1Be merciful unto me, O God! for man swallows me up It would be difficult to determine whether he speaks here of foreign or domestic enemies. When brought to King Achish he was as a sheep between two bands of wolves, an object of deadly hatred to the Philistines on the one hand, and exposed to equal persecutions from his own fellow-countrymen. He uses the indefinite term man in this verse, though in the next he speaks of having many enemies, the more forcibly to express the truth that the whole world was combined against him, that he experienced no humanity amongst men, and stood in the last necessity of divine help. The term daily would suggest that he refers more immediately to Saul and his faction. But in general, he deplores the wretchedness of his fate in being beset with adversaries so numerous and so barbarous. Some translate שאף, shaaph, to regard, but it is more properly rendered to swallow up, a strong expression, denoting the insatiable rage with which they assailed him. I have adhered to the common translation of לחם, lacham, though it also signifies to eat up, which might consist better with the metaphor already used in the preceding part of the verse. It is found, however, in the sense to fight against, and I was unwilling to depart from the received rendering. I shall only observe in passing, that those who read in the second member of the verse, many fighting with me, as if he alluded to the assistance of angels, mistake the meaning of the passage; for it is evident that he uses the language of complaint throughout the verse.
Psa 56:1 Be merciful unto me, O God,…. For David could expect no mercy at the hands of men, among whom he was, whose tender mercies were cruel; he being at Gath, the city of Goliath, whom he had slain, and whose sword he had now with him; and among his brethren and friends, who he might justly fear would revenge his death upon him: wherefore he betakes himself to God, and pleads not any merit or righteousness of his own, but implores the grace and mercy of God; and he might expect to find grace and mercy in this his time of need, since there is mercy with the Lord; he is plenteous in it, distributes it freely, delights in so doing, and does it constantly; his mercy endures for ever, it is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear him;
for man would swallow me up; the Targum renders it “isbi”, a wicked man: it may be understood of some one man, some great man, as Achish king of Gath; or rather Saul king of Israel, who breathed and panted after his ruin and destruction, as the word, signifies; who sought to eat up his flesh, to take away his life, and utterly ruin him: or collectively of many, since it appears, by the following verse, that he had many enemies who were desirous to swallow him up. This he mentions as an aggravation of his distress, and as a reason why he hoped the Lord would be merciful to him; and that he, being God, would not suffer than to prevail; see 2Ch_14:12;
he fighting daily oppresseth me; this shows that Saul is more especially intended, who was continually with his army pursuing him, and sometimes surrounded him and his men, and reduced him to great distress. This may be applied to the old man, the corruptions of nature, and the lusts of the flesh, which are continually warring against the soul, oppress it, bring it into captivity, and threaten to swallow it up.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Psa_56:1-13. Upon Jonath-elem-rechokim – literally, “upon the dove of silence” of distant places; either denoting a melody (see on Psa_9:1) of that name, to which this Psalm was to be performed; or it is an enigmatical form of denoting the subject, as given in the history referred to (1Sa_21:11, etc.), David being regarded as an uncomplaining, meek dove, driven from his native home to wander in exile. Beset by domestic and foreign foes, David appeals confidently to God, recites his complaints, and closes with joyful and assured anticipations of God’s continued help.
would swallow — literally, “pants as a raging beast” (Act_9:1).
Be merciful unto me, O God – See the notes at Psa_51:1.
For man would swallow me up – The word used here means properly to breathe hard; to pant; to blow hard; and then, to pant after, to yawn after with open mouth. The idea is, that people came upon him everywhere with open mouth, as if they would swallow him down whole. He found no friend in man – in any man. Everywhere his life was sought. There was no “man,” wherever he might go, on whom he could rely, or whom he could trust; and his only refuge, therefore, was in God.
He fighting daily – Constantly; without intermission. That is, all people seemed to be at war with him, and to pursue him always.
Oppresseth me – Presses hard upon me; so presses on me as always to endanger my life, and so that I feel no security anywhere.
Psa 56:2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me up,…. For not one man only, but many, were his enemies; who observed and watched him, and were eagerly desirous of his ruin. The believer has many enemies, sin, Satan, and the world, seeking to devour and destroy him, though they cannot;
for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High; he appeals to God, who dwells on high, and sees all things, for the truth of this, that he had many enemies both at Gath and in Israel; as well as applies to him for help, he being higher than they. Some render the words, “for they be many that fight against me from on high”, or “highly”, proudly and haughtily. Aben Ezra gives a very different sense, “I have many angels on high that fight for me.” But מרום, “marom”, is an epithet of God, as in Psa_92:8; and so it is interpreted by Jarchi and Kimchi; and also by the Targum, which renders it, O God most High; and adds, “whose throne is on high;” which is approved by Gussetius.
O thou Most High – מרום marom. I do not think that this word expresses any attribute of God, or indeed is at all addressed to him. It signifies, literally, from on high, or froen a high or elevated place: “For the multitudes fight against me from the high or elevated place;” the place of authority – the court and cabinet of Saul.
Most of the Versions begin the next verse with this word: “From the light of the day, though I fear, yet will I trust in thee.” From the time that persecution waxes hot against me, though I often am seized with fear, yet I am enabled to maintain my trust in thee. Dr. Kennicott thinks there is a corruption here, and proposes to read: “I look upwards all the day long.”
Mine enemies – Margin, “mine observers.” The Hebrew word here used means properly to twist, to twist totogether; then, to be firm, hard, tough; then, “to press together,” as a rope that is twisted – and hence, the idea of oppressing, or pressing hard on one, as an enemy. See Psa_27:11; Psa_54:5. In the former verse the psalmist spoke of an enemy, or of “one” that would swallow him up (in the singular number), or of “man” as an enemy to him anywhere. Here he uses the plural number, implying that there were “many” who were enlisted against him. He was surrounded by enemies. He met them wherever he went. He had an enemy in Saul; he had enemies in the followers of Saul; he had enemies among the Philistines, and now when he had fled to Achish, king of Gath, and had hoped to find a refuge and a friend there, he found only bitter foes.
Would daily swallow me up – Constantly; their efforts to do it are unceasing. A new day brings no relief to me, but every day I am called to meet some new form of opposition.
For they be many that fight against me – His own followers and friends were few; his foes were many. Saul had numerous followers, and David encountered foes wherever he went. “O thou Most High.” The word used here – מרום marom – means properly height, altitude, elevation; then, a high place, especially heaven, Psa_18:16; Isa_24:18, Isa_24:21; then it is applied to anything high or inaccessible, as a fortress, Isa_26:5. It is supposed by Gesenius (Lexicon), and some others, to mean here “elation of mind, pride,” – implying that his enemies fought against him with elated minds, or proudly. So the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Luther render it; and so DeWette understands it. Yet it seems most probable that our translators have given the correct rendering, and that the passage is a solemn appeal to God as more exalted than his foes, and as one, therefore, in whom he could put entire confidence. Compare Psa_92:8; Psa_93:4,; Mic_6:6.
3.In the day that I was afraid, etc. In the Hebrew, the words run in the future tense, but they must be resolved into the praeterite. He acknowledges his weakness, in so far as he was sensible of fear, but denies having yielded to it. Dangers might distress him, but could not induce him to surrender his hope. He makes no pretensions to that lofty heroism which contemns danger, and yet while he allows that he felt fear, he declares his fixed resolution to persist in a confident expectation of the divine favor. The true proof of faith consists in this, that when we feel the solicitations of natural fear, we can resist them, and prevent them from obtaining an undue ascendancy. Fear and hope may seem opposite and incompatible affections, yet it is proved by observation, that the latter never comes into full sway unless there exists some measure of the former. In a tranquil state of the mind, there is no scope for the exercise of hope. At such times it lies dormant, and its power is only displayed to advantage when we see it elevating the soul under dejection, calming its agitations, or soothing its distractions. This was the manner in which it manifested itself in David, who feared, and yet trusted, was sensible of the greatness of his danger, and yet quieted his mind with the confident hope of the divine deliverance.
Psa 56:3 What time I am afraid,…. It was a time of fear with him now; he was afraid of Achish king of Gath, 1Sa_21:12; so believers have their times of fear; about their interest in the love, and grace, and covenant of God; about their sins and corruptions, and the prevalence of them, fearing they shall perish by them; and about their enemies, who are many, lively, and strong;
I will trust in thee; trust and confidence in the Lord is the best antidote against fears; who is unchangeable in his love, in whom is everlasting strength, and who is faithful and true to every word of promise; and therefore there is great reason to trust in him, and not be afraid.
What time I am afraid – literally, “the day I am afraid.” David did not hesitate to admit that there were times when he was afraid. He saw himself to be in danger, and he had apprehensions as to the result. There is a natural fear of danger and of death; a fear implanted in us:
(a) to make us cautious, and
(b) to induce us to put our trust in God as a Preserver and Friend.
Our very nature – our physical constitution – is full of arrangements most skillfully adjusted, and most wisely planted there, to lead us to God as our Protector. Fear is one of these 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.
I will trust in thee – As one that is able to save, and one that will order all things as they should be ordered. It is only this that can make the mind calm in the midst of danger:
(a) the feeling that God can protect us and save us from danger, and that he “will” protect us if he sees fit;
(b) the feeling that whatever may be the result, whether life or death, it will be such as God sees to be best – if “life,” that we may be useful, and glorify his name yet upon the earth; if “death,” that it will occur not because he had not “power” to interpose and save, but because there were good and sufficient reasons why he should “not” put forth his power on that occasion and rescue us.
Of this we may be, however, assured, that God has “power” to deliver us always, and that if not delivered from calamity it is not because he is inattentive, or has not power. And of this higher truth also we may be assured always, that he has power to save us from that which we have most occasion to fear – a dreadful hell. 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 when 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.”
4.In God I will praise his word Here he grows more courageous in the exercise of hope, as generally happens with the people of God. They find it difficult at first to reach this exercise. It is only after a severe struggle that they rise to it, but the effort being once made, they emerge from their fears into the fullness of confidence, and are prepared to grapple with the most formidable enemies. To praise, is here synonymous with glorying or boasting. He was now in possession of a triumphant confidence, and rejoiced in the certainty of hope. The ground of his joy is said to be the divine word; and this implies, that however much he might seem to be forsaken and abandoned by God, he satisfied himself by reflecting on the truthfulness of his promises. He would glory in God notwithstanding, and although there should be no outward appearance of help, or it should even be sensibly withdrawn, he would rest contented with the simple security of his word. The declaration is one that deserves our notice. How prone are we to fret and to murmur when it has not pleased God immediately to grant us our requests! Our discontent may not be openly expressed, but it is inwardly felt, when we are left in this manner to depend upon his naked promises. It was no small attainment in David, that he could thus proceed to praise the Lord, in the midst of dangers, and with no other ground of support but the word of God. The sentiment contained in the latter clause of the verse might seem at first glance to merit little consideration. What more obvious than that God is able to protect us from the hand of men, that his power to defend is immensely greater than their power to injure? This may be true, but we all know too well how much of that perverse unbelief there is in our hearts, which leads us to rate the ability of God below that of the creature. It was no small proof, therefore, of the faith of David, that he could despise the threatenings of his enemies. And it would be well if all the saints of God were impressed with such a sense of his superiority to their adversaries as would lead them to show a similar contempt of danger. When assailed by these, it should never escape their recollection, that the contest is in reality between their enemies and God, and that it were blasphemous in this case to doubt the issue. The great object which these have in view is to shake our faith in the promised help of the Lord; and we are chargeable with limiting his power, unless we realize him standing at our right hand, able with one movement of his finger, or one breath of his mouth, to dissipate their hosts, and confound their infatuated machinations. Shall we place him on a level with mortal man, and measure his probable success by the numbers which are set against him?
“But how,” may it be asked, “are we to account for this sudden change in the exercise of David? A moment before, he was expressing his dread of destruction, and now he bids defiance to the collected strength of his enemies.” I reply, that there is nothing in his words which insinuate that he was absolutely raised above the influence of fear, and every sense of the dangers by which he was encompassed. They imply no more than that he triumphed over his apprehensions, through that confident hope of salvation with which he was armed. Men he terms in this verse flesh, to impress the more upon his mind the madness of their folly in attempting a contest so infinitely above their strength.
In God I will praise his word – באלהים belohim may mean here, through God, or by the help of God, I will praise his word. And, that he should have cause to do it, he says, “In God I have put my trust,” and therefore he says, “I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” Man is but Flesh, weak and perishing; God is an infinite Spirit, almighty and eternal. He repeats this sentiment in the tenth and eleventh verses.
In God I will praise his word – The meaning of this seems to be, “In reference to God – or, in my trust on God – I will especially have respect to his “word” – his gracious promise; I will make that the special object of my praise. In dwelling in my own mind on the divine perfections; in finding there materials for praise, I will have special respect to his revealed truth – to what he has “spoken” as an encouragement to me. I will be thankful that he “has” spoken, and that he has given me assurances on which I may rely in the times of danger.” The idea is, that he would “always” find in God that which was the ground or foundation for praise; and that that which called for special praise in meditating on the divine character, was the word or promise which God had made to his people.
I will not fear what flesh can do unto me – What man can do to me. Compare the notes at Mat_10:28 (notes); Rom_8:31-34 (notes); Heb_13:6 (notes).
5 Every day my words vex me The first part of this verse has been variously rendered. Some understand my words to be the nominative in the sentence, and with these I agree in opinion. Others suppose a reference to the enemies of David, and translate, they calumniate my words, or, they cause me grief on account of my words. Again, יעצבו, yeatsebu, has been taken in the neuter sense, and translated, my words are troublesome. But עצב, atsab, commonly signifies to afflict with grief, and in Pihel is always taken transitively; nor does there seem any reason in this place to depart from the general rule of the language. And the passage flows more naturally when rendered, my words affect me with grief, or vex me, than by supposing that he refers to his enemies. According to this translation, the verse contains a double complaint, that, on the one hand, he was himself unsuccessful in everything which he attempted, his plans having still issued in vexatious failure; while, on the other hand, his enemies were devising every means for his destruction. It may appear at first sight rather inconsistent to suppose that he should immediately before have disclaimed being under the influence of fear, and now acknowledge that he was not only distressed, but in some measure the author of his own discomfort. I have already observed, however, that he is not to be considered as having been absolutely divested of anxiety and fear, although enabled to look down with contempt upon his enemies from the eminence of faith. Here he speaks of the circumstances which tried him, which his faith certainly overcame, but at the same time could not altogether remove out of the way. He confesses his own lack of wisdom and foresight, shown in the abortive issue of every plan which he devised. It aggravated the evil, that his enemies were employing their united counsels to plot his ruin. He adds, that they gathered themselves together;and this made his case the more calamitous, matched as he was, a single individual, against this numerous host. In mentioning that they hide themselves, he adverts to the subtle devices which they framed for surprising him into destruction. The verb יצפינו, yitsponu, by grammatical rule ought to have the letter ו, vau, in the middle; from which the general opinion is, that the יyod, is as it were the mark of Hiphil, denoting that the enemies of David came to the determination of employing an ambush, with the view of surrounding him. He tells us that they pressed upon him in every direction, and as it were trod upon his heels, so that he had no respite. And he points at their implacable hatred as the cause of their eager pursuit of him; for nothing, he informs us, would satisfy them but his death.
Psa 56:5 Every day they wrest my words,…. Form, fashion, and shape them at their pleasure; construe them, and put what sense upon them they think fit. The word is used of the formation of the human body, in Job_10:8; They put his words upon the rack, and made them speak what he never intended; as some men wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction, 2Pe_3:16; and as the Jews wrested the words of Christ, Joh_2:19. The word has also the sense of causing vexation and grief, Isa_63:10; and so it may be rendered here, “my words cause grief” (w); to his enemies; because he had said, in the preceding verses, that he would trust in the Lord, and praise his word, and not be afraid of men; just as the Sadducees were grieved at the apostles preaching, through Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, Act_4:1. Or they caused grief to himself; for because of these his enemies reproached him, cursed him, and distressed him. The Septuagint and Vulgate Latin render it, “they cursed my words”; or despised them, as the Ethiopic and Arabic versions:
all their thoughts are against me for evil; their counsels, schemes, and contrivances, were all formed to do him all the hurt and mischief they could.
Every day they wrest my words – The word here rendered “wrest,” means literally to give pain, to grieve, to afflict; and it is used here in the sense of “wresting,” as if force were applied to words; that is, they are “tortured,” twisted, perverted. We have the same use of the word “torture” in our language. This they did by affixing a meaning to his words which he never intended, so as to injure him.
All their thoughts are against me for evil – All their plans, devices, purposes. They never seek my good, but always seek to do me harm.
Psa 56:6 They gather themselves together,…. And meet in some one place, to contrive ways and means to do hurt, and then assemble together again to put them in execution; as did the Jews with respect to Christ, Mat_26:3. Aben Ezra supposes a various reading without any reason; and that, instead of יגורו which Jarchi renders “they lodge”, and the Septuagint, and the versions following that, “they sojourn”, it should be read יגודו, “they assemble in troops”: because they were many: but the sense is, “they stay”, or continue in some certain place:
they hide themselves; the Targum adds, “in ambush”: they lay in wait, and caused others to lie in wait for him, in order to take him; as did Saul and his men, and the servants of the king of Gath;
they mark my steps; they observed where he went, that they might seize him; or they observed his heels, as the old serpent did the Messiah’s, that he might bruise them; or they watched for his halting, as Jeremiah’s familiars did for his;
when they wait for my soul; to take away his life, to destroy him; see Psa_119:95; they wanted not a will to do it, they only waited for an opportunity. The Targum is, “as they waited, they did to my soul:” or rather, “after they had hoped for my soul” : when they had entertained hopes of taking him, this animated them to do the above things.
They gather themselves together – That is, they do not attack me singly, but they unite their forces; they combine against me.
They hide themselves – They lurk in ambush. They do not come upon me openly, but they conceal themselves in places where they cannot be seen, that they may spring upon me suddenly.
They mark my steps – They watch me whatever I do. They keep a spy upon me, so that I can never be sure that I am not observed.
When they wait for my soul – As they watch for my life; or, as they watch for opportunities to take away my life. I am never secure; I know not at what time, or in what manner, they may spring upon me. This would apply to David when he fled to Achish, king of Gath; when he was driven away by him; and when he was watched and pursued by Saul and his followers as he fled into the wilderness. 1Sa_21:1-15; 22.
7.After their mischief they think to escape. The beginning of this verse is read by some interrogatively, Shall they escape in their iniquity? But there is no necessity for having recourse to this distant meaning. It is much better to understand the words in the sense which they naturally suggest when first read, That the wicked think to escape in their iniquity, but that God will cast them down. He alludes to the fact that the ungodly, when allowed to proceed without interruption in their evil courses, indulge the idea that they have a license to perpetrate the worst wickedness with impunity. In these our own times, we see many such profane characters, who display an unmeasured audacity under the assurance that God’s hand can never reach them. They not only look to go unpunished, but found their hopes of success upon their evil deeds, and encourage themselves to farther wickedness, by cherishing the opinion that they will contrive a way of escape from every adversity. David has no sooner stated this vain confident persuasion of the wicked, than he refutes it by an appeal to the judgment of God, declaring his conviction that, however proudly they might exalt themselves, the hour of vengeance would come when God would cast down the peoplesHe makes use of the plural number, to fortify his mind against fear, when he reflected upon the array of his enemies. Let us remember, when our enemies are many, that it is one of the prerogatives of God to cast down the people, and not one nation of foes merely, but the world.
Shall they escape by iniquity? – This expression in the original is very obscure. There is in the Hebrew no mark of interrogation; and a literal rendering would be, “By iniquity (there is) escape to them;” and, according to this, the sense would be, that they contrived to escape from just punishment by their sins; by the boldness of their crimes; by their wicked arts. The Septuagint renders it, “As I have suffered this for my life, thou wilt on no account save them.” Luther, “What they have done evil, that is already forgiven.” DeWette reads it, as in our translation, as a question: “Shall their deliverance be in wickedness?” Probably this is the true idea. The psalmist asks with earnestness and amazement whether, under the divine administration, people “can” find safety in mere wickedness; whether great crimes constitute an evidence of security; whether his enemies owed their apparent safety to the fact that they were so eminently wicked. He prays, therefore, that God would interfere, and show that this was not, and could not be so.
In thine anger cast down the people, O God – That is, show by thine own interposition – by the infliction of justice – by preventing the success of their plans – by discomfiting them – that under the divine administration wickedness does not constitute security; in other words, that thou art a just God, and that wickedness is not a passport to thy favor.
8.Thou hast taken account of my wanderings The words run in the form of an abrupt prayer. Having begun by requesting God to consider his tears, suddenly, as if he had obtained what he asked, he declares that they were written in God’s book. It is possible, indeed, to understand the interrogation as a prayer; but he would seem rather to insinuate by this form of expression, that he stood in no need of multiplying words, and that God had already anticipated his desire. It is necessary, however, to consider the words of the verse more particularly. He speaks of his wandering as having been noted by God, and this that he may call attention to one remarkable feature of his history, his having been forced to roam a solitary exile for so long a period. The reference is not to any one wandering; the singular number is used for the plural, or rather, he is to be understood as declaring emphatically that his whole life was only one continued wandering. This he urges as an argument to commiseration, spent as his years had been in the anxieties and dangers of such a perplexing pilgrimage. Accordingly, he prays that God might put his tears into his bottle It was usual to preserve the wine and oil in bottles: so that the words amount to a request that God would not suffer his tears to fall to the ground, but keep them with care as a precious deposit. The prayers of David, as appears from the passage before us, proceeded upon faith in the providence of God, who watches our every step, and by whom (to use an expression of Christ) “the very hairs of our head are numbered,” (Mat_10:30.)
Unless persuaded in our mind that God takes special notice of each affliction which we endure, it is impossible we can ever attain such confidence as to pray that God would put our tears into his bottle, with a view to regarding them, and being induced by them to interpose in our behalf. He immediately adds, that he had obtained what he asked: for, as already observed, I prefer understanding the latter clause affirmatively. He animates his hope by the consideration that all his tears were written in the book of God, and would therefore be certainly remembered. And we may surely believe, that if God bestows such honor upon the tears of his saints, he must number every drop of their blood which is shed. Tyrants may burn their flesh and their bones, but the blood remains to cry aloud for vengeance; and intervening ages can never erase what has been written in the register of God’s remembrance.
Thou tellest my wanderings – Thou dost “number” or “recount” them; that is, in thy own mind. Thou dost keep an account of them; thou dost notice me as I am driven from one place to another to find safety. “My wanderings,” to Gath, 1Sa_21:10; to the cave of Adullam, 1Sa_22:1; to Mizpeh, in Moab, 1Sa_22:3; to the forest of Hareth, 1Sa_22:5; to Keilah, 1Sa_23:5; to the wilderness of Ziph, 1Sa_23:14; to the wilderness of Maon, 1Sa_23:25; to En-gedi, 1Sa_24:1-2.
Put thou my tears into thy bottle – The tears which I shed in my wanderings. Let them not fall to the ground and be forgotten. Let them be remembered by thee as if they were gathered up and placed in a bottle – “a lachrymatory” – that they may be brought to remembrance hereafter. The word here rendered “bottle” means properly a bottle made of skin, such as was used in the East; but it may be employed to denote a bottle of any kind. It is possible, and, indeed, 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 of glass or earth, which was carefully preserved as a memorial of friendship and sorrow.
Many of these lachrymatories have been found in the ancient Roman tombs. I myself saw a large quantity of them in the “Columbaria” at Rome, and in the Capitol, among the relics and curiosities of the place. The above engraving will illustrate the form of these lachrymatories. The annexed remarks of Dr. Thomson (“land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 147), will show that the same custom prevailed in the East, and will describe the forms of the “tear-bottles” that were used there. “These lachrymatories are still found in great numbers on opening ancient tombs. A sepulchre lately discovered in one of the gardens of our city had scores of them in it. They are made of thin glass, or more generally of simple pottery, often not even baked or glazed, with a slender body, a broad bottom, and a funnel-shaped top. They have nothing in them but “dust” at present. If the friends were expected to contribute their share of tears for these bottles, they would very much need cunning women to cause their eyelids to gush out with water. These forms of ostentatious sorrow have ever been offensive to sensible people. Thus Tacitus says, ‘At my funeral let no tokens of sorrow be seen, no pompous mockery of woe. Crown me with chaplets, strew flowers on my grave, and let my friends erect no vain memorial to tell where my remains are lodged. ‘“
Are they not in thy book? – In thy book of remembrance; are they not numbered and recorded so that they will not be forgotten? This expresses strong confidence that his tears “would” be remembered; that they would not be forgotten. All the tears that we shed “are” remembered by God. If “properly” shed – shed in sorrow, without murmuring or complaining, they will be remembered for our good; if “improperly shed” – if with the spirit of complaining, and with a want of submission to the divine will, they will be remembered against us. But it is not wrong to weep. David wept; the Saviour wept; nature prompts us to weep; and it cannot be wrong to weep if “our” eye “poureth out” its tears “unto God” Job_16:20; that is, if in our sorrow we look to God with submission and with earnest supplication.
When I cry unto thee – This expresses strong confidence in prayer. The psalmist felt that he had only to cry unto God, to secure the overthrow of his enemies. God had all power, and his power would be put forth in answer to prayer.
Then shall mine enemies turn back – Then shall they cease to pursue and persecute me. He did not doubt that this would be the ultimate result – that this blessing would be conferred, though it might be delayed, and though his faith and patience might be greatly tried.
For God is for me – He is on my side; and he is with me in my wanderings. Compare the notes at Rom_8:31.
9.When I cry, then shall mine enemies turn back.Here he boasts of victory with even more confidence than formerly, specifying, as it were, the very moment of time when his enemies were to be turned back. He had no sensible evidence of their approaching destruction but from the firm reliance which he exercised upon the promise, he was able to anticipate the coming period, and resolved to wait for it with patience. Though God might make no haste to interpose, and might not scatter his enemies at the very instant when he prayed, he was confident that his prayers would not be disappointed: and his ground for believing this was just a conviction of the truth, that God never frustrates the prayers of his own children. With this conviction thoroughly fixed in his mind, he could moderate his anxieties, and calmly await the issue. It is instructive to notice, that David, when he would secure the obtainment of his request, does not pray in a hesitating or uncertain spirit, but with a confident assurance of his being heard. Having once reached this faith, he sets at defiance the devil and all the host of the ungodly.
10 In God will I praise his word In the original the pronoun is not expressed, but we are left to infer, from the parallel verse which went before, that it is understood. The repetition adds an emphasis to the sentiment, intimating, that though God delayed the sensible manifestation of his favor, and might seem to deal hardly in abandoning him to the word — giving him nothing more, he was resolved to glory in it with undiminished confidence. When in a spirit such as this we honor the word of God, though deprived of any present experience of his goodness or his power, we “set to our seal that God is true,” (Joh_3:33.) The repetition amounts to an expression of his determination that, notwithstanding all circumstances which might appear to contravene the promise, he would trust in it, and persist in praising it both now, henceforth, and for ever. How desirable is it that the Lord’s people generally would accustom themselves to think in the same manner, and find, in the word of God, matter of never-failing praise amidst their worst trials! They may meet with many mercies calling for the exercise of thanksgiving, but can scarcely have proceeded one step in life before they will feel the necessity of reliance upon the naked promise. A similar reason may be given for his repetition of the sentiment in the 11th verse — In God have I hoped, etc. We shall find men universally agreed in the opinion that God is an all-sufficient protector; but observation proves how ready we are to distrust him under the slightest temptation. When exposed to the opposition of assailants formidable for strength, or policy, or any worldly advantages, let us learn with David to set God in opposition to them, and we shall speedily be able to view the mightiest of them without dismay.
Psa 56:10 In God will I praise his word,…. These words are repeated from Psa_56:4; and for the greater certainty of the thing, and to show his fixed resolution to do it, and his strong affection for the Lord and his word, they are doubled;
in the Lord will I praise his word: in the former clause the word “Elohim” is made use of, which, the Jews say, denotes the property of justice, and in the latter Jehovah, which with them is the property of mercy; and accordingly the Targum paraphrases the words, “in the attribute of the justice of God will I praise his word; in the attribute of the mercies of Jehovah will I praise his word;” and to the same sense Jarchi: that is, whether I am in adversity or prosperity, receive evil or good things from the hand of the Lord; yet will I praise him: I will sing of mercy and of judgment, Psa_101:1; or rather the one may denote the grace and goodness of a covenant God in making promises, and the other his truth and faithfulness in keeping them; on account of both which he is worthy of praise. The word “his” is not in either clause in the original text, and they may be rendered, “in God will I praise the word; in the Lord will I praise the word”: in and by the help, assistance, and grace of Jehovah the Father, will I praise the eternal and essential Word, his Son. The Targum renders it his “Memra”; a word often used in it for a divine Person, the eternal Logos; the loveliness of his person, the love of his heart to his people, the fullness of grace that is in him, the offices he sustains on their account, and the virtue of his blood, righteousness, and sacrifice, render him praiseworthy in their esteem.
In God will I praise his word – Luther renders this, “I will praise the word of God.” The phrase “in God” means probably “in respect to God;” or, “in what pertains to God.” That which he would “particularly” praise or celebrate in respect to God – that which called for the most decided expressions of praise and gratitude, was his “word,” his promise, his revealed truth. So in Psa_138:2, “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name;” that is, above all the other manifestations of thyself. The allusion in the passage here is to what God had “spoken” to David, or the “promise” which he had made – the declaration of his gracious purposes in regard to him. Amidst all the perfections of Deity, and all which God had done for him, this now seemed to him to have special pre-eminence in his praises. The “word” of God was to him that which impressed his mind most deeply – that which most tenderly affected his heart. There are times when we feel this, and properly feel it; times when, in the contemplation of the divine perfections and dealings, our minds so rest on his word, on his truth, on what he has revealed, on his gracious promises, on the disclosures of a plan of redemption, on the assurance of a heaven hereafter, on the instructions which he has given us about himself and his plans – about ourselves, our duty, and our prospects, that this absorbs all our thoughts, and we feel that this is “the” great blessing for which we are to be thankful; this, “the” great mercy for which we are to praise him. What would the life of man be without the Bible! What a dark, gloomy, sad course would ours be on earth if we had nothing to guide us to a better world!
In the Lord will I praise his word – In “Yahweh.” That is, whether I contemplate God in the usual name by which he is known – אלהים ‘Elohiym – or by that more sacred name which he has assumed – יהוה Yahweh – that which seems now to me to lay the foundation of loftiest praise and most hearty thanksgiving, is that he has spoken to people, and made known his will in his revealed truth.
In God have I put my trust – The sentiment in this verse is the same as in Psa_56:6, except that the word “man” is used here instead of “flesh.” The meaning, however, is the same. The idea is, that he would not be afraid of what “any man” – any human being – could do to him, if God was his friend.
12.Thy vows are upon me, O God! I hinted, from the outset, that it is probable this psalm was written by David after he had escaped the dangers which he describes; and this may account for the thanksgiving here appended to it. At the same time, we have evidence that he was ever ready to engage in this exercise even when presently suffering under his afflictions. He declares that the vows of God were upon him; by which he means, that he was bound to pay them, as, among the Romans, a person who had obtained what he sought, under engagement of a vow, was said to be voti damnatus —condemned of his vow If we have promised thanks, and our prayers have been heard, an obligation is contracted. He calls them the vows of God — thy vows; for the money in my hand may be said to be my creditor’s, being, as I am, in his debt. He views his deliverance as having come from God; and the condition having been performed, he acknowledges himself to be burdened with the vows which he had contracted. We learn from the second part of the verse what was the nature of the vows to which he adverts, and, by attending to this, may preserve ourselves from the mistake of imagining that he sanctions any such vows as those which are practiced among Papists. He says that he would render praises, or sacrifices of praise; for the word is applied to sacrifices, which were the outward symbols of thanksgiving. David knew well that God attached no value to sacrifices considered in themselves, or irrespectively of the design and spirit of the person offering them; but we may believe that he would not neglect the sacred ceremonies of the Law which was imposed upon the Church at that time; and that he speaks of some solemn expression of gratitude, such as was customary among the Jews upon the reception of a signal Divine favor.
Thy vows are upon me, O God – The word “vow” means something promised; some obligation under which we have voluntarily brought ourselves. It differs from duty, or obligation in general, since that is the result of the divine command, while this is an obligation arising from the fact that we have “voluntarily” taken it upon ourselves. The extent of this obligation, therefore, is measured by the nature of the promise or vow which we have made; and God will hold us responsible for carrying out our vows. Such voluntary obligations or vows were allowable, as an expression of thanksgiving, or as a means of exciting to a more strict religious service, under the Mosaic dispensation Gen_28:20; Num_6:2; Num_30:2-3; Deu_23:21; 1Sa_1:11; and they cannot be wrong under any dispensation. They are not of the nature of “merit,” or works of supererogation, but they are
(a) a “means” of bringing the obligations of religion to bear upon us more decidedly, and
(b) a proper expression of gratitude.
Such vows are those which all persons take upon themselves when they make a profession of religion; and when such a profession of religion is made, it should be a constant reflection on our part, that “the vows of God are upon us,” or that we have voluntarily consecrated all that we have to God. David had made such a vow
(a) in his general purpose to lead a religious life;
(b) very probably in some specific act or promise that he would devote himself to God if he would deliver him, or as an expression of his gratitude for deliverance. Compare the notes at Act_18:18; notes at Act_21:23-24.
I will render praises unto thee – literally, “I will recompense praises unto thee;” that is, I will “pay” what I have vowed, or I will faithfully perform my vows.
13. For thou hast delivered my soul from death This confirms the truth of the remark which I have already made, that he considered his life as received from the hands of God, his destruction having been inevitable but for the miraculous preservation which he had experienced. To remove all doubt upon that subject, he speaks of having been preserved, not simply from the treachery, the malice, or the violence of his enemies, but from death itself. And the other form of expression which he employs conveys the same meaning, when he adds, that God had kept him back with his hand when he was on the eve of rushing headlong into destruction. Some translate מדחי, middechi, from falling; but the word denotes here a violent impulse. Contemplating the greatness of his danger, he considers his escape as nothing less than miraculous. It is our duty, when rescued from any peril, to retain in our recollection the circumstances of it, and all which rendered it peculiarly formidable. During the time that we are exposed to it, we are apt to err through an excessive apprehension; but when it is over, we too readily forget both our fears and the Divine goodness manifested in our deliverance. To walk in the light of the living means nothing else than to enjoy the vital light of the sun. The words, before God, which are interjected in the verse, point to the difference between the righteous, who make God the great aim of their life, and the wicked, who wander from the right path and turn their back upon God.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death – That is, my “life.” Thou hast kept “me” from death. He was surrounded by enemies. He was pursued by them from place to place. He had been, however, graciously delivered from these dangers, and had been kept alive. Now he gratefully remembers this mercy, and confidently appeals to God to interpose still further, and keep him from stumbling.
Wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling – This might be rendered, “Hast thou not delivered;” thus carrying forward the thought just before expressed. So the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Luther and De Wette render it. The Hebrew, however, will admit of the translation in our common version, and such a petition would be an appropriate close of the psalm. Thus understood, it would be the recognition of dependence on God; the expression of gratitude for his former mercies; the utterance of a desire to honor him always; the acknowledgment of the fact that God only could keep him; and the manifestation of a wish that he might be enabled to live and act as in His presence. The word here rendered “falling” means usually a “thrusting” or “casting down,” as by violence. The prayer is, that he might be kept amid the dangers of his way; or that God would uphold him so that he might still honor Him.
That I may walk before God – As in his presence; enjoying his friendship and favor.
In the light of the living – See the notes at Job_33:30. The grave is represented everywhere in the Scriptures as a region of darkness (see the notes at Job_10:21-22; compare Psa_6:5; Psa_30:9; Isa_38:11, Isa_38:18-19), and this world as light. The prayer, therefore, is, that he might continue to live, and that he might enjoy the favor of God: a prayer always proper for man, whatever his rank or condition.