Psalm 31
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Worn out in mind and body, despised, defamed, and persecuted, the Psalmist casts himself upon God. Faith upholds him as he recalls past mercies; despondency overwhelms him as he thinks of his present distress; till the clouds clear, and the sunlight of God’s goodness floods his soul.

The Psalm falls into three divisions.

i. Professions of trust and prayers for deliverance grounded upon the experience of past mercies (Psalm 31:1-8).

ii. Urgent pleading, with a pathetic description of the extremity of his need (Psalm 31:9-18).

iii. Grateful celebration of God’s goodness, once more demonstrated in the deliverance of the Psalmist, who looks back in surprise upon his own faint-heartedness, and concludes by exhorting all the godly to take courage (Psalm 31:19-24).

Most of the earlier commentators suppose that the Psalm was written by David in the wilderness of Maon, and point to the coincidence between in my haste (Psalm 31:22), and “David made haste to flee” (1 Samuel 23:26). The Sept. translators appear to have seen in that verse a reference to the occasion of the Psalm, for they add ἐκστάσεως (for desperation) to the title, and ἐν τῇ ἐκστάσει μου (in my desperation) is their rendering in Psalm 31:22.

But the situation of the Psalmist and the tone of the Psalm would rather suggest that Jeremiah, or some prophet in similar circumstances of persecution, was its author. Comp. Psalm 31:10 with Jeremiah 20:18; ‘the broken vessel’ (Psalm 31:12) with Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 48:38; Psalm 31:13 with Jeremiah 20:10; Psalm 31:17 with Jeremiah 17:18; Psalm 31:22 with Lamentations 3:54. Still it is quite possible that Jeremiah may be using the words of the Psalm which was familiar to him.

The striking difference in the tone of Psalm 31:9-18 from that of 1–8 and 19–24 suggests the possibility that these verses may be a later addition: and it is noteworthy that the parallels with the Book of Jeremiah occur almost exclusively in Psalm 31:9-18, while the first and third divisions resemble Psalms which have good claims to be regarded as Davidic. But the change of tone may only correspond to a change of situation.

The latter part of the Psalm has several parallels with Psalms 28. With Psalm 31:21 a comp. Psalm 28:6 a; with Psalm 31:22 b cp. Psalm 28:2; Psalm 28:6; with Psalm 31:23 cp. Psalm 28:4. Comp. too Psalm 31:22 (as for me) with Psalm 30:6; and the invitation in Psalm 31:23 with Psalm 30:4.

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.
1. do I put my trust] Have I taken refuge. Cp. Psalm 7:1 (note); Psalm 11:1; Psalm 16:1; Psalm 25:20.

let me never be ashamed] Disappointed and confounded by finding that my trust was vain. Cp. Psalm 31:17; Psalm 25:2; Psalm 25:20; Psalm 22:5.

in thy righteousness] To desert His servant (Psalm 31:16) would be inconsistent with Jehovah’s righteousness.

1–8. The prayer of faith, Psalm 31:1-3 are repeated in that beautiful mosaic, Psalms 71; and Psalm 31:1 a forms the close of the Te Deum.

Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
2. Bow down] Or, incline, as in Psalm 17:6; &c.

2, 3. Be thou &c.] Lit. Become (LXX γενοῦ) to me a stronghold-rock, a fortress-house to save me: for (he goes on to give the ground of his prayer) thou art my cliff and my fortress: i.e. prove Thyself to be what I know Thou art. “It is the logic of every believing prayer.” Delitzsch. For the figures see note on Psalm 18:2.

therefore &c.] And for thy name’s sake thou wilt lead me and guide me. A further expression of trust rather than a petition. By gentle and unerring guidance God will shew Himself all that He has declared Himself to be. Cp. the same words in Psalm 23:2; Psalms 3, and see notes there.

For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.
4. Thou wilt bring me out of the net … for thou art my strong hold. He compares his insidious enemies to hunters or fowlers, as in Psalm 9:15; Psalm 25:15.

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
5. I commit &c.] Or, as P.B.V. and R.V., I commend my spirit. To God’s care he entrusts as a precious deposit the life inbreathed by God Himself (Job 10:12; Job 17:1). The context makes it plain that it is for the preservation of his life that he thus entrusts himself to God; but the further application of the words to the departing spirit is obvious and natural, and it is sanctioned and consecrated by our Lord’s use of them on the Cross (Luke 23:46). Cp. the noble words of Wis 3:1; “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God:” and John 10:28 f.; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 4:19 (noting how a faithful Creator corresponds to thou God of truth here). “The many instances on record, including St Polycarp, St Basil, Epiphanius of Pavia, St Bernard, St Louis, Huss, Columbus, Luther, and Melancthon—of Christians using these words at the approach of death, represent how many millions of unrecorded cases!” Kay.

The words, Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, thou God of truth, give the double ground of this confidence, in his own past experience, and the known character of Jehovah as the God of faithfulness. Redeemed primarily means delivered from temporal distress (2 Samuel 4:9); but for the Christian the word must bear a deeper significance.

I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.
6. I have hated] Better, as R.V., I hate. He disclaims all sympathy and fellowship with the worshippers of false gods. But the LXX, Vulg., Syr., Jer. read, thou hatest (cp. Psalm 5:5). This reading gives the contrast required by the next line, which must be rendered, but as for me, I trust in Jehovah.

that regard lying vanities] Cp. Jonah 2:8. False gods are vanities of nothingness, having no real existence, and deluding their worshippers; the exact opposite of the God of truth, Who IS, and constantly proves His faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:21). Vanity is a common expression for false gods in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:19; &c.). For regard = pay respect to, worship, see Psalm 59:9 (A.V. wait upon); Hosea 4:10 (A.V. take heed to).

I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;
7. Let me be glad and rejoice in thy lovingkindness:

For thou hast seen my affliction;

Thou hast taken knowledge of the distresses of my soul.

An entreaty, based upon past experience. Here, and in Psalm 31:8, as well as in 5 b, it is more natural to understand the perfect tenses to refer to past mercies, rather than as a confident anticipation of future deliverance. With the second line cp. Psalm 9:13.

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
8. hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy] Hast not surrendered me into his power. Cp. Deuteronomy 32:30; 1 Samuel 23:11-12 (A.V. deliver up).

thou hast set &c.] Lit. thou hast made my feet to stand in a large (or, wide) place; enabled me to move and act with freedom. Cp. Psalm 4:1; Psalm 18:19; Psalm 26:12. Room in A.V. = space, place.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
9. Be gracious unto me, O Jehovah, for I am in distress:

Mine eye is wasted away because of provocation, yea, my soul and my body.

Cp. Psalm 6:7 a; amplified here by the addition of my soul and my body (Psalm 44:25).

9–18. The tone of the Psalm changes. The recollection of past mercies brings present suffering into sharper relief. “A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.” This part of the Psalm reminds us of Psalms 6, and of Jeremiah’s complaints.

For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
10. grief] R.V. sorrow, as in Psalm 13:2; Jeremiah 8:18.

sighing] Or, groaning, as in Psalm 6:6.

my strength &c.] My strength totters because of mine Iniquity, and my bones are wasted away. There was then some sin which called for chastisement, or required the discipline of suffering. But the LXX, Syr., and Symmachus read affliction instead of iniquity. With the last clause cp. Psalm 6:2 (note); Psalm 32:3.

I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.
11. Because of all mine adversaries I am become a reproach,

Yea, unto my neighbours exceedingly. (R.V.)

The original is as awkward as the translation, and we should probably connect because of all mine adversaries with the previous verse, and read, I am become a reproach unto my neighbours exceedingly: or else, with Lagarde, Cheyne, and others, read a shaking of head (Psalm 44:14, cp. 13), in place of exceedingly. Cp. Psalm 22:6-7; Jeremiah 20:7-8.

they that did see me &c.] Those who met him in public avoided him, afraid of incurring persecution themselves by any sign of sympathy.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
12. As a dead man passes out of men’s minds, so he is forgotten. Cp. Job 19:14. He is like a broken (lit. perishing) vessel, flung aside contemptuously and no more remembered. Cp. (though the phrase there is different) Jeremiah 22:28 (R.V.).

For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.
13. For I have heard the defaming of many,

Terror on every side (R.V.).

Jeremiah uses these very words to describe his plight (Jeremiah 20:10). Terror on every side is a favourite phrase with him (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3-4; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; Lamentations 2:22).

they devised &c.] Jeremiah 11:19 ff; Jeremiah 18:20 ff., supply an illustration.

But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.
14. Render:

But as for me, on thee do I trust O Lord:

I have said, &c.

Men turn from him, but he turns to God. Cp. Psalm 31:6; Psalm 16:2; Psalm 140:6.

My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
15. My times &c.] Cp. 1 Chronicles 29:30. The vicissitudes of my life are all under Thy control.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies' sake.
16. Comp. the paraphrase in P.B.V., Shew thy servant the light of thy countenance: and see note on Psalm 4:6.

for thy mercy’s sake] R.V. in thy lovingkindness, as in Psalm 31:7; Psalm 31:21.

Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
17. The prayer of Psalm 31:1 is repeated. While my prayers are answered, let my enemies be silenced and consigned to Sheol. A similar prayer in Psalm 25:2-3; Jeremiah 17:18.

Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
18. Let the lying lips be dumb;

Which speak against the righteous arrogantly,

In pride and contempt.

Cp. Psalm 12:3; Psalm 94:4.

Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!
19, 20. God’s goodness to those who fear Him is like an inexhaustible treasure stored up, and at the proper time brought out and used for them that take refuge (as Psalm 31:1) in Him; and this publicly in the sight of man. Cf. Psalm 23:5. With R.V. place a comma after trust in thee, and connect before the sons of men with wrought.

19–24. Can the author of this serenely joyous thanksgiving be the despised and downcast sufferer of Psalm 31:9-18? If so, it was surely not at the same moment. An interval has elapsed; his prayer has been answered; the danger is past.

Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
20. Thou shalt hide them In the hiding-place of thy presence from the plottings of man:

Thou shalt conceal them In a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

With the whole verse cp. Psalm 27:5; but the hiding place of thy tent is here spiritualised into the hiding place of thy presence (lit. face as in Psalm 31:16). No darkness of evil can penetrate into the light of God’s countenance.

Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.
21. Blessed be the Lord] Cp. Psalm 28:6.

he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness] Lit. he hath made marvellous his lovingkindness to me, as in Psalm 17:7.

in a strong city] Either, as in a strong city, putting me out of the reach of my enemies as it were in a fortified city; or, as a strong city, proving Himself my fortress (Psalm 31:2-3). The words may also mean in a besieged city, which might be taken as a metaphor for trouble generally. Some commentators understand the words literally of David’s escape from Keilah, or of his establishment in Ziklag; or of Jeremiah in Jerusalem during the siege.

21, 22. Thanksgiving: but is it for deliverance anticipated by faith or for deliverance already experienced? Surely the latter.

For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.
22. For I said &c.] But as for me, I said In my haste (or, alarm). Humbly he confesses his want of faith in the hour of trial, when he thought himself out of God’s sight, and contrasts it with God’s goodness. Cp. Psalm 30:6; Psalm 116:2. With 22 a cp. Jonah 2:4 : with 22 b cp. Psalm 28:2.

O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
23, 24. Concluding exhortation to the faithful. Cp. Psalm 30:4; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 32:11.

preserveth the faithful] Or, keepeth faithfulness. Cf. Exodus 34:7, note.

plentifully rewardeth the proud doer] The judgment of the wicked is, in the view of the O.T., the necessary complement of the triumph of the saints. See Introd. p. xci.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.
24. Be strong, and let your heart take courage (R.V.), as in Psalm 27:14.

all ye that hope in the Lord] Or, wait for. The phrase links this Psalm to Psalms 33. See Psalm 31:18; Psalm 31:22. Comp. too Psalm 33:18 with Psalm 31:22.

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