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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 31

Verse 1
PSALM 31

THE PERSECUTED ONE SURRENDERS TO THE LORD

As Barnes declared, "There can be no doubt that the inscription that ascribes this Psalm to David is correct."[1] We are surprised that Dummelow and others have suggested that Jeremiah might have been the author of this psalm, on the basis of some verses in Jeremiah which are very much like some of the passages in this chapter; but Jonah and Jeremiah were quoting the Psalms, not the other way around. As McCaw noted, "Jeremiah actually quoted verse 13 in Jeremiah 20:10."[2]

Another device of destructive critics is that of declaring the psalm to be a composite; but that proposition has been exposed and rejected by both Leupold and Yates. "The latter section of the Psalm describes an intensified problem on the part of the same author."[3] "Quite unacceptable is the division of the psalm into two parts, regarded separately, as though they had no connection with each other."[4]

The occasion for this psalm has been variously understood as having been in the days of David's flight before Absalom, and as connected with the period of David's fleeing for his life before the jealousy of King Saul. To us, the latter option appears to be preferable. "If the facts of this psalm are compared with 1 Samuel 23, where David is in flight before Saul, they are seen to be in agreement."[5] In the notes we shall mention some of these examples of agreement.

The paragraphing of the psalm is as follows: (1) A Plea for Help, Reinforced by the Psalmist's Attitude (Psalms 31:1-8); (2) The Psalmist's Pitiful Situation (Psalms 31:9-13); (3) Further Cries to God for Help (Psalms 31:14-18); (4) Praise of God's Goodness to His People (Psalms 31:19-22); and (5) A Closing Exhortation for All of God's Saints to Trust Him (Psalms 31:23-24).

"An unusual feature of this psalm is that it makes the journey twice from anguish to assurance, first in Psalms 31:1-8, and again in Psalms 31:9-24."[6] In the first place, such peaks and valleys are common enough in the experience of all men; but the abrupt changes in the progress of Saul's campaign to hunt David down and kill him afford the historical situation that corresponds perfectly to the changing moods of the psalm.

Psalms 31:1-8

"In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge;

Let me never be put to shame:

Deliver me in thy righteousness.

Bow down thine ear unto me; deliver me speedily:

Be thou to me a strong rock,

A house of defence to save me.

For thou art my rock and my fortress;

Therefore for thy name's sake lead me and guide me.

Pluck me out of the net that they have laid privily for me;

For thou art my stronghold.

Into thy hand I commend my spirit:

Thou hast redeemed me, O Jehovah, thou God of truth.

I hate them that regard lying vanities;

But I trust in Jehovah.

I will be glad and rejoice in thy lovingkindness;

For thou hast seen my affliction:

Thou hast known my soul in adversities;

And thou hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy;

Thou hast set my feet in a large place."

That the psalm is most certainly David's appears in the use of such terms as `rock,' `stronghold,' `lovingkindness,' `thy righteousness,' and `fortress.' These expressions are found in dozens of David's psalms.

Note also that the word `enemy' in Psalms 31:8 is singular, suggesting that King Saul is the principle foe and the leader of those who have "laid a net" to capture David.

"For thy name's sake" (Psalms 31:3). See our discussion of this phrase in the Shepherd Psalm, above. It indicates that God's special care and protection are provided especially for those who are in covenant relation with the Lord. This is yet another mark of Davidic authorship.

"Pluck me out of the net" (Psalms 31:4). A device used by ancient murderers was that of casting a net over the intended victim, thus preventing his use of a sword or other weapon of defense, while they closed in upon him and destroyed him. David felt that the evil plot laid against him by Saul was the equivalent of just such a device.

"Into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Psalms 31:5). Our Lord himself made these the last of his seven words from the Cross, adding only the word "Father," at the beginning (Luke 23:46). However, quite unlike the verse quoted from Psalms 22 on that same occasion, we cannot believe that Jesus' use of these words identified this psalm as a prophecy of himself.

In fact, Jesus appears to have used these words in the same understanding of them that David apparently had, with this exception, "Whereas David commended his spirit to God that he might live and not die, Jesus used the same words to mean that he indeed would die, but that he would continue to live after the resurrection!

Jesus did not commended `his spirit' as distinct from `his body' to the Father. Did not the Father keep and preserve both? We believe that Jesus may well have used "spirit" in this passage as a synonym for the whole being, just as David evidently did here. Certainly, David used these words in the sense of both soul and body.

"David was not thinking of a final committal of his soul, as distinct from his body, into the hands of the Creator, but was solemnly committing himself, both soul and body, into Divine keeping, to be preserved from his enemies."[7]

"Jesus' use of these words has made this entire psalm sacred and memorable,"[8] for Christians throughout the ages. Countless saints of God have remembered and used the words in their very act of departing from this life. Stephen used the sentiment of them (Acts 7:59). Polycarp in his martyrdom is said to have made these his last words. And Adam Clarke tells us that the Latin rendition of these words are used in the last rites of the Catholic Church for those who are dying, "In manus tuas Domine, commendo spiritum meum."[9]

"I hate them that regard lying vanities" (Psalms 31:6). This is a reference to idols and is distinguished by the fact that the prophet Jonah quoted this very verse in his prayer from the belly of the great fish (Jonah 2:8).

The RSV changes the words "I hate," as they appear here, making them read "Thou hatest," apparently out of respect for the foolish notion of many modern religious people that the child of God must not "hate" anything. We agree with Ash that the words as they stand in our version "make good sense."[10]

"Thou hast set my feet in a large place" (Psalms 31:8). This expression means that David had, at this point, been liberated from his terrible anxieties, and that for the moment, at least, he was free and safe in the protection of the Lord,


Verse 9
THE PSALMIST'S PITIFUL SITUATION

"Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for I am in distress:

Mine eye wasteth away with grief, yea, my soul and my body.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

And my years with sighing:

My strength faileth because of mine iniquity,

And my bones are wasted away.

Because of all mine adversaries, I am become a reproach,

Yea, unto my neighbors exceedingly,

And a fear to mine acquaintance:

They that did see me from without fled from me.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind:

I am like a broken vessel.

For I have heard the defaming of many,

Terror on every side:

While they took counsel together against me,

They devised to take away my life."

The terrible strait in which David here found himself fits the occasion of his flight before Saul much better than it does his leaving Jerusalem during Absalom's rebellion. The defaming engaged in by many people sprang out of the fact that Saul, in that day, was indeed the legal and recognized authority. The situation was a much better background for people's "fleeing from" David and for his neighbors' being fearful of being associated with him, than any events connected with Absalom's rebellion.

What are we to think of David's eye and his bones wasting away? Is this some kind of a disease that came upon him? No! It is David's tearful grief that is meant by the eye wasting away, and the debilitating effect of his own iniquity, of which he is acutely conscious, that "wastes away his bones." There is no disease that causes a man's bones to erode, for even death generally leaves an unimpaired skeleton. These expressions appear here in a figurative sense referring to David's dangerous and unnerving experience as a fugitive from the king, whose purpose of killing him was backed up by the wealth and military power of the nation. Only God is on David's side; but that advantage was far more than enough.

"My soul and body also" (Psalms 31:9). This indicates that David's commending his spirit to God in Psalms 31:5 was done in the hope of preserving both soul and body.

"My strength faileth because of mine iniquity" (Psalms 31:10). "Some interpreters change the word `iniquity' here to `miseries'; but "There is no good reason for this alteration."[11] This verse removes any possibility of the psalm's being understood as a prophecy of Jesus.

""I am become a reproach ... to my neighbors exceedingly" (Psalms 31:11). Why were people afraid even to be seen with David? "We can see from the fate of Abimelech and the priests of Nob what cause, humanly speaking, the people had ... for avoiding all intercourse with David."[12] King Saul murdered Abimelech and all the priests of Nob because David had been done a favor by them (1 Samuel 22). No wonder people were afraid even to be seen near him.

"I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind" (Psalms 31:12). David, whose name had so recently been upon every lip because of his victory over Goliath, and who had been hailed enthusiastically by tremendous crowds of people, "Whose exploits had but lately been the theme of song,"[13] was now a fugitive, being hunted like a wild animal, with everyone who even knew him afraid to be seen with him. As far as the public were concerned, he was forgotten, treated like a man who was already dead and buried.

"For I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side" (Psalms 31:13). These exact words are also in Jeremiah 20:10. That great prophet was doubtless a close student of the Psalms and often found their very words in his own writings. There are also several other places in Jeremiah where we have similar quotations from the Psalms; but there are no legitimate grounds whatever for the allegation that such a quotation by Jeremiah, "Suggests a later age than David's."[14]


Verse 14
FURTHER CRIES TO GOD FOR HELP

"But I trusted in thee, O Jehovah:

I said, Thou art my God.

My times are in thy hand:

Deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant:

Save me in thy lovingkindness.

Let me not be put to shame, O Jehovah; for I have called upon thee:

Let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol.

Let the lying lips be dumb,

Which speak against the righteous insolently,

With pride and contempt."

When everything goes wrong, when all of our dreams come crashing down around us, when friends and neighbors shun and forsake us, when even the consciousness of our sins presses heavily upon our conscience, what is to be done? These verses are the answer. "Cry mightily unto God; lift up thy penitent voice unto Him, pour out thy soul to the Father in prayer," as "The man after God's own heart" did here.

"Make thy face to shine upon thy servant" (Psalms 31:16). This statement is evidently inspired by Numbers 6:25, commonly referred to as Aaron's blessing. The full text of this passage in Numbers, one of the most precious in all the Bible, has been set to music and sung by Christians all over the world continually. See our two page discussion of this blessing in Vol. 4 of our series of Commentaries on the Pentateuch, pp. 319,320.

The Psalms have several quotations from this Aaronic blessing Psalms 4:6; 67:1; 80:5,7,19; and Psalms 119:135.[15] In this light it is impossible not to see the five books of Moses as being far older than the Psalms.

"Let the wicked be put to shame" (Psalms 31:17). We have no respect for commentators who deplore what they call the imprecatory psalms, where prayers are offered for the frustration and destruction of the wicked. God Himself has revealed to us through the apostle John that even in heaven, the redeemed martyrs are offering that very kind of prayers (Revelation 6:10).

The conception of our Lord Jesus Christ as a kind of namby-pamby, do-gooder who never would hurt anybody, no matter how wicked they are, is false. Did not our Lord himself say, "But these mine enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me" (Luke 19:27)? There are certain preachers whom I would like to hear expound on that text!

Leupold properly discerned that, "To pray for the overthrow or the just punishment of the wicked is not wicked."[16]


Verse 19
PRAISE OF GOD'S GOODNESS TO HIS PEOPLE

"Oh how great is thy goodness,

Which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee,

Which thou hast wrought for them that take refuge in thee.

In the covert of thy presence wilt thou hide them from the plottings of man:

Thou wilt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be Jehovah; for he hath showed me his marvelous lovingkindness in a strong city.

As for me, I said in my haste,

I am cut off from before thine eyes:

Nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications,

When I cried unto thee."

"Great is thy goodness ... laid up" (Psalms 31:19). This is a theme often reiterated in the words of the apostles and of Christ himself. Jesus said, "Great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12); and Paul, quoting from Isaiah 64:4, or perhaps inspired by such lines, elaborated them as follows:

"Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not,

And which entered not into the heart of man.

Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him"

(1 Corinthians 2:9).SIZE>

The full meaning of such passages exceeds the boundaries of human imagination. The goodness of God stored up for the redeemed is far superior to anything conceivable in finite minds.

"From the strife of tongues" (Psalms 31:20). This is a reference to the vicious slanderers who took sides with king Saul and by their slanderous words against David brought great sorrow and apprehension upon him.

"He has showed me his marvelous lovingkindness in a strong city" (Psalms 31:21). Radical critics by their late-dating of this psalm and denying David as its author are unable to interpret it. Addis stated that "This reference to `a strong city' makes no sense."[17] Of course, it wouldn't make any sense to anyone trying to understand it as having been written by anyone other than David. On the other hand, any believer may understand it with no trouble whatever. DeHoff explained the meaning perfectly:

"This is probably a reference to David's taking refuge with Achish, king of Gath, who gave him Ziklag, a fortified city where David dwelt with his men during the period of his flight from Saul (1 Samuel 27:6). The passage also may teach in a figurative sense that David was as safe in the hands of God as he would have been in a fortified city."[18]

These verses are also another link in the chain of evidence that points to the time of David's efforts to escape the jealous hatred of king Saul as the most acceptable understanding of the occasion when the psalm was written.


Verse 23
EXHORTATION FOR ALL GOD'S SAINTS TO TRUST HIM

"Oh love Jehovah, all ye saints:

Jehovah preserveth the faithful,

And plentifully rewardeth him that dealeth proudly.

Be strong and let your heart take courage,

All ye that hope in Jehovah."

In these verses we have the essence of the great lesson which all true believers should observe and take to heart. "It amounts to this: `Don't ever lose faith in Him.'"[19]

"Reason says, "Love and trust the Lord."

Gratitude says, "Love and trust the Lord."

Experience says, "Love and trust the Lord."

Faith says, "Love and trust the Lord."

All believers say, "Love and trust the Lord."

The Bible says, "Love and trust the Lord."

The wise say, "Love and trust the Lord."[20]SIZE>


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 31:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=031". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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