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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–7
Verses 1–7

David, in this psalm, by his faith throws himself into the hands of God, even when he had by his fear and folly thrown himself into the hands of the Philistines; it was when they took him in Gath, whither he fled for fear of Saul, forgetting the quarrel they had with him for killing Goliath; but they soon put him in mid of it, 1 Sam. 21:10, 11. Upon that occasion he changed his behaviour, but with so little ruffle to his temper that then he penned both this psalm and Ps. 34:1-22. This is called Michtam—a golden psalm. So some other psalms are entitled, but this has something peculiar in the title; it is upon Jonath-elem-rechokim, which signifies the silent dove afar off. Some apply this to David himself, who wished for the wings of a dove on which to fly away. He was innocent and inoffensive, mild and patient, as a dove, was at this time driven from his nest, from the sanctuary (Ps. 84:3), was forced to wander afar off, to seek for shelter in distant countries; there he was like the doves of the valleys, mourning and melancholy; but silent, neither murmuring against God nor railing at the instruments of his trouble; herein a type of Christ, who was as a sheep, dumb before the shearers, and a pattern to Christians, who, wherever they are and whatever injuries are done them, ought to be as silent doves. In this former part of the psalm,

I. He complains to God of the malice and wickedness of his enemies, to show what reason he had to fear them, and what cause, what need, there was that God should appear against them (Ps. 56:1): Be merciful unto me, O God! That petition includes all the good we come to the throne of grace for; if we obtain mercy there, we obtain all we can desire, and need no more to make us happy. It implies likewise our best plea, not our merit, but God’s mercy, his free rich mercy. He prays that he might find mercy with God, for with men he could find no mercy. When he fled from the cruel hands of Saul he fell into the cruel hands of the Philistines. “Lord” (says he), “be thou merciful to me now, or I am undone.” The mercy of God is what we may flee to and trust to, and in faith pray for, when we are surrounded on all sides with difficulties and dangers. He complains, 1. That his enemies were very numerous (Ps. 56:2): “They are many that fight against me, and think to overpower me with numbers; take notice of this, O thou Most High! and make it to appear that wherein they deal proudly thou art above them.” It is a point of honour to come in to the help of one against many. And, if God be on our side, how many soever they are that fight against us, we may, upon good grounds, boast that there are more with us; for (as that great general said) “How many do we reckon him for?” 2. That they were very barbarous: they would swallow him up, Ps. 56:1 and again Ps. 56:2. They sought to devour him; no less would serve; they came upon him with the utmost fury, like beasts of prey, to eat up his flesh, Ps. 27:2. Man would swallow him up, those of his own kind, from whom he might have expected humanity. The ravenous beasts prey not upon those of their own species; yet a bad man would devour a good man if he could. “They are men, weak and frail; make them to know that they are so,” Ps. 9:20. 3. That they were very unanimous (Ps. 56:6): They gather themselves together; though they were many, and of different interests among themselves, yet they united and combined against David, as Herod and Pilate against the Son of David. 4. That they were very powerful, quite too hard for him if God did not help him: “They fight against me (Ps. 56:2); they oppress me, Ps. 56:1. I am almost overcome and borne down by them, and reduced to the last extremity.” 5. That they were very subtle and crafty (Ps. 56:6): “They hide themselves; they industriously cover their designs, that they may the more effectually prosecute and pursue them. They hide themselves as a lion in his den, that they may mark my steps;” that is, “they observe every thing I say and do with a critical eye, that they may have something to accuse me of” (thus Christ’s enemies watched him, Luke 20:20), or “they have an eye upon all my motions, that they may gain an opportunity to do me a mischief, and may lay their snares for me.” 6. That they were very spiteful and malicious. They put invidious constructions upon every thing he said, though ever so honestly meant and prudently expressed (Ps. 56:5): “They wrest my words, put them upon the rack, to extort that out of them which was never in them;” and so they made him an offender for a word (Isa. 29:21), misrepresenting it to Saul, and aggravating it, to incense him yet more against him. They made it their whole business to ruin David; all their thoughts were against him for evil, which put evil interpretations upon all his words. 7. That they were very restless and unwearied. They continually waited for his soul; it was the life, the precious life, they hunted for; it was his death they longed for, Ps. 56:6. They fought daily against him (Ps. 56:1), and would daily swallow him up (Ps. 56:2), and every day they wrested his words, Ps. 56:5. Their malice would not admit the least cessation of arms, or the acts of hostility, but they were continually pushing at him. Such as this is the enmity of Satan and his agents against the kingdom of Christ and the interests of his holy religion, which if we cordially espouse, we must not think it strange to meet with such treatment as this, as though some strange thing happened to us. Our betters have been thus used. So persecuted they the prophets.

II. He encourages himself in God, and in his promises, power, and providence, Ps. 56:3, 4 In the midst of his complaints, and before he has said what he has to say of his enemies, he triumphs in the divine protection. 1. He resolves to make God his confidence, then when dangers were most threatening and all other confidences failed: “What time I am afraid, in the day of my fear, when I am most terrified from without and most timorous within, then I will trust in thee, and thereby my fears shall be silenced.” Note, There are some times which are, in a special manner, times of fear with God’s people; in these times it is their duty and interest to trust in God as their God, and to know whom they have trusted. This will fix the heart and keep it in peace. 2. He resolves to make God’s promises the matter of his praises, and so we have reason to make them (Ps. 56:4): “In God I will praise, not only his work which he has done, but his word which he has spoken; I will give him thanks for a promise, though not yet performed. In God (in his strength and by his assistance) I will both glory in his word and give him the glory of it.” Some understand by his word his providences, every event that he orders and appoints: “When I speak well of God I will with him speak well of every thing that he does.” 3. Thus supported, he will bid defiance to all adverse powers: “When in God I have put my trust, I am safe, I am easy, and I will not fear what flesh can do unto me; it is but flesh, and cannot do much; nay, it can do nothing but by divine permission.” As we must not trust to an arm of flesh when it is engaged for us, so we must not be afraid of an arm of flesh when it is stretched out against us.

III. He foresees and foretels the fall of those that fought against him, and of all others that think to establish themselves in and by any wicked practices (Ps. 56:7): Shall they escape by iniquity? They hope to escape God’s judgments, as they escape men’s, by violence and fraud, and the arts of injustice and treachery; but shall they escape? No, certainly they shall not. The sin of sinners will never be their security, nor will either their impudence or their hypocrisy bring them off at God’s bar; God will in his anger cast down and cast out such people, Rom. 2:3. None are raised so high, or settled so firmly, but that the justice of God can bring them down, both from their dignities and from their confidences. Who knows the power of God’s anger, how high it can reach, and how forcibly it can strike?