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Psalm 55

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Prayer for the Destruction of the Treacherous
MT Intro
For the choir director on stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.
Trust in God Concerning the Treachery of Friends A Prayer For Deliverance From Personal Enemies The Prayer of Someone Betrayed by a Friend Prayer When Slandered
55:1-3 55:1-3 55:1-3 55:1-3 55:1-2b
        55:2c-3
55:4-8 55:4-8 55:4-8 55:4-9a 55:4-5
        55:6-7
        55:8-9b
55:9-11 55:9-11 55:9-11 55:9b-11 55:9c-10a
        55:10b-11
55:12-15 55:12-14 55:12-15 55:12-15 55:12
        55:13-14b
        55:14c-15
  55:15      
55:16-21 55:16-19 55:16-19 55:16-19 55:16-17b
        55:17c-18
        55:19
  55:20-21 55:20-21 55:20-21 55:20-21
55:22-23 55:22 55:22 55:22 55:22
  55:23 55:23 55:23 55:23a-b
        55:23c

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:1-3
 1Give ear to my prayer, O God;
 And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
 2Give heed to me and answer me;
 I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted,
 3Because of the voice of the enemy,
 Because of the pressure of the wicked;
 For they bring down trouble upon me
 And in anger they bear a grudge against me.

55:1-3 This, like many Psalms in this section, deals with personal attacks. This Psalm is particularly painful because the assailants are friends (cf. Ps. 55:12-14).

There are several imperatives of request, one jussive, and two cohortatives.

1. give ear — BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative, cf. Ps. 5:1; 17:1; 39:12; 49:1; 54:2, etc.

2. do not hide Yourself — BDB 761, KB 834, Hithpael imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 10:1; Lam. 3:56

3. give heed — BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative, cf. Ps. 5:2; 10:17; 17:1; 61:1; 86:6; 142:6

4. answer me — BDB 772, KB 851, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 4:1; 13:3; 17:6; 38:15; 60:5; 69:13,16,17; 86:1, etc.

5. I am restless — BDB 923, KB 1194, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

a. rare word used only four times, only here in Wisdom Literature; its meaning is unsure

b. it is also possible to take this word as "moan," BDB 242, cf. Ps. 55:18; 42:12; 43:5; 77:4; JPSOA

c. NKJV tries to combine both options with "moan (BDB 242) noisily" (BDB 223)

6. I am surely distracted (lit. "be noisy") — BDB 223, KB 242, Hiphil cohortative, cf. LXX

The reasons for the psalmist's cry for help is given in Ps. 55:4.

1. because of the voice of my enemy

2. because of the pressure of the wicked

3. for they bring down (NET Bible suggests "rain down," cf. Ps. 140:10) upon me

4. for in anger they bear a grudge against me

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:4-8
 4My heart is in anguish within me,
 And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
 5Fear and trembling come upon me,
 And horror has overwhelmed me.
 6I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
 I would fly away and be at rest.
 7Behold, I would wander far away,
 I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.
 8I would hasten to my place of refuge
 From the stormy wind and tempest."

55:4-8 This strophe describes how the psalmist feels (hyperbolic language) about the attacks of his adversaries.

1. my heart is in anguish within me — BDB 296, KB 297, Qal imperfect, from root for pain in childbirth

2. the terrors of death have fallen upon me — BDB 956, KB 709, Qal perfect, cf. Ps. 18:4-5; 116:3

3. fear and trembling come upon me — BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperfect

4. horror has overwhelmed me — BDB 491, KB 487, Piel imperfect with waw, cf. Isa. 21:4; Ezek. 7:18

In light of these fears he tells what he would like to do to escape them (figurative language).

1. O that I had (lit. "give") wings like a dove — BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. I would fly away — BDB 733, KB 800, Qal cohortative

3. I would be at rest — BDB 1014, KB 1496, Qal cohortative

4. I would wander far away — BDB 934, KB 1221, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

5. I would lodge in the wilderness — BDB 533, KB 529, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

6. I would hasten to my place of refuge — BDB 301, KB 300, Hiphil cohortative

a. raging wind — BDB 703 (only here)

b. tempest — BDB 704

 

55:4 "heart" See Special Topic at Psalm 4:7.

▣ "the terrors of death" Death is fearful to fallen mankind (cf. Ps. 18:4-5; 116:3), but God is in control of death and will bring it to an end (cf. Isa. 25:8; Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:50-57; 2 Tim. 1:10).

55:7 "Selah" See note at Psalm 3:2 and Intro. to Psalms, VII.

55:8 "place of refuge" The noun (BDB 812) occurs only here and Psalm 18:2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:9-11
  9Confuse, O Lord, divide their tongues,
 For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
 10Day and night they go around her upon her walls,
 And iniquity and mischief are in her midst.
 11Destruction is in her midst;
 Oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets. 

55:9-11 This strophe continues the prayer request of Ps. 55:1-2.

1. confuse (lit. "swallow up," i.e., "destroy) — BDB 118, KB 134, Piel imperative; this root could be used in the sense of "confuse," cf. Ps. 107:27; Isa. 3:12; 9:16; 19:3; 28:7

2. divide their tongues — BDB 811, KB 928, Piel imperative; this may be an allusion to Genesis 11:1-9.

Both #1 and #2 are prayers to disrupt/thwart the plans and schemes of the psalmist's enemies. Apparently they were causing trouble within the hometown of the psalmist (if David, then Jerusalem). They are political enemies!

1. I have seen violence in the city

2. I have seen strife in the city

3. day and night they go around her upon her walls

4. iniquity is in her midst

5. mischief is in her midst

6. oppression does not depart her streets (lit. plaza, BDB 932)

7. deceit does not depart her streets (lit, plaza/market place)

Numbers 3; 4; 5 may be an allusion to watchmen on the walls. In this case the watchmen are iniquity and mischief!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:12-15
 12For it is not an enemy who reproaches me,
 Then I could bear it;
 Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me,
 Then I could hide myself from him.
 13But it is you, a man my equal,
 My companion and my familiar friend;
 14We who had sweet fellowship together
 Walked in the house of God in the throng.
 15Let death come deceitfully upon them;
 Let them go down alive to Sheol,
 For evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.

55:12-15 This strophe identified those causing the trouble as the psalmist's acquaintances.

1. It is not an enemy who reproaches me — I could bear it.

2. It is not one who hates me — I could hide from him.

3. It is not one who exalted himself against me (cf. Ps. 35:26; 38:16; Job 19:5) — I could hide from him.

4. It is you, a man

a. my equal

b. my companion

c. my familiar friend

5. We had sweet fellowship together.

6. We walked in the house of God together.

The psalmist reacts to their treachery.

1. Let death come deceitfully upon them — Qere, BDB 674, KB 728, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. Let them go down to Sheol — BDB 432, KB 434, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense; for Sheol see Special Topic at Ps. 1:6.

3. The reason for the psalmist's desire for their judgment:

a. evil in their dwelling place (BDB 158)

b. evil is in their midst

Since #3 does not parallel #2 well, there has been suggestion for emendation to "habitation."

a. "go in terror to their graves"

b. "go in terror to the pit" (i.e., "storehouse" in the ground)

 

55:14

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV, REB"the throng"
NJB"then they recoil in disorder"

The Hebrew word (BDB 921) is rare, used only three times in the OT.

1. the nations are in an uproar, cf. Ps. 2:1

2. a noisy, festival crowd in the temple, cf. Ps. 55:14

3. the tumult of those who do iniquity, cf. Ps. 64:2

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:16-21
 16As for me, I shall call upon God,
 And the Lord will save me.
 17Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur,
 And He will hear my voice.
 18He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me,
 For they are many who strive with me.
 19God will hear and answer them—
 Even the one who sits enthroned from of old—  Selah.
 With whom there is no change,
 And who do not fear God.
 20He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him;
 He has violated his covenant.
 21His speech was smoother than butter,
 But his heart was war;
 His words were softer than oil,
 Yet they were drawn swords.

55:16-21 This strophe describes what God will do for/against

1. the psalmist

2. his betrayers

Verse 19 is both a description of God (i.e., who sits enthroned from of old, cf. Ps. 45:6; 93:2; Lam. 5:19) and the adversaries (i.e., who do not change). The confusion arises because this second phrase could apply to God (cf. Matt. 3:6), but here it refers to the unchanging evil hearts of the psalmist's enemies.

Verses 16-19a give the psalmist's prayers and God's response.

1. I shall call upon God — BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. YHWH will save me — BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil imperfect

3. I will complain — BDB 967, KB 1319, Qal cohortative, cf. Ps. 64:1; 142:2; this root can mean "meditate," cf. Ps. 119:15,23,27,148

4. I will murmur — BDB 242, KB 250, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

5. He will hear my voice — BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperfect with waw

6. He will redeem my soul from the battle — BDB 804, KB 911, Qal perfect, see Special Topic at Ps. 19:14

7. God will hear, Ps. 55:19a — BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperfect

In verse 19b God will answer the adversaries (in the sense of, "give them what they deserve" — BDB 772, KB 851, Qal imperfect; this root can mean "answer" or "afflict." We reap what we sow! Verses 19c-21 describe their hearts and actions (collective "he," cf. Ps. 55:18c).

1. there is no change (no verb)

2. they do not fear God

3. they put forth their hands against those who were at peace

4. they violated the covenant

5. they have smooth speech but have war in their hearts

6. their soft words are like drawn swords

All the verbs in #2-6 are perfects, denoting a settled attitude of hate and rebellion.

55:17 "evening and morning and at noon" The day begins at evening for ancient Israelites because of Gen. 1:5,8,13,19,23,31. The "at noon" implies a later time when Judaism had three prayer times (cf. Dan. 6:10):

1. at the time of the morning sacrifice (about 9 a.m.)

2. noon

3. at the time of the evening sacrifice (about 3 p.m.)

It is surely possible that the phrase is an idiom for "continually."

55:19 "Selah" See note at Psalm 3:2 and Intro. to Psalms, VII.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 55:22-23
 22Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you;
 He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
 23But You, O God, will bring them down to the pit of destruction;
 Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days.
 But I will trust in You.

55:22-23 This final strophe is a contrast of what God will do for the faithful follower and against the faithless friend(s).

1. the faithful follower

a. the psalmist admonishes them to cast (BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil imperative) their burden (i.e., "lot," BDB 396, only here and Ps. 37:5) upon YHWH (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7)

b. follow the psalmist's example, "I will trust in You"

2. the faithless friend(s)

a. bring them down to the pit of destruction

b. men of bloodshed and deceit will live only half their allotted days

In light of the trust of the faithful, YHWH will

1. sustain them — BDB 465, KB 463, Pilpel imperfect, cf. Ruth 4:15; Neh. 9:21

2. never allow them to be shaken — BDB 557, cf. Ps. 125:1; Pro. 10:30

Remember this Psalm describes the pain of betrayal and the many nights of prayer and discouragement at the actions of faithless friend(s). These last verses are not a promise of lack of problems but of YHWH's presence and care. In the end all will be set straight. We live in a fallen world, unfair and ungodly world. Believers suffer and are treated badly but there is more to life than the immediate circumstances!

One last comment, it is not certain who is speaking in this strophe and, therefore, to whom they are speaking.

1. a priest or prophet hears the psalmist and responds to him

2. the psalmist is speaking to

a. himself

b. his readers

c. others hurt by friends

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who are the enemies? Why are their actions so painful to the psalmist?

2. Describe the psalmist's feelings. (cf. Ps. 55:4-8)

3. How do verses 9-11 fit into this Psalm? What city is it referring to?

4. What is the problem in interpreting verse 19?

5. Put in your own words the kind of person verse 21 is talking about.

6. Who is speaking verses 22-23 and to whom?

7. List God's actions in verses 22-23.