Psalm 56


This is a psalm of David in which he cries out to God, trusting that God would deliver him. the historical background appears to be the time when David fled to Achish, who was the Philistine king of the city of Gath. It was there he pretended to be mad, so that they wouldn’t kill him, 1 Samuel 21:10-15.


‘For the director of music. To the tune of “A Dove on Distant Oaks.” Of David. A miktam. When the Philistines had
seized him in Gath.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding about the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading tells us that this psalm of David for the director of music. Some commentators believe that ‘director or music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.

The psalm was to be directed to the ‘tune of a dove in distant oaks’, no one knows what this tune was but some suggest it represents a dove that was in trouble.

No one really knows what the word ‘maskil’ means, some believe it’s a musical term or a literary term. The word is used thirteen times throughout the Psalms, Psalm 32 / Psalm 42 / Psalm 44 / Psalm 45 / Psalm 52 / Psalm 53 / Psalm 54 / Psalm 55 / Psalm 74 / Psalm 78 / Psalm 88 / Psalm 89 / Psalm 142. The word is also used in Amos 5:13.

The time when the Philistines seized David was a time when David was lonely, desperate and scared. This was the time when David pretended to be mad, 1 Samuel 21:10-15.

‘Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack. My adversaries pursue me all day long; in their pride many are attacking me. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, hoping to take my life. Because of their wickedness do not let them escape; in your anger, God, bring the nations down.’ Psalm 56:1-7

David begins by asking God to show him mercy, Psalm 51:1, because his many enemies which would have including Saul and the Philistines were in hot pursuit.

Saul had been relentless in pursuing David, even to the point that David fled to Israel’s enemy, the Philistines, but he fully trusts in God to rescue him from their hands and as a result of trusting in God, he isn’t afraid.

David begins to think about God and His Word, which also leads him to trust God and not be afraid. The words here are possible the words which were spoken to him by Samuel, when he told him he would be king over Israel, 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The more David trusted God and His word, the more his faith grew, and his fear was lessened.

He asks the question, ‘what can mere mortals do to me?’ I guess on the physical side they could do a lot of damage, but when God is for him, then who cares what mere mortals can do to him, his soul and relationship to God are more important, Matthew 10:28 / Romans 8:31-34 / Hebrews 13:6.

David didn’t only face physical abuse but also verbal abuse. His enemies twisted their words in order to get others to go against David, they plotted and schemed in order to ruin David’s life.

His enemies, conspire, lurk and watch David’s every step looking for a way to catch him and kill him. When David fled to Achish, king of Gath, he was driven away by him, it was then he was watched by Saul and his men, it was then they chased him into the wilderness, 1 Samuel 21:1-15 / 1 Samuel 21:22.

David demonstrates his faith in God by asking Him to bring down the nations who were plotting and scheming against him, that is, the Philistines, Saul and his men.

‘Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record? Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me? I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.’ Psalm 56:8-13

David asks God if He has his misery recorded and the list of his tears in His scroll, Revelation 5:8, the answer to this question is yes, He does.

God has records of all David’s misery and tears, He knows what happened when David went to Gath, 1 Samuel 21:10. He knows what happened when David went to the cave of Adullam, 1 Samuel 22:1. He knows what happened when David went to Mizpeh, 1 Samuel 22:3.

He knows what happened when David went to the forest of Hereth, 1 Samuel 22:5. He knows what happened to David when he went to Keilah, 1 Samuel 23:5.

He knows what happened to David when he went to the wilderness of Ziph, 1 Samuel 23:14, and He knows what happened to David when he went to the wilderness of Maon, 1 Samuel 23:25, and to En-Gedi, 1 Samuel 24:1-2.

The very fact that God knows where David has been and how he was feeling, gives David confidence to know that God is with him, and God will answer his prayers.

David once again for the third time praises God for His Word, he has good reason to trust in God because of His Word, Psalm 138:2.

Notice again, he asks the question, ‘what can man do to me?’ the answer again is nothing, he puts his trust in God Himself and he isn’t afraid, Romans 8:28-39 / 1 Corinthians 10:13.

It appears that David had sworn vows, and by doing so, he placed himself under laws of faithfulness that he had made to God for himself, Genesis 28:20 / Numbers 6:2 / Numbers 30:2-3 / Deuteronomy 23:21 / 1 Samuel 1:11. His vows became laws to himself so that he would remain faithful to the Lord.

At the time of writing David was far away from God’s altar and so he offers these sacrifices in his heart, he offers his thanksgiving giving offerings in his heart, Leviticus 7:12 / Psalm 26:7.

David knew that his life was in constant danger from the Philistines, Saul and his men, but he thanked God for delivering him and stopping his feet from stumbling. He would walk before God in life, Job 33:30, being delivered from death, that is, he wants to continue to live, so that he can enjoy living in God’s grace.


David asked the same question using different words in his psalm, ‘what can mere mortals do to me?’ ‘What can man do to me?’ Jesus tells us ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Matthew 10:28.

There would be something wrong with us if we weren’t afraid of anyone who has the power to kill us, but Jesus here tells us not to be afraid because He and He alone has the authority to destroy both soul and body in hell.

While the physical body goes back to the ground at death, Genesis 3:19, it is the soul that will be with God forever or eternally separated from Him in hell.

The ‘soul’ is man’s unique self. It is the part of his being which, because it is rational and moral, determines the actions performed by his body, and which, therefore, renders him personally accountable for what he does.

And so, it is man’s ‘soul’ which will ultimately be either saved or lost, depending on his response to the offer of the salvation which was made first possible by the coming of the Christ into the world.

If we fear and obey God, we don’t need to fear men that want to kill our bodies because God will preserve our souls and raise us from the dead, when Christ returns, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 / 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.

Go To Psalm 57


"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

1 Peter 3:15