September 6, 2016
Title: An Old Man’s Prayer for Help
Theme: A plea by an aged saint not to be cast off.
Psalm 71 (KJV)
Introduction to Psalm 71
Psalm 71 combines elements from several psalms (22; 31; 35; 40). Yet it can stand alone in expressing the faith of an older person throughout most of his lifetime. The psalmist describes himself as an old man who has trusted in God for a long time (37:9, 18). In response to his prayer the psalmist, who is not identified, anticipated the same marvelous response the Lord had given him all his life. So, vowing to praise God as he had always done, he confidently asked to be delivered from those who sought to harm him, and ridicule him for his faith.
Although there is no inscription in Hebrew, in the LXX it is titled “A Psalm of David, of the sons of Jonadab, and of those who were first lead captive.” Therefore they have ascribed this psalm to Jeremiah or one of his scribes. Nonetheless, its proximity to Psalm 70 and close relationship with Psalms 22; 31; 35; and 40 (all Davidic Psalms) make David’s authorship a real possibility. If so, this is the last prayer of David; Psalm 72 was written by Solomon.
1 In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.
The Lord God Jehovah desires our “trust” and “confidence.” As long as we “trust” Him and His Word, “confusion” will never be the result of that “trust.” The words “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust” are drawn by the psalmist from Psalm 31.
God is inherently incapable of letting a man down. Let a person invest his faith and “trust” in the living God and he will find that, when all else fails, God is still in business, still mighty to save.
2 Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
“Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape.” Despite his continuing witness he still suffers. So did Paul; Paul never got rid of his thorn in the flesh. God may choose to make use of “suffering” as an essential element in His plan of redemption. So now that he is old and weak our old man pleads with God to let his enemies see that God has not just dropped an old man from his plan.
When this aged saint whispers, it is not to speak blasphemy of the Lord, but he has a heartfelt request: “Incline thine ear unto me” (that is, unto my prayers), “and save me” from “wicked, unrighteous, and cruel men” (71:4). Here the call is for the God of heaven to stoop down and listen to the whispers of an old man; and, in answer to them, save him out of his troubles (71:4). Deliver me, O my God! Out of the hands of those that are ready to tear me in pieces. If you are too weak to cry aloud, God will stoop to you.
3 Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment (ordained) to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.
“Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me.” Here is an expression of his deep confidence in God’s ability to “save”; he knows God to be his refuge (71:7) and “rock” of safety and “Fortress” (the same Hebrew word is used in 18:2; 31:4; 91:2). In his great time of need, he asks God to be faithful to His servant. The psalmist, aware that he was aging and his strength was failing, called on God to walk with him as he entered this period of life. Prior experience told him that God would continue to be faithful. The psalmist wanted continued safety and security along with rescue from wicked people (“cruel man,” 71:4).
“For thou art my rock and my fortress.” Old people desperately need to feel secure. So often their natural defenses against life’s injuries are gone. They are retired from their employment; their health is failing; old friends are dying; their minds are not as sharp as they were; their income is greatly reduced; often they feel defenseless and vulnerable. The psalmist did. He needed God.
4 Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
“Deliver me, o my God.” He took his case to “God.” The name he used was Elohim, God the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He fills his mind with thoughts of the almighty power of God.
Although his enemies are quick to take advantage of his weakness, God has stayed or braced him since birth: “Yet thou art he who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God” (Psalm 22:9, 10). These enemies, who believe that God has forsaken him, are ignored for their wrong interpretation of his affliction. His appeal is based solely on his trust in God's power and willingness to “deliver” him.
“Cruel man" describes a person that is corrupt and bad-natured—literally, "sour." If we apply the Psalm to Israel, the “wicked, unrighteous, and cruel man” is the Antichrist. His dictatorship of horror will tax the endurance of the saints and ring out from them the most unrelenting pleas. Perhaps verse four describes evil people who exploited the poor and helpless, which could include the Levites, who had no inheritance in Israel but lived by the gifts of God’s people (Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Numbers 18:20-24). They served from age 25 to age 50 (Numbers 8:23-26), so perhaps our psalmist was approaching retirement age and was concerned about his future.
5 For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.
God was his “Hope,” the One in whom he trusted from his “youth” up (71:17). Though many wondered about him (he was like a threat to them), he would continue to “trust” in the “Lord,” his "strong Refuge” (71:7) and to "praise" (71:6, 8) Him and His splendor. “God” is our “hope”—my “hope,” your “hope”—not created things; the Creator alone can satisfy us. “Christ is in us, the Hope of Glory.”
Persecutions, sickness, calamities, and trials have added gray hairs to his head (71:18). Yet he has maintained his close relation to “God” since childhood. His appeal for help once more is based upon the blessings of past experience. One advantage of the psalmist’s age is his ability to look back over his life and see repeated prove of God’s faithfulness. Experience taught him to “trust.” “God” had never let him down. When you are discouraged and worried, look back and count your blessings. Remind yourself of the faithfulness of the “Lord.”
6 By thee have I been holden from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee.
“By thee have I been holden from the womb” is David’s declaration of God’s faithfulness; that He had sustained him with life and strength from his birth, even from his mother’s “womb” (indicating life begins in the “womb”), so David asked for God to continue sustaining him even now that he had arrived at “old age” (71:9), and was “old and gray” (71:18). God has been the Psalmist’s hope since before he drew his first breath. All these years he has trusted in God and there is no reason to believe that God will not be his hope now that he has passed the summit of his life.
“Thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels,” that is, out of her “womb.”
“My praise shall be continually of thee,” therefore, I will “praise” God for his mercy in His ordinary works, and watch for His daily miracles. God is too wise to make any mistakes, to loving to be unkind, and too powerful to be thwarted. Therefore, come what may, I will “praise” God!
7 I am as a wonder unto many; but thou art my strong refuge.
He was up against it and all eyes were on him to see what he would do. His eyes were on God. He says, “I am as a wonder (or mystery) unto many.” People are amazed at this person’s life because he claims to follow the Lord but experiences great difficulties in his life. But through all the changing circumstances of life, God had been his “strong refuge.” While God has not promised to exempt His people from hardship, the psalmist remains unshaken in his confidence that God will remain his “strong refuge”—“but thou art my strong refuge.”
8 Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day.
Through all the changing circumstances of life, God had been his “strong refuge,” (71:7), and He had delivered him from the many difficulties he encountered. And so he wanted every day to be crammed with His “praise” and Glory.
We may not be able to give thanks for some of our circumstances, but we can give thanks in them. God is still on the throne! Here is another opportunity to see Him go to work and accomplish His good and acceptable and perfect will. We are concerned about our comforts; God is concerned about our character. This old man could praise God in his circumstances even if he did not particularly like them.
Those that love God love to be praising Him, and desire to be doing it “all the day,” not only in their morning and evening devotions, not only “seven times a day” (Psalm 119:164), but “all the day,” to intermix with all they say something or other that may contribute to the “honor” and “praise” of God. They decide to do it while they live; they hope to be doing it eternally in a better world.
9 Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.
Many old people feel the pressure of being “cast off,” no longer wanted. They feel useless and a burden to others. The psalmist pleads that God may not find him a burden. As though He ever could! We can be quite sure that God’s “strength” is made perfect in weakness and that He will never abandon a person just because he is old. God has a great liking for old people.
None of us deserve to be treated better than our Savior was when he lived on the earth. No one should expect peace or comfort from this Satan-dominated world. Those who love the Lord often are hated and persecuted, and made fun of for their principles and conduct; but the Lord has been their strong refuge. The faithful servants of God may be assured that He will not cast them off in “old age,” nor forsake them when their “strength” fails.
The writer of this psalm must have been a high profile person because people knew him well and saw the things that happened to him.
10 For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together,
Of course, he had the added fear of “enemies” who keep a close watch on his life, have vilified him and who conspired to kill him. But the psalmist prayed for continued care (forsake me not; 71:18) in his “old age” (71:9), for many sought to harm him (71:13).
11 Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him.
They thought “God” had "forsaken him"—a rather strange presumption!—and supposed they could “seize him" and “kill him.” So the psalmist asked that God "quickly" help him and put them to “shame” (71:24), scorn, "and disgrace" (78:2-3). Not only was the Psalmist’s own life and comfort at stake, but so was the reputation of “God.” If his enemies could convince enough people that “God has forsaken him,” then the reputation of the Lord would be tarnished in the world. Perhaps they knew of David’s adultery and murder, and other wickednesses and thought that was plenty of reason for God to cast him off.
His enemies thought that “there is none to deliver him,” therefore, they prepared for their final assault with no fear of opposition. If the psalmist had been “forsaken” by “God,” there would definitely be no one who could “deliver him.”
12 O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help.
He feels very alone. Thus he asks that “God be not” so “far” removed “from him.” The cunning and malicious taunts of his enemies now lead him to ask for “help.”
13 Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonor (disgrace) that seek my hurt.
The psalmist, like Daniel, had no doubt that God would be as true to him in his weakness and old age as He had been in his youth and strength. That’s it! What kind of God would He be who would cast us off in our old age because we couldn’t run upstairs three or four at a time anymore or because our memory was affected by hardening of the arteries?
The psalmist calls for justice and vengeance against his enemies, for they are in fact enemies of the living God (71:24).
14 But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.
“But I will hope continually”is his testimony of faith and trust based on his experience and knowledge of the Lord. “I will hope continually,” “hope” in all conditions, in the most cloudy and dark day; I will live upon “hope” and “hope” until the end. Here is the turning point of the psalm; as appeal changes to “hope” and “praise,” the past gives way to the future. But “hope” quickly rises above fear, and “praise” begins its mighty crescendo.
The word translated “hope” means a long and patient waiting in spite of delays and disappointment. If we trust God then the trials of life will work for us and not against us and will lead to glory (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Romans 5:1-5).
“I will . . . praise thee more and more,”and better than I have ever done before. But there are not many old people who are radiant and happy and whose lives are filled with song, not even Christians. This old man was. The longer we live the more expert we should grow in praising God and the more we should abound in it.
15 My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof.
“My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day.” The lyrics of his poetry will tell of God’s righteous acts and the numberless times He has rescued His beleaguered child. The psalmist (most likely “David”) declares that the “righteousness” of Christ and the great salvation which He wrought shall be the chosen subject of his conversations, not on Sundays only, but on every day of the week, of every year of his life.
The psalmist promises to speak of the Lord’s “righteousness and salvation,” and he will do sowith wonder and admiration, as one astonished at the extent of divine love and grace, the height and depth, the length and breadth, of it.
“For I know not the numbers thereof.” Whatever do “numbers” have to do with God’s “salvation”? There are three possibilities for us to consider:
- The resolve of this aged saint to continually praise the Lord God “all the days” is deepened by his acknowledgment: “For I know not the numbers thereof.” He was not aware of most of God’s righteous acts, even those affecting him; and that’s the reason he didn’t know the “number” of them. But he knew the sweetness of His “salvation”; he knew the glory of the days in which he walked with the Lord; but he did not know how many days remained for him to do so.
- Let’s think of the uncountable “number” of our sins. Would “numbers” come into God’s “salvation” here? Can any one of us count up how many sins we commit in the course of a day? Sins of thought or word or deed? Sins of omission and neglect? Sins of disposition and character? God “numbers”them all. He has added up the enormous sum of my sins, added it to the enormous sum of yours, added that to the astronomical total of all the sins which have ever been committed and which ever will be committed on this planet. He laid every one of them—the full sum, the total “number”—on Christ!
- Or could “numbers” here have to do with the uncountable “number” of God’s saints? Would “numbers” come into God’s “salvation” here? “Are there few that will be saved”? an unknown questioner asked the Savior on one occasion (Luke 13:23). What a pessimistic, negative way to look at it! As if God could allow the devil to have priority even in “numbers.” Few? God’s work on this planet is vast and always has been. Abraham’s spiritual seed was to be “as the stars of heaven for multitude.” Count the stars. Count the grains of sand on the seashore. Few? I am sure when we get to Heaven we are going to be astonished at how many there are.
16 I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.
“I will go in the strength of the Lord God” was the source, the secret of his strength. Here was an old man, needing a stick, perhaps to help him down the street, drawing strength from the limitless resources of God.
17 O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.
“O God, thou hast taught me from my youth;” partly by thy word and Spirit convincing and assuring me; and partly by my own experience of thy righteousness. Be content to let God teach you just one step or lesson at a time. And declare what you are taught.
Like Samuel and Timothy, the psalmist was raised in a God-fearing environment. He had learned well of the goodness of God, and his life, from his "youth" up (71:5) had been filled with praise for God's "wondrous works” (mighty deeds); though many of them were beyond his understanding.
The intervening years between his youth and old age had seen many changes in our psalmist—the same thing may be said for us, I am sure. But such changes in the lives of people, when God turns them from slaves to their passions into loving personalities—these are God’s “mighty deeds.” These are what I want to talk about, he adds, not about any mere acts of human kindness. And this is because he himself is actually one of these “mighty deeds” of God.
18 Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.
When we get old we get tired. The natural tendency is to resign from everything, to seek relaxation and rest. This godly old man wanted to keep young in heart by seeking out young people whose friendship he could cultivate and whose lives he could fashion and shape. Then, Lord, then You can forsake me! The psalmist seems to have a twinkle in his eye when he says that. He is going to show people how to die.
Now "when" he was “old” (71:9) he still desired to praise Him, but God must not “forsake" him (71:9) if he is going to declare God's "power." The Lord’s “power,” is to be seen, not merely in the awesome ways of nature, but more surely in the way he creates love in sinful human hearts. His desire is to live long enough to teach the present generation and those to “come” (i.e., to all succeeding generations) something of what life has taught him of the “power” and glory of God. On the basis of God's special teaching, he has been able to teach others. Now he asks for more time in order to make known God's “strength,” “power,” and “righteousness” (71:19). This prayer was answered, of course, by the Psalms being preserved in the sacred Scriptures.
There is within this verse a brief suggestion of doubt which seems to become an immediate embarrassment to the poet, and he hastens again to confess his trust and to declare God’s praises.
19 Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!
“Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things.” “God has done” many “great things.” Therefore he is incomparable—exalted and unsearchable are the riches of “God.”
The rhetorical question, "Who is like unto thee!" is asked several times in the psalms. The answer, of course, is, none in heaven, none on earth, no angel, no king.
20 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 (sheol).
He had showed the psalmist great and painful trouble, but this aged saint was confident that God “shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” Heavy and severe trials would not claim the life of the psalmist until God was ready to take him home. He was even certain that death would not separate him from his God.
He recognizes that he is already in the sphere of death’s influence; hence, his request when he considers his future is "bring me up" either (1), from the point of death (Psalm's 30:1; 138:1); or (2), from sheol (the place of the dead, before Christ left the cross and “descended first into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9), and “when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8); or (3), from the grave, for I was like one dead and buried, and past all hope of deliverance, without thy almighty assistance. Some Bible commentators take the phrase "from the depths of the earth" to mean the debased and low condition of the “earth,” and there is a group that holds the opinion that the phrase is a metaphor for the troubles he had experienced (“buried under trouble”), and still others say he is speaking of his own despondency—he feels as though he had already dropped headlong into a pit. One thing the phrase is definitely not referring to is resurrection, but it may be referring to rescue from near-death conditions and renewal of life’s strength and meaning. [I don’t believe we can pin this down without devoting more time and space than it needs. So, perhaps one of my readers would make it a project to find the true meaning, I would welcome hearing from you.]
Some commentators will relegate these glowing words to the resuscitation of the nation of Israel. But it is clear as crystal that this godly old man is saying: “There’s Heaven up ahead. There’s going to be a glorious resurrection. I’ve had my share of troubles and trials; I am still surrounded with them. But this life is not all there is to it. There’s going to be another life. Moreover, this other life is not going to be an ethereal, immaterial, intangible spirit life; it is going to be life in this same body—only in a body quickened, made alive, made new by the mighty power of God.”
21 Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.
Even in old age, as he remained true and faithful praising Jehovah’s “greatness, and comfort,” [This word “comfort” entails within it ideas of strengthening, bracing, and sometimes of rebuking, but always with the delicate intuition of a mother.]his stature and comfort would only increase. This man who (71:18a) longed to be preserved until he had done all that God required of him, now looks forward to receiving all that God has to give him. It is clear that despite his advanced age, the poet is a man to be reckoned with and far from being a worthless castoff.
If the psalmist was David or Samuel, greatness already rested on him. This godly old singer anticipated even greater glory on the other side of death. As the New Testament puts it—he had suffered with Christ; he would reign with Christ.
22 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.
The psalmist closes the poem with a bold vow of praise, in confident expectation that his prayer will be answered (71:21-23). “I will also praise thee” is the psalmist's promise to praise with song, musical instruments (“the harp" and the psaltery, or lyre—apparently both were stringed instruments—each are mentioned a number of times in the Psalms), by shouting, by telling of God's acts, and his whole being.
The spirit of worship is enhanced by the title “Holy One of Israel,” for it is His holiness above all else which is the inspiration for joyful praise. The title “Holy One of Israel” used frequently in the Book of Isaiah occurs only three times in the Book of Psalm's (71:22; 78:41; 89:18).
23 My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.
He had previously looked forward hopefully to declaring the LORD’s deeds of “salvation all the day” (71:15); now he grasped the certainty of him doing so, for the rescue of his “soul” is cause enough for talking “all the day long”(71:24). Here he states the manner of his worship: his “lips” will be effervescently joyful in song, knowing that there is no better use for them; his “soul,” “redeemed” by the blood of the Lamb, will also greatly rejoice in song; his “tongue” (71:24) also shall be unweary in talking about God’s dependability, for all his enemies have been thoroughly “confounded” (71:24). The writer was a poet, a singer, and an instrumentalist, and he used all his gifts to praise the Lord.
He is inwardly assured that he will be vindicated even as he requested (71:13).
24 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.
“My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long.” Hispraise would last "all day long" because God would put all his enemiesto "shame" (71:13). Because we are assured of deliverance and victory, let us spend our days, while waiting the approach of death, in praising the Holy One of Israel with all our powers.
The apparent lesson of the old man’s testimony is that age is irrelevant where faith is concerned. But built into that lesson is an even more important one: God is patient and undeterred by our doubts. This is indeed ground for joyful praise!
 “Deliver me” has a Hebrew root that means “to cause to escape.” (17:13; 37:40; 144:2).
 “This generation” is “all the generations to come” in the RSV.
 “Soul,” most likely meant “my whole being,” our idea of “body, soul and spirit.”