This short psalm is one of much beauty, and was sung daily at Matins in the earliest ages of the Church. It is, however, somewhat obscure, especially in its later portion, where a king is spoken of (Psalms 61:6), who may be David, or may represent David's house, or may be the Messiah, the "King" of Psalms 2:6. The Davidical authorship, asserted in the "title," is probable, though some contend for a captive exile of a later date. The psalm consists of an earnest prayer (Psalms 2:1, Psalms 2:2), followed by expressions of trust and confidence (Psalms 2:3-7), and by a burst of praise in conclusion (Psalms 2:8). Metrically, it consists of two strophes of four verses each, separated by the pause mark, "Selah."
Hear my cry, O God (see the comment on Psalms 17:1). The word rinnah expresses a shrill, piercing cry, but one which may be of joy or of lamentation. Attend unto my prayer; i.e. "hear and answer it."
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee. Eastern hyperbole may call the Trans-Jordanic territory "the end of the earth," but certainly the expression would be more natural in the mouth of an exile in Assyria, Media, or Babylon. When my heart is overwhelmed; or, "when my heart fainteth" (comp. Psalms 107:5). Lead me to the rock that is higher than I rather, that is too high for me—that I cannot reach unaided. Some regard the "rock" as Mount Zion; but others, more reasonably, explain it as "God himself" (see Psalms 62:2, Psalms 62:6, Psalms 62:7). "Let thy grace lead me to thee" (Kay).
For thou hast been a Shelter for me. In the past thou hast often been my "Shelter" or my "Refuge" (comp. Psalms 18:2; Psalms 44:7, Psalms 44:11; Psalms 48:3, etc.); be so once more. And a strong Tower. A migdal—a fortress, like the great fortress of the south (Exodus 14:2)—the Magdolus of Herodotus (2.149). From the enemy. If the psalm is David's, "the enemy" is probably Absalom.
I will abide in thy tabernacle forever. As the psalmist is in exile, at "the end of the earth" (Psalms 61:2), the literal "tabernacle" cannot be intended. A spiritual abiding in the heavenly dwelling, whereof the tabernacle was a type, must be meant (comp. Psalms 18:11). I will trust in the covert of thy wings (comp. Psalms 17:8; Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 91:4). The origin of the metaphor is hardly to be sought in the outspread wings of the cherubim on the mercy seat; rather in the brooding wings of birds protecting and defending their young (Deuteronomy 32:11; Matthew 23:37).
For thou, O God, hast heard my vows. Thou hast heard me so often in the past, thou hast granted so many of my prayers, accepted so many of my vows, that I am emboldened to make further requests. Thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy Name. All the blessed inheritance of thy saints thou hast made mine, and, included in it, boldness to approach the throne of grace in full assurance of faith, and to present to thee my petitions.
Thou wilt prolong the king's life. The question arises—What king? Some answer that David prays for the extension of his own life; or, if not exactly of his own life, then for the prolongation of his dynasty upon the throne (Hengstenberg); others suggest that a distant exile, perhaps in Assyria, prays for the life of the reigning King of Judah, Josiah probably; but the Messianic interpretation is perhaps the best. The writer, lifted up above himself and above sublunary things, abiding, as he does, in the spiritual tabernacle under the shelter of God's wings (Psalms 61:4), prays for long continuance of days for the true King, the ideal King, Messiah, of whom David and his house are types: "Mayest thou add days to the days of the King," and make his years as many generations; or, as generation and generation; i.e. eternally continuous.
He shall abide before God forever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him; literally, appoint that mercy and truth may preserve him. Let "mercy and truth," the highest of thy attributes, preserve him, and keep him in life forever.
So will I sing praise unto thy Name forever. This, if thou doest, then I, for my part, so long as I have my being, will praise thy Name, thus performing day by day what I have vowed. The writer's continuance in life, and retention of consciousness, though not actually asserted, is implied.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The power of prayer in trouble.
"My cry." Every one has his own needs. Think how it is this day. In how many lands, by what various voices, with what manifold emotions, the cries of men are uttered! What sighs of pain, what plaints of desire, what passionate prayers for help, go up to heaven! Who but God could "attend" to them all? Moses groaned under "the burden of all the people" (Numbers 11:11). Paul was oppressed with "the care of all the Churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28). But increase the "burden," and multiply the "cares" ten thousand times, and what is it all compared with what falls upon God? What mind but the eternal mind of God could attend to all? What love but the infinite and unchanging love of God would not grow weary by the continual comings and the countless importunities of such multitudes of suppliants? But God bends his ear to all. Not one, not the humblest or the poorest, is neglected. Wherever we are, however great and sore may be our troubles, though weak and sinful and unworthy of the least of God's mercies, yet if we call upon him he will hear us; if we commit our cause to him, he will bring us deliverance. The psalm illustrates the power of prayer in trouble.
I. PRAYER SPRINGING FROM FAITH IN GOD. Like an exile, we may be far off from friends, solitary and sad. But God is always near. Though all help from man should fail, God is with us to deliver us. The enemy may be coming in like a flood. There may seem to be no way to escape. But God will, when we cry to him, stretch forth his mighty arm from above, and lead us to "the Rock" where we shall find safety and peace.
II. PRAYER SUSTAINED BY THE MEMORY OF PAST MERCIES. (Psalms 61:3-5.) We trust our friends. The remembrance of their kindness in the past emboldens us to confide in them for the future. How much more should we trust in God! "Thou hast been a Shelter for me" is a strong plea. Our past life is not lost. It is gone, but it has left its lessons and its memories. Looking back, we can see the hand of God. Our memories may be turned to hopes. Our remembrance of God's gracious dealings may be converted into inspiration and guidance for the future.
III. PRAYER RISING TO THE HEIGHTS OF ASSURANCE. (Psalms 61:6, Psalms 61:7.) When we are sincere in our prayers, we feel that we have not only pledged ourselves to God, but that God has pledged himself to us. He will not only give us "the heritage" of his people, but the "life" that will enable us to enjoy it. His white-robed angels of "mercy and truth" will go with us and preserve us, and we shall "abide before God forever."
IV. PRAYER CULMINATING IN JOYFUL CONSECRATION TO GOD. (Psalms 61:8.) Prayer ends in praise. True praise is not in words only, but in the free and joyous devotion of cur lives. Religion will be a daily duty. Our service here will be a preparation for our service hereafter—forever and ever.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A cry from the wilderness.
I. THE HEART BECOMES "FAINT" WHEN IT IS CONSCIOUS OF BEING FAR FROM GOD. (Psalms 61:1.)
II. WHEN THUS OVERWHELMED (OR FAINT), OUR DIFFICULTIES ARE TOO GREAT FOR US. (Psalms 61:2.)
III. WE ARE THEN DRIVEN FOR HELP TO GOD, WHO ALONE CAN ENABLE US TO SURMOUNT THEM. "Land me upon the rock that is too high for me."
IV. PAST EXPERIENCE WARRANTS US TO EXPECT THE INTERPOSITION OF GOD. (Psalms 61:3.)
V. TO DWELL NEAR GOD ALWAYS AND CONSCIOUSLY IS THE GREATEST BLESSEDNESS. (Psalms 61:4.)—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 61". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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