Psalm 31 – Shelter from Trouble in the Secret Place of God’s Presence
This psalm is simply titled To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. CharlesSpurgeon rightly said regarding the title of this psalm,“The dedication to the chief musician proves that this song of mingled measures and alternate strains of grief and woe was intended for public singing, and thus a deathblow is given to the notion that nothing but praise should be sung.” We have no definite marking place in David’s life for this psalm because he was so often in trouble. It resonates with deep and personal trust in God in the depths of difficulty.
An interesting feature of this psalm is that it is often quoted in other passages of Scripture.
- The author of Psalm 71 (possibly David himself) quotes the first three verses of Psalm 31 to start Psalm 71.
- Jonah seems to quote Psalm 31:6 in Jonah 2:8, his prayer from the belly of the great fish.
- Jeremiah quoted Psalm 31:13 six times, in Jeremiah 6:25; 20:3; 20:10; 46:5; 49:29, and Lamentations 2:22.
- Paul quoted Psalm 31:24 in 1 Corinthians 16:13 (according to Adam Clarke, this is more clear in the Septuagint – the early Greek translation of the Old Testament).
- Most significantly, Psalm 31:5 was quoted by Jesus Christ on the cross as His final words before yielding His life (Luke 23:46). Stephen, the first martyr of the church, also alluded to Psalm 31:5 (Acts 7:59).
A. A plea for rescue, and confidence in God’s answer.
1. (1) Trusting the God who delivers His people.
In You, O LORD, I put my trust;
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in Your righteousness.
a. In You, O LORD, I put my trust: This psalm of David begins in a similar way to many of his other psalms – with a declaration of trust in God in a time of trouble. We do not know the precise nature or time of the trouble, other than it severely afflicted David (Psalm 31:9-13) and made him despair of life. Nevertheless, David proclaimed his trust in the LORD.
b. Let me never be ashamed: David’s bold declaration of trust showed that he was not ashamed to call upon the LORD. He considered it appropriate that God answered by never allowing His servant to never be ashamed before his enemies and adversaries.
c. Deliver me in Your righteousness: Because David trusted in God, he asked God to act righteously on his behalf, and to deliver him. He asked that the righteousness of God work on his behalf.
i. Early in the 16th Century, a German monk and seminary professor named Martin Luther taught through Psalms, verse-by-verse, at the University of Wittenberg. In his teaching he came upon this statement in Psalm 31:1 (31:2 in German). The passage confused him; how could God’s righteousness deliver him? The righteousness of God – His great justice – could only condemn him to hell as a righteous punishment for his sins.
ii. One night up in a tower in the monastery, Luther thought about this passage in Psalms and also read Romans 1:17: For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed. Luther said he thought about this day and night, until he finally understood what the righteousness of God revealed by the gospel is. It is not speaking of the holy righteousness of God that condemns the guilty sinner, but of the God-kind of righteousness that is given to the sinner who puts his trust in Jesus Christ.
iii. Luther said of this experience: “I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise….. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” Martin Luther was born again, and the reformation began in his heart. One great Lutheran scholar said this was “the happiest day in Luther’s life.”
2. (2-4) A plea for rescue based on relationship.
Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
Therefore, for Your name’s sake,
Lead me and guide me.
Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength.
a. Bow down…deliver me…be my rock: In the previous verse David established the basis of God’s rescue: deliver me in Your righteousness. David then called on God to act righteously on behalf of His needy servant, to rescue and protect him.
i. Clarke on bow down Your ear to me: “Put thy ear to my lips, that thou mayest hear all that my feebleness is capable of uttering. We generally put our ear near to the lips of the sick and dying, that we may hear what they say. To this the text appears to allude.”
ii. David asked, be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me; then he said, for You are my rock and my fortress. Maclaren suggested that David’s thougt was, “Be what Thou art; manifest Thyself in act to be what Thou art in nature: be what I, Thy poor servant, have taken Thee to be. My heart has clasped Thy revelation of Thyself and fled to this strong tower.”
iii. “‘You are…then be…,’ should be the prayer of every Christian.” (Boice)
b. Therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me: David did not ask for rescue because he was so good, but for Your name’s sake. David believed that if God would lead and guide him, it would bring honor to God and His name.
c. Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me: David knew his enemies wanted to trap and destroy him, but he also knew that God could rescue him even from clever and determined enemies.
3. (5-8) David’s confidence in the LORD.
“In this turn of the stream, faith does not so much supplicate as meditate.” (Maclaren)
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
I have hated those who regard useless idols;
But I trust in the LORD.
I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy,
For You have considered my trouble;
You have known my soul in adversities,
And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy;
You have set my feet in a wide place.
a. Into Your hand I commit my spirit: David asked to be delivered from his enemies and their snares, but not so he could live unto himself. He utterly cast himself upon God, committing the deepest part of himself to God.
i. Jesus expressed His total surrender and submission to God on the cross when He quoted this line from Psalm 31. Luke 23:46 records that Jesus said, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit – and then Jesus gave His last breath on the cross. “Thus he does not surrender his life despondingly to death for destruction, but with triumphant consciousness to the Father for resurrection.” (Lange, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. Yet this committal of the soul unto God the Father is not reserved for David and the Son of David alone. Stephen, the first martyr of the church had the idea of this text in mind with his final words (Acts 7:59).
iii. Into Your hand I commit my spirit: “These words, as they stand in the Vulgate, were in the highest credit among our ancestors; by whom they were used in all dangers, difficulties, and in the article of death. In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, was used by the sick when about to expire, if they were sensible; and if not, the priest said it in their behalf.” (Clarke)
iv. “These were the last words of Polycarp, of Bernard, of Huss, of Jerome of Prague, of Luther, of Melancthon, and many others.” (Perowne, cited in Spurgeon)
v. “When John Huss was condemned to be burned at the stake, the bishop who conducted the ceremony ended with the chilling words, ‘And now we commit thy soul to the devil.’ Huss replied calmly, ‘I commit my spirit into thy hands, Lord Jesus Christ; unto thee I commend my spirit, which thou hast redeemed.’” (Boice)
b. You have redeemed me: David understood that his surrender to God was appropriate because it was God who had redeemed him. He belonged to God both in gratitude for rescue, and in recognition that God had purchased him.
i. “In the Old Testament the word ‘redeem’ (pada) is seldom used of atonement: it mostly means to rescue or ransom out of trouble.” (Kidner)
ii. “Redemption is a solid basis for confidence. David had not known Calvary as we have done, but temporal redemption cheered him; and shall not eternal redemption yet more sweetly console us? Past deliverances are strong pleas for present assistance.” (Spurgeon)
c. O LORD God of truth: This is a second reason why it was good and appropriate for David to surrender his life to God – because God is the God of truth, and the truth demanded David’s service and allegiance. David cared about what was true.
d. I have hated those who regard useless idols: David’s surrender to God meant that he also had to resist the recognition or worship of idols – which are useless idols, having no power to speak or save. In contrast David could say, “But I trust in the LORD.”
e. I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy: David’s surrender and submission to God didn’t produce misery – he was happy and joyful. Much of this was because his heart overflowed with gratitude, thinking of all God had done for him.
· You have considered my trouble: David was happy because he knew God did not ignore him in his time of trouble.
· You have known my soul in adversities: David was happy because he knew God had deep, substantial knowledge of David – even to the soul – in his seasons of adversities.
· And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: David was happy because he knew that God answered (or would answer) his prayer to be delivered from the snares of his enemies.
· You have set my feet in a wide place: David was happy because God did not only preserve him from enemies, but He also set David in a place of safety and security.
i. You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities: “When we are so bewildered as not to know our own state, he knows us altogether. He has known us and will know us: O for grace to know more of him! ‘Man, know thyself,’ is a good philosophic precept, but ‘Man, thou art known of God,’ is a superlative consolation.” (Spurgeon)
B. Trouble and trust.
1. (9-13) David describes the depths of his trouble.
Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble;
My eye wastes away with grief,
Yes, my soul and my body!
For my life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away.
I am a reproach among all my enemies,
But especially among my neighbors,
And am repulsive to my acquaintances;
Those who see me outside flee from me.
I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind;
I am like a broken vessel.
For I hear the slander of many;
Fear is on every side;
While they take counsel together against me,
They scheme to take away my life.
a. Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: The previous section of this psalm ended with calm trust and gratitude to God. Here David once again took up the lament, showing that both rest and adversity come to God’s people in seasons. Yet in his trouble, David looks again to the LORD.
i. “It is as if David is riding an emotional roller coaster. Or, as if he is riding a wave from one high crest to a trough and then back to another high crest in closing.” (Boice)
ii. My soul and my body: Literally, body is belly. “…i.e. my bowels contained in my belly; which was the seat of the affections, and fountains of support and nourishment to the whole body. Thus the whole man, both soul and body, inside and outside, are consumed.” (Poole)
b. My eye wastes away with grief: David described his pitiful condition in terms that seem to be taken from the Book of Job. His affliction was
· Physical (mystrength fails…my bones waste away). “The poetical expression need not imply that he is physically sick but could mean that his mental anguish has sapped his physical strength, to a point approaching death.” (VanGemeren)
· Emotional (my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing…fear is on every side).
· Social (a reproach among all my enemies…repulsive to my acquaintances).
· Mortal (they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life).
· Spiritual (because of my iniquity).
i. “Here the feelings of confidence ebb away in a flood of tears.” (VanGemeren)
c. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel: With poetry and power, David expressed how complete his difficulty was.
i. I am a reproach among all my enemies: “If anyone strives after patience and humility, he is a hypocrite. If he allows himself in the pleasures of this world, he is a glutton. If he seeks justice, he is impatient; if he seeks it not, he is a fool. If he would be prudent, he is stingy; if he would make others happy, he is dissolute. If he gives himself up to prayer, he is vainglorious. And this is the great loss of the church, that by means like these many are held back from goodness in which the Psalmist lamenting says, ‘I became a reproof among all mine enemies.’” (Chrysostom, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. Those who see me outside flee fromme: “Either loathing me as a monster of men, and an unlucky spectacle, and such a villain as mine enemies represented me, and they believed me to be; or to prevent their own danger and ruin, which might be occasioned by it.” (Poole)
iii. I hear the slander of many: “A man had better be dead than be smothered in slander. Of the dead we say nothing but good, but in the Psalmist’s case they said nothing but evil.” (Spurgeon)
d. Fear is on every side; while they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life: David seemed almost overwhelmed by the dangers around him, but only almost and not completely.
i. “This was literally true during much of David’s reign. The kingdom was surrounded by hostile neighbors, just as the present nation of Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. But David may also be thinking of plots within his kingdom by Jewish enemies or of the days he had to flee from King Saul.” (Boice)
2. (14-18) In the midst of all his trouble, David declares his trust in God.
But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies,
And from those who persecute me.
Make Your face shine upon Your servant;
Save me for Your mercies’ sake.
Do not let me be ashamed, O LORD, for I have called upon You;
Let the wicked be ashamed;
Let them be silent in the grave.
Let the lying lips be put to silence,
Which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
a. But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD: However great David’s troubles were, his trust in God was even greater. He took careful inventory of his crisis but would not dwell on it. He understood that Yahweh was his God (You are my God) and therefore greater than all his trouble.
b. My times are in Your hand: David could not bear the thought of being given over to the hand of his enemies, but he was completely at peace (and even happy) with the knowledge, “My times are in Your hand.”
i. David could say my times are in Your hand because He understood that God was in control and ruled from heaven. Yet he also said this because in faith he had committed all things into God’s hand.
ii. Late in David’s life. he sinned by taking an unauthorized census of Israel. God presented him with the option of three punishments. David chose the punishment that would most completely set them in the hands of the Lord, explaining: Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man (2 Samuel 24:14).
iii. Boice saw in all this an application to the seasons of life for the Christian.
· The times of our youth are in God’s hand, times when often we are subject to the decisions others make for us.
· The times of our maturity are in God’s hand, times when we should be about our Father’s business and face both apparent success and failure in it.
· The times of our old age are in God’s hand, when God will care for us and bless those days as much as the others.
iv. G. Campbell Morgan saw in the words “my times” and in the entire psalm an allusion to the seasons of Christian experience. Morgan added the thought, “We need them all to complete our year!”
· Autumn (Psalm 31:1-8): “With its winds and gathering clouds, yet having sunlight and a golden fruitage even though the breath of death is everywhere.”
· Winter (Psalm 31:9-13): “Chill and lifeless, full of sobs and sighing.”
· Spring (Psalm 31:14-18): “With its hope and expectation and its sweeping rains and bursting sun gleams.”
· Summer (Psalm 31:19-24): “At last the bright and golden summer.”
v. “If we believe that all our times are in God’s hand, we shall be expecting great things from our heavenly Father. When we get into a difficulty we shall say, ‘I am now going to see the wonders of God, and to learn again how surely he delivers them that trust in him.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Make Your face to shine upon Your servant: David borrowed from the priestly blessing described in Numbers 6:23-27, asking for the goodness and the favor of God to be showered upon him.
d. Let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in the grave: David asked God to do to his enemies that which his enemies wished to do unto David.
i. Do not let me be ashamed: “…i.e. Disappointed of my hopes.” (Trapp)
C. Praise, both personal and public.
1. (19-22) David praises God on a personal level.
Oh, how great is Your goodness,
Which You have laid up for those who fear You,
Which You have prepared for those who trust in You
In the presence of the sons of men!
You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence
From the plots of man;
You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion
From the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the LORD,
For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!
For I said in my haste,
“I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried out to You.
a. Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You: The same David who knew such trouble in Psalm 31:9-13 praised God so completely at the end of the song. This is because David had a deep trust in God (as reflected in Psalm 31:14-18), and that trust was rewarded with joy.
b. You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence: Attacked by so many enemies and so many troubles, David found security in the secret place of God’s presence. There was comfort and strength in the hidden place of God’s presence, of true fellowship with Him.
i. There are many followers of Jesus Christ who seem to know very little of the secret place of God’s presence. They regard it as only a thing for mystics or the super-spiritual. Yet David was a warrior and man well acquainted with the realities of life. It is true that the life of the spirit seems to come more easily for some than others, but there is an aspect of the secret place of God’s presence that is for everyone who puts his trust in Him.
ii. In the secret place of Your presence: “‘With the covering of thy countenance.’ Their life shall be so hidden with Christ in God, that their enemies shall not be able to find them out. To such a hiding-place Satan himself dare not approach. There the pride of man cannot come.” (Clarke)
c. From the plots of man; you shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues: The presence of God was so secure for David that he found refuge from not only the plots of his enemies, but even from the attacks of their words (the strife of tongues).
d. For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”: Earlier in his time of trouble, David hastily said and felt that God had forgotten him and no longer saw him with favor. Yet when David cried out to God, He heard the voice of David’s supplication.
2. (23-24) A call for all God’s people to praise Him.
Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints!
For the LORD preserves the faithful,
And fully repays the proud person.
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart,
All you who hope in the LORD.
a. Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints: David’s experience with God could not be kept to himself. He had to use what God had done in his life as the motivation and lesson to exhort all God’s saints to love the LORD.
i. “The psalmist has been absorbed with his own troubles till now, but thankfulness expands his vision, and suddenly there is with him a multitude of fellow-dependents on God’s goodness. He hungers alone, but he feasts in company.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Do we, if we are called the saints of the Lord, need to be exhorted to love him? If we do, shame upon us! And we do, I am quite sure; so let us be ashamed and confounded that it should ever be needful to urge us to love our Lord.” (Spurgeon)
iii. A soul that truly loves God does not lack any reasons for loving Him. God gives us many reasons to love Him. Spurgeon said of the call to love the LORD, “it has a thousand arguments to enforce it.”
· Love God because of the excellence of His character.
· Love God because it is such a pleasant and profitable exercise.
· Love God because it is so beneficial to do so.
· Love God because it is the way to be cleansed from sin.
· Love God because it will strengthen you in times of trial.
· Love God because it will strengthen you for service.
· Love God because it is most ennobling.
iv. “You may pull up the sluices of your being, and let all your life-floods flow forth in this saved stream, for you cannot love God too much. Some passions of our nature may be exaggerated; and, towards certain objects, they may be carried too far; but the heart, when it is turned towards God, can never be too warm, nor too excited, nor too firmly fixed on the divine object: ‘O love the Lord, all ye his saints.’” (Spurgeon)
b. The LORD preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person: Both aspects are true. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. This encouragement to praise God has a warning to those who refuse to do so.
c. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD: David closed this psalm as a true leader and friend, encouraging others to find what he had found in God. God’s people have reason for good courage, because God does strengthen the trusting, hoping heart.
i. Be of good courage: “Dear friends, if you want to get out of diffidence, and timidity, and despondency, you must rouse yourselves up. This is incumbent upon you, for the text puts it so: ‘Be of good courage.’ Do not sit still, and rub your eyes, and say, ‘I cannot help it, I must always be dull like this.’ You must not be so; in the name of God, you are commanded in the text to ‘be of good courage.’ If you are indolent, like that, you must not expect the grace of God to operate upon you as though you were a block of wood, and could be made into something against your will. Oh, no! You must determine to be of good courage.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org