Psalms 56

Psalm 56

Psalm 56. Despite the threats of his enemies, the psalmist is confident the Lord will keep his promise to protect and deliver him.

For the music director; according to the yonath-elem-rechovim style;
The literal meaning of this phrase is “silent dove, distant ones.” Perhaps it refers to a particular style of music, a tune title, or a type of musical instrument.
a prayer
The precise meaning of the Hebrew word מִכְתָּם (miktam), which also appears in the heading to Pss 16 and 57–60 is uncertain. HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as “inscription.”
of David, written when the Philistines captured him in Gath.
According to the superscription, David wrote this psalm when the Philistines seized him and took him to King Achish of Gath (see 1 Sam 21:11–15).

Have mercy on me, O God, for men are attacking me!
According to BDB 983 s.v. II שָׁאַף, the verb is derived from שָׁאַף (shaaf, “to trample, crush”) rather than the homonymic verb “pant after.”

All day long hostile enemies
Heb “a fighter.” The singular is collective for his enemies (see vv. 5–6). The Qal of לָחַם (lakham, “fight”) also occurs in Ps 35:1.
are tormenting me.
The imperfect verbal form draws attention to the continuing nature of the enemies’ attacks.

Those who anticipate my defeat
Heb “to those who watch me [with evil intent].” See also Pss 5:8; 27:11; 54:5; 59:10.
attack me all day long.
Indeed,
Or “for.”
many are fighting against me, O Exalted One.
Some take the Hebrew term מָרוֹם (marom, “on high; above”) as an adverb modifying the preceding participle and translate, “proudly” (cf. NASB; NIV “in their pride”). The present translation assumes the term is a divine title here. The Lord is pictured as enthroned “on high” in Ps 92:8. (Note the substantival use of the term in Isa 24:4 and see C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs (Psalms [ICC], 2:34), who prefer to place the term at the beginning of the next verse.)

When
Heb “[in] a day.”
I am afraid,
I trust in you.
In God – I boast in his promise
Heb “in God I boast, his word.” The syntax in the Hebrew text is difficult. (1) The line could be translated, “in God I boast, [in] his word.” Such a translation assumes that the prepositional phrase “in God” goes with the following verb “I boast” (see Ps 44:8) and that “his word” is appositional to “in God” and more specifically identifies the basis for the psalmist’s confidence. God’s “word” is here understood as an assuring promise of protection. Another option (2) is to translate, “in God I will boast [with] a word.” In this case, the “word” is a song of praise. (In this view the pronominal suffix “his” must be omitted as in v. 10.) The present translation reflects yet another option (3): In this case “I praise his word” is a parenthetical statement, with “his word” being the object of the verb. The sentence begun with the prepositional phrase “in God” is then completed in the next line, with the prepositional phrase being repeated after the parenthesis.

in God I trust, I am not afraid.
What can mere men
Heb “flesh,” which refers by metonymy to human beings (see v. 11, where “man” is used in this same question), envisioned here as mortal and powerless before God.
do to me?
The rhetorical question assumes the answer, “Nothing!” The imperfect is used in a modal sense here, indicating capability or potential.

All day long they cause me trouble;
Heb “my affairs they disturb.” For other instances of דָּבָר (davar) meaning “affairs, business,” see BDB 183 s.v.. The Piel of עָצַב (’atsav, “to hurt”) occurs only here and in Isa 63:10, where it is used of “grieving” (or “offending”) the Lord’s holy Spirit. Here in Ps 56:5, the verb seems to carry the nuance “disturb, upset,” in the sense of “cause trouble.”

they make a habit of plotting my demise.
Heb “against me [are] all their thoughts for harm.”

They stalk
The verb is from the root גּוּר (gur), which means “to challenge, attack” in Isa 54:15 and “to stalk” (with hostile intent) in Ps 59:3.
and lurk;
Or “hide.”

they watch my every step,
Heb “my heels.”

as
Heb “according to,” in the sense of “inasmuch as; since,” or “when; while.”
they prepare to take my life.
Heb “they wait [for] my life.”

Because they are bent on violence, do not let them escape!
Heb “because of wickedness, deliverance to them.” As it stands, the MT makes no sense. The negative particle אַיִן (’ayin, “there is not,” which is due to dittography of the immediately preceding אָוֶן, ’aven, “wickedness”), should probably be added before “deliverance” (see BHS, note a). The presence of an imperative in the next line (note “bring down”) suggests that this line should be translated as a prayer as well, “may there not be deliverance to them.”

In your anger
Heb “in anger.” The pronoun “your” is supplied in the translation for clarification.
bring down the nations,
Or perhaps “people” in a general sense.
O God!
You keep track of my misery.
Heb “my wandering you count, you.” The Hebrew term נֹד (nod, “wandering,” derived from the verbal root נוֹד, nod, “to wander”; cf. NASB) here refers to the psalmist’s “changeable circumstances of life” and may be translated “misery.” The verb סָפַר (safar, “count”) probably carries the nuance “assess” here. Cf. NIV “my lament”; NRSV “my tossings.”

Put my tears in your leather container!
Traditionally “your bottle.” Elsewhere the Hebrew word נֹאד (nod, “leather container”) refers to a container made from animal skin which is used to hold wine or milk (see Josh 9:4, 13; Judg 4:19; 1 Sam 16:20). If such a container is metaphorically in view here, then the psalmist seems to be asking God to store up his tears as a reminder of his suffering.

Are they not recorded in your scroll?
The word “recorded” is supplied in the translation for clarification. The rhetorical question assumes a positive response (see the first line of the verse).

My enemies will turn back when I cry out to you for help;
Heb “then my enemies will turn back in the day I cry out.” The Hebrew particle אָז (’az, “then”) is probably used here to draw attention to the following statement.

I know that God is on my side.
Heb “this I know, that God is for me.”

10  In God – I boast in his promise
Heb “in God I praise a word.” The syntax of the Hebrew text is difficult. The statement is similar to that of v. 4, except that the third person pronominal suffix is omitted here, where the text has simply “a word” instead of “his word.” (1) One could translate, “in God I will boast [with] a word.” In this case, the “word” refers to a song of praise. (2) If one assumes that God’s word is in view, as in v. 4, then one option is to translate, “in God I boast, [in] his word.” In this case the prepositional phrase “in God” goes with the following verb “I boast” (see Ps 44:8) and “[his] word” is appositional to “in God” and more specifically identifies the basis for the psalmist’s confidence. God’s “word” is here understood as an assuring promise of protection. (3) The present translation reflects another option: In this case “I praise [his] word” is a parenthetical statement, with “[his] word” being the object of the verb. The sentence begun with the prepositional phrase “in God” is then completed in v. 11, with the prepositional phrase being repeated after the parenthesis.

in the Lord – I boast in his promise
The phrase “in the Lord” parallels “in God” in the first line. Once again the psalmist parenthetically remarks “I boast in [his] word” before completing the sentence in v. 11.

11  in God I trust, I am not afraid.
What can mere men
The statement is similar to that of v. 4, except “flesh” is used there instead of “man.”
do to me?
The rhetorical question assumes the answer, “Nothing!” The imperfect is used in a modal sense here, indicating capability or potential.

12  I am obligated to fulfill the vows I made to you, O God;
Heb “upon me, O God, [are] your vows.”

I will give you the thank-offerings you deserve,
Heb “I will repay thank-offerings to you.”

13  when you deliver
The perfect verbal form is probably future perfect; the psalmist promises to make good on his vows once God has delivered him (see Pss 13:5; 52:9). (2) Another option is to understand the final two verses as being added later, after the Lord intervened on the psalmist’s behalf. In this case one may translate, “for you have delivered.” Other options include taking the perfect as (3) generalizing (“for you deliver”) or (4) rhetorical (“for you will”).
my life from death.
You keep my feet from stumbling,
Heb “are not my feet [kept] from stumbling?” The rhetorical question expects the answer, “Of course they are!” The question has been translated as an affirmation for the sake of clarification of meaning.

so that I might serve
Heb “walk before.” For a helpful discussion of the background and meaning of this Hebrew idiom, see M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB), 254; cf. the same idiom in 2 Kgs 20:3; Isa 38:3.
God as I enjoy life.
Heb “in the light of life.” The phrase is used here and in Job 33:30.

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