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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 31


This psalm is full of tantalising expressions, which raise the expectation of a satisfactory historical basis for its composition, only to disappoint by the obscurity of their allusion. On the one hand, the figures of the stronghold and rock (Psalms 31:2-3) not only suggest David as the author, but, from the mode of their introduction, at first seem to point to some definite locality, as Keilah or Ziklag (Psalms 31:7). But we are instantly transported into another circle of images and situations which recall Jeremiah and his fortunes. Moreover, the psalm oscillates between plaintive prayer and assured trust in a way to indicate that we cannot here have the experience of one single event, but the gathered sentiments of a whole lifetime; or, perhaps, which is more likely, the expression of a universal sentiment, the picture of a national situation where power was on one side and right on the other, in which the interests of religion and the discharge of religious duties were opposed by the contemptuous hostility of an idolatrous society. The enemies, at all events, who appear here are those who hate the pious Israelite because they themselves adore other gods (Psalms 31:6)—they are the wicked—their arms are recrimination, calumny, contempt, the insolence of the powerful against the humble and weak. The psalm seems, therefore, to reflect the later times of the monarchy, when the pure religion of Jehovah had to struggle against idolatrous tendencies favoured in high places. The recurrence of phrases very common in his writings show that if Jeremiah was not the author of the psalm, he was very familiar with it, or the writer of the psalm was imbued with his style. The versification is irregular.

Verse 1

(1) The words of this verse are interesting as being the last words of Xavier, and as concluding the Te Deum.

Psalms 31:1-3 occur again with slight variations in Psalms 71:1-3.

Let me never.—Literally, let me not for ever be ashamed.

Verse 2

(2) My strong rock.—Literally,

“Thou art to me for a rock of a stronghold,
For a house of fortresses to save me.”

Verse 3

(3) Rock.—As rock in this verse is selâ (LXX. and Vulg., “strength”) instead of tsûr, as in Psalms 31:2, it is better to render “for thou art my cliff fortress;” literally, cliff and fortress.

For thy name’s sakei.e., because Thou hast this name of rock and fortress.

Lead me, and guide me.—The future is better,

“Thou wilt lead and guide me.”

To pray for protection and then stoutly affirm belief, as in Psalms 31:3, has been called illogical; but it is the logic of the heart if not of the intellect; the logic, it may be added, of every prayer of faith.

Verse 4

(4) The net.—This image is a common one in the Psalms. (Comp. Psalms 10:9, &c)

Laid privily.—Literally, hidden. Translate still by the future, thou wilt pull me out.

Verse 5

(5) I commit.—Most memorable, even among expressions of the Psalms, as the dying words of our Lord Himself (Luke 23:46), and a long line of Christian worthies. Polycarp, Bernard, Huss, Henry V., Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melancthon, are some of the many who have passed away comforted and upheld by the psalmist’s expression of trust. But death was not in his thought, it was in life, amid its troubles and dangers, that he trusted (Hebrew, deposited as a trust) his spirit (rûach, comp. Isaiah 38:16) to God. But the gift brought to the altar by the seer of old, has been consecrated anew and yet anew.

Lord God of truth.—Comp. 2 Chronicles 15:3, where, as here, there is a contrast between Jehovah and idols; but also, as in Deuteronomy 32:4, the “faithful God.”

Verse 6

(6) Lying vanities.—Literally, breath of lies (Jonah 2:8), undoubtedly idols, as the parallelism in Jeremiah 8:19 shows. It was the term adopted by the Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy 32:21) and apparently brought into use by him.

Verse 8

(8) Shut me up into the hand.—This is the exact phrase used by David (1 Samuel 23:11-12) in consulting the Divine oracle by the ephod. But this does not prove the authorship, for it was evidently a common phrase. (See 1 Samuel 24:18; 1 Samuel 26:8; 2 Kings 17:4.)

Large room.—Comp. Psalms 4:1; Psalms 18:19.

Verse 9

(9) Mine eye is consumed . . .—Comp. Psalms 6:7. It was an old idea that the eye could weep itself away. It is an actual fact that the disease glaucoma is very much influenced by mental emotions.

Belly.—Better, body—both mind and body were suffering.

Verse 10

(10) Iniquity.—Gesenius and Ewald understand, the suffering that follows on sin rather than the iniquity itself, a meaning that certainly seems to suit the context better. The LXX. and Vulg. have “poverty.”

Verse 11

(11) The adverb rendered especially seems out of place. It is therefore better to take it as a noun, in the sense of burden, a sense etymologically probable.

“Because of all mine oppressors I have become a reproach,
And to my neighbours a burden,
And a fear to my acquaintance.”

Fled.—Literally, fluttered away like frightened birds.

Verse 12

(12) Broken vessel.—A favourite image with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 19:11; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 25:34; Jeremiah 48:38), but not peculiar to him among the prophets. (Comp. Hosea 8:8, and see Introduction to this psalm.)

Verse 13

(13) Again comp. Jeremiah 20:10, which reproduces word for word the first two clauses. The expression rendered “fear on every side” was actually a motto of the prophet (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3, margin; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29. Comp. Lamentations 2:22). But the most probable derivation makes the noun mean not terror but conspiracy, while for slander here we must render whisper.

“For I heard the whispering of the many,
‘Conspiracy all around.’ ”

Under cover of a pretended general panic they were really, as the psalmist saw, plotting evil against him.

Verse 14

(14) But I.—Emphatic, in contrast to the pretended panic and in spite of the real dangers around him.

Verse 15

(15) My times are in thy handi.e., the vicissitudes of human life (LXX. and Vulg. have “my destinies”) are under Divine control, so that the machinations of the foe cannot prevail against one whom God intends to deliver. For the expression comp. 1 Chronicles 29:30, “the times that went over him,” Isaiah 33:6.

The sense of security in this trusting phrase may be contrasted with the feeling of danger in another Hebrew phrase, “my soul is continually in my hand,” Psalms 119:109.

Verse 16

(16) Make thy face to shine.—As in Psalms 4:6, an echo of the priestly blessing. (Numbers 6:24-26.)

Verse 18

(18) Silence.—As a different word is used from that rendered silent in Psalms 31:17, translate let the lying lips be made dumb.

Grievous.—Better, arrogant, as in 1 Samuel 2:3. (Comp. Psalms 94:4.) So in Psalms 75:5, “a stiff neck” is a neck thrown impudently back.

Proudly and contemptuously.—Literally, in pride and contempt.

Verse 19

(19) Laid up.—Better, hidden, (Heb. tsaphan; comp. Psalms 17:14; Obadiah 1:6), as a treasure for the faithful, and now brought out and displayed in the presence “of the sons of men.”

Verse 20

(20) The secret of thy presence.—Better, in the hiding-place of thy countenance, a beautiful thought and common in the Psalms, although expressed by different images. In Psalms 27:5, “the hiding-place of his tabernacle;61:4, “of his wings;” 91:1, “of his shadow.”

The form the same image takes in the Christian’s hope is beautifully expressed by Tennyson:
“To lie within the light of God as I lie upon your breast,
And the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”

Pride.—Better, rough or wrangling talk, as the parallelism shows and the LXX. confirm; and, referring back to Psalms 31:18, Gesenius renders the word “conspiracies.”

Verse 21

(21) Shewed me his marvellous kindness . . .—Better, made his kindness distinguished or manifest, referring to Psalms 31:19.

In a strong city.—Some see a reference to David’s adventures at Ziklag or Keilah; others to Jeremiah’s in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38:0). It is, however, better to regard it merely as a general image of the Divine protection.

Verse 22

(22) In my haste . . .—Literally, in my fleeing away in fear. Jerome, Aquila, and Symmachus, “in my confusion.”

Verse 23

(23) Preserveth the faithful.—Or, perhaps, by rendering by the abstract instead of the concrete, keeps faith. The LXX. and Vulg. have “requireth truths.”

Verse 24

(24) Be of good courage.—Cf. Psalms 27:14.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 31". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.