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56. Psalm 56

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

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

3What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.

4In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.

5Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil.

6They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.

7Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.

8Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

9When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.

10In God will I praise his word: in the Lord will I praise his word.

11In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.

12Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee.

13For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?

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 334334     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 נאד, 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 מאד, 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. — Harmers Observations, volume 2, pp. 121, 122. 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.

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