“We have nothing to fear except fear itself.” President Franklin Roosevelt uttered these words in the midst of the worse economic crises in American history. He said this because fear frequently is our greatest enemy, not the cause of the fear, nor the content of that fear, but the fact of the fear itself. So, to quell the fears of the American people during the Great Depression, he made sure we understood that ultimately fear itself was the enemy.
This reality is something that David, the man after God’s own heart, wrestled with many years ago. He gave us his prescription for overcoming fear in Psalm 56;3 “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” David wrote his statement after being delivered from a very difficult situation. He is fleeing for his very life from King Saul. After stopping at Nob and deceiving the priests there, he took Goliath’s sword, some food, and fled into Philistia to the city of Gath.
No sooner did he creep into Gath than his troubles began anew. David didn’t think he would be known in Philistia. However, he was immediately recognized as Israel’s champion and future King. In panic, he pretends to be mad before the king to escape. David wrote two Psalms upon his deliverance from Achish, king of Gath — Psalm 34 and Psalm 56. Although inspired by the same circumstances, the two Psalms are diverse. Psalm 34 is a song of triumph and praise to God for his deliverance. On the other hand, Psalm 56 is about David’s thoughts and decisions in the midst of the test.
When I am down, many times I run for refuge to Psalm 56. In this song of praise and trouble David makes three statements. He tells us, first, what he does when he is afraid. Then he describes the depth of the problems he faced. Finally, David shows us what God does continually for him and for His children to help them cope in troubled times.
David’s song begins with a plea. “Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High.”
David’s earnest plea is squeezed out of his heart by the pressure cooker of his situation. Enemies continually threatened him, many would hurt him. To understand the gravity of David’s experience, we need to remember where David is historically. He is a fugitive on the run, not because he has done anything, but because King Saul is jealous and insecure and wants to kill him. He took Goliath’s sword by deceit, misleading the high priest to get it. Then he tried to hide in enemy territory not realizing they will easily discover who he is and threaten his life too.
His enemies are still his enemies, but his friends have become his enemies too. No wonder David felt like the world was out to get him. It was. Where do you turn when this is the case? Who can help in such a helpless and hopeless situation? Where do you go when there is nowhere to go? You turn to the LORD. “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” The only place that David could turn was to the living LORD Himself. When you cannot trust anyone else, the one you can trust is God.
So, David turned to God, not with desperation, but with resolution. He learned what he must do in times like this. “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” He, who was not afraid of Goliath, still has an acquaintance with fear. He knows what it is to be afraid. He also has learned what to do when he is afraid. His choice is not to panic. It is to trust. He had already decided his choice and he made it in the face of uncertainty. This is a lesson that we all need to learn. Fear cannot hurt us if we treat it as an opportunity to trust in our God.
In 1 Peter 5:6-7, we find two little verses, which if we would practice them, we would be helped. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting [throwing it like the disciples threw their coats on the donkey] all your [anxious] care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Do not fight the difficulties that God allows to come barging into our lives unannounced. Instead, we need to learn to roll our problems onto our Lord. The Greek word for “cast” is only used here in 1 Peter and in Matthew. In Matthew, it describes the disciples throwing their cloaks on the donkey the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
David did not trust God in a vacuum. He had some difficult problems for God to handle. He writes in verses 5-7, “All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God.” David suffered constant, unrelenting, attacks against him and his life. In verse 1 he wrote that his foes “fight all day long” against him. In verse 2, he says, “My enemies would hound me all day.” Here again in verse 5 he complains “all day” they are twisting his words. The pressure is continuous and unremitting. There were no breaks in which he could gather his strength. One problem after another, one threat on top of the next hounded him. Have we ever been in a place of this kind of pressure?
In this pressure cooker, David practices his resolve to trust. Even when the trouble does not stop, he stubbornly holds on to his faith. How often we resolve to trust God in the situation, but when the trouble does not dissipate or resolve immediately, we tend to lose heart and cast our confidence away? Remember the Hebrews that the writer of Hebrews exhorts in Hebrews 10:35–36. “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”
Because David recognized his only hope was if God Himself judged those who were tormenting him, God must act for David to be saved. So, he calls upon the LORD to act in verse 7. “Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God!”
Finally, to help him trust, David reminds himself of God’s continued provision for him. God’s care for David is as persistent as his problems are relentless. “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” God knows David’s experiences, his dangers and his fears. In the middle of the affliction, the LORD cares about David’s tears and heartbreak. He collects David’s tears as precious. God also records carefully every tear that David sheds. These three images — numbering David’s wonderings, collecting his tears in a bottle, and recording them in a book — underline God’s loving care for David and for those who belong to God.
Knowing this, David finds strength for his confident declaration. “When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me.” Because knowing God is vitally important, this statement is repeated in Psalm 118:7: “The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.” The Apostle Paul also echoes it in a rhetorical question in Romans 8:31. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” How can we be certain that God is for us? The evidence is the next verse in Romans 8. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” These things are not physical things, but everything having to do with out salvation. Since God gave His son, his only son whom He loved to come into this world and die for us that we may be saved, how can we doubt He is for us? He is for us, if we are His by faith.
This truth is so important that David repeats it as a refrain in his song. “In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” God’s word helps us trust the God of the Word. Some claim to know and trust God apart from His Word, but they cannot. It is God’s word that reveals God to us. Through the ministry of the Spirit of God through His Word we learn to love and trust God. Apart from His Word, we cannot know Him.
Finally, David’s response to God’s love and deliverance is a commitment to obey. “Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, That I may walk before God In the light of the living?” This is not David earning God’s grace. It is his response to God’s love and provision in a difficult spot in his life.
Do we know God through His word and thus have a living growing relationship with God who is there when trouble comes? Knowing Him, have we chosen when we are afraid to trust Him and to remind ourselves what He says in His Word? Lastly, we need to ask ourselves, do we obey God because we love Him and not because we think it will gain us something? May God help us to know Him like David did and to be able to flee to Him in the midst of the difficult trials in our lives.