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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 52

Verses 1-9

Psalms 52:1-9

Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man?

A social betrayer

This psalm may be regarded as presenting to us a social betrayer in a variety of aspects. Doeg was an “informer,” one whom Webster defines as “a man who informs against others from base or unworthy motives.”

The social betrayer depicted.

1. Pride (Psalms 52:1). Proud of the secret he holds. He feels he has the reputation and destiny of some one entrusted to him.

2. Malice (Psalms 52:2).

3. Craft (Psalms 52:2). He is a moral assassin; moves in the dark, and carries his javelin under the costume of deception. Dishonesty (Psalms 52:3). He runs more readily with the false than with the true; with the wrong than with the right; with the cruel than with the kind. The base man, what careth he whom he betrays, how he betrays, or what sufferings he entails upon the innocent and even the holy, in order to advance his own personal and selfish ends?

The social betrayer doomed (Psalms 52:5). What is his punishment? Destruction. Not annihilation; but--

1. A removal: “He shall take thee away.” Hengstenberg renders it, “take thee away as a coal.” Fling thee away as an intolerable brand. He has been as fire in society, inflaming others with bad passions, devouring the true, the good, and the happy. God will fling him away as a hissing coal. “Pluck thee out of thy dwelling-place” (or tent). His present dwelling-place is a scene of discipline, grace, redemption: hope is taken from him, he is taken from it for ever.

2. An uprootal. “And root thee out of the land of the living.” The roots of a wicked man’s life are in this world, they don’t strike into the spiritual and the eternal; the present and the palpable are everything to him: their roots shall be destroyed. All these are figures, but they mean something terrible; and reason, analogy, conscience, and the Bible tell us that something terrible is before such a man as this’.

The social betrayer derided (Psalms 52:6-7). “There is a twofold laughter,” says Arndt. “One, when a man out of an evil spirit of revenge laughs at his enemy. This no Christian, virtuous mind does, but exercises compassion towards an enemy. But the other sort of laughing arises from a consideration of the wonderful judgment and righteousness of God, as when a man says; like Pharaoh, “I ask nothing after the Lord, nor will I let Israel go,” and soon thereafter is made to sink in the Red Sea. This is for just derision. Is it not a matter of ridicule for a man to fight against God?

The social betrayer defeated. Doeg, by his betrayal, considered perhaps that he had ruined David; but instead of this, whilst he himself got destroyed, uprooted from the land of the living, his victim was like “a green olive-tree.” David here indicates that his own life was--

1. A growing life. “A green olive-tree.” Well nourished and well protected.

2. A trusting life. “I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” God’s goodness is a tide that must bear everything before it and will outlive the universe itself. Therefore it is wise to trust in it.

3. A thankful life: “I will praise Thee for ever.” Divine praise is the heaven of the soul. It employs all its faculties harmoniously, and gratifies all its moral cravings fully and for ever.

4. An obedient life. “I will wait on Thy name.” This is the highest attitude of an intelligent creature; it is the attitude of the greatest angel. (Homilist.)

On the character of Doeg

Doeg made not God his strength. To make God our strength implies that we regard the Almighty as the author of all our blessings; that we repose an implicit trust in Him in every situation; that we own our dependence on Him for everything which we enjoy; and that we live under the habitual influence of these convictions. The conduct of Doeg was the very reverse of this.

He trusted in the abundance of his riches. The only true felicity of man is in God; but the love of the world seduces the heart from God, and leads it, like Doeg, to trust in the abundance of riches, instead of making God its strength. When the love of riches becomes thus predominant, how baneful must be its influence to the principles and affections of the soul! It darkens the understanding; it deadens the conscience; it chills and hardens the heart. But why should men trust to their wealth, when its influence is so baneful and destructive? The accumulated treasures of the world cannot arrest the arm of death, or purchase from him a moment’s reprieve. Are riches necessary to the enjoyment of life? This depends on health of body and contentment of mind, and neither of these can wealth bestow.

He strengthened himself in his wickedness. The first resource of an abandoned sinner is debauchery; and to it he betakes himself, not so much to gratify sensual appetite and licentious desire, as to drown thought, to bury reflection, to lull the cow, science. His only joys are intemperance, riot and dissipation. The best principles of his nature are entirely perverted, and his heart is hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Having thus succeeded in corrupting or silencing the faithful guardians of innocence and virtue, he triumphs in the imaginary security with which he may now indulge in licentiousness and vice, and strengthens himself still farther in wickedness.

This character is recorded for our instruction. It is intended as a beacon to point out to us the dangerous consequences of sin. It is preserved as a memorial, to all ages of the world, of this important; and impressive truth, that sin and misery are most closely united. Would we avoid Doeg’s fate, then let us avoid his conduct. With this view, let us guard most anxiously against the first deviations from piety and virtue. (G. Goldie.)

A challenge to the mighty sinner

This psalm is a bold and outspoken challenge to a big sinner--a proud personage who “trusted in the abundance of his riches”; and, as often happens to men--and to women, too--luxury had made him slanderous and foul-mouthed, and brutal and monstrous: “he strengthened himself in his wickedness.” The psalm challenges the “big man”: “Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man?” but it tries also to convert him: “The goodness of God is from day to day.” What is the connection between these two clauses of verse 17 The big sinner, wicked and proud, is shut up, as it were, in a close and ill-smelling room--shut up with his ugly thoughts, shut up with his own evil, selfish self. Let him come out, says the psalmist, out into the sunshine of God’s mercies, out into the open where the winds blow fresh o’er the world; let him think of God’s goodness, and may it lead him to repentance. Old Testament piety haunts the open air for its images (Psalms 52:8). We of to-day may not be big men, and have psalms written about us, but we need the same teaching. Let a man be ever-reached in business, let him come home and brood over it, and how soon will arise the thought and plan of revenge! Let another come to him with her prattling lips, and how easily does she convince him that he is a hero and a martyr I Why not the rather, reaching a hand for God’s Book, remember His goodness, which is from day to day? Young men may not know amassed wealth, but they know how, in act or in fancy, they pass into the house of passion, where the blinds are drawn and the windows dimmed by heat, and the sounds are pleasing, and sweet desire arises. Young men, come forth--into the open, out from your narrow selves to God, out into His love’s free atmosphere. You are not alone (Psalms 52:9). Here are the saints, the heroes, the men of faith; and above the helmets of salvation which they wear, see the Captain, Christ Himself, beckoning you onwards to glory and to God. (British Weekly.)

The goodness of God endureth continually.--

The goodness of God infinite and everlasting

There is not so much sin in man as there is goodness in God. There is a vaster proportion between sin and grace than between a spark and an ocean. Who would doubt whether a spark could be quenched in an ocean? Thy thoughts of disobedience towards God have been within the compass of time, but His goodness hath been bubbling up towards thee from all eternity. (W. Culverwell.)

Verses 2-4

Psalms 52:2-4

Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.

Sins of speech

The prominence given to sins of speech is peculiar. We should have expected high-handed violence rather than these. But the psalmist is tracking the deeds to their source; and it is not so much the tyrant’s words as his love of a certain kind of words which is adduced as proof of his wickedness. These words have two characteristics in addition to boastfulness. They are false and destructive. They are, according to the forcible literal meaning in Psalms 52:4, “words of swallowing.” They are, according to the literal meaning of “destructions” in Psalms 52:2, “yawning gulfs.” Such words lead to acts which make a tyrant. They flow from perverted preference of evil to good. Thus the deeds of oppression are followed up to their den and birthplace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 6-7

Psalms 52:6-7

The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him.

The righteous observe the teachings of life

The fear which it produces in the “righteous “ is reverential awe, not dread lest the same should happen to them. Whether or not history and experience teach evil men that “verily there is a God that judgeth,” their lessons are not wasted on devout and righteous souls. But this is the tragedy of life, that its teachings are prized most by those who have already learned them, and that those who need them most consider them least. Other tyrants are glad when a rival is swept off the field, but are not arrested in their own course. It is left to “the righteous” to draw the lesson which all men should have learned. Although they are pictured as laughing at the ruin, that is not the main effect of it. Rather it deepens conviction, and is a “modern instance “ witnessing to the continual truth of “an old saw.” There is one safe stronghold, and only one. He who conceits himself to be strong in his own evil, and, instead of relying on God, trusts in material resources, will sooner or later be levelled with the ground, dragged, resisting vainly the tremendous grasp, from his tent, and laid prostrate, as melancholy a spectacle as a great tree blown down by tempest, with its roots turned up to the sky and its arms with drooping leaves trailing on the ground. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

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

The folly of not depending on God

What is understood by making God our strength.

1. A conviction of our own weakness and danger, and the insufficiency of all created good for our safety and happiness.

2. A strong and lively persuasion of Divine all-sufficiency.

3. A pleasing persuasion of God’s gracious willingness to protect and save all those who make Him the object of their trust and dependence.

4. An unreserved surrender of himself, and all that he possesses, into the hands of God. The word we render ‘“ strength “sometimes signifies a fort or castle; and, in this view and connection, imports the soul’s betaking itself to God in scenes of danger, and reposing its dependence upon Him for protection from invading evil (Psalms 61:2; Psalms 61:8; Isaiah 33:16; Proverbs 18:10).

View the man who makes not the lord his strength in some of the most interesting scenes and situations.

1. We will suppose him in the enjoyment of health and prosperity, and in possession of as much of this world as heart can wish. But whatever distinction these circumstances may make in his favour, he is neither secure nor happy. There are desires which earthly objects were never designed to satisfy, and there is a chasm in the soul which all created nature cannot fill. Past disappointments will suggest the possibility of future; and the sad change which hath passed on others, once as prosperous as himself, will awaken some painful suspicion that his mountain stands not so strong as never to be moved. He vainly attempts to flee from conscience: but it attends him like his shadow; or, shall I say, like a barbed arrow. He may change the place indeed--but the arrow and the wound remain. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”

2. We will suppose him in scenes of temptation. His dignity and glory is lost:--the freedom in which he prides himself means nothing worthy of the man--in a country that boasts its liberty he is an abject slave, and in constant subjection to the worst of tyrants.

3. We will suppose him lying under the pressure of bodily affliction. The objects on which his trust and dependence were placed cannot prevent one painful sensation, or bring back to its proper state one single nerve. His body and soul are both afflicted: he hath a painful feeling that his dependence was improperly placed; and he is ashamed and afraid to ask of God that strength which he had refused to accept.

4. We will suppose him with death in immediate prospect. His strength is gone--his pulse beats feebly--a mortal paleness hangs upon his countenance. He would fain hope to live, but cannot: he sees death approaching, and trembles at the sight. What he hath most to dread is coming upon him like an armed man, and he hath no strength to resist. The very thing he wants--what alone could sustain him--he hath taken no pains to secure.

5. We will next suppose him in sight of the Judgment-day, and as standing before the bar of that God, whose favour and strength he never sought. Oh! how does he wish for rocks and mountains to fall upon him, to cover him from the face of the Judge, and from the wrath of the Lamb! And “lo! this is the man who made not God his strength.”

6. Suppose this unhappy man, who made not God his strength, removed from the bar of Christ, and shut up in everlasting despair.

Some thoughts deducible from this subject.

1. They act a very unwise and dangerous part, whose dependence is not on God.

2. There are those who are no objects of envy, notwithstanding their prosperous circumstances and the great abundance they possess.

3. An interest in the favour and friendship of God, through Christ, in whom is everlasting strength, should be the object of our warmest wish and daily pursuit. (N. Hill.)

But trusted in the abundance of his riches.--

The folly of trusting in riches

A great mistake.

1. Because of the uncertainty of the tenure of riches.

2. Because of the limited power of riches. It can buy books, but not intellectual power; paintings, but not appreciative taste; service and sycophancy, but not esteem and affection, etc. It cannot buy pardon, peace, purity, etc. It cannot bribe death, etc.

3. Because of the utter inability of riches to satisfy their possessors. He who has much wealth would fain have more.

A common mistake. The great race of the age is for the acquisition of wealth. Manhood is sacrificed for money. “How mournfully ironical it is,” said Mr. Lance, “and how sad it seems, that death, with all that is pathetic, and solemn, and tender, and sublime about it, should stand associated with that love of money that is the root of all evil! Died worth £50,000! Why, worth, as I understand it, is worthiness, and as I read Heaven’s own imperial dictionary, a man is worth only just so much as, and no more than, the good, the true, the imperishable, that stands connected with his name, whether living or dying. I hope that the time may come when it will not seem strange to say that Shakespeare died worth Hamlet, and that Milton died worth the Paradise Lost, and that Bunyan died worth the Pilgrim’s Progress.” But at present material wealth is the deity of thousands in Christian England.

A ruinous mistake, if persisted in (Luke 12:15-21). (W. Jones.)

Covetousness a misdirected worship

The prevalence of error is often to be traced to the latent love of truth, and in sinful excess may not seldom be discerned the aberration of a nature originally designed for good. For just as forged money could never gain currency if men set no value on the genuine coin, and as spurious wares impose on the undiscerning only because of the desire for those things of which they are the worthless imitation, so falsehood and sin would have no attraction but for the deceitful resemblance they bear to the truth and goodness from which we have wandered. Let us, then, provide the true satisfaction for man’s deep and universal desires, and he will turn with distaste from that which only pretends to please.

Money is like, and by many is often unconsciously mistaken for, God. Man is made for God, but there are certain superficial similarities between it and God which secretly persuade the heart that that divinity of which it is in search it will find in wealth. If we try to think how money is like God, may it not be said to possess a certain shadowy resemblance of His omnipotence; a strange mimicry of His omnipresence, His boundless beneficence, His providence, His power over the future, His capacity, not only to procure for us an endless variety of blessings, to give us all that our hearts can desire, but also to become in and for Himself, apart from all that He can give us, an object of independent delight; so that it is happiness to know and feel that He is ours? Now, money seems able to do and be all this, and nothing but the true love of God can drive it out of our minds.

But it is a pretence after all. For the soul cannot rest in the material and the outward; nor in the limited and perishable and that which abideth not. But all this is true of wealth, and therefore it can only be a false god at the best. God, and God alone, is sufficient for the happiness of the soul which, in His own image, He hath made. (John Caird, D. D.)

More money than we can use

An anonymous writer, generally supposed to be the Rev. Ward Beecher, after describing how, when a boy, he stole a cannon-ball from a navy-yard, and with much trepidation carried it away in his hat, winds up with the following reflections: “When I reached home I had nothing to do with my shot; I did not dare show it in the house, or tell where I got it; and after one or two solitary rolls I gave it away on the same day. But, after all, that six-pounder rolled a good deal of sense into my skull. It gave me a notion of the folly of coveting more than you can enjoy, which has made my whole life happier. But I see men doing the same thing as I did, gathering up wealth which will, when got, roll around their heads like a ball. I have seen young men enrich themselves by pleasure in the same way, sparing no pains and sacrificing any principle for the sake of at last carrying a burden which no man can bear. All the world is busy in striving for things that give little pleasure and bring much care.”

Verse 8

Psalms 52:8

I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God.

Life like a green olive-tree

The olive-tree loves fat soil. It attains to finest fruitfulness when its bed is rich in nutriment. Starve its soil, the tree remains dwarfed and impoverished. A recent traveller, describing the olive-yards of Palestine, says that the soil in which the finest olives grow is “rich as a bride-cake.” Now I think it is to this characteristic of a splendid olive-tree that the psalmist refers. He himself is like an olive-tree in the richness of his rootage. God is the soil of his life, and he exults in the wealth of his resources. Here is the possibility of every man: he may become rooted in God. But how little use we make of our resources! A little while ago I got a load of soil for the purposes of a small kitchen-garden, and the man who keeps my garden in order saw the soil and exclaimed, “That’s a splendid bit of earth, it’s fit for potting work; you can get far more out of that than vegetables.” The phrase at once acquired spiritual suggestiveness. I thought how little I was getting out of God, and how much He wishes me to have. He wants us to be like olive-trees that are rooted in almost inexhaustible resources. It is the apostolic figure; the Apostle Paul speaks of being “rooted in Him.” This, I think, is the first suggestion of the psalmist’s thought; he is like an olive-tree in the wealth of his resources. But he is also like the olive-tree in the vigour of his life. Currents of strength rise out of his resourceful rootage and endow them with spiritual vim and vitality. It is the purpose of our God that every one of our powers should move with firmness and decision. It is His will that there should be nothing weak about our moral and spiritual equipment. He wants everything not only to be beautiful, but to be strong. When we are “rooted” in Him every branch of the life is pervaded by rivers of sap, and every faculty is urged by Divine energy into manifold fruitfulness. The spiritual sap makes everything it pervades fruit for the King. When we are rooted in God everything is sappy. It may be a letter we are writing. It may be a wish we are expressing. It may be a bit of work we are doing. It may be our ordinary occupation, the drudgery of daily life. If we are rooted in God all the issues of the life are sappy with His Spirit, and we become like green olive-trees. Now let us look at the character in a little more detail. “I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” What a strong and exquisite word is this word translated “mercy.” One element of its wealthy content is the suggestion of kindness, but it means more than this: Let me put it in this way: the word is descriptive in the first place of the attitude of bowing and coming quite near to the person, an immediate approach to a need. It is the act of the Good Samaritan stooping to the wounded, and pouring in oil and wine. It is pity in action, pity at work. But there is a second element in the word which greatly corroborates the first. Mercy is not only kindness, it is loyalty also. It is love that never says die. It remains full, flowing all through the changing seasons, even in the drought of a fierce indifference. It is the “leal love “ of the Master Himself. “Having loved His own lie loved them unto the end.” This is the mercy of God, and in this mercy the psalmist declares he trusts for ever. Trusts! And there again is a significant word. It means to his for refuge, to take up your home in a thing, to settle down. It is a comfortable nestling in the “leal love” of the Lord. It is to be so sure of Him that worry and fretfulness pass away, and we are like little children, almost careless in our sense of gracious security. “I will give thee thanks for ever.” Here is another characteristic of the life that is like an olive-tree; it is a praiseful, thankful life. There is a sentence in one of Jane Austen’s novels which I think is very expressive. Describing one of her characters, she says, “He was a very liberal thanker.” I think that is very finely descriptive of a rich and welcome character. To be “liberal thankers” heavenward, as well as toward our fellows, is to receive continual spiritual enlargement. Gratitude makes room for more grace. And surely we have abundant opportunity for gratitude! We only need to open our eyes to have our praise awakened at every turn. Every time we express our thanks we make more room for God. I do not wonder, then, that this man, who was rooted in God like an olive-tree, should find himself instinctively and unceasingly bearing the fruit of gratitude and praise. “And I will wait on Thy name, for it is good, in the presence of Thy saints.” What will he wait on? The Lord’s name! And what names the Lord has given Himself, and every name a promise and a pledger He never goes back upon His name. Every name is honoured to the last extremity of its significance. And we can put in richer names than ever the psalmist could. We can insert the name “Saviour,” “Comforter,” “Counsellor,” “Friend.” On this name the psalmist says he will “wait.” That does not mean that he will sit down and indolently tarry until something turns up. It literally means that he will hind himself around the name of God, that he will decline every other support, that he will be wrapped around the covenant of the Lord’s own name. The man who does this will have reason for singing every day. He will find that the support holds, and day by day his experience of security will teach his lips a new song. And he says that he will do this waiting “in the presence of Thy saints.” That is to say, he will mingle with other people who are doing the same, he will make a profession of his willing confidence in God, and he will listen to similar professions made by others. In their mutual confidences they will give one another mutual support. Ah! yes, this kind of communion is always “good.” It nourishes the life like bread, it refreshes the life like water. “Thou satisfiest my mouth with good things.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

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

On trusting in the mercy of God

What mercy is.

1. Mercy, as an attribute of God, is not to be confounded with mere goodness. Goodness may demand the exercise of justice; indeed, it often does; but to say that mercy demands the exercise of justice is to use the word without meaning. Mercy asks that justice be set aside.

2. Mercy is a disposition to pardon the guilty. Desert is never the rule by which mercy-is guided; while it is precisely the rule of justice.

3. Mercy is exercised only where there is guilt. The penalty of the law must have been previously incurred, else there can be no scope for mercy.

4. Mercy can be exercised no further than one deserves punishment. If great punishment is deserved, great mercy can be shown; if endless punishment is due, there is then scope for infinite mercy to be shown, but not otherwise.

What is implied in trusting in the mercy of God.

1. A conviction of guilt.

2. That we have no hope on the score of justice. If we had anything to expect from justice, we should not look to mercy.

3. A just apprehension of what mercy is--pardon for the crimes of the guilty.

4. A belief that He is merciful. We could not trust Him if we had no such belief.

5. A conviction of deserving endless punishment.

6. A cessation from all excuses and excuse-making.

The conditions upon which we may confidently and securely trust in the mercy of God for ever.

1. Public justice must be appeased. Its demands must be satisfied. However much disposed God may be to pardon, yet He is too good to exercise mercy on any such conditions or under any such circumstances as will impair the dignity of His law, throw out a licence to sin, and open the very floodgates of iniquity. Jehovah never can do this.

2. We must repent.

3. We must confess our sins.

4. We must really make restitution, so far as lies in our power.

5. Another condition is that you really reform.

6. You must go the whole length in justifying the law and its penalty.

7. No sinner can be a proper object of mercy who is not entirely submissive to all those measures of the government that have brought him to conviction.

8. You must close in most cordially with the plan of salvation.

Some mistakes into which many fall.

1. Many really trust in justice, and not in mercy. This is a fatal rock. The sinner who can do this calmly has never seen God’s law and his own heart.

2. Many trust professedly in the mercy of God without fulfilling the conditions on which only mercy can be shown. They may hold on in such trusting till they die--but no longer.

3. Sinners do not consider that God cannot dispense with their fulfilling those conditions. He has no right to do so. They spring out of the very constitution of His government, from His very nature, and must therefore be strictly fulfilled.

4. Many are defeating their own salvation by self-justification. Pleas that excuse self and cavils that arraign God, stand alike and fatally in the way of a pardon. Since the world began it has not been known that a sinner has found mercy in this state.

5. Many pretend to trust in mercy who yet profess to be punished for their sins as they go along. They hope for salvation through mercy, and yet they are punished for all their sins in this life. Two more absurd and self-contradictory things were never put together.

6. Persons who in the letter plead for mercy, often rely really upon justice. The deep conviction of sin and ill-desert does not sink into their soul till they realize what mercy is, and feel that they can rely on nothing else.

7. Some are covering up their sins, yet dream of going to heaven. Do they think they can hide those sins from the Omniscient Eye? Do they think to cover their sins and yet “prosper,” despite of God’s awful Word?

8. We cannot reasonably ask for mercy beyond our acknowledged and felt guilt; and they mistake fatally who suppose that they can. (C. G. Finney.)

Verse 9

Psalms 52:9

I will praise Thee for ever, because Thou hast done it.

He closeth the psalm comfortably, with resolution to praise God, and to depend upon Him. Whence learn

1. Victory over temptations obtained by faith is very glorious; for faith doth make a man as sure of what is to come as if it were perfected, and filleth him with praise for the certain hope of the performance of promises; “I will praise Thee for ever, because Thou hast done it.”

2. Faith being solidly fixed, bringeth forth hope and quiet expectation of what is promised, “I will wait on Thy name.”

3. As the Christian patience of one of the saints is a matter of good example and great encouragement unto all the rest that behold it: so the consideration of the good which may redound to others, who shall be witnesses of our patient attending upon God, should stir us up to this duty of patient hope in God, “I will wait on Thee, for it is good before Thy saints.” (D. Dickson.)


Psalms 53:1-6

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 52". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.