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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 54

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


Consolation in the Presence of Bloodthirsty Adversaries

(In the Hebrew, Psalms 54:1-2 comprise the designation 'To the leader, with the accompaniment of stringed instruments, a Maskil of David...'; from then on Psalms 54:1-7 in English translation corresponds to vv. 3-9 in the Hebrew)

Here again we have one of the eight Psalms dates from the time of Saul's persecution - a Maskı̂l , like the two preceding Psalms, and having points of close contact both with Psalms 53:1-6 (cf. Psalms 54:5 with Psalms 53:3) and with Psalms 52:1-9 (cf. the resemblance in the closing words of. v. 8 and Ps 52:11): To the Precentor, with the accompaniment of stringed instruments (vid., on Psalms 4:1), a meditation, by David, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul: Is not David hidden among us? Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, had escaped to David, who with six hundred men was then in the fortified town of Keïla (Keilah), but received through Abiathar the divine answer, that the inhabitants would give him up if Saul should lay siege to the town. Thereupon we find him in the wilderness of Zîph; the Ziphites betray him and pledge themselves to capture him, and thereby he is in the greatest straits, out of which he was only rescued by an invasion of the Philistines, which compelled Saul to retreat (1 Samuel 23:19.). The same history which the earlier narrator of the Books of Samuel relates here, we meet with once more in 1 Sam. 26, related with fuller colouring. The form of the inscription of the Psalm is word for word the same as both in 1 Samuel 23:19 and in 1 Samuel 26:1; the annals are in all three passages the ultimate source of the inscription.

Verses 1-3

(Heb.: 54:3-5) This short song is divided into two parts by Sela The first half prays for help and answer. The Name of God is the manifestation of His nature, which has mercy as its central point (for the Name of God is טּוב , v. 8, Ps 52:11), so that בּשׁמך (which is here the parallel word to בּגבוּרתך ) is consequently equivalent to בּחסדּך . The obtaining of right for any one ( דּין like שׁפט , Psalms 7:9, and frequently, עשׂה דּין , Psalms 9:5) is attributed to the all-conquering might of God, which is only one side of the divine Name, i.e., of the divine nature which manifests itself in the diversity of its attributes. האזין ( Psalms 54:4) is construed with ל (cf. אל , Psalms 87:2) like הטּה אזן , Psalms 78:1. The Targum, misled by Psalms 86:14, reads זרים instead of זרים in Psalms 54:5. The inscription leads one to think of the Ziphites in particular in connection with “strangers” and “violent men.” The two words in most instances denote foreign enemies, Isaiah 25:2., Psalms 29:5; Ezekiel 31:12; but זר is also a stranger in the widest sense, regulated in each instance according to the opposite, e.g., the non-priest, Leviticus 22:10; and one's fellow-countrymen can also turn out to be עריצים , Jeremiah 15:21. The Ziphites, although Judaeans like David, might be called “strangers,” because they had taken the side against David; and “violent men,” because they pledged themselves to seize and deliver him up. Under other circumstances this might have been their duty as subjects. In this instance, however, it was godlessness, as Psalms 54:5 (cf. Psalms 86:14) says. Any one at that time in Israel who feared God more than man, could not lend himself to be made a tool of Saul's blind fury. God had already manifestly enough acknowledged David.

Verses 4-7

(Heb.: 54:6-9) In this second half, the poet, in the certainty of being heard, rejoices in help, and makes a vow of thanksgiving. The בּ of בּסמכי is not meant to imply that God is one out of many who upheld his threatened life; but rather that He comes within the category of such, and fills it up in Himself alone, cf. Psalms 118:7; and for the origin of this Beth essentiae, Psalms 99:6, Judges 11:35. In Psalms 54:7 the Kerî merits the preference over the Chethîb (evil shall “revert” to my spies), which would at least require על instead of ל (cf. Psalms 7:17). Concerning שׁררי , vid., on Psalms 27:11. In the rapid transition to invocation in Psalms 54:7 the end of the Psalm announces itself. The truth of God is not described as an instrumental agent of the cutting off, but as an impelling cause. It is the same Beth as in the expression בּנדבה (Numbers 15:3): by or out of free impulse. These free-will sacrifices are not spiritual here in opposition to the ritual sacrifices (Psalms 50:14), but ritual as an outward representation of the spiritual. The subject of הצּילני is the Name of God; the post-biblical language, following Leviticus 24:11, calls God straightway השּׁם , and passages like Isaiah 30:27 and the one before us come very near to this usage. The praeterites mention the ground of the thanksgiving. What David now still hopes for will then lie behind him in the past. The closing line, v. 9 b, recalls Psalms 35:21, cf. Psalms 59:11; Psalms 92:12; the invoking of the curse upon his enemies in v. 8 recalls Psalms 17:13; Psalms 56:8; Psalms 59:12.; and the vow of thanksgiving in v. 8 recalls Psalms 22:26; Psalms 35:18; Psalms 40:10.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 54". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/psalms-54.html. 1854-1889.
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