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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 52


psa 52:0

The Punishment That Awaits the Evil Tongue

With Psa 52:1-9, which, side by side with Ps 51, exhibits the contrast between the false and the right use of the tongue, begins a series of Elohimic Maskı̂ls (Ps 52-55) by David. It is one of the eight Psalms which, by the statements of the inscriptions, of which some are capable of being verified, and others at least cannot be replaced by anything that is more credible, are assigned to the time of his persecution by Saul (Ps 7, 59, Psa 56:1-13, 34, Psa 52:1-9, Psa 57:1-11, Psa 142:1-7, Psa 54:1-7). Augustine calls them Psalmos fugitivos. The inscription runs: To the Precentor, a meditation (vid., Psa 32:1), by David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him: David is gone in to the house of Ahimelech. By בּבוא, as in Psa 51:2; Psa 54:2, the writer of the inscription does not define the exact moment of the composition of the Psalm, but only in a general way the period in which it falls. After David had sojourned a short time with Samuel, he betook himself to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and he gave him without hesitation, as being the son-in-law of the king, the shew-bread that had been removed, and the sword of Goliath that had been hung up in the sanctuary behind the ephod. Doeg the Edomite was witness of this; and when Saul, under the tamarisk in Gibea, held an assembly of his serving men, Doeg, the overseer of the royal mules, betrayed what had taken place between David and Ahimelech to him. Eighty-five priests immediately fell as victims of this betrayal, and only Abiathar (Ebjathar) the son of Ahimelech escaped and reached David, Sa1 22:6-10 (where, in Psa 52:9, פרדי is to be read instead of עבדי, cf. Psa 21:8).

Psalms 52:1

psa 52:1

It is bad enough to behave wickedly, but bad in the extreme to boast of it at the same time as an heroic act. Doeg, who causes a massacre, not, however, by the strength of his hand, but by the cunning of his tongue, does this. Hence he is sarcastically called גּבּור (cf. Isa 5:22). David's cause, however, is not therefore lost; for it is the cause of God, whose loving-kindness endures continually, without allowing itself to be affected, like the favour of men, by calumny. Concerning הוּות vid., on Psa 5:10. לשׁון is as usual treated as fem; עשׂה רמיּה (according to the Masora with Tsere) is consequently addressed to a person. In Psa 52:5 רע after אהבתּ has the Dagesh that is usual also in other instances according to the rule of the אתי מרחיק, especially in connection with the letters כפתבגד (with which Resh is associated in the Book of Jezira, Michlol 96b, cf. 63b).

(Note: אתי מרחיק is the name by which the national grammarians designate a group of two words, of which the first, ending with Kametz or Segol, has the accent on the penult., and of which the second is a monosyllable, or likewise is accented on the penult. The initial consonant of the second word in this case receives a Dagesh, in order that it may not, in consequence of the first ictus of the group of words "coming out of the distance," i.e., being far removed, be too feebly and indistinctly uttered. This dageshing, however, only takes place when the first word is already of itself Milel, or at least, as e.g., מצאה בּית, had a half-accented penult., and not when it is from the very first Milra and is only become Milel by means of the retreating of the accent, as עשׂה פלא, Psa 78:12, cf. Deu 24:1. The penultima-accent has a greater lengthening force in the former case than in the latter; the following syllables are therefore uttered more rapidly in the first case, and the Dagesh is intended to guard against the third syllable being too hastily combined with the second. Concerning the rule, vid., Baer's Thorath Emeth, p. 29f.)

The מן or מטּוב and מדּבּר is not meant to affirm that he loves good, etc., less than evil, etc., but that he does not love it at all (cf. Psa 118:8., Hab 2:16). The music which comes in after Psa 52:5 has to continue the accusations con amarezza without words. Then in Psa 52:6 the singing again takes them up, by addressing the adversary with the words "thou tongue of deceit" (cf. Psa 120:3), and by reproaching him with loving only such utterances as swallow up, i.e., destroy without leaving a trace behind (בּלע, pausal form of בלע, like בּצע in Psa 119:36, cf. the verb in Psa 35:25, Sa2 17:16; Sa2 20:19.), his neighbour's life and honour and goods. Hupfeld takes Psa 52:6 as a second object; but the figurative and weaker expression would then follow the unfigurative and stronger one, and "to love a deceitful tongue" might be said with reference to this character of tongue as belonging to another person, not with reference to his own.

Psalms 52:5

psa 52:5

The announcement of the divine retribution begins with גּם as in Isa 66:4; Eze 16:43; Mal 2:9. The אהל is not, as one might suppose, the holy tent or tabernacle, that he has desecrated by making it the lurking-place of the betrayer (Sa1 21:7), which would have been expressed by מאהלו, but his own dwelling. God will pull him, the lofty and imperious one, down (נתץ, like a tower perhaps, Jdg 8:9; Eze 26:9) from his position of honour and his prosperity, and drag him forth out of his habitation, much as one rakes a coal from the hearth (חתה Biblical and Talmudic in this sense), and tear him out of this his home (נסח, cf. נתק, Job 18:14) and remove him far away (Deu 28:63), because he has betrayed the homeless fugitive; and will root him out of the land of the living, because he has destroyed the priests of God (Sa1 22:18). It then proceeds in Psa 52:8 very much like Psa 40:4, Psa 40:5, just as the figure of the razor also coincides with Psalms belonging to exactly the same period (Psa 51:8; Psa 57:5, cf. לטשׁ, Psa 7:13). The excitement and indignant anger against one's foes which expresses itself in the rhythm and the choice of words, has been already recognised by us since Ps 7 as a characteristic of these Psalms. The hope which David, in Psa 52:8, attaches to God's judicial interposition is the same as e.g., in Psa 64:10. The righteous will be strengthened in the fear of God (for the play of sounds cf. Psa 40:4) and laugh at him whom God has overthrown, saying: Behold there the man, etc. According to Psa 58:11, the laughing is joy at the ultimate breaking through of justice long hidden and not discerned; for even the moral teaching of the Old Testament (Pro 24:17) reprobates the low malignant joy that glories at the overthrow of one's enemy. By ויּבטח the former trust in mammon on the part of the man who is overtaken by punishment is set forth as a consequence of his refusal to put trust in God, in Him who is the true מעוז = Arab. m‛âḏ, hiding-place or place of protection (vid., on 31;3, Psa 37:39, cf. Psa 17:7; 22:33). הוּה is here the passion for earthly things which rushes at and falls upon them (animo fertur).

Psalms 52:8

psa 52:8

The gloomy song now brightens up, and in calmer tones draws rapidly to a close. The betrayer becomes like an uprooted tree; the betrayed, however, stands firm and is like to a green-foliaged olive (Jer 11:16) which is planted in the house of Elohim (Psa 90:14), that is to say, in sacred and inaccessible ground; cf. the promise in Isa 60:13. The weighty expression כּי עשׂית refers, as in Ps 22:32, to the gracious and just carrying out of that which was aimed at in the election of David. If this be attained, then he will for ever give thanks and further wait on the Name, i.e., the self-attestation, of God, which is so gracious and kind, he will give thanks and "wait" in the presence of all the saints. This "waiting," ואקוּה, is open to suspicion, since what he intends to do in the presence of the saints must be something that is audible or visible to them. Also "hoping in the name of God" is, it is true, not an unbiblical notional combination (Isa 36:8); but in connection with שׁמך כי טוב which follows, one more readily looks for a verb expressing a thankful and laudatory proclamation (cf. Ps 54:8). Hitzig's conjecture that we should read ואחוּה is therefore perfectly satisfactory. נגד חסידיך does not belong to טוב, which would be construed with בּעיני htiw deurtsnoc , and not נגד, but to the two votive words; cf. Psa 22:26; Psa 138:1, and other passages. The whole church (Psa 22:23., Psa 40:10.) shall be witness of his thankfulness to God, and of his proclamation of the proofs which God Himself has given of His love and favour.

Next: Psalms Chapter 53