Psalm 52

A Contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him, “David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.”

This Psalm is called “A Contemplation” in the New King James Version. The old King James had a transliteration of the Hebrew as “Maschil,” although a better transliteration might be maskiyl. The Companion Bible suggests that this Hebrew word means “Instruction.” In this Psalm, we are going to be instructed about the destructive man and his end.

This Psalm was written by the sweet Psalmist of Israel, David, when he was yet young and on the run from King Saul. We read of it in I Samuel 21 and 22.

1. Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”
2. So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place.

One of the first places David went for help when fleeing from Saul was to the priest of the LORD, Ahimelech, at the tabernacle of the LORD. David did not tell Ahimelech he was fleeing from Saul’s wrath, but instead pretended that he was on a secret mission for the king. Ahimelech helped him, giving him food and a weapon, the mighty sword of Goliath. However, Saul’s servant Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen, was there.

7. Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. And his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chief of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul.

“Doeg” means “Fearful.” He was an Edomite, one of the nation descended from Israel’s brother Esau. Yet since he was living among the Israelites, it seems he had adopted their religion, at least in outward form, and he was detained performing some religious duty before the LORD at this time. Doeg, of course, had not heard yet that David was on the run from his master, so he did not accost David at the time. However, when he returned to Saul and learned that David was a fugitive, he decided to report what he had seen at the tabernacle, as we learn in I Samuel 22.

7. then Saul said to his servants who stood about him, “Hear now, you Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands and captains of hundreds? 8. All of you have conspired against me, and there is no one who reveals to me that my son has made a covenant with the son of Jesse; and there is not one of you who is sorry for me or reveals to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day.”
9. Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who was set over the servants of Saul, and said, “I saw the son of Jesse going to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10. And he inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

Saul was clearly in a paranoid state of mind, accusing his son Jonathan of stirring up David against him to assassinate him. Doeg seems to have taken advantage of Saul’s mood to suggest that Ahimelech and his family had sided with David in this “conspiracy.” Thus Doeg hoped to procure favor with the king, and he indeed succeeded. Yet his success was at the cost of the life of the priest Ahimelech and all his family but one, whom King Saul slew in his mad rage.

20. Now one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the LORD’s priests. 22. So David said to Abiathar, “I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house. 23. Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”

One of Ahimelech’s sons escaped to David and reported this terrible slaughter to him. David took this terrible incident to heart, blaming himself for the deaths of these priests. Of course, David could hardly be blamed, for it was mad King Saul who in his terrible rebellion against the LORD performed this terrible deed, along with Doeg the Edomite, who satisfied his ambition with the lives of these men. Yet this incident struck at the heart of David. He loved the LORD, and the death of His priests in such a terrible way must have seemed a most awful thing to him. Thus he wrote this psalm against the wickedness of this bloody man Doeg the Edomite.

Yet I do not think we should limit this psalm to only this incident, and to only this destructive man. There could be a picture here of the “man of sin,” the Anti-Christ, the great sinner of the tribulation period, as well. Yet even beyond that, this Psalm gives instruction, as the first word indicates, and the instruction it gives could relate to any destructive man like Doeg. In other words, we learn not just about him, but about all men like him, and what will be the ultimate end of such bloody, deceitful men.

1. Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man?

David asks why this mighty man boasts in evil? The word “evil” is the Hebrew ra’a. We think of “evil” as being the same as wickedness or sinfulness, but the Hebrew word means more along the lines of calamity. In other words, cancer would be an “evil,” or a car accident would be an “evil.” Sometimes the word is used for sinful behavior, but that is more because sin causes calamity, and so this is almost a figurative use. What David is talking about here is the fact that Doeg boasted in the terrible calamity he had caused.

David calls Doeg a “mighty man.” The Hebrew word is gibbowr, and indicates a mighty, strong man. In this case, while it is certain that Doeg must have been strong, as he personally executed the priests along with his men, it also is said of him because he was strong in lawlessness and treachery against Jehovah.

The goodness of God endures continually.

David contrasts himself with Doeg by boasting in something that was much more worthy of boasting: the goodness of God, which endures continually. “God” here is El, the Mighty God. The Mighty God is good, the mighty man Doeg boasts in calamity. “Continually” here means “all the day.” There is no time when God stops being good. There is no part of the day when His goodness is not complete.

2. Your tongue devises destruction,

The wicked, mighty man’s tongue devises destruction. The Companion Bible suggests this means “malignity,” which has to do with malevolence, intense ill will, and spite. The word in Hebrew is plural, which is a way of intensifying the word, indicating great malignity. That is exactly what Doeg had done when he had chosen to tell Saul of Ahimelech’s aid of David. He must have known that Saul’s disturbed mind would determine on the death and destruction which fell on Yahweh’s priests, and yet he had devised this destruction purposefully in order to make himself look good in the eyes of the king. His tongue had brought about this destruction purposefully, and showed how malignant he was. So it is with such men: they work for their own good, and do not care what harm or even deaths they might cause in bringing it about.

Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.

The tongue of Doeg brought about destruction like a sharp razor cuts. It worked deceitfully, for Doeg must have been well aware that Ahimelech had known no more of David’s flight than he himself had when he had seen him with Ahimelech. He might as well have accused himself of treachery, since he was there and failed to accost David! Yet his deceitful words were enough to turn the mind of the paranoid Saul against the priests, and so he brought about this destruction by deceit. This is how it is with wicked and destructive men: they lie for their own gain and do not care what devastation their deceit may cause.

3. You love evil more than good,

David accuses Doeg of loving evil more than good. This means he loved to bring calamity more than benefit on others. Doeg was not only willing to bring death on others in order to advance his position, but he loved the destruction itself that his actions brought about. He liked harming others better than helping them. One like David loved the opposite.

Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah

Doeg also loved lying rather than speaking righteousness. He would rather tell a lie than speak of justice or righteousness. His kind can be found even today: those who revel in the power that lying and deceit give them.

David closes this phrase with the Hebrew word selah. The Companion Bible suggests that this word is used as a connecting word, to show that two different ideas are joined together somehow. In this case, the deceitful tongue of Doeg is connected with the curse on it in the following verses.

4. You love all devouring words,

David speaks again to the deceitful tongue of Doeg. It loves all devouring words, or words that swallow up. Of course, swallowing up is a good figure to use when speaking of the tongue. That this wicked man had such a tongue and was such a person is proved by his gleeful carrying out of the king’s bloody orders to slaughter the priests and their entire household. We read of this in I Samuel 22:17-19.

17. Then the king said to the guards who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not tell it to me.” But the servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the LORD. 18. And the king said to Doeg, “You turn and kill the priests!” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod. 19. Also Nob, the city of the priests, he struck with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and donkeys and sheep—with the edge of the sword.

We can see here that Doeg not only loved devouring words, but also loved carrying out the destruction of innocent men, the priests of the LORD, when it was clearly to his benefit.

You deceitful tongue.

Again it was the deceitful tongue of Doeg that David was speaking against here, the tongue that, in a few words, led Saul to deadly suspicion of the innocent priests of the LORD. Again this tongue of Doeg may be compared to the tongue of all such destructive men, who carelessly speak words that bring about the destruction of others and think nothing of doing so. Many tyrants have had just such a tongue.

Rotherham points out the strange fact that David only speaks against Doeg’s deceitful tongue, and not his cruel actions in destroying all the priestly family at Nob. This difficulty could be removed by supposing, even as the superscript may suggest, that Doeg had told Saul of David’s flight to the priests in private before his public declaration of this before all Saul’s men and the calling of the priests to appear before Saul to be slaughtered. If this private interview was overheard and the news carried to David by those who were his friends, he might have known of the destructive report of Doeg before the slaughter of the priests ever took place.

However, contrary to this suggestion of Rotherham we might also suggest that while the gathering of the priests to Saul was being carried out, which might have taken a day or more, report from his spies might have been brought to David of Doeg’s wicked words before Saul and his men. Such an account of what was happening in Saul’s court might have been brought to David between verses 10 and 11 of I Samuel 22. In this case, no speculative private interview with Doeg is necessary, and we may simply suppose that David heard of Doeg’s wicked report of the priests before he heard of the slaughter of the same priests, and immediately wrote this psalm upon hearing of the report. Thus it was simply Doeg’s wicked tongue that David was inspired to condemn, and not his later wicked deeds in carrying out the slaughter of all the priests.

5. God shall likewise destroy you forever;

El, the Mighty God, shall likewise destroy this tongue, and the man attached to it, forever. The destruction this mighty man so carelessly brought on others shall fall on his own head when he is judged by the Mighty God. The word “forever” here is the Hebrew netsach, and means he will be destroyed perpetually. In other words, he will be destroyed with a destruction that will not come to an end.

He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place,

David piles words on to his description of the destruction of the destructive and deceitful man Doeg. The Mighty God shall snatch him away, and shall tear him out of his house, even as he has snatched away and torn from their homes the priests and their families, men, women, and children. Again it is the calamity this wicked man has brought that will be repaid on his own head by God.

And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah

Again the destruction of the mighty deceitful man is described. Remember that Hebrew poetry works by repeating ideas rather than by repeating sounds, as our English poetry does. Doeg will be uprooted from the land of the living by God. He had done this to many other men: Israelites, priests, men better than he. He will taste his own medicine when God acts against him and does the same to him.

This verse ends again with the Hebrew word selah. This time it is to connect the destruction of the destructive man with the response of the righteous onlookers who will see it take place.

6. The righteous also shall see and fear,

Righteous ones will be looking on and see it when this destruction of Doeg takes place. They shall see it, and will respond with reverence towards the God Who rightfully brought it about, seeing to it that this destructive man received himself what he did to others.

And shall laugh at him, saying,

The righteous shall laugh in mockery at the destructive man. This often never happens in this world! Some of the most destructive men of our times nevertheless seem to die in peace, and never see the wrath of God. We must therefore relegate the fulfillment of this to the kingdom to come, when not only Doeg but also all destructive men shall receive their final punishment and shall lose their lives forever.

7. “Here is the man who did not make God his strength,

The righteous at that time will understand the true implications of what they have seen in the destruction of the destructive man. They will know that this came upon him because he did not make God his strength, and so they will say the words recorded here. The word “man” here is geber and God is El, so what they are saying is that “here is the mighty man who did not make the Mighty God his strength.”

But trusted in the abundance of his riches,

Instead this mighty man trusted in the abundance of his riches. This Doeg no doubt was a wealthy man, and as the head of all Saul’s herdsmen we would expect that he must have been a wealthy and powerful man. Thus he thought that he could trust in his many riches for help and protection, and so it was not necessary for him to trust in God.

And strengthened himself in his wickedness.”

With the thought that his wealth (and perhaps his favor with the king) would protect him, this mighty man strengthened himself in his wickedness. Indeed, he acted in a bold way, and boldly carried out the bloody orders of Saul. Yet these righteous ones will have the opportunity to mock this mighty man when the Mighty God brings about his final destruction. Then they will see his end, and his way will be honored and respected no longer. This will be the final end of all such bloody and deceitful men.

8. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;

David compares himself to a green olive tree in the house of God. He is planted and taken root. In the house of God he is safe from all harm, and he is able to produce fruit to bless those who congregate there. We might wonder if there were such olive trees in the temple grounds, but then remember that in David’s days the “house of God” was still the tent called the tabernacle. Rotherham in his Studies in the Psalms points out that the tabernacle was at Nob, which was on the northern summit of Olivet, which was known for its olives and olive-yards. This would have suggested the figure to David’s mind.

Yet at the same time, no doubt David is anticipating the building of the permanent temple building and his office there. We learn of that office in the book of Ezekiel, wherein it is revealed that David will be called the “prince.”

Ezekiel 34:24. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

At that time, David will have a special, permanent place of his own in the kingdom temple.

Ezekiel 45:7. “The prince shall have a section on one side and the other of the holy district and the city’s property; and bordering on the holy district and the city’s property, extending westward on the west side and eastward on the east side, the length shall be side by side with one of the tribal portions, from the west border to the east border. 8 The land shall be his possession in Israel; and My princes shall no more oppress My people, but they shall give the rest of the land to the house of Israel, according to their tribes.”

So David will enjoy a permanent place in the holy district, which will be the temple district in that day. He will indeed be planted there, not to be removed, as the wicked man will be.

There is poetry of our type here in the Hebrew, a repetition of sounds, in “olive tree” and “house,” which in Hebrew are zayith and bayith.

I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.

Unlike the mighty and deceitful man, who trusted in wickedness and wealth to sustain him, David trusts instead in the mercy of God. His trust was borne out, for when David might have been cut off for his sin, we know that God’s mercy did indeed sustain him.

The phrase “forever and ever” is a poorly translated one. We can see at a glance that if something lasts “forever,” then there is little sense in adding the meaningless phrase, “and ever.” The Hebrew for the first is ‘olam, which does not mean “forever.” ‘Olam is a noun, and “ever” is an adverb, so it can hardly be said to be good translating to represent a noun by an adverb! This means “for the outflow.” THE outflow is a reference to the Kingdom of God to come, when God will flow out and flow down to the world in a way that He has never flowed before. That is when David will be planted like a green olive tree in the house of God.

The second “and ever” is the Hebrew word ‘ad, which speaks of perpetuity or an indefinite length of time. In other words, David does not anticipate only trusting in the mercy of God in the Kingdom of God, but he also anticipates trusting in it even beyond that, even perpetually.

9. I will praise You forever,

David will praise God for the ‘olam. Again, the term is not “forever,” but is referring to God’s Kingdom to come. Indeed, what is there that is greater to praise God for than the ‘olam? The word “praise” is yadah, which has to do with both praise and thanks. Of course, both are certainly appropriate in light of the greatness of the Kingdom.

Because You have done it;

David praises and thanks God for the ‘olam because He is the One Who has done it. That is, He has made the ‘olam come to pass. David is speaking here as if he were already living in the day of the ‘olam, and is praising God for bringing it about.

And in the presence of Your saints

David will be there in the presence of God’s saints. Of course, they will all be there, as no saint of God will be left out of the ‘olam when the time comes. David will have his place there among them, and will praise God along with all the rest.

I will wait on Your name, for it is good.

David will wait on God’s name at that time. The “name” of God is not merely the word people say when they want everyone to know they are talking about Him. No, it is instead the reputation God has. David will serve His reputation, for it is good. God’s reputation is often maligned today, but it will be good in that kingdom to come, and all will know the greatness of God in that day. What a privilege it will be to serve the glorious reputation of our God!

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Mahalath.”

David dedicates this song to the Chief Musician, which means it was meant for public use. “Set to ‘Mahalath’ is a meaningless phrase, but as The Companion Bible suggests in Appendix 65 IX, AQUILA, a reviser of the Septuagint, took the Hebrew to be Mecholoth instead, which means “The Great Dancings.” This draws our minds back to the original source of the jealousy of Saul against David in the first place: the great dancings of the women of Israel that took place upon the defeat of Goliath by David, as we read of it in I Samuel 18:6-9.

6. Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. 7. So the women sang as they danced, and said:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”
8. Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9. So Saul eyed David from that day forward.

David surely did not realize Saul’s negative reaction to this song at the time, and the women of Israel surely did not realize the trouble they would stir up by their choice of lyrics. Yet by the time David wrote this psalm he knew well the impact this event had had and how it had influenced Saul in his hatred and jealousy of David, which mad jealousy had led to his belief of the lies of Doeg and the terrible slaughter of the priests that followed. Therefore, that David would connect this psalm with “The Great Dancings” makes perfect sense. If one improperly moves this subscript to the introduction to Psalm 53, however, this phrase is meaningless, and no sense can be gotten out of it. Thus we see once again how important it is to recognize from Habakkuk 3 that many Psalms have both a superscript and a subscript, and this word belongs in the subscript of Psalm 52, not the superscript of Psalm 53.