Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-13


Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician upon Jonath-Elem-Rechokim.” The phrase “Jonath-Elem-Rechokim” occurs nowhere else in the Bible; and Biblical critics are by no means agreed as to its meaning. Gesenius renders it, “The silent dove among strangers.” W. A. Wright, in Smith’s Dict of the Bale: “A dumb dove of (in) distant places.” De Wette, “Dove of the distant terebinths.” Aben Ezra regards it as merely indicating the modulation or the rhythm of the Psalm,—“after the melody of the air which begins Jonath-Elem-Rechokim.” Fuerst regards it as referring to “an old poem, after which the 56th Psalm was sung.” “In the Biour to Mendelsshon’s version of the Psalms, Jonath-Elem-Rechokim is mentioned as a musical instrument which produced dull, mournful sounds.” Hengstenberg, Alexander, et al., interpret the phrase as describing the unhappy condition of David during his exile from the land of Israel, as an innocent and uncomplaining sufferer among strangers. “Michtam of David.” Margin: “A golden Psalm of David,” which is interpreted as signifying that “the Psalm was to David precious as fine gold.” Luther: “A golden jewel.” Gesenius, De Wette, et al.: “Writing.” Hengstenberg: “A secret of David.” He explains it as “a song with a deep import.” W. A. Wright in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, says,—“Beyond the general probability that it is a musical term, the origin of which is uncertain and the application lost, nothing is known.”

The superscription also gives us the occasion of the composition of the Psalm. “When the Philistines took him in Gath.” The history is contained in 1 Samuel 21:10, seq. Psalms 34:0. refers to the same occasion.

The leading idea of the Psalm is that of confidence in God in time of danger, which finds expression in the refrain, Psalms 56:4; Psalms 56:10-11.


(Psalms 56:1-7.)

These verses may suitably be regarded as illustrating the life of a good man in this world in relation to his enemies. Consider—

I. The enemies of the godly man. They are here represented as—

1. Eager. This seems to be the idea of the clause which is incorrectly rendered, “man would swallow me up.” Moll renders it: “Mortal man snorts against me.” Hengstenberg: “Man snuffs after me.” The meaning is either that his enemies panted after him as animals greedy of their prey, or snorted against him as animals enraged. The foes of the Psalmist were hot and eager in their hostility against him. The enemies of the godly now are active and zealous. Satan and his numerous allies amongst men display an earnestness and enthusiasm worthy of a good cause.

2. Numerous. “They be many that fight against me.” David had many enemies—Saul and his followers, and Achish, the king of Gath, and his servants. The godly soul has many foes,—the world, the flesh, and the devil—enemies within his own breast, and enemies without, in society, &c.

3. Constant. “Mine enemies would daily,” &c. “Every day they wrest,” &c. The enemies of the Poet were incessant in their efforts to effect his overthrow. Every day their hostility was renewed. The enemies of the godly manifest great unweariedness of effort. Evil never rests. Its dread activities are untiring.

4. Dishonest. “They wrest my words.” They twisted, perverted, tortured his words, so as to get from them a meaning which he never intended, and by which they might injure him. Good men are exposed to the misrepresentations and slanders of their foes.

5. Confederate. “They gather themselves together.” The enemies of David combined against him. It seems sometimes in the history of the godly soul as though the forces of evil were united against it. All evil is one in this, that it is directed against God and the interests of His kingdom and people.

6. Secret. “They hide themselves,” &c. They were like foes lying in ambush. The designs of evil are crafty and cunning. The people of God have to guard “against the wiles of the devil.” “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” Hence the peril, and the necessity for watchfulness.

7. Cruel. “They wait for my soul.” The enemies of David sought to take his life. Our spiritual enemies seek not to deprive us of physical life, but to ensnare and ruin our soul. “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

(α.) How foolish it is to make light of our spiritual enemies! and it may be ruinous! (Ephesians 6:12).

(β.) How great is the importance of guardedness of spirit! (Ephesians 6:13-18).

(γ.) How needful is the Divine protection! (Psalms 125:2).

II. The prayer of the godly man in the midst of his enemies. This contains—

1. A comprehensive petition. “Be merciful unto me, O God” If the Psalmist secured the exercise of the Divine mercy on his behalf, he would need nothing more. The active exercise of the mercy of God toward us is a guarantee of all needful good,—protection, guidance, support, ultimate victory.

2. A powerful plea is implied in this petition. In asking for mercy the Psalmist renounces all idea of merit in himself, and looks to the riches of Divine grace as the source and the reason of blessing. We do well to plead the unspeakable generosity of the Divine disposition. “He delighteth in mercy.”

3. An earnest appeal to the Divine justice. “Shall they escape by iniquity?” &c. We have here—

(1) An expectation involving extreme wickedness. The enemies of the Psalmist were so depraved that they cherished the hope that they should escape the just consequences of their transgressions by their own cunning and violence, lawlessness, and treachery.
(2) An assurance of the rectitude of the Divine government. The inquiry of the Psalmist implies his firm belief that his foes would not escape the Divine judgment by their wickedness. “The sin of sinners will never be their security.” “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”
(3) A desire for the exercise of the Divine judgment. “In anger cast down the people, O God.” David prays that God in judgment would defeat the plans and destroy the power of his enemies, who wickedly sought his life. We do well to pray for the overthrow of evil and the exercise of the righteous judgment of God.

III. The confidence of the godly man in the midst of his enemies.

1. It was reposed in the grandest object. “In God I have put my trust.” Psalms 32:10; Psalms 37:39-40; Psalms 125:1; Isaiah 26:3-4; Jeremiah 17:7-8.

2. It was exercised in the most trying season. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Calvin: “It seems, indeed, as if fear and hope were feelings too contrary the one to the other to dwell in the same heart; but experience shows that hope there in fact really reigns where some portion of the heart is possessed by fear. For when the mind is calm and tranquil, hope is not exercised, yea rather is, as it were, hushed to sleep; but then, and not till then does she put forth all her strength, when the mind has been cast down by cares and she lifts it up, when it has been saddened and disturbed and she calms it, when it has been smitten with fear and she sustains and props it.”

3. It produced the sublimest results.

(1) It raised him above the fear of man. “I will not fear; what can flesh do unto me?” Arnd: “He sets against each other the mighty God, and impotent flesh, which is as grass and as the flower of the field.”
(2) It inspired him with the praise of God. “In God I will praise His word.” The Psalmist extols God because of His gracious word and its precious promises. Thus by faith the godly man may triumph in the midst of his enemies, and is sure of complete victory over them ultimately.


(Psalms 56:3.)


I. What is implied and included in trusting in God.

1. A knowledge of God as accessible through a Mediator. We have sinned, and there is only one way in which the guilty can approach the Most High, and their prayer can be accepted by Him. The blood of the great sacrifice is the medium, and faith in Christ is the only method (John 14:6).

2. A full surrender of the soul to God to be governed by His holy laws. God claims the first place in our heart. His requirements are binding, and His authority must be regarded. It is vain to say we are trusting in God if we refuse subjection to His rightful dominion.

3. Acquiescence in the arrangements of providence, and submission to His will. Habitual discontent and murmuring is incompatible with a life of confidence in God. Losses, afflictions, and bereavements are painful, but confidence in God will lead us to bear them with submission, and to say, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good.”

II. The circumstances in which this confidence is most needful and important. “What time I am afraid,” &c. There are seasons in which fear will be awakened; in such seasons we should trust in God. Fear may be excited—

1. By a sense of guilt. When the sinner is convinced of the evil and danger of sin he feels himself under the curse of a broken law, and in danger of everlasting misery. A sense of guilt may be experienced after conversion. When the conscience is wounded by remorse nothing can give it rest but the application of the blood of Christ, and the enjoyment of the mercy of God. “What time I am afraid,” &c.

2. In seasons of temptation. The believer may be walking in darkness, and may have no light, he may be lamenting the hardness and carnality of his own heart, he may be fearing apostacy, &c. In such seasons our best refuge is God.

3. In seasons of domestic trials. Troubles to parents through the perverseness of children, as Jacob and David had. Or trials by reason of affliction.

4. Under bereaving providences. These are some of the heaviest trials which are experienced. Unless we go to the right refuge we shall be in danger of sinking into darkness.

5. Under personal afflictions. To the people of God these are not judgments, but fatherly chastisements. The hand that wounds can heal, &c.

6. In the prospect of death. Death is an event the most serious and important, and the prospect of it has a tendency to awaken fear. But “What time,” &c.

III. The advantages which attend a life of confidence in God.

1. It will be an evidence of religion.

2. It will bring with it peace and satisfaction.

3. It will lead to support under the trials of life. “My grace is sufficient for thee,” &c.

4. It will lead to deliverance from troubles. Through all his troubles the believer shall be brought in safety, and he shall stand and look back upon life and view them all left behind him for ever.

5. It will lead us to account all our troubles as blessings.

“E’en crosses from His sovereign hand

Are blessings in disguise.”

“All things work together for good,” &c.

6. It will lead to an eternity of happiness. “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.”

CONCLUSION.—Learn the importance of trusting in God. It is essential to our salvation.—Abridged from an unpublished MS.


(Psalms 56:8-13.)

In these verses David, an exile and wanderer, bitterly persecuted, appears as glad and triumphant by faith in God. He rejoices—

I. In the minuteness of the Divine knowledge and the tenderness of the Divine regard.

1. The perfection of the Divine knowledge. “Thou tellest” (or numberest) “my wanderings.” David was at this time an exile and wanderer, fleeing from place to place because of the ceaseless and malicious persecutions of Saul. Barnes (in loco) cites eight of these wanderings; Rudinger counts fourteen. All of them were counted by God. Not one was omitted. Nor would any one of them be forgotten; for like his tears, they were recorded in His book, Malachi 3:16.

2. The tenderness of the Divine regard. “Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle.” The persecutions which drove David into exile and wandering caused him to weep, but he was comforted by the thought that God cared for him as a friend who would gather and preserve his tears. “It seems probable that there is an allusion here to the custom of collecting tears shed in a time of calamity and sorrow, and preserving them in a small bottle or lachrymatory, as a memorial of the grief. The Romans had a custom, that in a time of mourning—on a funeral occasion—a friend went to one in sorrow, and wiped away the tears from the eyes with a piece of cloth, and squeezed the tears into a small bottle, which was carefully preserved as a memorial of friendship and sorrow.” Perowne: “He knows that each day of his wandering, each nook in which he found shelter, each step that he had taken, every artifice by which he had baffled his foes,—all have been numbered by his Heavenly Keeper, tea, no tear that he has shed, when his eye has been raised to heaven in prayer, has fallen to the ground. God he prays to gather them all in His bottle, and trusts that He will note them in His book.” This confidence strengthened, cheered, rejoiced the Poet. So also Job: “But He knoweth the way that I take,” &c. To the sincere believer in God there is a rich fund of consolation and encouragement in the Divine knowledge of us and regard for us.

II. In his assurance of deliverance from his enemies. “When I cry, then shall mine enemies turn back,” &c.

1. The condition of deliverance. “When I cry.” Believing prayer is a condition of the Divine interposition for us. “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.”

2. The promptitude of deliverance. “When I cry, then shall,” &c. “It shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Comp. Daniel 9:20-23.) Spurgeon: “What irresistible artillery is this which wins the battle as soon as its report is heard!”

3. The assurance of deliverance. “This I know.” Mark

(1) the strength of this assurance. He does not speak with a perhaps or a peradventure, but confidently says, “I know.”

(2) The ground of this assurance, “For God is for me.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?”

III. In his triumphant confidence in God. “In God will I praise His word,” &c. (Psalms 56:10-11). See our notes on Psalms 56:4.

IV. In his delightful obligations to God. “Thy vows are upon me, O God,” &c. (Psalms 56:12-13). It is worthy of distinct and careful observation that to the Psalmist obligation to God was a privilege and pleasure—a thing to be celebrated in glad song.

1. The nature of this obligation. “Thy vows are upon me, O God; I will render praises unto Thee.” Hengstenberg: “The vows consist of offerings. To the kind, the vows, the Psalmist, however, adds the species, thank-offerings.” David had vowed thank-offerings to God, and he looks forward with pleasure to the fulfilment of his vows. Tholuck: “David thinks of songs of praise whilst he still sings lamentations, of vows of thanksgiving whilst yet praying.”

2. The reason of this obligation.

(1) What God had done for him. “For Thou hast delivered my soul from death.” The Lord had delivered the Psalmist from imminent danger and from death again and again. The shield of the Almighty Protector had covered him, and the deadly darts of his enemies were unable to injure him.
(2) What God would yet do for him. “Wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling!” The Psalmist was confident that God would continue to defend and sustain him. What He has done may be safely taken as an assurance of what He will do.
(3) The design of God’s doings for him. “That I may walk before God in the light of the living.” “The light of life” is in contrast with the darkness of the realm of death. To walk before the face of God is to live in the enjoyment of His favour and protection. For these reasons David felt under binding and blessed obligations to praise God. And by all these things his heart was gladdened though his outward circumstances were so depressing and painful.

APPLICATION.—If our trust is reposed in God we may and ought to apply this exposition to ourselves. Let us be strengthened and encouraged, however many and sore our trials, because—

1. God’s knowledge of us is minute and perfect.

2. His regard for us is tender and unceasing.

3. He has assured us of final and full salvation.

4. His past deliverances also warrant our present confidence.

5. Faith in Him should enable us to triumph even in the most trying circumstances (Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:31-39).


(Psalms 56:8.)

The Psalmist refers to his removals from place to place for safety—“Thou tellest my wanderings.” He desired that God would pity him under his sorrows—“Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle.” An allusion here to a custom of the ancients.

I. That the pilgrimage of the righteous and the changes of life are numbered and written in the book of God’s remembrance. “Thou tellest my wanderings,” &c.

1. The life of the righteous is a spiritual pilgrimage. It begins at conversion; it has its “wanderings;” some of them sinful; all of them known to God.

2. The changes in the life of the righteous are numbered by the Lord, and are in the book of His remembrance.

(1) Many pass through changes in the place of their residence. They are led in a way that they know not and in paths that they have not known. The Lord telleth all these wanderings.
(2) Many are the changes of circumstances; e.g., Job; David from his wanderings to the throne.

II. The sorrows of the righteous are known to God, and David desired Him to keep them in His mind. “Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle,” &c.

1. The tears of penitents are put into His bottle. God looks with compassion upon the wanderer returning home, &c.

2. The tears of the righteous shed over the remains of sin.

3. The tears of the righteous in their spiritual conflicts, occasioned by sinful dispositions, hardness of heart, &c.

4. The tears caused by the trials of life. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” &c. All the afflictions and sorrows of life are known unto God. “The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.”

III. God’s knowledge of His people is a source of comfort to them.

1. That He knows the course they take in their sorrows is a comfort to them (Job 23:10). This comfort may be taken

(1) By the penitent at the foot of the cross. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;” &c.
(2) By the Christian whose daily prayer is that he may be found in Christ.
(3) By the believer seeking the aid of the Holy Spirit in the conflicts of life.
(4) And by the godly in all the changes and trials of their pilgrimage.
2. Their views of God afford them consolation in their sorrows.

(1) The Lord is their God, their Father, and their friend.
(2) The conduct of God is governed by infinite wisdom and goodness.
(3) Many trials come from the hand of God. “The Lord trieth the righteous.”
(4) The purposes of God afford his people comfort. The discipline may be painful, but its design is their perfection.
(5) They have access to the throne of grace in all their sorrows. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.”

(6) The promises of God inspire them with confidence and hope (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Isaiah 35:10).


1. That sorrows are a part of our present portion. “In the world ye have tribulation.”

2. All our sorrows are known unto God.

3. In all our sorrows we should trust in God (Nahum 1:7).

4. We should keep on such terms with God as will enable us to derive comfort from His infinite knowledge.

5. If God manifests such regard to His people in the changing scenes of life, how important is it to enjoy the privilege! and to enjoy it we must be the subjects of true religion.—Abridged from an unpublished MS.


(Psalms 56:13.)

We shall regard these words of the Psalmist’s as setting forth the present state of Christian believers. It is—

I. A Divinely delivered state. “Thou hast delivered my soul from death.” The unrenewed soul is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5; Ephesians 4:18). Man is delivered from death—

1. Through the mediation of Jesus.

2. By the instrumentality of redemptive truth.

3. By the agency of the Holy Spirit.

4. On condition of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:36; John 5:24).

II. A Divinely sustained state. “Wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling?” Notice:

1. The danger implied. The renewed soul is in danger of falling. Three things show this—

(1) The fact of temptation.
(2) Our susceptibility to temptation.
(3) Some of the best men have fallen.
2. The confidence involved. That God is “able to keep us from falling” (Jude 1:24).

3. The encouragement afforded. “Thou hast delivered.… Wilt Thou not,” &c. What He has done is an earnest of what He will yet do (Philippians 1:6).

III. A Divinely approved state. “That I may walk before God in the light of the living.” This includes—

1. Life governed by God. Living as in His sight. His will our rule of action.

2. Life well-pleasing to God. “To walk before the face of God” is to live in the enjoyment of His favour (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 21:6; Psalms 89:15). Such a life naturally tends to fulness of joy in His immediate presence (Psalms 16:11).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 56". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.