Context of the Text: This is a Maskil of David when Doeg had gone to Saul and told him that David has gone to the house of Ahimilech (1 Samuel 22:9). This narrative is found in 1 Samuel 21-22. While this context makes sense, scholars suggest that this connection is illustrative vs. historical. In other words this psalm pertains not simply to David but to many in times of desperation and pain. Moreover, as a maskiI this is a psalm offering wisdom and illumination.
This Psalm follows the famous Psalm 51 recalling David’s confession after being confronted by Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. In Psalm 52, David is running from Saul and receives bread for he and his men from Ahimelech. After David moves on Saul comes and kills all of Ahimelech and his offspring and the priests at Nob. A warning that once chosen by God, Saul has forgotten God and put his security in the sword and violence.
Notes on the Text Verses 1-5 are addressed to a “mighty one” who appears to be ruling and dominating and “winning.” For this “mighty one” the hope and future occurs by dominating, hurting, and alienating all others, including ignoring God. Security at the expense of others is not the way of God.
v.1: From words of confession in Psalm 51, in Psalm 52 those who do evil, likely Saul in this case, are reprimanded as those who are a disgrace to the eyes of God.
vv. 2-3. Those who work against God are rooted in lies, loving evil more than good. Verses 2-4 raise warnings against those who find security through the abuse and exploitation of others.
v. 5 After cataloging their offenses the Psalmist declares that God will bring the actions and plans of the offender ”the mighty one” to ruin. There is a declaration that there is no stable future for those who do evil. Though they may seem to “prosper” and “win” in the moment there is no future for them.
v.6 The righteous now are addressed and should learn from those who do evil. Rightfully what happens to those who are evil should not be ignored lest the way of evil not be crystal clear as to its path. Moreover, the path in honor of God is the only road to life.
v. 7 What appears as laughing condescension toward the evil is equally a strong corrective to the righteous as a warning.
v. 8 This verse now moves to the author who is clearly testifying desiring to live in God’s house and honor God’s ways. But the place of trust for the righteous is actually not in their own righteousness, but their trust and hope and confidence is in God.
V.9 The key to being righteous is to celebrate and praise God as the source of one’s hope and joy and this is to be done communally as both encouragement and formation.
Preaching the Text
As a wisdom (maskil) psalm the emphasis is not simply to speak condemnation to those who think they are mighty at the expense of the righteous, but also to encourage and warn the faithful of the true way to hope, peace, and prosperity. While only one verse is addressed to God (v9), this is really a teaching psalm to both warn those who are evil and encourage the righteous who perhaps find themselves caught under rule of the evil. Now caution must be offered. Far too often “Christians” can engage such texts self-righteously saying under their breath, “you may be winning today, but one day you will burn in destruction.” This psalm is not a place for displaced or marginalized persons to take delight in the wicked’s destruction.
Rather it should serve as both encouragement and warning. God has not forgotten you even when it appears that the evil are prospering, while the righteous are being exploited. But it is also a warning to even the marginalized. There is nothing really holy about being marginalized. For if the marginalized find their circumstances changed towards prosperity and power but they use this new power as their source of security they will find the same fate as those “mighty” before. The key is to keep recognizing that one’s hope is in God and as such a love, care, and servanthood toward all others is the means to true life and joy. Within this teaching psalm one must find their dependence on God both in times of blessing and challenge.
In many ways the words of Joshua could be echoed here. Choose this day who will be your source of hope and security. To choose anything but God will be fraught with pain, futility, and despair. So choose God today whether you are in a season of blessing or challenge. That is the road to life.