The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.
The Hebrew words that may be rendered “according to the dove of silence far away” could denote that this psalm was to be sung to the tune “Distant, Silent Dove.” Another reading of the Hebrew could be translated “according to the dove [on] far-off big trees.” In view of the uncertainty of the Hebrew, a number of translations have simply used transliterations—“Yonath elem rehoqim” (NAB), “Jonath-elem-rehokim” (Margolis), “jonath elem rehokim” (Tanakh). The Septuagint reads, “concerning the people being removed from the holy things.”
The Hebrew term commonly transliterated Miktam is rendered stelographía (inscription) in the Septuagint. This meaning of the Greek, however, is not necessarily the significance of the Hebrew word.
Psalm 56 is ascribed to David and relates to the time he fled from King Saul into Philistine territory. There, in the city of Gath, the Philistines seized him and brought him before King Achish, calling attention to David’s having been celebrated in song for slaying more Philistines than did King Saul. By pretending to be insane, David succeeded in escaping unharmed. (1 Samuel 21:10-22:1)
In his dire circumstances, David prayed to be granted God’s favorable attention or, according to the Septuagint, to be shown mercy. Men were trampling upon him, treating him in a humiliating manner. All day long, he found himself being warred against and oppressed.
Without letup, “all day long,” his enemies trampled upon him, treating him in a harsh and demeaning way. Arrogantly, many fought against him.
Although his circumstances were perilous, David did not waver in his faith. Whenever fear gripped him, he put his trust in God.
The expression “I praise his word” probably means that David expressed appreciation for God’s promise to deliver his servant. He placed his full trust in his God. Having committed his cause to the care of the Most High, David spoke with confidence, “I do not fear. What can [man of] flesh do to me?” With the eternal God as his helper, what would mere mortals be able to do against him? The implied answer is, “Nothing.”
Nevertheless, the danger was real. All day long, the enemies worked to harm his affairs or interests. Another possible meaning is that the foes twisted David’s “words,” for the Hebrew davár, (which can denote “affair” or “matter”) basically means “word.” All their thoughts were directed for evil against him, evidently to bring about his downfall.
In verse 6(7), the opening Hebrew verb (gur) has been understood to mean “attack” or “stir up strife.” The basic meaning of gur is “to sojourn,” and this is the rendering of the Septuagint (“they will sojourn,” the future tense of the third person plural form of paroikéo). Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew verb as “conspire” (NIV), “stir up strife” (NRSV), “gather themselves together” (Margolis), and “plot” (Tanakh). Perhaps the meaning is that the enemies would position themselves near David, ready to attack. Their hiding would refer to concealing themselves in ambush. Watching his steps, they would be spying on his every move. They waited for his soul, that is, they intended to take his life.
For the trouble the enemies caused, David prayed that God would “deliver” them, perhaps in the sense of saving them for deserved punishment. According to the Septuagint, God would not in any way effect their deliverance or let them escape. David’s appeal was that the Most High, in his anger, would cast them down, bringing about their overthrow.
The “wanderings” likely refer to David’s having to be on the move to escape from Saul. Of those “wanderings,” God had kept count, being fully aware of David’s circumstances. Regarding his tears, David prayed, “Put my tears in your bottle [skin bottle],” evidently indicating that he wanted God to remember his sorrow. Confident that the Almighty would remember, he raised the question about the tears being in God’s book. The implied answer is that the Most High already had a record of them. In the Septuagint, the opening part of this verse (8) conveys a different meaning, “My life I will make known to you,” perhaps meaning that he would lay the record of his life before YHWH.
David did not doubt that his enemies, in the day of his call for God’s help, would be turned back in defeat. His assurance was based on the knowledge that God was for him. The Septuagint reads, “Behold, I have known that you are my God.”
The opening part of verse 10(11) is virtually the same as verse 4(5). Apparently because YHWH had acted to save him, David would praise him for a “word,” the fulfillment of the word of promise for aid. The thought is repeated, with the exception that the second time the divine name (YHWH) is used.
Having put his trust in God, David would not give in to fear. As he expressed it, “What can man do to me?” The implied answer (as in verse [4(5)]) is, “Nothing.” He had God on his side.
While faced with grave danger, David appears to have made vows. These vows he was determined to fulfill and to present thank offerings to God for having come to his assistance.
God had delivered David’s “soul” or life from death and had kept his feet from stumbling to a calamitous fall. Therefore, he would continue to “walk before God” or in his presence “in the light of life.” David would enjoy the light of day as one remaining in possession of his life.
Note: Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.