Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 57
on the Whole Bible
This psalm is very much like that which goes next before it; it was
penned upon a like occasion, when David was both in danger of trouble
and in temptation to sin; it begins as that did, "Be merciful to me;"
the method also is the same.
I. He begins with prayer and complaint, yet not without some assurance
of speeding in his request,
II. He concludes with joy and praise,
So that hence we may take direction and encouragement, both in our
supplications and in our thanksgivings, and may offer both to God, in
singing this psalm.
To the chief musician, Al-taschith, Michtam
when he fled from Saul in the cave.
1 Be merciful unto me, O God, be
merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the
shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these
calamities be overpast.
2 I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all
things for me.
3 He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of
him that would swallow me up. Selah. God shall send forth his
mercy and his truth.
4 My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that
are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears
and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory
be above all the earth.
6 They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down:
they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are
fallen themselves. Selah.
The title of this psalm has one word new in it, Al-taschith--Destroy
not. Some make it to be only some known tune to which this psalm
was set; others apply it to the occasion and matter of the psalm.
Destroy not; that is, David would not let Saul be destroyed,
when now in the cave there was a fair opportunity of killing him, and
his servants would fain have done so. No, says David, destroy him
1 Samuel 24:4,6.
Or, rather, God would not let David be destroyed by Saul; he suffered
him to persecute David, but still under this limitation, Destroy him
hot; as he permitted Satan to afflict Job, Only save his
life. David must not be destroyed, for a blessing is in him
even Christ, the best of blessings. When David was in the cave, in
imminent peril, he here tells us what were the workings of his heart
towards God; and happy are those that have such good thoughts as these
in their minds when they are in danger!
I. He supports himself with faith and hope in God, and prayer to him,
Seeing himself surrounded with enemies, he looks up to God with that
suitable prayer: Be merciful to me, O Lord! which he again
repeats, and it is no vain repetition: Be merciful unto me. It
was the publican's prayer,
It is a pity that any should use it slightly and profanely, should cry,
God be merciful to us, or, Lord, have mercy upon us, when
they mean only to express their wonder, or surprise, or vexation, but
God and his mercy are not in all their thoughts. It is with much devout
affection that David here prays, "Be merciful unto me, O Lord!
look with compassion upon me, and in thy love and pity redeem me." To
recommend himself to God's mercy, he here professes,
1. That all his dependence is upon God: My soul trusteth in
He did not only profess to trust in God, but his soul did indeed rely
on God only, with a sincere devotion and self-dedication, and an entire
complacency and satisfaction. He goes to God, and, at the footstool of
the throne of his grace, humbly professes his confidence in him: In
the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, as the chickens take
shelter under the wings of the hen when the birds of prey are ready to
strike at them, until these calamities be over-past.
(1.) He was confident his troubles would end well, in due time;
these calamities will be over-past; the storm will blow over.
Non si male nunc et olim sic erit--Though now distressed, I shall
not always be so. Our Lord Jesus comforted himself with this in his
The things concerning me have an end.
(2.) He was very easy under the divine protection in the mean time.
[1.] He comforted himself in the goodness of God's nature, by which he
is inclined to succour and protect his people, as the hen is by
instinct to shelter her young ones. God comes upon the wing to the help
of his people, which denotes a speedy deliverance
and he takes them under his wing, which denotes warmth and refreshment,
even when the calamities are upon them; see
[2.] In the promise of his word and the covenant of his grace; for it
may refer to the out-stretched wings of the cherubim, between
which God is said to dwell
and whence he gave his oracles. "To God, as the God of grace, will I
fly, and his promise shall be my refuge, and a sure passport it will be
through all these danger." God, by his promise, offers himself to us,
to be trusted; we by our faith must accept of him, and put our trust in
2. That all his desire is towards God
"I will cry unto God most high, for succour and relief; to him
that is most high will I lift up my soul, and pray earnestly, even
unto God that performs all things for me." Note,
(1.) In every thing that befalls us we ought to see and own the hand of
God; whatever is done is of his performing; in it his counsel is
accomplished and the scripture is fulfilled.
(2.) Whatever God performs concerning his people, it will appear, in
the issue, to have been performed for them and for their benefit.
Though God be high, most high, yet he condescends so low as to
take care that all things be made to work for good to them.
(3.) This is a good reason why we should, in all our straits and
difficulties, cry unto him, not only pray, but pray earnestly.
3. That all his expectation is from God
He shall send from heaven, and save me. Those that make God
their only refuge, and fly to him by faith and prayer, may be sure of
salvation, in his way and time. Observe here,
(1.) Whence he expects the salvation--from heaven. Look which way he
will, in this earth, refuge fails, no help appears; but he looks for it
from heaven. Those that lift up their hearts to things above may thence
expect all good.
(2.) What the salvation is that he expects. He trusts that God will
save him from the reproach of those that would swallow him up,
that aimed to ruin him, and, in the mean time, did all they could to
vex him. Some read it, He shall send from heaven and save me, for he
has put to shame him that would swallow me up; he has disappointed
their designs against me hitherto, and therefore he will perfect my
(3.) What he will ascribe his salvation to: God shall send forth his
mercy and truth. God is good in himself and faithful to every word
that he has spoken, and so he makes it appear when he works deliverance
for his people. We need no more to make us happy than to have the
benefit of the mercy and truth of God,
II. He represents the power and malice of his enemies
My soul is among lions. So fierce and furious was Saul, and
those about him, against David, that he might have been as safe in a
den of lions as among such men, who were continually roaring against
him and ready to make a prey of him. They are set on fire, and breathe
nothing but flame; they set on fire the course of nature, inflaming one
another against David, and they were themselves set on fire of
They were sons of men, from whom one might have expected something of
the reason and compassion of a man; but they were beasts of prey in the
shape of men; their teeth, which they gnashed upon him, and with
which they hoped to tear him to pieces and to eat him up, were
spears and arrows fitted for mischiefs and murders; and their
tongue, with which they cursed him and wounded his reputation,
was as a sharp sword to cut and kill; see
A spiteful tongue is a dangerous weapon, wherewith Satan's instruments
fight against God's people. He describes their malicious projects
and shows the issue of them: "They have prepared a net for my
steps, in which to take me, that I might not again escape out of
their hands; they have digged a pit before me, that I might, ere
I was aware, run headlong into it." See the policies of the church's
enemies; see the pains they take to do mischief. But let us see what
comes of it.
1. It is indeed some disturbance to David: My soul is bowed
down. It made him droop, and hang the head, to think that there
should be those that bore him so much ill-will. But,
2. It was destruction to themselves; they dug a pit for David, into
the midst whereof they have fallen. The mischief they designed
against David returned upon themselves, and they were embarrassed in
their counsels; then when Saul was pursuing David the Philistines were
invading him; nay, in the cave, when Saul thought David should
fall into his hands, he fell into the hands of David, and lay at his
III. He prays to God to glorify himself and his own great name
"Whatever becomes of me and my interest, be thou exalted, O God!
above the heavens, be thou praised by the holy angels, those
glorious inhabitants of the upper world; and let thy glory be
above or over all the earth; let all the inhabitants of this
earth be brought to know and praise thee." Thus God's glory should lie
hearer our hearts, and we should be more concerned for it, than for any
particular interests of our own. When David was in the greatest
distress and disgrace he did not pray, Lord, exalt me, but,
Lord, exalt thy own name. Thus the Son of David, when his soul
was troubled, and he prayed, Father, save me from this hour,
immediately withdrew that petition, and presented this in the room of
it, For this cause came I to this hour; Father, glorify thy
Or it may be taken as a plea to enforce his petition for deliverance:
"Lord, send from heaven to save me, and thereby thou wilt
glorify thyself as the God both of heaven and earth." Our best
encouragement in prayer is taken from the glory of God, and to that
therefore, more than our own comfort, we should have an eye in all our
petitions for particular mercies; for this is made the first petition
in the Lord's prayer, as that which regulates and directs all the rest,
Father in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and
8 Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will
9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing
unto thee among the nations.
10 For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth
unto the clouds.
11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory
be above all the earth.
How strangely is the tune altered here! David's prayers and complaints,
by the lively actings of faith, are here, all of a sudden, turned into
praises and thanksgivings; his sackcloth is loosed, he is girded with
gladness, and his hallelujahs are as fervent as his hosannas. This
should make us in love with prayer, that, sooner or later, it will be
swallowed up in praise. Observe,
I. How he prepares himself for the duty of praise
My heart is fixed, O God! my heart is fixed. My heart is
erect, or lifted up (so some), which was bowed down,
My heart is fixed,
1. With reference to God's providences; it is prepared for every event,
being stayed upon God,
My heart is fixed, and then none of these things move me,
If by the grace of God we be brought into this even composed frame of
spirit, we have great reason to be thankful.
2. With reference to the worship of God: My heart is fixed to
sing and give praise. It is implied that the heart is the main
thing required in all acts of devotion; nothing is done to purpose, in
religion, further than it is done with the heart. The heart must be
fixed, fixed for the duty, fitted and put in frame for it, fixed in the
duty by a close application, attending on the Lord without
II. How he excites himself to the duty of praise
Awake up my glory, that is, my tongue (our tongue is our glory,
and never more so than when it is employed in praising God), or my
soul, that must be first awakened; dull and sleepy devotions will never
be acceptable to God. We must stir up ourselves, and all that is within
us, to praise God; with a holy fire must that sacrifice be kindled, and
ascend in a holy flame. David's tongue will lead, and his psaltery and
harp will follow, in these hymns of praise. I myself will awake,
not only, "I will not be dead, and drowsy, and careless, in this work,"
but, "I will be in the most lively frame, as one newly awakened out of
a refreshing sleep." He will awake early to this work, early in
the morning, to begin the day with God, early in the beginnings of a
mercy. When God is coming towards us with his favours we must go forth
to meet him with our praises.
III. How he pleases himself, and (as I may say) even prides himself, in
the work of praise; so far is he from being ashamed to own his
obligations to God, and dependence upon him, that he resolves to
praise him among the people and to sing unto him among the
1. That his own heart was much affected and enlarged in praising God;
he would even make the earth ring with his sacred songs, that all might
take notice how much he thought himself indebted to the goodness of
2. That he desired to bring others in to join with him in praising God.
He will publish God's praises among the people, that the
knowledge, and fear, and love of God might be propagated, and the ends
of the earth might see his salvation. When David was driven out into
heathen lands he would not only not worship their gods, but he would
openly avow his veneration for the God of Israel, would take his
religion along with him wherever he went, would endeavour to bring
others in love with it, and leave the sweet savour of it behind him.
David, in his psalms, which fill the universal church, and will to the
end of time, may be said to be still praising God among the
people and singing to him among the nations; for all good
people make use of his words in praising God. Thus St. John, in his
writings, is said to prophesy again before many peoples and
IV. How he furnishes himself with matter for praise,
That which was the matter of his hope and comfort (God shall send
forth his mercy and his truth,
is here the matter of his thanksgiving: Thy mercy is great unto the
heavens, great beyond conception and expression; and thy truth
unto the clouds, great beyond discovery, for what eye can reach
that which is wrapped up in the clouds? God's mercy and truth reach to
the heavens, for they will bring all such to heaven as lay up their
treasure in them and build their hopes upon them. God's mercy and truth
are praised even to the heavens, that is, by all the bright and blessed
inhabitants of the upper world, who are continually exalting God's
praises to the highest, while David, on earth, is endeavouring to
spread his praises to the furthest,
V. How he leaves it at last to God to glorify his own name
Be thou exalted, O God! The same words which he had used
to sum up his prayers in he here uses again (and no vain repetition) to
sum up his praises in: "Lord, I desire to exalt thy name, and that all
the creatures may exalt it; but what can the best of us do towards it?
Lord, take the work into thy own hands; do it thyself: Be thou
exalted, O God! In the praises of the church triumphant thou art
exalted to the heavens, and in the praises of the church militant thy
glory is throughout all the earth; but thou art above all the blessing
and praise of both
and therefore, Lord, exalt thyself above the heavens and
above all the earth. Father, glorify thy own name. Thou hast
glorified it, glorify it yet again."