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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Psalms 31



Verses 1-24


A psalm, in which the psalmist rises by prayer, from trouble, to lively faith and hope in God. The older interpreters founding on the use of the same word in Psa (Heb.), and 1Sa 23:25, for the most part, refer the psalm to the time when David fled from Saul into the wilderness of Maon. Ewald, Hitzig, and others attribute it to Jeremiah, chiefly because of its plaintive character, and from the fact that certain expressions found in this psalm are also found in Jeremiah (cf. Psa 31:14. and Jer 20:10, and the recurrence of the phrase "Fear on every side," Jer 6:25; Jer 20:3; Jer 46:5; Jer 49:29; Lam 2:22). As to this, Tholuck says, "That the prophets used the psalms, and not the psalmist the prophets, may be inferred from the fondness of Jeremiah to weave the sayings of the ancients into his compositions (cf. Psa 1:3; Psa 33:7). Perowne says, "On other grounds there is no reason why the psalm should not be David's. It breathes throughout his rare tenderness of spirit, as well as his faith and courage. The figures of the stronghold and the rock so often repeated (Psa 31:2-4), are most suitable in his mouth (cf. Psalms 18), and so are the expressions in Psa 31:8 and in Psa 31:21."


(Psa .)

This prayer:

I. Springs from trust in God (Psa ).

1. The Almighty Father. This is the character in which God has revealed Himself. He is infinitely just, and holy, and merciful. His people are His children. All of them are dear to Him, but the weak and the sorrowful are the special objects of His care. As a father watches his sick child, and bends to listen to his feeblest cry, so "our Father in heaven" bows down in pitying mercy to His people when they are in trouble.

2. The everlasting refuge (Psa ). "In Thee have I found refuge."—Perowne. Various figures are employed to set forth the strength and impregnableness of this refuge (Psa 31:2), "Strong Rock," "House of Defence" (Psa 31:3). "My rock and my fortress" (cf. Psa 18:2). The fitness and force of these images must have been deeply felt by David, who had so often found safety from his enemies in the caves and fastnesses of the rocks. "The psalmist grounds his prayer on the fact that the Lord is in reality his rock and his fortress, because he knew Him as such by the faith which God never puts to shame."—Hengstenberg. "The psalmist prays ‘Be thou to me,' or rather, ‘Become to me, prove Thyself to be my rock and house of defence; for I know that Thou, and Thou only, art my refuge.' This is the logic of the heart, if not of the intellect; the logic, it may be added, of every prayer of faith."—Perowne.

II. Implores the highest blessings.

1. Vindication of his hope (Psa ). "‘Shamed,' i.e., utterly confounded, disappointed and frustrated in his hopes" (Psa 6:10; Psa 22:5; Psa 25:2; Psalms 20).—Alexander. Such a fate would be terrible. It would be dishonourable to God, as well as to His servant. But God will never suffer those who trust in Him to be put to confusion.

2. Deliverance in righteousness (Psa ). "In Thy righteousness set me at liberty."—Perowne. He longed for freedom; but he would not seek even such a boon, save in a way that was for the glory of God. "God is a just God and a Saviour."

3. Guidance in the way of holiness (Psa . cf. Psa 23:2-3). "The double word indicates an urgent need—we require double direction, for we are fools, and the way is rough. Lead me as a soldier, guide me as a traveller! Lead me as a babe, guide me as a man; lead me by Thy hand, guide me by Thy Word. The argument used is one which is fetched from the armoury of free grace; not for my own sake, but for Thy name's sake, guide me."—C. H. Spurgeon.

4. Protection to the end of life (Psa ). The "net" refers to the craft and malice of enemies. There are dangers known and unknown, there are foes who face us openly, and there are foes who plot and work in secret. Our daily prayers should be, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

III. Characterised by the noblest emotions.

1. Humility. "Bow down."

2. Earnestness. "Speedily."

3. Aspiration. "Be Thou my strong rock."

4. Zeal for God's glory. "For Thy name's sake."

5. Self-surrender. "Into Thy hand I commend my spirit." "My spirit (ruach) more than my soul or life (Nephesh). It is not only from sickness and death, but from sin and all ghostly enemies, that the man of God should be kept, and therefore he commends to God, not his body or his bodily life alone, but the life of his spirit, which is more precious" (cf. Isa ).—Perowne.

6. Unbounded trust. "Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth." Past deliverances are strong supports of faith. What the Lord was, He is; what He has done, He is able to do again, yea, and much more, exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. He is the mighty one who is ever true to Himself and to His word. The gods of the heathen are "lying vanities," but Jehovah is worthy of the highest trust.

IV. Followed by the grandest deliverance (cf. 1Sa ). The psalmist exults (Psa 31:7-8) in the wondrous redemption wrought out by God.

1. Sovereign mercy. "I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy."

2. Tender sympathy. "Thou hast considered my trouble." There are different forms of consideration (cf. Job ; Psa 31:7; Psa 41:1)

3. Benign interposition (Psa ).

4. Delightful freedom (Psa , cf. Psa 4:1). "Though the mariner sees not the polestar, yet the needle of the compass which points to it tells him which way he sails. Thus the heart that is touched with the loadstone of divine love, trembling with godly fear, and yet still looking towards God by fixed believing, interprets the fear by the love in the fear, and tells the soul that its course is heavenward—towards the haven of eternal rest."—Leighton.


(Psa .)

"With these words, our Lord breathed out His life (Luk ), as He had before used words from another psalm in His agony on the cross. The first words were from a psalm

(22) which, typically at least, foreshadowed His sufferings; whereas this is not in the same way predictive. But the Holy One of God, in that last hour of mortal agony, chose these words of one of His servants to express the solemn surrender of His life. And, in so doing, He gave them a new interpretation. The Jewish singer only meant by them that he put himself and all his hopes into the hand of God. Jesus meant by them, that by His own act, of His own free will, He gave up His spirit, and therefore His life, to the Father. And they who have died with their Lord, have died with the same words on their lips. These were the last words of Polycarp, of Bernard, of Huss, of Jerome of Prague, of Luther, Melancthon, and many others. ‘Blessed are they,' says Luther, ‘who die not only for the Lord, as martyrs,—not only in the Lord, as all believers,—but likewise with the Lord, as breathing forth their lives in these words, "Into Thy hand I commend my spirit"'"—Perowne.

I. The soul survives the shock of death.

II. The care of the soul is the supreme concern in death.

III. The well-being of the soul, in life and in death, consists in its dedication to Christ.


(Psa .)

I. Mark the divine listener. "O Lord" (Jehovah). Ten times does David use this name of hope. Who is like God, so kind, so patient, so sympathising? He has infinitely more pity than the most loving father (Psa ), infinitely more tenderness than the most faithful mother (Isa 66:13; Isa 49:15). The sorrows of countless millions are being poured into His ear, but He is never weary. He listens to the tale of the humblest child, as if he were the only object of His care.

"To Thee alone my sorrows shall appeal,

Hath earth a wound too hard for heaven to heal."—Quarles.

II. Ponder the sad complaint. Like Hezekiah (2Ki ), the psalmist pours out his heart before the Lord. We seem to hear his sobs and cries.

1. Consumed by grief (Psa ). "Eye, soul, belly, the seats and means of intelligence, will, and power."—Murphy. Body and mind were alike exhausted.

2. Depressed by conscious tin (Psa ). His eye turned within as well as without. His real trouble was in his sin "Mine iniquity." It was his, his very own, for which he and he only was responsible. So it is; others may have tempted or taken part in the transgression, but so far as it is our act, it is our property. What a burden is sin! What a terrible plague is the plague of a sinful heart "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?"

3. Wounded by the cruel treatment of his contemporaries. The reproach of foes was bad, the distrust of acquaintances was worse, but the alienation of friends was worst of all. He complains of the "slander of many." The tongues of not only Doeg, Nabal, and the Ziphites, but of many more, were let loose against him.

"Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,

Thou shalt not escape calumny."

"Its edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile; whose breath rides on the posting winds; and doth belie all corners of the world."—Shakespeare.

4. Disheartened by the unrelenting malice of his enemies (Psa ). "Fear was on every side." Wherever he turned he met a foe. One fell purpose inspired them all. They were like the conspirators against Paul, "who bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed him" (Act 23:21). Jeremiah, who was also a "man of sorrows," complains in the same words: "Fear was on every side" (Jer 20:10); and once and again he uses similar terms (Jer 6:25; Jer 20:3-4; Jer 46:5; Jer 49:29; Lam 2:22).

5. Utterly self-desponding. The brightness of life was gone—his reputation and usefulness were ruined. He seemed good for nothing. Forsaken and forlorn, he was as a "dead man out of mind." But for his trust in God, all hope would be lost (cf. Psalms 43).

III. Rejoice with the relieved sufferer (Psa ).

1. Filial trust in God (Psa ). "Mighty strength of faith when a man conscious of his own sinfulness (Psa 31:10), and with a world in arms against him, yea, forsaken of his own friends (Psa 31:11), can still turn to God and say, ‘Thou art my God.'"—Perowne.

2. Humble acquiescence in the Divine will (Psa ). "MY TIMES, i.e., all my life, with its ‘sundry and manifold changes,' its joys and sorrows, its hopes and conflicts, are not the sport of chance, or the creatures of a blind fate, but are in Thy hand, ‘O Thou living, personal Redeemer.'"—Perowne. Thus, to have faith in God's will and rule, is to enter into rest. "Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads, an anodyne for care, a grave for despair."

3. Confident hope of a happy issue to all his troubles (Psa ). His faith rises to certainty. He anticipates the time when the lips of lying should be struck dumb, when his enemies should be put to shame, or lie silent in the grave, and when he himself should rejoice in the sunshine of Jehovah's love (Num 6:25).

"Oh! there is never sorrow of heart

That shall lack a timely end,

If but to God we turn, and ask

Of Him to be our friend."—Wordsworth.


(Psa .)

Now and again accidents happen, such as the falling of earth and the closing up of mines, by which people are buried alive. There are also horrible tales of persons who, of design, have suffered this cruel fate. David speaks here of a sort of moral counterpart. Driven into exile, and cut off from the society of friends and the business of life, he soon came to be as if forgotten. He whose exploits had but lately been the theme of song, and whose name was on every lip, was now "as a dead man, out of mind." This has been the experience of many since, though the form of the calamity has varied. People may be buried alive—

I. By the malice of enemies. There may be such a persistent covering of their names, with lies and slander, that at last they are, like David, given up to "contemptuous oblivion." "Public envy is an ostracism."—Bacon.

II. By the neglect of contemporaries. "Out of sight, out of mind." After Butler had preached his famous sermons at the Rolls Chapel, he accepted a country charge, where he lived in great retirement. Years passed and he was forgotten. A friend spoke to the Queen about him, and she answered that she thought he was dead, and appealed to Archbishop Blackburne if it were not so. His reply was, "No, madam, he is not dead, but he is buried." This is the way in which the world has treated many of its greatest men.

III. By the lack of opportunities for distinction. While every one has his chance, so to speak, some have better chances than others. Two persons may have equal merits, but one rises high, while the other remains to the last in the same humble position. There are latent talents that are never called forth,—minds of high power that are never developed. Gray sings of this in his "Elegy in a Country Churchyard":—

"Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;

Hands that the rod of empire might have sway'd,

Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre:

But knowledge to their eyes her ample page,

Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;

Chill penury repress'd their noble rage,

And frose the genial current of the soul."

IV. By the failure of capacity for usefulness. Changes take place. Popularity may fade. Broken health or misfortune may necessitate retirement. Men who once bulked large in the public eye are lost sight of and forgotten. Hence, when their death is published, it comes as a surprise. It is said, We thought they had been dead long ago. They had been virtually buried alive years before their death.

All these things prophesy of a hereafter. If we serve God truly, it matters little whether we have praise of men or not. Our record is on high. In heaven there will be a balm for every wound, and redress for every wrong, and many who are first shall be last, and who are last shall be first.


(Psa .)

His well-grounded hope now brings triumphant certainty, and this breaks forth in glad acknowledgment of God's goodness to the righteous, and an exhortation to all to wait on Him in unshaken confidence of heart. "Oh! how great is Thy goodness."

David's exclamation leads us to consider the goodness of God—

I. As a spectacle of surpassing beauty. "How great!" Creation, providence, redemption, reveal God's goodness. More and more, in the course of the ages, it is unfolded, and calls forth wonder, love, and praise.

"My heart is awed within me, when I think

Of the great miracle that still goes on

In silence round me—the perpetual work

Of Thy creation, finish'd, yet renew'd

For ever."—Bryant.

"His are the mountains, and the valleys his,

And the resplendent rivers,—his t' enjoy

With a propriety that none can feel;

But who with filial confidence, inspired,

Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,

And smiling say, My Father made them all!

Are they not his by a peculiar right,

And by an emphasis of interest his,

Whose eyes they filled with tears of holy joy,

Whose heart with praises, and whose exalted mind

With worthy thoughts of that unwearied love

That plann'd, and built, and still upholds a world

So clothed with beauty for rebellious man."


II. As a treasury of inexhaustible wealth. "Thou hast laid up," lit. "hidden" (cf. Psa , and "the hidden manna," Rev 2:17). "This is the love of God manifested to the soul in secret."—Perowne. "Layest up." "This Intimates that much of the Divine goodness was yet in store for him. This is true of all God's saints, if we include the unending future."—Murphy. God's goodness is partly seen, and partly unseen. What is seen, may, as it were, be measured; but what is unseen, is boundless. What is a river to the ocean! What is the landscape, that the eye can reach, to the vast unseen realms of the earth. What are the thousand stars that crowd the winter sky, to the millions upon millions that are hid in the depths of space! So with the goodness of God. The sons of Jacob carried away their "ass loads" of the finest of the wheat, but what were these to the stores laid up in Egypt's granaries. The Queen of Sheba's heart fainted when she saw the treasures of Solomon, for the half had not been told her of his wisdom and his wealth; but a greater than Solomon is here, whose riches are unsearchable, and whose wisdom is past finding out. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."

III. As a work of infinite beneficence. "Oh! how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee, before the sons of men." This refers to the open manifestation of goodness. "Goodness is laid up in the promise, wrought in the performance, and that goodness which is laid up, is wrought for them that trust in God; and thus, as God's faithfulness engageth us to believe, so our faith, as it were, engageth God's faithfulness to perform the promise."—N. Hardy.

Scripture, observation, and memory, supply countless proofs of God's kindness. "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord."

What God hath wrought is set forth in two divisions.

1. General (Psa ). "Thou protectest them in the hiding-place of Thy presence from the factions of men."—Delitzch. "The hiding-place of Thy presence, or ‘of Thy countenance;' elsewhere of God's tabernacle (Psa 27:5); or of His wings (Psa 61:5); or of His shadow (Psa 91:1). But this is the most striking figure of all: to be hidden in the light of God's face, hidden in that splendour where His power is hidden (Hab 3:4). What an image at once of safety and blessedness!"—Perowne.

2. Particular (Psa ). David here speaks of himself. Probably the reference is to God's signal interposition in his behalf at Ziklag (Delitzch).

(Psa ). "In my haste." "David and his people wept, till they had no more power to weep, for the burning of Ziklag and the capture of their wives and children (1 Samuel 27). ‘I am cut off.' This was a fatal blow, apparently indicating the deep displeasure of God, and His final departure from him. ‘Yet Thou heardest.' David at length encouraged himself in the Lord his God, who heard his cry, and restored to him all that he had lost."—Murphy.

"Through every period of my life,

Thy goodness I'll proclaim;

And after death, in distant worlds,

Resume the glorious theme."


Psa . David speaks here to all to whom God has been gracious.

I. Love the Lord. This is the first and great commandment, and finds an echo in every true heart.

Reason says "Love the Lord." Who is worthy of the heart but the Supremely Good? "We needs must love the highest, when we see it."—Tennyson.

Gratitude says "Love the Lord." Consider not only what God is in Himself, but what He has done for His people. "His saints." They are His favoured ones, loved, redeemed, and sanctified. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1Jn ).

Experience says "Love the Lord." This is the voice that comes down from the pious of every land and age, back to the days of paradise. Nothing but good comes from loving God. The more we love Him, the higher we rise in dignity and strength. The more we love Him, the fitter we become for the duties and trials of earth, and the meeter for the inheritance of the saints in heaven. "Faith-keeping is Jehovah," alike as to His promises and His threatenings, alike in His retributive providence towards His people who trust in Him, and towards the proud and the evil-doers, who reject His counsel and His love. "In His favour is life."

II. Be of good courage (Psa ). There are differences as to courage. There is the courage of the flesh. This is common to us with the lower animals. See what Job says of the war-horse (Job 39:19), and Solomon of the lion (Pro 30:30). Most men when their blood is up will do what are called brave deeds.

There is the courage of the mind. This is higher. It implies resolution, firmness, a capacity to gird one's self for deeds of daring and difficulty.

But noblest of all, is the courage of the soul. This implies a heart that is right with God, and hence a heart that is loyal to truth and to duty, a heart that is continually being recruited with new strength, and that is ready for any fate. "Be of good courage," i.e., be brave, firmly reliant on God, "and He will strengthen your heart." "Be strong in purpose and desire, and He will make you strong in fact."—Alexander. "All ye that hope in the Lord." "The psalm ends as Psalms 27. Hope and waiting are marks peculiarly of the Old Testament dispensation. It is true, even in the New, one apostle writes, ‘we are saved by hope.' And another says, ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be,' but he adds what no believer in the days of types and shadows could have said, ‘We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.' Wonderful is the hopeful trust of the saints of old in God, when we remember that they did not know Him as God manifest in the flesh."—Perowne.

"Love the Lord," "Be of good courage." These two counsels are intimately connected. Love and courage go together. What will not the mother dare for love of her child, and the patriot for the love of his country!


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 31:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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