There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew designation natsách, commonly understood to mean “musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is, “to the end.” 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). On account of uncertainty regarding the meaning of the expression “maskil,” translators commonly transliterate it. In the Septuagint, the corresponding term is a form of synesis, meaning “understanding” or “intelligence.”
During the time David was fleeing from King Saul, men of the city of Ziph in the mountainous region of Judah on two occasions informed the monarch of his location in the surrounding wilderness. (1 Samuel 23:14, 15, 19, 20; 26:1) According to the superscription, their treacherous action toward David occasioned this composition. Their report to Saul is framed in the form of a question like the one recorded in 1 Samuel 23:19 and 26:1.
David’s military successes became the subject of song, with more credit being given to him than to the king. As a result, Saul become insanely distrustful and filled with jealous hatred. (1 Samuel 18:7-9) He determined to kill David and began to chase after him relentlessly. On account of what the Ziphites did in telling Saul of his whereabouts, David was in grave danger. His appeal was for God to save him. The expression “by your name” is evidently to be regarded as meaning on the basis of God’s reputation as the defender and deliverer of those loyal to him.
David pleaded for the Most High to use his might in acting on his behalf. With reference to David, the Hebrew term din could either signify to “plead [or, defend] his cause” or to “execute judgment” on his behalf. In the Septuagint, the verb kríno basically means “judge,” but may also denote “plead for” or “render a fair judgment for.” In the case of the Hebrew word, translators have commonly used “defend” or “vindicate.” “By your strength defend my cause” (NAB), “vindicate me by your might” (NIV, NRSV), and “by Your power vindicate me” (Tanakh). Because David found himself in the weak position of a fugitive, he relied on God’s might to effect vindication, saving him from an untimely death and thereby revealing him to have been in the right. On account of the grave situation, David pleaded for God to “hear” or respond favorably to him and to grant a listening ear to the words he spoke.
The “strangers” who had risen up against David doubtless were the Ziphites, as he had no relationship with them. Those seeking his “soul” or life would have been King Saul and his supporters. According to the Septuagint, they were “strong” (krataiós). The Hebrew adjective (‘aríts) may be understood to mean “fierce,” “ruthless,” or “cruel,” which would fit them as unrelenting pursuers of David.
They apparently gave no thought to God’s view of their hateful course. Therefore, David referred to them as not placing God in front of them.
As a man of faith, David acknowledged God as his helper, the One who would come to his aid in times of need. According to the Masoretic Text, the Lord is also “among” those supporting David’s soul or “with” them. If the preposition signifies “among,” this would mean that the Most High was the prominent one among others who provided support. The preposition “with” would indicate that those supporting David had divine backing. While David’s “soul” could refer to his “life,” likely the expression denotes David himself. According to the Septuagint, the Lord is the protector of David’s soul.
David was confident that his enemies would experience divine retribution, being repaid with evil. In keeping with divine faithfulness or trustworthiness, David prayed that God would “silence” them in death or “destroy” them. As the God of justice, he would take action against those whose evil aim was to kill David.
In appreciation for the aid provided, David would offer a voluntary sacrifice and praise God’s name, that is, the One represented by the name, YHWH. In referring to God’s name as being good, David indicated that YHWH is good, the source of unfailing aid. He had rescued him from all his distress. Therefore, David, with his own eye, was able to look upon the defeat of his enemies.
The significance of the Hebrew expression “selah” is uncertain. In the Septuagint, diápsalma appears and is thought to designate a pause or a musical interlude.
For a discussion of the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.