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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 71

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


No title or author is given to this psalm in the Hebrew text, but the Septuagint assigns it to David, and adds, Of the sons of Jonadab, and the first that were taken captive. From this it is evident that a Jewish tradition existed in the third century before Christ (the date of the Greek Version) to the effect that this psalm was sung “by the sons of Jonadab (the Rechabites) and the first (Assyrian) captives,” as befitting the calamities of the nation at that time. See 2 Kings 17:0. We know that Jonadab was the stern reformer and preserver of his tribe, causing them to adhere to the worship of God with an ascetic severity of self-denial in the dissolute ages of the decline and fall of the kingdom of Israel, and that the Rechabites served in the temple at Jerusalem before and after the captivity, though they chiefly had their dwellings among the northern tribes until after the Assyrian invasion referred to. See 1 Kings 10:15; Jeremiah 35:0. The Greek title, therefore, is not improbably correct. The arguments that Jeremiah was the author are not satisfactory. The spirit and strain are strongly those of David’s sorrowing muse, and it is only natural to suppose he might, in his later years, repeat himself, as he does here, in those parts where his circumstances and mental sufferings are strikingly similar to those which he had, in earlier life. celebrated in song. The psalm is in perfect harmony, both in style, spirit, and circumstantial surroundings, with Psalms 69, 70; and though the elegiac strain would suit well enough the sorrowful spirit of Jeremiah, and its fragmentary, loose, and excerptive form coincide with the limited poetic genius of that prophet, yet there is no sufficient reason to wrest it from the author and occasion of the two preceding psalms.

The general matter may be grouped as follows: the first thirteen verses are a prayer against David’s enemies, interspersed with tender retrospections of God’s care of him from his earliest being, and urged by various arguments. From Psalms 71:14 to the end the prevailing strain is that of hope, praise, and vows of thanksgiving, with a confident outlook of triumph, which closes the song.

Verse 1

1. The first three verses are borrowed from Psalms 31:1-3, which see.

Confusion The same word is rendered “ashamed,” Psalms 31:1, and it is always translated by either one or other of these words. It denotes, literally, the paleness of countenance which is caused by the perplexity, fear, and mortification of great disappointment.

Verse 3

3. Strong habitation Literally, my rock of habitation. Psalms 31:2.

Continually resort Continual going to God is the only safety.

Commandment to save me This is the language of faith. If God had commanded “to save,” no man could disannul or make void the decree, Psalms 44:4. God commands to be done what is promised, when the conditions of the promise are fulfilled.

Verse 4

4. The unrighteous and cruel man If this refers to any one individual, and we have rightly judged the occasion of the psalm, the allusion might well be to Ahithophel. See our note on Psalms 55:12. But it may be a general and abstract term for any and every man who is “unrighteous and cruel.”

Verse 5

5. My trust from my youth Happy the man who can say this! A life-long habit of faith gives strength to character, and support and assurance to prayer.

Verse 6

6. By thee have I been holden up from the womb From the birth, or since the birth. The tender care of God for him had been like that of a mother, holding up and carrying the child from the moment of birth.

Thou art he that took me out of my mother’s bowels He has already retrospected God’s care from youth to manhood, and from earliest childhood to youth. He now delicately traces back the divine tenderness during all his unconscious life until the act itself of birth. Psalms 139:15-16. After his life-long and life-giving tenderness and care, can God now forsake him in old age?

Verse 7

7. I am as a wonder unto many As a prodigy or wonder, an object of contemptuous astonishment was I, or have I been, to many, on account of my extraordinary sufferings.” Alexander. But מופת is often used in the sense sign, symbol, or token, indicating the divine will or purpose, as in Ezekiel 12:11, “Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them;” and Ezekiel 24:24, “Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do.” This sense is quite common. So, in the text, the psalmist was a sign or token to many, illustrating by his high example what God will do with the righteous and the wicked, and the principles on which he will reward or punish men. Thus, in all ages, individual experience has been used as illustrative of the settled methods of divine grace and judgment for the admonition and encouragement of others, Isaiah 8:18; Zechariah 3:8, where “men wondered at,” should be “men of a sign.” David seemed conscious of this public relation of his personal and official life.

Verse 8

8. Let my mouth be filled with thy praise My mouth shall be filled, etc. The review of his wonderful history (Psalms 71:5-7) inspires this purpose.

Verse 9

9. In the time of old age According to Usher, David was now sixty-two years old; according to Hale, sixty-four years; and such a life as his had been must have already made its mark upon his physical frame. He died at the age of seventy. The word does not necessarily denote extreme old age, but he had entered the period of old age. “He is already an old man, though only just at the beginning of old age.” Delitzsch. That he had still before him a hopeful future appears from Psalms 71:18

Verse 11

11. Saying, God hath forsaken him This his enemies reported of him, and thus they reasoned that if God had withdrawn his protection they could attack him with impunity and make him a prey. But they did not penetrate the deep designs of God connected with his marvellous history, and did not consider they were fighting against God. See on Matthew 27:43, and Acts 5:38-39

Verse 12

12. Make haste for my help David’s familiar cry in his deepest distresses, which identifies the occasion with Psalms 70:1. See Psalms 22:19

Verse 13

13. Let them be confounded This, with some variation, forms a refrain with Psalms 71:24. This is the language of desire, that of experience the fulfilment of his prayer.

Verse 15

15. Thy righteousness and thy salvation Two words literally translated and everywhere well defined. “God’s salvation stands to his righteousness in the relation of effect to cause. God has pledged himself to save those who put their trust in him, and as a righteous God he cannot deny himself.” Perowne. Compare Hebrews 6:10. See note on Psalms 71:19.

I know not the numbers That is, the limits, or measures, (Furst,) of the righteousness and salvation just spoken of. But the Hebrew word, which occurs nowhere else, may be taken in the sense of enumerations, as in English version, and applied to God’s acts of righteousness and salvation; and in this sense corresponds with the declarations of Psalms 40:5; Psalms 139:17-18. In either sense, however, the doctrine is the same. These numberless and limitless mercies call for endless praises.

Verse 16

16. I will make mention of thy righteousness As the source and ground of my salvation. True faith looks beyond secondary causes, and refers deliverances directly to God. Hence the emphatic thine only, which immediately follows. See on Psalms 71:19

Verse 17

17. From my youth Again the psalmist reviews the divine care, as in vers. 5, 6.

Hitherto… I declared His faithfulness in making known the goodness of God had been co-extensive with that goodness. But the Hebrew punctuation gives the sense,

“O God, thou hast taught me from my youth, and until this time;

I will show forth thy wondrous works.”

Verse 18

18. Now also when I am old A beautifully touching appeal! With age come conscious helplessness and dependence; how precious are God’s mercies then! See on Psalms 71:9; also, Genesis 28:15; Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalms 37:25.

Until I have showed thy strength Literally, showed thy arm, the symbol of executive strength. Psalms 98:1; Isaiah 52:10. The motive of all the writer’s desire for deliverance was, that he might glorify God by publishing his wonderful works. Compare, “Christ shall be magnified in my body.” Philippians 1:20.

This generation Literally, a generation; but the next line determines it to mean the coming generation: “To all that shall come:” parallel to “they shall come,” that is, the seed, or generation of the righteous, (Psalms 22:30-31,) as if he should say, “the on-coming generation.” Psalms 22:30-31

Verse 19

19. Thy righteousness Five times in this psalm is the “righteousness” of God mentioned as the source of salvation and the theme of praise. Psalms 71:2; Psalms 71:15-16; Psalms 71:19; Psalms 71:24. It is a technical term for the rectoral justice of God. The Hebrews had no conception of any divine method of salvation, temporal or spiritual, which did not include justice as well as mercy; a vindication of regal rectitude as well as of fatherly pity. Psalms 85:10-11; Psalms 85:13; Romans 3:26. Hence, no acceptable praise can be given him which does not exalt his righteousness, and no salvation can be expected which bears not the seal of his justice. See on Romans 3:25-26. His acts are in harmony with all his attributes.

Verse 20

20. Thou… hast showed me Literally, Caused me to see; that is, to experience. He stumbles not at secondary causes, but refers his sufferings, no less than his deliverances, to the will of God. The Keri (Hebrew marginal reading) gives a plural suffix to this pronoun, and to the verb rendered quicken. It would then read, Thou who hast caused us to see distresses… shalt quicken us again. This shows that David’s troubles are identical with those of his people, in whose name, and as whose representative, he speaks. But this also is implied in the use of the singular pronoun, and is to be commonly understood in the interpretation of the psalms.

Great and sore troubles The descriptions following show that his distresses were such as to put deliverance completely beyond human power.

Depths of the earth Hebrew, abysses of the earth, equal to the lowest grave. The word abyss, or depth, here, is the same as is translated deep, Genesis 1:2, where, as in other places, it means the unfathomed waters of the ocean. Similar are the figures “deep waters,” “lower parts of the earth,” (but on this see an exception, Psalms 63:9,) “gates of death,” etc., terms equivalent to the grave. Psalms 69:2; Psalms 69:14; Psalms 63:9; Psalms 9:13; also Ephesians 4:9. In all such imagery the difficulty of saving is supposed to be equal to a resurrection from the dead, the idea of which is implied and was familiar to the Hebrews. Comp. Genesis 22:9-12; Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:17

Verse 21

21. Thou shalt increase my greatness As in the case of Job 42:10; Job 42:12. So gloriously shall God reverse my suffering lot.

On every side Hebrew, Thou wilt surround, thou wilt comfort me.

Verse 22

22. Thy truth Or, thy faithfulness. David’s salvation would cause him to praise not only the mercy and pity of God, but his truth, righteousness, holiness, because with these he was in harmony, and without these God could extend no mercy. See note on Psalms 71:19.

Verse 23

23. My lips shall greatly rejoice No common joy could express the feelings due to such wonderful deliverance. Bishop Mant versifies it, taking the word rendered “greatly rejoice” as indicating “a brisk, vibratory motion, like that of the lips in singing a lively air;” the lips keeping time with the emotions of the soul:

“Quick with delight my lips shall move,

My soul an answering rapture prove,

To sing thy guardian name.”

Verse 24

24. For they are confounded The preterit tense of the verb contemplates the act as past have been ashamed, have been confounded, which illustrates the vigour of his faith, and, like its author, “calleth those things which be not as though they were,” (Romans 4:17;) or, possibly the tidings of victory had even now reached him. See introductions to this and the two preceding psalms. It is true, however, that David often uses the historic sense to express the lively assurance of his faith, in events yet to come, or the evidence that his prayer is answered.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 71". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-71.html. 1874-1909.
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