Psalm 56 — Knowing Joy during Sorrow — Reading the Psalms

For the Chief Musician; set to Jonath elem rehokim. A Psalm of David: Michtam: When the Philistines took him in Gath.

1 Be merciful unto me, O God; for man would swallow me up:
All the day long he fighting oppresseth me.
2 Mine enemies would swallow me up all the day long:
For they be many that fight proudly against me.
3 What time I am afraid,
I will put my trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise his word:
In God have I put my trust, I will not be afraid;
What can flesh do unto me?
5 All the day long they wrest my words:
All their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves,
They mark my steps,
Even as they have waited for my soul.
7 Shall they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God.
8 Thou tellest my wanderings:
Put thou my tears into thy bottle;
Are they not in thy book?
9 Then shall mine enemies turn back in the day that I call:
This I know, that 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 can man do unto me?
12 Thy vows are upon me, O God:
I will render thank offerings unto thee.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death:
Hast thou not delivered my feet from falling?
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living.

This psalm is an interesting mixture of sorrow and praise. It seems to be written in the midst of turmoil and trouble yet speaks so confidently of God’s deliverance that it feels like David’s already saved. David knows the extremes of sorrow and joy well enough to speak of both in the same moment.

A man after God’s own heart does not pretend that there are no troubles about. David doesn’t twist reality in order to pose as if things are in order. He knows the disorder of his enemies and their effort to twist his words and mark his steps. It’s hard to look difficulties straight in the face and name them out loud. I think David can because he knows God’s goodness.

David knows God has all of his tears in a bottle and writ in a book. David knows the vows God has on him and that his word is sure. Twice in the psalm David repeats the line, “In God I will praise his word”, as well as “What can man do unto me?” These two lines reveal the reason David can live with joy during his sorrows. The trustworthiness of God’s word and promises bring us to praise, knowing no one can overthrow what God says. If God’s word is sure, what could any enemy ever do against me?

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