Psalm 64 – “Petition About Enemies”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist asks God to save him from his enemies.

II. Photo
The psalmist curses his foes: “Their tongue shall be their downfall; all who see them shall recoil in horror!” (v. 9)

III. Select Verses
2-7: Hear my voice, O God, when I plead; guard my life from the enemy’s terror. Hide me from a band of evil men, from a crowd of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords; they aim their arrows — cruel words —  to shoot from hiding at the blameless man; they shoot him suddenly and without fear.  They arm themselves with an evil word; when they speak, it is to conceal traps; they think, “Who will see them?” Let the wrongdoings they have concealed, each one inside him, his secret thoughts, be wholly exposed.
9-10: Their tongue shall be their downfall; all who see them shall recoil in horror; all men shall stand in awe; they shall proclaim the work of God and His deed which they perceived.

IV. Outline
1. Superscription
2-7. Petition/Complaint about enemies
8-9. Imprecation
10. Anticipated praise
11. Beatitude

V. Comment
Psalm 64 fits well into the Complaint/Petition genre because the Psalmist begs to be saved from his enemies. Who were his enemies? Gerstenberger writes: “The suppliant requests protection from enemies, pictured as ‘terrible foes,’ ‘gang of evildoers,’ and ‘calamity-mongers.’ The exact designations are not frequent in Hebrew Scripture, but they belong to the large field of enemy imagery. The sheer number and horrible creativeness of naming enemies (Keel lists 99 expressions for the Psalter) suggest their importance, reflecting contemporary social reality as well as mythical/magical beliefs… In spite of martial metaphors the emphasis is not on physical violence. No, the foes harass their (innocent?) victim with slander, evil words. Mowinckel was certainly correct in thinking inclusively of malice wrought by black magic. By word of mouth they cause sudden destruction; they act in secret, and even boast of their hidden art (v. 6). They keep their practice clandestine (v. 7 is somewhat corrupt and hard to understand). All in all, well known schemes of conspiracy against others, mobbing and discrimination, marginalization and arbitrary incrimination (key words: ‘tongue’ = evil speech; ‘bitter words’ = poisoning rumors; ‘bad words’ = damaging discourse, in vv. 3, 5) are denounced, giving us information about the negative side of ancient Israelite society.” (17-18)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 2, and Lamentations” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001).
Photo taken from http://www.pollsb.com/photos/o/26650-tatto_tongue.jpg

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