Psalm 31
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This psalm is full of tantalising expressions, which raise the expectation of a satisfactory historical basis for its composition, only to disappoint by the obscurity of their allusion. On the one hand, the figures of the stronghold and rock (Psalm 31:2-3) not only suggest David as the author, but, from the mode of their introduction, at first seem to point to some definite locality, as Keilah or Ziklag (Psalm 31:7). But we are instantly transported into another circle of images and situations which recall Jeremiah and his fortunes. Moreover, the psalm oscillates between plaintive prayer and assured trust in a way to indicate that we cannot here have the experience of one single event, but the gathered sentiments of a whole lifetime; or, perhaps, which is more likely, the expression of a universal sentiment, the picture of a national situation where power was on one side and right on the other, in which the interests of religion and the discharge of religious duties were opposed by the contemptuous hostility of an idolatrous society. The enemies, at all events, who appear here are those who hate the pious Israelite because they themselves adore other gods (Psalm 31:6)—they are the wicked—their arms are recrimination, calumny, contempt, the insolence of the powerful against the humble and weak. The psalm seems, therefore, to reflect the later times of the monarchy, when the pure religion of Jehovah had to struggle against idolatrous tendencies favoured in high places. The recurrence of phrases very common in his writings show that if Jeremiah was not the author of the psalm, he was very familiar with it, or the writer of the psalm was imbued with his style. The versification is irregular.

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) The words of this verse are interesting as being the last words of Xavier, and as concluding the Te Deum.

Psalm 31:1-3 occur again with slight variations in Psalm 71:1-3.

Let me never.—Literally, let me not for ever be ashamed.

Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
(2) My strong rock.—Literally,

“Thou art to me for a rock of a stronghold,

For a house of fortresses to save me.”

For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
(3) Rock.—As rock in this verse is selâ (LXX. and Vulg., “strength”) instead of tsûr, as in Psalm 31:2, it is better to render “for thou art my cliff fortress;” literally, cliff and fortress.

For thy name’s sakei.e., because Thou hast this name of rock and fortress.

Lead me, and guide me.—The future is better,

“Thou wilt lead and guide me.”

To pray for protection and then stoutly affirm belief, as in Psalm 31:3, has been called illogical; but it is the logic of the heart if not of the intellect; the logic, it may be added, of every prayer of faith.

Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.
(4) The net.—This image is a common one in the Psalms. (Comp. Psalm 10:9, &c)

Laid privily.—Literally, hidden. Translate still by the future, thou wilt pull me out.

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
(5) I commit.—Most memorable, even among expressions of the Psalms, as the dying words of our Lord Himself (Luke 23:46), and a long line of Christian worthies. Polycarp, Bernard, Huss, Henry V., Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melancthon, are some of the many who have passed away comforted and upheld by the psalmist’s expression of trust. But death was not in his thought, it was in life, amid its troubles and dangers, that he trusted (Hebrew, deposited as a trust) his spirit (rûach, comp. Isaiah 38:16) to God. But the gift brought to the altar by the seer of old, has been consecrated anew and yet anew.

Lord God of truth.—Comp. 2Chronicles 15:3, where, as here, there is a contrast between Jehovah and idols; but also, as in Deuteronomy 32:4, the “faithful God.”

I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.
(6) Lying vanities.—Literally, breath of lies (Jonah 2:8), undoubtedly idols, as the parallelism in Jeremiah 8:19 shows. It was the term adopted by the Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy 32:21) and apparently brought into use by him.

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
(8) Shut me up into the hand.—This is the exact phrase used by David (1Samuel 23:11-12) in consulting the Divine oracle by the ephod. But this does not prove the authorship, for it was evidently a common phrase. (See 1Samuel 24:18; 1Samuel 26:8; 2Kings 17:4.)

Large room.—Comp. Psalm 4:1; Psalm 18:19.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
(9) Mine eye is consumed . . .—Comp. Psalm 6:7. It was an old idea that the eye could weep itself away. It is an actual fact that the disease glaucoma is very much influenced by mental emotions.

Belly.—Better, body—both mind and body were suffering.

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) Iniquity.—Gesenius and Ewald understand, the suffering that follows on sin rather than the iniquity itself, a meaning that certainly seems to suit the context better. The LXX. and Vulg. have “poverty.”

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) The adverb rendered especially seems out of place. It is therefore better to take it as a noun, in the sense of burden, a sense etymologically probable.

“Because of all mine oppressors I have become a reproach,

And to my neighbours a burden,

And a fear to my acquaintance.”

Fled.—Literally, fluttered away like frightened birds.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
(12) Broken vessel.—A favourite image with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 19:11; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 25:34; Jeremiah 48:38), but not peculiar to him among the prophets. (Comp. Hosea 8:8, and see Introduction to this psalm.)

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) Again comp. Jeremiah 20:10, which reproduces word for word the first two clauses. The expression rendered “fear on every side” was actually a motto of the prophet (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3, margin; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29. Comp. Lamentations 2:22). But the most probable derivation makes the noun mean not terror but conspiracy, while for slander here we must render whisper.

“For I heard the whispering of the many,

‘Conspiracy all around.’ ”

Under cover of a pretended general panic they were really, as the psalmist saw, plotting evil against him.

But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.
(14) But I.—Emphatic, in contrast to the pretended panic and in spite of the real dangers around him.

My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
(15) My times are in thy handi.e., the vicissitudes of human life (LXX. and Vulg. have “my destinies”) are under Divine control, so that the machinations of the foe cannot prevail against one whom God intends to deliver. For the expression comp. 1Chronicles 29:30, “the times that went over him,” Isaiah 33:6.

The sense of security in this trusting phrase may be contrasted with the feeling of danger in another Hebrew phrase, “my soul is continually in my hand,” Psalm 119:109.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies' sake.
(16) Make thy face to shine.—As in Psalm 4:6, an echo of the priestly blessing. (Numbers 6:24-26.)

Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
(18) Silence.—As a different word is used from that rendered silent in Psalm 31:17, translate let the lying lips be made dumb.

Grievous.—Better, arrogant, as in 1Samuel 2:3. (Comp. Psalm 94:4.) So in Psalm 75:5, “a stiff neck” is a neck thrown impudently back.

Proudly and contemptuously.—Literally, in pride and contempt.

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) Laid up.—Better, hidden, (Heb. tsaphan; comp. Psalm 17:14; Obadiah 1:6), as a treasure for the faithful, and now brought out and displayed in the presence “of the sons of men.”

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) The secret of thy presence.—Better, in the hiding-place of thy countenance, a beautiful thought and common in the Psalms, although expressed by different images. In Psalm 27:5, “the hiding-place of his tabernacle;61:4, “of his wings;” 91:1, “of his shadow.”

The form the same image takes in the Christian’s hope is beautifully expressed by Tennyson:

“To lie within the light of God as I lie upon your breast,

And the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”

Pride.—Better, rough or wrangling talk, as the parallelism shows and the LXX. confirm; and, referring back to Psalm 31:18, Gesenius renders the word “conspiracies.”

Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.
(21) Shewed me his marvellous kindness . . .—Better, made his kindness distinguished or manifest, referring to Psalm 31:19.

In a strong city.—Some see a reference to David’s adventures at Ziklag or Keilah; others to Jeremiah’s in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38). It is, however, better to regard it merely as a general image of the Divine protection.

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) In my haste . . .—Literally, in my fleeing away in fear. Jerome, Aquila, and Symmachus, “in my confusion.”

O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
(23) Preserveth the faithful.—Or, perhaps, by rendering by the abstract instead of the concrete, keeps faith. The LXX. and Vulg. have “requireth truths.”

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.
(24) Be of good courage.—Cf. Psalm 27:14.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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