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Psalm 61 -
Hear My Cry, O God
For the director of music.
With stringed instruments. Of David.
1Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2From the ends of the earth I call to You,
I call as my heart grows faint;
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I.
3For You have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
4I long to dwell in Your tent forever
and take refuge
in the shelter of Your wings. Selah
5For You have heard my vows, O God;
You have given me the heritage
of those who fear Your name.
6Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
7May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint Your love and faithfulness
to protect him.
8Then will I ever sing praise to Your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.
The inscription of the psalm does not specify the occasion, but from the psalm itself, we can infer it was written by a king (see vs. 6), probably in exile (see vs. 2). “The supposition which best agrees with all the circumstances alluded to in the psalm is that it was composed by David when he was driven into exile on the rebellion of Absalom, and that it was composed when he was still beyond the Jordan (see II Sam. 17:22)” [Barnes].
As with many psalms, this one starts out with a prayer of desperation: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer” (vs. 1). “The best expedient for a sad soul is to run to God by prayer for comfort” [Dickson, 361]. David well knew that God was His first and best hope in time of trouble. And this was a time of trouble for David, as demonstrated by his repeated petition: “Hear my cry… listen to my prayer.” “Faith’s greatest triumphs are achieved in her heaviest trials” [Spurgeon].
David was on the run at the time, and far away from home: “From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (vs. 2). David was losing hope, as his heart grew “faint”, but God is our ever-present hope, even “from the ends of the earth.” No one is out of His reach. David knew that salvation was out of his own reach, thus he prayed for God to lead him to the rock of salvation that was beyond his grasp: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
David had evidence that his prayer would be answered: “For You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe” (vs. 3). His expectation of deliverance was based on his past experiences of trusting in God, and then being delivered. “God had thus shown that He had power to deliver him; and it might be expected that God, who is unchangeable, and who had interposed, would manifest the same traits of character still, and would not leave him now” [Barnes].
Some would turn to God only in times of trouble. David desired to be with God constantly, and forever: “I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings” (vs. 4). Some would use God, take advantage of His mercy and grace, and then, when not in need, turn their backs on Him and live their own lives. This was not David. His heart had the greatest desire to seek God and dwell with Him. As he declared elsewhere: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). “True consolation standeth not in earthly things, but in things heavenly, and things having nearest relation thereto; for David’s comfort was not so much that he should be brought to the kingdom, as that he should be brought to the tabernacle, and to heaven by that means” [Dickson, 363].
David’s desire to “take refuge in the shelter of [God’s] wings” was based partly on his knowledge of God’s protection of His people throughout the ages: “For You have heard my vows, O God; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name” (vs. 5). Those who fear God, who live in obedience to His Holy Word, have a common heritage, which includes present and future blessings, angels as ministering spirits, and the assurance that all things work together for the good. What a blessing, to be a child of God!
The process of praying worked to change David’s focus from the temporal to the eternal, from the problems of earth to the glories of heaven: “Increase the days of the king’s life, his years for many generations. May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint Your love and faithfulness to protect him” (vss. 6–7). It is true, that God “increased the days” of David’s life on earth (especially in light of all the warfare, strife, and rebellion that David faced), but David here was looking more toward eternal life in God’s presence. And should not that be our primary goal in this life? To please God, so as to gain eternal life? Are not all of our wants and needs in this life subsidiary to this?
“David, in this psalm, as in many others, begins with a sad heart, but concludes with an air of pleasantness—begins with prayers and tears, but ends with songs of praise” [Henry]: “Then will I ever sing praise to Your name and fulfill my vows day after day” (vs. 8). “Note, God’s preservation of us calls upon us to praise Him; and therefore we should desire to live, that we may praise Him” [Henry].