Psalms 56

PSALM LVI

David prays for support against his enemies, whose wickedness

he describes, 1-6;

and foretells their destruction, 7;

expresses his confidence in God's mercy, expects deliverance,

and promises thanksgiving and obedience, 8-13.

NOTES ON PSALM LVI

The title of this Psalm is very long: "To the conqueror,

concerning the dumb dove in foreign places: golden Psalm of

David." The Vulgate translates the original thus: "to the end. For

the people who were afar off from holy things." "This inscription

David placed here for a title when the Philistines-took him in

Gath;" so the Septuagint and AEthiopic. The Chaldee is profuse:

"To praise, for the congregation of Israel, which are compared to

the silence of a dove, when they were afar off from their cities;

but being returned, they praise the Lord of the world; like David,

contrite and upright, when the Philistines kept him in Gath." The

Syriac: "A thanksgiving of the righteous man, because he was

delivered from his enemy, and from the hand of Saul. Also

concerning the Jews and Christ." Bochart translates, "To the tune

of the dove in the remote woods."

If the title be at all authentic, David may mean himself and his

companions by it, when he escaped from the hands of the

Philistines; particularly from the hands of Achish, king of Gath.

elem signifies to compress or bind together; also, a

small band or body of men: and yonath, from

yanah, to oppress or afflict, is properly applied to the dove,

because of its being so defenseless, and often becoming the prey

of ravenous birds. It is possible, therefore, that the title may

imply no more than-"A prayer to God in behalf of himself and the

oppressed band that followed him, and shared his misfortunes in

distant places."

Others will have it to mean a simple direction "To the master of

the band, to be sung to the time of a well-known ode, called 'The

dumb dove, in distant places.' "There is no end to conjectures,

and all the titles in the whole book are not worth one hour's

labour. Perhaps there is not one of them authentic. They may have

been notices that such a Psalm was to be sung to such and such a

tune; giving the catch-words of some well-known song or ode: a

custom that prevails much among us in songs and hymns, and is to

be found even among the Asiatics.

Verse 1. Be merciful unto me] I am assailed both at home and

abroad. I can go nowhere without meeting with enemies: unless thou

who art the Fountain of mercy and the Most High, stand up in my

behalf, my enemies will most undoubtedly prevail against me. They

fight against me continually, and I am in the utmost danger of

being swallowed up by them.

Verse 2. O thou Most High.] marom. I do not think that

this word expresses any attribute of God, or indeed is at all

addressed to him. It signifies, literally, from on high, or from a

high or elevated place: "For the multitudes fight against me from

the high or elevated place;" the place of authority-the court and

cabinet of Saul.

Most of the Versions begin the next verse with this word: "From

the light of the day, though I fear, yet will I trust in thee."

From the time that persecution waxes hot against me, though I

often am seized with fear, yet I am enabled to maintain my trust

in thee. Dr. Kennicott thinks there is a corruption here, and

proposes to read: "I look upwards all the day long."

Verse 4. In God I will praise his word] belohim may

mean here, through God, or by the help of God, I will praise his

word. And, that he should have cause to do it, he says, "In God I

have put my trust," and therefore he says, "I will not fear what

flesh can do unto me." Man is but FLESH, weak and perishing; God

is an infinite SPIRIT, almighty and eternal. He repeats this

sentiment in the tenth and eleventh verses. Ps 56:10, 11

Verse 5. Every day they wrest my words] They have been spies on

my conduct continually; they collected all my sayings, and wrested

my words out of their proper sense and meaning, to make them, by

inuendos, speak treason against Saul. They are full of evil

purposes against me.

Verse 6. They gather themselves together] They form cabals; have

secret meetings and consultations how they may most effectually

destroy me, under the pretense of justice and safety to the state.

They hide themselves] They do all secretly.

They mark my steps] They are constantly at my heels.

They wait for my soul.] They lie in wait for my life. Our

translators have missed the meaning of nephesh and ψυχε,

which generally signify the animal life, not the immortal

spirit,-more than any other words in the Old or New Testament.

Verse 7. Shall they escape by iniquity?] Shall such conduct go

unpunished? Shall their address, their dexterity in working

iniquity, be the means of their escape? No. "In anger, O God, wilt

thou cast down the people."

Verse 8. Thou tellest my wanderings] Thou seest how often I am

obliged to shift the place of my retreat. I am hunted every where;

but thou numberest all my hiding-places, and seest how often I am

in danger of losing my life.

Put thou my tears into thy bottle] Here is an allusion to a very

ancient custom, which we know long obtained among the Greeks and

Romans, of putting the tears which were shed for the death of

any person into small phials, called lacrymatories or urnae

lacrymales and offering them on the tomb of the deceased. Some of

these were of glass, some of pottery, and some of agate, sardonyx,

&c. A small one in my own collection is of hard baked clay.

Are they not in thy book?] Thou hast taken an exact account of

all the tears I have shed in relation to this business; and thou

wilt call my enemies to account for every tear.

Verse 9. When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn

back] As soon as they know that I call upon thee, then, knowing

that thou wilt hear and save, my enemies will immediately take

flight. The cry of faith and prayer to God is more dreadful to our

spiritual foes than the war-whoop of the Indian is to his

surprised brother savages.

This I know] I have often had experience of the Divine

interposition; and I know it will be so now, for God is with me.

He who has God WITH him need not fear the face of any adversary.

Verse 10. - 11. See on Ps 56:4, where the same words occur.

Verse 11. See Clarke on Ps 56:4.

Verse 12. Thy vows are upon me] I have promised in the most

solemn manner to be thy servant; to give my whole life to thee;

and to offer for my preservation sacrifices of praise and

thanksgiving.

Reader, what hast thou vowed to God? To renounce the devil and

all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and

all the sinful desires of the flesh; to keep God's holy word and

commandment, and to walk before him all the days of thy life.

These things hast thou vowed; and these vows are upon thee. Wilt

thou pay them?

Verse 13. Thou hast delivered my soul from death] My life from

the grave, and my soul from endless perdition.

My feet from falling] Thou hast preserved me from taking any

false way, and keepest me steady in my godly course; and so

supportest me that I may continue to walk before thee in the light

of the living, ever avoiding that which is evil, and moving

towards that which is good; letting my light shine before men,

that they may see my good works, and glorify my Father which is in

heaven. To walk before God is to please him; the light of the

living signifies the whole course of human life, with all its

comforts and advantages.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-SIXTH PSALM

David, in banishment among the Philistines, and being then in

great danger of his life, complains, and professes his confidence

in God.

The contents of this Psalm are the following:-

I. David's prayer, Ps 56:1, 7, 8.

II. The cause; the fear of his enemies, whom he describes,

Ps 56:1, 2, 5, 6.

III. His confidence in God's word, Ps 56:3, 4, 9-11.

IV. His thankfulness, Ps 56:4, 10, 12, 13.

I. He begins with a prayer for mercy. Little was he likely to

find from man; from his God he expected it; and therefore he

prays: "Be merciful unto me, O God."

II. And then presently he subjoins the cause; the danger he was

in by his bloody and cruel enemies, whom he begins to describe:-

1. From their insatiable rapacity. Like a wolf they would

swallow me up. Enemies at home and abroad would swallow me up.

2. From the time. Daily they would do it; without intermission.

3. From their number: "Many there be that fight against me."

Of these he gives us a farther description in the fifth and

sixth verses:-

1. From their incessant malice: "Every day they wrest my words.

All their thoughts are against me for evil."

2. From their secret treachery, craft, and vigilance: "They

gather themselves together, they hide themselves;" their counsels

lying, as it were, in ambush for me. "They mark my steps." Go

where I will, they are at my heels.

3. From their implacable hatred; nothing could satisfy them but

his blood: "They lay wait for my soul."

In the very midst of this complaint, he inserts his courage and

confidence.

1. "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee."

2. "I will not fear." He rises higher: even when he fears, he

will not fear. His word, his promise, is passed to me for

protection; and I will trust in it: "In God will I praise his

word; in God have I put my trust, I will not fear what flesh, (for

the proudest, the mightiest enemy I have, is but flesh, and all

flesh is grass,) I will not then fear what flesh can do unto me."

This reason he repeats again, Ps 56:10, 11.

1. "In God I will praise his word; in the Lord I will praise his

word."

2. "In God have I put my trust, I will not fear what man can do

to me."

III. And this, his confidence, he quickens and animates,-

1. From his assurance that God would punish and bring down his

enemies: "Shall they escape for their iniquity?" No, no; "in thine

anger thou wilt cast them down."

2. From his assurance of God's tutelage, and paternal eye over

him in all his dangers, griefs, complaints, petitions, and

banishment.

Men think God does not meddle with little things: he knew

otherwise.

1. "Thou tellest," and hast upon account, "my wanderings;" my

flights, exile.

2. "Thou puttest my tears into thy bottle; " preservest them as

rich wine.

3. Thou keepest a record for them: "Are they not in thy book?"

4. Thou puttest my enemies to flight: "When I cry unto thee,

then I know mine enemies shall be turned back; for God is with

me."

IV. And therefore, at last, he concludes with thanks, to which

he holds himself bound by vow.

1. "Thy vows are upon me:" I owe thee thanks by vow, and I will

pay them. "I will render praises unto thee."

2. The reason is, "For thou hast delivered my soul from death."

3. Thou wilt deliver me: "Wilt not thou deliver my feet from

falling?"

4. The end is, "That I may walk before God in the light of the

living." That I may live awhile, and walk as before thy eye; as in

thy sight, uprightly, sincerely, and prosperously. That in me men

may behold how powerfully thou hast saved both my body and soul.

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