Psalm 56:1-13

To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up;
Fighting all day he oppresses me.

2 My enemies would hound me all day,
For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3 Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.

4 In God (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not fear.
What can flesh do to me?

5 All day they twist my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.

6 They gather together,
They hide, they mark my steps,
When they lie in wait for my life.

7 Shall they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God!

8 You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?

9 When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.

10 In God (I will praise His word),
In the Lord (I will praise His word),

11 In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12 Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,

13 For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living?

The title refers to David’s first sojourn in Gath when he was evidently under some restraint (cf. 1 Samuel 21:13; 22:1). Psalm 34 was composed shortly after his escape from the Philistines, but Psalm 56 is expressive of his misgivings while actually in the hands of Achish.

The psalm’s two parts are each followed by a refrain (vs. 4, 10 and 11), while vs. 12 and 13 form a brief conclusion — Guthrie, page 486

michtam (heading) = to cut in, or engrave … The Septuagint renders it stelographia — a sculptured writing … a sepulchral monument. The word, therefore, points to a graven and therefore a permanent writing; graven on account of its importance. The [six] Michtam psalms are all pervaded by the common characteristic of being personal, direct, and more or less private. — Pettingill, page 37.

Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” (heading) = lit. “Dove of the throng of (the) distant ones,” referring to the tune by which it was to be sung.

all day (vs. 1, 2, 5) = at any moment of the day

merciful (v.1) — It concisely embodies those foundational convictions upon which all of his entreaties to God are based—to wit: (1) the conviction of an existing relationship between him and God, (2) the conviction that he does not merit God’s favor, and (3) the conviction that, because of their existing relationship (and despite his lack of merit), God desires to be gracious to David, His child. — Wechsler, pages 155-156

I am afraid (v.3) — referring to his fear of the Philistine king (1 Samuel 21:12. And yet in v.4 he writes, “I will not fear.” Even when he felt fear, he knew he could trust God.

trust (v.3) = lit. “lean on”

You number my wanderings (v.8) — He affirms that God has taken account of (lit., “counted”) his wanderings—i.e., his wanderings about Israel “as he fled from Saul, and went to … Gath” (1 Samuel 21:10). — Wechsler, page 156.

Put my tears into Your bottle (v.8) — In the East mourners used to catch their tears in bottles (water skins) and place them in the tomb with the deceased.

Your book (v.8) — Malachi 3:16: Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.

As characteristic of David at the end of his psalms of entreaty and complaint, he looks ahead, not to the hoped-for resolution of his immediate situation, but beyond it to that for which his heart truly longs: that time when he and all God’s children will do what man was meant to do in Eden—to walk (lit., “walk about,” “stroll”) before God in the light of the living (or life), … signifying qualitative (i.e., ideal) life in which the Tree of Life was meant to seal man (Genesis 3:22)—and one day will (Revelation 22:2). — Wechsler, pages 156-157

Williams’ take:

The meaning of the word [Michtam] is obscure. It possibly means “engraven in gold.” God in the Scriptures suggests Divine power and relationship, and what is engraven expresses permanence. Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and resurrection is a permanent doctrine of the Gospel. The word Michtam, therefore, may be a term expressing the certitude of faith in the predicted resurrection of Christ.

David’s experiences when far from his father’s house and in exile among those who hated him (1 Samuel 21) occasioned the giving of this psalm. He was inspired to write it; but its full theme is the experiences of the Messiah when living in this world among sinners, and in the under-world among demons, far from the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. He is the speaker, His are the petitions, and His the expressions of faith and confidence. — Williams, page 343.

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