Recalling the treachery of some pretended friends, the writer in this psalm pronounces, in contrast, a eulogy on those who know how to feel for and show compassion to the suffering. There is nothing, however, to indicate who the author was, or what particular incidents induced him to write. Possibly the sickness is entirely figurative, and the psalm is the expression of the feelings of the community of pious Israelites.
The doxology in Psalm 41:13 does not belong to the psalm, but closes the first book of the collection. (See General Introduction.) The parallelism is very imperfect.
Considereth.—The Hebrew word implies wise as well as kindly consideration. So LXX. and Vulg., “he that understands.”
Upon the earth.—Rather, in the land, i.e., of Canaan.
Wilt make.—Literally, hast turned. Some think with literal allusion to the fact that the Oriental bed was merely a mat, which could be turned while the sick man was propped up. But such literalness is not necessary. To turn here is to change, as in Psalm 66:6; Psalm 105:29, and what the poet says is that, as in past times, Divine help has come to change his sickness into health, so he confidently expects it will be now, “in his sickness” being equivalent to “in the time of his sickness.”
But it is a singular mark of the psalmist’s sincerity and genuineness that he first looks into his own heart for its evil before exposing that of his friends.
To see.—The usual word for visiting a sick person. (Comp. 2 Samuel 13:5; 2 Kings 8:29.)
Vanity.—Better, lies. No more vivid picture of an insincere friend could be given. Pretended sympathy lies at the very bedside, while eye and ear are open to catch up anything that can be retailed abroad or turned into mischief, when the necessity of concealment is over.
The scene of the visit of the king to the death-bed of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s King Richard II. illustrates the psalmist’s position, and the poet may even have had this verse in his mind when he wrote.
“Should dying men flatter with those that live
No, no; men living flatter those that die.
“A wicked saying have they directed against me:
Let the sick man never rise again,”
which has the support of the LXX. and Vulg., though they make of the last clause a question, “Shall not the sleeper rise again?”
Triumph.—Literally, shout; “sing a paean.”