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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 71

Verses 1-3

The introduction is Psalms 71:1-3. The third verse closes the portion borrowed from Psalms 31, and in the fourth verse the author begins his own composition; the introduction, therefore, cannot be extended into the fourth verse. Ver. 1. On thee, O Lord, do I trust, may I never be put to shame. Ver. 2. Through thy righteousness deliver me, and redeem me, incline thine ear to me, and help me. Ver. 3. Be to me a rock of habitation, to which I may come continually, who hast ordained to help me: for thou art my rock and my fortress.

The quotation here, as in similar cases, is made in a free manner, and with variations which are particularly significant in Psalms 71:3, when the author is just about to pass on to the original portion of his Psalm. That the quotation did not arise from recollection, but was introduced designedly, and that it serves an important object, is manifest from the fact, that it opens a Psalm, which, from beginning to end, with the exception of a few references of a similar description, bears an independent and peculiar character. Instead of a “rock of security,” מעוז , there stands here, “a rock of habitation,” מעון : compare on the word at Psalms 90:1, and on variations of this sort, Vol. i. p. 282. It is scarcely worth mentioning that the Chaldee and the several MSS. propose to change the reading into that of the fundamental passage; this pernicious practice is indeed everywhere adopted. The additional clause “to which I may come continually,” that is, “as often as necessity compels me,” is very suitable after “habitation.” The clause, “who hast ordained,” (צוה is used as at Psalms 44:4, Psalms 68:28,) contains the basis of the petition, exactly as at Psalms 7:6, “who hast ordained judgment”:—the imperative there, as here, is inconsistent with grammar. “For my rock,” etc. gives the basis both, the wish, and of the fact by which it in the first instance is supported.

Verses 4-13

The first main division, Psalms 71:4-13, contains the expanded prayer and its basis. Ver. 4. O my God deliver me out of the hand of the wicked, and out of the fist of the evil-doer, and of the abandoned man. Ver. 5. For thou art my hope, O Lord God, my confidence from my youth. Ver. 6. On thee have I leant from the womb, from my mother’s lap thou hast been my conductor, of thee is my praise continually. Ver. 7. I was as a wonder to many, but thou art my strong confidence. Ver. 8. My mouth is full of thy praise, and continually of thy glory. Ver. 9. Therefore cast me not off in the time of old age, in the failure of my strength forsake me not. Ver. 10. For my enemies speak against me, and those who lay wait for my soul take counsel together. Ver. 11. And say: God has forsaken him, persecute, and seize him, for there is no deliverer. Ver. 12. O God, be not far from me, make haste to help me. Ver. 13. Let them be confounded and consumed who are enemies to my soul, let them get reproach and dishonour who seek my hurt.—מיד and מכף , in Psalms 71:4 are parallel as they are also in the title of Psalms 18. חמץ occurs only here, it is from חמץ , to be sour, and is the same as חמוץ , Isaiah 1:17, the abandoned. The Berleb. Bible, in true theological exposition: “Do thou deliver the soul from unbelief, which, like an old tyrant, seeks to strangle faith. If the spirit is not always on the watch, this enemy gets together nations of vain thoughts to besiege the soul.”

The prayer, which is shortly expressed, is succeeded, in Psalms 71:5-8, by the basis on which it rests, and after that the prayer is expanded in Psalms 71:9-13. The parallel expression, מבטח , “the object of my trust,” makes it evident, that “my hope,” in Psalms 71:5, stands objectively for “thou art the object on which I hope”: comp. Psalms 40:4. The Psalmist does not in the least praise his own faith, but the grace of God, which had been imparted to him from his childhood. The ( Psalms 71:16) 16th verse spews that we cannot, contrary to the accents, tear אדני יהוה from each other: Psalms 68:20, Psalms 69:6. These names point to the fulness of might in God, which peculiarly fits him to be an object of hope to his people.

The Niph. נסמךְ? in Psalms 71:6 retains its passive signification: on thee have I leant,=thou hast been my support, my prop: compare “on thee was I cast from my mother’s womb,” in Psalms 22:10. In the whole verse there is nothing whatever said about the sentiments of the sufferer, but merely about good deeds done to him. גוזי is difficult. It is evidently the infinitive of &#גוז גזה in the sense of “to do good to,” which many adopt here, is a forced one in Hebrew, and גוזי , according to this rendering, is too far removed from the fundamental passage, Psalms 22:9, “for thou wast my breaking out, גוחי from my mother’s womb.” But it is a question whether the verb here is transitive, my guiding, or bringing out,—in favour of this, it may be urged, that in other passages the verb is used only transitively,—or intransitive, my being brought, or my coming forth,—which is favoured by the form, (for it is only intransitive verbs that have their infinitives and participles in O), and also by the fundamental passage. “In thee is my praise” is, “thou art the object of my praise,” or “thou hast given me occasion to praise thee”: compare at Psalms 44:8, and “of thee is my praise” in Psalms 22:25. On “I was as a wonder to many”, in Psalms 71:7 th, equivalent to “I, by the greatness of my sufferings, drew upon myself their astonishment and wonder,” compare Deuteronomy 28:46, where the woes of Israel are to be for a sign and for a wonder, Isaiah 52:14 and 1 Corinthians 4:9. On מופת , the object of astonished wonderment, not a sign, compare the Christol. II. p. 45. [Note: Gesenius makes a very strange remark, in reference to the exposition given there: inania sent; sumsit enim, non probavit radicem (Arabic not reproduced

ED) admirationis protestatem habere. In support of this sense, reference was there made to the testimony of Schultens drawn from the Arabic Lexicographers. All the Lexicons give it; Freytag for example: (Arabic not reproduced

ED) res mira, prodigium, calamitas.] Among the Arabians also, the term wonder is applied to any exceedingly great, or as it were wonderful, misfortune. Schultens, in the passage quoted in the Christology: est omne portentum, et praesertinz portentosa calamitas, et homo cui ea incumbit. But it is said in the second clause, that in all his wonderfully great misery, the Psalmist has experienced God to be his almighty confidence and help: compare on מחסי עז Psalms 45:6, page 134 of this volume.

In the 8th verse Luther has given by mistake, “let my mouth be full,” instead “of my mouth is full.” The Psalmist is not praying, but recounting what had happened to him, and thereby laying a basis on which his prayer may rest: compare the conclusion of Psalms 71:6 th. The תפארת never signifies praise, but always honour, glory: compare Psalms 96:6, and the Christol. on Zechariah 12:7. Inasmuch as the mouth is full of the praise of the Lord, it is also full of his glory; for this is the object of praise.

The second half of the strophe begins with the ( Psalms 71:9) 9th verse: God who has proved himself to be the Saviour of the Psalmist from his early youth, cannot forsake him now in his old age. The more weak and helpless he is now, the more certainly must God be his strength and help. What is said here and in Psalms 71:18, is applied by Isaiah 46:3-4, to the Church of God in its old age. Arnd: “When the Church of God was yet in its youth and blooming, there was true zeal, faith, knowledge, love, stedfastness, so that many thousands of holy men laid down their lives for the sake of the gospel, or gave up all their substance to aid in extending it. Now that the Church has reached its old age, and has become weak, there is scarcely any faith, no strong prayer, no steadfastness, no knowledge, no love, no fidelity, but all has sunk so low, that nothing is left for us to do except to sigh and mourn.” A “therefore” must be supplied before “cast me not off.”

On Psalms 71:10, Calvin: “It happens generally to the children of God, that the ungodly go their utmost lengths against them, when they suppose that they have been given over by God to them for a prey. For as they judge of the favour of God by present circumstances only, they suppose that those whom he gives over to suffering, are rejected, forsaken, and given up by God.” As אמר must always be followed by what is said, verse 10 is intimately connected with Psalms 71:11. On לי , either in reference to me, or to me, compare Psalms 3:2. Who watch for my soul, i.e. my life, that I may not get away with it.

On Psalms 71:11 th, compare the similar speeches of the enemies in Psalms 3:2, Psalms 41:6, and 2 Samuel 17:1-2, where Ahitophel says: “I will arise and pursue after David, and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak,—and I will smite the king only.” On the last words see Psalms 7:2.

On Psalms 71:12, compare Psalms 22:19, Psalms 35:22, Psalms 38:21-22, Psalms 40:13, and Psalms 70:1.

On Psalms 71:13, Psalms 35:4, Psalms 35:26, Psalms 40:14, and Psalms 70:2. Even according to the parallel passages, the futures are to be considered as optatives.

Verses 14-21

The prayer, in the first part of the second strophe, is followed by hope. Ver. 14. And I will continually hope and will multiply all thy praise. Ver. 15. My mouth shall make known thy righteousness, and thy salvation continually; for I know no numbers. Ver. 16. I will go forward with the deeds of the Lord, I will make mention of thy righteousness only. Ver. 17. O God, thou hast taught me it from my youth, and hitherto I have made known thy wonders. Ver. 18. And even to old age and grey-hairs forsake me not, until I make known thine arm to the generation to come, and thy power to all those who shall come after.

Ver. 19. And thy righteousness, O God, stretches to the height, who hast done great things, O God; who is like thee? Ver. 20. Who hast caused us to see manifold troubles and evils, thou shalt return and quicken us, and, returning, shalt deliver us out of the floods of the earth. Ver. 21. Thou shalt multiply my great deeds and shalt turn thyself, and comfort me.

On Psalms 71:14, Calvin: “O Lord, because I have been long accustomed to thy good deeds, I do not doubt that a new accession will give me new opportunity to praise thy grace.” All thy praise, which I have already celebrated. The preterite הוספתי is expressive of confidence.—“I know no number”, in ver. 15th, lays the basis for the resolution, expressed by the Psalmist in full expectation of his deliverance, to praise the righteousness of God, (compare at Psalms 36:6), and his salvation. Calvin: “There is nothing which inflames our spirits more to sing the praises of God, than when he has laid us under obligations by innumerable acts of kindness.” The expression in Psalms 40:5, “they cannot be reckoned up,” ought to be compared:—it sets aside also the translation of Ewald: no limits.גברות means only “great deeds,” and never “praise”; בוא with ב , can only mean, in general, “to go forward with something,” and not “to come with something into the temple.” The exact idea becomes manifest from the parallel clause, and from the connection. From these, it is evident that, “to come with the great deeds of the Lord,” must signify “to go forward praising them, or making them known.” הזכיר signifies always “to mention”, never “ to praise”: comp. at Psalms 20:7. Nothing else deserves to be made mention of, to come into notice. “Thy righteousness only,” i.e. not my sword, my bow, or my arm, Psalms 44:3, Psalms 44:6, my chariots, or horses, Psalms 20:7.

The teaching of Psalms 71:17 is carried on by a matter-of-fact discourse. The object of the instruction, the praise of God, is marked out by the connection, and by the parallelism.

The generation, in Psalms 71:18, is the succeeding generation: compare at the parallel passage, Psalms 22:30. On “thine arm,” compare Psalms 44:3.

On “to heaven,” (lit. even to the height), in Psalms 71:19, compare Psalms 36:5, Psalms 57:10. On the following clause, compare Exodus 15:11, Deuteronomy 3:24, but especially the expression of David, in 2 Samuel 7:22, “where is a God, in heaven or on earth, who does according to thy works and thy mighty deeds.”

On ver. 20 the Massorites, not understanding the subject, make a useless effort to get quit of the plurals: “thou hast caused us to see,” “thou shalt quicken us.” The רעות may be either an adj. as in Genesis 41:19-20, or a subst. as in Psalms 34:19. That תשוב , in both places, is not an adverb, but is used in the same way in which it is in Psalms 90, and in the parallel passages quoted there, is evident from the corresponding word, in Psalms 71:21, תסב , which is never used as an adverb. On, “thou shalt quicken us,” compare Deuteronomy 32:39, “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal.” Calvin: “We must descend even to death, that God may appear as a deliverer. For as we are born without feeling and observation, the first origin of our life does not point out to us its author in a manner sufficiently emphatic. But when God comes to our help, at a time when we are in a state of despair, our rising out of this state becomes a glorious mirror for reflecting his grace.” “Floods of the earth” are the floods which overflow the earth, as at the deluge: compare great trouble and oppression set forth under the emblem of the overflowing of water, in Isaiah 8:7-8, and the allusions to the deluge in Psalms 29:10, Psalms 32:6, and Psalms 36:6. The Psalmist sees, in the deliverance of righteous Noah, at the great waters of old, a pledge of his own deliverance out of the great waters of adversity,—as the whole passage is descriptive of hope and confidence, the apoc. fut. תרב , as frequently throughout the Psalms, is to be taken in the sense of the usual future. The גדולה and גדלה signify always, “something great,” never “greatness,” see Psalms 145:3, and Psalms 145:4. “My great deeds”, are “the great deeds which have happened for my sake”: compare 2 Samuel 7:23, where David says, “to do for you great things, and terrible for thy land,” (in like manner also גדלה in ver. 21), Psalms 11:5, “Many, O Lord, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done,” and here, Psalms 71:19, “who hast done great things.”

Verses 22-24

In the second half of the second strophe, we have the promise to give thanks for the assistance which faith regards as already imparted. Ver. 22. Also I will praise thee with the psaltery, thy truth, my God; I will sing praise to thee upon the harp, thou holy One of Israel. Ver. 23. My lips shall shout for joy, for I will sing praise to thee, and my soul which thou hast redeemed. Ver. 24. Also my tongue shall meditate upon thy righteousness continually, because they are put to shame, because they are made to blush, who seek my hurt.

The “also”, in Psalms 71:22, points to the inward connection between the praise and the salvation. The “Holy One of Israel” is the God of Israel who is holy: comp. on קדוש at Psalms 22:3. The passage before us is the fundamental one, for that name of God of which Isaiah is well known to be particularly fond.

On Psalms 71:23, compare Psalms 34:22, “the Lord redeems the souls of his servants.”

The גם in Psalms 71:24, does not belong specially to the tongue, but applies to the whole sentence. On הגה compare at Psalms 90:9.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 71". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-71.html.