Psalm 56:8
You tell my wanderings: put you my tears into your bottle: are they not in your book?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Wanderings.—Rather, in the singular, wandering, which, from the parallelism with “tears,” must mean “mental restlessness,” the “tossings to and fro of the mind.” Symmachus, “my inmost things.”

Put thou my tears into thy bottle.—There is a play of words in the original of “bottle,” and “wandering.” We must not, of course, think of the lachrymatories, as they are called, of glass, which have been found in Syria (see Thomson, Land and Book, page 103). If these were really in any way connected with “tears,” they must have formed part of funeral customs. The LXX., “Thou hast put my tears before thee,” and Symmachus and Jerome, “put my tears in thy sight,” suggest a corruption of the text; but, in any case, the poet’s feeling here is that of Constance in Shakespeare’s King John

“His grandam’s wrongs, and not his mother’s shames,

Draw these heaven-moving pearls from his poor eyes,

Which heaven shall take in nature of a fee;

Ay, with those crystal beads Heaven shall be brib’d

To do him justice and revenge on you.”

Book.—As in Psalm 139:16. Some prefer “calculation.”

Psalm 56:8. Thou tellest my wanderings — “Thou art perfectly acquainted, I am sure, how often I have been forced to flee, like a vagabond, from place to place; which hath cost me many a tear. Good Lord, preserve a kind remembrance of them, and let them not perish as things thou nothing regardest.” — Bishop Patrick. “David’s whole life, from his victory over Goliath till the death of Saul, was almost entirely spent in wandering from place to place. He was now an exile at Gath; he comforts himself, however, in the consideration that God was with him, whithersoever he fled; and that he beheld, as no unconcerned spectator, the distresses of his unhappy situation. He therefore adds, Put thou my tears into thy bottle; which seems to intimate that the custom of putting tears into the ampullæ, or urnæ lacrymales, so well known among the Romans, was more anciently in use among the eastern nations, and particularly among the Hebrews. These urns were of different materials, some of glass, some of earth, and were placed on the sepulchres of the deceased, as a memorial of the distress and affection of their surviving friends and relations. It will be difficult to account for this expression of the psalmist but upon this supposition. If this be allowed when the psalmist prays, Put my tears into thy bottle, the meaning will be, ‘Let my distress, and the tears I have shed in consequence of it, be ever before thee; let them excite thy kind remembrance of me, and plead with thee to grant the relief I stand in need of.’ The allusion is pertinent and expressive:” see Chandler and Calmet. Are they not in thy book — But why do I pray God to do that which I am well assured he is of himself inclined to do, and hath already done? Thus the psalmist signifies “the confidence which he placed in the kind regard of God toward him, as though he took an account of every tear he shed, and would, in due time, remember and comfort him. The continual care and providence which God exercises over his people, is frequently represented by his keeping a book, or register, in which he records their conception, Psalm 139:15; their birth, Psalm 87:6; their actions, Malachi 3:16; and what shall happen to them, Jeremiah 22:30; Daniel 12:1.” — Dodd.56:8-13 The heavy and continued trials through which many of the Lord's people have passed, should teach us to be silent and patient under lighter crosses. Yet we are often tempted to repine and despond under small sorrows. For this we should check ourselves. David comforts himself, in his distress and fear, that God noticed all his grievances and all his griefs. God has a bottle and a book for his people's tears, both the tears for their sins, and those for their afflictions. He observes them with tender concern. Every true believer may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and then I will not fear what man shall do unto me; for man has no power but what is given him from above. Thy vows are upon me, O Lord; not as a burden, but as that by which I am known to be thy servant; as a bridle that restrains me from what would be hurtful, and directs me in the way of my duty. And vows of thankfulness properly accompany prayers for mercy. If God deliver us from sin, either from doing it, or by his pardoning mercy, he has delivered our souls from death, which is the wages of sin. Where the Lord has begun a good work he will carry it on and perfect it. David hopes that God would keep him even from the appearance of sin. We should aim in all our desires and expectations of deliverance, both from sin and trouble, that we may do the better service to the Lord; that we may serve him without fear. If his grace has delivered our souls from the death of sin, he will bring us to heaven, to walk before him for ever in light.Thou tellest my wanderings - Thou dost "number" or "recount" them; that is, in thy own mind. Thou dost keep an account of them; thou dost notice me as I am driven from one place to another to find safety. "My wanderings," to Gath, 1 Samuel 21:10; to the cave of Adullam, 1 Samuel 22:1; to Mizpeh, in Moab, 1 Samuel 22:3; to the forest of Hareth, 1 Samuel 22:5; to Keilah, 1 Samuel 23:5; to the wilderness of Ziph, 1 Samuel 23:14; to the wilderness of Maon, 1 Samuel 23:25; to En-gedi, 1 Samuel 24:1-2.

Put thou my tears into thy bottle - The tears which I shed in my wanderings. Let them not fall to the ground and be forgotten. Let them be remembered by thee as if they were gathered up and placed in a bottle - "a lachrymatory" - that they may be brought to remembrance hereafter. The word here rendered "bottle" means properly a bottle made of skin, such as was used in the East; but it may be employed to denote a bottle of any kind. It is possible, and, indeed, it seems probable, that there is an allusion here to the custom of collecting tears shed in a time of calamity and sorrow, and preserving them in a small bottle or "lachrymatory," as a memorial of the grief. The Romans had a custom, that in a time of mourning - on a funeral occasion - a friend went to one in sorrow, and wiped away the tears from the eyes with a piece of cloth, and squeezed the tears into a small bottle of glass or earth, which was carefully preserved as a memorial of friendship and sorrow.

Many of these lachrymatories have been found in the ancient Roman tombs. I myself saw a large quantity of them in the "Columbaria" at Rome, and in the Capitol, among the relics and curiosities of the place. The above engraving will illustrate the form of these lachrymatories. The annexed remarks of Dr. Thomson ("land and the Book," vol. i. p. 147), will show that the same custom prevailed in the East, and will describe the forms of the "tear-bottles" that were used there. "These lachrymatories are still found in great numbers on opening ancient tombs. A sepulchre lately discovered in one of the gardens of our city had scores of them in it. They are made of thin glass, or more generally of simple pottery, often not even baked or glazed, with a slender body, a broad bottom, and a funnel-shaped top. They have nothing in them but "dust" at present. If the friends were expected to contribute their share of tears for these bottles, they would very much need cunning women to cause their eyelids to gush out with water. These forms of ostentatious sorrow have ever been offensive to sensible people. Thus Tacitus says, 'At my funeral let no tokens of sorrow be seen, no pompous mockery of woe. Crown me with chaplets, strew flowers on my grave, and let my friends erect no vain memorial to tell where my remains are lodged. '"

Are they not in thy book? - In thy book of remembrance; are they not numbered and recorded so that they will not be forgotten? This expresses strong confidence that his tears "would" be remembered; that they would not be forgotten. All the tears that we shed "are" remembered by God. If "properly" shed - shed in sorrow, without murmuring or complaining, they will be remembered for our good; if "improperly shed" - if with the spirit of complaining, and with a want of submission to the divine will, they will be remembered against us. But it is not wrong to weep. David wept; the Saviour wept; nature prompts us to weep; and it cannot be wrong to weep if "our" eye "poureth out" its tears "unto God" Job 16:20; that is, if in our sorrow we look to God with submission and with earnest supplication.

8. God is mindful of his exile and remembers his tears. The custom of bottling the tears of mourners as a memorial, which has existed in some Eastern nations, may explain the figure. My wanderings: here I have been hunted from place to place, and am now driven hither.

Put my tears into thy bottle; regard, and remember, and pity them.

Are they not in thy book? but why do I pray to God to do that which I am well assured he is of himself inclined to do, and hath already done? Thou tellest my wanderings,.... Not his sins; though these are aberrations or wanderings from the ways of God's commandments; yet these are not told by the Lord: he takes no account of them; the number of them is not kept by him; they are blotted out, cast behind his back, and into the depths of the sea; though sometimes his people think they are told and numbered by him, Job 14:16; but David's moves and flights from place to place are meant, through Saul's pursuit of him, as a partridge on the mountains. Some writers reckon twelve of these moves. The Targum renders it,

"thou numberest the days of my wandering;''

that is, the days of his pilgrimage and sojourning in this world: the number of our days, and months and years, in which we wander about in this uncertain state of things, is with the Lord, Job 14:5;

put thou my tears into thy bottle; the allusion is to "lachrymatories", or tear bottles, in which surviving relatives dropped their tears for their deceased friends, and buried them with their ashes, or in their urns; some of which tear bottles are still to be seen in the cabinets of the curious. A description of which is given by Gejerus (c), from Olaus Wormius; and who also from Cotovicus relates, that the grave of M. Tullius Cicero was dug up in the island of Zacynthus, A. D. 1544, in which were found two glass urns; the larger had ashes in it, the lesser water: the one was supposed to contain his ashes, the other the tears of his friends: and as this was a custom with the Romans, something like this might obtain among the Jews; and it is a saying with them (d),

"whoever sheds tears for a good man (deceased) the holy blessed God numbers them, and puts them into his treasures, according to Psalm 56:8;''

which shows, that they thought that reference is here had to funeral tears. The meaning of the text is, that God would take notice of David's afflictions and troubles, which had caused so many tears, and remember them, and deliver him out of them: these being desired to be put into a bottle was, that they might be kept and reserved; not to make atonement for sin; for as a thousand rivers of oil cannot expiate one sin, could they be come at; so neither as many rivers of brinish tears, could they possibly be shed: nor to obtain heaven and happiness; for there is no comparison nor proportion between the sufferings of the saints and the glory that shall be revealed in them; though there is a connection of grace through the promise of God between them: but rather, that they might be brought forth another day and shown, to the aggravation of the condemnation of wicked men, who by their hard speeches, and ungodly actions, have caused them;

are they not in thy book? verily they are; that is, the tears and afflictions of his people. They are in his book of purposes; they are all appointed by him, their kind and nature, their measure and duration, their quality and quantity; what they shall be, and how long they shall last; and their end and use: and they are in his book of providence, and are all overruled and caused to work for their good; and they are in the book of his remembrance; they are taken notice of and numbered by him, and shall be finished; they shall not exceed their bounds. These tears will be turned into joy, and God will wipe them all away from the eyes of his people.

(c) De Ebr. Luctu, c. 12. s. 5. (d) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 105. 2.

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my {g} tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

(g) If God stores the tears of his saints, much more will he remember their blood, to avenge it: and though tyrants burn the bones, yet they cannot blot the tears and blood out of God's register.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. Thou tellest my wanderings] Thou countest the days and adventures of my fugitive life, while I am driven from my home as a wanderer and vagabond (Psalm 36:11, notes); not one of them escapes Thy notice (Job 31:4; Matthew 10:30). Tell, as in Psalm 22:17, Psalm 48:12, means count.

put thou my tears] Or, my tears are put.

into thy bottle] By a bold figure God is said to collect and treasure his tears, as though they were precious wine. Kay quotes St. Bernard’s saying, “Lacrimae poenitentium vinum angelorum.” The ‘bottle’ is the skin bottle of Oriental countries, holding a considerable quantity (Joshua 9:4; Joshua 9:13; 1 Samuel 16:20; Psalm 119:83). There is no reference to the use of so-called ‘lachrymatories.’

are they not in thy book?] Or, record. For God’s ‘book of remembrance’ see Malachi 3:16. Cp. Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Psalm 139:16. The abrupt question is characteristic of this Psalm. Cp. Psalm 56:4; Psalm 56:13.Verse 8. - Thou tellest my wanderings; i.e. thou, O God, takest account of my wretched wandering life (1 Samuel 21-30), and notest each occasion when I am forced to move from one city, or cave, or wilderness to another. Put thou my tears into thy bottle. Take also note of my tears - let them not pass unheeded. Rather, gather them drop by drop, and store them, as costly wine is stored, in a flask. The thought, thus dressed in a metaphor, was, no doubt (as Professor Cheyne observes), "Store them up in thy memory." Are they not in thy book? i.e. hast thou not anticipated my request, and entered an account of every tear that I have shed, in thy book of records (comp. Psalm 69:28; Psalm 139:16)? אלהים 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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