Psalm 31 Meaning

Turn to Psalm 31.

Psalm 31 is a lament psalm in which David is trying to work through a problem in his life with the Lord’s help.

That problem – as it turns out – is his son Absalom entering into Jerusalem to kill his own father.

Let’s start by inspecting the superscription of this psalm.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 1 Explanation

KJV Psalm 31:1 <To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>

So, this psalm claims that David is its author.

And as I said, the setting of Psalm 31 is likely when Absalom his son came into Jerusalem, intent on killing his father. I think we’ll find it pretty easy to place various realities in this psalm into that situation in David’s life.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Invocation / Confidence (1a)

And so, David begins this psalm by invoking and expressing his confidence in the Lord.

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust;

So, that’s David’s bedrock assurance and confidence. He trusts in the Lord. No one and nothing else – not his military strength or wisdom or anything. The Lord, alone is his trust.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Petition (1b-4)

And so, because he trusts the Lord, he now comes to him with his petitions – because things are not going well in his life.

let me never be ashamed:
deliver me in thy righteousness.

So, David asks for a deliverance that would prevent his everlasting (never = forever) shame.

 2 Bow down thine ear to me;
deliver me speedily:
be thou my strong rock,
for an house of defence to save me.

David wants God to hear him, to deliver him quickly, and to be like a lofty protective hideout that would result in his salvation – his physical deliverance.

 3 For thou art my rock and my fortress;
therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.

Rock – (selah – crag, cliff) different word than in verse 2

Fortress – (mesudah) same word as defense in verse 2

So, verse 2 was David asking God to be certain things for him – a rock and a house of defence. But now in verse 3 we discover that those very things that David asked God to be in verse 2 – he already is according to verse 3.

And this is how we ought to pray, too. God is out provider. And yet, we also ask him to provide our daily bread.

Well, then we saw that David urges that the Lord direct him – because what happens to David will impact God’s reputation – God’s name.

 4 Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me:
for thou art my strength.

David requests that the Lord release him from the traps that his enemies- really, his own son – have laid secretly for him (as if he were an animal).

And they are said to have done this privly. And that’s just the picture we get from the story of how Absalom worked out this coup. He secretly gathered people little by little until he had enough men to overthrow his father.

And so, David asks God at the end of verse 4 to bring him as it were to a place of safety – which place the Lord is pictured as actually being.

So, that’s David’s first set of petitions in verses 1 through 4. We’ll see that he has another set of petitions in verses 15 through 18.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Confidence (5-8)

But starting in verse 5 and running to verse 8 we see David putting aside his petitions for a moment and instead confessing to his confidence in the Lord.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 5 Commentary

David starts by uttering a phrase that is very familiar to readers of the New Testament.

 5 Into thine hand I commit my spirit:
thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

In Luke 23:46, Luke records the first phrase of this verse as Jesus’ last statement on the cross.

Jesus there was expressing confidence in the Lord’s sovereign control of his life, just like his father David did here in Psalm 31.

It’s interesting that Luke doesn’t quote from Psalm 22 like Matthew and Mark do regarding being forsaken. Instead, Luke focuses on the trust that Jesus had in his father.

So, back to Psalm 31 – David is appointing his spirit into the hands of God for safekeeping. He is confident that God will redeem him either in the future or he might be saying that God already has done so.

This redemption is something like rescue. David is confident that God will rescue him or already has made plans to do so.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 6 the Message

David continues…

 6 I have hated them that regard lying vanities:
but I trust in the LORD.

David has trusted the Lord despite those around him who worship worthless idols. David hates those men because of their treacherous actions against the God who made a covenant with their fathers.

Now, this is something that I don’t think is stated in the account of Absalom’s rebellion. I don’t think we hear that he was an idol worshipper – or that his comrades were either. But it’s not a stretch to imagine that men who are so low and worthless and treacherous certainly wouldn’t be worshipping the God of truth – as he’s labeled earlier in this psalm.

And because David trusts in the Lord…

 7 I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy:
for thou hast considered my trouble;
thou hast known my soul in adversities;

Note the utter joy – he speaks of being glad and rejoicing.

God’s steadfast loyal love has caused God to not be aloof to David’s problems. No, the Lord has seen and known all about them. This intimate personal concern causes David great joy.

Being in adversity doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about you. He’s well aware. He considers your trouble. He knows your soul – even and especially in adversity.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 8 Commentary

And David continues communicating his confidence in the Lord…

 8 And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy:
thou hast set my feet in a large room.

Contrast – shut up vs. set / the hand of the enemy vs. a large room/place

So, David continues his rejoicing from v. 7 that God has not allowed his enemies to trap him in their hands as it were – but rather the Lord has set him free into a roomy spacious area where he is given some room to stretch. This is part of the demonstration of God’s loyal love  – his mercy chesed from verse 7.

So, that’s verses 5 through 8 – David’s confidence in the Lord. He commits his life to the Lord. He hates those who turn from the Lord to worship idols – yet he himself has continued to trust the Lord alone. He takes comfort in God’s loyal love and intimate knowledge of him and his situation. And he’s confident that God will not deliver him to his enemies – but rather will deliver him from his enemies.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Lament (9-13)

But now that David has communicated his confidence in the Lord, he enters into the section known as the lament in verses 9-13. This is where David airs his complaint that he needs God’s help to overcome.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 9-16 Commentary

He begins…

 9 Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble:
mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.

David asks for grace because he feels constricted and bound up with trouble or affliction.

This affliction extends beyond the emotions and into the physical aspects of David’s life. His body (eye, soul, and belly) feels the effects of this affliction.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 10 Commentary

David goes on…

 10 For my life is spent with grief,
and my years with sighing:

my strength faileth because of mine iniquity,
and my bones are consumed.

There is some chastening that is not a result of sin. But in David’s case – as he’s writing Psalm 31 – he knows that this is not the case for him. He knows that his suffering is a result of his sin.

His life has been spent – that is, it’s close to being over. And it was later on toward the end of David’s life that Absalom his son was leading a national upheaval against him.

And how are these golden years of David characterized? By grief and sighing. By his bones being consumed – same word as we saw in verse 9 regarding David’s eye.

And why is all of this happening? David owns up to that fact that his iniquity has caused this. His sin with Bathsheba and against her husband Uriah brought God’s chastening – and that chastening never left his house to the day of David’s death.

And David is humble enough to acknowledge that fact here. He’s not blaming God. He’s not questioning God’s justice or mercy. He’s accepting the fact that his sin has caused some irreversible problems in his life.

Now, I wanted to mention one other thing that’s noteworthy here. We read verse 5 before – “into your hands I commit my spirit.”

And because of verse 5, some call this a Messianic psalm. And there’s nothing wrong with that – but we do definitely need to qualify what it means that a psalm is a Messianic psalm.

Whatever it means, it cannot mean that every single line in this psalm applies to Christ. For example, verse 10 here is definitely not about Christ.

The Scripture says that he knew no sin. But what does David say of himself here? He speaks of his “iniquity.” So, this can’t be Christ speaking of himself through this entire psalm.

Jesus does use verse 5 of this psalm to communicate his total abandoning of his soul to his father like David was doing in this psalm. But it doesn’t follow that Christ is pictured everywhere in this psalm – certainly not in verse 10 here.

Alright, let’s move on to verse 11…

 11 I was a reproach among all mine enemies,
but especially among my neighbours,
and a fear to mine acquaintance:
they that did see me without fled from me.

David here is speaking of the fear that his multiplied enemies brought to his friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

And it’s easy to place this in the timeline of David’s life. As he was fleeing Jerusalem to avoid being assassinated by his son, many of his close friends and acquaintances abandoned him for fear of the uprising against him.

And because of this wide-scale abandonment of him by his friends, David says…

 12 I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind:
I am like a broken vessel.

So, the treatment David has received from his friends makes him feel as remembered and thought-of as a dead man who’s been totally forgotten. That is, he feels totally forsaken by his fellow man.

And when he mentions a broken vessel we should think of something like a disposable dish in our day. When you throw away a paper cup, it would be absurd to think that you would remember it with longing affection. No one does that.

And that’s David’s point – even those close friends and neighbors he mentioned in verse 11 have abandoned and forgotten him.

And again, most of the abandonment is due to his son coming to town in order to kill David, as he recalls in verse 13…

 13 For I have heard the slander of many:
fear was on every side:

while they took counsel together against me,
they devised to take away my life.

Now, for any of us who were here for our teaching through Jeremiah, we might recognize that phrase “fear on every side.” That’s the phrase found five times in the book of Jeremiah – magor misabib. Outside of Jeremiah, that phrase is found once in the Old Testament – and here it is!

In Jeremiah, that phrase was used in conjunction with the threat of an enemy force coming and invading the land. In Jeremiah’s day that force was Babylon. But in David’s day – around 500 years before Jeremiah was written – that force was his own son and the rebel band he led against his own father.

So, that’s David’s lament. He is experiencing an enemy invasion – headed up by his own son. As a result of this influx of dangerous men who are out to kill David, he’s finding that many of his closest companions are abandoning him. And he ultimately has only his sin to blame for his numerous life-threatening problems.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Confidence (14-15a)

But just at that point – after cataloging the reasons for his fear and anxiety – that’s when David renews his expressions of confidence in the Lord in verse 14 and the first part of verse 15.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 14 15 Commentary

 14 But I trusted in thee, O LORD:
I said, Thou art my God.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 15 Commentary

 15 My times are in thy hand:

So, David confesses his total trust in the Lord. That’s the trust that was shown to be a great contrast to those who worshipped idols – as we already heard about in verse 7.

David also confesses his relationship with the Lord – that the Lord is his God.

And then he again assigns his life into the Lord’s hands. That reminds us of David’s expression of confidence from verse 5 that he commits his spirit into the hands of the Lord. David’s spirit and his times are in the Lord’s hands.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Petition (15b-18)

And yet despite the fact that David feels confident in his times and his spirit being in God’s hands, he feels compelled in verses 15 through 18 to petition God to keep him out of the hands of his enemies.

deliver me from the hand of mine enemies,
and from them that persecute me.

16 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant:
save me for thy mercies’ sake.

17 Let me not be ashamed, O LORD;
for I have called upon thee:

let the wicked be ashamed,
and let them be silent in the grave.

18 Let the lying lips be put to silence;
which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

So, David’s petitions are broken up into two categories – deliverance for himself and punishment for his wicked enemies.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Praise / Confidence (19-24)

And now, petition (vv15-18) gives way to praise and expressions on confidence in the last six verses of this psalm in verses 19-24.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 19 Commentary

 19 Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee;
which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 20 Commentary

What does that goodness look like?…

 20 Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man:
thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

And that goodness that the Lord shows in protecting David causes him to cry out…

 21 Blessed be the LORD:
for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.

That’s his faithful loyal love in a strong city. Strong is actually translated the vast majority of the time as having to do with a siege – an invasion.

So, David is saying that even in the midst of his city literally being invaded, he has seen God’s loyal steadfast love toward him.

And David had thought his case was hopeless. But God had other plans…

 22 For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes:
nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.

Then David turns to the saints – those who are serious about the Lord – and he encourages us to love the Lord.

 23 O love the LORD, all ye his saints:
for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.

The way that the Lord deals with those who trust him and those who hate him and his people is always right. It may not be done according to our timeline, but the Lord deals with everyone in the way that they deserve in the right time.

Psalm 31 Meaning
Psalm 31 24 Meaning

 24 Be of good courage,
and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

And may that be the case for us. May we who hope in the Lord love the one who preserves the faithful and will eventually punish our enemies – and who has and will ultimately deal with all of our problems – even when those problems are caused by our own sin.

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