Psalm 64

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The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

Psalm 64 is ascribed to David. The kind of secretive plotting described in this composition would fit the developments during the time of Absalom’s revolt.

David pleaded for God to hear or listen to his voice, expressing his distress, and to protect his life (“deliver my soul,” LXX) from the dread of the enemy. This dread could refer to the terrifying harm his foes were bent on inflicting upon him or the fear aroused within David because they sought to kill him. He prayed to be concealed from the vicious plotting of the wicked, from the “tumult” (“multitude,” LXX) of evildoers or from an unruly mob in a state of agitation. According to the reading of the Septuagint, God had sheltered him from the tumultuous gathering of evildoers, from the multitude of those practicing lawlessness.

To inflict harm, these ungodly ones had sharpened their tongues like a sword and aimed their bitter words like an arrow. Their slanderous words were deadly. As the ungodly engaged in their plotting and slandering in secret, the psalmist referred to their shooting at the blameless one from a concealed place, suddenly shooting at him without any sense of fear. They had no fear of God or any apprehension of being held accountable for their corrupt words and actions.

The Hebrew term davár basically means “word.” Depending on context, however, it can denote “matter,” “affair,” “cause,” and “reason.” The ungodly ones held firmly to an evil word or the hateful scheme they had formulated. They would talk of secretly laying snares, thinking, “Who can see them?” The question may be understood to mean that they thought they would succeed, as no one would be able to see the traps they had cleverly put in place. According to the Syriac, the question is, “Who can see us?” This question suggested that not even God would see them and, therefore, they had no concern about a day of reckoning.

They would “search out” badness. This could mean that they thought extensively about how to attain their base objectives. According to a literal reading of the Hebrew, the verse 6(7) continues, “They completed a searched-out search; and inward part of man and heart—deep.” This could mean that they finished a diligent search respecting their unworthy aim, and that all those involved gave more than surface attention to the plotting. With reference to their scheming, their “inward part and heart” proved to be deep, not shallow in the formulation of their devious plan.

Translators have variously rendered this obscure verse (6[7]). “Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot. For the human heart and mind are deep.” (NRSV) “They devise wicked schemes, conceal the schemes they devise; the designs of their hearts are hidden.” (NAB) “They plot injustice and say, ‘We have devised a perfect plan!’ Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning.” (NIV) “Let the wrongdoings they have concealed, each one inside him, his secret thoughts, be wholly exposed.” (Tanakh) “They search out iniquities, they have accomplished a diligent search; even in the inward thought of every one, and the deep heart.” (Margolis) (See the Notes section for additional comments.)

The psalmist confidently looked to the time when the lawless plotters would be punished. God would shoot an arrow at them. Suddenly, when they least expected it, they would be wounded.

According to the Masoretic Text, the opening of verse 8(9) reads, “They will bring him to ruin,” but this does fit well with the context. Translators have interpretively rendered the verse in various ways. “Because of their tongue he [God] will bring them to ruin.” (NRSV) “They will be brought down by their own tongues.” (NAB) “So they make their own tongue a stumbling unto themselves.” (Margolis) “Their tongue shall be their downfall.” (Tanakh) “He [God] will turn their own tongues against them.” (NIV) The misuse of their tongue would prove to be their ruin. All who would see them or who would witness the divine retribution they experienced would wag their heads scornfully.

All earthlings who would learn about the fate of the wicked would come to have a wholesome fear of God. They would relate the “work of God,” speaking about how he had punished the lawless ones, and consider his deed or reflect seriously about his having executed justice.

The righteous would rejoice in YHWH, finding joy in their relationship with him. They would look to him as their refuge (“hope upon him,” LXX) or their dependable source of protection and help. All those “upright in heart” or in their deep inner selves would boast or glory in YHWH, evidently because of all he would do for them in their time of need. According to the Septuagint, “all the upright of heart will be praised.”

Notes:

In verse 7, the Hebrew word tamám means “to finish,” “to complete.” The rendering “conceal” is based on reading the Hebrew as a form of the word tamán, meaning “to hide” or “to conceal.”

In verse 7(8), the Septuagint reads, “And God will be exalted. An arrow of babes became their plagues.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 8(9) is, “Their tongues utterly weakened upon them; all who saw them were troubled.” Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus reads, “Their tongues utterly weakened him.”

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.