Psalm 31
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
There is no good reason to doubt that this is one of David's psalms. Its forms of expression bear the marks of his pen, and the "undesigned coincidences " between it and the history of his life are both interesting and striking. The old interpreters supposed the psalm to belong to the time when David fled from Saul into the wilderness of Maon; others attribute it to the time of his deliverance from being shut up in Keilah, with which, indeed, it seems well to agree. While, in some respects, the psalm resembles others, yet, in others, it has features exclusively its own. Its title, according to the LXX., is, "For the end, a Psalm of David, of extreme fear" (ἐκστάσεως). The Vulgate has pro extasi. Under such emotion, it is not to be wondered at if the verses bid defiance to all logical order. There is, however, beneath the surface an order which is full of helpful teaching, by which, when perceived, the beauty of the psalm will stand revealed, as otherwise it could not have been. This order we will seek carefully to follow and to expound.

I. GOD'S SAINTS MAY BE AT TIMES IN EXTREME DISTRESS. The list of troubles here specified is an unusually long one.

1. A net is spread for David (ver. 4).

2. There is a design on his life (ver. 13).

3. Bands of men are conspiring together (ver. 20, Hebrew).

4. His friends forget him (ver. 12).

5. His enemies are guilty of falsehood (ver. 18), reproach (ver. 11), slander (ver. 13).

6. Others unfeelingly flee from him (ver. 11).

7. He is in perplexity (ver. 9).

8. His strength faileth, his bones are consumed, because the consciousness of his own sin adds its bitterness to his woe (ver. 10).

9. His alarm (Hebrew) is so great, that he regards his case as one deserted by God (ver. 22).

Here, surely, is a list of woes longer than most men could reckon up. There are few against whom enemies would take so much trouble to plot! But David was in a high position, and therefore he was a mark to be shot at! Note: The higher our position, and the greater our usefulness, the more likely is it that Satan will aim at us with his fiery darts. The more we disturb him, the more he will disturb us. And, for wise and holy reasons, the Lord may allow a messenger of Satan to buffet us.

II. EVEN WHEN IN THE LOWEST DEPTHS, THERE IS NO MISTAKING THE SAINT FOR A SINNER, the believer for an alien, the godly one for a godless man. Scarce any one could have a longer list of woes to enumerate than David had, but yet the saint shines through all.

1. He knows where to flee for protection. (Ver. 1, Hebrew.) The way in which he still speaks to God as his God, his strong Rock, etc., is inexpressibly touching. "Be thou my Rock,... because thou art my Rock," is a wonderfully tender appeal to the loving heart of God. Even in the densest darkness the loving child must clasp the Father's hand, and cry, "Father!" Yea, because of the darkness, and the denser it is, the louder and more piercing will be his cry.

2. He knows to whom he flees - even to One who has redeemed him (ver. 5). (For the Scripture usage of this word "redeemed," see Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 21:8; 1 Chronicles 17:21; Isaiah 29:22; Jeremiah 31:11; Micah 6:4; Psalm 130:8; Psalm 25:22; Hosea 13:14.) David was one who knew God, not only as a Deliverer from earthly calamity, but as a Redeemer from sin. And he could well put in this as a plea on which to base his petitions. The richest evangelical form of this argument is given in Romans 5:10; Romans 8:32. If God has taught us and drawn us by his Spirit to plead with him, that is the witness of the Spirit to the fact that we are redeemed out of the world.

3. He knows he may tell all his woes to God, just as they are. It has been no small comfort to us in writing these homilies to note, again and again, how the psalmist told God everything, just as he felt it. This we, too, may do, knowing that God will accept the prayer of faith and will bury all its faults.

4. He can absolutely leave all with God, not as one who finds it useless to contend with the inevitable, but as one who can implicitly trust his redeeming God.

(1) All his times are in God's hand; the entire ordering of them; nothing will be neglected or overlooked.

(2) He trusts his spirit in God's hands (ver. 5); i.e. his inner self, the immortal part of his being, wherein he is made in the image of God. Note: Since we know God as our redeeming God, who has graciously promised to be ours to the end, in our deepest sorrows, we may trust everything with him.

III. GOD'S SAINTS CAN SCARCELY END THEIR MOAN ERE THEIR WORDS TURN TO SONG. When the Spirit of God presides at the soul's keyboard, the sounds may at first be in the minor key, but they will not long continue so. The plaint will be a diminuendo, and will be substituted by a crescendo of joyful song. Hence so many of the psalms which begin woefully end joyfully. There are three several mercies here recorded.

1. Deliverance. (Vers. 7, 8.) The narrow straits in which David was hedged up gave way, and he had amplitude of room. And sooner or later, in his own time and way, God will deliver the righteous out of the hands of the wicked.

2. Treasures of goodness laid up. (Ver. 9.) The thought of this evokes a very shout of praise, as well it may. Let the student compare the three expressions in ver. 4, "the net which they have laid privily;" ver. 19, "goodness... laid up secretly;" ver. 20, "Thou shalt keep them secretly." Is not the antithesis beautiful? The wicked have their nets laid in secret. But God's secrecy of love outwits theirs. He hides the saints in the secret place of his "pavilion," and prepares for them in secret "treasures of goodness," to be brought forth in all their richness as occasion requires. Note: God will be bringing forth from his secret treasury of love to all eternity.

3. Marvellous kindness manifested; and this in a beseiged (Hebrews 5:21) city(cf Psalm 23:5). At the very moment foes were encamping round him, God ministered such rich loving-kindness as to bear him up and bring him through. So it will ever be. The moment of man's fiercest plots will be that of God's most vigilant care (Psalm 121:4). And within the walls of the thickest dungeon God can minister richest supplies of heavenly food!

IV. SUCH EXPERIENCES WILL LEAD THE SAINTS TO CALL ON THEIR FELLOW-BELIEVERS TO HOPE IN THE LORD, AND TO WAIT FOR HIM. (Vers. 23, 24.) The new experience of God's loving-kindness and care, which is born of such deliverances in answer to prayer, gives believers wondrous vantage-ground in exhorting others to put their whole trust in the Lord. Note:

1. It is an infinite mercy that God's providential care has preserved to us these records of the struggles, the prayers, and the triumphs of his saints.

2. Those who have known the most trouble are those who can afterwards minister most comfort to those who are troubled (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

3. Let those who have known the depths of sorrow, and who have learnt how God can deliver, make their experience known to others (Psalm 66:16-20).

4. How abundant even now is God's recompense for his people's sorrows, when he thereby gives them such tastes of his love as they could not else have had, and then makes them "sons of consolation"! - C.

Authorship uncertain. Some give it to David, in Ziklag; others to Jeremiah. Three divisions.

(1) He prays God to be gracious to him in his trouble, expressing at the same time his confidence in him, as if the prayer had been already fulfilled (vers. 1-8);

(2) he pours out the story of his sufferings and sorrows, and repeating his prayer (vers. 9-18);

(3) he concludes with praise and thanksgiving (vers. 19-24).

I. THE PSALMIST'S PRAYER. The trouble that oppressed him had been of long duration, as appears from the tenth verse.

1. He prays for deliverance from his trouble. (Ver. 1.) Does not qualify the prayer, but seeks absolute deliverance. It was to him an unqualified evil, and, as evil, he had no thought it could be working any good for him. So the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from evil," would be put to shame if not delivered.

2. He prays for protection and defence. (Ver. 2.) He apart from God was weak against the united power of his enemies. "If God be for us, who can be against us" with any success?

3. He prays for leading and guidance. (Ver. 3.) That he may see and feel the way of safety amid the bewildering dangers of his path. Christ is our great Leader, "the Beginner and Finisher of our faith." Striking description of Christ.

4. He prays that he may escape out of the secret snares that were set for him. (Ver. 4.) We cannot fight against hidden dangers.


1. In God's righteousness. (Ver. 1.) God's righteousness demands that he should not give him over to the unrighteous. He could not doubt that.

2. He knew that God was his Strength and Refuge. (Vers. 3, 4.) Prove thyself to be to me what I know thou art - my Rock and House of defence. "Thou art my Strength."

3. He knew that God had redeemed him. (Ver. 5.) And therefore he surrenders his spirit into his keeping, knowing him to be a God of truth, i.e. faithful to his word and to his work. "He who hath begun a good work," etc.; "Perfect that which coneerneth me."

4. He knew that God saw his trouble and adversities. (Ver. 7.) And that therefore out of merciful compassion he would interpose to rescue him. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him," etc.

5. He enjoys deliverance already by anticipation. (Ver. 8.) "Thou hast set my feet in wide, open spaces," where I can roam at liberty. Faith like this removes mountains of difficulties "Laughs at impossibilities, And says, 'It shall be done.'" ? S.

Let us place these two texts together, and we shall find that they become the more intelligible and the richer in instruction and comfort.

I. OUR TIMES ARE FIXED BY GOD. We have no choice in the matter, no more than as to when we should be born. God is Sovereign. It is his prerogative to settle all things that concern us. Whatever comes of prosperity or adversity, or joy or sorrow is of his ordering. It is for him to rule, it is for us to trust and to obey.

II. OUR SPIRIT CAN ONLY BE COMMITTED TO GOD BY OUR OWN DEED. We are free. When we act, we express the feelings of our hearts. To commit our spirit to God is to surrender ourselves wholly and for ever to his will. It is only when we know and believe in God's love towards us, that we can joyously do this transcendent thing that will settle our destiny for time and for eternity.

III. IT IS ONLY WHEN WE HAVE IN TRUTH COMMITTED OUR SPIRITS TO GOD, THAT WE CAN TAKE COMFORT FROM THE KNOWLEDGE THAT OUR TIMES ARE IN HIS HAND. We should be careful to put that first which should be first (Matthew 6:33). When the most precious thing is safe, we need not be much concerned as to the lesser things. God has given us the greatest proof of his love, for he has redeemed us; we can therefore with quiet hearts leave to him the ordering of all things that concern us (Romans 5:9, 10). "My times are in thy hand;" and it is there I would have placed them if I had the choice (2 Samuel 24:14). "My times are in thy hand;" then come what will of vicissitude and trial, nothing can befall me but what is of the ordering of God. "My times are in thy hand;" therefore I will be content and not fret; I will trust, and not be afraid; I will work, and not be weary in well-doing. I will be patient and hope to the end. knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God." "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." This I did at the first, when the Lord Jesus called me; this I would do evermore during my earthly course, after the example of thy saints; this I would do in the end, as our Lord himself has taught us. - W.F.

The young are eager for opportunities. Conscious of power, they fondly think that, if only a fair chance were to come, they would be sure to make a name for themselves. But they are often disappointed. Perhaps they say it is not their fault; but unprejudiced onlookers see that, through lack of insight, decision, or perseverance, they have failed. They have let the tide. which, taken at the flood, would have led on to fortune, pass by. Life is full of possibilities. It is our wisdom to watch, to be on the alert, to make the most of opportunities. We must be willing to begin where we are free to begin, and to do the duty, however humble, that lies nearest to us, as well as we are able. Honest work is the best training and preparation for advancement. Above all, we must have regard to the will and doings of God. If we ask of him, he will give us light. If we wait upon him, he will let us know his will. If we do with our might what he gives us to do, he win enlarge our opportunities. We may take the text to illustrate what God does for his servants in the way of opportunity. The "large room" may apply to -

I. CULTIVATION OF CHARACTER. There may be circumstances which are unfavourable. It is much more difficult for some, from their birth and surroundings, to be good and to do good, than for others. Let us acknowledge God's love in placing us where we have free play for our minds, and every help and inducement to follow the things which are good. We are not in the dark, but in the light; we are not confined and straitened, but in the enjoyment of freedom; we are not denied the use of air and food and exercise, but have the use of all that is good and fitted to nourish our strength and virtue, that we may grow up unto the stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus.

II. EMPLOYMENT OF TALENT. There may be some, as the poet suggests, to whom opportunity has not come.

"Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll." But it is not so with us. God has not only given us talents, but also provided a sphere for their rightful and beneficent use. There are differences as regard natural ability; unto some it is one talent, unto others two or more. But there is no difference as to opportunity. The command is laid upon all to work; and God's commands imply opportunity to all who choose to obey. If we are willing, "the large room" will be given us.

III. INCREASING USEFULNESS. We are placed in such relationship to others that we cannot but influence them one way or another. Whether this influence be for good or for evil will mainly depend upon our character. God prepares his servants for the place and work he has for them to do. When the time comes, they find that difficulties give way - that "a large and effectual door" has been opened to them. But to every one, however humble, there is opportunity given of doing good and of being helpful to others. Never a day dawns but it brings its own duties. Woe to us if, like Dives, we fail to recognize the claims of the poor and needy! They who are at our gate to-day, so that we can do them good if we will, may be to-morrow in "Abraham's bosom," and oar opportunity gone for ever.

IV. HIGHER HONOURS. It has been said of the government of Napoleon that it was remarkable for opening a career to talent. In old France, society was so constituted that it was only the highborn and the rich, the classes and not the masses, that had any chance. Under Napoleon all this was changed. Not only could a man hope to rise by his merits, but he also knew that he served a master who would rigidly exact what was required in the way of duty, and reward only according to work done. Besides, he knew that what his master demanded of others he made a law to himself. Consequently, never did a sovereign inspire a greater enthusiasm of devotion. At the side of every soldier, from the highest to the lowest, seemed to stand the form of the emperor, ready to mark, ready to exact; but, above all, setting the example of his own immense activity, and stimulating all to do their part worthily in the great work in which they were engaged. If this was in a measure true of Napoleon and his soldiers, it is true in a far higher and nobler way of Christ and his soldiers. Take an example in Matthew. See what he was before Christ found him. See what he became when Christ called him away from his "seat at the receipt of custom," and all his selfish, narrow, degrading ways, and placed him in the "large room," where he had not only the noblest society and the means of living the purest life, but where there was opened up to him ever more increasing opportunities of usefulness and honour. It is said that in his first love and joy he "made a great feast" to his friends; and this was but an unconscious prophecy of the "great feast" which he has spread for all people in his glorious Gospel. But Levi was but a sample. "Such honour have all the saints" - W.F.

The psalmist now, in the spirit of heartfelt trust in the helping grace of God, proceeds first to describe at length his trouble (Vers. 9, 13); and second, to pray for deliverance (vers. 14-18).

I. CAUSES OF TROUBLE. (Vers. 9, 13.)

1. Consciousness of sin. (Vers. 9, 10.) This was the constant lifelong grief. None but good men feel their sinfulness so acutely.

2. Loss of reputation. (Vers. 11, 12.) "A fear to mine acquaintance;" so that they avoided him. "Like a broken vessel;" equivalent to "an object of contempt."

3. Stood in constant danger of his life. (Ver. 13.) Through slander and misrepresentation, he was in constant fear and dread. Like some kings who live in constant dread of assassination.


1. Seeks to reassure himself of his personal relation to God. (Ver. 14.) Nothing more difficult, when we see our faith despised by the whole world, than to rest on the testimony of our own conscience that "God is our God."

2. Because his times were in God's hand, he was not left to the mercy of his enemies. (Ver. 15.) God could transform evil into good, and danger into safety.

3. He was God's servant, and on that ground he cried for protection. (Ver. 16.) "Make thy face to shine." The good Master would be merciful "for his own sake" towards his servant.

4. God would not allow his faith in him to be put to shame. (Ver. 17.) He puts God in remembrance of his promise that he will hear and help those who call upon him with heartfelt confidence. He prays that his enemies may be struck dumb with the silence of the grave, so that they may be no longer able to slander him (ver. 18). His faith in God reached thus to all the difficulties of his life, and might be called a working faith. - S.

From ver. 1 to ver. 8 the Lord may, must, and will help him in his trouble, because he is his God. From ver. 9 to ver. 18 he describes at length his trouble, and brings it to God. From ver. 19 to ver. 24 -


1. God's goodness is a treasure laid up for future as well as present use and blessing. (Isaiah lair. 4; 1 Corinthians 2:9.) Same thought in substance in all these passages. Compare with the parable of "the treasure."

2. God hides and protects those who trust in him - as in a royal pavilion (ver. 20).

3. God was to the psalmist what a strong city is to those who seek safety. (Ver. 21.)

4. God's great goodness was shows to him openly and secretly. (Vers. 19, 20.) The former to discomfit his enemies, and the latter for his own comfort and faith.


1. He was is haste, Flying from his enemies, when he said this. We say and do things in panic which we disown in calmer hours. "He that believeth shall not make haste."

2. But God pardoned his unbelief, and answered the inarticulate cry of the heart. Ill. LESSONS ADDRESSED TO THE CHURCH, DRAWN FROM HIS OWN EXPERIENCE. (Vers. 23, 24.)

1. What love and reverence we owe to God because of his retributive work! (Ver. 23.) He preserveth the faithful, and rewardeth the proud. This is good and just.

2. With what courage we should hope in God! (Ver. 24.) He strengthens us by his Spirit to hope and trust in him. From him must be derived the power for every duty and every difficulty. This must be the ground of our courage. - S.

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