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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Psalms Chapter 71


psa 71:0

This psalm is without a title, as is the case with the first, second, tenth, and some others. Of course it is impossible to determine on what occasion it was composed. There is some plausibility in the supposition that Psa 70:1-5 might have been placed before it, or in connection with it, as a kind of introduction, or as indicating the character of the psalms among which it is found; but nothing of certainty can be ascertained on that point. It evidently belongs to the "class" of psalms which refer to the trials of the righteous; but it was rather in view of past troubles than of those which were then existing.

There is no certain evidence that the psalm was composed by David. If so, it was when he was advanced in life. There is, indeed, much in the psalm which would be appropriate to David - much which he might have written; but there is no way now of ascertaining with certainty who was the author. In the Syriac version, the psalm is, indeed, ascribed to David, and this may perhaps express the prevailing idea in regard to the authorship as it had been handed down by tradition. The title in Syriac is, "Composed by David. When Saul warred against the house of David. And a prophecy respecting the passion and resurrection of the Messiah." The Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint also ascribe it to David. The title in both is the same - "By David. Of the sons of Jonadab, and the first captives." But these titles are of no authority, as they are not in the Hebrew, and they are of little historic value.

All that is known respecting the occasion on which the psalm was composed, whoever was the author, is, that it was composed when old age was drawing near, and in view of the trials and the blessings of life as considered from the contemplation of its approaching close, Psa 71:5, Psa 71:9,Psa 71:17-18. The life of the author had been one of trials Psa 71:20, but also of great mercies Psa 71:6-7, Psa 71:17. He was then surrounded with difficulties; the infirmities of age were coming upon him, and he was encompassed with enemies Psa 71:10-11, Psa 71:20; therefore, he sought the continued favor and blessing of God in the little that remained to him of life.

It is a psalm of great value as describing the feelings of a good man when he is growing old, and is an illustration of what there has been occasion so often to remark in this exposition of the Book of Psalms, that the Bible is adapted to all the conditions of human life. In a book professing to be a revelation from God, and in a world where "old age," with its trials, its infirmities, its recollections, and its hopes, must be so prominent in the actual state of things existing, it would have been unaccountable if there had been nothing to illustrate the feelings of those in advancing or advanced years - nothing to suggest the kind of reflections appropriate to that period of life - nothing to cheer the heart of the aged man, and to inspire him with hope - nothing to prompt him to recall the lessons of the past, and to make use of those lessons to prepare him for the future; even as, in a world so full of trial, it would have been strange if there had been nothing to comfort the mind in affliction, and to enable people to derive proper lessons from the experiences of life. This psalm, therefore, is one of the most valuable portions of the Bible to a certain class of mankind, and may be to any of the living, as suggesting the proper reflections of a good man as the infirmities of age draw on, and as he reviews the mercies and the trials of the past.

It is not necessary to make a more particular analysis of its contents. The psalm, in general, embraces these points:

(1) A prayer for deliverance from troubles, and from wicked people, Psa 71:1-4.

(2) an acknowledgment of God's goodness in early life; a grateful review of divine mercies manifested from the earliest years of life, Psa 71:5-8.

(3) a prayer that God would still preserve him as old age came on; a prayer that God would interpose in his behalf, and enable him still to be useful to the world - to that generation, and to the generations to come, Psa 71:9-18.

(4) the expression of a confident expectation that his prayer would be answered, and that God would be merciful to him, Psa 71:19-21.

(5) the expression of a purpose to offer praise to God as a suitable return for the mercies of the past, and for all that he hoped to receive in time to come, Psa 71:22-24.

Psalms 71:1

psa 71:1

In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust - See the notes at Psa 25:2. Compare Psa 22:4-5; Psa 31:1.

Let me never be put to confusion - Let me never be ashamed; that is, Let me not be so disappointed in the trust that I repose in thee as to have occasion to feel ashamed that I have done it.

Psalms 71:2

psa 71:2

Deliver me in thy righteousness - See the notes at Psa 31:1. The first three verses of this psalm seem in fact to have been taken, with slight variations, from the first three verses of Ps. 31.

And cause me to escape - That is, from impending dangers; from the power of my enemies.

Incline thine ear unto me - In Psa 31:2, this is, "Bow down thine ear to me." The idea is the same. See the notes at that place. Compare the notes at Psa 17:6.

And save me - In Psa 31:2, this is, "Deliver me speedily."

Psalms 71:3

psa 71:3

Be thou my strong habitation - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Be thou to me for a rock of habitation." That is, a rock where I may safely make my abode, or to which I may resort and feel safe. In Psa 31:2, this is, "Be thou my strong rock, for an house of defense to save me." The idea is the same. See the notes at that passage, and compare the notes at Psa 18:2.

Whereunto I may continually resort - Where I may take refuge at all times, in all circumstances of danger.

Thou hast given commandment to save me - There was some command, or some promise, on which the psalmist relied, or which he felt he might plead as the ground of his appeal. This may refer to some "special" promise or command made to the author of the psalm - and, if the psalm was composed by David, there were many such; or the reference may have been to the general commands or promises made to the people of God as such, which he felt he was at liberty to plead, and which all may plead who are the friends of God. "We" cannot refer, as David could, to any special promise made to "us" as "individuals;" but, in proportion as we have evidence of piety, we can refer to the promises made to alI the people of God, or to all who devote themselves to him, as a reason why he should interpose in our behalf. In this respect the promises made in the Scriptures to the children of God, may be pleaded by us "as if" they were made personally to ourselves, for, if we are his, they are made to us - they are intended for us.

For thou art my rock and my fortress - See the notes at Psa 18:2.

Psalms 71:4

psa 71:4

Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked - It is, of course, not possible now to ascertain who are particularly referred to here. If David was the author of the psalm, they may have been any of the numerous enemies that he had in his life.

Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man - Hebrew, "out of the palm." This means here the same as hand, and refers to the "grasp" which anyone makes in taking hold of a thing by the hand.

Psalms 71:5

psa 71:5

For thou art my hope, O Lord God - The ground of my hope and my expectation is in thee.

(1) I have no other help; no other defense; but

(2) I "have" confidence; on thee I "do" rely.

Thou art my trust from my youth - From my earliest years. The meaning is, that he had always trusted in God, and had always found him a helper. All that he was, and all that he possessed, he owed to God; and he felt now that God had been his protector from his earliest years. Perhaps it could not be shown certainly from this expression that he meant to say he had "actually trusted" in God from his youth, for the "language" means no more than that God had actually protected him, and holden him up, and had continually interposed to save and keep him. As God had always been his Protector, so he felt that he might come to Him now, and put his trust in Him.

Psalms 71:6

psa 71:6

By thee have I been holden up from the womb - From the beginning of my existence. The "idea" in all this is, that, since God had sustained him from his earliest years - since he had shown his power in keeping him, and manifested his care for him, there was ground to pray that God would keep him still, and that he would guard him as old age came on. The sentiment in this verse is substantially the same as in Psa 22:9-10. See the notes at that passage.

My praise shall be continually of thee - My praise shall ascend to thee constantly. I will not cease to praise thee. Compare the notes at Psa 22:25.

Psalms 71:7

psa 71:7

I am as a wonder unto many - The word here rendered "wonder" - מופת môphêth - means properly a miracle, a prodigy; then things that are suited to excite wonder or admiration; then, a sign, a token. See the notes at Isa 8:18. The meaning here is, that the course of things in regard to him - the divine dealings toward him - had been such as to excite attention; to strike the mind as something unusual, and out of the common course, in the same way that miracles do. This might be either from the number and the character of the calamities which had come upon him; or from the narrow escapes which he had had from death; or from the frequency of the divine intervention in his behalf; or from the abundant mercies which had been manifested toward him. The connection makes it probable that he refers to the unusual number of afflictions which had come upon him, and the frequency of the divine interpositions in his behalf when there was no other refuge, and no other hope.

But thou art my strong refuge - See the notes at Psa 18:2. That is, God had been his Protector, his hiding-place.

Psalms 71:8

psa 71:8

Let my mouth be filled - This is an appeal to himself, in view of the goodness of God, to praise him always. See the notes at Psa 35:28.

With thy praise - With the expressions of praise.

And with thy honor all the day - With such expressions as shall promote thy glory, and make thy honor known.

Psalms 71:9

psa 71:9

Cast me not off in the time of old age - When old age comes with its infirmities; its weaknesses; its trials. When my strength fails me; when my eyes grow dim; when my knees totter; when my friends have died; when I am no longer able to labor for my support; when the buoyant feelings of earlier years are no more; when my old companions and associates are gone, and I am left alone. Thou who didst watch over me in infancy; who didst guard me in childhood and youth; who hast defended me in manhood; who hast upheld me in the days of sickness, danger, bereavement, trouble - do thou not leave me when, in advanced years, I have special need of thy care; when I have reason to apprehend that there may come upon me, in that season of my life, troubles that I have never known before; when I shall not have the strength, the buoyancy, the elasticity, the ardor, the animal spirits of other years, to enable me to meet those troubles; and when I shall have none of the friends to cheer me whom I had in the earlier periods of my course. 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? Who would wish "to be" an old man? Who can look upon a man tottering with years, and broken down with infirmities - a man whose sight and hearing are gone - a man who is alone amidst the graves of all the friends that he had in early life - a man who is a burden to himself and to the world, a man who has reached the "last scene of all, that ends the strange eventful history," that scene of

"Second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything," -

That scene when one can say,

"I have lived long enough; my way of life

Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf;

And that which should accompany old age,

As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have,"

Who can think of all this, and not pray for special grace for himself should he live to see those days of infirmity and weakness? And who, in view of such infirmities, can fail to see the propriety of seeking the favor of God in early years? Compare Ecc 12:1-6.

Forsake me not when my strength faileth - As I may expect it to do, when I grow old. 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.

Psalms 71:10

psa 71:10

For mine enemies speak against me - That is, they said substantially, as it is stated in Psa 71:11, that God had forsaken him, and that therefore, they would arise and punish him, or treat him as an outcast from God.

And they that lay wait for my soul - For my life; or, to take my life. The margin here - as the Hebrew - is, "watch," or "observe." The "watchers for my life;" that is, they who watch for an opportunity to take my life, or to destroy me.

Take counsel together - About the best means of accomplishing their object.

Psalms 71:11

psa 71:11

Saying, God hath forsaken him - That is, God has given him over; he no longer protects him; he regards him as a wicked man, and we shall therefore, not only be "safe" in our attempts upon his life, but we shall be "justified" in those attempts.

Persecute and take him - It can be done safely now; it can be done with propriety.

For there is none to deliver him - He has no one now to whom to look; no one on whom he can rely. Abandoned by God and by man, he will be an easy prey. Compare the notes at Psa 41:7-8.

Psalms 71:12

psa 71:12

O God, be not far from me - See the notes at Psa 22:11.

O my God, make haste for my help - See the notes at Psa 40:13.

Psalms 71:13

psa 71:13

Let them be confounded and consumed - See the notes at the similar passage in Psa 35:4. The sentiment in this verse is the same; the language is slightly varied. See also Psa 40:14, where the same sentiment occurs.

Psalms 71:14

psa 71:14

But I will hope continually - I will always cherish hope; I will not give up to despair. I will trust in God whatever may be the number, the power, and the confidence of my enemies. None of these things shall make me despair, for as long as I have a God, I have every ground for hope. No man should despair who has God for his Friend. Compare Psa 42:5, Psa 42:11; Psa 43:5.

And will yet praise thee more and more - literally, "I will add upon all thy praise." That is, I will accumulate it; I will increase it. He saw abundant cause in the past for praising God; he had such confidence in him, and he felt such an assurance that he would interpose in his behalf, that he did not doubt that in the future dealings of God with him, he would have every reason to "add" to that praise.

Psalms 71:15

psa 71:15

My mouth shall show forth thy righteousness ... - See the notes at Psa 71:8. The word "righteousness" here refers to the righteous character of God, particularly as manifested in his behalf; the word "salvation" refers to what God had done to deliver him from his dangers.

For I know not the numbers thereof - That is, I cannot estimate the amount of thy favors; they are innumerable. See the notes at Psa 40:5.

Psalms 71:16

psa 71:16

I will go in the strength of the Lord God - In my future journey through life; in my trials; in my duties; in my conflicts; in my temptations. Admonished in the past of my own weakness, and remembering how often God has interposed, I will hereafter lean only on his arm, and not trust to my own strength. But thus leaning on his arm, I "will" go confidently to meet the duties and the trials of life. If one has the strength of God to lean on, or can use that strength "as if" it were his own, there is no duty which he may not discharge; no trial which he may not bear. The Hebrew here is, "I will come with the mighty deeds (more literally, "strengths") of the Lord God." The word is used to denote the "mighty acts" of Yahweh, in Deu 3:24; Psa 106:2; Job 26:14. DeWette proposes to render this, "I will go in the mighty deeds of Yahweh;" that is, I will sing of his mighty deeds. Rosenmuller explains it, "I will go into the temple to celebrate his praise there;" that is, I will bring the remembrance of his mighty acts there as the foundation of praise. So Professor Alexander explains it. It seems to me, however, that our translation has expressed the true idea, that he would go in the strength of God; that he would rely on no other; that he would make mention of no other. Old age, trials, difficulties, arduous duties, were before him; and in all these he would rely on no other strength but that of the Almighty.

I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only - Of thy just and holy character. I will allude to nothing else; I will rely on nothing else as the foundation of my hope, and as my encouragement in the duties and trials of life.

Psalms 71:17

psa 71:17

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth - See Psa 71:5-6. That is, God had guided and instructed him from his earliest years. He had made known to him his own being and perfections; he had made his duty plain; he had led him along the dangerous path of life.

And hitherto have I declared - I have made known. That is, he had done this by public praise; he had done it by his writings; he had done it by maintaining and defending the truth. In all situations of life, up to that time, he had been willing to stand up for God and his cause.

Thy wondrous works - See Psa 9:1, note; Psa 26:7, note. Doings or acts which were suited to attract attention; to awe the mind by their greatness; to inspire confidence by their wisdom.

Psalms 71:18

psa 71:18

Now also when I am old and grey-headed - Margin, "unto old age and grey hairs." This does not necessarily mean that he was then actually old and grey-headed, but it would imply that he was approaching that period, or that he had it in prospect. The time of youth was past, and he was approaching old age. The literal rendering would be, "And also unto old age and grey hairs, do not forsake me." This is the prayer of one who had been favored in youth, and in all his former course of life, and who now asked that God would continue his mercy, and not forsake him when the infirmities of age drew on.

Forsake me not - Still keep me alive. Give me health, and strength, and ability to set forth thy praise, and to make known thy truth. See the notes at Psa 71:9.

Until I have showed thy strength - Margin, as in Hebrew, "thine arm." The arm is the instrument by which we execute a purpose, and it thus becomes a symbol of strength.

Unto this generation - literally, "to a generation." The reference is to the generation then living; that is, the generation which had come on the stage since he had reached manhood - the generation - the new generation - which one who is approaching old age sees engaged in the active scenes of life, cultivating the fields, filling the offices, constructing the bridges and roads, manning the ships, occupying the dwellings, instead of those with whom he was formerly associated, and who are now in their graves. His own generation - the companions of his own early years - had passed away. He had lived to speak to a new generation, and he was desirous that they should start on the journey of life with the advantage of his experience, as of one that had gone before. Each generation "may" thus enter on life with all the accumulated wisdom of the past; that is, as wise as those had become who had themselves had the experience, and treasured up results from the observations, of a long life.

Society thus makes progress. One generation becomes wiser and better than the one which went before it, and the experience of all ages thus accumulates as the world advances, enabling a future age to act on the results of all the wisdom of the past. Man thus differs from the inferior creation. The animals, governed by instinct alone, make no progress. Compare the notes at Psa 49:13. They profit neither by the wisdom, nor the follies of the past. The first robin built its nest of the same materials, and with as much art, as the robin does now; the first stock of bees constructed their cells with as nice and accurate adaptations, with mathematical precision as complete, as a swarm of bees will do now. Neither the bird nor the bee has learned anything by experience, by study, or by observation - nor lays up, to transmit to future generations of birds or bees, the results of its own sagacity or observation.

Not so with man. The result of the experiences of one generation goes into the general experience of the world, and becomes its capital; a new thought, or a new invention struck out by some splendid genius, becomes the common property of the race; and society, as it rolls on, gathers up all these results, as the Ganges or the Mississippi, rolling on to the ocean, gathers into one mighty volume all the waters that flow in a thousand streams, and all that come from rivulets and fountains, however remote. It is this which makes the life of "a man" so valuable in this world; this which makes it so desirable for a man, even when approaching old age, yet to live a little longer, for, as the fruit of his experience, his observation, his ripe wisdom, his acquired knowledge, he may yet suggest something, by writing or otherwise, which may add to the intelligence of the world; some principle which may be elaborated and perfected by the coming age.

And thy power - Thy greatness; majesty; glory.

To every one that is to come - To all future generations. That I may state truths which may benefit future ages. He who suggests one truth which the world was not in possession of before, is a benefactor to mankind, and will not have lived in vain, for that truth will do something to set the race forward, and to make the world better and happier. It is not a vain thing, then, for a man to live; and every one should endeavor "so" to live that the world may not be the worse - or may not go backward - by his living in it, but that it may be the wiser and the better: not merely so that it may keep on the same level, but that it may rise to a higher level, and start off on a new career.

Psalms 71:19

psa 71:19

Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high - See the notes at Psa 36:5. The purpose of the psalmist is to exalt that righteousness as much as possible, and he, therefore, compares it with that which is high - the heavens - the highest thing of all. The literal rendering would be, "even to the high," or the height; that is, to the highest place. The passage is designed to express his confidence in God, in the infirmities and troubles which he must expect to come upon him with advancing years.

Who hast done great things - In his work of creation; in his providence; in his manifested mercy toward his people. He had done things so great as to show that he could protect those who put their trust in him.

O God, who is like unto thee! - Who can be compared to thee! See the notes at Psa 35:10. Compare the notes at Isa 40:18. See also Psa 89:8; Exo 15:11; Sa2 7:22.

Psalms 71:20

psa 71:20

Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles - Or rather, who hast caused us to see or experience great trials. The psalmist here, by a change from the singular to the plural, connects himself with his friends and followers, meaning that he had suffered with them and through them. It was not merely a personal affliction, but others connected with him had been identified with him, and his personal sorrows had been increased by the trials which had come upon them also. Our severest trials often are those which affect our friends.

Shalt quicken me again - literally, "Shalt return and make us live." The word "quicken" in the Scriptures has always this sense of "making to live again." See the notes at Joh 5:21; compare Rom 4:17; Co1 15:36; Eph 2:1. The plural form should have been retained here as in the former member of the sentence. The authors of the Masoretic punctuation have pointed this as if it were to be read in the singular, but the plural is undoubtedly the true reading. Alike in his affliction, and in his hope of the returning mercy of God, he connects himself here with those who had suffered with him. The language expresses firm confidence in the goodness of God - an assurance that these troubles would pass away, and that he would see a brighter day.

And shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth - As if he had been sunk in the waters, or in the mire. See Psa 130:1. The word here used means commonly "wave, billow, surge;" then, a mass of waters, "a flood," the deep; then, a gulf, an abyss. The idea here is, that, instead of being on the mountain top, in a place of security, he had sunk down to the lowest point; he had, as it were, sunk "into" the very earth. Yet from that low estate he felt assured that God would raise him up, and place him in a condition of happiness and safety. This is one of the many instances which we have in the Psalms, where the psalmist in great trouble expresses the most entire confidence that God would interpose in his behalf.

Psalms 71:21

psa 71:21

Thou shalt increase my greatness - Thou wilt not merely restore me to my former condition, but wilt enlarge my happiness, and wilt do still greater things for me.

And comfort me on every side - literally, "Thou wilt turn thyself; thou wilt comfort me." The word also means to surround; to encompass Gen 2:11, Gen 2:13; Kg1 7:24; Psa 18:5; and the idea here may be that God would "go around him," or encircle him, and would thus comfort him. This idea is expressed in our common version. It was the confident assurance of entire, or complete consolation.

Psalms 71:22

psa 71:22

I will also praise thee with the psaltery - Margin, as in Hebrew, "with the instrument of psaltery." The Hebrew word is נבל nebel. In Isa 5:12 it is rendered "viol." See the notes at that passage. It is rendered "psaltery" in Sa1 10:5; Sa2 6:5; Kg1 10:12; and elsewhere. Compare the notes at Psa 33:2.

Even thy truth - I will make mention of thy truth and faithfulness in my songs of praise; or, I will celebrate these in connection with appropriate music.

Unto thee will I sing with the harp - Hebrew, כנור kinnôr. See the notes at Isa 5:12. Compare the notes at Psa 33:2.

O thou Holy One of Israel - The God of Israel or the Hebrew people; the God regarded by them as most holy, and worshipped by them as their God. This is the first time that this title occurs in the Psalms, but it is common in the prophets, particularly in Isaiah. See Isa 1:4; Isa 5:19, Isa 5:24; Isa 10:20; Isa 12:6. It occurs also in Psa 78:41; Psa 89:18.

Psalms 71:23

psa 71:23

My lips shall greatly rejoice ... - My lips will seem to be happy in the privilege of celebrating the praises of God.

And my soul, which thou hast redeemed - Compare Psa 34:22. The word soul here seems to be employed to denote "the soul" properly, as we understand the word - the immortal part. The usual meaning of the word, in the Psalms, however, is "life," and it is possible that the psalmist meant merely to say here that the "life" which had been spared should find pleasure in celebrating the praises of God; but there is no impropriety in supposing that he has reference to his higher - his immortal - nature.

Psalms 71:24

psa 71:24

My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness - Thy righteous character; the truthfulness, the goodness, the fidelity which thou hast manifested in delivering me. The word rendered "talk" means properly to meditate; then, to think aloud, to talk to oneself; and the idea may be, that his mind would be so full of the subject that he would give utterance to his thoughts in audible expressions when alone. It denotes fullness of heart, and language naturally flowing out from a full soul.

All the day long - Continually. This shall occupy my mind at all times. See the notes at Psa 1:2.

For they are confounded ... - That is, they are put to confusion; they are disappointed in their hopes; they are defeated in their plans. The psalmist sees this to be so certain that he speaks of it as if it were already done. The Psalms often conclude in this way. They begin in trouble, they end in joy; they begin in darkness, they end in light; they begin with a desponding mind, they end with a triumphant spirit; they begin with prayer, they end in praise. On the "language" used here, see the notes at Psa 71:13. On such a "close" of the Psalms, see Psa 3:7-8; Psa 6:9-10; Psa 7:17; Psa 17:15; Psa 22:30-31; Psa 26:12; Psa 42:11; Psa 43:5; Psa 52:8-9.

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