Psalm 71
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Though this Psalm, like Psalms 86, is little more than a mosaic of fragments and reminiscences of other Psalms, especially 22, 31, 35, 40, it possesses a singular beauty and tenderness of its own. It is the utterance of a faith which has proved the goodness of God in a life of many trials, and trusts to experience it to the end. It is fitly chosen for use in the Order for the Visitation of the Sick.

Some commentators regard it as a ‘national’ Psalm, taking the plural ‘us’ in Psalm 71:20 (R.V.) as the key to its interpretation, and supposing the speaker to be not an individual, but suffering Israel. The language of Psalm 71:5-6; Psalm 71:9; Psalm 71:17, is not a fatal objection to this theory; for many passages speak of the birth and youth and old age of Israel (Psalm 129:1; Hosea 7:9; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 46:3-4). But the transition from the singular to the plural in Psalm 71:20 is no proof that the Psalm as a whole is the utterance of the nation. It was most natural that the Psalmist should pass from the thought of his own needs to the thought of the needs of the nation, in whose calamity he was involved. Doubtless the language of the Psalm is such as could be adopted by others, or even by the godly nucleus of Israel as a whole; but it bears in the main the stamp of a personal and individual meditation.

As to authorship and date, all that can be said is that apparently the Psalmist was an old man (Psalm 71:9; Psalm 71:18), and that Israel was in exile (Psalm 71:20). The latter part of the LXX title, ‘[A Psalm] of the sons of Jonadab and those who were first carried captive,’ may preserve an authentic tradition of its use in the exile. It has been attributed to Jeremiah on the grounds (1) that the free use of earlier Psalms is entirely in his style; (2) that Psalm 71:5-6 refer to his call (Jeremiah 1:5) and Psalm 71:21 to the dignity of his office, and that the general situation of the Psalmist corresponds to that of the persecuted prophet; (3) that his authorship would account for the use of this Psalm by the Rechabites, with whom he had been brought into such close connexion (Jeremiah 35). If it was composed by Jeremiah, it must have been in the latest period of his life, when he had been carried down into Egypt after the Fall of Jerusalem; when the stress and strain of his life was over, and yet he was by no means free from hostility and danger (Jeremiah 44). But the grounds for attributing it to him are quite inconclusive.

One thought grows out of another, and there is no marked division into stanzas: but in the first half of the Psalm (Psalm 71:1-13) prayer, in the second half (Psalm 71:14-24) praise, predominates.

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.
1. In thee … do I put my trust] Better, In thee … have I taken refuge. See note on Psalm 57:1, and cp. Psalm 7:1; Psalm 11:1; Psalm 16:1; Psalm 25:20.

let me never be put to confusion] Let me never be ashamed. He has put himself under Jehovah’s protection: may he never be disappointed and disgraced by finding that his trust is vain. Cp. Psalm 31:17; Psalm 25:2; Psalm 25:20; Psalm 22:5; Php 1:20. It will be remembered that the verse forms the close of the Te Deum.

1–3. The prayer of faith in the midst of danger. These verses are taken, with but little change, from Psalm 31:1-3.

Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
2. Deliver me &c.] In thy righteousness wilt thou deliver me and rescue me: an expansion of the simpler rescue me in Psalm 31:1. In thy righteousness stands emphatically at the beginning of the sentence in the Heb. The righteousness of God is a thought upon which this Psalmist loves to dwell (Psalm 71:2; Psalm 71:15-16; Psalm 71:19; Psalm 71:24). In virtue of that unchanging rectitude which is an inalienable attribute of Deity, He cannot desert His servant. He must be true to His promise. Cp. 2 Timothy 2:13.

incline] Or, bow down, as in Psalm 31:2 : i.e. ‘bend a listening ear.’

save me] In Psalm 31:2, deliver me speedily.

Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.
3. Be thou my strong habitation] Better as R.V., Be thou to me a rock of habitation. God is called our habitation in Psalm 90:1; and the phrase may be an intentional modification of the words a rock of stronghold in Psalm 31:2. But some Heb. MSS., the LXX, Symm., and Targ., read stronghold here also, and the word mâ‘ ôn (מעון) so closely resembles mâ‘ ôz (מעוז) that the variation is probably due to accident.

thou hast given commandment] Cp. Psalm 44:4; Psalm 68:28. To the three Heb. words rendered whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment correspond two words in Psalm 31:2, meaning for a fortress-house. The curious similarity of the consonants in the Heb. suggests that the reading of the Massoretic Text here is a restoration of partially obliterated or faded letters: and the LXX translators, though they give a different rendering, appear to have found the same reading here as in Psalm 31:2, or a closely similar one. The other Versions agree with the Massoretic Text.

my rock] My cliff: a different word from that in the first line, recalling the ‘cliff’ (sela) where David had been so unexpectedly delivered from Saul (1 Samuel 23:25 ff.). On the metaphors see note on Psalm 18:2.

Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
4. Deliver me] R.V., rescue me, as in Psalm 71:2.

the unrighteous and cruel man] Comp. the complaints in Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2-4) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:7; &c.) of the prevailing injustice and violence. The singular is probably collective.

4–8. The ground of the Psalmist’s appeal for deliverance.

For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth.
5, 6. A free imitation of Psalm 22:9-10.

my hope … my trust] Cp. Jeremiah 14:8; Jeremiah 17:7; Jeremiah 17:13; and “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).

By thee &c.] Better (cp. Isaiah 48:2), On thee have I stayed myself from (my) birth. The same word is used in Psalm 3:5; Psalm 51:12.

thou art he that took me] A different word from that similarly translated in Psalm 22:9, and of doubtful meaning. The rendering, Thou hast been my benefactor from my mother’s womb (cp. R.V. marg.), suits the parallelism well. But cp. Jeremiah 1:5.

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.
7. I am &c.] Or, I have been as a wonder. Many of those who saw my sufferings regarded me as a typical example of divine chastisement, but my faith has remained unshaken throughout. Cp. Isaiah 52:14; and Deuteronomy 28:46, where the punishment of Israel for its sins is spoken of as “a sign and a wonder.” In a somewhat different sense Ezekiel was a ‘wonder’ to his contemporaries (Ezekiel 12:6; Ezekiel 12:11; Ezekiel 24:24; Ezekiel 24:27). The explanation ‘I have been a sign and example of God’s protecting care’ is less natural. ‘Monster’ in P.B.V. is an archaism for ‘portent,’ or, ‘prodigy,’ from Lat. monstrum.

my strong refuge] Cp. Psalm 71:1, and Jeremiah 17:17, R.V.

Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day.
8. My mouth shall be filled with thy praise,

And with thy honour all the day (R.V.).

Cp. 1 Chronicles 29:11 “Thine, O Jehovah, is the greatness, and the might, and the honour, and the victory, and the majesty.” The P.B.V. that I may sing of thy glory and honour all the day long comes from the LXX through the Vulg.

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.
9. Cast me not of] Or, cast me not away, from Thy presence (Psalm 51:11), though for the time the nation as a whole is so cast out (Deuteronomy 29:28; Jeremiah 7:15).

9–13. Repeated deprecations and prayers.

For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together,
10. against me] R.V. concerning me. Cp. Psalm 3:2; Psalm 41:5. What they say follows in Psalm 71:11.

they that lay wait for my soul] Or, they that watch for my life.

Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him.
11. God hath forsaken him] Cp. Psalm 22:1; Psalm 38:21 b.

persecute] R.V. pursue. But cp. Psalm 69:26; Jeremiah 15:15; Jeremiah 17:18; Jeremiah 20:11.

O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help.
12, 13. Reminiscences of Psalm 35:22 b; Psalm 40:13 b, 14 (Psalm 70:1 b, 2): cp. Psalm 22:11 a; Psalm 38:21-22; Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26; Psalm 109:29.

make haste for my help] R.V. make haste to help me.

let them be confounded] R.V. as in Psalm 71:1, let them be ashamed.

consumed] Some editors would read dishonoured as in Psalm 40:14, with some MSS. and the Syr. The Hebrew words differ in one letter only. But the LXX and Jer. support the M.T., for which cp. Psalm 37:20.

Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt.
But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.
14. But as for me, I will hope continually,

And will praise thee yet more and more.

He contrasts his own future with that of his enemies.

14–16. Vows of praise and thanksgiving.

My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof.
15. My mouth shall tell of thy righteousness,

And of thy salvation all the day;

For I know not the tale thereof.

Salvation is coupled with righteousness, because the one is the outcome and visible manifestation of the other. Cp. Psalm 71:2; Isaiah 45:21. There is a play in the Heb. on the words tell and tale. They are derived from the same root, which, like tell in old English, means both to count and to recount. God’s mercies are an inexhaustible theme. Cp. Psalm 40:5; Psalm 139:17-18.

I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.
16. I will go &c.] Better, I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Jehovah, bringing them as my theme for praise. Cp. Psalm 106:2. The A.V. would at any rate require the singular, which is however read by the LXX and some other Versions.

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.
17. thou hast taught me &c.] He has been a life-long disciple in the school of God. Cp. Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 50:4; Isaiah 54:13.

have I declared] Have I been declaring, habitually and constantly.

thy wondrous works] A special term for the singular and conspicuous works of God, both in nature (Job 5:9), and in His dealings with His people (Exodus 3:20), particularly in the great crises of their history (Psalm 78:4; Psalm 78:11; Psalm 78:32), which declare His power and love, and arouse the admiration of all who behold them. The word includes ‘miracles’ commonly so called, as one limited class of ‘the wonderful works of God,’ but is of much wider application. To recount and celebrate His marvellous works is the duty and delight of God’s saints. Cp. Psalm 9:1; Psalm 26:7; Psalm 40:5.

17–20. Past mercies are the ground of hope alike for the Psalmist and for the nation.

Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.
18. Now also when I am old and grayheaded] Better, And even when I am old and grayheaded: lit. and even unto old age and gray hairs. Cp. 1 Samuel 12:2; Isaiah 46:4.

until &c.] Better with R.V.,

Until I have declared thy strength unto (the next) generation,

Thy might unto every one that is to come.

Thy strength, lit., thine arm, implies more than power; it suggests “thoughts of guidance, support, protection, government, chastisement, conflict, victory.” (Kay). Cp. Psalm 77:15; Isaiah 53:1. &c. It is more natural to supply the next (R.V.) than this with generation. But generation needs some qualification; and the Syr. (with which the LXX nearly agrees) may be right in reading, until I have declared thy strength, and thy might to the generation to come. Cp. Psalm 22:30-31, and the note there.

Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!
19. is very high] Lit., (reacheth) unto the height, of heaven. Cp. Psalm 36:5; Psalm 57:10; Job 11:8.

who hast done &c.] It is better with R.V. to connect this clause with what follows: Thou who hast done great things, O God, who is like unto thee? Jehovah is incomparable for power and goodness. The fundamental passage is Exodus 15:11; cp. Psalm 35:10; Psalm 86:8; Psalm 89:6; Psalm 89:8; Micah 7:18.

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.
20. Thou which haat shewed us many and sore troubles,

Shalt quicken us again,

And shalt bring us up again from the depths of the earth.

So R.V., with marg. note, ‘Another reading is, me.’ The Kthîbh or written text (p. lxvii) has us; but the Qrç, or accepted reading of the Jewish textual tradition, is me. The latter reading is supported in the first line by all the Versions except Aquila: in the second and third lines the LXX and Syr. read me, Targ. and Jer. us. The plural, whether it is the original reading or not, points to the correct interpretation. The Psalmist’s hopes are not merely personal; he speaks on behalf of the nation whose representative he is; he looks for its restoration from its present state of humiliation. It is as it were dead and sunk in the depths of Sheol, but God can and will recall it to life. Cp. Hosea 6:1-2; Ezekiel 37:12 ff.; Psalm 80:18 : Psalm 85:6. Again hardly expresses the full meaning: lit. thou wilt turn, or, return (and) quicken us. Cp. Psalm 6:4; Psalm 80:14; Psalm 85:4; Isaiah 63:17.

the depths of the earth] The ‘depths’ denote (1) the vast masses of water stored away in the earth (Psalm 33:7), and hence (2) the subterranean abysses where Sheol was supposed to be situated. Cp. “the lower parts of the earth” (Psalm 63:9), and Job 26:5-6.

Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.
21. O mayest thou increase my greatness,

And turn again and comfort me.

Except in the Book of Esther the word for greatness is used of God’s greatness or great deeds (Psalm 145:3; Psalm 145:6); and the LXX reads thy righteousness, or, according to some MSS. and the Vulg., thy greatness. This may be right; but if the text is correct, the Psalmist thinks of himself as sharing in the honour of the resuscitated nation. He can hardly refer to personal dignity only. For comfort cp. Isaiah 12:1; Isaiah 40:1. The past tenses of the P.B.V. in this and the preceding verse are due to the influence of the Vulg.

21–24. Repeated prayers and vows of thanksgiving.

I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel.
22. I will also &c.] I also will give thanks unto thee: in response to this new proof of Thy love. psaltery] See on Psalm 57:8.

thy truth] For in this manifestation of mercy to Israel God has shewn Himself true to His promises. Cp. Micah 7:20.

unto thee &c.] Unto thee will I make melody.

O thou Holy One of Israel] A title which is found frequently in the Book of Isaiah, but elsewhere only twice again in the Psalter (Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18), twice in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5), and once in a modified form in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:7). Cp. too Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 1:12. Its use here in connexion with the redemption of Israel is significant. It denotes that God in His character of a Holy God has entered into covenant with Israel, and His holiness is pledged to redeem His people. For a fuller explanation of this title the present writer may be allowed to refer to his Doctrine of the Prophets, pp. 177 ff.

My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.
23. My lips shall sing aloud when I make melody unto thee. P.B.V. ‘my lips shall be fain,’ i.e. glad: Vulg. exultabunt.

my soul] His whole self and personality, delivered from danger, will join in the glad thanksgiving. Cp. Psalm 34:22; Psalm 55:18.

My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long: for they are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt.
24. My tongue &c.] From Psalm 35:28. The word for talk denotes musing, meditative speech.

for they &c.] For they are ashamed, for they are confounded, that seek my hurt (R.V.). A reminiscence of Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26; Psalm 40:14 (Psalm 70:2). His faith realises the discomfiture of his enemies as though it had already taken place.

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