The emphasis is on joyful praise (vv. 1, 2, 11, 14), especially for God’s care of Israel and His righteous judgment on the nations that attacked His people. You find the theme of judgment and justice in verses 4, 7–8, 16 and 19–20, and note the mention of the throne of God (vv. 4, 7, 11, NIV). For a parallel passage, see Isaiah 25:1–5. “Muth-labben” means “death of a son,” but we don’t know how it relates to the psalm. Perhaps it was the name of a familiar melody to which the psalm was to be sung. Ever since the Lord spoke the words recorded in Genesis 3:15 and 12:1–3, there has been a war going on between the forces of Satan and the forces of God, and the focus has been on the nation of Israel. (See Rev. 12) That battle goes on today.
Personal Praise: God Saves the King (vv. 1–8)
David offers whole-hearted praise to the Lord (Matt. 15:8) for delivering him and his army from the enemy nations that attacked Israel. His aim was to honor the Lord, not to glorify himself. His joy was in the Lord, not just in the great victory that He had been given (Phil. 4:4), and he wanted to tell everybody about God’s wonderful works. See verses 14 and 103:1–2, 117:1, 138:1, 1 Peter 2:9, and Ephesians 2:7. “God Most High” is El Elyon; see 7:8, 10, 17; 18:13; 21:7. This was the name that Abraham honored after God gave him victory over the kings (Gen. 14).
David describes the victory in verses 3–6, verses that should be read in the past tense: “Because my enemies were turned back …” Note the repeated “You have” in verses 4–6. God turned the enemy back, and in their retreat, they stumbled and perished before the Lord. Why did the Lord do this? To maintain the right of David to be king of Israel and accomplish God’s purposes in this world. God’s rebuke is an expression of His anger (2:5; 76:6). To “blot out” a name meant to destroy the person, place or nation completely (83:4; Ex. 17:14; Deut. 25:19; 1 Sam. 15; and see Deut. 9:14, 25:19, 29:20). In contrast to the wiping out of the nations, the Lord and His great name stand forever. His throne cannot be overthrown. In fact, in the victory God gave David, the king saw a picture of the final judgment and victory when God will judge the world, and Paul referred to verse 8 in his address in Athens (Acts 17:31).
National Praise: God Shelters the People (vv. 9–20)
The focus now centers on the people of the land, whom David calls the oppressed (v. 9), the humble (“afflicted” v. 12), and the needy and the poor (v. 18). These are the faithful worshipers of the Lord who have been persecuted, abused, and exploited by local rulers for being true to the Lord. See 10:17; 25:16; 40:17; 102:1; Zephaniah 2:3 and 3:12–13. David praises the Lord for His faithfulness in caring for His sheep.
The refuge—God will not forsake them (vv. 9–10). The first word means “a high safe place” and the second “a stronghold.” During his years of exile, David found the wilderness strongholds to be places of safety, but he knew that the Lord was the safest refuge (46:1). The phrase “times of trouble” means literally “times of extremity” (see 10:1; 27:5; 37:39; 41:1; 73:5; 107:6, 13, 19, 26, 28). To “know God’s name” or “love God’s name” means to trust Him and be saved (5:11; 69:36; 91:14; 119:132; 1 Sam. 2:12). God forsook His own Son (Matt. 27:46) that He might never forsake His own people.
The avenger—God will not fail them (vv. 11–17). David calls upon the suffering remnant to sing praises to God because He is on their side and fights their battles. He will not fail to hear their cries and execute justice on their behalf. Israel’s calling was to bear witness to the nations that Jehovah is the only true and living God (18:49; 44:11; 57:9; 106:27; Isa. 42:6; 49:6). The ark was now in Jerusalem so Jehovah was on His throne in Israel. “Inquisition for blood” refers to the official investigation of murder, to see who was guilty of the crime, symbolized by having blood on the house (Deut. 22:8), the hands (Ezek. 3:17–21; 33:1–9), or the head (Acts 18:6). See Genesis 9:5 and 10:13. There was no police force in Israel, but a near kinsman could avenge the murder of a family member. This is why God assigned the six “cities of refuge” to provide havens for people who accidentally killed someone (Num. 35). But when God is the avenger, He has all the evidence He needs to find and punish rebellious sinners. The suffering remnant prays to God in verses 13–17 and asks to be taken from the gates of death (sheol, the world of the dead; see 107:18; Job 17:16; 38:17; Isa. 38:10) and put at the gates of Zion (v. 14). From death to life! They also ask God to catch their enemies in their own traps (vv. 15–16; see 7:14–16) and finally consign them to the grave (sheol). “Higgaion” could mean “meditation,” or it may refer to a solemn sound on the accompanying instruments.
The conqueror—God will not forget them (vv. 18–20). “Arise, O Lord” reminds us of the conquering march of Israel (Num. 10:35), when God went before His people to defeat their enemies. “Man” in verse 19 is enosh, “weak frail man,” a fact that sinners don’t want to admit. (This we will see in Ps. 10.) One day the Lord will put the rebels in their rightful place and they will discover that they are only—dust!