For the director of music. To the tune of ‘A Dove on Distant Oaks’. Of David. A miktam. When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.
Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise –
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll –
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise –
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;(Ps. 56:1-13 NIV)
I will present my thank-offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
The Psalmist begins his prayer with a plea for mercy. He is not bringing any sense of personal virtue, or personal entitlement to God. The language of the pursuit is like that of a hound pursuing, biting at the heels of the Psalmist. Three times the Psalmist uses the phrase ‘all day long’. This indicates the incessant nature of the bombardment as salvoes of hatred and slander circulate around the hapless victim. Attacking in their pride is best thought of as meaning that they are using their elevated position in society as a vantage point to attack the Psalmist.
What are we to do when we are afraid? We trust in God and then we are not afraid. It is so easy to forget the Lord’s promise to never leave us or forsake us. We shouldn’t dismiss the Psalms as not being relevant to us by saying that we’re not fighting battles like the Psalmist. To conclude that would be a mistake because the Christian’s life is one of warfare. We are in danger of living life at a shallow level where we are not aware of the spiritual battle. If we are not aware of the spiritual dangers around us, we are already in perilous danger. The repetition of the Lament Psalms is a reminder to us of the reality of the spiritual battle. The emotion of fear can be discouraging for us. We berate ourselves because we have felt fear. I have heard Christians say how ashamed they are of themselves because they were afraid, or they doubted. If fear was not a likely emotion to experience, then the Lord would not have given us this type of Psalm. There are times when we will be afraid, the appropriate response is to bring that fear into the presence of the Lord and remind ourselves of the promises and goodness of God. V3-4 records the Psalmist working through the matter. He is afraid, he trusts in God, he reminds himself of God’s word and he praises God. Because he trusts in God the inevitable conclusion has to be that he is no longer is afraid. He obtains God’s perspective, what could a mere mortal do to him when God is with him? That seems so simple to us – perhaps we feel even simplistic. The reason for this might be that when we are afraid, we don’t turn to God. Turning to God is not second nature for us, that is why we need to have this repetitive encouragement to pray.
V5 The Psalmist is distressed because they have taken his words and twisted them to give them a meaning that he never intended. They prowled around the Psalmist to hear what he had to say, and then they put the worst possible meaning to his words. They plot, they conspire, they watch with the purpose of finding fault. The taking of the Psalmist’s life is not killing him, but is the opposite to what he says at the end of the Psalm ‘that he would walk before God in the light of life.’ The enemy wanted to rob him of that quality of life, to take away from him the joy of serving the Lord, because their constant opposition meant that a dark cloud of misery hung over him.
The Psalmist cries out for justice upon those within the covenant community who are behaving like this. May they be brought down as God brings down the enemy in the nations around us. Sometimes we feel that our cares and concerns are not significant enough to bring before the Lord. It should encourage us then when we read how the Lord collects our tears in a bottle or records them is a ledger. The Lord is a God of the detail.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:29-31 NIV)
There is no issue too petty for the Lord.
The Psalmist reminds himself again that he knows that God is with him. He thinks again of the many promises in God’s word, and praises God for this word of promise and comfort. When his trust is in God then what can any mortal really do to him? Everything is within the control of God.
The Psalmist is in covenant with the Lord. He has taken vows to thank the Lord. God has delivered the Psalmist from that living death that the slanderers would have him live. His feet will not stumble under the weight of the burden that his enemy has imposed upon him. The Psalmist now realises that he doesn’t walk before the critics, but he walks before God. He is accountable to God not to those who were making his life miserable. He does not have to walk in the gloom and under the shadow of the lies and deceptions, because he can walk in the light of life. Peterson paraphrases the verse this way, ‘Now I stroll at leisure with God in the sunlit fields of life.’
Lord we thank You that we have been translated out of darkness into light. We do not have to live in the darkness. When we are afraid help us to come to You. We thank You that we can come as children to a Father. When our little children have many fears and concerns they can come to us to be reassured. No fear is dismissed as unimportant. So Lord we come to You so that we can trust in You and learn to walk before You in the light of life. Help us because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.