Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Col, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Psalm 56 is ascribed to David “for the people that from holy men were put afar off” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326437). Augustine, typical of his interpretive pattern, sees David as a representative of Christ, then questions who those “afar off” would be. He concludes that these were strangers to God’s kingdom. Augustine makes an allegorical assumption that the strangers, based on the Greek-rooted word “Allophyli,” represent vines and that “Geth” is the city of a wine press. He then says, “Let whatsoever holy men therefore that are suffering pressing from those that have been put afar off from the saints, give heed to this Psalm” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326452). Augustine goes on to speak of the “treading” in verse one as an allegory of a winepress. The enemy, who would crush the saints, may be a human enemy or Satan himself. All the opponents, seen and unseen, are real. However Augustine recognizes that they are initially opposed to Christ. The Christian is a secondary target, but one wo will certainly be attacked (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326468).
Verses two and three observe that although there is opposition, it is the opponents, who would crush Christ’s people, who need to fear (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326483). Rising up against the holy God is not only futile, it is also dangerous. Rather than fearing, we should look to God in praise (v. 4). Our speech is subject to God’s judgment, which will vindicate what is good. Yet in verse five, the words of the Psalmist will be rejected. Augustine reinforces this idea with numerous examples (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326508), before concluding we should expect no better from a world which rejected Christ’s word.
Verse six identifies the opponents. Augustine observes the langugage of waiting and watching, and ties it to “sojourning” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326515). He understands all humans to be some sort of sojourners, here only temporarily. Some are here doing good, some doing evil. All are doing something temporary, which God knows all about. The opponents will cause harm, and in doing so may cause Christians to stumble and even fall (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326538). Regardless, Augustine says our actions and words should be righteous before God, who will strengthen us. God’s attitude toward evildoers is evident in verse 7. He is the one who saves people, even evil people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326553). They then are made as safe as any of God’s children.
In verse 8, the Psamlist reflects that he tells God about his lfie. Augustine asks why this would be done. After all, God knows all about our lives already. Augustine concludes it is done to remind us and others how God has given us promises and has cared for his people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326576). The enemies who are receptive may be moved to repentance and change (v. 9). Augustine ties this idea to the way Jesus taught his disciples about his death and resurrection, urging them to believeh im (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326583). The confidence in God comes to the surface then as the Psalmist confesses himself to know what kind of God he has called to (v. 9). The great blessing is to be one of God’s people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326606). A pure loves for God, with a heart of chastity, brings God’s reward upon His people. The hope of the Christian is finally seen to be rooted in God, in whom we hope (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326622). Augustine sees our loving trust in God as the offering we give Him, an offering which cannot be taken away. In verse 13 God is the one who even rescues us from death. There is no comparison of this to the danger brought by the evildoers (Augustine Psalms, loc. 326637).
In conclusion, the Psalm draws a distinction of good and evil, as well as the rewards waiting for each. We are called to look to God in Christ for our security and reward.