George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 140

1. Structure

The triple Selah (vv. 3,5,8) directs the reader towards a suitable subdivision:

Deliver me from evil talk
4, 5.
The evil talk of evil men
Appeal to the Lord
The destiny of these wicked men
12, 13.
Confidence in the Lord

2. A psalm of David

Psalms 140 and 141 are similar in character, but neither contains much specific detail to enable the reader to identify, with any real confidence, the historical background. Most probably — and this will be followed out in the notes — the psalm belongs to the time of Absalom’s rebellion when (apparently over a period of years) much seditious talk took place before the rebellion actually flared up (vv. 3,11). (Compare, generally, Psalm 64 also.) This was made possible by the dramatic illness with which David was afflicted at this time (see on Psalm 41).

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man: which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war. Singular nouns in v. 1 give way to plural references in v. 2: First, the leader of the rebellion comes in for attention, and then his supporters.
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent (Psa. 55:21; 59:7; 64:3). A clear allusion to Gen. 3: The lie of the serpent is repeated here. “Ye shall be as gods” becomes, in the historical con-text here, glib promises of advancement and power for those whom Absalom seeks to win over to his cause.
The violent man... purposed to overthrow my goings. Both Shimei (2 Sam. 16:5-13) and Ahithophel (17:1-3) were examples of such.
A snare... a net... gins (RSV “trap”... “net”... “snares”) (Psa. 31:4; 57:6; 64:5; 142:3) all speak of secret and deceitful activity.
Thou hast covered my head means ‘Thou hast been my bodyguard’ (1 Sam. 28:2). In his flight from Jerusalem, David had only a few loyal supporters (2 Sam. 15:18). The king’s hopes lay in God, not in human support.
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked. ‘Do not give me over to the hateful and harmful whims of my wicked enemies.’
Let the mischief of their own lips cover them. And so it came about. Absalom, Ahithophel, Shimei, Ziba, and all such sooner or later were brought down by their own disloyalty.
Burning coals, such as the rocks which Shimei hurled at David, ultimately came back upon the thrower, not through Abishai’s indignation, but through the overruling power of God which David had prayed for.

Let them be cast... into deep pits, that they rise not up again. How well this language (and v. 11) suits Absalom in his wretched end:

“And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him” (2 Sam. 18:17).
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence. A marvelous expression of faith. God is in control — all will yet be well; cp. the spirit of David’s reaction to the curses of Shimei:

“So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David... let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (2 Sam. 16:10-12).

3. Hezekiah

It is not difficult to understand why this good king included this psalm in his Psalter. Some of the words fit his circumstances remarkably well.

The evil man and the violent man are Rabshakeh and his cruel master Sennacherib.
Continually are they gathered together for war. The Land overrun and Jerusalem besieged.
They have sharpened their tongues, as in vv. 9,11: the blistering propaganda campaign against the king and his God (cp. Psa. 139:19-22).
Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked. There is no imagining the tortures that would have been meted out to Hezekiah if he had fallen into Assyrian hands. Nineveh bas-reliefs of this campaign tell a blood-curdling story.
I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God; hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord. This is Isa. 37:1-7,14-20.
Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again. First, the fire of the Lord fell upon them (Isa. 30:30-33). And then, outside Jerusalem, thousands of corpses had to be burned or buried in “Tophet”.
Evil... men... shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him. Sennacherib was finally slain by his own sons (Isa. 37:38).
This is very appropriate to Hezekiah personally. To dwell in thy presence was the highest ambition of this man whose leprosy had excluded him from the sanctuary of the Lord.

4. Messiah

All the verses here about plots, evil words, and intended violence are more fitting to the hostility of the rulers against Jesus than is often realized: John 5:16,18; Mark 3:6; Luke 11:54; John 7:19-21,25; 8:59; Luke 13:31; John 10:31,39; 11:8,16,44-54; Luke 20:14-26; Matt. 26:3-5,16. Especially is this a picture of the intrigue and hostility of the last week of his ministry, which he spent in and around Jerusalem.

Which imagine mischiefs in their heart, e.g., Mark 3:6; 11:18.
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent. See the sustained encounters in Matt. 22, recognized by Jesus as one phase of Gen. 3:15 (thus Matt. 23:33: “Ye serpents, ye generations of vipers”). Compare also Rom. 3:13, linked with a quotation from Psa. 14 about Gentile hostility. In the rejection of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles joined enthusiastically together (cp. Psa. 2:1 with Acts 4:23-28).
Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked: Luke 13:31-33.
The prayer of Gethsemane. But that prayer ended with, “Not my will... but thy will!”
Let the mischief of their own lips cover them. It did. “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25) was followed by A.D. 70. And the decree of Caiaphas, that “one man should die for the people” (John 11:50), resulted in the annulment of his own priesthood. Compare also Psa. 7:16 and see on 109:5-20.
Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again: Prov. 16:27; 25:21,22; Rom. 12:20. Coals of fire may be a curse (Ezek. 10:2; Psa. 120:2-4), but in certain instances (with those who recognize their sins?) they may also be a blessing (Isa. 6:6,7)!
The upright shall dwell in thy presence. The Ascension.
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