Theme: A Song of Old Age
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that God has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past, and can be counted on in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 71:1-24
Almost all the psalms in the second book of the Psalter have title lines, with the exception of this psalm. In fact, the only other example is Psalm 43, which seems to belong with Psalm 42, which was why those two psalms were treated together in our study. Since Psalm 71 likewise has no title line, some commentators think it might originally have belonged with Psalm 70, both therefore being ascribed to King David.
Certainly there are elements in Psalm 71 that pick up on Psalm 70.1 And there are even more expressions drawn from other psalms that are ascribed to David: “rock of refuge” and “my rock and my fortress” (v. 3), “my enemies” (v. 10), “Be not far from me, O God” (v. 12), “come quickly, O my God, to help me” (v. 12), and others. The first three verses are taken directly from the opening verses of Psalm 31, which is by David. Moreover, since we are near the ending of Book Two of the Psalter, and since it ends with the words, “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse,” it is appropriate that a psalm of David’s written in and about his old age should appear at this point. It is consistent with this view that the author seems to have been a public person (he says that he has become a “portent,” that is a well-known example or warning to many, v.7) and a person of greatness or honor (v. 21). The Septuagint ascribes the psalm to David.
In this study I will be assuming David’s authorship. But on the other hand, the fact that it is or might be by David contributes little. For the psalm is a song of old age and is therefore for all who are old or will be (which is going to be true for most of us sooner or later). Charles Haddon Spurgeon says, “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.”2
As far as the psalm’s outline goes, there may be six stanzas, as in the New International Version. But the important points overlap, and “no two commentators divide the psalm in the same way,”3 as H. C. Leupold observes. He divides it into two parts: verses 1-12 and 13-24. Marvin E. Tate divides it into five parts: verses 1-4, 5-12, 13-18, 19-20, 21-24. Derek Kidner has six sections, like the New International Version, but he does not follow the stanzas of the NIV. Kidner divides it in the following way: verses 1-3, 4-6, 7-11, 12-16, 17-21 and 22-24.
In the case of this psalm, it is probably best to think of it in terms of what it says, rather than its outline. It handles four subjects: 1) old age and its problems; 2) how the past looks from the perspective of old age; 3) the future in terms of what is yet to be done; and 4) praise from one who has lived long enough to have observed God’s faithful ways.
1Marvin E. Tate notes “the pleas for haste to help on the part of God in 70:2, 5 and 71:12; the prayer for deliverance or rescue in 70:2, 5 and 71:2 (note v. 11 also); the prayer for help in 70:2, 5 and 71:12; and the prayers regarding putting enemies to shame in 70:3 and 71:13, 24” (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 [Dallas: Word, 1990], p. 211).
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 206.
3H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 511.
What do title lines do in most Psalms? What’s the significance of the absence of a title line in Psalm 71?
What elements do Psalm 43 and 71 have in common?
On what basis has this psalm been ascribed to David?
Why is it appropriate that David’s old age should appear here?
What is Psalm 71 about?
Identify the four subjects Psalm 71 deals with.
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