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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 56

A.M. 2946. B.C. 1058.

This Psalm is well suited to the occasion on which, the inscription says, it was written, and which is related, 1 Samuel 21:0 . David begins it by imploring the divine protection, on account of the many enemies waiting for his destruction, Psalms 56:1 , Psalms 56:2 . Places his hope and confidence in God, Psalms 56:3 , Psalms 56:4 . Of being saved from their wiles and stratagems, although they wrested his words, and narrowly watched all his actions, Psalms 56:5-7 . He comforts himself with the consideration that God takes account of his sufferings, and will appear on his behalf, Psalms 56:8 , Psalms 56:9 . Repeats the declaration of his faith in the divine promises, Psalms 56:10-11 ; and concludes with paying his tribute of praise and thanksgiving, Psalms 56:12 , Psalms 56:13 .

Title. Upon Jonath-elam-rechokim. Upon the silent dove afar off. Waterland. This is thought to agree very well to David in his present circumstances, and he is supposed to call himself a dove for his innocence and folly (which is ascribed to a dove, Hos 7:11 ) in casting himself into this snare; and for the vexation and persecution he suffered from his enemies, those birds of prey; and for his sad and mournful state. Silent he was, and it was his prudence so to be in such a place and condition; and he was afar off from his father’s house, and from God’s sanctuary, where his heart was. When the Philistines took him in Gath When, being chased by Saul’s restless malice, he had put himself into their hands and power in that place. Where, when he was, the following meditations came into his mind, which, after his escape, he digested into this Psalm.

Verses 1-2

Psalms 56:1-2. Be merciful unto me, O God This petition includes all the good we can come unto the throne of grace for: if we obtain mercy there, we obtain all we can desire, and need no more to make us happy. It implies, likewise, our best plea; not our merit, but God’s mercy, his free, rich mercy. He prays he might find mercy with God, for with men he could find none. When he fled from the cruel hands of Saul, he fell into the cruel hands of the Philistines. “Lord,” says he, “be thou merciful to me, or I am undone.” Thus, when we are surrounded on all sides with difficulties and dangers, we must flee and trust to, and pray in faith for, the mercy of God. For man Hebrew, אנושׁ , enosh, weak, mortal, and miserable man, whom thou canst crush in an instant; would swallow me up Like wild and ravenous beasts, rather than men. Hebrew, שׁאפני , sheapani, hath swallowed me up. The thing is begun, and in a manner done, if thou do not miraculously prevent it. Mine enemies שׁוררי , shoreri, my observers, who narrowly mark all my paths, and watch for my halting, and for an opportunity to destroy me. They be many that fight against me They trust to their great numbers, wherein they know themselves to be much superior to me; O thou Most High Who from thy high place beholdest all their plots, and canst with perfect ease confound and blast them.

Verses 3-4

Psalms 56:3-4. What time I am afraid, &c. When I have the greatest cause of fear I will rely on thy providence and promise for deliverance. In God will I praise his word I will praise, or boast, in the Lord’s word, or, in the Lord for his word. Or with, or by, God’s favour or help, I will praise his word. The sense seems to be this: there are many things to be praised and celebrated in God, his power and wisdom, &c., but among them all, and above them all, I shall now praise him for his Word, which he hath magnified above all his name, as is said Psalms 138:2, even for his promises of protection and deliverance, made to his people in all their exigencies, and particularly for that promise of the kingdom made to me; for which I will now praise him, because, though it be not yet fulfilled, I am as sure of its accomplishment as if it were done already. I will not fear what flesh can do unto me Infirm and mortal men, altogether unable to oppose thy infinite majesty; called flesh by way of contempt.

Verses 5-6

Psalms 56:5-6. They wrest my words They misconstrue and pervert my most innocent expressions, and turn them into matter of calumny, in order that they may incense Saul against me. Hebrew, יעצבו , jegnatzeebu, they put upon the rack my words, to extort that out of them which was never in them. Or, they endeavour to squeeze from my words, as it were by torture, any sense they please, contrary to the intention of the speaker. All their thoughts, &c. It is their whole study to do me mischief. They gather themselves together, &c. After they have separately employed their thoughts against me, they meet together to hold consultations, and compare their schemes, and put them in execution. They hide themselves They lurk secretly; either, that they may pry into all my most private actions; or, that they may surprise me with mischief unawares. They mark my steps All my ways and actions, that they may find some occasion to reproach or entangle, and so destroy me; when they wait for my soul Or life, namely, to take it away.

Verse 7

Psalms 56:7 . Shall they escape by iniquity Shall they secure themselves by such injurious and malicious practices, whereby they do not only vex me, but provoke and despise thee? Shall they have success instead of the punishments which thou hast threatened, and they have deserved? But the words may be read without an interrogation, By their iniquity they hope to escape; or, they do escape, namely, at present: but, Lord, do not suffer them thus to escape. In thine anger cast down the people That is, these people of whom I am speaking, namely, my malicious and wicked enemies, as well those followers of Saul, as these Philistines among whom I now am. This request is opposed to their present exultation and triumphs over him, and to their hopes and confidence of safety and success.

Verse 8

Psalms 56:8. Thou tellest my wanderings “Thou art perfectly acquainted, I am sure, how often I have been forced to flee, like a vagabond, from place to place; which hath cost me many a tear. Good Lord, preserve a kind remembrance of them, and let them not perish as things thou nothing regardest.” Bishop Patrick. “David’s whole life, from his victory over Goliath till the death of Saul, was almost entirely spent in wandering from place to place. He was now an exile at Gath; he comforts himself, however, in the consideration that God was with him, whithersoever he fled; and that he beheld, as no unconcerned spectator, the distresses of his unhappy situation. He therefore adds, Put thou my tears into thy bottle; which seems to intimate that the custom of putting tears into the ampullæ, or urnæ lacrymales, so well known among the Romans, was more anciently in use among the eastern nations, and particularly among the Hebrews. These urns were of different materials, some of glass, some of earth, and were placed on the sepulchres of the deceased, as a memorial of the distress and affection of their surviving friends and relations. It will be difficult to account for this expression of the psalmist but upon this supposition. If this be allowed when the psalmist prays, Put my tears into thy bottle, the meaning will be, ‘Let my distress, and the tears I have shed in consequence of it, be ever before thee; let them excite thy kind remembrance of me, and plead with thee to grant the relief I stand in need of.’ The allusion is pertinent and expressive:” see Chandler and Calmet. Are they not in thy book But why do I pray God to do that which I am well assured he is of himself inclined to do, and hath already done? Thus the psalmist signifies “the confidence which he placed in the kind regard of God toward him, as though he took an account of every tear he shed, and would, in due time, remember and comfort him. The continual care and providence which God exercises over his people, is frequently represented by his keeping a book, or register, in which he records their conception, Psalms 139:15; their birth, Psalms 87:6; their actions, Malachi 3:16; and what shall happen to them, Jeremiah 22:30; Daniel 12:1.” Dodd.

Verses 12-13

Psalms 56:12-13. Thy vows are upon me As I have prayed to thee, and am assured that thou wilt deliver me, so, in confidence thereof, I have made vows to express my gratitude to thee, and I acknowledge myself obliged thereby, and do resolve to perform them. For thou hast delivered my soul from death Which my enemies designed to bring upon me, and of which I was in extreme danger. Wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling? I am confident that thou wilt, because of thy promises, and my former experience; that I may walk before God That I may please, serve, and glorify thee, which is the great end for which I desire life; in the light of the living In this life here, which is opposed to the death last mentioned; and in heaven hereafter.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 56". Benson's Commentary. 1857.