The Book of Psalms

Thursday: “What Can Man Do to Me?”


Theme: The Voices of Fear and Faith
In this week’s lessons we learn from the life of David that when we are afflicted by the attacks of others, we can have confidence in the Lord, whose word never fails.
Scripture: Psalm 56:1-13
I referred earlier to Perowne’s comment that Psalm 56 is about “the victory rather than the struggle of faith.” But that did not mean that fear is missing from the psalm. On the contrary, the fear described in 1 Samuel 21:12 is evident in the opening verses (vv. 1, 2) and also in David’s second, longer elaboration of the danger (vv. 5-9). There are two emphases.
The fury of the attack. Sometimes language can be used to capture the feeling of a moment, and that is the case in verses 1 and 2, where David conveys the relentless fury of his enemies’ pursuit by striking word repetitions. There are three of them. “Pursue,” “attack” and “all day long” are each repeated in verse 2 after being introduced first in verse 1. We have “men hotly pursue me” and “my slanderers pursue me,” “all day long” and “all day long,” and finally “they press their attack and “many are attacking me.” It is a striking, audible way of saying, “I am overwhelmed, simply overwhelmed; because no matter what direction I turn they are always after me, after me, pursuing me, always pursuing me.”
The nature of the attack. The second, later description of the problem (vv. 5-9) is not so furious. Rather it is a calmer description of the nature of the attacks being made. We might think from the setting that all David would be concerned about was his immediate physical danger. But even in verse 2 he spoke not merely of military attacks but of “slanderers,” and now he explains that it is the slander that bothers him even more than the danger. They want to kill him, of course. But to justify their doing it (or perhaps to win the necessary numbers to their side) his enemies twist his words to make it seem that he is threatening King Saul: “All day long they twist my words; they are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life” (vv. 5, 6).
This section ends with a prayer that God will judge these enemies (v. 7) and with a request that God will remember his sorrows, making a list of them (v. 8). David knows that God knows what he is going through and that he will remember it. In fact, he presents the tender concerns of God for himself and his people in an image that has been of immense comfort to generations of sorrowing believers. We know it best in the words of the King James Bible: “Put thou my tears in thy bottle.” But the idea is much the same in the New International Version: “list my tears on your scroll” or “put my tears in your wineskin.” The meaning is that God will never forget nor ever be indifferent to the cares of any one of his much beloved people.
I have already pointed out that the chorus, which occurs in verses 4, 10 and 11, is the very heart of the psalm. We have been invited to observe David’s fear, but now in even clearer tones we hear the voice of faith: “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me” (v. 4)? And again, slightly expanded, “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise—in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me” (vv. 10, 11)?
Confidence in God. In these verses there are two parts to David’s confidence, and the first is that he is confident in God. He trusts God, whom he calls Elohim four times (two times in v. 4, once each in vv. 10 and 11), and Jehovah once (in v. 10). Not man! Not circumstances! Not his own cunning, as useful as that seemed to have been at Gath! He trusted God: “In God I trust.” It is because of this that he could ask, “What can man do to me?” and expect a negative answer.
Study Questions:

What language does David use to describe the fury of his enemies?
Describe the second account of David’s problem. What is David’s concern there?

Application: Experiencing unjust treatment from others, especially from Christians, can leave lingering feelings of bitterness. Ask the Lord for healing and renewal, as well as for conviction and repentance from those who have wronged you.

Study Questions
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