The Righteous One’s
Rest upon the Word of God

a brief study of Psalm 56, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 30 May 2008

Psalm 56, as the title suggests, was occasioned by David’s captured by the Philistines after he ran away from Saul. David, I am sure was trying to keep a low profile in Gath, but the servants of Achish, king of Gath, recognised him, apprehended him and brought him to the king (1 Sam 21:10ff). They said unto the king:

11 …Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam 21:11).

David feared for his life and instinctively pretended to be a mad man. The ruse apparently worked. King Achish thought that he was indeed a mad man, and released him. David would reflect on how the Lord delivered him at this time in Psalm 34. But Psalm 56, was apparently also written after the occasion. I doubt David would have time during his arrest to write the Psalm. But it is written in such a way as to reflect the thoughts and prayers of David during those terrifying hours or days.

We have no doubt, however, that David wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ so that these words reflect not only what he experienced, but also what Christ our Lord experienced when the Jews were clamouring for His death. As such these words may also be used by the Church of Christ and every believer united to Christ as we suffer similar anxieties. Bishop George Horne has well said:

The same words are applicable to the situation and circumstance of David, pursued by his enemies; of Christ persecuted by the Jews; of the church, afflicted in the world; and of the soul encompassed by enemies, against whom she is forced to wage perpetual war.

We may entitle this Psalm, the Righteous One’s Rest upon the Word of God. It is a Psalm by which we may use to exhort one another (see Col 3:16) to trust in the Lord and His promises in the midst of grief and trials.

This Psalm does not have a distinct structure, but we may look at it as containing 5 ideas, each expressed in a couple of verses:

a. A Plea for Mercy (v. 1-2)

b. An Expression of Strength (v. 3-4)

c. An Expression of Grief (v. 5-7)

d. An Expression of Rest (v. 8-11)

e. An Expression of Hope (v. 12-13)

1. A Plea for Mercy

1  Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.  2 Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.

David was persecuted by Saul, and now he is in the rough hands of the Philistines ready to avenge the death of their country-men.  He is surrounded by enemies ready to swallow him up.

Our Lord was in the same situation especially after his arrest. David had Saul and king Achish and his henchmen. The Greater David had Judas and Annas and Caiaphas and all the men who agreed with them, ready to clamour for his blood.

What would have been in the mind of our Lord during those chaotic hours after Judas betrayed Him with a kiss? Our Lord was no stoic. We must not imagine that our Lord felt nothing during those terrible hours. I am sure it was partly in anticipation of the suffering under the hands of cruel men that our Lord cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If it be possible take this cup from me.”

What then would be the thought in our Lord’s heart? No doubt it was as expressed in this Psalm. No doubt He prayed unto His Father, “Be merciful unto me, O God.” Our Lord knew that whatever man may do to Him is in the hand of the Father. He knew that man cannot help Him, but the Father could.

So let us learn to take our grief and sorrows unto the Father, let us cry as our Lord did, “Be merciful unto me, O God.”

And then let us learn to find strength in the Lord and His Word.

2. An Expression of Strength

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

This is a beautiful archaic expression. It simply means, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”

To fear is human. David was a courageous warrior who slew thousands of Philistines, but there were times when he was afraid too. Our Lord was the God-Man. He could summon a thousand angels to His aid in an instant, but there times when He was afraid.

Especially at times of great anxiety, fear would often overwhelm the heart. What would our Lord do when fear begins to flood His heart? He would trust in the Father. Trust is an act of the will. It is an act of the will that is helped by remembering the Word of God.

Our Lord would call to mind the promises of God in His Word. By the Word, He finds the strength and courage to trust the Father to do all things well. And conversely, He finds His fear of men diminishing.

Christian men and women, boys and girls who put their trust in the Word of God, will also have the greatest strength of character to face up to the abuses and attacks of fellow men.

What time you are afraid, beloved brethren, turn to the Lord, recall His promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Remember that all things will work together for good to them that love God. It is in this way that you will find the strength of our Lord to go through the most difficult times.

I don’t know what difficult times you go through. But for David and our Lord it is often when they are misquoted and when they find their enemies trying to trap them at their words. Consider their thoughts in the expression of grief.

3. An Expression of Grief

5 Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul. 7 Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.

I think although David wrote this Psalm as he reflected on his own thoughts during his time in Gath, he recognises that his fears, grief, anxieties and exasperation often take a different form. It takes the form of people misunderstanding or twisting his words. It takes the form of being misquoted. It takes the form of people trying to trap him at his word.

Why does God give him those experiences? I have no doubt that it is so that he might be a type of Christ, for indeed our LORD suffered by having His words twisted? Did he not say “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands” (Mk 14:58)? Did not the Pharisees and Seducees keep attempting to trap Him? Show us a sign from heaven! Do we need to pay tax? What must we do to inherit eternal life? (Lk 10:25; 11:16; Jn 8:6 etc).

Are you facing this kind of trial? Have you experienced it before? I am sure you will know how exasperating it is. You are rumoured to have said certain things which you did not; you wonder why no one came up to you to clarify.

The disciple is not greater than his master, beloved brethren. Pour out your heart to the Lord, knowing that our Lord suffered in the same way, and so He understands.

Did you weep? And did He not? Look at the fourth idea, which is…

4. An Expression of Rest

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

God cares. Your tear drops are not lost. God has bottled them up. Your sighs do not vanish into the air. God has recorded them in His book.

This is not just a cute idea. It is an expression of God’s love. Because David knew that God cares, he knew that God will answer his prayers. This is why he says:

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

David experienced it many times. Saul could not capture him because God intervened. The king of Achish let him go not because David was a great actor, but because the Lord heard his cry. Our Lord had the same experience before His time was up, when it was time for Him to go to the cross as our representative, the Father would not spare Him the intense suffering.

But even then, the Father would deliver Him, though not immediately.

This is important for us to remember. Experience of past deliverance may encourage us to rest in the Lord; but let us remember that God can answer our prayer in a different way each time. So our confidence must not be based on experience. It must be based on the Word of God.

And this is what we are told in the next verse:

10 In God will I praise his word: in the LORD will I praise his word. 11 In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.

Does this sound familiar? We just heard that in verses 3 and 4! This point is so important that our Lord repeats it.

As our Lord puts His trust in the word of God, so let us do so, beloved brethren.

And as we trust Him, let us hope in Him even when things are uncertain and the future seems bleak. Does not the future look bleak when we are facing persecution? But we must live by faith and not by sight.

And so this Psalm concludes with…

5. An Expression of Hope

 12 Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee. 13 For 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?

I don’t know what vow David made unto God, but I know that our Lord’s covenant was to die for His people in order that they might glorify and enjoy God. He knew that it is through the cross that He would praise God with the congregation. Psalm 22:25

“My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.”

Our Lord knew that the Father would deliver Him, for otherwise, how would He glorify and enjoy the Father with the people entrusted to Him.

And so, we see how this Psalm, as with many others end with a note that suggest that God has already delivered.

Remember that David is writing his thoughts when he was confronted by Achish. Remember that his thoughts served to reflect the thoughts of our Lord during His arrest and interrogation. Deliverance was yet future at that time. And yet, it is spoken of in the past tense. Why?

Because God’s Word will not return unto Him void. God keeps His promise. What He has said, will He not bring to pass? Our Lord knew that He would rise again from the grave that He might “walk before God in the light of the living.”

Oh that the Lord will give us the same firm hope when we look to Him for deliverance from all our fears.


Our Lord went to the cross for us. Once again we see that He went not as an impassionate or senseless lamb. He went full of fears and anxiety. His suffering was real.

But our Lord’s fears and anxieties did not cripple Him. No, no; His faith in the Word of God and His hope in God triumphed over His fears. He found strength to do the Father’s will. He found courage to keep His vow unto the Father.

For this cause we can today enjoy God’s love and worship. Beloved brethren and children, shall we not learn from our Lord’s example. As we remember His death, let us remember that everything He suffered, He suffered for wretched sinners like you and I. He suffered for us not just to redeem us from sin, but to set us an example to follow that we may also glorify and enjoy God through the pains and sorrow that we experience in this life. Amen.

—JJ Lim