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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 56

Verse 1

Psalms 56:0.

David, praying to God in confidence of his word, complaineth of his enemies: he professeth his confidence in God's word, and promiseth to praise him.

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

Title. רחקים אלם יונת על al ionath eilem rechokiim. Upon Jonath-elem-rechokim] Upon the silent dove afar off. Or, according to Bochart, "To the tune of the dove in the remote woods." Thus David might call himself, when, after many wanderings, he got into the forest of Hareth; where he had leisure to reflect upon what was past, and to compose this psalm. Fenwick would render it, "Concerning the oppression of the handful, or little flock afar off;" i.e. the little flock of true believers dispersed among the Gentiles. The 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 protection of God, on account of the many enemies waiting for his destruction; Psa 56:1-2 who wrested his words, and narrowly watched all his actions, that they might find some pretence to cut him off: Psa 56:5-6 but he encourages himself by trust in God, and rests assured that he will deliver him, and give him renewed occasions of acknowledging his faithfulness, and celebrating his praises.

Psalms 56:1. For man would swallow me up The word שׁאפני sheaaphani, rendered swallow me up, properly signifies to breathe, to pant after, to draw, or snuff the air; and from thence hunt, by drawing in and following the scent of the air. And as hunting ends in the capture and destruction of the prey, it further denotes to swallow up and devour: and it is rendered in our version by panting, snuffing up, swallowing up, and devouring, and other words of the like nature. Dr. Chandler renders it by eagerly hunting after; which perfectly agrees with the character and conduct of Saul, who furiously pursued and hunted after David to destroy him.

Verse 2

Psalms 56:2. They be many that fight against me, &c.— The word מרום marom, rendered O thou most High, is not found any where singly applied to God. It generally signifies a high place; and when applied to persons, it denotes their superior elevation, as to dwelling and station. See Psalms 92:8; Psalms 93:4.Isaiah 24:21; Isaiah 24:21.Ecclesiastes 10:6; Ecclesiastes 10:6. It should be rendered, In high places, or stations. David might well complain, that those who fought against him were in high stations, since his enemies were Saul and his officers; and when he fled from them, Achish, and the princes of the Philistines, among whom he promised himself a safe retreat. Chandler. Mudge renders it, With a high hand.

Verse 4

Psalms 56:4. In God I will praise his word Truth, and faithfulness to his promises, are attributes which dwell in, or belong to God. God had promised David the kingdom of Israel, and therefore in God he would praise his word or promise: i.e. under his protection and by trusting in his power, even amidst the greatest enemies, he would celebrate the praises of his truth and goodness; not doubting but that God would, in due time, accomplish his promise: for it follows, In God will I trust; I will not fear what man can do.

Verse 5

Psalms 56:5. They wrest my words They pervert, torture, &c. Chandler, &c. That is, they endeavour to squeeze from my words, as it were by torture, any sense that they please, contrary to the intention of the speaker. See Delaney's Life of David, b. i. c. 11.

Verse 6

Psalms 56:6. They gather themselves together They secretly gather together to ensnare me: they observe my steps, for they wait for my life. That is, "they have their secret meetings and consultations how they may most effectually ensnare me, and work my ruin."

Verse 7

Psalms 56:7. Shall they escape by iniquity? As much as to say, by way of admiration: "Strange! that their iniquity should deliver them." He adds therefore, In anger bring down, O Lord, this people: "Shew [or, thou shalt shew] thy displeasure to their crimes, by inflicting the just punishment on them." Chandler. Mudge renders the first clause, Their refuge is in vanity.

Verse 8

Psalms 56:8. Thou tellest my wanderings 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 in exile at Gath; he comforts himself, however, that God was with him wherever he fled; and beheld, as no unconcerned spectator, the distresses of his unhappy situation. He therefore adds, put my tears into thy bottle; which seems to intimate, that the custom of putting tears into the ampullae, or urnae lachrymales, 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, as may be seen in Montfaucon's Antiq. Expliquees, tom. 5: p. 116 where also may be found the various forms or shapes of them. These urns were placed on the sepulchres of the deceased, as a memorial of the distress and affection of their surviving relations and friends. It will be difficult to account for the expression of the Psalmist, but upon the 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; excite thy kind remembrance of me, and plead with thee to grant the relief that I stand in need of." The allusion is pertinent and expressive. The next expression, are they not in thy book? denotes the confidence which the Psalmist placed in the kind regard of God towards him, as though he took an account of every tear that he shed, and would in due time remember and comfort him. See Chandler and Calmet.

Verse 12

Psalms 56:12. Thy vows are upon me, O God That is, "I am under the obligation of vows to God; and therefore will return my acknowledgments to thee." See Psa 34:1 and Chandler.

Verse 13

Psalms 56:13. That I may walk before God in the light of the living i.e. "Serve God, whilst I enjoy the common light of mankind; or during the whole of my future life."

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The arms of Divine mercy are ever open to the miserable; thither therefore David flees.

1. He complains of his enemies. They designed nothing less than his utter ruin. Their attacks were restless and incessant; too numerous, as well as mighty, for him to contend with. Note; (1.) A child of God must ever expect to meet the enmity of a world which lieth in wickedness. (2.) Every eye is upon the steps of the godly, with eagerness waiting for their halting, every ear ready to catch their words, and artful to misrepresent them to their prejudice: let them take the greater heed to their ways. (3.) The tempter and accuser of the brethren is ceaseless in his snares; and the more abundantly need we watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation. (4.) However divided wicked men are among themselves, they can ever cordially unite to oppose and oppress the faithful followers of Jesus.

2. In his trouble, David directs his prayer to God. Be merciful unto me; could he obtain that petition, the malice of his foes should not be able to prevail. Note; We have no demand on God for aught; our only plea is for mercy through the Redeemer, and that includes all that we can wish or need.

3. He encourages his heart in God. Fearful he sometimes was; but he has a never-failing resource, even the Most High. His word would comfort, his power protect him: on this rock therefore his confidence fixes, and thence defies the impotent enmity of man. Note; (1.) Faith is then most needful, when the storm of temptation is highest. (2.) Trials drive the faithful bearer to God, as the tree shaken by the wind takes firmer and deeper root.

4. He expresses his confidence of the approaching ruin of the wicked. Shall they escape by iniquity? no: though they promise themselves impunity, and think they are so great and above controul, yet God will not suffer them to go unpunished. Note; None are too great for God to humble; none so secure or daring, but he will make them feel his arm.

2nd, Though the world frowns, if God smiles, we may well be comforted. Thus was the Psalmist in the midst of his trials.
1. He had confidence of God's notice and kind compassions towards him in his distress: not a weary step he took, but the Lord watched over it; not a tear he dropped, but, as precious, it was preserved in God's bottle. Note; (1.) The tears of God's people here below have often cause to flow; shortly they shall be for ever wiped away from their eyes. (2.) Not a tear drops from the eye of his afflicted ones, but the Father of mercies regards and remembers it. (3.) They who have caused the griefs of God's suffering saints will shortly find every tear that they have drawn productive of a deluge of wrath upon their own heads.

2. He was assured that God would hear his cry, and help him. However mighty or numerous his foes, God was for him, and therefore the victory secure. Note; Whatever enemies without beset, or within war against us, the prayer of faith is all-prevailing, and every believer knows it by experience.

3. He repeats with exultation the profession that he had before made. No fear shall distress him; faith shall strengthen him, not only to pray, but praise. Note; They who have God for them, may well contemn the impotent threats of man, who is a worm.

4. He had vowed, and would pay the bounden sacrifices of praise. Past mercies demanded that grateful tribute, and future ones, which he expected, would still increase his obligation. In deaths oft, he had been hitherto preserved; and shall not the same power and grace protect him still? Note; (1.) Every christian has vows upon him; baptismal, sacramental; let them be often and solemnly remembered, to quicken us to our bounden duty of praise and holiness. (2.) Our souls by sin are now spiritually dead, and liable to eternal death; it is a deliverance, indeed, deserving of our everlasting acknowledgement, if by his Son God hath redeemed and by his Spirit hath quickened us; then we may well rejoice in hope of partaking his eternal glory among the saints in light. (3.) We walk in a slippery path, our tottering footsteps weak, and often thrust at that we should fall; if amid such danger we are preserved, not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 56". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.