Psalm Bible Study (Worshiping God)

Psalm 56, What Can Man Do To Me?


What can man do to me? Have you ever thought in your mind: “a lot!” There are a lot of things that people can do to us. It does not take us much thought to think of all the terrible things people can do to each other. People can oppress, slander, hurt, hate, maim, and kill me. However, David tells us that the answer is: “nothing.” There is nothing man can do to us.

Now David does not write these words as he sits back in luxury on the throne as king in Jerusalem. David does not make this declaration when things were going well for him, as if he is stating these words as a boastful claim of the good life he enjoyed. Notice the superscription given to the psalm: “when the Philistines had seized him in Gath.” Things were not going well for David at this moment in time. He is being chased by Saul in 1 Samuel 21 and is in the hand of Achish the king of Gath. David has to pretend to be a madman to preserve his life. So how can David say that there is nothing that man can do to him? Let us read the psalm and look for David’s explanation.

I. Plea For Mercy (1-4)

A. Attacked all day long

  1. David begins the psalm by describing the severity of the attacks he is suffering. Notice David’s emphasis upon the repeated phrase “all day long.” “All day long they press their attack.” “My slanderer pursue me all day long.” David is experiencing a wearing attack from his enemies. The beginning of the first verse describes how men are hotly pursuing him. The language depicts a military struggle.
  2. Therefore, in the midst of these conditions, David cries out to God, “be merciful to me.” In the middle of this situation, I think it is clear what man can do to David. They are pursuing him across the wilderness. They are pressing their attacks on David all day long. The slanderers are pursuing him all day long. Many are attacking him from a higher position.

B. David’s response

  1. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” In the face of these enemies, David expresses a confidence in God that removes his fear.
  2. As I read these words, I cannot help but see that David is working through his emotions as he pens this psalm. He is afraid, but knows within himself that he does not need to be afraid because he has God. Therefore, he puts his confidence in God and will praise his word.
  3. I believe this is valuable for us to see as we encounter life’s difficulties. It is not that we will not have the feeling of fear or that we will not go through times of distress. Rather, we know what we are supposed to do when these tough times come. We know we are to trust God. We must remind ourselves of what we are supposed to do in these times.

II. Desired Defeat of the Enemy (5-13)

A. Work of the enemies

  1. David returns to describing the evil works of his enemies. “All day long they twist my words.” Again, David uses the phrase “all day long” to show the punishing duration of what David is enduring. The assault that David is receiving is not deserved. His enemies are twisting his words to give reason to attack all the more.
  2. It is shameful that this kind of activity can take place among Christians. I know of one preacher who was intent on attacking the church that my father and I were working with and serving. Anything that was ever said to him was simply twisted into another form of attack. Rather than listen to our explanations and reasons for our actions, he simply was listening to find something wrong which he could use to promote himself in writing in the brotherhood publications. I know I have had times where someone said that I said such and such and came up to me about it. I would respond that this was not at all what I was saying nor intended to say. But that did not matter. The person heard things the way they wanted to hear it and that would be the end of the matter. Such an attitude is an attitude of evil. How evil it is to twist people’s words and plot the harm of others! We will come across people who will want to destroy us. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

B. Judgment called upon the enemies

  1. David declares to the Lord, “On no account let them escape!” Let justice come upon them for their actions against David. In fact, David says, “In your anger, O God, bring down the nations.” Other versions say “bring down the peoples.” We have seen David call for righteous judgment many times in the scriptures.
  2. Notice verse 8 carefully: “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record.” This language reflects the way kings kept a record of significant events that occurred during their reign. We see this happening in the days of Esther when King Xerxes read a portion of the record where Mordecai’s service was described. David is calling upon God to make a record of this event.
  3. The imagery pictures David’s tears are being recorded by God and kept in a wineskin or bottle. Of course this is not literally take place, but the imagery make a very assuring point: God knows our pain. God sees our tears and our afflictions are recorded in his sight. In fact, it seems that the reason for our tears being noticed and recorded is so that God will not allow those who cause our tears escape judgment.
  4. In verse 9 we see that the enemies of David will be forced to retreat because of the works of God. David expresses a great confidence that when he talks to God, God will respond. Thus, verse 9 concludes with these powerful words: “This I know: God is for me.”

C. David’s confident response

  1. In verses 10-11 David makes a similar confident declaration like in verse 4. “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” However, there is an added phrase in this verse: “in the Lord, whose word I praise.” This time David invokes the holy name of Yahweh.
  2. In the first section, we saw that David was calling out to God for mercy since he was being trampled by his enemies all day long. In the midst of that adversity, David knew to trust in God and this would subside his fears. In this second section, the purpose is slightly different. David trusts in God on the basis that God knows what he is going through. God has recorded David’s pain who will cause the enemies to retreat when David calls out.
  3. Therefore, what can man do to him? If God knows my pain, sees my suffering, and will make my enemies retreat, then there is nothing that you and I have to fear. This explains why David says the words he says in verses 12-13. David will make his offerings of thanksgiving because God delivered him from death. God even delivered his feet from stumbling so that he can walk before God in the light of life.

III. Applications

A. God’s promise today

  1. “Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6). The promise that David relied upon is also the promise given to us. In fact, the writer of Hebrews is quoted this very psalm in his desire to help us understand what kind of helper God is for us. Therefore, the message of Psalm 56 is certainly applicable to our lives. How does trusting in God remove fear?
  2. God’s Word is a source of confidence. Repeatedly, David states that he will praise the word of the Lord. When we are attacked, we need to be able to draw on the stable assurance of God’s word rather than the ever-changing perspectives of public opinion. A lack of knowledge of the scriptures is crippling to the Christian. Today, too many people have too much of their faith based solely on emotions and feelings. But our emotions can rapidly change. When we are under attack, it is our emotions that fail and our feelings that become a rollercoaster ride. It is when we are under attack and our emotions are frayed that we need to be able to know and rely upon God’s word.
  3. God’s Word put our minds on a spiritual plain. Things are the most difficult when we keep our focus on the problems of this world and lose sight of our heavenly purpose. Trusting God means that I am going to look for God’s help and will be reminded that God is in charge of the big picture. There are many times when we are suffering or under attack that we do not think that we can endure another day. How many times, however, God has offered relief for the moment to help us get our head about us and continue to press forward.
  4. God’s Word reminds us that God is for us. Despite all that David went through in his life, he returned to this theme: If God is for us, who can be against us? When God is on our side, it is possible to find a refuge in the midst of the storm. Our relationship with God has greater value than simply trying to stop the present suffering. We are able to surrender ourselves to God’s control and allow the Creator to help us through our difficulties. This is the picture of the apostles who would experience tremendous suffering, yet were able to count these things as a joy for the cause of Christ. As Christians, we are called to experience suffering. But suffering does not equal abandonment from God. There is a trust of ultimate justice in the end as well as a reward for our obedience to the Lord. It is in these things that we are able to remove fear in dire times.
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