A Meditation on Psalm 31
Psalm 31 is long enough that I won’t reproduce it in full here, so I encourage you to open your Bible and read through the psalm as we consider it together. It is a psalm of David, and its themes are common to him: persecution from foes, the cry for deliverance, and God as a refuge and fortress.
Rather than rehash what we have already said about similar psalms, I want us to consider Psalm 31 from another angle suggested by our study in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Rom 3.21). In the same chapter, Paul illustrates his point by quoting from Psalm 51.4 to prove that our faithlessness does not nullify God’s faithfulness (Rom 3.3-4). All of the Hebrew Scriptures point forward to the Good News of Jesus Christ, though they themselves are not the Good News.
Let us consider the Gospel as we find it professed by King David in Psalm 31.
The conflict of Psalm 31 is identical to the beginning of Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in Romans: man has forsaken God and is evil. David writes, “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols” (31.6). Such men scheme against David and seek to overthrow him: “For I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life,” and, “Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt” (31.13, 18). David proves what Paul afterward expounded in Romans: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” and, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness” (Rom 1.22-23, 29).
Over and against this, David sees the goodness and graciousness of God. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (31.19). As we shall study this morning from Romans 5, God’s abundant grace is central to the Good News of Jesus Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” and, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” and, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5.1-2, 5, 20-21).
David leans on the hope that he has in God. “O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol” (31.17). David shall not be put to shame, for his trust is in God. As Paul writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Rom 5.3-5).
Thus, David foresaw the Gospel solution to the problem of sin: righteousness gained by faith in God. We have already quoted the beginning of Psalm 31.6, “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,” which David concludes, “but I trust in the Lord.” It is as Paul wrote, quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1.17). It is the same righteousness that Paul explained using the life of Abraham: “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4.20-21).
More than that, Psalm 31 also foretells that the blessings of faith in God come through Jesus Christ. It is certainly no coincidence that Jesus’ final words on the cross were a quotation from Psalm 31: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23.46; cf. Ps 31.5). Jesus died proclaiming His trust in the Father, a trust which He learned from one of His earthly fathers. David writes, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (31.3-5).
May we all share in the faith of David and in the faith of our brother, Stephen the martyr, who at his death also cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”