Psalms Chapter 56:1-13 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, October 18, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:
1. Psalms Volume 1: NIV Application Commentary by Gerald Wilson

2. Psalms: Revised Expositor’s Commentary by Willem Van Gemeren

3. NET Bible from Bible dot org, also available from CBD

The chief problem with this chapter of Psalms is the uncertainty of the interpretation of the Hebrew, which explains the wide variation in English translations. For a better understanding of the issues, I suggest you look at the NET Bible notes on Psalms 56.

Ps 56
This psalm is part of the Elohim psalter (Ps 42-83) which uses Elohim as the name for God except for Yahweh in 56:10. As 56:10 repeats closely 56:4 and expands it, many suspect 56:10 of being a later addition.(Wilson)

Structure: 56:1-4 : plea for divine mercy
56:5-11 : description of enemy and desire for their defeat
56:12-13: vow of thanksgiving(Wilson)

Ps 56:1-4
The enemy is described metaphorically like a hound snapping at the psalmist’s heels.

“All day long” emphasizes the continual attack, the phrase repeated three times (56:1,2,5)

The enemy attacks from a position of advantage (if Hebrew marom “on high” is taken to refer to the enemy, and not as a divine name (KJV) or a descriptor of attitude (HCSB)

In the face of such adversity, the psalmist remains confident, for he trusts that God is on his side, and knows his enemy can’t possibly fight God. (Wilson)

Ps 56:1-2
The psalm begins with a common prayer for mercy. The psalmist describes his adversity rapidly: it is continual, varied, and hostile. The constancy is shown by those repeated “all day long”s, the diversity by “trample, fights, oppresses”.(Van Gemeren)

Trample/swallow/pursue from Hebrew sa’ap, which can mean either “crush” or “pant”.(Van Gemeren)

Ps 56:4
Man/flesh: Hebrew basar, “flesh”, either animal flesh for sacrifice or human. “Flesh” normally carries the connotation of mortality, of the impermanence of living beings. (Van Gemeren)

Ps 56:5-11
The enemy is relentless: they twist the psalmist’s words all day, all they think about is how to harm the psalmist, and their actions are to agitate the situation or watch for a chance to see the psalmist dead.(Wilson)

V. 6 is affected by the Hebrew vocabulary debates that run throughout this psalm. The HCSB’s “stir” is based on the standard Masoretic text reading of Hebrew yaguru “strive, stir up”. The KJV and other translations follow Jerome’s reading of Hebrew yaggodu, “conspire, band together”. “Lurk” is actually a traditional variant reading termed qere, for what is read instead of what is actually written, ketib, which here translates to “set an ambush”.(Van Gemeren)

In v.7 the psalmist asks God to give his enemies their just reward, to bring down the “nations”, Hebrew ammim, “tribes, peoples”. This verse is also affected by variant readings. The standard Hebrew reading is al alwen “because of wickedness” but some translations follow the variant in the Greek OT “on no account”. Another common variant is from Hebrew pallet “deliver” for Hebrew palles “repay, recompense”. Thus you get the HCSB and KJV question “will they escape in spite of such sin” or the NIV’s “On no account let them escape”.(Van Gemeren)

V.8’s variants come in “wanderings”, from the Hebrew nod, while the same word is also read as Hebrew nwd, “grief, lament”. “Bottle” is a traditional translation based on the ancient habit of collecting funeral mourners’ tears in a bottle as a memorial to the dead. The actual Hebrew word for “bottle”, no’d, refers to a container made of animal skin that held milk or wine. (Van Gemeren, NET)

In v.8 the psalmist asks God to make a record of his wanderings, to keep his tears in a bottle as a remembrance of his travails.(Wilson)

In v.9 the psalmist is sure God knows his plight, and that when he calls for God’s aid, He will act, and will drive the psalmist’s enemy away.(Wilson)

Ps 56:10
More Hebrew puzzles. The first part of v.10 might be understood as “in God I will praise with a word” or “in God I will boast in his word”. The first speaks of the psalmist’s speech in praise of God alone, while the second focuses of boasting or praising God’s promise, his protection of his favored ones. (Ps 37:23-24, 55:22)(NET, Van Gemeren)

Ps 56:12-13
In anticipation of deliverance, the psalmist commits to a vow to God, which means a public act during worship accompanied by a thanksgiving offering. (Wilson)

In verse 13 the Hebrew leaves options open again. It might be understood as future “you will deliver me” or past “you have delivered me” or even a general statement “for you deliver”. (NET)


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