Psalm 18 - Great Praise from a Place of Great Victory - Page 3 (series: Lessons on Psalms

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

The sorrows of death compassed me. These words and the words that follow, in this verse and Psalm 18:5, can be applied to both David and Christ. With regard to David, they show the traps that were set for taking his life, the deadly menace he faced, and the anxiety he felt on account of it. And they can be applied Christ, because His life to the time of his death involved sorrow; He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and He personally bore and carried the sorrows and grief of all His people. And His sorrows overwhelmed Him in the garden, where He saw the sins of His people, which he was about to bear upon the cross; and from an apprehension of the wrath of God, and curse of the law, which He was going to meet with for them, when his soul was eaten up with sorrow, bringing Him to the very brink of death (Matthew 26:38{7]). My friend, His sorrow was so great, and lay so heavy upon him, that it almost pressed him down to death, he could barely live under it. The Lord’s sorrows may have been increased when He anticipated the very pains and agonies of death; he died the death of the cross, which was a very painful and excruciating death (Psalm 22:14{8]). The Hebrew word for "sorrows" denotes the pains of child bearing, and it is fitting to use it here for the sufferings and death of Christ; through which he brought many sons to glory.

The sorrows of death. The word rendered “sorrows” means “a cord, a rope,” and hence, "a snare or noose," which denotes a condition of great danger and alarm, as if death was inevitable; and the idea here is that he was taken in the snares of death, or in the bands of death—“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 116:3). David was almost trapped in those nets or schemes by which, if he had been entangled, he would have lost his life. The strategies to which he refers were those that were designed for his capture and destruction; hence, called the cables or cords of death. Death is represented as a hunter, who goes out with nets and cords, encompassing his victims and driving them into the toils.

Compassed me—“surrounded me” or “coiled around me.” That is, he was in imminent danger of death, or was feeling the type of pangs and sorrows which are commonly thought to accompany death. David probably refers to some period in his past life—perhaps his suffering from the persecutions of Saul—a time when he was so plagued with troubles and worries that it seemed to him that he must die.

The corresponding verse in 2 Samuel is 22:5, which says, “When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.” The picture is of the psalmist being buffeted by wave after wave as he labors to advance through a raging sea. The waves representing the pains and sorrows of his life. With regard to Christ the allusion may be to the power of death, under which the Messiah was held for a while, but was loosed from it at His resurrection—“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24).

And the floods of ungodly men made me afraid, may specifically be applied to the Lord Jesus. The ungodly men would, in that case, be the multitude of men such as Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and the Jewish people, who all gathered together against Him; so the Targum{9] renders it, "a company of wicked men"; or the variety of sufferings he endured because of them; such as spitting upon, buffering, scourging, etc. The word rendered “ungodly men” is “Belial,” and signifies vain, worthless, and unprofitable men; men of no account, lawless men, and very wicked persons. The word “Belial” is used in the New Testament for Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15{10]), and the “floods of Belial” may not refer so much to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, as to his violent and impulsive attacks upon Christ in the garden, when He was struggling with him, “and being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

The floods of ungodly men. The word rendered floods means, in the singular, a stream, brook, rivulet; and then, a torrent, such as that which is formed by rain and snow-water in the mountains (Job 6:15{11]). The word is used here to refer to ungodly men as if they were poured forth in streams and torrents, in such multitudes that the psalmist was likely to be overwhelmed by them, as one would be by floods of water. If applied to Christ, it may refer to the hours the Lord spent fastened to the cross, when all the sins of His people came flowing in upon Him, like mighty torrents, from all quarters; when God laid on Him the iniquity of them all, and He was made sin for them; and in a view of all this "he began to be sore amazed" (Mark 14:33{12]).

"Made me afraid." Made me apprehensive of losing my life. To what particular period of his life he is referring to is impossible now to determine.

5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

The sorrows of hell. The word used here is the same as that in the clause “the sorrows of death” which occurs in the previous verse, and which is also rendered "sorrows." It is correctly translated in both verses as "sorrows," and the idea is that His sufferings encompassed, encircled, or enclosed Him, or seized Him. The idea then, is His descent to the under-world, or the going down to the place of the dead. But some would seem to favor interpreting the word as “cords” instead of “sorrows.” If it means "cords, or bands," then the idea is that He was seized with pain as if cords were used to bind Him and then to drag Him down to the abodes of the dead. This clause has also been rendered “the cords of the grave(s)”, under the power of which The Lord Jesus was detained for a while; the allusion then, may be to the manner of burying among the Jews, who wound up their dead bodies in linen clothes, so that they were like persons bound hand and foot; and this is how they appeared then they were laid in the grave (see John 11:44); and so was Christ, till He was raised from the dead, when He showed Himself to have the keys of hell and death, and to be no more under their power, or to ever again be held by them.

The word rendered here as “hell” is the Hebrew word she'ôl. It means the “under-world, the regions of the dead,” which is figuratively considered to be a city or large habitation with gates and bars in which there are many chambers (Proverbs 7:27). "Sheol" is never full, but is always asking or craving more (Proverbs 27:20; Hebrews 2:5). Here it means, not a place of punishment, but the region of the dead, where the ghosts of the departed are considered as residing together. The sorrows of hell is a description of one who was overcome with the dread of death and the thought of what comes afterwards.

Compassed me. See the same expression in verse 4, above.
The snares of death. The word “snares” refers to nets and snares, which are used in bagging wild beasts by suddenly throwing cords around them and binding them fast. The idea here is that "Death" (death and hell are personified) had thrown around him its nets or snares and had bound him fast. He was just on the point of dropping into the pit which they had dug for him. In short, David was all but a dead man; and nothing less than the immediate interference of God could have saved my life. As for Christ, this clause expresses the insidious ways and methods which the enemies of Christ used to entrap him, and take away his life, and in which they succeeded: “And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him” (Matthew 26:4).

Prevented me. The snares of death prevented me. The Hebrew word which has been rendered here as “prevented” means to "anticipate, to go before." The idea here is that those snares had, so to speak, “suddenly rushed upon him” or “seized him” or "took Him by surprise”; the sense is, he was taken in by his enemies. He does not mean that he was in their power.

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