George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 61

1. Structure

The psalmist in trouble

Ultimate refuge in God

Life prolonged for ever

Notice the repetition of key words and phrases:

“for ever” (vv. 4,7,8; and cp. v. 6)
“vows” (vv. 5,8); cp. 76:11 (s.w., another “Jeduthun psalm)
“thy name” (vv. 5,8)

2. Subscription: Jeduthun

Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun were the three who organized the temple choirs and orchestras: 1 Chronicles 16:5,41,42.
These three were from each of the sections of the tribe of Levi: i.e. Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. Jeduthun led the third section: 1 Chronicles 26:10-12.
His name means “Praising (i.e. ‘Judah’) Ethan” or “Ethan the man of praise”: 1 Chronicles 15:17; 25:1,3; Psalm 89, title. Almost certainly Jeduthun and Ethan were the same man (1 Chron. 16:41; cp. 6:44 with 25:1-3).
Jeduthun was responsible for Psalms 38, 61, 76, and 89. Hence he was called the King’s Seer (2 Chron. 35:15; 1 Kings 4:31).
Since he was the father of Obed-edom (1 Chron. 16:38), did he advise about the bringing of the ark to Zion, after the initial bungling?

3. Historical setting

David is already king (v. 6), rejoicing that God has sheltered him (vv. 3,4), and prolonged his life (v. 6) during a time of grave danger. Most probably this refers to David finding refuge at Mahanaim during Absalom’s rebellion.

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
From the end of the earth (eretz = Land) will I cry unto thee. David was now a long way from Jerusalem — perhaps at Mahanaim in Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan (2 Sam. 17:27). Even though inhabited by Israelites, such lands were not considered altogether part of the land of promise (Num. 32:29-33).

When my heart is overwhelmed. There are signs that David’s morale was near to collapse. And so he especially needed such exhortation as: “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).

The rock (tsur: cp. Psa. 62:2,6,7) in the temple area, one of the symbols of God’s presence among His people. “Is there a God (Eloah) beside me? yea, there is no God (tsur = Rock: AV mg.); I know not any” (Isa. 44:8). So also Isaiah calls God “the Rock (tsur) of Ages” (26:4, mg.) — or the eternal Rock.
Thou hast been a shelter (refuge: RSV) for me. A shelter provided through the loyalty of Barzillai.

The enemy was, of course, his own son Absalom.
I will abide in thy tabernacle. This is appropriate to David’s reign. The temple was not yet built.

I will trust in the covert (shelter: RSV, NIV) of thy wings. An allusion to the wings of the cherubim of glory in the sanctuary. This is the “secret place” of Psa. 27:5, and the “shadow of thy wings” (57:1, notes and references).

Selah. This psalm has several references to the sanctuary and its rock and its service: vv. 2,4,7,8.
Thou wilt prolong the king’s life. The first of four phrases emphasizing how David was saved from his serious illness (Psa. 41) and from the threat of destruction by the rebels. All this is of course in contrast to God’s treatment of David’s predecessor Saul.

And his years as many generations. An allusion to the great promise in 2 Samuel 7. So also mercy and truth (v. 7; Mic. 7:20).
He (i.e. the king) shall abide before God for ever. The Davidic king who is to reign for ever “before thee” (2 Sam. 7:16), that is, in David’s presence.

4. Messianic reference

Generally reminiscent of 22:1,2.
The rock that is higher than I. The Son was always “subject to the Father” (2 Cor. 15:28); the Son himself needed salvation (Heb. 2:14; 5:7-9; etc.). In seeking the salvation and will of his Father, Jesus truly built his “house” of faith upon the “Rock” (Matt. 7:24-27). And so, in overcoming, he ultimately became “the Rock” himself (1 Cor. 10:4) — “a man [who] shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest... as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa. 32:2).
A shelter... a strong tower. Consider the times Jesus spent in prayer to his Father.
I will abide in thy tabernacle. Christ’s ascension?
My vows. What did Christ vow? “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7-9). This involved Christ’s witnessing to the praises of his God in the midst of the “great congregation” (Psa. 22:25; 65:1; 116:14; Heb. 2:12).
Thou hast given me the heritage. He is the heir of the promises (cp. Psa. 16:5; 37:11,29).
Thou wilt prolong the king’s life. Appropriate to his resurrection and eternal life (cp. 21:4).

His years as many generations. Compare the Messianic prophecies of 22:30,31 and Isa. 53:10, for quite similar language. Also see Psa. 72:15-17 and 89:29-37.
He shall abide before God for ever, as a priest as well as a king: “after the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16). Also, of course, see 2 Sam. 7:16 again.

5. Other details

From the ends of the earth will I cry unto thee. Consider believers in God away from home: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Naaman’s wife’s maid, Paul a prisoner in Rome, John an exile in Patmos.

The rock that is higher than I. Compare Psa. 59:1. RV mg. Has “too high for me” — suggesting a God whose thoughts and ways are infinitely beyond those of man (Isa. 55:8,9), although such consideration should not exempt man from seeking them!
A strong tower. King Uzziah built towers in the desert because “he had much cattle” (2 Chron. 26:10; cp. 27:4), and it was necessary for his shepherds to have places of safety and outlook from time to time, from which to resist the inevitable marauders. Watchtowers were also built in vineyards for similar purposes (Matt. 21:33). Figuratively, the name of Yahweh is a “strong tower” for the righteous (Prov. 18:10).
O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him. “Bid steadfast love and faithfulness watch over him” (RSV).

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