Summary: This psalm was written when David found himself in the Philistine city of Gath, fleeing from King Saul, and up to his neck in very hot water. Achish, the king of Gath, had put David under arrest and was being pressured by his advisers to put him to death.
November 4, 2015
Title: PUT MY TEARS IN THY BOTTLE
(To the chief Musician on Jonath-elem-rechokim, Michtam, a Psalm of David.)
Theme: David’s Fear and Trust
Psalm 56 (KJV)
1 Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.
2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.
3 What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.
8 Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?
9 When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.
10 In God will I praise his word: in the Lord will I praise his word.
11 In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?
This psalm was written when David found himself in the Philistine city of Gath, fleeing from King Saul, and up to his neck in very hot water. Achish, the king of Gath, had put David under arrest and was being pressured by his advisers to put him to death. After all, this was the man who had killed their national hero, Goliath! David pretended to be mad (crazy), hoping in this way to lessen the impact of these threats on his life. All the time he was acting this way, his soul seems to have been directing its eyes towards God. His faith was not strong enough to keep him from such a shameful disguise; but still faith was there.
The psalm follows the familiar pattern of a lament. It was sung in corporate worship, and was set to the tune “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” It has the familiar subscription, “To the chief Musician.” The introduction tells us this is a “michtam” psalm, the first of five such psalms (56-60). The word “michtam” literally means “to cut” or “to engrave.” The thought is that this is a permanent writing, and pictures that which is unmovable, steadfast, stable and enduring. Evidently the Psalmist considered the psalm to be of great importance.
As you read the poem, you will note that there is no single reference either to the Philistines or to the petty king of Gath. The same poem might have been written to express the fugitive hero’s state of mind in a score of predicaments
This psalm is quite different from Psalm 55, where the troubles were caused by David’s family and friend; here they are caused by David’s foes. There he was depressed, here he is optimistic. Trouble is trouble, but where it comes from makes a difference.
Let us put ourselves in David’s place. We picture him in a cell under lock and key in Gath, a prisoner in a foreign land, the home of the hereditary enemies of his people. His life hangs on a thread. Outside his cell the triumphant troops of the Philistines march up and down. They are reveling in their capture. They have him at last, the young fellow who had slain their champion Goliath and as a result they had suffered a massive defeat at Elah. Some of them, undoubtedly, had lost brothers, fathers, sons, friends in that battle. Now they have David in their power.
David is encouraged as he remembers the mercy, mindfulness, and might of God. That is a great way to face a hopeless situation. Life is full of situations which are far beyond our limited powers to control: situations at work and at home, with our families, in our church, and in matters of finance, and in matters of our future. In any case, God is able! For proof you need look no further, for David was able to extricate himself from the situation by feigning madness. The Philistines forced him out of the city but did not harm him (1 Samuel 21:10-22:1). Psalm 34 also came out of this experience in Gath.
In the midst of the peril and fear depicted in this psalm, David sent three requests to the Lord, and the Lord answered. The psalm can be divided into three parts; one for each request.