Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1



Superscription: For the Chief Musician; set to [~Jonath] [~'elem] [~rehokim].

A Psalm of David.

Michtam; when the Philistines took him in Gath.

Set to [~Jonath] [~'elem] [~rehokim]. Dummelow translated this as, "The dove of the distant terebinths," which indicated the song or the melody to which the psalm would be sung."[1] Adam Clarke gave another translation, "To the tune of the dove in the remote woods."[2]

Michtam. "The meaning of this is uncertain; but it may mean "A Golden Psalm of David."[3]

A Psalm of David. The authorship of the psalm is ascribed to David; and, until some valid reason for rejecting this ancient opinion is produced, we shall consider it to be valid. Delitzsch declared that this indication of Davidic authorship "is justified."[4]

When the Philistines took him in Gath. The Scriptures do indeed tell us of David's going to Gath, but there is no definite record of the Philistines actually `capturing him.' To us, this poses no problem whatever, as there are countless things in the life of David which are not related in the Old Testament.

McCaw wrote that, "This refers to David's first sojourn in Gath when he was evidently under some restraint (1 Samuel 21:13; 22:1). Psalms 34 was written after his escape from the Philistines, but this psalm is expressive of his misgivings while actually in the hands of Achish."[5] This psalm reveals the fact that David certainly considered the situation to be very dangerous.

There are many repetitions in the Psalms; and the prayer for deliverance from enemies is particularly a recurring feature, as is also the expression of grateful trust in God.

A person asked this writer, not long ago, why did David have so many enemies? The answer is that as a type of Christ, anything less than the constant enmity of the world would have been incorrect.

Perhaps the greatest error of our generation is the false notion that, `the true reign of Christ' will be a time of universal acceptance of His will among men. Nothing could be further from the facts. The reign of Christ will occur in the midst of his enemies, in spite of them; and their enmity will continue throughout the Dispensation until "the last enemy," which is death, shall be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The New Testament characterizes the "kingdom of heaven," which is the reign of Christ now going on (Matthew 28:18-20), as a time of "great tribulations," of constant "persecutions," of violent and implacable hatred, not only of the apostles, but also of "all who live godly in Christ Jesus."

Jesus Christ at this present time, "Has sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet" (Hebrews 10:12-13). It should be noted that the reign of Christ is therefore concurrent with the existence of many enemies.

True to the Great Antitype, David's life was constantly under the attack of bitter and persistent enemies. The only thing needed to incur the wrath and the hatred of the world is for Christians to reject the world's value judgments. Often, the friendship of Christians with the world is simply due to the fact that the Christians have failed to make that rejection properly visible to others.

Rawlinson tells us that:

"This psalm and the following (Psalms 57) are called "twin psalms." Each of them begins with almost the same words; each has a refrain that divides it into two parts. One difference is that this psalm has an epilogue (Psalms 56:12-13), whereas, Psalms 57 does not. Both are written in circumstances of very great distress; and the tone of thought in each of them is similar. Each has a statement of the problem, then a prayer for deliverance, and ends with praise and triumph."[6]

Baigent divided the psalm into two parts, Psalms 56:1-4, and 5-11, with Psalms 56:12-13 as a concluding thanksgiving.[7]

Psalms 56:1-4

"Be merciful unto me, O God; for man would swallow me up:

All the day long he fighting oppresseth me.

Mine enemies would swallow me up all the day long;

For they are many that fight proudly against me.

What time I am afraid,

I will put my trust in thee.

In God (I will praise his word),

In God will I put my trust,

I will not be afraid;

What can flesh do unto me?"

"They are many that fight proudly against me" (Psalms 56:2). See chapter introduction for discussion of the number of David's enemies.

"I am afraid ... I will put my trust in thee" (Psalms 56:3). All of the worldly circumstances that surrounded David were calculated to project fear into his heart; but he thrust all fear aside by trusting in God. The rebellion of his enemies against the counsel of God was only madness. "The poet has God's favor on his side, therefore he will face those pigmies that behave as though they were giants, possessing the assurance of ultimate victory in the invincible might of God."[8] In these clauses, "Faith is a deliberate act in defiance of one's emotional state."[9]

"In God I put my trust, I will not be afraid" (Psalms 56:4). This is a refrain, repeated again and enlarged in Psalms 56:10-11. We find it again in Psalms 118:6, and in the New Testament also (Hebrews 13:6).

"What can flesh do to me?" (Psalms 56:4). This is very similar to the confident word of Paul who wrote, "If God be for us, who can be against us" (Romans 8:31).

Verse 5

"All the day long they wrest my words:

All their thoughts are against me for evil.

They gather themselves together, they hide themselves,

They mark my steps,

Even as they have waited for my soul.

Shall they escape by iniquity?

In anger cast down the peoples, O God.

Thou numberest my wanderings:

Put thou my tears into thy bottle;

Are they not in thy book?

Then shall mine enemies turn back in the day that I call:

This I know that God is for me.

In God (I will praise his word),

In Jehovah (I will praise his word),

In God have I put my trust, I will not be afraid;

What can man do unto me?"

"They wrest my words" (Psalms 56:5). The KJV here has `twist my words.'

"Their thoughts are against me" (Psalms 56:5). The purpose of the Philistines was continually that of destroying David.

"Gather themselves together ... hide themselves ... mark my steps" (Psalms 56:6). This means they convened counsels on how to destroy David; they concealed themselves in order to spy upon him, and they watched his every move. Yes, those wicked men watched David's every step; but God also was watching over his own (Psalms 56:8), "numbering all of his wanderings, and even counting his tears."

Delitzsch paraphrased these words regarding the activity of David's enemies. "David affirmed his loyalty to Saul, but they forced upon his words false meanings; they banded themselves together, they placed men in ambush."[10]

"Shall they escape by iniquity?" (Psalms 56:7) Mistreatment of David by the Philistines mentioned here was doubtless the root of his determination, after he became king, to utterly subdue them. He would become God's instrument in granting the answer to David's prayer for their destruction (2 Samuel 5:17; 8:1).

"In anger cast down the peoples, O God" (Psalms 56:7) The word `peoples' here is the same as `Gentiles,' or `nations.' Indicating that all nations of the whole world were affected in some manner by what happened to David. Of course, this is profoundly true, because the Davidic kingdom was the type and forerunner of the "Kingdom of God." Addis missed this profound truth altogether, writing that, "Nations were not concerned in the petty espionage which the Psalm describes."[11]

"My wanderings ... my tears" (Psalms 56:8). Is it really true that God has such detailed interest in his servants? Kidner pointed out that it is even so, adding that, "Our Lord had equally striking terms for God's attention to detail. He said, `The very hairs of your head are all numbered.' (Matthew 10:29)."[12]

"Are they not in thy book?" (Psalms 56:8). Rhodes observed that both `bottle' and `book' here are metaphorical references to the `records' of God; and this seems to be correct. God, of course would need neither a record book nor a bottle. As DeHoff noted, "The figure of speech here is similar to that of Revelation 5:8 where the prayers of the saints are represented as being preserved in `golden vials.'"[13]

"This I know that God is for me" (Psalms 56:9). David's absolute confidence in the truth and dependability of what God had told him through the prophet Nathan sustained him throughout his lifetime, no matter how difficult the circumstances of many heartbreaking situations which he confronted.

"In God (I will praise his word)" (Psalms 56:10). This picks up the refrain from Psalms 56:4, emphasizes its first line by repeating it almost verbatim, which Kidner tells us was a favorite method of emphasis by the psalmist.[14]

Verse 12


"Thy vows are upon me, O God:

I will render thanksgivings unto thee.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death:

Hast thou not delivered my feet from falling

That I may walk before God

In the light of the living?"

David here speaks of his deliverance as if it has already been accomplished; but it is not clear whether or not he merely considers it certain to be accomplished, or if it has really taken place. Some suppose that he had indeed already been delivered; but McCaw thought that he "foresaw it as a certainty."[15] Yates took the position that it might have been either. "Since victory has already come or is envisioned as assured, the psalmist recalls his obligation of praise and thanksgiving."[16]

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 56". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.