Psalms – Chapter 55

All About Achitofel

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

This Psalm was composed by David when he was deposed by his son Avshalom and driven from Jerusalem (II Samuel 15-18). It particularly addresses the pain David felt at the betrayal of Achitofel, a trusted advisor who defected to Avshalom’s side.

David asks that G-d listen to his prayers, presumably referring to the prayer that G-d confound Achitofel’s usually-sound advice (see II Samuel 15:31). David mourned as he prayed. (See the previous verse, II Samuel 15:30, for a description of David’s mourning as he was driven from Jerusalem.) Enemies curse him at this time (referring to Shimei ben Gera, who kicked David when he was down in the next chapter, II Samuel 16). David fears for his life at this time of great upheaval and uncertainty.

David says that if only he had wings, he would take off and fly away from all this. He asks G-d to metaphorically swallow his enemies whole and to divide their unity with arguments. Already David sees the start of a schism in their midst. Avshalom’s followers are treacherous and untrustworthy.

David says that he could overlook other enemies’ betrayal (like he ignored Shimei ben Gera), but not Achitofel’s. Only Achitofel is a great enough man to drive David into even temporary submission. Achitofel was a great man, a scholar, and a trusted friend. David used to learn with Achitofel, and confide in him. Of course, now Achitofel has stabbed him in the back, so David hopes that G-d will judge him accordingly. It would not be inappropriate if Achitofel were to die suddenly, without any advance warning. (This would be a fitting punishment because it reflects a sudden, shocking reversal of the status quo, as Achitofel did when he suddenly changed sides.)

David, however, continues to turn to G-d for help, come what may; he knows that G-d will always save him from harm. David prays to G-d three times a day, morning, noon and night, and G-d replies with salvation for David and his followers, who also beseech Him. May G-d always answer them!

Achitofel dared to turn on those who only wanted to live in peace. He broke his pact with David and spoke peacefully while plotting treachery. When David expressed concerns, it was Achitofel who told him not to worry about things. Now David turns to G-d to judge Achitofel and his ilk. Such people will die prematurely, while David trusts in G-d.

(Just so you know, in II Samuel 17, Achitofel saw that his advice was being ignored by Avshalom. He figured it was only a matter of time before David returned and he would be executed as a traitor, so he committed suicide.)

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