Prayer for Preservation From Enemies – Part 1
A couple of dozen verses scattered throughout Psalms are referred to as imprecations meaning “curses or an invocation of judgment, calamity, or curses uttered against one’s enemies, or the enemies of God” (Laney 36). The psalms themselves are laments which are categorized as Imprecatory Psalms. Psalm 140 is in the major genre considered a lament. The Lament psalms are in turn sub-divided into community and individual laments. So, this psalm is an individual lament which contains an imprecatory section in verses nine through eleven. The ferocity, vengefulness, and rancor expressed in these verses seem out of place in an inspired Hebrew hymnal. A few examples of these imprecations are found in Psalms 69:28; 109:10; 137:8-9.
In the New Testament, Christians are instructed to love their enemies (Mt. 5:43-45). When they are struck on the right cheek, they are to turn to them the left cheek. They are to count it all joy when they are persecuted. Saints are required to be peacemakers and share with them the Gospel. Trials are said to improve one’s faith. For those persecutors who do not repent, the children of God are encouraged to trust in the providence of God to protect them and to look forward to the Day of Judgment for Divine justice.
The title of Psalm 140 informs us this is a prayer of David. Although some suggest it is only a psalm in the style of David.
The three-fold use of “selah” helps divide this Psalm into distinct parts. When the singer comes to the “selah” he is to pause, ponder, and profit before the singing continues to the next point. Interestingly, the previous mention of selah occurred back in Psalm 89.
The last part of verse three is quoted in Romans 3:13. Paul gives acceptance of this Psalm as inspired proof in his argument that both Jews and Gentiles are “under sin.”
This psalm shares several common points with the previous Psalm 139. First, David pleads in the previous Psalm for God to slay his enemies and in Psalm 140 calls upon God to turn their evil back upon their own heads. The slanderers attack God in 139:19-21. In this psalm it is David who is maligned by their evil tongues.
John Phillips sees a connection with the psalms which follow this psalm. “Clearly Psalms 140, 141, 142, and 143 are bound together by common composition, common circumstances, and common characteristics. For instance, several Hebrew words occur only in these psalms” (Phillips 602).
Preservation from Evil Men
The psalmist begins his prayer with three analogous pleads to the Lord: deliver me, preserve me, and keep me from my enemy. “Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men” (140:1). When David was facing a dead end with his enemies trapping him from behind, he could depend on the Lord for deliverance. “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9).
▸ Violent Hearts:
“violent men, Who plan evil things in their hearts” (140:1b,2a).
All that David is facing is a premeditation on that part of evil men planning evil things against him. The examples of these types of planned attacks against David in his lifetime are too numerous to list. The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were often making plans in their hearts to trap Jesus.
▸ Vigorous Confederacy:
“They continually gather together for war” (140:2b).
King Saul should have been at times warring against the Philistines or other enemies of God’s people. Instead, he was chasing David with his army around and around in the wilderness. “Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats” (1Sam. 24:2). John Calvin wrote, “they stirred up general enmity by their false information which acted as a trumpet sounding to battle.”
▸ Verminous Tongues:
“They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips” (140:3).
The historical setting of this psalm is not known. Some believe it may have been when Doeg killed the eighty-five priests at Nob because the High Priest helped David by giving him the sword of Goliath and fed his men with the old shewbread from the Tabernacle. Perhaps, it was when King Saul’s men spread lies about David’s ambitions for Saul’s throne. It could have also been a reference to the time David’s son, Absalom, rebelled and seized Jerusalem.
The fangs of the serpent may be what is being referenced by term “tongues.” It is more likely the actions of the snake’s tongue which rapidly moves in and out of its mouth to “smell” its environment and locate its victim. It is as if the asp is sharpening it for the strike. Obviously, the psalmist is using poetic license to metaphorically describe the characteristics of the wicked. Shakespeare’s “King Lear” reads: “She struck me with her tongue, most serpent like, upon the very heart.”
The Hebrew word for asp is acshub also rendered adder. The exact species of snake is unknown as the term is only found here in the Bible.
Spurgeon observed, “David’s enemies were as violent as they were evil, as crafty as they were violent, and as persistent as they were crafty.” God can deliver the upright from their enemies no matter how violent their plans, united their attacks or verminous their tongues.
Preservation From Wicked Hands
Verse four is a repeat of verse one using synonymous parallelism. “Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; Preserve me from violent men.” In this case David asked the Lord to “keep” him or guard him from his enemies’ action not just their plans and slanderous words.
■ Stumbling Steps
Those who set a trap for Daniel are a good example of the type of enemies David was alluding to in this passage. “The governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’” (Dan. 6:4-5). So, they set him up, so he could be caught practicing his religion and breaking a new law.
■ Surprising Snares:
“The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords” (140:5a).
The evil men have planned, spoke, and now are practicing evil against David. King Saul laid many snares to catch David. “Cords” may refer to ropes used to capture and hold a prey.
■ Spreading Nets:
“They have spread a net by the wayside” (140:5b).
The Hebrew term translated “wayside” here means “by the hand of the paths” (Phillips 607). The idea seems to be that if David were to deviate his walk on the path, he will fall victim to their nets.
■ Setting Traps:
“They have set traps for me” (140:5c).
As if stumbling blocks, snares, cords, nets are not quite efficient enough, David must face “traps” set for him.
Pause-Ponder-Profit: Selah (140:5d).
Many modern-day saints have experienced persecutions in the form of oral and emotional abuse. God is still able to deliver the saint out any type of trial planned by evil men.
– Daniel R. Vess