The date of its composition is in no way indicated in this psalm. Its resemblance to Psalms 58, 64 hardly needs to be pointed out. “The close of all three psalms sounds much alike; they agree in the use of rare forms of expression, and their language becomes fearfully obscure in style and sound. when they are directed against the enemies.” Besides the conjecture of Davidic authorship by the Rabbins, further developed by the addition in the Syriac, “when Saul threw the spear,” Manasseh’s reign, the immediate post-exile times, and the Maccabæan age, have all been selected for the situations out of which the psalm sprang. It is most in harmony with its feeling to suppose Israel speaking as a community, or an individual who identifies his own fortunes entirely with that of the better part of the nation. Heathen oppressors and foreign influences are undoubtedly attacked in the poem, and the blessings attending a loyal adherence to the religious and national traditions supply the cheerful and confident tone in which it ends. The rhythm is fine and varied.
Title.—See Psalms 4.
Violent man.—See Margin.
Gathered together.—This translation follows the analogy of Psalm 56:6. Others render, “dwell with wars.” But it is preferable to derive from a root meaning to incite: “They are continually stirring up wars.” It is the situation described in Psalm 120:7 and frequently; Israel would be at peace, but within and without are those ever trying to involve her in troubles.
Adders.—The Hebrew word is peculiar to this place, and is explained by Gesenius to be a compound of two words, to represent “that which rolls itself up and lies in ambush.” “Besides the cobra and the cerastes, several other species of venomous snakes are common in Syria, and we may apply the name, either generically or specifically, to the vipers. Two species, Vipera ammodytes and Vipera euphratica, we found to be very common. The former of these was known to Linnæus as inhabiting Palestine. They are plainlycoloured serpents, with broad flat heads and suddenly-contracting tails” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 275). The LXX. and Vulg. read “asp.” (Comp. Romans 3:13.)
Further not.—The text of this clause has undoubtedly suffered. The Authorised Version follows the LXX. and Vulg. in inserting a negative before the last word. These versions also take the word rendered “wicked devices” as a verb, not finding a noun of the form anywhere else: “They have plotted against me: desert me not, lest they exalt themselves.” So also Symmachus, and another Greek version quoted by Origen.
As the text at present stands, we must render: his plot do not further—they lift up. Looking on to the next verse, “the head of those surrounding me,” the suggestion at once arises that the verb lift up properly belongs to this clause:
“His plot do not further.
They lift the head, these surrounding me.”
This arrangement disregards the “selah.” and also obliges us to suspect that a clause has dropped cut after the first clause of Psalm 140:9—a suspicion confirmed by the rhythm. Mr. Burgess amends to “Further not his plot to his exaltation.”
 Mr. Burgess amends to “Further not his plot to his exaltation.”
“The poison of those encircling me,
Let them be covered with the perdition of their lips.
This brings Psalm 140:8-9 into harmony with Psalm 140:4. But the emendation given above is better.
“Let them bring upon them coals of fire;
Let him cast them into pits that they rise not again.’
But a very slight change gives a plain grammatical sentence with the subject carried on from the last verse:
“Let it (mischief) bring even upon themselves coals of fire;
Let it cast them into pits, so that they rise no more.”
The word “pits” is peculiar to the passage. Gesenius, deriving from a root meaning “to boil up,” renders, “whirlpools,” which, as in Psalm 66:12, combines “water” with “fire,” as joint emblems of perils that cannot be escaped. But Symmachus, Theodotion, and Jerome render “ditches,” which is supported by a Rabbinical quotation, given by Delitzsch: “first of all they burned them in pits; when the flesh was consumed they collected the bones, and burned them in coffins.”
Evil shall hunt . . .—Comp. Proverbs 13:21 and Horace, Odes iii. 2, Conington’s translation:
“Though vengeance halt, she seldom leaves
The wretch whose flying step she hounds.’
To overthrow.—The Hebrew is a noun, formed from a root meaning “to thrust,” and literally means either to destruction or with hasty pursuit. Some render “with successive thrusts;” but this is hardly a hunting figure.
Dwell.—For the thought comp. Psalm 11:7; Psalm 16:11. After the peril and seeming abandonment God again proves the covenant promise true, and those whom the heathen would have chased from the land find in it a sure dwelling-place in the light of the presence and favour of Jehovah.