While in the custody of his enemies, David wrote, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle” (Psalm 56:8, ESV). David was going through a difficult time. He begins this sad psalm with the words “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me” (Psalm 56:1, ESV). The Philistines had captured David in Gath—David was, at the time he wrote this psalm, a prisoner of war, and he had reason to cry and be sorrowful. David says that his struggles are recorded in God’s book (verse 8), and he asks God to put his tears in His bottle. What does this poetic language mean? Does God really have a bottle where all our tears go? Are the events of our lives really written in a book?
The idea behind the keeping of “tears in a bottle” is remembrance. David is expressing a deep trust in God—God will remember his sorrow and tears and will not forget about him. David is confident that God is on his side. He says, in the midst of this troubling time, “This I know, God is for me” (Psalm 56:9, ESV) and “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (verse 11, ESV). God may not have an actual bottle where our tears are kept or a literal book where sorrows are recorded, but He nonetheless remembers all the things that happen in our lives, including the suffering endured for His sake. In fact, there are many instances in Scripture of God’s recognition of man’s suffering. God is a tender-hearted Father to us, a God who feels with us and weeps with us (Exodus 3:7; John 11:33–35).
The fact that God remembers us and our sufferings should be very comforting. Often, obedience and following Jesus create suffering in our lives. This should not be a surprise. Jesus spoke on multiple occasions of the suffering that accompanies discipleship. Jesus warned, “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Luke 21:17; cf. Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Matthew 10:22). The Lord said that Paul would be shown “how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Loss—even when that loss is a result of obedience to God—creates real suffering and real tears. But God remembers our sufferings and has promised to more than compensate (Matthew 19:29).
Our tears are not futile. God knows each of His children intimately, and every tear we shed has meaning to Him. He remembers our sorrow as if He kept each tear in a bottle. In the end, He will share His joy with us when “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).