A deeply plaintive song. It is quoted seven times in the New Testament - no Psalm is quoted so often - as the utterance of Messiah.
Why it is said to be On Shoshannim we cannot tell, till we know more of what that instrument was. It seems to speak of joy; and if so, it suits this Psalm so far that in it sorrow ends in joy.
The plan of it is very simple. There are three parts.
1. Messiah's sufferings are related by himself (v1-21)
What an embodiment of prodigious passion in the cry "Save me" (v1) from the Saviour's lips! Under the sea of wrath, sinking in the slime at the very bottom of this prisoner's dungeon (Jer 38:6), Messiah's voice is heard ascending to the Father. The "slime and mire" represent the loathing he felt toward sin. He is weary with crying, for in his true, real humanity he has all the experience of one in pain, who, during the slow, heavy hours of darkness and suffering feels as if it were never to end.
He is spent with calling on his God; he is unsympathised with, for foes are on every side, and all this at the very time when he is not taking from them, but restoring the blessings which they had forfeited (v4). As to the folly and the trespass imputed to him, he lays it before God - "Lord, you know as to my folly."
You know the history the folly and sin laid to my charge, and why I stand charged. He appeals to him as able to help, for he is "God of hosts," and proved to be willing for he is "God of\ Israel" (v6). While it is out of love to man that he suffers, it is also to glorify God (v7), "for your sake."
He "weeps away his soul with fasting" (v1), for the good of men, and yet they mock him. He pours his sorrows into the heart of his God (v13), at a time when (perhaps in Nazareth) he was "the song of the drunkard" i.e. the satire (Job 30:9,. Lam 3:14)
"They who sat in the gate talk at me,
And the songs of drunkards do the same.
"As for me, I pray to you, O LORD."
And then he adds (though the punctuation in our version gives a different sense), a passage which Isaiah 49:9 seems to refer to
"O God, in an acceptable time (i.e. a time when you are favourable),
In the multitude of your mercy, in the truth of your salvation,
Hear and answer me when you see fit, when you are well-pleased. Let there be a time of acceptance. The LORD in Isaiah 49:8 replies to this cry - "In an acceptable time I have heard you" - well pleased with your work, I give you all your desire.
The cry at verses 14-16 is parallel to Hebrews 5:7, and the complaint of lack of sympathy (v20) reminds us how even his three favoured disciples fell asleep during his agony; for here he seeks comforters with the cross in view (v21).
True his whole life might be said to be a life in which he fed on gall, and drank vinegar, grief and bitterness being the everyday portion of the Man of Sorrows - still, the chief reference is to his life's closing scene, the scene of Calvary.
Hence, immediately after this, the stain changes, and we find ourselves in another scene. He has finished his work; and they who crucified Him have gone away unmoved.
2. How these sufferings of Messiah become the savour of death to the unbelieving (v22-28).
It resembles Proverbs 1:22,23. He gives them up, saying "let their table become a snare to them," since they give the Beloved Son only gall and vinegar, "and for a recompense and for a trap" - (so Mendelssohn, Phillips and many others, and Romans 11:9).
Ruin overtakes them at unthought of moments, like 1 Kings 13:20, in the case of the disobedient prophet; and their habitation is desolate, as Matthew 23:38 emphatically threatens.
The cup of iniquity is filling up, drop by drop, and Messiah does not interfere, but on the contrary says to Him who records it in his book, "Add iniquity to iniquity, and let them never be justified." Such is the "savour of death." Instead of "Come to me!" it is now "Let them not come!"
3. The savour of life from Messiah's sufferings. (v29-36)
Himself is delivered and glorified, accepted by the LORD as a full type of, of fulfiller of every sacrifice of clean animals, "ox, and horned bullock with cloven hoof.," (v31).
The sinner who ceases from self, "the humble," finds in him his source of joy, his acceptance with God. Men everywhere over all the earth may thus be blessed in him; and heaven and earth rejoice over the consummation.
Israel who once rejected him, shall then be his, proving that he can soften the most hardened, and pardon the most guilty. Such then in this Psalm - Messiah's manifold sufferings, a savour of death to the unbelieving and of life to the believing.