Thursday, March 19, 2009

Psalm 31

Psalm 31 (NET) reads:
For the music director; a psalm of David.

In you, O LORD, I have taken shelter!
Never let me be humiliated!
Vindicate me by rescuing me!

2 Listen to me!
Quickly deliver me!
Be my protector and refuge,
a stronghold where I can be safe!

3 For you are my high ridge and my stronghold;
for the sake of your own reputation you lead me and guide me.

4 You will free me from the net they hid for me,
for you are my place of refuge.

5 Into your hand I entrust my life;
you will rescue me, O LORD, the faithful God.

6 I hate those who serve worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD.

7 I will be happy and rejoice in your faithfulness,
because you notice my pain
and you are aware of how distressed I am.

8 You do not deliver me over to the power of the enemy;
you enable me to stand in a wide open place.

9 Have mercy on me, for I am in distress!
My eyes grow dim from suffering.
I have lost my strength.

10 For my life nears its end in pain;
my years draw to a close as I groan.
My strength fails me because of my sin,
and my bones become brittle.

11 Because of all my enemies, people disdain me;
my neighbors are appalled by my suffering--
those who know me are horrified by my condition;
those who see me in the street run away from me.

12 I am forgotten, like a dead man no one thinks about;
I am regarded as worthless, like a broken jar.

13 For I hear what so many are saying,
the terrifying news that comes from every direction.
When they plot together against me,
they figure out how they can take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O LORD!
I declare, "You are my God!"

15 You determine my destiny!
Rescue me from the power of my enemies and those who chase me.

16 Smile on your servant!
Deliver me because of your faithfulness!

17 O LORD, do not let me be humiliated,
for I call out to you!
May evil men be humiliated!
May they go wailing to the grave!

18 May lying lips be silenced--
lips that speak defiantly against the innocent
with arrogance and contempt!

19 How great is your favor,
which you store up for your loyal followers!
In plain sight of everyone you bestow it on those who take shelter in you.

20 You hide them with you, where they are safe from the attacks of men;
you conceal them in a shelter, where they are safe from slanderous attacks.

21 The LORD deserves praise
for he demonstrated his amazing faithfulness to me when I was besieged by enemies.

22 I jumped to conclusions and said,
"I am cut off from your presence!"
But you heard my plea for mercy when I cried out to you for help.

23 Love the LORD, all you faithful followers of his!
The LORD protects those who have integrity,
but he pays back in full the one who acts arrogantly.

24 Be strong and confident,
all you who wait on the LORD!

Again in Psalm 31, David cries out to YHWH for deliverance from his enemies. Again, his enemies serve worthless idols (v. 6), they conspire to take his life (v. 13), they chase him (v. 15), they lie (v. 18), they target the innocent (v. 18), they are arrogant (v. 18), and they are slanderous (v. 20). This seems to be the cause of his distress.

The only part that doesn't fit is vv. 9–13, in which he describes his situation in terms of illness. There could be two things going on here. It could be that David was ill and that his enemies were telling people that the illness was proof that God had turned on him. Or, it could that the illness language is metaphor for the distress he was experiencing from his enemies. (i.e. "My situation is so bad that people don't want to be near me. It's almost like I have the plague!")

My suspicion is the latter. David seems most concerned about deliverance from his enemies, not from an illness (v. 15). If he really was sick, he would have considered the possibility that the Lord had turned on him. I don't see that here.

That being said, vv. 9–13 stick out to me as the distinctive of this psalm. With great poetic skill David describes the pain resulting from slanderous attacks. Just the other day a friend of mine was telling me about some of the rumors that were going around about him and how much pain it caused him. He could identify with vv. 9–11!

And yet, David expressed confidence. His prayer was for vindication (vv. 1–2, 17–18). He was confident that the Lord would deliver him because God's reputation was on the line (v. 3). Finally, he recognized the covenant God had with his people (v. 7, 16, 19, 21, 23). God is loyal, and He protects His own.

For me this is a reminder of two things. First, I need to guard my tongue. I can hurt people with my words and not even know it. Second, I need not worry about doing "damage control" over my reputation. God sees who has integrity and who doesn't. If someone spreads lies about me or my character, God will vindicate me. My response is not to lash back, but to cling to my integrity and pray.

"Father, I thank you for Your faithfulness. I thank You that we can trust You to protect and vindicate us. We echo the psalmists words that You are worthy of praise and that You determine our destiny. We ask You to smile upon us. Amen."


pastorbillwalden said...


Good word. I have an honest question for you that I struggle with.

As a pastor, I have had those harsh words and accusations thrown my way. The natural inclination is to defend one's self, but we are so often told not to.

Does Paul defense of himself line up with this? he defended himself against the Judaizers, etc.

It seems to me that IF we defend ourselves, it is for the sake of our credibility and for the credibility of the Gospel, not just for our reputation.

Thoughts? Thanks.

Matt said...

Thanks for commenting, brother.

You bring up a good point that I didn't touch on in my post. I want to say right off the bat that, not knowing your situation, I offer you my thoughts with a bit of fear and trembling. I always hesitate to offer hypothetical advice to people facing real challenges.

The good point that you make is that Paul does defend his reputation in the face of his accusers. Even Jesus stood up to those who accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebub. Psalm 31 does not say that David was completely passive in the face of his accusers. He could have been vehemently defending himself to no avail (thus he was asking God to do what his own efforts were failing to do).

When I wrote this post, I was thinking about passages like 1 Peter 3:16 and Titus 2:7–8 that say our good behavior can silence those who bring accusations against us.

If I'm living righteously, then when rumors start circulating about me, those who hear them will be more prone to think, "That isn't consistent with the Matt I know."

That being said, sometimes people are prone to believing fanciful stories. I don't think we have to be completely passive in the face of character assassination. If someone accused me of something untrue, I would defend myself. I would do so with gentleness.

You wrote, "we are so often told not to." Do you mean by others or by the Scriptures? If the Scriptures, are you thinking of a passage that I am neglecting? If you mean "by others," then I would say, "I disagree."

pastorbillwalden said...

Hi Matt,
Thanks for the reply. Long time responding here...super busy.

I have heard many pastors teach that we ought not ever defend ourselves, that God is our shield, etc.

While that sounds noble, I haven't believed that to be the full counsel of God. I think there is a time to defend one's self, as you pointed out.

The danger is the satisfaction that the flesh can derive from that defense. It can border on vengeance, which we have no business doing.

I appreciate your response. I have been out of the country, hence the delayed response. Thanks again, and have a blessed Easter

Matt said...

Pastor Bill,

Thanks for stopping by! Best wishes.