Lesson 9 | November 13, 2016
Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD
Psalm 31 continues the theme of the blessings associated with the Lord’s presence in His temple. Specifically, verse 20 reads, “You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” This same idea is seen in Psalm 27:5, which shares in advancing the theme begun in Psalm 23:6: “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.” The temple is described as His pavilion or as the secret place. (See Psalm 27:4.)
Various ideas connect Psalm 31 with previous psalms. Compare the request “lead me and guide me” of verse 3. (Compare with Psalm 25:4-5, 9; 27:11.) Compare the “wide place” of verse 8 with the “even place” of Psalm 26:12 and the “smooth path” of Psalm 27:11. Also compare verse 17 with Psalm 25:3.
It should be noted that on the cross Jesus prayed the words of Psalm 31:5: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit.” (See Luke 23:46.) Similarly, He prayed the words of Psalm 22:1 on the cross. (See Matthew 27:46.) As we compared Psalm 22 with Jesus’ experiences on the cross, it became evident that we should read the entirety of Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm, with the possibility that His prayer on the cross may have included most of Psalm 22.
Since Jesus also prayed words from Psalm 31 on the cross, should we view the entire psalm as messianic? In view of the common translation of verses 5 and 10, this may seem problematic: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth” (verse 5). Although Jesus prayed the first phrase of this verse on the cross, we may reject the idea that the last phrase has any messianic reference in view of the idea of the redemption of the Messiah. How could the sinless Messiah be redeemed? This problem may vanish, however, since the Hebrew padah, translated “redeemed,” contains within its range of meaning the idea of “rescue.” For this reason, the NLT translates the verse, “I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God.” If we understand the verse to be a plea for rescue, it fits within the context of the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.
Verse 10 may seem to be a problem for reading the entire psalm as a messianic prayer: “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; My strength fails because of my iniquity.” The Messiah had no iniquity. But the word translated “iniquity” (‘avon) also contains the idea of punishment or ruin. Note the following translations:
My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak (NIV).
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away (RSV; NRS).
For my life is wasted with grief: and my years in sighs. My strength is weakened through poverty and my bones are disturbed (DRA).
For my life is spent with grief, and my years with groanings: my strength has been weakened through poverty, and my bones are troubled (LXX).
Perhaps most significant here is that the LXX translates the Hebrew ‘avon with ptocheiai, a word meaning “poverty.” If translating verse 10 as a reference to the Messiah’s affliction, misery, or poverty is closer to the inspired intent here than to translate it as a reference to someone’s iniquity, not only is the problem of verse 10 removed, but the meaning of the verse is in complete harmony what other descriptions of the Messiah’s suffering.
As it was originally written as an individual psalm, Psalm 31 is a prayer that David prayed for help from the Lord. But as it is placed here in the post-exilic arrangement of the psalms, it seems to fit the general messianic intent of the arrangement of the psalms, advancing the messianic theme and pointing Israel to a future which will include a suffering Messiah. For that reason, we will read it as a messianic psalm, like Psalm 22.
As He faces the crucifixion, the Messiah puts His trust in the Lord (verse 1a). He prays that He will not be ashamed (compare with Psalm 25:1-3) – that is, that His trust will not be disappointed – and that He will be delivered (verse 1b). This should be compared with Psalm 22:1-5, 8; Matthew 26:39; Hebrews 5:7-8.
The Messiah prays that His deliverance will be speedy (verse 2). This should be compared with Psalm 22:19.
He proclaims the Lord to be His rock and fortress, and asks for the Lord to lead and guide Him for the Lord’s “name’s sake” (verse 3). Compare this with Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12; John 12:28; 17:6.
The Messiah asks to be pulled from the net secretly laid for Him and recognizes God to be His strength (verse 4). Compare this with John 5:18; 7:1.
Verse 5 is clearly a prayer of the Messiah: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit.” (See Luke 23:46.) Even though Jesus may not have prayed all the words of Psalm 31 on the cross, or at any other time, just as He may not have prayed all the words of Psalm 22, the placement of this psalm seems intended to bring the reader to see the psalm as descriptive of the Messiah’s experiences and sentiments.
As we have already noted, the last phrase of verse 5 can be read as a plea to be rescued or as a confession, “You have rescued me.” Compare this to Psalm 22:20-21.
Verse 6 describes the Messiah’s hatred of idolatry. He trusts only in the Lord. This should be compared with Matthew 4:8-10.
In verses 7-8, the Messiah rejoices in the Lord’s mercy and that His trouble has been considered and His soul known in adversities. Compare this with Psalm 22:22.
Verse 9 is a plea for mercy by One who is in trouble, whose material and immaterial parts “wastes away with grief.” Compare this with Isaiah 53:3-5, 10, 12.
As we have seen previously, verse 10 describes the poverty, affliction, or misery of the Messiah. Compare this with Psalm 22:14-17; Isaiah 52:14; 53:3-8, 10-12; II Corinthians 8:9.
In verse 11 the Messiah describes Himself as a reproach among His enemies and His neighbors and as so repulsive to His acquaintances that they flee from Him. Compare this with Psalm 22:6-7 and Matthew 26:56.
In verse 12 the Messiah describes Himself as “forgotten like a dead man, out of mind … a broken vessel.” Compare this with Psalm 22:15; Isaiah 53:8-9, 12.
In verse 13 the Messiah recounts the slander and fear accompanying the plans of those who would take His life. Compare this with Psalm 2:2; 22:12-13, 16; Matthew 17:23; 26:4; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 22:2; John 5:18; 7:1.
The Messiah reaffirms His trust in the Lord (verse 14). (See comments on verse 1.)
The Messiah confesses that His life is in the hand of the Lord and prays for deliverance from His enemies who persecute Him (verse 15). Compare this with Psalm 22:20-21; Matthew 26:39, 42.
In verse 16, He prays that God’s face would shine upon Him, the Servant of the Lord, and that He would be saved (“delivered,” yasha‘). The Messiah is identified as the Servant of the Lord. (See Isaiah 52:13.)
The Messiah reiterates his prayer not to be ashamed (verse 17). (See comments on verse 1.)
He prays that “lying lips” will be silenced (verse 18). Compare this with Matthew 26:59-61.
The Messiah testifies to the greatness of the goodness of the Lord to those who fear and trust Him (verse 19). Compare with Psalm 22:22-23.
In verse 20 the Messiah acknowledges that the Lord will hide those who fear Him and trust Him in His “secret place … a pavilion.” As we have seen, this is a reference to the Temple of the Lord.
The Messiah blesses the Lord for His marvelous kindness “in a strong city” (verse 21). This may be a reference to the future restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple, as seen in the references to the “secret place” and the “pavilion” in verse 20.
In verse 22 the Messiah acknowledges that He spoke with haste when He said He was “cut off” from the eyes of the Lord, and confesses that the Lord heard His prayer. Compare this with Psalm 22:1-2, 21.
The psalm concludes with a command to love the Lord, who preserves those who are faithful and repays those who are proud (verse 23). The conclusion includes a command to those who hope in the Lord to “be of good courage.” The result of obeying this command is that the Lord “shall strengthen your heart” (verse 24).
Read in this way, Psalm 31 is not only a messianic prayer, it is also encouragement for all people of faith from the Messiah, who found God to be faithful even during the most painful circumstances of life.
The videos and study guides for this class can be accessed at http://www.danielsegraves.com/blog.
 Note how padah is used in Job 33:28 and Psalm 55:18.
 Texts may sometimes be translated in more than one way. In such cases, translators may be influenced by their theology. The most important influences should be, however, context and biblical theology, or the perspective that arises from a broad overview of biblical teaching. In the case of Psalm 31, there is good reason in the context to view the psalm as messianic, both within the psalm and the psalter, and the fact that Jesus used the words as His own on the cross indicates that it is appropriate to read the psalm as messianic.
 Compare with Psalm 22:1, 14-17; Isaiah 52:14; 53:3-8, 10-12; II Corinthians 8:9.
 This lesson is adapted from Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 100-105.