Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2. I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3. I am weary with my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

4. More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal must I now restore?
5. O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6. Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of
O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonoured because of me,
O God of Israel.
7. It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8. I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother's children.

9. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10. When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11. When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12. I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

13. But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help 14. rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15. Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.

16. Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy turn to me.
17. Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress - make haste to answer me.
18. Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies.

19. You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonour,
my foes are all known to you.
20. Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21. They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

22. Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.
23. Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
24. Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
25. May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents.
26. For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
27. Add guilt to their guilt;
may they have no acquittal from you.
28. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29. But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.

30. I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31. This will please the LORD more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32. Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33. For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

34. Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35. For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
36. the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it."

This psalm is a cry from the heart of one who was in great trouble. Even his own closest family had turned against him (verse 8), and he found no human person to pity or comfort him (verse 20). He had to turn to God.

Distress described

The psalmist described his distress as like being in deep water that had come up to his neck and threatened to flood right over the top of him. Or it was like what Jeremiah faced (see Jeremiah 38:1-6) when he was put into a well with deep mud at the bottom, and he could find no foothold (verses 1-2 and 14-15). When he speaks in verse 15 of "the Pit" closing over him, he means that he is in fear of death and of the grave being the only future he could expect. Sometimes the crises of life become so overwhelming that it feels as though one is being sucked into a deep ditch or into choking mud. At such times it is not easy to keep trusting in God. We easily think that everyone, including God, has forgotten us, but God does not fail (see Psalms 27:10 ad 23:4).

The cause of distress

The reason why the psalmist felt as he did was that he was surrounded by enemies who hated him without reason, accused him of things that he had never done, and even tried to take his life (verse 4), by giving him poison (verse 21). He knew that he had sometimes acted foolishly and done what was wrong (verse 5), and he sincerely prayed that others might not be stumbled in their trust in God through things that he had done (verse 6). But he could honestly say that he was not guilty of what his enemies accused him of doing. In fact he had suffered reproach and unending criticism from them because he had tried to serve God (verse 7). When he had turned to God humbly with prayer and fasting and sackcloth (the sign of mourning), people had only laughed at him and insulted him (verses 9-12).

Help in distress

In his deep distress the psalmist knew that he could turn to God, and that indeed God was the only one to whom he could turn. His first and constant prayer was "save me" (verse 1), "draw near to me, redeem me, set me free" (verse 18). Why could he pray like this? Because he knew the truth of God's very nature as love and compassion. He could say, "in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful love, rescue me". "Your steadfast love is good, according to your abundant mercy turn to me" (verses 13, 14 and 16). He knew that "the Lord hears the needy" who turn to him (verse 33). The God whom the psalmist knew was the God who made himself known to Moses as "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7). Yes, the message here is that God can be trusted. We may have difficulty praying for ourselves when in the heart of a crisis, but we need no long prayers or many words to make our need known to God. We can just "pour out" our hearts before him (see, for example, 1 Samuel 1:15-16). We can also draw encouragement from the ministry of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for God's people with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). Above all let us remember that we have a Saviour who "always lives to make intercession" for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Another Sufferer

When we read this psalm with the whole Bible before us, we have to think of another Sufferer, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Except for the other psalm of suffering, Psalm 22, this psalm is quoted in the New Testament more than any other psalm. And it is quoted especially in relation to the sufferings of Jesus. Verse 4 is quoted of Jesus in John 15:25, "they hated me without a cause". Verse 9 is in John 2:17, "Zeal for your house will consume me", and Romans 15:3, "the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me". This psalm (verse 21) is probably in mind also when the Gospels speak of Jesus on the cross being offered vinegar and gall (Matthew 27:34 and 48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36 and John 19:29). Yet there was one great difference between the psalmist in his sufferings and Jesus in his. The psalmist prayed for judgment on his enemies in ways that they deserved if they received justice from God (verses 22-28). Jesus prayed for his enemies, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Prayer turns to praise

We are not told how or when the psalmist's distress was dealt with. Was it before he ended his prayer, or after a long period of waiting? In any case, as in the similar Psalm 22, there is praise of God in the last few verses. This assumes that this psalmist, like others before him, proved for himself in his own situation, that God answers prayer. "The LORD hears the needy" (verse 33). All who trust in him can be encouraged, and when people who are depressed praise him, they find their spirits revived (verse 32). Thanksgiving offered to God means more that religious observances, as the sacrifices of animals were in Old Testament days (verses 30-31). The psalmist rejoices so much in the goodness of God that he says, "Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them." So, as we should note, the psalm is not just dominated by an individual's distress and then his rescue from his troubles. It shows concern for all God's people, for the well-being of the land and the nation, the restoration of Zion and of the cities of Judah. The final prayer is that those who love God's name will live in the land (verses 35-36).

Prayer Lord, because of our many failures we need your forgiveness; because we are weak in ourselves we need your strength and guidance; but help us to live in thankfulness to you and to seek that all your people may find blessing, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For further thought and study

a. What can we learn from the ways that the two parts of verse 9 are used in the New Testament, in John 2:17 and Romans 15:3? b. In what ways did other people of whom we read in the Bible have to suffer as the psalmist suffered? Consider especially the prophet Jeremiah, reading Jeremiah 12:6, 20:1-2, 7-10 and chapters 36 and 38. In what ways may we have to suffer the insults or opposition of others for our faith? What can we learn, above all, from the way that Jesus suffered? c. Those who are in real pain and in deep trouble or facing terrible trial are not always able to pray for themselves. What does that say to us about the need to pray and intercede for one another?


1. In the heading of the psalm "according to lilies" is probably a reference to the tune to which the psalm was sung. It is also in the headings of Psalms 45 and 80. 2. Zeal for the house of God (verse 9) may have meant a concern for the true worship of God to go on in the temple (as shown by the prophet in Jeremiah 7:1-5), or for God's house in the sense of his people and his work. It is possible also that it was a zeal for the rebuilding of the temple after the people came back from exile, such as we see in the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Verses 35-36 may relate to that situation, whether part of the original psalm, or perhaps added later to make the prayers of the psalm applicable to that time. 3. Verse 28 says that those who oppose God and persecute those who serve him deserve to be "blotted out of the book of the living". The Old Testament refers a number of times to such a book with the names of God's people recorded. See Exodus 32:32-33, Isaiah 4:3, Ezekiel 13:9, Daniel 12:1 and in the New Testament Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3, Hebrews 12:23 and Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 20:12 and 21:27.