Psalm 55


This is a psalm in which David speaks about how he felt when he was betrayed by someone close to him. David’s life is in danger and so he cries out to God for help and puts his faith in him.

Although we’re not told the background to this psalm, it appears it’s relating to the time David’s son Absalom rebelled against him, along with Ahithophel, 2 Samuel 15-18.


‘For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding about the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading tells us that this psalm of David for the director of music. Some commentators believe that ‘director or music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.

It was to be used with stringed instruments and no one really knows what the word ‘maskil’ means, some believe it’s a musical term or a literary term. The word is used thirteen times throughout the Psalms, Psalm 32 / Psalm 42 / Psalm 44 / Psalm 45 / Psalm 52 / Psalm 53 / Psalm 54 / Psalm 55 / Psalm 74 / Psalm 78 / Psalm 88 / Psalm 89 / Psalm 142. The word is also used in Amos 5:13.

‘Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Psalm 55:1-8

As David’s life is in serious danger, he begins by pleading with to God to listen to his prayer, Psalm 5:1 / Psalm 17:6. His prayer suggests that that he felt very vulnerable because God was far away from him, Lamentations 3:56. His thoughts are troubling him and he feels distraught, in other words, he’s in serious need of God’s help.

Because of what his enemy was saying and the threats from the wicked, David is feeling the pressure from it all, Amos 2:13. His heart is in anguish and the terror of death have fallen on him, that is, they were causing him a great deal of trouble and stress 2 Samuel 15:2-6.

His mental health is really struggling because the threat is real, he is fearful for his life, and trembles at the thought of his enemies trying to kill him, Job 4:14.

David needs some kind of relief from his thoughts and fears and so, he dreams of having the wings of a dove, that way he could fly away to the desert where he would find rest away from all the stress of life, Psalm 11:1.

You may notice at the end of verse seven, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no-one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.

We can almost imagine David pausing for a breath as he contemplates in his mind, going to a place away from all his troubles and fears.

Notice he wants to go ‘to his place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm’. This suggests that David wants to go back to the time when life was much simpler for him, the days when he saw God’s faithfulness, the days when everything was calm and peaceful, 1 Kings 19:3-9 / Jeremiah 9:2 / Jeremiah 10:19.

‘Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets. If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers. Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.’ Psalm 55:9-15

Notice all the words David uses in relation to what his enemies are doing, they are saying things, Psalm 55:3, he wants God to confound their words, Psalm 55:9, they lie, Psalm 55:11, and they insult him, Psalm 55:12. Whatever his enemies were saying, it was causing a lot of grief for David.

David doesn’t ask the Lord to kill his enemies, rather he asks God to confuse the wicked and confound their words, Genesis 11:1-9 / 2 Samuel 15:31.

In other words, he’s asking God to bring judgment upon them, he’s asking God to protect him. He’s asking God that all those who were speaking evil things against him, turn on each other. This prayer was answered and recorded in 2 Samuel 17:1-23.

David now sees ‘violence and strife in the city’, we don’t know what city this is, possibly Jerusalem but it appears that the verbal abuse he was receiving turned into violence. The trouble David was facing wasn’t only against him now, it was against all those who lived in the city.

He knows if an enemy was insulting him, if a foe was rising against him, he could do something about it, he could endure it and hide. Notice, he doesn’t use the words, ‘enemies’ or ‘foes’, he speaks in terms of a singular person, this is someone close to him to turned against him, 2 Samuel 15:31.

It was a man like David, his companion, his close friend, someone he enjoyed fellowship with as they worshipped God together, Psalm 41:9. It was this man who turned against David and turned his life upside down.

David’s betrayal was so hurtful he wants death to take his enemy by surprise and he wants them to go down alive in the realm of the dead, Numbers 16:30 / Job 10:21-22.

The realm of the dead is Sheol and there are, in fact three Biblical words, the meanings of which are often confused because people tend to use them very loosely. Two of the words are in the New Testament are Greek words. The Third word, is an Old Testament Hebrew word.

For instance, in the New Testament we have the following.
1. ‘Gehenna’, which occurs 12 times, and, in the Authorised Version, it’s always translated ‘hell’.

2. ‘Hades’, which occurs 10 times, and which is also always translated, ‘hell’.

3. The third word is the word ‘Sheol’, found in the Old Testament, and which sometimes is erroneously said to be the word that corresponds to ‘Gehenna’.

You clearly see the confusion that has been created about the meaning of this word when you understand that, in the Authorised Version, out of the 65 instances it occurs, 31 times it has been translated ‘hell’ and 34 times it has been translated ‘the grave’!

Now, although the word ‘Sheol’ literally means ‘The Place of the Dead’, you don’t need much intelligence to recognise that ‘Hell’ and the ‘Grave’ aren’t the same place! When a body is placed in the grave, it hasn’t been consigned to ‘Hell’!

But there is a history behind this inconsistent rendering of the word ‘Sheol’. Whilst the translators of the Authorised Version believed ‘Hell’ to be the place of punishment for the wicked, they withdrew from the idea of saying that good people also go to ‘Sheol’, and so in passages that related to the death of good people, they decided to translate ‘Sheol’ as ‘the grave’!

However, in Hebrew theology and, in Old Testament teaching, ‘Sheol’ is described as the place to which all the dead go, both good and bad. It’s defined as ‘the place of departed souls’.

In the account of King Saul’s visit to the medium at Endor, the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel is recorded as saying to Saul, ‘Tomorrow, you and your sons shall be with me’. 1 Samuel 28:19.

Even the Oxford Dictionary is close to the truth as far as the meaning of the word is concerned. It says that ‘Sheol’ is, ‘The abode of the dead’.

Furthermore, in the Old Testament, ‘Sheol’ is described as a gloomy place, in which an individual is farther away from God than he was during his lifetime. We are told that, ‘the living know that they will die, but the dead do not to know anything,’ Ecclesiastes 9:5, and, according to Psalm 115:17, ‘The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor any who go down into silence.’

‘As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God. My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.’ Psalm 55:16-23

It’s clear that David wasn’t looking for vengeance, he left that to God. Despite the city is being terrorised and his close friend turning against him, David turned to God to ask Him to save him.

Three times day he cries out to God in distress, Daniel 6:10 / Psalm 119:164, but he is confident God will hear his prayers. As far as David is concerned, God has and will rescue him from the battle and all those who oppose him.

He appears to be at peace within himself now when he focuses on what God can and will do for him. He knows God doesn’t change, he knows his enemies don’t fear God, and so, he knows that God sees and hears what his enemies are doing.

You may notice at the end of verse nineteen, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no-one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.

We can almost imagine David pausing for a breath as he contemplates the consequences of those who don’t fear God.

David’s companion not only betrayed him and his friends, but they also ‘violated their covenant’, that is, they broke their agreements with others, 2 Samuel 15:12 / 2 Samuel 15:31.

His companion is a ‘smooth talker’, but inside they are ‘drawn swords’, that is, in their heart they are ready to kill someone, Psalm 28:3 / Psalm 57:4 / Isaiah 5:20 / Romans 16:18.

We can almost feel the pain of betrayal in David’s heart when he thinks about his once close friend. He knows that God would carry his burdens, he knows that God would bear his burdens, Proverbs 16:3 / Philemon 4:6-7 / 1 Peter 5:7. He knows that God would sustain him and never allow him to be moved, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

He knows that God wouldn’t only protect him, he also knows that God will bring down and cut short the lives of those who are ‘wicked’, ‘bloodthirsty’ and ‘deceitful’.

The pit of decay refers to the grave, Job 17:16 / Job 33:18 / Job 33:24 / Psalm 9:15 / Psalm 28:1 / Psalm 30:3 / Psalm 30:9, the place where they will be cut off from their sins.

There’s nothing David can do about his enemies, but He knows can and so he places his trust in God.

Go To Psalm 56


"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"

Psalm 133:1