Introduction: This comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]
Psalm 54 is attributed to David and is a lament about betrayal by members of his own tribe. There are 2 main themes; a complaint to G-d about the malice of his enemies and a prayer for relief, and the reassurance that G-d’s Divine favour and protection would stay with him forever.
בְּבֹא הַזִּיפִים, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְשָׁאוּל: הֲלֹא דָוִד, מִסְתַּתֵּר עִמָּנוּ. When the Ziphites came and said to Saul: ‘Doesn’t David hide himself in our midst?’ (Psalms 54:2)
The Ziphites were direct descendants of Judah, David’s tribe, as described in Joshua 15:20/55. Their report to Saul in I Samuel 23:19-29 led to David almost being captured.
כִּי זָרִים, קָמוּ עָלַי- וְעָרִיצִים, בִּקְשׁוּ נַפְשִׁי; לֹא שָׂמוּ אֱ-לֹהִים לְנֶגְדָּם סֶלָה. For strangers rise-up against me, and violent men seek after my soul; they’ve not set G-d before them. Selah (Psalms 54:5)
The reference to strangers suggests ‘people who should have been his allies but treated him like a stranger’ which is morally more disheartening. Those closest to us are the ones we trust most. Their betrayal cuts into us deeply.
הִנֵּה אֱ-לֹהִים, עֹזֵר לִי; אֲ-דֹנָי, בְּסֹמְכֵי נַפְשִׁי. Behold, G-d is my helper; the Lord is for me the upholder of my soul. (Psalms 54:6)
כִּי מִכָּל-צָרָה, הִצִּילָנִי; וּבְאֹיְבַי, רָאֲתָה עֵינִי. For He delivered me out of all trouble; my eye gazed upon mine enemies. (Psalms 54:9)
Ironically, before the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul, Jonathan (Saul’s son) went to warn David to flee. In effect, this too was a betrayal.
Nonetheless, Saul’s army drew close to capturing David & his men. At the last moment, a messenger arrived to alert Saul; ‘The Philistines have attacked’. So Saul & his army quickly withdrew. That place became known as Selah HaMahlekot (Rock of Division). David indeed lived to see the dispersion of those wishing him harm.
It is suggested that reciting this Psalm is useful for those experiencing feelings of betrayal and hopelessness.