When I Am Afraid

Explore the Bible Series

October 18, 2009


Background Passage: Psalm 56:1-13

Lesson Passage: Psalm 56:1-13




The superscription of this Psalm indicates that David wrote these words during his sojourn with the Philistines (See I Samuel 21:10-15).  Wearied by the constant threats of King Saul, David nearly broke under the stress of fear, and he used this Psalm to give expression to his emotional distress.  I value this Psalm, among many others, because it provides insight into the emotional life of a great man of God.  David’s godliness did not exempt him from the frailties of human nature, and his genuine transparency about his fears helps me understand the machinations of my own heart.


David’s relationship with Saul deteriorated badly after Saul’s disobedience at Gilgal (See I Samuel 15:1-35).  God rejected Saul as king of Israel, and, shortly thereafter, Samuel anointed David as the new monarch (See I Samuel 16:1-13).  At first, Saul embraced David as a faithful friend and servant, but, after a short interval, the king turned against his youthful protégé.  These reversals in the relationship must have puzzled the former shepherd.  He did not seek preeminence, nor did he betray King Saul; indeed, David demonstrated remarkable deference to the monarch and remained his faithful servant throughout the years of Saul’s cruel pursuit of the young man. Nevertheless, Saul was determined to murder David.


In a frantic effort to escape Saul’s treachery, David sought refuge, of all places, among the Philistines.  Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath, gave temporary refuge to David, but the young man greatly feared the Philistine ruler. The people of Gath warned Achish about David’s pending ascension to Israel’s throne, and they feared the young refugee.  To avoid a confrontation with Achish, David shamefully feigned insanity, and Philistine king banished David from his city.  It appears that profound fear gripped David’s heart when he could find no safe place to take sanctuary.  For a time, this dread caused him to act in an unseemly manner; however, Psalm Fifty-Six indicates that, in time, David regained his composure.


Fear has a crippling effect on God’s people.  This debilitating malady may take many forms, but, at its heart, fear arises from a struggle with trusting God.  The world seemed to close in on David.  For reasons he could not control, his relationship with Saul disintegrated quickly, and death loomed at every turn.  For a long season David sought to run from his pursuer, but his efforts left him emotionally exhausted and without refuge.  He saw no reliable route of escape.


Perhaps some of you feel like David. You encounter danger at every turn.  Escape seems impossible, and you weary of the struggle.  Providence led David into a grave circumstance, and many of you may feel that God has forgotten you in your present trial.  The study of this Psalm, I trust, will bring comfort and strength to all those who feel at wit’s end.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   David’s Great Trial (vv. 1-7)

A.    The Nature of David’s Trials

1.      “a man tramples me” (v. 1b and 2a): David spent his youth in an agrarian environment, and he knew the destructiveness of animal stampedes.  Panicked herds can do great damage to anything in their paths, and this poor man felt like he had been trampled under hoof. 

2.      “all day long an attacker oppresses me” (1c and 2a): Saul’s pursuit seemed interminable; all day long he harassed the beleaguered young man.  While the pursuit had acute moments of danger, David emphasized, in this phrase, his exhaustion from the dogged, ongoing  pursuit of his adversary. “Oppresses” denotes a weighing down, to labor under an unbearable load.

3.      “many attack me proudly” (v. 2b): Saul amassed a vast array of allies to murder David.  In his conceit, Saul apparently believed his alliances would spell doom for his prey.

4.      “all day long they injure my cause” (v. 5a): Some translations (NKJV and NIV) render this verse “twist my words.”  Whatever the case, David believed his adversaries had constructed their murderous alliances around a superstructure of lies. 

5.      “all their thoughts are against me for evil” (v. 5b): Saul was obsessed with murdering his friend and servant, and every waking thought centered on the king’s fixation on killing his rival. 

6.      “they stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life” (v. 6): This series of brief descriptions depict the insidious nature of Saul’s conspiracy.  Like many obsessed people, he used subterfuge and whispered conversations to rally his co-conspirators.  Dear readers, I have often found that whispered, “confidential” conversations reveal a sinister, ungodly, diabolical motive.  Refuse to let conspiratorial people to dump their “trash” in your ear (See Romans 1:28-31, I Timothy 5:13, and I Peter 2:1).

B.     David’s Confidence in God

1.      “be gracious to me, O God” (1a and 7): David’s hope, we see, rested in the Lord.  His first recourse was to devote his cause to God, in prayer.  His supplications demonstrated that he had not lost all hope, and he still had confidence that God would help him, according to the Lord’s grace.  The prayer continues in Verse Seven where David asked the Lord to vindicate him before his enemies, especially those nations that had allied with Saul, against David.

2.      “when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you (v. 3):  Some stressful situations call for careful expressions of trust, and, for David, fear did not repel him from the Lord; rather, the distress attracted the supplicant to the throne of grace.  These words do not imply that David only sought the Lord during times of trial, but they reflect the consistent course of David’s practice of prayer.  Some days ago, as I babysat my little grandson, I turned my eyes for a split second, and, as I was distracted, he pushed a button on our stereo system.  Instantaneously, loud music blared from the speakers, and the sound startled Kyle.  A look of panic coursed over his face, and he fled immediately to the safety of my arms.  No one taught him to seek safety; he fled to me instinctively.  Like our little boy, David’s turned intuitively to the arms of the Lord, during a season of peril.

3.      “in God, whose word I praise, in God, I trust; I shall not be afraid” (v. 4): Some time earlier, God had given his word to make David king of Israel; now, circumstances tested David’s confidence in the Lord’s word.  The young man made a conscious decision to place his trust in the Lord’s promise.


II.                David’s Confidence in the Faithfulness of God (vv. 8-11)

A.     “you have kept count of my tossings” (v. 8a):  The word translated “tossings” (ESV) may also mean “wanderings.”  Whatever the translation, David’s point is unmistakable. He took comfort that God had not forgotten him; that the Lord noticed his suffering and fear.

B.     “put my tears in your bottle, are they not in your book?” (v. 8b): “Bottle” refers to an animal skin used to store liquids, like wine.  David called on the Lord  to collect his tears; that is, he petitioned God to take note of his weeping.  In mid-verse, the Psalmist changed analogies when he referred to the Lord’s book.  In this context David seems to have seen the Lord as a business man who keeps meticulous records, and he hoped that God would record his tears.

C.     “then my enemies will turn back… this I know, that God is for me” (v. 9): David had many enemies, but he also enjoyed the support of one important ally, the Lord.  Saul was against him, but God was for him.

D.    “in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vv. 10-11): Again, David referred to his fear, a fear that only trust in God can relieve. 


III.             David’s Vows to the Lord (vv. 12-13):  In this section, David made two vows to God; then, he followed his promises with a final note of thanksgiving.

A.     “I must perform my vows to you” (v. 12a): We do not know the nature of these promises David made, but, perhaps, the hardships of life had deterred him from keeping his word.  This phrase seems to indicate a renewal of David’s vows to God. 

B.     I will render thank offerings to you, O God” (v. 12b-13): The Mosaic Law encouraged a “peace offering” that the Jewish people made in seasons of thanksgiving (See Leviticus 7:11-21, 28-36).  Perhaps David, during his flight from Saul, neglected his sacrificial responsibilities. In the final verse of the Psalm, David identified the object of his thanksgiving, God’s deliverance of his soul from death.  The Lord had kept David from stumbling, thus enabling him to walk before the Lord in the light of life.