Psalm 52
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

In this psalm the voice of the community of pious Israel plainly speaks. (See Note, Psalm 52:8.) The traditional title has not the slightest support in the contents or tone of the poem. (See Note, title.) The tyrant, or mighty man, who is addressed, is most probably one of those base time-servers who, against the national party, and against the religious sentiment, sold themselves to the foreign power that happened to be in the ascendant; and who, by lending themselves as the instruments of tyranny, became the means of rousing the patriotic spirit which at length, under the hand of Maccabæus, succeeded in shaking off the foreign yoke. The rhythm is varied and well sustained.

Title.—See title Psalms 4, 32. This is one of a series of three Elohistic psalms.

The historical reference in this inscription serves to cast discredit on the inscriptions generally, as showing on what insufficient grounds they could be received. There is not a syllable in the poem which conveniently applies to Doeg, or to the occurrence narrated in 1Samuel 22:17; on the contrary, the accusation of lying (Psalm 52:1-3), the imputation of trust in riches (Psalm 52:7), as well as the general tone in which the psalm is couched, are quite against such an application.

To the chief Musician, Maschil, A Psalm of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech. Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.
(1) Mighty man.—Better, hero, used sarcastically. LXX. and Vulg., “a mighty one at mischief.” (Comp. Isaiah 5:22 : “a hero at drinking.”) The order of the Hebrew is, however, against this, and in favour of the English, why dost thou exult in wickedness, O hero, i.e., perhaps, not only his own, but in the wickedness the people are led into by his means. This seems necessitated by the next clause. In spite of man’s folly and sin, God’s covenant favour endures all the day long.

Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp rasor, working deceitfully.
(2) Working deceitfully.—Better, working guile. (For the metaphor, see Psalm 55:21; Psalm 57:4, &c)

Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.
Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue.
(4) Devouring words.—Literally, words of swallowing, such as swallow down (comp. Psalm 5:9, where the throat is called “an open sepulchre”) a neighbour’s life, honour, and goods.

God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.
(5) Destroy.—Better, tear down, as if of a building.

Take thee away.—Better, lay hold of thee. The Hebrew word is always used of taking a live coal from the hearth. Notice, however, that the exactly opposite is intended of our “pluck a brand from the burning.” Here the idea is of pulling the house-fire to pieces, and so extinguishing domestic life.

The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him:
(6) Fear . . . laugh.—The mingled feelings of awe at the tyrant’s terrible fall, and exultation at his overthrow, are finely caught and described.

Dwelling-place.—Better, tent.

Root thee out.—This word, suggestive of rooting up a corrupt tree, becomes more forcible from the contrast in the figure of Psalm 52:8.

Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
(8) But I am like.—The flourishing olive alternates with the vine, in Hebrew poetry, as an emblem of prosperous Israel. (See Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6.) The epithet “green” hardly refers to the colour so much as the “vigour” of the tree, for the foliage of “wan grey olive wood” cannot be called verdant. But though the olive is scarcely, to our Western eyes, a beautiful tree, “to the Oriental the coolness of the pale-blue foliage, its evergreen freshness, spread like a silver sea along the slopes of the hills, speaks of peace and plenty, food and gladness” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 374).

In the house of God.—Here and in the more elaborate simile (Psalm 92:13) the situation, “in the house of God,” is added to show that the prophecy has come of religious trust. It is quite possible that trees were actually planted in the precincts of the Temple, as they are in the Haram area now, so that the rendering, “near the house of God,” would express a literal fact. Or the whole may be figurative, as in the verse, “like the olive branches round about Thy table.”

I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.
(9) Because thou hast done it.—Better, because thou workest, i.e., for thy works, but spoken in anticipation of future manifestations.

I will wait on thy name. . . .—Better, I will wait for thy glory; “name,” here, after the mention of God’s works in the last clause, being evidently, as so often, synonymous with “fame” and “reputation.”

For it is good before thy saints.—This may mean that such a trustful expectation in the presence of the saints is good, or that it is pleasant in the eyes of the saints thus to wait, or we may take “name” as the subject.

The mention of the “saints” (chasîdîm) is by some supposed to indicate the Asmonean period as that of the composition of the Psalm.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalm 51
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