The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 55

Psa 55:1

CONTEXT: When and where did David write this psalm? Maybe the first 8 vv were written in Jerusalem, while the conspiracy of Absalom was seething toward its boiling point. Vv 9-21, in flight or in exile. And the last two vv when he was brought back, as he reflected on the deliverance wrought by God.

SUPERSCRIPTION: "A MASKIL OF DAVID." See Lesson, Psalms, "Maschil".

Psa 55:2

Cp the figure of a mourning dove in Nah 2:7. "The reference is to the turtle-dove... Their low, sad plaint may be heard all day long at certain seasons in the olive-groves" (LB 269).

(NT) "Strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7). The very words of the LXX are used in Joh 13:21 ("Jesus... was troubled in spirit") and Mat 26:37 (Jesus "began to be sorrowful and very heavy").

Psa 55:3


Psa 55:4

The extreme form of this language (and v 5) suggests a sick man unable to cope with a bad situation. It was because of David's sore illness that Absalom was able to gain a foothold in the affections of the people (2Sa 15:1-7). Note David's weeping: 2Sa 15:30, and see Psa 41 notes. "The atmosphere of the palace is heavy with foreboding" (NPH).

Psa 55:5

(NT) Jesus in Gethsemane.

Psa 55:6

There is no inclination to stand and fight, but only to get away, at almost any cost (vv 7,8). This answers well to David's attitude at the time of Absalom's rebellion.

(NT) Vv 6,7: Do these verses express a longing in Christ that the Holy Spirit would guide him away from existing stress and strain to a life of quiet reflection? The nearest approach to this would be the last times spent at Bethany (Mat 21:17) or the all-too-brief moments on the mount of Olives (Luk 21:37).

I WOULD FLY AWAY AND BE AT REST: As Elijah did (1Ki 19:3-9), and as Jeremiah longed to do (Jer 9:2).

Psa 55:7

The first object of David's flight was to get away from the city, and into open country: 2Sa 15:17 ("far away" = mer'chov), 2Sa 15:28; 17:16.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 55:8

(NT) This happened to the disciples, more than once, through the prayers and presence of their Master: (1) Mat 8:23-27; Mar 4:36-41; Luk 8:22-25; and (2) Mat 14:22-33; Mar 6:45-56; Joh 6:15-21.

I WOULD HURRY: See 2Sa 15:14. There is almost a suggestion of panic about David's words in this phase of the flight.

Psa 55:9

CONFOUND THEIR SPEECH: As at Babel (sw Gen 10:25; 11:7). Cp the Jewish scattering to all nations. This is precisely what happened. Counsels were divided. Hushai, surely inspired on this occasion, won the battle of wits: 2Sa 17:1-14.

(NT) But in the condemnation of Jesus this did not happen. Instead, Sanhedrin and Herod and Caiaphas and at last Pilate -- all the leaders -- were unanimous against him (Mic 7:3). Yet even then, the specially instructed witnesses (Psa 35:11) could not agree together (Mar 14:56).

VIOLENCE AND STRIFE IN THE CITY: Cp v 10b. Here is an added detail about the revolution. It is just what was likely to happen.

(NT) Violence and strife in the city suggests the possibility of riots in Jerusalem because of Jesus.

Psa 55:11

Justice and good administration become the first casualties in a civil war.

Psa 55:13

Every phrase here is appropriate to Ahithophel, David's chief counselor: 2Sa 15:12,31; 16:23; 17:1-3. See Psa 41:9 also.

(NT) Cp Mar 14:10, where Judas is called "the one of the twelve". Was he so called because he was the traitor? Or because he was the one of truly outstanding ability and promise?

A MAN LIKE MYSELF: Heb enosh might imply a man who had been promoted from a much inferior social level, to talk with the king on level terms. (NT) LXX has the sw in Phi 2:20.

MY COMPANION: "My guide" (AV). Ct 2Sa 17:1-3. (NT) See the ironic way in which Peter used the same word about Judas, "guide" to the Lord's enemies, who came to arrest him (Act 1:16)!

MY CLOSE FRIEND: "Mine acquaintance" (AV). This is not a strong enough term. Rather, "one who knew me intimately". Yet did David not reflect that he was being treated by Ahithophel precisely as he had dealt with Uriah -- one of his staunchest friends (2Sa 23:39)? USC 157-161 gives the reason for the linking together of these two seemingly disparate events: Bathsheba was almost certainly Uriah's granddaughter!

(NT) Cp "Friend" in Mat 26:50.

Psa 55:14

WE WALKED... AT THE HOUSE OF GOD: "We walked unto the house of God in company" (AV). Cp Psa 42:4. Was it David's intense religious enthusiasm which set worldly-wise Ahithophel against him? Keeping up appearances would be a considerable strain on the man. "In company" = homonoia in LXX, sig complete unanimity! ("Ahithophel" may mean "brother of prayer" or "brother of folly"!)

Psa 55:15

What a ct with the preceding verse!

LET DEATH TAKE MY ENEMIES BY SURPRISE: "Let death seize on them" (AV). Ahithophel committed suicide (2Sa 17:23), and Absalom was stabbed to death, cast into a pit, and buried under a heap of stones (2Sa 18:14,17).

LET THEM GO DOWN ALIVE TO THE GRAVE: This is a direct allusion to the end of Korah and his fellow-rebels (Num 16:30-33). Cp also v 9: Swallow up (RV mg) -- another allusion to the same incident. See Pro 29:1.

Psa 55:16

Cp 2Sa 15:31.

Psa 55:17

EVENING, MORNING AND NOON: Like Daniel prayed (Dan 6:10). The Law of Moses said: Evening and morning (cp Exo 30:7,8: the daily offerings). In Psa 119:164, seven times in a day.

EVENING: Gethsemane: "Let this cup pass from me."

MORNING: "Father, forgive them: they know not what they do."

NOON: "Why hast thou forsaken me?" etc.

Psa 55:18

MANY OPPOSE ME: "Many with me" (AV). In conflict with me (cp Psa 56:2)? Or, many on my side? If the latter, cp 2Ki 6:16,17 and esp Mat 26:53.

Psa 55:19

See Lesson, Selah.

MEN WHO NEVER CHANGE THEIR WAYS: "Because they have no changes" (AV). That is, no changes of mind, no reformation, no repentance -- as the complacent Moab in Jer 48:11. This expresses the same mentality as 2 Pet 3:4-6: 'God shows us no open miracle, therefore He is a God who does not interfere.' The modern mentality exactly!

Psa 55:21

An admirable description of the deceitful scheming of both Ahithophel and Absalom (2Sa 15:5,6). Cp the lips of the strange woman in Pro 5:3,4.

Psa 55:22

"Cast on the Lord that which He hath given thee." Jesus himself did this: Joh 17:11; Psa 22:10; 37:5. 1Pe 5:7 quotes the LXX, as a sequel to "Humble yourself under God's mighty hand." Read with the emphasis, we have: 'And he shall sustain (keep in, measure, support, maintain) YOU, as well as your burden.'

CARES: "Burden" (AV). Notice that "burden" here (Heb "yahab") is "gift" in the mg: The "gift" of God to us is a life of cares and burdens, so that we might learn to trust in Him alone (v 23)! "Come unto me, all ye who (are)... heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mat 11:28,29).

"Care, even though exercised upon legitimate objects, if carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. The precept to avoid anxious care is earnestly inculcated by our Saviour, again and again; it is reiterated by the apostles; and it is one which cannot be neglected without involving transgression: for the very essence of anxious care is the imagining that we are wiser than God, and the thrusting ourselves into His place to do for Him that which He has undertaken to do for us. We attempt to think of that which we fancy He will forget; we labour to take upon ourselves our weary burden, as if He were unable or unwilling to take it for us. Now this disobedience to His plain precept, this unbelief in His Word, this presumption in intruding upon His province, is all sinful. Yet more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. He who cannot calmly leave his affairs in God's hand, but will carry his own burden, is very likely to be tempted to use wrong means to help himself. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counselor, and resorting instead to human wisdom. This is going to the 'broken cistern' instead of to the 'fountain;' a sin which was laid against Israel of old (Jer 2:32). Anxiety makes us doubt God's lovingkindness, and thus our love to Him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and thus grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers become hindered, our consistent example marred, and our life one of self-seeking. Thus want of confidence in God leads us to wander far from Him; but if through simple faith in His promise, we cast each burden as it comes upon Him, and are 'careful for nothing' because He undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to Him, and strengthen us against much temptation. 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee' " (GVG).

Psa 55:23

THE PIT OF CORRUPTION; BLOODTHIRSTY AND DECEITFUL MEN WILL NOT LIVE OUT HALF THEIR DAYS: Almost lit true of Absalom, cast into a pit (2Sa 18:17), his life cut off in his prime. Did David know that he was pronouncing the doom of his own son whom he so much idolized?

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. TO THE TUNE OF 'A DOVE ON DISTANT OAKS'": "Jonah-elem-rechokim" (AV). It is the "elem" to which some uncertainty attaches, for there is only one parallel passage (Isa 1:29). The LXX, as an alternative, translated "elem" as "gods". Accepting the common translations, in lieu of any reasonable alternative, there is reinforcement from a number of details in the psalm: v 2: "I mourn" -- ie like a dove; v 6: "wings like a dove"; v 7: "far off" = Heb "rechok".

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