Psalm 56 Commentary

Psalm 56 Commentary

I think that any of us who is a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has also known times of being outside of God’s will. Not just in one decision or choice that we’ve made – but in an intentional move that we’ve made that would impact us for a while.

There are people who enter into relationships that are outside of God’s will. Sometimes the nature of that kind of relationship is “til death do us part.”

There are people who move or take a job somewhere when that decision turns out to be clearly outside of God’s will for that person’s life.

There are choices that we make in this life that are done without a view to what God wants for us – and those choices can eventuate in us finding ourselves in a pattern of living that God would not want for us.

So, believers – and certainly those who do not trust Christ – are all capable of finding ourselves in a place that is outside of God’s will – it’s not what God wants for us.

I remember deciding to go to Seminary – which I believe was very clearly God’s will for me. But after a few months of being there I started to kind of drift away from pursuing my degree.

I started looking for housing arrangements that were far away from campus. In fact, I chose one that was a good distance from the Seminary – and I followed that up by moving even further away! And quite honestly, both housing situations left me miserable and troubled.

At the same time, I got interested in marrying a certain lady – who’s with me today! And I started making rationalizations for why I needed to stop Seminary and work at a place in town instead. Now again, God had clearly led me to Seminary. But once more, I was trying to get out of it.

And so, I ended up interviewing for a position in town there in Greenville, SC. And it was miserable! I remember that the interview was very uncomfortable. And at the end of the interview I was in a room with three of their people. And one of the guys I remember clearly – his question to me that he seemed to repeat to me a few times – “Why are you here?” … “Why are you here?” … “Why are you here?

And as he asked me the first and second time, I gave some sort of weak response – but the last time I just shook my head and gave a weak chuckle and with exasperation evident in my voice said, “I don’t know.” I was so embarrassed and frustrated after that interview that I just prayed to the Lord and determined that if he wanted me to finish Seminary – no matter how long it might take and how uncomfortable it might be – I would do it.

And so, I had to learn the hard way in that situation. But for any of us who might now be struggling with temptations to leave the known will of God for our lives and to deviate from the path that he has for us – we need God’s help to navigate these treacherous waters. And certainly, if we’re actually outside of God’s will for us, we need to know how to respond to that and get right with the Lord and back on the path that he has for us.

And it just so happens that we have a divinely-inspired prayer from a man who suffered shame and even danger from leaving God’s will. And that man is David and we have his prayer recorded for us in Psalm 56 in which he wrestles with the reality that he had departed from God’s clear path for him.

So, let’s turn our attention to Psalm 56 where we will see The Prayer of a Believer Outside of God’s Will. David had found himself to be outside of God’s will. How did he handle that situation and what can we learn as we pray through these situations in our lives as we become aware of them?

Let’s read the entirety of this psalm to get an overview of this prayer and then we’ll deal with the details.

{Read Psalm 56…}


Now, the superscription to this psalm contains some helpful information for us. Because it’s here where we first get the idea that David is a believer who is outside of God’s will for him.

<{To/For} the {chief Musician/choir director/music director}
{upon/according to/to the tune of} {Jonathelemrechokim/Jonatha elem rehokim/the yonath-elem-rechovim style/“A Dove on Distant Oaks”},
{Michtam/A Mikhtam/a prayer} of David,
{when/written when} the Philistines {took/seized/captured/had seized} him in Gath.>

Now, there are four episodes in David’s life that have him interacting with this city mentioned in the superscription – Gath.

  • In 1 Samuel 17 David meets and beats Goliath who was from this city – Gath.
  • Then in 1 Samuel 21 David flees from Saul to King Achish in Gath but then needs to act crazy and leave.
  • Third, in 1 Samuel 27 David flees to King Achish in Gath (again!) and stays for 1 year and 4 months, killing the inhabitants of the land while pretending to kill Israelites.
  • And then fourth and last, in 1 Chronicles 18 David captures Gath after becoming king and receiving the Davidic Covenant.

So, which of these situations describes David’s being taken at Gath? It’s the second episode – the one in 1 Samuel 21. Let’s look at that for a moment. And let’s read verses 10-15 in 1 Samuel 21.

KJV 1 Samuel 21:10 ¶ And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.

11 And the servants of Achish said unto him,

Is not this David the king of the land?
did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying,

Saul hath slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands?

12 And David laid up these words in his heart,
and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.

13 And he changed his behaviour before them,
and feigned himself mad in their hands,
and scrabbled on the doors of the gate,
and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.

14 Then said Achish unto his servants,

Lo, ye see the man is mad:
wherefore then have ye brought him to me?

15 Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?
shall this fellow come into my house?

And then David escapes and goes back to Israel.

Now, listen, how had God made clear that he wanted Israel – of which David was a part – to treat the inhabitants of the land surrounding Israel back when they first entered it? Did God want his people living among these idolaters? No. God had decreed at that point in history that Israel destroy the inhabitants of the land.

But is that what David was doing? No. David had left the place God wanted him to be and traveled to live among the Gentile Philistines. It was ill-advised and not fueled by prayer. He was running away from his problems and ultimately he made a fool of himself.

He certainly could have justified leaving God’s will for him. After all, his leader was not leading him. In fact, he was making great effort to kill David. Who wouldn’t flee?

And yet, just because we can justify disobedience doesn’t make it right. And the consequences of disobedience can leave us humiliated like they did for David. I don’t think that David was proud of how he had to behave to save his life because of his leaving God’s known will for him.

Now, one last thing from this superscription. Psalm 55:6 had David wishing for wings of a dove so that he could fly away from the effects of his former friend turning on him. And did you notice how the NIV translates what most other translations transliterate?

What the KJV brings over from Hebrew as “Jonathelemrechokim”, the NIV translates as “A Dove on Distant Oaks.” That’s the literal meaning of that Hebrew phrase. So, in David’s mind, he had been given the wings of a dove – just like he had asked for in the last psalm and now he had flown away.

But was it worth it? I think David would say, “No.” And I think that all of us believers who have found ourselves outside of the will of God would answer likewise.

So, let’s consider in detail this prayer of a believer who is outside of the will of God.

v1-2 Ask for Deliverance from the Effects of Your Own Poor Decisions

How should we pray when we realize that we are outside of God’s will? First of all, you need to ask for deliverance from the effects of your own poor decisions – like David does in verses 1-2.

KJV Psalm 56:1 {Be merciful/Be gracious/Have mercy} {unto/on/to} me, O God:
for {man/men} {would swallow me up/has trampled upon me/are attacking me/hotly pursue me};
{he fighting daily oppresseth me./Fighting all day long he oppresses me./All day long hostile enemies are tormenting me./all day long they press their attack.}

2 {Mine enemies/My foes/Those who anticipate my defeat/My slanderers} {would daily swallow me up/have trampled upon me all day long/attack me all day long/pursue me all day long}:
{for/Indeed} {they be many/many} {that fight/fight/are fighting/are attacking} {against me/me}, {O thou most High/proudly/O Exalted One/in their pride}.

Now, it seems to me that some of this complaint that David expresses to God has to do with the Philistines who are threatening David. But I imagine also that David has Saul and his associates in mind here in these two verses when he thinks of those who are against him.

So, David is considering the source that negatively influenced him to leave God’s will and also the elements that now immediately threaten him as he finds himself outside of God’s will for his life.

And all David can do is to cry out to God for mercy. Now, this Hebrew word can be translated into English as either “mercy” or “grace.” But I’m glad the KJV translators chose “mercy” because in the context I do believe that David is asking for God to spare him from what he really deserves – that’s a good definition of mercy. David is requesting mercy then because he had done wrong.

And that’s a good place for us to start as we find ourselves outside of God’s will for our lives. Ask God to withhold the bad that our actions have earned us.

And you can bring to God’s attention the things that influenced you to leave his path for your life like David does just as much as you bring to his attention the current realities that trouble you, now that you are off the path.

Recognize that when you leave God’s will for your life you will very likely – if you belong to the Lord – experience multiple obstacles and hardships. And those are all part of God’s merciful orchestrated plan to bring you back to the right way for your life.

So, when you realize that you are outside of God’s will in this life, ask him for deliverance from the effects of your own poor choices, even as you mention to him the factors that contributed to you making those poor choices in the first place.

vv3-4 Resolve to Trust God & Not Fear Man

And then as we might find ourselves outside of God’s will – but wanting to get back on the path – we need to resolve in our hearts and express with our mouths to the Lord that we trust him and that we refuse to fear men anymore, like David does in verses 3 and 4.

3 {What time/When} I am afraid,
I {will trust/will put my trust/trust} in {thee/you}.

4 In God {I will praise his word/whose word I praise/-I boast in his promise-},
in God I {have put my trust/trust};
I {will/shall/am} not {fear/be afraid/afraid}
what {flesh can/can mere man/can mortal man} do {unto/to} me{./?}

Now, fear is an emotion that we are sure to deal with especially as we are outside of God’s will for our lives. Even if we are obeying the Lord and walking with him and doing his will, we can expect to meet with various realities that would cause us to fear. And yet, especially when we as believers might leave the path that God has for us, fear is sure to follow.

In David’s case, the catalyst of his fear is men – men who can do things to him – bad things. And yet, David’s resolve – as ours needs to be – is to put our trust in the Lord.

And verse 3 is so amazing. It can comfort and calm a little child who is afraid that there might be “monsters” in his closet. But it is an expression of resolve that the bravest man can fly to in his times of fear.

Are you afraid that you might not be able to pay your bills this month? When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

Are you fearing the results of some medical test? When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

Are you troubled about domestic and/or world events? When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

This verse is – or should be – the anthem of those who are perpetually tempted to worry and fret and fear! When you fear – when that trigger is tripped in your heart – what do you need to do? Trust in the Lord!

That’s what David did when he was faced with fear-inducing situations that came even as a result of leaving God’s path for him.

And so, we need to trust in the Lord when we fear. And in particular, notice David’s thought about God’s word. He will praise God’s word. God’s word is crucial for us as we’re fearing and afraid and seeking to return to God’s path. Let God’s word be your guide – of course, when you’ve strayed from the way – but certainly even before that point! In fact, if you and I actually spend some time and consider God’s word regularly, we’re a lot less likely to get into the position where we’ve left God’s will for our lives.

And yet, sometimes God uses the hair-raising realities that accompany us going our own way in order to draw our attention to his precious word. He did in David’s life where we see a resolve on his part to praise and boast in God’s word and to trust the Lord in the midst of the trial that God has brought to him in order to lead him back to the right path in his life.

So, as you find yourself to have strayed from God’s ways and are experiencing the difficulties that God intends for you to experience when you’re in such a situation, resolve then-and-there to trust God and not fear men – not even fear the results of your wandering from God’s path – but fear and trust God alone.

vv5-6 Call God’s Attention to the Ramifications of Your Wandering

And as you’re in the midst of the difficulty, call God’s attention to the ramifications of your decision to leave his paths – even as they relate to how people might be treating you – like David does in verses 5 and 6.

5 {Every day/All day long} they {wrest my words/distort my words/cause me trouble/twist my words}:
{all their thoughts are against me for evil./they make a habit of plotting my demise./they are always plotting to harm me.}

6 They {gather themselves together/attack/stalk/conspire}, they {hide themselves/lurk},
they {mark/watch} my {steps/every step}, {when they wait/as they have waited/as they prepare/eager} {for my soul/to take my life}.

So, in David’s life, he had these folks who were plotting to harm him – even to kill him.

But this was simply a result of his ill-advised decision to leave God’s place for him. And you might think that if God is bringing this trouble to bear on your life because you have disobeyed him, then maybe you should just keep quiet about it. But that’s not the example we have from David.

David is wrestling with what these men are trying to do to him – which has been orchestrated by the Lord to bring David back to the right path – and David – knowing full-well that God has caused this – is still also unashamed to bring to God’s attention what is going on in his life.

God knows it, but he wants you to relate to him the results of what he’s done in response to your leaving his will for your life.

v7 Call on God to Put an End to Your Troubles

And not only relate to him these troubling realities – but God actually wants you to beg him to put an end to these troubles – that he himself brought into your life! That’s what David does in verse 7.

7 {Shall they escape by iniquity?/Because of wickedness, cast them forth/Because they are bent on violence, do not let them escape!/On no account let them escape}
in thine anger {cast/put/bring} down the {people/peoples/nations}, O God.

Now, we see elsewhere in Scripture God using things to chasten his people – while at the same time he doesn’t fully endorse all of their actions. For example, God sent the Babylonians to judge Judah. And yet, God was angry for the way the Babylonians went too far in exacting punishment on his people.

And where you experience the painful results that God has brought into your life as a result of poor faithless decisions, God is ready and willing to hear you cry out to him for relief from the results of these things.

v8 Urge God to Notice Your Pain – Realize He Does Know It

And in tandem with your realizing that God is willing and able to respond to these requests for deliverance from the difficulties he’s sent to you, knowing fully that he is aware of these things – don’t let that prevent you from urging God to do what he is very inclined to do – which is to notice your pain and to simultaneously realize that he does indeed know all about it. David does this in verse 8.

8 {Thou tellest/You have taken account of/You keep track of/Record} my {wanderings/misery/lament}:
{put thou/put/list} my tears {into/in/on} {thy/your} {bottle/leather container/scroll}:
are they not {in/recorded in} {thy/your} {book/scroll/record}?

So, when a true believer wanders from the Lord’s path for his life – and certainly for all of us who are as best we can tell on God’s path for our life – we can take comfort in the knowledge that God knows. God knows our tears. In fact, it’s as if he has them recorded on a scroll somewhere.

God knows your tears. He knows the troubling effects of the things that he’s sent in to your life to get your attention. And while he’s the one who troubles you, he is also the one who is not unmoved by your troubles.

This is part of what can be very mysterious to us about God. As one of his children, he can do things in your life that are very painful. And so, we might tend to think that he hates us. No! He doesn’t hate you. He loves you and at the same time he sends chastening and sufferings into your life to make you more like his Son.

So, because of that, when you’re experiencing some of these effects of the loving chastening of the Lord, remind yourself that he is the one who both brings those tears and who also is well-aware and sympathetic with those same tears.

v9 Be Confident that God can Change Your Circumstances

And what do you suppose that God is ultimately trying to get you to do by sending painful things into your life as a result of your wandering from his will? He ultimately wants you to come to the place where you cry out to him for deliverance. And when you do, you can be assured that he will answer in his perfect way and timing. We see this in David’s experience in verse 9.

9 When I {cry unto thee/cry out to you for help}, then {shall/will} mine enemies turn back:
{this I know; for/I know that/By this I will know that} God is {for me/on my side}.

And that’s another important thing to remember. Even as we may from time to time find ourselves facing difficulties in this life that are sent to us from the Lord as a direct result of our leaving his will, we can be confident that God is “for” us.

David says this in the midst of Gath! An Israelite should not have been in Gath. The only reason an Israelite should have found himself in Gath is if he were leading an army in victory against it. And yet, there David was in Gath having to act like a crazy person in order to avoid death. All because David went ahead of God’s will and timing in the matter of escaping from what seemed to be certain death from the hands of Saul.

And even in that situation, David could still confidently assert that God was “for” him.

God is for you. If you trust Jesus Christ and have become his disciple, God is for you. He is on your side! Even when he is chastening you, he is still for you!

And because he’s for you, when you cry out to him in faith, he is more than able to change your circumstances. The circumstances are tools in his hand. Once the tool has done its job, he doesn’t need to wield it on you anymore.

So, cry out to him in faith for help. And recognize and believe that he is more than able to deliver you in his perfect timing as he accomplishes what he wants to accomplish in your life.

vv10-13 Resolve to Praise & Trust & Serve God & Not Fear Man

And last, as God leads you through a time in which you are clearly outside of his will –

  • you’ve asked for deliverance from the effects of your own poor decisions,
  • you’ve resolved to trust God and not fear men,
  • you’ve God’s called attention to the ramifications of your wandering,
  • you’ve called on God to put an end to your troubles,
  • you’ve urged God to notice your pain and have realized that he does know it,
  • and you are confident in God’s being with you and being able to change your circumstances

– last, resolve to praise and trust and serve God and to not fear men, like David does in verses 10-13 to end this psalm.

10 In God {will I praise his word/whose word I praise/I boast in his promise}:
in the LORD {will I praise his word/whose word I praise/I boast in his promise}.

11 In God {have I put my trust/I trust}:
I {will not be/shall not be/am not} {afraid/afraid.}
{what/What} {man can/can man/can mere men} do {unto/to} me{./?}

12 {Thy vows are upon me,/Your vows are binding upon me/I am obligated to fulfill the vows I made to you/I am under vows to you} O God:
I will {render praises unto thee./render thank offerings to You./give you the thank-offerings you deserve,/present my thank offerings to you.}

13 {For/when} {thou/you} {hast delivered/have delivered/deliver} {my soul/my life/me} from death:
{wilt not thou deliver/Indeed/You keep/and} my feet from {falling/stumbling},

{that/So that} I {may/might} {walk before/serve} God
{in the light of the living?/as I enjoy life./in the light of life.}

So, be optimistic! The Lord will get you through this. And when he does you will praise and serve him and make him known to others.

And by God’s grace – if and when any of us find ourselves outside of God’s will – we can pray this way to him and find him to be “for” us and as one in whom we may trust when we’re afraid.


  1. Thomase Edmond Martin says:

    This really explained gave commentary and gave great reference to understand the what and why of this Scripture Reading. And the help it is for the believer today.


  2. Jeannette Malachi says:

    Trust God through it all, the good, the bad, and the indifferent,Tho He slay me yet will l trust Him


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