel 22:1), or the incident in the cave of Engedi (1 Samuel 24:3); but there is no direct reference in the psalm to either."F3

A Psalm of David. It is customary for liberal commentators to reject these superscriptions; but they are all we have as identification of authors and of the occasions when certain psalms were written. Their comments that, "we don't know" casts no reflection whatever upon these ancient words in the superscriptions. Until valid objections and intelligent reasons are brought forth in refutation of what is written in them, we shall continue to respect them; although, of course, no one claims to be able "to prove" their reliability. "No valid reasons can be urged against these statements (in the superscription)."F4 "Many interpreters recognize that in this instance, the heading (in the superscription) may be regarded as historically valid."F5

In the previous Ps. 56, we mentioned the fact of that psalm and this being called, `twins.' There are indeed some remarkable similarities.

(1) Both psalms begin with exactly the same words. (2) In both, a refrain divides the psalm into two paragraphs. (3) The distressing situation is the same in both (Ps. 56:1 and Ps. 57:3). (4) The ends of the earth ("nations," "Gentiles," or "peoples") in both are envisioned as ultimately concerned with David's deliverance (Ps. 56:7, and Ps. 57:9). It is also of interest that verses 7-11 are repeated (with slight variations) in Ps. 108:7-11. That fact, of course, has led to screams of "disunity" by some; but as Leupold noted, "We lack evidence for such claims."F6

No one can be unaware of the constant repetition throughout the Book of Psalms, repetition of themes, laments, imprecations, praises, etc., and the constant recurrence of stereotyped phrases, sentences and conceptions. "In this psalm, we have the familiar truths that God hears prayers, punishes the wicked and justifies the righteous. Faith in God does not keep us from trials but enables us to triumph over them."F7

The title we have placed at the head of this chapter is taken from Kyle Yates.F8 The paragraphing is suggested by the placement of the refrains in Ps. 57:5 and Ps. 57:11.

Ps. 57:1-5

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me;

For my soul taketh refuge in thee:

Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I take refuge,

Until these calamities be overpast.

I will cry unto God Most High,

Unto God that performeth all things for me.

He will send from heaven, and save me,

When he that would swallow me up reproacheth; (Selah)

God will send forth his lovingkindness and his truth.

My soul is among lions;

I lie among them that are set on fire,

Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows,

And their tongue a sharp sword."


 
Verses 1-4
Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me; For my soul taketh refuge in thee: Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I take refuge, Until [these] calamities be overpast. I will cry unto God Most High, Unto God that performeth [all things] for me. He will send from heaven, and save me, [When] he that would swallow me up reproacheth; [Selah God will send forth his lovingkindness and his truth. My soul is among lions; I lie among them that are set on fire, Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.
(Psalms 57:1). This metaphor reminds us of the words of Jesus, How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Matthew 23:37).

Until these calamities be overpast
(Psalms 57:1). The word here rendered `calamities' may also be translated as `wickednesses,' or `malignities.' That they would indeed pass the psalmist was certain; but what he needed was support while they endured.F9

Unto God who performeth all things for me
(Psalms 57:2). This indicates that already the psalmist's confidence in God's deliverance begins to be felt.F10 Perhaps this confidence may spring in part from the titles of God here, which are [~'Elohiym], [~'Elyon], i.e., Almighty God, Most High.F11

When he that would swallow me up reproacheth
(Psalms 57:3). These were nothing other than people eaters who were attacking David. The use of mixed figures of speech in Ps. 57:4, which speaks of both wild beasts (`lions'), and spears and arrows, Along with the traditional phrases and stereotyped images make it difficult to reconstruct the personal circumstances of the psalmist. Was he being physically attacked, or falsely accused?F12

Spurgeon took the view that it was the vicious tongues of these "people eaters" which constituted the principal trouble. He spoke to the gossips of his church as follows:

"You eat men up; you eat their souls, the finest part of men. You are more than glad if you can whisper a word that is derogatory to a neighbor, or his wife, or his daughter. The morsel is too exquisite to be lost. Here is the soul of a person, his hope in this life and his hope of heaven; and you have it on your fork, and you can't refrain from eating it and asking others to taste it.F13 (Spurgeon then quoted Henry Ward Beecher).

"You are cannibals, eating men's honor and rejoicing in it; and that too when ninety-nine times out of a hundred the probabilities are there's not a word of truth in it. -- Beecher."

Among lions. and the sons of men whose teeth are like spears and arrows
(Psalms 57:4). The NIV has tongue instead of teeth here. Ash stated that, The mixed metaphor of the `lions' and the `military' show how precarious the situation was. Deliverance would have been hopeless without God.F14

Them that are set on fire
(Psalms 57:4). These were they whose hearts were on fire with enmity and hatred and who spoke words which were as sharp as military weapons.F15

THE REFRAIN

Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens;

Let thy glory be above all the earth."

This refrain is the equivalent of the New Testament expression, "Hallowed be thy Name." "As used here it is both a weapon against the enemy and a victory within itself."F16 "The thought here is not that God might do something whereby he would become exalted, but that God already deserves to be exalted for what he has already done."F17

They have prepared a net for my steps;

My soul is bowed down:

They have digged a pit before me;

They are fallen into the midst thereof themselves. (Selah)

My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.

I will sing, yea, I will sing praises.

Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp:

I myself will awake quite early.

I will give thanks unto the Lord, among the peoples:

I will sing praises unto thee among the nations.

For thy lovingkindness is great unto the heavens,

And thy truth unto the skies."


 
Verses 6-10
They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down: They have digged a pit before me; They are fallen into the midst thereof themselves. [Selah My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing, yea, I will sing praises. Awake up, my glory; Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the peoples: I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great unto the heavens, And thy truth unto the skies.
(Psalms 57:6). The sight so commonly witnessed in history was granted to the psalmist. The wickedness of the enemies fell back upon themselves; they fell into the pit of their own making, a common Biblical thought.F18

It may be remembered that Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had constructed for the purpose of hanging Mordecai (Esther 7:9).

Awake. awake ... I will awake right early…
(Psalms 57:8). The meaning here is that, I will awaken the Dawn (personified) instead of letting the Dawn wake me.F19

Among the peoples. among the nations
(Psalms 57:9). What a wonderful vision was that of David! Here he was hiding from enemies in a cave; but his mind encompasses the entire world; and he promises to sing the praises of God among the `nations,' that is, `the Gentiles,' or `the peoples' of the whole world. And indeed, is it not true? Has it not come to pass? These Psalms of David are surely sung all over the inhabited earth; and this has been true for centuries and millenniums of time! (See our comment on Ps. 56:7).

Great unto the heavens. unto the skies
(Psalms 57:10). That the lovingkindness and truth of God should extend to the heavens, or the skies, Is only an earthly conception of their infinity.F20

THE REFRAIN

Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens;

Let thy glory be above all the earth."

We commented on this in Ps. 57:5, above.


Footnotes for Psalms 57
1: F. Delitzsch, Vol. V-B, p. 173.
2: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 256.
3: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 351.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 6.
5: H. C. Leupold, p. 431.
6: Ibid., p. 433.
7: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 153.
8: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Old Testament, p. 516.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 6.
10: H. C. Leupold, p. 432.
11: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 6.
12: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 638.
13: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 257.
14: Anthony L. Ash, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 195.
15: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 486.
16: Derek Kidner, Vol. 1. p. 206.
17: H. C. Leupold, p. 432.
18: H. C. Leupold, p. 433.
19: The Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 639.
20: F. Delitzsch, Vol. V-B, p. 178.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 57". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=057>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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