Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

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Verses 1-2


For “for the choir director” (Psalms 56:1) see at Psalm 4:1.

The phrase “according to Jonath elem rehokim”, or “the silent dove of those who are far off”, or “the dove of the distant terebinths”, seems to be a musical term. The tone indicated by this term is that of plaintive homesickness. The Septuagint translates this with: “On people who have been driven away from the sanctuary.” This indicates that it speaks prophetically of the remnant driven out of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:16-Nehemiah :).

David says in the previous psalm that he would like to have wings of a dove, to fly far away, far away from danger to a place of safety (Psalms 55:6-Ruth :). Here that longing is given a musical tone. In Hebrew it can also be translated with: ‘dove of silence from afar.’

The dove is also a picture of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16). The Holy Spirit now dwells on earth in the believer and in the church, connecting the believer with heaven, where the Lord Jesus is. In the world the believer is not at home and he does not feel at home there. The Spirit will stimulate in every believer the longing for the Lord Jesus in heaven, to be with Him. He does this through God’s Word, which is all about the Lord Jesus. Those who do not read the Word of God do not know that longing and will connect with the world.

David writes the psalm in response to the hostile approach of many who fight him and do so all day long. Therefore, like a dove, he yearns for a place of safety and security. He longs to go home again like a dove in a foreign country. It is the feeling of being in exile. His longing is to be home, a place far away from where he is now. It is also a place of stability and durability, of which the “distant terebinths” speak.

This psalm “of David” is called “a Mikhtam”. This designation is also mentioned in the heading of the four following psalms (Psalms 57:1; Psalms 58:1Psalms 59:1; Psalms 60:1). Some say its meaning is derived from a word for “gold”, which has led to the translation “a golden gem”, as in the Dutch translation we use. Apart from these five psalms (Psalms 56-60), it only appears in the heading of Psalm 16 (Psalms 16:1).

Mikhtam means ‘engraved’, in other words, permanent, precious. Prophetically, it refers to the experiences of the believing remnant in the time of the great tribulation. The remnant, of whom this psalm speaks prophetically, is still abroad, oppressed by the antichrist and the unbelieving mass of the Jews on the one hand, and the surrounding nations on the other. They seek their comfort, guidance and encouragement in the Word of God (Psalms 56:4; Psalms 56:10). That leads to renewed confidence (Psalms 56:11) and a giving thanks to God (Psalms 56:12; Psalms 56:13). That is the precious thing about these experiences, which never lose their value.

The occasion of the psalm, of this “mikhtam”, is that “the Philistines seized him in Gath” (cf. Psalms 34:1). David fell into their power. He found himself in that circumstance of affliction through his own fault. The fear of Saul persecuting him restlessly became so strong that he lost his trust in God and took refuge with the Philistines in Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-Ezra :).

David had to deal with two enemies: his own people led by King Saul, and the foreign enemy, the Philistines. Similarly, the remnant will have to deal with two enemies. The first is the unbelieving mass of the Jews led by the antichrist (Revelation 13:11-Job :), supported by the dictator of the restored Roman Empire, the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :). The second is the foreign enemy, the Assyrian, king of the north, probably a coalition of islamic nations in the end times. The emphasis in this psalm is on the foreign enemy, the Philistines.

Because of them, he comes into great distress of soul. He is a prisoner in Gath and cannot get out of the gate. Therefore he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely at the gate as a madman (1 Samuel 21:12-1 Chronicles :). Then he is set free. In this depth of affliction, in which he behaves so unworthily, this “mikhtam” or “golden gem” is born. Prophetically we see here the purification of the believing remnant, just as Joseph’s brothers were purified in the distress of their brief captivity in Egypt.

God can use our most degrading experiences to make more of Christ visible in us. This is the result of the trial of faith and the exercise of faith of trusting in God. Then we can repeat Christ in faith: “This I know, that God is for me” (Psalms 56:9), allowing us to testify of it, twice: “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid; what can man do to me?” (Psalms 56:4; Psalms 56:11).

The complaint begins with a prayer to God to be gracious to him (Psalms 56:1; cf. Psalms 51:1). Grace is the only thing David can appeal to, for he has forfeited every right to help and blessing. David immediately pours out his heart before God. He pictures before Him in bright colors the constant, varied, and hostile opposition.

He tells God that “man has trampled upon” him. Thus he makes it a case between the almighty God and man [Hebrew enosh, mortal man]. Even in his distress, David continues to insist that the enemies, though powerful and many, are only puny human beings, mortals. He also continues to insist that although he is vulnerable and with few, he can expect help from God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.

He himself has no strength against that mortal man, that is how weak he is. That mortal man has trampled on him, or snapped at him with a wide-open mouth to swallow him with skin and hair. The mortal he has to deal with is “fighting” him and “oppresses” him “all day long”. He does not have a moment’s rest and he is all by himself.

His combatants are “foes”, people who have trampled upon him (Psalms 56:2). And again he says that they are doing this “all day long”. He is constantly being oppressed, without a pause for breath. The next day brings no change. It’s the same thing day in and day out. He constantly feels the hot breath of the opened mouth of his assailants on his neck to swallow him up. The threefold use of the phrase “all day long” (Psalms 56:1; Psalms 56:2Psalms 56:5) indicates how relentlessly he is besieged, with no place of safety.

On top of that, he has “many who fight proudly against” him. He sees himself surrounded by people who want to kill him. In the land over which he is anointed king, there reigns a king who hunts him down. In the land to which he has fled to stay out of Saul’s hands, he is also surrounded by assailants.

The literal translation of the second line of Psalms 56:2 is “for they are many who fight me from on high”. ‘From on high’ means ‘proudly’. That is, his combatants have no respect for him at all, but look down on him in pride.

Verses 3-4

Trust in God

David acknowledges that there are days that he is afraid (Psalms 56:3). We know those days too. Fear is one of those things that God uses to make us realize that we need Him. David does not allow fear to control him. He chooses with conviction to trust in God. It is a strictly personal matter. He says “I will”, with emphasis.

If the trust in God is restored, it is because we trust His word, which here are His promises that He will help us and save us (Psalms 56:4). It is not possible to trust God in any other way than by trusting His words. And when we trust His words, we are trusting Himself. Everything He has promised is reason to praise Him. Then in God we praise His word.

To trust in God we must be familiar with His promises. We only know these when we have read them in His Word. Distress inflicted on us by men, and even distress brought upon ourselves by our own fault, must lead us to the statements of God.

Praising God because of His words gives confidence in God so that I no longer fear people. I can even say with boldness: “What can [mere] man do to me?” People, literally ‘flesh’, people who are weak in themselves, are His creatures and therefore in His hand. A creature can do nothing apart from Him. For this reason the believer can speak in this way.

It is not presumptuous to say this, but an expression of trust in God. God has spoken. He has promised that He will protect His own, preserve them, and bring them safely to Him and give them everything He has promised. What can a creature do against that? We can rest completely in His words, that is, in Him Who has spoken.

Verses 5-7


Trust in God does not blind us to the people who fight and attack us or the methods they use. Their enmity manifests itself primarily in words. David’s enemies “all day long” – this connects with Psalms 56:2 – “distort” his words (Psalms 56:5). They mutilate his words, literally, they ‘hurt’ his words.

One of the meanest weapons of the enemy is to distort someone’s words. In doing so, the whole person is rendered implausible. It is the violation of a person’s integrity. We too must be careful not to use this weapon. We can easily fall into the same error, especially when it comes to profound disagreements.

The Lord Jesus experienced this during His life on earth (John 2:19-Ecclesiastes :; Matthew 27:39-:). God experiences this daily, for example, through the lie of the so-called theistic theory of evolution. God has said that He created the earth in six days (Genesis 1:31; Genesis 2:1-Exodus :; Exodus 20:11). Man distorts His words to mean that He used many millions of years. What a disgrace this is to Him!

The thoughts of the enemy, “all their thoughts”, are always for the worse for the believers. Never does he seek good for them. He may articulate his thoughts pleasantly and well, but he is out to damage and eliminate the believer in his testimony for God and His Christ.

The enemies of David, of the believing remnant, and of us as well, are having gatherings to deliberate how best to proceed to eliminate the believer (Psalms 56:6). It is a renewed attack that has made a renewed confidence necessary.

They do not come at him one by one, but join forces. The next action is for them to hide in an ambush. There they watch his footsteps. He is constantly watched. If he does anything wrong, he is finished, for they lurk for his life.

David, after suffering so much injustice, cries out to God, surely they will not go free, will they (Psalms 56:7)? In line with God’s assessment of all this injustice, he asks God to “put down the peoples” in anger. The many combatants constitute such a large number that David speaks of “peoples”. Again, we see that he is not asking for permission and help to deal with his enemies himself, but whether God will deal with them.

Verses 8-11

Trust in God

David is fully convinced that God does not forget one of his many wanderings because of his fleeing from Saul (Psalms 56:8). God has counted them. He keeps track of how many there are and the duration of each wandering (1 Samuel 21:10; 1 Samuel 22:11 Samuel 22:3; 1 Samuel 22:51 Samuel 23:5; 1 Samuel 23:141 Samuel 23:25; 1 Samuel 24:1-Exodus :). For the sake of the remnant, God has set in advance a maximum to the days of their tribulation. He counts down their days until exactly that maximum is reached (Matthew 24:22). Exactly at that point the tribulation ceases and the suffering is over.

God has also seen the tears of David. David asks God to put his tears in His bottle to keep them. These are the tears of believers shed in their suffering and sorrow before the Lord (Job 16:20). These believers are written down by God in His book, including all their experiences (cf. Malachi 3:16; Psalms 139:16). As for the enemies, it will be a proof against them with which they will be confronted on the day of reckoning.

As for believers, the tears will be kept, that once they are with Him, He may wipe them from their eyes (Revelation 21:4). The suffering and sorrow will be over, but the memory of what caused the tears will never be forgotten. Above all, the tears of Him, Who offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to God (Hebrews 5:7), will have our eternal attention.

David turns the day he is afraid (Psalms 56:3) into a day he calls (Psalms 56:9). He sees that his “enemies will turn back in the day when” he calls. When we call, the enemy will give way, not before. Because he calls, he can say with confidence: “This I know, that God is with me.” He experiences that God is truly the Immanuel, “God with us”. “This I know” is a victory call. Thus we can exclaim: “If God is for us, who will be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Having expressed this certainty, he returns to what he said once before, in Psalms 56:4 (Psalms 56:10). In God he praises His “word”. This is more general than in Psalms 56:4. It certainly includes the promises He made to David, but also includes all the other promises and intentions of God. It is about all that God has said.

The revelation of that we have in the written Word of God. God reveals what He has planned by expressing it in words. Thus we know His plans. We need no more than that and nothing else. God and His Word are one.

Then David says that he praises “in the LORD … [his] word”. “God” is the Name of God as Creator, “LORD” is His Name as the God of the covenant with His people. This brings it even closer. David is not just speaking of the sovereign God Who is trustworthy in all that He says. He is speaking here of the God with Whom he has a close relationship, the God Who has made promises to His people and will fulfill them.

Those who praise God and the LORD in the word He has spoken know that God and LORD is trustworthy (Psalms 56:11). “The word” spoken by God “is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance” (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 4:9). Then there is no fear of man either, for what could man do to us (cf. Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 13:6)? God has spoken and He will do what He has promised. No man can change that. What man could undertake anything against God? Therefore, no man can do anything against the believer.

Verses 12-13


David is full of admiration for God. He has just expressed twice his trust in Him with the implication that he no longer fears any man (Psalms 56:11; Psalms 56:4). He turns to God and says to Him: “O God” (Psalms 56:12). In this we hear his amazement at what God has done. He immediately links the vows he has made to this. He will have made these during the time he was in trouble.

Now that he has found rest in God and His word and the knowledge that God is with him, he has not forgotten those vows. On the contrary, it is an incentive for him to keep those vows and to do so with rendering thank offerings. He trusts that God will help him and that he will bring the vow offering as a thank offering as a result.

God has delivered his soul from death (Psalms 56:13). Therefore, he can and will keep his vows. His enemies have always been out to kill him, but they have not succeeded because of God’s protection. They have watched his footsteps because they lurked for his life (Psalms 56:6). But God has kept his “feet from stumbling”. He gives God full credit for his deliverance.

The result is that he will “walk before God in the light of the living”. It means that he knows himself to be in God’s presence and is safe there. There he also walks in the light and not in the darkness. He walks there together with all the living, which are those who are also in God’s light.

The New Testament makes it clear that the light of life is the Lord Jesus (John 1:4). Walking in the light of the living comes down to what the Lord Jesus says: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 56". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.