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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Psalms 52

 

 

Verses 1-9

EXPOSITION

HERE, again, the title is the best guide to the origin, intent, and authorship of the psalm. It is ascribed to David, and said to have been written on the occasion when Doeg the Edomite acquainted Saul with the fact of David's visit to Ahimelech the priest, recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-9. This information led to a fearful massacre, in which Doeg himself took the chief part (1 Samuel 22:11-19). The bitterness of feeling displayed in the psalm is thus accounted for.

Metrically, the psalm seems to consist of three strophes, extending respectively to four, three, and two verses. In the first strophe Doeg's wickedness is set forth (1 Samuel 21:1-4); in the second (1 Samuel 21:5-7), he is threatened with God's vengeance; in the third (1 Samuel 21:8, 1 Samuel 21:9), David thanks God for the vengeance which he has executed, and declares his intention always to trust in him.

Psalms 52:1

Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? Doeg was "the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul" (1 Samuel 21:7), or, according to another passage (1 Samuel 22:9), "set over the servants of Saul." The position would be a high one, and would imply the possession of much physical strength. A sense of tyranny or extreme arrogance seems to attach to the word translated "mighty one" (gibber); see Genesis 6:4; Genesis 10:8. The word translated "mischief" implies something worse. In Psalms 6:9 it is rendered "wickedness," and is thought to mean, in the Psalms generally, "ruinous, unfathomable evil—destructive malignity" (Canon Cook). The goodness of God endureth continually. Why not follow the Divine pattern, instead of setting thyself in direct antagonism to it? Canst thou expect to prosper when thou art thus opposed to the Almighty?

Psalms 52:2

Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; or, malignitiesevils of the worst kind. It was Doeg's "tongue" that brought about the entire ghastly massacre (see 1 Samuel 22:9, 1 Samuel 22:10). Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Doeg had "worked deceitfully," since he had not told Saul the circumstances that made Ahimelech's giving aid to David no disloyalty to the king (1 Samuel 21:2, 1 Samuel 21:8). The suppressio veri is a suggestio falsi.

Psalms 52:3

Thou lovest evil more than good. To "love evil" is to have reached the lowest depth of depravity. It is to say, with Milton's Satan, "Evil, be thou my good!" And lying rather than to speak righteousness (see the comment on Psalms 52:2). Doeg's crimes seem to have arisen out of a mere love of evil.

Psalms 52:4

Thou lovest all devouring words. "Devouring words" are words that cause ruin and destruction. O thou deceitful tongue! or, and the deceitful tongue.

Psalms 52:5

God shall likewise destroy thee for ever. As thy "devouring words" have been the destruction of many, so shall God, in return, "destroy thee" (literally, pull thee down) "for ever"—destroy thee, i.e; with a complete and final destruction. He shall take thee away; rather, seize thee (Kay, Cheyne), and pluck thee out of thy dwelling-place; literally, out of thy tent (comp. Job 18:14; 1 Kings 12:16). And root thee out of the land of the living. Destroy thee, root and branch, as thou didst destroy the entire house of Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:17-19).

Psalms 52:6

The righteous also shall see, and fear. Every manifestation of the Divine power and justice produces in the righteous man a feeling of awe. And shall laugh at him; literally, over him. This awe does not, however, prevent him from indulging in something like derision of his fallen enemy—or, at least, it did not under the old covenant, when men had not yet been taught that they ought to "love" their enemies.

Psalms 52:7

Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength. The root of Doeg's wickedness was want of trust in God, and consequent alienation from him. But trusted in the abundance of his riches. This led on to an excessive trust in riches, and greediness of gain. To obtain wealth he became Saul's unscrupulous tool, the willing instrument of his cruelty. No doubt Saul richly rewarded him. And strengthened himself in his wickedness; or, in his substance (Cheyne).

Psalms 52:8

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. In conclusion, the psalmist contrasts his own condition, as one of God's people, with that of Doeg, which he had described in Psalms 52:7-9. Doeg is about to be "plucked up" and "rooted out of the land of the living" (Psalms 52:5); he is like a flourishing green olive tree planted in the sanctuary, or "house of God." Doeg is entirely without any trust in the Almighty (Psalms 52:7); he declares of himself, I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. It is questioned whether olive trees were at any time planted in the courts of either the tabernacle or the temple; but it certainly cannot be proved that they were not. In the courts of Egyptian temples trees were abundant, also probably in Phoenician temples. And to this day there grow in the Hardin area at Jerusalem, on the site of the Jewish temple, a number of magnificent cypresses, olive, and lemon trees.

Psalms 52:9

I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it. So Dr. Kay, who explains the passage as meaning, "because thou hast worked out this deliverance.' The tense is "the preterite of prophetic certainty" (comp. Psalms 54:7). And I will wait on thy Name; for it is good before thy saints; rather, I will wait on thy Name in the presence of thy saints, because it is good; or perhaps, if we adopt Hupfeld's emendation ( אֲחַוֶּה for אֲקַוֶּה), I will precision thy Name before thy saints that it is good (so Cheyne).

HOMILETICS

Psalms 52:7

The man on whom God's just judgment descends.

"Lo, this is the man," etc. The destruction of a human being, however depraved, the loss of a soul, however guilty, is matter, not of triumph, but of lamentation. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. But the overthrow of tyranny and injustice, the just punishment of high-handed crime, the downfall of God-defying and man-despising pride, is matter of satisfaction and thanksgiving. "There is such a thing as a righteous hatred, a righteous scorn. There is such a thing as a shout of righteous joy at the downfall of the tyrant and the oppressor; at the triumph of righteousness and truth over wrong and falsehood" (Perowne). See this expressed in the poems of Byron and Southey on the downfall of Napoleon. This is the spirit of this psalm—not revenge or cruelty, but triumph in the vindication of righteousness. Here are three principal features in the portrait of the man on whom God's just judgment descends. Proud unbelief; covetous worldliness; obstinate, perverse impenitence.

I. PROUD UNBELIEF. "Made not God his strength." This is a far deadlier sin than people are apt to think. It is practical denial of our dependence on him "whose our breath is;" "in whom we live, and move, and have our being." It is the cutting off, as far as thought, affection, will, and conscience are concerned, of the tree from its root, the stream from its fountain. The Bible always regards unbelief as springing from man's moral nature; a defect of the heart. In our day it is looked at as intellectual; scientific; created into a philosophy under the name of agnosticism. The universe is supposed to be a riddle without a key; human spirits, orphans; human life, a wandering without an aim, a guide, a hope, a home. How is it that any feeling heart or thoughtful mind can accept this dark creed, and not be bowed down in constant sorrow by the horror and desolate misery of it?

II. COVETOUS WORLDLINESS. "Trusted in the abundance of his riches." The unbeliever here described is not a speculative agnostic, but one who does "not like to retain God in his knowledge" (Romans 1:28); because his whole heart is taken up with selfish greed (1 John 2:15).

III. OBSTINATE IMPENITENCE. "Strengthened himself in his wickedness." Makes his own will his law; turns a deaf car to reproof, warning, Divine truth, mercy, love. What must be the end? What can it be? Do not let us deceive ourselves. The warnings of Christ's gospel are as faithful as its promises (Hebrews 10:26, etc.; 2 Peter 3:9). The cross itself, the hope and refuge of repentant sinners, is God's chief witness against sin; and warning of the guilt, folly, danger, of persevering in unbelief, worldliness, and impenitence.

Psalms 52:8

The olive an emblem of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.

"I am like a green olive tree," etc. In Psalms 92:1-15. the righteous are compared to two of the noblest trees—the queenly palm and the imperial cedar. In Psalms 1:1-6. to an evergreen tree that loves to grow by flowing waters—the orange or citron, crowned at once with silver blossom and golden fruit. Here a less majestic tree is chosen, yet one which plays a great part in Scripture—the olive, whose golden oil, from its ordinary plentiful use in food and in light, and from its rare sacredness in the anointing of kings, priests, and prophets, is the constant emblem of the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I. The lesson common to all these similitudes—palm, cedar, citron, olive; and what our Lord adds, the vine and its branches, is this: EACH CHRISTIAN LIFE MUST HAVE ITS OWN ROOT, AND SHOULD EXHIBIT A BEAUTY AND A FRUITFULNESS OF ITS OWN The image is in strong contrast with the picture of the ungodly man (verse 7; cf Psalms 37:35; John 15:6). "I"—for my part, whatever others may think or say, desire, or do—I choose my part here, in Christ: "rooted and grounded in [his] love." "Green," q.d. flourishing; full of life and beauty; and no less of fruit—a flourishing olive tree.

II. Nevertheless, THE HOME OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS IN THE CHURCH OF GOD, OF WHICH THE ANCIENT TEMPLE WAS THE SHADOW. (Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16.) Trees could not grow, of course, in the temple, strictly so called; but in the ample space of the "Court of the Gentiles" ("the mountain of the house"), olive berries were likely to be dropped and take root.

HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH

Psalms 52:1-9

A betrayer.

The "mighty man" might have been Doeg or some other who had gained notoriety as a betrayer.

I. THE ODIOUSNESS OF HIS CHARACTER. It is marked by deceitfulness. Craft and lying are the tools of the betrayer. He cannot get on without them, and he waxes expert in their use. He may pretend friendship, but malice is in his heart. Even if he speaks truth, it is not in love, but in hate. "Whispering tongues can poison truth," Beat on mischief, he does not think of consequences. If he can injure the man he hates, he cares not though the innocent also should suffer. When he comes by a secret, which may be turned to advantage, he is elated. His paltry soul swells within him, he grows big with the idea of his own importance. Life and death are in the power of his tongue. And when his miserable schemes succeed, he boasts as if he had done a brave thing; as if he were the hero of the hour.

II. THE TERRIBLENESS OF HIS DOOM. There was a time when Doeg seemed to succeed. Then he may have blessed his soul, and the men of Saul's court, no doubt, praised him, while he was doing good, as they thought, to himself, and was able to do good to them. But changes came. His real character was unmasked. The fearful results of his treachery were brought to light, and then he must have become the object of detestation to all right-thinking men. It is thus that reputations built on sand fall in the day of trial. The judgment of yesterday may be reversed to-day. The men who stand high to-day may be covered with scorn and infamy to-morrow. God is long-suffering. He even bears long, and strangely, with the wicked. But their day is coming. The judgment described in the psalm is terrible in its completeness. Image is added to image. The metaphors rise in intensity and force. There is not only defeat, as of a house beaten down, but there is expulsion, as from a home made desolate; and more, there is extinction, as of a family rooted out of the land (Psalms 52:5). The overthrow is complete, and all this is by the hand of God, indicating that all deceit and malice and evil-doing are contrary to the Divine order, and doomed in the end to ruin. There is a conscience in society, and, as it is rightly quickened and enlightened, it says "Amen" to God's righteous judgments.

III. THE MORAL LESSONS OF HIS LIFE. There is much here deserving close study. Learn:

1. The justice of God. He is ever on the side of truth. His judgments are all righteous.

2. The folly of sin. (Psalms 52:7.)

3. The blessedness of the righteous. This lesson is heightened by contrast. How different the tree overthrown, and torn up by the roots, and the "olive tree" standing beautiful and secure in "the house of God" 1 How markedly and utterly separate, the evil-doer judged and put to shame, and the godly man trusting, praising, waiting, rejoicing in the sunshine of God's love, and the hope of his mercy for ever and ever!—W.F

Psalms 52:8, Psalms 52:9

Herewe have

The testimony of a saint, confirmed as good by all the saints.

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE SAINTS. "I am like a green olive tree." The olive was remarkable for life, beauty, and usefulness. Habakkuk speaks of the "labours of the olive" (Habakkuk 3:17); Jeremiah, of its "goodly fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16); and Hosed, of its "beauty" (Hosea 14:6). It was therefore a fitting symbol of God's people (Romans 11:16), who are adorned with the beauty of holiness, and bear fruit to the praise of God.

II. THE OCCUPATIONS OF THE SAINTS.

1. The first thing named is trusting. "I trust in the mercy of God." The wisdom, the power, the faithfulness, of God all command our trust; but "mercy," what is most needed and always needed, is here singled out. The next thing is:

2. Praising. "I will praise thee for ever." Looking to the past, the present, and the future, countless reasons rise up for praise. What God has done is proof and promise of what he will do.

3. "Waiting" is the last thing mentioned. "I will wait on thy Name." God's Name is himself, in all that he is and says and does. The more clearly and fully we know God's Name, the more will our hearts go forth to him in love and hope. Waiting upon him ever brings refreshment, and invigorates our souls for new endeavour.

III. THE HOME OF THE SAINTS. "The house of God. So it is here. So it will be hereafter. The saints are happy in their being, secure in their possessions, joyous in their prospects. There are ever light, and sweetness, and holy companionships, and delightful employments, where they dwell. Heaven is their eternal home."—W.F.

HOMILIES BY C. SHORT

Psalms 52:1-9

"This psalm is

A stern upbraiding

addressed to the man who, unscrupulous in the exercise of his power, and proud of his wealth, finds his delight in all the arts of the practised liar."

I. THE ARROGANCE OF A WICKED MAN IN WORLDLY POWER.

1. He boasts of the evil which he does. He is not ashamed of his wickedness.

2. He is bent upon ever new forms of mischief. Works deceitfully, and not openly, and his tongue, as the instrument of his mind, is ever plotting fresh devices of evil.

3. He loves false speaking and false ways more than the true. The wickedness is ingrained, and not merely resorted to for a purpose.

4. He exults in material riches. Thinks they can carry him through, and enable him to brave all consequences.

II. THE CERTAINTY OF HIS OVERTHROW.

1. The goodness of God will ensure it. God loves the good; and his love for them endureth for ever—ensuring the overthrow of the wicked.

2. The sure connection of guilt and punishment. (Psalms 52:5.) The psalmist had no hesitation in predicting his future fall.

III. THE SYMPATHY WHICH GOOD MEN FEEL WITH GOD'S RIGHTEOUS WORK. (Psalms 52:6.) They are filled with a holy filial fear; and they rejoice at the triumph of the right and the true over the unjust and the untrue.

IV. GOD'S GOODNESS GIVES CONFIDENCE AND THANKFULNESS TO THE RIGHTEOUS (Psalms 52:8, Psalms 52:9.) Trust, praise, and patience wait upon thy Name.—S.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 52:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/psalms-52.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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