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Psalm 55:4-8

4. My heart trembles within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. 6. And I said, Who will give me wings like a dove? I will fly away, and be at rest. 7. Lo! I will prolong the flight, 297297     “C’est, m’enfuiray bien loin.” — Fr. marg. “That is, I will flee afar off.” I will repose in the wilderness. Selah. 8. I will hasten a deliverance for me, 298298     “C’est, hasteroye de m’eschapper.” — Fr. marg. “That is, I will hasten to escape.” from the wind raised by the whirlwind.


4. My heart trembles within me 299299     “My heart is in travail within me.” חול, de tremore maxime parturientium.” — Fry Ainsworth reads, “My heart is pained within me, or trembleth with pain.” “The word,” says he, “usually meaneth such pains as a woman feeleth in her travail.” Here we have additional evidence of the extremity of David’s sufferings. He that uses these words was no soft or effeminate person, but one who had given indubitable proofs of constancy. Nor is it merely of the atrocious injuries inflicted upon him by his enemies that he complains. He exclaims that he is overwhelmed with terrors, and thus acknowledges that his heart was not insensible to his afflictions. We may learn from the passage, therefore, not only that the sufferings which David endured at this time were heavy, but that the fortitude of the greatest servants of God fails them in the hour of severe trial. We are all good soldiers so long as things go well with us, but when brought to close combat, our weakness is soon apparent. Satan avails himself of the advantage, suggests that God has withdrawn the supports of his Spirit, and instigates us to despair. Of this we have an example in David, who is here represented as struggling with inward fears, as well as a complication of outward calamities, and sustaining a sore conflict of spirit in his application to the throne of God. The expression, terrors of death, shows that he was on the very eve of sinking unless Divine grace interposed.

6 And I said, Who will give me wings like a dove? 300300     This very beautiful image, derived from the flight of the dove, is continued in the two following verses. The defenselessness of the dove, the danger to which it is exposed from birds of prey, the surprising rapidity with which, when pursued by the hawk, it flees to deserts and rocks to hide itself, putting forth its utmost speed, and outstripping its deadly pursuer; all these characteristics of this bird were in the view of the Psalmist on the present occasion. We find an allusion to them in Jeremiah 48:28: “O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth.” The poets of Greece and Rome make frequent allusions to the rapid flight of the dove: —
   “So, when the falcon wings her way above,
To the cleft cavern speeds the gentle dove,
Not fated yet to die.”
— Popes Homer.

   Sophocles, in a passage somewhat similar to this of the Psalmist, says, “O that with the rapid whirlwind flight of a dove I could cleave the etherial clouds!” — (Œdip Colon 1136.) “Kimshi gives it as the reason why the Psalmist prefers the dove to other birds, that while they become weary with flying, and alight upon a rock or a tree to recruit their strength, and are taken; the dove, when she is fatigued, alternately rests one wing, and flies with the other, and, by this means, escapes from the swiftest pursuers.” — (Paxtons Illustrations of Scripture, volume 2, p. 292.) It is worthy of observation, and it serves to heighten the effect of the Psalmist’s comparison, that יונה, yonah, the Hebrew name of the dove, is derived from ינה, yanah, he hath oppressed by force or fraud, and seems to have been applied to it from the circumstance of its being particularly defenseless, and exposed to rapine and violence. — Buxtorfs Lexicon
These words mean more than merely that he could find no mode of escape. They are meant to express the deplorableness of his situation, which made exile a blessing to be coveted, and this not the common exile of mankind, but such as that of the dove when it flies far off to some deserted hiding-place. They imply that he could only escape by a miracle. They intimate that even the privilege of retreat by common banishment was denied him, so that it fared worse with him than with the poor bird of heaven, which can at least fly from its pursuer. Some think that the dove is singled out on account of its swiftness. The Jews held the ridiculous idea that the Hebrew reads wing in the singular number, because doves use but one wing in flying; whereas nothing is more common in Scripture than such a change of number. It seems most probable that David meant by this comparison, that he longed to escape from his cruel enemies, as the timid and defenseless dove flies from the hawk. Great, indeed, must have been the straits to which he was reduced, when he could so far forget the promise made to him of the kingdom as, in the agitation of his spirits, to contemplate a disgraceful flight, and speak of being content to hide himself far from his native country, and the haunts of human society, in some solitude of the wilderness. Nay, he adds, as if by way of concession to the fury of his adversaries, that he was willing (would they grant it) to wander far off, that he was not proposing terms of truce to them which he never meant to fulfill, merely to gain time, as those will do who entertain some secret and distant hope of deliverance. We may surely say that these are the words of a man driven to the borders of desperation. Such was the extremity in which he stood, that though prepared to abandon all, he could not obtain life even upon that condition. In such circumstances, in the anguish of this anxiety, we must not wonder that his heart was overwhelmed with the sorrows of death. The Hebrew word סועה, soah, which I have rendered raised, is by some translated tempestuous; and there can be no doubt that the Psalmist means a stormy wind raised by a whirlwind. When he says that this wind is raised by the whirlwind, 301301     Whirlwinds are not uncommon in Palestine, and the surrounding countries, and to them we often find allusions in the Sacred Writings. The description of that kind of whirlwind called the Sammiel, which sometimes happens between Egypt and Nubia, will serve to show the propriety with which David made this allusion in his present circumstances of distress and danger. “This wind, which the Arabs call poisonous, stifles on the spot those that are unfortunate enough to breathe in it: so that to guard against its pernicious effects, they are obliged to throw themselves speedily on the ground, with their face close to these burning sands, with which they are surrounded, and to cover their heads with some cloth or carpet, lest, in respiration, they should suck in that deadly quality which everywhere attends it. People ought even to think themselves very happy when this wind, which is always besides very violent, does not raise up large quantities of sand with a whirling motion, which, darkening the air, render the guides incapable of discerning their way. Sometimes whole caravans have been buried by this means under the sand, with which this wind is frequently charged.” — Maillet, quoted in Harmers Observations, volume1, p. 95. by this circumlocution he means a violent wind, such as compels the traveler to fly and seek shelter in the nearest dwelling or covert.

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