Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. That mighty minstrel
by degrees acquired a noble repertoire of hallowed songs, and set them all to
music. Upon Jonathelemrechokim --this was probably the title of the tune,
as we should say Old Hundred, or Sicilian Mariners. Perhaps the title may
however belong to the Psalm, and if so it is instructive, for it has been
translated "the silent dove in distant places." We have here the songs of God's
servant, who rejoices once more to return from banishment, and to leave those
dangerous places where he was compelled to hold his peace even from good. There
is such deep spiritual knowledge in this Psalm that we might say of it, "Blessed
art thou David Barjonas, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee."
When David plays the Jonah he is not like the prophet of that name; in David the
love of the dove predominates, but in Jonah its moaning and complaining are most
notable. Michtam of David. This is the second golden Psalm, we had the first in
Psalm 16, to which this Psalm has a great likeness, especially in its close, for
it ends in the joyful presence. A golden mystery, the gracious secret of the
life of faith is in both these Psalms most sweetly unveiled, and a pillar is set
up because of God's truth. When the Philistines took him in Gath. He was
like a dove in strangers' hands, and on his escape he records his gratitude.
DIVISION. In Ps 56:1-2, he pours out his complaint; in Ps
56:3-4 he declares his confidence in God; in Ps 56:5-6 he returns to his
complaining, but pleads in earnest hope in Ps 56:7-9, and sings a grateful song
from Ps 56:10 to the close.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me, O God. In my deep distress my
soul turns to thee, my God. Man has no mercy on me, therefore double thy mercy
to me. If thy justice has let loose my enemies, let thy mercy shorten their
chain. It is sweet to see how the tender dove like spirit of the psalmist flies
to the most tender attribute for succour in the hour of peril. For man would swallow me up. He is but thy creature, a mere
man, yet like a monster he is eager for blood, he pants, he gapes for me; he
would not merely wound me, or feed on my substance, but he would fain swallow me
altogether, and so make an end of me. The open mouths of sinners when they rage
against us should open our mouths in prayer. We may plead the cruelty of men as
a reason for the divine interposition--a father is soon aroused when his
children are shamefully entreated. He fighting daily oppresseth me. He gives me no
interval--he fights daily. He is successful in his unrighteous war--he oppresses
me, he crushes me, he presses me sore. David has his eye on the leader of his
foes, and lays his complaint against him in the right place. If we may thus
plead against man, much more against that great enemy of souls, the devil. We
ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses, which is another way of saying, "Be
merciful to me, O God, "and then we may say, "Lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from the evil one." The more violent the attack of Satan the stronger
our plea for deliverance.
Verse 2. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up. Their
appetite for blood never fails them. With them there is no truce or armistice.
They are many, but one mind animates them. Nothing I can do can make them
relent. Unless they can quite devour me they will never be content. The ogres of
nursery tales exist in reality in the enemies of the church, who would crush the
bones of the godly, and make a mouthful of them if they could. For they be many that fight against me. Sinners are
gregarious creatures. Persecutors hunt in packs. These wolves of the church
seldom come down upon us singly. The number of our foes is a powerful plea for
the interposition of the one Defender of the faithful, who is mightier than all
their bands. These foes of the gracious are also keen eyed, and ever on the
watch, hence the margin calls them "observers." O thou most High. Thus he invokes against the lofty ones of
the earth the aid of one who is higher than the highest. Some translate the
words differently, and think that the writer means that his foes assailed him
from the high places in which pride and power had placed them. Saul, his great
foe, attacked him from his throne with all the force which his high position
placed at his disposal: our comfort in such a case is near to hand, for God will
help us from a higher place than our proudest foes can occupy. The greatness of
God as the Most High is a fertile source of consolation to weak saints oppressed
by mighty enemies.
Verse 3. What time I am afraid. David was no braggart, he
does not claim never to be afraid, and he was no brutish Stoic free from fear
because of the lack of tenderness. David's intelligence deprived him of the
stupid heedlessness of ignorance, he saw the imminence of his peril, and was
afraid. We are men, and therefore liable to overthrow; we are feeble, and
therefore unable to prevent it; we are sinful men, and therefore deserving it,
and for all these reasons we are afraid. But the condition of the psalmist's
mind was complex-- he feared, but that fear did not fill the whole area of his
mind, for he adds, I will trust in thee. It is possible, then, for fear and
faith to occupy the mind at the same moment. We are strange beings, and our
experience in the divine life is stranger still. We are often in a twilight,
where light and darkness are both present, and it is hard to tell which
predominates. It is a blessed fear which drives us to trust. Unregenerate fear
drives from God, gracious fear drives to him. If I fear man I have only to trust
God, and I have the best antidote. To trust when there is no cause for fear, is
but the name of faith, but to be reliant upon God when occasions for alarm are
abundant and pressing, is the conquering faith of God's elect. Though the verse
is in the form of a resolve, it became a fact in David's life, let us make it so
in ours. Whether the fear arise from without or within, from past, present, or
future, from temporals, or spirituals, from men or devils, let us maintain
faith, and we shall soon recover courage.
Verse 4. In God I will praise his word. Faith brings forth
praise. He who can trust will soon sing. God's promise, when fulfilled, is a
noble subject for praise, and even before fulfilment it should be the theme of
song. It is in or through God that we are able to praise. We praise as well as
pray in the Spirit. Or we may read it--in extolling the Lord one of the main
points for thanksgiving is his revealed will in the Scriptures, and the fidelity
with which he keeps his word of promise. In God I have put my trust. Altogether and alone should we
stay ourselves on God. What was a gracious resolve in the former verse, is here
asserted as already done. I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. Faith exercised,
fear is banished, and holy triumph ensues, so that the soul asks, "What can
flesh do unto me?" What indeed? He can do me no real injury; all his malice
shall be overruled for my good. Man is flesh, flesh is grass--Lord, in thy name
I defy its utmost wrath. There were two verses of complaint, and here are two of
confidence; it is well to weigh out a sufficient quantity of the sweet to
counteract the sour.
Verse 5. Every day they wrest my words. This is a common
mode of warfare among the ungodly. They put our language on the rack, they
extort meanings from it which it cannot be made fairly to contain. Thus our
Saviour's prophecy concerning the temple of his body, and countless accusations
against his servants, were founded on wilful perversions. They who do this every
day become great adepts in the art. A wolf can always find in a lamb's discourse
a reason for eating him. Prayers are blasphemies if you choose to read them the
wrong way upwards. All their thoughts are against me for evil. No mixture of
good will tone down their malice. Whether they viewed him as a king, a psalmist,
a man, a father, a warrior, a sufferer, it was all the same, they saw through
coloured glass, and could not think a generous thought towards him. Even those
actions of his which were an undoubted blessing to the commonwealth, they
endeavoured to undervalue. Oh, foul spring, from which never a drop of pure
water can come!
Verse 6. They gather themselves together. Firebrands burn
the fiercer for being pushed together. They are afraid to meet the good man till
their numbers place terrible odds against him. Come out, ye cowards, man to man,
and fight the old hero! No, ye wait till ye are assembled like thieves in bands,
and even then ye waylay the man. There in nothing brave about you. They hide themselves. In ambuscade they wait their
opportunity. Men of malice are men of cowardice. He who dares not meet his man
on the king's highway, writes himself down a villain. Constantly are the
reputations of good men assailed with deep laid schemes, and diabolical plots,
in which the anonymous enemies stab in the dark. They mark my steps, as hunters mark the trail of their
game, and so track them. Malicious men are frequently very sharp sighted to
detect the failings, or supposed failings, of the righteous. Spies and
mouchards are not all in the pay of earthly governments, some of them
will have wages to take in red hot coin from one who himself is more subtle than
all the beasts of the field. When they wait for my soul. Nothing less than his life
would content them, only his present and eternal ruin could altogether glut
them. The good man is no fool, he sees that he has enemies, and that they are
many and crafty; he sees also his own danger, and then he shows his wisdom by
spreading the whole case before the Lord, and putting himself under divine
Verse 7. Shall they escape by iniquity? Will such wickedness
as this stand them in good stead? Can it be that this conduct shall enable them
to avoid the sentence of earthly punishment? They slander the good man to screen
themselves--will this avail them? They have cunningly managed hitherto, but will
there not be an end to their games? In thine anger cast down the people, O God. Trip them up in
their tricks. Hurl them from the Tarpeian rock. A persecuted man finds a friend
even in an angry God, how much more in the God of love! When men seek to cast us
down, it is but natural and not at all unlawful to pray that they may be
disabled from the accomplishment of their infamous designs. What God often does
we may safely ask him to do.
Verse 8. Thou tellest my wanderings. Every step which the
fugitive had taken when pursued by his enemies, was not only observed but
thought worthy of counting and recording. We perhaps are so confused after a
long course of trouble, that we hardly know where we have or where we have not
been; but the omniscient and considerate Father of our spirits remembers all in
detail; for he has counted them over as men count their gold, for even the trial
of our faith is precious in his sight. Put thou my tears into thy bottle. His sorrows were so many
that there would need a great wineskin to hold them all. There is no allusion to
the little complimentary lachrymators for fashionable and fanciful Romans, it is
a more robust metaphor by far; such floods of tears had David wept that a
leathern bottle would scarce hold them. He trusts that the Lord will be so
considerate of his tears as to store them up as men do the juice of the vine,
and he hopes that the place of storage will be a special one--thy
bottle, not a bottle. Are they not in thy book? Yes, they are recorded there, but
let not only the record but the grief itself be present to thee. Look on my
griefs as real things, for these move the heart more than a mere account,
however exact. How condescending is the Lord! How exact his knowledge of us! How
generous his estimation! How tender his regard!
Verse 9. When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn
back. So soon as I pray they shall fly. So surely as I cry they shall be put
to the rout.
"So swift is prayer to reach the sky,
So kind is God to me."
The machinery of prayer is not always visible, but it is most
efficient. God inclines us to pray, we cry in anguish of heart, he hears, he
acts, the enemy is turned back. What irresistible artillery is this which wins
the battle as soon as its report is heard! What a God is this who harkens to the
cry of his children, and in a moment delivers them from the mightiest
adversaries! This I know. This is one of the believer's certainties, his
axioms, his infallible, indisputable verities. For God is for me. This, we know, and we know, therefore,
that none can be against us who are worth a moment's fear. "If God be for us,
who can be against us?" Who will restrain prayer when it is so potent? Who will
seek any other ally than God, who is instantly present so soon as we give the
ordained signal, by which we testify both our need and our confidence?
Verse 10. In God will I praise his word. Now comes the
thanksgiving. He is a wretch who, having obtained help, forgets to return a
grateful acknowledgment. The least we can do is to praise him from whom we
receive such distinguished favours. Does David here mean "by God's grace I will
praise him"? If so, he shows us that all our emotions towards God must be in
God, produced by him and presented as such. Or does he mean, "that which in God
is most the object of my praise is his word, and the faithfulness with which he
keeps it"? If so, we see how attached our hearts should be to the sure word of
promise, and especially to him who is the WORD incarnate. The Lord is to
be praised under every aspect, and in all his attributes and acts, but certain
mercies peculiarly draw out our admiration towards special portions of the great
whole. That praise which is never special in its direction cannot be very
thoughtful, and it is to be feared cannot be very acceptable. In the Lord will I praise his word. He delights to dwell on
his praise, he therefore repeats his song. The change by which he brings in the
glorious name of Jehovah is doubtless meant to indicate that under every aspect
he delights in his God and in his word.
Verse 11. In God have I put my trust. This and the former
verse are evidently the chorus of the Psalm. We cannot be too careful of our
faith, or see too sedulously that it is grounded on the Lord alone. I will not be afraid what man can do unto me. Faith has
banished fear. He views his foes in their most forcible character, calling them
not flesh, but indicating them as man, yet he dreads them not;
though the whole race were his enemies he would not be afraid now that his trust
is stayed on God. He is not afraid of what they threaten to do, for much of that
they cannot do; and even what is in their power, what they can do, he
defies with holy daring. He speaks for the future, "I will not, "for he is sure
that the security of the present will suffice for days to come.
Verse 12. Thy vows are upon me, O God. Vows made in his
trouble he does not lightly forget, nor should we. We voluntarily made them, let
us cheerfully keep them. All professed Christians are men under vows, but
especially those who in hours of dire distress have rededicated themselves unto
the Lord. I will render praises unto thee. With heart, and voice, and
gift, we should cheerfully extol the God of our salvation. The practice of
making solemn vows in times of trouble is to be commended, when it is followed
by the far less common custom of fulfilling them when the trouble is over.
Verse 13. For thou hast delivered my soul from death. His
enemies were defeated in their attempts upon his life, and therefore he vowed to
devote his life to God. Wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling? One mercy is a
plea for another, for indeed it may happen that the second is the necessary
complement of the first. It little boots that we live, if we are made to fall in
character by the thrusts of our enemies. As lief not be, as live to be bereft of
honour, and fallen prostrate before my enemies. That I may walk before God in the light of the living,
enjoying the favour and presence of God, and finding the joy and brightness
of life therein. Walking at liberty, in holy service, in sacred communion, in
constant progress in holiness, enjoying the smile of heaven--this I seek after.
Here is the loftiest reach of a good man's ambition, to dwell with God, to walk
in righteousness before him, to rejoice in his presence, and in the light and
glory which it yields. Thus in this short Psalm, we have climbed from the
ravenous jaws of the enemy into the light of Jehovah's presence, a path which
only faith can tread.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. The words Jonathelemrechokim may be rendered,
concerning the mute dove among them that are afar off, or in far
places. John Gill.
Title. Michtam. See also Explanatory Notes on Psalm
16, in the "Treasury of David, "Vol. 1, pp., 222-223.
Verse 1. Be merciful. This is the second of the Psalms
beginning with the miserere; the fifty-first being the first of them. C. H.
Verse 1. Be merciful unto me, O God. This is to me the one
source of all my expectations, the one fountain of all promises: Miserere
mei, Deus, miserere mei. Bernard, 1091-1157.
Verse 1. Be merciful. His first wrestling in prayer is with
the check of his conscience, whether for his daily sins, or in particular for
casting himself in such apparent danger, as to have ventured without probable
security, to seek shelter among the enemies of the people of God, whose blood he
himself had shed abundantly; for this rashness or other sins he begs mercy.
Verse 1. Man. 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. John Calvin.
Verse 1. Would swallow me up. Soop me up (as the
Hebrew word soundeth); make but one draught of me, or suck me in as a whirlpool,
swallow me up as a ravenous wild beast. John Trapp.
Verse 1. He fighting daily. There is no morning on which we
can arise and go forth into the world, and say, "No enemy will come out against
me today." There is no night in which we can retire from that world, and think
to find safety in the solitude of our own chambers, and say, "No evil can enter
here." Barton Bouchier, in "Manna in the Heart, "1855.
Verses 1-2. The same words are applicable to the situation
and circumstances of David, pursued by his enemies; of Christ, persecuted by the
Jews; of the church, afflicted in the world; and of the soul, encompassed by
enemies, against whom she is forced to wage perpetual war. George Horne.
Verse 2. O thou most High. The Hebrew is not that rendered
Most High in Ps 7:17; nor in our version is it ever rendered Most
High in any other place, although found in the Hebrew Bible more than
fifty times. There are but two other places where it is applied, as an
epithet, to God; Ps 92:8; Mic 6:6. It is commonly rendered, from above, on
high, high places, high; once loftily, Ps 73:8... The probable
meaning is, they "fight against me from the high places of authority, both in
Jerusalem and in Gath, "q.d., mine enemies are in power. William S.
Plumer's "Studies in the Book of Psalms, "1867.
Verse 3. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. There
is nothing like faith to help at a pinch; faith dissolves doubts as the sun
drives away the mists. And that you may not be put out, know that your time for
believing is always. There are times when some graces may be out of use, but
there is no time wherein faith can be said to be so. Wherefore faith must be
always in exercise. Faith is the eye, is the mouth, is the hand, and one of
these is of use all the day long. Faith is to see, to receive, to work, or to
eat; and a Christian should be seeing or receiving, or working, or feeding all
day long. Let it rain, let it blow, let it thunder, let it lighten, a Christian
must still believe. "At what time, "said the good man, "I am afraid, I will
trust in thee." John Bunyan.
Verse 3. What time I am afraid, etc. A divine spark may live
in a smoke of doubts without a speedy rising into flame. When grace is at the
bottom of doubting, there will be reliance on Christ and lively petitions to
him. Peter's faith staggers when he began to sink, but he casts a look and sends
forth a cry to his Saviour, acknowledging his sufficiency; Mt 14:30, "Lord, save
me." Sometimes those doubtings strengthen our trust and make us take hold faster
on God. Ps 56:3. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. This was a
fear of himself or others, rather than a jealousy of God. Had he had unworthy
suspicions of him, he would not have trusted him; he would not have run for
remedy to the object of his fear. The waverings where faith is, are like the
tossings of a ship fast at anchor (still there is a relying upon God), not like
a boat carried by the waves of the sea to be dashed against a rock. If the heart
stay on Christ in the midst of those doubtings, it is not an evil heart of
unbelief. Such doubtings consist with the indwelling of the Spirit, who is in
the heart, to perform the office of a Comforter against such fears and to expel
those thick fumes of nature. Stephen Charnock.
Verse 3. What time I am afraid, etc. I know not what to do,
but I will try my old way, it is good for me to draw near still; I will do so
still, as I used to do; I will cast myself down upon the free grace of Christ in
the promises; I will lay the weight of my sinking spirit there, I will renew my
hold, life, expectation there; this is my old path, I will never be turned or
beaten out here. This Christian in his strength may challenge all the gates of
hell. This was David's course (Ps 71:5), "Thou art my trust from my youth, "etc.
Thence was it that he could say, What time I am afraid, I will trust in
thee: his shield and sword was always in his hand, therefore he could make
use of it when fear and inward trouble offered themselves. Afraid! alas,
who is not? but what course will you take then? Even what course you used to
take, i.e., believe; use faith always; and have it now. Elias
Pledger(-1676), in "Morning Exercises."
Verse 3. What time, etc. Literally, What day. As "Man
daily oppresseth me" (Ps 56:1), so "Every day, when I am afraid, I
trust in thee." A. R. Fausset.
Verse 3. 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. Albert Barnes.
Verse 3. I will trust in thee. Faith and fear stand
together; and so fear and love. John Richardson, -1654.
Verses 3-4. Sometimes faith comes from prayer in triumph, and
cries, Victoria. It gives such a being and existence to the mercy prayed
for in the Christian's soul, before any likelihood of it appears to sense and
reason, that the Christian can silence all his troubled thoughts with the
expectation of its coming. So Hannah prayed, "and was no more sad." 1Sa 1:18.
Yea, it will make the Christian disburse his praises for the mercy long before
it is received. Thus high faith wrought in David. At what time I am
afraid, I will trust in thee, and in the next words, In God I
will praise his word; that is, he would praise God for his promise before
there was any performance of it in him, when it had no existence but in God's
faithfulness and David's faith. This holy man had such a piercing eye of faith,
that he could see the promise when he was at the lowest ebb of misery, so
certain and unquestionable in the power and truth of God, that he could then
praise God as if the promised mercy had been actually fulfilled to him.
Verse 4. In God I will praise his word. Or, praise him for
his word; for the whole Scripture that was then in being. John Gill.
Verse 4. The best hold that faith can have of God, is to
take him by his word, however his dispensation seems to be; this will
give satisfaction at length; for In God I will praise his word, is as
much as to say, albeit he withhold comfort and deliverance from me, so that I
cannot find what I would, yet let me have his word, and I will
give him the glory of all his attributes. David Dickson.
Verse 4. I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. Fear not
man, he is but flesh. Thou needest not, thou oughtest not to fear. Thou needest
not. What, not such a great man; not such a number of men, who have the keys of
all the prisons at their girdle; who can kill or save alive? No, not these; only
look they be thy enemies for righteousness sake. Take heed thou makest not the
least child thine enemy, by offering wrong to him; God will right the wicked
even upon the saint. If he offends he shall find no shelter under God's wing for
his sin. This made Jerome complain that the Christian sin made the arms of those
barbarous nations which invaded Christendom victorious: Nostris peccatis
fortes sunt barbari. But if man's wrath find thee on God's way, and his fury
take fire at thy holiness, thou needest not fear though thy life be the prey he
hunts for. Flesh can only wound flesh; he may kill thee, but not hurt thee. Why
shouldest thou fear to be stripped of that which thou hast resigned already to
Christ? It is the first lesson you learn, if a Christian, to deny thyself, take
up thy cross, and follow thy Master; so that the enemy comes too late; thou hast
no life to lose, because thou hast given it already to Christ; nor can man take
away that without God's leave; all thou hast is insured; and though God hath not
promised thee immunity from suffering in this kind, yet he hath undertaken to
bear the loss, yea, to pay thee a hundredfold, and thou shalt not stay for it
till another world. Again, thou oughtest not to fear flesh. Our Saviour (Matthew
10) thrice, in the compass of six verses, commands us not to fear man: if thy
heart quail at him, how wilt thou behave thyself in the last against Satan,
whose little finger is heavier than man's loins? The Romans had arma
proelusoria, weapons rebated or cudgels, which they were tried at before
they came to the sharp. If thou canst not bear a bruise in thy flesh from man's
cudgels and blunt weapons, what wilt thou do when thou shalt have Satan's sword
in thy side? God counts himself reproached when his children fear a sorry man;
therefore we are bid sanctify the Lord, not to fear their fear. William
Verse 4. I will not fear, etc. Eusebius tells us of a
notable speech that Ignatius used when he was in his enemies' hands, not long
before he was to suffer, which argued a raised spirit to a wonderful height
above the world, and above himself. "I care, "says he, "for nothing visible or
invisible, that I might get Christ. Let fire, the cross, the letting out of
beasts upon me, breaking of my bones, the tearing of my members, the grinding of
my whole body, and the torments of the devils come upon me, so be it I may get
Christ." From Jeremiah Burroughs' "Moses his Self denial, "1649.
Verse 4. What flesh can do, etc. It is according to the
phrase of Scripture, when it would speak contemptibly of man and show him to be
the lowest creature, to call him "flesh, "to set forth the weakness that man is
subject to. John Arrowsmith, 1600-1660.
Verse 4. (last clause). Fear of man --grim
idol, bloody mouthed; many souls has he devoured and trampled down into hell!
His eyes are full of hatred to Christ's disciples. Scoffs and jeers lurk in his
eye. The laugh of the scorner growls in his throat. Cast down this idol. This
keeps some of you from secret prayer, from worshipping God in your family, from
going to lay your case before ministers, from openly confessing Christ. You that
have felt God's love and Spirit, dash this idol to pieces. "Who art thou, that
thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die?" "Fear not, thou worm Jacob."
"What have I to do any more with idols?" Robert Murray Macheyne,
Verse 4. Faith groweth valiant in fight; albeit it began
like a coward, and staggered in the first conflict, yet it groweth stout,
incontinent, and pulls its adversaries under foot: In God I have put
my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. David Dickson.
Verse 5. Every day they wrest my words; or, they put my
words to pain and grief, or, they painfully and grievously wrest my words.
David's enemies took up what he spake, and put a new shape upon it; and this
they did so vexingly, that they are said to wrest his words; a thing is
vexed when it is wrested or wrought out of the form it before had. The same
metaphor the apostle Peter useth in reference to doctrine, speaking of the
Epistles of Paul, in which "are some things hard to be understood, which they
that are unlearned and unstable wrest, "or put upon the rack; they
painfully form his words, and represent them in a meaning which he never
intended. 2Pe 3:16. What is spoken may be right, both in the matter and
intendment of the speaker, yet another wrests, forms and fashions it in his own
mould, and makes it bear a sense which the speaker never dreamed of. Joseph
Verse 5. Every day they wrest my words, etc. Mr. Jewel, the
Bishop of Salisbury, who, according to his life, died most godly and patiently,
at the point of death used the versicle of the Hymn, "Te Deum, ""O Lord, in thee
have I trusted, let me never be confounded, " whereupon, suppressing the rest,
they published that the principle champion of the heretics, in his very last
words, cried he was confounded. Lord Bacon's "Bible Thoughts."
Verse 5. They wrest my words. Whatever Christ said in
justification of himself was twisted to a meaning injurious to him. So it is
still in the world, self justification by words answers but little purpose with
ungodly men. W. Wilson, D.D., 1860.
Verse 6. They mark my steps. Go whither I will, they are at
my heels. William Nicholson(-1671), in "David's Harp Strung and Tuned."
Verse 8. Put thou my tears in thy bottle. Among other things
in the collection of Mr. Abbott, of Cairo, he had a lachrymatory, or tear
bottle, which had been found in a tomb at Thebes. This interested me very much.
The custom in old times was, when a person was ill or in great distress, for his
friends to go to see him, and take with them a tear bottle. Then, as the tears
rolled down the cheeks of the sufferer, they were caught in these bottles,
sealed up, and preserved as a memorial of the event. This is what David referred
to in Ps 56:8. Put thou my tears into thy bottle. But it implies much
more than at first suggests itself, and much more than I can attempt to write.
For instance, it is as if David had said, "Visit me, and behold my tears; "("O
visit me with thy salvation!") for without such visit there could be no
bottling of his tears. "Thou tellest my wanderings; O visit me, and behold my
anguish; put my tears into thy bottle, "for "they have been my meat day and
night." Ps 42:3. "Keep them before thee, by way of remembrance, and when thou
seest the bottle, O think of him whose tears it contains. Are they not in thy
book?" That is, God's book of remembrance, that was written for those "who
thought upon his name" (Mal 3:16), just as the kings of old used to keep a book
of chronicles of important events. See Es 6:1-11. John Gadsby, 1860.
(We insert this to show what has been said by others; but we do
not think there is the slightest allusion to this piece of Roman
etiquette in this text. C. H. S.)
Verse 8. My tear: the singular used collectively. In
thy bottle: as if one should say, take care of my tears, as of a kind
of wine that is very costly, and very pleasant to thee; or, that hereafter you
may measure out to me just that quantity of joys: a metaphor from the keeper of
a vineyard, who receives into his vessel the drops of the grapes pressed out by
the winepress of affliction. The word dag
(iter) (leather or skin bottle) denotes the manner in which they
preserved their wine. (1Sa 16:20; Jos 9:4,13), and milk also (Jud 4:19).
Verse 8. Put thou my tears into thy bottle. What a sweet
thought is suggested here of God's remembrance of his people's affliction! It is
an interesting figure of speech, of bottling their tears. But the sense
is, they are remembered. And woe will be to the man that offends one of God's
little ones on his account. What are now bottles of tears, will be poured out in
the end as so many vials of wrath. But reader! think how the tears of Jesus have
been treasured up when shedding for the sins of his people. Robert Hawker,
Verse 8. Put thou my tears into thy bottle. It is the witty
observation of one, that God is said in Scripture to have a bag and a bottle, a
bag for our sins, and a bottle for our tears; and that we should
help to fill this, as we have that. There is an allusion here in the original
that cannot be Anglicized. John Trapp.
Verse 8. Are they not in thy book? While we remain in this
vale of misery, God keeps all our tears in a bottle; so precious is the water
that is distilled from penitent eyes; and because he will be sure not to fail,
he notes how many drops there be in his register. It was a precious ointment
wherewith the woman in the Pharisee's house (it is thought Mary Magdalene)
anointed the feet of Christ; but her tears, wherewith she washed them,
were more worth than her spikenard. Abraham Wright, in "A Practical
Commentary or Exposition upon the Book of Psalms, "1661.
Verse 9. When I cry. The cry of faith and prayer to God is
more dreadful to our spiritual foes than the war whoop of the Indian is to his
surprised brother savages. Adam Clarke.
Verse 9. (first clause). It was somewhat that when
David prayed he was saved from his enemies. "I will call on the Lord: so shall I
be saved from mine enemies" (2Sa 22:4); there is the defensive power of
prayer; but it is more that it puts enemies to the foil. When I cry unto
thee, then shall mine enemies turn back and be put to flight; there
is the offensive power of prayer. In David's tower there was an armoury,
thalpijoth, a place to hang swords with two edges, swords with two mouths
(Canticles 4:4); a defensive and an offensive edge. Both edges must be used by
such as seek safety. Prayer is a sword with two edges. "Put up thy sword into
his place, "says Christ to Peter: "for all they that take the sword shall perish
with the sword." Mt 22:52. But he that takes not this sword may happen to perish
by the sword; and the drawing of this sword may save a man from perishing by the
sword. Mark that last reason that our Saviour adds why Peter should put up his
sword: "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall
presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt 22:53). As if he had
said, If it were my mind to confound these mine enemies that now set upon me, I
should not need thy sword to do it. I could pray to my Father, and could
presently by prayer bring such forces into the field as should rout and scatter
all mine enemies; hereby implying, that if he would, he could do his enemies
more damage and mischief by his prayers against them than by the sword and all
instruments of war. Prayer is twelve legions strong, yea, twelve legions
of angels strong against enemies. Jeremiah Dyke (1620), in the Righteous
Verse 9. This I know. Faith goeth upon solid grounds, and is
not a fallible conjecture, but a sure knowledge. David Dickson.
Verse 10. In God will I praise his word: in the Lord will I
praise his word. The first word, Elohim, is a name belonging
to God as a judge, the second word, Jehovah, is a name of mercy. I will
praise God whether he deal with me in a way of justice or in a way of mercy,
when he hath thunder in his voice, as well as when he hath honey under his
tongue. Oh, how should we praise God, and pleasure ourselves by such a frame!
Verse 10. (first clause). By the assistance of God I
shall be enabled to praise him for the performance of his promises. Symon
Verse 12. Thy vows are upon me, O God. Whoever is conversant
with the Psalms of David, will find him frequently making vows, and
careful in paying them. When these words dropped from him he was just delivered
out of a pressing danger among the Philistines, with whom he took shelter from
the rage of King Saul, who unweariedly pursued him; but he soon found that the
remembrance of his past achievements to their damage was still so fresh amongst
them, and they so exasperated thereupon, that his life was in constant danger.
In his distress he flies to God, his wonted refuge, and sends up earnest
addresses to him, vowing if he would open a way for his deliverance out
of these new straits, he would show his grateful sense of so signal a mercy, by
the exactness and accuracy of his future obedience. God hears and succours him;
and he thereupon grateful looks back, endeavours to renew the sense of his
former obligation to his great Deliverer, and to stir up himself by suitable
returns, and so cries out, Thy vows are upon me, O God; as if he should
say, I resolve, O Lord, not to forget what was transacted while I was under my
fears. Thou hast heard my cries, and I own myself firmly bound by my
vows. I was serious and in earnest when I made them, and I will endeavour
to show that I was so by my care to perform them. Thy vows, O God, made
indeed on my part, but justly to be exacted on thine, are upon me, they
do in reality hold me fast, and I desire not to be released. I am sensible I
deserve to be stigmatised for a perfidious wretch if I ever forget them. This
temper of holy David with reference to the vows he made on this occasion,
should be ours with reference to all the sacred vows we any way come
under. All Christians, as such, are necessarily under vows to the blessed
God: and particular circumstances may make it expedient for us to come under
special engagements to him. But wherever they are such as that they may justly
be denominated vows of God, i.e., are such as his word will
warrant; we should make holy David, as speaking in this text, our pattern, and
set ourselves to imitate him, in seriously owning their binding force, and
endeavouring to answer and pay them. Edmund Calamy, in "A Practical Discourse
Concerning Vows," 1704.
Verse 12. Thy vows are upon me, O God. A well composed
vow will make thee more circumspect and wary in the general course of thy
life. Such an influence it hath, as doth more directly work on one particular
part, yet is not terminated to that particular only. Thus it was with David.
These vows were made when he was in danger of his life, as it seemeth
from Ps 56:13; for when God heard him, he delivered his soul from death: for
this he vowed praises in particular, and he will render them. But, withal he
takes himself to be hereby engaged to a more exact and circumspect walk before
God in all duties: so he expresses himself in the latter part of Ps 56:13.
Henry Hurst (1629-1696), in "The Morning Exercise at Cripplegate,"
Verses 12-13. Thy vows are upon me, O God. Passively, vows
made to God, not by God; or the obligations of those vows and prayers which I
have made and upon which I have received answers. Sacrifices of thanksgiving
were called vows, as having been vowed to God upon the want, and to be paid upon
the receipt, of mercy. Le 1:1, "If the sacrifice that is offered be a vow." Thy
vows are upon me; the fruit of my vows, so that I stand indebted to God for the
return of praise. Thou hast delivered. He understands some great danger
wherein he had sunk had not God stood by him, and from a greater mercy, the
deliverance of his soul from death, argues for a less, the keeping his feet from
falling. That I may walk before God in the light of the living. By
light of the living is meant life, which is called being enlightened with the
"light of the living." Job 33:30. Sometimes eternal life in heaven. Joh 8:12,
"He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of
life." "To walk before God." To walk obediently in the sight of God; with a
respect to his presence; a walking unto all well pleasing. This is the last
argument in the Psalm whereon he builds his strongest plea, as if he knew not
what to urge if this should fail him; as if he should have said, Lord, I have
had experience of thy wisdom in contriving, thy power in effecting, thy mercy in
bestowing deliverance upon me, thy goodness in answering my vows and prayers.
"Thou hast delivered from death, "a danger as great and unavoidable as death
itself. O Lord, art not thou the same as thou wert? Art not thou still as wise
to design, and as gracious to confer further mercy? Wilt thou not as certainly
also deliver my feet from falling? The one contains his experience, the other
the inference or conclusion he draws from it. Mercies received are in a special
manner to be remembered. Mercies received are encouragements to ask, and strong
grounds to hope for the mercies we want. Stephen Charnock.
Verses 12-13. Thy vows are upon me, O God. See Psalms on
"Ps 56:12" for further information.
Verse 13. From falling, or, as more literally translated,
from a thrust, or a push, by which one is caused to fall. O.
Verse 13 (last clause). To walk in the presence of
God is partly under his eyes, his guidance and care, partly in particular,
where God is wont to be present, where he is worshipped by his
people and scatters his blessings, opposed to his present state by which he was
removed from the place of his worship and presence. Conf. 1Sa 26:19, etc.
Lastly, to walk in the light of the living denotes in general to
live amongst those who live in the light, or who enjoy the
light, as it is said elsewhere, in the land of the living
--Ps 27:13 Isa 38:11 53:8; Eze 32:32; Ps 142:6 --opposed to the dead or
the region of the dead, who dwell in darkness. But in
particular it signifies to live in a safe and prosperous state,
whose well known emblem is light. Hermann Venema.
Verse 13 (last clause). We cannot restrict this
phrase to the light of mortal life; David's vows bound him to walk in the
light of spiritual life, and also in the light of eternal life,
of which by faith he was a partaker. And most commentators have applied this
verse to the light of glory in the world to come, as the real and final
object of the believer's conversation here on earth. W. Wilson, D.D.
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
1. Fears are common to all men, at one time or another.
2. Improper and inefficacious means of removing fear are often resorted to.
3. There is here suggested a true and effectual method of removing fear.
--Robert Morrison (1782-1834), in "A Parting Memorial."
Verse 3. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
Whensoever we are afraid of any evil, we are still to put our trust in God.
1. What is it to put our trust in God?
(a) To keep our hearts from desponding or sinking down under any
(b) To comfort ourselves in God.
(c) To expect deliverance from him.
2. What is there in God we
ought to put our trust in?
(a) In his promises.
(b) In his properties. His power, wisdom, justice, mercy, all
3. Why should we in all our fears put our trust in God?
(a) Because there is none else can secure us from our fears.
(b) There are no fears but God can secure us from them, either
by removing the thing feared, or by subduing the fear of the thing. Bishop
1. There is fear without trust.
2. There is trust without fear.
3. There is fear and trust united. G. R.
1. From iniquity there is an escape.
2. By iniquity there is no escape. The mercy of God secures the one. The justice of God prevents the
other. G. R.
Verse 8. Here are--
1. Manifold mercies, to reclaim from wanderings.
2. Tender mercies, putting tears in a bottle.
3. Covenant mercies, "Are they not, "etc. G. R.
1. God is on the side of his people.
2. He is known to be on their side.
3. In answer to prayer he appears on their side.
4. When he appears enemies flee.
1. The fact, God is for me.
2. The knowledge of that fact--This I know.
3. The use of that knowledge--When I cry, etc.
4. The consequence of that use--Mine enemies turn back. G. R.
1. "I will praise God for his word."
2. In his word, as he is there revealed.
3. By his word. "Thou hast put a song, "etc.
Verse 12. Here is--
1. Past dedication.
2. Present consecration.
3. Future glorification. G. R.
Verses 12-13. You have here--
1. The commemoration of former mercies: Thou hast
2. The confidence of future: Wilt not thou.
3. The end of all: To walk before God in the light of
the living. Stephen Charnock.
1. The language of Gratitude--Thou hast, etc.
2. Of Faith--Wilt not thou, etc.
3. Of Hope--That I may walk, etc. G. R.
WORK UPON THE FIFTY-SIXTH PSALM
In CHANDLER'S "Life of David, "Vol. 1., pp. 104-7, there
is an Exposition of this Psalm.