You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8 N.K.J.V.)
Life can sure make us cry. We lose loved ones. Disease strikes. Tragedy occurs. We suffer setbacks. We get our hearts broken. Sometimes we bring the hurt on ourselves because of our poor choices, but other times we get hurt through absolutely no fault of our own. Regardless of how our hurts come, though, oftentimes they result in tears.
That’s why it’s so wonderful to know that we have a God who loves us enough to not only collect our tears and put them into His bottle but also somehow record them in His book. If God doesn’t do these things, why would He have inspired David to pen the words of Psalm 56:8? The clear implication is that God wants us to know that He does these things.
Before David says, “God, put my tears into Your bottle” he first says, “God, You number my wanderings.” The Hebrew word translated as “number” is sapar and while it can mean to proclaim, declare, or tell, its primary meaning is to number or count. For example, it is first used in Genesis 15:5 when God tells Abram to count the stars to see if he can “number” them, and it’s also used in reference to the census whereby David “numbered” the people of Israel (2 Samuel 24:10). Therefore, the teaching of Psalm 56:8 is that God was numbering (keeping count of, keeping a record of) the events of David’s life. Furthermore, since the heading over the Psalm tells us that David penned the Psalm when he was in a very unpleasant situation in the Philistine city of Gath, the “wanderings” of which he speaks surely include times of trouble.
As for David asking God to put his tears into His bottle, did you know that archaeologists have unearthed bottles from the ancient world that were actually used as “tear bottles”? In Biblical times in the East, when a person was sick, in pain, or in distress, that person’s friend could visit him and bring along a tear bottle. If the person being visited started crying, the friend would open up the tear bottle and catch some of the tears in it. Later on, whenever the visited person died, the friend would take the tear bottle to the grave site and leave it there as a memorial to commemorate the sad event that had produced the tears.
This is the custom that David has in mind when he says to God, “Put my tears into Your bottle.” In the word picture that David is painting, he is the one who is crying and God is the one who is visiting him. David says to God, “Put my tears into your bottle” because he wants God to remember the moment that life reduced him to the tears. Again, in the specific context of the Psalm, that moment came when David found himself in perilous trouble in Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15).
Now, as beautiful as this picture of God collecting His peoples’ tears is, it gets even better. I say that because Revelation 21:4 tells us that in eternity God will wipe away the Christian’s every tear. I’ll admit that I used to read that verse and be puzzled by it. What puzzled me was the whole idea of tears having any part of the blissful afterlife the Bible promises Christians. Surely we won’t be shedding any tears of pain in eternity, right? Well, how then will we have tears for God to wipe away?
The answer is that they will be tears we have cried during our earthly lives. You see, God will pull out all those tear bottles that He has for each of us, the bottles in which He has captured the tears we cried on earth. Then He will open those bottles, set those tears free again, and once and for all wipe them away as we stand there and watch Him do it. Isn’t that one of the Bible’s most beautiful promises for the saved believer?
Like David, we’ve all shed some tears at various times in our lives. Some of the tears were tears of joy, but most of them were tears of pain. Many of us have even asked God during our times of pain, “Lord, don’t You care?” But the words of Psalm 56:8 are the Bible’s proof that He does care. As a matter of fact, He cares enough to collect our tears and save them for that eternal day when He will wipe them away for good.
I don’t know about you but that helps me. It encourages me, comforts me, and makes me long for the afterlife all the more. It also makes me wonder just how many tear bottles God has with my name on them. I’m guessing there are more than I know because He has bottles to commemorate times that I’ve forgotten about long ago. In a weird way, the more bottles He has for a person the greater the celebration will be when all those tears get wiped away. So, if you know Jesus as your Savior, and you’ve done some crying in your life, hang in there. One day you and the Lord will have your own private party as all those tears become mere memories of painful times the likes of which you will never experience again.