Psalm 41 – Prayer for Help in Sickness and Against Whispering Traitors
The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Alexander Maclaren well described it: “The central mass of this psalm describes the singer as suffering from two evils: sickness and treacherous friends.”
A. The blessed one and the enemy of the blessed one.
1. (1-3) Blessings belonging to the one who considers the poor.
Blessed is he who considers the poor;
The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.
The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive,
And he will be blessed on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed.
a. Blessed is he who considers the poor: The idea behind the word here translated poor may include economic poverty, but it is broader. It has the idea of weak or helpless. David described the blessings that come to the righteous man or woman, and he summarizes the life of that righteous one by his generosity to the poor. David didn’t think that this was the only thing that marked the godly, but it was a significant thing.
i. “The poor intended, are such as are poor in substance, weak in bodily strength, despised in repute, and desponding in spirit. These are mostly avoided and frequently scorned.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “There are plenty around you, who, if not poor in the things of this world, are poor in love and hope and the knowledge of God.” (Meyer)
iii. Upon reflection, he who considers the poor – that is, the weak, helpless, and poor – is a broad measure of the righteous man or woman.
· He who considers the poor trusts God, willing to give from his own resources.
· He who considers the poor is kind to those in need.
· He who considers the poor helps those who likely will not help him in return.
· He who considers the poor has a generous heart.
· He who considers the poor gives for their good, not simply to make himself feel good.
iv. Considers: “Implies giving careful thought to this person’s situation, rather than perfunctory help.” (Kidner)
v. Upon reflection, much charity work – by religious, social, and political organizations – fails in this measure: he who considers the poor. Money and assistance are given, but in a way that contributes to chronic dependence and deeply ingrained social problems.
b. The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble: This begins a list of several blessings that come to the generous person. This was especially true under the Old Covenant (sometimes also called the Mosaic Covenant). An essential aspect of that covenant was blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (as in Deuteronomy 28).
i. “Probably, therefore, the general promises of Psalms 41:1-3 are silently applied by the psalmist to himself; and he is comforting his own sorrow with the assurance…. He has been merciful, and believes, though things look dark, that he will obtain mercy.” (Maclaren)
c. He will be blessed on the earth: This is another indication that this promise of blessing for obedience was connected to the Old Covenant, which dealt much more with earthly and physical blessings than with eternal and spiritual matters.
d. You will sustain him on his sickbed: Most commentators believe that David’s misery and low state in this psalm were due to sickness (Psalm 41:8). Perhaps he was in danger of death (Psalm 41:5). David trusted that God would bless him for his prior goodness to the weak and needy.
2. (4-6) A sinner’s plea for mercy against evil-speaking enemies.
I said, “LORD, be merciful to me;
Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”
My enemies speak evil of me:
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
And if he comes to see me, he speaks lies;
His heart gathers iniquity to itself;
When he goes out, he tells it.
a. LORD, be merciful to me: Without saying it directly, David seemed to appeal to God on the basis of his own good works, especially consideration of the poor (Psalm 41:1). In light of his relative righteousness, and according to the terms of the Old Covenant, David could and did ask God for mercy and blessing.
i. “No appeal is made to justice; the petitioner but hints at the promised reward, but goes straightforward to lay his plea at the feet of mercy.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It is a plea for mercy in view of the merciless treatment the psalmist has been receiving from his foes and friends alike.” (Boice)
b. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You: David knew that he had done much good, but that did not erase his sins. He understood that his sins were directed against God and that they made him like a sick or injured person who needed healing in his soul. His body was sick, but more important was his soul-sickness.
i. We can identify at least three ways that David say he needed healing for his soul.
· Heal my soul from its great distress.
· Heal my soul of the effect of sin.
· Heal my soul of my tendency to sin.
ii. David made a plain and honest confession of his sins when he said, I have sinned against You.
· A confession without excuse.
· A confession without qualification.
· A confession without superficiality.
iii. “Saul and Judas each said, ‘I have sinned;’ but David says, ‘I have sinned against thee.’” (Plainer, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Applying the petition to David and other sinful believers, how strangely evangelical is the argument: heal me, not for I am innocent, but ‘I have sinned.’ How contrary is this to all self-righteous pleading!” (Spurgeon)
v. “There is no note of despair in his prayer. The psalmist is not depressed by the weight of his sin; it is likely that he makes a general confession of unwitting sins that he may have committed.” (VanGemeren)
c. My enemies speak evil of me: David knew the hurt and difficulty of evil and lies spread about him. Like believers of all ages, David had to endure sometimes-outrageous slander and defamation of character.
i. Don’t forget that David was a good king. “Why should David have had so many enemies if he was actually a good king and a moral person? The reason is jealousy as well as a desire for power in those who were jealous.” (Boice)
ii. “It is often a good man’s lot to be evil spoken of; to have his motives, and even his most benevolent acts, misconstrued.” (Clarke)
iii. The early history of Christianity tells us the reasons why Christians were persecuted, or at least why people in the Roman Empire thought Christians were worthy of persecution.
· They accused Christians of hostility to the emperors and conspiracy against the state.
· They accused Christians of incest.
· They accused Christians of cannibalism.
· They accused Christians of being atheists.
· They accused Christians of being “haters of humanity.”
· They accused Christians of being the reason why problems plagued the empire.
iv. The enemies of early Christianity spoke evil of the followers of Jesus, and they spoke lies.
· Christians were good citizens and prayed for the emperor.
· Christians lived pure moral lives.
· Christians never practiced anything like cannibalism.
· Christians were certainly not atheists.
· Christians loved others, and showed it all the time.
· Christians made the empire better, not worse.
v. Still, these lies were commonly believed and Christians were persecuted because of them. The apologists of the early church did what they could to tell the truth, but it was a losing public relations battle. These lies were popularly believed.
d. When will he die, and his name perish? This is what the evil-speaking enemies of David said among themselves. They couldn’t wait for David to die, and they did whatever they could to bring his death to pass.
i. If he comes to see me: See “is used for visiting the sick in 2 Kings 8:29, and speaks lying condolence, while he greedily collects encouraging symptoms that the disease is hopeless.” (Maclaren)
ii. “When they visited the king his courtiers said the right things: ‘We were so sorry to hear that you are sick…. We have been praying for you and will continue to pray…. We hope you are going to be better really soon…. Everything is being taken care of…. Is there anything we can do?’ These words were sheer hypocrisy. These people were not hoping that David would get well at all. After they left him they said things like, ‘Didn’t he look awful?… I don’t think he’s going to make it, do you?’” (Boice)
e. His heart gathers iniquity to itself: David thought of the evil heart like a magnet, constantly drawing additional sin and iniquity unto itself.
3. (7-9) Whispers and betrayal.
All who hate me whisper together against me;
Against me they devise my hurt.
“An evil disease,” they say, “clings to him.
And now that he lies down, he will rise up no more.”
Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.
a. All who hate me whisper together against me: David knew of – or at least could sense – the whispered conspiracies set in motion against him, meant to devise his hurt.
i. All who hate me whisper together: “The spy meets his comrades in conclave and sets them all a-whispering. Why could they not speak out? Were they afraid of the sick warrior? Or were their designs so treacherous that they must needs be hatched in secrecy?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The same weapons are frequently employed against the servants of Christ; but let them not be, on that account, discouraged from following their Master.” (Horne)
b. An evil disease…clings to him: This may have been true. David described such a time of illness in Psalm 38:3 and 38:6-8. David’s enemies were happy at the thought that he might die and rise up no more.
i. We can imagine how his enemies – probably pretended friends – said this of David as he suffered on his sickbed.
ii. What they said was strong and condemning toward David. “The word ‘vile’ [evil] is a translation of ‘Belial’ and could also be rendered as ‘a sickness from the devil’ or ‘an accursed disease.’” (VanGemeren)
c. Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me: David’s woe was made more bitter because among his enemies were those who had once been a familiar friend to him. He knew what it was like when trusted friends – those he had close relationship with (who ate my bread) – betrayed him.
i. David was betrayed by his own son Absalom (2 Samuel 15) and by a trusted adviser named Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12 and 15:31). “What greater wound can there be than a treacherous friend?” (Trapp)
ii. In the ultimate and most sinister sense, this was fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus specifically applied these words to Judas and his treachery. In John 13:18 Jesus quoted this phrase, but only the words He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me. Some think Jesus deliberately left off the words in whom I trusted because He didn’t trust Judas. However, Jesus did make him the treasurer among the disciples (John 12:6 and 13:29).
iii. “The kiss of the traitor wounded our Lord’s heart as much as the nail wounded his hand.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “So these words were literally fulfilled in David, and yet the Holy Ghost, which dictated them, looked further in them, even to Christ and Judas, in whom they received a further and fuller accomplishment.” (Poole)
v. “The idiom ‘has lifted up his heel against me’ signifies a treacherous act (cf. Genesis 3:15; Psalm 55:12-14).” (VanGemeren)
vi. “Not merely turned his back on me, but left me with a heavy kick such as a vicious horse might give.” (Spurgeon)
B. A plea and praise.
1. (10-12) David prays for mercy from God and triumph over his enemies.
But You, O LORD, be merciful to me, and raise me up,
That I may repay them.
By this I know that You are well pleased with me,
Because my enemy does not triumph over me.
As for me, You uphold me in my integrity,
And set me before Your face forever.
a. O LORD, be merciful to me and raise me up, that I may repay them: David prayed not only for forgiveness and deliverance, but also for triumph over his enemies. As the LORD’s anointed, he felt justified in this, and looked for God’s deliverance as evidence that God was well pleased with him.
i. “The plea that I may repay them is unusual, in that the psalms mostly pray that God Himself will do this.” (Kidner)
b. You uphold me in my integrity: David felt that in contrast to his enemies, he was a man of integrity. Still, he needed God to uphold him in his integrity – recognizing that it was God’s work in him.
c. And set me before Your face forever: This was the most important thing to David, more important than triumph over his enemies. To be set…before the face of God meant to enjoy His favor and fellowship.
i. “To stand before an earthly monarch is considered to be a singular honour, but what must it be to be a perpetual courtier in the palace of the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible?” (Spurgeon)
ii. We notice that all the benefits of 11-12 are in the present tense. David did not believe that God would bring them to him; he believed that he had them already.
2. (13) Ending with praise.
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
From everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.
a. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel: Many commentators believe that this is an end not only to this psalm, but to first book of Psalms. Here Yahweh is honored as the covenant God of Israel. It was fitting for David to end the song with his eyes on the LORD, not upon himself or his enemies.
i. The five books of the Psalms are as follows:
· Book One – Psalms 1 to 41 (41 psalms).
· Book Two – Psalms 42 to 72 (31 psalms).
· Book Three – Psalms 73 to 89 (17 psalms).
· Book Four – Psalms 90 to 105 (16 psalms).
· Book Five – Psalms 106 to 150 (45 psalms).
ii. “Each of the five books ends with an outburst of praise, clinched by a double Amen (here and at 72:19; 89:52), an Amen and Hallelujah [Praise the Lord, NKJV] (106:48) or, finally, what is virtually a double Hallelujah (150:6), indeed a whole psalm of doxology.” (Kidner)
iii. Morgan thought that the emphasis on the LORD God of Israel in this doxology was fitting for the first book of Psalms. “The prevailing name of God found in this collection is Jehovah. The songs have set forth in varied ways all that this name meant to the men of faith. Thus the Doxology utters the praise of Jehovah, Who is the God of Israel.” (Morgan)
b. From everlasting to everlasting: The LORD is to be praised as the eternal God, stretching from eternity past to eternity future.
i. “The word everlasting in Hebrew means the vanishing point. The idea is that the God of Israel is Jehovah from the past which is beyond human knowledge, to the future which is equally so…. To us the great truth is made more clear in the words of Jesus: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega.’” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org