Spurgeon rightly says that this psalm is the testimony of a “struggling, but unstaggering, faith.” The Hebrew form of this psalm has no title, but the Septuagint attributes it to David, an assumption we will follow. Whether by David or not, it certainly fits in with his life and experience. God was with him his entire life, and that meant that many enemies were against him his entire life.
“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: Let me never be put to confusion . . .” (Ps. 71:1-24).
Summary of the Text:
The first four verses are the plea for help (vv. 1-4). In the next section (vv. 5-8), we listen to the voice of an experienced testimony. This is not the first time he has prayed for (and received) deliverance. This elderly saint, probably David, then pleads against his enemies (vv. 9-13), and he then rejoices in his hope (vv. 14-16). He then repeats his request for deliverance (vv. 17-18), and goes over his hope again (vv. 19-21). He then concludes with his promise to abound in thanksgiving (vv. 22-24).
A Book-ended Saint:
This prayer is offered up when David is old. He knows that God has been with him since the first possible moment, and he pleads with God not to desert him at the last. First, God has been with him from his youth (v. 5). More than that, he has been held up from the womb, and God is the one who first fetched him from his mother (v. 6). He mentions his youth again later in the psalm—God is the one who taught him from his youth (v. 17). But it is not sufficient to begin well, however much of a blessing that might be. The psalmist asks that he not be cast off in his old age (v. 9). He is aging now and his strength is failing, and so he needs God to not forsake him. So now, when he is old and gray-headed, he pleads with God to not forsake him (v. 18). He wants a chance to tell of God’s wonders to the current generation, and then after that to the generation that is to come.
When it comes down to it—even though we believe in the eternal blessing of Heaven, not to mention the invisible blessings of the heart—it still remains obvious out in the world how things stand between you and God. It is obvious, but not simple. The psalmist here pleads with God that he not be put to confusion (v. 1). His enemies are looking on, and he wants to see, along with them, the same deliverance. He wants to see that God really is with him, that God has delivered him. He wants them to see the same thing also, even though their intense desire is to see the opposite. He wants to see deliverance in joy, and wants them to see that same deliverance in despair.
They taunt him, and say that God has forsaken him (v. 11). Where is your God now? It is worth noting that in addition to the spear of the Roman soldier, this was a thrust that the Lord Jesus had to bear. And if you judge by the snapshot, and not by the video, it is a compelling argument. But that is not how we are to judge. Judge the story by the story. Faith in only operative in a story, in a narrative. Faith is what anticipates the next page, the next chapter.
Flipped around, the psalmist also wants to see them refuted by the events of the story. “Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; Let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt” (v. 13). He wants them to see that God really is with him. He wants God to stop their mouths. This is another inescapable concept—someone is going to be put to confusion. Someone will be confounded.
We know that in the last judgment every lie will be erased, every slander will be blotted out, every cruel misrepresentation will be annihilated. All this will happen, and no remainder. But Christians have unfortunately drifted into an apathetic acquiescence that only expects this to happen at the end of the world. The psalmist wants (and we should want) more than a little of that vindication now.
Right to the Edge:
Note that David is still having to trust God on the edge. He is still on the precipice. How many of us quietly assume something like this? “We certainly need to learn how to trust God in our early twenties, or ideally in childhood, when we are first getting established, and once we have a ‘cushion’ in the bank, we can then roll downhill into glory.”
But David had to grow up trusting God, and he had to go to the grave trusting God. The Christian life is from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17). The just shall live by faith. This refers to how we have lived, are living, and will live.
So as you come to your gray years—and some of you are closer than others—you don’t have a right to let your spiritual life go. You don’t have a right to become peevish or querulous. You don’t have a right to timidity. You might not be able to dictate what your temptations will be, but the Lord in Heaven has a right to dictate what your responses to those temptations should be.
A Personal Faith:
Now what is the key to finishing strong? David owns these truths. Speaking of God, he appeals to my habitation (v. 3), my rock (v. 3), my fortress (v. 3). Of course, it is my God (v. 4). He leans on my hope (v. 5), and my trust (v. 5). My strong refuge (v. 7). My God (v. 12). Lean on that possessive pronoun as though it were a strong oak staff.
But more is involved that simply presuming that you own something. The key to salvation always lies in the pronouns, and in more than one pronoun. “My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness” (v. 15). How many times does he refer to God’s righteousness, assuming it to be his only hope and help? “Deliver me in thy righteousness” (v. 2). “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only” (v. 16). “Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high” (v. 19). “My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long” (v. 24). This is the way it has to be. God’s righteousness only.
And so with the mouth confession is made—Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the only Savior. Jesus is the Lord our righteousness. I say this with my mouth, and what I talk about must be from outside myself. It must be the righteousness of another. Without such righteousness every form of hope is lost. With such righteousness, nothing can touch you—from the moment when you were a single, fertilized cell to the day when your aged, spotted, and vein-crossed hands tremble for the very last time, when oxygen passes through your mouth for the last time. You have a sure hope because that was the same mouth that confessed the righteousness of another.
So in order to be my salvation, it can never be my righteousness.