Psalms 71:1-24 is, like so many others, a psalm divided between complaint and praise. It is comparatively wanting in originality, being, to a very great extent, an echo of other psalms, especially Psalms 22:1-31, Psalms 31:1-24, Psalms 35:1-28, and Psalms 40:1-17. Complaint, mingled with prayer, occupies the first half (Psalms 40:1-13); praise and thanksgiving the second (Psalms 40:14 -24). The authorship of the psalm is very doubtful, as it has no "title," and few marked characteristics. Kay and Hengstenberg, however, regard it as Davidical, the former assigning it to the time of Adonijah's attempt, the latter to that of the rebellion of Absalom. Metrically, it is thought to divide into seven short stanzas, each of either three or four verses.
Psalms 40:1-3 are almost identical with the opening verses of Psalms 31:1-24. They express a firm trust in God, but combine with the expression of this trust an urgent prayer for deliverance.
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust let me never be put to confusion; rather, as in Psalms 31:1, "let me never Be ashamed;" or, let me never be put to shame (Cheyne).
Deliver me in thy righteousness. Identical with the last clause of Psalms 31:1. And cause me to escape. The danger seems to be pressing, and such as characterized Absalom's rather than Adonijah's rebellion. Incline thine ear unto me, and save me (comp. Psalms 31:2).
Be thou my strong Habitation; literally, be thou to me for a Rock of habitation; i.e. a rock upon which I may take up my abode. Whereunto I may continually resort. Exegetical of the preceding clause, habitation" Thou hast given "a rock of commandment to save me. It is in thy counsels that I am to be helped and saved—not left to the will of my enemies (comp. Psalms 68:28). This conviction lies at the root of the psalmist's faith and trust. For thou art my Rock and my Fortress (comp. Psalms 18:2; Psalms 61:2, Psalms 61:3, etc.).
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand (rather, grasp) of the unrighteous and cruel man. it is characteristic of David to single out from his adversaries an individual man, from whom he especially asks to be delivered (comp. Psalms 13:2; Psalms 17:13; Psalms 18:17, Psalms 18:48; Psalms 35:8; Psalms 41:6, Psalms 41:9, Psalms 41:11; Psalms 55:13, Psalms 55:14, etc.).
For thou art my Hope, O Lord God (comp. Psalms 39:7; Jeremiah 14:8; Jeremiah 17:13; Jeremiah 50:7). Thou art my Trust from my youth (comp. Psalms 40:4).
By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels (comp. Psalms 22:9, Psalms 22:10, of which this is plainly an echo or reminiscence). My praise shall be continually of thee (see Psalms 71:14-16, Psalms 71:22-24).
I am as a wonder unto many; or, as a portent, a prodigy—something montrous. Some explain, "as an object of God's singular favour from his youth" (Kay, Cheyne); others, "as a marvellous example of God's punishments" (Schultens, Hengstenberg, Professor Alexander, Canon Cook). The latter explanation is supported by Deuteronomy 28:46, and, on the whole, seems preferable. But thou art my strong Refuge (see above, Deuteronomy 28:3, ad fin.).
Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day. Praise alternates with complaint and prayer, even in this first portion of the psalm, preparing the way for the sustained praise of the second portion.
Cast me not off in the lime of old age. This expression, combined with the allusion to old age and grey hairs in Psalms 71:18, indicates that the writer was drawing near to the natural term of human life, and already felt the infirmities of old age creeping upon him. This note of date suits better the time of Adonijah's rebellion than that of Absalom's. Forsake me not when my strength faileth. An appeal to the Divine compassion. If God was his "Rock and Fortress" (Psalms 71:3), his "strong Refuge" (Psalms 71:7), when he was in his full vigour, much more will he support and befriend him when be is weak and helpless.
For mine enemies speak against me. The psalmist's weakness encourages his enemies to make their attacks. They begin by speaking against him—calumniating him (2 Samuel 15:3, 2 Samuel 15:4), and shortly they will proceed to acts. And they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together; or, "they that watch for my soul" (Revised Version).
Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him. Compare the words of Ahithophel, "Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue alter David this night; and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed; and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only" (2 Samuel 17:1, 2 Samuel 17:2). It no doubt appeared to Absalom's party generally, as it did to Shimei, that God had "forsakes" David, and turned against him (2 Samuel 16:8).
O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help (comp. Psalms 22:19; Psalms 35:22).
Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt (comp. Psalms 35:4; Psalms 40:14; Psalms 70:2).
Regarding his prayers as heard, and their fulfilment as certain, the psalmist now betakes himself to praise and thanksgiving, He will never cease to hope; he will praise God more and more (Psalms 71:14). He will spend the whole day in telling of God's righteousness and salvation (Psalms 71:15). The mighty acts of the Lord shall form his theme, together with the righteousness of God, and of none other (Psalms 71:16). As God has enabled him to declare his praise in the past (Psalms 71:17), so he trusts to be still upheld and enabled to proclaim the same to the new generation (Psalms 71:18). God's righteousness is "very high," and there is none like him (Psalms 71:19). When he. brings men into trouble, it is only to "turn again and comfort them" (Psalms 71:20, Psalms 71:21). In conclusion, the writer promises that his hymns of praise shall not only be said, but sung, and accompanied with the melody of music (Psalms 71:22). His lips and soul shall both rejoice together (Psalms 71:23); and the praise of God shall employ his tongue without ceasing (Psalms 71:24).
But I will hope continually; literally, but as for me, I will hope, etc. The phrase, "as for me," almost always marks a transition. And will yet praise thee more and more; literally, I will add to all thy praise; i.e. "I will add to all my past praises of thee further praises in the future."
My mouth shall show forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day. Salvation is inseparable from righteousness. It is as being righteous himself that God accepts the righteous, and as faithful to his promises, which is a part of his righteousness, that he pardons penitents. For I know not the numbers thereof (comp. Psalms 40:5). God's acts of pardoning mercy, by which he brings about the salvation of penitents, are innumerable.
I will go in the strength of the Lord God; literally, I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord God (Revised Version); i.e. I will bring these acts forward, and make mention of them in my songs of praise. I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. I will attribute my deliverance to no strength, or efforts, or righteousness of my own (see Psalms 20:7; Psalms 44:3, Psalms 44:6), but to thy righteousness—i.e. thy faithfulness and truth—only.
O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Hitherto, i.e; have I always had thy guidance and instruction, and hitherto have I always had occasion to praise thy Name. Hence I am confident with respect to the future.
Now also when! am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not. Surely, then, thou wilt not forsake me when my youth has fled, and my time of weakness and decay has arrived, so that I need thee all the more. At the time of Adonijah's rebellion, David was "old and stricken in years" (1 Kings 1:1)—nearly, if not quite, seventy years of age (2 Samuel 5:4). Until I have showed thy strength (literally, thine own) unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. The psalmist calls on God to sustain him in his old age, not for his own sake, but that he may impress on the rising generation God's might and marvellous acts.
Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high; or, reaches to the height (comp. Psalms 7:7; Psalms 10:5; Psalms 18:16, etc.). Who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee! (comp. Psalms 35:10; Psalms 89:6, Psalms 89:8).
Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again; or, according to another reading, which hast showed us—shalt deliver us. The change of number may be ascribed to the desire of the psalmist to unite his people with himself in the hopes of deliverance which he is expressing. And shalt bring me up again (rather, shalt bring us up again) from the depths of the earth. 'The "depths of the earth" is a metaphor for the extreme of misery and depression (comp. Psalms 88:6; Psalms 130:1).
Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side. The psalmist feels that the trial now laid upon him is the last—that henceforth his greatness and majesty will increase instead of diminishing, and that God will turn and comfort him.
I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel. (On the psaltery, and its use as a devotional instrument, see the comment on Psalms 33:2.) The conjunction of the psaltery and harp seems to imply that the "praise," of which the writer here speaks, is to be public praise in the sanctuary, accompanied by the usual sacred music.
My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed. Not my mouth only, but my heart and spirit, will "rejoice," or "sing out thy praise" (Cheyne), when the time comes, and my "redemption," or deliverance, has been accomplished.
My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long. The musical utterance of praise can only be occasional, but the tongue can "talk" of God continually (see Psalms 71:15). For they are confounded and brought unto shame, that seek my hurt (comp. Psalms 35:4; Psalms 40:14; Psalms 70:2).
"I will go," etc. Since these words were written, almost everything in the world capable of change has changed. Empires, nations, languages, religions, have died, and new ones grown up in their stead. The centre of civilization has moved westward. Discovery and invention have so revolutionized man's relation to his surroundings, that he seems to live in a new world. The form of revealed religion has undergone a no less marvellous change. The priesthood, sacrifices, sanctuary, laws, which seemed to a pious Israelite an integral part of true religion, have waxed old and vanished away. But "the Word of the Lord abideth forever." Faith, hope, love, based on God's promises, are the same in all ages—in Watts or Wesley, Calvin or Luther, Paul or John, as in David and Isaiah. Across that wide gulf of time which has swallowed so much deemed imperishable, we join hands with this ancient saint, and feel that he is our brother. His experience holds the mirror to our own. The Spirit who inspired him is promised to us also. Let us take note of his resolve, his humility, his confidence.
I. THE PSALMIST'S FIXED RESOLVE AND PURPOSE. "I will go." He speaks as one who knows. The Revisers give a different sense. But they render the same Hebrew word (which commonly means "come") "go" in Genesis 37:30; Numbers 32:6; Jonah 1:3. And the word for "strength" (plural in Hebrew) is so rendered, and cannot be otherwise rendered, in Psalms 90:10. The vigorous Authorized Version is much the more apt and intelligible. Whither he is bound, and what he needs for the journey. Some lives can hardly be likened to either a journey or a race. No fixed purpose rules them; no high aim inspires; no goal shines in view. They veer and drift with the changing current of fashion and circumstance. There is something very noble and admirable in fixed indomitable purpose, even when it does not rest on the highest motives. We admire the courage of the great Roman, who said to the trembling pilots in view of the tempest, "It is not necessary for me to live, but it is necessary for me to go" (Plutarch's 'Life of Pompey the Great'). But we find a grander courage in St. Paul (Acts 21:13). Or in Luther, after two hours spent in intense prayer, "If there were as many devils in Worms as tiles on the house tops, I would go." The one is the firmness of human will, defying circumstances to bend it. The other, of human weakness taking hold on almighty strength.
II. Therefore note secondly, THE PSALMIST'S HUMILITY. He is not vaunting his own strength, or trusting to it. "In the strength of the Lord God." All strength is God's. He nerves the arm that is raised against his law; kindles the light of reason in the mind that denies him. Let but a tiny clot of blood press on a thread of nerve, and the strongest arm will be paralyzed, the keenest brain unconscious. Hence Scripture strongly condemns the worship of human power and greatness (Isaiah 2:22). A view to which men are always prone. A great blemish on the writings of one of our most powerful writers, Thomas Carlyle. It is wonderful how much people pardon in a conqueror! Such judgment is false. "God resisteth the proud." Illust.: Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30, Daniel 4:31, etc.). Humility is true wisdom; since it is simply acknowledging what is fact.
III. THE PSALMIST'S CONFIDENCE. "I will go," etc. A confidence resting in blind presumption, "I will go, come what may, hinder who dare!" is mere self-delusion. On the other hand, mere sense of weakness, "I cannot go!" is miserable, fatal to all success. Faith solves the paradox of combining the humblest sense of weakness with the boldest courage, most strenuous effort, most assured hope (1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:5; John 15:4, John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Nothing but this courage of humility, this confidence of faith, can warrant, in any sane mind, a fearless outlook, even as concerns earthly life. For the strongest is not strong all round; and the strain may come at the one weak point. To climb the mountain is one thing; to breathe the rare air at the top is another. The dash which carries the soldier against the enemies' ranks will not sustain him through the dark, cold hours of the sentinel's lone watch. The athlete may fail at the desk. The man whom no labour could over task, whose resource, quickness, energy, promptly met every emergency in action, may helplessly break down in adversity. The man whom adversity could neither break nor bend may lose self-control in prosperity, and make shipwreck in a smooth sea. Yet more is this true of The spiritual life. Illust.: Peter (John 14:1-31 :37, 38; John 18:10, John 18:17, John 18:25, John 18:27). Have we the right to exercise this confidence anew? We cannot over trust God (Philippians 4:13). Suppose a farmer has lowlying meadows along the course of a river, which he can irrigate at will. It is no presumption in him to say, "My land can never suffer drought"—if he opens the sluices. Prayer opens the sluices which let the full river of God's grace, wisdom, strength, peace, flow into the soul. How can you bear to face the unknown possibilities, or the certainties, of the future without this "strength of the Lord God"? What may happen any minute? "No use," you say, "to think of that" No; I know it is no use: does that make things better? How can you help thinking of it, unless you can take hold of God's strength and be at peace with him
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Godly old age.
Solomon has said, "The beauty of old men is the grey head" (Proverbs 20:29). But he tells also of a nobler beauty, "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness" (Proverbs 16:31). Old men are few, but godly old men are fewer still. Rarity signalizes the "beauty," and enhances the "glory." This psalm may well be called, "The Old Man's Psalm." Would that the portrait were more common! It is pleasant to look at in poetry; it is far more delightful to behold in fact. In this portrait of a godly old man, we may mark—
I. HIS SUBLIME FAITH." In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust" (verse 1). Here is the secret of his character. "Trust" gave strength to his heart, and unity and completeness to his life. In this he was in sympathy with others who had gone before (cf. Psalms 31:1-3).
II. HIS EARNEST PRAYERS. The godly are ever given to prayer. It is their great resource. It is the never failing means of obtaining mercy and grace. They learnt to call upon God at their mother's knee (cf. Psalms 116:16; 2 Timothy 1:5), and all through life they have found the virtue and the blessedness of prayer. In old age the cry of the godly is, "I must pray more."
III. HIS VARIED EXPERIENCES. Often, when looking back, there is dimness, or many things have fallen out of sight, or there is a confusion in the perspective; but events that have made a deep impression stand out clearly. Memory goes back to the time of youth, and traces life onward, with all the great changes, the dangers and adventures, the attempts and the achievements, the joys and sorrows. There are grateful recollections of kindness and help from many; but above all, there is praise to God for his goodness and wonderful works (verses 5, 6; cf. Isaiah 44:4).
IV. HIS SETTLED CONVICTIONS. Experience is a great teacher. The man who has seen many days has learned much, and is able to bear witness as one that speaketh with authority (Job 32:7; Le 19:32; 2 Peter 1:13). One thing that the godly old man testifies is that God is worthy of trust; another thing is that the Word of God is not a cunningly devised fable, but truth; another thing is that religion is not a delusion, but a reality—the power of God unto salvation; another thing is that the most pleasant memories are of loyalty to God, and of good done to men, even to enemies, and that the saddest thoughts are of times when self prevailed over love and duty, and opportunities were lost from neglect and sloth.
V. HIS UNFALTERING RESOLUTION. The old have their regrets. They have also their times of trial and weakness. In another place the psalmist says, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken" (Psalms 37:25), and yet here he seems just for a moment to falter; but if he trembles at the thought of being a "castaway," as Paul also did (1 Corinthians 9:27), he renews his strength by prayer (verses 17, 20). Then having gained courage, he pledges himself with fresh ardour to be true to God. Instead of wavering, he will press on. Instead of keeping silence, he will testify, by word and deed, to the strength and power of God. This was beautifully seen in Polycarp, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never wronged me; and shall I forsake my God and my Saviour?"
VI. HIS GLORIOUS PROSPECTS. For the old the end is near. They know that soon they must die, and have no more to do with anything under the sun. This seems a dismal condition. But for the godly there is not only hope in death, but the bright prospect of a blessed immortality. "The end of that man is peace," yea, more, far more, the future is glorious.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The suffering righteous man in his old age.
An introduction (Psalms 71:1-3) borrowed from Psalms 31:1-24. The prayer is shortly expressed in the fourth verse, and is succeeded in Psalms 31:5-8 by the basis on which it rests, and after that the prayer is expanded in Psalms 31:9-13. The second half of the psalm contains the hope and the thanks of the writer.
I. THE PRAYER OF THE PSALMIST.
1. For deliverance from the power of evil doers. (Psalms 31:4.) We have need to pray for deliverance from the dangers that imperil the safety of the soul.
2. For special protection in his old age. (Psalms 31:9.) When his natural strength had begun to fail. This was the prayer for spiritual strength—that he might not be abandoned to physical infirmity, and so be unable to contend with his foes.
3. For immediate help and rescue. (Psalms 31:12.) "Make haste to help me." He was in a pressing emergency, and needed instant deliverance. "Be not far from me." He prayed for the signs of God's presence with him.
II. THE GROUNDS OF HIS PRAYER.
1. God had been his Hope and Confidence from infancy. (Psalms 31:5, Psalms 31:6.) And he had confidence that he might still lean upon God for help, and still have cause to praise him.
2. The greatness of his sufferings. (Psalms 31:7, "I by the greatness of my sufferings drew upon myself the astonishment and wonder of many.") Great suffering leads us to God with a cry to which he will always listen; for "Like as a father pitieth his children," etc.
3. He is a constant and devoted worshipper of God. (Psalms 31:8, "My mouth is full of thy praise," etc.) God will not refuse help to those who serve him; if he gives help to any, he must help those who honour him.
4. He wants it to be proved to his enemies that God has not forsaken him. (Psalms 31:10, Psalms 31:11.) He is jealous of God's honour, and wants it to be seen that God is unchangeable in his goodness as his Deliverer. Good men have always been concerned that God's righteousness should be manifest and invincible.—S.
Persistent hope and increasing praise.
Upon these the psalmist resolves in this second half of the psalm. Let us distinguish the topics of his hope and praise.
I. GOD'S WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE INNUMERABLE. (Psalms 71:15.) They cannot be reckoned up. All his works are right, both in nature and towards man.
II. GOD'S WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE MIGHTY WORKS. (Psalms 71:16.) "I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord"—"unto the temple, with all the great and mighty deeds which God has done on my behalf, as my subject of grateful praise." What a tale each life history could tell!
III. GOD'S WONDROUS WORKS HAVE BEEN THE THEME OF HIS YOUTH, AND SHALL BE OF HIS OLD AGE. (Psalms 71:17, Psalms 71:18.) He has been taught them from his youth, and now that he is old he will tell them to the coming generation. We should he wise teachers in old age, having the experiences of a whole life to draw from.
IV. GOD IN HIS WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS AN INCOMPARABLE BEING. (Psalms 71:19.) None like unto the infinite and eternal Bring. His righteousness is perfect and exalted.
V. THE AFFLICTIONS WHICH GOD SENDS ARE TO HAVE A QUICKENING AND EXALTING EFFECT. (Psalms 71:20, Psalms 71:21.) By such means God increases our greatness, and manifests himself to us as the comforting God.
VI. UPON THESE GROUNDS HE WILL PRAISE GOD BY ALL THE MEANS HE CAN COMMAND. (Psalms 71:22-24.) With the lute and the harp; his lips shall shout for joy, and his soul and his tongue shall talk all day of his righteousness which has caused him to triumph over his foes. "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever." This will be the eternal song of the redeemed creation of God.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 71". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter