Psalm 71 – Older in Years, Strong in Faith
Many commentators believe this is a psalm of David and is his prayer and trust in God in his latter years under the crisis of Absalom’s rebellion. Since there is no title and the text of the psalm does not say this, we will not speculate and treat Psalm 71 as if it were written under those circumstances. Instead, we regard it as an anonymous composition.
“We have here THE PRAYER OF THE AGED BELIEVER, who in holy confidence of faith, strengthened by a long and remarkable experience, pleads against his enemies, and asks further blessings for himself.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Of interest in this psalm are the many references and allusions to other psalms.
- Psalm 71:1-3 is quoted almost exactly from Psalm 31:1-3.
- The thoughts of Psalm 71:5 seem to be suggested by Psalm 22:9-11.
- Do not be far from me (Psalm 71:12a) echoes Psalm 22:11.
- My God, make haste to help me! (Psalm 71:12b) takes the thought of Psalm 70:1.
- Psalm 71:13 is similar to Psalm 35:26.
- Psalm 71:18 carries the thoughts of Psalm 22:22 and 22:30-31.
- Psalm 71:19 uses the phrasing of Exodus 15:11.
It is reasonable to think the author of Psalm 71 made study and meditation upon God’s word a priority through his life, and the result is that he naturally used the phrases and vocabulary of the Scriptures to pray and praise.
“But imitative words are none the less sincere; and new thankfulness may be run into old moulds without detriment to its acceptableness to God and preciousness to men.” (Alexander Maclaren)
A. God our refuge in older years.
1. (1-3) Trusting the LORD who delivers His people.
In You, O LORD, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.
a. In You, O LORD, I put my trust: Many psalms begin with the description of the poet’s need. The first line of Psalm 71 looks to God and declares the singer’s trust in Yahweh, the LORD, the covenant God of Israel. The psalmist was confident that such trust in the LORD would lead to vindication and that he would never be put to shame.
i. “The Psalmist so often begins his prayer with a declaration of his ‘faith’ which is to the soul in affliction what an anchor is to a ship in distress.” (Horne)
b. Deliver me in Your righteousness: Because the psalmist trusted in God, he boldly asked God to act righteously on his behalf, and to deliver him. He asked that the righteousness of God work on his behalf.
c. Incline Your ear…save me…be my strong refuge: In the previous line the psalmist established the basis of God’s rescue: deliver me in Your righteousness. He then called on God to act righteously on behalf of His needy servant, to rescue and protect him.
i. Be my strong refuge: “Here we see a weak man, but he is in a strong habitation: his security rests upon the tower in which he hides and is not placed in jeopardy through his personal feebleness.” (Spurgeon)
d. You have given the command to save me: Confident that it was God’s will, even His command, the psalmist prayed with full confidence that God would be his rock and his fortress.
2. (4-6) Trusting in the constant care of God.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD;
You are my trust from my youth.
By You I have been upheld from birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise shall be continually of You.
a. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked: The source of the psalmist’s misery is revealed. There was a wicked man, unrighteous and cruel who seemed to hold the psalmist in his grip. From this he needed God to deliver him.
i. Out of the hand of the wicked: “Ever remembering that wickedness is at least as dangerous when it tempts as when it persecutes; and can smile, as well as frown, a man dead.” (Horne)
b. You are my hope, O Lord GOD: The psalmist proclaimed his hope and trust in Adonai Yahweh, the Master and covenant God of Israel. It wasn’t just that his hope was in Yahweh; He was his hope.
c. By You I have been upheld from birth: Noting God’s care and help to him from the earliest age, the psalmist appealed to God’s continued care, and in turn he promised praise to God that was just as continual.
i. “As in the womb I lived upon thee, so from the womb.” (Trapp)
ii. My praise shall be continually of You: “Where goodness has been unceasingly received, praise should unceasingly be offered.” (Spurgeon)
3. (7-11) A strong refuge through a long life.
I have become as a wonder to many,
But You are my strong refuge.
Let my mouth be filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
Do not forsake me when my strength fails.
For my enemies speak against me;
And those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together,
Saying, “God has forsaken him;
Pursue and take him, for there is none to deliver him.”
a. I have become a wonder to many, but You are my strong refuge: Because of the many adversities and attacks, many people were amazed at the psalmist. They were in wonder that a man – especially one so committed to God – could be so afflicted. Despite it all, he found a strong refuge in God Himself.
i. “The believer is a riddle, an enigma puzzling the unspiritual; he is a monster warring with those delights of the flesh, which are the all in all of other men; he is a prodigy, unaccountable to the judgments of ungodly men; a wonder gazed at, feared, and, by-and-by, contemptuously derided.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Christ, in his state of humiliation upon earth, was a ‘sign’ everywhere ‘spoken against,’ as Simeon foretold he would be; Luke 2:34.” (Horne)
iii. But You are my strong refuge: “Note, too, the pivotal effect of the phrase but thou (71:7b) in re-directing his attention from himself and the encircling enemy; an escape to reality rather than from it.” (Kidner)
b. Let my mouth be filled with Your praise: Because God had been so faithful as a strong refuge, the psalmist was determined to speak praise unto God and speak of His glory.
i. “God’s bread is always in our mouths, so should his praise be. He fills us with good; let us be also filled with gratitude. This would leave no room for murmuring or backbiting.” (Spurgeon)
c. Do not forsake me when my strength fails: The psalmist knew the faithfulness of God through his younger years and now asked that God continue that faithfulness in his old age and as his strength fails. He knew that man’s strength diminishes with old age, but God’s strength does not.
i. “It is not unnatural or improper for a man who sees old age coming upon him to pray for special grace, and special strength, to enable him to meet what he cannot ward off, and what he cannot but dread; for who can look upon the infirmities of old age, as coming upon himself, but with sad and pensive feelings? Who would wish to be an old man?” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. The psalmist did not only speak of the loss of physical and mental strength, but also the potential loss of spiritual strength. Not every believer grows stronger in the Lord as he grows older. The Bible is filled with examples of those who sinned or fell away in the older years.
· David sinned against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah in his mature years (2 Samuel 11).
· Solomon was drawn away to idolatry in his later years (1 Kings 11).
· King Asa’s trust in God greatly declined in his later years (2 Chronicles 16:7-12).
d. For my enemies speak against me: The psalmist knew what his adversaries said against him. He knew they claimed that God has forsaken him and there is none to deliver him. His adversity made them think God was no longer with him, so it was a good time to attack (pursue and take him).
i. Jesus knew what it was like for men to say against Him, “God has forsaken him” (Luke 23:35-37). “Our Lord felt this barbed shaft and it is no marvel if his disciples feel the same. Were this exclamation the truth, it were indeed an ill day for us; but, glory be to God, it is a barefaced lie.” (Spurgeon)
4. (12-13) Help me by striking my enemies.
O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
Let them be confounded and consumed
Who are adversaries of my life;
Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor
Who seek my hurt.
a. O my God, make haste to help me: With determined enemies as described in the previous lines, the psalmist needed God’s help soon. He felt as if delayed help was no help at all.
i. The psalmist had to deal with the fact that as his years advanced, his troubles did not go away. The problems remained. This is a significant test for some believers, but the psalmist understood it as compelling his constant and more personal trust in God.
ii. “Notice the still more intense grip of faith in the second clause. The psalmist first says, ‘O God,’ [and] then he says, ‘O my God.’ It is grand pleading when we so grasp God with the personal grip of faith that we cry, ‘O my God, make haste for my help.’” (Spurgeon)
b. Let them be confounded and consumed…Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor: This was the help the psalmist asked for. He wanted God to strike his adversaries with confusion and consumption, with disapproval and dishonor. He not only wanted them defeated, but also discredited.
i. Adam Clarke regarded these let them statements more as prophecies than prayers: “They shall be confounded: these are prophetic denunciations.” (Clarke)
B. Rising hope and praise.
1. (14-16) Continual hope, continual strength.
But I will hope continually,
And will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And Your salvation all the day,
For I do not know their limits.
I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD;
I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only.
a. I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more: The psalmist was in a serious crisis and depended upon God for help. Yet in this psalm he does not slip into despair or seem to lose the sense of God’s favor. Psalm 71 is a wonderful combination of both problems and praise.
i. I will hope continually: “I shall expect deliverance after deliverance, and blessing after blessing; and, in consequence, I will praise thee more and more. As thy blessings abound, so shall my praises.” (Clarke)
ii. “When I cannot rejoice in what I have, I will look forward to what shall be mine, and will still rejoice.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Praise You yet more and more: “A dying hope would bring forth declining songs; as the expectations grew more dim, so would the music become more faint; but a hope immortal and eternal, flaming forth each day with intenser brightness, brings forth a song of praise which, as it shall always continue to arise, so shall it always gather new force.” (Spurgeon)
b. My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day: He was happy to testify of both God’s righteousness and His salvation, and to do so all day long. He felt the entire day was needed because he did not know the limits of God’s righteousness and salvation. They are limitless.
i. I do not know their limits: “Lord, where I cannot count I will believe, and when a truth surpasses numeration I will take to admiration.” (Spurgeon)
c. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: Looking forward, the psalmist was confident in God’s strength, despite his sense of diminished personal strength with advancing years (Psalm 71:9).
i. “He who goeth to the battle against his spiritual enemies should go, confiding not in his own ‘strength,’ but in that of the Lord God; not in his own ‘righteousness,’ but in that of his Redeemer. Such a one engageth with omnipotence on his side, and cannot but be victorious.” (Horne)
d. I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only: The psalmist was only interested in telling of God’s righteousness, not of his own or the supposed righteousness of pagan gods.
i. Of Yours only: “Man’s righteousness is not fit to be mentioned – filthy rags are best hidden; neither is there any righteousness under heaven, or in heaven, comparable to the divine.” (Spurgeon)
2. (17-18) The strength of God from youth to old age.
O God, You have taught me from my youth;
And to this day I declare Your wondrous works.
Now also when I am old and grayheaded,
O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to everyone who is to come.
a. You have taught me from my youth: The psalmist had the blessed fortune to have followed God and learned of Him from his young years. It was something that benefited him to his older years, still declaring God’s wonderful works.
i. To be taught from one’s youth displays stability and consistency. There is no fluttering about from one fad to another, from one controversy to another.
ii. “He says, ‘O God, thou hast taught me from my youth,’ which implies that God had continued to teach him: and so indeed he had. The learner had not sought another school, nor had the Master turned off his pupil.” (Spurgeon)
b. When I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation: He prayed for the continued presence of God so that he could declare God’s strength to a new generation.
i. “There is nothing more calculated to keep the heart of age young, than to stand by the young, sympathizing with their ambitions, heartening their endeavours, and stiffening their courage, by recounting the stories of the strength of God, the experiences of His might.” (Morgan)
ii. “There is nothing more pitiful, or else more beautiful than old age. It is pitiful when its pessimism cools the ardours of youth. It is beautiful when its witness stimulates the visions and inspires the heroism of the young.” (Morgan)
iii. To everyone who is to come: “To all succeeding generations, to whom I will leave a lasting monument of this glorious example of all-sufficiency, such as this Psalm is.” (Poole)
3. (19-21) Revived by the God who does great things.
Also Your righteousness, O God, is very high,
You who have done great things;
O God, who is like You?
You, who have shown me great and severe troubles,
Shall revive me again,
And bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
You shall increase my greatness,
And comfort me on every side.
a. Your righteousness, O God, is very high: The psalmist considered the greatness of God, first in that His righteousness was of a different order than that of men, very high above that of men; and then, that God is the one who has done great things, beyond what men can do. The surpassing righteousness and power of God made him ask, O God, who is like You?
i. Who is like You: “God is alone, – who can resemble him? He is eternal. He can have none before, and there can be none after; for in the infinite unity of his trinity he is that eternal, unlimited, impartible, incomprehensible, and uncompounded ineffable Being, whose essence is hidden from all created intelligences, and whose counsels cannot be fathomed by any creature that even his own hand can form. WHO IS LIKE UNTO THEE! God will excite the wonder, amazement, praise, and adoration of angels and men to all eternity.” (Clarke)
b. You who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again: He understood that all things were in God’s hands and that if he had experienced great and severe troubles, that too was shown to him by God. That same God could also revive him, bringing him up again from the depths of the earth.
i. “Never doubt God. Never say that He has forsaken or forgotten. Never think that He is unsympathetic. He will quicken again.” (Meyer)
c. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side: More than a prayer, this was a confident proclamation. Though he was older in years, he still expected that God would increase his greatness and continue his comfort.
i. You shall increase my greatness: The idea is that as the years continued, the psalmist would see more and more of the great things (Psalm 71:19) God does. “The word ‘greatness’ alludes to ‘great things’ (71:19), i.e., Yahweh’s saving acts.” (VanGemeren)
4. (22-24) The music of praise.
Also with the lute I will praise You—
And Your faithfulness, O my God!
To You I will sing with the harp,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You,
And my soul, which You have redeemed.
My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all the day long;
For they are confounded,
For they are brought to shame
Who seek my hurt.
a. With the lute I will praise You…. To You I will sing with the harp: The psalmist promised to praise God not only with his voice, but also with his musical instruments. It would be a song celebrating God for what He has done (Your faithfulness) and for who He is (O Holy One of Israel).
i. The psalmist was concerned about properly celebrating God’s person and work. “To celebrate it aright, with the melody of instruments, voices, and affections, all in perfect concord, is the duty and delight of the church militant; which, when thus employed, affords the best resemblance of the church triumphant.” (Horne)
ii. O Holy One of Israel: Kidner notes that this title for God is uncommon outside of the Book of Isaiah and that it describes God as “One in which ‘unapproachable light’ and covenant-love meet together.” (Kidner)
b. My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all the day long: His lips and soul were already given to praise God in song. Now he added the talk of his tongue to speak of God’s righteousness, especially as it was seen in triumph over his enemies (they are brought to shame who seek my hurt).
i. “This is vindication, not vindictiveness. It will be part of the joy of heaven (cf. Revelation 15:3; 18:20).” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org