Psalms 71 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 71
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

The Palestinian collectors of the sacred songs of Israel found no traditional inscription to this psalm, and left it without conjecture of its authorship. In Alexandria it appears to have been attributed to David, but with the addition that it had some peculiar connection with the son of Jonadab and the first exiles. This connection, together with the resemblance between this psalm and Jeremiah’s writings, has led many critics to ascribe it to that prophet, a conjecture also borne out by the fact that it is, in great part, an adaptation of other psalms, chiefly 22, 31, 35, and 40, since such dependence on older writings is a prominent feature in Jeremiah. His life of danger and adventure, his early consecration to his office, the high position which he took at one time in the councils of the nation, all agree with what the author of this psalm says of himself. (Comp. Psalm 71:6, with Jeremiah 1:5, and see Note, Psalm 71:21.) Still it is quite as likely that we have here another of those hymns composed, or, more properly speaking, in this case, arranged, to express not individual feeling and experience, but that of suffering Israel. (See Note, Psalm 71:6; Psalm 71:20.) In a cento of passages from older compositions the rhythm is necessarily irregular.

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.
(1-3) These verses are borrowed, with some verbal alterations, from Psalm 31:1-3, where see Note.

Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.
(3) Rock.—Better, cliff (Hebrew selah), to distinguish it from tsûr, above.

Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
(4-6) These verses are manifestly founded on Psalm 31:8-10; but the variations are more marked than usual, and indicate a definite purpose of adaptation rather than copying.

For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth.
(5) My hope.—Comp. Jeremiah 14:8; Jeremiah 1:7. Also in New Testament, 1 Timothy 1:1, “The Lord Jesus Christ our hope.” Shakespeare, with his fine ear for scriptural expressions, caught this.

“And God shall be my hope, my stay.”

“God, our hope, shall succour us.”—2 Henry VI.

By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee.
(6) Took me out.—Comp. Psalm 22:10. The Hebrew is not the same, but the Authorised Version renders by the same word, treating it as a transitive participle of a word that elsewhere only means to go through, a doubtful expedient. The LXX. (and Vulg.) have “protector,” σκεπαστἠς, which is probably an error for ἐκσπαστἠς (following Psalm 22:10, ἐκσπάσας), which would support the rendering, “he that severed me,” a rendering for other reasons probable.

This allusion to birth and retrospect of life from the earliest infancy, is not unsuitable to Israel personified as an individual, or rather it suits both the individual and the community of which he is the mouthpiece. So it has often been in application treated as an epitome of the history of the Christian Church.

I am as a wonder unto many; but thou art my strong refuge.
(7) A wonderi.e., not a miracle of preservation, but a monster. Though men point at him as something to be avoided or mocked, God is his refuge.

Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day.
Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.
(9-11) This piece may be compared with Psalm 41:6-8. The formal “saying” (Psalm 71:11), introducing a quotation, is an indication of a late date, the early literature employing no signs of quotation. (See, e.g., Psalm 68:12; Psalm 68:26.)

For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together,
Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him.
O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help.
(12, 13) These verses recall Psalm 22:11; Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26; Psalm 38:21-22; Psalm 40:13-14.

Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt.
(13) Hurt.—Literally, evil.

But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.
My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof.
(15) Comp. Psalm 40:5, which indicates the meaning here. Mere reminiscence must give place to actual calculation, which too must fail before the sense of Divine interference in his favour.

I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.
(16) I will go . . .—Rather, I will come with the Lord Jehovah’s mighty deeds, i.e., come with the tale of them (as last verse) and praise of them into the Temple. (Comp. Psalm 5:7; Psalm 66:13.)

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.
Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.
(18) Now also when.—Literally, yea, even to old age and grey hairs. Psalm 129:1 shows that this may be a national as well as an individual prayer.

Thy strength.—Literally, thine arm, the symbol of power. (Comp. Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 53:1, &c)

Unto this generation.—Literally, to a generation, explained by the next clause to mean, to the coming generation.

Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!
(19) Very high.—Literally, to the height, i.e., to the heavens, as in Psalm 36:5; Psalm 57:10. The clauses should be arranged, Thy righteousness also, O God, to the height—Thou who doest great things—God, who is like unto thee? (Comp. Exodus 15:11.)

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.
(20) Quicken me.—According to the written text, quicken us, an indication that the psalm is a hymn for congregational use. As for the change from singular to plural, that is common enough.

Depths . . .—Abysses, properly of water. (See Psalm 33:7.) Perhaps here with thought of the waters on which the earth was supposed to rest. If so, the image is the common one of a “sea of trouble.”

Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.
(21) Comfort me on every side.—Literally, either thou wilt compass with comfort, or wilt turn with comfort. The LXX. adopts the latter.

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.
(22) With the psaltery.—See Psalm 57:8, Note.

My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.
(23) My lips shall . . .—Rather, my lips shall sing while I play to thee, i.e., a hymn should accompany the harp. There is, therefore, no thought of the union of the bodily and spiritual powers in praise of God, though it is natural the verse should have suggested such an interpretation to the Fathers; and indeed the thought of the poet, if we read the whole psalm, with its retrospect of life, is a wish—

“That mind and soul according well,

May make one music as before,

But vaster.”

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.
(24) My tongue.—Comp. this with the conclusion of Psalms 35

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