THE PRAYER OF AN OLD MAN FOR DELIVERANCE
The vast majority of the scholars whose works are available to us reject any thought of Davidic authorship of this psalm, but there is no agreement at all with regard to who did write it. Obviously, then, the community of scholars do not know anything about the author.
For this reason, we do not hesitate to accept the testimony of the superscription as it appears in the LXX.
Superscription: By David, a song sung by the sons of Jonadab, and the first that were taken captive,F1
Dr. George DeHoff stated categorically that, "David wrote this psalm in his old age. He was beset by many enemies and so near death that he could feel himself sinking into the earth. He was an old man (Psalms 71:9,18); but old age had not dried up his hope or weakened his religious spirit (Psalms 71:5,15,20)."F2
Matthew Henry also declared that, "David penned this Psalm in his old age; and many think it was in the times of the rebellion of Absalom, or during the insurrection of Sheba."F3
Rawlinson pointed out that such distinguished scholars as, "Dr. Kay and Hengstenberg both considered the Psalm Davidic, with Kay naming the occasion as that of Adonijah's attempt, and Hengstenberg placing it in the times of the rebellion of Absalom."F4
No less than twenty-three lines in this Psalm are taken from other Psalms of David; and it is much more reasonable to suppose that such a phenomenon was a product of David's remembering words and phrases he had previously used, than it is to suppose that Jeremiah, or some other alleged minstrel, was so familiar with the Psalms from his constant reading of them, that he would automatically substitute the words of David for his own vocabulary.
Of course, we cannot pretend to know that David wrote this psalm, but it certainly sounds like David throughout.
A PLEA FOR DELIVERANCE
In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge:
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in thy righteousness, and rescue me:
Bow down thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort:
Thou hast given commandment to save me;
For thou art my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked;
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man."
"Verses 1-3 here are quoted from Psalm 31."F5 Most of the terminology here actually has the significance of a Davidic signature.
In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge: Let me never be put to shame. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and rescue me: Bow down thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: Thou hast given commandment to save me; For thou art my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
(Psalms 71:3). This is a quotation from David's Ps. 18:2.
Deliver me out of the hand of the wicked. out of the hand ... of the cruel man
(Psalms 71:4). Here is another undeniable earmark of David's writing. It is characteristic of David to single out from his adversaries an individual enemy from whom he prays to be delivered.F6 In fact, six of the psalms accredited to David show that he did that very thing: Ps. 13:2; 17:13; 18:17,48; 35:8; 41:6,9,11; 55:13-14.
GOD HAS HELPED HIM ALL OF HIS LIFE
It is true of every person who reaches an advanced age that God has been the constant helper all the way, even from the very beginning of life.
For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah:
Thou art my trust from my youth.
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.
I am a wonder unto many:
But thou art my strong refuge.
My mouth shall be filled with thy praise,
And with thy honor all the day."
For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah: [Thou art] my trust from my youth. 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. I am as a wonder unto many; But thou art my strong refuge. My mouth shall be filled with thy praise, And with thy honor all the day.
(Psalms 71:5). This is from Ps. 29:7 and Ps. 40:4.
By thee have I been holden up from the womb
(Psalms 71:6). The same thought exactly is expressed in Ps. 22:9-10.
I am as a wonder unto many
(Psalms 71:7). The word here rendered wonder is also translated portent. The general significance of `portent' is `something that clearly shows that God is at work.'F7
Certainly, there were many things in the life of David that indicated the special blessing and providence of God. How remarkable is it that a shepherd boy should have become the mighty King of Israel?
Besides that, he killed a lion and a bear under circumstances that strongly suggest the miraculous. Then there was that encounter with the Giant Goliath of Gath.
In one of the most astounding actions of human history, that unarmed shepherd boy slew the mighty champion of the Philistines in full armor! Yes indeed, God was at work in the life of David.
Of course, it is possible that God also did such wonders in the life of some other aged psalmist; but the Scriptures tell us of these wonders.
Some have understood this Ps. 71:7 to speak of remarkable punishments heaped upon the psalmist; and Rawlinson even referred to this interpretation as "Preferable."F8 However, we prefer the other interpretation. This is not to deny that there were also some very remarkable punishments in David's life. Among such was the death of the first child of Bathsheba and the rebellion of David's own son Absalom.
A SPECIAL PLEA IN A TIME OF OLD AGE
Cast me not off in the time of old age;
Forsake me not when my strength faileth.
For mine enemies speak concerning me;
And they that watch for my soul take counsel together,
Saying, God hath forsaken him;
Pursue and take him; for there is none to deliver.
O God, be not far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me."
Old age is a time when strength is abated, when eyesight dims,, when hearing becomes difficult, and when teeth and the sense of smell either diminish or disappear altogether. The inabilities, infirmities, helplessness and sorrows of the aged are exposed daily in the newspapers. And for those fortunate enough to be permitted to grow old, what should they do? Let them do what the psalmist does here: pour out their hearts to God in prayer; plead for his help and support; and trust God for his salvation and protection.
When John Wesley approached old age, he said, "What I would be afraid of if I took any thought for tomorrow, is that my body might weigh down my mind, and create either stubbornness through the decrease of my understanding, or peevishness by the increase of bodily infirmities; but, `Thou shalt answer for me, O Lord, my God.'"F9
Brother C. E. Barrick, a noted Texas educator, for whom one of the Houston public school buildings was named, was approaching old age; and he said to this writer, "Brother Coffman, I pray more than anything else that I may be spared the humiliation of senility."F10 That prayer was graciously answered by the Father.
Cast me not off in the time of old age; Forsake me not when my strength faileth. For mine enemies speak concerning me; And they that watch for my soul take counsel together, Saying, God hath forsaken him: Pursue and take him; For there is none to deliver. O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me.
(Psalms 71:10-11). The proposal of Ahithophel to Absalom (2 Samuel 17:1-4) is hardly anything else except what is written here.
O God, be not far from me
(Psalms 71:12). This is another striking bit of evidence of Davidic authorship of this psalm. David often felt that God was far away from him and pleaded for Him to be near. Ps. 22:1,11,19; 35:22 exhibit four examples of this. Furthermore, there is not only a verbal likeness in these passages, but there is also a correspondence in the thought patterns.
Make haste to help me
(Psalms 71:12). Another Davidic characteristic is that of praying for God to help him in haste, or speedily. Ps. 38:22; 40:13; 70:2 have three other instances of this same appeal.
AN IMPRECATION AGAINST ENEMIES
Let them be put to shame and consumed that are adversaries to my soul,
Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor that seek my hurt."
Who was as skilled as David in calling down the judgments of God upon his enemies? The very vocabulary of this imprecation is found no less than five times in other psalms of David: Ps. 41:7,9; 53:5; 35:4; 40:14; 70:2.
A PLEDGE TO KEEP ON PRAISING AND TRUSTING GOD
But I will hope continually,
And will praise thee yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of thy righteousness,
And of thy salvation all the day;
For I know not the numbers thereof.
I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Jehovah:
I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only."
But I will hope continually, And will praise thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of thy righteousness, [And] of thy salvation all the day; For I know not the numbers [thereof]. I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Jehovah: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.
(Psalms 71:14-16). These verbs are all future; and they amount to a pledge that David who has always praised and trusted God will continue to do so more and more.
I will praise thee more and more
(Psalms 71:14). What a marvelous answer is this to the inevitable encroachments upon life of age and infirmity. It is not a time for slowing down in the pursuit of holiness; it is not a time for leaving everything to the next generation; it is not a time for slackening zeal in our faithfulness to Christ and his Church. Indeed no! It is time for trusting God, more and more. It is time for greater fidelity, more loving devotion, and more and more constancy in our adherence to the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.
I know not the numbers thereof
(Psalms 71:15). This is David's admission that, The blessings of God upon him were innumerable.F11
Even of thine alone
(Psalms 71:16). This simply means that David promised not to make any mention at all of his righteousness, and that he would speak only of the marvelous righteousness of God. David had already learned the truth, mentioned in later generations by Isaiah, that, All our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6).
PLEADING A LIFE SPENT IN GOD'S SERVICE
O God, thou hast taught me from my youth;
And hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.
Yea, even when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not,
Until I have declared thy strength to the next generation,
Thy might to every one that is to come.
Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high;
Thou hast done great things,
O God, who is like unto thee."
In these verses there is a dramatic shift to the past tense, thence to the present, and again into the future. The psalmist here makes a triple argument as the grounds upon which he pleads for God's help.
(1) Serving God is no new thing to David. God had instructed him from his youth; and he had heeded that instruction and had walked uprightly before God all of his life, "hitherto."
O God, thou hast taught me from my youth; And hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Yea, even when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not, Until I have declared thy strength unto [the next] generation, Thy might to every one that is to come. Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high; Thou who hast done great things, O God, who is like unto thee?
(Psalms 71:18). This argument is that the infirmities of age are encroaching upon him and that there is therefore a special need of God's help; hence the appeal, Forsake me not.
"Among sensitive men and women of high culture and Christian feeling, there is a beautiful sacredness about the `hoary head,' that wins for the aged abundant honor and care,"F12 but even under the most favorable and sympathetic circumstances, the infirmities and incapacities of age are among the very saddest things that can happen to the human pilgrim; and in situations where Christian care and concern are not available, the wretched misery of the aged is pitiful beyond description.
(3) Until I have declared thy strength to the next generation
(Psalms 71:18). The psalmist here is not thinking primarily of himself and his troubles, but of the coming generation who are in desperate need of instruction in the truth. He needs strength and time in order to do this most necessary work for God; hence the appeal, Forsake me not.
To every one that is to come
(Psalms 71:19). Can a request like this be limited as applicable only to a single coming generation? No! All the coming generations of the human family are to be taught by this psalmist provided God does not forsake him. Has it happened? Indeed it has! Almost three millenniums after these words were written, and this prayer was uttered by him whose Greater Son is the Christ of Glory, these immortal psalms are still being loved, studied, appreciated and honored in the lives of men and women.
The Psalter is the most beloved and popular part of the Old Testament.; and Christians of all generations have found its inspiring pages a never-failing source of encouragement, strength, and sacred motivation.
A PROPHECY OF THE RESURRECTION
Thou, who hast showed us many and sore troubles,
Will quicken us again,
And will bring us up again from the depths of the earth."
Some ancient manuscripts have plural pronouns for "us" as rendered in this verse, and this has been the basis upon which some interpreters have understood this verse as a metaphor of the depressed nation of Israel with a pledge of their future blessing.
However, the RSV has corrected the error, properly rendering the verse as follows:
"Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again;
From the depths of the earth, thou wilt bring me up again."
This correction eliminates the application of the passage to some kind of a revival of the downcast Israel and reveals the passage for what it is, a glorious promise of the resurrection of the dead.
As Taylor observed, "`Thou ... wilt revive me again'" (Psalms 71:20) means `thou wilt restore me to life.'"F13
Thou, who hast showed us many and sore troubles, Wilt quicken us again, And wilt bring us up again from the depths of the earth.
(Psalms 71:20). Rawlinson called this, A metaphor for the extreme misery and depression of the nation of Israel,F14 but we cannot accept this. The depths of the earth is a reference to Sheol, or to the grave; and Paul used exactly this same figure in speaking of the grave of Jesus (Ephesians 4:9). McCaw also noted that, The meaning of the passage is `deliverance from the gates of death.'F15
A PLEDGE OF CONTINUAL PRAISE
Increase thou my greatness,
And turn again and comfort me.
I will praise thee with the psaltery,
Even thy truth, O my God:
Unto thee will I bring praises with the harp,
O thou Holy One of Israel.
My lips shall shout for joy when I sing praises unto thee;
And my soul which thou hast redeemed,
My tongue shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long;
For they are put to shame, for they are confounded, that
seek my hurt."
These verses, like all the others in the psalm, are loaded with the words and expressions frequently used by David. The "harp" and the "psaltery" of Ps. 71:22 are in Ps. 33:2; and the words "shame" and "confounded" used together in Ps. 71:24 regarding David's enemies are found in exactly the same context in Ps. 35:4; 40:14; 70:2.
Increase thou my greatness, And turn again and comfort me. I will also praise thee with the psaltery, [Even] thy truth, O my God: Unto thee will I sing praises with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel. My lips shall shout for joy when I sing praises unto thee; And my soul, which thou hast redeemed. My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long; For they are put to shame, for they are confounded, that seek my hurt.
(Psalms 71:21). These words are far more appropriate as coming from David than from any other person in Hebrew history. Note also that this psalmist played the harp. Where is any evidence of some other alleged author of this psalm being able to play on the harp? This was an achievement for which David was especially noted.
All of the verses in this psalm have already received our comment in the places where they occur in other Davidic psalms to which this one bears such a close likeness. The Big Message here, of course, is that old age is not the time to quit, but the time to press on in full vigor of heart and mind that the aged might indeed receive the crown of life that never fades away.
(Note: This commentary on Ps. 71 was written on April 29, 1991, when the author was eighty-five years, eleven months, and five days of age.)
Footnotes for Psalms 71
1: LXX, p. 739.
2: George DeHoff's Commentary, p. 165.
3: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 501.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 59.
5: W. E. Addis, p. 385.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 60.
7: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 495.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 60. <9> Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 306.
10: C. E. Barrick Elementary School was named for him.
11: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. III, p. 443.
12: Wilson Jones, p. 374.
13: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV, p. 377.
14: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 61.
15: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 495.