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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 55

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This psalm is entitled “A Psalm of David,” and there is every reason to believe that it is properly ascribed to him. It is addressed to “the chief Musician” - to be by him set to appropriate music, that it might be employed in the public worship of God. See the notes at the title to Psalms 4:1-8. On the word “Neginoth” in the title, see also the note in the Introduction of Psalms 4:1-8.

The occasion on which the psalm was composed is not indicated in the title, nor can it be with certainty ascertained. The author of the Chaldee Paraphrase refers the psalm to the time of Absalom and to his rebellion, and this is also the opinion of the Jewish expositors in general. They suppose that the psalm was composed on occasion of the departure of David from Jerusalem, when he had heard of the rebellion, and that the psalm has special reference to the time when, having fled from the city, and having come to the ascent of the Mount of Olives, while all was consternation around him, he learned that Ahithophel also was among the conspirators, which was the consummation of his calamity, 2 Samuel 15:31. Others suppose that the psalm was composed when David was in Keilah, and when, surrounded by foes, he was apprehensive that the inhabitants of that place would deliver him into the hand of Saul, 1 Samuel 23:1-12. Of all the known events in the life of David, the supposition which regards the psalm as composed during the rebellion of Absalom, and at the special time when he learned that the man whom he had trusted - Ahithophel - was among the traitors, is the most probable. All the circumstances in the psalm agree with his condition at that time, and the occasion was one in which the persecuted and much-afflicted king would be likely to pour out the desires of his heart before God. Paulus and DeWette have remarked that it is evident from the psalm that the enemies to whom the author refers were inhabitants of the same city with himself, and that the danger was from treason within the walls of the city, Psalms 55:1 O. This seems not improbable, and this agrees well with the supposition that the scene of the psalm is laid in the time of the rebellion of Absalom.

The contents of the psalm are as follows:

(1) The prayer of the psalmist that God would hear his cry, Psalms 55:1-3.

(2) A general description of his trouble and sorrows, as being so great that he was overwhelmed, and such as to make him wish for the wings of a dove that he might fly away, and be at rest, Psalms 55:4-8.

(3) The causes, or sources of his trouble, Psalms 55:9-14;

(a) The general fact that he was surrounded by enemies; that there were violence, strife, and mischief in the city, Psalms 55:9-11.

(b) The particular fact that someone in whom he had put confidence, and who had been his special friend, was, to his surprise, found among his enemies, and had proved himself faithless to him, Psalms 55:12-14.

(4) His earnest prayer for the destruction of his enemies, Psalms 55:15.

(5) His own confidence in God; his reliance on the divine mercy and protection in the time of trouble and danger; and his assurance that God would interpose in his behalf, Psalms 55:16-21.

(6) a general exhortation, as a practical lesson from all that had occurred, to trust in God - to cast every burden on him - with the assurance that the righteous would never be moved, but that the wicked must be subdued, Psalms 55:22-23.

Verse 1

Give ear to my prayer - See the notes at Psalms 5:1; Psalms 17:6. This is the language of earnestness. The psalmist was in deep affliction, and he pleaded, therefore, that God would not turn away from him in his troubles.

And hide not thyself from my supplication - That is, Do not withdraw thyself, or render thyself inaccessible to my prayer. Do not so conceal thyself that I may not have the privilege of approaching thee. Compare the notes at Isaiah 1:15. See also Ezekiel 22:26; Proverbs 28:27; Leviticus 20:4; 1 Samuel 12:3. The same word is used in all these places, and the general meaning is that of “shutting the eyes upon,” as implying neglect. So also in Lamentations 3:56, the phrase “to hide the ear” means to turn away so as not to hear. The earnest prayer of the psalmist here is, that God would not, as it were, withdraw or conceal himself, but would give free access to himself in prayer. The language is, of course, figurative, but it illustrates what often occurs when God seems to withdraw himself; when our prayers do not appear to be heard; when God is apparently unwilling to attend to us.

Verse 2

Attend unto me, and hear me - This also is the language of earnest supplication, as if he was afraid that God would not regard his cry. These varied forms of speech show the intense earnestness of the psalmist, and his deep conviction that he must have help from God.

I mourn - The word used here - רוד rûd - means properly to wander about; to ramble - especially applied to animals that have broken loose; and then, to inquire after, to seek, as one does “by running up and down;” hence, to desire, to wish. Thus in Hosea 11:12 - “Judah runs wild toward God,” - in our translation, “Judah yet ruleth with God.” The word occurs also in Jeremiah 2:31, “We are lords” (margin, have dominion); and in Genesis 27:40, “When thou shalt have the dominion.” It is not elsewhere found in the Scriptures. The idea here seems not to be to mourn, but to inquire earnestly; to seek; to look for, as one does who wanders about, or who looks every way for help. David was in deep distress. He looked in every direction. He earnestly desired to find God as a Helper. He was in the condition of one who had lost his way, or who had lost what was most valuable to him; and he directed his eyes most earnestly toward God for help.

In my complaint - The word here employed commonly means speech, discourse, meditation. It here occurs in the sense of complaint, as in Job 7:13; Job 9:27; Job 21:4; Job 23:2; Psalms 142:2; 1 Samuel 1:16. It is not used, however, to denote complaint in the sense of fault-finding, but in the sense of deep distress. As the word is now commonly used, we connect with it the idea of fault-finding, complaining, accusing, or the idea that we have been dealt with unjustly. This is not the meaning in tills place, or in the Scriptures generally. It is the language of a troubled, not of an injured spirit.

And make a noise - To wit, by prayer; or, by groaning. The psalmist did not hesitate to give vent to his feelings by groans, or sobs, or prayers. Such expressions are not merely indications of deep feeling, but they are among the appointed means of relief. They are the effort which nature makes to throw off the burden, and if they are without complaining or impatience they are not wrong. See Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11; Hebrews 5:7; Matthew 27:46.

Verse 3

Because of the voice of the enemy - He now states the cause of his troubles. He had been, and was, unjustly treated by others. The particular idea in the word “voice” here is, that he was suffering from slanderous reproaches; from assaults which had been made on his character. He was charged with evil conduct, and the charge was made in such a manner that he could not meet it. The result was, that a series of calamities had come upon him which was quite overwhelming.

Because of the oppression of the wicked - The word here rendered “oppression” occurs nowhere else. The verb from which it is derived occurs twice, Amos 2:13 : “Behold, I am “pressed” under you as a cart is “pressed” that is full of sheaves.” The idea is that of crushing by a heavy weight; and hence, of crushing by affliction. The “wicked” alluded to here, if the supposition referred to in the Introduction about the occasion of the psalm is correct, were Absalom and those who were associated with him in the rebellion, particularly Ahithophel, who had showed himself false to David, and had united with his enemies in their purpose to drive him from his throne.

For they cast iniquity upon me - That is, they charge me with sin; they attempt to justify themselves in their treatment of me by accusing me of wrong-doing, or by endeavoring to satisfy themselves that I deserve to be treated in this manner. If this refers to the time of the rebellion of Absalom, the allusion would be to the charges, brought by him against his father, of severity and injustice in his administration, 2 Samuel 15:2-6.

And in wrath they hate me - In their indignation, in their excitement, they are full of hatred against me. This was manifested by driving him froth his throne and his home.

Verse 4

My heart is sore pained within me - Heavy and sad; that is, I am deeply afflicted. The word rendered is “sore pained,” means properly to turn round; to twist; to dance in a circle; to be whirled round; and then to twist or writhe with pain, especially applied to a woman in travail, Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 23:4; Isaiah 26:18. Here the idea is, that he was in deep distress and anguish. It is easy to see that this would be so, if the psalm refers to the revolt of Absalom. The ingratitude and rebellion of a son - the fact of being driven away from his throne - the number of his enemies - the unexpected news that Ahithophel was among them - and the entire uncertainty as to the result, justified the use of this strong language.

And the terrors of death are fallen upon me - The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Luther, render this “the fear of death,” as if he were afraid for his life, or afraid that the result of all this would be his death. A more natural construction, however, is to suppose that the reference is to the ordinary pains of death, and that he means to say that the pangs which he endured were like the pangs of death. The words “are fallen” suggest the idea that this had come suddenly upon him, like a “horror of great darkness” (compare Genesis 15:12), or as if the gloomy shadow of death had suddenly crossed his path. Compare the notes at Psalms 23:4. The calamities had come suddenly upon him; the conspiracy had been suddenly developed; and he had been suddenly driven away.

Verse 5

Fearfulness and trembling - Fear so great as to produce trembling. Compare the notes at Job 4:14. He knew not when these things would end. How far the spirit of rebellion had spread he knew not, and he had no means of ascertaining. It seemed as if he would be wholly overthrown; as if his power was wholly at an end; as if even his life was in the greatest peril.

And horror hath overwhelmed me - Margin, as in Hebrew, “covered me.” That is; it had come upon him so as to cover or envelop him entirely. The shades of horror and despair spread all around and above him, and all things were filled with gloom. The word rendered “horror” occurs only in three other places; - Ezekiel 7:18, rendered (as here) “horror;” Job 21:6, rendered “trembling;” and Isaiah 21:4, rendered “fearfulness.” It refers to that state when we are deeply agitated with fear.

Verse 6

And I said - That is, when I saw these calamities coming upon me, and knew not what the result was to be.

Oh, that I had wings like a dove! - literally, “Who will give me wings like a dove?” or, Who will give me the pinion of a dove? The original word - אבר 'êber - means properly, “a wing-feather;” a pinion; the penna major or flagfeather of a bird’s wing by which he steers his course, - as of an eagle, Isaiah 40:31, or of a dove, as here. It is distinguished from the wing itself, Ezekiel 17:3 : “A great eagle, with great wings, “long-winged,” full of feathers.” The reference here is supposed to be to the turtle-dove - a species of dove common in Palestine. Compare the notes at Psalms 11:1. These doves, it is said, are never tamed. “Confined in a cage, they droop, and, like Cowper, sigh for ‘A lodge in some vast wilderness - some boundless contiguity of shade;’ and no sooner are they set at liberty, than they flee to their mountains.” Land and the Book (Dr. Thomson), vol. i., p. 416.

For then would I fly away, and be at rest - I would escape from these dangers, and be in a place of safety. How often do we feel this in times of trouble! How often do we wish that we could get beyond the reach of enemies; of sorrows; of afflictions! How often do we sigh to be in a place where we might be assured that we should be safe from all annoyances; from all trouble! There is such a place, but not on earth. David might have borne his severest troubles with him if he could have fled - for those troubles are in the heart, and a mere change of place does not affect them; or he might have found new troubles in the place that seemed to him to be a place of peace and of rest. But there is a world which trouble never enters. That world is heaven; to that world we shall soon go, if we are God’s children; and there we shall find absolute and eternal rest. Without “the wings of a dove,” we shall soon fly away and be at rest. None of the troubles of earth will accompany us there; no new troubles will spring up there to disturb our peace.

Verse 7

Lo, then would I wander far off - literally, “Lo, I would make the distance far by wandering;” I would separate myself far from these troubles.

And remain in the wilderness - literally, I would sojourn; or, I would pass the night; or, I would put up for the night. The idea is taken from a traveler who puts up for the night, or who rests for a night in his weary travels, and seeks repose. Compare Genesis 19:2; Gen 32:21; 2 Samuel 12:16; Judges 19:13. The word “wilderness” means, in the Scripture, a place not inhabited by man; a place where wild beasts resort; a place uncultivated. It does not denote, as with us, an extensive forest. It might be a place of rocks and sands, but the essential idea is, that it was not inhabited. See the notes at Matthew 4:1. In such a place, remote from the habitations of people, he felt that he might be at rest.

Verse 8

I would hasten my escape - I would make haste to secure an escape. I would not delay, but I would flee at once.

From the windy storm and tempest - From the calamities which have come upon me, and which beat upon me like a violent tempest. If this psalm was composed on occasion of the rebellion of Absalom, it is easy to see with what propriety tiffs language is used. The troubles connected with that unnatural rebellion had burst upon him with the fury of a sudden storm, and threatened to sweep everything away.

Verse 9

Destroy, O Lord - The word rendered “destroy,” properly means to “swallow up;” to “devour” with the idea of greediness. Isaiah 28:4; Exodus 7:12; Jonah 1:17; Jeremiah 51:34. Then it is used in the sense of “destroy,” Job 20:18; Proverbs 1:12. The reference here is to the persons who had conspired against David. It is a prayer that they, and their counsels, might be destroyed: such a prayer as people always offer who pray for victory in battle. It is a prayer that the may be successful in what they regard as a righteous cause; but this implies a prayer that their enemies may be defeated and overcome. That is, they pray for success in what they have undertaken; and if it is right for them to attempt to do the thing, it is not wrong to pray that they may be succesful.

And divide their tongues - There is evident allusion here to the confusion of tongues at Babel Genesis 11:1-9; and as the language of those who undertook to build that tower was confounded so that they could not understand each other, so the psalmist prays that the counsels of those engaged against him might be confounded, or that they might be divided and distracted in their plans, so that they could not act in harmony. It is very probable that there is an allusion here to the prayer which David offered when he learned that Ahithophel was among the conspirators 2 Samuel 15:31; “And David said, O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” This would tend to divide and distract; the purposes of Absalom, and secure his defeat.

For I have seen violence and strife in the city - In Jerusalem. Perhaps he had learned that among the conspirators there was not entire harmony, but that there were elements of “strife” and discord which led him to hope that their counsels would be confounded. There was little homogeneoushess of aim and purpose among the followers of Absalom; and perhaps David knew enough of Ahithophel to see that his views, though he might be enlisted in the cause of the rebellion, would not be likely to harmonize with the views of the masses of those who were engaged in the revolt.

Verse 10

Day and night they go about it, upon the walls thereof - That is, continually. The word “they” in this place probably refers to the violence and strife mentioned in the preceding verse. They are here personified, and they seem to surround the city; to be everywhere moving, even on the very walls. They are like a besieging army. Inside and outside; in the midst of the city and on the walls, there was nothing but violence and strife - conspiracy, rebellion, and crime.

Mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it - Crime abounded, and the result was anguish or sorrow. This language would well describe the scenes when Absalom rebelled; when the city was filled with conspirators and rebels; and when crime and anguish seemed to prevail in every part of it.

Verse 11

Wickedness is in the midst thereof - That is, the wickedness connected with rebellion and revolt.

Deceit and guile depart not from her streets - They are everywhere. They are found in every street and alley. They pervade all classes of the people. The word rendered “deceit” means rather “oppression.” This was connected with “guile,” or with “deceit.” That is, wrong would be everywhere committed, and the perpetration of those wrongs would be connected with false representations, and false pretences - a state of things that might be expected in the unnatural rebellion under Absalom.

Verse 12

For it was not an enemy that reproached me - The word “reproached” here refers to slander; calumny; abuse. It is not necessarily implied that it was in his presence, but he was apprized of it. When he says that it is not an enemy that did this, the meaning is that it was not one who had been an avowed and open foe. The severest part of the trial did not arise from the fact that it was done by such an one, for that he could have borne. That which overwhelmed him was the fact that the reproach came from one who had been his friend; or, the reproach which he felt most keenly came from one whom he had regarded as a personal confidant. It is not to be supposed that the psalmist means to say that he was not reproached by his enemies, for the whole structure of the psalm implies that this was so; but his anguish was made complete and unbearable by the discovery that one especially who had been his friend was found among those who reproached and calumniated him. The connection leads us to suppose, if the right view (Introduction) has been taken of the occasion on which the psalm was composed, that the allusion here is to Ahithophel 2 Samuel 15:31; and the particular distress here referred to was that which David experienced on learning that he was among the conspirators. A case of trouble remarkably resembling this is referred to in Psalms 41:9. See the notes at that place.

Then I could have borne it - The affliction would have been such as I could bear. Reproaches from an enemy, being known to be an enemy, we expect; and and we feel them comparatively little. We attribute them to the very fact that such an one is an enemy, and that he feels it necessary to sustain himself by reproaching and calumniating us. We trust also that the world will understand them in that way; and will set them down to the mere fact that he is our enemy. In such a case there is only the testimony against us of one who is avowedly our foe, and who has every inducement to utter malicious words against us in order to sustain his own cause. But the case is different when the accuser and slanderer is one who has been our intimate friend. He is supposed to know all about us. He has been admitted to our counsels. He has known our purposes and plans. He can speak not “slanderously” but “knowingly.” It is supposed that he could have no motive to speak ill of us except his own conviction of truth, and that it could be only the strongest conviction of truth - the existence of facts to which not even a friend could close his eyes - that could induce him to abandon us, and hold us up to repreach and scorn. So Ahithophel - the confidential counselor and friend of David - would be supposed to be acquainted with his secret plans and his true character; and hence, reproaches from such a one became unendurable. “Neither was it he that hated me.” That avowedly and openly hated me. If that had been the case, I should have expected such usage, and it would not injure me.

That did magnify himself a against me - That is, by asserting that I was a bad man, thus exalting himself in character above me, or claiming that he was more pure than I am. Or, it may mean, that exalted himself above me, or sought to reach the eminence of power in my downfall and ruin.

Then I would have hid myself from him - I should have been like one pursued by an enemy who could hide himself in a cave, or in a fastness, or in the mountains, so as to be safe from his attacks. The arrows of malice would fly harmlessly by me, and I should be safe. Not so, when one reproached me who had been an intimate friend; who had known all about me; and whose statements would be believed.

Verse 13

But it was thou, a man mine equal - Margin, “a man according to my rank.” Septuagint, ἰσόψυχε isopsuche, equal-souled, like-souled, “second self” (Thompson); Vulgate, “unanimus,” of the same mind; Luther, “Geselle,” companion. The Hebrew word used here - ערך êrek - means properly a row or pile, as of the showbread piled one loaf on another, Exodus 40:23; then it would naturally mean one of the same row or pile; of the same rank or condition. The word also means price, estimation, or value, Job 28:13; Leviticus 5:15, Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 6:6. Here the expression may mean a man “according to my estimation, value, or price;” that is, of the same value as myself (Gesenius, Lexicon); or more probably it means a man of my own rank; according to my condition; that is, a man whom I esteemed as my equal, or whom I regarded and treated as a friend.

My guide - The word used here properly denotes one who is familiar - a friend - from the verb אלף 'âlaph - to be associated with; to be familiar; to be accustomed to. The noun is frequently used to denote a military leader - the head of a tribe - a chieftain; and is, in this sense, several times employed in Genesis 36:0 to denote the leaders or princes of the Edomites, where it is rendered duke. But here it seems to be used, not in the sense of a leader or a guide, but of a familiar friend.

And mine acquaintance - The word used here is derived from the verb to know - ידע yâda‛ - and the proper idea is that of “one well known” by us; that is, one who keeps no secrets from us, but who permits us to understand him thoroughly. The phrase “mine acquaintance” is a feeble expression, and does not convey the full force of the original, which denotes a more intimate friend than would be suggested by the word “acquaintance.” It is language applied to one whom we thoroughly “know,” and who “knows us;” and this exists only in the case of very intimate friends. All the expressions used in this verse would probably be applicable to Ahithophel, and to the intimacy between him and David.

Verse 14

We took sweet counsel together - Margin, “who sweetened counsel.” Literally, “We sweetened counsel together;” that is, We consulted together; we opened our minds and plans to each other; in other words, We found that happiness in each other which those do who freely and confidentially communicate their plans and wishes - who have that mutual satisfaction which results from the approval of each other’s plans.

And walked unto the house of God in company - We went up to worship God together. The word rendered “company” means properly a noisy crowd, a multitude. The idea here is not that which would seem to be conveyed by our translation - that they went up to the house of God in company “with each other,” but that both went with the great company - the crowd - the multitude - that assembled to worship God. They were engaged in the same service, they united in the worship of the same God; associated with those that loved their Maker; belonged to the companionship of those who sought his favor. There is nothing that constitutes a stronger bond of friendship and affection than being united in the worship of God, or belonging to his people. Connexion with a church in acts of worship, ought always to constitute a strong bond of love, confidence, esteem, and affection; the consciousness of having been redeemed by the same blood of the atonement should be a stronger tie than any tie of natural friendship; and the expectation and hope of spending an eternity together in heaven should unite heart to heart in a bond which nothing - not even death - can sever.

Verse 15

Let death seize upon them - This would be more correctly rendered, “Desolations (are) upon them!” That is, Desolation, or destruction will certainly come upon them. There is in the original no necessary expression of a wish or prayer that this might be, but it is rather the language of certain assurance - the expression of a fact - that such base conduct - such wickedness - would make their destruction certain; that as God is just, they must be overwhelmed with ruin. Injury is sometimes done in the translation of the Scriptures by the insertion of a wish or prayer, where all that is necessarily implied in the original is the statement of a fact. This has been caused here by the somewhat uncertain meaning of the word which is used in the original. That phrase is ישׁימות yaśimâveth. It occurs nowhere else. Our translators understood it (as the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Luther do) as made up of two words. More correctly, however, it is to be regarded as one word, meaning “desolations,” or “destructions.” So Gesenius (Lexicon), Rosenmuller, and Prof. Alexander understand it.

And let them go down quick into hell - “Alive,” or “living,” for that is the meaning of the word “quick” here - חיים chayiym - as it commonly is in the Scriptures. Compare Leviticus 13:10; Numbers 16:30; Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 4:5. The word “hell” is rendered in the margin “the grave.” The original word is “sheol,” and means here either the grave, or the abode of departed spirits. See the notes at Isaiah 14:9; notes at Job 10:21-22. There is a harshness in the translation of the term here which is unnecessary, as the word “hell” with us now uniformly refers to the place of punishment for the wicked beyond death. The meaning here, however, is not that they would be consigned to wrath, but that they would be cut off from the land of the living. The idea is that their destruction might be as sudden as if the earth were to open, and they were to descend alive into the chasm. Probably there is an implied allusion here to the manner in which the company of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was destroyed, Numbers 16:31-33. Compare Psalms 106:17.

For wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them - Wickedness abounds in all their transactions. It is in their houses, and in their hearts. This is mentioned as a reason why they should be cut off and consigned to the grave. It is the reason why people are cut down at all; it is often a fact that wicked people are most manifestly cut down for their sins. And because it will be better for the community that the wicked should be punished than that they should escape, so there is no evidence that David cherished malice or ill-will in his heart. See General Introduction, Section 6 (5).

Verse 16

As for me, I will call upon God - That is, I have no other refuge in my troubles, yet I can go to him, and pour out all the desires of my heart before him.

And the Lord shall save me - This expresses strong confidence. On the supposition that the psalm refers to the rebellion of Absalom, David was driven from his home, and his throne, and from the house of God - a poor exile, forsaken by nearly all. But his faith did not fail. He confided in God, and believed that He was able to effect his deliverance, and that He would do it. Rarely can we be placed in circumstances so trying and discouraging as were those of David; never should we, in any circumstances, fall to believe, as he did, that God can deliver us, and that, if we are his friends, we shall be ultimately safe.

Verse 17

Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray - In another place Psalms 119:164 the psalmist says that he engaged in acts of devotion seven times in a day. Daniel prayed three times a day, Daniel 6:10. David went, in his troubles, before God evening, morning, and mid-day, in solemn, earnest prayer. So Paul, in a time of great distress, gave himself on three set occasions to earnest prayer for deliverance. See the notes at 2 Corinthians 12:8. This verse, therefore, does not prove that it was a regular habit of David to pray three times a day; but in view of the passage, it may be remarked

(a) that it is proper to have regular seasons for devotion, of frequent occurrence; and

(b) that there are favorable and suitable times for devotion.

The morning and the evening are obviously appropriate; and it is well to divide the day also by prayer - to seek, at mid-day, the rest titan bodily and mental toil which is secured by communion with God - and to implore that strength which we need for the remaining duties of the day. True religion is cultivated by frequent and regular seasons of devotion.

And cry aloud - The word here employed properly means to murmur; to make a humming sound; to sigh; to growl; to groan. See the notes at Psalms 42:5. Here the language means that he would give utterance to his deep feelings in appropriate tones - whether words, sighs, or groans. To the deep thoughts and sorrows of his soul he would often give suitable expression before God.

And he shall hear my voice - The confident language of faith, as in Psalms 55:16.

Verse 18

He hath delivered my soul in peaee - The Hebrew is, “He has redeemed;” so also the Septuagint and Vulgate. The meaning is, He has “rescued” me, or has saved me from my enemies. Either the psalmist composed the psalm “after” the struggle was over, and in view of it, here speaks of what had actually occurred; or he is so confident of being redeemed and saved that he speaks of it as if it were already done. See Psalms 55:19. There are many instances in the Psalms in which the writer is so certain that what he prays for will be accomplished that he speaks of it as if it had already actually occurred. The words “in peace” mean that God ad given him peace; or that the result of the divine interposition was that he had calmness of mind.

From the battle that was against me - The hostile array; the armies prepared for conflict.

For there were many with me - This language conveys to us the idea that there were many on his side, or many that were associated with him, and that this was the reason why he was delivered. It is doubtful, however, whether this is the meaning of the original. The idea may be that there were many contending with him; that is, that there were many who were arrayed against him. The Hebrew will admit of this construction.

Verse 19

God shall hear and afflict them - That is, God will hear my prayer, and will afflict them, or bring upon them deserved judgments. As this looks to the future, it would seem to show that when in the previous verse he uses the past tense, and says that God “had” redeemed him, the language there, as suggested above, is that of strong confidence, implying that he had such certain assurance that the thing would be, that he speaks of it as if it were already done. Here he expresses the same confidence in another form - his firm belief that God “would” hear his prayer, and would bring upon his enemies deserved punishment.

Even he that abideth of old - The eternal God; he who is from everlasting. Literally, “He inhabits antiquity;” that is, he sits enthroned in the most distant past; he is eternal and unchanging. The same God who has heard prayer, will hear it now; he who has always shown himself a just God and an avenger, will show himself the same now. The fact that God is from everlasting, and is unchanging, is the only foundation for our security at any time, and the only ground of success in our plans. To a Being who is always the same we may confidently appeal, for we know what he will do. But who could have confidence in a changeable God? Who would know what to expect? Who can make any “calculation” on mere chance?

Because they have no changes ... - Margin, “With whom there be no changes, yet they fear not God.” Literally, “To whom there are no changes, and they fear not God.” Prof. Alexander supposes this to mean that God will “hear” the reproaches and blasphemies of those who have no changes, and who, therefore, have no fear of God. The meaning of the original is not exactly expressed in our common version. According to that version, the idea would seem to be that the fact that they meet with no changes or reverses in life, or that they are favored with uniform prosperity, is a “reason” why they do not fear or worship God. This may be true in fact (compare the notes at Job 21:9-14), but it is not the idea here. The meaning is, that the God who is unchanging - who is always true and just - will “afflict,” that is, will bring punishisment on those who heretofore have had no changes; who have experienced no adversities; who are confident of success because they have always been prosperous, and who have no fear of God. Their continual success and prosperity “may” be a reason - as it often is - why they do “not” feel their need of religion, and do “not” seek and serve God; but the precise truth taught here is, that the fact of continued prosperity is no argument for impunity and safety in a course of wrong doing. God is unchangeable in fact, as they seem to be; and an unchangeable God will not suffer the wicked always to prosper. To constitute safety there must be a better ground of assurance than the mere fact that we have been uniformly prospered, and have experienced no reverses hitherto.

They fear not God - They do not regard him. They do not dread his interposition as a just God. How many such there are upon the earth, who argue secretly that because they have always been favored with success, therefore they are safe; who, in the midst of abundant prosperity - of unchanging “good fortune,” as they would term it - worship no God, feel no need of religion, and are regardless of the changes of life which may soon occur, and even of that one great change which death must soon produce!

Verse 20

He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him - Against those who were his friends, or who had given him no occasion for war. The Septuagint and Vulgate render this, “He hath put forth his hands in recompensing;” that is, in taking vengeance. The Hebrew would bear this construction, but the more correct rendering is that in our common version. The “connection” here would seem to indicate that this is to be referred to God, as God is mentioned in the previous verse. But evidently the design is to refer to the enemies, or the principal enemy of the psalmist - the man whom he had particularly in his eye in the composition of the psalm; and the language is that of one who was “full” of the subject - who was thinking of one thing - and who did not deem it necessary to specify by name the man who had injured him, and whose conduct had so deeply pained him. He, therefore, begins the verse, “He hath put forth his hands,” etc.; showing that his mind was fixed on the base conduct of his enemy. The language is such as leads us to suppose that the psalmist had Ahithophel in view, as being eminently the man that had in this cruel and unexpected manner put forth his hands against one who was his friend, and who had always treated him with confidence.

He hath broken his covenant - He, Ahithophel. The margin, as the Hebrew, is, “He hath profaned.” The idea is, that he had defiled, or polluted it; or he had treated it as a vile thing - a thing to be regarded with contempt and aversion, as a polluted object is. The “covenant” here referred to, according to the views expressed above, may be supposed to refer to the compact or agreement of Ahithophel with David as an officer of his realm - as an adviser and counselor - that he would be faithful to the interests of the king and to his cause. All this he had disregarded, and had treated as if it were a worthless thing, by identifying himself with Absalom in his rebellion. See 2 Samuel 15:12, 2 Samuel 15:31.

Verse 21

The words of his mouth were smoother than butter - Prof. Alexander renders this, “Smooth are the butterings of his mouth.” This is in accordance with the Hebrew, but the general meaning is well expressed in our common version. The idea is, that he was a hypocrite; that his professions of friendship were false; that he only used pleasant words - words expressive of friendship and love - to deceive and betray. We have a similar expression when we speak of “honeyed words,” or “honeyed accents.” This would apply to Ahithophel, and it will apply to thousands of similar cases in the world.

But war was in his heart - He was base, treacherous, false. He was really my enemy, and was ready, when any suitable occasion occurred, to show himself to be such.

His words were softer than oil - Smooth, pleasant, gentle. He was full of professions of love and kindness.

Yet were they drawn swords - As swords drawn from the scabbard, and ready to be used. Compare Psalms 28:3; Psalms 57:4.

Verse 22

Cast thy burden upon the Lord - This may be regarded as an address of the psalmist to himself, or to his own soul - an exhortation to himself to roll all his care upon the Lord, and to be calm. It is expressed, however, in so general language, that it may be applicable to all persons in similar circumstances. Compare Matthew 11:28-29; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7. The Margin here is, “gift.” The “literal” rendering would be, “Cast upon Jehovah what he hath given (or laid upon) thee; that is, thy lot.” (Gesenius, Lexicon) The phrase, “he gives thee,” here means what he appoints for thee; what he allots to thee as thy portion; what, in the great distribution of things in his world, he has assigned to “thee” to be done or to be borne; cast it all on him. Receive the allotment as coming from him; as what “he” has, in his infinite wisdom, assigned to thee as thy portion in this life; as what “he” has judged it to be best that then shouldest do or bear; as “thy” part of toil, or trouble, or sacrifice, in carrying out his great arrangements in the world. All that is to be “borne” or to be “done” in this world he has “divided up” among people, giving or assigning to each one what He thought best suited to his ability, his circumstances, his position in life - what “he” could do or bear best - and what, therefore, would most conduce to the great end in view. That portion thus assigned to “us,” we are directed to “cast upon the Lord;” that is, we are to look to him to enable us to do or to bear it. As it is “his” appointment, we should receive it, and submit to it, without complaining; as it is “his” appointment, we may feel assured that no more has been laid upon us than is commensurate with our ability, our condition, our usefulness, our salvation. We have not to rearrange what has been thus appointed, or to adjust it anew, but to do all, and endure all that he has ordained, leaning on his arm.

And he shall sustain thee - He will make you sufficient for it. The word literally means “to measure;” then to hold or contain, as a vessel or measure; and then, to hold up or sustain “by” a sufficiency of strength or nourishment, as life is sustained. Genesis 45:11; Genesis 47:12; Gen 50:21; 1 Kings 4:7; 1 Kings 17:4. Here it means that God would give such a “measure” of strength and grace as would be adapted to the duty or the trial; or such as would be sufficient to bear us up under it. Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 12:9.

He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved - literally, “He will not give moving forever to the righteous.” That is, he will not so appoint, arrange, or permit things to occur, that the righteous shall be “ultimately” and “permanently” removed from their steadfastness and their hope; he will not suffer them to fall away and perish. In all their trials and temptations he will sustain them, and will ultimately bring them off in triumph. The meaning here cannot be that the righteous shall never be “moved” in the sense that their circumstances will not be changed; or that none of their plans will fail; or that they will never be disappointed; or that their minds will never in any sense be discomposed; but that whatever trials may come upon them, they will be “ultimately” safe. Compare Psalms 37:24.

Verse 23

But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction - The word “them,” here evidently refers to the enemies of the psalmist; the wicked people who were arrayed against him, and who sought his life. The “pit of destruction” refers here to the grave, or to death, considered with reference to the fact that they would be “destroyed” or “cut off,” or would not die in the usual course of nature. The meaning is, that God would come forth in his displeasure, and cut them down for their crimes. The word “pit” usually denotes “a well,” or “cavern” Genesis 14:10; Genesis 37:20; Exodus 21:34, but is often used to denote the grave (Job 17:16; Job 33:18, Job 33:24; Psalms 9:15; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 30:3, Psalms 30:9, et al.); and the idea here is that they would be cut off for their sins. The word “destruction” is added to denote that this would be by some direct act, or by punishment inflicted by the hand of God.

Bloody and deceitful men - Margin, as in Hebrew, “Men of bloods and deceit.” The allusion is to people of violence; people who live by plunder and rapine; and especially to such people considered as false, unfaithful, and treacherous - as they commonly are. The special allusion here is to the enemies of David, and particularly to such as Ahithophel - men who not only sought his life, but who had proved themselves to be treacherous and false to him.

Shall not live out half their days - Margin, as in Hebrew, “shall not halve their days.” So the Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate. The statement is general, not universal. The meaning is, that they do not live half as long as they might do, and would do, if they were “not” bloody and deceitful. Beyond all question this is true. Such people are either cut off in strife and conflict, in personal affrays in duels, or in battle; or they are arrested for their crimes, and punished by an ignominious death. Thousands and tens of thousands thus die every year, who, “but” for their evil deeds, might have doubled the actual length of their lives; who might have passed onward to old age respected, beloved, happy, useful. There is to all, indeed, an outer limit of life. There is a bound which we cannot pass. That natural limit, however, is one that in numerous cases is much “beyond” what people actually reach, though one to which they “might” have come by a course of temperance, prudence, virtue, and piety.

God has fixed a limit beyond which we cannot pass; but, wherever that may be, as arranged in his providence, it is our duty not to cut off our lives “before” that natural limit is reached; or, in other words, it is our duty to live on the earth just as long as we can. Whatever makes us come short of this is self-murder, for there is no difference in principle between a man’s cutting off his life by the pistol, by poison, or by the halter, and cutting it off by vice, by crime, by dissipation, by the neglect of health, or by those habits of indolence and self-indulgence which undermine the constitution, and bring the body down to the grave. Thousands die each year whose proper record on their graves would be “self-murderers.” Thousands of young people are indulging in habits which, unless arrested, “must” have such a result, and who are destined to an early grave - who will not live out half their days - unless their mode of life is changed, and they become temperate, chaste, and virtuous. One of the ablest lawyers that I have ever known - an example of what often occurs - was cut down in middle life by the use of tobacco. How many thousands perish each year, in a similar manner, by indulgence in intoxicating drinks!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 55". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-55.html. 1870.
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