Psalms 55

PSALM LV

David, in great danger and distress from the implacable malice

of his enemies, calls on God for mercy, 1-5;

wishes he had the wings of a dove, that he might flee away,

and be at rest, 6-8;

prays against his enemies, and describes their wickedness, 9-11;

speaks of a false friend, who had been the principal cause of

all his distresses, 12-14;

again prays against his enemies, 15;

expresses his confidence in God, 16-18;

gives a farther description of the deceitful friend, 19-21;

encourages himself in the Lord, and foretells the destruction

of his foes, 22, 23.

NOTES ON PSALM LV

The title, "To the chief Musician upon Neginoth, A Psalm of

David, giving instruction." This is the same as the preceding,

which see. Ps 54:1

Verse 1. Give ear to my prayer] The frequency of such petitions

shows the great earnestness of David's soul. If God did not hear

and help, he knew he could not succeed elsewhere; therefore he

continues to knock at the gate of God's mercy.

Verse 2. I mourn in my complaint] besichi, in my

sighing; a strong guttural sound, expressive of the natural

accents of sorrow.

And make a noise] I am in a tumult-I am strongly agitated.

Verse 3. They cast iniquity upon me] To give a colourable

pretense to their rebellion, they charge me with horrible crimes;

as if they had said: Down with such a wretch; he is not fit to

reign. Clamour against the person of the sovereign is always the

watch-word of insurrection, in reference to rebellion.

Verse 4. The terrors of death are fallen upon me.] I am in

hourly expectation of being massacred.

Verse 5. Fearfulness] How natural is this description! He is in

distress;-he mourns;-makes a noise;-sobs and sighs;-his

heart is wounded-he expects nothing but death;-this produces

fear;-this produces tremor, which terminates in that deep

apprehension of approaching and inevitable ruin that overwhelms

him with horror. No man ever described a wounded heart like David.

Verse 6. O that I had wings like a dove!] He was so surrounded,

so hemmed in on every side by his adversaries, that he could see

no way for his escape unless he had wings, and could take flight.

The dove is a bird of very rapid wing; and some oil them passing

before his eyes at the time, might have suggested the idea

expressed here.

And be at rest.] Get a habitation.

Verse 7. Would I wander far off] He did escape; and yet his

enemies were so near, as to throw stones at him: but he escaped

beyond Jordan. 2Sa 17:22, 23.

A passage in the Octavia of SENECA has been referred to as being

parallel to this of David. It is in the answer of Octavia to the

Chorus, Acts v., ver. 914-923.

Quis mea digne deflere potest

Mala? Quae lacrymis nostris quaestus

Reddet Aedon? cujus pennas

Utinam miserae mihi fata darent!

Fugerem luctus ablata meos

Penna volucri, procul et coetus

Hominum tristes sedemque feram.

Sola in vacuo nemore, et tenui

Ramo pendens, querulo possem

Gutture moestum fundere murmur.

My woes who enough can bewail?

O what notes can my sorrows express?

Sweet Philomel's self e'en would fail

To respond with her plaintive distress.

O had I her wings I would fly

To where sorrows I ne'er should feel more,

Upborne on her plumes through the sky,

Regions far from mankind would explore.

In a grove where sad silence should reign,

On a spray would I seat me alone;

In shrill lamentations complain,

And in wailings would pour forth my moan.

J. B. CLARKE.

Verse 8. The windy storm] From the sweeping wind and

tempest-Absalom and his party and the mutinous people in general.

Verse 9. Destroy, O lord] Swallow them up-confound them.

Divide their tongues] Let his counsellors give opposite advice.

Let them never agree, and let their devices be confounded. And the

prayer was heard. Hushai and Ahithophel gave opposite counsel.

Absalom followed that of Hushai; and Ahithophel, knowing that the

steps advised by Hushai would bring Absalom's affairs to ruin,

went and hanged himself. See 2Sa 15:1-17:29.

Violence and strife in the city.] They have been concerting

violent measures; and thus are full of contention.

Verse 10. Day and night they go about] This and the following

verse show the state of Jerusalem at this time. Indeed, they

exhibit a fair view of the state of any city in the beginning of

an insurrection. The leaders are plotting continually; going about

to strengthen their party, and to sow new dissensions by

misrepresentation, hypocrisy, calumny, and lies.

Verse 12. It was not an enemy] It is likely that in all these

three verses Ahithophel is meant, who, it appears, had been at

the bottom of the conspiracy from the beginning; and probably was

the first mover of the vain mind of Absalom to do what he did.

Verse 14. Walked unto the house of God in company.] Or with

haste; for the rabbins teach that we should walk hastily TO the

temple, but slowly FROM it.

Verse 15. Let death seize upon them] This is a prediction of the

sudden destruction which should fall on the ringleaders in this

rebellion. And it was so. Ahithophel, seeing his counsel rejected,

hanged himself. Absalom was defeated; and, fleeing away, he was

suspended by the hair in a tree, under which his mule had passed;

and being found thus by Joab, he was despatched with three darts;

and the people who espoused his interests were almost all cut off.

They fell by the sword, or perished in the woods. See 2Sa 18:8.

Let then go down quick into hell] Let them go down alive into

the pit. Let the earth swallow them up! And something of this kind

actually took place. Absalom and his army were defeated; twenty

thousand of the rebels were slain on the field; and the wood

devoured more people that day than the sword devoured,

2Sa 18:7, 8. The words might be rendered, "Death shall exact

upon them; they shall descend alive into sheol." And death did

exact his debt upon them, as we have seen above.

Verse 16. I will call upon God] He foresaw his deliverance, and

the defeat of his enemies, and therefore speaks confidently, "The

Lord shall save me;" or, as the Targum, "The WORD of the Lord

shall redeem me."

Verse 17. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray] This

was the custom of the pious Hebrews. See Da 6:10. The Hebrews

began their day in the evening, and hence David mentions the

evening first. The rabbins say, Men should pray three times each

day, because the day changes three times. This was observed in the

primitive Church; but the times, in different places, were

various. The old Psalter gives this a curious turn: "At even I

sall tel his louing (praise) what tim Crist was on the Crosse: and

at morn I sall schew his louing, what tim he ros fra dede. And sua

he sall here my voyce at mid day, that is sitand at the right hand

of his fader, wheder he stegh (ascended) at mid day."

Verse 18. He hath delivered my soul] My life he has preserved in

perfect safety from the sword; for there were many with me: "for

in many afflictions his WORD was my support."-Targum. Or David may

refer to the supernatural assistance which was afforded him when

his enemies were so completely discomfited.

Verse 19. Because they have no changes] At first Absalom,

Ahithophel, and their party, carried all before them. There seemed

to be a very general defection of the people; and as in their

first attempts they suffered no reverses, therefore they feared

not God. Most of those who have few or no afflictions and trials

in life, have but little religion. They become sufficient to

themselves, and call not upon God.

Verse 20. He hath put forth his hands] A farther description of

Ahithophel. He betrayed his friends, and he broke his covenant

with his king. He had agreed to serve David for his own emolument,

and a stipulation was made accordingly; but while receiving the

king's pay, he was endeavouring to subvert the kingdom, and

destroy the life of his sovereign.

Verse 21. Were smoother than butter] He was a complete courtier,

and a deep, designing hypocrite besides. His words were as soft as

butter, and as smooth as oil, while he meditated war; and the fair

words which were intended to deceive, were intended also to

destroy: they were drawn swords. This is a literal description

of the words and conduct of Absalom, as we learn from the inspired

historian, 2Sa 15:2, &c. He was accustomed to wait at the gate;

question the persons who came for justice and judgment; throw out

broad hints that the king was negligent of the affairs of his

kingdom, and had not provided an effective magistracy to

administer justice among the people, and added that if he were

appointed judge in the land, justice should be done to all. He

bowed also to the people, and kissed them; and thus he stole the

hearts of the men of Israel. See the passages referred to above.

Verse 22. Cast thy burden upon the Lord] Whatever cares,

afflictions, trials, &c., they may be with which thou art

oppressed, lay them upon him.

And he shall sustain thee] He shall bear both thee and thy

burden. What a glorious promise to a tempted and afflicted soul!

God will carry both thee and thy load. Then cast thyself and it

upon him.

He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.] While a man is

righteous, trusts in and depends upon God, he will never suffer

him to be shaken. While he trusts in God, and works righteousness,

he is as safe as if he were in heaven.

Verse 23. But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of

destruction] The Chaldee is emphatic: "And thou, O Lord, by thy

WORD ( bemeymerach) shalt thrust them into the deep gehenna,

the bottomless pit, whence they shall never come out; the pit of

destruction, where all is amazement, horror, anguish, dismay,

ruin, endless loss, and endless suffering."

Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days] So

we find, if there be an appointed time to man upon earth, beyond

which he cannot pass; yet he may so live as to provoke the justice

of God to cut him off before he arrives at that period; yea,

before he has reached half way to that limit. According to the

decree of God, he might have lived the other half; but he has not

done it.

But I will trust in thee.] Therefore I shall not be moved, and

shall live out all the days of my appointed time.

The fathers in general apply the principal passages of this

Psalm to our Lord's sufferings, the treason of Judas, and the

wickedness of the Jews; but these things do not appear to me

fairly deducible from the text. It seems to refer plainly enough

to the rebellion of Absalom. "The consternation and distress

expressed in Ps 55:4-8, describe the king's state of mind when he

fled from Jerusalem, and marched up the mount of Olives, weeping.

The iniquity cast upon the psalmist answers to the complaints

artfully laid against the king by his son of a negligent

administration of justice: and to the reproach of cruelty cast

upon him by Shimei, 2Sa 15:2, 4; 16:7, 8. The

equal, the guide, and the familiar friend, we find in

Ahithophel, the confidential counsellor, first of David,

afterwards of his son Absalom. The buttery mouth and oily words

describe the insidious character of Absalom, as it is delineated,

2Sa 15:5-9. Still the believer, accustomed to the double edge

of the prophetic style, in reading this Psalm, notwithstanding its

agreement with the occurrences of David's life, will be led to

think of David's great descendant, who endured a bitter agony, and

was the victim of a baser treachery, in the same spot where David

is supposed to have uttered these complaints."-Bishop Horsley.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-FIFTH PSALM

There are five general parts in this Psalm:-

I. The psalmist entreats God to hear his prayer, Ps 55:1, 2.

II. He complains of his trouble, Ps 55:3-8.

II. He prays against his enemies, and shows the causes,

Ps 55:8-15.

IV. He takes courage upon assurance of God's help, and his

enemies' overthrow, Ps 55:15-21.

V. An epilogue, in which he exhorts all men to rely upon God,

Ps 55:22, 23.

I. He begs audience.

1. "Give ear-hide not thyself-attend-hear me."

2. "My prayer-supplication-that I mourn-complain-make a noise."

Affected he was with the sense of what he prayed for, and he was

therefore earnest in it.

II. This in general; but next, in particular, he mentions the

causes of his complaint, and earnestness to God, that he might be

heard both in regard of his enemies, and the condition he was now

in. The danger he was in was very great; escape he could not

without God's help, for his enemies persecuted him very sore.

1. They slandered and calumniated him, and threatened him:

"Because of the voice," &c.

2. They vexed, pressed upon him, and oppressed him: "Because of

the oppression of the wicked."

3. They plotted his ruin, devolved, and cast iniquity upon

him-charged him home.

4. They were implacable, angry, and hated him: "In wrath they

hate me."

Then, as to his own person, he was in a sad, heavy, doleful

condition.

1. "My heart is sore pained within me." His grief was inward.

2. "The terrors of death are fallen upon me." He saw nothing but

death before him.

3. "Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me." Which are the

outward effects of fear.

4. "And a horrible dread within hath overwhelmed me." Amazement

followed his fear.

And he illustrates this his condition by the counsel he took

with his own heart. Upon the deliberation the result was, that he

would speedily fly away, fly into the wilderness, as if he might

be safer among beasts than such men.

1. "And I said." That was the result upon his debate with

himself.

2. "O that I had wings like a dove!" It is a fearful creature of

a swift wing. In fear he was, and he would fly as fast and as far

as the dove from the eagle.

3. As far, even to some remote land, where I should have rest

from these wicked men.

And he amplifies and explains himself again:-

1. That he would fly far away, even to some desolate place out

of their reach: "Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in

the wilderness."

2. That he would do it with speed: "I would hasten my escape

from the windy storm and tempest." Such turbulent and impetuous

creatures his enemies were that threw down all before them, as a

wind, storm, and tempest.

III. To his prayer he adds an imprecation:-

1. "Destroy them, O Lord; destroy them in their own counsels."

2. Or else, "divide their tongue." Let them not agree in their

counsels.

Of this he gives the reason in the following words: viz., that

they were a band of violent, contentious, ungodly, troublesome,

crafty, and fraudulent people.

1. Violent they were, and litigious: "I have seen violence and

strife in the city."

2. Ungodly, and workers of iniquity they were; and incessant in

it: "Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof:

mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it."

3. Crafty and fraudulent also: "Deceit and guile depart not from

her streets." It was then a city, a corporation, a society of evil

doers.

And of this he produces an instance, which whether it were some

bosom friend of David who stole out of the city of Keilah, and

betrayed his counsels to Saul; or else Ahithophel, who, being

formerly his great favourite and counsellor, fell to Absalom, it

is uncertain. Whoever it was, such a treacherous person there was,

and of him he complains: and well he might; for ουδενμειζονελκος

ηφιλοςαδικων, "there is not a greater sore than a treacherous

friend." This treachery he exaggerates most eloquently by an

incrementum and apostrophe, drawing his aggravation from the laws

of friendship, which he had broken. Had it been an enemy, he could

have borne it; but that it was a friend was intolerable, and also

inexcusable. Thus the climax stands:-

1. "For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could

have borne it."

2. "Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself,"

that is, arise and insult me; "then I would have hid myself from

him," never admitted him to my bosom.

But mark this emphatic adversative, for now he turns his speech

to the man:-

1. "It was thou," emphatically thou, principally and beyond all

others. None but thou.

2. "A man," according to my own rank, mine equal; my guide or

counsellor; my acquaintance, my own familiar friend.

3. "We took sweet counsel together." One to whom I communicated

my secrets.

4. "And walked unto the house of God in company." Professors we

were of the same religion.

Now all these circumstances much heighten and aggravate the

treachery: that thou, my equal, my director, my familiar friend,

one whom I made the master of all my secrets, one who was a great

professor of the same religion with me, that thou shouldst betray

me, even break my heart. συτεκνον; Judas-betrayest thou?

Being thus much wronged and moved, as he had just reason, he

begins again with an imprecation, not only on him, but on all who

believed him, even upon the whole faction: "Let death seize upon

them, and let them go down quick into hell," have Korah, Dathan,

and Abiram's wages. And he adds the reason. They are signally and

incorrigibly wicked: "For wickedness is in their dwellings, and

among them."

IV. Hitherto hath David prayed, complained, imprecated; but now

he shows how he recovered courage again, being certain of God's

help, and a revenge to be taken on his enemies.

1. "As for me, I will call upon God fervently, and the Lord

shall save me."

2. "Evening, and morning, and at noon-day," incessantly, "will I

pray and cry aloud; and he shall hear me."

3. And I pray in faith; experience I have of his deliverance; he

hath done it, and he will do it again. "He hath redeemed my soul

in peace from the battle which was against me.'' Even in the midst

of the battle, I was as safe as in a time of peace; miraculously

delivered, as if there had been no danger.

4. "For there were many with me." Many enemies, say some;

others, many angels. Those refer it to the danger; these, to the

protection. Many enemies round about me, and then it is a wonder I

should be delivered. Many angels press to help me, and then it was

no wonder that my life was saved. But as for the ungodly, it was

not so with them; for this verse is opposed to the former.

1. "God shall hear," viz., me and my prayers, and the wrongs

they do me.

2. "And shall afflict them," i.e., my enemies.

3. "Even he that abideth of old. Selah." Mark that, for He is

immutable. His power and strength is the same, and his care and

love to his people; therefore, he will afflict them.

And, besides, there are those who will provoke him to it,-

1. Because "they have no changes." Obstinate they are,

impertinent, and change not their ways. Or else they prosper, they

have perpetual success, and meet with no alteration; this makes

them secure and proud.

2. "They fear not God." They ask, "Who is the Lord, that we

should let Israel go?"

3. They are truce-breakers, violators of oaths, leagues,

covenants, articles of war. "He (that is, some chief commander

among them) hath put forth his hands, made war, imbrued his hands

in blood, against such as are at peace with him." He hath broken

and profaned his covenant-his oath.

4. He is a gross hypocrite; his deeds answer not to his words:

"The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in

his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn

swords."

V. In the epilogue of the Psalm he exhorts good men to rely upon

God: "Cast thy burden (the cares, troubles, &c., with which thou

art loaded) on the Lord;" and he fits it to his present purpose,

both as it concerns the godly and the ungodly.

1. To the godly he gives this comfort: 1. "He (that is, God)

shall sustain thee." He will uphold thee, and give thee strength

under the heaviest burdens. "Come unto me, all ye that are heavy

laden." 2. "He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." With

the temptation he will also give the issue; pressed they may be,

but not oppressed so as finally to be overthrown.

2. To the ungodly. 1. Overthrown they shall be, and utterly

destroyed: "Thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of

destruction;" the grave-hell. 2. "Bloody and deceitful men shall

not live out half their days." They come commonly to some untimely

death, as Absalom and Ahithophel, concerning whom the Psalm was

composed.

He concludes with the use he would make of it; as if he had

said: Let these bloody and deceitful men repose their confidence

in their armies, in their violence, in their crafty and subtle

ways; I will take another course: "But I will trust in thee."

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