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Psalm 31

THE Psalmist first prays in general for deliverance from his sufferings and his enemies, on the ground of his confidence in God and previous experience of his mercy, ver. 2–9 (1–8). He then prays more particularly for deliverance from his present danger, with a description of the same, ver. 10–14 (9–13). In the remainder of the psalm, the tone of supplication and complaint is gradually exchanged for that of thankful assurance, ver. 15–23 (14–22), and the whole is wound up with an application of the lesson furnished by the Psalmist’s experience to the case of all God’s people, ver. 24, 25 (23, 24).

1. To the Chief Musician, A Psalm by David. Here we meet again with the inscription, to the chief musician, which has not appeared before since the title of Ps. 22. As in all other cases, it explicitly describes the psalm as intended for musical performance in the public worship of the ancient church. As this, however, was the case with all the psalms, the fact that it is mentioned only in some may be explained by supposing, that in them there was something which might otherwise have caused them to be looked upon as mere expressions of personal feeling.—The correctness of the other clause—a Psalm of David—is fully attested by internal evidence. The idea that Jeremiah wrote it rests entirely on the imitation of the first clause of ver. 14 (13) in Jer. 20:10, which is in perfect keeping with the practice of that prophet.

2 (1). In thee, Jehovah, have I trusted. Let me not be shamed forever. In thy righteousness deliver me (or help me to escape). The first clause contains the ground of the petitions following, which ground is the same that is often urged elsewhere, namely, that a just God cannot destroy those who trust him. See above, Ps. 7:2 (1), 11:1.—The prayer in the next clause may be either that his present shame may not endure for ever, or that he may never be put to shame, which last idea could not well be otherwise expressed in Hebrew. Shamed, i.e. utterly confounded, disappointed, and frustrated in his hopes. See above, on Ps. 6:11 (10), 22:6 (5), 25:2, 20. He appeals to God’s righteousness or justice, in the strict sense, upon which trust or faith creates a claim, even on the part of the unworthy, not by virtue of any intrinsic merit, but of God’s gracious constitution. See, above, on Ps. 17:1, 2, 18:21–25 (20–24), 25:21. 26:1. This verse and the two following reappear, without material variation, in Ps. 71:1–3.

3 (2). Incline unto me thine ear; (in) haste deliver me; be to me for a rock of strength for a house of defenses to save me. The prayer for speedy deliverance implies extreme necessity and danger. For the meaning of the figures, rock of strength and house of defenses or fortress, see above, on Ps. 18:3 (2), and as to the plural form, on Ps. 18:51 (50), 20:7 (6).—The petition of the first clause seems to imply that God had hitherto appeared to turn a deaf ear to his prayers. It may perhaps have been intended to suggest the additional idea, that his cry was feeble, so that it had hitherto escaped the ear of him to whom it was addressed, and who is now implored to bow down or incline his ear, that the distant sound may reach him.

4 (3). For my rock and my fortress (art) thou, and for thy name’s sake thou wilt lead me and conduct me (or provide for me). What he asks in the preceding verse he here asserts, to wit, that God is his protector, and must therefore, of necessity, protect him, not only for the sufferer’s sake, but for the honor of his own name or manifested nature. See above, Ps. 23:3, for the meaning of this phrase, and on the second verse of the same psalm, for that of the last verb.—The futures in the second clause suggest the idea of necessity, and might perhaps be correctly rendered by the use of our auxiliary must.

5 (4). Thou wilt bring me out from the net which they have hid for me; for thou (art) my strength (or my stronghold). “By thee I confidently hope to be delivered from the craft and malice of my enemies, for my defense and safety are in thee alone.” With the first clause compare Ps. 25:15, and with the last Ps. 27:1. The change of figure in the last clause shews the whole verse to be highly metaphorical.

6 (5). Into thy hand I will commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, (O) Jehovah, God of truth. The verb in the first clause means to entrust or deposit anything of value. By my spirit we may either understand my my life or myself, but not my soul, as distinguished from my body.—The preterite thou hast redeemed, expresses, in the strongest manner, his assured hope, and the certainty of the event.—God of truth, veracity or faithfulness. See above, on Ps. 25:5, and compare Jer. 10:10. The words of the first clause of this verse were quoted or imitated by our Saviour on the cross, Luke 23:46, which only proves that he considered himself one of those to whom the psalm might be applied, but without excluding others; and accordingly John Huss, while on his way to the stake, repeatedly quoted this whole verse, as the expression of his own emotions.

7 (6). I have hated those regarding vanities of falsehood, and I (for my part) in Jehovah have confided. The present is included in the preterite of the first clause. “I have hated them, and hate them still.” “I hate them, and have done so heretofore.” See above, Ps. 16:4, 26:5.—Regarding, religiously observing, waiting upon, watching with respect and trust. Compare Hos. 4:10, Zech. 11:11, Jonah 2:9 (8). This last place contains also the word vanities here used, and even in the Law applied to idols, as no gods, and as “nothing in the world” (1 Cor. 8:4). See Deut. 32:21, and compare Jer. 2:5, 10:15, 14:22, 16:19, 18:15. The words here combined are highly contemptuous, denoting vanities of emptiness, or nothings of nonentity, presented in contrast to Jehovah, God of truth, in whom the Psalmist has confided. And I, as opposed to them. See above, on Ps. 2:6.

8 (7). I will triumph and joy in thy mercy, thou who hast seen my affliction, hast known the pangs of my soul. In the strength of his faith he sees deliverance already present.—Hast known in the pangs of my soul, i.e. in the time of my distress hast been aware of it, which seems to be the meaning of this verb and preposition elsewhere (Gen. 19:33, 35, Job 35:15). Luther and others give a different construction, hast known my soul in distress, but the other is favored by the occurrence of the phrase distress (or agonies) of soul in Gen. 42:21, and Ps. 25:17. The sight and knowledge here applied to God imply a corresponding action. “Thou hast seen and known my state, and dealt with me accordingly.” With the first clause compare Ps. 9:3 (2).

9 (8). And hast not shut me up in the hand of a foe, (but) hast made to stand in the wide place my feet. To shut up in the hand of any one is to abandon to his power. The expression is a figurative one, but occurs in prose, and even in the history of David. See 1 Sam. 23:11, 26:8. The figure of the last clause is a favorite with David. See above, on Ps. 4:2 (1), 18:20, 37 (19, 36).

10 (9). Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for distress is to me; sunken through grief is my eye, my soul, and my belly. Having thus professed his confidence of ultimate deliverance, he reverts to his actual condition, and prays for the divine interposition, on the ground of what he has already suffered. On the sinking or falling of the eye, as a sign of extreme grief and weakness, see above, on Ps. 6:8 (7). Having mentioned this as a specific symptom, he then uses the generic terms, soul and belly, i.e. body.—For the true sense of the word translated grief, see above, on Ps. 10:14.

11 (10). For wasted with grief (or indignation) is my life, and my years with sighing; my strength totters because of my iniquity, and my bones are decayed. Wasted, consumed before the time.—Life and years, grief and sighing, are correlative expressions. Life is made up of years; grief is expressed by sighs and groans.—To totter or stumble is a verb applied elsewhere to the parts of the body—as the knees in Ps. 109:24—here metaphorically to the strength itself.—Because of my iniquity or guilt is not inconsistent with the appeal to God’s righteousness in ver. 2 (1), but only proves that the Psalmist lays no claim to a sinless perfection. See above, on Ps. 18:24 (23).—The bones are mentioned as the seat of strength, the solid frame-work of the body.—Decayed, grown old, worn out. See below, on Ps. 32:3.

12 (11). By means of (or because of) all my adversaries I was a reproach, and to my neighbors very (much), and a fear to my acquaintances; seeing me in the street they fled from me (or those seeing me in the street fled from me). The first word properly means from or out of. It was from his enemies, both as the cause and the occasion, that his disgrace proceeded. A reproach, despised by others, and considered a disgrace to them. See above, on Ps. 22:7 (6). In the second clause there is an obvious progression. He was so esteemed, not only by his fellowmen indefinitely, but by his neighbors, and that greatly (מְאֹד), which seems equivalent to saying, “and to none more than my neighbors,” or, “above all to my neighbors.” In the last clause the climax is completed. Not only were his neighbors ashamed of him; his acquaintances were afraid of him. See below, Ps. 38:12 (11), 69:9 (8), 88:19 (18), and compare Job 19:13, 14.

13 (12). I was forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I was like a broken vessel (or a vessel perishing). The next stage of his calamity was that of contemptuous oblivion, which usually follows the acute one of disgust and shame described in the foregoing verse.—From the heart, i.e. the memory; the expression seems to correspond exactly to the second member of the English proverb, Out of sight, out of mind.—The comparison with an earthen vessel, at best of little value, easily broken, and when broken, worthless, only fit to be contemptuously thrown aside, is a favorite with Jeremiah, who appears to have derived it, with some other favorite ideas and expressions, from the psalm before us. See Jer. 19:11, 22:28, 25:34, 48:38, and compare Hos. 8:8.

14 (13). For I heard the slander of many—terror (was) all around—in their consulting together against me, to take my soul (or my life) they plotted. The for connects what follows not so much with what immediately precedes as with the general description of his urgent need in ver. 10 (9). Have mercy upon me, for distress is to me, of which he is about to give another proof or instance. The first clause is closely copied in Jer. 20:10, and the phrase magor missabib (fear round about) is a favorite with that prophet. See Jer. 6:25, 20:3, 46:5, 49:29, and compare Lam. 2:22.—The term used for consulting is akin to that in Ps. 2:2.—The connection between the slander of the first clause and the plotting of the second seems to be, that the former was regarded as a necessary means to the successful execution of the latter.

15 (14). And I on thee did trust, Jehovah; I said, my God (art) thou! “Amidst these distresses, and in spite of them, I still confided in Jehovah, and expressed my confidence by solemnly avouching him to be my God, and therefore bound by covenant to save me, as I am no less bound by covenant to trust him.” It is worthy of remark how constantly the ancient saints make trust in God essential to all spiritual safety.—With the last clause of this verse compare Ps. 16:1.

16 (15). In thy hand (are) my times; set me free from the hand of my foes and from my persecutors. By times we are to understand the current of events or the vicissitudes of life, as when we speak familiarly of good times, hard times, and the like. There may be also an allusion to the turning-points or critical junctures of his history. The first clause presents the ground or reason of the second. “Since the events of my life are at thy disposal, set me free,” &c. Freeing from the hand is the opposite of shutting up in it. See above, on ver. 9 (8).—Foes and persecutors, not as distinct classes, but as different descriptions of the same.

17 (16). Let thy face shine on thy servant; save me in thy mercy. The first clause contains an allusion to the sacerdotal benediction recorded in Num. 6:25. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6), where we have a similar allusion to that passage. “Grant me a sensible assurance of thy favor.” This he asks because he is his servant, a relation implying the necessity of God’s interposition in his favor. While God is God, he cannot leave his faithful servants to perish. Even here, however, his appeal is to God’s mercy, as the only source or means of safety.

18 (17). Jehovah, let me not be shamed, for I have called (upon thee). Let the wicked be shamed, be silenced, in hell. He distinguishes himself, as one who calls upon God, from the wicked who do not, and appeals to the righteousness of God as requiring that defeat, and disappointment, and frustration of the hopes, should fall, not upon the class to which he belongs and of which he is the representative, but upon that represented by his enemies, of whom it has been well said, that they are not reckoned sinners because they are his enemies, but enemies because they are sinners, or in other words, enemies to him because they are the enemies of God.—Silenced in reference to their present loud and angry contests with the righteous.—In hell, or in the grave, i.e. in death.

19 (18). Struck dumb be the lips of lying, the (lips) speaking against a righteous (man), insolently in pride and scorn. This wish has special reference to the slanders mentioned in ver. 14 (13).—Insolently, literally insolent, that which is insolent, or as an abstract, insolence, audacity.

20 (19). How great is thy goodness which thou hast hidden for those fearing thee, (and) wrought for (those) trusting in thee before the Son of man (or mankind)! Some suppose an antithesis between what God does secretly for those who trust him openly, or publicly profess their faith. Compare Mat. 6:4. But usage and the masoretic accents are in favor of a different construction, which connects before the sons of man with wrought, and supposes the antithesis to be between the two successive stages of God’s dispensations towards believers, first what he does in secret, and then what he does in public. “How great is thy goodness which thou hast first treasured up, and then wrought openly before the sons of men for those who trust thee.”

21 (20). Thou wilt secrete them in the secret of thy face (or presence) from the leagues of man; thou wilt hide them in a covert from the strife of tongues. A particular manifestation of this goodness is now specified, to wit, the protection of its objects from the craft and malice of their fellowmen. The figures are the same as in the first clause of Ps. 27:5, except that the presence of God is substituted for his dwelling, which indeed derives its power of protection solely from that presence. The leagues or plots of man are those mentioned in ver. 14 (13), and the strife of tongues the slander there referred to; not the strife of tongues in mutual dispute among his enemies, but the united strife of all their tongues against himself.

22 (21). Blessed (be) Jehovah, for he hath made his mercy wonderful to me in a city of defense (or fortified city). What he had just asserted to be generally true of all believers, he now declares to have been verified in his own experience.—Has made his mercy wonderful, has exercised surprising mercy, or in modern phrase, has been wonderfully gracious.—In a fenced city is by some understood to mean as such a city, a comparison which really occurs in other places. For another supposed instance of the same construction, see above, on Ps. 29:4. In this case, however, as in that, the strict sense of the particle may be retained, not only without injury but with advantage to the sense, which will then be, that Jehovah had exercised extraordinary mercy towards the psalmist, by bringing him into a position where he was as safe from the evils which he felt or feared, as he would have been from mere corporeal perils in a walled town or a fortress.

23 (22). And (yet it was) I (that) said in my terror, I am cut off from before thine eyes. Nevertheless, thou didst hear the voice of my prayers (for mercy) in my crying unto thee (for help). The full force of the emphatic pronoun can be represented only by a paraphrase. The meaning is that this very person who experiences this wonderful protection was the same who, but a little while before, had given himself up for lost.—In my haste. The Hebrew word denotes the hurried flight of one escaping panic-struck from his pursuers. See the literal application of the verb, in historical prose, to the case of David himself, 1 Sam. 23:26, and compare Ps. 48:6 (5), 104:7. Our idiom absolutely requires an adversative particle at the beginning of the second clause, although the Hebrew word is properly a particle of affirmation, meaning certainly or surely. Notwithstanding his despondency and unbelief, Jehovah heard and answered his prayers for mercy and his cries for help, both which ideas are suggested in the original.

24 (23) Love Jehovah, ye his gracious ones (or favoured ones); faith-keeping (is) Jehovah, and repaying in plenty (the man) working pride (or acting proudly). In this and the remaining verse, he makes a further application of the truth, which he had just attested from his own experience, to the case of all God’s saints or gracious ones, at once the subjects and the objects of benignant dispositions, those who are merciful because they obtain mercy (Mat. 5:7). See above, on Ps. 4:4 (3).—The next words admit of two interpretations: keeping (preserving) the faithful, and keeping faith, literally fidelities, the plural being often used in Hebrew as an abstract. The predominant usage of אמונים is in favour of this last construction. See above, on Ps. 12:2 (1). Keeping faith of course means with those who are faithful to himself, so that we still have the antithesis between them and the man doing, exercising pride, a form of speech much stronger than its English equivalent, acting proudly.—Abundantly, or literally, in plenty.

25 (24). Be strong, and let him confirm your heart, all ye that wait for Jehovah (or hope in him). The idea and the form of expression are the same as in Ps. 27:14, except that what the Psalmist there says to himself, or to his own soul, he here says to all that hope in God, or wait for the fulfilment of his promises. See the same description of God’s people in Ps. 33:18, below.—Be strong in purpose and desire, and he will make you strong in fact. This promise is conveyed under the form of a wish, may he strengthen (or confirm) your heart. See above, on Ps. 27:14.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 132–137). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (public Domain)

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