Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tom Lowe



Title: The Rock That Is Higher Than I

A Psalm of David, to the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, on a stringed instrument (Neginah)


Theme: Cry and confidence of the godly



Psalm 61 (KJV)

1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

2 From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

Thou wilt prolong the king's life: and his years as many generations.

He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.

So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.




Psalms 61-63 have the common theme of yearning for God during a time of trouble. Psalm 61 was written by David, probably about the time of Absalom’srebellion.  He wrote a footnote assigning the psalm to “the chief Musician, to Jeduthun.” Jeduthun is another name for Ethan, a Levite of the tribal family of Merari.  When Israel marched through the wilderness the sons of Merari did the heavy work in connection with the Tabernacle.  They carried the boards and bars, the pillars and sockets.  Now Jeduthun, the Merarite, was one of the three directors of the temple worship.  The others were Asap and Hemam (1 Chronicles 16:37, 42).  Jeduthun “prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the Lord” (1 Chronicles 25:3).  His name means “to confess” or “to give thanks.” David gives Jeduthun something to sing about when he dedicates Psalm 61 to him.


David probably wrote this psalm after Absalom’s rebellion had been crushed by Joab.  The king himself was still with Barzillaiat Mahanaim, and Absalom was dead.  It looked as though the way was now clear for the king to return to Jerusalem.  But David knew the uncertain temperament of his people.  He could not yet be sure that there would not be more fighting before his troubles were over.  This psalm, then, would seem to be the prayer of one exiled from home (v. 2), longing for access to the tabernacle of the Lord (v. 4)


Some commentators teach that this psalm is a lament of a king.  He is, so they say, likely to be ill, for he feels himself to be at “the end of the earth (v. 2).” This phrase does not imply simply geographical distance from Jerusalem and the Temple. Instead, it refers to the entrance to the chasm of the underworld, the realm of the dead.  He is weighed down by enemies.  All in all, the Kings spirit is low, and he feels insecure.  With a cry for help, for a sure grip on life, he appeals to God (v. 1). 






61:1-4: There was no immediate danger.  Barzillai was entertaining the king in a style befitting royalty.  The old gentleman’s heart was filled to overflowing with this opportunity to show his love and loyalty to David. Nothing was too good for the king or too much trouble for the old clansman.  But David, although he appreciated the magnificent generosity, longed to be back home in Jerusalem, back in the tent of meeting where God dwelled in the midst of His people




1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

There have been several translations of the word “cry.” It has been rendered “a piercing cry,” “a plaintive cry” and “a ringing cry.” My prayer, My cry! how heartfelt and personal it is! — you seldom hear that deep heart cry in prayer any more, but you will find it in David’s prayer.


David was an emotional man.  His great heart still mourned the wickedness and ingratitude of Absalom.  Now Absalom was dead.  There was something particularly symbolic about the way that rebellious young man had died.  While he was riding on a mule, his hair was caught in the branches of a tree, and “the mule that was under him went away” (2 Samuel 18:9).  While dangling helplessly and kicking futility at the empty air, he had been discovered and murdered by Joab.  David had loved Absalom.  He had forgiven him once and he would have forgiven him again.  What stabbed David through and through was the thought that now there was no hope for Absalom.  He had sinned away the Lord’s offer of grace.  David would have forgiven him, but God who knows far better than we do where and when to draw the line, had not forgiven him.  God had caused him to be hanged upon a tree.  David knew the law well.  “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” So his dear, oft sinning, handsome Absalom was dead and damned, beyond the reach of pardon or peace.  The thought of it was like an open nagging sore in David’s soul.  He knew only too well how much, by his own misbehavior, he had contributed to Absalom’s wicked ways.


“Hear my piercing cry, O God!” Lord, help me! David knew he had no place to go but to God.  Anyone who has known desolation of soul knows what David’s cry was like.



2 From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed.”Sorrow is bad enough when it can be suffered in one’s own home, when one can be alone in familiar surroundings.  It is harder to bear when staying with someone else, for then it has to be stifled and muted.  There is the aggravation of the pitying eye and well-meaning solicitudes of others when all one wants is to be left alone.


David was far from home in the beautiful farm country of Gilead.  He was with generous friends, but he wanted to be home.  Mahanaim was only two or three days’ journey from Jerusalem and well within the frontiers of the Promised Land, but to David it seemed like “the end of the earth”—a phrase that could refer either to geographical or spiritual distance. He might just as well have been in Egypt.  He was away from home, away from the place where God dwelled between the cherubim upon the mercy seat.  “My heart is overwhelmed,” he cried, meaning either his strength is gone or his courage has failed him.  “The end of the earth” is any place of extreme sorrow or depression; it is equivalent to the uttermost of which Hebrews 7:25 speaks— Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.  We are never really far off from God; but, due to depression, and physical weakness, and the oppression of our foes, we may feel that we are.  But we are never too far off to pray to Him, or, as in the case of Jonah, so far down (Jonah 2). 


Can I ask you a question?  When you pray, have you ever felt that God is way up in the heavens and you are way down here?  David feels that he is at “the end of the earth{1]” and God is way off yonder.  He is trying to get closer.  He wants to get to “a Rock that is higher” than he is.  The reason I am opposed to this modern viewpoint of Jesus is because the Jesus who is presented is not a superstar at all.  He is just a man like I am.  He is a rock that is no higher than I am.  I need to be led to “the Rock that is higher than I.” The “rock” must be someone greater than man; otherwise man can never find shelter in it. The Word of God tells me that that “Rock” is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and He is a lot “higher than I” am. What a picture we have here of the Lord! 


“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,”he said.  What rock is this?  It could only be the Rock of Ages; contrasting himself with God.  Cleft for us, O, Rock of Ages!  And yet we cannot climb up into its clefts: we need the hand of Divine grace to lift us up there, and keep us there. God told Moses, When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22).  “Higher than I” is literally “too high for me.” The meaning is clear: God has resources far beyond man’s puny power. These are the words of a man aware of his own failure and frailty.  Sorrows surged around him like the rolling billows of the sea.  He was going under and could find neither help nor hiding place in himself or in his friends, any one of whom would have died for him.  Indeed, some already had.


In the language of the ideology of his day the “Rock” was the opposite of the underworld of Satan.  This mystical language that was common throughout the Near East, however, had a basis in fact for Israel.  For David had purchased from the self-employed farmer, Araunah, the rock on his property on which he had trained his bullocks to tread out the grains of his barley and wheat.  This incident is found at 2 Samuel 24:18-25.  Later on David’s son, Solomon, built his temple over this rock.  The rock is visible to this day as it stands within the great Mosque of Omar, which is known now as the “Dome of the Rock.”


David was facing the bitterest of all experiences.  He realized that he had been his own worst enemy.  If he had not sinned with Bathsheba many years ago, none of these sorrows would be swirling now around his soul.  He longed for God to lift him above his troubles: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” He needed God, for he himself was a failure.



{1] “The end of the earth” perhaps refers to the brink of the underworld. 



For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

David did not want God to think him ungrateful.  Just a few days before, he had been praying desperately for deliverance from Absalom’s armies.  The conspiracy had been strong but that danger was now past and David acknowledged that God had answered that prayer.  He could therefore answer this new one—that God would see him safely home.  It is wonderful how an answer to prayer along one line will encourage us to persevere in prayer along another.  “A shelter! . . . A strong tower!”—What God has been, He will always be, for “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Throughout the past, since the very beginning, he has proved to be “a shelter,” a place to which one can go for protection, and an impregnable “stronghold.”


He bases his position upon the fact of his trust in God.  This is frequently the case in the individual lament.  The tense of the verb he uses (“thou hast”) is “the perfect of experience,” which suggests what God has been in the king’s experience in the past and continues to be in the present.  And to express this vividly he uses two related thoughts: God is his “shelter,” his protection, and God is his tower of refuge (“strong tower”).  “A strong tower” was the most effective type of protection in ancient warfare. Moreover he longs for the cleansing available in the Temple which will guarantee the healing of his sickness. 



I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert [the secret place] of thy wings. Selah.

The word translated “abide” literally means “to be a house guest for the night.” David wanted to be a house guest in God’s tent, the one he himself had pitched in Jerusalem to provide shelter for the sacred ark.  But his ambition didn’t stop there, for his overpowering desire was to “abide in” God’s “tabernacle forever (all my life),trusting in the protection of His “wings;” for that “tabernacle” was a type and figure of heaven (Hebrews 9:8, 9, 24).  There is where God the Rock still kept control over the powers of evil that always sought to burst up into the human soul.


As an ordinary Israelite, even though a king, David had no access into God’s tent.  Only the priests could go into the “Tabernacle” and only the high priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement could go into God’s immediate presence.  Even then he could not stay there.  After hastily performing the necessary rituals, he had to retire.  He could not go back into God’s presence again for a whole year.


David, of course, was a spiritual man, one of the few people in Old Testament times who saw beyond the rites and rituals to the realities they symbolized.  He wanted to be God’s guest for the night.  But then, he lifted his aspiration out of the time dimension into the eternal, where, as he well knew, God really dwelt: “I will be a house guest for the night in Your tent ‘forever!’” Prayers like this cannot fail to touch the throne of God!  Such tender affection and simple trust could never be refused.  No wonder that God called David a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).


“I will trust in the hiding place of Thy wings,” he added.  David was thinking of the sacred ark that resided in the Holy of Holies in the “Tabernacle,” which was covered by the mercy seat, God’s throne.  David knew that the figures of the cherubim were fashioned out of the same piece of solid gold that comprised the mercy seat.  He knew, too, that the wings of the cherubim were out spread to cover the mercy seat and the ark.  David thought of the security a person would enjoy who could creep as a house guest into God’s pavilion, stay there forever, and know the overshadowing protection not merely of the “wings” of an anointed cherub, but of the eternal, uncreated, self-existing God Himself.  “Selah!”{2] said David, “There, what do you think of that!” It is the language of a man who has entered into a dimension of Old Testament theology rarely grasped by those who lived before the gospel age.  David was troubled by the fact that his own sins had brought all these sorrows on his head.  He knew the treachery of his own heart.  He decided to flee to the one safe place in the universe.  We sing of that place with more light than David had, but the truth is always the same.


There is a place of quiet and rest

Near to the heart of God,

A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God.


To David, the Temple means shelter in the shadow of God’s wings.  This picture of protection has its psychological origin in the mother hen’s protection of her chicks.  It is applied in Israel to the wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat of the ark, above which God communes with his priest (1 Kings 623-28; Exodus 25:18-22).  In tender spiritual meaning it is here applied to God’s protection of the individual worshipper in the sanctuary.  It is a phrase of cultic{1] poetry such as “to seek God’s face,” or “to see God’s face.” That is where David brought his troubled heart to rest.  Spiritually, he was inside the veil, between the cherubim, close to the heart of God.  Now then, he said in effect, who or what can get at me now?




{1] Cultic is defined as “a system of religious or spiritual beliefs, especially an informal and transient belief system regarded by others as misguided, unorthodox, extremist, or false, and directed by a charismatic, authoritarian leader.” Many, in David’s time, considered his religion nothing more than a cult.

{2] Selah is an expression occurring frequently in the Psalms, thought to be a liturgical or musical direction, probably a direction by the leader to raise the voice or perhaps an indication of a pause. 




61:5-8: David knew he was bathed in the loving-kindness of God.  He wiped the tears from his eyes, got a fresh grip on his emotions, and his faith soared.



For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

The psalmist’s mood suddenly changes.  Through some sign or communication from God he is made aware that God is about to act on his behalf.  He has no need now to continue his lament, but only to give praise and thanks.


David made “vows”; he promised God something.  We ask things of God.  Did you ever promise Him anything?  (I have promised more than I have delivered, I know that.) You go to God continually and ask Him for something.  Why don’t you promise to do something for Him?  David did, and he is confident that God has “heard” his “vows{1].” Note, God is a witness to all our vows, all our good purposes, and all our solemn promises of obedience.  He keeps an account of them, which should be as good a reason for us, as it was for David here, why we should perform our vows.  For He that hears the vows we made will make us hear Him regarding them if they are not made good. Note, there is a peculiar people in the world “that fear God’s name,” that with a holy awe and reverence accept and accommodate themselves to all the revelations He is pleased to make of Himself to the children of men.  There is a “heritage{3]” peculiar to that particular people; present comforts, assurances of their future bliss.  God Himself is their inheritance, their portion forever. 


When Abraham set out from UR of the Chaldees{4] for the Promised Land all of Canaan was given to him by God; but all he ever actually owned was a cemetery plot.  When Joshua and Israel came back to the land centuries later, millions strong, they threw out the Canaanites and took possession of a part of the land.  Eventually, after the dark days of the judges and the disappointing days of King Saul, David had come to the throne.  He had defeated the surrounding nations and made it possible for Israel, at last, to really enter into its inheritance.


Then he had been driven from the throne and the possession had been seized by a rebel.  But that was all over now: “Thou hast heard my vows; Thou hast given me the possession.” He was rejoicing because of God’s kindness.


God wants us to take our stand with David.  We, too, have a possession, not in a place but in a person; in Christ not Canaan.  The length and breadth of all we have in Christ, its height and depth, is spelled out in the Epistle to the Ephesians.  Our possession is in heaven; all our battles are there, all our blessings are there.  The Lord Jesus has defeated and tossed out all our foes.  Principalities and powers, the rulers of this world’s darkness, wicked spirits in high places would like to frighten us away from what is rightfully ours, but it is all secure in Christ.


The psalmist is certain of God’s favorable response, and to express it he makes use of a tense of the verb called “the perfect of certainty.” This implies that God’s favorable response is so certain to him that in his imagination it has already been given.  When he was in distress he vowed that if his petition was answered, his voice would resound with God’s praise.


Perhaps we have been defeated.  We look back at the wreckage of our lives as David looked at the disasters in his.  Well, God knows all about that.  He wants us to get back to the place where we claim the victory in Christ and enter into “the possession of those who fear His name{2].” God’s protective presence is the “heritage (inheritance) of “those that fear” the Lord.




{1] Vows (my vows)—my fervent prayers, accompanied with many vows and promises, which was usual, especially in cases of great danger or difficulty.  (Genesis 28:20; Judges 11:30-31).

{2] “Those that fear thy name.” To fear is to hold the name of God in awe and wonder, worship and obedience (see 147:11; Exodus 20:20).

{3] The word “heritage” or inheritance is applied in the Old Testament to the land of Canaan (Exodus 6:8), the people of Israel (Psalm 94:5), the Word of God (Psalms 119: 111), children in the family (Psalm 127:3), immunity from harm (Isaiah 54:17), and finally to the tabernacle or temple (Jeremiah 12:7).  The last named is probably the primary meaning here since the preceding verse mentioned God’s tent and alluded to the cherubim. Today, we would think of the heritage of those “who fear” God’s “name” as eternal life (Colossians 1:12). 

{4] UR of the Chaldees was the home city of the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:31).  The ruins of this ancient city were discovered and extensively excavated in the 1930s.  They are located in Southern Mesopotamia about 11 miles west of the Euphrates.



Thou wilt prolong the king's life: and his years (the years of his life and reign) as many generations.

In this verse and the next, it is not the king praying for himself, but it is the intercession of the congregation for the king sung by the priestly choir.  The message of the prayer is that God will wondrously prolong the king’s life and rule, and that loving kindness and truth (v. 7), will come to him like the angels that came to Jesus, when He was alone in the wilderness. 


Many commentators say that at this point David was carried away with “messianic ecstasy.” It may well be.  Certainly the passage can be elevated from the life and times of David and transferred to the life and times of Jesus the Messiah in his second coming.


Certainly no king, however keyed up and energized he might be about spiritual things, could really expect to live on generation after generation like Methuselah; to be enthroned (regarded as being worthy of adoration) everlastingly before God.  But David’s faith soared over all obstacles.  He saw beyond time to eternity; beyond the seventy-year span of mortal life to life in God which does go on eternally.  In that dimension of living he wanted to reign with Christ.  He realized what we need to realize, that this life is probation.  If we have handled well the things entrusted to us in the here and now, in the there and then we shall continue to be entrusted by God with precious privileges and responsibilities.  That is the point of the parable of the talents.


David wanted God to miraculously prolong his life: it wasn’t a selfish request at all.  He was not thinking of mere physical life but of resurrection life.  With no anticipation of life after death, the psalmist’s life on earth would have been his only opportunity to commune with God (vs. 7-8).  But in the life to come, in the kingdom to come, he wanted to be just as much a king for the Glory of God as he had ever been.  That is something worth living for—to have God pick us up in the coming age and entrust us with more and more because we have been trustworthy now!



He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.

The word “abide” means “to settle down.” David’s actual affairs were still in a state of flux.  Even though Absalom had been defeated, David was not yet back on the throne.  He knew only too well the uncertain disposition of his people, especially that of the northern tribes led by Ephraim, who were always touchy and troublesome. 


We know from the history of the times that David had trouble with the northerners the moment he returned to Jerusalem.  They took offense because the tribe of Judah played the leading role in conducting David back to the throne.  A troublemaker by the name of Sheba the son of Bichri, blew a trumpet and rallied the non-Judaic tribes to his banner. The fellow was a Benjamite, one of those who resented the replacement of Saul’s dynasty by David.  At once the tribes rose up in another revolt, one which had to be quelled promptly and efficiently by the use of troops.


No wonder David asks that God’s “mercy” (loving-kindness) and “truth” might “preserve him.”  No wonder he longed to “settled down before God forever.”  The only stable place he ever found was “near to the heart of God.”  David, then, was rejoicing in God’s kindness and he was resting in God’s kindness. The psalmist’s prayer is that God will give him a long life so that he “may abide before God forever,” i.e., “sit as a king in God’s presence,” under His protection.  The Lords attributes of “mercy and truth,” i.e., God’s unchanging faithfulness, are personified as David’s guardians, and will “preserve him.”



So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.

“That I may pay my vows” is another rendering of this verse. In an Israelite lament the vow follows the certainty of God’s response and so becomes an outburst of the feeling of thankfulness.  That is how it is here.  There is intensity of devotion in the king’s words as he declares his intention to pay his vows, not only once—for that will not be enough to express the praise in his soul—but day after day!


The word translated “perform” or “pay” has an interesting root; at its heart is the word “shalom” which means “peace.” The idea is to pay in full and so have peace.  If you owed a person $1000 but could pay only 10 you would not have peace, at least not if you were a conscientious person. If you could pay half of it you still would not have peace—not until you had paid the obligation in full.  That is the thought behind this phrase, “paid in full!” or “perform my vows.”


Think again of David’s situation.  His troubles had stemmed from his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah her husband.  David had bitterly repented of that.  He had most likely vowed many times that he would never do such a thing again, that he would make what restitution he could.  So far as Bathsheba was concerned he had pledged to her that Solomon, her son, would be his heir.


Events had taken over, however, in another way.  News of Absalom’s complete wickedness had reached David.  Absalom had publicly raped the wives David had been forced to leave behind in Jerusalem when he fled.  And now Absalom was dead.  David had paid with his own miseries for the misery he had caused to others by his sin with Bathsheba.  David longed to be able to write “paid in full” over the whole wretched business.


In any case, whatever promises he had made to God he intended to keep.  He was going to pay in full.  That was his response to the kindness of God: “So will I sing praise unto Thy name for ever!” Note, God’s preservation of us calls upon us to praise him; and therefore we should desire to live, so that we may praise Him: “Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee.” We must make praising God something we do every day, even to the last (as long as our lives are prolonged we must continue praising God), and then it shall be made the work of our eternity, and we shall be praising Him forever.


There was once a time in David’s life as a fugitive when his dear friend Jonathan had come to him in the wilds.  He had come to “strengthen his hand in God.” He had come to take David by the hand and say: “Cheer up, David.  God is still on the throne.” Jonathan was long since dead, so David strengthened his own hand in God, “So will I sing praise unto Thy name for ever.” David, the expectant king, lived in the light of the promises of God.  He might fail, but God could not fail. Many seek sanctuary from the weariness and struggles of life.  But that asylum is found only in the Rock that is higher and stronger than any human.  The prayer for the king to have an eternal reign is fulfilled perfectly in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.