The heading of Psalm 56 indicates that David wrote it at the time he was with Achish, the king of Gath (1 Sam. 21), to whom David had gone for protection from the rage of Saul. Says Matthew Henry concerning Psalm 56: ‘David, in this psalm, by his faith throws himself into the hands of God, even when he had by his fear and folly thrown himself into the hands of the Philistines.’ In verses 1-7 David describes how the Philistines treated him. Also in the psalm he gives insights into how he was restored to walking with God.
Notice six things that David does. First, he praises God through the insights he has received about God from his promises in his word (v. 10). These promises, David had discovered through his own experience, could only be fulfilled by God. But after his own sad and futile attempt to deliver himself he had learned the important lesson that it is only those who know their own inadequacy and inability that can do something for God.
Second, David now saw his enemies in comparison to the greatness of God. As long as he compared his enemies to himself, they remained large and his faith small. But when he contrasted them to God, they became small and his faith was enlarged (vv. 3, 11).
Third, David reminded himself of the knowledge of the Lord. David reflected on how the Lord knew all about his wanderings; ‘God takes cognisance of all the afflictions of his people; and he does not cast out from his care and love those whom men have cast out from their acquaintance and converse’ (Matthew Henry). In verse 8 the psalmist uses three simple illustrations to stress the detailed interest God had in him. First, the Lord counted David’s sleepless nights (as he was restless on his bed); second, the Lord collected David’s tears in a bottle (given his folly, the tears are probably tears of repentance and the Lord gathered each one individually as it fell); third, the Lord recorded these details in a book (since writing was rare at that time, this action indicates the importance God placed on recording David’s spiritual recovery).
Fourth, David saw the importance of mercy (v. 1). Sometimes believers forget their need of mercy; we can take our forgiveness for granted. It is often the case that we need to see our sins and weaknesses again before we will ask for mercy.
Fifth, David saw the power of prayer: ‘Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me’ (v. 9). What he should have done when he fled from Saul, he now does and discovers that such prayer is very effective.
Sixth, David rededicated himself to God: In verse 12 he says, ‘I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you,’ which is probably a promise that he will yet publicly praise God at the tabernacle for his deliverance from the Philistines.
The outcome of the process is that he again had confidence concerning the Lord’s purpose for him. ‘For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life’ (v. 13). Spiritual restoration and recovery are effective steps in resuming one’s walk with God. In human society, confession of faults usually results in punishment and loss of privileges; in God’s kingdom, it brings about enjoyment of his grace.