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.
Augustine’s comments on Psalm 54 begin with a more extended discussion of the title because, as Augustine says, the rest of the Psalm is short (Augustine Psalms, loc. 325955). Augustine points in the title to Saul as the persecutor of David and the possessor of an earthly kingdom, to David as the figure of Christ and the possessor of an eternal kingdom, and the Ziphites, whose attempt to betray David for their profit resulted in no profit at all. Augustine notes that the word “Ziphites” means “men flourishing” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 325968). Those who opposed David often flourished, so long as David was hiding, but once he revealed himself, they withered. Augustine compares them to those who are enticed by the apparent prosperity of God’s detractors.
Verse one, then calls out with a corrective to all the problems Augustine has identified in the title. As we call out to God for safety and His good judgment we reject the foolishness of the Ziphites (Augustine Psalms, loc. 325982). We look only to Christ crucified for sinners. This is the hope we can depend on, thought it is the very thing that brought reproach upon Christ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 325990). Augustine points out that as we ask God for judgment, it is not in hope of punishment but trusting that God will separate us out as the righteous. So in verse two, we ask God to hear our prayer (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326002). Augustine recognizes this as being a way we express confidence in God’s wisdom. If it is good for us He will do what we ask. Otherwise, He will not (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326017).
Verse three speaks about “aliens” who rose up against David. However, as Augustine observes, the Ziphites were not only Jews but also of the tribe of Judah, like David. He concludes that they had an alien spirit. Rather than trusting in God they wanted to harm God’s servants (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326029). Because of the opposition, verse four confesses again the importance of God helping his people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326044). Augustine sees this as the inward help and strength we receive, rather than that which is outward. The Psalmist then prays (v. 5) that God would turn evil from him onto his enemies. The temporal hope of the Ziphites is just as easily destroyed by the evil they would bring upon David. They don’t have the lasting hope of God.
In the end, David’s promise, in verse six, is that he gives to God willingly. We who love God bring Him all honor and praise (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326060). He does this because God has rescued him (v. 7). Whatever has been used to assail God has come to nothing. David is able to look to God in trust (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326082). This is the comfort Augustine says can come to all Christians.