New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 55:1 For the Chief Musician. On stringed instruments. A contemplation by David- The context appears to be when David was still in Jerusalem (:9-11), and realized the extent of Absalom's rebellion and Ahithophel's deceit.

Listen to my prayer, God. Don’t hide Yourself from my supplication-
David's prayer before fleeing Jerusalem was presumably written down, or recalled under Divine inspiration; and he wanted it to be known for all time and to all peoples, that God had saved him from apparently inevitable destruction- both personally and of his kingdom.

Psa 55:2 Attend to me, and answer me-
If we "attend" to God's word (Prov. 2:2; 4:1; 7:24), then He will "attend" to our word, of prayer (Ps. 55:2 and often in the Psalms). There is thereby a mutuality between God and man. Our attitude to His word becomes reflected in His attitude to our words in prayer; for God and man are in dialogue.

I am restless in my complaint and moan- David's moaning or weeping was his prayer (:1). Who we are as persons is effectively our prayer and plea to God. This conception of prayer explains why often weeping, crying, waiting, meditating etc. are spoken of as "prayer", although there was no specific verbalizing of requests (Ps. 5:1,2; 6:8; 18:1,2,3,6; 40:1; 42:8; 64:1 Heb.; 65:1,2; 66:17-20; Zech. 8:22). The association between prayer and weeping is especially common: 1 Sam. 1:10; Ps. 39:12; 55:1,2; Jn. 11:41,42; Heb. 5:7, especially in the Lord's life and the Messianic Psalms. "The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer" (Ps. 6:8,9) crystallizes the point.

Psa 55:3 because of the words of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they bring suffering on me, in anger they hold a grudge against me-
The "grudge" could well refer to Ahithophel's grudge against David, seeing that he was Bathsheba's grandfather. We may rightly feel that David ought to have been more acceptive of the results and consequences of his sin with Bathsheba; but so much of his prayer life after the incident appears to be complaint about the consequences and badgering God to remove them- rather than glorying in the grace and forgiveness given him. 

Psa 55:4 My heart is severely pained within me, the terrors of death have come upon me-
Despite his undoubted physique stamina, David was a broken man, even quite early in his life, prone to fits of introspection; dramatic mood-swings (cp. 1 Sam.24:14 with 1 Sam. 25:6,22,34;), sometimes appearing a real 'softie' but hard as nails at others (consider Ps. 75:10 and the whole of Ps. 101); easily getting carried away: be it with excessive emotional enthusiasm for bringing the ark back, in his harsh response to Hanun humbling his servants, his over-hasty and emotional decision to let Amnon go to Absalom's feast when it was obvious what might well transpire, his anger "flaring up" because of incompetency (2 Sam. 11:20 NIV),  or in his ridiculous softness for Absalom. He had a heart cruelly torn so many ways. All these traits are amply reflected in the Psalms: Ps. 6:7; 31:10; 42:3,6; 38:8; 55:4; 56:8; 69:3,29; 88:3,9; 94:19 (what introspection!); 102:4; 116:3; 143:4.

Psa 55:5 Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, horror has overwhelmed me-
This seems the very opposite to the situation in Ps. 78:53, where the faithful were not fearful, and it was their Egyptian enemies who were "overwhelmed". He feels overwhelmed [s.w. "covered"] with horror, rather than feeling covered by Yahweh's protective cherubic wings, as he often confidently expresses (Ps. 143:9 s.w.). David appears to feel he is spiritually without God and facing the judgment of condemnation. His faith in forgiveness regarding Bathsheba and Uriah appears deeply dented at this point; because he had set his mind to assume that he was not going to suffer the consequences of the sin. Yet Nathan had assured him that he would, and he clearly struggled with that.

Psa 55:6 I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be at rest-
The "I said..." suggests this Psalm is David's recollection of how he felt just before fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom (see on :1).

Psa 55:7 Behold, then I would wander far off, I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah-
David did indeed lodge in the wilderness when he fled Absalom. But initially it seemed that flight even to the wilderness was impossible, because it would require David to have wings and fly there from Jerusalem (:6). He felt he was encircled. See on :10.

Psa 55:8 I would hurry to a shelter from the stormy wind and storm-
David appears to wish to have a shelter from the storm- when elsewhere he proclaims Yahweh to be just this. His confusion is because he expects God to remove from him the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba- and when God will not, David feels God is somehow not there for him. He fails to appreciate the wonder of the fact God had no executed him, and had extended the forgiveness which only comes from radical grace.

Psa 55:9 Confuse them, Lord, and confound their language, for I have seen violence and strife in the city-
This clearly alludes to Babel. David sees Jerusalem as no better than Babel / Babylon; and thereby the Psalm came to have relevance to the exiles with their desire to see judgment upon Babylon. This is however what happened to Absalom's putsch- it imploded and they were confounded.

Psa 55:10 Day and night they prowl around on its walls, malice and abuse are also within her-
David had felt that fleeing Jerusalem was next to impossible because he was encircled within the city; hence he felt he needed to be as a bird to fly away, over the top of them. See on :7. His escape was therefore just in time, and was itself a token of God's deliverance, seeing there were opposing forces trying to catch him if he fled.

Psa 55:11 Destructive forces are within her, threats and lies don’t depart from her streets-
"Destructive" or "wickedness" is the word used of the wickedness of Ahithophel and Absalom (Ps. 55:11). Solomon's Proverbs seem in places a justification of himself as king over his brother Absalom. He uses the same word to speak of "transgressors are taken in their own wickedness / destructiveness" (Prov. 11:6); how a liar [Absalom] listens to a 'destructive' tongue [in taking advice from Ahithophel] (Prov. 17:4); and how a foolish son [Absalom] is the calamity or destruction of his father (Prov. 19:13).

Psa 55:12 For it was not an enemy who insulted me, then I could have endured it; neither was it he who hated me who raised himself up against me, then I would have hidden myself from him-
This suggests that Ahithophel's deceit of David went undetected for some time. The equivalent off Ahithophel is clearly Judas in the context of the Lord Jesus. And we wonder how He could have known from the beginning that Judas would betray Him, and yet apparently trust and like him so much that the betrayal came as a shock. We may be helped by considering how Samson surely knew Delilah would betray him, and yet still loved and trusted her, time and again. This is the nature of the human condition, to know and yet act as if we do not know. It is one of the features of love. The problem we have in understanding Samson (if we do have a problem with it) occurs again, in exactly the same form, when we consider the Lord's relationship with Judas. He knew from the beginning who should betray him. He knew that the one with whom He shared especially sweet counsel would betray Him (Ps. 55:12-14). And surely the Lord Jesus had reflected on David's experience with Ahithophel. And yet He spoke of how the twelve (including Judas) would sit on twelve thrones, sharing his glory (Mt. 19:28). He loved Judas and treated him as a close friend, even though he knew that this very close friend would betray Him. There is, to my mind, no satisfactory explanation of this apart from to realize the utter humanity of the Lord; that just like Samson, He could sincerely love a man whom he knew would betray Him. This same Lord is the same today and forever. He isn't a hard man. He loves and actively fellowships at the time with those whom later He knows will betray Him, even now. He doesn't just not bother because He knows they will later turn nasty. Lord, we salute you for this, your utter grace.  

Psa 55:13 But it was you, a man like me, my companion, and my familiar friend-
The person in view is clearly Ahithophel, David's counsellor, the "man of my peace" (2 Sam. 15:12), referenced also in Ps. 41:9. He was Bathsheba's grandfather, so we can imagine how his bitterness with David developed. The application of this passage to the Lord Jesus is an essay in His utter humanity. Judas was His friend and "a man like me".


Psa 55:14 We took sweet fellowship together-
No "house" of God existed in David's time, so perhaps this was edited at a later period. "Fellowship" is better "counsel", and the word carries the idea of decision making. Ahithophel had been David's advisor and confidante. And they had sweet fellowship together- apparently. 

We walked to God’s house in company- "In company" is a word only used elsewhere in Ps. 64:2, where it is translated "insurrection", again perhaps in the context of Absalom. The double meaning of the word chosen reflects the duplicity of Ahithophel.


Psa 55:15 Let death come suddenly on them, let them go down alive into Sheol. For wickedness is in their dwelling, in their midst-
Going alive into the grave is the language of Korah's rebellion. That is how David sees Absalom's rebellion. And yet when Absalom was indeed suddenly slain, David breaks down in grief. We must be careful what we pray for and what we wish upon men, lest it come true and it is not actually what we want.

Psa 55:16 As for me, I will call on God. Yahweh will save me-
The tone of the Psalm changes; see on :18. The idea of Yahweh's saving is 'Yehoshua', 'Jesus'. David was coming to faith in the essence of the yet future Lord Jesus.

Psa 55:17 Evening, morning, and at noon, I will cry out in distress; He will hear my voice-
David's first waking moments were naturally of prayer to God. And this is our pattern. He often mentions his habit of regular prayer morning and evening (Ps. 5:3; 55:17; 59:16; 88:3; 119:147). This  should not have to be enforced upon us, but rather the natural outcome of a life lived in constant connection with God. David perceived that the Mosaic ritual of morning and evening sacrifice taught the sacrifice of prayer should be made in daily life, even though at the time of many of the Psalms, David was exiled from the sanctuary. This exile from organized religion led him to make this connection, as it can for us too.

Psa 55:18 He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, although there are many who oppose me-
The tone of the Psalm changes from desperate begging for help, to confidence that God has heard him. This may have been because of some direct Divine revelation; but I suggest rather it is what happens in our prayers. Within the prayer we ourselves become persuaded of God's answer and find peace and confidence in Him.

Psa 55:19 God, who is enthroned forever, will hear, and answer them. Selah. They never change, those who don’t fear God-
God's eternal kingship perhaps suggests that at some time, these people will come to judgment. For God is sitting as eternal judge, and those who will not change or repent will be judged by Him. At what time that will be- isn't the issue. They will come to judgment.

Psa 55:20 He raises his hands against his friends, he has violated his covenant-
The individual in view is surely Ahithophel. The covenant in view is presumably that with God; for there is no evidence he had made a covenant with David. But to raise our hand against our brother, to hate our brother, is to break covenant with God- as the New Testament is clear. Mal. 2:10 uses the same phrase to break or violate the covenant- and again says we do so if we deal treacherously with our brother.

Psa 55:21 His mouth was smooth as butter, but his heart was war. His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords-
This laments how words can not reflect the true state of a man’s heart. So why, then, is there so much emphasis on spoken words as the basis for judgment to come? Surely it is that although thoughts will also be judged, and the hypocrites revealed for who they are, it doesn’t follow that a good man sometimes uses ‘corrupt speech’. It’s impossible. A good man cannot bring forth bad words. But a bad man can sometimes bring forth words which seem good on the surface, but which are in fact counterfeit. But it can’t happen another way- a good man’s words aren’t just his surface level sin.

"Smooth" or slippery is the language used of God's confirmation of Judah in their sinful way (Jer. 23:12 = Ps. 35:6); whichever path we choose, we are confirmed in. Those who are of a slippery tongue (Ps. 55:21 s.w.) will be confirmed in this; they will, as it were, slip headlong into condemnation. Their own chosen way is their judgment.

Psa 55:22 Cast your burden on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be moved-
David in his earlier Psalms exalts and boasts to God that his feet have not slipped, indeed he was overly confident that his feet would never slip / "be moved" (Ps. 17:5; 21:7; 55:22; 62:2,6; 125:1). His more mature reflection is that he had wrongly said "I shall never slip [AV "be moved"]" (Ps. 30:6), and his feet had indeed slipped, not least over the Bathsheba incident (Ps. 38:16; 94:18). Solomon didn't learn this lesson, for he likewise assumed that the righteous would never be moved / slip (Prov. 10:30), although he appears to accept that even a righteous man like his father had indeed slipped (Prov. 25:26). And Solomon himself did so, not learning the lesson from his father's mistaken assumption that the righteous can never slip.

Psa 55:23 But You, God, will bring them down into the pit of destruction-
Remember that this is prayed at the time of Absalom's rebellion; David  prayed that his enemies be cast into a pit. But when this happens to Absalom (2 Sam. 18:17), David is heartbroken. Clearly his prayers were uttered in a flush of hot blood, and remain a powerful reminder to think about what we are asking for, and be properly motivated in our requests. For in essence, we receive what we ask for.

Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days, but I will trust in You
- David's prayer of repentance and request to be saved from "blood guiltiness" (Ps. 51:14) is literally 'from blood'. He was a man of blood and was guilty of Uriah's innocent blood. David had asked for 'men of blood' to be slain (Ps. 55:23 s.w.), those who had taken the blood of the innocent (Ps. 94:21), and for 'men of blood' to be expelled from his presence (Ps. 139:19). And here David is writing after his sin with Bathsheba. God was trying to teach David that he was the type of person whom he condemned. And yet it is unclear if he learned that lesson. He asks not only for deliverance, but for judgment upon his enemies, and seems to take comfort in the prospect of their destruction. This is hardly the spirit of the Lord Jesus. Solomon liberally condemns the man who sheds innocent blood (Prov. 6:17; 28:17), refusing to recognize that his much lauded father had done just this, and was only saved by grace and not by any obedience to wisdom. There is so little grace in the book of Solomon's Proverbs because Solomon had failed to perceive the grace shown to his father.