Psalm 56:1
To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath. Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.
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(1) Man . . .—Heb., enôsh, either as in Psalm 9:19, “mortal man,” or, contemptuously, “a rabble, a multitude.”

Psalm 56:1-2. Be merciful unto me, O God — This petition includes all the good we can come unto 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 he might find mercy with God, for with men he could find none. 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, or I am undone.” Thus, when we are surrounded on all sides with difficulties and dangers, we must flee and trust to, and pray in faith for, the mercy of God. For man — Hebrew, אנושׁ, enosh, weak, mortal, and miserable man, whom thou canst crush in an instant; would swallow me up — Like wild and ravenous beasts, rather than men. Hebrew, שׁאפני, sheapani, hath swallowed me up. The thing is begun, and in a manner done, if thou do not miraculously prevent it. Mine enemies — שׁוררי, shoreri, my observers, who narrowly mark all my paths, and watch for my halting, and for an opportunity to destroy me. They be many that fight against me — They trust to their great numbers, wherein they know themselves to be much superior to me; O thou Most High — Who from thy high place beholdest all their plots, and canst with perfect ease confound and blast them.

56:1-7 Be merciful unto me, O God. This petition includes all the good for which we come to throne of grace. If we obtain mercy there, we need no more to make us happy. It implies likewise our best plea, not our merit, but God's mercy, his free, rich mercy. We may flee to, and trust the mercy of God, when surrounded on all sides by difficulties and dangers. His enemies were too hard for him, if God did not help him. He resolves to make God's promises the matter of his praises, and so we have reason to make them. As we must not trust an arm of flesh when engaged for us, so we must not be afraid of an arm of flesh when stretched out against us. The sin of sinners will never be their security. Who knows the power of God's anger; how high it can reach, how forcibly it can strike?Be merciful unto me, O God - See the notes at Psalm 51:1.

For man would swallow me up - The word used here means properly to breathe hard; to pant; to blow hard; and then, to pant after, to yawn after with open mouth. The idea is, that people came upon him everywhere with open mouth, as if they would swallow him down whole. He found no friend in man - in any man. Everywhere his life was sought. There was no "man," wherever he might go, on whom he could rely, or whom he could trust; and his only refuge, therefore, was in God.

He fighting daily - Constantly; without intermission. That is, all people seemed to be at war with him, and to pursue him always.

Oppresseth me - Presses hard upon me; so presses on me as always to endanger my life, and so that I feel no security anywhere.


Ps 56:1-13. Upon Jonath-elem-rechokim—literally, "upon the dove of silence" of distant places; either denoting a melody (see on [598]Ps 9:1) of that name, to which this Psalm was to be performed; or it is an enigmatical form of denoting the subject, as given in the history referred to (1Sa 21:11, &c.), David being regarded as an uncomplaining, meek dove, driven from his native home to wander in exile. Beset by domestic and foreign foes, David appeals confidently to God, recites his complaints, and closes with joyful and assured anticipations of God's continued help.

1, 2. would swallow—literally, "pants as a raging beast" (Ac 9:1).

1 Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.

2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.

"Be merciful unto me, O God." In my deep distress my soul turns to thee, my God. Man has no mercy on me, therefore double thy mercy to me. If thy justice has let loose my enemies, let thy mercy shorten their chain. It Is sweet to see how the tender dove-like spirit of the Psalmist flies to the tenderest attribute for succour in the hour of peril. "For man would swallow me up." He is but thy creature, a mere man, yet like a monster he is eager for blood, he pants, he gapes for me; he would not merely wound me, or feed on my substance, but he would fain swallow me altogether, and so make an end of me. The open mouths of sinners when they rage against us should open our months in prayer. We may plead the cruelty of men as a reason for the divine interposition - a father is soon aroused when his children are shamefully entreated. "He fighting daily oppresseth me." He gives me no interval - he fights daily. He is successful in his unrighteous war - he oppresses me, he crushes me, he presses me sore. David has his eye on the leader of his foes, and lays his plaint against him in the right place. If we may thus plead against man, much more against that great enemy of souls, the devil. We ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses, which is another way of saying, "Be merciful unto me, O God," and then we say, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The more violent the attack of Satan the stronger our plea for deliverance.

Psalm 56:2

"Mine enemies would daily swallow me up." Their appetite for blood never fails them. With them there is no truce or armistice. They are many, but one mind animates them. Nothing I can do can make them relent. Unless they can quite devour me they will never be content. The ogres of nursery tales exist in reality in the enemies of the church, who would crush the bones of the godly, and make a mouthful of them if they could. "For they be many that fight against me." Sinners are gregarious creatures. Persecutors hunt in packs. These wolves of the church seldom come down upon us singly. The number of our foes is a powerful plea for the interposition of the one Defender of the faithful, who is mightier than all their bands. These foes of the gracious are also keen-eyed, and ever on the watch, hence the margin calls them "observers." "O thou most High." Thus he invokes against the lofty ones of the earth the aid of one who is higher than the highest. Some translate the words differently, and think that the writer means that his foes assailed him from the high places in which pride and power had placed them. Saul, his great foe, attacked him from his throne with all the force which his high position placed at his disposal: our comfort in such a case is near to hand, for God will help us from a higher place than our proudest foes can occupy. The greatness of God as the Most High is a fertile source of consolation to weak saints oppressed by mighty enemies. Jonath-elem-reehokim is supposed to be the name of a song; but many render it, as the words signify, concerning the dumb dove afar off; all which agrees very well to David in his present circumstances. He calls himself a dove for his innocency, and folly (which is ascribed to the dove, Hosea 7:11) in casting himself into this snare; and for his vexation and persecution by his enemies, those birds of prey; and for his sad and mournful posture. Silent he was, and it was his prudence so to be in this place and condition; and he was in a place remote enough from his father’s house, and from God’s sanctuary, where his heart was.

When the Philistines took him in Gath; when being chased by Saul’s restless malice, he had put himself into the hands and power of the Philistines at Gath; where when he was the following meditations came into his mind, which after his escape he digested into this order and Psalm.

David, praying to God, complaineth of his sufferings, and magnifieth his word, Psalm 56:1-10; is confident of God’s fulfilling it, and promiseth to praise him for it, Psalm 56:11-13.

Man, i.e. men, weak and miserable men, as the word signifies, whom thou canst crush in an instant; Saul and his courtiers, who have driven me hither; and now Achish and the Philistines, who have oft sought my ruin, which now they have opportunity to effect.

Would swallow me up; like wild and ravenous beasts, rather than men. Heb. hath swallowed me up. The thing is begun, and in a manner done, if thou dost not miraculously prevent it.

Be merciful unto me, O God,.... For David could expect no mercy at the hands of men, among whom he was, whose tender mercies were cruel; he being at Gath, the city of Goliath, whom he had slain, and whose sword he had now with him; and among his brethren and friends, who he might justly fear would revenge his death upon him: wherefore he betakes himself to God, and pleads not any merit or righteousness of his own, but implores the grace and mercy of God; and he might expect to find grace and mercy in this his time of need, since there is mercy with the Lord; he is plenteous in it, distributes it freely, delights in so doing, and does it constantly; his mercy endures for ever, it is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear him;

for man would swallow me up; the Targum renders it "isbi", a wicked man: it may be understood of some one man, some great man, as Achish king of Gath; or rather Saul king of Israel, who breathed and panted after his ruin and destruction, as the word (p), signifies; who sought to eat up his flesh, to take away his life, and utterly ruin him: or collectively of many, since it appears, by the following verse, that he had many enemies who were desirous to swallow him up. This he mentions as an aggravation of his distress, and as a reason why he hoped the Lord would be merciful to him; and that he, being God, would not suffer than to prevail; see 2 Chronicles 14:12;

he fighting daily oppresseth me; this shows that Saul is more especially intended, who was continually with his army pursuing him, and sometimes surrounded him and his men, and reduced him to great distress. This may be applied to the old man, the corruptions of nature, and the lusts of the flesh, which are continually warring against the soul, oppress it, bring it into captivity, and threaten to swallow it up.

(p) "anhelus persequitur me", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "anhelat in me", Cocceius; "contra me", Gejerus.

<{a} when the Philistines took him in Gath.>> Be merciful unto me, O God: for {b} man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.

(a) Being chased by the fury of his enemies into a strange country, he was a dumb dove not seeking vengeance.

(b) He shows that if God will help him, it must be now or never for all the world is against him and ready to devour him.

1. Be merciful] Be gracious: see note on Psalm 51:1, and cp. Psalm 57:1.

for man would swallow me up] Like a wild beast rushing upon its prey. But all the Ancient Versions render trample upon or crush, which may be right. Cp. Psalm 57:3. The word for man denotes mortal man as contrasted with God. Cp. Psalm 9:19; Psalm 10:18. Will the Almighty allow weak men to triumph against His Will?

he fighting daily &c.] R.V., all the day long lie fighting oppresseth me. See note on Psalm 42:9. ‘All the day long’ is a phrase characteristic of this Psalms , vv2, 5.

1–4. However fiercely his enemies may assault him, he will trust in God, Who will surely be true to His promise.

Verse 1. - Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; literally, man panteth after me - like a wild beast after his prey. The contrast is sharp between "man" (enosh, "weak man") and God (Elohim, "the Mighty One"). He fighting daily oppreseeth me; rather, all the day long is he fighting and oppressing me. Psalm 56:1אלהים and אנושׁ, Psalm 56:2 (Psalm 9:20; Psalm 10:18), are antitheses: over against God, the majestic One, men are feeble beings. Their rebellion against the counsel of God is ineffective madness. If the poet has God's favour on his side, then he will face these pigmies that behave as though they were giants, who fight against him מרום, moving on high, i.e., proudly (cf. ממּרום, Psalm 73:8), in the invincible might of God. שׁאף, inhiare, as in Psalm 57:4; לחם, as in Psalm 35:1, with ל like אל, e.g., in Jeremiah 1:19. Thus, then, he does not fear; in the day when (Ges. ֗123, 3, b) he might well be afraid (conjunctive future, as e.g., in Joshua 9:27), he clings trustfully to (אל as in Psalm 4:6, and frequently, Proverbs 3:5) his God, so that fear cannot come near him. He has the word of His promise on his side (דּברו as e.g., Psalm 130:5); בּאלהים, through God will he praise this His word, inasmuch as it is gloriously verified in him. Hupfeld thus correctly interprets it; whereas others in part render it "in Elohim do I praise His word," in part (and the form of this favourite expression in Psalm 56:11 is opposed to it): "Elohim do I celebrate, His word." Hitzig, however, renders it: "Of God do I boast in matter," i.e., in the present affair; which is most chillingly prosaic in connection with an awkward brevity of language. The exposition is here confused by Psalm 10:3 and Psalm 44:9. הלּל does not by any means signify gloriari in this passage, but celebrare; and באלהים is not intended in any other sense than that in Psalm 60:14. בּטח בּ is equivalent to the New Testament phrase πιστεύειν ἐν. לא אירא is a circumstantial clause with a finite verb, as is customary in connection with לא, Psalm 35:8, Job 29:24, and עב, Proverbs 19:23.
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