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Psalm 56: What Can Man Do To Me? Print E-mail
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Sunday, 29 January 2012

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The fear of man is a real foe that we face as Christians.  It was a fear that David battled against his whole life.  He was a military man.  He fought against Goliath and the Philistines.  He fought against Saul, or at least tried to avoid fighting against Saul.  As the King of Israel, he was well aware of the constant threat of invasion by the other nations.  In all of this, David had to fight against the temptation of the fear of man.

Our fight against the fear of man is obviously different than David’s.  Granted, some of us may be military men, but even then, the battles are not the same.  As for the rest of us, we will probably never be in a fight to the death with another human being.  We do not have people constantly chasing us, trying to end our life.  We do not face the constant threat of invasion.  Yet, that does not mean that the fear of man is no less a temptation to us.  We fear the loss of a job.  We fear decisions being made in the back rooms of our government.  We fear the loss of friends, or worse, the loss of a spouse.  Even as Christians, we are not immune to the pain that can come from our fellow man.  As humans, we are exposed to the sin of others and the suffering it can cause.  So then, how do we fight against the fear of man?

As we noted, David fought this battle throughout his life.  Many of his psalms reflect his fight.  Psalm 56 is one of those psalms.  Thus, I want us to spend out time together this morning seeing how David fights against the fear of man in this psalm.  In order to do this, I want to consider the two reports that David gives concerning the enemy that he is facing and then look also at the two statements of trust that he gives in response to the reports.  By walking through the psalm in this way, hopefully we can see how he fought against his fear of man.

First report of the enemy (v. 1-2)

David begins with a simple request and then moves quickly to his explanation for the request.  Look at verses 1-2.  David prays for the Lord to be gracious to me.  He asks for mercy from the Lord.  And what is the reason why David needs mercy at this time?  He tells us: for man tramples on me.  David is facing an enemy who is doing all that they can to destroy David.  Even thought the heading states that the background for this psalm is David’s hiding from Saul in Gath, it really could refer to a number of different times in David’s life.  Either way, David feels the constant pressure of the enemy.  He repeats the phrase all day long to give us a glimpse at what he is facing.  Morning, noon, and night he feels the weight of the enemy closing in.  He cannot find relief from their constant threat.  One commenter notes: “The unremitting pressure is the worst part of the ordeal.”   All day long David is facing this threat from the enemy and such constant pressure will no doubt take its toll.

We face situations that feel like this as well.  Again, we may not be facing a military threat, but that does not mean that the struggles we face do not often constant.  We wake up in the morning thinking and worrying about them.  We go to work thinking and worrying about them.  We spend lunch thinking and worrying about them.  We go home thinking and worrying about them.  Then, we go to bed thinking and worrying about them, only to start all over in the morning.  At times, this is the hardest part of the ordeal for us.  If we could just find relief.  If we could just find a little rest.  What does David do?

First statement of trust (v. 3-4)

David responds to this description of the enemy in verses 3-4.  Look at what he says.  As we see so often in the psalms, David looks up from his situation to focus on the Lord.  Notice how honest he is: When I am afraid…  David does not hide the fact that he is battling against fear.  He does not fake it to make himself look better.  He is honest about his fear.  But he does not stay there.  He does not let his fear cripple him.  A couple of years ago when Glenna and I were vacationing in Gatlinburg, we ended up staying in a cabin was high on the side of a mountain (at least high to me).  In order to get in the driveway, you had to basically drive straight up this mountain.  The first (and only) night we stayed there, we had gone to get some groceries and it started raining.  By the time we got back to the cabin, the roads had become a little slick because of the rain.  When we tried to get to our driveway we started sliding and could not make it.  I had to back down the mountain to try and get some speed (oh and someone was behind us trying to get up the mountain as well).  So I’m setting there, thinking about the fact that my wife is in the car with me and I am about to drive us off the side of a mountain to our death.  It was hard to move.  I actually thought about parking on the side of the road and walking to the cabin.  The fear crippled me, made it hard to make decisions, made it hard to drive at all, much less up the side of a mountain.  That’s what fear can do to us.  But we cannot stay there.  We have to push through.  We have to look up.  We have to remember that God is in control.  Like David we must say: When I was afraid, I put my trust in you.

David goes on to ask the question that I think is the heart of the psalm: what can flesh do to me?  When David looks up to the Lord and then back at his enemies, he sees them for what they really are: flesh.  When we compare the enemies we face to God, we realize that we have no reason to fear.  David puts his trust in God and His Word: In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust.  David knows the Word of God that was available to him and that Word made it clear that God was trustworthy.  It made it clear that God was bigger than any enemy he would ever face, especially any man.  Calvin comments: “When exposed to the opposition of assailants formidable for strength, or policy, or any worldly advantage, let us learn with David to set God in opposition to them, and we shall speedily be able to view the mightiest of them without dismay.”   We must exercise faith in defiance of our fears.  We must believe that God is greater than any enemy.  And what can we do to build such a faith?  We read, study, meditate, and memorize His Word.  We have more than David had in his day.  We have the finished story.  And let me ask you a simple question: when you read of all that God has done, is doing, and will do for His people, is there anything that you face that should cause you to fear man?  May we always know that our God is greater.  May our fear and awe of Him drive out the fear of man.

Second report on the enemy (v. 5-7)

David once again describes the enemy in verses 5-7.  Look at those with me.  David repeats the fact that the enemy’s threat is constant.  He adds that they are causing problems with others (stir up strife).  So they are not content with offering David no relief, they also want to demonstrate that there are no limits to what they will do to cause him pain.  If they can stir up others against him, then they will.  If they have to lurk around waiting for any opportunity, then they will.  They are not going away easily.  After all, David says: all their thoughts are against me for evil.  We too, can feel like the enemy is going to great lengths to cause us pain.  We can feel like there is no relief and no limit to the suffering that they are trying to cause.  It can be overwhelming.  Yet, once again David turns to the Lord.

Second statement of trust (v. 8-11)

This time David begins with the reassurance that God is aware of his suffering.  Look at verse 8.  The Lord has not lost track of David.  The Lord has kept count.  He has collected David’s tears and written down his struggles in His book.  The Lord is aware.  He has not forgotten or abandoned David.  He goes on and speaks of the fact that God will deal with his enemies.  Look at verse 9.  He ends that verse with an amazing statement: This I know, that God is for me.  After that he repeats what he had said earlier in verse 4.  He can trust in the Lord, trust in the Word of the Lord, because he knows that God is for him.

This raises an important question for us: is God for us?  Can we have such confidence that God is going to deliver us like David had?  The glorious good news is that if we have turned from our sins and trusted in Jesus’ death for our sins, then we can have assurance that God is aware of our needs and for us in the battle.  Jesus said: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Jesus tells his disciples to not fear man but to fear God.  He tells them that God is aware.  After all, He knows the number of hairs on their head.  Thus, they should not fear man.  Likewise, Paul adds: If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  If we belong to Christ, if we have confessed our sins and turned from them, believing that Jesus has paid for them at the cross, then we can have assurance that God is for us.  He is for His own.  If He did not spare Christ, then why should we doubt His care and provision for us?

In light of the good news that God is for him and that man cannot do anything to him, David responds with worship in verses 12-13.  Look at those with me.  When we realize that God is greater than all our enemies, that He is aware of our struggles and needs, that He is for us in Christ, then how can we respond with anything less than thanksgiving and praise?  We must not spend our days in fear of man.  We must not give ourselves over to that temptation.  No, like David, we must be a people who fight such fears with trust in the Lord.  He is our God.  He knows the hairs on our head.  And He has sent His only Son to take on flesh and die on a cross in our place so that we can walk before God in the light of life.  He is worthy of our praise.  He is worthy of our obedience and thanksgiving.  May our fear of God, our trust in His sovereign strength, our belief in His kindness and goodness toward us Christ, drive out the fear of man.  After all, what can man do to us?  What can man do the blood-bought sons and daughters of God?  O Church let our prayer be: In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  Amen.

1 Derek Kidner, Psalm 1-72, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 204.
2 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. V (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), p. 357, part 1.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 06 February 2012 )

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