All The Change We Need (Psalm 56)
All the Change We Need
Georges Clemenceau was a French politician and prime minister of France during World War I. The treaty that ended World War I was signed in Versailles, France and our president, Woodrow Wilson was there to sign the treaty on behalf of the United States. After Wilson left, Clemenceau was on his way to visit Wilson’s advisor, Colonel House, when a young anarchist, Emile Cottin fired a gun at Clemenceau.
Clemenceau’s car sped away while Cottin fired his gun 7-8 more times. One bullet hit Clemenceau near his heart. Cottin was caught and the death penalty was eventually demanded. But Clemenceau responded: “We have just won the most terrible war in history, yet here is a Frenchman who misses his target six times out of seven. …Of course the fellow must be punished - for the careless use of a dangerous weapon and for poor marksmanship.” Clemenceau recommnded Cottin get eight years in prison and receive intensive training at the shooting gallery.
Apparently Clemenceau was not afraid to die. I don’t know if he was afraid of anything but dying apparently was not one. FDR once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. For the Christian, there is a lot of truth in that statement.
The apostle John wrote that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This evening, we will study Psalm 56 as we realize that all the change we need is to stop fearing man and trust in God!
The inscription tells us that David wrote this psalm when the Philistines seized him in Gath. Gath was a village that changed hands from the Phiiistines to Israel and back again. It was actually a major village among the Philistines. You might remember that Goliath was from Gath.
When David was running from King Saul, David sought refuge among the citizens of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10). When David first arrived in Gath, the Philistine’s king had advisors who reminded him of the song the Israelite women sang in praise of David: “Saul has slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands.” David knew about this and he “greatly feared Achish king of Gath” (21:12).
Out of fear, David acted like he was insane, crazy, nuts, in front of the king and his people (21:13). He drew his hands over the doors as if he were writing something; he let spit run down his beard. David eventually escaped from the king of the Philistines in Gath.
Yet, sometime later, David, still fleeing from King Saul, finds refuge again in Gath, under the protection of King Achish (27:2ff). It was while David was with Achish in Gath that he married Abigail.
It was also at that point that Achish gave David a village in the area, named Ziklag, where David and his 600 men could hide out from King Saul (27:6). David lived among the Philistines for 16 months. David took advantage of that opportunity to raid Israelite villages and defeat nations, the Geshurites, Girzites, and Amalekites, who were attacking his own people.
When King Achish would ask David what he did on a particular day, David would respond that he was fighting in southern Judah and he would word it to make it sound as if he were fighting against his own people (27:10). David did not leave any adults alive to escape and tell Achish the truth about what David was doing. Agree or disagree with David’s transparency but King Achish believed David was making himself “odious” among the Israelites (27:12) and he thought David would be his servant forever.
David was walking a very tight tightrope living the life he was living. In some ways, he had no choice. He had King Saul on one side of him, wanting to kill him. So even as David was fighting in southern Judah, he ran the risk of King Saul finding out about him and tracking him down again. But at the same time, he could not afford to let King Achish know what David was really doing or that David was, in fact, the next anointed king of Israel.
As we would say in America, David was caught between a rock and a hard place!
The situation intensifies in 1 Samuel 28 when King Achish decides to fight a battle against Israel and he assumes that David will be on his side! Now what is David to do!? “Be sure your sins will find you out” - David is on the verge of having his exploits revealed and it will surely mean the death of David! Achish had so much confidence in David that he tells David in 1 Samuel 28:2 that he wants David to be his “bodyguard for life!”
It was during that fight that King Saul, out of fear, went to the witch of Endor to find guidance and counsel. King Achish and his Philistine army were marching toward Israel, to fight against King Saul and David’s people and we can imagine how disturbed David was in his heart and mind, wondering how God was going to save him from this predicament. In battle formation, 1 Samuel 29:2 tells us that David was marching at the rear of the formation with Achish! How could he escape? How was he going to get out of this mess?
Thankfully for David, the other leaders of the Philistines saw the Hebrews among them - remember, David had a band of 600 fighting men, and the lords of the Philistines did not trust David. In 29:4 they suggest that in the heat of battle, David could turn on the Philistines, regaining the trust of King Saul but changing sides and fighting alongside Saul.
Notice in 29:6 that Achish actually swears an oath by Jehovah God, David’s God, that Achish recognizes that David has been a good man, trustworthy. Achish has not found any fault in David, no evil. But, since Achish’s men do not trust David, Achish asks David to go back home to Ziklag.
It was while David was in Ziklag that the Philistines fought against King Saul and Israel and killed Saul and Jonathan as we studied about two weeks ago.
In the middle of this very tense, very stressful time in David’s life, where he had to walk the tightrope between King Saul on one hand and King Achish and the Philistines on the other hand, David writes Psalm 56.
“BE GRACIOUS TO ME, O GOD” - 56:1-2:
In verse 1, David calls on God to be “gracious.”
Why? Because David is surrounded by people who do not like him, who do not support him, who do not care one whit for him:
“Man has trampled upon me.” The verb “trample” has a range of meanings: “to gasp for air, to pester, to be a nuisance.”
“[Man] oppresses me fighting all day long”
Again (vs 2) - “foes have trampled upon me all day long” - We will notice how frequently David uses the words “all day long” or even just the word “day.” 24/7 David feels this stress from his environment and he can’t catch a break!
“They are many who fight proudly against me”
Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part - 56:3-4:
Verse 3 says literally: “The day I myself (emphasis) fear, to you, I trust.” David reminds himself when he is afraid, he will put his “trust” in God. The word “trust” is found three times in this psalm (vss 3-4, 11). When you trust God, then, based on knowledge of His nature, His character, His behavior toward His people in the past, His behavior toward you in the past, you believe He will do the right thing in the future.
Notice in verse 4 that David shifts slightly his thoughts on trust from God Himself, to His word. David praises God’s word. Why? Because God’s message is what you trust. His word is what you trust. David praises God’s word and that idea is parallel to David putting trust in God. That is why David will not be afraid. On one hand, “trust” is a theme that runs through the psalm but so also is “fear.” In the face of fear, David believes God will do the right thing for him. And if God is for us, who can be against us? Those are the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:31.
Notice at the end of verse 4 that David asks “What can mere man do to me?” The NASV puts the word “mere” in italics to let us know they added that word. The Hebrew word is “flesh,” as a reflection of the weakness of man. That’s why the NASV translates the word as “mere man.”
O God, put down peoples in anger - 56:5-7:
David’s enemies “distort his words.” The word “distort” (NASV) also is defined as “hurt someone’s feelings.” These people around David do not look at the world from David’s perspective and could not care less what is going on with David and his relationship with Jehovah God. They don’t care.
“All their thoughts are evil against him.” They wish no good to come to David.
Notice the verbs, one after another, as David’s thoughts run wild as he thinks about what his enemies do to him:
“They watch my steps.”
“They have waited to take my life.” These four verbs, almost one after another David utters as if he is getting pummeled by someone’s fists.
In verse 7, out of a sense of justice and righteousness, not out of personal ambition or personal gain, David calls on God to put down the peoples because of their wickedness. If and when God does, it will be because of God’s anger, God’s anger at sin, wickedness, disobedience.
“YOU HAVE TAKEN ACCOUNT OF MY WANDERINGS” - 56:8-9:
David has been running from King Saul, seeminly all over the countryside. Now he’s in the precarious hands of the Philistines. Yet, God knows all about David. God knows physically where David is, where he has been, where he is going.
But God also knows David emotionally. In one of the most beautiful scenes, pictures, in the Scriptures that illustrate the concern God has for His people, David writes that God puts David’s tears in a bottle, God inscribes those hurtful ordeals in a book. God knows what is going on with us. God sees it. God cares. It concerns God when His people are hurting.
David trusts God and has such confidence in God that he sees, at least by the eye of faith, that his enemies are turning back. When David calls to God in prayer, his enemies turn back. David knows that God is for him. God is “in his corner.” God will save David, protect David, vindicate David.
A repetition of verses 3-4, in verses 10-11, we have Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part - 56:3-4:
Here, David uses the covenant name for God, Jehovah or Lord - the name for God that was unique among the children of Israel. Pagans called their deity “god” but no one called their deity “Jehovah” or “Lord.” That very term denotes the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai as well as the covenant God made with David when He made him king. God is faithful and loyal to His covenant. He is Jehovah God. The word “man” here is not the same word as in verse 4. This word is the typical Hebrew word for “man:” adam.
As always, the response to God ought to be worship - 56:12-13:
The “vows” here are the vows associated with covenant loyalty on man’s part. This is obedience. This is David giving his word that he will faithfully do what God expects him to do. David will offer worship to God, thank offerings.
David concludes summarizing the motive for his worship of Jehovah God: “You have delivered my soul from death,” when God saved David from the Philistines.
In saving David from the Philistines, God also kept David’s feet from stumbing, stumbling into the temptation to, perhaps, worship visible gods, idols, rather than trusting the invsibile but true God.
God has protected David and brought him to safety so that David could walk before God still in this physical live, in the land of the living.
Take home message: God knows all about us. If we serve Him, He has promised to provide for our needs. We must trust Him to be there for us.