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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 56

 

 

Verses 1-13

Psalm 56

To the chief Musician upon Jonath-elem-rechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath

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

He fighting daily oppresseth me.

2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me

For they be many that fight against me, O thou Most High.

3 What time I am afraid,

I will trust in thee.

4 In God I will praise his word,

In God I have put my trust; I will not fear

What flesh can do unto me.

5 Every day they wrest my words:

All their thoughts are against me for evil.

6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps,

When they wait for my soul.

7 Shall they escape by iniquity?

In thine anger cast down the people, O God.

8 Thou tellest my wanderings:

Put thou my tears into thy bottle:

Are they not in thy book?

9 When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back:

This I know; for God is for me.

10 In God will I praise his word:

In the Lord will I praise his word.

11 In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid

What man can do unto me.

12 Thy vows are upon me, O God:

I will render praises unto thee.

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?

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Its Contents and Composition.—The title (comp. Introduct, § 12and § 8) leads to the time of the persecution by Saul, and indeed not to the time of the second abode of David with the Philistine king Achish, 1 Samuel 29 (Ruding, Rosenm.), but the earlier one, 1 Samuel 21:10 sq, which is referred to definitely in Psalm 34. This Psalm, which is simple and interwoven with recurring if not entirely similar verses, bears many features of resemblance with the Psalm of this period. Among these features the chief one is his turning from the judgment of his own enemies to the judgment of the nations in general. From the mention of the latter there is not the least evidence of its composition in the time of the exile (De Wette). Moreover the nations ( Psalm 56:7) are not the many particular ones which make up the heathen nation with which the author is said to remain in the time after the exile (Hitzig). For the analysis of the plural ammim into its units cannot change the idea “people.”—There is prevalent in this Psalm a tone of confidence in God’s help, which breaks forth in the refrain ( Psalm 56:4, somewhat enlarged, Psalm 56:10-11), each time after a short description of the oppression of the poet who is in flight, and of the character and behaviour of his enemies ( Psalm 56:1-2; Psalm 56:5-6). This in both cases is prepared, first, by a short ( Psalm 56:3) then a more extended ( Psalm 56:8-9) attestation of faith in God’s assistance, which is again each time preceded by a weaker ( Psalm 56:1) then a stronger ( Psalm 56:7) expression of the certainty of the ruin of his enemies, who were mortals, by the judgment of the Almighty. The whole concludes with a vow of thanksgiving ( Psalm 56:12) for the deliverance of his life, which is considered as not doubtful ( Psalm 56:13), as it began with a prayer for the help of grace.

Str. I. [The Rabbins and older interpreters, so A. V, translated שׁאף by absorbere, devorare, swallow up; but it is more properly either pant after as animals greedy of their prey, or snort against as animals enraged.—C. A. B.]

Psalm 56:2. For many are they that fight against me in pride.מָרוֹם is not a vocative=Most High (Aquil, Chald, Jerome, Isaki, Calvin, [A. V.] et al.), as Psalm 92:8, instead of the high God, Micah 6:6; but it is an accusative as an adverb, and the height is taken figuratively as pride (Symmach, Luther, Rudinger, Geier, et al.).

Psalm 56:3. On the day that I have fear, I—in Thee will I trust.—There is no sufficient reason to read, instead of אֶקְרָא,אִירָא as Psalm 56:9=when I call (Hupf.); still less are we to insert a negative=On the day will I not fear (Syr, Arab.); but it may very well be conceived that fear and trust should be in the same heart at the same time (Calvin, Geier, et al.). Therefore it is not advisable to accept a subjunctive (Hitzig, Olsh.), because he would say: when I would fear, or should have occasion to fear, yet would not express the fear itself.[FN5]

Psalm 56:4. Through God will I praise His word.—This clause might be translated: “Of God am I proud, His word” (most recent interpreters), the verb being regarded as intransitive and the preposition repeated. Yet the accents lead to the transitive interpretation: in (through, with) God praise I His word (Hupfeld, Delitzsch, and almost all ancient versions and interpreters with the Rabbins). According to the context, this “word” is hardly to be explained of “His works,” His providences and guidances (older interpreters with Flamin.), although דבר sometimes=res, and it is easiest to take it thus in Psalm 56:5; still less is there occasion to change דְּבָרוֹ into דְּבָרַי, to which the translation τοὺς λογοὺς μου. (Sept.) might lead, and then be interpreted: my affairs, or: “God will I praise” are my words, Psalm 22:1 (Olsh.); or to correct דָּבָר (by adding ו as copula to the following clause.)=Of God I boast in matters, that is to say, in the affairs in question (Hitzig). It is true that dabar is used in Psalm 56:10 without a suffix and without an article. This, however, may designate the word directly as the divine, as Psalm 2:12, בּר, the son (Delitzsch). There is special reference here to the divine word of promise (Calvin, Geier), yet not directly as addressed personally to David (Hengst.), or indeed to his royal dignity (most interpreters). This word of God will the Psalmist praise when he by God’s grace has experienced its fulfilment, accordingly when he is a man saved in God.—[I trust in God, I do not fear; what can flesh do unto me?—This is the beautiful and touching refrain of the Psalm which loses its force by a false punctuation in the A. V. Psalm 56:11 is precisely the same as these clauses, with the single exception of the substitution of אָדָם for בָשָׂר.—C. A. B.]

Str. II, Psalm 56:5. All day long they vex my affairs.—It is better to refer דבר here to the affairs of the poet, among which his words might be included, because the verb does not mean: make abominable (Sept.), curse (Vulg.), wrest=slander (Flamin, Ruding, Rosenm, [A. V.] et al.), but vex.

Psalm 56:6. They who watch my heels just as they have waited for my soul.—The perfect in the last clause does not allow of the supposition that the reason of the pursuit (most interpreters)=because, or when they hope to take my life, is stated and is incorrectly rendered by the participle (Symmach, Jerome). It expresses by a comparison of the former with the present proceedings (Hupfeld, Delitzsch), that they have always acted as the same malignant men. The translation “just as I have hoped for my life” (Sept.) is incorrect.

Psalm 56:7. With iniquity—deliverance to them? In anger cast down nations, O God.—It is questionable and unnecessary to read פַּלֶּם (Hupf, Olsh.), instead of פַלֶּט, Psalm 32:7, or to regard them as the same (Ewald). For the former word is usually with the accusative of the object in the meaning: to weigh something, hence the interpretation: for iniquity recompense them (Hupf.), is violent. But the interpretation: weigh to them iniquity still, is unnecessary. For the text may be explained as it is. It is true it does not say: on account of iniquity deliver from them (Symm.), pour them out (Chald.), lay hold of them (Geier); or: in no wise, that is to say, vain, fruitless be their flight (Mend.), but: with=in spite of iniquity is deliverance to them. This interpretation of it as a question (Kimchi, et al, Hitzig, Delitzsch) is to be preferred to that of regarding it as an expression of a delusion of the transgressor (Bucer, Calvin, et al, Hengst.); for the latter thought is included in the former, but is not so easily misunderstood.

Str. III, Psalm 56:8. Thou hast counted my wanderings, my tears are put in Thy bottle—[are they) not in Thy calculation?—נֹדִי is not “my complaint (Hupfeld), or my internal disquiet” (Ewald), but my “fleeing, wandering about,” the days of which (Chald.), or places of which (Isaki, Kimchi), or rather which as often repeated (Ruding. counts14 exilia of David), not only the fugitive closely observed, but God, who counts all the steps of men, so likewise the tears which are put in His נֹאר[FN6]=bottle of skin, for careful preservation in the memory, perhaps with an allusion to wine squeezed out (Geier), or parallel with the bag mentioned elsewhere, Job 14:17; 1 Samuel 15:29; comp. Isaiah 8:16 (Olsh, Hupfeld). It seems that the conformity of sound has here occasioned the choice of words (Aben Ezra, Geier, et al.), which the ancient versions either did not understand and therefore changed בְנֹאדֶךָ into בְנֶגְדְךָ, or they have had this latter reading before them; for they translate in conspectu tuo, and likewise give this verse an entirely different and, in other respects, unintelligible sense. Schegg, with respect to the Vulgate, brings out the sense: My life I hold before Thee; Thou settest my tears before thy face as in Thy decree. It is questionable whether we are to retain the proper and usual meaning: calculation, or refer to the writing in a book (Syr, Vat. and many recent interpreters [A. V.]), particularly in the book of God, Exodus 32:32; Psalm 139:16, the book of the living, Psalm 69:28, the book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16. According to the present accents “put” is an imperative. But a simple transfer of the accent to the last syllable gives the more appropriate passive, Numbers 24:21; 1 Samuel 9:24; 2 Samuel 13:32 (Ewald, Hupfeld, Deiitzsch, Hitzig). The form of the question here and in Psalm 56:13 b does not express any doubt or uncertainty, but actually gives a strong assurance of certainty and enlivens the discourse.[FN7]

Psalm 56:9. This I know, that God is for me.—This might be rendered likewise: that God is to me=that I have God, or that He is my God (Sept, Jerome, Hengst.); but the translation: for me (Chald, and most interpreters) is recommended by Psalm 124:1-2, here as in Psalm 118:6 sq.

[ Psalm 56:10-11.—We have here the same refrain as in Psalm 56:9, with the slight change of the repetition of the first clause with emphasis, with the use of Jehovah for Elohim and the substitution of man for flesh in the last clause.—C. A. B.]

Str. IV, Psalm 56:12. Thy vows (are) upon me.—This does not refer to an obligation as of a duty yet to be undertaken (De Wette, Hitzig), but to an obligation already incurred in fulfilling the thank-offerings vowed to God.

Psalm 56:13. To walk before the face of God in the light of life.—This does not mean the pious walk of life (the older interpreters), but the Divine protection, as Psalm 62:8 (De Wette, Hengst, et al.). The light of life (comp. John 8:12), or the living ( Psalm 27:13; Psalm 116:9) means the light and its realm in contrast to the realm of death, and is not to be limited to the sunlight of this world (Hupfeld).

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. The distresses which befall a servant of God from men may be easily borne and surely overcome if only faith is not shaken. For men, how many so ever they may be that gather together, devise crafty plans, hesitate not at cruel deeds, they can accomplish nothing against the man who has taken refuge with God, puts his confidence in God’s power and grace, and calmly and firmly relies upon God’s word. God will deliver him, but destroy them. For their name is frailty and flesh; they cannot accomplish what they propose, cannot avert what they have drawn upon them. But God keeps His word and carries out what He has promised; therefore His promises are to believers the pledge of their salvation.

2. Many boast of their understanding; some indeed of their wickedness ( Psalm 52:1), and rely upon their courage and their power, their riches and their position, the world and their friends. Thus they forget God and His word, and come in conflict with those who confess God and His word. Thus the latter have many fears, cares and trials in the world. Yet since they live not only in the world, but at the same time in God, their faith overcomes fear and the world ( 1 John 5:4), and they strike up, even in their sorrows, songs of rejoicing, with which they praise God and boast of His word, which, as the pledge of their salvation, is likewise the foundation of their confidence and the source of their comfort.

3.The believer knows that God not only sees him and his distresses, but likewise cares for the minutiæ of his life and welfare, that He thus counts his steps and days, collects his tears, writes down his actions and his omissions. He knows likewise that this divine sympathy is not merely beholding or pitying, but shows itself and attests itself by actual assistance, so that it may be seen that God is with him. And thus knowledge is not merely recognition, but a conviction full of life. It expresses itself as such in the day of trouble as prayer for God’s grace, as confession of God and His word, as vows of thanksgiving for the help pre-supposed as certain, and is strengthened and enlivened by every divine exhibition of grace to the hope of a walk in the light of life.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

If God is for us, who can be against us?—It is better to fall into the hands of God than of men.—He who depends on God will not fall; and He who trusts in the word of God will have wherewith to boast.—Wouldst thou walk in the light of life, then rely upon God and His word.—God with us! This is the watchword of the pious.—Fear not, only believe! You must either experience the grace or the wrath of God; what you wish will be given you.—The higher the ungodly are lifted, the deeper will be their fall; for God is a righteous Rewarder.—How hope and fear may be together in the same heart.—The courage of faith is a very different thing from the defiance of pride.

Starke: The ways of God often appear to the reason to be entirely against their purpose; but yet they are holy and good as the issue shows.—God’s grace is a mighty protection and a powerful mitigation of every cross.—Hope is the golden treasure and the noblest art against all fear.—God’s infallible word and a believing trust therein are inseparably united together.—A countenance moistened with tears is much more beautiful and noble before God than a neck covered with pearls and ears with the most precious jewels.—Since the goodness of God is active, our thanksgiving must likewise be active.

Rieger: Fear is evil only when it destroys the word of God for us.—Vaihinger: The mercy of God is the well of salvation from which David draws in all his troubles.—Tholuck: David thinks of songs of praise whilst he still sings Lamentations, of vows of thanksgiving whilst yet praying.—Guenther: Every advance in sanctification is an additional confirmation that God is with us.

[Matt. Henry: As we must not trust to an arm of flesh when it is engaged for us, so we must not be afraid of an arm of flesh when it is stretched out against us.—God has a bottle and a book for His people’s tears, both those for their sins and those for their afflictions.—God will comfort His people according to the time wherein He has afflicted them, and give to them to reap in joy who sowed in tears. What was sown a tear will come up a pearl.—When we give credit to a man’s bill, we honor him that drew it. So when we do and suffer for God in a dependence upon His promise, not staggering at it, we give glory to God, we praise His word, and so give praise to Him.—Barnes: Fear is one of those things designed to make us feel that we need a God and to lead us to Him when we realize that we have no power to save ourselves from impending dangers.—It is a good maxim with which to go into a world of danger; a good maxim to go to sea with; a good maxim in a storm; a good maxim in danger on the land; a good maxim when we are sick; a good maxim when we think of death and the judgment,—“What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.”—Spurgeon: It is a blessed fear which drives us to trust.—God inclines us to pray; we cry in anguish of heart; He hears, He acts; the enemy is turned back! What irresistible artillery is this which wins the battle as soon as its report is heard.—C. A. B.]

Footnotes:

FN#5 - 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 Isaiah, 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.”—C. A. B.]

FN#6 - This is the skin bottle used in the East for keeping wine, milk, water, etc. It takes the place of our barrel or cask, as well as our bottle. They are generally made of goat skins or kid, comp. Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, art. Bottle.—C. A. B.]

FN#7 - 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 has baffled his foes,—all have been numbered by his Heavenly Keeper. Yea, 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.”—C. A. B.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 56:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-56.html. 1857-84.

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