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 pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.
Possibly this psalm was sung to a melody known as “Do Not Destroy.” As there is a considerable measure of uncertainty about this, a number of translations have chosen to transliterate the Hebrew expression—“al tashheth” (Tanakh) and “Al-tashheth” (Margolis).
The Hebrew term commonly transliterated Miktam is rendered stelographía (inscription) in the Septuagint. This meaning of the Greek, however, is not necessarily the significance of the Hebrew word.
Psalm 57 is ascribed to David, the circumstance being “when he fled from the face of [presence of] Saul into the cave.” This cave may have been the one in the wilderness of En-gedi, for there Saul came to be in a situation where David could have taken his life. (Compare Psalm 57:6 with 1 Samuel 24:1-12.)
His “soul” or he himself having taken refuge in God, David twice pleaded to be shown favor or mercy. This appeal for mercy was a cry for aid in his time of distress. As fledglings find protection under the wings of a mother bird, so David took refuge “in the shadow” of God’s “wings” until such time as the disasters (“evil,” “iniquity,” or “lawlessness,” LXX) would pass.
His cry is directed to God Most High, the one who is highly exalted. David acknowledged his God as the one who “brought to an end” or “completed” for him. Perhaps the thought of the Hebrew is that the Most High provided what David needed. According to the Septuagint, God had benefited him.
From heaven, his dwelling place, he would send to rescue David. The Most High would put to shame or bring to naught those trampling on his servant, treating him in a harsh and humiliating manner.
David was confident that God would send forth or manifest his compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) and his “truth.” In this context, “truth” probably denotes God’s faithfulness or dependability, which would be revealed in his effecting David’s deliverance.
David’s “soul” or he himself felt as though he was in the midst of lions or enemies intent on killing him. According to the Septuagint, God “had rescued his soul from the midst of [lions’] whelps.” Whereas the Hebrew appears to indicate that David was lying among “sons of man” or earthlings who were “ablaze” (possibly meaning driven by intense hostility), the Septuagint says, “I lay down, troubled.” Of his foes, David indicated that their teeth were like spears and arrows. They were like ferocious beasts of prey, ready to tear in pieces and devour. Their tongues proved to be as harmful as a sharp sword, apparently when spewing forth slander and hateful speech.
Directing his focus on the one who could help him in his distress, David prayed that God be exalted over the heavens and that his glory be over all the earth. This exaltation may have reference to God’s revealing himself as the one who could effect an awe-inspiring deliverance, thereby also manifesting his glory or splendor wherever in the “earth” or land news about his saving acts would be heard.
David’s foes were intent on trapping him, their scheme being comparable to spreading out a net to entangle his feet. When speaking of his soul as being “bowed down,” he may have meant that he was deeply distressed and disheartened. The enemies had dug a pit for him, but they ended up falling into it themselves. Possibly the allusion is to Saul’s intent on seizing David and killing him but inadvertently coming to be in a situation where David could easily have killed him. To relieve himself, Saul entered the very cave where David and his men were hiding. While Saul was relieving himself, David stealthily drew near and cut off a piece of his garment. (1 Samuel 24:3-12)
When referring to his heart as being steadfast or firm, David probably meant that, in his deep inner self, he did not doubt that God would come to his rescue. His singing and making melody would apparently have been prompted by having experienced divine deliverance.
He addressed his “glory” or everything that was noble or honorable about himself, telling his glory to “awake.” He also called upon the harp and lyre to awake, evidently so that music might resound to God’s praise. Possibly, on account of beginning to praise his God early in the morning to the accompaniment of music, David spoke of awakening the dawn. According to the Septuagint, he would awaken early in the morning.
David would not confine himself to private expressions of thanksgiving and praise for what his God had done for him. He purposed to give thanks to God among the peoples and to sing praises to him among the nations.
He would give thanks and sing praises because God’s compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) proved to be great, as if reaching the heavens, and his “truth” extended up to the clouds. In this case, “truth” probably is to be understood as meaning dependability, trustworthiness, or faithfulness. Of such unsurpassing greatness were God’s compassionate care and dependability that they could be spoken of as being as high as the celestial dome.
The psalm concludes with a repetition of verse 5(6). “O God, be exalted above the heavens. [May] your glory [be] over all the earth.” Through his marvelous acts of deliverance, he would reveal himself to be the highly exalted one, the one whose glory or magnificence would be talked about throughout the earth or land.
Note: Verse 3(4) includes the term “selah” after “trample on me.” The term also appears at the end of verse 6(7). There is considerable uncertainty about the significance of this expression. In the Septuagint, “selah” is rendered diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”