PSALM 56 OVERVIEW
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.
Divisions. In Psalms 56:1-2 , he pours out his complaint; in Psalms 56:3-4 he declares his confidence in God; in Psalms 56:5-6 he returns to his complaining, but pleads in earnest hope in Psalms 56:7-9 , and sings a grateful song from Psalms 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.
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. S.
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. David Dickson.
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.
Verse 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.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE FIFTY-SIXTH PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
In CHANDLER'S "Life of David," Vol. 1., pp. 104-7, there is an Exposition of this Psalm.