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Psalm 56

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Psalm 56

A Miktam

According to "A Silent Dove Far Away"

I. Introduction

A. Structure of the Psalms

The pattern for many years has been to treat each Psalm as an individual unit. This makes sense since they were composed by different authors over a long period of time, to speak to a wide range of circumstances. We must remember, however, that the work of the Holy Spirit in preparing the Bible for us was not limited to the inspiration of the authors. It superintended the editing, collection into the canon, the final agreement in the Church over what was to be included in the Canon, the translation into a vast array of languages and the preservation of the text of Scripture over the 3,500 years since the first word was written.  Because of that, it is reasonable to assume that the supervision of the Holy Spirit included the arrangement of the Psalms into the final form that has been passed down to us. So what. It means that instead of treating the Psalms as individual islands of wisdom, we can look at the whole tapestry and discover how God used the poems, songs, laments and other forms as a single work to reveal his character, his nature and his will for our lives.

Some have suggested a editorial purpose and have extrapolated a five book structure:

·         Book 1 (1-41) - David's conflict with Saul

·         Book 2 (42-72) David's reign

·         Book 3 ((73-89) Assyrian Crisis

·         Book 4 (90-106) Introspection about the Destruction of the Temple and Exile

·         Book 5 (107-150) Praise/reflection on Return and New Era

·         Psalm 1,2 introduce the them of the Book of the Psalms

While I suspect the presence of some kind of editorial structure, I'm not sure this is it. I am somewhat more certain however that the beginning and ending Psalms, (1,2 and 150) form a set of "bookends" that set the purpose of the Psalms and  identify a fitting ending. This structure can inform our theology as we study this marvelous book.

1. Psalm 1,2 introduce the them of the Book of the Psalms

<Read Psalm 1>

If you had to choose one word that summarizes the theme of Psalm 1, what would it be?


I would suggest that Psalm 1 set out the theme of “righteousness" as its core idea and one of the central themes for the Book of the Psalms. [1]

·         Psalm 1:1 - Righteousness that does not take its counsel  from  the world

·         Psalm 1:3 - Righteousness that flourishes

·         Psalm 1:4 - Righteousness that contrasts with the wisdom of the world

·         Psalm 1:8 [most of all] Righteousness is the quality of one who knows and is known by God

<Read Psalm 2>

Again, if you had to choose one word to describe the theme of Psalm 2, what would that word be?


I would suggest that the word "judgement," that while God's love is certain, so is his judgement.

<See Exodus 34: 6-7>

"The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’" (Exodus 34:6-7, ESV)

These are parallel ideas. We don't' have time to develop this much here this morning but we should recognize that God is love, and that his love is expressed in both his righteousness and his justice. These divine qualities are always present. Love in the absence of justice is weak and permissive; love in the absence of righteousness is just sentiment.

2. Psalm 150 - conclusion "all praise"

Now look at the other end of the Psalms, Psalm 150.

<Read Psalm 150>

We can begin to see the full power of this ending of the Psalms, especially (v. 6) when we compare it with a New Testament counterpart.

<See Psalm 150:6>

"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6, ESV)

Now see Romans 14:11

<See Romans 14:11>

"For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.'" (Romans 14:11, ESV)

B. Introduction to Psalm 56

So where does this leave us in our study of Psalm 56?

Let's draw this as a chart and picture where Psalm 56 falls in the scheme we've been talking about in the Psalms

This is where Psalm 56 is thematically. It describes fear as it stands against the backdrop of God's character and will. Let's dig in  now and look at what it tells us about fear when that  fear is experienced in the context of a God of righteousness and justice and who has determined that  ultimately every knee shall bow and praise him as  Lord.

1. Context

First we will examine the context of Psalm 56.

a) Immediate context

The immediate context in provided by the superscription at the beginning of the Psalm.

(1) Miktam

First we learn that this is a Miktam. What this is, is uncertain, however there are other Miktams in the Psalms.

Psalm 16: says, "I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"

Psalm 57: says "I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me."

Psalm 58 says: "Mankind will say, 'surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.'"

Psalm 59 says: "Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me;"

Psalm 60 says: "Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!"

Each of these is a "Miktam" of David and each speaks to the central theme of the trouble and opposition and how God's people should respond when they are surrounded with reasons to be afraid.

(2) According to "A Silent Dove Far Away"

Next we are told that this Psalm is "According to "A Silent Dove Far Away." Obviously this is an old Conway Twitty song....well perhaps not. The bad news is, we don't know what this is either. It may have something to do with music, or meter, or a way of reciting or singing this Psalm.

b) Historical context

We can also see the historical context from the text of the superscription.

(1) When the Philistines seized David in Gath

We are told that David wrote it when he was face to face with a King and a people who threatened his life. We can pick up the story in 1 Samuel 21.

Here are the highpoints from 1 Samuel:

·         David kills Goliath (from Gath).

·         Saul calls David for personal service.

·         David becomes wildly popular for his valor in Battle.

·         Saul is consumed with jealousy and begins to hate David; he begins to find ways to kill David.

·         David flees for his life to the priest Ahimelech who gives him the ceremonial bread (an act for which he will be killed by Saul) and also gives David Goliath's sword.

·         David flees next to Gath and pretends insanity  to escape the deadly designs of King Achish

<Read 1 Samuel 21: 10-14>

(One of my favorite quotes is 1 Samuel 21: 15)

·         Finally he flees away from King Achish into a cave called the Cave of Adullam

·         There about 400 others, debtors, malcontents, probably criminals all joined David in his hideout.

Now consider David's mindset:

·         He has been innocent, obedient, and faithful

·         He has had spears thrown at him

·         Spies are looking for him everywhere and all  around him there are those who are plotting  against him

·         He has abandoned his dignity to escape with  his life

·         Now he is hiding in a cave with 400 of the worst that the land had to offer

In order to understand the depth of truth in this Psalm, we need to come face to face with the depth of the pain and fear in David's heart.

He was not afraid of a case of swine flu, or that he might lose his job, or afraid that times might be difficult for a while. He was not afraid that his marriage was in trouble or his kids or grandchildren might be behaving badly. I'm to being dismissive of these things, they are awful and they can all bring us to our knees, but David faced trials that make ours look insignificant. David feared for his life and for the lives of all 400 of those who followed him

David, was also a moral man, a Godly man and the burden of his family and his followers and his Nation must have added to his anguish.

(2) Summary of background

·         So we see that the literary context is a Psalm about fear in a book that sets out a theology of God in which justice and righteousness are his expressiongs of love and are central to his character and will; and in the end God’s righteousness and justice will win and every knee shall bow. Until then, there will be sin, and sorrow, and anger, and, as in Psalm 56 there will be fear.

·         The immediate context is a poem that shares a certain essential qualities with other poems of David, as if to suggest that trouble, fear, difficulties should be expected.

·         The historical context is a man who has every reason for despair, who is afraid for his life who lifts up his hands to God and cries out to the God of justice and righteousness. He cries out for things to be as God said they will be. As Jesus would teach us to pray in the NT, David was crying out for "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." He wanted nothing more than we also want, he simply wanted things to be as they should be.

II. The text - Psalm 56

Psalms that are similar to this one have a regular structure.

·                     A complaint

·                     A petition to rectify the complaint

·                     A declaration of trust and praise.

Let's read this Psalm together.

<Read Psalm 56>

A. David's faith is under assault

<Discussion: What is David's complaint?>

·         trampled on

·         oppressed

·         trampled on all day

·         attacked

·         injured my causes

·         conspire against me

·         stir up strife against me

·         lurk: watching my step and waiting to take my life

The intent of those who oppose David is clear; they want to destroy him and to destroy everything meaningful and loved by David.

B. What about you?

Is there now, or has there been a time in your past where you were afraid? Maybe this doesn't speak to us? Maybe we are so comfortable that the notion of abject fear just doesn't mean anything.

<Discuss> Make this personal

·         This Psalm is trying to provide for us a theology of fear.

·         It is trying to put fear in the context of a God of righteousness and justice who has declared that he WILL come again in glory.

·         This Psalm allows us to be honest that there is a tension between fear and faith, that fear is to be expected and faith is mandated in spite of that fear.

C. What is David's response to this assault?

To get to the answer to this question we have to account for the positives in this Psalm, those verses that do not submit to David's fear and anguish. The “positives" are?

(Note: disregard David’s petitions for now, we will look at that later. Look instead at his affirmations of faith)

·         "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." (Psalm  56:3, ESV)

·         "In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?"  (Psalm 56:4, ESV)

·         "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?  (Psalm 56:8, ESV)

·         Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 56:9-11, ESV)

We'll get back to vv. 12-13 later.

There is a certain lack of despair in these verses.  David is afraid or this poem would not have been written. And yet in the midst of his fear there is no abandonment of faith, no panic, none of the hopelessness that might be expected.

<Why not?>

D. David's preparation for fear

We can find some clues for the way David faced his fear in Psalm 56 by looking again at his story in 1 Samuel.

1. The outcome is already known

When questioned by Saul as a young boy as to why he was going to face the giant Goliath.

<See 1 Samuel 17:34-36>

“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised  Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied  the armies of the living God.’” (1 Samuel 17:34-36, ESV)

·         David had already determined that God's favor rests with those who fear him and follow him in obedience.

·         David had already established his world view of good and evil, and had settled in his own mind the consequences of an immoral life

2. A lifetime pattern of seeing God's hand in the both the good things in life and in the trials

<See 1 Samuel 17:37>

"And David said, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!’" (1 Samuel 17:37, ESV)

·         David had made the decision to judge the good things in his life as most certainly the gift of God.

·         David had established a pattern of hearing God’s guidance in the face of trials.

We also have instructions to follow the same pattern.

James writes:

<See James 1: 2>

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds," (James 1:2, ESV)

·         What we have to take note of is that "count it joy” is an imperative. We are ordered to do this by the Word of God. We are told to determine in advance that when trials come we must consider them as the joy of God's work in our lives to produce steadfastness, and maturity.

3. David has a clear view of the source of ultimate strength

<See 1 Samuel 17:45>

"Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied."  (1 Samuel 17:45, ESV)

·         David had established a pattern in his life in which he recognized that his strength came from God, not from himself.

·         His goals and the actions he took he took at the command, and in the name of God, not himself.

4. David responded to the trials of life with humility

<See 1 Samuel 18: 18>

“And David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’” (1 Samuel 18:18, ESV)

·         David didn't let God's blessing and the certainty of faith go to his head.  He realized what we have trouble keeping in mind...this is NOT about is about God.

E. David's lifetime of preparation expressed in Psalm 56

So how is this reflected in what David writes in Psalm 56? The answer to this comes at the end of the Psalm in the last two verses:

<See Psalm 56: 12-13>

"I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life." (Psalm 56:12-13, ESV)

·         David sets fear aside and remembers that regardless of circumstance, our mandate is clear.

·         We have made a vow to follow Christ in our lives.  Our circumstances, our fears, our dreads, are no reason to crumble under the pressure.

When the house won't sell, or when the job doesn't  come, when the marriage continues to struggle, when  we just can't seem to see our way, Psalm 56 tells us that the outcome, no matter how fearful we are, is assured. He tells us that in his loving perfection he is taking down a road that is already determined, in order that we "may walk before God in the light of life" (verse 13).

III. Conclusion

<hand out note-cards. Tell class not to read what is written on the back. Write something that causes you to fear.>

Think of a situation about which you are facing fear today. What is that thing that stands before you and makes you afraid, or perhaps fills your heart with sorrow? What is this thing that stands in stark contrast to a world in which God’s righteousness and justice flourishes?

There is a fine line, I believe between the related emotions of fear and sorrow and anger. Each in their own way represents that portion of our hearts over which we retain control in the face of Christ's call to leave all and follow him. I am not criticizing you or anyone for being afraid or for having sorrow or for being angry at individuals or situations that can do us harm. Christ told us we would have sorrow, and by extrapolation be afraid and suffer anger and loss. This Psalm, and the life of its author, confirm the dual nature of confidence and fear, of joy and sorrow. And yet we can see in the life of Dave, a man after God’s own heart, that in the face of our fear, we have cause to say with David:

"I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life." (Psalm 56:12-13, ESV)

<Pray for this class. Pray for them to face fear as David did. Pray that God will form in them a pattern of seeing God's hand in both the good and the bad so that we may walk before God in the light of life.>


[1] John H Walton, “Psalms: A Cantata About the Davidic Covenant.,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34, no. 1 (1991): 21-31.

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