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Psalm 62:5-12 Biblical Commentary:
In the midst of adversity––beset by enemies––the psalmist declares his faith in God. God is his rock, his salvation, and his fortress. The psalmist trusts God alone for his salvation.
For the Chief Musician. To Jeduthan. A Psalm by David.
Jeduthun was among those appointed by David to give thanks to Yahweh with various musical instruments (1 Chronicles 16:41-42; 25:1-6).
PSALM 62:1-4. NOT IN THE LECTIONARY READING
1 My soul rests in God alone.
My salvation is from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress—
I will never be greatly shaken.
3 How long will you assault a man,
would all of you throw him down,
Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?
4 They fully intend to throw him down from his lofty place.
They delight in lies.
They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.
Verses 1-3 express David’s faith in Yahweh. Because of his faith that Yahweh is his rock, salvation, and fortress, David will never be shaken.
Verses 3-4 are addressed to David’s adversaries, who are trying to topple him. Unscrupulous, they use lies to achieve their nefarious purposes. They say nice things outwardly, but curse inwardly.
Keep in mind that David was a king––a man with considerable power––a man who would be envied by all. He also led Israel’s army a host of Israel’s enemies. Anyone who exercises that kind of power can count on opposition from (1) those who would like to usurp their power (2) those who think they are making bad decisions and (3) those who are just plain jealous.
This still happens at every level of government and business. It happens even in the church, where pastors need a thick skin and iron pants––and where Clergy Killers sometimes use unscrupulous methods to unseat them.
PSALM 62:5-8. MY SOUL WAITS FOR GOD
5 My soul, wait in silence for God alone,
for my expectation is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.
I will not be shaken.
7 With God is my salvation and my honor.
The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people.
Pour out your heart before him.
God is a refuge for us.
“My soul, wait in silence (Hebrew: damam)
for God (Hebrew: elohim) alone” (v. 5a). In the original Hebrew, there is no word for “wait” in this verse.
The word damam means to be silent or unmovable. A more literal translation would be, “My soul, be silent or immovable in God alone.” The idea is to remain quietly and firmly fixed on God (elohim) alone. It expresses the faith that God will deliver those who are faithful.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word for God is usually YHWH or Yahweh, which is the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob––the God of Israel. In this verse, however, the psalmist uses elohim, which is a generic name for a god or gods. In other words, it could be used of gods other than Yahweh. However, when it is used in the plural form of one God, as it is here, scholars refer to it as a “plural of majesty”––like the “royal we” where the king uses “we” to speak of himself and those whom he commands.
“for my expectation (Hebrew: tigwah) is from him” (v. 5b). The word tigwah means hope. Tigwah is expectant––optimistic––forward looking.
But the message of this verse isn’t that the psalmist is hopeful. The message is that his hope stems from his relationship with God. He has faith in God, and that gives him faith in the future.
“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress” (Hebrew: misgab) (v. 6a). A misgab is a fortress. It can have its roots in geography, such as an river or cliff that stands as a barrier to enemies. It can be something that people have built, such as fortified walls. It is a place where a person can feel secure. The psalmist says that God is his misgab––his fortress––his security.
Paul expressed this kind of faith in his letter to the church in Rome. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In other words, if God is for us, what does it matter who is against us––because, in the end, God will prevail. When we have faith in God, we can indeed become rock-steady in the midst of a stormy world.
“I will not be shaken” (Hebrew: mot) (v. 6b). The word mot means to be moved or to fall. It carries the sense of wavering or weakness. David vows not be allow his enemies to get the best of him. He will not shake or tremble at the thought of them.
From a practical standpoint, someone who is besieged by enemies will do well not to show fear or weakness, because those will only encourage the enemy.
But that isn’t the reason that David determines not to be shaken. He will stand as solid as a rock, because he serves a God who is solid as a rock. His determination to stand steady is not a way to intimidate enemies, but is based on his faith in God.
“With God is my salvation (Hebrew: yasa) and my honor” (Hebrew: kabod) (v. 7a). Salvation (yesa) has many meanings. In this context, where the psalmist has been talking about his enemies, yasa means deliverance from one’s enemies.
The word kabod (honor) is most often used to speak of God’s glory––his majesty. However, it also means honor, majesty, and wealth. In this context, honor is the preferred meaning. The psalmist is saying that he has entrusted his honor and reputation to God.
The rock of my strength, and my refuge (Hebrew manseh), is in God” (v. 7b). A manseh is a refuge or a shelter. It is a place where a person can go to find peace and quiet––security––refuge from the pressures and dangers of life. God is the psalmist’s refuge.
“Trust in him at all times, you people.
Pour out your heart before him.
God is a refuge for us” (v. 8). The psalmist has borne witness to his faith––and the peace it has afforded him. Now he encourages others to adopt the same faith so that they might experience the same blessings.
“Selah” (v. 8b). Selah seems to be a musical notation, perhaps signaling a pause or a change of volume or intensity.
PSALM 62:9-12. MEN ARE JUST A BREATH
9 Surely men of low degree are just a breath,
and men of high degree are a lie.
In the balances they will go up.
They are together lighter than a breath.
10 Don’t trust in oppression.
Don’t become vain in robbery.
If riches increase,
don’t set your heart on them.
11 God has spoken once; twice I have heard this, that power belongs to God.
12 Also to you, Lord, belongs loving kindness, for you reward every man according to his work.
“Surely men of low degree are just a breath” (Hebrew hebel).
and men of high degree are a lie” (v. 9ab)
The original text doesn’t include the phrases “of low degree” and “of high degree.” It seems to be common practice to include them in translations. I have not found a good explanation.
The word hebel (breath) is difficult to translate exactly. It carries the idea of brevity or something like a vapor that appears for a moment and then is gone. Our phrase, “Here today; gone tomorrow,” has something of that sense.
The King James Version translated hebel (breath) as vanity, from the Latin vanitas, which carries the idea of fleeting or useless. Today we usually use vanity to mean excessive pride, so breath or vapor are better choices.
The idea behind this verse is that people, whether of low or high degree, have issues. Those of low degree live and die, leaving little trace. Those of high degree probably got there by hook or crook––using deceit or other nefarious means to gain power and wealth.
“In the balances they will go up.
They are together lighter than a breath” (v. 9cd). When God places a weight on one side of the scale to take people’s measure, that side of the scale will drop like a rock, propelling the people upwards as if it had no weight. This is not a way of saying that God is taking them to heaven. It is a way of saying that they have little or no substance.
Does this apply only to those of a high degree who are a lie, or does it apply to all people, regardless of status. Both are probably true.
“Don’t trust in oppression.
Don’t become vain in robbery” (v. 10ab). Jewish law prohibits oppression and robbery. However, people are always tempted to use evil means to obtain financial gain. The psalmist calls us not to trust these evil means.
“If riches increase,
don’t set your heart on them” (v. 10cd). This is a difficult edict to obey. When riches increase, we naturally rely more and more heavily on them––and less and less on God.
When a wealthy man came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor––and then come and follow Jesus. The man went away without doing so, because he had many possessions. Jesus told his disciples:
“Most certainly I say to you,
a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye,
than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).
Jesus further taught:
“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth,
where moth and rust consume,
and where thieves break through and steal;
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust consume,
and where thieves don’t break through and steal;
for where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
“Charge those who are rich in this present world
that they not be haughty,
nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches,
but on the living God,
who richly provides us with everything to enjoy;
that they do good, that they be rich in good works,
that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come,
that they may lay hold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
“God has spoken once;
twice I have heard this” (v. 11a). How did God speak to the psalmist? He doesn’t say. Perhaps he read a scripture that leapt off the page and gripped him. Perhaps God spoke in a vision––or in a “still, small voice” (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).
However God chose to speak, his voice was effective. His words found their way into the psalmist’s heart, where he heard them a second time––and almost certainly many more times. God spoke, and his words kept speaking.
“that power belongs to God” (v. 11b). This is the message that the psalmist heard––”all power belongs to God.” This recaps the message of verses 5-8, which speak of God as “my rock, my salvation, my fortress” (v. 6). And also verses 9-10, which speak of people as “just a breath” (v. 9). If we want access to trustworthy power, look to God and not to other people––or to money (v. 10).
“Also to you, Lord, belongs loving kindness” (Hebrew: hesed) (v. 12a). The word hesed has a rich variety of meanings––kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. Each of these meanings indicate a kindly and positive attitude toward the beloved.
“for you reward (Hebrew: salam) every man according to his work” (Hebrew: ma‘aseh) (v. 12b). The word salam has several meanings––to be safe or complete, to repay or reward. The ones that fit here are repay or reward.
The word ma‘aseh means works or deeds. The psalmist is saying that God rewards people based on their works––on what they have done. That was certainly the Old Testament understanding, with its emphasis on obeying God’s laws.
But there is a mild tension between verse 12a, which emphasizes God’s loving kindness, his mercy––and verse 12b, which emphasizes human works.
That tension is amplified in the New Testament, with Paul’s emphasis on salvation by faith (Romans 1:7; 3:22-31; 4:5; 5:1-20; 6:5; 7:24-25; 8:1-2, 37-39; 9:30; 11:20). That tension is further amplified when we see James’ emphasis on works as an outgrowth of faith––and as evidence that faith is really at work in a person (James 2).
In truth, both Old and New Testaments find faith and works to be critical to the Godly life. The emphasis shifts from works to faith as we move from Old to New––but both faith and works are important in both testaments.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, Vol. 14a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 42-89, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2013)
Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan