Attention!
2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland. Churches are helping but the financial burden is too much.
Consider helping today!

Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 31

Verses 1-2

Introduction

The psalm describes David’s experience in a manner that also applies to the believing remnant. It is a plea and an expression of their trust. Some of the statements apply to the Lord Jesus, such as Psalms 31:5. The words of the first line of that verse are spoken by Him on the cross (Luke 23:46). Many portions of this psalm can also be applied to us.

David composed the psalm in a time of great distress. It is the prayer of a person who is despised, blasphemed and persecuted. David experienced such a situation many times. We can see, therefore, that many of his psalms originated from it. In this psalm he encourages the depressed believer to love the Lord and be strong, for the Lord will preserve him because his times are in His hand. The believer’s life is in the hand of God, not in those of enemies or circumstances.

Several times in this psalm we see the transition from supplication to thanks and vice versa from thanks to supplication:

First cycle:
1. prayer (Psalms 31:1-Exodus :),
2. trust (Psalms 31:3-Deuteronomy :) and
3. thanks (Psalms 31:5-Ruth :).
Second cycle:
1. complaint (Psalms 31:9-1 Chronicles :),
2. trust (Psalms 31:14-Ezra :),
3. prayer (Psalms 31:15-Job :) and
4. thanks (Psalms 31:19-Jeremiah :).

We see in them a representation of life, which has its ups and downs. Sometimes we are high on the mountain and other times deep in a valley. After the valley we climb up again, jubilantly, after which we can have another period of need. But the psalm ends with thanks and encouragement.

Call for Salvation

For “for the choir director” (verse1a) see at Psalm 4:1.

For “a Psalm of David” see at Psalm 3:1.

David says to the LORD that he has “taken refuge” in Him (Psalms 31:1). With the emphasis on “in You” he declares that he trusts in God and has taken refuge in Him, “the LORD”. The LORD is the God Who is faithful to the covenant, the I AM WHO I AM. The psalm also ends with an encouragement to those who put their hope in the LORD (Psalms 31:24).

The LORD is his only shelter. He has no one else, nor does He want anyone else. He can ask no one else not to let him be ashamed. Only the LORD is able to prevent that and to do so in a way that it will never ever happen. For this he does not appeal to the grace of God, but to His “righteousness”.

The case for which he is praying involves false accusations and vicious attacks by enemies. Against these, God must act in righteousness and set him free, otherwise he will be ashamed of his trust in Him. Righteousness here means that God will act in accordance with the covenant He made with Israel. If God hands him over into the hand of his enemies, it will also give the enemies cause to blaspheme the Name of God.

In short sentences he begs God to incline His ear to him (Psalms 31:2), that is, to pay attention to his plea. He begs for a quick rescue, because time is running out, the need is growing by the minute. And also whether God will yet be “a rock of strength”, that is, a rock house (Psalms 18:2), and “a stronghold” for him “to save” him. It makes clear how much the enemies are pressing on him and are already so close to him that they almost lay hands on him.

Verses 3-8

Trust and Gladness

In Psalms 31:3, David directly expresses trust that God is to him what he asked in Psalms 31:2. We find several synonyms for God in connection with trust: strong rock, fortress (Psalms 31:2; Psalms 31:3). The LORD is the rock, Whose work is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4): this says something about the LORD’s willingness and ability to deliver His people.

Already during a prayer made in faith, the prayer receives the assurance of its being answered. This experience of David – and in the end times of the remnant – is a wonderful incentive for us to take refuge in God in faith. We will then also experience “that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Having been strengthened by the hearing, David prays on, asking God to lead him and guide him and to do so “for Your name’s sake”. The honor of God is tied to the fate of His people. His name is dishonored when things turn bad for His people (cf. Psalms 23:3; Psalms 106:8). Here the psalmist returns to Psalm 23 where the LORD is seen as the good Shepherd (Psalms 23:1).

The way is full of dangers. The enemies are lurking. To avoid falling into their hands he needs a guide and asks if God will be that Guide. He also asks God to guide him with patience. How we too need to ask that! The motive is not so much that we will be preserved if God is our Guide, but that His Name will be glorified.

In Psalms 31:4, David speaks of what his enemies are doing to him. They have secretly laid an invisible net for him. David often complains in Psalms about nets and traps that his enemies have laid to catch him with. He asks if God will keep him from it and free him from its danger. He himself cannot do it, but God, of Whom he says “You are my strength”, can.

David commits his spirit, which is his life or breath of life, into God’s hand (Psalms 31:5). This is a culmination of trust, it is trust unto death. This applies in fullness only to the Lord Jesus. We are admonished, though, to live up to this confidence (1 Peter 4:19).

David cannot protect his spirit, his life, himself and therefore places it in God’s hand. We hear the Lord Jesus speak the same words as He hangs on the cross, at the end of His suffering on the cross (Luke 23:46). There are, however, differences from what David says. We see, as noted above, that our confidence is weak, while that of the Lord Jesus is perfect.

These words occur in the evening prayer of the Jews before they go to sleep. ‘To commit’ means ‘to entrust temporarily’, a kind of deposit, a deposit of savings to be withdrawn later. Here it expresses the expectation that the Lord Jesus will rise. With the Jews and with David it expresses the expectation that they will rise from sleep the next day.

Further, we see that these words from David’s mouth imply a request for protection. It means that he no longer makes plans himself, but leaves it to God. This is also different with the Lord Jesus. He has always done everything in perfect agreement with His God and Father. With Him, committing His spirit into the hand of His Father is His final act of dedication, of Self-surrender. No one has taken His life, His life-breath, from Him. He surrenders His spirit Himself, He lays down His life Himself because He received a commandment from the Father to do so (John 10:17-Job :).

David’s spirit was not taken from him, for God made sure he kept his life. He testifies with gratitude that the “LORD”, the “God of truth”, or “faithful God” as it can also be translated, can and will redeem. God has proven that He is the faithful God or the God of truth. Against that God David places his enemies, as people “who regard vain idols” (Psalms 31:6) or people who put their trust in these puny gods. He contrasts this with emphasis, “I”, that he trusts in the LORD.

David has great joy because of the lovingkindness of God (Psalms 31:7). After all, God has seen his misery. And not only that. He has known the troubles of David’s soul, that is, He has not only taken note of it, but participated in it. It implies a deep knowledge that was gained through intimacy.

David thanks God that He has not given him over “into the hand of the enemy”, but on the contrary has set his “feet in a large place” (Psalms 31:8). We can think here of the persecution by Saul who surrounded him at some moment and that God delivers him from it (1 Samuel 23:26-Hosea :).

Verses 9-13

Prayer in Distress

In this section we hear another prayer in distress. David’s trust is tested, resulting in exercises of faith. Before God, he has expressed his trust in Him. Now comes the practice: he sees his enemies. Then David notices that he has, so to speak, the treasure in an earthen vessel, and that the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. Therefore, he appeals to God’s grace here, so that later he may find, as Paul experienced, that when he is weak, he is strong (in the Lord).

The prayer in distress in this section goes deeper than the supplication in Psalms 31:1. There David appeals to God’s righteousness, here to His grace. He portrays his affliction, he spreads out his distress before God. He is in distress (Psalms 31:9). His earlier experience in Psalms 31:8, that his feet were set in a large place by God, he seems to have forgotten. Reality seizes him again. But he is addressing that reality to God, of Whom he said in Psalms 31:3 that He is his rock and fortress.

Just when the harsh reality of circumstances overwhelms him, he speaks to God about his distress. He is weakened with grief. His eye is wasted away, he no longer sees everything clearly; his soul is also wasted away. We would say: he can’t bear it anymore. He can hardly muster the strength to go on living; he is tired of life. His bones are wasted away as well; he is exhausted within, in his emotional life.

Prolonged sorrow destroys a person’s strength; his life wastes away because of it (Psalms 31:10). The only thing he can do is sigh, because he no longer has words to express his sorrow. So the years go by. He realizes that his strength has failed because of his “iniquity”. Here again we find a great difference between David and the Lord Jesus. David speaks of his iniquity, while the Lord has taken our unrighteousness upon Himself.

Here David is no longer speaking of his enemies, but of his own sinfulness. As a result, he can no longer walk in faith. His body has wasted away.

Besides his inner distress there is also the distress that is inflicted on him by others, from outside (Psalms 31:11). He has many adversaries and “all” those adversaries have caused him to become “a reproach”. His “neighbors”, the people with whom he interacted regularly, whom he could expect to be ‘a good neighbor’ (cf. Proverbs 27:10), have turned against him the most.

Neighbors are people who live nearby, while “acquaintances” are friends, people close to your heart. Even for his “acquaintances” he has become a source of fear. They see him as a leper, someone with whom it is better to have no contact. That’s why they walk around the block when they see him coming in the distance. They avoid him like the plague. This is also what the Lord Jesus experienced.

He feels like a dead man, someone who has been forgotten, out of mind, someone who is ignored, to whom no one cares (Psalms 31:12). Here it really is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Nobody thinks about him anymore. He has become “like a broken vessel”, like a useless utensil, of no use to anyone. His life lies in sherds, it is broken beyond repair.

Then there is the slander about him all around (Psalms 31:13). On the one hand he is forgotten, he is ignored and shunned like a leper, but on the other hand people talk about him, they speak ill of him. He hears what they say. It is all slander. He feels that he is surrounded by enemies, causing fear to overcome him from all sides. For they conspire against him and devise plans to put him to death. He is already being treated as a dead man and now they want to actually end his life.

This way of talking behind someone’s back is nowadays called ‘mobbing’. Mobbing can be defined as humiliating, intimidating or hostile behavior that is systematically directed at the same person, who is unable to defend himself. This is a tried and tested means of ‘destroying’ someone. They intend to literally neutralize him, to get rid of him, as some countries do with some of their enemies. With the Lord Jesus this literally happened, when the decision was made to kill Him (John 11:53).

Mobbing is used in the world, for example in a work situation towards a colleague. It can also happen in Christianity, as it happened here with David. Not only in the world, but especially in Christianity, the most horrible slander against the Lord Jesus is proclaimed. Believers also suffer from these practices. The following verses of this psalm show what we should do in such cases.

Verses 14-18

Trust and Prayer

This section repeats themes from previous sections, e.g., “ashamed” (Psalms 31:1; Psalms 31:17), “save me” (Psalms 31:2; Psalms 31:15), “Your hand” (Psalms 31:5; Psalms 31:15).

When everyone turns away from David and opposes him, he turns to God and says, “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD” (Psalms 31:14). David here is a hero of faith, having overcome the enemy by faith (Hebrews 11:34). He repeats his confession of Psalms 31:6: “But I trust in the LORD.” He does so not only in prosperity, but also and especially in adversity. Just like Job. David’s trust was put to the test, and it turns out to be real, real gold.

The sentence begins with “but”, so that the contrast with the forgoing becomes clear. He says emphatically “I” and just as emphatically “in You”. He then underlines his full trust in God by making the personal confession, “I say, “You are my God””. Here we hear where he gets the strength from not to be discouraged by all the above-mentioned defamation, slander and opposition. We may also, when life becomes difficult for us, express this as a confession of our faith.

In doing so, we may know, just as David says next, that our lives are not in the hand of men, but of God (Psalms 31:15). Our times are in God’s hand, not in those of our enemies, no matter how great their power and their hatred. For example, the Jews wanted to kill the Lord and said, not at the feast, while the Lord says He would be killed at the feast and so it happened.

He determines the times in our lives, times of prosperity and times of adversity, the time of trial and the time of redemption, yes, all times (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1-Ruth :). He also determines the length of our lives and not the enemy when he plans to kill us. Therefore, the believer who lives in a time of adversity is urged to place his life in the hand of the faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).

Because his times are in God’s hand, David prays that God will save him from that other hand, the hand of his enemies and persecutors. He asks God to make His face shine upon him (Psalms 31:16; cf. Numbers 6:24-Lamentations :), for now it seems that God’s face is not visible, while the face of his enemies and persecutors becomes more and more visible.

David addresses himself to God as His “servant”. That is what he is as God’s anointed king. Because he is in need as God’s servant, he asks God to save him in His lovingkindness. He is aware of his failure as a servant. At the same time, he is aware of God’s lovingkindness that is available to failing servants. Therefore, he appeals to it.

He asks God not to let him be put to shame, for he calls upon Him (Psalms 31:17). Then God must hear, right? The wicked, yes, they must be put to shame by God. They must be silenced by death, so that they can no longer speak their pernicious words. His enemies are out to put him to death. Here David asks that God take away their lives.

Their mouths must be shut forever, for they have lying lips (Psalms 31:18). They do nothing but libel, deceive, slander, and speak lies. It is speaking “arrogantly against the righteous”. The wicked look down on him “with pride and contempt”. The “righteous” here is singular, that is, it refers to the individual believer. Surely we will think primarily of the Righteous One, the Lord Jesus. How much haughty language was not spoken against Him.

Verses 19-22

Song of Praise

So far it has been about the prospect that God will give salvation. From now on it is about looking back how God has given salvation (cf. Psalms 31:22). We can therefore consider the section from Psalms 31:19 as a psalm of thanksgiving (see introduction to this psalm).

After David has expressed his distress because of the wicked, he speaks again in Psalms 31:19 about the goodness of God. He is impressed by the “goodness” of God Himself that He has “stored up for those who fear” Him. This “goodness” includes all blessings. God has stored these up for His own, which means that He has secured them against any corruption or loss. What He has stored up, He has also prepared Himself, the whole package of blessings He Himself composed (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Here it is again clear that to fear God does not mean to be afraid of Him, but to be in awe of Him in confidence. Indeed, those who fear Him take refuge in Him. This happens “before the sons of men”. People see believers taking refuge in a God they do not see. They see His blessing and preservation for those who trust Him.

There comes a time when God will make believers, along with the blessings He has stored up and prepared for them, visible to the people of the world. God’s children, now misunderstood by the world, and the treasures of heaven, now despised by the world, will be exhibited to the world in Christ Himself when He appears on the clouds (2 Thessalonians 1:9-2 Samuel :).

Those who take their refuge in Him He hides “in the secret place of Your presence”, that is, He protects them with His presence (Psalms 31:20; cf. Jeremiah 36:26). God’s presence not only gives light, as in Psalms 31:16, but also a place of refuge. Those who take refuge in Him are safely hidden with Him. He is the guarantee of their hiding.

Thus we see that God keeps the “goodness” for His own (Psalms 31:19) and that He keeps His own for the “goodness” (Psalms 31:20). This ‘double keeping’ applies to both Old Testament and New Testament believers. Peter writes about this in his first letter (1 Peter 1:3-Deuteronomy :).

Because God hides the believing remnant (cf. Revelation 12:13-2 Chronicles :), they are untouchable “from the conspiracies of man”. This “man” is the antichrist. As in Psalm 27, David also speaks here of “keep them secretly in a shelter” (Psalms 27:5). This shelter provides not only protection, but also intimacy or fellowship with God. This is the counterbalance to “the strife of tongues” of which the God-fearing are the object.

Again David bursts into a song of praise (Psalms 31:21). The occasion, indicated by the word “for”, are the wonders God has done to him. He further describes those wonders as wonders of “His lovingkindness”, by which God has brought him “in a besieged city”. As a result, he has not become the prey of his adversaries, and the strife of tongues, though deeply wounded by it, has not caused him any permanent damage.

He has been, because of the pressure of his enemies, in doubt for a moment whether God had an eye for the seriousness of his situation. This led him to the hasty statement to God that he had been cut off from before His eyes (Psalms 31:22). For a moment it seemed that he would perish through to the enmity he was experiencing after all, as if God did not hear his cry. Immediately he corrects himself and says that God did hear the voice of his supplications when he cried to Him.

Verses 23-24

Encouragement

David has learned from what has happened to him. He wants to share those lessons with others. Through his experiences he appeals to God’s godly ones, not only to praise God, but to love Him (Psalms 31:23). The name “godly ones” means that it concerns believers who are in the undeserved favor of God.

In New Testament words it refers to those who have been “favored or made pleasant in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). This God, Who has accepted us in favor or grace and has also made us experience His favor or grace so many times, is worth loving with our whole heart. This will also be expressed in praising Him, but loving goes much further and includes one’s whole life.

Two reasons are given for this loving. The first is that God preserves the faithful. This is what David experienced (Psalms 31:20). The second is about how God deals with the proud doer. He “fully recompenses the proud doer”. Here there is no punishment above what the proud doer deserves, but an ample repayment in line with the measure of pride the proud doer has shown. A proud doer is not modest in his pride, therefore he does not receive a modest punishment. Here again we can think especially of the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-Numbers :; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

David concludes the psalm with the encouragement to be strong for which Psalms 31:23 gives an additional reason. Then God will strengthen the hearts of all who hope in Him (Psalms 31:24). Salvation from the present distress does not mean that dangers and disasters will not happen in the future. But when the distress comes, God is still present as the God on Whom we may hope in the distress that will then present itself. This gives courage and strength to continue the journey with Him.

We can also apply this verse to the end of our life’s journey on earth. We look forward, that is to say we look ahead to the time when God will distribute the goodness that He has stored up for us. Even when we are in times of distress, those times are in God’s hand. This means that we will not miss the ultimate goal. The Lord Jesus is our example in this, He endured the cross for the joy set before Him and despised the shame. Let us therefore fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1-Exodus :).

Copyright Statement
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 31". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-31.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.