Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
2. my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, 3. when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4. In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?

5. All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6. They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
7. so repay them for their crime;
in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8. You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
9. Then my enemies will retreat
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10. In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11. in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?

12. My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13. For your have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God in the light of life.

This is another Psalm that is written out of the experience of great trouble and trial, but the trouble and trial were met by faith in God.

Endless trouble

There seemed to be no end to the psalmist's troubles at the hand of those who oppressed him. Three times he says, "all day long". "All day long foes oppress me" (verse 1). "My enemies trample on me all day long" (verse 2). "All day long they seek to injure my cause" (verse 5), or (as the New International Version puts it) "all day long they twist my words". Those who were fighting against him were "many" (verse 2) and "evil" in their purposes (verse 5). He wanted to live in peace, but they stirred up strife, kept watch for him and tried to take his life (verse 6).

The way to meet trouble

The psalmist knew, however, that the one way to meet trouble was to turn to God in prayer, and to have faith in God when he was tempted to fear. So he began with words that begin many Psalms, "Be gracious to me, O God" (see 4:1, 6:2, 51:1 and 57:1). He could pray that prayer because he believed in God's word. He speaks of this in verse 4 and repeats it in verse 10. God had promised to help those who turned to him, and he relied on that promise. He could also be confident that God knew and perfectly understood his trouble. "You have kept count of my tossings" (verse 8) might be taken to mean his sleepless tossings in bed at night, but it may also have the sense of "wanderings" (King James Version) as he tried to escape from his enemies. He goes on by saying, "put my tears in your bottle", or perhaps "list my tears on your scroll - are they not in your record" (see Note 4 below). He believes that all his sorrows and distresses are known perfectly to God.

So he says "in the day when I am afraid" (as the Hebrew literally says), "I put my trust in you" (verse 3); and "in the day when I call, then my enemies will retreat" (verse 9). Because he knew that God was with him to help him, he could say, "what can flesh do to me?" (verse 4), "what can a mere mortal do to me?" (verse 11) In other words, although people against us are many and evil and seem very powerful, their strength is in reality very small and of no account before God. One person and God are stronger than all the rest of the world put together! But we can only be sure that God is on our side if we are on God's side, doing his will and working for him and for his honour in the world.

Two other things the psalmist did in his trouble. He prayed for God's judgment to come on his enemies (verse 7). We should understand this as other prayers like it in the Psalms. It is not a prayer for personal revenge, but that God's justice will prevail and oppression may stop. It can also be seen as a prayer for freedom from fear and anxiety, either by the removal of the sources of fear and anxiety, or by God's giving courage and fortitude to go through those difficult situations victoriously and without sinning (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). Unlike the psalmist, we have the advantage of Jesus' teaching to forgive and to pray for our enemies, but to be able to do this we need the grace and power of the Holy Spirit (see Philippians 4:13).

The other thing that the psalmist does is to determine to thank God for what he has done. Because of the constant blessings of God on our lives we should want to praise him constantly. For special blessings of help and deliverance, there should be special acts of thanksgiving, as verse 12 speaks of in terms of "vows" and "thank offerings". The last verse vividly describes what God had done for the psalmist, and we know how he does the same for us, our soul delivered from death, our feet kept from falling, so that we "may walk before God in the light of life".

Meditation: Think of the way that Hebrews 13:5-6 in the New Testament emphasises what this Psalm expresses.

For further thought and study

a. The word "flesh" in verse 4 has the idea of our humanity in its weakness. With what verses 4 and 11 say compare Isaiah 2:22, 31:1-3, 40:6-8, and Jeremiah 17:5-8, and consider how we need not fear human strength when we can trust in God, nor should we rely on human strength when we can rely on the power of God.

b. Compare Psalm 116 with this Psalm, especially for the way they both speak of how God delivers those who turn to him, and the gratitude owed to God by those who pray.


  1. In the heading of this psalm we have the words, "according to The Dove on the Far-off Terebinths" (translated in different ways in different versions), probably giving the tune that was to be used in singing it. Then it was linked with the experience of David in the hands of the Philistines as we read of this in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 or 29:1-11.
  2. Some translations understand in other ways the word rendered "Most High" in verse 2. Some take it as speaking of the pride with which the enemies attack rather than using it of God. The New International Version has, "many are attacking me in their pride".
  3. Verse 7 is also taken in different ways by different translations. Because the Hebrew word used means "escape", (and "repay" is used by changing the Hebrew slightly), the right way to take it may be "on no account let them escape", or "in spite of their evil, will they escape?"
  4. The word used for "bottle" in verse 8 is really a "skin" such as was used for holding liquids in those days. We have no evidence that 'tear bottles' were used in Old Testament times to collect the tears of mourners. So the reference may be to a skin used to write on and so to describe the sorrows of the person, and here it is stated that they are all known to God. The Good News Bible has "you have kept a record of my tears".