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Deeper Commentary


Psa 71:1

In You, Yahweh, I take refuge. Never let me be disappointed-
Typical of men of his time, David seems to fear shame [s.w. "disappointed"] more than death itself. Defeat meant shame, and he desperately begged not to be shamed. Perhaps it was the function of his failure with Bathsheba to help him redefine the motives for his trust in God. This Psalm repeats language from Ps. 22,31,35,40- which were all in the context of his sin with Bathsheba. It seems that this Psalm 71 is his plea for help as he continues to face the consequences of that sin even in his old age.

The idea is that God was David's city of refuge. These cities were for those who needed to flee when being chased by the avenger of blood (Num. 35:26). The imagery is very appropriate to David when fleeing from Saul and Absalom. David's constant meditation upon God's law would have included the sections about the cities of refuge; he realized that actually no such city was available for him, but the spirit of the law led him to reflect that Yahweh was his refuge, wherever he was. David tends to open wilderness Psalms with this reflection, just as we may tend to begin prayers with the same opening phrase and thoughts (Ps. 7:1; 11:1; 16:1; 31:1; 57:1; 71:1). But here he now reuses this lesson learned in the context of Absalom's rebellion.

A case can be made that the whole of book 3 of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89) was written / edited in Babylon. The Psalms of Korah (83-87) seem to reflect the longing of the righteous remnant in Babylon for the temple services. And it is just possible that the entire Psalter was re-edited there in Babylon, under inspiration- for so many Psalms have elements of appropriacy to the exiles in Babylon and the restoration. The LXX titles of Psalm 56 [“Concerning the people that were removed from the Sanctuary”] and 71 [“Of the sons of Jonadab, and the first that were taken captive”] speak for themselves. Likewise the LXX attributes Psalms 146-148 to Haggai and Zechariah. David's experience of grace and appeal for salvation by grace was therefore intended to be programmatic for the exiles in Babylon.

Psa 71:2

Deliver me in Your righteousness and rescue me. Turn Your ear to me and save me-
David appealed to God's righteousness for deliverance from the consequence of his sins (Ps. 71:2). This was appropriate, seeing that David had been saved from death by God's imputation of His righteousness to David (Ps. 32:1-4), by grace through faith; seeing David's sins left him with no righteousness of his own. And it was on this basis that David believed he would continue to be saved / delivered / rescued (s.w. Ps. 51:14 in the Bathsheba context). But Solomon failed to learn from his mother and father's experience of grace, teaching instead that personal righteousness is what saves (Prov. 10:2; 11:4,6).

Psa 71:3

Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may always go-
David had often used this image in the wilderness Psalms. But he asks that God will continue to be his refuge, now that in later life he faced another crisis. This is the force of "always", throughout his life.

Give the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress-
David envisages a Divine command being issued in the court of Heaven, and then this being operationalized on earth (presumably by the Angels).

Psa 71:4

Rescue me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man-
This may have originated in his thoughts about Saul, but the context is now of salvation from Absalom and Ahithophel, and as noted on :1, it becomes the intended appeal of the exiles for deliverance from Babylon, then Haman, and indeed from all their captors. "The hand of the wicked / unrighteous" is the term used for the Babylonians in Ez. 7:21.

Psa 71:5

For You are my hope, Lord Yahweh; my confidence from my youth-
As noted on :3, David is asking that God will continue to be his refuge as he was when on the run from Saul, now that in later life he faced another crisis. This is the force of "always" in :3, throughout his life. We note that the Hebrew idea of "hope" is not 'a hope for the best', but rather an absolute confidence; hence "hope" and "confidence" are here paralleled. The "hope of Israel" is the utter certain confidence of Israel. The same idea is implicit in the Greek word elpis.

Psa 71:6

I have relied on You from the womb. You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb-
David here likens God to a midwife, who gently eased and took him from his mother's womb. This usage of female imagery about God was unusual for the time, indeed quite a paradigm breaker, and reflects David's relatively high view of women- compared at least to contemporary attitudes. If David was the youngest of many sons, his mother may well have had difficulties in his birth, and so his very survival was perhaps seen by him as a reflection of grace.

I will always praise You-
The force of "always" in :3 is as here; David will praise God on his harp as he did in the wilderness years in exile from Saul, right to the end of his days.

Psa 71:7

I am a marvel to many, but You are my strong refuge-
"Marvel" is the usual word for "miracle". David may mean that "many" considered his survival to be miraculous, but he attributes that to God as being his "strong refuge". But the word can occasionally mean a man of sign or symbol to others (s.w. Ez. 12:6,11). In this case, David would be again aware (as he often is) that his life and experience of Divine grace was representative of that of all God's true people.

Psa 71:8

My mouth shall be filled with Your praise, with Your honour all the day-
Despite fears for his immediate future (:9), David's vision is of himself in the Kingdom, eternally praising God for His saving grace. This is the perspective we must have before us.

Psa 71:9

Don’t reject me in my old age. Don’t forsake me when my strength fails-
David frequently expresses his aloneness, and the comfort He therefore finds in God. But this had to grow over time. His fears were those of the exiles (see on :1).  Is. 46:4 seems almost to be in answer to David’s fear, and is addressed to the exiles: “Even to old age I am he, and even to grey hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; yea, I will carry, and will deliver”.

Psa 71:10

For my enemies talk about me, they who watch for my soul conspire together- "Conspire" is s.w. "counsel", the word used of Ahithophel, David's counsellor who was Bathsheba's grandfather, who later betrayed him and turned against him (2 Sam. 15:12; 16:23). Perhaps David is commenting upon Ahithophel's counsel to Absalom which was designed to destroy him. See on Ps. 32:8.

Psa 71:11

saying, God has forsaken him. Pursue and take him, for no one will rescue him-
It was at this time that David felt God had forsaken him (Ps. 22:1). But He had not, ultimately. So we have here an example of false guilt being placed upon a man even of David's faith and spirituality. We must take guilt for sins we have done. This is the true guilt. But the world is full of those who place false guilt upon others, and we can too easily absorb it. And yet I suppose it is impossible, at least by any intellectual process, to precisely divide false guilt from true guilt. We can take comfort that the Lord Jesus was our guilt offering, for all our guilt, of whatever kind. We note that they pursued David because they thought God had forsaken him and would not therefore judge them.

Psa 71:12

God, don’t be far from me. My God, hurry to help me-
The plea for God not to "be far from me" is common (Ps. 22:11,19; 35:22; 38:21; 71:12). The emphasis perhaps is to be placed upon David not wanting God to be far from him, seeing that he felt others were 'far' from him (s.w. Ps. 88:8,18). He accepted his social and psychological isolation from others, but he didn't want God to be likewise far off from him. In the context of the exiles, God was willing to not be 'far off' from the exiles if they repented (Is. 46:13).

Psa 71:13

Let my accusers be disappointed and consumed-
David's desire was heard in that the sword and the forest devoured or consumed Absalom and his forces (2 Sam. 18:8). But when the prayer was answered, David wept bitterly for the loss of Absalom. We are thereby warned to be careful what we pray for, lest we receive it- which in some form we will.

Let them be covered with disgrace and scorn who want to harm me-
Saul sought or 'wanted' to take David's life. So many of the Psalms contain imprecations against those who were seeking David's soul- not just his physical life, but seeking to destroy his very being (e.g. Ps. 35:4; 40:14; 54:1; 63:9; 70:2; 71:13). These imprecations expose the evil of Saul, and asks God to condemn him. Some of those Psalms appear to have been written by David in the Saul days, and then rewritten at the time of Absalom's rebellion- another man who sought David's soul, and yet whom David loved. 


Psa 71:14

But I will always hope, and will add to all of Your praise-
The tone of the Psalm begins to change from this point. This so often happens in the Psalms; David begins by praying desperately for help, and then within the same Psalm, becomes calmer, and ends up rejoicing. Perhaps there was some dramatic Divine revelation to him during the prayer. But rather I suggest that this is simply true to our spiritual experience in prayer; we too within the course of prayer become calmer, seeing God's hand, aware that He does know precisely all our situation, better than we do; and shall finally bring us to the great salvation of His eternal Kingdom. And thus we conclude the prayer in joy and peace before Him.

Psa 71:15

My mouth will tell others about Your righteousness and Your salvation all day, though I don’t know its full measure-
David had vowed the same at the time of his forgiveness for the sin with Bathsheba. Now he promises it again, if God delivers him from the consequence of that sin. We note that he vows to tell others that which he admits he cannot fully fathom. Full intellectual grasp of the message of grace is not possible nor required to be able to share it with others.

Psa 71:16

I will declare the mighty acts of the Lord Yahweh. I will make mention of Your righteousness, even of Yours alone-
David appealed to God's righteousness for deliverance from the consequence of his sins (Ps. 71:2). This was appropriate, seeing that David had been saved from death by God's imputation of His righteousness to David (Ps. 32:1-4), by grace through faith; seeing David's sins left him with no righteousness of his own. And it was on this basis that David believed he would continue to be saved / delivered / rescued (s.w. Ps. 51:14 in the Bathsheba context). This salvation by grace of a condemned sinner was and is "the might acts of Yahweh", as dramatic as what He did at the Red Sea or in any visible miracle.

Psa 71:17

God, You have taught me from my youth. Up until now I have declared Your wondrous works-
As noted on :3, David could look back and perceive the continuous action of God in his life, and despite his sin with Bathsheba, he rightly perceived that he had made a continuous positive response to His hand. From his youth, David had asked to be taught God's way (Ps. 119:7,12,26,64,66,68,73,108,124,135), and at the end of his life David recognized that indeed God had "taught me from my youth" (s.w. Ps. 71:17). In secular life, teaching is something experienced in youth, and then life is spent practicing what was learned. But in spiritual life, David perceived that the God who had taught him from his youth was continuing to teach him (Ps. 71:17). This is part of the "newness of life" experienced in Christ, the ever fresh spring water that we drink.

Psa 71:18

Yes, even when I am old and gray-haired, God, don’t forsake me, until I have declared Your strength to the next generation, Your might to everyone who is to come- This seems to mean that David is writing this when he is old. I discussed on :11 how David was picking up and absorbing the attitude of his critics that God had forsaken him- when God hadn't. He wishes to stay alive so that he might spread the knowledge of God's grace to the next generation (:15,16). His entire purpose of living was in order to evangelize God's grace; and that should be why we wish to stay alive. God's might and strength, as discussed on :16, are revealed in His gracious forgiveness and salvation of condemned sinners.

 One would have thought that after the Bathsheba incident, David would have kept his mouth shut so far as telling other people how to live was concerned. But instead, we find an increasing emphasis in the Psalms (chronologically) upon David's desire to teach others of God's ways- particularly the surrounding Gentile peoples, before whom David had been disgraced over Bathsheba, not to mention from his two faced allegiance to Achish (1 Sam. 27:8-12). There is real stress upon this evangelistic fervour of David (Ps. 4:3; 18:49; 22:25,31; 35:18; 40:9,10; 57:9; 62:8; 66:5,16; 95:1,8; 96:5-8,10; 100:1-4; 105:1,2; 119:27; 145:5,6,12). Indeed, Ps.71:18 records the "old and greyheaded" David pleading with God not to die until he had taught "thy strength unto this generation". As with Paul years later, the only reason he wanted to stay alive was in order to witness the Gospel of grace to others. David therefore coped with his deep inner traumas by looking out of himself to those around him, eagerly desiring to share with them the pureness of God's grace. He didn't do this as some kind of self-help psychiatry; it came naturally from a realization of his own sinfulness and God's mercy, and the wonderful willingness of God to extend this to men.


Psa 71:19

Your righteousness also, God, reaches to the heavens; You have done great things. God, who is like You?-
As discussed on :16, the "great things" performed by God were His forgiveness and salvation of a condemned sinner like David. He did this by His righteousness, by imputing it to sinners; and David was the parade example of this (Ps. 32:1-4). This is described in Ps. 71:19 as God doing "great things", the phrase used of the great things worked in visible miracles in Egypt (Ps. 106:21) and at creation (Ps. 136:7). But the forgiveness of people like David is no less a great miracle. Such great things are done because of His mercy / grace (Ps. 136:4).

Psa 71:20

You, who have shown us many and bitter troubles, You will let me live. You will bring us up again from the depths of the earth-
The confusion between "me" and "us" is intentional, because as noted on :1, these personal experiences of David are being reapplied to the exiles, and ultimately to the entire community of God's people. We too can therefore personalize the Psalms as we read them. "Troubles" is the word used of Jacob's time of trouble (Gen. 35:3; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1). David's experience of trouble was representative of how the exiles and all God's people could ultimately follow the path of Jacob to deliverance out of exile and from his strong enemies. But in Ps. 71:20 David sees his deliverance from the day of trouble as ultimately being in the resurrection of the body, being 'brought up again from the depths of the earth'. We note David doesn't speak of coming down from heaven, but of resurrection out of the earth and only then, at that point, being allowed to live [eternally].

Psa 71:21

increase my honour, and comfort me again-
This is in the context of the clear statement of faith in the resurrection of the body in :20. David was perhaps concluding that Nathan was right after all about the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba. He would not be honoured nor comforted in this life as he wished, but only at the last day.

Psa 71:22

I will praise You with the harp for Your faithfulness, my God. I sing praise to You with the lyre, Holy One of Israel-
The context of :20,21 appears to speak of David's position after the resurrection he looked forward to. He imagines himself continuing to praise God on the harp as he had done in this life. Whether that shall literally happen is a question and interest only for literalists. But the idea is established- that the essence of how we have served God in this life is how we shall eternally serve Him. Hence the Lord Jesus can invite us to live "the eternal life" right now; in that we can live the kind of life we shall eternally live in God's Kingdom.

Psa 71:23

My lips shall shout for joy! My soul, which You have redeemed, sings praises to You!-
The context is of the resurrection from the dead (:20,21), when David shall finally be "redeemed". It seems he had looked in vain for redemption from the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba, and concludes that his house / kingdom / family in this life "is not so with God" (2 Sam. 23:5). And so he focuses himself here upon his final redemption in the last day at the resurrection (:20).

Psa 71:24

My tongue will also talk about Your righteousness all day long, for they are disappointed and they are confounded who want to harm me
David speaks of how he "meditates day and night" on God's law (Ps. 1:2), and also of how he meditates upon "God" at night (Ps. 63:6) and in the day (Ps. 71:24). But as noted on :20-23, David here speaks of how he shall do this in God's Kingdom. He was living the Kingdom life now; as the Lord Jesus would put it in John's Gospel, he "had eternal life".