The מפרשים ascribe two perakim of תהילים to this time of David’s return to יהודה. The first is familiar to us:
Interestingly, רש״י brings the quote as שהיה מנוגב כחרס, which makes the point even stronger but supports the idea that Rashi spoke Ashkenazis.
The Grass is Always Greener
David invokes an image of peace, lying on the grass by the river. More specifically, it invokes the terms used to describe Eden:
But he’s not in Eden; he’s in יער חרת, the “carved” rocky woods; in רש״י's terms, as dry as baked clay. He is not hallucinating: he knows where he is (in the גיא צלמות, the shadow of death) but he is calm and at peace since he knows that ה׳ is guiding him.
The phrase שבטך ומשענתך is striking (pun intended). Both are rods of a sort, but with very different meanings:
David appreciates ה׳'s presence, whether supporting him or disciplining him. Both remind him that ה׳ is his shepherd and both are comforting (if sometimes painful).
The next pasuk is a three-fold image of excess ברכה: not only defeating his enemies but feasting while they watch impotently; not just anointed but “fertilized” with oil, and his cup running over. We see this image of the overflowing שמן המשכה as a symbol of ברכה elsewhere:
And these are the symbols of kingship as well: the oil that anointed him, the שלחן that in the משכן was the symbol of the כתר מלכות:
And the royal goblet, like the גביע of יעקב.
And David ends with a “but”—אך. All this goodness is for one purpose, the one thing I seek. I would translate that last line as “Even though goodness chase after me, I would sit in בית ה׳ forever”.
בושה, embarrassment, has a very specific meaning in תהילים. It refers to the shame of praying to ה׳ and not being answered (realizing that sometimes, “No” is an answer; the shame is in being ignored entirely). Thus (תהילים כב:ו) אליך זעקו ונמלטו; בך בטחו ולא בושו׃ So here David expresses his confidence in ה׳, as in the perek we just analyzed, but then turns from confidence to a prayer: Please, ה׳, listen to me, be my rock and strength (that’s where the פיוט of מעוז צור comes from). He then jumps back to a statement of fact: ה׳ is my rock and my fortress (especially since he has just abandoned the מצודה in Moab to come to the desert of Yehudah). And then he goes back to asking ה׳, תוציאני מרשת זו. And then the confidence that we quote in אדון עולם, בידך אפקיד רוחי.
What’s going on here? Doesn’t David trust ה׳ to keep him safe? Didn’t גד הנביא just tell him to go back? The reason is the same as יעקב's when he prayed to be saved from עשו, even though ה׳ had promised to save him:
But what חטא is דוד guilty of? I think he spells it out in the next psukim.
He’s just discovered his faith in ה׳'s salvation, ואני אל ה׳ בטחתי, but saying about those who still look to הבלי שוא, it’s a little harsh to say שנאתי. And it reflects a lack in him—he may have faith in ה׳ but he has lost faith in people. He is happy (אגילה ואשמחה) that העמדת במרחב רגלי, ”You have made me stand in wide-open spaces“, but still צר לי, ”I feel constricted“. Why? עששה בכעס עיני; נפשי ובטני. The anger I feel is eating away at me inside, at my very existence. This goes back to what we talked about when שאול had his רוח רעה: (שבת ל:ב) אין שכינה שורה לא מתוך עצבות…אלא מתוך דבר שמחה של מצוה. We mentioned, when looking at the previous perek on (תהילים ל:ד) ה׳ העלית מן שאול נפשי, (נדרים כב:א) כל הכואס כל מיני גהינום שולטין בו and he cannot connect to the שכינה.
נפש, רוח, נשמה
We need to take a moment and look at this phrase, עיני נפשי ובטני. It’s parallel to the word עצמי, my bones, later; though I would translate that as “my עצם, my identity”. I think it’s a reference to the Kabbalistic idea that the soul (for lack of a better word) has three parts:
(Most modern sources call them נפש, רוח and נשמה. The wording varies in different sources, and the same word may refer to multiple concepts, but the ideas are consistent.)
So David is saying כשל בעוני כחי, his strength is being sapped by his sin. And what is his sin? It is that which is rotting his עצם, every part of his נשמה. It is his anger that is cutting him off from ה׳. And what is he angry about?
Wanted and Unwanted
מכל צררי הייתי חרפה; my enemies have made me a disgrace, and now my former friends and neighbors are afraid to be seen with me. I’ve gone from being the hero of the battle of Elah to an enemy of the state. I have been forgotten like a lost utensil.
How Embarrassing, Redux
What is striking is that David does not pray to have his anger cured, to be given נחת רוח; I don’t think he is at that point yet. He just reiterates his faith in ה׳ and asks that האירה פניך על עבדך, don’t reject me despite my unworthiness; ה׳ אל אבושה כי קראתיך—don’t embarrass me (in the sense above) when I call. Give me the reward that you have hidden away for the righteous.
David asks to be protected from those conspiring against him; רכסי איש is from the pasuk in תצוה (שמות כח:כח) וירכסו את החשן מטבעתו אל טבעת האפוד. David’s enemies imagined as tied together.
The last 4 psukim are addressed to the audience. He starts with a ברכה that ה׳ has physically saved him, then says that in his panic he felt נגרזתי מנגד עיניך. It’s different from the pasuk in הלל, (קטז:א תהילים) אני אמרתי בחפזי: כל האדם כזב; here he is concerned with his relationship with הקב״ה. גרז is related to but stronger than גזר, cut off. It is used for an axe (דברים יט:ה) ואשר יבא את רעהו ביער לחטב עצים ונדחה ידו בגרזן לכרת העץ. But David says he should have had faith in that as well; שמעת קול תחנוני. So his message is חזקו ויאמץ לבבכם; know that not only will ה׳ save you, He will listen to your prayers even if you don’t completely deserve it.