In our time together last week we covered the first 8 verses of Psalm 31. We discussed how Psalm 31 begs to be prayed and we spent some time together last week praying through the first 8 verses of this psalm. Tonight we will pick back up in verse 9, but before we do let’s remind ourselves of what we saw last week.
Remember that verses 1 and 2 made up what was sort of an introductory cry for help. Neither of these two verses provided us with any real detail regarding the psalmist’s (who is identified as David in the psalm’s superscription) trouble. All we saw in these two verses was that the psalmist was indeed in trouble and that he needed the LORD to help him quickly by not allowing him to be put to shame by his enemies. Then, in verses 3-8, we saw how that before David got to the specifics of his request (which we will see tonight), he expressed his overall confidence in the LORD to deliver him. In verses 3 and 4 we saw that David’s basis for this confidence in God was that God had proven himself to be David’s “rock” and “fortress” in the past. And in verses 5 and 6 David made clear to God that, while David’s enemies were trusting in false gods to give them success, he was trusting in the one true God who had proven himself faithful to David time and time again. And we saw how David rightly took a great deal of confidence in that fact. So much confidence that we saw in verses 7 and 8 that David began to speak about how he will react and respond once God has delivered him. David was so confident in God’s deliverance that he spoke in verses 7 and 8 as if the deliverance he was anticipating, had already happened. In those verses David said, “you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.”
David’s Lament (vv. 9-13)
And again, it is only after this expression of confidence that we get to the heart of David’s prayer which begins in verse 9. Verses 9-13 contain what we would call the lament section of this psalm. In this section David outlines the lamentable or regrettable situation he is in. These verses identify for us the specific situation that necessitates David’s petition that will come in the next section. This is a description of the situation David is going to ask God to change. Let’s look at this section closely now beginning first with verses 9 and 10. David says,
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. 10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. (Psalms 31:9–10 ESV)
After beginning his lament with a request for God to be gracious to him, David states very clearly that he is in distress. But the phrase that follows his acknowledgement of distress, is a bit cryptic for us. What does David mean when he says, “my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also”? Well, the verb translated “wasted” gives us a bit of a hint. Allen Ross explains that this word is often used to describe the deterioration of clothing that has been worn and washed many times.1 In other words, David is so consumed with his grief that he is, as we would say, “coming apart at the seams.” And, because the look in a person’s eye is often a good indicator of a person’s over all well-being, David says that his eye is wasted from this grief that is destroying the rest of his body as well. And we see in verse 10 that this grief is accompanied by a life of sorrow, which is filled with sighs and groans.
While it is not the major emphasis of this psalm, David does indicate in verse 10, that while his grief was primarily due to the threats of his adversaries, his grief was also in some way a result of his own iniquity. We don’t have the specifics and so we won’t speculate what the iniquity he briefly mentions was. Besides, the main point of the psalm is not about David’s sin, it is about God faithfully delivering his people from their distress, not matter what the cause. The point in verse 10 is that David’s grief is so severe, that his strength is failing and he is physically wasting away. And if God does not intervene, David believes he will die as a result.
And then, to make matters worse, in verses 11-13 we see that, as a result of his enemies plotting and scheming against him and speaking slanderously of him, David’s neighbors and acquaintances began to have concerns and suspicions about him as well. Let’s read verses 11-13. David says,
11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. 12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. 13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror on every side!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. (Psalms 31:11–13 ESV)
At the beginning of verse 11 David says that his becoming a reproach to his neighbors and an object of dread to his acquaintances is “because of all my adversaries.” In other words, because of the plotting and scheming of his enemies, others were beginning to become suspicious of David and are doing whatever they can to avoid him. We see in verse 12 that David felt as if he was completely alone and forgotten as someone who is no longer living or like a cup or bowl that is broken and no longer useable. And then, in verse 13, we see that the situation is much more serious than simply feeling ostracized and rejected. We see that these enemies are actually plotting and scheming to kill David—which was probably one of the reasons his neighbors were avoiding him.
And so all of this is what David was lamenting. This whole situation of rejection and being ostracized and being threatened by his adversaries with death, is what David is presenting to the LORD for his consideration. This is the situation David wants God to change. And in verses 14-18, David makes his petition or his actual request to God where he outlines exactly what he wants God to do. Let’s look at it piece by piece.
David’s Petition (vv. 14-18)
Let’s begin with verse 14 and the first half of verse 15.
14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hand; (Psalms 31:14–15a ESV)
First of all, we see that even though all this difficulty has come upon David, his trust in God has not wavered. My adversaries are plotting to take my life, my neighbors are repulsed by me and are avoiding me, I am deeply grieved and coming apart at the seams over all this, “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’” He also goes on to acknowledge that even in the midst of this difficult situation, God is in control. At the beginning of verse 15 David says, “My times are in your hand.” And this is not only an expression of confidence and trust, it is also an expression of submission. By saying, “My times are in your hand,” David is expressing his willingness to submit himself to God’s decisions about his life.
This can be hard in difficult times. But if we can reach the place in our lives where we trust that God is in control no matter where life takes us, the adversity in our lives becomes much easier to accept because we know it is not by chance that we are in the situation we are in.2 In verse 5 of this psalm, David said, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and he is basically restating that in verse 15 before he gets to his specific requests.
But at the end of verse 15, David does begin outlining what he wants God to do for him. Look with me at the end of verse 15 through the end of verse 16. David says,
15 rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! 16 Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! (Psalms 31:15–16 ESV)
Remember that earlier in verse 15 David said to God, “My times are in your hand.” So when David asks here for God to rescue him “from the hand of my enemies,” he is basically saying, “God, I want your hand to determine my future, not the the evil hand of my enemies.” And then in verse 16 David appeals to God’s special, covenant love for him. He asks God to not be like his neighbors in verse 14, who were described as fleeing from David, but to make his face shine upon David. What David intends by this is for God to show him divine favor,3 and rescue him from his enemies and his persecutors.
And the way he wants God to do this is by shaming and silencing his enemies. Look with me now at verses 17 and 18. David says,
17 O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. 18 Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt. (Psalms 31:17–18 ESV)
David wants the wicked to be put to shame by God defeating them and sending them to the grave. And in this way, their lying lips will be silenced. Now this seems a bit harsh for us. Maybe not something that we should pray as Christians. But that is probably because we don’t have people who are plotting and scheming to take our lives. Imagine yourself as a Christian in another country where ISIS is rounding up Christians and beheading them for their faith. Imagine you are captured by them and awaiting the inevitable. Do you think this might be easier for you to pray then? Probably so.
But also, as I have said before, while most of us do not have people who are plotting and scheming to take our lives, we do have spiritual enemies who are plotting and scheming to take our lives. And so we can certainly pray that God would destroy them and bring shame upon them and that he would silence them by sending them to their eternal dwelling place. This is exactly what he has promised to do anyway, right?
Praise for Answered Prayer
Well, David ends this psalm, in verses 19-24, with what appears to be his praise for God answering his prayers contained in the preceding verses. Remember the psalms were usually written after the fact, not in the middle of the distress. And so what seems to have taken place here is that after God answers David’s prayers for deliverance recorded in this psalm, David goes into the sanctuary and offers the praise to God in front of the congregation (who will themselves be strengthened in their faith when they here David’s report).4 Verses 19-24 are likely a summary of this praise he offered.
So with this understanding of how these final verses most likely fit into the picture, let’s just read them and let them stand as is without any further explanation.
19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! 20 In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
21 Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. 22 I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. 24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalms 31:19–24 ESV)
To conclude, let me simply say that this psalm is a reminder to us, that in this world and in our lives we will, as Christians, encounter those who are opposed to us. Our adversaries may be human, they may be institutional, they may be demonic, but we will have enemies and adversaries who are fighting to destroy our faith and even our lives. And so, this psalm teaches us, that the way we face these adversaries and their schemes, is through prayer.
The life of Jesus Christ is a model of this way of living. As Allen Ross says in his commentary on this psalm: “[Jesus Christ] was opposed and persecuted by the wicked more than any other person; he suffered at their hands more than any other person; and he had greater faith and confidence in the plan of God than any other person.”5 Dr. Ross also points out that this is why, when he was on the cross, Jesus “chose the central them of this psalm and applied it to himself: ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).”6
And so, as Christians who have taken up our own crosses and followed after Jesus, we would be wise to surrender ourselves to God in a similar way. Let us pray now to that end:
O Blessed LORD, be gracious to us. As Christians we frequently find ourselves in times of distress that can be emotionally and even physically exhausting to us. And we ask you to hear our cries for mercy. O LORD, we also have brothers and sisters around the world who, because of persecution, have lives full of sighs and sorrows. And we pray, O LORD, that you would give them strength to endure.
LORD, even in our own relatively safe part of the world, our culture is turning more and more against us. We are learning day by day what it means to become a reproach to our neighbors and an object of dread to our acquaintances. We are learning more and more what it is going to mean for our culture to see the church as a dead institution that is no longer relevant in modern times. There truly is, O LORD, an active assault on the church taking place before our very eyes.
BUT… We trust in you O LORD. You are our God. And we know that our future is secure in your hands. And so we confidently pray that you would preserve the church from those who are against it. We pray that you would preserve us individually from those spiritual enemies who are seeking to destroy us. Turn to us and grant us favor. Because of your covenant love for your church, God, save us. Do not let us be shamed by our adversaries, but bring their plans against us to an end and expose their errors for the whole world to see.
Show your steadfast love to us in the midst of these difficult times—difficult times when it sometimes seems that you are far away. Grant that we might trust that you are hearing our pleas for mercy. And demonstrate to us that you are not only hearing them but that you are doing something about them.
Preserve your church O LORD. Help us to be strong and take courage. Help us to confidently wait on you to act.
We ask all of these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41) (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 692. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 149. ↩
- Ross, 696. ↩
- Ross, 697. ↩
- Ross, 700-701. ↩
- Ross, 701. ↩