Psalm 54

A Contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, “Is David not hiding with us?”

As in Psalm 53, here we have another Psalm that is called “A Contemplation of David.” The word the New King James Version has translated “Contemplation” is the Hebrew maskiyl, which The Companion Bible suggests means “Instruction.” This psalm is for public instruction regarding the LORD’s faithfulness to rescue His people from the hand of their oppressors.

David wrote this Psalm after learning that the Ziphites had gone to tell Saul that David was hiding among them. I Samuel 23 tells us the story.

14. And David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.

From this verse we learn that David was hiding in the mountains or hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. This was in southern Judah, the territory of David’s own tribe, so we might have expected that the Ziphites would be loyal to David, their fellow tribesman and God’s choice as king, and would not have given him away to the vengeful King Saul. Yet this was not the case. Apparently the lure of currying favor with the current King was too much for the Ziphites, and they would rather have gotten favor with the man currently in power than trust in the man whose only claim was that God had promised him the throne. Thus, they inform Saul on David, as we read starting in verse 19.

19. Then the Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding with us in strongholds in the woods, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? 20. Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.”

Thus the Ziphites, David’s own tribesmen, sell him out to Saul, bringing him word of David’s whereabouts among them.

21. And Saul said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, for you have compassion on me. 22. Please go and find out for sure, and see the place where his hideout is, and who has seen him there. For I am told he is very crafty. 23. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hides; and come back to me with certainty, and I will go with you. And it shall be, if he is in the land, that I will search for him throughout all the clans of Judah.”

Saul knew that David was expert at slipping away from him, so he wants exact information so he can be sure to catch him. Notice how hypocritical Saul is, blessing the Ziphites in the name of the LORD when he was in rebellion against the LORD and seeking to destroy the one whom He had chosen to be the next king!

24. So they arose and went to Ziph before Saul. But David and his men were in the Wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon.

The Ziphites return to spy on David and give Saul the exact information he desired.

25. When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David. Therefore he went down to the rock, and stayed in the Wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued David in the Wilderness of Maon.

David has his own spies, and learns Saul is coming. He moves to try to hide from him, but the treachery of his fellow tribesmen in giving his every move away to Saul works against him.

26. Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them.

The treacherous actions of Saul’s informants result in David’s being cornered, and Saul and his men are just short of taking them in their trap, having surrounded them.

27. But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land!” 28. Therefore Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines; so they called that place the Rock of Escape. 29. Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.

At this point the LORD steps in and rescues David Himself by seeing to it that Saul receives a more urgent report and is forced to abandon his trap to meet an enemy invasion force. Yet to David, who had not heard the report Saul received, the miraculous element of this must have been evident, as he saw his enemies, who had him cornered and surrounded so he could not escape, suddenly and inexplicably turn back and march away, leaving him safe. Surely he saw the LORD’s hand behind this last-minute deliverance!

Yet this did not end the treachery of the Ziphites, for we read again of their betrayal of David in I Samuel 26:1.

1. Now the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding in the hill of Hachilah, opposite Jeshimon?”

Thus the crafty Ziphites again sought Saul’s favor at David’s expense. Yet this psalm most certainly is from the earlier episode, for the quote is the exact equivalent of that they said in 23:19, not what they said in 26:1. Thus we have this psalm, the first three verses of which deal with David’s prayer in trouble, the middle two with his confidence in God, and the last two with his deliverance.

1. Save me, O God, by Your name,

David calls upon God to save him by His name. We are probably aware that the “name” had to do with the reputation, a true name being based on one’s true character. Here the sense is probably either for the sake of His true character, so that others may know He is faithful to His promises to David, or because of His true character, since it could only be vindicated by seeing to it that David was not destroyed by Saul, but would live to take the throne as He had promised.

And vindicate me by Your strength.

The Hebrew word for “vindicate” here is the word for “judge.” We have a rather foolish idea that when God “judges,” that is the same as saying He “punishes.” This, however, is not the case. To “judge” means to “set in order,” not to punish. When God judges the innocent, he will clear them of any charge of wrongdoing. Obviously, David has a clear conscience before God, and knows that if God judges him, he will come out clean in this matter that Saul was accusing him of. Therefore, he wishes for God to judge him, knowing that such judgment will result in his vindication.

2. Hear my prayer, O God;

David calls on God to hear his prayer. Of course he realized that God always hears the prayers of His people, yet David means more than just that God’s mind will register the words that he is speaking. What David wants is not just for God to hear the words coming out of his mouth, but rather he wants God to acknowledge those words and grant his request. That is what he means by “hear.” This is much the same as when we plead with someone to “listen to me.” We know their ears are registering the sounds, but we want them to respond to our words as we desire them to. That is what David wants here.

Give ear to the words of my mouth.

As is often the case in Hebrew poetry, what David said in the first phrase of this verse is repeated in the second phrase in a slightly different way. Hebrew poetry depends on repetition of ideas rather than repetition of sounds, as English poetry does. Therefore, the poetry can be translated into other languages, which is a great benefit. David here is again calling on God to listen to him and to grant his request when he asks Him to “give ear to the words of my mouth.”

3. For strangers have risen up against me,

David complains that strangers have risen up against him. This seems odd, since the people at issue were the Ziphites, who were not only Israelites but who were also members of his own tribe. There are several possible explanations for this. For one thing, both The Companion Bible and Rotherham points out that some Hebrew codices have “insolent men” instead of “foreigners.” Bullinger says two early printed editions and the Aramaic also support this reading. If that is the case, it would make sense. It is also possible that there was a high concentration of foreigners among the Ziphites for some reason. We know many Canaanites were still in the land because the Israelites had disobediently failed to drive them out. It is possible that many of the inhabitants of Ziph were foreigners. That would cause this complaint to make good sense.

And oppressors have sought after my life;

Oppressive people have sought after David’s life, he complains. If this is another case of parallel ideas, it would lend support to the idea that the previous phrase spoke of “insolent men” rather than “foreigners.” At any rate, David knows that he is an innocent man, and so these Ziphites are oppressive people who seek their own gain, even if it means that they will have to betray one of their fellow Judahites to the godless king Saul.

The word for “life” is the Hebrew word for “soul,” nephesh, and David expresses that these wicked men are seeking his soul when they are seeking his life. In our modern theological terminology this would not fit, for the idea is that the “soul” is the real man, the inner invisible man who can exist without the body. The only way to seek the soul, in their minds, is to seek to change its “eternal destiny” either for heaven or for hell. Yet these men were not trying to get David’s soul to be tormented forever in hell. What they really wanted was David to die. They sought after his life. The soul, then, is just David, himself, his life. If these men can kill David’s body, his soul will die as well. That is what they were trying to do.  They were not trying to do anything about his “eternal destiny.”

They have not set God before them. Selah

David knows that God is with him. Therefore, for these men to betray him as they had done showed that they did not really care what God thought or which side He was on. If they had set God before them, they would have known to side with David. Yet they had not set God before them, and so they betrayed him.

This verse ends with the Hebrew word “selah.” According to The Companion Bible, this word is a connecting word. In this case, it connects the danger David was in from these wicked men with his true source of help in God.

4. Behold, God is my helper;

Yes, David hopes to escape, not because of his cleverness, but rather because God is his helper. David knows that while God is with him, he will be safe from whatever danger both the Ziphites and Saul pose to him, and he will escape whatever schemes they lay to try to capture him. That is exactly what we see happen in the record of this incident in I Samuel 23.

The Lord is with those who uphold my life.

Again this is a Hebrew poetic repetition. The LORD is with those who uphold David’s life.

Though the New King James Version has the word “Lord” in a single capital letter followed by three small letters, which indicates that this name is not “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in the original, The Companion Bible reveals that this was an emendation of the Sopherim, or the self-styled “wise ones” who dared to lift up their pens to edit the Word of the living God. They thought that the LORD was not respectful enough in how He used His Own name, so they showed they had more respect for God than He did by editing out Yahweh in many places and putting Adonai instead. This is one of those places. Therefore, the name should be in four capital letters here, LORD, showing that it is the name Jehovah in the original.

Though the New King James Version translates it “life,” the Hebrew word here is nephesh, which is the word often translated “soul.” The translators of our English Bibles, attempting to rescue their erroneous Platonic ideas of the soul, have translated the Hebrew word nephesh in a startlingly inconsistent manner in order to hide that the Bible does not at all support their views of it. Those who uphold David’s soul are those who are helping him stay alive in this life. They have nothing to do with getting some disembodied internal man who is the “real” David life after death. David is putting the soul here for nothing more than himself and for his own life in this world. This passage, like many others, shows that the common view of the soul is completely devoid of support from the Word of God.

5. He will repay my enemies for their evil.

David is confident that Jehovah will repay his enemies for their evil. The old King James Version had “He shall reward evil unto my enemies.” This makes sense when we realize that the Hebrew ra’a means basically “calamity,” and not what we think of as “evil” or base moral corruption and wickedness. Jehovah is rewarding David’s enemies with calamity, not with wickedness. We never hear of what happened to the Ziphites, but we know the sad end of King Saul and that he indeed met his end in a great calamity.

Cut them off in Your truth.

David calls on Jehovah to cut off his enemies in His truth. We can see in the words of Samuel in I Samuel 28 the cutting off of Saul in the truth of God, which pointed out Saul’s great rebellion and wickedness against Jehovah. We again do not know of the end of the Ziphites, but we would speculate that many who sided with this wicked king fell along with him in his tragic final battle against the Philistines.

6. I will freely sacrifice to You;

David is probably anticipating his deliverance from his enemies here, and promises that he will sacrifice a freewill offering to Yahweh at that time. It is good that, when God does great things for us, we offer Him thanks for it, and David had a means of physically showing his gratitude through the system of freewill offerings God had set up for Israel. We do not have such things, and so must show our gratitude in other ways. Of course, God is capable of seeing and recognizing the gratitude in a truly thankful heart.

I will praise Your name, O LORD, for it is good.

Along with the freewill offering, David will praise the LORD’s name, for it is good. The LORD’s name is His reputation, and His true reputation is based on His true character. David will speak highly of and magnify the LORD’s reputation based on His powerful rescue of him from his enemies at this time.

7. For He has delivered me out of all trouble;

Either these words were written after the matter of Saul and the Ziphites had already reached its conclusion, or else David is looking back at Jehovah’s past deliverances of him and anticipating the truth that this time, too, he will be delivered. He had rescued David from all trouble in the past, and He would do it again in this dire case as well. Again we can see how He did rescue David in the story in I Samuel 23.

And my eye has seen its desire upon my enemies.

This is another case of poetic repetition of what was stated in the previous line. Of course it is David’s eye that saw, but the desire was not from his eye but from himself. His soul desired to see his enemies foiled and himself rescued, and that is what he has seen. His confidence in God has been justified, and God has seen him through this terrible trap that he faced.

To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments.

This psalm was dedicated to the Chief Musician, which means it was meant for public use and edification. The Hebrew Neginoth means “Smitings,” and does not refer to the striking of a bow on a string, but to the smitings that his enemies desired to bring down on David’s head, and that God had returned on theirs instead. This psalm was indeed about Smitings, and the LORD smote David’s enemies and delivered David from them all.