August 23: Psalm 31

Mark Johnston Articles
It so happens, as I sit at my computer preparing these notes, that we are very much in the midst of one of those defining experiences of life - a major relocation to a new church. So the sentiments expressed by David in these verses have a certain resonance - in particular where he says, 'My times are in your hands' (31.15). For David, who was facing a major upheaval and crisis in his life, these words capture the deepest thought of his heart in the midst of them.

It's easy to hear these words as little more than a pious platitude - easy to utter, but lacking in substance; but nothing could be further from the truth as far as David is concerned. Three things in particular stand out as providing the foundation on which his confidence rests.

The first is the sovereignty of God. Even though the immediate horizons of David's life are dominated by circumstances that threaten to crush him, he knows that God is in control of circumstances. He is not ultimately at the mercy of enemies who conspire against him, or friends who have deserted him, but under God's care. The only way that God can prove that this really is the case is to take his children through the turbulence of life and teach them to trust when their world seems to be collapsing around them.

God's sovereignty is a wonderful doctrine - especially for those of a Calvinistic disposition - but it can also be somewhat cold and clinical. There is a fine line between divine sovereignty as the Bible portrays it and mere determinism. It's all too easy for a Calvinist to sound Islamic when he or she talks about these things; but that's not how David speaks. His confidence in God's all-controlling power is coloured by his experience of his wide-embracing love. He rejoices in that love (31.7) and testifies to his past experiences of it (31.21). That union of sovereignty and love make the God of the Bible unique.

The third foundation stone on which David's great confession rests is God's covenant faithfulness. The psalm is full of covenantal overtones: the hope of covenant blessing for all who trust (31.16-17) and the expectation of covenant curse on those who are God's enemies (31.17-18). But the most powerful allusion to God as the God of the covenant is where David says, 'You are my God' (31.14). He is the God of intimate personal relationship.

The most striking and most comforting thing of all about this psalm is the fact that Jesus used it for his own comfort in his darkest hour. Having endured the worst of his ordeal on the cross, in ways that strongly echo what is depicted in these verses, his dying words are, 'Into your hands I commit my spirit' (31.5). What makes his use of these words even more poignant is the fact he inserts the word 'Father' and that's where their greatest comfort lies!