Thursday, December 12, 2013

Psalm 55

Lines Scansion
NASB (The Hebrew Bible includes the superscription as verse 1. The English Bibles have one less verse. The following discussion uses the English Bible verse numbering for convenience unless otherwise indicated.)

1       Give ear to my prayer, O God;
         And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
2       Give heed to me and answer me;
         I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted,
3       Because of the voice of the enemy,
         Because of the pressure of the wicked;
         For they bring down trouble upon me
         And in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4       My heart is in anguish within me,
         And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5       Fear and trembling come upon me,
         And horror has overwhelmed me.
6       I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
         I would fly away and be at rest.
7       “Behold, I would wander far away,
         I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.
8       “I would hasten to my place of refuge
         From the stormy wind and tempest.”
9       Confuse, O Lord, divide their tongues,
         For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
10     Day and night they go around her upon her walls,
         And iniquity and mischief are in her midst.
11     Destruction is in her midst;
         Oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets.
12     For it is not an enemy who reproaches me,
         Then I could bear it;
         Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me,
         Then I could hide myself from him.

13     But it is you, a man my equal,
         My companion and my familiar friend;

14     We who had sweet fellowship together
         Walked in the house of God in the throng.
15     Let death come deceitfully upon them;
         Let them go down alive to Sheol,
         For evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.
16     As for me, I shall call upon God,
         And the LORD will save me.
17     Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur,
         And He will hear my voice.
18     He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is
            against me,
         For they are many who strive with me.
19     God will hear and answer them—
         Even the one who sits enthroned from of old—Selah.
         With whom there is no change, 
         And who do not fear God.
20     He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace
            with him;
         He has violated his covenant.
21     His speech was smoother than butter,
         But his heart was war;
         His words were softer than oil,
         Yet they were drawn swords.
22     Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you;
         He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
23     But You, O God, will bring them down to the pit of destruction;
         Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days.
         But I will trust in You.
 Effects of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
The center of Psalm 55, an individual lament (Tate, Psalms 51-100, 55), can be supported by (1) the lines scansion, (2) the central theme and outline, and (3) some content details. The metric evaluation shown in the Hebrew text reveals a clear division: 82 beats before and 83 beats after verse 13 (14 in Hebrew). It would be convenient to center the Psalm in verses 12-14 and the metrics would not vary much—77 and 75 beats. However, verse 13 is still the focal point in these three verses and in the Psalm as a whole as acknowledge by many scholars.
Psalm 55 does not outline neatly as evidenced by numerous commentators. “However, it is very obvious that the psalm reflects great emotional strain, and under such circumstances a person may not be concerned for an orderly and disciplined presentation,” write Tesh and Zorn (Psalms, 387). Bratcher and Reyburn (A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 491) comment, “The irregularities in the progression of thought have led many commentators to conjecture that the work is composite, but there is hardly any agreement on the identification of the two or more separate compositions that might have been brought together in the final form.” Also, the terms in the first part of the psalm (1-12) that appear in the second part (14-23) tie the psalm together into a coherent whole—complaint and complain (root שיח, verses 2 and 17); distracted and murmur (root הום, verses 2 and 17); bring down and to be shaken (root מוט, verses 3 and 22). Tate (Psalms) remarks, “The psalm is held together by a common theme of the trouble brought by the treacherous actions of a friend. Also note the use of the verb מוט (“move/shake”) in vv 4 and 23 [Hebrew], a wordplay which links the first part of the psalm with the second, . . .”
Almost without exception, the commentators highlight the “faithless friend” found in verses 12-14 as the primary theme. Bratcher and Reyburn speak of “. . . the treachery of a former friend (verses 12–14).” The Pulpit Commentary (p. 413) finds as the central theme a “reference to a faithless friend, who is the chief cause of the writer’s sufferings.” Davidson finds the same emphasis (The Vitality of Worship: a Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 175) writing, “. . . the intensity of the psalmist’s feelings disrupts the logical sequence of thought, with two separate sections on his treacherous companion (vv. 12–14 and 20–21).”  Tesh and Zorn (Psalms, 387) likewise emphasize the theme, “But the agony, distressful as it is, is intensified by the discovery that a trusted friend, a bosom companion, has betrayed that trust by joining those who conspire against him (vv. 12–14).” Ross (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I, 1834) states, “This psalm records David’s experience of persecution through the betrayal of an intimate friend.” Finally, Keil and Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament, 5, 381) title the entire psalm “Prayer of One Who is Maliciously Beset and Betrayed by His Friend.” Others could be listed, but what becomes clear is that the central theme of the psalm is found in verses 12-14, making verse 13, and the metric center, the focal point.

But there is more.  Some details of the psalm’s contents point to verse 13 as the center. Taking special note of the terms in the singular that reflect the “faithless friend” (not including verse 13), there are 6 mentions in verses 1-12 and 9 mentions in verses 14-23. Also, observing the terms in the plural that refer to the “enemies,” there are 2 mentions in verses 1-12 and 16 mentions in verses 14-23. There is a definite movement from focusing on the “friend” to accentuating the “enemies.”

Also, an emphasis on speech by the “friend” and the “enemies” exists in both parts of the psalm: “the voice of the enemy” (3—“friend”); “divide their tongues” (12—“enemies”): “For they are many who strive with me. God will hear and answer them” (18b-19a—“enemies”); “His speech was smoother than butter” and “His words were softer than oil” (21—“friend”). Though other terms in the psalm also imply speech, these direct statements lead to the conclusion that the central antagonist in the psalm is the “friend” who perhaps incites the “enemies” to speak ad act unfavorably against the psalmist. That the psalm emphasizes the “enemies” in the latter part of the psalm appears to support this impression.
Not to be forgotten, Westermann (Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 70) makes this cogent comment that has bearing on verse 13, “But there is an unequivocal mark that in the past has not been given sufficient attention. At the place where the change [in the tone of the psalm] occurs, almost all of these [lament] Psalms contain a waw adversative, ‘But thou O God . . . ,’ or ‘But I . . .’” Verse 13 contains a prominent “But you” (וְאַתָּ֣ה), and although these words do not by themselves change the direction of the this psalm, they certainly stand out and define the emotional low point experienced by the psalmist.
Given the somewhat “disjointed” development of Psalm 55 (see above), this summary generalizes the overall flow of the passage and includes all of verses 12-14 in the central box.