Psalm 55 – “Imprecation”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist wishes death upon his former friends.

II. Photo
The psalmist begs to be alone: “O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and find rest; surely, I would flee far off; I would lodge in the wilderness!” (vv. 7b-8a)

III. Select Verses    
3b-6: I am tossed about, complaining and moaning at the clamor of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they bring evil upon me and furiously harass me. My heart is convulsed within me; terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling invade me; I am clothed with horror.
7-9: I said, “O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and find rest; surely, I would flee far off; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah. I would soon find me a refuge from the sweeping wind, from the tempest.”
13-15:  It is not an enemy who reviles me — I could bear that; it is not my foe who vaunts himself against me — I could hide from him; but it is you, my equal, my companion, my friend; sweet was our fellowship; we walked together in God’s house.
16: Let Him incite death against them; may they go down alive into Sheol! For where they dwell, there evil is.

IV. Outline
1. Superscription
2-3a. Invocation, initial petition
3b-9. Complaint, personal quotation
10a. Imprecation
10b-12. Complaint
13-15. Address to a former friend
16. Imprecation
21-22. Complaint
23. Pedagogic affirmation of confidence
24a. Imprecation
24b. Affirmation of confidence

V. Comment
Psalm 55 contains all of the elements of the petition/complaint/imprecation genre. Gerstenberger writes: “The reader of the psalm is impressed by the prevalence of complaints and imprecations and by the variety of complaint forms. They indeed exceed the three types defined by Westermann, namely, lament over one’s own situation, over enemies, and over God. We apparently are dealing with an enemy psalm. The confrontation with hostile powers is thus prominent in the song.” (223)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
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