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

Psalms Chapter 55


psa 55:0

Prayer of One Who Is Maliciously Beset and Betrayed by His Friend

Psa 54:1-7 is followed by another Davidic Psalm bearing the same inscription: To the Precentor, with accompaniment of stringed instruments, a meditation, by David. It also accords with the former in the form of the prayer with which it opens (cf. Psa 55:2 with Psa 54:3.); and it is the Elohimic counterpart of the Jahve- Psa 41:1-13. If the Psalm is by David, we require (in opposition to Hengstenberg) an assignable occasion for it in the history of his life. For how could the faithless bosom friend, over whom the complaint concerning malicious foes here, as in Psa 41:1-13, lingers with special sadness, be a mere abstract personage; since it has in the person of Judas Iscariot its historical living antitype in the life and passion of the second David? This Old Testament Judas is none other than Ahithphel, the right hand of Absalom. Ps 55 belongs, like Psa 41:1-13, to the four years during which the rebellion of Absalom was forming; only to a somewhat later period, when Absalom's party were so sure of their cause that they had no need to make any secret of it. How it came to pass that David left the beginnings and progressive steps of the rebellion of Absalom to take their course without bringing any other weapon to bear against it than the weapon of prayer, is discussed on Psa 41:1-13.

Hitzig also holds this Psalm to be Jeremianic. But it contains no coincidences with the language and thoughts of Jeremiah worth speaking of, excepting that this prophet, in Psa 9:1, gives utterance to a similar wish to that of the psalmist in Psa 55:7, and springing from the same motive. The argument in favour of Jeremiah in opposition to David is consequently referred to the picture of life and suffering which is presented in the Psalm; and it becomes a question whether this harmonizes better with the persecuted life of Jeremiah or of David. The exposition which follows here places itself - and it is at least worthy of being attempted - on the standpoint of the writer of the inscription.

Psalms 55:1

psa 55:1

In this first group sorrow prevails. David spreads forth his deep grief before God, and desires for himself some lonely spot in the wilderness far away from the home or lurking-place of the confederate band of those who are compassing his overthrow. "Veil not Thyself" here, where what is spoken of is something audible, not visible, is equivalent to "veil not Thine ear," Lam 3:56, which He designedly does, when the right state of heart leaves the praying one, and consequently that which makes it acceptable and capable of being answered is wanting to the prayer (cf. Isa 1:15). שׂיח signifies a shrub (Syriac shucho, Arabic šı̂ḥ), and also reflection and care (Arabic, carefulness, attention; Aramaic, סח, to babble, talk, discourse). The Hiph. חריד, which in Gen 27:40 signifies to lead a roving life, has in this instance the signification to move one's self backwards and forwards, to be inwardly uneasy; root רד, Arab. rd, to totter, whence râda, jarûda, to run up and down (IV to desire, will); raida, to shake (said of a soft bloated body); radda, to turn (whence taraddud, a moving to and fro, doubting); therefore: I wander hither and thither in my reflecting or meditating, turning restlessly from one thought to another. It is not necessary to read ואחמיה after Psa 77:4 instead of ועהימה, since the verb הוּם = המה, Psa 42:6, 12, is secured by the derivatives. Since these only exhibit הוּם, and not הים (in Arabic used more particularly of the raving of love), ואהימה, as also אריד, is Hiph., and in fact like this latter used with an inward object: I am obliged to raise a tumult or groan, break out into the dull murmuring sounds of pain. The cohortative not unfrequently signifies "I have to" or "I must" of incitements within one's self which are under the control of outward circumstances. In this restless state of mind he finds himself, and he is obliged to break forth into this cry of pain on account of the voice of the foe which he cannot but hear; by reason of the pressure or constraint (עקת) of the evil-doer which he is compelled to feel. The conjecture צעקת (Olshausen and Hupfeld) is superfluous. עקה is a more elegant Aramaizing word instead of צרה.

The second strophe begins with a more precise statement of that which justifies his pain. The Hiph. חמיט signifies here, as in Psa 140:11 (Chethb), declinare: they cast or roll down evil (calamity) upon him and maliciously lay snares for him בּאף, breathing anger against him who is conscious of having manifested only love towards them. His heart turns about in his body, it writhes (יהיל); cf. on this, Psa 38:11. Fear and trembling take possession of his inward parts; יבא in the expression יבא בי, as is always the case when followed by a tone syllable, is a so-called נסוג אחור, i.e., it has the tone that has retreated to the penult. (Deu 1:38; Isa 7:24; Isa 60:20), although this is only with difficulty discernible in our printed copies, and is therefore (vid., Accentsystem, vi. 2) noted with Mercha. The fut. consec. which follows introduces the heightened state of terror which proceeds from this crowding on of fear and trembling. Moreover, the wish that is thereby urged from him, which David uttered to himself, is introduced in the third strophe by a fut. consec.

(Note: That beautiful old song of the church concerning Jesus has grown out of this strophe: -

Ecquis binas columbinas

Alas dabit animae?

Et in almam crucis palmam

Evolat citissime, etc.)

"Who will give me?" is equivalent to "Oh that I had!" Ges. 136, 1. In ואשׁכּנה is involved the self-satisfying signification of settling down (Eze 31:13), of coming to rest and remaining in a place (Sa2 7:10). Without going out of our way, a sense perfectly in accordance with the matter in hand may be obtained for אחישׁה מפלט לי, if אחישׁה is taken not as Kal (Psa 71:12), but after Isa 5:19; Isa 60:12, as Hiph.: I would hasten, i.e., quickly find for myself a place which might serve me as a shelter from the raging wind, from the storm. רוּח סעה is equivalent to the Arabic rihin sâijat-in, inasmuch as Arab. s‛â, "to move one's self quickly, to go or run swiftly," can be said both of light (Koran, 66:8) and of water-brooks (vid., Jones, Comm. Poes. Asiat., ed. Lipsiae, p. 358), and also of strong currents of air, of winds, and such like. The correction סערה, proposed by Hupfeld, produces a disfiguring tautology. Among those about David there is a wild movement going on which is specially aimed at his overthrow. From this he would gladly flee and hide himself, like a dove taking refuge in a cleft of the rock from the approaching storm, or from the talons of the bird of prey, fleeing with its noiseless but persevering flight.

(Note: Kimchi observes that the dove, when she becomes tired, draws in one wing and flies with the other, and thus the more surely escapes. Aben-Ezra finds an allusion here to the carrier-pigeon.)

Psalms 55:9

psa 55:9

In the second group anger is the prevailing feeling. In the city all kinds of party passions have broken loose; even his bosom friend has taken a part in this hostile rising. The retrospective reference to the confusion of tongues at Babel which is contained in the word פּלּג (cf. Gen 10:25), also in remembrance of בּלל (Gen 11:1-9), involves the choice of the word בּלּע, which here, after Isa 19:3, denotes a swallowing up, i.e., annihilation by means of confounding and rendering utterly futile. לשׁונם is the object to both imperatives, the second of which is פּלּג (like the pointing usual in connection with a final guttural) for the sake of similarity of sound. Instead of חמס וריב, the pointing is חמס וריב, which is perfectly regular, because the וריב with a conjunctive accent logically hurries on to בּעיר as its supplement.

(Note: Certain exceptions, however, exist, inasmuch as ו sometimes remains even in connection with a disjunctive accent, Isa 49:4; Jer 40:10; Jer 41:16; and it is pointed ו in connection with a conjunctive in Gen 45:23; Gen 46:12; Lev 9:3; Mic 2:11; Job 4:16; Ecc 4:8.)

The subjects to Psa 55:11 are not violence and strife (Hengstenberg, Hitzig), for it is rather a comical idea to make these personified run round about upon the city walls; but (cf. Psa 59:7, Psa 59:15) the Absalomites, and in fact the spies who incessantly watch the movements of David and his followers, and who to this end roam about upon the heights of the city. The narrative in 2 Sam. 15 shows how passively David looked on at this movement, until he abandoned the palace of his own free will and quitted Jerusalem The espionage in the circuit of the city is contrasted with the movements going on within the city itself by the word בּקרב. We are acquainted with but few details of the affair; but we can easily fill in the details for ourselves in accordance with the ambitious, base, and craftily malicious character of Absalom. The assertion that deceit (מרמה) and the extremest madness had taken possession of the city is confirmed in Psa 55:13 by כּי. It is not open enemies who might have had cause for it that are opposed to him, but faithless friends, and among them that Ahithophel of Giloh, the scum of perfidious ingratitude. The futures ואשּׂא and ואסּתר are used as subjunctives, and ו is equivalent to alioqui, as in Psa 51:18, cf. Job 6:14. He tells him to his face, to his shame, the relationship in which he had stood to him whom he now betrays. Psa 55:14 is not to be rendered: and thou art, etc., but: and thou (who dost act thus) wast, etc.; for it is only because the principal clause has a retrospective meaning that the futures נמתּיק and נהלּך describe what was a custom in the past. The expression is designedly אנושׁ כּערכּי and not אישׁ כערכי; David does not make him feel his kingly eminence, but places himself in the relation to him of man to man, putting him on the same level with himself and treating him as his equal. The suffix of כערכי is in this instance not subjective as in the כערכך of the law respecting the asham or trespass-offering: according to my estimation, but objectively: equal to the worth at which I am estimated, that is to say, equally valued with myself. What heart-piercing significance this word obtains when found in the mouth of the second David, who, although the Son of God and peerless King, nevertheless entered into the most intimate human relationship as the Son of man to His disciples, and among them to that Iscariot! אלּוּף from אלף, Arabic alifa, to be accustomed to anything, assuescere, signifies one attached to or devoted to any one; and מידּא, according to the Hebrew meaning of the verb ידע, an intimate acquaintance. The first of the relative clauses in Psa 55:15 describes their confidential private intercourse; the second the unrestrained manifestation of it in public. סוד here, as in Job 19:19 (vid., supra on Psa 25:14). המתּיק סוד, to make friendly intercourse sweet, is equivalent to cherishing it. רגשׁ stands over against סוד, just like סוד, secret counsel, and רגשׁה, loud tumult, in Psa 64:3. Here רגשׁ is just the same as that which the Korahitic poet calls המון חוגג in Psa 42:5.

In the face of the faithless friends who has become the head of the Absalomite faction David now breaks out, in Psa 55:16, into fearful imprecations. The Chethb is ישׁימות, desolationes (super eos); but this word occurs only in the name of a place ("House of desolations"), and does not well suit such direct reference to persons. On the other hand, the Ker ישּׁיאמות, let death ensnare or impose upon them, gives a sense that is not to be objected to; it is a pregnant expression, equivalent to: let death come upon them unexpectedly. To this ישּׁיא corresponds the חיּים of the second imprecation: let them go down alive into Hades (שׁאול, perhaps originally שׁאולה, the ה of which may have been lost beside the ח that follows), i.e., like the company of Korah, while their life is yet vigorous, that is to say, let them die a sudden, violent death. The drawing together of the decipiat (opprimat) mors into one word is the result of the ancient scriptio continua and of the defective mode of writing, ישּׁי, like יני, Psa 141:5, אבי, Kg1 21:29. Bttcher renders it differently: let death crash in upon them; but the future form ישּׁי = ישׁאה from שׁאה = שׁאי is an imaginary one, which cannot be supported by Num 21:30. Hitzig renders it: let death benumb them (ישּׁים); but this gives an inconceivable figure, with the turgidity of which the trepidantes Manes in Virgil, Aenid viii. 246, do not admit of comparison. In the confirmation, Psa 55:16, בּמגוּרם, together with the בּקרבּם which follows, does not pretend to be any advance in the thought, whether מגור be rendered a settlement, dwelling, παροικία (lxx, Targum), or an assembly (Aquila, Symmachus, Jerome). Hence Hitzig's rendering: in their shrine, in their breast (= ἐν τῷ θησαυρῷ τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν, Luk 6:45), מגוּרם being short for מגוּרתם in accordance with the love of contraction which prevails in poetry (on Psa 25:5). But had the poet intended to use this figure he would have written בּמגוּרת קרבם, and is not the assertion that wickedness is among them, that it is at home in them, really a climax? The change of the names of God in Psa 55:17 is significant. He calls upon Him who is exalted above the world, and He who mercifully interposes in the history of the world helps him.

Psalms 55:17

psa 55:17

In the third group confidence prevails, the tone that is struck up in Psa 55:17 being carried forward. Evening morning, and noon, as the beginning, middle, and close of the day, denote the day in its whole compass or extent: David thus gives expression to the incessancy with which he is determined to lay before God, both in the quiet of his spirit and in louder utterances, whatsoever moves him. The fut. consec. ויּשׁמע connects the hearing (answer) with the prayer as its inevitable result. Also in the praet. פּדה expression is given to the certainty of faith; and בּשׁלום side by side with it denotes, with the same pregnancy of meaning as in Psa 118:5, the state of undisturbed outward and inward safety and prosperity, into which God removes his soul when He rescues him. If we read mi-kerob, then קרב is, as the ancient versions regard it, the infinitive: ne appropinquent mihi; whereas since the time of J. H. Michaelis the preference has been given to the pronunciation mi-kerāb: a conflictu mihi sc. parato, in which case it would be pointed מקּרב־ (with Metheg), whilst the MSS, in order to guard against the reading with ā, point it מקּרב־. Hitzig is right when he observes, that after the negative מן the infinitive is indicated beforehand, and that לי = עלי, Psa 27:2, is better suited to this. Moreover, the confirmatory clause Psa 55:19 is connected with what precedes in a manner less liable to be misunderstood if מקרב is taken as infinitive: that they may not be able to gain any advantage over me, cannot come near me to harm me (Psa 91:10). For it is not until now less precarious to take the enemies as the subject of היוּ, and to take עמּדי in a hostile sense, as in Job 10:17; Job 13:19; Job 23:6; Job 31:13, cf. עם Psa 94:16, and this is only possible where the connection suggests this sense. Heidenheim's interpretation: among the magnates were those who succoured me (viz., Hushai, Zadok, and Abiathar, by whom the counsel of Athithopel was frustrated), does not give a thought characteristic of the Psalms. And with Aben-Ezra, who follows Numeri Rabba 294a, to think of the assistance of angels in connection with בּרבּים, certainly strongly commends itself in view of Kg2 6:16 (with which Hitzig also compares Ch2 32:7); here, however, it has no connection, whereas the thought, "as many (consisting of many) are they with me, i.e., do they come forward and fight with me," is very loosely attached to what has gone before. The Beth essentiae serves here, as it does frequently, e.g., Psa 39:7, to denote the qualification of the subject. The preterite of confidence is followed in Psa 55:20 by the future of hope. Although side by side with שׁמע, ענה presumptively has the signification to answer, i.e., to be assured of the prayer being heard, yet this meaning is in this instance excluded by the fact that the enemies are the object, as is required by Psa 55:20 (even if Psa 55:19 is understood of those who are on the side of the poet). The rendering of the lxx: εἰσακούσεται ὁ Θεὸς καὶ ταπεινώσει αὐτοὺς ὁ ὑπάρχων πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων, is appropriate, but requires the pronunciation to be ויעשנּם, since the signification to bow down, to humble, cannot be proved to belong either to Kal or Hiphil. But even granted that יענם might, according to Kg1 8:35 (vid., Keil), signify ταπεινώσει αὐτοὺς, it is nevertheless difficult to believe that ויענם is not intended to have a meaning correlative with ישׁמע, of which it is the continuation. Saadia has explained יענם in a manner worthy of attention, as being for יענה בם, he will testify against them; an interpretation which Aben-Ezra endorses. Hengstenberg's is better: "God will hear (the tumult of the enemies) and answer them (judicially)." The original text may have been ויענמו ישׁב קדם. But as it now stands, וישׁב קדם represents a subordinate clause, with the omission of the הוּא, pledging that judicial response: since He it is who sitteth enthroned from earliest times (vid., on Psa 7:10). The bold expression ישׁב קדם is an abbreviation of the view of God expressed in Psa 74:12, Hab 1:12, cf. Deu 33:27, as of Him who from primeval days down to the present sits enthroned as King and Judge, who therefore will be able even at the present time to maintain His majesty, which is assailed in the person of His anointed one.

Psa 55:19-23

In spite of this interruption and the accompanying clashing in of the music. אשׁר .ci with its dependent clause continues the ויאנם, more minutely describing those whom God will answer in His wrath. The relative clause at the same time gives the ground for this their fate from the character they bear: they persevere in their course without any regard to any other in their godlessness. The noun חליפה, which is used elsewhere of a change of clothes, of a reserve in time of war, of a relief of bands of workmen, here signifies a change of mind (Targum), as in Job 14:14 a change of condition; the plural means that every change of this kind is very far from them. In Psa 55:21 David again has the one faithless foe among the multitude of the rebels before his mind. שׁלמיו is equivalent to שׁלמים אתּו, Gen 34:21, those who stood in peaceful relationship to him (שׁלום, Psa 41:10). David classes himself with his faithful adherents. בּרית is here a defensive and offensive treaty of mutual fidelity entered into in the presence of God. By שׁלח and חלּל is meant the intention which, though not carried out as yet, is already in itself a violation and profanation of the solemn compact. In Psa 55:22 the description passes into the tone of the caesural schema. It is impossible for מחמאת, so far as the vowels are concerned, to be equivalent to מחמאות, since this change of the vowels would obliterate the preposition; but one is forbidden to read מחמאות (Targum, Symmachus, Jerome) by the fact that פּיו (lxx τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ, as in Pro 2:6) cannot be the subject to חלקוּ. Consequently מ belongs to the noun itself, and the denominative מחמאות (from חמאה), like מעדנּות (from עדן), dainties, signifies articles of food prepared from curdled milk; here it is used figuratively of "milk-words" or "butter-words" which come from the lips of the hypocrite softly, sweetly, and supplely as cream: os nectar promit, mens aconita vomit. In the following words וּקרב־לבּו (וּקרב) the Makkeph (in connection with which it would have to be read ukerob just the same as in Psa 55:19, since the - has not a Metheg) is to be crossed out (as in fact it is even wanting here and there in MSS and printed editions). The words are an independent substantival clause: war (קרב, a pushing together, assault, battle, after the form כּתב mrof eh with an unchangeable â) is his inward part and his words are swords; these two clauses correspond. רכּוּ (properly like Arab. rkk, to be thin, weak, then also: to be soft, mild; root רך, רק, tendere, tenuare) has the accent on the ultima, vid., on Psa 38:20. פּתיחה is a drawn, unsheathed sword (Psa 37:14).

The exhortation, Psa 55:23, which begins a new strophe and is thereby less abrupt, is first of all a counsel which David gives to himself, but at the same time to all who suffer innocently, cf. Psa 27:14. Instead of the obscure ἅπαξ γεγραμ. יהבך, we read in Psa 37:5 דרכך, and in Pro 16:3 מעשׂיך, according to which the word is not a verb after the form ידעך (Chajug', Gecatilia, and Kimchi), but an accusative of the object (just as it is in fact accented; for the Legarme of יהוה has a lesser disjunctive value than the Zinnor of יהבך). The lxx renders it ἐπίῤῥιψον ἐπὶ κύριον τὴν μέριμνάν σου. Thus are these words of the Psalm applied in Pe1 5:7. According to the Talmud יהב (the same form as קרב) signifies a burden. "One day," relates Rabba bar-Chana, B. Rosh ha-Shana, 26b, and elsewhere, "I was walking with an Arabian (Nabataean?) tradesman, and happened to be carrying a heavy pack. And he said to me, שׁקיל יהביך ושׁדי אגמלאי, Take thy burden and throw it on my camel." Hence it is wiser to refer יהב to יהב, to give, apportion, than to a stem יהב = יאב, Psa 119:131 (root אב, או), to desire; so that it consequently does not mean desiring, longing, care, but that which is imposed, laid upon one, assigned or allotted to one (Bttcher), in which sense the Chaldee derivatives of יהב (Targum Psa 11:6; Psa 16:5, for מנת) do actually occur. On whomsoever one casts what is allotted to him to carry, to him one gives it to carry. The admonition proceeds on the principle that God is as willing as He is able to bear even the heaviest burden for us; but this bearing it for us is on the other side our own bearing of it in God's strength, and hence the promise that is added runs: He will sustain thee (כּלכּל), that thou mayest not through feebleness succumb. Psa 55:23 also favours this figure of a burden: He will not give, i.e., suffer to happen (Psa 78:66), tottering to the righteous for ever, He will never suffer the righteous to totter. The righteous shall never totter (or be moved) with the overthrow that follows; whereas David is sure of this, that his enemies shall not only fall to the ground, but go down into Hades (which is here, by a combination of two synonyms, בּאר שׁחת, called a well, i.e., an opening, of a sinking in, i.e., a pit, as e.g., in Pro 8:31; Eze 36:3), and that before they have halved their days, i.e., before they have reached the half of the age that might be attained under other circumstances (cf. Psa 102:25; Jer 16:11). By ואתּה אלהים prominence is given to the fact that it is the very same God who will not suffer the righteous to fall who casts down the ungodly; and by ואני David contrasts himself with them, as being of good courage now and in all time to come.

Next: Psalms Chapter 56