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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 55

Psalms 55

THE Psalm contains three parts. The first, Psalms 55:1-8, delineates the desperate condition of the Psalmist, and prays for deliverance. The second, Psalms 55:9-15, describes the prevailing wickedness and ungodliness, as a symptom of which it is mentioned that the Psalmist has one of his nearest friends for his bitterest opponent, and calls upon God to execute judgment upon the wicked. The third, Psalms 55:16-23, contains the expression of confidence, which raises itself from the same foundation, on which also was raised in the preceding context the prayer: God is called upon at once by his love and his righteousness to interpose.

If we regard, as we are perfectly justified by the matter, Psalms 55:1 as an introduction indicating, by way of preliminary, the prayer, and Psalms 55:23 as the conclusion, recapitulating the confidence in short and striking lines, we have three strophes, each of seven verses.

The internal character of the Psalm is indicated by the “making a noise,” in Psalms 55:2, and the “crying aloud,” in Psalms 55:17. It is that of a great excitement. Berleb. Bible: “David is here very depressed, and thinks of no leaps over the walls as elsewhere.” The Psalmist wishes to shew (the Psalm is designated in the superscription an instruction) how in such a situation of excitement, a person should conduct himself, how he should carry up what has occasioned it to God, and compose himself to rest again through the consideration of God’s love and righteousness.

The superscription ascribes the composition to David. For a particular occasion, and against the view already propounded by Luther, that we have here a general prayer prescribed for the godly when assaulted by the wicked, decides even at the first glance, Psalms 55:12-14, and Psalms 55:20 and Psalms 55:21, where the person of a faithless friend meets us. But this faithless friend is a standing figure in poetry, as it is in life. Precisely in the same form in which it occurs here, has it already appeared in the earlier non-individual Psalms, in Psalms 35:11, ss., and especially in the passage which remarkably agrees with this, of Psalms 41:9. David was desirous of employing for the good of the Church the painful experiences, which he had found on this territory, particularly in connection with Ahithophel, 2 Samuel 15:12; was anxious to comfort others with the consolation with which he had himself been comforted in the trial he met with from “false brethren,” (the predominating reference to this, forms, in regard to the matter of the Psalm, its individual characteristic). Against the supposition of a particular occasion, it is enough to awaken in us misgivings, that those who maintain that, cannot agree among themselves regarding it. A presumptive counter-ground, on the other hand, is the general character of the references, the intentional nature of which comes especially out in Psalms 55:9, where, by “the city,” every one must obviously think of that particular city, to which he himself belongs. It is against the Sauline persecutions in particular, that in them we can point to no original of the faithless friend, and against the revolt of Absalom, that not the smallest reference is to be found here to the royal dignity of the Psalmist, which is, however, a characteristic trait of the individual Psalms of that time, nay, in Psalms 55:13, where the Psalmist describes the faithless friend as his associate and companion, a datum is given which excludes that idea. Then the defenders of the reference to Absalom’s time are involved in difficulty on this account, that they are unable to point out in the history the combination of circumstances which appear here: on the one hand the Psalmist is still in the city,—he expresses his wish, in Psalms 55:6-8, to be able to flee into the wilderness: as also in Psalms 55:9, he sees violence and strife in the city. On the other hand, the wickedness has already come to a full outbreak, the Psalmist is already hard pressed by his enemies, faithlessness has already become openly manifest. Tholuck, who supposes the Psalm to have been composed when David was flying before Absalom in the wilderness of Jordan, must get rid of one half of the circumstances, and Stier, who places its composition in the period that preceded the revolt of Absalom, overlooks the other. The allegation of Ewald and others, that the Psalm belongs to the last century before the destruction of Jerusalem, can bring no probable argument for its rejection of the superscription. For such delineations as it contains of prevailing demoralization, in Psalms 55:9-11, David had abundant occasion in his own experience during the times of Saul (compare especially 1 Samuel 22:2) and Absalom. It is absurd to take such descriptions as the starting point for the historical exposition, and then perhaps to complain with Ewald: “the circumstances of the position of this poet can scarcely be more exactly determined.”

Verse 1

To the chief musician, upon stringed instrument music, an instruction of David; Ver. 1. Attend to my prayer, O God, and hide thyself not from my supplication. התעלם , prop. to hide one’s self from any thing, purposely not to notice, to be ignorant of it, compare Deuteronomy 22:1-4, Isaiah 58:7, and on Psalms 10:1. John Arnd: “In great straits, it seems as if God hides himself from us, as the prophet Jeremiah speaks in Lamentations 3 of his Lamentations: Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud that our prayer should not pass through. But our gracious God cannot hide himself from our prayer, the prayer does still press through the clouds and find him. God’s fatherly heart does not permit him to hear us cry and beg, without turning to us, as a father, when he hears his children cry.”

Verses 3-8

There follows now the development of the prayer uttered in a general way in the introduction, in two strophes. First, the Psalmist prays for deliverance from the very great distress, in which he was plunged, Psalms 55:2-8. In Psalms 55:3, he describes this distress, in Psalms 55:4 and Psalms 55:5 he unfolds the sad internal condition, in which he was situated, having troubles without and fears within, and heaves, in Psalms 55:6-8, the wish that he might rather dwell in the wilderness, than, in such circumstances, continue longer in human society—such vexation had they caused him. Ver. 2. Attend to me and hear me, I give free course to my sorrow, and will cry aloud. Ver. 3. Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked, for they bend mischief over me, and in wrath they persecute me. Ver. 4. My heart moves about in my inwards, and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Ver. 5. Fear and trembling have come upon me, and horror covers me. Ver. 6. And I said: Oh! had I wings as a dove, then would I fly away and abide. Ver. 7. Lo! I would fly far off, I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah. Ver. 8. I would make haste to a refuge, from the strong wind, from the tempest. אריד בשיחי in Psalms 55:2, signifies literally: I let (my thoughts) swim, or move themselves about in my reflections, for, I give my sad thoughts free course, that God may be the more moved to compassion since pain in its full strength presents itself before him. רוד occurs in Kal. in the sense of moving, one’s self, Jeremiah 2:31, Hosea 12:1, and in Hiphil in the sense of moving, shaking, Genesis 27:40, compare my Beitr. III. p. 296. As the supposition, that the Hiphil here stands in the signification of Kal, is an arbitrary one, the object: my troubled thoughts, must be supplied from בשיחי . The שיח thought, reflection, is often used especially of the reflection one has over misfortune, of sorrow, because nothing more powerfully draws the thoughts around it, than pain, nothing invites one more to sink down into it, to brood over it. But the word in such cases maintains still its common signification. הום to throw into confusion, to bring into disquiet, in Hiphil to make disquiet, noise, comp. Micah 2:12, and the corresponding “to make a noise,” in Psalms 55:17. There is just as little reason here as in Psalms 42:4, to take the ה of striving in any other than its common sig., against which also the, “I will think and cry aloud,” in Psalms 55:17 is decisive. The Psalmist, or the righteous, in whose name he speaks, will complain very loudly, because this is the surest means of making God to hear, comp. in Psalms 55:17: so does he hear my voice. By the voice of the enemy in Psalms 55:3, we have to think of reproaches, ( Psalms 55:12,) threatenings, and curses. מוט to shake, in Hiphil to make to shake, to throw down, Psalms 140:11. און never signifies misfortune, always wickedness, comp. on Psalms 10:1. Delitzsch on Hab. p. 158, who maintains the opposite, has too little considered, that, for the sig. misfortune, at least one passage was indispensably necessary, in which that sense alone could be, admitted. But no such passage exists. Luther: they would shew toward me a malicious disposition, is hence to be preferred to De Wette: they pour upon me hurt. The wickedness in the form of a mischievous device, Psalms 41:8, in which it embodies itself, is thrown upon the Psalmist.

On Psalms 55:4 Calvin: “When it goes well with us, every one appears as an invincible warrior, but as soon as we come into the real conflict, then does our weakness discover itself.” היל is a cognate form of the Kal חול , sig. to circle, which is figuratively used for the feeling of deep pain, sore anguish. The sig. to tremble, is not sufficiently proved. The terrors of death seize the Psalmist, because the enemies threaten his life.

Psalms 55:6 has been imitated by Jerem. in Jeremiah 9:2: “O that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people and go from them! for they, are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.” That the Psalmist names the dove, not merely on account of its speed of flight, but also on account of its defenceless innocence, is clear from Psalms 56 supers. In the imitation in Revelation 12:14, the eagle has been substituted for the dove, with reference to Exodus 19:4. To the words: and would abide, we must supply: in the place, whither I fled, rather than continue longer among my tormentors. The wilderness, in Psalms 55:7, stands opposed to human society. As every one naturally has the wish to continue in it, it must have become sadly degenerate, if one desires to flee from it into the desert. After the word of heavy import: in the wilderness—what must be for “friends” and “brethren,” from whom it is sought to be away into the wilderness!—the Selah stands quite suitably.

The Psalmist had, in Psalms 55:6, uttered in a general way the wish, that he might escape from the evil which pressed hard upon him, thereby indicating the heaviness of his temptation, and seeking to move God to compassion and help. In Psalms 55:7 he has defined this wish more exact; in that he desired to go far away into the wilderness, and in Psalms 55:8 he still further adds, that he would hasten his escape. Precisely as the relation of Psalms 55:7 and Psalms 55:8 to Psalms 55:6, is that of Psalms 55:10 and Psalms 55:11 to Psalms 55:9. אחישה is fut. in Kal of חיש =חוש , comp. 71:12. The Hiphil also occurs in the sig. of hastening, Judges 20:37. מפלט , place of refuge, is accus., as it stands with verbs of motion. The לי is used as in Psalms 55:18. Against the sig. of the forms with מ various expositors: I would hasten to me the flight. The מן in מרוח and מסער most take as that in מקול in Psalms 55:3, from strong wind, from tempest=as the dove flies from the storm and tempest to her place of refuge, so the Psalmist from the storm of his enemies. But that we must rather take the מן as not. comp. after the example of Drusius, appears from the expression: “from the hastening wind,” (סעה according to the Arab. to run, hasten) the more so, as סעה connects itself with חיש in the first member. It is also very common elsewhere, to have respect to haste in mentioning wind and storm, comp. Habakkuk 1:11, Habakkuk 3:14. Jeremiah 4:13, Job 30:15.

Verses 9-15

There follows in Psalms 55:9-15 the second part of the prayer: Let God judge, for the reigning wickedness cries aloud to heaven. The prayer for the destruction of the wicked is announced briefly at the beginning, at the end it comes out more at length in Psalms 55:15. In the middle part its grounding is given, inasmuch as, first, in a general way, the reigning wickedness is described, Psalms 55:9-11, then allusion is made to the faithlessness of the friend, as to a frightful symptom of prevailing corruption.

The numbers three and seven, which govern the arrangement of the whole, return again also in the arrangement of the particular strophes. As the first strophe falls into three parts 2. 2. 3, so also the second, 3. 3. 1.

Ver. 9. Devour, Lord, divide their tongue for I see violence and strife in the city. Ver. 10. They compass it day and night upon its walls, and mischief and sorrow are in the midst of it. Ver. 11. Iniquity is in the midst of it, and there depart not from its market oppression and deceit. Ver. 12. For it is not an enemy that reproaches me, else would I bear it, not my hater that magnifies himself against me, else would I conceal myself him. Ver. 13. But thou art my companion, my friend, and the man of my confidence. Ver. 14. We who took sweet counsel together, walked into the house of God in the tumult. Ver. 15. Desolation upon them, let them go down alive to hell, for evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.

According to the current exposition בלע devour, must, as well as the divide, refer to the tongues; but that we must rather supply the enemies as the object, is clear from: “let them go down alive into hell,” in Psalms 55:15, the more so, as there the first part of this verse is manifestly resumed again and expanded. If the reference there to the destruction of the company of Korah is generally recognised, it is here also not to be overlooked, the less so as in Numbers 16:32, our very בלע is used. Devour, is q. d. annihilate them, as formerly at thy command, the earth swallowed up the impious rebels of another time, comp. Psalms 55:19, where the Psalmist, upon what God had done since the days of old, grounds his confidence of a present interference. John Arnd: “It was a frightful thing for the earth to open and swallow up those wicked men, but it is a great consolation to the persecuted church, when she reflects upon the preceding examples of vengeance and of righteous judgment, as God by his word and appointments has always ordered it, and will certainly carry on matters to the end, if we betake to him for refuge.” The relation of the expression: “divide their tongues,” to the devouring, has Luther already discerned quite correctly, who by transposition of the sentence renders: make their tongue divided, Lord, and cause them to go down. The division of their tongue was one of the chief means, which the destroying agency of God should employ, q. d. precipitate them into destruction, especially in this way, by making them disunited among themselves, and so driving into collision with one another those, who were leagued together for the destruction of the righteous. A tongue is here attributed in figurative language to the ungodly, as in Genesis 11 a lip to the whole earth, This tongue is divided by the Lord, q. d. he effects, that their discourse becomes full of discord. The allusion here to Genesis 11 cannot be mistaken, comp. especially Genesis 11:7: “let us confound their lip, that they may not understand one another’s lip;” Genesis 11:9: “then did the Lord confound there the lip of the whole earth;” then also Genesis 10:25, where the verb פלג occurs. This allusion to what God had already done in the days of old, gives a peculiar emphasis to the prayer. John Arnd: “This history is an image and figure of great pride and presumption, which impels man to undertake projects, which they cannot execute, and which are contrary to God, only for the sake of making to themselves a great name in the earth. Hence comes our blessed God and confounds such peoples thoughts and counsels, so that they devise plans only for their own destruction.” The for is to be explained thus, that the grounding of the prayer for judgment carries a reference to guilt: where the carcase is, there the eagles will be gathered together. The article in בעיר manifestly stands generically, precisely as in במדבר in the wilderness, in Psalms 55:7. Every righteous man suffering assaults from the wicked, must think of his city. In Psalms 55:10 and Psalms 55:11, “the city” is further expanded. In order to express, that the city was wholly and utterly filled with wickedness, we have first in Psalms 55:10, the walls and the interior contrasted, then in Psalms 55:11, in the reverse order, proceeding from the interior to the exterior, the middle part and the market place lying before the gates, comp. Gesen. s. v. As the wickedness engrossed all the space, so did it also all time, comp. “day and night” in Psalms 55:10, and “there depart not,” in Psalms 55:11. סובב in Psalms 55:10, sig. not properly to go about, but to compass, comp. on Psalms 26:6: the compassing about and the interior form a very suitable contrast. That violence and strife—these are the subject to יסובבה—appear under the image of warriors, who environ the city round about its walls, appears from Psalms 55:19. But the point of comparison is altogether and alone the compassing about, the forming of a circle, and the supposition of an ironical representation, as to how matters now went in the city of God: “O happy city, in which such watchmen are placed,” is to be rejected as far-fetched, and not supported by the connection. By און we are not here to understand, with many expositors, suffering, (De Wette: and evil and distress are in the midst of it,) not even though this meaning were generally established, which is not the case. For violence and strife upon the walls require for the interior a corresponding mark of wickedness. This is also demanded by Psalms 55:9, the expansion of which we have here before us, and by Psalms 55:11, where in like manner wickedness is described in both members. In reference to the הוות , wickedness, in Psalms 55:11, comp on Psalms 5:9. The mention of the market place is the more suitable, as there, in the place of justice, iniquity was concentrated.

The for in Psalms 55:12 is for the most part misunderstood by expositors; according to De Wette, “it is scarcely to be expressed:” the supposition of others, that it is co-ordinate with the distant for in Psalms 55:9, is also nothing more than a shift for the occasion. The Psalmist grounds the representation of the reigning wickedness given in the preceding context by narrating his own experience, which had led him, (who was a Psalmist, and not a prophet, and whose part it is to lay to heart the general state of things as such), to give that picture. Where poisonous herbs exist, such as are described by him in what follows, there also must be found a poisonous soil; where such things occur to the individual, the inference is not far to seek regarding the rampant moral dissipation. To the words: “for not my enemy reproaches me,” we are not to supply: in the case, which I have at present before my eyes. The Psalmist has also enemies who had been such from the beginning. The אויב according to the connection, marks these—but here he looks away from what he has to suffer from them, because it was not so great as the suffering, which faithless friends caused him, and which bespoke the magnitude and depth of the reigning corruption. On the words: else would I bear it, the Berleb. Bible remarks: “for from such one would expect nothing better, and might still find consolation respecting it from one’s friends.” עדךְ? in Psalms 55:13 signifies valuation, not precisely worth; for the former sig. also holds in the passages, Leviticus 27:3, Job 28:13. The valuing of any one, is partly the valuing, which has been taken of any one, Leviticus 5:15, etc., and partly that, which concerns any one. By the first we shall have: thou art a man, whom I value, but the כ appears strange, and elsewhere valuing does not stand, without something farther, for valuing highly. If we follow the latter, we must not render, with many expositors: whom I value like myself. For is this case the Psalmist must have been described more particularly than as the valuator. We must rather expound: “according to my valuing,” that is: “valued like myself, as the Chaldee, Syriac, and Luther: my fellow. Friendship, according to the rule, “binds only equals,” and these, wherever it actually obtains, with peculiarly intimate bonds.

In Psalms 55:14, we are also in the second member to supply the together. First, as the internal friendship manifested itself in the parlour, then as it came forth into public life, in the fellowship of devotion, which entwines the hearts of men with the most tender cords, such as only the rough hand of wickedness can rend asunder. In reference to סוד , confidence, comp. on Ps. 26:14; to make confidence sweet, for, to hold sweet confidence. The opposite to סוד forms רגש prop. shouting, then of the tumult of the multitude moving up and down in the outer courts of the temple, comp. המון , noise, then the holy-day keeping multitude in Psalms 42:4. In Psalms 64:2, סוד and רגשה are in like manner united together.

In bible: Psalms 55:15 the Psalmist resumes the prayer for the judgment of God against the wicked, after having assigned his motives for doing so. The reading of the text is יְ?שׁ?ִ?ימוֹ?ת , desolations, (let them come) upon them, as formerly upon the hardened sinners in Sodom and Gomorrah. The marginal reading, which in many MSS. and editions has pressed itself into the text, and which also the older translators for the most part express, is יַ?שׁ?ּ?ִ?י מָ?וֶ?ט , let death deceive upon them, ישי for ישיא , Hiphil from נשא to deceive. This reading is merely a bad conjecture, produced through a false endeavour to make the first member entirely conformed to the second: to scheol must correspond death, to the living ישי . It is the case also in Psalms 55:9, that the two members are not a synon. parallelism, but in each is allusion made to a particular judgment of bygone days, and its repetition desired; the construction of נשא with על is intolerably hard, and without example. The second member refers to the destruction of Korah and his company, comp. on Psalms 55:9, which easily explains the living, alive. An abbreviated comparison has place, q. d. let them be hurried away by death in the fulness of life and strength, comp Psalms 55:23, as once the transgressors of a bygone age went alive into hell. On the words: “for evil is in their dwelling,” Muis: “Because they are so wicked, that wherever they set down their feet, they leave traces of their wickedness, and defile all places with their impurities.” The dwelling and the heart do not stand in an ascending relation (Stier: in their dwelling, nay still more in their heart,) but rather of simple juxtaposition, comp. Psalms 55:10 and Psalms 55:11, and Psalms 55:14. It is a part of the individual physiognomy of this Psalm that it loves such heapings together—a peculiarity, which is an expression of its, fundamental character, of the excitement which pervades it.

Verses 16-22

The third strophe, Psalms 55:16-21, is that of hope and confidence, which grows upon the Psalmist from the consideration of the important grounds, upon which he had built his prayer. As the two first strophes, so this also falls into three divisions, and indeed, into such as exactly correspond with those of the second, 3. 3. 1. In the first, Psalms 55:16-18, the Psalmist expresses his confidence in the general, and then grounds this upon the greatness of his distress (comp. Psalms 55:2-8, where the prayer is built upon the same foundation:) in the second, Psalms 55:19-21, the confidence supports itself by the corruption of the enemies, (comp. Psalms 55:9-15;) in the third, Psalms 55:22, out of the confidence grows the admonition of the Psalmist to himself, to commit his cause to the Lord.

Ver. 16. I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me. Ver. 17. Evening, morning, and mid-day, will I meditate and cry aloud, so he shall hear my voice. Ver. 18. He redeems with peace my soul out of the war against me; for there were many with me. Ver. 19. God will hear and answer them, he who is throned of old, Selah; them, to whom there is no redemption, and who fear not God. Ver. 20. He lays his hand upon them, who live with him in peace, profanes his covenant. Ver. 21. Smooth as milch-diet is he in regard to his mouth, and war is his heart, its words are softer than oil, and yet are mere swords. Ver. 22. Cast upon the Lord thy salvation, and he will take care of thee, he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. In Psalms 55:17 many have found the three times of prayer among the Jews already indicated, comp. Daniel 6:11, Acts 10:9, Beitr. P. I. p. 143. Others again think, that the beginning, middle, and close of the day, serve only for a designation of it in its entire compass. Even in this latter view, however, we have here at least the foundation upon which the custom of the several seasons of prayer arose, and most probably in the time of the Psalmist had already arisen—evening and morning prayers, we have already often met with in the Psalms, and they must at any rate have been as old as the evening and morning sacrifice. For when the whole day is here described by evening (this stands first, because the Hebrews with it began the day,) morning, and mid-day, these are thereby recognised as the chief turning-points of the day, the natural consequence of which is, that on these periods prayer to the Lord of life concentrated itself. If we follow the first view, then evening, morning, and mid-day, are simply to be regarded as the most prominent points on the territory of prayer. For the Psalmist manifestly wished to say, that he would pray without ceasing, Luke 18:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:17. In וישמע the ו is used in its full sig., as ו of consequence: thus he hears. Prayer and hearing are related to each other as cause and effect. In Psalms 55:18, the preterite פדה is to be explained from the confidence of faith. בשלום , in peace, with peace, bringing or giving peace. The expression: my soul, q. d. my life, comp. the terrors of death in Psalms 55:4, and the retributive punishment longed for on the enemies in Psalms 55:15. Out of the war to me, q. d. in which I am engaged. That קרב is a noun and not the inf., (as many regard it: “so that that they do not near me,”

Luther: “from those, who would upon me”), appears from Psalms 55:21, and the contrast of peace. The for rests upon the general principle, that God is necessitated to administer help by the distress of his people, that upon which also the prayer in the first strophe was raised. In reference to the ברבים , in many, comp. Ew. § 521. עמדי sig. here, as always, with me. The hostile lies not in the preposition, but is only grounded in the subjects.

In Psalms 55:19 יענם is to be taken as fut. in Kal.: he will answer them, namely, for their threatenings and curses, which they pour forth upon the Psalmist, comp. Psalms 55:3, Psalms 55:12. Just as the Lord hears the voice of the Psalmist, comp. Psalms 55:17, and answers him, comp. Psalms 55:2, so he hears also the rough voice of the wicked, and gives to them thereupon a sharp answer. If people would compare parallel passages, such as Psalms 38:15: “thou wilt answer, O Lord my God,” they would not think of expounding with Luther and most modern expositors: “and he will humble or plague them,” the less so, as the sig. plague, which the Piel of ענה has, is quite uncertain for the Hiphil. 1 Kings 8:35 is manifestly to be rendered: for thou wilt hear them. Now, the following context contains the grounding of the confidence here expressed in the introduction. This is primarily derived from the consideration of God: and he that is throned of old (will answer.) The sitting is peculiar to judges and kings, comp. Psalms 29:10. The sitting of the olden time=he who from of old is enthroned, comp. Deuteronomy 33:27: “and dwelling is the God of the old time,” Habakkuk 1:12, “art thou not he from of old, Jehovah, my God, my Holy One, so shall we not (even now) die,” Psalms 74:12, “and God is my king from of old.” The deeds, by which God had already showed himself from of old as the righteous king and judge, the judgments, for example, upon the wicked in the land of Shinar, Psalms 55:9, the company of Korah, Psalms 55:9 and Psalms 55:15, the cities of the plain, Psalms 55:15, pledge his still ready interposition. He who had already so long held the throne, must now also shew himself as king and judge, he cannot now at so late a period be another. John Arnd: “The Holy Spirit here looks upon the examples, in which the Almighty God has through all ages delivered the faithful and punished the persecutors; and concludes thereupon, that as the same righteous God still lives, he will assuredly also still reign and govern, as from the beginning. Therefore is it a great consolation when one is in trouble and persecution to think, how God still lives and has always proved himself to be a gracious God against those, who fear him, as is declared in Psalms 119 : “when I consider, how thou from the first has judged, so shall I be comforted.” The Selah does not at all stand “quite unsuitably,’’ but points to the deep subject of the few words, the rich fulness of consolation, which they present, and invites the mind to stand still by them.

The grounding of the confidence is then further derived from the character of the enemies, and indeed so, that what is contained in Psalms 55:19 forms a compendium of Psalms 55:9-11, Psalms 55:20 and Psalms 55:21 of that, which had been said in Psalms 55:12-14 of the faithless friend. By אשר etc. those are described, who must participate in the answer of him who has been throned from of old: he will answer them, to whom; prop. them, to whom. If the relation of these words to Psalms 55:9-11 is first rightly perceived, then light of itself falls upon the manifoldly significant חליפות . The word is used in Job 10:17, Job 14:14, in a military sense, in the sig. of discharges, relief-troops, and this sig. appears quite suitable, as in Psalms 55:10 violence and contention are mentioned under the image of warriors, who day and night go about the city on its walls, comp. also in Psalms 55:11: “depart not from its market-place;” they, to whom there are no discharges, and who fear not God, q. d. who incessantly and constantly serve sin and fear not God. The most general exposition is: to them, for whom there is no improvement, q. d. delay would here be out of place, because no repentance is to be expected for those, who are hardened in their wickedness. But it is matter for serious consideration on the other hand, that neither the noun nor the verb, ever occur in a moral sense, and also that the plural is not easily explained on this view. Ewald’s arbitrary exposition by mutual fidelity, friend-fidelity, oath-fidelity, has already been disposed of by Maurer, through the remark, that חליפה (prop. the changed), denotes not alternate reciprocation, but alternate changing.

In Psalms 55:20 and Psalms 55:21, the Psalmist turns from the ground of hope for divine interference, which he derived from the moral condition of the ungodly in general, to that, which was furnished by the special conduct of the unfaithful friend. The constancy, with which the author here and in Psalms 55:12-14 uses the singular, when speaking of this person, does not admit of our substituting with Luther and many others the plural for it. The situation must be that of a person, who has been violently hated by one false friend, as indeed in real life one does not commonly meet with many such experiences at the same time. The sub. שלום , supplies here, as in Psalms 69:22, poetically the place of the adj., the peace, for, who lives with one in perfect peace. That we must not with many invert the relation, and take שלום for an original adjective, appears from the fact that the word is used in an adj. sense, very rarely, and never except in poetry. That the suff. must not, with Luther and others, be referred to God: “they lay their hands on his peaceful ones,” is clear from a comparison of Psalms 55:12-14, also from what is said in continuation in Psalms 55:21, comp. especially there: war is in his heart, and finally from the parallels: “my peace-man,” in Psalms 41:9, “my peaceable one,” in Psalms 7:4. The suff. also in ברִ?תו refers not to God, but to the friend. The expression of profaning the covenant, which constantly occurs in a religious sense, appears quite suitable to this construction, if we only think of a covenant like that, which was made between David and Jonathan, which proceeded from the Lord, and hence was a holy one, 1 Samuel 18:3, 1 Samuel 20:16, 1 Samuel 20:42, 1 Samuel 23:18.

The first member of Psalms 55:21 means literally: smooth is cream-food as to his mouth, for, what concerns his mouth, so are hypocritical flatteries often named, comp. on Psalms 5:9, Psalms 36:2, Hosea 10:2. The expression: “ smooth is,” renders prominent at the outset the point of comparison between the cream-food and the words, the reason why his words are named spiritual cream-food. מחמאה signifies something made out of cream. As מֵ?חֲ?מָ?אוֹ?ת is the stat absol., we are not to expound: the cream-food of his mouth, but only: his mouth, for, as to his mouth, in opposition to his heart, by which we obtain also a more suitable meaning: not his cream-food is smooth, but he has perfectly smooth cream-food. The conjecture מֵ?חֲ?מָ?אוֹ?ת is indeed very old (it is adopted by the Chald. and Symm., and Luther: “their mouth is smoother than butter,”) but still utterly to be rejected. It is against such a translation as Luther’s, that a plural from חמאה , cream, is not elsewhere to be found, nor indeed could it properly exist, and that the connection of the sing. פין with the חלקו is insufferably hard. If we translate with De Wette and others: they are smoother than butter as to their mouth, we still avoid only the latter difficulty, and receive in addition the new one, that here the discourse would be of false friends in the multitude, while the Psalmist throughout knows but of one false friend.

Psalms 55:22 the strong part of the soul speaks to the weak, comp. Psalms 27:14, Psalms 42 and Psalms 43. The supposition, that the Psalmist addresses all oppressed saints, rests on a misunderstanding. The relation is thereby quite destroyed of this ver. to Psalms 55:16-21, from which here the result is derived—so therefore throw. The Psalmist has to do throughout only with himself, or rather with the suffering righteous, in whose name he speaks. יְ?הָ?ב as קְ?רָ?ב ) or יָ?הָ?ב from יהַ?ב to give, ἁ?π . λεγ . the gift, the portion. That we must here think specially of the portion of nourishment, through which is figuratively marked the communication of every good gift, comp. on Psalms 23:5, appears from: he will cherish or care for thee, comp. Genesis 45:11, Genesis 47:12, Genesis 50:21. Gesenius would, indeed, expound: “he will protect thee,” but לכלל never has this meaning. One throws his part on the Lord, when, according to the word “The Lord is my portion and my cup,” one expects from him provision, as the child from the father, when one lays it on him to furnish what is needed, when one says in faith: Give us this day our daily bread. The expositions thy solicitude, thy complaint, thy burden, are all not only without grammatical support, but also unsuitable, on account of the clause: he will care for thee. Parallel passages, such as Psalms 37:5, 1 Peter 5:7, are not to be too closely pressed. That we must not expound: he will not let the righteous be moved for ever, but only: he will for ever not let, etc., is shown by the parall. passages, Psalms 69:2, Psalms 121:3.

Verse 23

There follows now the conclusion, in ver. 23. And thou, O God, wilt precipitate them into the well-pit. The men of blood and of deceit shall not bring their days to the half, but I confide in, thee. The well-pit is scheol, comp. on Psalms 55:15; חצה to halve, poet. to bring to the half, comp. Psalms 102:23. In the expression: I confide in thee, there is enclosed the idea: and shall be delivered, comp. on Psalms 52:8.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 55". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-55.html.