Observe: Psalm 31 is a personal lament, with prayers and praises mixed with pleas for help. The writer is besieged by enemies, mostly verbally, but also by shunning him. Many images are used, such as refuge/fortress in v 2, a trap that the enemy sets in v 4, physical and emotional suffering in v 9-10, social alienation in v 11-12, the realm of the dead (Sheol) in v 17, God’s presence and dwelling in v 20, a besieged city in v 21.
The stanzas move from a cry for help, with a confession of trust, in v 1-8; to laments and petitions in v 9-18; to praise and thanksgiving in v 19-22; and a final call to the congregation to love the Lord and trust him to do justice and have mercy.
Interpret: One clue to understanding this psalm is the final two verses, a cry of encouragement to everyone present, all his faithful ones/saints. Everything that is expressed is deeply personal, yet all the worshippers are included at the end in a kind of “Let’s all join in the final chorus! All together now…Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord!”
Deep calls to deep: when I express my deepest emotions and hardest experiences, others will nod their heads, saying, ‘Yes, that’s where I’m at, too.’ If we have gone through a time of alienation from others, rejection or verbal attacks, then the “I” of the psalm becomes “Me too.”
The psalms are often best read with not just an individual in mind, but also with “we” in mind, perhaps as Israel, perhaps as the church now or though the ages.
Another clue is the word love, in the Hebrew, hesed, which means God’s covenant loyalty to us, and ours to God. It expresses God’s faithfulness, goodness, and graciousness. With that meaning in mind, read again verses 7, 16, 21, and 23.
Apply: V 4: “Keep me from the trap/net that is set for me.” Think of all the hidden traps in our lives that are just waiting for us to step into: subtle or overt temptation to sin, falling into the schemes of others, the spirit of personal rejection that is triggered by some word or incident. The devil delights in setting these traps. Pray that you don’t step into one and be caught. “Lead me away from temptation, Lord.”
V 5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is the prayer of release: “I am putting my life in your hands, Lord.” We can also pray for release and trust in the Lord for other things. “Lord, into your hands I commit my health/family/friend/job/church…”
Similarly, v 14-15 is a helpful prayer of faith and trust: “I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands, deliver me.” Since God is the sovereign Lord of time over all our moments, all our days, each stage of our life from childhood to old age and in between, we can pray into not only the time we are in now, but into the past and into the future. God’s ultimate will is to heal our whole lives. That’s heaven.
Finally, v 21, “Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege.” Pray that for the people of Ukraine now, or for yourself and others when troubles multiply. The wonders of his hesed love are found in the midst of the worst situations, and God’s justice and mercy will always triumph over evil.
Pray: I trust in you Lord. You are my God, my times are in your hands. Deliver me, O God, save me in your unfailing love.
Song: A Mighty Fortress is our God (Martin Luther)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.