Psalm 55:9
Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
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(9) Destroy.—Literally, swallow up. So the LXX., forcibly, “drown in the sea.” The object them must be supplied.

This sudden change from plaintive sadness to violent invective is one of the marked features of this poem. Some think there has been a transposition of verses, but in lyric poetry these abrupt transitions of tone are not uncommon nor unpleasing.

Divide their tonguesi.e., cause division in their councils. “Divide their voices” would be almost English, being exactly the opposite of Shakespeare’s “a joint and corporate voice.”

For I have seen.—With the sense, and see still.

Psalm 55:9. Destroy, O Lord, and divide — Destroy them by dividing their tongues — Their speech, as thou didst at Babel, (Genesis 11.,) their votes, and opinions, and counsels. Which was eminently done among Absalom’s followers, 2 Samuel 17. I have seen violence and strife — Injustice and fraud, oppression and contention rule there, instead of that public justice and peace which I established. In the city — In Jerusalem, which in Absalom’s time was a sink of all sins. And this circumstance is mentioned as an aggravation of their wickedness, that it was committed in that city where the throne and seat of public justice were settled; and where God was in a special manner present, and worshipped, and where they had great opportunities both for the knowledge and practice of their several duties.55:9-15 No wickedness so distresses the believer, as that which he witnesses in those who profess to be of the church of God. Let us not be surprised at the corruptions and disorders of the church on earth, but long to see the New Jerusalem. He complains of one that had been very industrious against him. God often destroys the enemies of the church by dividing them. And an interest divided against itself cannot long stand. The true Christian must expect trials from professed friends, from those with whom he has been united; this will be very painful; but by looking unto Jesus we shall be enabled to bear it. Christ was betrayed by a companion, a disciple, an apostle, who resembled Ahithophel in his crimes and doom. Both were speedily overtaken by Divine vengeance. And this prayer is a prophecy of the utter, the everlasting ruin, of all who oppose and rebel against the Messiah.Destroy, O Lord - The word rendered "destroy," properly means to "swallow up;" to "devour" with the idea of greediness. Isaiah 28:4; Exodus 7:12; Jonah 1:17; Jeremiah 51:34. Then it is used in the sense of "destroy," Job 20:18; Proverbs 1:12. The reference here is to the persons who had conspired against David. It is a prayer that they, and their counsels, might be destroyed: such a prayer as people always offer who pray for victory in battle. It is a prayer that the may be successful in what they regard as a righteous cause; but this implies a prayer that their enemies may be defeated and overcome. That is, they pray for success in what they have undertaken; and if it is right for them to attempt to do the thing, it is not wrong to pray that they may be succesful.

And divide their tongues - There is evident allusion here to the confusion of tongues at Babel Genesis 11:1-9; and as the language of those who undertook to build that tower was confounded so that they could not understand each other, so the psalmist prays that the counsels of those engaged against him might be confounded, or that they might be divided and distracted in their plans, so that they could not act in harmony. It is very probable that there is an allusion here to the prayer which David offered when he learned that Ahithophel was among the conspirators 2 Samuel 15:31; "And David said, O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." This would tend to divide and distract; the purposes of Absalom, and secure his defeat.

For I have seen violence and strife in the city - In Jerusalem. Perhaps he had learned that among the conspirators there was not entire harmony, but that there were elements of "strife" and discord which led him to hope that their counsels would be confounded. There was little homogeneoushess of aim and purpose among the followers of Absalom; and perhaps David knew enough of Ahithophel to see that his views, though he might be enlisted in the cause of the rebellion, would not be likely to harmonize with the views of the masses of those who were engaged in the revolt.

9. Destroy—literally, "swallow" (Ps 21:9).

divide their tongues—or, "confound their speech," and hence their counsels (Ge 11:7).

the city—perhaps Jerusalem, the scene of anarchy.

9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.

11 Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.

Psalm 55:9

"Destroy, O Lord." Put mine enemies to the rout. Let them be devoured by the sword, since they have unsheathed it against me. How could we expect the exiled monarch to offer any other prayer than this against the rebellious bands of Absalom, and the crafty devices of Ahithophel? "Divide their tongues." Make another Babel in their debates and councils of war. Set them at cross purposes. Divide the pack that the hunted one may escape. The divisions of error are the hope of truth. "For I have seen violence and strife in the city." The rabble and their leaders were plotting and planning, raging and contending against their king, running wild with a thousand mad projects: anarchy had fermented among them, and the king hoped that now it might come to pass that the very lawlessness which had exiled him would create weakness among his foes. Revolution devours its own children. They who are strong through violence, will sooner or later find that their strength is their death. Absalom and Ahithophel may raise the mob, but they cannot so easily rule it, nor so readily settle their own policy as to remain firm friends. The prayer of David was heard, the rebels were soon divided in their councils; Ahithophel went his way to be hanged with a rope, and Absalom to be hanged without one.

Psalm 55:10

"Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof." The city, the holy city had become a den of wickedness: conspirators met in the dark and talked in little knots in the streets even in broad daylight. Meanwhile the country was being roused to revolt, and the traitors without threatened to environ the city, and act in concert with the rebels within. No doubt there was a smothered fire of insurrection which Absalom kindled and fanned, which David perceived with alarm some time before he left Jerusalem; and when he quitted the city it broke out into an open flame. "Mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it." Unhappy capital to be thus beset by foes, left by her monarch, and filled with all those elements of turbulence which breed evil and trouble. Unhappy king to be thus compelled to see the mischief which he could not avert laying waste the city which he loved so well. There was another King whose many tears watered the rebellious city, and who said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"

Psalm 55:11

"Wickedness is in the midst thereof." The very heart of the city was base. In her places of authority crime went hand in hand with calamity. All the wilder and more wicked elements were uppermost; the canaille were commanders; the scum floated uppermost; justice was at a discount; the population was utterly demoralised; prosperity had vanished and order with it. "Deceit and guile depart not from her streets." In all the places of concourse crafty tongues were busy persuading the people with cozening phrases. Crafty demagogues led the people by the nose. Their good king was defamed in all ways, and when they saw him go away, they fell to reviling the governors of their own choosing. The forum was the fortress of fraud, the congress was the convention of cunning. Alas, poor Jerusalem, to be thus the victim of sin and shame! Virtue reviled and vice regnant! Her solemn assemblies broken up, her priests fled, her king banished, and troops of reckless villains parading her streets, sunning themselves on her walls, and vomiting their blasphemies in her sacred shrines. Here was cause enough for the sorrow which so plaintively utters itself in these verses.

Divide their tongues, i.e. destroy them by dividing.

Their tongues, i.e. their speech, as thou didst at Babel, Ge 11; their votes, and opinions, and counsels; which was eminently done among Absalom’s followers, 2 Samuel 17.

I have seen; or, I do see or perceive, by certain and general report. Violence and strife in the city; that injustice, and fraud, and oppression, and contention bear rule there, instead of that public justice and peace which I established and maintained in it. In the city; either,

1. In Keilah, where David thought to abide, 1 Samuel 23, Or,

2. In Gibeah, where Saul had his abode. Or rather,

3. In Jerusalem; which is called the city by way of eminency; and which in Absalom’s time was the chief seat of rebellion, and a mere sink of all sins. And this circumstance is noted as an aggravation of their wickedness, that it was committed in that city, where the throne and seat of public justice was settled; and where God was in a special manner present and worshipped; and where they had great opportunities, both for the knowledge and practice of their several duties. Destroy, O Lord,.... Or "swallow up" (s), as Pharaoh and his host were swallowed up in the Red sea; or as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, were swallowed up in the earth; so all the enemies of Christ and his church will be destroyed; and death, the last of them, will be swallowed up in victory, Isaiah 25:8. The Targum interprets it, "destroy", or "scatter their counsel": but this seems to be intended in the next clause;

and divide their tongues: as at the confusion of languages at Babel, to which the allusion is: this had its accomplishment in Absalom's counsellors according to David's wish, 2 Samuel 15:31; and in the Jewish sanhedrim in Christ's time, and in the witnesses they produced against him, Luke 23:51; and of which there is an instance in the council of the Jews, held on account of the Apostle Paul, Acts 23:7;

for I have seen violence and strife in the city: in the city of Jerusalem, now left by David, and possessed by Absalom, by whom "violence" was done to David's wives, through the advice of Ahithophel; and "strife", contention, and rebellion, were fomented among the people: this David saw, understood, and perceived, by the intelligence brought him from time to time: and in the times of Christ the kingdom of heaven suffered "violence" in this place, and he endured the "contradiction" of sinners against himself.

(s) "degluti", Montanus, Tigurine version; "absorbe", Piscator, Gejerus, Michaelis; so Ainsworth.

Destroy, O Lord, and {g} divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.

(g) As in the confusion of Babylon when the wicked conspired against God.

9. Destroy] Lit., swallow up these malicious plotters, as the earth swallowed up Korah and his crew (Numbers 16:32). From several passages however it has been inferred that this verb also means to confound; and if so, their tongue may be the object of both verbs, and there may be a reminiscence of two passages in Genesis:—“The Lord did there confound the language of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9): and “In his days was the earth divided” (Genesis 10:25). May confusion and division such as overtook the builders of Babel overtake them, and break up their confederacy!

9–11. He prays for the confusion of his enemies’ counsels, and describes the miserable condition of the city.

9–15. The plaintive pleading of the opening verses suddenly gives way to a fierce outburst of indignation.Verses 9-15. - With a sudden transition, the writer passes from his own suffering, fears, and longings, to imprecations on his enemies, and a description of their wicked proceedings. In the course of his description he singles out one individual for special remark - one who had been his own guide, companion, and friend - but who had turned against him, and joined the company of his adversaries (vers. 12-14). Verse 9. - Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues. The second clause contains a reference to the confusion of tongues at Babel (Genesis 11:7). "Introduce confusion into their counsels, and disperse them, as thou didst with the wicked ones who were forced to leave off to build the Tower." For I have seen violence and strife in the city. Such quarrels and broils, i.e., as usually precede revolutionary disturbance. In this first group sorrow prevails. David spreads forth his deep grief before God, and desires for himself some lonely spot in the wilderness far away from the home or lurking-place of the confederate band of those who are compassing his overthrow. "Veil not Thyself" here, where what is spoken of is something audible, not visible, is equivalent to "veil not Thine ear," Lamentations 3:56, which He designedly does, when the right state of heart leaves the praying one, and consequently that which makes it acceptable and capable of being answered is wanting to the prayer (cf. Isaiah 1:15). שׂיח signifies a shrub (Syriac shucho, Arabic šı̂ḥ), and also reflection and care (Arabic, carefulness, attention; Aramaic, סח, to babble, talk, discourse). The Hiph. חריד, which in Genesis 27:40 signifies to lead a roving life, has in this instance the signification to move one's self backwards and forwards, to be inwardly uneasy; root רד, Arab. rd, to totter, whence râda, jarûda, to run up and down (IV to desire, will); raida, to shake (said of a soft bloated body); radda, to turn (whence taraddud, a moving to and fro, doubting); therefore: I wander hither and thither in my reflecting or meditating, turning restlessly from one thought to another. It is not necessary to read ואחמיה after Psalm 77:4 instead of ועהימה, since the verb הוּם equals המה, Psalm 42:6, 12, is secured by the derivatives. Since these only exhibit הוּם, and not הים (in Arabic used more particularly of the raving of love), ואהימה, as also אריד, is Hiph., and in fact like this latter used with an inward object: I am obliged to raise a tumult or groan, break out into the dull murmuring sounds of pain. The cohortative not unfrequently signifies "I have to" or "I must" of incitements within one's self which are under the control of outward circumstances. In this restless state of mind he finds himself, and he is obliged to break forth into this cry of pain on account of the voice of the foe which he cannot but hear; by reason of the pressure or constraint (עקת) of the evil-doer which he is compelled to feel. The conjecture צעקת (Olshausen and Hupfeld) is superfluous. עקה is a more elegant Aramaizing word instead of צרה.

The second strophe begins with a more precise statement of that which justifies his pain. The Hiph. חמיט signifies here, as in Psalm 140:11 (Chethb), declinare: they cast or roll down evil (calamity) upon him and maliciously lay snares for him בּאף, breathing anger against him who is conscious of having manifested only love towards them. His heart turns about in his body, it writhes (יהיל); cf. on this, Psalm 38:11. Fear and trembling take possession of his inward parts; יבא in the expression יבא בי, as is always the case when followed by a tone syllable, is a so-called נסוג אחור, i.e., it has the tone that has retreated to the penult. (Deuteronomy 1:38; Isaiah 7:24; Isaiah 60:20), although this is only with difficulty discernible in our printed copies, and is therefore (vid., Accentsystem, vi. 2) noted with Mercha. The fut. consec. which follows introduces the heightened state of terror which proceeds from this crowding on of fear and trembling. Moreover, the wish that is thereby urged from him, which David uttered to himself, is introduced in the third strophe by a fut. consec.

(Note: That beautiful old song of the church concerning Jesus has grown out of this strophe: -

Ecquis binas columbinas

Alas dabit animae?

Et in almam crucis palmam

Evolat citissime, etc.)

"Who will give me?" is equivalent to "Oh that I had!" Ges. 136, 1. In ואשׁכּנה is involved the self-satisfying signification of settling down (Ezekiel 31:13), of coming to rest and remaining in a place (2 Samuel 7:10). Without going out of our way, a sense perfectly in accordance with the matter in hand may be obtained for אחישׁה מפלט לי, if אחישׁה is taken not as Kal (Psalm 71:12), but after Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 60:12, as Hiph.: I would hasten, i.e., quickly find for myself a place which might serve me as a shelter from the raging wind, from the storm. רוּח סעה is equivalent to the Arabic rihin sâijat-in, inasmuch as Arab. s‛â, "to move one's self quickly, to go or run swiftly," can be said both of light (Koran, 66:8) and of water-brooks (vid., Jones, Comm. Poes. Asiat., ed. Lipsiae, p. 358), and also of strong currents of air, of winds, and such like. The correction סערה, proposed by Hupfeld, produces a disfiguring tautology. Among those about David there is a wild movement going on which is specially aimed at his overthrow. From this he would gladly flee and hide himself, like a dove taking refuge in a cleft of the rock from the approaching storm, or from the talons of the bird of prey, fleeing with its noiseless but persevering flight.

(Note: Kimchi observes that the dove, when she becomes tired, draws in one wing and flies with the other, and thus the more surely escapes. Aben-Ezra finds an allusion here to the carrier-pigeon.)

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