In this psalm we are taught that God watches over the safety of his people, and never fails them in the hour of danger. They are exhorted to advance through all perils, secure in the confidence of his protection. The truth inculcated is one of great use, for though many talk much of God’s providence, and profess to believe that he exercises a special guardianship over his own children, few are found actually willing to intrust their safety to him. 575
1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the High One shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2. I will say to Jehovah, He is my hope and my fortress: my God; in him will I hope. 3. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, from the noxious pestilence. 4. He shall protect thee with his wings, and under his feathers shalt thou be safe; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the High One. Some Hebrew interpreters read the three first verses as one continuous sentence, down to the words, he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler The whole would then run thus — “He who dwells in the covert of the Most High, and abides under his shadow, to him will I say of Jehovah, that he is his hope and defense, and the God in whom he may safely rest, for he shall deliver him from the snare,” etc. This is evidently a forced construction to put upon the verses, and the reason which has led some to adopt it is weak and insufficient. They consider that the first verse repeats the same thing twice, and therefore conveys no proper meaning. But this is a great mistake; for the inspired penman of the psalm, whoever he may have been, states two ideas quite distinct, That he who is hid under the Divine protection occupies a safe and secure position, where no hostile weapon can reach him. Or should the verse be read — He who has God to be the guardian of his safety shall rest under the shadow of God; still the second clause would retain an emphatic meaning, for the power of God would be contrasted with that weak defense which man is able to extend. Those, too, who dwell in the secret place of God are here said by the Psalmist to dwell under his shadow, in the sense that they experience to what a rich extent his protection reaches. Men generally seek out a great-variety of hiding-places, having recourse to one or another, according as the calamities are different which threaten to overtake them; but here we are taught that the only safe and impregnable fortress to which we can betake ourselves is the protection of God. He contrasts the security of those who trust in God with the vanity of all other confidences by which we are apt to delude ourselves.
In the second verse he repeats the truth which he had already inculcated, showing at the same time that he speaks from his personal feeling and experience as a believer. This is very necessary in one who would be a teacher; for we cannot communicate true knowledge unless we deliver it not merely with the lips, but as something which God has revealed to our own hearts. 576 The Psalmist accordingly gives evidence, that what he had taught in the preceding verse accorded with his own inward experience. Some read, I will say concerning the Lord, and the Hebrew prefix, ל, lamed, may be so rendered; but the other translation which I have given conveys the more forcible meaning. The believer does more than simply resolve to make God his fortress; he draws near in the trust of the Divine promises, and familiarly addresses God. This confidence in prayer affords an additional proof how securely the people of God can dwell under his shadow. This holy species of boasting constitutes the very highest triumph of faith, when we betake ourselves to God without fear under our worst trials, and are fully persuaded that he answers all our prayers, nay, that we have in him a sufficiency and a superabundance of help.
In verse third the Psalmist expresses his assurance that the trust of which he had spoken would not be vain and delusory, but that God would prove at all times the deliverer of his people. He is evidently to be considered as addressing himself, and in this way encouraging his own heart to hope in the Lord. Some think that by the snare of the fowler, spoken of here in connection with the pestilence, is to be understood hidden mischief as distinguished from open aggression, and that the Psalmist declares the Divine protection to be sufficient for him, whether Satan should attack him openly and violently or by more secret and subtle methods. I would not reject this interpretation; for though some may think that the words should be taken in their simpler acceptation, the Psalmist most probably intended under these terms to denote all different kinds of evil, and to teach us that God was willing and able to deliver us from any of them.
4 He shall protect thee with his wings. This figure, which is employed in other parts of Scripture, is one which beautifully expresses the singularly tender care with which God watches over our safety. When we consider the majesty of God, there is nothing which would suggest a likeness such as is here drawn between him and the hen or other birds, who spread their wings over their young ones to cherish and protect them. But, in accommodation to our infirmity, he does not scruple to descend, as it were, from the heavenly glory which belongs to him, and to encourage us to approach him under so humble a similitude. Since he condescends in such a gracious manner to our weakness, surely there is nothing to prevent us from coming to him with the greatest freedom. By the truth of God, which, the Psalmist says, would be his shield and buckler, we must understand God’s faithfulness, as never deserting his people in the time of their need; still we cannot doubt that he had in his eye the Divine promises, for it is only by looking to these that any can venture to cast themselves upon the protection of God. As, without the word, we cannot come to the enjoyment of that Divine mercy of which the Psalmist had already spoken, he now comes forward himself to bear witness in behalf of it. Formerly, under the comparison of a fortress, he had taught that by trusting in God we shall enjoy safety and security; now he compares God to a shield, intimating that he will come between us and all our enemies to preserve us from their attacks.
“Early, after the dark night of afflictions.” — Ainsworth.
This psalm is allowed to be one of the finest in the whole collection. “Could the Latin or any modern language,” says Simon de Muis, “express thoroughly all the beauties and elegancies as well of the words as of the sentences, it would not be difficult to persuade the reader that we have no poem, either in Greek or Latin, comparable to this Hebrew ode.” It is supposed by some to have been composed by Moses on the same occasion as the preceding; but others think it was written by David on the occasion of the pestilence which was inflicted upon the people as a punishment of his sin in numbering them, (2Sa 24.) It is ascribed to David in the Septuagint, Chaldee, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions. Its subject-matter affords us no assistance in determining who was its inspired author, or on what occasion it was written. “There is, however, no reason,” says Walford, “to regret our unacquaintedness with these particulars, as the poem is so clear and intelligible, that nothing in it can be mistaken or misunderstood. The purpose of it is to illustrate the safety and happiness which result from the knowledge of God, and the exercise of a steadfast dependence upon his promise and grace. The sentiments are expressed with great force and beauty; and dead indeed must be the soul to every emotion of spiritual and heavenly delight that fails to be impressed by its truth, or to aim at the acquirement of such faith and reliance upon it as will alone render it productive of the peace and tranquillity of mind which it is intended to bestow. The learned Michaelis is of opinion that this psalm was to be recited in alternate parts by two choruses or sets of singers responding to each other, and that God himself is introduced in verse 14 as taking part of the performance.” It is supposed by the Jews to relate to the Messiah. See Mt 4:6; Luke 4:10, 11.