Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Col, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Speaking of the superscription of Psalm 55, Augustine notes that it refers to “the end” which is Christ. For this reason, he considers the Psalm to look forward to our perfection in Christ, which is fulfilled as we continue in praise to the Lord (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326101). Augustine further observes that the Scripture often speaks of David, from whom came the Christ. Therefore, in passages such as this, a reference to David may also be a reference to Christ. Augustine then makes the connection that, because Christians are united to Christ as his Body, we also are understood to be “in David” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326108).
Verses one and two depict the anxious prayer of one who is deeply troubled. Augustine finds it significant that the Psalmist is “exercised” by evil men. He considers that when evil men exercise Christ’s people, it drives them to repentance and conversion, along with a possibility that the evil men would be exercised in the same reason. For this reason, Christians love their enemies and pray for them. (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326139). The problem remains, though, that the Psalmist is troubled by his situation. Augustine provides several biblical examples in which the person under trials does have times of discrouagement. This is what the Psalmist endures, as he continues to cry out in verse three (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326154). The answer Augustine proposes is steadfast prayer, which places our eyes back on God, taking our attention off our anger (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326169).
The distinction, in verses five and following, becomes one of darkness and light. Augustine ties darkness, anger, and death together, while love and light go together (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326177). The sire of the Christian is for peace, love, ad light, a desire which is increased by our experience of tribulation. Another possible reaction to trials appears in verse seven, where we read that the Psalmist could spend time in the desert. Augustine takes this as an attempt to escape from society (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326200). Verse eight further identifies the move to a desert as an attempt to be rescued from trials. Augustine compares this verse to the situation of the disciples struggling with a storm at sea while Christ was sleeping in the boat. When they called on Christ and awoke him, he preserved them. Likewise, we call on Christ in times of trouble (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326216). The call of the Psalmist is that the Lord would “sink” the enemies (v. 9). Augustine considers that the “sinking” and “dividing” is a response to the fact that the enemies have exalted themselves and formed an alliance against God’s people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326223). Counter to this alliance, which Augustine compares to Babel, he speaks for the unity formed at Pentecost when, after speaking in tongues, the unified message of the Gospel was proclaimed in just one language. That unity is evident where Chrsit is present (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326238).
The conflict in our Psalm is not easily ended. Verse 11 speaks of an ongoing situation of “usury and deceit” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326261). Augustine points out that the desire for illicit gain is present in the Christian as well. Otherwise, we would not pray “forgive us our debts - as we too forgive our debtors” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326269). We may wish to collect and not pay, but we are called numerous times to forgiveness in prayer. This is especially important since, as we read in verses 12-14, the people who test us may well be in our own community. Verse 15 makes a severe judgment, that the opponents may even be worthy of death. Augustine observes that at times, especially in the Old Testament, this was precisely what was inflicted on those who rejected God and tempted others to do so (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326299). Augustine is clear that God is the judge of such situations. Our role, in accord with verses 16-17, is to call out to God for help.
Verse 18, then, brings us again to the theme of calling to God. But here, as opposed to the earlier parts of the Psalm, we call out to God telling what good we see in His works (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326314). We then see God as the one who brings peace even when we have faced strife. Verses 19-20 continue to describe how the God who was before all things is able to humble his opponents and exalt those who trust in Him (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326352). Augustine therefore exhorts his readers to look only to Christ, not to anything else, including their own Christian heritage or church body. The opponents of the Gospel actually end up vindicating the true Gospel, as they show the distinction between truth and error. Augustine finds this as the reasoning behind verse 22 (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326370). He goes on with several illustrations of heresy pushing Christians to right articulation of the faith. As the truth is taught and believed, it eventually doesn’t seem as radical as it did at first. Verse 23 speaks of the power of distinction, which still separates truth from error and which condemns error. Yet we recognize that the Gospel is good news. Like an armed man may be a man of peace, the Gospel also is for peace and good (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326409). In the end, the hope of the Christian is in the Gospel.