This study © 2000 by David Humpal
Answers for Todayís Problems from Ancient Texts
Stress is certainly a modern malady. When we think of what previous generations had to endure -- poverty, persecution, disease, hard work, we marvel how they could possibly cope with all the challenges. We have more modern conveniences, benefits of medicine, and leisure time than any people at any time on the face of the planet. Yet amid this kinder, gentler lifestyle, we find that the burdens of life sometimes seem to overwhelm us. Stress can affect us in many ways.
Doan wrote, ďWhen you feel down at the mouth, think of Jonah. He came out all right.Ē Although this is a true sentiment, it is sometimes not so easy to put aside stress in our life.
David had experienced plenty of hardship in his life. In the title of this psalm, we see it was written when David was captured by the Philistines. He pretended to be crazy so that the Philistines would have nothing to do with him, and he was able to make his escape. During this time David was under stress for his very life. God caused David to write this psalm to help us understand how we can handle stress.
Spurgeon suggests that the phrase in the title of this psalm should be read, ďthe silent dove in distant places.Ē He suggests this was Davidís title for the song since it certainly would be appropriate for the circumstances and the words of this beautiful composition. Do you feel like a silent dove in distant places? If so, then this psalm was written for you!
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.
The first thing that David did was to go to God. David felt that he was being swallowed up and that he was being hounded all day. Have you ever felt that way? It seems that your troubles are surrounding you and threatening to engulf your body, soul, and spirit? No matter where you turn, it seems that troubles are everywhere. You canít seem to get away from them. Notice what David did when he felt this way -- he went to God. When you feel like youíre being swallowed up, go to God.
There is the Aesopís Fable of The Oxen and the Axle Wheels. ďA heavy wagon was being dragged along a country lane by a team of Oxen. The Axle Wheels groaned and creaked terribly; whereupon the Oxen, turning round, thus addressed the wheels: ĎHello there! why do you make so much noise? We bear all the labor, and we, not you, ought to cry outí.Ē
To apply that fable to our times of stress -- we are the axle wheels and God is the oxen pulling the load. Sometimes we like to moan and cry out because we have forgotten who is really bearing our heavy load.
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
The next thing that David does is to trust God in spite of any fears. David admits that there are times when he is afraid, but he says that when he is afraid, he trusts in God. He acknowledges that there will be times when fear, troubles, or stress will overwhelm him. But when those times occur, he has decided he will have confidence in God. You may be saying, ďThatís easy for David to say, but he doesnít know how miserable I feel.Ē
I believe David did understand how miserable you feel. I think he experienced some of the deepest despair and persecution that anyone could encounter. God allowed him to go through these times of stress because God knew that David would write these beautiful psalms teaching us the correct way to respond to troubles. David was in a foreign land and his life was in danger. He was desperately pretending to be suffering from dementia in order to save himself from death. He was under tremendous stress and fear. And yet, he is still able to write, ďWhenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.Ē
Faith is not a feeling. Faith is a commitment we make that when things are going bad and our emotions are causing us to panic, that we will still trust God -- in spite of how we feel. Someone told me recently that if there is no risk of danger, there is no opportunity to exercise true faith. We can say that we have faith, and we can say that we trust God. But only when we are under enormous pressure and facing real danger, do we learn whether our commitment to God is real, or only empty words. Faith is not based on our feelings; it is based on our commitment to God.
In God, I will praise His word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?
These words represent the theme of Davidís psalm. They are similar to the sentiment expressed in verse 3, and these words are repeated again in verses 10-11. In these few words, David shows us five things we need to do during times of stress or panic.
In God -- the first and most important thing we can do is realize that we are in God. He is with us and will help us.
Praise his word -- we need to believe Godís promises. Time spent in Bible reading and study will help to prepare us for those times when we need to know Godís promises and believe them for our problems.
Put our trust in God -- when we are under stress, we need to take definite action to put our trust, or place our trust, in God. We say that we have confidence in God, but sometimes we are so overwhelmed that we have to force ourselves to actually place that trust in Godís hands. Stress, worry, anxiety may all be distracting us and causing us to abandon hope, but in spite of these distractions we must reach beyond our circumstances and put our faith in God.
Donít fear -- we know from verse 3 that David is afraid, but he is saying that in spite of the fearful thoughts and feelings of despair, he will pledge to not fear. This may almost seem like a paradox, but it isnít. To pledge that we will not fear, even when we are scared to death, will help us to gain a spiritual perspective on our problems.
What can flesh do to me? -- David asks himself this important question. Whatís the worst thing that could happen? Even if they killed him, he would go into the presence of God. And no flesh can overrule God or circumvent Godís purpose in our life. What can flesh do to you? God is your protector and refuge. Do you really believe that?
All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil.
Donít you hate it at work when people twist your words or use what you say against you? I have had that happen to me, and when it does, I try to remember what I had said that could cause people to think that way toward me. Nothing is more frustrating than when people twist your words. Davidís enemies not only twisted his words, but they did it intentionally -- their thoughts were evil against him! Sometimes we may feel like questioning a personís motivation for using our words against us, but I have learned that most of the time it is simply a misunderstanding. But there may be times when people are really out to get you. In either case, this can produce a very stressful situation at work, at school, in the community, or with relatives.
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!
David prays for deliverance. As we can tell from verse 6, Davidís enemies were serious with their evil intentions. We may feel that there are those out to get us. If it seems that people are watching your every move and listening to your every word for the purpose of accusing you, it can be very stressful and frustrating. At those times, do what David did -- go to God and pray for deliverance. David prayed that God would cast these people down. One of the most effective ways to handle people at work who seem to have a special dislike for you is to pray for them. Not only can there be a change in the behavior of the other person, but also there can be a change in our attitude toward that person.
You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?
When we are under stress, it is all right to cry before God. David was so overwhelmed by his circumstances, that he writes, ďput my tears into your bottle.Ē Has stress caused you tearful nights of sorrow? Do you feel that you are just wandering through the days? David understood that even his tears were written in Godís book. They were not overlooked or forgotten. When you feel like crying from affliction, remember to cry before God. When we cry alone, those tears will remain tears of sorrow. But when we cry before God, we will find that we will be comforted in our pain.
Spurgeon comments, ďHis sorrows were so many that there would need a great wine-skin to hold them all. ... Look on my griefs as real things, for these move the heart more than a mere account, however exact. How condescending is the Lord! How exact his knowledge of us! How generous his estimations! How tender his regard!Ē
When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.
To overcome stress, we must know God. David could say with confidence, ďmy enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.Ē The reason he could say this is that he knew God -- he understood Godís mercy, character, and justice. David had confidence in God because he knew Godís attributes. This knowledge only comes from time spent in prayer, in Bible study, in meditation, and in communion with our Lord. Some Christians only pray seriously during times of crisis. When we are distracted by feelings of hopelessness, it is difficult to gain a clear understanding of who God is. But when we spend time alone with God during the good times as well as the bad, during the joyful times as well as the sorrowful, during the smooth times as well as the rough, then we will find we have a much better understanding of the character and nature of our Redeemer.
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?
As pointed out earlier, these two verses are a repeat of the theme in verse 4. But here in verse 10 David expands upon the idea of praising Godís word. This is probably a foreign idea to us. We think of praising God, or praising Jesus, or worshipping spiritually. But we donít think of praising Godís word. The Hebrew word used here íhallel is used for enthusiastic praise or shining with praise. So this does not seem to be a euphemism for honoring Godís word or being thankful for Godís word. It really means to praise Godís word.
When I was 19 and had just recommitted my life to God, I read through my Bible with new insight. God was teaching me all kinds of things. I bought me one of those two-sided pencils that had blue lead on one side and red lead on the other side. I did this so I could distinguish between passages next to each other, matching the color of my notes in the margin to the color of the underlined or bracketed verses. I also used blue and black ink. My old Bible, which I still have, has all kinds of colored markings and cross-references. I loved studying Godís word, and to this day I still do.
When David said that he praised Godís word, it wasnít that he was elevating the written word, rather he was acknowledging what those words stood for -- the firm and sure promises of the one who made them.
Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You.
The next step in overcoming stress is to render praise to God. David wrote that ďvows made to you are binding upon me.Ē We might think that David is talking of making a bargain with God for his deliverance -- something like, ďIf you get me out this mess, I promise to attend church every Sunday.Ē Certainly we can make vows like that, and this may be what David is referring to. As Spurgeon remarks, ďThe practice of making solemn vows in times of trouble is to be commended, when it is followed by the far less common custom of fulfilling them when the trouble is over.Ē
But on the other hand, David may be speaking of the commitments he has already made to God. He has already pledged his trust and his faith. He has already committed to serve God. And he has already committed to worship and honor God. He may simply be reminding himself that the commitment he has made to have faith in God is binding on him. It does not change when he doesnít feel like he has much faith. It doesnít change when the enemy surrounds him. It doesnít change by the whim of circumstance. His commitment to trust God is real and so it is binding on his soul. He will honor that commitment, and trust God, no matter how fearful his heart may be.
Because of his commitment to God, David renders praise to God even in his misery. What stress or agony are you facing? Honor your commitment of faith by praising God. When we praise God, it is amazing how unimportant our problems become in the light of our renewed focus on the Almighty.
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?
To overcome distresses of today, remember Godís deliverances of yesterday. David remembers those times when God delivered him from death, those times when God kept his feet from falling, and those times when he was rescued to walk in the light of the living. Because of those past times of deliverance, David will trust that God will deliver him once again from his troubles. Has God delivered you in the past? He will do it once again! But sometimes itís good to remind ourselves how God was with us, so we can better understand that God is still with us in our present difficulty.
This study on Psalm 56 © 2000 by David Humpal, all rights
Doan: Jonah saying from the Complete Speakerís Sourcebook pg. 390 © 1996, Zondervan Publishing House
Spurgeon: The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 464, MacDonald Publishing Company
Aesopís Fable of the Oxen and the Axle-Trees translated by Townsend, electronic version © 1999, Ages Software, slightly edited
Our Burden Godís Gift by Frances Havergal, Pearls from Many Seas, electronic version © 1997, Ages Software, somewhat modified
Spurgeon: The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 466, MacDonald Publishing Company
Spurgeon: The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 467, MacDonald Publishing Company