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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 55

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


To the chief Musician on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David.

We must decline all other opinions, and accept the more common one that the psalm is Davidic. The kingly author is in grief; betrayed by many of his chief men, especially his favourite counsellor, the nation in a state of alarm, the capital in commotion, government in the whirl of revolution, while falsehood and rumour are rampant. The style is bold and impassioned, suiting a soul agitated to its depths. The descriptions suit no occasion so well as the condition of David at the moment when Absalom’s rebellion had reached its culmination. 2 Samuel 15:0.The psalm may be grouped in two general divisions. The first, Psalms 55:1-15, depicts the distressed condition of the psalmist, caused by the personal hatred of his enemies against himself, Psalms 55:3-8; by the tumult and misrule of his capital, Psalms 55:9-11; and by the treachery of his chief counsellor, Psalms 55:12-14. The second group is in the tone of confidence and prayer, Psalms 55:16-23. There is a strong blending throughout of personal grief and commiseration of public calamity. But above the lowering, surcharged storm-cloud, he at length rises in the calm spirit of trust and hope.


Neginoth Stringed instruments.

Maschil A “maschil” is a didactic psalm. Thus Psalms 47:7, Sing a maschil, (Hebrew,) is to sing a psalm for instruction, or causing to understand.

Verse 1

1. Give ear… hide not thyself Strong, anthropomorphic words. His urgent cause requires instant personal attention and public action. God seems to conceal himself, or not to hear, when he withholds or delays the sensible answer of prayer. Isaiah 1:15; Lamentations 3:56

Verse 2

2. I mourn in my complaint I wander about in my complaint. As one who has lost his way, I go up and down in meditative grief. The word rendered “mourn” signifies to wander, to roam about. “Here it is used of the restless tossing to and fro of the mind filled with cares and anxieties.” Perowne.

Make a noise I groan, and cannot repress my cry of pain. The Hiphil form of the verb gives the sense of compulsion, “I am forced to cry out,” I have no power to repress my complaint.

Verse 3

3. They cast iniquity upon me The figure is borrowed from setting in motion, or casting down from a height, weighty stones, or other instruments of death, upon an enemy, as Psalms 140:10. They had hurled iniquity upon him by false accusations, threats, and dark conspiracies. See 2 Samuel 15:7-8; 2 Samuel 19:19

Verse 4

4. Sore pained Literally, writhes.

Terrors of death Terrors which precede or accompany death.

Verse 5

5. Horror A rare word, translated trembling, Job 21:6; fearfulness, Isaiah 21:4; and horror, Ezekiel 7:18.

Overwhelmed me Septuagint, darkness has enveloped me. The psalmist was involved in doubt and apprehension. Thus far the inward commotion of his mind gives itself utterance. The next three verses voice not only his desire of present safety, but the longings of his heart to escape the turmoil of political strife and the fury of human passions.

Verse 6

6. Wings like a dove The “dove” is here alluded to, not only because it was strong and swift of wing, (Isaiah 60:8; Genesis 8:8-12,) in its wild state choosing its quiet abode in the clefts of the rocks, (Songs of Solomon Psalm 2:14; Jeremiah 48:28,) but for its proverbial purity, innocence and love, (Song of Solomon 5:2,) which made it a favourite bird in the Hebrew sacrifices. Genesis 15:9; Leviticus 1:14; Leviticus 5:7-11.

Be at rest One word in the Hebrew, signifying to abide, to dwell. He would abide in that far-off place of quiet, composed and self-resigned.

Verse 7

7. Remain Another word of the same signification as abide, be at rest, Psalms 55:6. Compare Jeremiah 9:2. Of the thirty-eight years of David’s public life twenty six had been disturbed and embittered by the persecutions of Saul; by the rivalry and civil war of Ishbosheth, Saul’s son; by foreign wars with the Syrian and Arabian nations; and by the conduct and conspiracies of Absalom.

Verse 8

8. Storm and tempest The description is of one of those tropical winds which swept away every moveable thing in its course. From such a scene in society and government he would gladly hasten his escape; and the mountain gorge on his present route, so proverbial for its dangers, might well suggest Psalms 55:7-8. From these sorrowful and plaintive longings a sudden transition is made to just imprecation and a review of public affairs.

Verse 9

9. Destroy Literally, swallow them up. Let their destruction be sudden and at a single blow, as Psalms 106:17.

Divide their tongues An allusion to Genesis 11:7; compare Isaiah 19:3. This was done when the conspirators were divided in counsel, the first and fatal step in Absalom’s downfall. Compare 2 Samuel 15:31, “And David said, O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Accomplished, 2 Samuel 17:1-14.

Violence and strife in the city “All kinds of party passions have broken loose.” Delitzsch.

Verse 10

10. They go about it upon the walls That is, the conspirators, or their spies, mentioned Psalms 55:3. A strict watch was kept against the friends and emissaries of David, but little attention was given to the public order and peace.

Sorrow Rather, iniquity, wrong doing, as the word more commonly denotes, (Psalms 55:10-11,) describe the misrule of the city during the whirl of revolution. In the midst contrasts with “upon the walls” of the city. Sharp espionage and confusion were everywhere.

Verse 11

11. Wickedness… deceit and guile Rampant lust, perfidy, and craft everywhere prevailed.

Depart not from her streets It is better to understand רחב , ( rehhob,) here translated street, to signify market place, open space, public square, or broad way before the gates, where courts were held, as in 2 Chronicles 32:6; Ezra 10:9; Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 8:3; Nehemiah 8:16. In Jeremiah 5:1, it is translated broad places; in our English Bible, and in Nehemiah 2:4, broad ways. In these open courts of the city, where justice was usually dispensed, wickedness, extortion, and deceit, prevailed. Compare Psalms 9:14

Verse 12

12. For… not an enemy “For” indicates the reason of the imprecation, Psalms 55:9. From this rapid survey of the general calamity, David turns to the chief supporter of the rebellion, his former chief counsellor, Ahithophel, whom he describes, Psalms 55:12-14. Nothing can excel this touching reminiscence of former friendship, or the base ingratitude and perfidy of the chief conspirator. Mr. Blunt, however, ( Undesigned Coincidences, pages 144, 145,) offers this explanation, which, if true, relieves somewhat the character of the arch traitor. “Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,” and “Uriah the Hittite,” both belonged to David’s guard. 2 Samuel 23:34-39. In 2 Samuel 11:3 we learn that Uriah had married “Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam.” If this latter Eliam is identical with the former, then Bathsheba was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, and the conduct of David in causing Uriah to be slain, and taking Bathsheba to wife, inflicted a wound and an insult upon the family honour, which Ahithophel probably never forgave, and which perhaps led him to join Absalom’s rebellion in revenge of the injury. This may have been; but the sudden popularity of Absalom’s party would naturally attract one like Ahithophel, who seems to have given more attention to politics than to moral principles.

Verse 13

13. A man mine equal A man of my rank.

Guide A word indicating at once his princely rank and his familiar friendship with the king.

Verse 14

14. We took sweet counsel together Their mutual counsel on public affairs had been made sweet by friendship and confidence. The word “counsel” is rendered secret, secret counsel, Psalms 25:14; Psalms 64:2; Proverbs 3:32. Thus far their personal and political life had been blended. The secrets of government and state policy were well known to Ahithophel. But more than this was their religions life. “We… walked unto the house of God in company.”

Verse 15

15. Again the subdued and tender strain of the muse is suddenly broken by one of the harshest imprecations in the Book of Psalms. The style is exceedingly impassioned.

Let death seize upon them The word “death” is needlessly harsh. The Hebrew is simply, Destructions upon them! The idea is, desolation, not death; and it may be understood of his public fame and his plans.

Let them go downs quick into hell Literally, they shall descend alive into the grave, or region of the dead. Proverbs 1:12. Sheol is not to be understood here of the place of future punishment, but of the grave, underworld, region of the dead. The Saxon hell is modernly restricted to signify the place of future punishment, and is not now, as formerly, an adequate translation of sheol. The description is based on Numbers 16:30, where sheol is rendered pit, and they go down quick into the pit.” David’s conspirators had all forfeited their lives for the highest crime against the State, and the judgment is only suited to their desert, and to the exigency of the kingdom. But see on Psalms 109:0

Verse 16

16. As for me The pronoun is emphatic, and indicates the contrast between himself and his enemies. “I [or, as for me, I ] will call upon God, and Jehovah will save me.” From this point the psalm rises into the serene atmosphere of faith and hope.

Verse 17

17. Evening, and morning, and at noon Either at so many stated times, as Daniel 6:10, or poetically for continual prayer, as Psalms 88:1; Ephesians 6:18

Verse 18

18. For there were many with me The sense is obscure. The Hebrew preposition may take the sense of “with,” co-operative, or “with,” antagonistic. In the former it would be explained by 2 Chronicles 32:7-8; 2 Kings 6:16: in the latter we must translate, for there were many against me. In this sense it is used Psalms 55:20, “he hath put forth his hands ‘ with’ ( against) such as be at peace,” and in Psalms 94:16, “Who will rise up for me ‘with’ [that is, against ] the evil doers?” and elsewhere. As Perowne says, “The preposition must be understood according to the context.” The allusion is evidently to David’s Syrian wars, where there were many allied nations fighting “with him,” that is, against him. God delivered my soul then, and “he shall save me” now.

Verse 19

19. God shall hear, and afflict them He “shall hear” me and afflict them. Or, as Hengstenberg: “God will hear the tumult of the enemies and answer them judicially.”

He that abideth of old Or, is enthroned from eternity, taking קדם , ( kedem,) to denote time. But the word often denotes east, and Furst renders “even he who is enthroned, or rideth along, upon the east wind,” (the Simoon,) and this accords with the warning tone of the psalm, for when God goeth forth to judgment he is represented as sitting enthroned upon the cherubim, or riding upon the tempest. See on Psalms 46:8; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:3.

Because they have no changes Because they, the wicked, are not forcibly arrested and turned aside from their wicked course by the divine judgments, therefore they fear not God. Compare Ecclesiastes 8:11

Verse 20

20. He hath broken his covenant The covenant that was implied by their close friendship. Here again Ahithophel appears to view. See Psalms 55:14

Verse 21

21. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter It would seem from this verse that Ahithophel had for a long time concealed from David his real purpose of revenge by his courtly address. This exactly suits the view suggested in note on Psalms 55:12, which see.

Verse 22

22. Cast thy burden The Hebrew word for “burden” literally means gift, that which is given, and hence that which is allotted. “Leave to God thy lot.” The sense of “burden” is easily deduced, for that which is given us of God, as an affliction, he may be said to lay upon us. The idea of care as a burden is carried out by the Septuagint, exactly according to 1 Peter 5:7, and all those passages in the New Testament where care, anxious thought, is prohibited. Thus David returns to a sweet resting in God.

Verse 23

23. Thou… shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction This verse must be taken as a repetition of the sense and intention of Psalms 55:15, “pit of destruction,” here, being equal to sheol there. The Hebrew words admit it, and the unity of the psalm requires it. The verbs should be translated in both cases declaratively, not optatively, as in our English version in Psalms 55:15. “Pit,” here, has allusion to the snare pit in which animals were entrapped and taken. The destruction of a conspiracy would follow from any cause which broke their harmony of counsel or unity of action as surely as a beast is taken when fallen into a snare pit. This conspiracy was virtually destroyed when Ahithophel withdrew. See 2 Samuel 17:14. The word translated “shall bring them down,” denotes an set of violence, as in Psalms 56:7, (where see note,) and this accords with what follows of “bloody and deceitful men.” But in Psalms 59:11 (where see note) it stands directly opposed to the death penalty. It is always right, while we trust alone in God for vindication and defence, to pray that wicked men may be brought to justice, but never from a feeling of revenge. See more on imprecations in Psalms 109:0.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 55". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-55.html. 1874-1909.
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