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Psalm 71:1-13 -
An Aged Saint in Peril
1In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2Rescue me and deliver me in Your righteousness;
turn Your ear to me and save me.
3Be my rock of refuge,
to which I can always go;
Give the command to save me,
for You are my rock and my fortress.
4Deliver me, O my God,
from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of evil and cruel men.
5For You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
6From birth I have relied on You;
You brought me forth from my mother’s womb
I will ever praise You.
7I have become like a portent to many,
but You are my strong refuge.
8My mouth is filled with Your praise,
declaring Your splendor all day long.
9Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
10For my enemies speak against me;
those who wait to kill me conspire together.
11They say, “God has forsaken him;
pursue him and seize him,
for no one will rescue him.”
12Be not far from me, O God;
come quickly, O my God, to help me.
13May my accusers perish in shame;
may those who want to harm me
be covered with scorn and disgrace.
There is no inscription for this psalm, so we cannot be certain who wrote it (though many think that David was the author). We know from the text that it was written by a man in his old age, as he faced affliction. “We have here the prayer of the aged believer, who, in holy confidence of faith, strengthened by a long and remarkable experience, pleads against his enemies, and asks further blessings for himself” [Spurgeon]. “It is a psalm of great value as describing the feelings of a good man when he is growing old” [Barnes].
The Psalmist begins: “In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame” (vs. 1). The best way to face affliction in this world is to put oneself in the Lord’s care, to “take refuge” in Him. “Jehovah deserves our confidence; let Him have it all. Every day must we guard against every form of reliance upon an arm of flesh, and hourly hang our faith upon the ever faithful God” [Spurgeon].
“Rescue me and deliver me in Your righteousness; turn Your ear to me and save me” (vs. 2). It is quite important that we be on the side of right in our confrontations with others. If so, then we can appeal to God’s “righteousness” as we seek help from Him. “The righteousness of God is a pledge to the godly that their lawful petitions shall be granted, and especially when they seek delivery from their ungodly adversaries” [Dickson, 429].
“Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men” (vss. 3–4). God, as a “rock”, is a valuable trait for believers. We know He is not fickle. We know He cannot be moved by the opinions of people. We know where He stands, because we have His Word. He stands for righteousness and justice. Then also, God is a “fortress”, and a “rock of refuge to which I can always go.”
Note how the Psalmist appropriates God as his own. “Happy is he who can use the personal pronoun ‘my’—not only once, but as many times as the many aspects of the Lord may render desirable. Is He a strong habitation? I will call Him ‘my rock of refuge’, and He shall be my rock, my fortress, my God (vs.4), my hope, my confidence (vs. 5). All mine shall be His, all His shall be mine” [Spurgeon].
“For You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on You; You brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise You” (vss. 5–6). The Psalmist now looks back on his life, and how he had trust in God “since his youth.” “It is a great thing to be habituated from early life to trust in the Lord, and hope in His mercy. Happy are they who seek the savior early” [Plumer, 697]. “The remembering and acknowledging of God in youth will be great satisfaction in old age” [Spurgeon].
The Psalmist acknowledges that God has protected him even “from birth.” Those who believe in God and follow Him can look back on their lives and remember when God specially protected them even before they were believers. “We do well to reflect upon divine goodness to us in childhood, for it is full of food for gratitude” [Spurgeon]. Then also, the Psalmist acknowledges God’s sustaining and protecting role even from the first moments of life: “You brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise You.” “Before he was able to understand the power which preserved him, he was sustained by it. God knows us before we know anything” [Spurgeon]. Who doesn’t see a miracle in childbirth? Any father who has been present at the birth of his children cannot help but weep and praise God.
The Psalmist continues: “I have become like a portent to many, but You are my strong refuge” (vs. 7). As one who trusts in the True and Living God, the Psalmist is a “portent” to the unbelievers. The non-believers had seen God’s work in the Psalmist’s past, and so, it would only be a matter of time before God’s power would be displayed through him again. To the ungodly, the work of God is something to be dreaded, but to the godly man, God is a “strong refuge”.
“My mouth is filled with Your praise, declaring Your splendor all day long” (vs. 8). May the praises of God never be far from our lips! “God’s bread is always in our mouths, so should His praise be. He fills us with good; let us also be filled with gratitude” [Spurgeon].
The Psalmist prays a special petition: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (vs. 9). Old age is a time of dread and special fear, as the body weakens, and aches and pains set in. “It is not unnatural or improper for a man who sees old age coming upon him to pray for special grace, and special strength, to enable him to meet what he cannot ward off, and what he cannot but dread; for who can look upon the infirmities of old age, as coming upon himself, but with sad and pensive feelings?” [Barnes]. The Psalmist here seems to fear that God will treat him in his old age, as he has seen those of the world treat the elderly, so he prays, “Do not cast me away when I am old.” But God’s ways are not man’s ways, and God, as seen in the actions of His Son Jesus on earth, gives special grace to the weak. “He here prays that the grace which he experienced in youth, and which he has already acknowledged in the foregoing context, may be continued and extended to his old age” [Alexander, 307]. “Such as have been the Lord’s servants in their youth, may be sure to find God a good and kind master to them in their old age” [Dickson, 431]. “Old age robs us of personal beauty, and deprives us of strength for active service; but it does not lower us in the love and favour of God. An ungrateful country leaves its worn out defenders to starve upon a scanty pittance, but the pensioners of heaven are satisfied with good things” [Spurgeon]. “As old age approaches, our strength in many respects will fail us: but God will not cast off His gray-headed servants, when they are no longer capable of laboring as they have done. And His people should imitate His example, in their kindness towards such as have spent their health and strength in their service” [Plumer, 698].
God’s grace in old age is a good reason to seek Him while we are young. As Solomon wisely advises: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come” (Eccl. 12:1). “It is a sad thing to be looking for religion in old age, when we ought to be enjoying the comforts of it—to be sowing when we ought to be reaping” [Slade, in Plumer, 698]. “A man can lay up nothing better for the infirmities of old age than the favor of God sought, by earnest prayer, in the days of his youth and his maturer years” [Barnes].
The Psalmist’s enemies seem to think that he will be deserted by God in his old age: “For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him’” (vss. 10–11). It is especially evil to prey on the weak, to take advantage of those less able to defend themselves. Those who do so should be ashamed of themselves. The Psalmist prays that a feeling of shame should come upon his enemies: “Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me. May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace” (vss. 12–13).