“You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me. 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?” Psalm 56:8–11
The phrase “put my tears into your bottle” is an interesting one. It gives an image of tears being collected into a vessel of remembrance. I’ve never seen anyone do such a thing but I’ve read that at times people did in fact collect their tears.
The practice is now call lachrymatory and there is archeological evidence that it may have been practiced as far back as one hundred years before Christ. Anciently these tears were collected as part of the mourning rituals of important, or wealthy people. It was thought that the more tears collected the more important the person had been in his life. As recently as the American civil war women used small bottles to collect their tears during the years when their loved one was gone and would given them to them when they returned to show them how much they had missed them.
Psalm 56:8 is probably not a reference to lachrymatory since its writing predates any archeological evidence by several hundred years but the metaphor does present a strong graphical image of God witnessing, recording and remembering the sorrows we have in life.
As he writes this psalm David has just begun his years of running from King Saul. Alone he seeks refuge among his enemies, the Philistines, believing he will be safer hiding there as an exile than he would be among the tribes of Israel.
The Philistines, however, aren’t quick to forget David’s warfare against them as a part of Israel’s army. They remember how he slew Goliath and they recall how the crowds sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
David’s attempt at hiding among the Philistines was ill advised but he was right about one thing he said in our focus text. God does record, or number, our wanderings in his book, he sees and makes a record of our tears.
David, in this time of great strain and heartache, chooses to renew his trust in God. And having declared, “In God I will put my trust.” David then asks, “What can man do to me?”
In truth, David knows what men could do to him. He’s seen friends die on the field of battle. He knows that God does not always preserve every person’s life and health. But he also knows that regardless of what happens God still remembers and it’s in God’s remembrance that David chooses to rely.
We don’t know what the future holds for us. The path to eternity for us may lead through hardship and a grave, but like David we can rely on God’s remembrance, and trusting in his remembering with confidence ask, “What can man do to me?”