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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 31




This is the Psalm of a man who has suffered deeply for his faith, is facing persecution, and is yet quietly confident in God. He opens the Psalm by committing himself to God for deliverance (Psalms 31:1-2 a), and then calls on Him to be his refuge and stronghold, and to deliver him from his adversaries (Psalms 31:2-4). Handing himself firmly over to God, he confirms that he has no God but YHWH (Psalms 31:5-6), and affirms his confidence in His covenant love, and in the fact that God knows his ways and will lead him in a large place (Psalms 31:7-8).

But that this attitude is one of triumphing over difficult circumstances comes out in that he then goes on to bewail the sad state in which he has found himself over the years, including the fact of his own iniquity (Psalms 31:9-10), and to bemoan the fact that because of the calumnies of his enemies no one wants anything to do with him, and some even want to take his life (Psalms 31:11-14). He has been treading a hard path.

Some have seen in this a picture of David in the wildernesses of Maon and Engedi as he hid from Saul, comparing ‘in my haste’ (Psalms 31:22) with ‘David made haste to flee’ (1 Samuel 23:26). Certainly David must have experienced some of what is written here. But we obtain the impression here of a period of some years of trial and hardship, which may put that interpretation in doubt. Others have therefore connected it with Jeremiah. Certainly he too had to constantly endure. We can, for example, compare Psalms 31:10 (‘my life is spent with grief and my years with sighing’) with Jeremiah 20:18, (‘why did I come forth from the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?’); Psalms 31:12 (‘I am like a broken vessel’) with Jeremiah 19:11; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 48:38 where the similar idea of a broken vessel is used; Psalms 31:13 (‘I have heard the slander of many, fear on every side etc’) with Jeremiah 20:10, (‘I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side etc’); Psalms 31:17 with Jeremiah 18:18; Psalms 31:22 with Lamentations 3:54. These possible similarities may, however, simply indicate Jeremiah’s familiarity with the Psalm, even if that.

But whoever he was, the Psalmist is a man who has a firm trust in God, and he now assures God that he is totally relying on Him and knows that his times are in His hands, and on this basis he pleads for deliverance from the persecution that he is facing (Psalms 31:15-16).

He then calls on God to look on him and vindicate him so that he might not be ashamed, seeking rather that that shame will come on those who deserve it because of the way in which they behave (Psalms 31:17-18), and he follows this up with a firm expression of his confidence in the goodness of God towards those who fear Him, a goodness which results in His protecting them in His own pavilion, and this in spite of the Psalmist’s own momentary lack of faith when he had thought himself as cut off from God’s eyes (Psalms 31:19-22).

The Psalm then ends with him giving encouragement to all God’s people on the basis of what he himself has experienced of God’s goodness and saving mercy (Psalms 31:23-24).


‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David’

This psalm is one of a number dedicated to the Choirmaster, or ‘chief musician’. What this actually signified we do not know. Possibly the choirmaster originally had his own collection of psalms and hymns. Compare the Davidic Psalms 4-6, 8-9, 11-14, 18-22, 36, 39-41, etc. A good number of non-Davidic Psalms are also dedicated to him. Again we are faced with the question as to whether ‘for David’ is a reference to David himself, or whether it refers to the wider Davidic house.

Verse 1


‘In you, O YHWH, do I take refuge,

Let me never be put to shame,

Deliver me in your righteousness.

The Psalmist opens by affirming his confidence in YHWH, and asking Him to be his refuge. He then asks that He will never have to face the shame that would result if God did not act as his refuge, and follows it up by asking YHWH in His righteousness to deliver him. He thus puts himself squarely on the side of righteousness, for that is the grounds on which he expects YHWH to deliver him. The idea of delivering in righteousness is common in Isaiah. It includes the fact that God delivers men in His righteousness, and in the process makes them righteous.

Verses 2-4

‘Bow down your ear to me’

Deliver me speedily.

Be you to me a strong rock,

A house of defence to save me.

For you are my rock and my fortress,

Therefore for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.

Pluck me out of the net that they have laid privily for me,

For you are my stronghold.

He now calls on God to ‘bow down His ear to him’ and deliver him speedily, and because He is his rock and fortress, He asks Him to excel Himself by being to him a strong Rock, and a mighty Stronghold (a house of defence). He is fully confident in God’s protection. And then, because He is such a stronghold, he wants Him to lead him and guide him for His Name’s sake. Indeed he asks that YHWH will pluck him out of the net laid secretly for him by his enemies. His full confidence is put in the protective power of God.

Verse 5-6

Into your hand I commend my spirit,

You have redeemed me, O YHWH, you God of truth.

I hate those who regard lying vanities (false idols),

But I trust in YHWH.

With that in mind he commends his spirit to God because he knows that it is YHWH the God of truth Who has redeemed him. God has, as it were, paid a price that he might live by exerting His power on his behalf. It should be noted that he is not here commending his spirit to God because he expects to die, but because he wants to live. This is in contrast with Jesus’ use of the words in Luke 23:46, although it is equally significant in that context. And he then confirms that he wants nothing to do with false worship, and indeed hates those who participate in it. Rather he trusts wholly in YHWH. We gain the impression that the people who were trying to trap him in their secret nets were indeed such false worshippers. But with God’s help he has escaped them and emerged triumphant.

Verse 7-8

I will be glad and rejoice in your covenant love,

For you have seen my affliction,

You have known my soul in adversities,

And you have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy,

You have set my feet in a large place.

And as a result of trusting in YHWH he is filled with gladness and rejoicing at His covenant love, that love which was the cause of Him establishing the covenant (‘I am YHWH your God Who delivered you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’), and which now continually reaches out to His people through the covenant. For he is aware that in His love YHWH has seen his affliction, knows precisely what he is going through, and rather than delivering him up to his enemies, has set his feet firmly in ‘a large place’.

In other words in his need God has not let him down, but has protected and established him because He is his covenant God, and has made full provision for him.

Verse 9-10

Have mercy on me, O YHWH,

For I am in distress,

My eye wastes away with grief,

Yes, my soul and my body.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

And my years with sighing,

My strength fails because of my iniquity,

And my bones are wasted away.

But suddenly his expression of confidence cease to be replaced by a plaintive cry as he considers the years that have gone by which have been filled with sorrow and sighing, and with an awareness of sinfulness. He is filled with deep distress. Indeed he feels that he is wasting away with sorrow. And this is essentially seen as connected with his own sinfulness. This suggests that in the previous verses he has been praying ‘through gritted teeth’, and that he is triumphant in spite of having a difficult life, not because he is having an easy one, and now he faces up to the present reality.

Verses 11-13

‘Because of all my adversaries I am become a reproach,

Yes, to my neighbours exceedingly,

And a fear to my acquaintance.

Those who saw me out of doors fled from me.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind,

I am like a broken vessel.

For I have heard the defaming of many,

Terror on every side,

While they took counsel together against me,

They devised to take away my life.

And this adversity is not only in the privacy of his own soul, but also involves the behaviour of others towards him. As a result of the activity of his adversaries he has become an especial reproach to those who are close to him, while even his acquaintances are afraid to be seen as connected with him and flee from him when he walks around in the open. He has become a marked man so that to be seen as acquainted with him is to risk having to suffer along with him. This is the common experience of Christians in some countries today, and has always been so.

He then describes himself in terms of being totally forgotten like someone who has died, and as being like a useless vessel that has been smashed and tossed away. Men no longer see him as having any significance, or want to have any dealings with him. Indeed many are defaming him, there is fear on every side, and there are even those who are taking counsel to put him to death, and are trying to think of ways of bringing it about.

We are reminded here of how true this was of Jesus. Disparaged, defamed on every side, deserted by disciples, and plotted against by the rulers of the people, He might well have thought in terms of this Psalm.

Verse 14-15

‘But I trusted in you, O YHWH,

I said, You are my God.

My times are in your hand,

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies,

And from those who persecute me.

But in spite of all his troubles he is triumphant. He has gritted his teeth, trusted in YHWH, and reminded Him that He is his God, and now he stresses that his times are in His hands. He has no doubt of God’s care over him and of His final control. And so again he prays for deliverance from his enemies, and from his persecutors.

Verses 16-18

Make your face to shine on your servant,

Save me in your covenant love.

Let me not be put to shame, O YHWH,

For I have called on you,

Let the wicked be put to shame,

Let them be silent in Sheol.

Let the lying lips be dumb,

Which speak against the righteous insolently,

With pride and contempt.

His confidence somewhat restored the Psalmist now calls on God to look favourably on him and do him good, ‘make your face to shine on your servant’. As long as God’s face shines on him he does not care what men do to him. So he pleads His ‘covenant love’, His mercy and compassion, and calls on Him to act so that he himself will not be shamed as a result of His failing to do so. For he recognises that having called on Him in this way any failure of God to act would bring shame on him. But it is rather the wicked who should be put to shame. So he prays that it is they who might die and end up in the silence of the grave, and that their lying lips might be made forcibly dumb, because they speak insolently against all who are righteous with pride and contempt.

Verse 19-20

‘Oh how great is your goodness,

Which you have laid up for those who fear you,

Which you have wrought for those who take refuge in you,

Before the sons of men!’

In the covert of your presence will you hide them,

From the plottings of man,

You will keep them secretly in a pavilion,

From the strife of tongues.

Now the Psalmist, fully restored in his thoughts and filled with a sense of God’s goodness, gives praise to God. He exalts in the greatness of that goodness, a goodness which God has stored up for those who fear Him, and which He has wrought for those who take refuge in YHWH, and that before the sons of men. So God is now seen as active on behalf of all His true people, and he is confident that as a result God will hide His people from the plottings of men in ‘the hiding-place of His face’ (the place where God meets only with those who are His own), and will keep them hidden away in His pavilion where none can hurt them, safe from the activities of men’s tongues.

Verse 21-22

Blessed be YHWH,

For he has shown me his marvellous covenant love in a strong city.

As for me, I said in my haste,

I am cut off from before your eyes,

Nevertheless you heard the voice of my supplications,

When I cried to you.’

So he blesses YHWH who has revealed His marvellous covenant love towards him ‘in a strong city’ where he can be safe, and that in spite of the fact that in his desperate haste he had said, ‘I am cut off from before your eyes’. For YHWH had graciously ignored his despair, and had heard the voice of his supplication.

The strong city may be Jerusalem, and this may therefore refer to David having come through all his trouble to find himself now established in the stronghold of Jerusalem, or alternatively it may be indicating that God Himself is a strong city for those who trust in Him.

Verse 23-24

‘Oh love YHWH, all you his holy ones,

YHWH preserves those who are faithful,

And plentifully rewards him who deals arrogantly.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

All you who hope in YHWH.’

The Psalm finally closes with a cry to all God’s people, His ‘holy ones’, to love Him truly, and that because He preserves those who are faithful, while at the same time pouring out abundant judgment on those who behave arrogantly. God’s people are thus to be strong, and to take good courage, because their hope is in Him.


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 31:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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