Psalm 56: A Psalm of Fear and Loneliness

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 56.

Scholars place this psalm in connection with not only Psalm 34 (which you can find my blog-thoughts on here) but also 1 Sam 21:10-15 when David was in Gath before their king and pretended to be insane. David, fearing for his life, started drooling and writing on the walls in hopes of throwing off the Philistine captors. It’s kind of an odd text to reflect on because of this “history” but this isn’t a psalm of a drooling, crazy wall-writing man. David has moved on from his time in front of the king of Gath –  has been freed because of his “act” – and yet he still fears for his life. David is REFLECTIG on where he just was, what he just experienced, and (I picture) David sitting all alone and seeing his hands shake and his nerves on edge.

I cannot fathom the feeling and emotions David was feeling – and yet I can assume that my response would have been the same. He needs to survive this situation – so he does the first thing that comes to mind! When we feel imminent danger our instincts kick in and we do what is called “fight or flight response” (also known as “hyperarousal”). We either fight our way out of the danger or we flee from it (there are also those who simply collapse and cannot move). It’s a completely natural and physical response to a perceived event or harm. Simply put: it’s a survival technique. David, in his own way, is doing exactly this by acting in this crazy-man way. And it works. The king sees this lunatic before him and fears for his own safety (the king of Gath probably assumes that this man will either harm him or infect him in some way) and so he dismisses David.

So here we find David – post lunatic man – reflecting on what just happened and where he now finds himself. He’s alone and feeling like a dove in a long lost place (hence the tune he has this psalm sung to). He has no support system where he is nor does he have any friends to lean on or help him recover from this scary moment. The fear of “many” has now been replaced with the fear of “nobody.” So what does he do? He sings of God’s devotion and love. I like what Matthew Henry writes here in that, “…even in times of the greatest trouble and distress David never hung his harp upon the willow-trees, never unstrung it or laid it by; but that when his dangers and fears were greatest he was still in tune for singing God’s praises.[1]

These are two completely different responses to fear and stress that David experiences. Lunatic in one scene then singer in the next. And while I cannot relate to the “madman” – I CAN to the vocalist.

I think for most people when we are in stress we do things that bring us comfort – things that lift our spirits and bring us joy…but I also think (and this isn’t scientifically proven that I know of) we do things that are NATURAL to us. For me, I absolutely love music and singing and so I frequently find myself singing songs in my head, singing out loud, or other things that are related to music. Maybe you draw, or maybe you bake when you find yourself here – the reactions and actions of people are unlimited and unique – and yet we all respond in SOME manner. Maybe you shut down, maybe you lash out. Again, these are all natural responses to life’s dangers. But how many of them are HEALTHY responses? David’s initial response may not have been the best or most Godly onebut that is not our takeaway either.

Where I am drawn to with David and his response to this fear and stress is something I hope and pray that I find too – because my response in times of fear and stress doesn’t always lean upon God…first. It seems like when I am at my lowest then my natural response IS to go to God – but if I haven’t hit rock-bottom then my “fight” response kicks in instead of my “prayer” response.

Maybe this psalm needs to remind us that in our lowest of moments, when we are full of fear and stress and loneliness and we cannot get any lower, that we simply need to reach out to God. Maybe, as we read David’s psalm, that we see that David, while confident in the Lord’s work in his life, still feels like there is some hesitation in his voice. Then again…maybe David isn’t too different than me.

I’ve said this numerous times – but the psalms reflect honest relationships with people and their Creator. I guess it brings me comfort to read that even David struggled…and yet in his struggle he still clung to hope too.




[1] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994. Print.

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