25 July 2011

Psalm 52 (Part 2- The Puzzle)

Psalm 52 was written after the tragic tale recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22. Part 1 of this series of posts narrates the story and is necessary in appreciating the Psalm. To read Part 1 click here.

Psalm 52 reads as follows (ESV):
To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, "David has come to the house of Ahimelech." 
1Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

4You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5But 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
6The 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!"

8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9I 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.

The puzzle of this Psalm lies in the question, who do the negative opening statements of this Psalm refer to? Who is this mighty man who boasts of evil, plots destruction, works deceit and loves evil and lying? Who is David referring to who loves devouring words and has a deceitful tongue?

There are three schools of thought:

  • Doeg?
Perhaps like me, you immediately thought Doeg the Edomite must be the man in question. Unfortunately though, Doeg doesn't quite fit the bill. That he was a 'mighty man' or 'hero' as some translations render the first verse, can be proved quite easily. It takes a mighty man to annihilate an entire town but on the other hand, Doeg spoke the truth. Something which should actually be commended. Saul asked where David was and Doeg spoke up and told the truth:
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of the LORD for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine." ~1 Samuel 22:9.
Clearly, cold blooded killers come in all shapes and sizes. This particular killer was inclined to truth. His king asked for the whereabouts of his enemy and Doeg did what was expected of him as a member of Saul's kingdom and more so as Saul's employee. Having seen this enemy of the king a little earlier, he spoke up.

Could it be that David in his Psalm calls Doeg, the only man who told the truth in the story, a liar and lover of deceit? If anybody should NOT be pointing fingers at liars it is David who lied in the account as recorded early in chapter 21 of 1 Samuel. He lied to the chief priest Ahimelek saying the king had sent him on a secret mission when in actual fact he was running away from the king and merely trying to save his own skin. Which leads me to the second school of thought.

  • David?
Some say that David is actually referring to himself. I don't blame them. He is the only one who lied in this account. Was David a 'mighty man' or 'hero'? Most certainly! His acts were so heroic that people composed hit songs about him, "Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands", they sang. In fact, it is because of his popularity that he was on the run from the king who thought his head would begin to grow along with his popularity and ideas would start creeping into the young warrior's head. Was David then calling himself a plotter of destruction, worker of deceit, lover of evil, etc.? Well, perhaps he was being a little hard on himself but who wouldn't after causing what David had caused, the annihilation of the entire town on Nob.

But this point of view is not consistent with the immediate text. It is doubtful that David 'boasted' in evil (vs. 1) but also, David goes on to contrast himself from the man he describes in the opening verses saying, towards the end of the Psalm:
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. ~vs. 8.
Its either David is the good guy or bad guy here. There is no middle ground. That the opening verses refer to David himself, would be tough to prove. Could David be referring to himself?

  • Saul?
Finally, some have proposed, in a bid to solve this puzzle, that Saul was the man David was referring to. To those who think so I say, "Leave the poor man alone!" Saul is to be pitied, not accused.

Here is a man who was chosen to be the first king of the small but great and famous nation of Israel. He tried his best to please the Lord but God rejected him as king. He then turned into a paranoid fellow who slept very little being tormented by an evil spirit. Even David felt for this man. Even though he was on the run from him and the target of Saul's paranoia, he spared his life when he had a chance or two to take it. He tried his best to make things right with him. Is it poor Saul who David is referring to? Possible, but I doubt it. Saul was too busy trying to catch David, he had not time to go aound boasting of annihilating the town of Nob. Its David he wanted. Apart from that Saul, even though he was a 'mighty man' or 'hero' in his own right, is not recorded to have uttered a single lie in this entire account. Could David be referring to Saul?

  • Conclusion
By now I think I have betrayed my position. I think Doeg is the guilty man. In my next post, I offer an explanation to the questions that arise if Doeg was to be the man referred to and draw a lesson or two.

Thanks for reading.