The troubles that David went through on the way to his promised throne were many. But this meant that before he assumed the rule of God’s people, he had seen that many answers to prayer, that many deliverances. David was not dropped on his throne from Heaven, rather he was delivered out of tribulation, as he ascended to that throne.
To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.
“Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me . . .” (Ps. 56:1-13).
Summary of the Text
This psalm is another one from the time when David was on the run, beset by a persecuting king of Israel, and threatened by the Philistine enemy. He had been anointed, and knew the promise, but he also knew the threat. He cries out for mercy, for men would swallow him (v. 1). If they could, they would swallow him every day (v. 2), and there are many of them. The last part of v. 2 is probably a missed translation—it means his enemies fight from the high places. David’s basic response is a godly reflex response—when he fears, he trusts (v. 3). This kind of trust leads inexorably to praise (v. 4). The people who are against him will snatch at any excuse to accuse him. They twist his words out of all recognition (v. 5). Whenever the wolf is talking with the lamb, anything the lamb says will be used as a compelling reason to have him for lunch. The conversation always seems to take that turn. These malicious men study David, in order to take him down (v. 6). David asks God to intervene (v. 7). God knows what David has gone through—He collects David’s tears in a bottle, He enters every one of them in His register (v. 8). David knows that his prayer will be answered, for he knows that “God is for me” (v. 9). The only appropriate response to this is praise (v. 10). There is no reason to fear what men can cook up (vv. 4, 11). To promise the payment of vows is a biblical thing to do—provided you pay them (v. 12). The payment of a vow is only right, because God delivered David, and he walks in the light of the living (v. 13).
The Malice of These Men
The malice of these men is remarkable. They know they are being unfair. Because they hate, part of their delight comes from being unfair. They know that the pain they inflict will hurt, but they also know that the pain they inflict for no good reason will hurt more. Because they are haters, this is part of their satisfaction. Note. They twist words. All their thoughts concentrate on how to turn anything to evil. They mark steps, but in a way completely different from the way God does it. They want to trip, they want to ensnare. They love ambush, they delight in gotcha. When they accuse us of malice and hatred, they know better.
The Tendermercies of God
God knows every last step that David took in the course of his wanderings. He knows how many steps were taken when David was on one side of the mountain, and his pursuers were on the other. He not only knew of all David’s tears, but He also treasured those tears (v. 8), collecting them all in a bottle. He counted them all, entering each one of them in His register, in His book. So the God who will wipe away every tear is not going to do so by abrasively telling us to “get some perspective, wouldja?” (Rev. 7:17; Rev. 21:4). Rather, the God who wipes away every tear is the same God who collected them all, cataloging them. God’s knowledge of every hair on your head is not told to us so that we would marvel at His mathematical abilities, but rather so that we would marvel at His care for us (Matt. 10:30).
Fear and Trust
We have seen that courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing despite your fears. In order for this to happen, this basic reflex must be there. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” And if it is not too small to frighten you, it is not too small to entrust to God. There is no threshold between small and large fears where we should start trusting God. Remember that the God you are trusting is the same God who counts every tear. Cast all your anxieties on Him for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Be anxious for nothing, because God is willing for His peace to rest upon you (Phil. 4:6-7). These are fantastic promises—we would have to say “unbelievable promises,” except that the Spirit of God works in us to enable us to believe them. Does He not?
I Know God is for Me
Now here is an astonishing statement of David’s faith (v. 9), and it is same kind of faith that we are called to. Remember, we are told that we are to sing the psalms (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and among other things this means that are to be schooled by the psalter in how to pray, and we are to learn how to trust God in the same way that David did. This is our hymnbook, and we are supposed to be shaped by what we sing.
But there are striking epistemological issues in this—all of which must be resolved by faith. Think about this: “this I know; for God is for me.” The issues are not resolved by abstract principles, or logical syllogisms in the sky, but by faith. Now David had his enemies, and he had the kind of enemies who would twist his words, including the words of this psalm. “Who are you to say that we are the ones who are evil? Haven’t you ever heard of Prov. 18:17? What about our side of the story?”
In this world, the dividing line between right and wrong, between good and evil, is actually, at the foundational level, the line between faith and unbelief. We are invited to believe that God is “for us,” and we are invited to draw this conclusion, not by peering into His secret counsels (Dt. 29:29), but rather by looking to the gracious terms of His covenant with us. And this is done by means of looking to Christ. Christ is our law, Christ is our promise, Christ is our grace. Look to Him and conclude that “God is for me.”