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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 61

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Superscription: For the Chief Musician; on a Stringed Instrument. A Psalm of David.

It will be seen from the titles which various scholars have given this psalm that the ascription to David as the author is generally assumed to be true; and as for the occasion, several view the time of David’s absence from Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion as correct.

This beautiful psalm, from the very earliest ages of the church, “Has been sung daily at Matins,”(F7) i.e., as “A Morning Prayer.” There are few religious hymnals today that do not have a song based on this psalm. “The Rock that is Higher than I,” by E. Johnson, is an example.(F8)

There are a number of erroneous interpretations proposed for this psalm. Leupold listed the following: (1) This is the prayer of a sick man. (2) It is the prayer of the nation of Israel. (3) It is a liturgical prayer for use at the festival of the covenant. “Such views are out of harmony with express statements in the text.”(F9)

There are also a number of different occasions, or dates, which have been proposed. Addis dated it during the Babylonian exile, or afterward, due to his misunderstanding of “the ends of the earth” (Psalms 61:2), and the mention of “tent” in Psalms 61:4.(F10) Several scholars, mentioned by Delitzsch, dated the psalm even later, during the times of Cyrus the Persian, or of the Ptolemies, or the Seleucidae, but he denounced them all as “worthless bubbles.”(F11)

By far, the most reasonable understanding of this psalm sees it as written by David, most probably at the time of Absalom’s forcing him to flee across the Jordan River to Mahanaim.

This little pearl of a psalm is very short, but very beautiful. The three divisions proposed by Leupold will be followed here.

(1) An exile’s prayer for help (Psalms 61:1-3).

(2) His plea to dwell with God forever (Psalms 61:4-5).

(3) His prayer for “The King” (Psalms 61:6-8).


Verses 1-3

“Hear my cry, O God; Attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I call unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a refuge for me, A strong tower from the enemy.”

“Hear my cry… attend my prayer” No situation can be bad enough that it does not call for prayer. When a man is through with praying, that man is through with any life that matters. As James stated it, “Is any among you suffering, let him pray” (James 5:13).

“From the end of the earth” “This need not refer to a remote area, the distance is magnified by the yearning to be back home.”(F12) To the Jew, anything east of the river Jordan would have been so designated. The Biblical note that Moses died “in a foreign land”(F13) is proof of this.

“The rock that is higher than I” “This means the rock that is too high for me, the rock that I cannot reach unaided.”(F14) And just Who is that Rock? “This Rock is Christ.”(F15) For ancient Israel, the Rock was a symbol of the love and protection of God, a figure of the security, serenity and protection provided for the believer by the Lord. For this generation, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Rock for human souls.”(F16)

“When my heart is overwhelmed” “There are times when many of us are in anguish because of the feeling that God is displeased with us, or that we are separated from Him; and the rebellion of our own children, and the ingratitude and treachery of those whom we have trusted have simply overwhelmed us.”(F17) Such was the situation that pressed upon the heart of David.

“For thou hast been a refuge for me, a strong tower” This is the first of two reasons (the other is in Psalms 61:5) that the psalmist advances as reasons why God should hear him. His past experience had been such that David might confidently expect the continuation of God’s help.

Verses 4-5


“I will dwell in thy tabernacle forever I will take refuge in the covert of thy wings. (Selah) For thou, O God, hast heard my vows; Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.”

“I will dwell in thy tabernacle forever” There is apparently a double significance in these words. David did not dwell “in” God’s tabernacle; and Rawlinson proposed that this may refer to David’s, “Dwelling spiritually in the heavenly dwelling of which the earthly tabernacle was a type.”

Another view is that of Addis, who wrote, “The king mentioned here seems to be a high priest also, for he dwells in the tabernacle (Psalms 61:4) and abides before God (Psalms 61:7).”(F18)

Of course, there is only one great King and High Priest dwelling in the presence of God, and that is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the Messianic King is most surely mentioned in Psalms 61:6-8, we find no objection to Addis’ interpretation; but, at the same time, the thought advanced by Rawlinson that David’s spiritual hope was also mentioned here cannot be denied. There is a double significance of the words.

“Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name” This is the second reason the psalmist advanced as the grounds of his hope of God’s help. This “heritage” is extremely important. “The `heritage’ is all-embracing, unlimited, inalienable and inclusive of all the blessed promises to Christians. It is the equivalent of `all things are yours.’“(F19) “`The heritage here’ refers to that distinctive promise which God gave to David through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7) assuring him of the eternal continuation of the `Throne of David,’ and of one of his seed to sit upon it.”(F20) Thus, the “heritage” is nothing less than the promise of Christ himself.

These verses from here to the end of the psalm are capable of being interpreted in three ways, namely: “(1) of David himself; (2) of the Davidic dynasty; and (3) of the Messiah.”(F21) There are elements of all three interpretations in the passage, due to David’s being a type of Christ.

Verses 6-8


“Thou wilt prolong the king’s life; His years shall be as many generations. He shall abide before God forever: Oh prepare lovingkindness and truth that they may preserve him. So will I sing praise unto thy name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.”

“The king’s life” Who is this “King”? As Delitzsch noted, “The Jewish Targum, after the end of the Davidic (earthly) dynasty rendered this place `The King Messiah.’“(F22)

This shows, of course, that the Jewish interpreters for centuries before Christ interpreted these verses as applicable to the Messiah.

“His years shall be as many generations” These words cannot possibly refer to David; they refer to David’s Greater Son, the Messiah.

“He shall abide before God forever” These words also are a reference, not to David, but to Christ. The RSV has a preferable reading:

“May he be enthroned forever before God; bid steadfast love and faithfulness watch over him!” (Psalms 61:7, RSV)

David was the one who did the praying in these verses, and one may wonder if David was really praying for such extravagant and eternal blessings upon himself as those which are outlined in these verses. Yes, they may actually apply to David, as Spurgeon declared, “In a very limited and modified sense,”(F23) but as Kidner said, “David probably could not have foreseen the magnificent fulfilment of this prayer, which was destined, in the fulness of time, to be granted `in Christ Jesus,’ above all that he could have asked or thought.”(F24)

“So will I sing praise… perform my vows” This marvelous prayer has soothed and healed the troubled heart of David; and he now feels once more the confidence and security that come of complete trust in God. However, he accepts the sense of obligation that goes along with all of God’s blessings. As Spurgeon put it, “A man who leaps in prayer should not limp in praise.”(F25)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 61". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-61.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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