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Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 55

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-2

Psa 55:1-2



This is another psalm accredited to David; and as Maclaren stated it, "Davidic authorship has at least as much to say for itself as any of the other conjectures that have been offered.” The title we have selected is from Leupold.

Spurgeon declared that, "It would be idle to fix a time and occasion for this Psalm with any dogmatism; but it reads like a song of the times of Absalom and Ahithophel.”

"It could also be the prophetic prayer of Christ in his humiliation, despised and rejected of men, when he was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God `in Him,’ when He was about to suffer their punishments, pay their debts, and discharge their sins, by giving His body upon the Cross as a ransom for the sins of the whole world.”

There is nothing whatever to prevent the psalm’s being both a song of the times of Ahithophel, and a prophetic forerunner of the prayers of Jesus Christ. Also, Ahithophel in the story of David occupies a position very closely akin to that of Judas Iscariot, of whom he seems to have been a type.

We like the way Anthony Ash broke the psalm down into small units (seven in all); and shall follow the same pattern here.


Psalms 55:1-2

"Give ear to my prayer, O God;

And hide not thyself from my supplication.

Attend unto me, and answer me:

I am restless in my complaint, and moan."

"Give ear to my prayer, O God" (Psalms 55:1). These words teach us that God Himself hears and attends the prayers of his people, that he is accessible to hear their petitions, and that he will not hide his face from praying saints.

"I am restless ... and moan" (Psalms 55:2). Clarke translated a part of this verse as, "I am strongly agitated.” If our ascription of this psalm to David during the rebellion of Absalom is correct, then there can be no wonder at all of David’s agitation and concern.

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:1. Prayer and supplication differ chiefly in degree of intensity. The latter is a very earnest form of the former.

Psalms 55:2. Make a noise means to be greatly agitated, not merely to produce a loud sound. The point was that David’s troubles were so grievous that he was constrained to express himself with emphasis.

Verses 3-5

Psa 55:3-5

Psalms 55:3-5


"Because of the voice of the enemy,

Because of the oppression of the wicked;

For they cast iniquity upon me,

And in anger they persecute me.

My heart is sore pained within me:

And the terrors of death are fallen upon me.

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me,

And horror hath overwhelmed me."

"The voice of the enemy ... they cast iniquity upon me" (Psalms 55:3). In the psalm, the enemy is mentioned with both singular and plural words. This is appropriate because there were many enemies, led by "an enemy," perhaps either Ahithophel or Absalom.

"Because of the oppression of the wicked" (Psalms 55:3). The Jerusalem Bible renders this, "They bring misery crashing down upon me."

"And in anger they persecute me" (Psalms 55:3). A number of scholars render this, "In wrath they hate me.”

"The terrors of death are fallen upon me" (Psalms 55:4). "There could be no greater consternation than fear of death, even if this is a figure.” We cannot think of "death" mentioned here as anything other than the real thing. If Absalom had been successful in his rebellion, David would have been the first of many executions; such is the nature of the type of revolution Absalom was attempting.

"Fearfulness ... trembling ... horror" (Psalms 55:5). These are eloquent words indeed, describing the heart-grief of King David. As Adam Clarke said, "Nobody ever described a wounded heart like David.”

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:3. David’s earnestness of voice in complaining of his afflictions was caused by a like voice of his enemies. They opposed him both in word and action.

Psalms 55:4. Terrors of death is a strong expression of the intense feelings of David caused by his trials. He was not actually expecting death at the hands of his enemies, but the anxiety that was crowding up upon his heart was such as to suggest the extremity of death or the approach to it.

Psalms 55:5. These feelings pertained to David’s fleshly nature. His inner self had not given way to doubt as to the continued support from God.

Verses 6-8

Psa 55:6-8

Psalms 55:6-8


"And I said, O that I had wings like a dove!

Then would I fly away and be at rest.

Lo, then would I wander far off,

I would lodge in the wilderness. (Selah)

I would haste me to a shelter

From the stormy wind and tempest."

Who is there who never experienced such a yearning as this? Just to say "good-bye" to all the problems, just to walk out of the mess and never return - attractive as such thoughts may seem to be, God’s servants must stand up to life like it is. David’s Great Son, the Saviour, knelt in blood and tears in Gethsemane; and here the Old Testament type of our Lord could find no other honorable course of action except that outlined in this Psalm; but it definitely did not include anything like his "disappearance into some shelter in the wilderness." Oh no, tens of thousands would be slain, and there would be an agony that no tears could assuage.

"From the stormy wind and tempest" (Psalms 55:8). It was not a thunderstorm that threatened David, it was a rebellion! These words are a, "Poetic description of violence and strife, mentioned in the next verse.”

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:6. This verse was another expression coming from the natural reaction of David to the heavy oppression from his enemies. It was but according to human nature longing for relief that he thought of the advantages of a bird when being pursued.

Psalms 55:7. A lonely hiding in some far away wilderness would be preferable to the constant irritation that his enemies were causing David.

Psalms 55:8. Windy storm is a figure of speech, referring to the tempestuous attacks upon David because of his service to God.

Verses 9-11

Psa 55:9-11

Psalms 55:9-11


"Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongue;

For I have seen violence and strife in the city.

Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof:

Iniquity also and mischief are in the midst of it.

Wickedness is in the midst thereof:

Oppression and guile depart not from its streets"

"Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongue" (Psalms 55:9-11).

"David wanted his enemies destroyed by `dividing their tongues’ (confusing their counsel); and this prayer was fully and effectively answered. Hushai and Ahithophel gave opposite counsel to Absalom; and Absalom followed the advice of Hushai. Ahithophel, knowing that such advice would destroy Absalom, went out and hanged himself (2 Samuel 15-17).”

Both King David of Israel and the Son of David, the Christ, were betrayed by a close friend, who as a consequence of his deeds went out and hanged himself. It is difficult not to see a type of Judas Iscariot in this.

In this paragraph, notice the seven words which describe conditions in Jerusalem: violence, strife, iniquity, mischief, wickedness, oppression, and guile. The Jerusalem Bible personifies these, but we cannot find any good reason for such a personification, Taken in the aggregate, they describe the frightful condition of a sorely troubled city. This writer once heard Mayor Bob Wagner of New York City describing a similar condition there, saying that, "The spirit of the jungle has invaded the heart of the great city."

Spurgeon’s description of Jerusalem’s sufferings under those conditions is a classic.

Alas, poor Jerusalem, to be thus the victim of sin and shame! Virtue reviled and vice regnant! Her solemn assemblies were broken up, her priests fled, her king a fugitive, and troops of reckless villains, parading her streets and sunning themselves on her walls, and vomiting their blasphemies in her sacred shrines. Here was cause enough for the sorrow which so plaintively utters itself in these verses.

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:9. Divide their tongues meant to weaken the force of their stormy tirades against David. Those tirades had caused violence to occur in the city, destroying peace.

Psalms 55:10. The agitation from the enemies of David was ceaseless or day and night.

Psalms 55:11. Deceit and guile are practically the same, and refers to the underhanded methods that were used by the enemies of David.

Verses 12-14

Psa 55:12-14

Psalms 55:12-14


"For it was not an enemy which reproached me;

Then I could have borne it:

Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me;

Then would I have hid myself from him:

But it was thou, a man mine equal, my companion, and my familiar friend,

We took sweet counsel together;

We walked in the house of God with the throng."

Leupold referred to this paragraph as "a parenthesis,” inserted here for the purpose of explaining that among the enemies was a very important personal friend, comrade, fellow-worshipper, and mutual counselor. There are many Bible scholars who point to Ahithophel as such a person in the life of David.

Some have attempted to avoid the personal nature of this psalm by applying it to some abstract situation, or to the nation of Israel, or nearly anything else; but as Delitzsch wrote: "How could the faithless bosom friend, mentioned here with special sadness, be a mere abstract person; since it has in the person of Judas Iscariot its historical living antitype in the life and Passion of the Second David?” Halley’s Bible Handbook states that, "Psalms 55:12-14 refer specifically to Ahithophel, a foregleam of Judas.”

Opposed to this view one may find all kinds of `information’ about what men do not know and may only guess at. Since all alike, the learned and the unlearned as well, are reduced to `guessing’ in this matter, we unhesitatingly choose the guesses we have adopted here. When a better one comes along, we shall be happy to take it!

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:12-13. It was not an enemy. That is, it was not one who admitted he was an enemy although in reality he was one. It would be expected that an enemy would seek to injure his victim and such treatment would not cause much surprise. But for such treatment to come from a professed friend would be peculiarly painful.

Psalms 55:14. This verse describes the close association that had been between David and some of the persons who were now acting the part of his enemies.

Verse 15

Psa 55:15

Psalms 55:15


"Let death come suddenly upon them,

Let them go down alive into Sheol;

For wickedness is in their dwelling, in the midst of them."

The very first part of the resumed prayer petitions God to bring the enemies down into Sheol alive, to their "sudden death." One may well ignore all of the "too bad, too bad" comments on verses like this, which speak of personal vindictiveness and horrible private vengeance upon enemies.

David’s situation here was exactly that of Moses the great lawgiver of Israel, whose leadership of Israel was challenged by Korah; here David’s leadership of Israel was challenged by Absalom. In both instances, there was no middle ground; one only could be the Theocratic Leader; and like Moses of old, David pleaded with God to decide it by the death of the challengers, just as God decided in favor of Moses by the miraculous death of Korah and his group who were swallowed up alive by the earth itself (Numbers 16:30). As Kidner said, "`Let them go down alive into Sheol’ is a clear echo of Numbers 16:30, where Moses had called for proof that the people who were resisting him were in fact rebels against God.” David was calling for exactly the same kind of decision here.

David was conscious that his earthly kingdom was a type of the Kingdom of Heaven, hence the utmost necessity of God’s favorable answer of David’s heart-felt prayer. His beloved son Absalom and his best friend Ahithophel were the challengers. Note the prayer for their sudden death was answered at once. Ahithophel committed suicide, and Joab thrust a dart through the heart of Absalom. Sad? Certainly! But the alternative would have frustrated forever the purpose of God in human redemption.

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:15. Hell is from a word that has various meanings. One of them is in reference to a state of forgetfulness. David had often prayed for the destruction of his enemies. In this verse he prayed for their complete overthrow. He gave a just reason for this wish; the existence of wickedness in their dwellings.

Verses 16-19

Psa 55:16-19

Psalms 55:16-19


"As for me, I will call upon God; And Jehovah will save me.

Evening, and morning, and at noonday, will I complain and moan;

And he will hear my voice.

He hath redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me;

For they were many that strove with me.

God will hear and answer them, even he that abideth of old. (Selah)

The men who have no changes,

And who fear not God."

The outstanding thing here is the confidence that David had of God’s deliverance from the awful circumstances of the rampant rebellion.

"Jehovah will save me" (Psalms 55:16). Why was David so confident? The answer is simple enough: God specifically said to David, "Thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure forever before thee; thy throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:16). These words of God to David through the prophet Nathan were known throughout Israel, to Ahithophel and to Absalom particularly; and their conspiracy to dethrone David was an action directed squarely against the will of God. No wonder David expressed confidence of victory. As The Jewish Targum translated this place, "The word of the Lord shall redeem me."

"Evening, and at morning, and at noonday" (Psalms 55:17). Every human being is obligated to honor God with his prayers at least three times a day, a custom which was scrupulously followed by Daniel (Daniel 6:10; Daniel 6:13). Here is evidence that David also observed the same obligation. Christians also by offering prayers and thanksgiving at mealtimes three times a day have perpetuated the custom.

"They were many that strove with me" (Psalms 55:18). The rebellion was no small affair, as indicated in 2 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 18:7. "The conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom." Hushai even spoke of arousing the whole nation "From Dan to Beersheba" to fight against David; and in the final battle between David’s army and that of Absalom, "The people of Israel were smitten before the servants of David; and there was a great slaughter there that day of twenty thousand men ... and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured" (2 Samuel 18:6-8). Thus there were over forty thousand casualties, indicating that those enemies of David were indeed very numerous.

"Men who have no changes ... and who fear not God" (Psalms 55:19). Some have been critical of David for not praying for the conversion of his enemies instead of for their death (as in Psalms 55:15); and the answer is right here. There was no use to pray for their conversion. They were men who would not change (or repent); they were men who had no fear whatever of God, and who were willing to oppose themselves violently against God’s will regarding the Davidic kingdom.

We find little sympathy for the `holier than thou’ attitude of certain commentators who prattle endlessly about "forgiving ones enemies and praying for them"; but who seem not to be outraged at all by the violent behavior of wicked men. We should say this on behalf of David’s prayer in Psalms 55:6, where he prayed, "Oh that I had the wings of a dove." He did not pray for the wings of an eagle so that he could fall upon his enemies from above, but for the wings of a dove that he might get away from it all.

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:16. No earthly help would be effective against the workers of iniquity. David therefore put his trust in God and called upon him for security.

Psalms 55:17. The frequency of David’s prayers makes up the subject of this verse. A familiar church hymn is based on this thought, and it was also the practice of Daniel, both before and after the wicked edict signed by the king. (Daniel 6:10.)

Psalms 55:18. A man might overcome his antagonist in battle and yet be in a terrible condition afterward. But David had been given victory with peace. Many with me means that many foes had contended with David.

Psalms 55:19. The sense of this verse is as if it stated the reason why the wicked men did not change their ways; it was because they did not fear God.

Verses 20-21

Psa 55:20-21

Psalms 55:20-21


"He hath put his hands against such as were at peace with him:

He hath profaned his covenant.

His mouth was smooth as butter,

But his heart was war:

His words were softer than oil,

Yet were they drawn swords."

"He hath profaned his covenant" (Psalms 55:20). Ahithophel was a counselor of the King; he knew the will of God regarding the perpetual nature of the Davidic kingdom; yet he consciously violated what he knew to be the will of God by his participation in Absalom’s futile rebellion.

The enemy in these two verses is addressed in the singular "enemy," but in Psalms 55:19; Psalms 55:23, they are addressed in the plural "they." "However, this is no insuperable barrier to regarding the Psalm as a unity. One enemy stands out above all the others."

"These two verses reveal another painful facet of the betrayal of friendship; he practiced hypocritical and deceitful flattery, described here with marvelous imagery. Perhaps the sting of the author’s pain was intensified by its being such a long time before he found out the truth."

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:20. He applies to the evil characters described in the preceding verse. These men were even covenant breakers, and had raised their hands against the very ones who would have been at peace with them.

Psalms 55:21. The wicked character is still the antecedent of the pronoun. The verse describes a hypocrite who uses favorable words to hide the evil intentions that are in the heart. By thus misleading the victim he could be held within the grasp of the foe until the opportune time for striking.

Verses 22-23

Psa 55:22-23


Psalms 55:22-23

"Cast thy burden upon Jehovah, and he will sustain thee:

He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.

But thou O God wilt bring them down into the pit of destruction:

Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days;

But I will trust in thee."

"Cast thy burden, etc." (Psalms 55:22). This verse has been singled out as a memory verse by countless people and is well worthy of such attention. There is an exuberant joy in every word of it. "The `burden’ here is a reference to the cares which are our portion in life."

"Down into the pit of destruction" (Psalms 55:23). This is merely a statement of the fact that wicked men, especially covenant breakers, shall finally suffer eternal condemnation, as Christ made abundantly clear in Matthew 25. Unfortunately, the RSV blundered in their translation here, making it read, "into the lowest pit of destruction." However, as Baigent pointed out, "The passage does not necessarily mean that there are divisions in Sheol."

E.M. Zerr:

Psalms 55:22. This verse is identical in thought with 1 Peter 5:7. No human being is able to bear the burdens of life without divine help. The original for moved would justify a stronger rendering, such as "to fall." That is better, for a person might be somewhat moved by the opposition of his enemies but yet not be cast down.

Psalms 55:23. But God will cause the wicked men of the earth to be cast down and finally brought to complete ruin.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Psalms 55". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/psalms-55.html.
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