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David in his prayer complaineth of his fearful case: he prayeth against his enemies, of whose wickedness and treachery he complaineth: he comforteth himself in God's preservation of him, and confusion of his enemies.
To the chief Musician on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David.
Title. לדוד משׂכיל בנגינת למנצח lamnatseach binginoth maskiil ledavid.— This Psalm was written on account of the perfidy and treason of Achitophel. The Psalmist begins with earnest prayers to God for support and relief, upon account of the greatness of his distress, through the conspiracy which was formed against him under Absalom, and the confusion and clamour, the treachery and violence, which abounded in the city on that unhappy occasion. These made such an impression on his mind, and excited within him such strong apprehensions of his own danger, that he wished, as it were, for the wings of a dove, that he might immediately hasten his escape, from that scene of confusion and wickedness, which excited his abhorrence, and threatened his destruction. The circumstance which gave him peculiar distress, was the baseness and treachery of one, who had been his particular intimate and friend, who loaded him with calumnies, and treacherously joined in the conspiracy against him; and he describes their former mutual friendship by such tender and affecting circumstances, that the reader will scarcely be able to refrain from joining in the imprecations [or prophesies] of the Psalmist, against such a monster of ingratitude and perfidy, and wishing he might be made a public example of the divine vengeance. As to himself, he expresses his firm confidence that God would protect and save him, and that sooner or later he would avenge his cause, and cut off his bloody and deceitful enemies by a sudden and unexpected destruction; as in our version. There are many excellencies in this Psalm.
The description of David's own distress is very pathetic, and the occasion of it such as must deeply affect any men of real virtue; viz. the undeserved reproaches with which his enemies loaded him. His wishing for the wings of a dove to carry him into the wilderness, and representing the confusions and violences which were occasioned by the rebellion, under the similitude of a sweeping storm, and furious tempest, is truly poetical. The character and treachery of his false friend is painted in such strong colours, that no one who reads it can help detesting the man, and abhorring his falsehood and treason. His conduct in casting his cares upon God, under all the distresses he was involved in, and his assurance that God would sustain him, and cause him at last to triumph over all his treacherous and bloody enemies, discover his high sentiments of the benevolence and faithfulness of God, and shew us, that the principles of religion will support good men under the greatest afflictions, and most threatening dangers, to which they can be exposed. Chandler. We just observe, that the title of this Psalm, in the Syriac version, tells us, "It is a prophesy of those who sought the destruction of Christ."
Psalms 55:2. I mourn in my complaint— I bathe myself with tears in my complaint. Chandler. Compare Isaiah 16:2.; Lamentations 1:16. The next words are rendered by Chandler, and am in the greatest consternation. He was brought into such immediate danger, that he scarcely knew what method to take to avoid the destruction which threatened him.
Psalms 55:3. For they cast iniquity upon me— The Psalmist here declares the causes of his consternation and perplexity. It was upon account of the clamour of his enemies, when the conspiracy against him was strong, and the opposition of the wicked (properly, the presence of the wicked) was round him, so that he had scarcely any way or method of escaping; and because they cast iniquity upon him; properly, they heaped up iniquity upon him, as with a bar, or a lever; to denote the heavy reproaches they threw on him, and the violence of their accusations. Instead of, they hate me, we may read, they set themselves against me.
Psalms 55:4. My heart is sore pained.— Trembles.
Psalms 55:6. And I said, Oh that I had wings! &c.— In the Hebrew, Who will give me wings like a dove? The dove is remarkable for the swiftness of its flight; and therefore the Psalmist, who saw himself in the extremest danger, and knew that his very life depended on his immediate escape, wishes for the swift wings of a dove, that he might with the utmost speed fly from the destruction which threatened him. Several writers have taken notice of a fine passage in Seneca's Octavia, ver. 915, &c. similar to this.
Quis mea digne deflere potest Mala? quae lacrimis nostris questus Reddet Aedon? Cujus pennas Utinam miserae mihi fata darent! Fugerem luctus ablata meos Penna volucri, procul et coetus Hominum tristes, coedemque feram Sola in vacuo nemore, et tenui Ramo pendens, querulo possem Gutture moestum fundere murmur.*
* Who can find terms suitable to the lamentation of my evil state? Not even Aedon† can do justice by her plaint to the tears that I shed! whose wings, indeed, I fain would wear, if the destinies were pleased to grant them. Borne on rapid pinions, I would leave my mourning mates, and avoid the cruel society and persecution of men. Then, sitting solitarily in a grove, perched upon a bending twig, with plaintive throat, I might pour my heavy murmuring notes around.
† The daughter of Pandarus; and wife of king Zethus, who envying Niobe, the wife of Amphion, (her husband's brother.) because she had more children than herself, resolved to murder the eldest, who was educated with her own son Itylus; by mistake she killed Itylus, and is fabled as having been changed into a nightingale, that she might sing her child's dirge.
Psalms 55:8. From the windy storm and tempest— From the sweeping wind and furious tempest. Chandler and Mudge.
Psalms 55:9. Destroy, O Lord, &c.— Confound, or overwhelm them, O Lord, and disunite their counsels. Chandler. Praying that God would destroy their consultations by dividing them, was the prayer of a wise man, and verified by the event; as the counsels of Achitophel and Hushai were divided, and thereby Achitophel's advice was utterly frustrated and destroyed. The 10th and 11th verses express in very strong terms the confusion and contention, the deceit and treachery, and other crimes, which abounded in the city by the managers and abetters of this conspiracy. They watched the walls; they resorted to violence and fraud to increase their numbers, and the emissaries of the rebels used every art to alienate the hearts of the people from their king, and engage them in the interests of his unnatural and impious son. Chandler. It plainly appears, says Dr. Delaney, from this Psalm, particularly from Psa 55:9-15 that David had discerned the seeds and workings of a conspiracy in the city, and that Achitophel was at the bottom of it; and not only so, but that David foresaw his sudden and sad end.
Psalms 55:10. Sorrow— Injury.
Psalms 55:11. Wickedness is in the midst thereof— The deepest corruptions and distresses are within it.
Psalms 55:12-14. For it was not an enemy, &c.— Among other persons who joined in this conspiracy against David, there was one from whom he expected a quite different conduct, and whose infidelity and treachery were aggravated by the highest ingratitude. He was reproached by one whom he never suspected as an enemy; that would have been tolerable, and what might have been expected. It was not one who had ever expressed any hatred to him, that magnified himself against him; from such a one he would have withdrawn himself, and never have entrusted him with his secrets. This rebellion was raised and encouraged by spreading and propagating false reports concerning David, thereby to disaffect his people to his person and government. The original words הגדיל עלי alai higdil, which we render magnified himself against me, is rendered by the LXX, and Vulgate, spake haughtily and disdainfully of me, by calumniating my administration, and representing me as unfit for, or unworthy to be trusted with, or continued in, the kingdom: an almost constant method to spread disaffection, and spirit up a rebellion against the wisest and best of princes. The word כערכי keerkii, rendered mine equal, signifies properly, like myself; one whom I looked upon as almost in the same rank with myself, and honoured and esteemed as my equal: and the word אלופי alluphii, rendered my guide, signifies an intimate familiar friend. Proverbs 17:19. The true version of the first clause of the 14th verse is, We sweetly enjoyed our mutual secrets; one of the highest privileges and pleasures of friendship. We may observe here, that this description answers perfectly well to Achitophel, whom David had used as his counsellor and friend, and to whom he had committed his most important secrets; and accordingly the Chaldee paraphrase expressly names Achitophel as the person intended; And thou, Achitophel, a man like to myself. Chandler. As David bears the character of Jesus Christ in the type, and Achitophel of Judas, the application of this passage to the treachery of the latter is manifest. See more in the REFLECTIONS at the end of the Psalm.
Psalms 55:15. Let death seize upon them, &c.— Death shall exact the debt with usury; they shall descend alive into hades. This version is from Cocceius; and Dr. Chandler well remarks, that it preserves the propriety of the original verb, and greatly adds to the force of the expression. The verb is in the future tense, and therefore should not be rendered as an execration; for it only points out what would be the punishment of such perfidy and wickedness. This was verified by the event, as Achitophel hanged himself, and went down as it were alive into hades.
Psalms 55:18. He hath delivered my soul— He will redeem my soul from their conflict with me, and restore me to peace; for with multitudes they came against me. Chandler. Houbigant renders it, He will restore my soul in peace from him who makes war on me, though there are many against me.
Psalms 55:19. Even he that abideth of old— Even he who reigns from everlasting. Chandler, after Cocceius. The introducing God as reigning of old, and holding the government of the world from before all ages, has great propriety, and was one of the principal considerations which established David's hope in God, that he would deliver him from this unnatural rebellion. Because they have no changes, is rendered by Chandler, They think of no succeeding changes; that is, "They are prosperous, and have no reverse of fortune, think of none, and fear none; and so fear not God." David's enemies had succeeded, driven him from his capital and throne; thought themselves secure, and had no apprehension or fear from the power or providence of God. Schultens gives the words this sense; "They expect no succession, either of a better life or economy; i.e. a "better state of things here or hereafter." Some render it: They are not changed, and they fear no God. And Mudge reads the whole verse, God shall hear, and he that abideth of old, with whom are no changes, shall humble them, since they fear not God: as much as to say, "That immutable Being (with a glance at the infidelity of men) who was always faithful to his promises and friends, would support him, and humble them."
Psalms 55:20. He hath broken his covenant— He hath profaned, and violated his covenant; namely, of allegiance and friendship.
Psalms 55:21. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, &c.— Smooth and deceitful are the buttery words of his mouth; but war is in his heart: his speeches are softer than oil; but they are drawn swords. See Chandler and Houbigant.
Psalms 55:22. Cast thy burthen upon the Lord— Cast thou thy cares and projects upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee, and bring them to perfection: He will not permit the righteous to be moved for ever. Chandler. The meaning of the word יהבךֶ iehabeka, seems to be, what is given us from God, our allotment: Compare 1 Peter 5:7.
REFLECTIONS on Psalms 55:12-15. Is it not a grief unto death, when a companion and friend is turned to an enemy? says the son of Sirach. There can be little question, that if a faithful friend be the medicine of life, the loss of such a cordial, or the absence of it, must prove the very bitterness of grief. Job himself was shaken, when he found that his familiar friends were not ashamed to make themselves strange to him; but his calamity was at the highest, and he knew not how to carry his complaint further, than that all his inward friends abhorred him, and they whom he loved were turned against him. Indeed, the distresses and dangers that we are subject to, are hardly remediable, except by God, when they, who by intimate conversation know our nature, and to whom we have communicated our counsels and designs, prove false to us, and concur with the malice of our enemies. When they instruct our adversaries, who are to treat with us, what advantage to make of our hopes and our fears, and of those infirmities of nature which none but our bosom-friends could discern; when, upon the information and advertisement they give as friends, they lead us to such and such conclusions and resolutions, and then betray those resolutions to them against whom they are taken; there can hardly be shelter from such treachery: we may very well lose our courage, and be even overwhelmed with the fear and horror of the danger which has encompassed us, unless remarkably supported by grace. As the danger is almost inevitable, so the grief which attends it is sharper and more troublesome than the danger. The discovered treachery of a friend does at once astonish all the faculties of the mind, and render them useless; and when we recover sense enough to find that we are hurt, and consider the hand which has done it, we are so confounded with grief, with sorrow and shame, and even with our own love and pity towards the apostates, that we can hardly think of the natural remedies and applications. David was so lost and confounded at the unkindness of Absalom's rebellion, that he could not compose himself to make any preparation or provision for resistance and opposition; and all his senses were so engrossed, and possessed with the agony and smart of his unnatural conduct, that he felt not the treason and malice of Shimei's reproaches, though he had made war with his hands, as well as his tongue, and threw stones at him as well as cursed him, 2 Samuel 16:11. Behold! my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it! let him alone, and let him curse, says the overwhelmed father, when he might have had justice done upon the profane and wicked captive. And we may very reasonably and safely believe, that our Saviour himself sustained much more trouble from the combination and treachery of Judas in the betraying him, than from all the indignities and violence offered to him by the Jews. The Scribes and Pharisees did like themselves, and like the persons they professed to be; and Pilate proceeded with as much tenderness, as was naturally to be expected: He would fain have found expedients to save him; and the people were madder, and more importunate for mischief, than they used to be:—But that a disciple, and an apostle,—one whom he had trusted above others, should contribute to, and contrive his destruction, gave him more than ordinary trouble: at the thoughts of it, He was troubled in Spirit, John 13:21. He knew the extreme grief it would occasion to all the rest of his disciples, who might reasonably suspect the faith of each other, and apprehend they might be all suspected by him, when one who had appeared as innocent and zealous as any, had been corrupted to so odious a perfidy—the mischief that we suffer by the treachery and falsehood of those we love, being commonly improved, and thereby made incurable, by our being jealous of every body, and thoroughly trusting none, after we have been so horribly abused by those whom we thought we might trust best, and with more security; and therefore confusion and ruin usually enter at those breaches. But our comfort is, though we are least able to help ourselves in such exigencies, and against such distresses, we have a Helper, if we call faithfully upon Him, who sees the pangs that we suffer, the agony and fear that we endure, and hears our lamentations.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 55". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany