Psalm 52 Commentary: Words have consequences. As James, the brother of our Lord, says the tongue is like a fire and can do all sorts of damage.
And in the life of the author of Psalm 52, he's experienced one particular time in which the words of another person caused a lot of damage.
So, let's turn our attention to Psalm 52.
Psalm 52 Commentary Superscription
The author of Psalm 52 reveals both who he is and the setting for which he wrote this psalm – and he does this in the superscription – the writing above the psalm itself.
<[To/For] the [chief Musician/choir director/music director],
[Maschil, A Psalm/A well-written song] [of/by] David,
[it was written…] when Doeg the Edomite [came/went] and [told/informed] Saul, and said unto him, [“] David [is come to/has arrived at] the [house/home] of Ahimelech. [”]>
Now, most of us probably need a refresher on the setting that David just mentioned. He’s referring to what happened in 1 Samuel, chapters 21 and 22.
There, Saul is king and has become murderous in his intentions toward David. David has learned of this and is fleeing from his king.
Under those circumstances, David flees to a city called Nob where some priests lived. They had no idea that Saul hated David – and David himself wasn’t very truthful and forthright with them – and so they helped David. The priests give David and his men food and Goliath’s sword and they pray to God for them.
But the problem is – as we’re told in 1 Samuel 21 – that one of Saul’s servants was there quietly witnessing all of this. And his name was Doeg and he was originally from the nation of Edom – which descended from Esau – and so he's known in Scripture as "Doeg the Edomite" – he's the one referenced in the superscription of Psalm 52.
Well, after David visited the priests at Nob, he then went to Philistia and then to Moab and finally he returned to Judah.
But after learning of these various journeys of David, the author then cuts to a scene where Saul is accusing all of his servants of supporting David. In that context, Doeg the Edomite steps forward and gives Saul all the details of Ahimelech the priest helping David.
This prompts Saul to go talk to Ahimelech – who admits that he helped David but he also declares that he knew nothing regarding how Saul was David’s enemy.
But that doesn't matter to Saul – he demands the murder of the priests of the LORD – not just Ahimelech – but all of them who are there.
And no Israelite is willing to do this awful deed. Saul wouldn't do it himself and he couldn't find any other native-born Israelite to do it either.
So, Saul turns to the shameless and godless Doeg – who is very zealous to kill the Lord’s priests – 85 of them in one day.
And he didn’t stop there. Doeg went into the rest of the city of Nob and killed men, women, and children – and animals even. Innocent lives – holy and pious lives – were taken at the hands of this godless foreigner.
And if that story doesn’t make you angry – you’re maybe not paying attention – because it made David very angry.
And in this psalm, David expresses his anger toward the godless foreigner Doeg. David also expresses his confidence in God’s inevitable dealing with Doeg. And he’ll end all of this with praise to the Lord.
Psalm 52 Commentary 1 Denouncing Doeg
So, let’s move on to verse 1 where David challenges Doeg and then expresses his confidence in God.
KJV Psalm 52:1 Why [boastest thou thyself/do you boast] [in/about] [your plans which are…] [mischief/evil], O [mighty/powerful] man?
the [goodness/loving-kindness/loyal love] of God [endureth/protects me] [continually/all day long].
And isn’t this what Doeg did? He boasted about his mischief – his evil plans. He boasted to Saul of his knowledge of the situation and he used Saul’s insane hatred for David to murder innocent and godly lives.
And Doeg was indeed mighty – as David describes him here. He was over all of Saul’s servants – at least over the shepherds – which would have been a position of some power. And then of course, his stooping to the level of King Saul and murdering these priests would have earned him even more favor and power from the king.
And after Doeg murdered all of those priests, David was surely aware that he was this man’s next target.
But David questions Doeg – whether or not Doeg ever heard these words. David’s question to this godless foreigner is “why?” “Why do you boast of your evil plans?”
And David’s next statement gives the reason for David’s question. David wants to remind himself - and make Doeg and everyone else aware - that God’s loyal love is continuous. It never ends.
And for David, he was confident that that loyal love was going to protect him – even against the likes of this wicked man Doeg.
Now, God’s goodness or his lovingkindess or his loyal covenant love – would have been especially precious to David because God had anointed him king over Israel. But it hadn’t happened yet. And so, God’s loyal love would ensure that David eventually became king. So, he had no fear of Doeg.
And for us who have God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ – we experience realities that make us fear. We fear for our families – for our church – for our ministries that we’re involved in – for our own souls in this fallen world that's full of temptation. And we need to meet those fears with God’s promises – and the loyal love that he has for us that makes those promises so believable and trustworthy.
So, by God’s grace, let’s meet the fearful realities of this life with a constant reminder to ourselves of God’s covenant love to us – like David did.
Psalm 52 Commentary 2 Denouncing Doeg
But the fact that David was trusting in God’s loyal love doesn’t stop him from speaking to Doeg as if the two of them were standing face-to-face. And so, we see David revealing Doeg’s ungodliness – focusing especially on his speech.
2 Thy tongue [deviseth/devises/carries out] [mischiefs/destruction/your destructive plans];
[like/it is as effective as] a sharp razor, [working deceitfully/O worker of deceit/O deceiver].
And this is the member of Doeg’s body that did the most initial damage and led to all other damage – his tongue.
He spoke to Saul about the priests and that was the first step that led him down a path of selective genocide – murdering a whole town of priests and their families.
Doeg’s tongue was like a sharp razor that cuts and wounds and kills. He destroys and he does so deceitfully.
Now, why does David say that Doeg was deceitful?
Doeg saw the entire context of that conversation between David and Ahimelech. Doeg was aware that Ahimelech knew nothing of Saul’s soured relationship with David. Doeg could have said something about that to Saul. But he didn’t. He painted Ahimelech as if he were intentionally committing mutinee against his king. As if Ahimelech were the reason that David kept escaping Saul's murderous plans for him.
Psalm 52 Commentary 3 Denouncing Doeg
And it really is this aspect of Doeg more than anything else that David continually focuses on in this psalm. David keeps considering Doeg’s lying speech.
3 Thou lovest evil more than good;
[and lying/falsehood/lies] [rather/more] than [to speak/speaking] [righteousness/what is right/the truth].
So, Doeg is all for lying and evil rather than good and speaking was is right and true.
Psalm 52 Commentary 4 Denouncing Doeg
And David continues speaking of Doeg’s destructive and dishonest words.
4 Thou lovest [to use…] all [devouring words/words that devour/the words that destroy],
[O thou/and the] deceitful tongue.
So, David declares that either Doeg is himself a deceitful tongue or that he loves deceitful tongues. Either way, Doeg is a liar and he loves lies.
Psalm 52 Commentary 5 God will repay Doeg
And because of this, David is convinced that God will repay Doeg for his destructive lies.
5 God shall [likewise destroy/break down/make a heap of ruins of] thee [for ever/permanent],
he shall [take/snatch/scoop] thee [away/up], and [pluck/tear/remove] thee [out of thy dwelling place/away from your tent/from your home],
and [root/uproot] thee [out of/from] the land of the living.
So, notice the payback – the poetic justice. Doeg has destroyed others. And so, God will destroy him.
Doeg unlawfully took the lives of those holy men in Nob. And so, David is convinced that God will take Doeg’s life in due time.
Psalm 52 Commentary 6 Reaction of the righteous
And when God does this, David declares that the righteous will rejoice.
6 The [righteous/godly] also shall see [this…], and [fear/will be filled with awe],
and shall [laugh at/mock] [him/the evildoer]:
So, the righteous have reactions concerning two individuals.
First, the righteous will react to God. They will see his destruction of the lying Doeg and they will be filled with awe.
Second, the righteous will react to Doeg’s calamity and they will mock and laugh at him.
Psalm 52 Commentary 7 The Taunt of the Godly
And here’s what they’ll say when God gives Doeg what he deserves.
7 [Lo/Behold/Look], this is the man that made not God his [strength/refuge/protector];
but trusted in [the abundance of his riches/his great wealth],
and [strengthened himself/was strong/was confident] [in/about] his [wickedness/evil desires/plans to destroy others].
So, the righteous will recognize that Doeg had two choices as to what he was going to place his confidence in – what he was going to consider to be his ultimate source of security. Would Doeg consider his wealth to be his strength? Or would he reconsider that position and perceive God to be his ultimate strength?
Well, of course, we know that Doeg was going to choose riches to be his strength. And David and the other righteous individuals would declare that this was the wrong choice. Doeg made a mistake of eternal consequence.
Doeg should have considered God to be his source of protection. He shouldn’t have feared Saul. He shouldn’t have misrepresented the priests and then murdered them to gain favor with Saul.
Doeg should have relied on God to protect him. But because he didn’t, God will punish him and the righteous will laugh. That's what David is saying.
Psalm 52 Commentary 8 The Contrast
On the other hand, David and all his fellow righteous brothers will recognize that because of God’s loyal love and their taking refuge in him alone – that they’re going to be OK.
8 But [as for me…] I am like a [green/flourishing] olive tree in the house of God:
I trust in the [mercy/lovingkindness/loyal love] of God [for ever and ever/continually].
So, David and his brethren don’t need to lie to survive. They trust in God for the consequences of their lives.
And the consequences might be death.
Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 21 and 22 is perhaps the only character that doesn’t lie. He tells Saul the truth. And the consequence that God allowed for him doing right was death – an unjust violent end to this life.
And yet, as we recall wording in Psalm 23 we remember that David was convinced that he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And what are the righteous saying in Psalm 52 here? They’re like a green olive tree – where? In the house of the Lord.
Ahimelech spoke truth and was ultimately ushered into the house of the Lord forever.
David spoke truth and God was going to preserve him in this life.
And so, whether by death or by rescue and deliverance, David and all the righteous are convinced that in contrast to the awful end that the wicked will meet – that we will be like a healthy olive tree in God’s house forever. All because of God’s loyal love.
Psalm 52 Commentary 9 Praise to God
And in light of this, we end this psalm with praise to this loyal-loving God.
9 I will [praise thee/give you thanks/thank you] [for ever/continually], [because/when] thou [hast done it/execute judgement]:
and I will [wait on thy name/rely on you]; for it is good [before thy saints/in the presence of your godly ones/in the estimation of your loyal followers].
So, we won’t be ashamed if we rely on the Lord. Those who reject the Lord and rely on themselves will be ashamed. But we’re privileged to praise the Lord – both now and for eternity.
So, as we pray let’s take some time to thank the Lord for his protection from evil. And let’s with the saints here – in their presence – express our confident reliance upon the Lord.