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 the Hebrew expression.
The words “with stringed instruments” could indicate that only strings (and no wind and percussion instruments) were to accompany the singing. The Septuagint, however, does not include this point but has the words en hymnois (among hymns).
There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew expression “maskil.” For this reason, translators commonly transliterate the term. In the Septuagint, the corresponding term is synéseos, meaning “of understanding” or “of intelligence.”
Psalm 55 is ascribed to David. Verses 12 through 14 (13-15) appear to describe the treachery of Ahithophel, David’s trusted counselor who supported Absalom in his efforts to seize the throne. (2 Samuel 15:31; 16:15-23) During the time his son Absalom plotted to become king, David found himself in a perilous situation, finally forcing him and his supporters to flee from Jerusalem and to seek refuge on the east side of the Jordan.
In his distress, David asked God to give ear to his prayer and not hide himself from his supplication (as would one who did not wish to be approached with a plea). According to the Septuagint, he prayed that God would not disregard his supplication.
The seriousness of David’s circumstances is apparent from the basic repetition of his appeal for God to turn his attention to him and to answer him.
As he thought about his situation, David was plunged into a state of restlessness. On account of the “voice” of the enemy, he felt uneasy. The “voice of the enemy” may have been the clamor for a change in the kingship or talk directed against David and designed to erode his support. He was also distraught by the oppressive stance of the wicked. Their treasonous activity would have been very stressful for David. The trouble they brought upon him probably included slander. In their anger, they harbored animosity against him. According to the Septuagint, his meditation grieved him and he became disturbed or troubled “from the voice of the enemy and from the affliction of the sinner.” This affliction could refer to the trouble the ungodly one caused.
Within David, his heart or deep inner self proved to be in anguish in view of the serious threat the revolt of his subjects posed. David knew that Absalom would not shrink back from attacking Jerusalem with superior forces, and this may have been why he felt that the “terrors of death” had fallen upon him. (Compare 2 Samuel 15:13, 14.) It seemingly appeared to him that death was closing in upon him.
David found himself in a state of fear and trembling. Horror overwhelmed him, covering him like raging floodwaters.
He longed to be liberated from the distressing situation, wishing that he had the wings of a dove. This would make it possible for him to fly away to a place where he could have rest. He would prefer to leave the comforts of the palace, fleeing far off and staying in the wilderness.
Support for Absalom continued to grow, and a violent revolt against David appeared imminent. It appears that this threatening situation is the “raging wind and tempest” from which David sought to find shelter.
He prayed that God would “destroy” (or confound) and confuse the “tongue” or speech of those who opposed him. This could mean that he wanted the Most High to cause them to disagree with one another and thus to prevent swift and unified action.
In the city of Jerusalem, David observed violence or “lawlessness” (LXX) and strife. This may have suggested to him that the followers of Absalom were not united. Therefore, any intensification of or increase in the divisions existing among them would have benefited David.
As if they were guards, violence and strife, by day and by night, made their rounds on the walls of Jerusalem. Inside the city, trouble (“lawlessness,” LXX), mischief (“trouble,” LXX), and disasters (ruinous elements or forces; “injustice,” LXX) could be seen. In the broad open places, usually near the city gates, oppression and fraud never departed. This suggests that a high level of corruption existed.
The one who had not been an enemy of David appears to have been his trusted counselor Ahithophel who chose to side with Absalom. It would have been much easier for David to have put up with the reviling or reproaching of an enemy, as that would have been expected. But when a trusted friend proves to be treacherous, this is very painful. If a hateful foe had magnified or vaunted himself against him, David could have taken steps to hide himself, shielding himself from being subjected to such a one’s direct attacks. Also, the words of a hateful foe would be given far less credence than those of a close companion who severed the relationship. It would be much more difficult to “hide” from the former friend’s slander.
Directing his words to the treacherous one, David said, “It [is] you, a man, my equal [one like myself or a peer], an intimate [my guide, LXX], my [close] acquaintance.” Together, the two of them had enjoyed sweet fellowship and walked with the throng at God’s house, sharing in worship at the sanctuary. According to the Septuagint, they walked at God’s house “in concord.”
David next evidently included all who desired to overthrow him, voicing the thought that they would face retribution. The implication is that God be the one to let death overtake them, causing them to go into Sheol (the realm of the dead) alive or prematurely. This judgment would be deserved, because evils proved to be in their habitation, in their midst.
David determined to continue calling upon YHWH for help, confident that he would deliver him. At the start of the new day in the evening, upon awaking the next morning, and at noon, he would voice his complaint or concern and moan. David did not waver in his belief that God would hear him.
He believed that YHWH would redeem or deliver him (his “soul”) in peace or in an unharmed state from the raging battle. This would be despite the fact that many had arrayed themselves against him. Another meaning of the Hebrew is that many were with David. The Tanakh, for example, has rendered the verse (19), “He redeems me unharmed from the battle against me; it is as though many are on my side.”
David did not doubt that God would “hear.” The Hebrew text does not supply an object. Numerous translations have added “me,” meaning the psalmist. Others have rendered the passage to mean that God would hear what the ungodly were saying and would humble them. According to still another rendering, God would hear the godly and would answer them. The Septuagint says, “God will hear, and he will humble them.” It would appear that the words are best understood as indicating that, in response to David’s prayer (or that of the godly, including the psalmist), God would humble the lawless ones, bringing about their defeat.
In this context, the reference to God’s being “enthroned from of old” probably relates to his being seated as judge. The Septuagint says of him that he “has existed from eternity.” Adverse judgment would be rendered against rebellious ones because they would not change and did not fear God.
It seems that the focus next is again on Ahithophel. He stretched out his hands against persons who were at peace with him, acting without any justification. In this manner, he profaned or violated the covenant of friendship. The Septuagint says, “He has stretched out his hand in retribution; they have profaned his covenant.” This reading suggests that the Most High extended his hand against those guilty of violating his covenant.
The words of Ahithophel’s mouth were smooth like butter, giving no hint of anything hateful or injurious. In reality, however, his heart or deep inner self was intent on war. (See the Notes section for the Septuagint rendering of verse 21.) Though appearing softer than oil, his words were comparable to drawn swords, ready to inflict injury.
Apparently based on his own experience in the past, David encouraged all bearers of a lot (“anxiety,” LXX) of distress to cast it upon YHWH, committing their care or burden to him, and he would sustain them. For all time to come, YHWH would not allow the upright one to be shaken, experiencing a fall from which recovery would be impossible.
As for the ungodly rebels, David confidently declared that God would bring them down to the lowest pit. They, the men guilty of bloodshed and treachery, would perish prematurely, not living out half their days. Unwavering in his faith in God, David declared, “I will trust in you.”
The Hebrew expression “selah” (the meaning of which is uncertain) appears at the end of verses 7(8) and 19(20). In the Septuagint, the term is rendered diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”
In the Septuagint, the first part of verse 21(22) reads, “They were divided by the wrath of his face, and his heart drew near.” This could mean that, in his wrath, God scattered the ungodly when his “heart” or he himself drew near to render judgment.