Bible Commentaries
Psalms 56

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 56:0


Supplication for Deliverance, and Grateful Trust in God MT Intro For the choir director; according to Jonath elem rehokim. A Mikhtam of David when the Philistines seized him in Gath. Prayer for Relief From Tormentors A Prayer for Deliverance From Personal Enemies A Prayer of Trust in God Trust in God
Psalms 56:1-7 Psalms 56:1-2 Psalms 56:1-4 Psalms 56:1-4 Psalms 56:1-2
Psalms 56:3-4 Psalms 56:3-4
Psalms 56:5-7 Psalms 56:5-7 Psalms 56:5-7 Psalms 56:5-6
Psalms 56:7-9a
Psalms 56:8-13 Psalms 56:8-11 Psalms 56:8-11 Psalms 56:8-11
Psalms 56:9-11
Psalms 56:12-13 Psalms 56:12-13 Psalms 56:12-13 Psalms 56:12-13

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 56:1-7 1Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me; Fighting all day long he oppresses me. 2My foes have trampled upon me all day long, For they are many who fight proudly against me. 3When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. 4In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? 5All day long they distort my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil. 6They attack, they lurk, They watch my steps, As they have waited to take my life. 7Because of wickedness, cast them forth, In anger put down the peoples, O God!

Psalms 56:1-7 “Be gracious” This imperative (BDB 335, KB 334) begins many Psalms (cf. Psalms 4:1; Psalms 6:2; Psalms 51:1; Psalms 57:1 [twice]; Psalms 86:3; Psalms 123:3 [twice]) and it occurs in many others (cf. Psalms 9:13; Psalms 25:16; Psalms 26:11; Psalms 27:7; Psalms 30:10; Psalms 31:9; Psalms 41:4, Psalms 41:10; Psalms 86:16; Psalms 119:29, Psalms 119:58, Psalms 119:132). It is often associated with

1. deliverance from enemies

2. forgiveness of sins

In this Psalm the prayer is because of reason #1. Notice how the psalmist describes his adversaries (Psalms 56:1-2).

1. trampled upon (or “pant,” same consonants) him, Psalms 56:2 BDB 983 II, KB 1375, Qal perfect, cf. Psalms 56:3; Psalms 57:3; Ezekiel 36:3; Amos 8:4

2. fight proudly against him, Psalms 56:2 BDB 535, KB 526, Qal participle

3. distort (lit. “vex” him) his words, Psalms 56:5 BDB 780, KB 864, Piel imperfect

4. their thoughts are evil against him, Psalms 56:5 no verb

5. attack (lit. “stir up strife”), Psalms 56:6 BDB 158, KB 184, Qal imperfect, cf. Psalms 59:3; Psalms 140:3

6. lurk (lit. “hide”), Psalms 56:6 MT has Hiphil imperfect, Qere Qal imperfect of BDB 860, KB 1049

7. watch his steps (lit., “heels”), Psalms 56:6 BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect (i.e., so as to find a time and place to attack), cf. Psalms 71:10

8. have waited to take his life, Psalms 56:6 BDB 875, KB 1082, Piel perfect, cf. Psalms 119:95

Psalms 56:1 “all day long” Notice that this idiom for continual attack is used in Psalms 56:1, Psalms 56:2, and 5.

The psalmist looks forward to a day (cf. Psalms 56:3) when his enemies will be turned back, Psalms 56:9a. In the Bible “day” can refer to

1. temporal judgment

2. eschatological judgment


NASB Margin“fighting man” NRSV“foes” TEV“enemies” JPSOA“adversary” REB“assailants”

The MT has the Qal active participle of the verb “to fight” (BDB 535, KB 526). This same group is called “men” (i.e., weak men, BDB 60).

Psalms 56:2 “proudly” The MT has the noun “height” (BDB 928). It is translated in two ways.

1. the arrogance of the adversaries, NASB, NIV

2. part of the title for God

a. “Most High,” LXX, NKJV, NRSV, REB

b. “Lord Almighty,” TEV

c. “O Exalted One,” JPSOA

Psalms 56:3 Psalms 56:3 is a repeated theme; repeated again in Psalms 56:4 and 11.

1. I am afraid BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect

2. I will put my trust in God BDB 105, KB 120, Qal imperfect, see note at Psalms 4:5

3. then I shall not be afraid, Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:11, cf. Psalms 112:7-8; Psalms 118:6

Psalms 56:4 “In God, whose word I praise” Notice this is repeated in Psalms 56:10 in a parallel way where Elohim and YHWH are connected.

The “word” (BDB 182) is a parallel to “Your vows” (BDB 623), Psalms 56:12. There are many terms used to characterize YHWH's revelations. See SPECIAL TOPIC: Terms for God's Revelation.

“What can mere man (lit. ‘flesh') do to me” This same sentiment is expressed in Psalms 118:6 and quoted in Hebrews 13:6. The concept is also seen in relation to spiritual forces in Romans 8:31, Romans 8:35-39.

Psalms 56:7 Because of the vicious and continuing attacks the psalmist asks God to act in judgment against his adversaries.

1. cast them forth (lit. “for crimes, will they escape,” NKJV) BDB 812, KB 930, Piel imperative

a. the verb means “deliver,” cf. Psalms 17:13; Psalms 18:3, so here it must be a question or the translation must add a negative by emendation to “crimes” (REB, LXX)

b. it is also possibly to change “deliverance,” BDB 812, פלט, to”weigh out,” BDB 814, פלס

2. put down the peoples BDB 432, KB 434, Hiphil imperative, cf. Psalms 55:23. It is surprising that “the peoples,” which is usually used of national groups (NEB, REB), is used here. There are several theories.

a. this is a royal Psalm and refers to other nations

b. this is an Israelite/Judean living among foreigners

c. just a way of referring to his enemies who act like non-covenant peoples

Verses 8-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 56:8-13 8You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? 9Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; This I know, that God is for me. 10In God, whose word I praise, In the Lord, whose word I praise, 11In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12Your vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. 13For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God In the light of the living.

Psalms 56:8-13 This strophe deals with the psalmist's faith conviction that God was with him and for him. One day his adversaries will face the consequences of their actions (Psalms 56:9).

Psalms 56:8 God knows what the psalmist is going through (cf. Exodus 3:7). He expresses this faith worldview (i.e., based on the promises of Scripture) in

1. the verb, “taken account” (i.e., God knows) BDB 707, KB 765, Qal perfect

2. the verb, “put my tears in a bottle” BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperative (i.e., prayer request); a metaphor for remembering the suffering and evil the psalmist experienced at the hands/words of his enemies

3. Your book the word “book” (BDB 707) is very similar to the verb “take into account” (BDB 707). “Book” is a biblical idiom of God's memory. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TWO BOOKS OF GOD.

“bottle” The word (BDB 609) means an animal skin (sheep) sewed into a container for liquid (cf. Joshua 9:4, Joshua 9:13; Judges 4:19; 1 Samuel 16:20; Psalms 119:83).

NASB, NKJV, JPSOA“wanderings” NRSV“tossings” TEV“how troubled” NJB“sorrows” REB“grief”

The Hebrew noun (BDB 627 I) is found only here. It is the same consonants as “move to and from” “wander,” “flutter,” “show grief” (BDB 626). The usage of “wander” can be seen in Psalms 36:11; Psalms 59:11; 2 Kings 21:8. There is a sound play in Hebrew between “wander” and “bottle.”

Psalms 56:9 “when I call” It is possible the “call” is the statement of faith.

Psalms 56:1. Psalms 56:9b

Psalms 56:2. Psalms 56:3a

Psalms 56:3. Psalms 56:4a-b

Whichever it refers to, it denotes an act of volitional faith. There is a theological tension between the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. Both are necessary for covenant. See SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/Predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance and SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.

“This I know, that God is for me” This is a play on the meanings of the Hebrew word “know” (BDB 393). See Special Topic: Know.

Psalms 56:12 “vows” This may be another way of referring to God's promises (cf. Psalms 56:10b) or it may refer to promises the psalmist made to God. Once they are fulfilled then

1. an offering is required (cf. Psalms 56:12b)

2. verbal praise is required

In context it may refer to the psalmist's fear of death by his adversaries and thereby he asked God to save him. In this request he made some kind of a vow. God did save him, now he must fulfill his vow.

Psalms 56:13 The psalmist mentions several things God has done for him.

1. delivered his soul from death BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil perfect; this must relate to Psalms 56:6

2. kept his feet from stumbling and, thereby allowing him to walk before God; godly living was described as a clear, level, unobstructed path/road (see note at Psalms 1:1). They “watched his steps” in Psalms 56:6, but now God helps him walk.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. The heart of the Psalm is a repeated refrain, what is it?

2. Explain the idiom of “book.” How many “books” does the Bible mention that God keeps?

3. What does “in that day” imply?

4. Explain Psalms 56:10 in your own words.

5. What does it mean to “walk before God”?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 56". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.