Psalm 61 – Hope and Help When My Heart is Overwhelmed
This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. On a stringed instrument. A Psalm of David. David was often in trouble; we don’t know the life circumstances which prompted this psalm. It does seem to come after he came to the throne. Because of a reference to the end of the earth, some have thought it comes from the time of Absalom’s rebellion or on his military campaign near the Euphrates (2 Samuel 8:3-4). Those are possible, but by no means certain settings for this psalm.
On a stringed instrument: “The word Neginah (the singular of Neginoth) may be understood to be synonymous with the kinnor or harp: that is to say, the instrument of eight strings, probably played with a bow or plectrum.” (John Jebb, cited in Charles Spurgeon)
A. The prayer.
1. (1-2) Crying out for rescue when overwhelmed.
Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
a. Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer: This was wise praying from David. He understood that though God hears all prayer in one sense, in the sense of answering and responding favorably, God does not hear or attend to all prayer. Opening his prayer this way, David did not presume a response from God, but actively asked for the response.
i. “Pharisees may rest in their prayers; true believers are eager for an answer to them: ritualists may be satisfied when they have ‘said or sung’ their litanies and collects, but living children of God will never rest till their supplications have entered the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth.” (Spurgeon)
b. From the end of the earth I will cry to You: From what we know, David did not travel far outside the Promised Land. Yet figuratively he was at the end of human understanding and strength and resources; there was a real and powerful sense in which this prayer was offered from the end of the earth.
i. “Though the phrase ‘from the ends of the earth’ may denote a geographical distance away from the land (cf. Psalm 46:9; Deuteronomy 28:49), it is also a metaphor for despair, alienation, and spiritual distance from the Lord.” (VanGemeren)
ii. David did not say, from the end of the earth I will give up hope or from the end of the earth I will deny that You love me. At the limit of his wisdom, endurance, and ability, David said, I will cry to You.
iii. “Observe that David never dreamed of seeking any other God; he did not imagine the dominion of Jehovah to be local: he was at the end of the promised land, but he knew himself to be still in the territory of the Great King.” (Spurgeon)
c. When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I: David knew there would be times when his heart was overwhelmed. In those moments he needed at least three things.
· He needed the rock, a place of stability and security, something strong enough to stand against crashing waves or quaking earth.
· He needed a rock that is higher than I, a place above himself, above his wisdom, above his abilities.
· He needed God to lead him to that rock. David was unable to get to the firm-footed place above his crisis on his own.
i. Overwhelmed: The same word is translated faints in Jonah 2:7. “Here David had the added trial of depression or exhaustion; cf. the same word…[is found] in the title of Psalm 102, where the condition is subsequently described at some length.” (Kidner)
ii. We are not told why David was overwhelmed, and it is better that we do not know. If we knew his specific circumstances, we would be strongly tempted to limit God’s rescue only to those in the same situation. God wanted this prayer to be prayed by His people no matter the reason their heart is overwhelmed.
iii. To the rock: “The thought of God being a rock is prominent in the Davidic psalms because David had used the rocks of the Judean wilderness as places of refuge and protection.” (Boice)
iv. “His imagination sees towering above him a great cliff, on which, if he could be planted, he might defy pursuit or assault. But he is distant from it, and the inaccessibility which, were he in its clefts, would be his safety, is now his despair. Therefore he turns to God and asks Him to bear him up in His hands, that he may set his foot on that rock.” (Maclaren)
d. To the rock that is higher than I: Assuming David wrote this as king, humanly speaking he had reached the top of the ladder. He still realized that wasn’t enough, and needed something higher than himself.
i. That is higher than I: “Thus his prayer was for elevation above self in God.” (Morgan)
ii. Ultimately Jesus Christ is the Rock that is higher than I. “Higher than I, because of His divine origin; higher, because of His perfect obedience; higher, because of His supreme sufferings; higher, because of his ascension to the right hand of power.” (Meyer)
2. (3-4) Present trust based on past faithfulness.
For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.Selah
a. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy: David remembered that God had answered such prayers in the past. In the past God Himself had been a shelter and strong tower for David.
b. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever: The word tabernacle is simply the word for tent. David had one of two (or perhaps both) ideas in mind:
· The tent of God as a refuge for the weary traveler, the place where protection and hospitality are given to the honored guest.
· The tent of God as the tabernacle of meeting, the center of Israel’s sacrifice and worship.
i. “The imagery of dwelling in the tent goes back to the desert experience (cf. Exodus 33:7-11; Numbers 11:16-17) when the Lord resided among the tribes of Israel in a tent.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “He saith not, I shall abide in my palace, but in thy tabernacle, which he more highly esteemed.” (Trapp)
c. I will trust in the shelter of Your wings: Again there may be one of two ideas or the conscious reference to both ideas.
· Wings as the near and protected place that a mother bird gives to her offspring, protecting her chicks under the shelter of her wings.
· Wings as that which marked and surrounded the interior of God’s tabernacle of meeting and the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, which included the designs of cherubim and their wings.
d. A shelter…a strong tower…Your tabernacle…the shelter of Your wings: With image after image, David built upon the idea of the rock that is higher than I first stated in Psalm 61:2. No one image could fully express the greatness of God’s help to David.
B. The answer to the prayer.
1. (5-7) God’s care for King David.
For You, O God, have heard my vows;
You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
You will prolong the king’s life,
His years as many generations.
He shall abide before God forever.
Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!
a. For You, O God, have heard my vows: David probably referred to past vows of grateful allegiance to God, which he continued to honor. God heard these vows and responded to them, giving David rule over God’s people (the heritage of those who fear Your name).
i. You, O God, have heard my vows: “Often have I purposed to be wholly thine, – to serve thee alone, – to give up my whole life to thy service: and thou hast heard me, and taken me at my word; and given me that heritage, the privilege of enjoying thee in thy ordinances, which is the lot of them that fear thy name.” (Clarke)
b. You will prolong the king’s life: David confidently expected God’s blessing upon his reign. It was not because he thought so highly of himself; it was because he thought so highly of the God who keeps His promises.
i. “Long ‘life’ (literally, ‘days’) is an idiom for the prosperity of the reigning monarch as well as for the preservation of his dynasty, similar to the British ‘God save the queen.’” (VanGemeren)
ii. His years as many generations: “Thus he speaks, partly because his kingdom was not like Saul’s, a matter of one age, expiring with his life, but established to him and his heirs for ever; and partly because Christ, his Son and Heir, should actually and in his own person possess the kingdom for ever.” (Poole)
c. He shall abide before God forever: David could only say this in reference to himself in a very limited way. He could say it without limitation of the Messiah that was promised to come from his lineage (2 Samuel 7:11-16).
i. He shall abide before God forever: “Literally, ‘He shall sit for ever before the faces of God.’ He shall ever appear in the presence of God for us.” (Clarke)
ii. “The psalm is…[so] Messianic that the everlasting kingdom of the Christ alone fulfils its prayer.” (Maclaren)
iii. “The promises of the Lord have found their focus in the messiahship of Jesus the Christ, whose rule is established by the promise and reward of the Father (Ephesians 4:7-13).” (VanGemeren)
d. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him: David himself needed this mercy and truth, but he also knew that his Greater Son, the promised Messiah, would also rely upon God’s mercy and truth.
i. “Let these two (thy mercy and thy truth) be the supporters of his throne, let them be of his lifeguard, let them be his due and prepared portion.” (Trapp)
ii. “As men cry, ‘Long live the king,’ so we hail with acclamation our enthroned Immanuel, and cry, ‘Let mercy and truth preserve him.’ Eternal love and immutable faithfulness are the bodyguards of Jesus’ throne.” (Spurgeon)
2. (8) Praising God forever.
So I will sing praise to Your name forever,
That I may daily perform my vows.
a. So I will sing praise to Your name forever: David began the psalm desperately crying out to God with a heart that was fainting and overwhelmed. The song ends with praise, honoring the character of God as expressed in His name, and doing so forever.
b. That I may daily perform my vows: David knew he had an unending obligation to thank and honor God. It could and should be done daily and that forever.
i. “God daily performs his promises, let us daily perform our vows; he keeps his covenant, let us not forget ours.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Forever…daily: “Here the word ever carries the mind illimitably forward, while day after day directs it first to what lies immediately ahead.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org