Psalms 41 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Psalmist is suffering from an illness which threatens to be fatal. Treacherous enemies, and among them one who had been a trusted friend, eagerly anticipate his death. But his confidence in Jehovah remains unshaken.
It is much disputed whether the Psalmist is to be thought of as still lying on his sick-bed, or as restored to health and recording his past experience. In the latter case ‘I said’ in Psa 41:4 must be supposed to govern Psa 41:4-12, or at least Psa 41:4-10. But the former alternative appears preferable, for it is unnatural to regard the prayer of Psa 41:10 as part of a narrative, and the verb in Psa 41:4 can be rendered ‘I have said’, or ‘I say’.
The Psalm consists of four stanzas, of which the second and third cohere closely.
i. The first stanza is an expansion of the beatitude, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ The language is general, but the Psalmist is thinking of himself. Conscious, like Job (Job 30:25), of having shewn compassion towards others, he trusts that he may receive the blessings promised to the compassionate. And further, the picture of the spirit which wins divine approval emphasises the wickedness of the treatment which he is himself experiencing (Psa 41:1-3).
ii. iii. A prayer for restoration introduces the description of his present situation. The malice and hypocrisy of his enemies are vividly delineated. The climax of all is the perfidy of a trusted friend (Psa 41:4-9).
iv. From his enemies he turns to God with renewed prayer for restoration, and expression of confidence in the continuance of His favour (Psa 41:10-12).
If David was the author of the Psalm, the false friend can hardly be other than Ahithophel, and the Psalm must have been written shortly before the outbreak of Absalom’s rebellion. Absalom’s sneer at Hushai (2Sa 16:17) well illustrates the confidential relation of a trusted counsellor to the king, and the depth of his own perfidy.
It is true that the narrative in 2 Sam. makes no reference to an illness such as is here described; but that narrative necessarily passes over many details. Such an illness would account for the remissness in attending to his official duties, which Absalom’s words to the suitors for justice seem to imply (2Sa 15:3). It would account also for the strange failure of David’s natural courage which his flight from Jerusakm at the first outbreak of the rebellion appears to indicate.
Unnerved by sickness, in which he recognised a just punishment for his sins, David watched the growing disloyalty of his courtiers, and in particular of Ahithophel, without feeling able to strike and crush the conspiracy before it came to a head. Comp. generally, Psalms 55.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".