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Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Psalm 56

 

 

RECAP:  Based upon the evidence of the superscriptions, or titles, placed before the body of the psalms by an unknown editor from antiquity, the reader is justified in considering Psalms 56-60 as a packet, especially in the Greek version known as the Septuagint. Alone of all the psalms, these five psalms contain both the phrase, “for the end, εἰς τὸ τέλος” and “for a memorial, εἰς στηλογραφίαν.” (See Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Part 1, The Superscriptions.) The meanings of these two unique phrases were explored in the article at the just named link. Further, an extended study of “for the end” can be found at Psalms 56-60: “For the End”–Its New Testament Meaning. Additionally, the reader might want to recall that the premise of this blog is that many, if not most or even all, of the psalms are prophetic of the life, death, resurrection, and kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ (1).

PSALM 56

Although there is a single speaker throughout the psalm, Psalm 56 (see also Septuagint) has three characters: the speaker, his enemies, and God. Verses 1 and 11 identify the enemy as “man, ἄνθρωπος,” verses 2 and 9 as “enemies” and “many warring against me,” verse 4 as “flesh,” and verse 7 as “people, λαός.” Additionally, verses 3, 5, and 6 refer to the enemy in the singular or plural pronoun forms, he, they, and their. Every verse except verses 2, 5, and six make reference to God. The presence of God and the enemies are inextricably interwoven throughout this prayer by the faith of the protagonist, the speaker.

Craig C. Broyles describes the enemies with these words, “…lurkers who hound and press their attack. (NIV ‘slanderers who hotly pursue…lurk’) They conspire, hide and watch the speaker’s steps…social prowlers hiding in secret.” (2)

How does Psalm 56 match the life of Christ? Compare the three verses below, which are the only three verses in Psalm 56 that make no mention of God, with the New Testament verses that follow them.

2 Mine enemies have trodden me down all the day from the dawning of the day; for there are many warring against me.

5 All the day long they have abominated my words; all their devices are against me for evil.

6 They will dwell near and hide themselves; they will watch my steps, accordingly as I have waited patiently in my soul. 

–Septuagint, Brenton’s English Translation (LXE)

Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him. (NET)

Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. (ESV)

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
(ESV)

Mark 14:1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (NIV)

Luke 5:17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. (NIV)

John 12:9 Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, (NET)

Clearly, Psalm 56 is descriptive of the enemies who hounded Jesus throughout every step of his public ministry. Psalm 56 also describes well the faith of Messiah, Jesus. Compare these verses from Psalm 56 with the gospel accounts of Jesus’s faith and trust in God.

3 They shall be afraid, but I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise my words; all the day have I hoped in God; I will not fear what flesh shall do to me.  (LXE)

 9 Mine enemies shall be turned back, in the day wherein I shall call upon thee; behold, I know that thou art my God.
 10 In God, will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his saying.
 11 I have hoped in God; I will not be afraid of what man shall do to me. (LXE)

John 11:41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. 42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (NET)

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (ESV)

Matthew 26:53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” (NET)

John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (ESV) (3)

The last verse of Psalm 56, verse 13, prophesies the resurrection:

13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE) (4)

And what of the enemies? They will be punished by God.

 7 Thou wilt on no account save them; thou wilt bring down the people in wrath. (LXE)

Conclusion

Psalm 56 is not a happy psalm. It describes a faithful worshipper hounded by many enemies who seek to harm him. It prophesies God’s punishment upon those enemies (verse 7). But nevertheless, on the bright side, it shares the great faith of the speaker, who believes in God, trusts him, and thanks him for salvation from death, even before all this comes to pass.

Note: Footnote 4 contains a brief word study from verse 13.

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1 See Psalm 2, A Royal Psalm, Psalm 2, Blessings to the King, and Christ in the Psalms: An Annotated Bibliography. 

2 Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 241.

3 In John 19:30, the original (Greek) word for the phrase, “It is finished,” or, “It is completed!” (NET), is τετέλεσταιfrom the verb form of the noun found in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 (and so many other psalms, as well). When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the reader might ask, What is finished? According to the word studies of the prior two posts, Jesus’s many statements in the gospels concerning the fulfillment of the Scripture concerning him (see for example Luke 4:21 and Matthew 26:54 above), the New Testament letters, and Acts, what has been “finished” or “completed” is the sum total of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the life and death of Messiah, the King. That which had been continuing–i.e., the prophesies concerning Messiah up to the point of his death–had reached their conclusion, their fulfillment, and were now at a close. Everything that needed to be done had been done, and this is the ending, the close, the completion, of that portion of prophecy that had been in place for many hundreds of years. Psalm 56 was written to prophesy of Messiah’s public ministry, and the events of Jesus’s life fulfilled those prophecies.

4 A Note on translations: “…that I should be well-pleasing before the Lord” in the Greek is equivalent to “that I may walk before God” in the Hebrew. The latter translation is the closest in meaning to the Hebrew idiom, while the former accurately translates the Greek. Each of these phrases implies faithful obedience that pleases God. This is much more than the phrase to “serve God” (NET) allows for, since many people throughout both biblical and secular history have in their own minds “served God,” while performing tremendous acts of evil. Saul, who later became Paul the apostle, “served God” with his whole heart in the days when he went from town to town persecuting and murdering Christians. (Galatians 1:11-14) Did not the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day think that they were serving God when they forced Pilate to crucify him? (See John 11:49-50.) Examples from post-biblical history are prolific; the reader can think of many.

Further, the phrase, “in the land of the living,” (LXE) and “in the light of life,” (ESV) mean “not dead,” as opposed to “as I enjoy life.” (NET) The context of the complete verse requires the meaning, “not dead.”

Psalm 56:13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (LXE)

Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living.  (ESV)
Albert Pietersma, when translating the Greek into English (NETS, New English Testament Septuagint) writes, “because you rescued my soul from death and my feet from slipperiness so that I may be pleasing before God in the light of the living.” (Available at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/24-ps-nets.pdf, accessed October 14, 2019.)

 

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