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Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 52

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-9

Psalms 52:0

To the chief Musician, Maschil, a Psalm of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech

          Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man?
The goodness of God endureth continually.

2     Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs:

Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.

3     Thou lovest evil more than good;

And lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.

4     Thou lovest all devouring words,

O thou deceitful tongue.

5     God shall likewise destroy thee for ever,

He shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling-place,

And root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.

6     The righteous also shall see, and fear,

And shall laugh at him:

7     Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength;

But trusted in the abundance of his riches,

And strengthened himself in his wickedness.

8     But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God:

I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

9     I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it:

And I will wait on thy name; for it is good

Before thy saints.


Its Contents and Composition.—Respecting maschil, vid. Introduction. 4 The didactic character of this Psalm, which is brought into prominence by the title, and its devotional aim, are especially noticeable from the fact that with respect to its form, the invocation of God which is peculiar to prayers, lamentations and hymns, is entirely absent, with respect to its contents, the mighty man, who, according to Psalms 52:7, is proud of his riches, is upbraided for his impudence, wickedness, and falseness (Psalms 52:1-4), the punishment of God, which will destroy him, is proclaimed (Psalms 52:5), the action of the righteous, which will be called forth thereby, is contrasted with it (Psalms 52:6-7), and the lot and conduct of the pious Psalmist, corresponding with his trust in God’s grace, is pronounced. These contents are already summarily expressed in the first statement Psalms 52:1. The whole in tone and style reminds us of the prophetical castigatory discourses (Hupfeld, as Isaiah 22:15 sq. (Ewald), Jeremiah 20:3 sq.; Jeremiah 28:5 sq. (Hitzig, Maurer). But this resemblance is only of a general character, and not of special reference. The figure of the olive tree (Psalms 52:8) need not be regarded as having been derived from Jeremiah 11:16, and the correspondences in language of Psalms 52:1; Psalms 52:9 with Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 45:19, are not strong enough in connection with Psalms 52:8 to refer the composition of the Psalm to the time subsequent to the return from the exile (Hitzig). The violence of the language leads us to the conclusion of an excitability of temper, which would hardly be explicable, if the actions of the person accosted should be described as merely general injuries, and the relation of the poet thereto merely as one of the righteous generally (Hupfeld). But the personal references of the two are not marked with sufficient definiteness to be able to draw any safe conclusion as to historical relations. The reference to the high priest Alkimos, 1 Maccabees 7 (Olsh.), is entirely arbitrary. But the reference of particular expressions to the relations of David to Saul (Hengst.), are partly far fetched, partly untenable. Accordingly it is more advisable to abide by the statements of the title, and refer to the informing of Doeg, the overseer of the royal asses (1 Samuel 22:9 sq.), in consequence of which eighty-five priests were slaughtered, whilst David retained his courage and expressed it to Abiathar, who escaped to David from that blood-bath, the son of Ahimelech, that priest of Nob who had thoughtlessly given David, as the king’s son-in-law, the shew-bread and the sword

of Goliath, which was hung up behind the ephod in the sanctuary, and this had excited the suspicion and vengeance of Saul, who now made Doeg, the informer of that act, likewise the executioner of his bloody sentence.

Str. I. Psa 52:1. Hero [mighty man, A. V.].—Since the fundamental meaning of gibbôr is strength, and the same meaning occurs in the name of God used here, êl, it is natural to suppose that there is a mutual reference of these expressions to one another (Venema, et al.). But it does not follow from this, either that the reference can only be to Saul (Hengst., Schegg) as a real hero, or that this rather is used in the bad sense=violent man (De Wette, Hupfeld), Psalms 120:4. It can only be sarcastic (Delitzsch, et al.), since Doeg had not made the blood-bath by the strength of his fist, but by the craft of his tongue. The translation: Recke [applied to the giants of former days.—C. A. B.—] is therefore appropriate.—All the day long.—This designation of time (=always, continually) usually supplies the predicate, Psalms 44:22; Psalms 56:5. Here it is absent. Yet it is unnecessary to change the noun חֶסֶד into the corresponding verb (Syr.), or to supply a verb with the meaning: “endure” (most interpreters), or to point it as חַסֵּד, Proverbs 25:10, and take this form as an adverbial infin.=abusing (Hitzig). The translation: what boastest thou thyself in wickedness, thou mighty one in evil doing? thou deviseth always, etc. (Sept., Vulg.), leads to another recension of the text.

Psalms 52:2. Working deceit.—This is not to be regarded as the 2d person of the finite verb עָשָׂה (Sept., Vulg., Syr., Flamin., et al.)=thou makest deceit, (that he worked as a razor), but the participle, yet not as the adjective of razor, which easily injures the one who uses it, after the analogy of the deceitful bow, Psalms 78:57; Hosea 7:16 (Isaaki, Kimchi, Clericus), or as that of the tongue (Calvin), but as that of the man (Jerome, Hupfeld), and indeed, according to the vowel points of עֹשֵׂה, as a vocative (Geier, and most interpreters).

Psalms 52:3. Evil before (instead of) good—falsehood before (instead of) speaking righteousness.—מִן excludes its genitive, so that it does not state degree, but the preference including an actual negation (Aben Ezra, Geier, J. H. Mich., most recent interpreters). The accused not only loves evil more than good, but he prefers evil to good, so that he loves it instead of that which he should love.

Psalms 52:4. [Devouring words.—Perowne: “Literally, ‘words of swallowing up,’ which accords exactly with the figures employed in Psalms 52:9, ‘their mouth is a yawning gulf,’ etc., and so the Sept. well ῥήματα καταποντισμῶ.—C. A. B.]—Tongue of deceit.—This is not an accusative in apposition to “devouring words” (Olshausen, Hupfeld, and most older interpreters), but a vocative (Rosenm. and most recent interpreters), as parallel to the preceding.

Str. II. Psa 52:5. Likewise introduces the corresponding behaviour of another (Genesis 20:6), especially the proclamation of the Divine retaliation, Isaiah 66:4; Ezekiel 16:43; Malachi 2:9.—Tear down [A. V., destroy,] is used generally of walls, towers, houses, with the subordinate idea that these are made level with the ground, and are not to be rebuilt.—Seize [A. V., take away] is generally used of the seizing of a coal with the tongs or shovel; so much less then are we to think in the subsequent words of tearing away the tent, that is to say, the tent-pins from the earth (Hupfeld), or of the bringing out from the sacred tent, which the traitor had defiled (Kimchi, Geier, et al.), but of the dwelling, yet not as a figure of existence (De Wette), but rather with an allusion to the herdsman’s tent of Doeg.—[Land of the living.—Alexander: This is a poetical description of life itself, or the present state of existence, under the figure of a country.”—C. A. B.]

[Psalms 52:6. See—fear—laugh.—The righteous shall live to see the ruin of the ungodly, and in looking upon their ruin they will fear God, that is, reverence Him, and stand in holy awe in the presence of His severe judgments, and at the same time laugh at the absurd state of the ungodly, in view of their previous great pretensions.5

Psalms 52:7. Behold the man, etc.—Perowne: “The words in which the righteous express their triumph, pointing, as it were, to the fallen oppressor, and the lesson to be learnt from his overthrow. His trust was in riches, (comp. Psalms 49:6; Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 18:11), and his strength in his evil desire (vid. Psalms 52:2), not in God.—C. A. B.]

Str. III. Psa 52:8. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.—[The pronoun is emphatic, the Psalmist contrasting himself with the fallen Doeg.—C. A. B.] The “olive tree in the house of God,” has hardly a local meaning, comp. 2Ma 14:4 (Hitzig), yet is still less a general figure of glad prosperity under the protection and in the vicinity of God, but the latter reference is brought about at any rate by the thought of the central place of the meeting of God with His people (Psalms 92:13; Isaiah 60:13; Zechariah 1:8), so that something higher is expressed, it is true (Hengstenberg), than the hope of David of returning from his exile to the sanctuary (the older interpreters), yet the latter is not to be excluded (De Wette, Hupfeld), but included in the idea.

Psalms 52:9. And will wait on Thy name, because it is good.—The connection of טוֹב with the following words (even Ewald and Olsh.) is opposed by the fact that not “in the eyes” is used, but נֶגֶד=in the presence of, or before. It is accordingly better to write it with the previous word: וַאֲקַוֶּה. The conjecture of Hitzig to read it as: וַאֲחַוֵּה= I will proclaim, is very appropriate; for praise, thanksgiving, preaching before the congregation are frequently mentioned. But the “wait” of the text is likewise intelligible (comp. Isaiah 26:8), since the name of God expresses His declaration of Himself and David can represent himself to the congregation (Psalms 22:22 sq.; Psalms 40:9 sq.) as an example and model of one who waits upon Him. It is entirely unsuitable, in opposition to the accents, to refer טוֹב to God=because Thou art kind (De Wette): or to the action of the verb=because He is good. As God Himself, Psalms 100:4, or His grace, Psalms 109:21, so likewise His name is טוב, and this is neither to be explained as kind (Hupfeld) nor as great (Maurer).


1. Confidence in God’s everlasting grace allows us to have no anxiety respecting the wickedness and craft of even the mightiest enemies; it includes the assurance of the nothingness of their devices and the vanity of their boasting and defiance, not less than their terrible and complete ruin, with the same certainty of knowledge as that of our own continued salvation and increasing prosperity. For the one as well as the other rests upon faith in the retaliation of God’s holy government; and this grace does not deceive us. God pushes the violent from their authority; but He gives the humble His grace.

2. Every man is glad to boast of that in which he finds his strength, and upon which he puts his trust. The wicked therefore boast not merely as it were of their riches, their power, their sagacity, but directly of their wickedness. But this pride comes directly before their fall. The pious, on the contrary, boast of God and His grace. Herein they put their confidence alone, and therefore find in God true strength. And whilst they praise God, they strengthen themselves at the same time in waiting upon God’s revelation of Himself, and by both give the congregation a comforting example and a refreshing model.

3. The tongue is a little member, but it can become a dangerous weapon, not only by its misuse ruining other men, but plunging those likewise who use it in wickedness, into sure destruction. For it hands them over to the Divine judgment, and there even the lightest words weigh heavily, and the winged word is conjured up. But he who has spoken untruly, has not only made a breath and spoken in the air, he has violated the righteousness which he should have pursued (Deuteronomy 16:20), and transgressed God’s commandment; therefore the deserved punishment hastens to the wicked, sometimes late, but is always Sure to come. By this the righteous at the same time fear and rejoice.

4. As the righteous do not avenge themselves, but may and must proclaim the punishments of God, so they rejoice not over the misfortunes of their enemies, 2 Samuel 1:19; Job 31:29; Proverbs 24:17. It fills them with the trembling of fear and amazement; they rejoice in the exhibition of the righteousness of God, in which the glory, truth, and power of the Divine name which is invoked, confessed, and praised by the congregation, are again preserved. And if they then laugh, it is yet not a laughing in the joy of injuring, in scorn and reproaching, but the bringing into view of the absurd inconsistency in which the ungodly have become involved by their abandonment of God.


The courage of faith and the pride of the ungodly, a, in their origin, b, in their behaviour, c, in their consequences.—The same hand which casts down the wicked, lifts up the pious.—The use and misuse of the tongue.—See well to it, in what thou dost boast, in what thou dost trust, whom thou dost obey.—How the judgments of God excite fear and joy in one and the same heart.—The strength of wickedness finally is shown to be entire weakness.—Trust in Divine grace is rewarded by the exhibition of it, but he who leaves God, is left by His salvation.—Think of the recompense, not only for what thou doest, but for what thou sayest.—God will not have His name proclaimed in vain; he who uses it aright, will experience that it is good.—God requires trust in order to the manifestations of His grace, and He expects thankfulness.—Be not in debt to your God for thanksgiving, but act so that the whole congregation shall have the blessing of it.—Wouldst thou receive and enjoy the blessings of the house of God? then thou must undertake the obligations of a child and of a servant of God.

Starke: Many have fallen by the sharpness of the sword, but not near so many as by wicked mouths.—A wicked tongue has always at the bottom a false heart.—The goodness of God is a strong support, upon which we can safely rely, no one is deprived of it, unless they wilfully cast it away from them.—Selnekker: The pious must have patience, although wicked villains do much mischief.—Franke: Most men are so constituted that they of themselves hope and expect the best. But it does not depend upon the hope, which they make in their thoughts, but upon the idea that they have of themselves.—Arndt: There are two kinds of laughter: one when a wicked, revengeful heart laughs over the misfortunes of its enemies; the other laughing is from the consideration of the wonderful judgments and righteousness of God.—Tholuck: He who has not his protection in God, seeks protection and shelter in the things of this world.—He who has his roots grounded in God, will likewise bloom in the house of God; and he who does not see it in time, will experience it in eternity.—The name of the Lord is before the pious, although others know nothing of it, as a horn of plenty full of graces and gifts.—Guenther: In nothing is the wicked world more inventive than in the justification and extenuation of its sins and evil desires.—Taube: The ungodly flourish, it is true, but like the grass.—Faith lives upon the glory of the name of God; therefore the heart’s pleasure is in the recollection of His name, Isaiah 26:8. [Matt. Henry: They that glory in their sin glory in their shame, and then it becomes yet more shameful.—The enemies in vain boast in their mischief, while we have God’s mercy to boast in.—It contributes very much to the beauty of our profession, and to our fruitfulness in every grace, to be much in praising God, and it is certain we never want matter for praise.—Barnes: Among the “saints” there is a common bond of union—a common interest in all that pertains to each other; and when special mercy is shown to any one of the great brotherhood, it is proper that all should join in the thanksgiving, and render praise to God.—Spurgeon: Wealth and wickedness are dreadful companions; when combined they make a monster.—Eternal mercy is my present confidence. David knew God’s mercy to be eternal and perpetual, and in that he trusted. What a rock to build on! What a fortress to fly to!—C. A. B.]


[4][This Psalm begins a series of eight Psalms using the Divine name of Elohim, and all maskils of David (Psalms 52—55). It is one of the eight psalms which by this title are referred to the time of the persecution by Saul (Psalms 7, 59, 56, 34, 52, 57, 142, 54). Augustine calls it Psalmus fugitivus. Vid. Delitzsch.—C.A.B.]

[5][Barnes: “The idea here is not exultation in the sufferings of others, or joy that calamity has come upon them, or the gratification of selfish and revengeful feelings that an enemy is deservedly punished; it is that of approbation that punishment has come upon those who deserve it, and joy that wickedness is not allowed to triumph. It is not wrong for us to feel a sense of approbation and joy that the laws are maintained, and that justice is done, even though this does involve suffering, for we know that the guilty deserve it, end it is better that they should suffer than that the righteous should suffer through them.”—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 52". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-52.html. 1857-84.
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