Psalm 31 proclaims multiple truths that go beyond one simple label. But all that it says can be summarized by God’s encouragement to take courage.
Like many psalms, it begins with pleas for deliverance (Psalm 31:1-2, ESV):
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
That opening cry is quickly followed by a confession that concludes with familiar words:
For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God (3-5, ESV).
David’s words (“Into your hand I commit my spirit”) were not only spoken by Jesus as he died on the cross (Luke 23:46), but they were also echoed by Stephen as he was stoned to death (Acts 7:59). Who knows how many martyrs have uttered those words as life ebbed from them in the dust of an arena, on the cobblestones of a prison yard, on the dirt of an African village, or on the floor of a burning church? Those words may also be the last conscious thought of countless Christians who’ve died in sudden accidents, hospital rooms, or their own homes.
When David wrote this song, however, he was not actually dying. He committed his spirit to the Lord, in life as well as in death, to his faithful Lord who had redeemed him. This calls to mind the words from that beautiful first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” (You can read the entire answer with its multiple Scripture references here.)
The next section of Psalm 31 conveys confident trust based on God’s past faithfulness:
I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place (6-8, ESV).
This trust remains confident even in the face of great physical distress:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away (9-10, ESV).
Trust in God can be confident despite deceitful schemes of other people:
Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life (11-13, ESV).
Should others destroy our reputations or go so far as to threaten our very lives, we can cling to God and confess our trust in him:
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
O Lord, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt (14-18, ESV).
Confessing our trust in God enables us to recover an awareness of God’s goodness and his protection:
Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues (19-20, ESV).
When we become more aware of God’s goodness and protection, we recall his past rescues. We can also praise him for present rescue that is so certain it can be spoken of as in the past:
Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help (21-22, ESV).
This growing confidence overflows from personal conviction into corporate confession (23-24, ESV):
Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!
By God’s grace and the work of his Spirit, confidence in our Savior moves from our minds into our hearts. When we confess our trust in the Lord, it becomes more real to us and to others. While we wait for the Lord to take action, he encourages us.
We are never strong in ourselves, but we can be strong in the Lord. Committing our spirits entirely to God and confessing our faith in Christ enables our fainting hearts to wait courageously. Be strong! Take courage!