Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2. Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught 3. by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

4. My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5. Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6. And I say, 'O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7. truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.

8. I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest'.

9. Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10. Day and night they go around it on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11. ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.

12. It is not enemies who taunt me -
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me -
I could hide from them.
13. But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
14. with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15. Let death come upon them;
let them go down alive to Sheol;
for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

16. But I call upon God,
and the LORD will save me.
17. Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
18. He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19. God, who is enthroned from of old, Selah
will hear, and will humble them -
because they do not change,
and do not fear God.
20. My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me
21. with speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
but in fact were drawn swords.

22. Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

23. But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you."

Sometimes troubles come not one at a time, but many different kinds of trouble together. This Psalm is a prayer asking God urgently to "give ear", to "attend", and "answer" a cry from the heart of one who is deeply troubled. "My cares give me no peace" is the New English Bible translation of verse 2. Oppression by enemies, corruption all around, and betrayal by a friend were some of those cares and troubles.


The hatred of powerful enemies was more than the psalmist could bear. "They bring trouble upon me", he says, and the words used give the picture of enemies rolling stones down on him from a height above. His life was in great danger, and so he felt "the terrors of death", "fear and trembling" and "horror" overwhelming him (verses 4-5). His one thought was to try to escape from it all. If only he had wings like a dove and was able to fly to a lonely place in the wilderness where there would be no people at all to worry him. He would find a place that would be secure like a great rock offers a traveller "shelter --- from the raging wind and tempest". But he had no wings, and there was no possibility of escape. The only way in his need and danger, and of course the best way, was to turn to God in prayer.


It distressed the psalmist further that the life of the city where he lived was utterly corrupt. He felt that he could only pray that God would "confuse" the people there, and "confound their speech", as had happened in the judgment of God on those who had tried to build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). In Psalm 43:3 God's "light" and "truth" are pictured as personally guiding the psalmist to God's city to worship. In verses 9-11 here there are very different guides to the city. They are "violence" and "strife", and they are going round the walls of the city day and night. "Crime" and "trouble" are there inside the city all the time. "Destruction" is there, and "oppression" and "fraud" (Good News Bible). Often we feel like this about the life of many of our cities today. Hence the psalmist's experience helps us to trust our great unchanging God. His reliability in times of trouble is constantly emphasised throughout the Psalms (see, for example, Psalm 46).


The third thing and the hardest thing, that the psalmist had to face, was that he had been betrayed by one who had been as close to him as a brother or sister. Even in worship in the house of God they had been together (verses 13-14). Facing such betrayal was worse than having open enemies (verse 12). This person had attacked him, and broken the covenant of friendship with him. Though he had spoken smooth words of loyalty, he had "a heart set on war" (verse 21).

We can understand the psalmist's prayer that he prays in anger, feeling that he has faced injustice and opposition everywhere, from those whom he knew to be his enemies, from the forces that controlled the city, and even from one whom he thought to be a close friend. "Let death come upon them" he prayed (verse 15). He was sure "God --- will humble them, because they do not change, and do not fear God" (verse 19). Such bitter explosion is very natural. But Jesus teaches us a higher way. His prayer for the forgiveness of his enemies is the supreme example of forgiving love and the height of moral strength. "Father, forgive them;" he asked, "for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). The psalmist did not know Jesus' way, nor do very many people around the world, both past and present. What a challenge to us who do know! But having said this, we should none the less realise that it is true that "bloodthirsty and treacherous" people, who refuse to turn from their corrupt and violent ways, will come under God's judgment.

The best lesson that we can learn from the psalmist is of the way that he turned to God in prayer. "Evening and morning and noon" he prayed. His confidence was in the words of encouragement of verse 22: "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." So the final words of his prayer to the Lord were "I will trust in you". Whatever other people might do to him, he was determined to keep trusting in God and serving him. We as Christians should always remember that in forgiving our enemies we find release for them and for ourselves. In trusting God we find peace (see John 14:1, 16:33 and Philippians 4:6).

Meditation: "Trust in the Lord, and do good" (Psalm 37:3). "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

For further thought and study

a. Read Jeremiah 9:1-9 and 1 Kings 19, and see how prophets Jeremiah and Elijah were tempted to run away from the opposition and difficulties that they faced. In what ways are we tempted to escape from our difficulties, and what should be our way of meeting the temptation?

b. Consider what it meant to Jesus himself to be betrayed by one of his specially chosen 12 disciples (read especially John 13:1-30), and then think what it meant that Jesus warned those who continued to follow him that they might face similar difficulties (see Matthew 10:21-22).


  1. For the heading to this Psalm see the note on the heading of Psalm 54. The heading here does not attempt, as some headings do, to give a setting for the Psalm in the life of David. The ancient Aramaic rendering of the Psalms brought the name of Ahithophel into the Psalm, the close friend who betrayed him as we read in 2 Samuel 16-17. David must have had the feelings expressed in this Psalm at the time when his son Absalom led a revolt against him and Ahithophel was unfaithful. But many, in positions of leadership like David, have faced similar circumstances.
  2. It is unusual to have "Selah" in the middle of a verse as in verse 19, because it is thought to indicate a pause, perhaps while music plays and people can think about the words that have gone before. In this case it may have been misplaced as the psalm was copied.
  3. There are several places in this Psalm where various English translations differ. This is because the original Hebrew of the Psalm, or its meaning, has been hard to determine. In verse 19, for example, where the Hebrew says literally "there are no changes with them", the Revised Standard Version has "because they keep no law", and some take it to mean there is no change to their fortunes. The New International Version says, they are "men who never change their ways"; this fits with what follows, they "have no fear of God".