George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 144

1. Structure

1, 2.
The greatness and goodness of Jehovah
3, 4.
The weakness of mortal man
A Theophany bringing deliverance
Thanksgiving for deliverance
God-given prosperity

There are numerous parallels with Psalm 18 — some of which are given in the notes below.

2. A psalm of David

It seems very unlikely that the entire psalm is by David — for these reasons:

David was not at all in the habit of referring to himself in the third person: David thy servant (v. 10). Contrast v. 1.
Verses 5 and 6 have close similarities to Isaiah 64:1.

Yet verse 3 quotes Psalm 8:4, although with a different emphasis. The suggestion, then, is that vv. 1-4 are David’s (cp. esp. 2 Samuel 7:16-18), hence the title; but that the rest belongs to the time of Hezekiah, and was probably written by Isaiah. The details fit this concept reasonably well. Psalm 127, a psalm of Solomon, has the same sort of feature (see notes there).

Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight (Psa. 18:34). This is very appropriate to David’s early days. Verse 3 (= Psa. 8:4) belongs to a psalm celebrating David’s victory over Goliath.
An impressive catalogue of expressions of praise (there are marked similarities between this verse and the opening of Psalm 18):

My strength (tsur = rock) (v. 1)
cp. 18:2

My goodness (i.e., prosperity)

My fortress
cp. 18:2

My high tower
cp. 18:2

My deliverer
cp. 18:2

My shield
cp. 18:2 (“buckler” is s.w.)

My protector (“he in whom I trust”)
The general of my forces
cp. s.w. 18:2

Here is the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:13-16). What a contrast with Saul’s armor, which David had not “proved” (1 Sam. 17:39) — nor had he any desire to!

Who subdueth my people under me (cp. Psa. 18:47) strongly suggests reference to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. So also does v. 4 with its lament about human infirmity (David’s own).
Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! The context of these words in Psa. 8 is that of David’s single-handed victory, “crowned with glory and honour” (cp. Psa. 144 title in LXX: “concerning Goliath”). God then taught his hands to war and his fingers to fight. Reminiscence of that wonderful occasion is David’s way of expressing hope that once again, in similar fashion, God will answer his faith and come to his aid. And God did!
Man is like to vanity (hebel — a vapor, a breath, a puff of wind) (Psa. 39:4,5,11): his days are as a shadow that passeth away (Psa. 102:11; 109:23). An apt description of the time of Absalom’s revolt: the weakness of the sick king, “passing away” from Jerusalem with no hope at all except in his God.

No wonder these words were appropriated to a psalm about Hezekiah. His “shadow” was passing away, but was then merci-fully brought back by the grace of God (Isa. 38:1,8,18-20).
Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children; whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. If this part in David’s also, then the “sons of strangers” (cp. v. 11 also) undoubtedly refers to Goliath and his brothers (see note, v. 3 above) — and this psalm includes David’s prayer of faith before going forth against the Philistine, even as Psalm 8 is his song of praise after the victory had been won.

3. A psalm of Hezekiah?

What is suggested is that this psalm (or at least the last half) refers to the times of Hezekiah, although most probably it is to be attributed to Isaiah (cp. Psa. 103, 104, 46, 47, and 48).

Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down. The resemblance of vv. 5,6 to Isa. 64:1,2 is not to be set aside. The allusion is to the mighty Theophany seen by Israel at mount Sinai. Here “bow” means ‘to stretch forth’. The s.w. is used with reference to the “firmament”, the terrible crystal, described in Ezek. 1:22; the corresponding phrase in Exod. 24:10 is “a paved work of a sapphire stone”. The prayer in these verses is that God will manifest Himself in great power and majesty on behalf of His servant (cp. Psa. 18:6-15). This duly took place in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army (Isa. 37:36; 30:30-33).

Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. This is not volcanic activity, but the Glory of the Lord in fire, lightning, and darkness, as in Exod. 19:16 and Psa. 18:6-15.
Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them. There is no antecedent to this pronoun — unless “man” (v. 4) is being intended in a collective sense (there are plenty of Old Testament examples of this). But more likely “them” does not look backward at all, but rather forward — anticipating the “strange children” of v. 7.
Send thine hand from above. The “hand of the Lord” is a very common expression in Isaiah and in psalms of the Hezekiah period for God’s work of rescue or judgment.

Rid me, and deliver me out of great waters. This is the figure used by Isaiah about the Assyrian onslaught:

“Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: and he shall pass through Judah: he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (8:7,8).

From the hand of strange children. That is, “sons of strangers”; again, this is also an Isaiah phrase (56:3,6; 60:10; 62:8).
Their right hand (the hand raised to swear a covenant oath: Gen. 14:22; Exod. 6:8; Deut. 32:40; Psa. 106:26; Isa. 62:8) is a right hand of falsehood. A fairly obvious reference to Assyrian treaty-breaking; they accepted tribute, signed a treaty of friendship, and still continued the invasion just the same. “The treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously” (Isa. 21:2; 24:16; 33:1).
I will sing a new song (Psa. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isa. 42:10) unto thee, O God. Hezekiah was as good as risen from the dead, and his nation also — 200,000 captives and a great many refugees in Egypt and elsewhere — was now like a corpse revived. The “new song” is referred to also in Isa. 38:20.

Upon... an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. Ten Hallelujahs in the last five psalms: 146-150. Here also is more symbolism: Hezekiah’s reformation had gathered in many out of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, and of them had welded a single “instrument” of praise to God!
It is he... who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword (cp. Psa. 18:50). If this were written by David himself, it reads strangely. But as the prophet’s reference to Hezekiah of the line of David — a king who, more than any other, set store by God’s great promise to David — then this phrase is most fitting (see note on v. 9). Thus the “hurtful sword” would be that of the Assyrians.
This repeats vv. 7,8, thus emphasizing the most important part of the psalm.
That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth (Psa. 127:3-5; 128:3). These verses 12-15 lack a proper introduction, which needs to be supplied thus: “Then will our sons be as plants, etc.” So this paragraph needs to be read as detailing the rich blessings of the promised Year of Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31), after the Assyrians were destroyed.

Our sons. Isaiah himself had two sons who were quite likely involved in the massive captivity at this time: Shear-jashub (“a remnant shall return”) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“speed the spoil, haste the prey”). Both names signified beforehand that all the captives, from both Israel and Judah, would return to their homeland. These two sons, with such names, would be a clear witness to the rest when they were all captives many miles from home.

That our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace. Sennacherib’s inscription (Taylor Prism) specifically mentions women captives. But why the strange figure of speech, where instead of “palace” we should expect “temple”? Perhaps because, returning home, having been defiled by their captors and hence not easily marriageable, some of the women captives dedicated themselves to Temple service, and made the Temple their home.
That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store: that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets: that our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in (i.e., by raiders), nor going out (i.e., in exile, or captivity). This Year of Jubilee became a God-blessed year of special prosperity (Lev. 25:20,21).

That there be no complaining in our streets. That is, no more expressions of desperation or hopelessness because of the Assyrian siege. Note also the suitability of vv. 1-4 to this situation.
Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord. Missing completely the reference of this psalm, the Companion Bible here reads:

“Nay, happy is the people whose God is Jehovah; thus making a contrast between material prosperity (vv. 13,14) and spiritual health (v. 15).”

As a lesson for modern materialism, this is good. But the point of this passage is very different — it is describing an Israel who have followed the lead of a godly king during a time of great adversity, and have come through into a wonderful period of divine blessing.

4. Messianic reference

Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. The contentions Jesus was involved in during the course of his ministry were such as no other man could have stood up to. His tongue was “like a sharp sword” (Isa. 49:2), but only because God gave not the Spirit by measure unto him.
All of these divine titles (see list, Par. 2) are eloquent of the guidance and power vested in Jesus.

Who subdueth my people (Israel) under me. There is no fulfillment of this as yet; but the conversion of a multitude of Jewry is now not far away.
Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! These words about Jesus in his weakness become, in Psa. 8:4, a picture of his unique strength — for only a man “afflicted” with the disease of human nature could destroy a “devil” enthroned there!
Man is like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth away. The human weakness and mortality of Christ.
This prayer for a Theophany at a time when Jesus was at the limit of his endurance was answered. See the prophecy of the crucifixion in Psa. 18:1-26 (and notes there).
Deliver me out of great waters (Psa. 69:2,14). The Resurrection was the great triumph over his enemies.

From the hand of strange children. This phrase is now seen to refer to the men of Israel, God’s “children” (John 8:41,42), who however became completely estranged by their rejection of His Son.
Their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. Thus hypocritical Pharisees feigned friendship with Jesus whilst inwardly and secretly they criticized him (e.g., Matt. 22:15-18).
I will sing a new song of new “resurrection” life. Do the details in this verse imply an intensely musical Jesus? Yet Matt. 26:30 is the nearest approach to a hint about this.
It is he that giveth salvation (s.w. “Jesus”) unto kings. What kings? It is tempting to read this as an intensive plural, meaning ‘God’s great king’. The parallelism (v. 10b) — of “kings” (plural?) = “David his servant” — supports this.

Who delivered David from the hurtful sword. The “Son of David” was delivered from the swords and staves of Luke 22:52, and from the effects of Peter’s hurtful sword (John 18:10).
Literally, this is the ultimate prosperity of Christ’s kingdom. More immediately, in a figurative sense, it is the prayer of all gospel believers.
Next Next Next