Psalm 71 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

(Read all of Psalm 71)
This psalm is without a title, but is thought to be David's: the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions, and all the Oriental ones, ascribe it to him; and both the subject and style show it to be his. According to the title of the Syriac version, it was composed by him when Saul made war against the house of David; but this is not likely, since it was written by him in his old age, Psalm 71:9; rather, according to Kimchi and Arama, it was penned when he fled from his son Absalom: there are several things in it which incline to this. The Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions call it "A Psalm of David, of the sons of Jonadab, and of the first that were carried captive;" and so the Ethiopic and Arabic versions. Apollinarius says the sons of Jonadab composed it; but without any foundation for it; and the Syriac version is, it is a prophecy concerning the sufferings and resurrection of the Messiah; and so Jerom and others interpret it. The literal meaning respecting David seems best, though it may be applied to the church, and to any believer in distress. Theodoret thinks it was written by David in the person of the captives in Babylon.

Verse 1. In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,.... The Targum is, "in thy Word;" See Gill on "Ps 31:1";

let me never be put to confusion; or "be ashamed"; see the note as before.

Verse 2. Deliver me in thy righteousness,.... By it, or "for the sake of [it]" {q}; See Gill on "Ps 31:1";

and cause me to escape; present danger, and out of the hands of enemies, as well as wrath to come, and eternal death; which nothing but the righteousness of God can deliver from, or cause to escape;

incline thine ear unto me; or "bow it"; See Gill on "Ps 31:2";

and save me; out of all troubles and afflictions, and from wicked and unreasonable men.

{q} Ktqdub "propter justitiam tuam," Pagninus, Piscator; so Schmidt.

Verse 3. Be thou my strong habitation,.... This is very appropiately said, when David was driven out of his dwelling place, and palace at Jerusalem, by his son, as Kimchi observes. When God's people have no certain dwelling place, which is sometimes their case, they always find one in the Lord; particularly in his heart's love; for he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, 1 John 4:16; and a strong habitation he is: wherefore he is called a strong rock, a strong hold, a strong tower; he is as a wall of fire around his people, a munition of rocks; his salvation is as walls and bulwarks, and his power as a garrison in which they are kept. The psalmist adds,

whereunto I may continually resort; or "may go into daily" {r}, in times of danger and distress, for safety; the name of the Lord being a strong tower, whither the righteous run, and are safe, Proverbs 18:10; and his perfections, his power, faithfulness, lovingkindness, and unchangeableness, being as so many secret chambers, where they may enter into, and hide themselves, till calamities are over, Psalm 57:1; and every day indeed for food, for comfort, for refreshment and pleasure, through communion with him; and God in Christ is always to be come at: Christ is the way of access and acceptance; and through his blood, sacrifice, and righteousness, the believer has boldness to enter into the holiest of all, and go up to the seat of God, the throne of his grace; and even to enter into him himself, who has been the dwelling place of his people in all generations, Psalm 90:1;

thou hast given commandment to save me; either to the ministering angels, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi interpret it, comparing it with Psalm 91:11; or rather to his Son, in the council and covenant of grace and peace; when he enjoined him the salvation of his people, which he readily agreed to, and with which David was acquainted, Psalm 40:7; of this command our Lord speaks, John 10:18; and to which he was obedient, Philippians 2:8; it may respect David's salvation from present trouble, and his assurance of it, believing that the Lord had determined it, and by his mighty power would effect it; see Psalm 44:4;

for thou [art] my rock and my fortress; see Psalm 18:2.

{r} dymt awbl "ut ingrediar jugiter," Pagninus; so Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

Verse 4. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,.... Meaning Absalom his son, as Arama, who had risen up in rebellion against him; and he may not only intend him, but all those wicked men that had joined with him: it was David's mercy he had a covenant God to go to, and could claim his interest in him, who had power to deliver him, and from whom he might expect it;

out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man; or "leavened" {s}; a sour ill natured man; one leavened with malice and wickedness: perhaps Ahithophel is intended. It may be applied to any wicked, lawless, and tyrannical persecutor of God's people; and particularly to the lawless and wicked one, the man of sin, the son of perdition, antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:4.

{s} Umwx "malitiae fermento prorsus corrupti," Michaelis, "secundum," Gejerum & Gussetium; so Ainsworth.

Verse 5. For thou [art] my hope, O Lord God,.... The object, ground, and foundation of it, even of present deliverance, and of future and eternal salvation;

[thou art] my trust from my youth; in whom he trusted in his youthful days, of which there is an eminent instance in 1 Samuel 17:33.

Verse 6. By thee have I been holden up from the womb,.... Supported in being, upheld in life, and sustained with food and raiment, and followed with the mercies and blessings of life from thence to this present moment; which the psalmist takes notice of, as he does of what goes before and follows after, to encourage his faith and hope in God as to present deliverance;

thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels; See Gill on "Ps 22:9"; the Syriac version is, "thou art my hope from my mother's bowels"; the Arabic version, "thou art my helper"; and the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions, "thou art my protector"; the word is only used here, and in Psalm 90:10; and is there rendered "cut off"; the Lord was, as it were, his "cutter off" {t}; that cut the navel string, and loosed him from his mother, and safely brought him into the world, and preserved him ever since: wherefore he adds,

my praise [shall be] continually of thee; as the God of nature and providence; and also as the God of grace, who had blessed him both with temporal and spiritual blessings; and these being continued with him, he determines that God should be the subject of his praise always. The Targum is, "in thy Word my praise is continually."

{t} yzwn "excisor meus," Gejerus.

Verse 7. I am as a wonder unto many,.... To the multitude, to the populace, or "to the great" {u} and mighty; and indeed to both: which respects not his wonderful preservation from the womb, he had before observed; nor his being in a wonderful manner raised to the throne of Israel; nor the wonderful things and amazing exploits done by him, and victories he obtained; nor the wonderful instances of divine grace and goodness to him; but rather the forlorn and distressed state and condition he was now in, being obliged to quit his palace, and flee from the face of his son, accompanied only with a few of his servants; and so was a shocking sight, a spectacle, as the apostle says of himself, to others, to the world, to angels, and to men, 1 Corinthians 4:9; so the Messiah and his children are said to be set for signs and wonders, Isaiah 8:18; and Joshua and his fellows to be men wondered at, Zechariah 3:8; as the saints are by themselves, that they should partake of such favours; and by the angels, that they should be the objects of electing, redeeming, calling, adopting, justifying, and pardoning grace; and by the world, that they should choose to suffer affliction and reproach for Christ, bear it with so much patience, and be supported, and thrive under it; see 2 Corinthians 6:8;

but thou [art] my strong refuge; or "my refuge of strength" {w}; his refuge and strength, as in Psalm 46:1; his refuge, to which he betook himself, when refuge failed him, and no man cared for him, and which he found to be a strong one, and in it safety.

{u} Mybrl "multis vel magnis," Piscator; so Ainsworth. {w} ze yoxm "refugium meum roboris," Gejerus.

Verse 8. Let my mouth be filled [with] thy praise,.... Or "thy praise shall fill my mouth" {x}; which shows that his heart was affected with the goodness of God to him, and that he had a deep impression and sense of it upon him; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks; and for the mouth to be filled with the praise of God, is to speak largely, publicly, and with great delight, in the praise of God, his divine perfections and benefits;

[and with] thy honour all the day; the excellency of his nature, the glory of his majesty, the honour due unto him, on account of his being, attributes, and blessings of providence and grace; a work to be employed in all the day, evening, morning, and at noon; as often as prayer is made to God, praise, honour, and glory, should be given him; since his mercies are new every morning, and they continue all the day long; his goodness endures for ever.

{x} Ktlht yp almy

Verse 9. Cast me not off in the time of old age,.... The Lord never casts off nor casts away his people, whom he foreknew; they are near unto him; they are on his heart, and are engraven on the palms of his hands; and they shall never be removed from his heart's love, nor out of his arms, nor out of his covenant, and shall always be the objects of his care: he bears and carries them to old age, and even to hoary hairs: the Lord had been the guide of David's youth, and his trust then, Psalm 71:5; and now he desires he would be the staff of his old age; at which age he was when Absalom rebelled against him;

forsake me not when my strength faileth: as it does when old age comes on; then the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and especially at death, when flesh and heart fail; but God will never forsake his people, neither in youth nor in old age, neither in life nor at death.

Verse 10. For mine enemies speak against, me,.... Or "say unto me" {y} what is expressed in the following verse, "God hath forsaken him"; and so these words are a reason of the above petitions: or "mine enemies speak to me"; or "of me" {z}; not good, but evil, and so the Targum paraphrases it, "for mine enemies speak evil against me;" or concerning me. David had his enemies, and many, as Ahithophel, and others, who spake against him to the people, and thereby drew many with them into rebellion against him; and particularly Shimei spoke against him, and cursed him, calling him a bloody man, a man of Belial, 2 Samuel 16:7;

and they that lay wait for my soul; or "life"; that laid snares for him; or lay in ambush, and sought for an opportunity to take away his life: or "they that keep my soul," or "life" {a}; that were his bodyguards that were about his person for the preservation of him; and so the Targum seems to understand it;

take counsel together; lay schemes and form plots how to destroy him, as Ahithophel did, 2 Samuel 16:20.

{y} yl wrma "dixerunt mihi," Montanus. {z} "De me loquuti sunt, vel loquuntur," Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius, Gejerus, Michaelis. {a} yvpn yrmv "custodientes animam meam," Pagninus, Montanus; "custodiebant," V. L.

Verse 11. Saying, God hath forsaken him,.... Good men may seem to others to be forsaken of God; and they themselves may sometimes think they are; and they may be forsaken for a small moment, when God withdraws his gracious presence, or does not afford immediate help; but never finally and totally. This David's enemies concluded, from the distressed condition he was in, being obliged to leave his family and court, and flee from his son, and wander up and down with a small retinue; and this they said to one another, to encourage themselves to lay violent hands upon him, which they thought they might do with ease and impunity; wherefore it follows,

persecute and take him; pursue after him eagerly and diligently; lose no time; and, when come up to him, seize upon him, without any fear of God or man;

for [there is] none to deliver [him]; out of our hands. God will not, for he has forsaken him; and men cannot, for he has not an army sufficient to defend him or recover him.

Verse 12. O God, be not far from me,.... God is everywhere, at hand and afar off, with regard to his being, power, and providence; his glorious presence is in heaven, his gracious presence is with his people; but, when he hides his face, he seems to be at a distance; and this they cannot bear, and therefore deprecate it; see Psalm 10:1;

O my God, make haste for my help; he knew that his help was in God, and that there was none for him elsewhere; and that he could help him when none else could, and was a present help in time of trouble; and it being such a time with him, and his case desperate, he desires the Lord that he would make haste; and he addresses him as his own God, the consideration of which encouraged his faith and hope in him, and carried in it an argument to help him; see Psalm 119:94.

Verse 13. Let them be confounded,.... See Psalm 70:2;

[and] consumed; like smoke; see Psalm 37:20; as antichrist will be with the breath of Christ's mouth, and the brightness of his coming, 2 Thessalonians 2:8;

that are adversaries to my soul; that hated him with a diabolical hatred, as the devil hates the souls of men, and who has his name "Satan" from the word here used; all wicked men are Satans, full of enmity against God, and all good men; and such were David's enemies, spiteful and malicious, and nothing would satisfy them but his life;

let them be covered [with] reproach and dishonour; as with a garment:

that seek my hurt; see Psalm 35:26; as Absalom and his company; so Arama.

Verse 14. But I will hope continually,.... For deliverance and salvation from present outward troubles, for; more grace here and glory hereafter: it is the excellency of the grace of hope to be exercised in times of affliction and distress, and with Abraham to believe in hope against hope; and then it is that this grace is eminently and remarkably useful: it is an anchor to the soul when in distress, which keeps it firm and steadfast; and an helmet, which covers the head in the day of battle; in the exercise of which the believer glories in tribulation: it is an abiding grace, and should be continually exercised by those that have it, which is to abound in it; but this must be through the power of the Holy Ghost, Romans 15:13;

and will yet praise thee more and more; or "will add to all thy praise" {b}; to former praises and thanksgivings, fresh ones, as his mercies were renewed to him, and he was daily loaded with benefits.

{b} Ktlht lk le ytpowhw "omnibus laudibus tuis adjiciam," Tigurine version.

Verse 15. My mouth shall show forth thy righteousness,.... Both his punitive justice in taking vengeance on his enemies, agreeably to the above imprecations; and his faithfulness in the performance of promises of good things unto him; as also his essential righteousness displayed and glorified in the redemption that is by Christ; and particularly the righteousness of Christ, accepted of God, and imputed by him; which the psalmist with his mouth declared his faith in, expressed his joy at, and set forth in a strong manner the glory and excellency of it, and determined to make mention of it, and of that only, as in Psalm 71:16;

[and] thy salvation all the day; both temporal and eternal; the glory of both, and praise for the same;

for I know not the numbers [thereof]; of that righteousness and salvation, the numerous blessings which are contained in them; see Psalm 40:5; or "though I know not the numbers of them" {c}; though he could not fully declare the glories and excellencies of the righteousness and salvation of God, and the numerous mercies and rich grace included in them; yet he would attempt to set them forth in the best way he could, though in a feeble and imperfect manner.

{c} yk "quamvis," Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Gejerus; So Ainsworth.

Verse 16. I will go in the strength of the Lord God,.... Go on praising him, as he had determined to do in the preceding verses; not in his own strength, knowing that his heart was not always disposed aright or prepared and fit for such service; and that though the daily continuance of favours required constant praise, yet he needed always the aids of divine grace to raise his affection and song: or "I will go into the strengths of the Lord God" {d}; the power of God is expressed in the plural number, to show the greatness of it, which is as a garrison to the believer; see 1 Peter 1:5; a strong hold, a strong tower, a strong habitation, as in Psalm 71:3; into which he goes by faith, and is there safe, in all times of distress and danger: or the sense is, that he would go into the house of God, the temple and sanctuary, and in his strength perform the duties of public worship there; and it may include all religious actions, private and public, and every, spiritual undertaking; which ought to be attempted and performed, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord: man is become, through sin, a weak and impotent creature; though he is very hard to be brought to a sense and acknowledgment of his weakness; true believers are sensible of it, and own it; and such, knowing that there is a sufficiency of strength in Christ for them, look and go to him for it; to do otherwise, to attempt to do anything in our own strength, betrays our weakness, folly, and vanity, and is dangerous, attended with bad consequences, and never succeeds well: the Apostle Peter is an instance of this, Matthew 26:33;

I will make mention of thy righteousness, [even] of thine only; and that before the Lord himself: not his own righteousness, which he knew would not justify him in his sight, nor render him acceptable to him; nor furnish out a plea or argument why he should receive any favour from him; and therefore resolves not to mention it; but the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God, which he approves of, accepts, and imputes. This is a pure, perfect, and spotless righteousness, which God is well pleased with; honours his law, satisfies his justice, and so justifies in his sight; and renders person and service acceptable to him; and therefore with great pleasure and boldness, may be mentioned unto as it should be to Christ himself also; by ascribing it to him, as the author of it; by expressing a desire to be found in it; to have faith of interest in it, and joy on account of it; and by owning him openly and freely as the Lord our righteousness: and we should make mention of it to others, in praise of it; extolling it as the righteousness of God, and not a creature; and so sufficient to justify many, even all the seed of Israel; as the best robe of righteousness, better than the best of man's, better than Adam's in innocence, or than the angels' in heaven; as a law honouring and justice satisfying one, and as an everlasting one. And we should put ourselves in mind of it, and, by repeated acts of faith, put it on as our justifying righteousness; since much of our joy, peace, and comfort, depend upon it. And this, and this only, is to be made mention of; it is only in the Lord that there is righteousness: as there is salvation in him, and in no other, so there is righteousness in him, and in no other; wherefore no other is to be mentioned along with it: justification is not partly by Christ's righteousness, and partly by our own; but only by his, and through faith in it; see Romans 9:32.

{d} twrbgb "in fortitudines," Montanus; "in potentias," V. L. Vatablus.

Verse 17. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth,.... The corruption of human nature; the weakness and impotence of it, to everything that is spiritually good; and the need of continual strength and grace from Christ, to go to him for righteousness and strength, life and salvation, and to walk by faith on him; the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, and the insufficiency of his own; the will, ways, and worship of God; and all the duties of religion, prayer, praise, &c. and whoever were the instruments, or whatever were the means, of teaching David these things, he ascribes it to God. Whether his parents, or the priests and Levites, taught him the sacrifices and ordinances of the law, it was the Lord that blessed instructions to him; and that taught him by providences and precepts, and by his Holy Spirit. And a wonderful blessing it is to be taught of God, and not of men, things relating both to doctrine and practice; and it is an addition to it to be taught these things early, as David was from his youth; and therefore the Lord was so soon the object of his faith and trust, Psalm 71:5; and, as Timothy, from a child, was acquainted with the holy Scriptures, and the things contained in them, which are able to make wise unto salvation, Isaiah 29:13;

and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works: not only of nature and providence, but of grace; the treasuring up of all grace, and the blessings of it in Christ; the work of redemption by him; the work of regeneration and conversion by his Spirit; and the perseverance of the saints by his grace and strength; which are all wonderful and amazing. And as the psalmist saw his interest in these things, and had an experience of them, he declared them to others for their encouragement, and to the glory of all the three Persons; see Psalm 66:16.

Verse 18. Now also, when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not,.... A repetition of his request, Psalm 71:9; with a reason annexed to it, suggested in the following words:

until I have showed thy strength unto [this] generation; or, "thine arm" {e}; which sometimes the Messiah, Isaiah 53:1; who is the power of by whom he made the worlds, and in whom all things consist; and who has wrought out the salvation people; and is the arm on which they lean, and they are upheld. And the psalmist may be thought to desire that he might be continued a little longer, and be favoured with the presence of God, and the influences of his Spirit and grace; that he might show forth in prophecy, both by word and writing, to the men of the then present age, more things concerning the person, office, and grace of Christ; his sufferings, death, resurrection from the dead, and session at the right hand of God; things which are spoken of in the book of Psalms. Sometimes the arm of the Lord denotes his power and strength, Psalm 44:3; and so it may be taken here; and the next clause seems to be an explanation of it:

[and] thy power; or "[even] thy power,"

to everyone [that] is to come; that is, to come into the world, that is to be born into it; namely, the power of God, not only in creating all things out of nothing, and supporting what is made; but in the redemption of men, in the conversion of sinners, and in the preservation of the saints, and in enabling them to hold on and out unto the end: and which is shown forth by the psalmist in what he has committed to writing; and which continue, and will continue, to the end of the world, for the instruction of those that come into it; see Psalm 22:31.

{e} Kewrz "brachium tuum," V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, &c.

Verse 19. Thy righteousness also, O God, [is] very high,.... Or, "unto [the place] on high" {f}; it reaches unto heaven, as the mercy, truth, and faithfulness of God, are said to do, Psalm 36:5. The righteousness of Christ is accepted of with God the Father in heaven; it is in Christ, who is there at the right hand of God; and it is higher and infinitely above any righteousness of a creature, angel's or man's;

who hast done great things; in nature, in forming the world out of nothing, and in upholding all creatures in their beings; in providence, in governing the world, and ordering all things in it for the best, and to answer the wisest purposes; in grace, in the salvation of lost sinners by Christ; in the justification of them by his righteousness; and in the atonement and pardon of their sins, through his blood and sacrifice; in the regeneration of them by his grace; in making and performing exceeding great and precious promises, and in giving them eternal life;

O God, who [is] like unto thee? either for greatness or goodness; for power or for mercy; for justice, truth, and faithfulness; for the perfections of his nature, or the works of his hands; and to be praised, reverenced and adored, as he is; see Psalm 89:6.

{f} Mwrm de "usque in excelsum," Pagninus, Montanus, Gejerus; "in altum usque," Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

Verse 20. [Thou], which hast showed me great and sore troubles,.... Or, "made [him] to see" {g}; that is, to experience. David had his troubles, and these were great, both as to quantity and quality; and very grievous and hard to be borne, and were very trying and afflictive: some outward, such as he endured when persecuted by Saul; and afterwards in his own family, though the incest of Ammon, the murder of him by Absalom, and Absalom's rebellion against him; the curses of Shimei, and the bickerings of the sons of Zeruiah; with many others: and some inward, arising from the corruptions of his heart, the hidings of God's face, and the temptations of Satan. His experience of all which he ascribes, not to instruments or second causes, but to God himself; who had either laid them upon him, or suffered them to befall him, for wise ends of his glory, and his servant's good. There is in this clause and the following, a "Keri" and a "Cetib"; according to the "Cetib," or writing in the text, it is, "who hast showed us"; and so the Targum renders it: but according to the "Keri" in the margin, and the points, it is as we read; so it is in the Septuagint and Oriental versions, and both may be retained; for David's troubles, and those of other saints, are much the same;

shalt quicken me again; either raise him from so great a death of afflictions, in which he seemed to be as a dead man, both by himself and others, to a more comfortable and happy state and condition, in which he might live more free from vexation and trouble: or, in a spiritual sense, quicken him, being dead and lifeless, in the exercise of grace, and discharge of duty; which is usually done by the word and ordinances, and to purpose, by the discoveries of the love of God, which excite grace, and animate to duty. And this is God's work, and may be called a quickening again in distinction from the first quickening, when dead in trespasses and sins;

and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth; expressive of a very low estate, either of body or mind, into which he had been brought; see Psalm 130:1. Could the psalm be understood of Christ, this and the preceding clause might be applied to his resurrection from the dead; see Ephesians 4:9; and to the resurrection of the saints; on which the faith of Christ and his people is exercised,

{g} wntyarh "fecisti me videre," Vatablus, Cocceius, Gejerus; "videre et experiri fecisti nos," Michaelis.

Verse 21. Thou shalt increase my greatness,.... His temporal greatness, as he did, by crushing the rebellion of his son; returning him to his palace and family; and giving him rest from his enemies all around: and his spiritual greatness, by favouring him with his presence; by shedding abroad his love in his heart; by enlarging his experience; increasing his faith, causing his love to abound, and him to grow in every grace, and in the knowledge of Christ;

and comfort me on every side; by his Spirit, word, and ordinances; by his truths and promises; with his rod and staff; and with mercy, grace, and lovingkindness. The phrase denotes the abundance of comfort, which should come as it were from every quarter, and encompass him about.

Verse 22. I will also praise thee with the psaltery,.... An instrument of music; See Gill on "Ps 33:2";

[even] thy truth, O my God; that is, his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, which is never suffered to fail;

unto thee will I sing with the harp; another instrument of music; and both typical of the spiritual melody in the heart, which believers make in praising the Lord, when they sing the Lamb's new song; see Revelation 14:2;

O thou Holy One of Israel; the God of Israel, that dwells among them, and sanctifies them; and who is essentially and perfectly holy in himself, and in all his ways and works; the remembrance of which occasions praise and thankfulness, Psalm 97:12.

Verse 23. My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee,.... Both with vocal and instrumental music; this is praising the Lord with joyful lips, Psalm 63:5;

and my soul, which thou hast redeemed; signifying that it would not be lip labour, or bodily service, only that he should perform; but that his heart would go along with his lips in praise; and that under a sense of redeeming love, than which nothing can more strongly engage in such work, Psalm 103:1. For the redemption of the soul is exceeding precious; being the contrivance of infinite wisdom, the fruit of divine grace, and owing to the blood and sacrifice of Christ.

Verse 24. My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long,.... See Gill on "Ps 71:16";

for they are confounded; his adversaries, for whose confusion he prayed, Psalm 71:13;

for they are brought unto shame that seek my hurt; as Absalom and Ahithophel, being both brought to a shameful end.