I cherish the book of Psalms. When I read these poetic hymns, I understand what it means to be human. Each Psalm represents the writer’s heart and soul. There is little to no philosophizing in them, which in no way suggests an anti-intellectual bent. Instead, the Psalmists pour out their hearts in the presence of God. Their poetic hymns serve as mighty testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the midst of great suffering and persecution or great triumph and joy. Sometimes a particular Psalm starts out with a theme of suffering, but then ends with a theme of joy or praise. Here is the point…the Psalms capture the human condition in its most raw state. For that reason alone, these poetic hymns resonate across the centuries because of their timeless truths.
The Fifty-sixth Psalm is one of those examples. Instead of going through the whole passage, I will focus on the following portion within it: “9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me” (Psalm 56:9-11, ESV). One thing to note is that verses ten and eleven repeat similar themes in the fourth verse of this Psalm. In some ways, the content of verses four, nine, and ten function as the chorus to Psalm fifty-six. This screams either very important or study me. Whatever this Psalm fifty-six means it will require getting a handle on the truth contained in verses nine through eleven.
From the immediate context, the Psalmist expresses a genuine hope of deliverance and preservation from his enemies. In the ninth verse, the author declares that his enemies will turn back once he calls upon his God. He knows that his victory is certain as long as he remains in relationship with God. I would argue that this is the underlying subtext of verses nine through eleven. In fact, the entire passage rests upon the truth that God knows his people intimately and delivers them from the enemy. From the Psalmist’s perspective, he praises the Lord for who he is and for his word (Psalm 56:10, ESV). Those two things enable him to rest securely in God’s hands in the midst of great oppression from the enemy.
When the Psalmist declares with confidence “that God is for me,” this illustrates unwavering trust in God. I would argue that this statement springs up from a deep, inner well, which has its source in the eternal One. The Psalmist is not telling himself this truth in order to save face. Neither is the Psalmist someone with a shallow faith, which withers in the face of tribulation from the enemy (Matthew 13:5, 20-21, ESV). According to this Psalm, our author knows the trustworthy character of his God and his word. Both have proven true over the long haul. There is no reason to cower in fear from the enemy. The Psalmist’s God is greater than all of his enemies combined into one teeming mass. It is God’s fatherly protection and provision, which elicits the heartfelt praise and trust from the Psalmist.
There is something profound about Psalm fifty-six. It is a psalm of simple trust in God and his word. When I use the word simple, I mean uncomplicated, stripped bare of non-essentials. Do I have the same relationship with God like the Psalmist where I can say with confidence “in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me” (Psalm 56:11, ESV)? If this sounds similar to something in the New Testament, then I affirm that hunch. The apostle Paul states a rhetorical question to the Christians in Rome, ” if God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31b, ESV)? Of course, the answer is that no one has a chance against the Father’s redeemed in union with Christ. In the book of Hebrews, this New Testament writer alludes to Psalm fifty-six in his exhortation to these early Christians facing intense persecution for their faith in Christ (Hebrews 13:6, ESV).
I will close this piece with some questions to ponder, which I ask of myself, too. Does my heart move with deep affection, praise and trust in God for who he is and his word? When persecution or tribulation comes from the world, my flesh, and the devil, do I cower in fear or rest in God’s hands for preservation and deliverance? According to Psalm fifty-six, those in relationship with God have no reason to fear. Both the apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews saw the timeless principle in Psalm fifty-six as crucial to the believers in the early church and throughout the entire church age. Will we trust in God and praise him even as the enemy surrounds us on all sides?