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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 55

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


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.


The title, "To the chief Musician upon Neginoth, A Psalm of David, giving instruction." This is the same as the preceding, which see. Psalms 54:1

Verse Psalms 55:1. 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

Verse Psalms 55:2. I mourn in my complaint — בשיחי 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

Verse Psalms 55:3. 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

Verse Psalms 55:4. The terrors of death are fallen upon me. — I am in hourly expectation of being massacred.

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 55:5. 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

Verse Psalms 55:6. 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

Verse Psalms 55:7. 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. 2 Samuel 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.


Verse 8

Verse Psalms 55:8. The windy storm — From the sweeping wind and tempest-Absalom and his party and the mutinous people in general.

Verse 9

Verse Psalms 55:9. Destroy, O lordSwallow 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 2 Samuel 15:1-17.

Violence and strife in the city. — They have been concerting violent measures; and thus are full of contention.

Verse 10

Verse Psalms 55:10. 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

Verse Psalms 55:12. 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

Verse Psalms 55:14. 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

Verse Psalms 55:15. 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 2 Samuel 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, 2 Samuel 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

Verse Psalms 55:16. 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

Verse Psalms 55:17. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray — This was the custom of the pious Hebrews. See Daniel 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

Verse Psalms 55:18. 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

Verse Psalms 55:19. 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

Verse Psalms 55:20. 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

Verse Psalms 55:21. 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, 2 Samuel 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

Verse Psalms 55:22. 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

Verse Psalms 55:23. But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction — The Chaldee is emphatic: "And thou, O Lord, by thy WORD (במימרך 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 Psalms 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, 2 Samuel 15:2; 2 Samuel 15:4; 2 Samuel 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, 2 Samuel 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.


There are five general parts in this Psalm: -

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

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

II. He prays against his enemies, and shows the causes, Psalms 55:8-15.

IV. He takes courage upon assurance of God's help, and his enemies' overthrow, Psalms 55:15-21.

V. An epilogue, in which he exhorts all men to rely upon God, Psalms 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 ουδεν μειζον ελκος η φιλος αδικων, "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. συ τεκνον; 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."

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 55". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/psalms-55.html. 1832.
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