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Psalm 56 - Fear Factor

Summer Psalms 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:27
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God's trustworthy word delivers us from fearful foolishness

I was talking with a friend of mine who works in law enforcement a while back, and as he was talking about some of the ways people get themselves jammed up in criminal behavior. He used an idiom that I’ve heard a few times before, but it captured his philosophy of law enforcement and criminal justice nicely: “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes”.
Have you heard that expression before? People who pursue stupid or unthinking courses of action usually get themselves jammed up with unhappy consequences, to put it mildly. And if we’re honest, how many of us here have played stupid games and won stupid prizes before? (I don’t want a show of hands!)
One of the reasons that people make stupid, foolish decisions is because they are afraid. Fear will drive you to make rash, foolish and unwise decisions. If you think back to those times when you “played those stupid games” you ask yourself, “What was I thinking? That was probably the dumbest thing I could have done in that situation!”, you may very well find that your judgment was compromised because of your fear—whether it was fear of other people, fear of your future, fear over your finances, fear over some danger or threat.
Fear will drive us to make foolish and reckless decisions, won’t it? The psalm that we are studying this morning, Psalm 56, actually arose out of an episode in David’s life where he had gotten himself into some pretty serious danger because he had made some decisions while his judgment was being clouded by fear. This is a song that David wrote to express the fear that he felt:
Psalm 56:1–2 (ESV)
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.
And he wrote this psalm to express the lesson that he learned:
Psalm 56:3–4 (ESV)
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
I don’t know where you are this morning; I don’t know if you are experiencing this kind of fear that clouds your judgment, whether there is something looming on the horizon of your life that is filling you with dread and making you susceptible to foolish and rash decisions or behavior. But I know that all of us are liable to have that kind of experience at one time or another.
So what I want to do this morning is show you what David went through that led him to write this psalm, and I want you to be able to see what he says here about the way to deal with fear—what I aim for you to see here in Psalm 56 this morning is that you can
Let’s look for a moment at the background of the psalm—David’s narrow escape from being executed by the Philistines. The story is told in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. You can turn there if you like (it’s on page 244 if you’re using the pew Bible). David has just been to Ahimelech at Nob, who has given him the sacred bread from the Tabernacle and also the sword of Goliath the Philistine whom David had slain in single combat years earlier (causing Saul to become jealous of him when the people began singing about David “slaying tens of thousands” - cp. 1 Sam 18:7).
So right after David receives these things from Ahimelech, we read in verse 10:
1 Samuel 21:10–15 (ESV)
10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” 12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”
Now, if we look at this account I think we can see several really bad decisions David made. Think about it—he had just spent several years as Saul’s champion, handing the Philistines defeat after defeat:
1 Samuel 18:30 (ESV)
30 Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.
Somehow it never dawned on him that he was the greatest enemy of the Philistine people—did he really think he could show up at the king’s palace and nobody would recognize him?? And if that weren’t irrational enough, he showed up in Gath —Goliath’s hometown (“Goliath OF GATH??!!!”) with his old sword strapped to his hip!
Maybe he thought running to Gath was the last place Saul would look for him, maybe he thought he could remain anonymous, maybe he figured King Achish would be glad to have his enemy Saul’s champion coming to him for help—who knows what was going through David’s mind? But that is what fear does, isn’t it? It causes you to make irrational, foolish decisions.
And when we turn to Psalm 56, we see David recounting the dangerous and volatile situation he had gotten himself into:
Psalm 56:1–2 (ESV)
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.
and further down in verses 5-6:
Psalm 56:5–6 (ESV)
5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.
But here in these verses we see how David learned to fight fearful foolishness with God’s trustworthy word:
Psalm 56:4 (ESV)
4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
David says that you can fight fearful foolishness with God’s trustworthy Word. The Word of God is your weapon to fight against that fearful foolishness—it enables you to fight that fear

I. With the PRECEPTS of God (Psalm 56:3-4, 10)

God’s Word can be trusted to show us how to live! There’s no indication in 1 Samuel 21 that David asked God what to do:
1 Samuel 21:10 (ESV)
10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath.
He was more worried about what Saul was going to do to him than what God would tell him to do! And how many times have you “played stupid games and won stupid prizes” because you were more worried about what someone else was going to do to you than what God would have you do?
But God’s Word is trustworthy. Psalm 119 is a lengthy psalm that does what David does here—it is a psalm written to praise God’s Word. Psalm 119:40 says
Psalm 119:40 (ESV)
40 Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
And later in verse 45:
Psalm 119:45 (ESV)
45 and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.
“Precepts” is another word for “instructions” or “commands”. When you seek God’s precepts, when you long for His word to teach you right from wrong, when you submit yourself to God’s instructions about how to live in this world, you learn to
Fear God, not the WORLD (cp. Psalm 119:40, 45; Romans 12:2)
Fear of others—fear of your enemies, fear of the world around you, fear of peer pressure, fear of being “cancelled” or attacked—leads us to do things we know we shouldn’t do, things that are contrary to God’s revealed will, but we do them anyway when we are being controlled by that fear.
But you can fight that fearful foolishness that wants to “press you into the world’s mold”. THe Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12 that we are not to be
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
...conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We discern God’s will—we discover the way He wants us to live in this world by seeking His precepts, His directions. And when we learn to fear God instead of man, we find that we are “walking in a wide place”—we have a peace and a joy and a comfort and a security that we cannot have if we are ruled by fear of man.
When we seek God’s precepts we learn to fear God, not the world. And we learn to
Fear God, not the FUTURE (cp. Matt. 6:34)
Just as the fear of man will lead us to foolishly do things we know we shouldn’t, so the fear of the future can cause us to make rash and unwise decisions. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus saw how anxious and fearful people were over their future—He says in Matthew 6:34,
Matthew 6:34 (ESV)
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Jesus says here, “Don’t borrow trouble—don’t start worrying and fretting and being fearful over what might come tomorrow. Tomorrow’s troubles will be here soon enough; deal with the trouble you have today!”
A few verses earlier He explains why we can be free of fear over the future:
Matthew 6:31–33 (ESV)
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
There it is again—seek God’s will first. Fear God first, and you won’t have to fear what is coming in the future! He knows what is coming tomorrow, He knows how to get you through it, He knows what you need and what to do for you—don’t fear the future. Submit in reverence to God, seek to obey His precepts, his rules, and He will always provide for you:
Psalm 56:3–4 (ESV)
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
Fight fearful foolishness with God’s trustworthy Word—fight with the precepts of God, and fight that fear knowing that

II. You are PRECIOUS to God (Psalm 56:8-9)

Listen to the way David expresses his trust in God in Psalm 56:8-9:
Psalm 56:8–9 (ESV)
8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
When you are paralyzed by fear, when you are anxious about the threats and dangers coming your way, when you feel like you can’t even think straight—see here what David says about the God that you serve:
He REMEMBERS your fears (v. 8)
What a beautiful picture here in this verse? Think of it—not one of the tears you have cried have fallen to the ground apart from His care! He has counted every toss and turn of every sleepless night, He has gathered every fearful, fretting tear that has ever fallen from your eyes—because they are precious to Him! You do not serve a distant, cold sovereign who can’t be bothered to take notice of your broken, fearful heart—He sees and remembers every one of your fearful tears!
And not only does David say that God remembers your tears and tossings,
He will REPAY your fears (v. 9)
Psalm 56:9 (ESV)
9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
In his commentary on this passage, the Puritan pastor Matthew Henry puts it this way:
"The tears of God’s persecuted people are bottled up and sealed among God’s treasures; and, when these books come to be opened, they will be found vials of wrath, which will be poured out upon their persecutors, whom God will surely reckon with for all the tears they have forced from his people’s eyes… " Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 824). Peabody: Hendrickson.
David was tossed to and fro with threats and danger and fearful enemies who were ready to rip his life away from him—but there was one thing he knew for sure: “This I know, that God is for me!
Beloved, there is nothing to fear when you belong to a God who remembers all your fears and repays your enemies because He is a God who is for you! Fight your fearful foolishness with the trustworthy word of God that tells you that God is for you! Take David’s prayer as your own:
Psalm 56:3–4 (ESV)
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
Or the magnificent promise found in the book of Isaiah 41, verse 10:
Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
God’s trustworthy word is your weapon to fight your fearful foolishness—fight with the precepts of God, fight knowing that you are precious to God, and fight that fear

III. With the PROMISES of God (Psalm 56:12-13)

In verses 12-13, David does the same thing that we have seen him do in previous psalms—even before he has been delivered from his enemies, he starts planning his victory celebration!
Psalm 56:12 (ESV)
12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
And where did David get the confidence to start planning his victory celebration while his enemies were still pursuing him? He got that confidence from the word of God’s promise to him!
Think about it—back in 1 Samuel 16, Samuel came to his home and called him out of the sheep pasture and anointed David as God’s chosen man to be king over Israel. God promised David He would make him king, and David trusted God’s word could never be broken!
No matter how hard Saul tried to kill him, David knew that he was immortal until God’s purposes for him had been fulfilled! David shows you how to combat your fears through the promises of God—fight that fear knowing that
God delivers your SOUL from DEATH (v. 13a)
Psalm 56:13 (ESV)
13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling...
David knew that his life was in God’s hands, he knew that God’s purposes for him would be fulfilled, that nothing and no one could tear him away from God!
Christian, Jesus says the same thing about you! He says that once He has put you into His hand, nothing can tear you away!
John 10:27–30 (ESV)
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Just as God could not break His promise to David that he would be king, so you can trust in the unbreakable promise of God that nothing will tear you out of His hand!
Fight the fearful foolishness that clutches at you the way David did, by clinging to the promises of God! He will deliver your soul from death, and David finishes his song by clinging to God’s promise
Psalm 56:13 (ESV)
13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
And this is your greatest promise to cling to, Christian—that when you belong to Jesus Christ by faith,
You will walk in the LIGHT of LIFE
Jesus Himself uses this same phrase from Psalm 56 in one of His most well-known verses in the Gospels. In John 8:12, Jesus says,
John 8:12 (ESV)
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Your weapon in this world against the fearful foolishness that clutches at you is God’s trustworthy Word—the Word of His precepts that guide you into wisdom, His word that assures you that you are His precious child and that not one of your tears or tossings has not been captured by His infinite wisdom and remembrance.
And here we find that all of the promises David was clinging to as he fought his foolish fears have been ultimately fulfilled in the final Word of God—Jesus Christ! Of all the words that God has spoken to us since the beginning of time, His Final Word, His Word that sums up all His words and brings all of His promises home is Jesus Himself!
How do you fight the fearful foolishness that threatens to cloud your judgment, cause you to “play stupid games for stupid prizes?” Fight that fearful foolishness in Jesus Christ! It starts when you come to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins—when you repent and turn away from that life and call on Him to take away your guilt before God through His death, burial and resurrection, and receive from Him a new heart that obeys Him and delights in His precepts.
And when Jesus Christ, the Word of God, commands your life, when you seek His will and His kingdom and His glory first in your life, He will take away your fear of the future! He will take away your anxiety over what you will eat or what you will wear, He will provide for you and take away your fear of tomorrow!
And when Jesus Christ, the Final Word of God, takes possession of your life, you are His precious child! Every tear that falls from your eye, every tossing and turning of every sleepless night, every anxiety and worry, every stab of panic that pierces you or tremor of terror that shakes you—He sees all of it, and He remembers all of it! He loves you dearly, and He has promised that none of that fear can ever separate you from Him, and you can cast all of that anxiety on Him because He cares for you! (1 Peter 5:7)!
When Jesus Christ, the Final Word of God, makes His promise never to leave you or forsake you, when He promises that He will be with you always, to the end of the age, when He promises that neither life nor death nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate you from His love, when He promises that you do not need to fear because He will strengthen you, help you and uphold you with His righteous right hand, you have utter confidence that He will keep those promises, because He sealed those promises to you by His own blood!
I don’t know what fearful things might be lurking over the horizon for you—or what fear might be right at this moment gnawing at your soul. But what I do know, Christian, what I know as surely as we are gathered here this morning with this Table prepared for us: I know that you can cling to the trustworthy Word of God, Jesus Christ! In Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 21, Jesus warned His disciples that the day was coming when they would all fall into the hands of their enemies, and many of them would die:
Luke 21:16–17 (ESV)
16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
But would their enemies triumph over them? Would Jesus’ disciples stumble and fall in fear to destruction? Not even close!
Luke 21:18–19 (ESV)
18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Many of them lost their lives—but none of them perished! Christian, no matter what your enemies try to do to you, no matter what foolish or irrational things fear makes you do, when you belong to Jesus Christ you will walk in the light of life, you will never perish! So fight that fearful foolishness with the trustworthy word of God, and sing along with David,
Psalm 56:9–11 (ESV)
9 ...This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Jude 24–25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


Think back to a time when your judgment was clouded by fear. How could the Bible's instructions on how to live your life have helped you make better decisions?
Read over Psalm 56:8-9 again. How do these verses give you strength to fight against your fear? Read over the verses below, and pick one to memorize this week!
* Isaiah 41:10 - Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
* Hebrews 13:5b–6 - …He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
* Philippians 4:6–7 - do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
* 1 Peter 5:7 - Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
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