Psalm 55 – SING & LEARN

Spread the Word

Gladly I added Victoria’s analysis to chapter 55. A different point of view from an English literature professor.  Below the analysis you can find the historical background. Last, there are few short comments i remember we brought up in the study.

Enjoy !

— Psalm 55 – Analysis

Three images dominate the poem: the VOICE of the enemy, the WINGS of the dove, and the CITY.
Voice: the image in verse 4 leads to verse 10 to verse 22. The poet fears not his enemy but his voice; accordingly, he calls upon God not to defeat his enemy and his followers in battle but to confound their speech. Verse 22 makes clear that the poet’s enemy makes a weapon of words; that is, his deceitful, lying words are poisonous, are an assault upon the poet. [* Historical background under]
Wings: the poet does not wish to transform himself into a bird but rather to affix upon his body the wings that would allow him not merely escape but a means of elevating himself above the sinful city in which his enemy dwells.
The city: in contrast to the VOICE and the WINGS, the CITY is not a single part of an entity but a solid, physical whole. Surprisingly, the voice and the wings, abstractions in contrast to the city, do not represent states of mind. Yet the city, inhabiting an actual space of land, is perceived by the poet as the dwelling of an unchanging state of immorality. The city, disregarding time, is violent and savage both day and night. That image, verse 11, of the city, is caught up in verse 18 as the poet vents his anguish throughout the evening, morning, and noon. Thus the raucous cries of the city rise into the air in chorus with the anguished laments of the poet.
The poet’s trust in God frees him in the final verse, in contrast to his enemies whom he sees as cast into a pit, a trap for wild animals, a fitting end for those who have shown themselves bestial in thought and deed.
The VOICE and the WINGS both have, as their element, the air; both are airborne. The poet finds his wings in his trust in God, which brings him the escape he yearns for. But the cries of his enemies will dissipate in the air.
The poem closes with the poet’s hopeful prayer that his enemies will descend downwards, to captivity and death. While the poet, on the wings of his trust in God, will fly upwards, to elevation and freedom within the confines of the Covenant.
———-
Historical background to Psalm 55, we can find in Shmuel 2, chapter 15. (Rash”i Tehillim 55:1))
As we see in our chapter (55) in verse 4, King David’s fear is not from his enemies sword, but from their ‘voice’ – evil speech – people who speak badly and lies against him.
In short: Abshalom (King David’s son) wants to take over the kingdom in his father’s life. The rebellion started, and to Abshalom’s party joined Achitofel, one King David senior advisers and a close friend. Psalm 55 verse 13-15 indicates the close relationship between Achitofel and King David, what makes the pain much harder harder.
– After King David escapes the city, Achitofel gives Avshalom two advises:
1) to sleep with his father’s wives,
2) don’t stay at the palace, don’t postpone the battle against David, but hit now while you still have the upper hand and David is weak and weary.
Shmuel 2, chapters 15-17 — Achitofel’s advises against king David:
1 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
2 And Absalom used to rise up early, and stand beside the way of the gate; and it was so, that when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said: ‘Of what city art thou?’ And he said: ‘Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.’
3 And Absalom said unto him: ‘See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee.’
4 Absalom said moreover: ‘Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!’
5 And it was so, that when any man came nigh to prostrate himself before him, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him.
6 And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. {P}
7 And it came to pass at the end of forty years, that Absalom said unto the king: ‘I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.
8 For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Aram, saying: If the LORD shall indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.’
9 And the king said unto him: ‘Go in peace.’ So he arose, and went to Hebron. {P}
10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying: ‘As soon as ye hear the sound of the horn, then ye shall say: Absalom is king in Hebron.’
11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were invited, and went in their simplicity; and they knew not any thing.
12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered the sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
13 And there came a messenger to David, saying: ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.’
14 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem: ‘Arise, and let us flee; for else none of us shall escape from Absalom; make speed to depart, lest he overtake us quickly, and bring down evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.’
15 And the king’s servants said unto the king: ‘Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall choose.’
16 And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, that were concubines, to keep the house.
17 And the king went forth, and all the people after him; and they tarried in Beth-merhak.
18 And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men that came after him from Gath, passed on before the king. {S}
19 Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite: ‘Wherefore goest thou also with us? return, and abide with the king; for thou art a foreigner, and also an exile from thine own place.
20 Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us, seeing I go whither I may? return thou, and take back thy brethren with thee in kindness and truth.’
21 And Ittai answered the king, and said: ‘As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, even there also will thy servant be.’
22 And David said to Ittai: ‘Go and pass over.’ And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him.
23 And all the country wept with a loud voice, as all the people passed over; and as the king passed over the brook Kidron, all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.
24 And, lo, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God; and they set down the ark of God–but Abiathar went up–until all the people had done passing out of the city. {S}
25 And the king said unto Zadok: ‘Carry back the ark of God into the city; if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back, and show me both it, and His habitation;
26 but if He say thus: I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him.’ {S}
27 The king said also unto Zadok the priest: ‘Seest thou? return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.
28 See, I will tarry in the plains of the wilderness, until there come word from you to announce unto me.’
29 Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem; and they abode there.
30 And David went up by the ascent of the mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered, and went barefoot; and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.
31 And one told David, saying: ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ And David said: ‘O LORD, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’
32 And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the ascent, where God was wont to be worshipped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head.
33 And David said unto him: ‘If thou passest on with me, then thou wilt be a burden unto Me;
34 but if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom: I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father’s servant in time past, so will I now be thy servant; then wilt thou defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel.
35 And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the priests? therefore it shall be, that what thing soever thou shalt hear out of the king’s house, thou shalt tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests.
36 Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadok’s son, and Jonathan Abiathar’s son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye shall hear.’
37 So Hushai David’s friend came into the city; and Absalom was at the point of coming into Jerusalem. {S}

 

1 And when David was a little past the top, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of asses saddled, and upon them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and a hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine.
2 And the king said unto Ziba: ‘What meanest thou by these?’ And Ziba said: ‘The asses are for the king’s household to ride on; and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as are faint in the wilderness may drink.’
3 And the king said: ‘And where is thy master’s son?’ And Ziba said unto the king: ‘Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem; for he said: To-day will the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.’
4 Then said the king to Ziba: ‘Behold, thine is all that pertaineth unto Mephibosheth.’ And Ziba said: ‘I prostrate myself; let me find favour in thy sight, my lord, O king.’
5 And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out thence a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out, and kept on cursing as he came.
6 And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David; and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left.
7 And thus said Shimei when he cursed: ‘Begone, begone, thou man of blood, and base fellow;
8 the LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son; and, behold, thou art taken in thine own mischief, because thou art a man of blood.’
9 Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king: ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.’ {S}
10 And the king said: ‘What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD hath said unto him: Curse David; who then shall say: Wherefore hast thou done so?’ {S}
11 And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants: ‘Behold, my son, who came forth of my body, seeketh my life; how much more this Benjamite now? let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD hath bidden him.
12 It may be that the LORD will look on mine eye, and that the LORD will requite me good for his cursing of me this day.’
13 So David and his men went by the way; {S} and Shimei went along on the hill-side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust. {P}
14 And the king, and all the people that were with him, came weary; and he refreshed himself there.
15 And Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him.
16 And it came to pass, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, was come unto Absalom, that Hushai said unto Absalom: ‘Long live the king, long live the king.’
17 And Absalom said to Hushai: ‘Is this thy kindness to thy friend? why wentest thou not with thy friend?’
18 And Hushai said unto Absalom: ‘Nay; but whom the LORD, and this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his will I be, and with him will I abide.
19 And again, whom should I serve? should I not serve in the presence of his son? as I have served in thy father’s presence, so will I be in thy presence.’ {P}
20 Then said Absalom to Ahithophel: ‘Give your counsel what we shall do.’
21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom: ‘Go in unto thy father’s concubines, that he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that thou art abhorred of thy father; then will the hands of all that are with thee be strong.’
22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.–
23 Now the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man inquired of the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom. {S}
2 and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed, and will make him afraid; and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only;
3 and I will bring back all the people unto thee; when all shall have returned, [save] the man whom thou seekest, all the people will be in peace.’
4 And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel. {S}
5 Then said Absalom: ‘Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith.’
6 And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spoke unto him, saying: ‘Ahithophel hath spoken after this manner; shall we do after his saying? if not, speak thou.’ {S}
7 And Hushai said unto Absalom: ‘The counsel that Ahithophel hath given this time is not good.’
8 Hushai said moreover: ‘Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are embittered in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field; and thy father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people.
9 Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some place; and it will come to pass, when they fall upon them at the first, and whosoever heareth it shall say: There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom;
10 then even he that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt; for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they that are with him are valiant men.
11 But I counsel that all Israel be gathered together unto thee, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person.
12 So shall we come upon him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falleth on the ground; and of him and of all the men that are with him we will not leave so much as one.
13 Moreover, if he withdraw himself into a city, then shall all Israel bring up ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the valley until there be not one small stone found there.’ {P}
14 And Absalom and all the men of Israel said: ‘The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.’ {S} –For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom. {S}
15 Then said Hushai unto Zadok and to Abiathar the priests: ‘Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel; and thus and thus have I counselled.
16 Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying: Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but in any wise pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him.’
17 Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by En-rogel; and a maid-servant used to go and tell them; and they went and told king David; for they might not be seen to come into the city.
18 But a lad saw them, and told Absalom; and they went both of them away quickly, and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down thither.
19 And the woman took and spread the covering over the well’s mouth, and strewed groats thereon; and nothing was known.
20 And Absalom’s servants came to the woman to the house; and they said: ‘Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?’ And the woman said unto them: ‘They are gone over the brook of water.’ And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem. {S}
21 And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David; and they said unto David: ‘Arise ye, and pass quickly over the water; for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you.’
22 Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over the Jordan; by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over the Jordan.
23 And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and got him home, unto his city, and set his house in order, and strangled himself; and he died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.

Few more interesting comments we discussed:

– Verse 12: “Destruction is within it, and blows and deceit do not move out of its square.” – King David is certain about his justice, because he sees that the ‘new kingdom’ doesn’t really do good to the city. It is full of secrets and deceits.  Interesting to see how even in such circumstances King David is measuring himself, makes sure he is really right..

– Verses 7 and 10, reminds the beginning of Bereshit (Genesis):

Psalm 55:7 “And I said, “If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”  Reminds the story of Noach and the ark in the generation of the great flood. There the dove is a sign that the grat flood is over and it will be safe to get out of the ark.

Psalm 55:10 ‘Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongue, for I have seen violence and strife in the city.’ uses the same expression of the generation after Dor HePalaga – the generation of the tower of Babel, there the whole mischief was solved by ‘dividing the tongues of the people.

– A hint for the connection between chapter 55 of Tehillim and Achitofel’s advise, one can find in verse 14, and in Avot (Ethic of the fathers) 6:3 ‘Alufi U-meyudai’ (Hebrew אַלּוּפִי וּמְיֻדָּעִי) refers to Achitofel.

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