05 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
5 May 2022 (Psalm 71)

‘Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent’ (Psalm 71: 9) … a portrait of an elderly, blind rabbi by Andor Borúth (1873-1955) in the Jewish Museum, Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 71:

Psalm 71 is known in Latin by its opening words, In te Domine speravi. In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 70.

Psalm 71 has 24 verses in both the Hebrew and the English verse numbering.

In the Hebrew text, Psalm 71 is one of the few psalms that do not have a title. However, in the Greek Septuagint the text bears the title: ‘By David, of the sons of Jonadab and the first ones taken captive.’

Many commentators identify this psalm as written by King David toward the end of his life when he is pursued by his rebellious son, Absalom.

This could be classified as one of the psalms that refer to the trials of the righteous. Some commentators argue that the theme of the psalm is old age, while others suggest it is about refuge and God’s righteousness.

The psalmist turns to God in his search for refuge, and asks God to be his place of safety, his ‘strong rock and castle (verse 3, NRSVA) or ‘stronghold’ (the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer).

He pleads with God to rescue him from the wicked, the evildoer and the oppressor (verse 4).

He has trusted in God since he was born, and knows that God has sustained him since he was conceived (verse 6). Now he promises to praise God for the rest of his life.

The poet of Psalm 71 recalls a lifetime of relationship with God and pleads, ‘Do not cast me off in the time of old age’ (verse 9, verse 7 in the Hebrew numbering). In Jewish tradition, this line is chanted as part of the High Holyday liturgy.

The Psalm can be divided into two parts:

1, Verses 1-13 focus on request

2, Verses 14-24 focus on praise

If we take out the middle word in the Hebrew text, we find each section is exactly the same length – 101 words. The middle word is V’ani, ‘And as for me.’ For this is a remarkably personal psalm revealing the vulnerabilities and yearnings of an old person.

Verses 9, 17 and 18 suggest that the psalmist is an old man, perhaps a king towards the end of his reign, seeking relief from distress in form of severe illness or the approach of death (verse 20), as well as the taunts of his ‘enemies’ asserting that God has abandoned him (verse 11).

The writer affirms his close relationship with God as he speaks of the faith in God which has sustained him all his life (verses 5-6, cf verse 17), praying that God will not reject him (verse 9), declaring his witness to God’s salvation (verses 15, 18), while asking for renewed health (verses 20-21) and the discrediting of his enemies (verse 13, cf verse 4), then he will renew his praises (verses 14-16, 22-24).

This Psalm is distinctive for its use of phrases from other psalms. Some say that Psalm 71 is an assemblage of snippets from other psalms. So, the frequent parallels with verses in other psalms are a unique feature of this psalm, sometimes to the point of what sound like direct quotation:

Verses 1-3 almost matches Psalm 31: 1-3;
Verses 5-6 alludes to Psalm 22: 9-10;
Verse 11 echoes Psalm 22: 1;
Verses 12-13 can be compared with Psalm 35: 22, 38: 21, and 40: 13-14;
Verse 24 compares with Psalm 35: 4, 26; 40: 14.

‘O God, from my youth you have taught me’ (Psalm 71: 17) … a painting in the Jewish Museum in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 71 (NRSVA):

1 In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

7 I have been like a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all day long.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me,
and those who watch for my life consult together.
11 They say, ‘Pursue and seize that person
whom God has forsaken,
for there is no one to deliver.’

12 O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
let those who seek to hurt me
be covered with scorn and disgrace
14 But I will hope continually,
and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all day long,
though their number is past my knowledge.
16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord God,
I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and grey hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come.
Your power 19 and your righteousness, O God,
reach the high heavens.

You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my honour,
and comfort me once again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have rescued.
24 All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help,
for those who tried to do me harm
have been put to shame, and disgraced.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Truth Tellers.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by Steve Cox, Chair of Christians in the Media.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (5 May 2022, International Midwives Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for midwives, who do so much to ensure the safe arrival of new life into the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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