on Psalms 56 :8
Thou tellest my wanderings - Thou seest how often I am obliged to shift the place of my retreat. I am hunted every where; but thou numberest all my hiding-places, and seest how often I am in danger of losing my life.
Put thou my tears into thy bottle - Here is an allusion to a very ancient custom, which we know long obtained among the Greeks and Romans, of putting the tears which were shed for the death of any person into small phials, called lacrymatories or urns lacrymales and offering them on the tomb of the deceased. Some of these were of glass, some of pottery, and some of agate, sardonyx, etc. A small one in my own collection is of hard baked clay.
Are they not in thy book? - Thou hast taken an exact account of all the tears I have shed in relation to this business; and thou wilt call my enemies to account for every tear.
on Psalms 56 :8
Thou tellest my wanderings - Thou dost "number" or "recount" them; that is, in thy own mind. Thou dost keep an account of them; thou dost notice me as I am driven from one place to another to find safety. "My wanderings," to Gath, 1 Samuel 21:10; to the cave of Adullam, 1 Samuel 22:1; to Mizpeh, in Moab, 1 Samuel 22:3; to the forest of Hareth, 1 Samuel 22:5; to Keilah, 1 Samuel 23:5; to the wilderness of Ziph, 1 Samuel 23:14; to the wilderness of Maon, 1 Samuel 23:25; to En-gedi, 1 Samuel 24:1-2.
Put thou my tears into thy bottle - The tears which I shed in my wanderings. Let them not fall to the ground and be forgotten. Let them be remembered by thee as if they were gathered up and placed in a bottle - "a lachrymatory" - that they may be brought to remembrance hereafter. The word here rendered "bottle" means properly a bottle made of skin, such as was used in the East; but it may be employed to denote a bottle of any kind. It is possible, and, indeed, it seems probable, that there is an allusion here to the custom of collecting tears shed in a time of calamity and sorrow, and preserving them in a small bottle or "lachrymatory," as a memorial of the grief. The Romans had a custom, that in a time of mourning - on a funeral occasion - a friend went to one in sorrow, and wiped away the tears from the eyes with a piece of cloth, and squeezed the tears into a small bottle of glass or earth, which was carefully preserved as a memorial of friendship and sorrow.
Many of these lachrymatories have been found in the ancient Roman tombs. I myself saw a large quantity of them in the "Columbaria" at Rome, and in the Capitol, among the relics and curiosities of the place. The above engraving will illustrate the form of these lachrymatories. The annexed remarks of Dr. Thomson ("land and the Book," vol. i. p. 147), will show that the same custom prevailed in the East, and will describe the forms of the "tear-bottles" that were used there. "These lachrymatories are still found in great numbers on opening ancient tombs. A sepulchre lately discovered in one of the gardens of our city had scores of them in it. They are made of thin glass, or more generally of simple pottery, often not even baked or glazed, with a slender body, a broad bottom, and a funnel-shaped top. They have nothing in them but "dust" at present. If the friends were expected to contribute their share of tears for these bottles, they would very much need cunning women to cause their eyelids to gush out with water. These forms of ostentatious sorrow have ever been offensive to sensible people. Thus Tacitus says, 'At my funeral let no tokens of sorrow be seen, no pompous mockery of woe. Crown me with chaplets, strew flowers on my grave, and let my friends erect no vain memorial to tell where my remains are lodged. '"
Are they not in thy book? - In thy book of remembrance; are they not numbered and recorded so that they will not be forgotten? This expresses strong confidence that his tears "would" be remembered; that they would not be forgotten. All the tears that we shed "are" remembered by God. If "properly" shed - shed in sorrow, without murmuring or complaining, they will be remembered for our good; if "improperly shed" - if with the spirit of complaining, and with a want of submission to the divine will, they will be remembered against us. But it is not wrong to weep. David wept; the Saviour wept; nature prompts us to weep; and it cannot be wrong to weep if "our" eye "poureth out" its tears "unto God" Job 16:20; that is, if in our sorrow we look to God with submission and with earnest supplication.
on Psalms 56 :8
56:8 Wanderings - How I have been hunted from place to place. Put - Regard and pity them. Are they not - But why do I pray to God to do that which he hath already done?