Psalm 52

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-10-09 11:09.

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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 the Hebrew expression.

The meaning of “maskil” is uncertain. Conjectural interpretations include “contemplative poem” and “memory passage.” In the Septuagint, the corresponding expression is synéseos, signifying “of intelligence,” “of understanding,” or “of insight.”

Psalm 52 is attributed to David and relates to the time when he was fleeing from King Saul, who was intent on killing him. Before heading for the Philistine city of Gath, David stopped at the sanctuary in Nob. Representing himself as being on a mission for King Saul, he requested bread and a weapon from Ahimelech the high priest. At the time, the Edomite Doeg, Saul’s chief shepherd, was there, likely because of some uncleanness requiring purification. Later, when Saul complained to his servants that no one had informed him that his son Jonathan had made pact with David, Doeg revealed that he had seen Ahimelech give food and Goliath’s sword to David. This led to Saul’s commanding the execution of Ahimelech and 84 other priests. Although the other servants of King Saul refused to carry out his order, Doeg did so and thereafter killed all the inhabitants of Nob (men, women, children, and infants) and their domestic animals. (1 Samuel 21:1-9; 22:6-19) Psalm 52 focuses on Doeg and the harm he caused. Although an Edomite, Doeg must have been a proselyte, as suggested by his being at the sanctuary.

David’s question indicates that Doeg prided himself in doing bad. He was a “mighty one” who used his authority in a ruthless and merciless manner. By contrast, the Almighty God, the One who is truly powerful, manifested compassionate care or steadfast love “all the day.” According to the Septuagint, however, there is no change in subject. It reads, “Why do you boast in badness, O mighty one, [about] lawlessness the whole day?”

With his tongue, Doeg plotted “ruin” or “injustice” (LXX), as he did when misrepresenting Ahimelech’s role in assisting David. Sharpened like a razor, Doeg’s tongue proved to be a “doer of treachery,” inflicting harm through deceitful and slanderous speech.

Doeg loved or delighted in evil more than in good, in falsehood more than in upright speech. Portraying Doeg’s tongue as if functioning on its own, David referred to it as a deceitful tongue that loved “all words of devouring” or speech that proved to be destructive.

Confident that divine judgment would befall Doeg, David said of him that God would break him down or destroy him forever. The Most High would seize him, tear him from his tent or dwelling, and uproot him from the land of the living. Doeg would be like an uprooted tree that dies.

Upright persons would see the execution of divine judgment, and this would give rise to a wholesome fear of God. The “laughing” would not be a malicious gloating, but it would be a rejoicing about the judgment the Most High had rendered.

In verse 7(9), the introductory “look” or “behold” serves to call attention to the judgment that befell this man who did not make God his refuge. Numerous translations represent these words as being the expression of the upright. Instead of looking to the Most High as the unfailing source of protection, the ungodly one (Doeg) trusted in his abundant wealth and sought to strengthen himself in his “destruction,” possibly meaning that he derived strength from bringing about the ruin of others. A number of translations make this sense explicit. “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” (NIV) “Here was a fellow who did not make God his refuge, but trusted in his great wealth, relied upon his mischief.” (Tanakh) “That one did not take God as a refuge, but trusted in great wealth, relied on devious plots.” (NAB) According to the Septuagint, “he strengthened himself in his emptiness,” relying on what could provide no protection. On the basis of the Syriac and the Targum, the New Revised Standard Version reads, “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”

David, on the other hand, relied completely on YHWH. Therefore, he referred to himself as a thriving olive tree in God’s house, benefiting fully from all the divine provisions that would serve to sustain him. For all time to come, he would rely on God’s compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX).

He would praise, acknowledge, or thank God for all time to come, doing so because of what God had done. The activity of the Most High would include his rendering justice and coming to the aid of his servants. For David to hope in or wait for God’s name would have meant his relying fully on YHWH, the person represented by the name. The Almighty is the ultimate standard of what is good and all his activity is good. Therefore, David spoke of his reliance on God’s name as being based on the reality that the name is good. Not just privately but before or in the presence of “holy ones” or other servants of the Most High, David would praise him.

Note: There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of “selah,” appearing at the end of verses 3(5) and 5(7). The Septuagint rendering diápsalma is thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”