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.
Possibly this psalm was sung to a melody known as “Do Not Destroy.” As there is 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 59 is ascribed to David. The composition relates to the time when King Saul endeavored to slay him. After avoiding King Saul’s spear, David fled to his home. Saul then sent men to watch David’s house, with the aim of killing him in the morning. Michal, David’s wife, helped him to get out of the house through a window and to make his escape under the cover of darkness. (1 Samuel 19:10-12)
The enemies would have been King Saul’s supporters who were willing to slay David and, from them, he prayed to be delivered. It is from these enemies or men who rose up against him that David needed divine protection.
When seeking to kill David, his foes revealed themselves to be “workers of trouble” or evil (“lawlessness,” LXX) and “men of blood” or bloodshed. From them, he prayed to be delivered and saved.
These men were lying in wait for (“hunted” or “chased after,” LXX) David’s soul or life, watching for just the right opportunity. They were “strong” or “fierce.” As to their action, the Hebrew term gur has been understood to mean “stir up strife,” “gather together” or “attack.” They were without any justification for their actions, for (as he could say with a clear conscience before YHWH) it was not for his transgression (“lawlessness,” LXX) and not for his sin.
Although no guilt existed that would have warranted hostile action against him, his foes did “run” and “ready” themselves. They hastened to do him injury and were fully prepared to do so. The Septuagint conveys a different sense. “Without lawlessness [free from lawlessness], I ran and kept straight.”
On account of the grave danger he faced, David prayed for God to rouse himself (as if waking up from sleep to act) and to draw near and see, probably meaning to come to his rescue having taken note of his peril.
At this point, David included all of God’s people as needing divine aid. “And you, YHWH God of hosts, God of Israel, awake [take action] to visit [judgment upon] all the nations. Show no favor to any who treacherously cause trouble.” The treacherous ones may be those who were intent on killing David. The Septuagint refers to them as those practicing lawlessness.
The enemies that surrounded David’s house acted like a dog, barking and prowling at night while searching for food. David referred to them as returning in the evening, barking like a dog and going around the city. According to the Septuagint, they would be famished or hungry like a dog.
These foes would “gush forth” vicious speech with their mouth. The words that passed their lips were injurious like swords. Apparently to themselves, they said, “Who hears?” This question appears to imply that they did not believe God heard them. So they had no fear of being called to account.
YHWH, however, did hear their words. David confidently looked to his God to frustrate the plots of his foes, laughing at them for foolishly believing that their schemes would succeed. Furthermore, YHWH would deride all nations (all those plotting against his people), not allowing them to attain their unworthy objectives and thereby mocking them.
The psalmist looked to YHWH as his strength, the one who would protect, support, and sustain him. He would continue to “watch” for his God, waiting for him to come to his aid, for he recognized him to be his retreat or refuge.
David knew his God as having compassionate concern or steadfast love, and was confident that he would meet him with a favorable response in his time of distress. According to the Septuagint, God’s mercy would go before David. The reference to David’s looking on his enemies indicates that he would see God’s judgment executed upon them.
The psalmist’s appeal for God not to slay his enemies seems to mean that he did not want them to come to their end swiftly, as that could have meant that his people might quickly forget that YHWH’s judgment had been executed. Swift action would have provided little opportunity for thoughtful reflection about the seriousness of the situation and the desperate need for divine intervention. Often, events that pass quickly give rise to immediate emotional excitement but are soon forgotten. According to fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, the reason for not killing them is that they not forget God’s law.
David petitioned that God would use his power to make them wander (“scatter them,” LXX). This could refer to their being deprived of their home and reduced to the state of helpless fugitives. Identifying God as the “shield” or “protector” of his people, David prayed that he “bring down” the enemies, which could signify reducing them to a low state.
The foes had made themselves guilty of misusing the gift of speech. For “the sin of their mouth, the word of their lips,” God should let them be trapped in their pride. They had arrogantly thought that not even God heard them, and that arrogance should prove to be their downfall, as if caught in a net. Instead of wishing others well and speaking truth, they uttered imprecation and falsehood.
Twice David petitioned that God, in expressing his anger, would bring these enemies to an end until they ceased to be. The desired effect from the execution of divine judgment against them would be that people, to the ends of the earth or beyond the borders of Israel, would know or come to recognize that God ruled over Jacob (his people Israel). There is also a possibility that the Hebrew could be understood to mean that God ruled over Jacob and to the ends of the earth. A number of translations have adopted this meaning. “Then people will know God rules over Jacob, yes, even to the ends of the earth.” (NAB) “Then everyone will know that God rules in Israel, that his rule extends over all the earth.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Then they will know that God rules over Israel and to the ends of the earth.” (NCV)
In verse 14(15), the words of verse 6(7), comparing the foes to a barking dog, are repeated. The next verse expands on the description. The foes wander or roam about like scavenger dogs, searching for food. If they do not get satisfied, they howl.
As for David, he looked to his God as his strength, his sustainer and protector. To him, he would sing praise in the morning or at the start of the day, and he would laud him for his steadfast love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX). David would do so because God had proved to be an unassailable height for him and a refuge in the day or time of his distress.
David looked to God as his strength (his “helper,” LXX), his sustainer and protector. To him, he would continue to sing praises. God was his unassailable height (his “protector,” LXX), the God who manifested steadfast love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX).
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
Verses 5(6) and 13(14) end with the Hebrew expression “selah,” the significance of which is uncertain. In the Septuagint, “selah” is rendered diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”