In Psalms 56:8, the believer says to God: You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?

That verse has been the subject of deep meditation, vocal homilies and catchy images. One would like to know if the verse was based on some ancient tradition of `crying into a bottle '. Of course, transparent glass being a later invention, the measure of tears contained in the bottle would hardly be visible to the onlooker. My question therefore is: Was Psalm 56:8 written on the basis of a custom which prevailed at that time ? Contribution from any denomination is welcome.

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    It is clearly a deeply felt expression of grief in which the psalmist asks God to keep account of his tears and remember his suffering. I don't see any warrant for suggesting some kind of ritual of 'crying into a bottle'. The psalms are full of such deep, deep expressions felt by the godly who alone suffer such intense experiences.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 12, 2021 at 8:37

3 Answers 3


I do not believe that the Psalmist's poetry is based on a custom but on a figure of speech; namely, God feels and understands our sorry and our tears are not "wasted" because it is as if God keeps them in a bottle.

This is confirmed by the parallel idea in the next clause, "are they not in thy book?" - ie, have you (God) not kept an accurate record of my sufferings?

Note the comments of the Cambridge Commentary -

into thy bottle By a bold figure God is said to collect and treasure his tears, as though they were precious wine. Kay quotes St. Bernard’s saying, “Lacrimae poenitentium vinum angelorum.” The ‘bottle’ is the skin bottle of Oriental countries, holding a considerable quantity (Joshua 9:4; Joshua 9:13; 1 Samuel 16:20; Psalm 119:83). There is no reference to the use of so-called ‘lachrymatories.’

The Pulpit commentary is similar:

Put thou my tears into thy bottle. Take also note of my tears - let them not pass unheeded. Rather, gather them drop by drop, and store them, as costly wine is stored, in a flask. The thought, thus dressed in a metaphor, was, no doubt (as Professor Cheyne observes), "Store them up in thy memory." Are they not in thy book? i.e. hast thou not anticipated my request, and entered an account of every tear that I have shed, in thy book of records (comp. Psalm 69:28; Psalm 139:16)? Psalm 56:8


The JPS translation is:

  You keep count of my wanderings; 
     put my tears into Your flask, 
     into Your record.
            (Psalm 56:9, JPS, verses numbered different in MT) 

Boice stated that the different ways this verse has been translated does not change the application: God is not indifferent to our cares.

This section ends with a prayer that God will judge these enemies (v. 7) and with a request that God will remember his sorrows, making a list of them (v. 8). David knows that God knows what he is going through and that he will remember it. In fact, he presents the tender concerns of God for himself and his people in an image that has been of immense comfort to generations of sorrowing believers. We know it best in the words of the King James Bible: “Put thou my tears in thy bottle.” But the idea is much the same in the New International Version: “list my tears on your scroll” or “put my tears in your wineskin” (footnote). The meaning is that God will never forget nor ever be indifferent to the cares of any one of his much-beloved people. -- Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 470). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

You keep count (סָפַ֪רְתָּ֫ה) and into your record (בְּסִפְרָתֶֽךָ) have the root סָפַר which has the idea of writing.

Your flask (בְנֹאדֶ֑ךָ) literally means skin, either wineskin or parchment. Wineskin makes more sense for keeping a liquid, but parchment fits the since of writing better. That's the basis of the to ways to translate this verse.

If tears in a bottle were a known custom, there wouldn't be this variation in translation. The translation would be known.


Was Psalm 56:8 written on the basis of a custom which prevailed at that time ?

Psalm 56:8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record ?

Let's see if we can, by any chance, find similar passages elsewhere within scripture :

Sirach 1:2-3 Who hath numbered the sand of the sea, and the drops of rain, and the days of the world ? Who hath measured the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the depth of the abyss ?

Now, I strongly suspect that neither counting tears and tossings, nor grains of sand and drops of rain, has ever been a custom anywhere in the world; most likely, the intended meaning is simply to extoll divine providence :

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God ? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

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