Psalm 61 – “A Prayer for the King”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist praises God, affirms his confidence, and prays on behalf of the king.

II. Photo
The psalmist addresses God: “From the end of the earth I call to you.” (v. 3a)

III. Select Verses
3: From the end of the earth I call to You; when my heart is faint, You lead me to a rock that is high above me.
4: For You have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy.
5: O that I might dwell in Your tent forever, take refuge under Your protecting wings. Selah.
7-8: Add days to the days of the king; may his years extend through generations; may he dwell in God’s presence forever; appoint steadfast love to guard him.

IV. Outline
1. Superscription
2-3a. Invocation/Initial plea
3b. Petition
4. Affirmation of confidence/Recollection of salvation
5. Wish to dwell with god
6. Rationale
7-8. Blessing for the king
9. Vow

V. Comment
Although Psalm 60 is short, it has many of the elements of the Complaint/Petition and the Thanksgiving genres. While the date and setting of the psalm remains enigmatic, the statement “From the end of the earth I call to You” (v. 3) might suggest an exilic setting.

Who is the “king” mentioned in verses 7-8: “Add days to the days of the king; may his years extend through generations; may he dwell in God’s presence forever; appoint steadfast love to guard him”? Gerstenberger suggests that the “king” was one to come. He writes: “Worship in Israel while the monarchies lasted was probably neatly divided into familial, local, regional, and central cultic performances. The move toward centralization of cultic affairs was successful only after the fall of the Judean kingdom… From a number of sources within the Old Testament we may glean the fact that Davidic kingship was still considered a living reality in the cultic realm even in exilic/postexilic times (cf. Deut 17:14-20; 2 Samuel 7; Ezekiel 34; Hag 2:23; Zech 4:1-1)… There is no reason, therefore, to deny the possibility of an exilic accretion of a ‘royalistic’ text in Psalm 61, along a nostalgic vein.” (5) Gerstenberger also notes that “The suggestion that in Persian times there also has been, as a ‘natural’ obligation for all subjugated people, continues intercession on behalf of the Great King of the empire, has to be considered seriously too.” (6)
It should be noted that a number of prayers for the king’s life appear in the Hebrew Bible:

  • Bathsheba bowed low in homage to the king with her face to the ground, and she said, “May my lord King David live forever!” (1 Kings 1:31)
  • But I answered the king, “May the king live forever! How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?” (Neh 2:3)
  • And Samuel said to the people, “Do you see the one whom the LORD has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people acclaimed him, shouting, “Long live the king!” (1 Sam 10:24)
  • So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber. — The king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was waiting on the king. (1 Kings 1:15)
  • Let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him there king over Israel, whereupon you shall sound the horn and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ (1 Kings 1:34)
  • The priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the Tent and anointed Solomon. They sounded the horn and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” (1 Kings 1:39)
  • When Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, learned that her son was dead, she promptly killed off all who were of royal stock. (2 Kings 11:1)
  • Then they brought out the king’s son, and placed upon him the crown and the insignia. They proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him and shouted, “Long live the king!”  (2 Chron 23:11)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Photo taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Horizon.jpg

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