The Silent Dove in Distant Lands, Psalm 56

God puts your tears into a bottle that He might remember you

Psalm 56

By Don Ruhl

Have you heard of the “killer dove”? You haven’t? You need to get out more often. Read some more books on birds. Truthfully, the dove is not a predator, but is prey. The dove does not kill, but is killed. How then would a dove act in unfamiliar territory, such as in your house? He would be frightened.

So, if you wrote a tune named, “The Silent Dove,” what would it sound like? It would sound peaceful, pleasant, and harmless. If you wrote a tune named, “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands,” how would it sound? It would sound frightened, unpleasant, and dangerous. The tune David wrote for Psalm 56, he named, “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.”

Psalm 56.0 The Setting for the Psalm 

To the Chief Musician.
Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.”
A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.

David wrote this psalm after the Philistines captured him in Gath. First Samuel 21.10–15 shows what happened. He fled from Saul, a treacherous man, to the enemy of Israel, the Philistines. However, the Philistines reminded their king of David’s victories against them. Fearing for his life, David pretended to be insane and the king’s men drove him away from the king.

David saw God’s hand in all this and composed Psalm 56 about it. The name that David gave to this tune reflected the mood of the tune. A dove in a land where he did not belong. However, the tune changed when the dove had been set free to roam in his native land.

Psalm 56.1, 2 Mercy Versus Critics 

Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up;
Fighting all day he oppresses me.
My enemies would hound me all day,
For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.
(Psa 56.1, 2)

The lion and bear fighter, the giant killer, the warrior against all of Israel’s enemies, found himself in a situation where he could not fight his way out.

Therefore, David begged for mercy in the sight of God. David’s victories did not make him arrogant, but he humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt David in due time (1Pe 5.6).

Man wanted to swallow David up, but God could prevent it! Man fought against David without ceasing, looking for any faults that he might make. Many fought against him. They could have taken a poll and showed that he was unpopular, and therefore, he should go. They could have talked to others to see if they thought the same way, and thus, made themselves feel right and justified in actions they took against him.

Psalm 56.3, 4 Trust Versus Fear 

Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.
In God (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not fear.
What can flesh do to me?
(Psa 56.3, 4)

This man of men, warrior of all warriors, feared. Look what trusting in God does in the face of fear. Boldly David declared that in God he would trust and not fear, for what could man do to him? “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10.28).

David trusted in God because He promised David that he could. We have more of God’s word written down than David did, can we not trust in God more because of His promises?

Psalm 56.5–7 God’s Anger Versus Twisted Words 

All day they twist my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.
They gather together,
They hide, they mark my steps,
When they lie in wait for my life.
Shall they escape by iniquity?
In anger cast down the peoples, O God!
(Psa 56.5–7)

The enemy fought against David, with swords in their hands and with swords in their mouths. They twisted what he said.

Has someone twisted your words? Learn from that not to twist someone else’s words. Amazingly, some of the worst ones at this are other leaders.

In verse 6, David revealed that these people conspired against him, secretly marking his steps, that they might ruin his life. Mark 3 shows that David’s descendent experienced the same thing, “And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him” (Mark 3.1, 2). They did that during the worship service!

David knew that God knew the wicked works and words of these false witnesses and perverters of his words. Therefore, they would not escape for their iniquity. Rather God would cast them down in anger.

Psalm 56.8 Tears Versus Criticisms 

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
(Psa 56.8)

God knew the error of the wicked, but David knew that God knew David’s wanderings. He did not want the Lord to forget the agonies of David’s heart. He did not want his tears to fall onto the ground where the ground absorbs them and no one would know of his agony. He did not want them to dry on the cheek. Collect those tears and keep them in a bottle that they might remind God of David’s fears and troubles.

David knew that his wanderings and tears, God wrote in a book, but David wanted the extra assurance that God would remember and take action. If David’s tears were written in a book before God and kept in a bottle next to that book, surely the Lord would remember and act for David.

God sees our tears. The trouble dripping down our cheeks moves our heavenly Father. Second Kings 20 shows King Hezekiah shedding tears. God saw the tears. The tears moved God. “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you” (2Ki 20.5).

Both Revelation 7 and 21 reveal that God shall wipe away our tears, showing that He is aware of them, and in heaven He makes things in such a way as to take our tears away, even wiping the tears Himself.

Psalm 56.9–11 God Versus Critics 

When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.
In God (I will praise His word),
In the LORD (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
(Psa 56.9–11)

You saw David’s fear at the beginning of the psalm, like a silent dove in a distant land, but David had said he would trust in God and look what it did to David’s spirit. He went from fear to faith. He went from thinking of the wicked works of his enemies to God’s mercy.

David was for God, so God was for David, and he knew it.

Twice in verse 10, David started to say that in God, in Yahweh, David would trust, but it took the third try to complete the thought, because the promises of the word of God awed David.

Finally, in verse 11, David expressed his trust in God. David would not be afraid as he was earlier. If God was for David, what could man do to him?

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psa 27.1)

Psalm 56.12, 13 Vows Versus Falling 

Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God;
I will render praises to You,
For You have delivered my soul from death.
Have You not kept my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living?
(Psa 56.12, 13)

David knew that he was obligated to keep vows to God. Seven times in this psalm he said, “I will…” do something. He had requests of God, but he wanted God to know—and anyone reading this psalm to know—that it was not all about asking God to do everything, but David would do his part as he had promised.

Do you think about what God can do for you today? Or do you think about what you can do for God today?

Listen to his vows in this psalm:

3 Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.
4 (I will praise His word),
I will not fear.

10 (I will praise His word),
(I will praise His word),
11 I will not be afraid.
12 I will render praises to You

Those seven vows really consist of three.

David would trust in God.

David would praise God’s word.

David would praise God.

Ecclesiastes 5 shows that David taught the binding nature of vows to his son,

Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool’s voice is known by his many words.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed—Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God (Ecc 5.2–7).

David also wrote Psalm 15, explaining that those who keep their vows go to heaven,

LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who swears to his own hurt and does not change…
(Psa 15.1, 4)

Back in Psalm 56, David explained why he would keep his vows to God and praise Him. God delivered David’s soul from death. God kept David’s feet from falling. God enabled David to walk before God on the earth. How could David not praise God?

What has God done for you, especially in Jesus Christ? How can you keep from praising God? What has His word taught you? How can you keep from praising His word?

Do you want to be like Paul in Romans 8.31? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8.31).

Learn to be like David in Psalm 56. Notice the movement of his spirit in this psalm:

a In verses 1 and 2, he pled to God for help because David feared.

b Yet, in verses 3 and 4, he stated his trust in God although afraid.

c In verses 5–9, he explained what the enemy was doing.

b´In verses 10 and 11, he showed his resolve to trust God, dispensing with fear.

a´He ended in verses 12 and 13 affirming that he would keep his promises to God helped.

What have you vowed to God or to another person? If you were baptized, you vowed to die to self and to live for God. Are you keeping that vow? Do you need to renew it?


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