In this psalm David mixes complaint with prayer, and assuages the distress of his mind by meditation upon the mercy of God. He pray, that he may experience the divine help under the persecutions to which he was subjected by Saul, and his other enemies; and expresses his confidence of success. It is possible, however, that the psalm may have been written after the dangers to which he alludes were past, and in thanksgiving for a deliverance which he had already received.
To the chief musician upon the silent dove in distant places,1 Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.
The portion of history referred to in the title is recorded in 1 Samuel 21. Being driven from every hiding-place in which he had hitherto found safety, he fled to King Achish. He speaks here of having been apprehended; and that he was so, may be gathered from the inspired narrative, where Achish is represented as saying, "Lo, ye see the man is mad; wherefore, then, have ye brought him to me?" It is probable that they suspected him of some sinister design in the visit. He escaped upon that occasion by feigning madness; but this psalm proves that he must have been engaged in fervent supplication, and that faith was secretly in exercise even when he betrayed this weakness. He would not appear to have been under that inordinate agitation of mind, which instigates men to adopt methods of relief which are positively sinful; but in the desperate emergency to which he was reduced, he was compelled through fear to employ an artful device, which might save his life, although it would lower his dignity in the eyes of the world. If he lost the praise of magnanimity, it is at least apparent from this psalm, what a strenuous contest there was between faith and fear in his heart. The words, upon the silent dove, are supposed by some to have formed the commencement of a song well known at the time. Others have thought that David is here compared to a dove; and this conjecture is borne out by the propriety of the metaphor in his present circumstances,2 especially as it is added, in distant places, for he had been driven to an enemy's country by the fury of his persecutors. The meaning which some have attached to the word, translating it a palace, is farfetched. I have already given my views of the term Michtam.3 I would not pretend to say anything dogmatically on a point upon which even Hebrew interpreters are not agreed in opinion; but the probability is, that it was a particular kind of tune, or a musical instrument.
1 The late learned Editor of Calmet, from comparing this title with verse 6 of the psalm preceding, had a suspicion that it is here misplaced, and belonged originally to that psalm." -- Williams' Cottage Bible.
2 Harmer is of opinion, that the dove dumb in distant places is simply the name of the psalm. In support of this view, he quotes the titles of several Eastern books; a Persian metaphysical and mystic poem, called the Rose Bush; a collection of Floral Essays, the Garden of Anemonies; and a poem in which the Arabian prophet is celebrated for having given sight to a blind person, which is entitled the Bright Star. "The ancient Jewish taste." he remarks, "may reasonably be supposed to have been of the same kind. Every one that reflects on the circumstances of David at the time to which the 56th psalm refers, and considers the Oriental taste, will not wonder to see that psalm entitled the Dove dumb in distant places." -- Observations, volume3, p. 147-149.
3 See volume1, p. 215.