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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 56


psa 56:0

Cheerful Courage of a Fugitive

To Ps 55, which is Psa 56:7 gives utterance to the wish: "Oh that I had wings like a dove," etc., no Psalm could be more appropriately appended, according to the mode of arrangement adopted by the collector, than Psa 56:1-13, the musical inscription of which runs: To the Precentor, after "The silent dove among the far off," by David, a Michtam. רחקים is a second genitive, cf. Isa 28:1, and either signifies distant men or longiqua, distant places, as in Psa 65:6, cf. נעימים, Psa 16:6. Just as in Psa 58:2, it is questionable whether the punctuation אלם has lighted upon the correct rendering. Hitzig is anxious to read אלם, "Dove of the people in the distance;" but אלם, people, in spite of Egli's commendation, is a word unheard of in Hebrew, and only conjectural in Phoenician. Olshausen's אלם more readily commends itself, "Dove of the distant terebinths." As in other like inscriptions, על does not signify de (as Joh. Campensis renders it in his paraphrase of the Psalms [1532] and frequently): Praefecto musices, de columba muta quae procul avolaverat), but secundum; and the coincidence of the defining of the melody with the situation of the writer of the Psalm is explained by the consideration that the melody is chosen with reference to that situation. The lxx (cf. the Targum), interpreting the figure, renders: ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ τοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων (from the sanctuary) μεμακρυμμένου, for which Symmachus has: φύλου ἀπωσμένου. The rendering of Aquila is correct: ὑπὲρ περιστερᾶς ἀλάλου μακρυσμῶν. From Ps 55 (Psa 56:7, cf. Psa 38:14) we may form an idea of the standard song designated by the words יונת אלם רחקים; for Ps 55 is not this song itself, and for this reason, that it belongs to the time of Absalom, and is therefore of later date than Psa 56:1-13, the historical inscription of which, "when the Philistines assaulted him in Gath" (cf. בּידם, Sa1 21:14), carries us back into the time of Saul, to the same time of the sojourn in Philistia to which Ps 34 is assigned. Psa 56:1-13 exhibits many points of the closest intermingling with the Psalms of this period, and thus justifies its inscription. It is a characteristic possessed in common by these Psalms, that the prospect of the judgment that will come upon the whole of the hostile world is combined with David's prospect of the judgment that will come upon his enemies: Psa 56:8; Psa 7:9; Psa 59:6 (12). The figure of the bottle in which God preserves the tears of the suffering ones corresponds to the sojourn in the wilderness. As regards technical form, Psa 56:1-13 begins the series of Davidic Elohimic Michtammı̂m, Psa 56:1. Three of these belong to the time of Saul. These three contain refrains, a fact that we have already recognised on Psa 16:1 as a peculiarity of these "favourite-word-poems." the favourite words of this Psa 56:1-13 are (באלהים אהלל דבר)ו and לי (אדם) מה־יּעשׂה בשׂר.

Psalms 56:1

psa 56:1

אלהים and אנושׁ, Psa 56:2 (Psa 9:20; Psa 10:18), are antitheses: over against God, the majestic One, men are feeble beings. Their rebellion against the counsel of God is ineffective madness. If the poet has God's favour on his side, then he will face these pigmies that behave as though they were giants, who fight against him מרום, moving on high, i.e., proudly (cf. ממּרום, Psa 73:8), in the invincible might of God. שׁאף, inhiare, as in Psa 57:4; לחם, as in Psa 35:1, with ל like אל, e.g., in Jer 1:19. Thus, then, he does not fear; in the day when (Ges. ֗123, 3, b) he might well be afraid (conjunctive future, as e.g., in Jos 9:27), he clings trustfully to (אל as in Psa 4:6, and frequently, Pro 3:5) his God, so that fear cannot come near him. He has the word of His promise on his side (דּברו as e.g., Psa 130:5); בּאלהים, through God will he praise this His word, inasmuch as it is gloriously verified in him. Hupfeld thus correctly interprets it; whereas others in part render it "in Elohim do I praise His word," in part (and the form of this favourite expression in Psa 56:11 is opposed to it): "Elohim do I celebrate, His word." Hitzig, however, renders it: "Of God do I boast in matter," i.e., in the present affair; which is most chillingly prosaic in connection with an awkward brevity of language. The exposition is here confused by Psa 10:3 and Psa 44:9. הלּל does not by any means signify gloriari in this passage, but celebrare; and באלהים is not intended in any other sense than that in Ps 60:14. בּטח בּ is equivalent to the New Testament phrase πιστεύειν ἐν. לא אירא is a circumstantial clause with a finite verb, as is customary in connection with לא, Psa 35:8, Job 29:24, and עב, Pro 19:23.

Psalms 56:5

psa 56:5

This second strophe describes the adversaries, and ends in imprecation, the fire of anger being kindled against them. Hitzig's rendering is: "All the time they are injuring my concerns," i.e., injuring my interests. This also sounds unpoetical. Just as we say חמס תורה, to do violence to the Tפra (Zep 3:4; Eze 22:26), so we can also say: to torture any one's words, i.e., his utterances concerning himself, viz., by misconstruing and twisting them. It is no good to David that he asseverates his innocence, that he asserts his filial faithfulness to Saul, God's anointed; they stretch his testimony concerning himself upon the rack, forcing upon it a false meaning and wrong inferences. They band themselves together, they place men in ambush. The verb גּוּר signifies sometimes to turn aside, turn in, dwell (= Arab. jâr); sometimes, to be afraid (= יגר, Arab. wjr); sometimes, to stir up, excite, Psa 140:3 (= גּרה); and sometimes, as here, and in Psa 59:4, Isa 54:15 : to gather together (= אגר). The Ker reads יצפּונוּ (as in Psa 10:8; Pro 1:11), but the scriptio plena points to Hiph. (cf. Job 24:6, and also Psa 126:5), and the following המּה leads one to the conclusion that it is the causative יצפּינוּ that is intended: they cause one to keep watch in concealment, they lay an ambush (synon. האריב, Sa1 15:5); so that המה refers to the liers-in-wait told off by them: as to these - they observe my heels or (like the feminine plural in Psa 77:20; Psa 89:52) footprints (Rashi: mes traces), i.e., all my footsteps or movements, because (properly, "in accordance with this, that," as in Mic 3:4) they now as formerly (which is implied in the perfect, cf. Psa 59:4) attempt my life, i.e., strive after, lie in wait for it (קוּה like שׁמר, Psa 71:10, with the accusative = קוּה ל in Psa 119:95). To this circumstantial representation of their hostile proceedings is appended the clause על־עון פּלּט־למו, which is not to be understood otherwise than as a question, and is marked as such by the order of the words (Kg2 5:26; Isa 28:28): In spite of iniquity [is there] escape for them? i.e., shall they, the liers-in-wait, notwithstanding such evil good-for-nothing mode of action, escape? At any rate פּלּט is, as in Psa 32:7, a substantivized finitive, and the "by no means" which belongs as answer to this question passes over forthwith into the prayer for the overthrow of the evil ones. This is the customary interpretation since Kimchi's day. Mendelssohn explains it differently: "In vain be their escape," following Aben-Jachja, who, however, like Saadia, takes פלט to be imperative. Certainly adverbial notions are expressed by means of על, - e.g., על־יתר ,., abundantly, Psa 31:24; על־שׁקר, falsely, Lev. 5:22 (vid., Gesenius, Thesaurus, p. 1028), - but one does not say על־הבל, and consequently also would hardly have said על־און (by no means, for nothing, in vain); moreover the connection here demands the prevailing ethical notion for און. Hupfeld alters פלט to פּלּס, and renders it: "recompense to them for wickedness," which is not only critically improbable, but even contrary to the usage of the language, since פלס signifies to weigh out, but not to requite, and requires the accusative of the object. The widening of the circle of vision to the whole of the hostile world is rightly explained by Hengstenberg by the fact that the special execution of judgment on the part of God is only an outflow of His more general and comprehensive execution of judgment, and the belief in the former has its root in a belief in the latter. The meaning of הורד becomes manifest from the preceding Psalm (Ps 55:24), to which the Psalm before us is appended by reason of manifold and closely allied relation.

Psalms 56:8

psa 56:8

What the poet prays for in Psa 56:8, he now expresses as his confident expectation with which he solaces himself. נד (Psa 56:9) is not to be rendered "flight," which certainly is not a thing that can be numbered (Olshausen); but "a being fugitive," the unsettled life of a fugitive (Pro 27:8), can really be numbered both by its duration and its many temporary stays here and there. And upon the fact that God, that He whose all-seeing eye follows him into every secret hiding-place of the desert and of the rocks, counteth (telleth) it, the poet lays great stress; for he has long ago learnt to despair of man. The accentuation gives special prominence to נדי as an emphatically placed object, by means of Zarka; and this is then followed by ספרתּה with the conjunctive Galgal and the pausal אתּה with Olewejored (the _ of which is placed over the final letter of the preceding word, as is always the case when the word marked with this double accent is monosyllabic, or dissyllabic and accented on the first syllable). He who counts (Job 31:4) all the steps of men, knows how long David has already been driven hither and thither without any settled home, although free from guilt. He comforts himself with this fact, but not without tears, which this wretched condition forces from him, and which he prays God to collect and preserve. Thus it is according to the accentuation, which takes שׂימה as imperative, as e.g., in Sa1 8:5; but since שׂים, שׂימה ,שׂים, is also the form of the passive participle (Sa1 9:24, and frequently, Sa2 13:32), it is more natural, in accordance with the surrounding thoughts, to render it so even in this instance (posita est lacrima mea), and consequently to pronounce it as Milra (Ewald, Hupfeld, Bttcher, and Hitzig). דמעתי (Ecc 4:1) corresponds chiastically (crosswise) to נדי, with which בנאדך forms a play in sound; and the closing clause הלא בּספרתך unites with ספרתּה in the first member of the verse. Both Psa 56:9 and Psa 56:9 are wanting in any particle of comparison. The fact thus figuratively set forth, viz., that God collects the tears of His saints as it were in a bottle, and notes them together with the things which call them forth as in a memorial (Mal 3:16), the writer assumes; and only appropriatingly applies it to himself. The אז which follows may be taken either as a logical "in consequence of so and so" (as e.g., Psa 19:14; Psa 40:8), or as a "then" fixing a turning-point in the present tearful wandering life (viz., when there have been enough of the "wandering" and of the "tears"), or "at a future time" (more abruptly, like שׁם in Psa 14:5; 36:13, vid., on Psa 2:5). בּיום אקרא is not an expansion of this אז, which would trail awkwardly after it. The poet says that one day his enemies will be obliged to retreat, inasmuch as a day will come when his prayer, which is even now heard, will be also outwardly fulfilled, and the full realization of the succour will coincide with the cry for help. By זה־ידעתּי in Psa 56:10 he justifies this hope from his believing consciousness. It is not to be rendered, after Job 19:19 : "I who know," which is a trailing apposition without any proper connection with what precedes; but, after Kg1 17:24 : this I know (of this I am certain), that Elohim is for me. זה as a neuter, just as in connection with ידע in Pro 24:12, and also frequently elsewhere (Gen 6:15; Exo 13:8; Exo 30:13; Lev 11:4; Isa 29:11, cf. Job 15:17); and לי as e.g., in Gen 31:42. Through Elohim, Psa 56:11 continues, will I praise דּבר: thus absolutely is the word named; it is therefore the divine word, just like בּר in Psa 2:12, the Son absolutely, therefore the divine Son. Because the thought is repeated, Elohim stands in the first case and then Jahve, in accordance with the Elohimic Psalm style, as in Psa 58:7. The refrain in Psa 56:12 (cf. Psa 56:5) indicates the conclusion of the strophe. The fact that we read אדם instead of בּשׂר in this instance, just as in Psa 56:11 דּבר instead of דּברו (Psa 56:5), is in accordance with the custom in the Psalms of not allowing the refrain to recur in exactly the same form.

Psalms 56:12

psa 56:12

In prospect of his deliverance the poet promises beforehand to fulfil the duty of thankfulness. עלי, incumbent upon me, as in Pro 7:14; Sa2 18:11. נדריך, with an objective subject, are the vows made to God; and תּודות are distinguished from them, as e.g., in Ch2 29:31. He will suffer neither the pledged שׁלמי נדר nor the שׁלמי תּודה to be wanting; for - so will he be then able to sing and to declare - Thou hast rescued, etc. The perfect after כּי denotes that which is then past, as in Psa 59:17, cf. the dependent passage Psa 116:8. There the expression is ארצות החיּים instead of אור החיּים (here and in Elihu's speech, Job 33:30). Light of life (Joh 8:12) or of the living (lxx τῶν ζώντων) is not exclusively the sun-light of this present life. Life is the opposite of death in the deepest and most comprehensive sense; light of life is therefore the opposite of the night of Hades, of this seclusion from God and from His revelation in human history.

Next: Psalms Chapter 57