Psalm 71 – “Petition / Affirmation of Confidence”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist puts his trust in God and begs to be saved from his enemies.

II. Photo
The psalmist asks for strength in old age: “And even in hoary old age do not forsake me, God, until I proclaim your strength to the next generation!” (v. 18)

III. Select Verses    
5-9: For You are my hope, O Lord GOD, my trust from my youth. While yet unborn, I depended on You; in the womb of my mother, You were my support; I sing Your praises always. I have become an example for many, since You are my mighty refuge. My mouth is full of praise to You, glorifying You all day long. Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me!
10-11: For my enemies talk against me; those who wait for me are of one mind,  saying, “God has forsaken him; chase him and catch him, for no one will save him!”
16-19: I come with praise of Your mighty acts, O Lord GOD; I celebrate Your beneficence, Yours alone. You have let me experience it, God, from my youth; until now I have proclaimed Your wondrous deeds, and even in hoary old age do not forsake me, God, until I proclaim Your strength to the next generation, Your mighty acts, to all who are to come, Your beneficence, high as the heavens, O God, You who have done great things; O God, who is Your peer!
24: All day long my tongue shall recite Your beneficent acts, how those who sought my ruin were frustrated and disgraced.

IV. Outline
1-2a. Invocation, affirmation of confidence
2b-3a. Initial petition
3b. Affirmation of confidence
4. Petition
5-8. Affirmation of confidence
9. Petition
10-11. Complaint
12. Petition
13. Imprecation
14-18. Vow/affirmation of confidence
19. Hymnic praise
20-21. Affirmation of confidence
22-24. Hymnic vow

V. Comment
Although Psalm 71 is technically a petition/complaint/imprecation, it has a unique emphasis on trust and confidence (vv. 1-2, 3, 5-8, 14-18, 19, 20-21, 22-24). Gerstenberger writes: “Using the traditional complaint song as a model, psalm 71, along the line of psalm 119, portrays a life dedicated Yahweh as the highest ideal for all members of the community. Trust in this God will carry the faithful through all difficulties of a long life, and will serve well the congregation as a whole. Confessing one’s faith and abiding with God and God’s power over all evil forces become the commendable life project for everyone under the shelter of God’s power, i.e., within the community of believers.” (63)

It is interesting to note that Psalm 71 has no superscription in the  Masoretic text. While this is normal for the psalms of the 4th and 5th books, it is quite rare in the first two books. Indeed, only five other psalms are lacking superscriptions, and for good reason:

  • 1-2: These are introductions themselves.
  • 10, 43: These are the ends of the previous psalms, erroneously separated from their companions.
  • 33: This seems to have also been part of the preceding psalm, especially because of similar wording.

Gerstenberger writes: “Why, then, does Psalm 71 remain without redactional heading? And without an ordinary number in Codex Leningradensis, at that (see BHS appararatus)? The conclusion does not seem far-fetched: Psalm 71, too, was transmitted once as part and parcel of psalm 70. Other indications make this suggestion probable. In the third century B.C.E., to be sure, the LXX [=Septuagint] found the text separated from Psalm 70 and without a proper heading. Therefore, the Greek transmitters added their own: ‘For David. Of the sons of Jonadab and the first captives.’” (59)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 2” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
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