Psalms 56 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Trust in God in the presence of danger is the keynote of this and the following Psalm, which are intimately connected together. The danger is imminent; fear is inevitable; but faith is victorious over fear. The spirit of the Psalm is concentrated in the twice-repeated refrain ( Psa 56:3-4 ; Psalms 10, 11).
This Psalm and Psalms 34 are connected by their titles with the same period in David’s life. His first visit to Gath (1Sa 21:10 ff), when he went there as a solitary fugitive, must be the occasion referred to. Finding that his life was no longer safe in Judah, he resorted to the desperate expedient of taking refuge with the enemies of his country, hoping no doubt that the Philistines would not recognise in him the stripling who slew their champion. But their suspicions were aroused: David, in fear for his life, feigned madness, so that he might be supposed to be harmless. It is not expressly stated in 1 Samuel that the Philistines forcibly detained him, but the words “feigned himself mad in their hands,” together with the mention of his escape in ch. Psa 22:1, seem to imply that he was practically a prisoner.
The obscure words of the title, set to Yonath elem rechökim, are paraphrased in the LXX, “For the people removed far from the sanctuary”; and in the Targum, “Concerning the congregation of Israel, which is compared to a silent dove at the time when they were far from their cities, and turned again and praised the Lord of the World.” These interpretations are interesting as shewing that the Psalm was at an early date regarded as a national Psalm, and placed in the mouth of the suffering people. Hence the Psalmist has been regarded by some critics as “the mouthpiece of oppressed and suffering Israel.” But it is a mistake to say that this is “the oldest interpretation of the Psalm.” For the title, whether it rests upon an authentic tradition or is only the conjecture of the editor of this book, proves that at a still earlier time the Psalm was regarded as the expression of personal experience. And this is the natural account of its origin; its use as the prayer of the nation in exile was a secondary application of it. While it is impossible to affirm with certainty that it was really composed by David in Gath, it breathes the spirit of trust in God in the face of danger by which David was animated, and may be taken as an illustration of his feelings in that hour of his extremity.
The Psalm consists of two stanzas, each ending with a refrain, Psa 56:1-11; and a concluding thanksgiving Psa 56:12-13. In each of the principal stanzas prayers for help against enemies whose hostility is described are combined with the strongest expressions of trust in God.
In the title, For the chief Musician; set to Yonath elem rechökim. (A Psalm) of David; Michtam: when the Philistines took him in Gath: the words Yonath elem rechôkîm mean The silent dove of them that are afar off; or if çlîm be read for çl ěm (a change of vowel-points only), The dove of the distant terebinths. These words, like ‘The hind of the morning’ in the title of Psalms 22, are doubtless the title of some song to the melody of which the Psalm was to be sung, so called either from its opening words or from its subject. The explanation which regards these words as a figurative description of the subject of the Psalm ( concerning the silent dove &c.), the innocent sufferer David patiently enduring persecution in a foreign land, is now generally abandoned.
On Michtam, which appears in the titles of the four following Psalms also, and of Psalms 16, see Introd. p. xx.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".