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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 54

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 54

THIS Psalm is distinguished both in its form and its subject by great simplicity. The whole is completed in the number seven, which, as so often happens, is divided into the numbers three and four. First, in Psalms 54:1-3, the prayer for deliverance from malignant and God-forgetting enemies, then in Psalms 54:4-7, the confidence united with a promise of thanksgiving, for the deliverance, which the Psalmist sees with the eye of faith as already present.

According to the superscription, David composed the Psalm When the Ziphites informed Saul, that David concealed himself in their country. Such information was conveyed twice, 1 Samuel 23 and 1 Samuel 26. But that we are here to think of the first, is probable from the literal agreement of the words of the Ziphites here with those in 1 Samuel 23:19. Against the correctness of the superscription, it has been objected, 1. That the enemies are named strangers in Psalms 54:3, whereas David was then menaced by his countrymen, Saul and his associates, comp. our remarks there; and, 2. That the superscription is partly borrowed from 1 Samuel 23:19—which, however, can prove nothing, since the agreement solely refers to the words of the Ziphites.

To the chief musician, for music on a stringed instrument, an instruction of David, when the Ziphites came and spake to Saul: Does not David hide himself with, us? On the expression: for music on a stringed instrument, comp. on Psalms 4. Delitzsch on Hab. p. 203, has proved, that נגינה denotes not any particular stringed instrument, but the music on such instruments, the plural indicating music formed by numerous notes running into one another, not various instruments. On the “instruction,” (comp. on Psalms 32) the Berleb. Bible: “We should learn from the example of David, that even in the greatest danger we should resort to no forbidden means, nor grow faint, but should call upon the name of God, and commit to him all our concerns as to the Supreme Judge.” The participle מסתתר marks the action continuing in the same state, and we must neither translate: has not then David concealed himself, nor with Hitzig: conceals himself not then David commonly with us? The form in which the Ziphites gave the information, had something striking in it, and for this reason it was, that their words had sunk so deep into the memory. It pre-supposed Saul’s earnest seeking after David. The Ziphites, surprizing Saul, express their wonder at this, that having such an object in view, he should still be ignorant of the notorious secret, that David lay concealed among them.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. God, through thy name deliver me, and through thy power judge me. Ver. 2. God, hear my prayer, attend to the words of my mouth. Ver. 3. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul, they have not God before their eyes. From the earth which presents to him nothing but despair, the Psalmist turns himself to the heaven,—from men who are against him, to God who is his helper; hence the general name of God is used quite appropriately. The name and the power of God he sets against the usual human means of help, of which he is wholly abandoned. The connection of the name of God, (comp. on Ps. 52:10), with his strength, shows quite clearly how false the position is, that the name of God is, q. d. God himself. The judge me is not quite synonymous with the deliver me. It points to the righteousness of David’s cause, which leads him to call in the divine help against his enemies as a work of divine righteousness, comp. Psalms 7:8; Psalms 26:1. John Arnd: “From these words we learn, if we would pray rightly, and indeed would make a strong powerful prayer, we must have a good cause, so that our conscience may not condemn us, and render our prayer impotent.” Besides, the delivering is not properly contained in the judging, it only is so, because the person praying for the judgment is a righteous man.

In Psalms 54:3, the Chaldee, instead of זרים , strangers, reads זדים , proud, which Luther also follows. This reading has partly proceeded from an unseasonable comparison of the parallel passage, Psalms 86:14, in which זרים is intentionally changed into זדים , and partly from the difficulty, which strangers presents, when compared with the superscription, according to which the enemies are domestic ones. This difficulty is legitimately removed by the remark, that David here figuratively designates his countrymen as strangers, because they, who were united with him by so many ties, his “friends,” and his “brethren,” according to the law of God, in their behaviour toward him were not different from strangers. Precisely the same figurative representation occurs also in Psalms 120:5, where the Psalmist, heavily oppressed by his countrymen, complains, that he dwelt in Mesech and Kedar, heathenish tribes, q. d. among heathens and Turks. Analogous also are the numerous passages, in which Israelites either in general are described as aliens or heathens, or are coupled with the name of a particular outlandish people, in order to mark their degeneracy and ungodliness. The transition to the figurative use of זרים , was the more easy, as it almost invariably carries the related idea of hostile, comp. Gesen. Thes., who is so candid as to admit here this figurative use. Upon עריץ , powerful, with the subordinate idea of violence, comp. on Psalms 37:35. On: “they have not God before their eyes,” corresponding to the: “they fear not God,” in Psalms 55:19, Arnd remarks: “Not to have God before the eyes, means to speak and act without dread, whatever one pleases, nay what is contrary to God and his holy word, as if God did not see and hear it; nor to be afraid of God’s anger, or of his judgment, and to have no remembrance of God in the heart. This is a great and horrible blinding of wicked Satan, growing out of pride and the abuse of power.”

Verses 4-7

Ver. 4. Lo, God helps me, the Lord is among those, who uphold my soul. Ver. 5. He will return the evil upon my adversaries, according to his truth annihilate them. Ver. 6. With free-will gift will I sacrifice to thee, praise thy name, O Lord, for it is good. Ver. 7. For he has delivered me from all trouble, and my eye sees its desire upon my enemies. The lo is a note of great strength of faith. The Psalmist sees with his eyes, how God helps him, although the visible presents nothing to him but certain destruction. John Arnd: “This is a fruit of prayer and of the holy Spirit; that the heart is comforted and rejoiced after prayer, and it is a sure indication of being heard, for so does the Lord answer us, when we pray from the heart. When prayer goes from the heart, the heart assuredly receives the consolation of God.” Soul is according to Psalms 54:3,—the upholders of the soul here, stand opposed to those there, who seek the soul—as much as, life. The ב in מסמכי is not the so called Beth essentiae, for then the singular must have been used, but it means simply among. The Psalmist makes two parties, the opponents and the helpers, and is full of triumphing confidence, as he sees the Lord upon the side of the latter. That the Psalmist must have had other helpers besides the Lord, we must not conclude from the plural. The plurality is an ideal circumstance; the plural denotes the class, the party, which in reality might have been embodied in an individual. Quite analogous is Psalms 118:7; Judges 11:35. In Psalms 54:5 the reading of the text is the fut. in Kal. יָ?שׁ?וּ?ב , comp. Psalms 7:16. The marginal reading ישׁ?יב he, God, will recompense, which in many MSS. is pressed into the text, and is also expressed by many of the old translators, owes its origin merely to the endeavour to bring the two members into conformity. The evil is that, which the adversaries wished to inflict on the Psalmist. In the second member the confident expectation of what the Lord shall do, in the strength of feeling, takes the character of a demand upon the Lord. This imperative, which arises out of confidence, is carefully to be distinguished from those of the first part, which contain prayer simply. אמת always signifies truth, never faithfulness, comp. Psalms 30:9. The truth of God must work the annihilation of the ungodly enemies, because in his word he has given to his people the promise of his protection, and still more, because his whole being contains a matter-of-fact declaration of the same promise. John Arnd: “There are two strong grounds from which, it may be concluded, that punishment shall certainly overtake the persecutors of the church. For the righteous God, who can only for a little exercise long-suffering and patience, will at length repay wickedness. Besides, God’s faithfulness and truth are also certain, and must at last manifest and disclose themselves.”

In Psalms 54:6, בִ?נְ?דָ?בָ?ה is expounded by many; with free will, voluntarily. But that the signification generally recognized as the common one, free-will gift, such an one, namely, as the heart impels one to bring, Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:29, is the only one, appears from a closer examination of the passages brought in support of the sig. willingness, or animus promptus ad aliquid. [Note: That in Numbers 15:3, where sacrifices stand opposed to each other, those which were offered after a vow, and those בְ?נָ?דבָ?ה , we must expound: as a free-will offering, shows the comp. of the parallel passages, Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 22:23. In Deuteronomy 23:24, the rendering: “What thou hast vowed to the Lord as a free-will gift,” presents no contradiction, nor Hosea 14:5: I will love them with a freewill gift, comp. Ew. § 483.] Accordingly we must also translate here: “in free-will offering,” so that the gift has the character of one freely bestowed; now with it, in the law the free-will gift stands in regular contrast to the vow, by which a person was bound, whenever he had uttered it in a time of trouble. This contrast the Psalmist would here also indicate; of his ready mind he would be impelled to present his thank-offering, to pay his vow, which in many cases was nothing more than a preservative against one’s own lukewarmness, disinclination, and unthankfulness. Still we might, referring to Deuteronomy 23:24, where also the vow is marked as a free-will offering—though certainly but an isolated passage—suppose, that the free-will offering stands opposed to such as was legally commanded. That significance is ascribed to sacrifices here, only in so far as the mind takes an active part in their presentation, appears from the parallel second member, from which many of the older expositors have erroneously concluded that by the sacrifices purely spiritual ones are to be understood—comp. on this second member, Psalms 52:9.

The expression in Psalms 54:7: he has delivered me, is to be explained from the circumstance, that David, in the exercise of that faith, which builds upon the internally received assurance, sees what is not as if it were, what, indeed, he was already, in Psalms 54:6, prepared to do, when speaking of praising and giving thanks to God, which pre-supposes the deliverance as already obtained. On the words: and my eye sees its desire on my enemies, Calvin remarks: “If any one asks, whether it is permitted to the children of God, when God takes vengeance on crimes, to feast himself on such a spectacle, the answer is easy—only let his eyes be pure, and he can piously and holily refresh himself with the manifestations of God’s justice; but when they are infected with any evil desire, all is then drawn to a wrong and perverse end.” John Arnd: “This is not a fleshly lust, a private revenge, an exultation over another’s misfortune, all which is unchristian, but it is an admiration of the righteousness of God, an acknowledgment of God’s judgment, a satisfaction, that God’s honour and God’s name are vindicated, whereby all may fear, praise, honour, and glorify him in all his works.”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 54". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-54.html.
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