Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I’m going to pick up the discipline. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the first day of December, here’s Psalm 31:
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.
9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbours
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
19 How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.
21 Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.
What is this Psalm about?
This is a penitential Psalm – like Psalm 6, and others I’ve not reached yet in this read-through. At it’s heart this is a Psalm about forgiveness, and the great joy that comes from God’s forgiveness, and the promise of abundance to his people. It is a Psalm that, if written by David, likely refers to a difficult time – which we see in a range of images and exclamations. In English, here the ESV, it is quite a spiky and jumpy Psalm – “Terror on every side!” and “I am cut off from your sight!” – both shock and unnerve the reader, and would evoke strong responses whether whispered or shouted. Yet God’s forgiveness, provision, and protection is the key message here, I think.
What does this Psalm teach about God?
The God of Psalm 31 is a safe place to take refuge: ‘a fortified keep… my rock and my fortress… my refuge’. This is in contrast to everything else – a wonderful truth about God compared to every other person, place and thing. The God of Psalm 31 is also a faithful redeemer (v5), abundantly good (v19), and the one who preserves the faithful (v23). More could be said – but in keeping with this Psalm’s likely context, and the mood I find myself in, it seems prudent to pause, and reflect on the safety of God, the refuge and fortress who is also faithfully redeeming, abundantly good, and preserving the faithful.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s People today?
This Psalm is a balm to a troubled soul – whether it’s employment issues, war and flight, economic woes, relational dysfunction or ill health – Psalm 31 invites God’s people to turn to him. And with it’s teaching of forgiveness, delivery, and freedom from all sorts of trials, it is an invitation to people who might not see themselves as God’s people to renew their relationship, or to pursue relationship, for the first time.
This is a Psalm that lets us hear about God, and give us a way to respond. Verses 14-16 commence a beautiful prayer – one that I think we can still pray today.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 31:
‘But as for me, I trust you, O Yahweh. I say, ‘your are my God.’ My times are in your hand… Lord, help me to trust you, to lift my eyes to you, knowing that in you I can find refuge. Amen’.