THE WORDS OF ALBERT BARNES, FROM HIS BIBLE COMMENTARY ON
A Psalm of David
1. My God, my God. These are the very words uttered by the Saviour when on the cross (Matt, xxvii. 46); and he evidently used them as best adapted of all the words that could have been chosen to express the extremity of his sorrow. The fact that he employed them may be referred to as some evidence that the psalm was designed to refer to him; though it must he admitted that this circumstance is no conclusive proof of such a design, since he might have used words having originally another reference, as best fitted to express his own sufferings. The language is abrupt, and is uttered. without any previous intimation of what would produce or cause it. It comes from the midst of suffering—from one enduring intense agony-—-as if a new form of sorrow suddenly came upon him which he was unable to endure. That new form of suffering was the feeling that now he was forsaken by the last friend of the wretched,—God himself. We may suppose that he had patiently borne all the other forms of trial, but the moment the thought strikes him that he is forsaken of God, he cries out in the bitterness of his soul, under the pressure of anguish which is no longer to be borne. All other forms of suffering he could bear. All others he had borne. But this crushes him; overpowers him; is beyond all that the soul can sustain,—for the soul may bear all else but this. It is to be observed, however, that the sufferer himself still has confidence in God. He addresses him as his God, though he seems to have forsaken him:—"My God; MY God." Why hast thou forsaken me ? Why hast thou abandoned me, or left me to myself, to suffer unaided and alone ? As applicable to the Saviour, this refers to those dreadful moments on the cross when, forsaken by men, he
seemed also to be forsaken of God himself. God did not interpose to rescue him, but left him to bear those dreadful agonies alone. He bore the burden of the world's atonement by himself. He was overwhelmed with grief, and crushed with pain; for the sins of the world, as well as the agonies of the cross, had come upon him. But there was evidently more than this;—what more we are unable fully to understand! There was a higher sense in which he was forsaken of God; for no mere physical sufferings, no pains of dying even on the cross, would have extorted this cry. If he had enjoyed the light of his Father's countenance; if these had been merely physical sufferings; if there was nothing else than what is apparent to our view in the record of those sufferings, we cannot suppose that this cry would have been heard even on the cross. There is evidently some sense in which it was true that the dying Saviour was given up to darkness—to mental trouble, to despair, as if He who is the last hope of the suffering and the dying—the Father of mercies—had withdrawn from him; as if he were personally a sinner; as if he were himself guilty or blameworthy on account of the sins for which he was making an expiation. In some sense he experienced what the sinner will himself experience when, for his own sins, he will be at last forsaken of God, and abandoned to despair. Every word in this wonderful exclamation may he supposed to be emphatic. "Why." What is the cause ? How is it to be accounted for? What end is to be answered by it? "Hast thou." Thou, my Father; thou, the comforter of those in trouble; thou, to whom the suffering and the dying may look when all else fails. "Forsaken." Left me to suffer alone withdrawn the light of thy countenance---the comfort of thy presence--the joy of thy manifest
favour. "Me." Thy well-beloved Son; me, whom thou hast sent into the world to accomplish thine own work in redeeming man; me, against whom, no sin can be charged, whose life has been perfectly pure and holy;—why, now, in the extremity of these sufferings, hast thou forsaken me, and added to the agony of the cross the deeper agony of being abandoned by the God whom I love, the Father who loved me before the foundation of the world, John xvii. 24. There is a reason why God should forsake the wicked; but why should he forsake his own pure and holy Son in the agonies of death ? Why art thou so far from helping me ? Marg., from my salvation. So the Hebrew. The idea is that of one who stood so far off that he could not hear the cry, or that he could not reach out the hand to deliver. Comp. Ps. x. 1. And from the words of my roaring. The word here used properly denotes the roaring of a lion, Job iv. 10; Isa. v. 29; Zech. xi. 3; and then the outcry or the groaning of a person in great pain, Job iii. 24; Ps. xxxii. 3. It refers here to a loud cry for help or deliverance, and is descriptive of the intense suffering of the Redeemer on the cross. Comp. Matt, xxvii. 50; Luke xxiii. 46.
2. O my God, I cry in the daytime. This, in connexion with what is said at the close of the verse, "and in the night-season," means that his cry was incessant or constant. See Notes on Ps. i. 2. The whole expression denotes that his prayer or cry was continuous, but that it was not heard. As applicable to the Redeemer it refers not merely to the moment when he uttered the cry as stated in ver. 1, but to the continuous sufferings which he endured as if forsaken by God
and men. His life in general was of that description. The whole series of sorrows and trials through which he passed was as if he were forsaken by God; as if he uttered a long continuous cry, day and night, and was not heard. But thou hearest not. Thou dost not answer me. It is as if my prayers were not heard. God hears every cry; but the answer to a prayer is sometimes withheld or delayed, as if he did not hear the voice of the suppliant. So it was with the Redeemer. He was permitted to suffer without being rescued by Divine power, as if his prayers had not been heard. God seemed to disregard his supplications. And in the night-season. As explained above, this means constantly. It was literally true, however, that the Redeemer's most intense and earnest prayer was uttered in the night-season, in the garden of Gethsemane. And am not silent. Marg., there is no silence to me. Heb., "There is not silence to me." The idea is, that he prayed or cried incessantly. He was never silent. All this denotes intense and continuous supplication, supplication that came from the deepest anguish of the soul, but which was unheard and unanswered. If Christ experienced this, who may not ?
3. But thou art holy. Thou art righteous and blameless. This indicates that the sufferer had still unwavering confidence in God. Though his prayer seemed not to be heard, and though he was not delivered, he was not disposed to blame God. He believed that God was righteous, though he received no answer; he doubted not that there was some sufficient reason why he was not answered. This is applicable, not only to the Redeemer, in whom it was most fully illustrated, but also to the people of God everywhere.
It expresses a state of mind such as all true believers in God have—confidence in him, whatever may he their trials; confidence in him, though the answer to their prayers may be long delayed; confidence in him, though their prayers should seem to be unanswered. O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. That dwellest where praise is celebrated; that seemest to dwell in the midst of praises. The language here refers to the praises offered in the tabernacle or temple. God was supposed to dwell there, and he was surrounded by those who praised him. The sufferer looks upon him as worshipped by the multitude of his people; and the feeling of his heart is, that though he was himself a sufferer—a great and apparently unpitied sufferer—though he, by his afflictions, was not permitted to unite in those lofty praises, yet he could own that God was worthy of all those songs, and that it was proper that they should be addressed to him.
4. Our fathers trusted in thee. This is a plea of the sufferer as drawn from the character which God had manifested in former times. The argument is, that he had interposed in those times when his people in trouble had called upon him ; and he now pleads with God that he would manifest himself to them in the same way. The argument derives additional force also from the idea that he who now pleads was descended from them, or was of the same nation and people, and that he might call them his ancestors. As applicable to the Redeemer, the argument is that he was descended from those holy and suffering men who had trusted in God, and in whose behalf God had so often interposed. He identifies himself with that people; he regards himself as one of their number; and he
makes mention of God's merciful interposition in their behalf, and of the fact that he had not forsaken them in their troubles, as a reason why he should now interpose in his behalf and save him. As applicable to others, it is an argument which the people of God may always use in their trials—that God has thus interposed in behalf of his people of former times who trusted in him, and who called upon him. God is always the same. We may strengthen our faith in our trials by the assurance that he never changes; and, in pleading with him, we may urge it as an argument that he has often interposed when the tried and the afflicted of his people have called upon him. They trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They confided in thee; they called on thee; thou didst not spurn their prayer; thou didst not forsake them.
5. They cried unto thee. They offered earnest prayer and supplication. And were delivered. From dangers and trials. If They trusted in thee, and were not confounded. Were not disappointed. Literally, "they were not ashamed." That is, they had not the confusion which those have who are disappointed. The idea in the word is, that when men put their trust in anything and are disappointed, they are conscious of a species of shame as if they had been foolish in relying on that which proved to be insufficient to help them; as if they had manifested a want of wisdom in not being more cautious, or in supposing that they could derive help from that which has proved to be fallacious. So in Jer. xiv. 3, "Their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters; they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads." That is, they felt as if they had acted foolishly or unwisely
in expecting to find water there. Comp. In the expression here, "they trusted in thee, and were not confounded," it is meant that men who confide in God are never disappointed, or never have occasion for shame as if herein they had acted foolishly. They are never left to feel that they had put their trust where no help was to he found; that they had confided in one who had deceived them, or that they had reason to he ashamed of their act as an act of foolishness.
6. But I am a worm, and no man. In contrast with the fathers who
trusted in thee. They prayed, and were heard; they confided in God, and were treated as men. I am left and forsaken, as if I were not worth regarding; as if I were a grovelling worm beneath the notice of the great God. In other words, I am treated as if I were the most insignificant, the most despicable, of all objects,—alike unworthy the attention of God or man. By the one my prayers are
unheard; by the other I am cast out and despised. 6. As applicable to the Redeemer, this means that he was forsaken alike by God and men, as if he had no claims to the treatment due to a man. A reproach of men. Reproached by men.
Despised of the people. That is, of the people who witnessed his sufferings. It is not necessary to say how completely this had a fulfilment in the sufferings of the Saviour.
7. All they that see me laugh me to scorn. They deride or mock me.
On the word used here—laag—see Notes on Ps.ii. 4. The meaning here is to mock, to deride, to treat with scorn. The idea of laughing is not properly in the word, nor would that necessarily
occur in the treatment here referred to. How completely this was fulfilled in the case of the Saviour, it is not necessary to say. Comp. Matt, xxvii. 39, "And they that passed by, reviled him." There is no evidence that this literally occurred in the life of David, They shoot out the lip. Marg., open. The Hebrew word—patar— means properly to split, to burst open; then, as in this place, it means to open wide the mouth; to stretch the mouth in derision and scorn. See Ps. xxxv. 21, "They opened their mouth wide against me." Job xvi. 10, "They have gaped upon me with their month." They shake the head. In contempt and derision. See Matt, xxvii. 39, "Wagging their heads."
8. He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him. Marg., He rolled himself on the Lord. The margin expresses the true sense of the Hebrew word. The idea is that of being under the pressure of a heavy burden, and of rolling it of, or casting it on another. Hence the word is often used in the sense of committing to another; entrusting anything to another; confiding in another. Ps. xxxvii. 5, "Commit thy way unto the Lord;" Marg., as in Heb., " Roll thy way upon the Lord." Prov. xvi. 3, "Commit thy works unto the Lord," Marg., as in Heb., "Roll." The language here is the taunting language of his enemies, and the meaning is that he had professed to commit himself to the Lord as if he were his friend; he had expressed confidence in God, and he believed that his cause was safe in His hand. This, too, was actually fulfilled in the case of the Saviour. Matt, xxvii. 43: "He trusted in God; let him deliver him
now, if he will have him." It is one of the most remarkable instances of blindness and infatuation that has ever occurred in the world, that the Jews should have used this language in taunting the dying Redeemer, without even suspecting that they were fulfilling the prophecies, and demonstrating at the very time when they were reviling him that he was the true Messiah, Let Him deliver him. Let him come and save him. Since he professes to belong to God; since he claims that God loves him and regards him as his friend, let him come now and rescue one so dear to him. He is hopelessly abandoned by men. If God chooses to have one so abject, so despised, so forsaken, so helpless, let him come now and take him as his own. We will not rescue him; we will do nothing to save him, for we do not need him. If God wants him, let him come and save him. What blasphemy! What an exhibition of the dreadful depravity of the human heart was manifested in the crucifixion of the Redeemer. Seeing he delighted, in Him. Marg., if he delight in him. The correct rendering is,"for he delighted in him." That is, it was claimed by the sufferer that God delighted in him. If this is so, say they, let him come and rescue one so dear to himself. Let him show his friendship for this vagrant, this impostor, this despised and worthless man! 9. But thou art he that took me out of the womb. I owe my life to thee. This is urged by the sufferer as a reason why God should now interpose and protect him. God had brought him into the world, guarding him in the perils of the earliest moments of his being, and he now pleads that in the day of trouble God will interpose and save him. There is nothing improper in applying this to the Messiah. He was a man, with all the innocent propensities and feelings of man; and no one can say
but that when on the cross,—and perhaps with peculiar fitness we may say when he saw his mother standing near him (John xix. 25),—these thoughts may have passed through his mind. In the remembrance of the care bestowed on his early years, he may now have looked with an eye of earnest pleading to God, that, if it were possible, he might deliver him. Thou didst make me hope. Marg., Keptest me in safety. The phrase in the Hebrew means, Thou didst cause me to trust or to hope. It may mean here either that he was made to cherish a hope of the Divine favour in very early life, as it were when an infant at the breast; or it may mean that he had cause then to hope, or to trust in God. The former, it seems to me, is probably the meaning; and the idea, that from his earliest years he had been led to trust in God; and he now pleads this fact as a reason why he should interpose to save him. Applied to the Redeemer as a man, means that in his earliest childhood he had trusted in God. His first breathings were those of piety. His first aspirations were for the Divine favour. His first love was the love of God. This he now calls to remembrance; this he now urges as reason why God should not withraw the light of his countenance, and leave him to suffer alone. No one can prove that these thoughts did not pass through the mind of the Redeemer when he was enduring the agonies of desertion on the cross; no one can show that they would have been improper. Upon my mother's beast. In my earliest infancy. This does not mean that he literally cherished hope then, but that he had done it in the earliest period of his life, as the first act of his conscious being.
10. I was cast upon thee from the womb. Upon thy protection and care. This, too, is an argument for the Divine interposition. He had been, as it were, thrown early in life upon the protecting care of God. In some peculiar sense he had been more unprotected and defenceless than is common at that period of life, and he owed his preservation then entirely to God. This, too, may have passed through the mind of the Redeemer on the cross. In those sad and desolate moments he may have recalled the scenes of his early life—the events which had occurred in regard to him in his early years; the poverty of his mother, the manger, the persecution by Herod, the flight into Egypt, the return, the safety which he then enjoyed from persecution in a distant part of the land of Palestine, in the obscure and unknown village of Nazareth. This too may have occurred to his mind as a reason why God should interpose and deliver him from the dreadful darkness which had come over him now. Thou art my God from my mother's belly. Thou hast been my God from my very childhood. He had loved God as such; he had obeyed him as such; he had trusted him as such; and he now pleads this as a reason why God should interpose for him.
11. Be not far from me. Do not withdraw from me; do not leave or forsake me. For trouble is near. Near, in the sense that deep sorrow has come upon me; near, in the sense that I am approaching a dreadful death, For there is none to help. Marg., as in Heb., not a helper. There were those who would have helped, but they could not; there were those who could have helped, but they would not.
His friends that stood around the cross were unable to aid him; his foes were unwilling to do it; and he was left to suffer unhelped.
12. Many bulls have compassed me. Men with the fierceness and fury of bulls. Comp. Isa. li. 20; Ps. lxviii. 30. Strong bulls of Bashan. The country of Bashan embraced the territory which was on the east of the Jordan, north of Gilead, which was given to the half tribe of Manasseh: comp. Gen. xiv. 5 with Joshua xii. 4-6. It was distinguished as pasture land for its richness. Its trees and its breed of cattle are frequently referred to in the Scriptures. Thus in Deut. xxxii. 14, "rams of the breed of Bashan" are mentioned; in Isa. ii. 13, Zech. xi. 2, "oaks of Bashan" are mentioned in connexion with the cedars of Lebanon; in Amos iv. 1, "the kine of Bashan " are mentioned. The bulls of Bashan are here alluded to as remarkable for their size, their strength, and their fierceness; and are designed to represent men that were fierce, savage, and violent. As applied to the Redeemer, the allusion is to the fierce and cruel men that persecuted, him and sought his life. No one can doubt that the allusion is applicable to his persecutors and murderers; and no one can show that the thought indicated by this phrase also may not have passed through the mind of the Redeemer when on the cross.
13. They gaped upon me with their mouths. Marg., as in Heb., opened their mouths against me. That is, they opened their mouths wide as if they would devour me, as a lion does when he seizes upon his prey. In ver. 7 they are represented as "opening" the mouth for another purpose— that of derision or scorn; here they
are described as if they were fierce and wild beasts ready to fall upon their prey. As a ravening and roaring lion. The word ravening means voraciously devouring, and the allusion in the Hebrew word is to the lion as he tears his prey—toreph —-rending it in pieces to devour it. All this is designed to denote the greediness with which the enemies of the Redeemer sought his life.
14. I am poured out like water. The sufferer now turns from his enemies, and describes the effect of all these outward persecutions and trials on himself. The meaning in this expression is, that all his strength was gone. It is remarkable that we have a similar expression, which is not easily accounted for, when we say of ourselves that "we are as weak as water." An expression similar to this occurs in Joshua vii. 5 "The hearts of the people melted, and became as water." Comp. Lam. ii. 19; Ps. Iviii. 7. My bones are out of joint. Marg., sundered. The Hebrew word—parad—means to break off, to break in pieces, to separate by breaking; and then, to be separated, or divided. It is not necessary to suppose here that his bones were literally dislocated or "put out of joint" any more than it is necessary to suppose that he was literally "poured out like water," or that his heart was literally "melted like wax" within him. The meaning is that he was utterly prostrated and powerless; he was as if his bones had been dislocated, and he was unable to use his limbs, My heart is like wax. The idea here also is that of debility. His strength seemed all to be gone. His heart was no longer firm; his vigour was exhausted. It is melted in the midst of
my bowels. Or, within me. The word bowels in the Scriptures is not restricted in its signification as it is with us. It embraces the upper parts of the viscera as well as the lower, and consequently would include that part in which the heart is situated. See Notes on Isa. xvi. 11. The meaning here is that his heart was no longer firm and strong. As applied to the Redeemer, this would refer to the prostration of his strength in his last struggle; and no one can prove that these thoughts did not pass through his mind when on the cross.
15. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, A potsherd is a fragment of a broken pot, or a piece of earthenware. See Notes on Isa. xlv. 9; Job ii. 8. The meaning here is, that his strength was not vigorous like a green tree that was growing, and that was full of sap, but it was like a brittle piece of earthenware, so dry and fragile that it could be easily crumbled to pieces. And my tongue cleaveih to my jaws. See Notes on Job xxix. 10. The meaning here is, that his mouth was dry, and he could not speak. His tongue adhered to the roof of his mouth so that he could not use it,—another description of the effects of intense thirst. Comp. John xix. 28. And thou hast brought me into the dust of death. Or, as we should say, to dust—to the grave—to the dust where death reigns. See Notes on Dan. xii. 2. The meaning is, that he was near death; or, was just ready to die. Who can show that the Redeemer when on the cross may not in his own meditations have gone over these very expressions in the psalm as applicable to himself?
16. For dogs have compassed me, Men who resemble dogs;—harsh, snarling, fierce, ferocious.
See Notes on Phil. iii. 2; Rev. xxii. 15. No one can doubt that this is applicable to the Redeemer. The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me. That is, they have surrounded me; they I have come around me on all sides so that I might not escape. So they surrounded the Redeemer in the garden of Gethsemane when they arrested him and bound him; so they surrounded him when on his trial before the Sanhedrim and before Pilate; and so they surrounded him on the cross. They pierced my hands and my feet. This passage is attended with more difficulty than perhaps any other part of the psalm. It is remarkable that it is nowhere quoted or referred to in the New Testament as applicable to the Saviour; and it is no less remarkable that there is no express statement in the actual history of the crucifixion that either the hands or the feet of the Saviour were pierced, or that he was nailed to the cross at all. This was not necessarily implied in the idea of crucifixion, for the hands and the feet were sometimes merely hound to the cross by cords, and the sufferer was allowed to linger on the cross thus suspended until he died from mere exhaustion. There can be no doubt, however, that the common mode of crucifixion was to nail the hands to the transverse beam of the cross, and the feet to the upright part of it. See the description of the crucifixion in the Notes on Matt, xxvii. 31,32. Thus Tertullian, speaking of the sufferings of Christ, and applying this passage to his death, says that "this was the peculiar or proper—-propria —severity of the cross."— Adv. Marcionem, iii. 19, ed. Wurtz, I. p. 403. See
Hengstenberg's Christology, 1,139. The great difficulty in this passage is in the word rendered in our version, they pierced—kaari. It occurs only in one other place, Isa. xxxviii. 13, where it means as a lion.
This would undoubtedly be the most natural interpretation of the word here, unless there were good reasons for setting it aside; and not a few have endeavoured to show that this is the true rendering. According to this interpretation, the passage would mean, "As lions, they [that is, my enemies] surround (gape upon) my hands and my feet; that is, they threaten to tear my limbs to pieces.'' Qesenius, Lex. This interpretation is also that of Aben Ezra, Ewald, Paulus, and others. But, whatever may be the true explanation, there are very serious objections to this one. (a) It is difficult to make sense of the passage if this is adopted. The preceding word, rendered in our version "inclosed," can mean only surrounded or encompassed, and it is difficult to see how it could be said that a lion could "surround" or "encompass" the hands and the feet. At all events, such an interpretation would be harsh and unusual. (b) According to this interpretation the word "me"—"inclosed me "—-would be superfluous; since the idea would be, "they enclose or surround my hands and my feet." (c) All the ancient interpreters have taken the word here to be a verb, and in all the ancient versions it is rendered as if it were a verb. Even in the Masora parva (Jewish) it is said that the word here is to be taken in a different sense from what it has in Isa. xxxviii. 13, where it plainly means a lion. Gesenius admits that all the ancient interpreters have taken this as a verb, and says that it is "certainly possible" that it may be so. He says that it may be regarded as a participle formed in the Chaldee manner (from kur), and in the plural number for kaarim, and says that in this way it would be properly rendered, piercing my hands and my feet; that is, as he says, "my enemies, who are understood in the dogs." Form such high authority, and from the uniform mode of interpretation the word among the ancients, it may be regarded as morally certain that the word is a verb, and that it is not to be rendered, as in Isa. xxxviii. 13, "as a lion," The verb--kur--properly means to dig, to bore through, to pierce.
TO BE CONTINUED
THERE IS NOTHING I CAN ADD. ALBERT BARNES HAS DONE A VERY FINE JOB IN EXPOUNDING THIS WONDERFUL PSALM THAT HAS SO MUCH APPLICABLE TO OUR SAVIOR.