To the choirmaster leader, according to The Dove on Far off Terebinths, a Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath
“Be gracious to me!
People trample on me.
All day long foes oppress me.
My enemies trample on me all day long.
Many fight against me.
O Most High!
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
Whose word I praise,
In God I trust.
I am not afraid.
What can flesh do to me?”
Psalm 56, has a reference to 1 Samuel, chapter 2l, when David was escaping from King Saul. He went to visit the Philistine king at Gath where he pretended to be crazy. This was the same theme in the acrostic Psalm 34. This Psalm 56 was to be sung to the melody of “The Dove on Far-off Terebinths,” but we are not sure what it is about. A Miktam is found here and in the next few psalms. It may refer to some kind of percussion instrument. David wanted God to be gracious to him. All day long his many foes were oppressing him and trampling him. However, David put his trust in God. He was not afraid to praise God. After all, what could mortal flesh do to him? He was in fact trying to elude King Saul.
“With a freewill offering
I will sacrifice to you.
I will give thanks to your name!
For it is good.
He has delivered me from every trouble.
My eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.”
This short psalm ends with a thanksgiving. David was going to give a free will offering that was described in Numbers, chapter 15. David was going to sacrifice to Yahweh by giving thanks to his holy name. Yahweh had been good to him, as he rescued and delivered David for all his troubles with King Saul. Now David’s eye looked in triumph at the defeat of his enemies, in particular King Saul.
“Judith went up to the bedpost near General Holofernes’ head. She took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed. She took hold of the hair of his head. She said.
‘Give me strength today,
O Lord God of Israel!’
Then she struck his neck twice with all her might. She cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed. She pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out. She gave General Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.”
Well, there it is, the high point of this book. The beautiful Hebrew widow chops off the head of the great general of the great army. She even used his own sword and prayed to God before she did it. This dynamic action made her part of medieval European literature in homilies, biblical paraphrases, histories, and poetry. She was the brave warrior and yet an exemplar of pious chastity. Judith found her way into the works of Dante, and Chaucer. In popular stories, the enemy was always General Holofernes. Painters and sculptors like Donatello, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Goya, and Michelangelo, as well as stained glass windows used this account of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes as an artistic subject. Within the biblical context there are overtones of this in Judges, chapter 4, when Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite drove a tent peg into the temple of Sisera, after giving him something to drink. Another similar but unsuccessful event was when King Saul tired to kill David with a spear while he was playing the lyre, in 1 Samuel, chapter 18.