Psalm 56

Psalm 56


To the leader:A according to The DoveB on Far-off Terebinths.C Of David.D

Notes on superscript-a

A “leader” = natsach. Properly, something that glitters from a distance. So, something that stands out, excels, has status/standing (such as a chief musician or superintendent of Temple services). This can also mean to be permanent or enduring.
B “Dove” = yonah. Perhaps from yayin (wine; root means to effervesce). This is a dove or pigeon. Used to refer to the exiles coming home, to describe sails of ships. Also used figuratively for mourning or as a description of beauty.
C “Terebinths” = elem. 2x in OT. From the same as alam (to bind or tie fast; to be silent or speechless, whether voluntary or involuntary). This is silence, congregation, or justice as silent.
D “David” = David. From the same as dod (beloved, love, uncle); the root may mean to boil, which is used figuratively to describe love. So, this implies someone you love such as a friend, a lover, or a close family member like an uncle. David’s name likely means something like “beloved one.”

A Miktam,E when the PhilistinesF seizedG him in Gath.H

Notes on superscript-b

E “Miktam” = miktam. 6x in OT. Perhaps from katham (to carve, mark, stain). This is Miktam, which is some kind of technical term in the Psalms, but its meaning is uncertain. It may mean engraving – a way to refer to a poem.
F “Philistines” = Pelishti. From Pelesheth (Philistia); from palash (to mourn, wallow, maybe roll in). This is Philistines. Their name may mean “griever” or “burrower” or “weakener.” See
G “seized” = achaz. This is to grasp, catch, seize, take and hold in possession. It can also be to be afraid or hold back.
H “Gath” = Gath. From the same as gath (wine press); {perhaps from nagan (to strike a stringed instrument, to pluck or play it)}. This is Gath, a Philistine city whose name means “wine press.” It shares a root with “Gethsemane.”

Be graciousI to me, O God,J for peopleK trampleL on me;

Notes on verse 1a

I “be gracious” = chanan. This is to beseech, show favor, be gracious. Properly, it is to bend in kindness to someone with less status.
J “God” = Elohim.
K “people” = enosh. From anash (to be weak, sick, or frail). This is human, humankind, another. It is mortal.
L “trample” = sha’aph. 14x in OT.  This is to pant, long for, trample, crush, to rise as the sun, to hurry. It can refer to gasping as a woman in labor does or gasping from desire. It can also imply anger.

    all day long foesM oppressN me;
my enemiesO trample on me all day long,
    for many fightP against me.

Notes on verses 1b-2a

M “foes” = lacham. This is to eat or feed on. Figuratively, it is to battle as a kind of consumption/destruction.
N “oppress” = lachats. 19x in OT. This is to press or squeeze. Figuratively, it is oppress, afflict, or distress.
O “enemies” = sharar. 5x in OT. See shorer (foe, a treacherous watcher); from shur (to behold, see, watch, perceive; to spy out, lie in wait, lurk for; can also be to care for). This is an enemy or watcher.
P “fight” = lacham. Same as “foes” in v1. See note M above.

O Most High,Q whenR I am afraid,S
    I put my trustT in you.

Notes on verses 2b-3

Q “Most High” = marom. From rum (to be high, rise, exalted, become proud, display, offer, present, set apart, extol; to rise in a literal or figurative sense). This can be height, high place, or lofty. It can be either exalted or haughty/proud. It can refer to dignity or to heaven.
R “when” = yom. Literally “day.”
S “am afraid” = yare. This is to fear, be afraid, dreadful. It can also refer to fearful reverence – to fear in a moral sense is to say to revere, respect.
T “put…trust” = batach. This is to hide for refuge, be secure or sure. Figuratively, it refers to trust, being confident, or hoping.

In God, whose wordU I praise,V
    in God I trust; I am not afraid;
    what can fleshW doX to me?

Notes on verse 4

U “word” = dabar. From dabar (to speak, declare, discuss). This is speech, a word, a matter, an affair, charge, command, message, promise, purpose, report, request. It is a word, which implies things that are spoken of in a wide sense.
V “praise” = halal. This is to be clear – it originally referred to a sound, then a color. It was to shine and then make a show or boast then to rave. In a causative sense it came to mean celebrate, give glory, sing praise, or be worth of praise. Because of the celebratory nature of the word, it could also mean to give in marriage. This is where Hallelujah comes from.
W “flesh” = basar. From basar (being a messenger, publish, carry preach; properly, this is being fresh, rosy or cheerful as one bearing news). This is flesh, the body, fat, skin, self, nakedness, humankind, or kin. It can also refer to private parts.
X “do” = asah. This is to make, do, act, appoint, become in many senses.

All day long they seek to injureY my cause;Z
    all their thoughtsAA are against me for evil.BB

Notes on verse 5

Y “seek to injure” = atsab. 17x in OT– 4x of humanity grieving God including Genesis 6:6 prior to the Flood. This is properly to carve. So it can mean to create or fashion. Figuratively, it means to hurt, grieve, worry, anger, or displease.
Z “cause” = dabar. Same as “word” in v4. See note U above.
AA “thoughts” = machashabah. From chashab (literally to weave; figuratively to think or plot something malicious). This is thought, scheme, imagination, purpose, or a plan either good or evil.
BB “evil” = ra’. From ra’a’ (to be evil, bad, afflict; properly, to spoil – to destroy by breaking into pieces; figuratively, to cause something to be worthless; this is bad in a physical, social, or moral sense; that which displeases, to do harm or mischief, to punish or vex). This is bad, disagreeable, that which causes pain, misery, something having little or no value, something that is ethically bad, wicked, injury, calamity. This refers to anything that is not what it ought to be – a natural disaster, a disfigurement, an injury, a sin.

They stir up strife,CC they lurk,DD
    they watchEE my steps.FF

Notes on verse 6a

CC “stir up strife” = guwr. Properly, this is the act of turning off the road for any reason. So, it means sojourning, becoming a guest. It can mean being fearful since one is outside of home territory. It can also mean dwelling, living, or inhabiting if one has turned off the root to encamp for a longer duration. This word is where the Hebrew “ger” comes from, which is the word translated “stranger” or “resident alien.”
DD “lurk” = tsaphan. This is to hide something by covering it. It implies hoarding or keeping something in reserve. It can mean to protect or to lurk.
EE “watch” = shamar. This is to keep, watch, or preserve. It means to guard something or to protect it as a thorny hedge protects something.
FF “steps” = aqeb. 13x in OT. This is heel, hind part, hoof, rear guard of an army, one who lies in wait, or usurper.

As they hoped to haveGG my life,HH
    so repayII them for their crime;JJ

Notes on verses 6b-7a

GG “hoped to have” = qavah. It can mean to bind or gather together, especially in the sense of twisting together. In that light, it can mean collect. Figuratively, this can mean to wait, await, expect, or tarry.
HH “life” = nephesh. Related to naphash (to refresh or be refreshed). This is soul, self, person, emotion. It is a breathing creature. Can also refer to appetites and desires.
II “repay” = pallet. 2x in OT. From palat (to escape, slip out, deliver, calve). This is deliverance or escape.
JJ “crime” = aven. Root may mean panting as one does when expending a lot of energy, especially when it comes to nothing. This is nothingness, trouble, sorrow, distress, wickedness, evil, harm, sorrow, misfortune, and mischief. It is also used specifically to refer to idols.

    in wrathKK cast downLL the peoples,MM O God!

Notes on verse 7b

KK “wrath” = aph. From anaph (to be angry; properly, breathing hard as a signifier of being enraged). This properly refers to the nose or nostril and by extension the face. It can specifically refer to anger or wrath as one breathes hard and nostrils flare in times of great anger.
LL “cast down” = yarad. This is to go down, descend; going down in a literal or figurative sense. It can be going to the shore or a boundary, bringing down an enemy.
MM “peoples” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.

You have kept countNN of my tossings;OO
    put my tearsPP in your bottle.QQ
    Are they not in your record?RR

Notes on verse 8

NN “kept count” = saphar. From sepher (writing, document, book, evidence). This is properly to tally or record something. It can be enumerate, recount, number, celebrate, or declare.
OO “tossings” = nod. 1x in OT. From nud (to nod, waver, wander, flee, show grief, disappear; nodding the head as a sign of sympathy or consolation; tossing one’s head to show contempt or to taunt). This is wandering or exile.
PP “tears” = dimah. From dema (juice, liquor); from dama (to weep). This is tears from weeping.
QQ “bottle” = nod. “tossings” and “bottle” are spelled and pronounced very similarly and the words bookend this section of the verse (i.e. “tossings” is first and “bottle” is last). 6x in OT. This is a jug made from leather for holding liquids.
RR “record” = sepher. Related to “kept count” in v8. See note NN above.

Then my enemiesSS will retreatTT
    in the day when I call.UU

Notes on verse 9a

SS “enemies” = oyeb. From ayab (to hate or be hostile to). This is a foe or enemy as one that you are hostile to.
TT “retreat” = shub. To turn back, return, turn away – literally or figuratively. Doesn’t necessarily imply going back to where you started from. This is also the root verb for the Hebrew word for repentance “teshubah.”
UU “call” = qara. This is to call or call out – to call someone by name. Also used more broadly for calling forth.

    This I know,VV that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord,WW whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid.
    What can a mere mortalXX do to me?

Notes on verses 9b-11

VV “know” = yada. This is to know, acknowledge, advise, answer, be aware, be acquainted with. Properly, this is to figure something out by seeing. It includes ideas of observation, recognition, and care about something. It can be used causatively for instruction, designation, and punishment.
WW “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
XX “mortal” = adam. Perhaps from adam (to be red, make ruddy); related to adamah (ground, dirt, earth). This is man, humankind, also Adam’s name. It refers to a human individual or humanity.

12 My vowsYY to you I must perform,ZZ O God;
    I will render thank offeringsAAA to you.

Notes on verse 12

YY “vows” = neder. From nadar (to vow or promise). This is a vow – literally, that which was promised.
ZZ “perform” = shalam. This is to be complete or sound – to have safety mentally, physically, or extending to one’s estate. So, if these things are safe and complete, the implication is that one would be friendly; and, if being friendly, one would make amends and that friendship would be reciprocated. This is the root verb that “shalom” comes from, the Hebrew word for peace.
AAA “render thank offerings” = todah. From yadah (to throw one’s hands into the air in a gesture of praise, to give thanks, or make a confession); from yad (hand, ability, power; hand in a literal sense; what one can do or the means by which one does it). This is properly extending one’s hand, which implies affirmation and adoration. It can be a song of thanksgiving, a choir of thanksgiving, confession, or praise. It can also be a thank offering.

13 For you have deliveredBBB my soulCCC from death,DDD
    and my feetEEE from falling,FFF

Notes on verse 13a

BBB “delivered” = natsal. This is to snatch someone or something away in a good sense – as rescue, defend, or deliver – or in a bad sense – as strip or plunder.
CCC “soul” = nephesh. Same as “life” in v6. See note HH above.
DDD “death” = mavet. From muth (to die in a literal or figurative sense). This can be death, deadliness, the dead, or the place where the dead go. It can be used figuratively for pestilence or ruin.
EEE “feet” = regel. This is foot, endurance, or journey. It is a foot as the means of walking and so it implies a step or a greater journey. It can be used euphemistically for private parts.
FFF “falling” = dechi. 2x in OT. From dachah (to push down, drive, thrust, totter, trip, or chase; to overthrow or an outcast as one has been pushed down/overthrown). This is a stumbling or a push, which implies a fall.

so that I may walkGGG beforeHHH God
    in the lightIII of life.JJJ

Notes on verse 13b

GGG “walk” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
HHH “before” = paneh. From panah (to turn, face, appear). This is face in a literal or figurative sense. It could be face, presence, anger, respect. It can also be used of God to indicate divine favor or presence.
III “light” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.
JJJ “life” = chay. From chayah (to live or keep alive literally or figuratively). This is alive, living, lifetime. It can also be used to describe someone’s age. It can refer to animals, plants, water, or a company or congregation of people. It is life in a very broad sense.

Image credit: “Saving Tears in a Bottle” by Susana Fernandez, 2015.

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