“Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
Psalm 56:1-4 ESV
David most probably wrote this psalm against the backdrop of 1 Samuel 21:10-15. It speaks about David fleeing from king Saul and his men, yet again, and arriving at the Philistine, Achish of Gath. This was no safe place to be. David had killed the Philistine, Goliath, and was carrying his sword with him at that time (see 1 Sam 21:9). King Achish’s servants recognized him: “Is not this David the king of the land?” (1 Sam 21:11) When David realized that they knew who he was, he became so terribly anxious that “he pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.” (1 Sam 21:13)
It seems that David had come from the pot straight into the frying pan – as if Saul and his men pursuing David wasn’t enough, now the Philistines were after him again as well. When would his anxious fleeing end? When would he have peace from his enemies? Thus he cries out: “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.”
Yet, in between David’s wild anxiety, he reminded himself of God’s prevailing word: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” God promised that David would be king of Israel, even more than that, that an Offspring of David would be on the throne forever. If David died now, what would come of that? He had to trust the unshakeable word of God over the behaviour of evil men.
These (mortal) men, whose thoughts are evil, who injure his cause all day long, while watching his steps (Psalm 56:5-6), are contrasted with the omniscient and loving God who keeps count of David’s tossings (can also be translated at wanderings) and tears. (Psalm 56:8). This beautiful language describes how intimately God knew and cared for David.
It is so easy for us as humans to rely on our circumstances, while forgetting God’s promises, His Word and His provision. David looked forward to the fulfilling of God’s promises in his Offspring, who would rule forever. We can look back, knowing that that Offspring was Jesus Christ (God made flesh) who triumphed over sin and death through His death and resurrection. But we can also look forward to the day when this same Jesus “who was taken up…into heaven, will come in the same way…” (Acts 1:11) to bring final justice and everlasting peace.
Questions for reflection: Are you often anxious in your current circumstances? What are you most anxious about? How does God’s Word and Promises speak to your anxieties?