Psalms 9 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 9
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

In the LXX. and Vulg., Psalms 9, 10 are combined into one. This arrangement appears the more ancient of the two, and possibly is original; for (1) Psalms 10, 33 are the only compositions of the original Davidic collection (Psalms 3-41) without a title. The absence in each case is accounted for in the same way—Psalms 33 had apparently, by a mistake, been joined to Psalms 32 before the ‘collection was made; Psalms 9, 10 had not been then separated. (2) The whole piece was originally alphabetical. This acrostic arrangement was either in the beginning very imperfect, or has been deranged by some later hand. The latter is most probable, as it is not by any means likely that two pieces, each with an imperfect attempt at a structure as easy in accomplishment as fanciful in design, should have been first composed, then brought side by side in a collection, and finally combined; whereas a later writer, anxious to adopt to his purpose some earlier work, might either have disregarded the alphabetical arrangement, or possibly have overlooked it. For the details of the arrangement, see below; and for the alphabetical psalms generally, see General Introduction. (3) These two psalms have in common certain characteristic turns of expression, which occur rarely elsewhere.

The Hebrew division, no doubt, is based on the fact, that while at first sight Psalms 9 seems to be a thanksgiving for victory, breathing only triumph and hope, Psalms 10 is a prayer against violence and blood. But Psalm 9:13 is quite in the tone of Psalms 10 And again, Psalm 10:12-13 gives an exact echo of Psalm 9:19-20. From Psalm 9:12, indeed, Psalms 10 is as triumphant and hopeful in its tone as Psalms 9. Probably, when used by the later writer, the clouds had darkened round Israel, or round himself personally; for it is difficult to decide whether the psalms are expressions of individual or national feeling. But he still found that he could adopt the victorious ending as well as the confident beginning. The acrostic proceeds regularly from aleph to gimmel (Psalm 9:1-6); daleth is wanting. Four verses (8-11) begin with vaw, and the arrangement proceeds regularly to yod (Psalm 9:18). For caph, which should succeed, koph is substituted (Psalm 9:20); and the arrangement is taken up correctly with lamed, in Psalm 10:1. Here it suddenly ceases. Mem, nun, samech, ayin, pe, and tsaddi are wanting; but koph appears again in Psalm 9:12, and the other letters duly succeed to the end of the psalm. The authorship and date of the combined psalms cannot be ascertained. Their redaction for congregational use must be referred to post-exile times.

Title.—For the “chief musician,” see Introduction to Psalms 4.

Upon Muth-labben.Al muth-labben. Of the perplexing titles, this is one of the most perplexing. No conjecture of the meaning of the Hebrew as it stands is satisfactory. The text must be emended.

It is evident from the LXX. rendering, “on account of the mysteries of the son,” that they had before them a different text from ours. Our text has, therefore, probably become corrupted. Now Psalms 46 has as part of its title libeney Kôrah al-alamôth; and if these words were to be transposed, and al omitted from the beginning, and y from the end, we should have the same Hebrew letters as in Almuth-labben. Neither assumption ‘is difficult to suppose; and though the emendation does not remove us from the region of conjecture, it narrows it. For the meaning of al-alamôth, see Introduction to Psalms 46

To the chief Musician upon Muthlabben, A Psalm of David. I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.
(1) The alphabetic arrangement is begun in its completest form. Every clause of the first stanza begins with Aleph.

I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.
When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.
(3) When.—Literally, in the turning of mine enemies back, which may be either when they turned, or because they turned, or possibly with both ideas combined. The older versions have when. Psalm 9:2-3 form one sentence, “I will be glad and rejoice in thee . . . when mine enemies are turned back, (when) they fall and perish at thy presence.”

Fall.—Better, stumble through weakness. So the LXX., “are weak.”

For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right.
(4) Thou hast maintained my right.—Literally, thou hast made my judgment, as the LXX. and Vulg. For this confidence in the supreme arbiter of events compare Shakespeare:—

“Is this your Christian counsel? Out upon you!

Heaven is above all yet. There sits a Judge

That no king can corrupt.”—Henry VIII.

Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.
(5) Put out.—Better, blotted out. The family is extinct and its name erased from the civil register. (See Psalm 69:28; Psalm 109:13.) The Daleth stanza is wanting.

O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them.
(6) O thou enemy . . .—This vocative gives no intelligible meaning. Translate, As for the enemy, they are made an utter wreck and perpetual ruin.

Destructions.—Properly, desolations, ruins, from a word meaning “to be dried up.”

Come to a perpetual end.—Properly, are completed for ever.

Thou hast destroyed.—Some understand the relative: “the cities which thou hast destroyed.”

Their memorial.—Better, their very memory is perished; literally, their memory, theirs. (Comp. “He cannot flatter, he”—Shakespeare, King Lear). The LXX. and Vulg. read, “with a sound,” referring to the crash of falling cities. Some would substitute enemies for cities, but they lose the emphasis of the passage, which points to the utter evanishment from history of great cities as a consequence and sign of Divine judgment. Probably the poet thinks of Sodom and Gomorrha, whose overthrow left such a signal mark on the thought of Israel. We think of the mounds of earth which alone represent Nineveh and Babylon.

“’Mid far sands,

The palm-tree cinctured city stands,

Bright white beneath, as heaven, bright blue,

Leans over it, while the years pursue

Their course, unable to abate

Its paradisal laugh at fate.

One morn the Arab staggers blind

O’er a new tract of earth calcined

To ashes, silence, nothingness,

And strives, with dizzy wits, to guess

Whence fell the blow.”—R. BROWNING: Easter Day.

But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.
(7) But the Lord shall endure.—Better, but Jehovah sits enthroned for ever, being in close parallelism with the next clause, “For judgment has erected his throne.”

And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.
(8) And he . . . .—Better, and he it is who. The pronoun is emphatic.

The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
(9) The Lord also.—Better, but let Jehovah.

Refuge.—Properly, a stronghold: a citadel into which the persecuted would retreat.

Oppressed.—Properly, crushed.

Trouble.—From root meaning “to cut off from.” Sc., “provisions,” “water,” and the like. Its cognate in Jeremiah 14:1; Jeremiah 17:8, means “drought.” The phrase “in times of trouble” recurs in Psalm 10:1.

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.
(10) They that know.—They who know the name of Jehovah will trust Him, because they know it to be a watchword of strength and protection.

Seek.—From root meaning “to tread” or “frequent a place,” possibly with allusion to frequenting the courts of the Temple.

Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings.
When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.
(12) When.—Better, for he maketh inquisition; literally, the seeker of bloods: i.e., “the avenger of blood.” The allusion is to the goel, the nearest relative of the murdered man, who must, according to Oriental custom, avenge him. The verbs are better in the past, “remembered,” “forgot not.”

Themi.e., the sufferers to be mentioned now.

Humble.—This follows the Hebrew margin. Better here, the afflicted. In the Hebrew the two readings give two forms from the same root, generally taken to have, one of them, an ethical, the other, a physical sense; but the distinction is not borne out by Biblical use.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:
(13, 14) It is natural to take these verses as the cry for help just mentioned.

Consider.—Literally, see my suffering from my haters.

My lifter up from the gates of death.—For the gates of sheol, see Note to Psalm 6:5. (Comp. Psalm 107:18, and the Homeric phrase “the gates of Hades.”) We might perhaps paraphrase “from the verge of the grave,” if it were not for the evident antithesis to gates of the daughter of Zion” in the next verse. We understand, therefore, “gates” in sense of “power,” “rule,” the gate being the seat of the judge or king, and so, like our “court,” synonymous for his power. (Comp. Sublime Porte.)

Daughter of Zioni.e., Zion itself (see Isaiah 37:22): a common personification of cities and their inhabitants. So of Edom (Lamentations 4:21); of Babylon (Psalm 137:8, &c).

That I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation.
The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.
(15) Comp. Psalm 7:16.

The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah.
(16) The Lord.—Better, Jehovah hath made himself known. He hath executed judgment, snaring the wicked in the work of his own hands.

Higgaion. Selah.Higgaion occurs three times in the Psalms—here. Psalm 19:14, and Psalm 92:4 (Heb.). In the two latter places it is translated; in Psalm 19:14, “meditation;” in Psalm 92:4, “solemn sound.” Both meanings are etymologically possible, but the word apparently, indicates some change in the music, or possibly, as joined with selah, a direction to some particular part of the orchestra.

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
(17) The wicked.—This is a most unfortunate rendering. The true translation is, the wicked shall return, as in LXX. and Vulg. (not “be turned”) to the grave, i.e., to dust, according to the doom in Genesis 3:19, or to the unseen world, as in Job 30:23; Psalm 90:1-3; or the verbs may be imperative, as in LXX. and Vulg., let them return. The verse is closely connected with the previous one. The wicked are bringing about their own destruction, and so witnessing to the righteous judgment of Jehovah. There is an intensity about the original word, lisheôlah, with its double sign of direction, “right down to the world of death.” And all.—Better, the heathen all, forgetters of God.

For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
(18) Not alway.—In the original the negative comes emphatically at the commencement, ruling both clauses, as in Psalm 35:19.

The expectation of the poor.—The sufferer’s hope will at some time be realised: the hope of being righted. In this confidence the psalmist goes on to call on Jehovah to appear as judge.

Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.
(19) Let not man prevail.—Better, let not mere man be defiant.

Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.
(20) Put them in fear.—There is a difficulty about the reading. The LXX., Vulg., and Syriac read “place a lawgiver or master over them.” So Syriac, “law.” Hitzig conjectures, “set a guard upon them.” With the present reading apparently the rendering should be, put a terror upon them: i.e., “give such a proof of power as to trouble and subdue them.”

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