Psalm 56:5-8

5. Every day my words vex me; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they watch my heels, because they seek my soul.1 7. After their mischief they think to escape: in thine anger cast down the peoples, O God! 8. Thou hast taken account of my wandering; put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy register?


5. Every day my words vex me. The first part of this verse has been variously rendered. Some understand my words to be the nominative in the sentence, and with these I agree in opinion. Others suppose a reference to the enemies of David, and translate, they calumniate my words, or, they cause me grief on account of my words. Again, wbuey, yeatsebu, has been taken in the neuter sense, and translated, my words are troublesome. But bue2, atsab, commonly signifies to afflict with grief, and in Pihel is always taken transitively; nor does there seem any reason in this place to depart from the general rule of the language. And the passage flows more naturally when rendered, my words affect me with grief, or vex me, than by supposing that he refers to his enemies. According to this translation, the verse contains a double complaint, that, on the one hand, he was himself unsuccessful in everything which he attempted, his plans having still issued in vexatious failure; while, on the other hand, his enemies were devising every means for his destruction. It may appear at first sight rather inconsistent to suppose that he should immediately before have disclaimed being under the influence of fear, and now acknowledge that he was not only distressed, but in some measure the author of his own discomfort. I have already observed, however, that he is not to be considered as having been absolutely divested of anxiety and fear, although enabled to look down with contempt upon his enemies from the eminence of faith. Here he speaks of the circumstances which tried him, which his faith certainly overcame, but at the same time could not altogether remove out of the way. He confesses his own lack of wisdom and foresight, shown in the abortive issue of every plan which he devised. It aggravated the evil, that his enemies were employing their united counsels to plot his ruin. He adds, that they gathered themselves together; and this made his case the more calamitous, matched as he was, a single individual, against this numerous host. In mentioning that they hide themselves, he adverts to the subtile devices which they framed for surprising him into destruction. The verb wnypuy, yitsponu, by grammatical rule ought to have the letter w, vau, in the middle; from which the general opinion is, that the y yod, is as it were the mark of Hiphil, denoting that the enemies of David came to the determination of employing an ambush, with the view of surrounding him. He tells us that they pressed upon him in every direction, and as it were trod upon his heels, so that he had no respite. And he points at their implacable hatred as the cause of their eager pursuit of him; for nothing, he informs us, would satisfy them but his death.

7. After their mischief they think to escape. The beginning of this verse is read by some interrogatively, Shall they escape in their iniquity?3 But there is no necessity for having recourse to this distant meaning. It is much better to understand the words in the sense which they naturally suggest when first read, That the wicked think to escape in their iniquity, but that God will cast them down. He alludes to the fact that the ungodly, when allowed to proceed without interruption in their evil courses, indulge the idea that they have a license to perpetrate the worst wickedness with impunity. In these our own times, we see many such profane characters, who display an unmeasured audacity under the assurance that God's hand can never reach them. They not only look to go unpunished, but found their hopes of success upon their evil deeds, and encourage themselves to farther wickedness, by cherishing the opinion that they will contrive a way of escape from every adversity. David has no sooner stated this vain confident persuasion of the wicked, than he refutes it by an appeal to the judgment of God, declaring his conviction that, however proudly they might exalt themselves, the hour of vengeance would come when God would cast down the peoples. He makes use of the plural number, to fortify his mind against fear, when he reflected upon the array of his enemies. Let us remember, when our enemies are many, that it is one of the prerogatives of God to cast down the people, and not one nation of foes merely, but the world.

8. Thou hast taken account of my wanderings. The words run in the form of an abrupt prayer. Having begun by requesting God to consider his tears, suddenly, as if he had obtained what he asked, he declares that they were written in God's book. It is possible, indeed, to understand the interrogation as a prayer; but he would seem rather to insinuate by this form of expression, that he stood in no need of multiplying words, and that God had already anticipated his desire. It is necessary, however, to consider the words of the verse more particularly. He speaks of his wandering as having been noted by God, and this that he may call attention to one remarkable feature of his history, his having been forced to roam a solitary exile for so long a period. The reference is not to any one wandering; the singular number is used for the plural, or rather, he is to be understood as declaring emphatically that his whole life was only one continued wandering. This he urges as an argument to commiseration, spent as his years had been in the anxieties and dangers of such a perplexing pilgrimage. Accordingly, he prays that God might put his tears into his bottle.4 It was usual to preserve the wine and oil in bottles: so that the words amount to a request that God would not suffer his tears to fall to the ground, but keep them with care as a precious deposit. The prayers of David, as appears from the passage before us, proceeded upon faith in the providence of God, who watches our every step, and by whom (to use an expression of Christ)

"the very hairs of our head are numbered,"
(Matthew 10:30.)

Unless persuaded in our mind that God takes special notice of each affliction which we endure, it is impossible we can ever attain such confidence as to pray that God would put our tears into his bottle, with a view to regarding them, and being induced by them to interpose in our behalf. He immediately adds, that he had obtained what he asked: for, as already observed, I prefer understanding the latter clause affirmatively. He animates his hope by the consideration that all his tears were written in the book of God, and would therefore be certainly remembered. And we may surely believe, that if God bestows such honor upon the tears of his saints, he must number every drop of their blood which is shed. Tyrants may burn their flesh and their bones, but the blood remains to cry aloud for vengeance; and intervening ages can never erase what has been written in the register of God's remembrance.

1 "Ou, ne demandent qu'a m'oster la vie." -- Fr. marg. "Or, they want only to take away my life."

2 Horsley observes, that the primary meaning of the verb bue, atsab, is "perhaps to do a thing with great labor, to take pains about it; if, indeed, its primary meaning be not to distort. Hence it may signify to affect the mind with any unpleasing passion or sensation, grief, vexation, anger; for every perturbation is a sort of distortion of the mind. yle wbuey yrbr -- 'torquent contra me verba mea,' -- 'torquent, i.e., labouriose fingunt in mentem alienam et sensum alienum.' -- Pagninus after Aben Ezra and R.D." -- Horsley. Hammond, after stating that bze, atsab, signifies primarily to grieve, or be in pain, and that by metonomy it is used for the laborious framing or forming of any thing, says, "Here, being applied to another's words or speeches, it seems to denote the depraving them, laboring and using great art and diligence to put them into such a form as may be most for the disadvantage of the speaker, turning and winding them to his hurt, in putting some odious gloss upon them, and so, according to sense, may most fully be rendered depraving."

3 French and Skinner read, "Shall they escape after their wickedness? " and observe, that the Hebrew is, "Is there escape for them? " the meaning being, that they assuredly will not escape, because of their wickedness.

4 Some think that there is here an allusion to an ancient custom of putting the tears of mourners into lachrymal urns or bottles. In the Roman tombs there are found small vials, or bottles of glass or pottery, usually called ampulloe, or urnoe lachrymales, which, it has been supposed, contained tears shed by the surviving relatives and friends, and were deposited in the sepulchres of the deceased as memorials of affection and sorrow. If in this passage there is a reference to this custom, it must have existed at an early period among the Hebrews. It may however be doubted, whether there is any such allusion. "It is only a modern conjecture that these bottles 'found in the Roman tombs' have been deposited there for such a purpose, and there is no trace of such a custom in ancient writings or sculptures. Some think they were intended to contain the perfumes used in sprinkling the funeral pile. On some of them there is the representation of one or two eyes, and this seems to favor the former view." -- Illustrated Commentary on the Bible. Let it also be observed, that the word dan, nod, here translated bottle, means a sort of bottle which had no resemblance to these Roman urns. It was made of a goat's or kid's skin, and was used by the Hebrews for keeping their wine, their milk, and their oil. Compare 1 Samuel 16:20; Joshua 9:13; Judges 4:19; Matthew 9:17. "Besides," as Bishop Mant remarks, "the treasuring up of the Psalmist's tears shed by him during his own sufferings, seems a very different thing from the offering up of the tears of surviving relations or friends, as memorials on the tomb of a deceased person." The expression, "Put thou my tears into thy bottle," may be viewed as simply meaning, Let not my tears fall unnoticed; let my distress and the tears which it has wrung from me be ever before thee, excite thy compassion, and plead with thee to grant me relief. As the choicest things, such as wine and milk, were put into bottles, the Psalmist may also be understood as praying that his tears might not only be noted by God, but prized by him. The dam, nod, was of large capacity, and used for churning as well as for wine. It may therefore contain a reference to the large quantity of tears which David's affliction forced from him. -- Harmer's Observations, volume 2, pp. 121, 122.