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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 61

Psalms 61

THE Psalmist prays in great distress to the Lord for deliverance ( Psalms 61:1-2), grounds this prayer on the fact that the Lord is his Saviour ( Psalms 61:3), and expresses his firm confidence in God’s help, ( Psalms 61:4). The basis of this confidence lies in this, that the God who hears his prayer has promised him an eternal dominion; may God, in fulfilment of this promise, vouchsafe to him deliverance; and he will continually thank him, ( Psalms 61:5-8). The Psalm consequently is divided into two strophes, separated by Selah, and consisting each of five verses, Psalms 61:4, and Psalms 61:5-8. In the first we have prayer and confidence, and in the second, the grounds of the confidence.

That David was the author of the Psalm is evident not less from its title than from its contents. The mention of the tabernacle -temple ( Psalms 61:4) leads us to the time of David. And inasmuch as the Psalm was undoubtedly composed by a king—for it is as such that the Psalmist claims salvation as grounded on a divine promise—this king can be none other than David. This, moreover, is evident even from Psalms 61:5. For there the author refers to the promises contained in 2 Samuel 7 as having been imparted to him in answer to his prayer.

The question may be asked, whether David composed the Psalm for any particular occasion, or merely for his own comfort, and that of his successors on the throne, in disastrous times, and for the purpose of confirming the courage of his subjects. In favour of the first view, we have the clause, “from the ends of the earth,” which would seem to intimate that the Psalmist was at the time in exile, and that therefore the Psalm must have been composed during the rebellion of Absalom, when David was beyond Jordan: comp. Psalms 42:6. This special occasion, however, must not lead us to lose sight of the general reference. It could only be by keeping this reference in view that David issued the Psalm for public use. The Psalm, even in our days, has its complete use, inasmuch as the promises in 2 Samuel 7 have undoubtedly their complete fulfilment in Christ. Generally, whenever the kingdom of Christ is in danger, we may, in addition to other considerations, plead with God as the Psalmist does, on the ground also of this particular promise which he there made.

Title: To the Chief Musician, on David’s instrumental music, by David. “On David’s instrumental music” (comp. on נגינה in Psalms 54) is to be explained by Habakkuk 3:19, where the church calls the musical instruments of the temple its musical instruments. It is obvious that לדוד must be connected with the preceding noun, because that noun is in the stat. constr. But this cannot be its only connection. For, in that case, there would be no reason for the existence of the ל , and, besides, in the titles, לדוד , is the usual mark which points out that the Psalm was composed by David, and finally, this mark cannot be wanting herein the midst of Psalms, all of which are inscribed with the name of David. We must, therefore, assume that לדוד both supplies the place of a genitive to נגינת and also serves to point out the authorship of the Psalm,—an idea which harmonizes well with the enigmatical character of the titles composed by David. The idea that the stat. constr. is used instead of the stat. abs. and that נגינת is to be pointed as if it were a plural, are mere attempts to cut the knot, and have, moreover, the analogy of the title of the following Psalm against them, a title which corresponds exactly to the one before us.

Verses 1-4

The first strophe, ver. 1-4.

Ver. 1. Hear, O God, my cry, and attend to my prayer. Ver. 2. From the end of the earth I cry to thee in the trouble of my heart, wilt thou lead me to a rock which is too high for me. Ver. 3. For thou art my confidence, a strong tower before my enemies. Ver. 4. I will dwell in thy tabernacle for ever, I will trust in the shelter of thy wings.—קצה הארץ in Psalms 61:2, stands in the sense of “the end of the earth,” “its extreme part;” comp. for example, Deuteronomy 28:64; and it will not do to translate it either “from the end of the land;” or “low down on the earth,” with Luther, (campensis: e terra, quae longissimo tractu a coelo distat,) nor “from the extreme depth of the earth,” with Clauss. The end of the earth is at the same time the end of the heaven, (comp. Deuteronomy 4:32, Isaiah 13:5), and therefore that portion of it which is most remote from the throne of God, which was supposed to stand in the middle: comp. Psalms 135:7, Jeremiah 10:13, Jeremiah 51:16. David, when he was driven out of the Lord’s land, properly so called, felt as much distressed as if he had been banished to the utmost extremity of the earth, far from the face of God. And as there is, after all, in the expression an element of feeling, we may perhaps consider it as equivalent to “I feel as far from thee as if I were banished to the utmost extremity of the earth.” Still, that the idea conveyed by the expression contains as its principal element a matter of fact, is evident from the parallel passage in Psalms 42:7, from the circumstance that immediately after Psalms 61:5 David speaks in his own name, and from the reference in the following Psalm to the time of Absalom. The rock is noticed as a place of security; compare Psalms 40:2. “Which is too high for me,” is, “which is so high that I cannot in my own strength ascend it.”

The היות in ver. 3 is to be taken as a present, compare Psalms 59:16. The Psalmist grounds his prayer not only on what God has been, but on what he always is towards him. Proverbs 18:10 refers to the second clause: “the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe:” all the more so, that the second part is strictly connected with the conclusion of ver. 2.

The “I will dwell” in Psalms 61:4, is an energetic expression for, “I shall dwell.” The Psalmist is so sure of his privilege that he proceeds as it were to take possession of it, without any regard to the misery of his present condition, by which he is effectually excluded from its enjoyment. On “dwelling in the house of the Lord,” in the sense of “enjoying his grace;” see Psalms 27:4, and the passages quoted there. The עולמים , properly “eternities,” next “eternal,” shows that David, with his eye on the promises in 2 Samuel 7 looked upon himself as identified with his posterity: comp. Psalms 21:4. So far from his enemies having it in their power to rob him personally of what the grace of God had given him, he is safe through this promise even to the most distant posterity. For the second clause compare Psalms 36:7.

Verses 5-8

The second strophe ( Psalms 61:5-8) contains the ground of David’s confidence, viz. that sure word of prophecy, which guaranteed to him eternal dominion: against this rock all the waves of rebellion must dash in vain.

Ver. 5. For thou, O Lord, heardest my vows, thou gavest the inheritance to them who feared thy name: Ver. 6. Thou wilt add days to the days of the king, his years last for many generations. Ver. 7. He will sit on a throne for ever before God, appoint mercy and truth to preserve him. Ver. 8. Therefore will I sing praise to thy name continually, paying my vows every day.

The “vows” in Psalms 61:5 are prayers mingled with vows, like Jacob’s vow. We gather the object of this prayer from Psalms 61:6: it is the continuance of his dominion. That the promise of Nathan was given in answer to ardent prayer on the part of David, we gather also from Psalms 21:2; Psalms 21:4, which throughout is to be considered as parallel to the words here: “thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips,—he desired life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.” The inheritance of those who feared the name of the Lord is salvation:—several translate as much against the grammar as against the sense, “ thou gavest their inheritance to the leavers of thy name,” as if the constr. case could be used instead of the absolute.

In what this inheritance of the Lord consists, (for the expression, being altogether general in its form, requires some limitation), is seen in Psalms 61:6, which stands in the same relation to Psalms 61:5, as in Psalms 21 Psalms 21:3 and Psalms 21:4, stand to Psalms 21:2. David’s fear of God had received as its reward the promise of eternal dominion. Those who perceive the connection (at the end of Psalms 61:5, there should be a colon), will not for a moment think of taking the usual future תוסיף in an optative sense. David speaks designedly of the days of the king instead of his own days, as might have been expected from what had been said, for the purpose of showing that he considered the promise of eternal dominion as relating not to himself personally but to his family—the royal family of David. In the second clause we supply from the first, “thou shalt increase.” “As generation and generation,”—so that they resemble the continuance of a whole succession of generations.—”Before God,” in Psalms 61:7, is “under the protecting guardianship of his grace:” compare 2 Samuel 7:29, “And now let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee.” The מן , imper. from מנה in Pih., is to instruct, to appoint—the חסר and אמת , which are accusatives. Mercy and Truth appear as God’s servants, whom he instructs to protect his servant (the royal family of David): compare “God shall send his mercy and his truth,” Psalms 57:3, and Psalms 43:3. The “appoint” rises from the ground of “he shall appoint:”—the imperative, therefore, has a close affinity to the future: see similar imperatives in 2 Samuel 7:29.

The “therefore” in Psalms 61:8, “is if thou fulfillest this prayer and thine own promise.” David undertakes for his posterity in regard to the vow of thanks. At all times the call of grace will be accompanied by the corresponding call of thanks. In reference to the לשלמי , “paying therefore my vows,” (for thanks formed the soul of a vow), or “so that I pay,” compare Ewald, § 544.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 61". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-61.html.