George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 71

1. Structure

Trust in God


The praise of God

God’s goodness

The praise of God

2. Title

The LXX has: By David, a Psalm sung by the sons of Jonadab and the first who were taken into captivity. The reference here to the Rechabites (Jer. 35) is inconsistent with Davidic authorship — unless it is assumed that when these were taken captive to Babylon, they especially sang this psalm as they went or when they settled there.

3. Links with other psalms

These are numerous (Psalms 22, 31, 35, and 40 especially) and will be specified in the notes which follow. It is as though David in old age (vv. 9,18) is gathering together some outstanding reminiscences of the grace of God shown to him over his 70 years, before going on to the composition of his last psalm of all (note 72:18-20).

4. Historical setting

The few allusions of this kind point, like the other psalms mentioned, to memories of Absalom’s rebellion, when David was a sick man and already aging. Note:

Cause me to escape. His flight from Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:14). Trapped inside the city, David’s case would have been hopeless.
My strong habitation... my rock (sela) and my fortress (metsudah). Mahanaim, to which David fled, was a defensed city (2 Sam. 17:24,27).
Thou art my trust from my youth. The days of Goliath and the Philistine wars.
I am as a wonder unto many. It was a thing for men to marvel at, that one so strongly established in his people’s affections could be overthrown — and then be restored to greatness again!
Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. It needed considerable faith, when all his affairs seemed to be in ruin, to believe that God was yet on his side. Compare Psa. 37:25:

“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

The same man who was once — only a few short years before — “ruddy... and of a beautiful countenance” (1 Sam. 16:12) has now grown old and gray (v. 18), yet still his God is with him. From each reader of the Psalms this must evoke real praise of God, and more so with each passing year!
Mine enemies speak against me. Plots, and a campaign of denigration.

They that lay wait for my soul take counsel together. These words describe the situation in 2 Sam. 17:1-6 perfectly.
There is none to deliver him. This was the gist of Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom in 2 Sam. 17:1,2. Humanly speaking, it was near to the truth — but how sadly wrong it really was, because God was not taken into account!
Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt. David could justifiably pray thus, for the rebellion was not just against him but also against the authority of God.
But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. Considering the circumstances, an astonishing expression of faith!
Forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation. What a wonderful aspiration! David’s own affairs and well-being are in the background. What is important, is the restoration of the kingdom as God’s kingdom.
Thou hast shewed me great and sore troubles, in both family and kingdom.

Bring me up again from the depths of the earth. This could be read as an allusion to David’s flight to the Jordan valley (2 Sam. 17:22). But this seems quite trivial compared with his firm belief in personal resurrection: the new life when all problems will be set right (Psa. 16:8-11; 17:15; 2 Sam. 7:16: “before thee”).
Thou shalt increase my greatness. In the situation, an amazing thing to say. But David knew that his greatness meant God’s greater greatness.
My soul which thou hast redeemed. David’s words in 1 Kings 1:29 refer back to Absalom’s rebellion particularly: “The Lord liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress.”
For they are confounded, for they are brought to shame, that seek my hurt. A very appropriate conclusion.

5. Messianic reference

Phrase after phrase is relevant to Jesus in Gethsemane.

Cause me to escape is equivalent to “Let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; cp. v. 4 here).
Thou art my trust from my youth. Compare v. 17. Surely he was first aware of the shadow of the cross falling across his path when he visited the Temple during Passover at the age of twelve (Luke 2:42-52).
By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother’s bowels; my praise shall be continually of thee. The virgin birth, surely: compare Psa. 22:9,10; 69:8, note; 89:26,27; 132:11. See also, in the Old Testament, Gen. 3:15; Prov. 30:19; Isa. 7:14; Jer. 31:22; Mic. 5:2 — and in the New Testament Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:35.
I am as a wonder. Mophet = a sign, wonder, portent, or miracle. The same word occurs in Deut. 28:46. Is this Christ bearing Israel’s curse? Surely that was a wonder. But the bearing away of that same curse was the greater wonder!
Cast me not off in the time of old age. Not inappropriate to Christ’s physical condition at the end of his ministry — when the hard years and dangerous situations and cares of others and lack of rest had taken their toll, and he appeared to be a man nearer 50 than 30 (John 8:57).

Forsake me not when my strength faileth. The name of Gabriel, who sustained him in the garden (Luke 22:43), signifies “the Strong One of God”.
They that lay wait for my soul take counsel together. The numerous plots against his life (John 5:16,18; Mark 3:6; Luke 11:54; John 7:19-21,25; 8:59; Luke 13:31; John 10:31,39; 11:8,16,44-54; Luke 20:14-26; Matt. 26:3-5,16). Especially is this a picture of the intrigue and hostility of the last week of his ministry, when it was unsafe for him even to sleep in Jerusalem.
Saying, God hath forsaken him. Jesus spoke often of rejection and suffering at Jerusalem (Matt. 16:21; 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 9:51; 13:33; 18:31-34). It was probably this, more clearly discerned by Judas than by the rest, which led to his betrayal. But, in the absolute sense, it was not true that God ever forsook His Son (Psa. 22:1; this is answered by v. 9 above).
But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. Confidence in the redeeming outcome of his sufferings kept Jesus going.
I know not the numbers. This mysterious phrase at least indicates limitations to the knowledge of Jesus in the days of his flesh.
RV: I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord God. Just as David returning to his capital, so Christ in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. In the midst of suffering, the vision of the glory steadies him.
Greyheaded. Is it possible to believe that Jesus turned gray prematurely? See v. 9 and notes.

Until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation. This part of the verse sums up the immense climactic preaching effort made by Jesus in the last weeks of his ministry.
Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Doubtless the Lord’s resurrection. The “depths of the earth” suggests, of course, the grave (Gen. 49:25; Isa. 63:13; Rom. 10:7; Rev. 9:1,2,11; 20:1,3).
Thou shalt increase my greatness. His ascension glory and coming kingdom.

And comfort me on every side. The work of the “Comforter” (John 14:26; 16:7-11) in bringing Gentiles from all parts to swear loyalty to Christ.
My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee. And what song did Jesus sing when he rose from the dead?
My tongue shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long. In those encounters during the Forty Days — e.g. on the road to Emmaus.

Righteousness is used in the sense of ‘redemption’ or ‘salvation’, as quite often by Paul in his letter to the Romans.

6. Other details

Compare with Psa. 31:1-3.
Let me never be put to confusion, in contrast with v. 13.
Righteousness. The psalmist has a fond obsession with this rich word: vv. 2,15,16,19,24. See also 51:14.

Incline thine ear unto me. As one might bow down to hear the low and feeble words of an ill or dying man (cp. Psa. 17:6; 31:2; 116:2).
Continually. The same word occurs in vv. 6,14. The word often describes the daily burnt offering. Note here rock (sela), with possible reference to the rock foundation of the altar.

Thou hast given commandment to save me. Commandment to the angels? See 91:11 and 44:4; this is the true meaning of Deut. 8:3.

Fortress. Metsudah is a mighty fortress from which military campaigns might be launched. In Psalms, the word occurs in 18:2 (see notes there); 31:3; 66:11; 91:2; and 144:2.
Note the piling up of words: unrighteous, cruel, wicked.

The cruel man is, literally, the “leavened” man — leavened or corrupted with “malice and wickedness” (cp. 1 Cor. 5:8).
For thou art my hope. In Hebrew, this is ha-tikvah — the name of the national anthem of modern Israel. How little they know now of the true “hope of Israel” — of which Paul spoke (Acts 28:20), and upon which in our own times John Thomas wrote in Elpis Israel. For further related references, see Col. 1:27; 3:4; 1 Tim. 1:1; Tit. 2:13.

From my youth. Verses 6,9,18.
RSV: Thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb. Roughly translated: ‘You cut my umbilical cord... and delivered me from the womb!’ This is how intimately God is concerned with all His children! It is a tender mercy of the Almighty that we are even born. If we should soon die without hope, we would still have had the best part of the “bargain”.

This phrase corresponds to “from the belly” in Isa. 46:3. There are, surprisingly, a number of other parallels between Psalm 71 and Isaiah 46: i.e. 71:18 = 46:4; 71:15 = 46:13; 71:19 = 46:9; and 71:2 = 46:4.
Let my mouth be filled with thy praise, anticipating the later paragraphs: vv. 14-18, 22-24. One’s praise of God is real only when one’s sense of God is real.
Cast me not off in the time of old age. Employers do this to employees who have lost some of their usefulness; husbands to wives who are no longer young; friends to other friends when they can no longer be of help to them. But God never casts off those who trust in him. Compare the same word in Psa. 51:11 and Deut. 29:28.
Be not far from me. Psa. 22:11; 35:22.

Make haste for my help. 70:1,5.
Let them be confounded. Verse 24; 40:14; 70:2; and especially 35:26.

Adversaries. This is the familiar satan — which is plainly applied here to mortal men.
My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness. Psa. 40:3.

I know not the numbers. This is interpreted by Psa. 40:5:

“Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.”

‘Count your blessings — name them one by one’? The psalmist says: ‘I can’t. There are simply too many of them.’ With this, too, we may compare Paul’s stunning paradox in Eph. 3:19: “to know the love of God... a love which surpasses our knowledge!” (More generally, see also Psa. 36:6; 139:17,18.)
Thy righteousness, even of thine only. No man can be saved through his own righteousness, but only through the righteousness of God — activated by faith in Christ and God’s promises (Phil. 3:9; Rom. 1:16,17; 3:23-25; 10:3; etc.).
Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. As far as David is concerned, this verse is at last fulfilled in Psalm 72 (see v. 20 there).

Thy strength is actually “thy arm” (AV mg.), suggesting Isa. 52:10; 53:1.

To every one to come. Psa. 22:20-31.

“The demeanour of the ‘old and greyheaded’ may be expected to reflect to some degree the accumulated results of years of spiritual growth and thereby to witness to the working of God and His Truth in their lives. No greater witness to the preciousness and eternal value of the Truth can be made than that of older brethren and sisters who in physical weakness, and sometimes great infirmity, manifest, even without expressing them, a mature love for the Truth and a cheerfulness engendered by an ever-increasing faith and trust in God.

“The Psalmist’s prayer for his old age reminds us of the considerable responsibility resting on us as we grow old and greyheaded and, incidentally, it also points out to the younger among us what the truth should be doing for them. ‘They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.’ ” (B.S. Snelling)

Who hast done great things is quoted by Mary, anticipating the redeeming work of Jesus (Luke 1:49; “and holy is his name” alludes to v. 22 here).

Who is like unto thee? = “Michael” (cp. Psa. 35:10).
On every side the righteous find comfort (here), “rest” (2 Chron. 14:7; 1 Kings 5:4), guidance (2 Chron. 32:22), and deliverance (Judg. 8:34; 1 Sam. 12:11).
See the discussion on musical instruments in Introduction, Chapter 5.

O thou Holy One of Israel. A favorite expression — about 30 times — of Isaiah. In the Psalms, it occurs only here; 78:41; and 89:18. There is an echo also in 22:3:

“But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”

7. Hymn 85

When all Thy mercies, O my God,
        My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
        In wonder, love, and praise.

Unnumber’d comforts to my soul
        Thy tender care bestow’d,
Before my infant heart conceived
        From whom those comforts flow’d.

When in the slippery paths of youth
        With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm unseen convey’d me safe,
        And led me up to man.

Through every period of my life        
        My praise to Thee shall grow,
Till, in the kingdom of Thy Son,
        All praise to Thee shall flow.

                        Joseph Addison
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