Psalm 31 is one of those psalms that begs to be prayed. In this psalm, David is desperately crying out to God for help while at the same time expressing both his trust in God and his confidence that God will help him. And, therefore, by reading this psalm and studying this psalm, we discover a treasure trove of help for our own times of affliction. Because in this psalm we are instructed both in how to pray to God in times of trouble and how to express our to trust in God in these times of trouble. And so, this is not simply going to be an exercise in learning factual and historical information about this psalm. But it is my hope that, by studying this psalm together, we will all be instructed and encouraged in our own personal prayer lives.
Introductory Cry (vv. 1-2)
Let’s begin by looking at verses 1-2.
1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! (Psalms 31:1–2 ESV)
David begins his prayer with a quick expression of confidence (something he will pick back up in verses 3-8). He begins by saying, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge.” By this expression of confidence and trust, David makes clear from the outset that he is comfortable with his life being in God’s hands. This is a good way to begin a prayer because that is exactly the sort of person God finds delight in helping.
In the remainder of verse 1, David gives us a preview of the requests that will come later in his prayer. First, he asks God to not allow him to be put to shame by his enemies. Meaning that if God allowed David’s enemies to overtake him, David’s faith in God would be proven to be worthless in the eyes of his enemies, and that would be shameful to David. And second, David asks God to answer this first request, to not be put to shame, by delivering him from whatever situation he is now in.
And we see in verse 2 that this is apparently an urgent situation. David asks God to pay attention to his requests and to rescue him “speedily!” And his requests for God to “be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!” at the end of verse 2, simply means that David wants God to demonstrate his ability to mightily protect him and provide him with safety and security from his enemies. That’s what it means to be a “rock of refuge” and a “strong fortress.”
Confidence (vv. 3-8)
Then, David moves on in verses 3-8, to express his confidence that God will do the things he is requesting. Let’s begin by looking at verses 3 and 4.
3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; 4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. (Psalms 31:3–4 ESV)
In verses 3 and 4 we see that David’s basis for confidence in God is that God has proven himself to be David’s “rock” and “fortress” in the past. So all David is asking God for in this prayer is to be for David who he has always been. God has always been David’s rock and fortress. And David has no reason to expect anything else from God now.
But David also knows that it is not for his own sake that God leads him and guides him, but that it is for the sake of God’s name that God leads and guides and rescues David time and time again. And this is an important concept for us to understand in prayer. We are wise to follow David’s lead here, and elsewhere in the Psalms, by appealing to God on the basis of his own reputation. David fully expects for God to display his righteousness by delivering him from the hidden traps set for him by his enemies. (As I’ve said before, when we are reading and praying psalms like these, it is often helpful to think of our spiritual enemies who are constantly scheming and making plans to destroy our lives and our faith.)
Look with me now at verses 5 and 6.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. 6 I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. (Psalms 31:5–6 ESV)
In these two verses David is making clear that he is not like his enemies who look to worthless idols for help, but that he looks only to the one true God who has proven himself faithful time and time again. At the beginning of verse 5 David says, “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” These words, you may remember, were uttered by Jesus on the cross just before he died (see Luke 23:46). God has rescued or redeemed David out of trouble before, and David is confident that he will do it again. And as Christians, who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we can have the same confidence in this faithful God.
David knows he is in a much different situation than those who in verse 6 “pay regard to worthless idols.” In other words, while David’s enemies are trusting in false gods to give them success, David is trusting in the one true God who has proven himself faithful to David time and time again. And David rightly takes a great deal of confidence in this fact. So much confidence that we see in verses 7 and 8 that David begins to speak about how he will respond when God has delivered him.
Let’s read verses 7 and 8 now.
7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, 8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. (Psalms 31:7–8 ESV)
Again, David fully believes that God is going to deliver him and he fully expects to praise God for his steadfast, covenantal love toward him. As we see in verse 7, David knows that there isn’t any affliction in his life that God is not aware of. And David reminds us that God also knows the distress of our souls. And this is even more true for us on this side of Christ’s coming to earth and living an earthly life in human flesh. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).
But why would God take the time to notice our afflictions? Why would God concern himself with the distress of our souls? Why would God put on human flesh and enter into a distorted and fallen version of the perfect world he created before the sin of Adam ruined it? The answer to each of those questions is: Because he loves his people with a special steadfast love. And it is this special covenantal love that God has for his people, along with the way God delivers and guides the people he loves, that David promises to rejoice over and praise God for when God answers his prayers for deliverance.
And notice in verse 8 that, because of David’s certainty in God’s steadfast love for him, he speaks of the deliverance he is anticipating, as if it has already happened. David says, “you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.” David is confident that God is not going to allow his enemies to overtake him. When David says, “you have set my feet in a broad place,” what he envisions is God removing him from his present situation where he is hemmed in (either literally or figuratively) by his enemies, and placing him in a place of safety.
There is still a lot left in this psalm, and we will pick back up with it next week. But since I mentioned at the beginning, that Psalm 31 was a psalm that begs to be prayed, let’s pray the first 8 verses of this psalm together before we close.
O Lord we take great comfort knowing that you hold our lives in your hands. We take great comfort knowing that you provide security and protection for your people.
Father in the midst of the many difficulties that the church in our country is facing today, we pray that you will make clear to all, that our faith is not in vain and that our belief and trust in you is not worthless. Hear this request O God, and answer it quickly. Be what you have always been to your church… a rock and a refuge. We currently find ourselves in the crosshairs of our culture, and we need you to protect your church as you have always done during difficult times.
And Father, we do not make these requests for our own sakes, we make them for the sake of your name… for your glory… for the fame of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. So lead us and guide us, as your church, during this difficult moment in history. Do not let us fall into the many traps that our Great Enemy has set for us. Keep your church from believing the lies that we must water down your word or compromise our beliefs if we want to remain relevant in our culture. Instead, let us trust in you. Let us commit our futures to you, knowing that we are your redeemed people and that you are a faithful God who will keep his promises to make us prosper.
Father give your church a renewed confidence in the fact that what we are trusting in is secure. What we are trusting in is wholly trustworthy, while those who oppose your church are doing so on the basis of vain lies. They are deceived into believing your word is out of date, that it can’t be relied upon, that it is dangerous. O God, open their eyes to the truth. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. Shine the light of faith into their hearts, O God.
Father, we don’t know when or how you will answer these prayers. Be we are confident that you will. We are confident that you are fully aware of our afflictions and that you know the distress your church is under. And we are fully confident that one day we will rejoice and be glad in the deliverance you have provided for us because of the steadfast love you have for your people. We know God, that because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, that we will not be delivered into the hands of the enemy. And we know God, that one day you are going to remove your church from the dangers of a world that is set against us, and that you are going set us in a place of eternal safety and security.
But we pray, Father, that in the meantime, you will help us to always trust in you. Grant that we will always remember that you are our strength and security, and that you are totally trustworthy. Remind us that the place we can hear from you when we are confused, is in the Bible. Give us an insatiable desire for your word.
For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray all of these things. Amen.