Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-13

Psalms 56:1-13

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

The deprecable and the desirable

The deprecable in relation to man.

1. Craven-heartedness. A man whose heart is morally sound is bold as a lion, invincible as the light of day.

2. Presumptuous revenge.

The desirable in relation to God.

1. A desire to trust Almighty God (Psalms 56:3). All souls should centre in Him, cling to Him as planets to the sun. This is the real antidote to cowardly fear.

2. A desire to praise Almighty God (Psalms 56:4; Psalms 56:10; Psalms 56:12). Praise consisteth in attuning our whole lives to His Spirit and law. The hymn of praise acceptable to Him is not a composition of words, but a composition of soul virtues and noble deeds.

3. A desire to be remembered by Almighty God (Psalms 56:8). No words can affect a true heart as tears can; God’s infinite heart feels our tears as they fall.

4. A desire to walk before Almighty God (Psalms 56:13). To “walk before God “ implies a constant consciousness of His presence and an enjoyment of His friendship. “Walk” before Him with His light shining behind you and over you, lighting up all the path and scenery ahead. (Homilist.)

Verses 3-4

Psalms 56:3-4

What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.

Fear and faith

It is not given to many men to add new words to the vocabulary of religious emotion. But so far as an examination of the Old Testament avails, I find that David was the first that ever employed the word that is here translated, “I will trust,” with a religious meaning. And it is a favourite word of his. I find it occurs constantly in his psalms; twice as often, or nearly so, in the psalms attributed to David as in all the rest of the psalter put together; and it is in itself a most significant and poetic word. But, first of all, I ask you to notice how beautifully there comes out here the occasion of trust. “What time I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee.” This psalm is one of those belonging to the Sauline persecution. If we adopt the allocation in the superscription, it was written at one of the very lowest points of his fortunes. And there seem to be one or two of its phrases which acquire new force, if we regard the psalm as drawn forth by the perils of his wandering, hunted life. For instance--“Thou tellest my wanderings,” is no mere expression of the feelings with which he regarded the changes of this earthly pilgrimage, but is the confidence of the fugitive that in the doublings and windings of his flight God’s eye marked him. “What time I am afraid,” I will trust. That is no trust which is only fair weather trust, nor the product of outward circumstances, but of his own fixed resolves. I will put my trust in Thee. True faith, by a mighty effort of the will, fixes its gaze on the Divine helper, and there finds it possible and wise to lose its fears. Then, still further, these words, or rather one portion of them, give us a bright light and a beautiful thought as to the essence and inmost centre of this faith or trust. Scholars tell us that the word here translated “trust “ signifies literally to cling to or hold fast anything, expressing thus both the notion of a good tight grip and of intimate union. Now, is not that metaphor vivid and full of teaching as well as of impulse? “I will trust in Thee.” “And he exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord.” We may follow out the metaphor of the word in varied illustrations. For instance, here is a strong prop, and here is the trailing, lithe feebleness of the vine. Gather up the leaves that are creeping all along the ground, and coil them around that support, and up they go straight towards the heavens. Here is a limpet in some pond or other, left by the tide, and it has relaxed its grasp a little. Touch it with your finger and it grips fast to the rock, and you will want a hammer before you can dislodge it. Or, take that story in the Acts of the Apostles, about the lame man healed by Peter and John. All his life long he had been lame, and when at last healing comes, one can fancy with what a tight grasp “the lame man held Peter and John.” That is faith, cleaving to Christ, twining round Him with all the tendrils of our heart, as the vine does round its pole; holding to Him by His hand, as a tottering man does by the strong hand that upholds. And then one word more. These two clauses that I have put together give us not only the occasion of faith in fear, and the essence of faith in this clinging, but they also give us very beautifully the victory of faith. You see with what poetic art--if we may use such words about the breathings of such a soul--he repeats the two main words of the former verse in the latter, only in inverted order--“What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” He is possessed by the lower emotion, and resolves to escape from its sway into the light and liberty of faith. And then the next words still keep up the contrast of faith and fear, only that now he is possessed by the more blessed mood, and determines that he will not fall back into the bondage and darkness of the baser. “In God I have put my trust; I will not fear.” He has confidence, and in the strength of that he resolves that he will not yield to fear. There are plenty of reasons for dread in the dark possibilities and not less dark certainties of life. Disasters, losses, partings, disappointments, sicknesses, death, may any of them come at any moment, and some of them will certainly come sooner or later. Temptations lurk around us like serpents in the grass, they beset us in open ferocity like lions in our path. Is it not wise to fear unless our faith has hold of that great promise, “Thou shall tread upon the lion and adder; there shall no evil befall thee”? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

On public prayer in connection with natural national calamities

There are two classes of calamities in connection with which men have felt themselves in all ages moved to public confession and supplication; those which come to them from the hand of Providence through the order of the system of Nature around them, and those which have their origin wholly or chiefly in the follies, vices and sins of mankind. But the two stand by no means on the same ground with regard to the question of national humiliation and prayer. In the case of calamities which a nation has brought upon itself by its follies and crimes, there can be no question of the duty of humiliation and prayer. But when we are asked to join in an act of national humiliation on account of a scanty harvest, we seem to be standing on quite different ground. Chastisement which seems to fail on us from the skies brings suffering, but with it much that modifies it, and which may make us see, if we have but the open eye, that it is blessing in disguise. If we were asked to recognize in a late and scanty harvest a signal part of the Divine chastisement, I should feel little disposed to respond. And this not on the ground of doubts about the power of prayer in its legitimate sphere; but rather from a deepening sense of the reality and grandeur Of this power of prayer. We are only just emerging from Jewish levels of thought and belief in the Christian Church. Through all the Christian ages we have been prone to return on the tracks of Judaism, and to conceive of God, in His ways in the providential government of the world, as the ruler, after all, of a little realm, at the centre of which are the interests of our little lives.

1. The principle on which we are less ready than of old to rush to confession under natural national calamities of an ordinary type, is a just and noble one, and is a sign of vital progress in our theological conceptions, and our view of our relation to the world and to God.

2. This progress in the Christian thought of our times runs parallel to the progress in our conceptions of the true nature and the subject-matter of prayer, which is the fruit of growing knowledge and experience in the individual believing soul. As experience widens and deepens prayer becomes, or ought to become, less a cry of pain, and more an act of communion; intercourse with the Father in heaven, whereby His strength, His serenity, His hope flow into and abide in our hearts I should think but little of a Christian experience in which there is not a constant lifting up into the higher regions the subject-matter of prayer.

3. I by no means say, that even in an advanced state of Christian intelligence, there may not be natural national calamities, under which it would be wise and right for a nation to humble itself in confession and supplication before God. We must hot regard our prayer as a sure means of securing the removal of such calamities. Always, behind the prayer, if it is to be worth anything, is the thought, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth to Him good.” There is in man, deep down in his nature, a sense, not only that the relation between his nature and the world around him, and the God who rules it, have become jangled and out of tune, but also that the responsibility for the discord lies at his door. Everywhere, in all countries, in all ages, at the bottom of man’s deepest thoughts is the sense of sin. It is natural for men to rush to humble confession and importunate supplication when they think that the hand of God is upon them in judgment; and it is good and right for them at such seasons to approach Him, if they will but remember that the message of the Gospel is that God is reconciled in Christ to His children, that all His dealings with them, His sharpest and sternest discipline, are moved and ruled by the hand of that love which gave the well-beloved Son to Gethsemane and Calvary, that men might know its measure. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

Faith conquering fear

Our nature is strangely compounded. Trembling and trust often co-exist in us. It was so in David, whose heart is laid bare to us in these psalms. Now, fearfulness, although it has some ill effects which are sure to appear unless it is kept under the control of faith, nevertheless it has its own appointed good results in the formation of Christian character. Some have no fear, they are utterly unconcerned as to God and His claims. They need that the alarm bell of fear should be rung in their hearts. And many Christians need more of it: their flippant talk about sacred things; their indifference as to the condition of the ungodly: their heedlessness of talk would cease and give place to a holy fear. Fear, then, is not to be indiscriminately condemned. But it is when fear paralyzes trust that it becomes a sin, and as such is condemned.

Occasions of undue fear are--

1. The Christian worker’s sense of responsibility.

2. Experiences of affliction.

3. Constitutional nervous disorder.

4. Anxiety as to the future.

Its disadvantages: it hinders all success and misrepresents God.

Its cure. Get more light and exercise more trust. (Alfred Rowland, B. A.)

Fear and trust

“What time I am afraid.” Alas! those times are many. Let me speak of three causes of fear and unrest, and the trust which should remove them.

Fear for the morrow. There is the fear which arises from a contemplation of possible exigencies and contingencies in the future of our life’s temporal economy. Where one can sing--

“ . . . I do not ask to see

The distant scene: one step enough for me,”

a hundred are bowed down with anxiety, worry, care, and the restlessness of doubt. I am perfectly sure that underneath the placid face and the serene smile that sits on many a brow there is much fear and alarm as to the future. What is the remedy for this? What is there that will give a man peace? My answer is--Trust! Trust in God, His wisdom, His love, His Fatherly care, His plans and His purposes! If there is one phase of the teachings of the Bible that has been more attested by human experience than another, it is the assurance that trust in God is the secret of strength, serenity, and peace. He is behind all events, and before all contingencies. He is above the cloud and below the waters. Say, then, O ye timid ones, ye sorrowing ones, ye foreboding ones, ye anxious ones, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.”

Another great cause of fear is the fact of death. God has so constituted us that the very elements of life stand in battle array against the elements that produce death. It is natural, and in perfect harmony with God’s purpose in us, that we should cling to life; and by so much as we cling to life, by that much do we fear death. And perhaps the two feelings in regard to death that most contribute to this fear are the loneliness and uncertainty that inevitably belongs to it. “I shall die alone,” said the great Pascal. Nothing is so distressing to the human spirit as solitude, and when sell, rude is overhung ,with darkness it is then full of awfulness. And it is the awfulness that comes from the solitude and darkness of death that makes us shrink from it. What is the panacea for this fear? Trust in God--God’s presence, God’s sustaining hand. If there be a Providence watching over us in life, is it not reasonable to suppose that some provision for our need in the hour and conflict of death is made for us? that His providence will open the gate of death for us and guide us through? that His care for us will be as manifest then as now? Does a mother watch over her child all day--fondle it, nestle it in her bosom, teach it, protect it, uphold it--and then leave it alone when the darkness conies?

Fear in regard of the destinies of the future life. They ask, Where will my destiny be? Shall I be numbered with the blest, or rejected with the lost? Momentous questions! Tremendous thoughts! I cannot wonder that they make men anxious. The wonder is that, living as we do on the threshold of eternity, we are not more concerned. Whither, at such times of foreboding, shall we flee for succour? To God, the Father of our spirits. Every soul that turns to Him with the cry, “Father, I have sinned”; every heart that yearns for His forgiveness, shall have refuge and peace on earth, shall have a welcome home in heaven (W. J. Hocking, B. A.)

The saints’ great resource in times of fear

There are many times and circumstances calculated to awaken our fears.

1. Our state of sin should awaken great fear in our hearts.

2. Well may we fear when conscience convicts and condemns.

3. In times of temptation we ought to fear.

4. A backsliding state may well make us afraid.

5. To be in affliction and nigh to death in a state of impenitence, is a state which should excite the greatest fears.

There is an adequate resource under every kind and degree of fear.

1. God has revealed the doctrine of His providence as an antidote to all those fears which relate to this life.

2. He has revealed the doctrine of His grace as an antidote to all these fears which result from sin and guilt.

3. He has revealed the doctrine of immortal glory and blessedness to remove the fear of death and our anxiety concerning another world.

There is a great blessedness in knowing this resource before our fears come.

1. In some cases the knowledge of this Divine resource has delivered the mind from all fear.

Fear concerning the body or the soul--life or death, the grave or eternity (Job 13:15; Proverbs 28:1).

2. Where it does not do this, it may prevent the worse effects of fear. Two ships in a storm, the one with a good anchor and anchorage, and the ether without either, meet that storm under widely different circumstances (2 Corinthians 7:10).

3. Sometimes in the most fearful circumstances it enables us not only in patience to possess our souls, but to glorify God.

The greatest of all fears will seize upon those who know not this only true antidote to fear.

1. The absence of that salutary fear, which leads to provision against danger, proves the extremity of that danger in which we are involved.

2. That fear which is accompanied with utter despair must be the portion of those who have not found the true refuge.

3. They will realize infinitely more than they ever feared in the very deepest seasons of their despair in this life. For it is very certain no man ever formed a sufficiently awful idea of the worm that dieth not, and of eternity. Let all these considerations induce sinners to prize that refuge of mercy and grace which the Gospel presents, and let us be allowed to turn them all into an occasion for urging upon them the immediate and indispensable necessity of trust in God. (Evangelist.)

Verse 4

Psalms 56:4

In God will I praise His word.

The moral impulse imparted to individuals and communities by the study of the Bible

My object is not merely to demonstrate the inspiration of the Bible, but to win you to the study of it. It may possibly be alleged by many persons, especially of the more busy classes of society, that they have no time for the attention to the Bible which is recommended.

1. The plea is dangerous as well as monstrous and criminal. If a son or a friend were to aver that he had become too busy, that he was too much engaged, for days and weeks and months together, to read an epistle from a distant land, dictated by parental love or by friendship, to what conclusion should we come as to the nature of the pretence or the character of the mind that could dictate it? Could we, even in this ordinary ease, admit for an instant the validity of the excuse, or suppose that any business of life could be so urgent?

2. The plea is untrue. A few verses, snatched from the hurry of life (if life must indeed be so hurried) may suffice. In a few minutes you may read enough to furnish materials for reflection and inquiry. You may walk or work--and think. And we claim such study for the Bible because--

The influence which it exerts is distinctly moral. It deals with man as a moral being, responsible for his actions, and to be influenced by motives.

And this impulse which it communicates is holy. Notwithstanding passages in it which infidels have urged have an unholy tendency, the overwhelming effect of the book is towards holiness. Not so other sacred books--the Koran, and the like.

And this impulse is mighty.


But simply instrumental. The truth contained in the sacred volume exerts an influence analogous, both in its force and its secrecy, to that of some of the most wonder-working agencies of nature. It resembles the unseen presence of magnetism or electricity, which move as by a touch the elements and masses around us--disposing them to order or clothing them with beauty; or it is like the vegetative power, that in the darkness and concealment of the earth and the clods of the valley impels the seed to shoot and rise and spread fertility upon the smiling surface. In the secret recesses of the soul, and in the dark and hidden depths of a heart, no human eye can penetrate and no human philosophy unravel--it subdues and sanctifies, works repentance and humiliation, and the settled purposes of a renewed mind, till on the surface appears the penitential tear, the bended knee, the contrite sigh, the believing and imploring reception of Christ, the moral and spiritual renewal of character, the outward, fearless, and heaven-sealing profession of a true religion; and every right-minded observer attests the truth of the Divine declaration, “Behold I make all things new.” (F. A. Cox, D. D.)

Verse 8

Psalms 56:8

Thou tellest my wanderings: put Thou my tears into Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?

Life on the human side and the Divine

There is a description of life given in the Bible which has been objected to as depressing and unreal. Life is represented, it is said, as a scene of unending struggle and sorrow; and men are made to walk under a constant shadow. There is some apparent truth in this. But the question to be first asked is, Has the Bible view of life truth in it? If so, is it not better to take it fairly into account? And it may be a further question, Has the Bible no compensation for the saddening view of life which it sometimes presents?

The human side of life. It is described under the form of wandering and tears: its activities as “wanderings,” its passive side as “tears.” Still it may be said, What reason can there be in taking David’s life, and making it a copy of all human lives? Has not God given us in the world sunshine as well as cloud, has He not scattered manifold pleasures through it, and should we not thankfully acknowledge this? It is very true, and we must beware of taking any part of the Bible, and pressing it so far as to make it contradict both itself and our experience. Now, there are two things which God in His kindness has sent to the relief of men in the journey of life. There are the natural blessings that are, in a measure, close to all, visiting them often whether they will or not; and there are the helps and hopes which come from a felt relation to Himself. The first may be called the blessings of His hand, the second of His heart. The cloud would be too dark for poor humanity unless God had given it a silver lining, and it is neither good for us, nor grateful to Him, to overlook this. We may begin with the strange, mysterious pleasure God has put into life itself--to live, to breathe, to look on things and have an interest in them, to move, to walk among them--these are roots that go down into the world and hold men on to it by an indescribable attachment. It is one of the kind things in the world that God has given man a liking to life itself. How much there is that is pleasant. Nature, in her varied beauty; the benediction of work, of honest, earnest work, whether it be of hand or head; the kindly affections of the human heart, the love of home and kindred, the solace of friendship, the happiness of doing any good. We seem far enough away now from wandering and tears, and yet they return upon us. It was a saying of the ancients that “for every joy granted to man, there are two sorrows, one before and one behind.” Have you not felt this description of life true in its changefulness? How few of us are in the homes of our youth! Or, if near them, how far have we wandered in associations! Changes have taken place around and within which make us almost forget what we were. “Our fathers, where are they?” Or think of life in its constant struggle, perfection never gained, rest never reached. But come--

To the divine side of life. What does the view of God secure for the man who looks to Him? Well--

1. A Divine measure. “Thou tellest my wanderings.” This means not merely that God speaks of them, but takes the tale and number of them. Plato has said that in making the world “God mathematizes.” All is fixed and sure as is the science of numbers. It does not seem so, but it is.

2. This view of God secures a Divine sympathy in life: “Put thou my tears into Thy bottle.” However skilful the guide might be, he would not meet our ease unless he had a heart. There are rough defiles and thorny brakes through which the road leads--there is no help for it: these things make it the road; but what concerns us most is the manner of the Guide--that He should take our frailty into account and provide resting-places and refreshment for us as they are needed.

3. This view of God secures a Divine meaning in life--“Are they not in Thy book?” It is natural to understand this of both the wandering and the tears. They are written down, and therefore have an intelligent and consistent meaning. And by and by we shall see this. (J. Ker, D. D.)

Tears of Jesus

In the cabinets of antiquaries is often to be seen a small bottle found in ancient tombs. It is called a lachrymatory, or tear-bottle, and is supposed to have contained the tears of some bereaved relative of the departed one who was laid in the tomb. The heathen believed that the gods loved to see a good man struggling with adversity, for then the greatness of the human soul comes out. And our God loves to see the faith and patience of His sorrowing servants. But we desire to speak of Jesus, whose language the psalmist, by prophetic anticipation, speaks. The tears of Jesus, then, are our subject. His life was characterized by sorrow. But He did not weep at His crucifixion--there was never moral weakness in His tears. Ha was full of sympathy, and He was full of tenderness, but He was never moved to tears by the cruelty of men. But He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us of “His strong crying and tears.” There are tears which we cannot fully understand; but they were tears for the sins of the world, the weight of which in that most mysterious agony He was then bearing. Shall we, then, continue in sin? And He wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:1-57.). Then it is not inconsistent with spiritual-mindedness--as some say it is--to feel very keenly the sorrows and distress of life. “Jesus wept.” And thus He assures us of His sympathy. And He wept on His way to Jerusalem, when He beheld the city and wept ever it. It was the day of His triumphal entry, and yet He wept. But it was not for Himself, but for others--for the people of Jerusalem. They were tears of patriotism. He wept for His country’s sorrows. But observe it was not so much the national disasters as the national sins, that He wept. It is the reverse with the tears of ordinary patriotism. And patriotic pride and boasting, how often it is because of prosperity rather than of righteousness. But let our patriotism be sanctified by prayer. Prayer was in the heart of Jesus for His country. Let it be so for ours. (Dean Goulburn.)

Man’s tears in God’s bottle

Tears are here employed as exponents of sorrows and troubles. But it is not all tears that are treasured up by God.

Tears of repentance. When the early years have been marked by transgression, the coming of the days of grace can never be without tears. Take as illustrations the woman who was a sinner; the Philippian jailor; Peter when he went out and wept bitterly on that day which we may regard as the day of his abiding conversion to God.

Tears which are wept in the spiritual conflicts of life.

Tears wept over the wickedness of men and the apparent slowness with which the kingdom of God makes its way. The greatest and the best men the world has ever known have been the men who have experienced the deepest sorrow. The man who can smile from the cradle to the grave knows neither himself, nor the world, nor God. Ezekiel tells of those on whom the Lord bid him put a mark for that they “sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the city.” Their tears were put into God’s bottle. Never was the truth contained in our text more wonderfully illustrated than in the history of our Blessed Lord and Saviour. Not a tear He shed was lost. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” “He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands.” (Enoch Mellor, D. D.)

Treasured tears

The so-called lachrymatories, or tear-bottles, found in museums of art, were applied to no such use as their name implies. They probably contained unguents that were used in preparing the dead for burial; which accounts for their presence in tombs. The psalmist rather had in mind the skin bottle of his day, in which, by a bold figure of speech, he conceives of God as treasuring our tears with that same Divine carefulness which numbers the hairs of our heads or notes the falling sparrow. But why should God treasure our tears in His bottle?

1. As a token of prayers to be answered. Tears and prayers are closely connected. “Strong crying and tears” accompanied the “prayers and supplications” of Christ in the days of His flesh. The woman that was a sinner said nothing as she bathed the travel-stained feet of her Lord with her tears. Such tears are the guarantee of sincerity, the evidence of moral earnestness, and the token of prevailing prayer. The tears in God’s bottle represent petitions filed away for answer in His own good time.

2. In token of wrongs to be avenged. The tears of martyrs thus treasured up plead like the blood of Abel. It is a perilous thing to make a little child to weep by our cruelty or by injustice to smite the fountain of tears in the widow’s heart. Every such tear of the poor and needy is gathered into God’s bottle, and will be a swift witness against us, till the wrong is atoned for or avenged. (J. F. Elder, D. D.)

The tenderness of God towards His afflicted people

An assurance. “Thou tellest my wanderings.” They Were numerous and various. But what do these wanderings take in?

1. Moral infirmities, or deviations from duty, What is the whole course of a state of nature but a series of wanderings? It is well if God sees that you feel them to be your afflictions and that you repent of them.

2. These wanderings take in local changes. See Abraham, Israel, David--what wanderings were theirs? Some of the most eminent servants of God were wanderers (Hebrews 11:1-40.). “They wandered about,” etc. And it is so still. For conscience’ sake many have had to wander about seeking how to live. But they are not purposeless; God has taken count of them all. “Thou tellest my wanderings.” Therefore we are not to think that God disregards all individualities.

The prayer. “Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle.” There are some persons who despise tears as weak and womanly. Do they remember who He was who wept at the grave of Lazarus? Do they remember who He was, who, “when He came nigh unto Jerusalem, wept over it,” etc.? “True greatness,” says Lavater, “is always simple”; and true courage, I am persuaded, is always combined with tenderness. Homer--that matchless painter of men and manners--makes no scruple to represent his bravest of men, Ajax, and his wisest of men, Ulysses, as weeping; and the latter as weeping no less than three times in the course of a few lines. The Easterns wept more readily, and were less ashamed of indulging their tears, than we. David was a man of tears. Of these tears, let us now, if we can, trace out the sources. One source of these tears was affliction. He had many trials and troubles, which his greatness could not prevent, or even alleviate; yea, which his greatness rather increased. Another source of his tears was sin; and a much more plentiful one than his sufferings. “My sin,” says he, “is ever before me.” Not only his great sin in his fall, but his daily and hourly failures. “Who,” says he, “can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.” And David wept for the sins of others, as well as his own. “I beheld the transgressors,” says he, “and was grieved, Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because men keep not Thy law.”

The question. “Are they not in Thy book?”--that is, Are they nob written and recorded there? What book? The book of His providence? Yes, they are all there; their number is there; their quality is there; their degree is there; their duration is there and all their sad memorial is there. The book of His remembrance (Malachi 3:16). Now, let us conclude--

1. By admiring the condescension of God.

2. Let us, as Young says, “not stop at wonder,” but “imitate and live.”

3. Ye wanderers, ye weepers, repair here. God is able to comfort in all our tribulation. (W. Jay.)


There are some very good people who always have their tear-bottle by them, and who always treasure up every little grief and every little disappointment. Whenever you meet them, the first thing you see is the tear-bottle; and you soon see there is more in it than there was last time. Now, of course I am not speaking of those who have indeed great trials, but of those who make a great deal of little ones. I do not want you to get into that gloomy way of living. (D. Davies.)

Verses 9-11

Psalms 56:9-11

When I cry unto Thee, then shall mine enemies turn back.

Prayer vanquishing enemies

This prayer implies the existence of conflict. David was pursued from place to place by: his adversaries. The Christian, too, has many enemies. Within him and around him.

This prayer supposes helplessness. The enemies which the Christian has to fight are numerous, potent and subtle; and he is perfect weakness.

A conviction that there is all needful help in God.

Application to God for help. “I cry unto Thee.” Make me a conqueror, etc. This cry we must consider as secret, earnest and constant, and connected with confidence.

This prayer was successful. “Then shall mine enemies turn back.” This is expected from immutable promises (Isaiah 54:17; 2 Peter 3:9). God will cause our pursuing enemies to turn back, for can they fight with omnipotence? Or He will give unto us grace, Divine armour, to enable us to stand and conquer in the evil day. Application.

1. How great the privilege of having an interest in the Divine favour.

2. How exposed and wretched is the sinner. (Helps for the Pulpit.)

Verses 12-13

Psalms 56:12-13

Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto Thee.

The Christian’s vows and praises

A solemn obligation acknowledged. “Thy vows are upon me, O God.”

1. Vows made in public.

(1) Entered into in baptism.

(2) Ratified in confirmation.

(3) Renewed in the Lord’s Supper.

2. Vows made in private.

A holy determination made. “I will render praises unto Thee.”

1. In the public acknowledgment of mercy (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5; Hosea 14:2).

2. In the eloquent language of the life (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 11:5). In conclusion, let each ask--

1. How have I hitherto fulfilled my vows?

2. How may I henceforth do so? (J. D. Lane, M. A,)

Christian vows

A vow may be defined as a promise made more solemn by a special appeal to God. It is as respects purpose, what an oath is as regards fact. And the appeal may be of different kinds. It may be expressed in the form of a prayer to God to punish or be propitious ha the maker of the promise, according as he breaks or keeps his word. It may be again in the form of a prayer for some present blessing, for which some specified return of gratitude is promised. Or lastly, it may be merely an appeal implied in the solemnity of the occasion, or of the expression of the promise, by which it is understood that the maker of it sets himself consciously in the Divine presence, and calls upon God to witness that promise. We have instances of all these three kinds in the Old Testament. The expression “So do God to me and more also,” so often accompanying an intimation of purpose, constitutes a vow of the first kind. Jacob’s vow in Bethel is an example of the second kind. And of the third, we have a noble instance at the end of the Book of Joshua, where at a solemn concourse of the tribes at Shechem, the people expressly took Jehovah for their God, and devoted themselves to Him. It is manifest, however, that this is a matter in which Old Testament practice is no rule for Christians. God’s people of old were kept shut up under a system of special ordinances, whose obligation has now ceased, Now, of the three kinds of vows which have been mentioned, the two former must by their very terms be generally excluded from a Christian man’s practice. We have left, then, for our consideration our third class, consisting of promises made with more than ordinary solemnity, accompanied by an expressed or implied appeal to God. Of these vows, as a class, we cannot but admit the legitimacy. They are by implication recognized in the New Testament, in those passages where St. Paul reminds Timothy of the good confession which he had made before many witnesses; as also in the very fact of baptism following upon a profession of faith, in which we have the virtual promise necessarily involved, and the solemnity clearly combined with it. But here everything depends upon the nature of the promise made. And it is this part of our inquiry which carries with it for us the things which are lawful. But such are not vows of celibacy, nor of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks, nor the vows of the monastic orders. Our ordination vows are net such, because they bind us not so much to the office as in the office. We are not by them tied down to any rule of life other than the requirements of our duty as Christian ministers primarily necessitate. And thus it seems to me that, while speaking on a particular case, we have in reality met with that description of a lawful Christian vow, of which we were in search. And the description will be this: Such vow must not bind a man to a course of conduct first marked out by its terms, and devised for it, but must constitute an additional obligation to a course of conduct already, for other reasons, incumbent upon him. The vow must be made for the duty, not the duty for the vow. We have, I think, now prepared the way to speak of the great lifelong promise and vow which the Church requires of her members. The points contained in it are every one of them plain Christian duties for every man. They remain the same, be the vow taken or not. They are no artificial narrowing of the limits of blameless and godly life--to which we have no right to bind any man; but describe it in its fullest extension. Beyond their limits, there is no allowable latitude; short of their prescription, no safe walking before God. The whole operation, then, of our vow is on the subject, not on the object of it. The object, a godly life, remaining one and the same for all, we strive to ensure the accomplishment of this object by intensifying the apprehension of it in the minds of the subjects on whom we have to work. “Thy vows are upon me, O God.” How blessed a thing, could we be anchored safe by this assurance, while so many are making shipwreck of their faith! “I am not my own, but devoted to Thee and Thy work; all I am and have, to be used not for myself, but for Thee.” How would such a persuasion simplify for us the difficulties of life; cut off the occasion of half our falls into worldliness and sin; brighten the light of our examples, and win souls for Christ! (Dean Alford.)

Verse 13

Psalms 56:13

For Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?

Mercies received

Mercies received are in a special manner to be remembered. This has been the method of God’s people. David entitles Psalms 38:1-22., “A psalm to bring to remembrance His afflictions,” much more, then, His comforts (Psalms 77:10-11). Paul remembered a manifestation of God to him fourteen years before (2 Corinthians 12:1). If God treasures up our tears, much more should we treasure up His mercies; as lovers keep the love tokens of those they affect. God hath a file for our prayers, we should have the like for His answers. He hath a book of remembrance to record our afflictions, and believing discourses of Him (Malachi 3:16); why should not we, then, have a register for His gracious communications to us? Remembrance is the chief work of a Christian; remembrance of sin to cause a self-abhorrency (Ezekiel 20:43). The remembrance of God for a deep humility (Psalms 77:3). Remembrance of His name for keeping His law (Psalms 119:55). Remembrance of His judgments of old for comfort in afflictions (Psalms 119:52). And remembrance of mercy for the establishment of faith (Isaiah 57:11). Now, they are to be remembered because--

1. They are the mercies of God.

2. Purchased by Christ.

3. Beneficial to us.

And we are to remember them admiringly and thankfully (Psalms 77:11). Affectionately; obediently and fruitfully (Psalms 116:16). Humbly: in their varied circumstances and details.

Mercies received are encouragements to ask and hope for more.

1. For: There is as great ability in God (Isaiah 59:2).

2. As much tenderness as before (Lamentations 3:22),

3. The same pleas to be urged in our prayers.

4. One mercy in spirituals is to no purpose without further mercies. God would not lay a foundation and not build upon it (Romans 8:32).

In conclusion.

1. Take heed of forgetting mercies received (Jeremiah 2:2; Psalms 68:26). For if we do not remember them we shall be apt to distrust God and abate in our love (Psalms 78:19). And if we do not remember we cannot improve them, nor so easily resist temptation.

2. Make use of former mercies to encourage your trust for the future (Psalms 9:10; 1 Samuel 21:9). (S. Charnook, B. D.)

Confidence in God

This psalm seems to have been written when David, from the jealousy of the infuriated Saul, had taken refuge in the religion of Gath, and found himself an object of not unnatural suspicion, from which he escaped only by simulating madness. But his faith waxes stronger as the occasion of his trial comes. Just as there are sea-birds which sing amid the storm, whose earliest blast startles more timid wings, and sends them fluttering home, so in the season of his apparent hopelessness his heart trilled out some of his most rapturous doxologies, and some of the sublimest expressions of his confidence in God. So if our circumstances have been like to the psalmist’s, if there be in our hearts memories of many sorrows and failures, of manifold enmity to the progress of the life of God within us, still let me ask you to take up the strain of these verses. If we have failed in the past, let us decide for God now.

The motive which is to prompt us to decision. “Thou hast delivered my soul from death.” Motive is the spring of all mental action. We are free, but we are not independent of motives, and hence Scripture continually appeals to them. And here in the great matter of personal consecration to God, what can urge us more mightily than this, that God has saved our “soul from death”? And--

There is the obligation. “Thy vows are upon me, O Lord.” You are to feel that you are the Lord’s; that you are not at liberty to swear any other allegiance or enter upon any other service. You are the Lord’s bondsmen. Are you ready for this? It is the highest privilege.

The legitimate expression in which this consecration embodies itself.

1. In praise. The Christian’s is a joyful, willing service.

2. In a desire to walk before God in the land of the living. Is this our ambition--to walk before God here and now? I trust it is, and may the ardour of your desire know no abatement or decay. (J. Morley Punshon, D. D.)

Deliverance realized though unaccomplished

The deliverance realized by faith before it is accomplished in fact (see translation in R.V.). He is still in the very thick of the trouble and the fight, and yet he says, “It is as good as over. Thou hast delivered.” How does he come to that confidence? Simply because his future is God; and whoever has God for his future can turn else uncertain hopes into certain confidences, and make sure of this: that however Achish and his giant Philistines of Gath, wielding Goliath’s arms, spears like a weaver’s beam, and brazen armour, may compass him about, in the name of the Lord he will destroy them. They are all as good as dead, though they are alive and hostile at this moment. We to-day have the same reasons for the same confidence; and if we will go the right way about it, we, too, may bring June’s sun into November’s fogs, and bask in the warmth of certain deliverance even when the chill mists of trouble enfold us. But then note, too, here, the substance of this future intervention which, to the psalmist’s quiet faith, is present. “My soul from death.” and after that be says, “My feet from falling,” which looks very like an anti-climax and bathos. But yet, just because to deliver the feet from falling is so much smaller a thing than delivering a life from death, it comes here to be a climax and something greater. The storm passes over the man. What then? After the storm has passed, he is not only alive, but he is standing upright. It has not killed him. No, it has not even shaken him. His feet are as firm as ever they were, and just because that is a smaller thing, it is a greater thing for the deliverance to have accomplished than the other. How did David get to this confidence? Why, he prayed himself into it. If you will read the psalm, you will see very clearly the process by which a man comes to that serene, triumphant trust that the battle is won even whilst it is raging around him. The true answer to David’s prayer was the immediate access of confidence unshaken, though the outward answer was a long time in coming, and years lay between him and the cessation of his persecutions and troubles. So we may have brooks by the way, in quiet confidence of deliverance ere yet the deliverance comes.

The impulse to service which deliverance brings. “That I may walk before God in the light of the living;” that is God’s purpose in all His deliverances, that we may thereby be impelled to trustful and grateful service. And David makes that purpose into a vow, for the words might almost as well be translated, “I will walk before Him.” Let us see to it that God’s purpose is our resolve, and that we do not lose the good of any of the troubles or discipline through which He passes us; for the worst of all sorrows is a wasted sorrow. “Thou hast delivered my feet that I may walk.” What are feet for? Walking! Further, notice the precise force of that phrase, “that I may walk before God.” It is not altogether the same as the cognate one which is used about Enoch, that “he walked with God.” The one expresses communion as with a friend; the other, the ordering of one’s life before His eye, and in the consciousness of His presence as Judge and as Taskmaster. Think of what a regiment of soldiers on parade does as each file passes in front of the saluting point where the commanding officer is standing. How each man dresses up, and they pull themselves together, keeping step, sloping their rifles slightly. We are not on parade, but about business a great deal more serious than that. We are doing our fighting with the Captain looking at us, and that should be a stimulus, a joy, and not a terror. Realize God’s eye watching you, and sin, and meanness, and negligence, and selfishness, and sensuality, and lust, and passion, and all the other devils that are in us will vanish like ghosts at cockcrow.

The region in which that observance of the divine eye is to be carried on. “In the light of the living.” That seems to correspond to the first clause of his hope; just as the previous word that I have been commenting upon, “walking before Him,” corresponds to the second, where he speaks about his feet. “Thou hast delivered my soul from death . . . I will walk before Thee in the light of the living”--where Thou dost still permit my delivered soul to be. And the phrase seems to mean the sunshine of human life contrasted with the darkness of Sheol. Our brightest light is the radiance from the face of God whom we try to love and serve, and the psalmist’s confidence is that a life of observance of His commandments in which gratitude for deliverance is the impelling motive to continual realization of His presence, and an accordant life, will be a bright and sunny career. You will live in the sunshine if you live before His face, and however wintry the world may be, it will be like clear, frosty day. There is no frost in the sky, it does not go above the atmosphere, and high above, in serene and wondrous blue, is the blaze of the sunshine. And such a life will be a guided life. There will still remain many occasions for doubt in the region of belief, and for perplexity as to duty. There will often be need for patient and earnest thought as to both, and there will be no lack of calls for strenuous effort of our best faculties in order to apprehend what our Guide means us to do, and where He would have us go, but through it all there will be the guiding hand. As the Master, with perhaps a glance backward to these words, said, “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” If He is in the light let us walk in the light, and to us it will be purity, and knowledge and joy. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Psalms 57:1-11

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 56". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.