Psalm 31

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-06-05 20:17.

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This psalm is ascribed to David. The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to denote “to the musical director” or “leader.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor,” probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat”). In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end,” suggesting considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew. After David, the Septuagint adds the word “ecstasy.” The contents of this composition seemingly point to the time his son Absalom plotted to seize the throne.

Faced with distressing and threatening circumstances, David took refuge in YHWH or, according to the Septuagint, placed his hope or trust in him, looking to his God for aid and protection. The psalmist pleaded that he would never experience shame or come to disappointment for having looked to YHWH for refuge. On the basis of God’s righteousness or justice, David, confident of his being in the right, prayed to be delivered from those who had aligned themselves against him. After “deliver me,” the Septuagint adds “and rescue me” or “and set me free.”

Because of the grave danger he faced and the urgency of the situation, the psalmist pleaded for YHWH to incline his ear or to be attentive to him, quickly rescuing him. He prayed that God would prove to be a “rock of safety” (“protecting God,” LXX) or a “house of strongholds” to deliver him. The expression “rock of safety” would denote a secure rocky height in mountainous terrain. A “house of strongholds” (“house of refuge,” LXX) probably refers to a huge fortress in which anyone taking refuge would be safe.

David confidently looked to God as his “crag” (“strength” or “support,” LXX) and his “stronghold” (“refuge,” LXX), with the assurance that he would be provided with the needed security (comparable to a being situated on a crag in mountainous terrain) and protection (as when inside a stronghold or fortress). He petitioned YHWH to lead and guide him, doing so for his “name’s sake.” The Most High had revealed himself to be a compassionate God who assists those devoted to him in their time of need. Therefore, in keeping with his name or his identity as the loving and merciful God, he would lead and escort (“support” or “sustain,” LXX) David safely in times of peril.

Apparently the threatening situation confronting David was comparable to his having been caught in a net his enemies had hidden to trap him, and so he prayed to be taken out of this net. His appeal was based on his trust in YHWH as his refuge (“protector” or “shield bearer,” LXX).

When the psalmist committed his spirit into God’s hands, he evidently entrusted his life to YHWH. Just before his death, Jesus Christ committed his spirit to his Father who would raise him from the dead. (Luke 23:46; see the Notes section.)

David acknowledged that YHWH, the “God of truth,” had redeemed or rescued him in the past, evidently from enemies and adversities. The designation “God of truth” identifies YHWH as the One whose word and promises can always be relied upon.

David chose to have no dealings with idol worshipers. He hated those who had regard for worthless idols. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, however, God is the one who hated those who regarded “vanities” (worthless idols) in vain or to no purpose. Unlike the idolaters, the psalmist trusted in YHWH, looking to him for guidance, aid, and protection.

Because of having experienced God’s abiding loyalty, compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX), David determined to rejoice and be glad therein. God’s compassionate care was evident to him, for the Almighty had seen his “affliction” (“humiliation,” LXX) and came to know the “straits of his soul” or his distresses. This would have been apparent to David upon his experiencing relief. The Septuagint concludes with the words, “you have saved my soul from distresses.”

God had not surrendered David into the hand of the enemy, for he had not been captured. Regarding his feet, the psalmist acknowledged that the Most High had set them in a broad or wide place. This may be understood to mean that he was left with ample room for movement and in a safe position, unlike being in a trapped situation on a narrow, hazardous path in rough mountainous terrain.

At this point the composition focuses on the psalmist’s then-existing circumstances. He prayed for YHWH to show him favor or mercy, for he found himself in distress. The perilous situation had put a strain on his entire organism. Possibly because of the many tears of grief he had shed, his vision was impaired. His “soul” and “belly” were in a weakened state. Apparently he felt that he had been deprived of all his strength.

Sorrow filled his life, and years were spent in sighing or groaning on account of the distressing circumstances. The psalmist attributed the loss of his strength and the “wasting away” of his “bones” or his entire frame to his own guilt.

To his adversaries, he was an object of reproach. He had become such to an exceeding degree or to an even greater extent to his “neighbors” or fellows. His close companions came to be in dread, probably fearing to be identified with him. Those seeing him in the street would flee, turning their back on him to go in the opposite direction.

Like a dead man, he was forgotten, ceasing to be in the “heart” or mind of others. He had become like a broken vessel, regarded as useless and worthless.

The psalmist heard the defamation or whispering of many. Possibly because slander and misrepresentation came from every quarter, he experienced “terror on every side,” not knowing whom he could trust. His enemies were united in scheming against him, plotting to take his “soul” or life.

In his desperate situation, David put his complete trust in YHWH. He expressed himself in a very personal way, “You are my God.”

The psalmist acknowledged that his “times” (his fate or whatever might happen to him) were in God’s hands. He prayed to be delivered from the hand or power of his enemies, those who were viciously pursuing him.

David identified himself as God’s servant, a relationship that provided a basis for confidence in God’s care and assistance. For the face of the Almighty to shine upon him would have meant having his favorable attention. The psalmist pleaded to be saved in expression of God’s compassionate care, abiding loyalty, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX).

David prayed that YHWH would not permit him to experience shame or disappointment, for he had called upon him in his time of distress. If David had been forsaken, he would have become like a person who had misplaced his trust and his enemies would have rejoiced over his downfall. He therefore pleaded that the wicked be the ones to experience shame and be reduced to silence in Sheol, the realm of the dead.

The wicked slandered the righteous one impudently, with a proud and contemptuous bearing. David prayed that their lying lips be struck dumb. In Sheol, the power of the wicked to do harm with their lying speech would end.

For those who fear him or manifest reverential regard for him, YHWH has laid up abundant “goodness,” rewards and bountiful gifts and blessings. Divine “goodness” includes assistance in times of distress and adversity. This is evident from the parallel expression that identifies those fearing YHWH as persons who take refuge in him, looking to him for aid and protection. The expression “in front of the sons of men” could be understood to mean that YHWH displays his goodness for all to see. “How abundant is the good that You have in store for those who fear You, that You do in the full view of men for those who take refuge in You.” (Tanakh) It is also possible that, by their words and actions, fearers of YHWH are seen by others as having taken refuge in him. Moreover, like the psalmist, they would not be reticent about acknowledging their trust in God.

In the “secret place” of his “face” or his presence, YHWH hides or conceals those fearing him from the “plottings” (“vexation” or “trouble,” LXX) of men. (See the Notes section.) In his “booth” or in his protective shelter, they are safe from the “strife of tongues.” This probably means that they are shielded from the harm that contentious or malicious speech can cause.

Because of what YHWH had done, David blessed or praised him. In an extraordinary way, the Most High had shown his abiding loyalty, compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) to him. The concluding phrase of this verse (21[22]) could be understood to mean “in a besieged city” or “in a secure city.” Either the psalmist experienced divine aid while in a situation comparable to being in a city under siege or the protection granted was like that of a securely fortified city. Translations vary in their renderings. “Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city.” (NIV) “I will praise you, LORD, for showing great kindness when I was like a city under attack.” (CEV) “Blessed be the LORD, who has shown me wondrous love, and been for me a city most secure.” (NAB) “Blessed is the LORD, for He has been wondrously faithful to me, a veritable bastion.” (Tanakh)

In a state of panic or alarm, the psalmist expressed the thought that he would be “cut off” from before God’s “eyes.” He feared for his life, but YHWH heard his supplications when he cried out to him for aid.

Evidently because of his personal experiences, the psalmist wanted all the godly ones to love YHWH. The Most High preserves those who are faithful or conduct themselves uprightly but fully repays the one acting haughtily or defiantly practicing lawlessness.

The psalm concludes with an imperative directed to all who wait for YHWH, apparently to act in times of distress or adversity. They are admonished to “be strong” and to let their “heart” (the deep inner self) be “bold” or courageous, not weakening and giving in to fear.


For comments about the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

The Hebrew word rúach and the corresponding Greek term pneúma denote “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” When breathing stops, life ends. Accordingly, the “spirit” can designate the animating principle of life, the aspect of life associated with the breathing process, or life itself (as in the context of Psalm 31:5[6]).

In verse 20(21), there is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word rókes. It could mean “plotting,” “scheming,” or “intrigue.” Other suggested definitions are “upheaval,” “revolution,” “mob,” “conspiracy,” and “slander.” The term in the Septuagint (taraché) can denote “anxiety,” “disquietude,” “perplexity,” “trouble,” “disturbance,” “upheaval,” “tumult,” “rebellion,” “confusion,” or “vexation.”

The Septuagint, in verse 23(24), says, “the Lord seeks truth,” not “YHWH preserves the faithful.”