Psalm 55:20-23

20. He hath sent his hands against those that were at peace with him:1 he hath broken his covenant. 21. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, and his heart war: his words were softer than oil, yet were they darts. 22. Cast thy giving2 upon Jehovah, and he shall feed thee: he shall not suffer the righteous always to stagger.3 23. Thou, O God! shalt cast them into the pit of corruption: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days: but I will hope in thee.


20. He hath sent his hands against those that were at peace with him. He afterwards speaks in verse 23d in the plural number, but here it is probable that he begins by addressing the leader and head of the wicked conspiracy. He accuses him of waging war in the midst of peace, and being thus guilty of a breach of faith. He had neither suffered provocation, nor had he announced in an open manner his intention to give battle, but had commenced the attack unexpectedly and with treachery. The same charge is insisted upon still further, when it is added, that butter and oil were in his lips, while war was in his heart, and his words themselves were darts. To appearance they were soft and agreeable, but they covered a hidden virulence and cruelty which wounded like a sword or like darts,4 according to the common proverb, that deceivers carry on their lips poison besmeared with honey. It is well known how many fair promises and flatteries Saul addressed to David with a view to entrap him, and we may conjecture that the same arts were practiced by his courtiers. It is one special trial of the Lord's people, that they are exposed to such attempts on the part of crafty men to seduce them into destruction. Here the Holy Spirit puts a mark of reprobation upon all subtilty of this kind, and particularly upon treacherous flatteries, exhorting us to cultivate simplicity of intention.

22. Cast thy giving upon Jehovah. The Hebrew verb bhy, yahab, signifies to give, so that ebhy, yehobcha, according to the ordinary rules of grammar, should be rendered thy giving, or thy gift.5 Most interpreters read thy burden, but they assign no reason for this rendering. The verb bhy, yahab, never denotes to burden, and there is no precedent which might justify us in supposing that the noun deduced from it can mean a burden. They have evidently felt themselves compelled to invent that meaning from the harshness and apparent absurdity of the stricter translation, Cast thy gift upon Jehovah. And I grant that the sentiment they would express is a pious one, that we ought to disburden ourselves before God of all the cares and troubles which oppress us. There is no other method of relieving our anxious souls, but by reposing ourselves upon the providence of the Lord. At the same time, I find no example of such a translation of the word, and adhere therefore to the other, which conveys sufficiently important instruction, provided we understand the expression gift or giving in a passive sense, as meaning all the benefits which we desire God to give us. The exhortation is to the effect that we should resign into the hands of God the care of those things which may concern our advantage. It is not enough that we make application to God for the supply of our wants. Our desires and petitions must be offered up with a due reliance upon his providence, for how many are there who pray in a clamorous spirit, and who, by the inordinate anxiety and restlessness which they evince, seem resolved to dictate terms to the Almighty. In opposition to this, David recommends it as a due part of modesty in our supplications, that we should transfer to God the care of those things which we ask, and there can be no question that the only means of checking an excessive impatience is an absolute submission to the Divine will, as to the blessings which should be bestowed. Some would explain the passage: Acknowledge the past goodness of the Lord to have been such, that you ought to hope in his kindness for the future. But this does not give the genuine meaning of the words. As to whether David must be considered as here exhorting himself or others, it is a question of little moment, though he seems evidently, in laying down a rule for his own conduct, to prescribe one at the same time to all the children of God. The words which he subjoins, And he shall feed thee, clearly confirm that view of the passage which I have given above. Subject as we are in this life to manifold wants, we too often yield ourselves up to disquietude and anxiety. But David assures us that God will sustain to us the part of a shepherd, assuming the entire care of our necessities, and supplying us with all that is really for our advantage. He adds, that he will not suffer the righteous to fall, or always to stagger. If jwm, mot, be understood as meaning a fall, then the sense will run: God shall establish the righteous that he shall never fall. But the other rendering seems preferable. We see that the righteous for a time are left to stagger, and almost to sink under the storms by which they are beset. From this distressing state David here declares, that they shall be eventually freed, and blessed with a peaceful termination of all their harassing dangers and cares.

23. Thou, O God! shalt cast them into the pit of corruption. He returns to speak of his enemies, designing to show the very different end which awaits them, from that which may be expected by the righteous. The only reflection which comforts the latter, when cast down at the feet of their oppressors, is, that they can confidently look for a peaceful issue to the dangers which encompass them; while, on the other hand, they can discern by faith the certain destruction which impends the wicked. The Hebrew word txs, shachath, signifies the grave, and as there seems an impropriety in saying that they are cast into the pit of the grave, some read in preference the pit of corruption,6 the word being derived from txs, shachath, to corrupt, or destroy. It is a matter of little consequence which signification be adopted; one thing is obvious, that David means to assert that they would be overtaken not only by a temporary, but everlasting destruction. And here he points at a distinction between them and the righteous. These may sink into many a deep pit of worldly calamity, but they arise again. The ruin which awaits their enemies is here declared to be deadly, as God will cast them into the grave, that they may rot there. In calling them bloody men,7 he adverts to a reason which confirmed the assertion he had made. The vengeance of God is certain to overtake the cruel and the deceitful; and this being the character of his adversaries, he infers that their punishment would be inevitable. "But does it consist," may some ask, "with what passes under our observation, that bloody men live not half their days? If the character apply to any, it must with peculiar force to tyrants, who consign their fellow-creatures to slaughter, for the mere gratification of their licentious passions. To such very evidently, and not to common murderers, does the Psalmist refer in this place; and yet will not tyrants, who have butchered their hundreds of thousands, reach frequently an advanced period of life?" They may; but notwithstanding instances of this description, where God has postponed the execution of judgment, the assertion of the Psalmist is borne out by many considerations. With regard to temporal judgments, it is enough that we see them executed upon the wicked, in the generality of cases, for a strict or perfect distribution in this matter is not to be expected, as I have shown at large upon the thirty-seventh psalm. Then the life of the wicked, however long it may be protracted, is agitated by so many fears and disquietudes, that it scarcely merits the name, and may be said to be death rather than life. Nay, that life is worse than death which is spent under the curse of God, and under the accusations of a conscience which torments its victim more than the most barbarous executioner. Indeed, if we take a right estimate of what the course of this life is, none can be said to have reached its goal, but such as have lived and died in the Lord, for to them, and them alone, death as well as life is gain. When assailed, therefore, by the violence or fraud of the wicked, it may comfort us to know that their career shall be short, -- that they shall be driven away, as by a whirlwind, and their schemes, which seemed to meditate the destruction of the whole world, dissipated in a moment. The short clause which is subjoined, and which closes the psalm, suggests that this judgment of the wicked must be waked for in the exercise of faith and patience, for the Psalmist rests in hope for his deliverance. From this it appears that the wicked are not cut off so suddenly from the earth, as not to afford us hope for the exhibition of patience under the severity of long-continued injuries.

1 "Misit manus in paces suas." -- Lat. On the margin of the French version, "paces suas" is thus explained: "C'est, ses alliez et gens qui vivoyent paisiblement avec luy."

2 "Ou, ta charge." Fr. marg. "Or, thy burden."

3 "Ou, tombe." -- Fr. marg. "Or, fall." Fry reads, "He will not permit for ever the displacing, moving, tossing, or slipping of the righteous."

4 In the figurative language of the East, severe, unfeeling, and injurious words are often compared to swords, daggers, arrows, etc. Thus it is said in Psalm 59:7, "Swords are in their lips; for who, say they, doth hear?" and in Proverbs 12:18, "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword." In our own language, a similar figure of speech is quite common, as when we speak of keen, cutting, and piercing words, and of the wounds which they inflict. "I will speak daggers to her." -- Hamlet.

5 "What thou desirest to have given thee," according to the Chaldee, which renders the word thy hope; i.e., that which thou hopest to receive. On the margin of our English Bibles it is, thy gift, which Williams explains by "allotment." "Cast thy allotment upon the Lord," says he, "on which we may remark, that whatever allotment we receive from God, whether of prosperity or adversity, it is our duty to refer it back to him: 'He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him;' or if our lot be adverse, 'he will sustain' under every burden, and 'never suffer the righteous to be moved' from his foundation." In like manner Rogers understands the word. "Cast upon Jehovah what he allots you; i.e., commit to Jehovah your destiny. Supply rsa before Kbhy" -- Book of Psalms in Hebrew, volume 2, p. 210. The Septuagint reads, me>rimna>n, thy care; in which it is followed by the apostle Peter, (1 Peter 5:5.) The reading of the Vulgate, Syriac, Æthiopic, and Arabic versions is the same.

6 The Chaldee explains it, "the deep Gehenna."

7 Heb. "men of blood and deceit."


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