Today’s passage: Psalm 56
Today’s chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate
Psalm 56 is another of David’s cries for help when faced with his enemies. The epigraph gives us some historical context: “A Mikhtam [possibly meaning an epigrammatic poem or atonement psalm] of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.” This is, apparently, the same incident found in I Samuel 21 where David fakes insanity before the king of Gath, about which David wrote Psalm 34. But while Psalm 34 is an optimistic hymn of praise and gratitude for deliverance, Psalm 56 is a psalm of troubled prayer and trust in the midst of crisis. Perhaps David was not yet out of the woods when he wrote it.
In the very first two verses, one word jumps out at me, so buckle up, because I hope you like word studies. David writes: “Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me…My foes have trampled upon me all day long” (1-2). That word, “trampled:” isn’t that an activity usually restricted to horses and cows? Further complicating things, my margin notes provide an alternate translation: “snapped at.” What kind of word could contain the possible meanings of both “trample” and “snap at?” It’s time to turn to Strong’s Concordance.
Strong’s identifies the Hebrew word here as sha’aph, which it defines at its root meaning as “to inhale eagerly.” Based on what I’m seeing in the Strong’s entry, I can see where the meanings are coming from. You might pant for water or thirst for blood like an animal, or draw in your breath in anger–hence the “snapped at” translation conveys David’s enemies’ hostility and their desire to harm him. Then again, Strong’s notes that sha’aph may mean to make haste, in the sense that a person inhales voraciously while chasing after something he desires. Thus, one might see David’s enemies as ready to run him down like a charging bull.
And, like a charging bull, David’s enemies aren’t just eager to lay him out; they’re also powerful. “What can man do to me?” (4), David asks, and then, as if the question were not rhetorical, he launches into a litany of everything his foes do:
All day long they distort my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.
They attack, they lurk,
They watch my steps,
As they have waited to take my life. (5-6)
What can man do to this psalmist on the run? Enough to make him beg for God to shut down his tormentors’ antagonism and deliver him from strive.
I feel like there’s plenty more in here that I could talk about. So here’s a Question of the Day for you: should I stick on this psalm tomorrow and continue to dig into it? If you want me to spend a second day here, drop a comment; otherwise, I’ll be moving on to Psalm 57. Let me know what you want–and if you have some thoughts of your own on Psalm 56, please let me know those too!