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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 141

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 141

AN EVENING PRAYER FOR SANCTIFICATION AND PROTECTION

Here we have another of the group of Psalms in Book V which are ascribed to David in the superscription. There being nothing in the psalm which casts any doubt upon this, we accept it as accurate and dispense with the usual discussions regarding authorship. The last two verses here have exactly the same sentiment as that expressed in Psalms 140:8-10.

Psalms 141:5-7 are admitted by all scholars to be most difficult to translate, there being no consensus whatever upon what is meant. This writer claims no ability for solving the mysteries of passages which could very well have been obscured by textual damage during the centuries of transition, and we shall therefore offer no "explanations or comments" on a passage which we freely confess is a mystery.

Psalms 141:1-4

"Jehovah, I have called upon thee;

Make haste unto me:

Give ear unto my voice when I call unto thee.

Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee;

The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Set a watch, O Jehovah, before my mouth;

Keep the door of my lips.

Incline not my heart to any evil thing,

To practice deeds of wickedness

With men that work iniquity:

And let me not eat of their dainties."

This is not the usual kind of prayer for protection from enemies. "It is more spiritual in that he seeks God's help to overcome the temptation about him."[1] Halley also stressed this, writing that, "It is another of David's prayers for protection against being driven himself to sin."[2]

"Let my prayer be as incense ... the lifting up my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalms 141:2). At both the morning and evening sacrifices, incense was offered (Exodus 29:38-41; 30:7,8; Numbers 28:4-8). The prayer here is that David's prayer, and his lifting up of his hands, "A common posture assumed in prayer,"[3] might be considered by the Lord "as," in the sense of being equivalent, to the formal sacrifices and incense regularly offered before God in the tabernacle. This thought is a forerunner of the New Covenant when sincere, heartfelt prayer would be honored by the Father instead of incense and sacrifices.

As a matter of fact, incense, as it sends upward its sweet-smelling perfume was from the beginning intended as a symbol of prayer. Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 8:3-4, are New Testament examples of incense standing as a metaphor for prayers.

Miller pointed out that "Solomon understood that acceptable prayers could be offered away from the temple (1 Kings 8:35-40,44,45-53)."[4]

Pursuant to his objective of avoiding being involved in sin, David at once fingered the danger zone, namely the tongue.

"Set a watch before my mouth ... keep the door of my lips" (Psalms 141:3). David was evidently aware of the same epic truth announced by James, namely, that, "If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). This is true of all men, but especially of all who are in places of trust or authority.

"Let me not eat of their dainties" (Psalms 141:4). Receiving favors of the wicked, or accepting any kind of fellowship with them, can be a source of grave danger, even to the strongest. The apostle Peter was "warming himself by the fire built by the enemies of Christ" when his tragic denial of the Master occurred (John 18:18). Receiving presents from the wicked, or allowing oneself to share desirable things with such men can compromise those who do so.


Verse 5

THE MYSTERIOUS PASSAGE

Psalms 141:5-7 are the difficult verses mentioned at the head of this chapter; and we submit the following renditions of these in various versions as the most practical way of discerning what might be meant.

"Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness;

And let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head;

Let not my head refuse it:

For even in their wickedness shall my prayer continue.

Their judges are thrown down by the sides of the rock;

And they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

As when one ploweth and cleaveth the earth,

Our bones are scattered at the mouth of Sheol."

(MOFFATT) "When good men wound us and reprove us,

'tis a kindness. I would pray ever to have their good will ...

They are given over to their tyrants -

to teach them that the Eternal's threats are true.

Their bones lie scattered for the grave to swallow,

like stones splintered and crushed upon the road."

(GOOD NEWS BIBLE) "A good man may punish me and rebuke me in kindness,

but I will never accept honor from evil men.

because I am always praying against their evil deeds.

When their rulers are thrown down from rocky cliffs,

The people will admit that my words are true.

Like wood that is split and chopped into bits,

So their bones are scattered at the edge of the grave."

(RSV) "Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness,

but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head;

for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.

When they are given over to those who shall condemn them,

Then shall they learn that the word of the Lord is true.

As a rock which one cleaves and shatters on the land,

so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol."

These examples are enough to demonstrate that the translators simply do not know what these verses mean. Some of the proposed renditions have merit in themselves, but the proposition that any of these renditions is what is stated in the word of the Lord is impossible of any confident acceptance.


Verse 8

"For mine eyes are unto thee, O Jehovah the Lord:

In thee do I take refuge;

Leave not my soul destitute.

Keep me from the snare which they have laid for me,

And from the gins of the workers of iniquity.

Let the wicked fall into their own nets,

Whilst that I withal escape."

As noted above, these verses very closely resemble both in terminology and sentiments Psalms 140:8-10 of the preceding psalm. There is the same mention of "snares," "gins" and "nets," and the same prayer to God for deliverance from such traps, and at the same time a plea for the operation of the lex talionis by the falling of the wicked into the very traps they have laid for the psalmist.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 141:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-141.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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