Psalm 52 – Praying About the Man Who Loved Evil
This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him, “David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.” The terrible events that prompted this chapter are recorded in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. Doeg informed Saul regarding David’s presence at the tabernacle of God and regarding the help he received from the priest there. In an evil and paranoid response, Saul had Doeg kill the priests and others at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 22:18-19).
Though the condemnation of Doeg in this psalm is strong, we sense it should be stronger in light of the mass-murder he committed. Yet this is David’s Contemplation upon the incident, a careful examination of the root and end of Doeg’s evil.
A. The sin and its punishment.
1. (1-4) The man who loved evil and lying.
Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man?
The goodness of God endures continually.
Your tongue devises destruction,
Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah
You love all devouring words,
You deceitful tongue.
a. Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man: David thought of Doeg the Edomite and the evil report he brought to King Saul. He thought not only of the report itself, but also in the boast and joy Doeg took in delivering the message.
i. Boast: Sometimes boasting is a cover for deep insecurity. That wasn’t the case with Doeg. He really thought quite highly of himself. “The thought conveyed in this Hebrew word is not necessarily that of a person strutting around making extravagant claims to others about his or her abilities. Rather it is that of a smug self-sufficiency that does not parade itself openly simply because it is so convinced of its superiority.” (Boice)
ii. Doeg murdered 85 priests who were not trained for battle – hardly the work of a true mighty man. Like several other commentators, Poole thought this was used in an ironic sense: “O mighty man! he speaks ironically. O valiant captain! O glorious action! to kill a few weak and unarmed persons in the king’s presence, and under the protection of his guards! Surely thy name will be famous to all ages for such heroical courage.” (Poole)
iii. “A mighty man indeed to kill men who never touched a sword! He ought to have been ashamed of his cowardice.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Miles Coverdale rendered this phrase, ‘O mighty man,’ as ‘Thou Tyrant,’ and thus gave an accurate interpretation of the kind of man this Edomite, Doeg, really was.” (Morgan)
b. The goodness of God endures continually: David earnestly believed that Doeg’s way would fail. God’s goodness would outlast his evil. It’s true that Doeg was a mighty man, but that was nothing compared to God and His never-ending goodness.
i. When David wrote the goodness of God, he used the word El to refer to deity instead of the more common Elohim. Some commentators believe the use of El emphasizes the strength and might of God. “Not without emphasis does he say the goodness of the strong God, a contrast to Doeg the hero, and the ruinous foundation of his fortune.” (Venema, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Your tongue devises destruction: Since this psalm concerns the evil report of Doeg, David mentions the destruction that came from what Doeg said. There was an evil heart, mind, and life directing that tongue to work like a sharp razor, working deceitfully but it was all evident by what Doeg said.
i. The destruction brought by Doeg’s evil report was real and terrible. 1 Samuel 22:18-19 tells us that he murdered 85 priests, and others in the city of Nob.
ii. “The prominence given to sins of speech is peculiar. We should have expected high-handed violence rather than these. But the psalmist is tracking the deeds to their source.” (Maclaren)
iii. “Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully; wherewith a man pretending only to shave off the hair, doth suddenly and unexpectedly cut the throat.” (Poole)
iv. “One is reminded of James’ description of the tongue and its fearful power, as the psalmist describes the mischief of evil speech, growing out of an evil nature.” (Morgan)
d. You love evil more than good, lying rather than speaking righteousness: David here addressed Doeg’s wicked heart and mind. The destruction of these razor-sharp words were not an accident or out of character. Some people love evil, and some people love to lie. Doeg fulfilled both aspects. He loved the destruction his devouring words brought.
i. “Thy heart is naught, and thence it is that thy tongue is so mischievous, as stinking breath cometh from corrupt inwards.” (Trapp)
ii. There is reason to believe there was a gap in time between David visiting the tabernacle at Nob and Doeg’s report to King Saul. “It was not a case of the Edomite’s merely blurting out what he knew at the first opportunity. On the contrary, he knew he had a piece of valuable information and kept it to himself until it would best serve his interests to divulge it.” (Boice)
iii. David had done some wrong at the tabernacle of God at the city of Nob; he did lie to the priest Ahimelech. David did own up to his aspect of the responsibility in the matter (1 Samuel 22:22). Yet in this psalm he wisely and properly did not blame himself for the massacre of the priests there. This was the work of a man who loved evil. There remain such men in the world.
2. (5) The response from heaven.
God shall likewise destroy you forever;
He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place,
And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
a. God shall likewise destroy you forever: Because the goodness of God endures continually (Psalm 52:1), Doeg and his kind would be destroyed forever. He will not always allow this kind of destructive lie to rule the day.
i. “Instead of the assertive, the optative reading is preferable: ‘Truly, may God bring you down…. May he snatch you…. May he uproot you….’ The verbs are jussives, expressive of a desire.” (VanGemeren)
ii. For emphasis and for the sake of good poetry, David used four vivid images of judgment against wicked mean like Doeg.
· The wicked will be demolished (destroy you).
· The wicked will be snatched up like a coal from a fire (take you away).
· The wicked will have their abode taken away (pluck you out of your dwelling place).
· The wicked will be uprooted like a tree (uproot you).
iii. He shall take you away: “He is laid hold of, as a coal in the fire, with tongs (for so the word means), and dragged, as in that iron grip, out of the midst of his dwelling.” (Maclaren)
iv. “As thou hast destroyed the Lord’s priests, and their whole city, razing and harassing it; so God will demolish and destroy thee utterly as a house pulled down to the ground, so that one stone is not left upon another.” (Trapp)
b. He shall take you away: David prophesied the judgment of God against Doeg. Not only would he be cast out of his house (your dwelling place) but also from the land of the living. Doeg was destined for death.
i. Uproot you: “The bad fruit which it has borne shall bring God’s curse upon the tree; it shall not merely wither, or die, but it shall be plucked up from the roots, intimating that such a sinner shall die a violent death.” (Clarke)
ii. “Out of the land of the living; out of this world, as the phrase is taken, Isaiah 53:8,Ezekiel 32:32, and elsewhere; which was very terrible to him, who had all his portion in this world.” (Poole)
B. The reaction of the righteous.
1. (6-7) The general response.
The righteous also shall see and fear,
And shall laugh at him, saying,
“Here is the man who did not make God his strength,
But trusted in the abundance of his riches,
And strengthened himself in his wickedness.”
a. The righteous also shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him: When the coming judgment against Doeg happens, the people of God will notice it and it will cause them to honor and reverence God. It will also make them laugh in satisfaction at the destruction of such an evil man.
i. It is the righteous who learn from Doeg’s judgment. We might have wished it were the wicked. “But this is the tragedy of life, that its teachings are prized most by those who have already learned them, and that those who need them most consider them least.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Fear; both reverence God’s just judgment upon thee, and be afraid of provoking God to send like judgment upon them.” (Poole)
iii. Shall laugh at him: “If not with righteous joy, yet with solemn contempt…. This is a goodly theme for that deep-seated laughter which is more akin to solemnity than merriment.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Shall laugh at him: “It is easy for those who have never lived under grinding, godless tyranny to reprobate the exultation of the oppressed at the sweeping away of their oppressors; but if the critics had seen their brethren set up as torches to light Nero’s gardens, perhaps they would have known some thrill of righteous joy when they heard that he was dead.” (Maclaren)
b. Here is the man who did not make God his strength: Previously David told us about Doeg’s sins of destructive and deceitful words and of loving evil and lying. Here he exposed an associated sin – a failure to trust God and the trust of great riches instead.
i. We often are drawn to evil and lying because we fail to trust that God can and will work through goodness and truth. We lie to ourselves, saying that we must cut these corners, work this evil, or promote this lie because it’s the only way to get things done.
ii. In writing trusted in the abundance of his riches, David may point to something only implied in the 1 Samuel 21-22 account: that Doeg did this for the sake of riches, either immediate or eventual. For the sake of money he murdered more than 85 people. 1 Samuel 22 indicates that Doeg did this to gain the favor of Saul, and the favor of a king could be a path to significant riches.
iii. Trusted in the abundance of his riches: “Oh! ‘tis hard to abound in riches and not to trust in them. Hence that caution (Psalm 62:10): If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” (Caryl, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Wealth and wickedness are dreadful companions; when combined they make a monster. When the devil is master of money bags, he is a devil indeed.” (Spurgeon)
2. (8-9) David’s response.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.
I will praise You forever,
Because You have done it;
And in the presence of Your saints
I will wait on Your name, for it is good.
a. I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God: David’s run-in with Doeg happened at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:1-7). Perhaps there he saw a healthy green olive tree that was even more blessed because of where it was planted (in the house of God). This blessedness came to David because he could honestly say, I trust in the mercy of God and he would continue to do so forever and ever.
i. “The olive is one of the longest-living trees; here the point is doubly reinforced, for he pictures an olive ‘in full sap’ and one that grows in a sacred courtyard.” (Kidner)
ii. Psalm 92:13 may indicate that there were trees at or near the house of God. This may have been particularly true for some of the places where the tabernacle was set up.
iii. “He was in the house of God, they were in the world; he was as a fruitful olive-tree, they were as barren, unprofitable wood; he was to be daily more and more strengthened, established, settled, and increased; they were to be cast down, broken, swept away, and extirpated; and all this because he had trusted in the mercy of God, they in the abundance of their riches.” (Horne)
b. I will praise You forever, because You have done it: Doeg’s evil had not yet gone away but David could praise God in the confidence of faith that can say, You have done it. The evil of man had not made him lose confidence in God and in the truth that God’s name is good – His character and entire being.
i. I will wait on Your name: “Men must not too much fluster us; our strength is to sit still. Let the mighty ones boast, we will wait on the Lord; and if their haste brings them present honour, our patience will have its turn by-and-by, and bring us the honour which excelleth.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org