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1Be merciful unto me, O God! for man swallows me up (330) 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
(330) The verb here translated swallows me up, is rendered by French and Skinner, panteth after me. It is literally draweth in the air. It thus implies the intense desire of David’s enemies to get him into their hands, and to destroy him.
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.
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.
5Every 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,
(332) Horsley observes, that the primary meaning of the verb
7.After their mischief they think to escape. The beginning of this verse is read by some interrogatively, Shall they escape in their iniquity? (333) 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 peoples He 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.
(333) French and Skinner read, “Shall they escape after their wickedness?“ and observe, that the Hebrew is, “Is there escape for them?“ the meaning being, that they assuredly will not escape, because of their wickedness.
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 (334) 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,”
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.
(334) Some think that there is here an allusion to an ancient custom of putting the tears of mourners into lachrymal urns or bottles. In the Roman tombs there are found small vials, or bottles of glass or pottery, usually called
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.
10In 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,” (John 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.
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.
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
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 56". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34