Explication of Psalm 52

“To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”

1 Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
2  Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
3  You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
4  You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
5  But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6  The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
7  “See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
8  But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9  I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.”

Doeg-the-EdomitePsalm 52 is a lament from David, set forth after the portion of the narrative which deals with Doeg, Saul, and Ahimelech. Although Ahimelech’s loyalty to David and his recognition of David’s virtue ensured that David’s life was spared from Saul, there is still tragedy inherent in the story, as 85 priests were murdered for refusing to give David up to Saul. David exalts the Lord for sparing his life and leading him out of danger with Saul, but he is also filled with anguished over the deaths of the priests and Doeg’s murderous actions. David expresses his pain and anger towards the actions and betrayal of Doeg, setting forth all of the ways in which his actions will bring about retribution from the Lord, and it ends with an affirmation and reiteration of his own faith within God. In that way, we see both a marked contrast in the faith of Doeg and David, as well as in the favor or disfavor in which they will find themselves in the eyes of God because of their actions.

Psalm-52-word-balloons1It also has elements of a historical psalm, as it is a reiteration of an earlier account found in 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 21 and 22 tell the tale of Doeg and Ahimelech. After David fled to avoid being killed by Saul, Ahimelech granted him bread and a sword, but Doeg had been detained in the area and recognized David. Word reached Saul that David had been discovered in the area, and Doeg gave him the news of David’s presence and of the provisions granted to him by Ahimelech. When Saul questioned Ahimelech, Ahimelech defended David, stating that there was no one else as loyal and faithful as David amongst them. Displeased by this loyalty to David, Saul ordered the guards to kill the priests; when they refused, he instead gave Doeg the command, who then killed 85 priests. Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped and took news of the slaughter to David, who took the guilt of those deaths upon himself and told Abiathar to stay with him for safety. So in that way, we see a recounting of an early narrative account, although with this poetic psalm we add emotional and personal nuances from David’s perspective.

Verse 2 contains personification, as the phrase “your tongue plots destruction” grants a more individual agency to Doeg’s tongue in accusing it of plotting and scheming. This verse also offers up a simile, as David describes Doeg’s tongue as being “like a sharp razor” in his betrayal and deceit.

Verses 3 and 5 give us examples of an anacrusis, as the phrase “selah” is interjected within the psalm, seemingly without reason. Selah is thought to be a liturgical or musical direction for the choirmaster, so removing it from the psalm would not directly impact the message of the psalm itself.psalm-52

Verse 8 contains beautiful imagery, as David compares himself to a green olive tree, nourished and blessed by his favor with God.

There is a wealth of parallelism within this psalm:

  • Verse 1 shows antithetic parallelism in its contrasting of the evil of Doeg to the enduring love of God
  • Verse 2 shows synthetic paralellism, as the second line completes and complements the extent of Doeg’s deceit and treachery
  • Verses 3 and 4 show synonymous parallelism, in that they reiterate the idea by contrasting Doeg’s lies against the truth with different phrasing
  • Verse 5 also shows synonymous parallelism, as it continues with that notion of how Doeg will be punished by God in expounding detail
  • Verse 7 demonstrates more synonymous and synthetic parallelism by adding on to the idea of the ways in which Doeg turned away from God and sought to achieve things through his own actions
  • Verses 8 and 9 exhibit synonymous and synthetic parallelism, as they follow that similar vein of offering praise and exultation to God, building upon the original notion with each passing line

Psalm 52 follows that trajectory of a lamentation, from his initial agony towards Doeg’s actions and a warning against what those actions will reap from the wrath of God, following through to David’s own supplication, confession of faith, and praise. In that way, we see David take even this tragedy and betrayal towards the priests and use it to offer up praise to God, as his own faith remains steadfast and strong.


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