Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


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.


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. אלם elem signifies to compress or bind together; also, a small band or body of men: and יונת yonath, from ינה 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 Psalms 56:1. 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

Verse Psalms 56:2. O thou Most High. — מרום 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

Verse Psalms 56:4. In God I will praise his word — באלהים 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. Psalms 56:10-11

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 56:5. 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

Verse Psalms 56:6. 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 נפש 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

Verse Psalms 56:7. 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

Verse Psalms 56:8. 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

Verse Psalms 56:9. 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

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

Verse 11

Verse Psalms 56:11. Psalms 56:4.

Verse 12

Verse Psalms 56:12. 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

Verse Psalms 56:13. 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.


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, Psalms 56:1; Psalms 56:7-8.

II. The cause; the fear of his enemies, whom he describes, Psalms 56:1-2; Psalms 56:5-6.

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

IV. His thankfulness, Psalms 56:4; Psalms 56:10; Psalms 56:12-13.

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, Psalms 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.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 56". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/psalms-56.html. 1832.
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