Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from the dread enemy.
2. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the scheming of evildoers,
3. who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
4. shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.
5. They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, 'Who can see us?
6. Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.'
For the human heart and mind are deep.

7. But God will shoot his arrow at them;
they will be wounded suddenly.
8. Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake with horror.
9. Then everyone will fear;
they will tell what God has brought about,
and ponder what he has done.

10. Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him.
Let all the upright in heart glory."

This psalm describes the spiritual battle which in fact is going on all the time all over the world. There are those who are working to oppose the will of God in the world, and to make life difficult for those who try to serve God. Anyone who wishes to do God's will and live honestly for God's kingdom in our world must be prepared to experience opposition, intrigue and ridicule (see 2 Timothy 3:12). In those Old Testament days the normal weapons of warfare were swords and bows and arrows, and so the psalm speaks of the arrows used on both sides of the battle.

The weapons of the opposition

Verses 3-6 picture how "evildoers" were making "secret plots" against others. Their tongues were like swords whetted (sharpened) for battle. Their bitter words were like arrows used to cause deep hurt and injury to those who feared God. They themselves showed no fear of any human being, nor yet of God. They thought that they could make their plans secretly and carry them out, and who would stop them? "Who can see us?" they asked. "Who can search out our crimes?"

The weapons of God

There was a response to their hurtful words and their actions - in the words and actions of God. Though "the human heart and mind are deep", God knows the secrets of every human heart, and from him nothing that we think or say or do can ever be hidden. Though evil people "aim bitter words like arrows" (verse 3), the last arrow is God's (verse 7). While they determined to act "suddenly" (verse 4), and do harm to godly people, they had to realise that God would act "suddenly", and they would be unprepared for his action (verse 7). They used the words of their tongues as swords against others, but because of those same tongues of theirs they would be brought to their ruin (verse 8).

What all this means is that all the powers of evil in the world will surely be broken in God's time and way. Those who use their strength and their positions to do harm, oppress and humiliate others through their words and actions, may sometimes seem to have great power to carry out their purposes. But God looks on and patiently waits for his own time to judge them and to vindicate his people. In our own times in many countries there have been powerful dictators who have caused immense suffering to millions of people. But all such dictators in history have been overthrown, or have died powerless. In the end it becomes clear that only those who trust God and want to do his will in their lives can rest unafraid in their reliance on God.

In the midst of the battle

The psalmist felt that he was in the midst of the battle, and he was greatly distressed. Enemies were very near and very threatening. Yet he knew that God was against all evil and that he could turn to God and cry to him, "Hear my voice". Those enemies were trying to hide what they were doing and so surprise him, but he could ask God, "hide me from the secret plots of the wicked." He believed that God must win the spiritual battle. It would be seen that in the end evil could not conquer. "Then everyone will fear", he was confident. "They will tell what God has brought about, and ponder what he has done". Inasmuch as we seek to be "righteous" and rely on God, we can truly "rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him". Yes, God fights and wins the battle for us if we refuse to avenge ourselves, and if we set his glory and honour before our eyes no matter how much we are provoked.

The most painful thing to many of us, is when the opposition we face is personal and carried out by people close to us - colleagues at work, leaders in the church, and even husband or wife or a family member. We must be ready to see where there are faults in our own lives. Then our way of meeting opposition must be by prayer, and nothing but prayer, prayer for God's intervention, so that those who are opposing us may change their minds in repentance. There is always true security for those who trust in the Lord and put his will first in their lives.

Meditation: One who faces danger or fear can often do nothing but pray, but one can always pray; and the person who prays is never helpless because God answers prayer.

For further thought and study

a. Verse 1 says more literally "save my life from the fear of the enemy". How should we deal with fear in our lives when we feel that the forces of evil against us are very strong and threatening? See Acts 4:23-31, Philippians 1:12-14 and 1 John 4:18.

b. "Who can see us?" Compare these words of verse 5 with other passages in the Bible that show the foolishness of people thinking that God does not see what they are doing. See, for example, Psalms 10:1-11, 59:6-8, 73:1-11, 94:1-11, 139:1-16 and Isaiah 29:15-16.


  1. In verse 3 "bitter words" are described as being like poisoned arrows. They may have been hurtful slanderous words spoken against godly people, or, in that society, they may have been curses that were calculated to bring trouble on those against whom they were directed.
  2. The difference between the various English translations of verses 5-6 show how hard it is to understand the Hebrew written. They may be the boast of cunning people who think that they "have devised a perfect plan" that God does not see and will not prevent. Or it may be, as the New Jerusalem Bible puts it, to the question "Who will see us, or will penetrate our secrets?" the answer is given, "He will do that, he who penetrates human nature to its depths, the depths of the heart".