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"That You May Silence the Enemy" (Psalms 7-10) May 21-24

The superscription of Psalm 7 in the New King James Version calls it a "meditation" of David. The Hebrew for meditation is higgaion, as in Psalm 9:16, but the word at the beginning of Psalm 7, as the KJV superscription shows, is actually shiggaion, which occurs only here in the Bible. Its plural form, however, is used in the psalm of Habakkuk 3. Repeating from the Bible Reading Program comments on that passage, "The word shiggayon comes from shagah, 'to wander,' a wandering song" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, note on Psalm 7; see note on Habakkuk 3:1). "It may derive from a verbal root meaning 'to reel' or 'to err,' and if so points to some irregular rhythmic mode" (New Bible Commentary, note on Habakkuk 3:1).

David names Cush the Benjamite in Psalm 7's superscription. This man, mentioned nowhere else in Scripture, has apparently spoken on behalf of a group of persecutors who accused David of wrongdoing and were bent on his destruction. Whether they actually believed him guilty of wrong or were just making this up to justify action against him is not clear. Some today speculate that the distinct reference to Cush being a Benjamite may indicate his being a supporter or agent of King Saul. In any case, Cush and his comrades must have been dangerous opponents because David cries out that, if God does not deliver him, his persecutors would "tear me like a lion, and rip me in pieces" (verses 1-2).

In his appeal to God, David takes an oath of innocence in which he invites God to give him into the hands of the enemies who seek to take his life if he is guilty of any of the charges they bring against him (verses 3-5). David is so confident of his innocence that he asks God to judge his righteousness, his integrity (verse 8), his heart and mind (verse 9). "In the Hebrew, hearts and minds is literally 'hearts and kidneys'—an ancient way of describing the innermost person" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 9-10). We should note that in praying to God the words "Judge me according to my righteousness," David does not mean for God to judge every aspect of his life by this standard. (As with any of us, God would in such an inventory find sins worthy of condemnation. Indeed, other prayers of David show him praying for forgiveness where he has fallen short.) Rather, David in his prayer here is asking for God's judgment in the matter at hand—to judge him according to his deeds and even inward motivations with respect to the accusations that have been made against him. In these, he knows that the righteous and just God will see his complete innocence and fully absolve him.

Against the wicked, however, David describes God as a just Judge and an angry Warrior who will "sharpen His sword," prepare "deadly weapons" and make ready "flaming arrows" to satisfy justice (verses 11-13). Yet David recognizes that the wicked create their own problems for themselves, reaping what they sow (compare Galatians 6:7-8). They conceive trouble, which then returns on their own heads (verses 14, 16). "The wicked become 'mothers' to trouble. They will give birth to their own destruction" (note on verses 14-16). They fall into the pits they themselves have dug to trap their prey (verse 15). David therefore knows that those who have plotted his destruction have set up the circumstances for their own demise. Perhaps it was in the midst of his prayer that God inspired David with this reminder—moving him to sing God's praises (see verse 17).

Psalm 8. "At this juncture in the Psalter," says the Zondervan NIV Study Bible in its note on Psalm 8, "this psalm surprises. After five psalms [3-7] (and 64 Hebrew poetic lines—following the introduction to the Psalter...Ps 1-2) in which the psalmists have called on Yahweh to deal with human perversity, this psalm's praise of Yahweh for his astounding endowment of the human race with royal 'glory and honor' (v. 5) serves as a striking and unexpected counterpoint. Its placement here highlights the glory (God's gift) and disgrace (humanity's own doing) that characterize human beings and the corresponding range of difference in God's dealings with them. And after five more psalms [9-13] (and 64 poetic lines), this psalm in turn receives a counterpoint...[in Psalm 14, as we will later see]."

Where the NKJV superscription of Psalm 8 has "On the instrument of Gath," the KJV has "upon Gittith" and the NIV has "According to gittith." "The Hebrew word perhaps refers to either a winepress ('song of the winepress') or the Philistine city of Gath ('Gittite lyre or music'; see 2Sa 15:18)" (note on Psalm 8).

David opens and closes the psalm praising the excellence of God's name (verses 1, 9)— representing God's power, His character and His purpose. The name here is the Hebrew YHWH—the Tetragrammaton (i.e., four letters)—often transliterated into English as Yahweh, as above. The name means "He Is Who He Is" (the Eternal One). David declares God's name excellent "in all the earth." Wherever one looks on earth—and up from earth to the heavens above—the glory of God is revealed. God introduced Himself to Moses by the first person form of the Tetragrammaton, saying, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14). "The One who spoke to Moses declared Himself to be the Eternal One—uncaused and independent. Only the Creator of all things can call Himself the I AM in the absolute sense; all other creatures are in debt to Him for their existence" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Exodus 3:14).

David observes that "from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies" (verse 2, NIV). While the word for "praise" could also be rendered "strength," as in the KJV and NKJV, "praise" seems the better translation since Jesus quoted the verse this way when the common people (figuratively children) praised Him while the "mature" religious leaders who opposed Him wanted to squelch them but could not (Matthew 21:16). Perhaps David simply meant that despite the scorn of the wicked, there were always new generations of children to gaze in wonder at God's creation and express awe. Yet God who inspired the psalm also had the more specific prophetic fulfillment in mind.

David's reflections on the grandeur of the heavens (verse 3) gives rise to the question, "What is man?" (verse 4). "The Heb[rew] word here [for man] is 'enos, which emphasizes man's mortality and weakness. David is stunned that the all-powerful Creator should exalt in such puny beings by caring for us and by giving us dominion over His earth" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Psalm 8). Who are we in comparison to the Creator? Why would He even think of us? Why would He care for us or have anything to do with us? (verse 4). The word for "visit" here in the NKJV has the sense of "see to" or "deal with," which can have either a positive or negative sense. Here the meaning is positive.

In verses 5-8, David muses further about man's place in the scheme of things—that he is the pinnacle of God's earthly creation.

In verse 5, the word translated "angels" is elohim, the word used throughout the Old Testament for God. The Moffatt Translation says, "Thou hast made him little less than divine." Yet it does not seem reasonable to say that man is only a little lower than God. After all, David himself was thinking about how man was basically nothing next to God's majesty as revealed in the sky above. And God Himself tells human beings, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Perhaps it was because of this that the Targums (ancient Jewish paraphrases of Scripture) and the Septuagint (the Jewish rendering of the Old Testament in Greek) translated the word elohim here as meaning "angels." Yet human beings seem rather far below the amazing power and abilities of angels too.

It should be noted that the words "little less" or "little lower" could also be rendered "for a little while lower." The literal meaning would then be that man has been created for a little while lower than God, implying that man after that little while will ultimately share God's plane of existence. This is in fact man's destiny—to be part of Elohim, the family of God (see also Psalm 82:6 and our free booklet, Who Is God?). Yet such a rendering would no doubt have made early Jewish translators even more uncomfortable. So we can see why they would prefer the word "angels" over "God" in Psalm 8:5 in any case. Of course, it is certainly true that for the time being man has been made lower than the angels as well as God, so the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews (probably the apostle Paul) had no problem using the translation the Jews were familiar with, giving the Greek word for angels rather than God (see Hebrews 2:7).

Psalm 8:6 speaks of God giving man dominion over His creation. This is quoted in Hebrews 2:8. Yet where David goes on in Psalm 8:7-8 to focus on man's dominion over the animals of the earth, recalling Genesis 1-2, the book of Hebrews ends its quotation with Psalm 8:6, emphasizing the "all things" committed to man's rule in this verse—meaning, in its fullest sense, the entire universe and spirit realm. Man, Hebrews 2 explains, has not yet received this ultimate dominion with God—except for Christ, who is our forerunner. We will see more about this in our later reading of Hebrews 2.

Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 may have initially been composed as one single psalm. "A number of indicators point in that direction. Ps 10 is the only psalm from Ps 3 to 32 that has no superscription, and the Hebrew text of the two psalms together appears to reflect an incomplete (or broken) acrostic structure" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 9). "Acrostic refers to the poetic practice of opening each line, verse, or stanza with a different letter of the alphabet. The acrostics are sometimes complete (Ps. 25; 34; 37; 111; 119; 145). Psalms 9 and 10 form an incomplete acrostic" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, introduction to Psalms). The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible treats them as a single psalm.

"Ps 9 is predominantly praise (by the king) for God's deliverance from hostile nations.... It concludes with a short prayer from God's continuing righteous judgments (see v. 4) on the haughty nations. Ps 10 is predominantly prayer against the rapacity of unscrupulous people within the realm—as arrogant and wicked in their dealings with the 'weak' (v. 2) as the nations were in their attacks on Israel (vv. 2-11 can serve equally as a description of both). The conjunction of these two within a single psalm is not unthinkable since the attacks of 'the wicked' (9:5; 10:4), whether from within or from without, on the godly community are equally threatening to true Israel.... Probably Ps 9-10 came to be separated for the purpose of separate liturgical [i.e., religious worship service] use" (Zondervan, note on Psalm 9).

"To {the tune of} [a now unknown song] 'Death of the Son'" could be the meaning of the Hebrew phrase almuth labben in the superscription of Psalm 9, as in the NKJV and NIV. However there are other possibilities (see Expositor's Bible Commentary, footnote on verse 1).

David says that those who seek God are those who know His name and put their trust in Him (verse 10). Those who reject God come to experience Him in a different way: "The Lord is known by the judgment He executes" (verse 16). David includes words relating to judgment six times in the psalm. God judges individuals (verse 3), nations (verses 5, 19) and the entire world (verse 8). God judges so that individuals and nations may learn that they are but men (verse 20) who live under the authority of the Creator. God has the power to destroy wicked men (verses 5-6) and to advance the cause of righteous men (verses 8-10, 12, 19). God's righteous judgment is a major factor in leading the humble to seek Him.

David, we should further note, also points out that the wicked bring about their own destruction (verses 15-16), just as was pointed out in 7:15-16. After making this point, the end of Psalm 9:16 notes: "Meditation. Selah." While the word translated "meditation" may be a musical notation, it could well be meant literally. Perhaps in conjunction with the musical term selah, which seems to indicate a pause or interlude, the idea here is to stop and think about what has just been sung. For all who would pursue a life of sin, it should be remembered that your sins will catch up with you. As Numbers 32:23 tells us, "Take sure your sin will find you out."

Psalm 9:17 in the NKJV says that the wicked are headed for "hell." The Hebrew word here is sheol, which the NIV correctly translates as "the grave." (See our free booklet Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?) The righteous, on the other hand, are brought "up from the gates of death" (verse 13) to praise God "in the gates of the daughter of Zion" (verse 14). Besides speaking of present deliverance, this seems to anticipate the future actual resurrection of the saints and their dwelling with Christ in Jerusalem.

Verses 19-20 call on God to act in accordance with His righteous judgment in the sight of all nations, foreshadowing the end of the age when God will do just that.

Psalm 10. Continuing with the theme of God's righteous judgment, especially the last two verses of Psalm 9, the psalmist (probably still David) asks why God does not immediately act in the face of evil (10:1). Things often seem to be going so well for the wicked (verse 5).

To strengthen his plea for God to take righteous action, the psalmist describes his enemies' disregard for God. The wicked man says, "Nothing will shake me; I'll always be happy and never have trouble.... God has forgotten; He covers His face and never sees.... He won't call me to account" (verses 6, 11, 13, NIV). Emboldened by such reckless thinking, the wicked man persecutes the poor, murders the innocent, crushes the helpless and curses God. He plots, boasts, lies and deceives (verses 2-13). The psalm summarizes, "In all his thoughts there is no room for God" (verse 4, NIV).

Wickedness does not escape God's notice, however—and He will justly punish (verse 14). God will call for an accounting: the wicked will no longer terrorize the earth (verses 16, 18). The reference to the nations perishing in verse 16 ties back to Psalm 9. When Christ returns to rule the earth, He will put an end to wickedness and establish true justice (10:15-18).

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